IT
IT a future tale © By Gary L Morton (10,000 words)
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San telescoped his pocket Emerald and frowned as he strained to see the blurred video and hear the muffled voice coming through the static. “You've really got to know what the Nestle Cops are up to this time,” the man said. “The chocolate cops have a powdered corpse over in Springhill Park and they're involved in a cover-up. You'd have to see it to believe what I did to the guy. I made him so ugly he makes people scream. The dude couldn't stand it so he killed himself. He was a sap from the Downtown Business Technological Improvement group who thought he could screw around with the wrong people.”

San didn't get a chance to reply. He heard a click and the airwaves went dead. Punching in his hidden code for a trace, he got a reading on a public courtesy phone – this one at Union Two Station. The caller had obscured his identity on a public phone that demanded user info and the identity of the lost corporate wireless device that made a public call necessary - a nearly impossible feat. Pocketing his Emerald, San thought it over and decided to run down the tip. The park was a few blocks to the south, about a five-minute walk. He read it as a tip full of lies but with something genuine in it. Many people hated the Nestle cops. Maybe this was a union guy tipping him.

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A peculiar tint on the city's inner air bubble cast the sky as a dark green ocean. Sunset flares fizzled behind western buildings as San turned and crossed the road to Nestle Square. He stepped to the curb and halted beside a world CallNet booth, feeling the cool breeze from a couple cars speeding by behind him.

A blue glare from the booth's chat screen lit his fine brows, intensifying his gray eyes with rings of shadow. He gazed at a nearby theatre marquee. Shaped like a huge Nestle Chocolate Rush Bar, the marquee glowed with garish effect. A few elegant ladies strolled beneath it as they exited. They were beautiful - glamour being a quality that belonged to all women in UN year ADSC2000-37 +.

 San smiled warmly at them as they passed and for a moment, he perceived something different. The glitter of the neo neon lights gave him a glimpse of something repulsive beneath their skin - like beauty had been nothing more than an illusion of makeup. A blond lady with full red lips and loose curls glanced at him brazenly, her dress revealing the rosy skin of her calf as she walked. Normally the come-on would stimulate him, but tonight it fell flat. She seemed like a doll - nice but plastic - not a real woman at all.

The feeling touching him carried unsettling emotional undertones and left him slightly disconnected. San shook his head and shivered in the warm night. The sensation vanished but his hands felt sweaty as he took out his TSCF palm connector. It read his print, allowing him to query the city grid for a direct route to the crime scene. The answer came back a moment later as a soft female voice playing through the tiny amplifier in his ear, giving directions to a specific park location a couple blocks away.

Passing the theatre, he headed down a narrow side street. He encountered a couple office people strolling, and not much else - just the glow of lights in the high towers. It was quiet with soft rushes of wind that made it hard to believe a murder scene could be ahead.

The sun was crashing fast as he hit Queen Boulevard, just a few final rays shooting up like spotlights through cloud breaks and mixing with night lights and a purpled sky up ahead. The boulevard took a sudden curve there as it wound around Springhill Park, and now traffic could not get through. Spinners were flashing on four emergency vehicles and uniformed city police were routing cars down a side street.

San reached the corner and squinted into the glare. He could see a lot of activity and scores of Nestle private police moving through the maple trees in the park. Most of them had Glock Speedguns drawn and appeared to mean business.

Remaining on the curb, he studied the area. A jungle of office and shopping complexes ran east on the boulevard side to the area of Toronto policed by the Downtown Business Tech Improvement Group. Pedestrians in that area wore those new two-piece body suits common to office workers. The circular park contained a duck pond, fountain, monuments and a solid sprinkling of mixed forest - mostly maples and willows. Residential buildings towered over it, and beyond them, he could see faint spotlights flashing in the sky from the Nestle complex.

San crossed the road, aiming at cutting over the grass to the scene of the crime - an area surrounded by police and mobile floodlights. But before he could step to the curb two burly Nestle officers emerged from the bushes and blocked his path. Their silly chocolate wrapper hats and uniforms had lent them a degree of invisibility in the shadowy areas of the park. Silver lettering flashed on their badges.

“Sorry pal, you can't go in there,” said a tall brown-skinned officer. His badge name, Lonny Baxter.

San stared the two cops down for moment - rookies but with the heavy muscles that came with a steady diet of Nestle Rush Bars. Taking out his wallet, he opened it to his police ID. “I'm San Michaels, Chief of Detectives for the Toronto Security Coordination Force. Otherwise known as the real police.”

“This is a matter for the Nestle police,” Lonny said. “Our orders are nobody gets in to the murder scene.”

“Yeah, well you must know that corporate nations like Nestle have reduced police powers in city states like Toronto. And I got a call on this one. The victim has been identified as a key official in the Downtown Business Tech Improvement Group. He is or was entitled to a higher level of protection. It apparently wasn't provided here or he wouldn't be dead. The public will want to know why.”

Maples fanned their leaves gently overhead. Shadows and momentary confusion softened the cop's brutish face to a boyish blush, and San saw fear grow in his eyes. Fear that was justifiable considering what would happen to him if the Security Coordination Force decided he was at fault in the security breach or in blocking the investigation of it.

Shrugging his shoulders, the Nestle cop gave a nod of permission and gestured to his partner. Walking in the lead, San headed into park. Just behind him, the two cops wagged their speedguns as their eyes darted about in a paranoid fashion. It was dark now, the trees heavy and cloaking with high lamps creating little more than foggy circles of bug-filled light. A silver P-11 forensic robot was moving slowly in the grass in the cordoned off area, and they could see the body at the centre, covered by a yellow sensor sheet. A stocky plain-clothes officer was in charge. San recognized him as Bill Broad, chief of the local Nestle force. A gaggle of reporters surrounded Mr. Broad and they held only police notepads and pencils. Cameras, video and any other equipment small or large for live filing had not been allowed inside.

San stopped just behind the reporters, listening as Broad told them bluntly what they were to include on the news. “The crime is murder,” he said, “but murder of a different sort. A ray of some sort was used and it caused severe burn damage. Photos of the corpse will not be released as the emotional health of the public would be affected. We are confident that we will apprehend the killer. Don't expect a public trial on this one. It looks like a hit, possibly engineered by a business rival.”

Immediately the reporters pressed forward, a number of them trying to question Broad at once. Saying things like, “Who are the suspects in this murder? Is it certain that organized crime was involved? Can we see the corpse? Why no public trial?”

It all became dead noise in San's ears as he walked around and studied the sheet-covered mound under the spotlights. He wondered what they were hiding this time. He doubted the body was burned or that a special beam had been used, and he was getting tired of corporate police covering things up. If the body really was a mess, Bill Broad did have a point in that the emotional health of the public could be affected by revealing it. This was a society of physical beauty. A world of people who enjoyed genetic perfection. People that couldn't face up to ugliness and death. It was also true that someone had to be culturally conditioned to face up to it. People needed to realize that they had not risen above nature yet. Death and its final chapters of ugliness were still a reality and some things could not be censored. Not even by corporate nations like Nestle.

Disappointed with the lack of credible answers from Broad, the reporters were slowly turning to their notebooks to jot down what they had. Broad was staring at them intensely like they were some brand of undesirable genetic rodents or insects, and a few seconds later he gave the signal. Uniforms suddenly muscled in and began to force them from the park.

Seeing Mr. Broad alone, San chose the moment to step into the fray. He faced the surprised Nestle chief in the summer dark and spoke deliberately loud, saying, “Bill, I want that corpse uncovered and photographed right now.”

The effect being immediate chaos as excited reporters wormed and ducked around the stunned Nestle officers.

“You can't do this, Michaels!” Bill Broad shouted. “It's crazy. Nestle will have your badge if you uncover that corpse!”

“The hell they will!” San said. “Nestle Security isn't in charge of this investigation anymore. I know this was some kind of hit and at the TSCF we intend to find out how this breach of security occurred. Public cooperation is going to be needed to catch this killer and they won't help Nestle so the way to get it is to frighten them with photos of the corpse.”

“No, you don't understand!” Broad said. “That thing is too horrible to reveal.”

“I am doing it,” San said, stepping over the ribbon. “Any officer who tries to stop me will be taken in for questioning at headquarters.”

Broad's forehead grew suddenly wet with sweat. His men froze, obeying San's command. The rest of the crowd, mostly reporters, watched in stunned amazement as San walked over to the corpse. He stared at the forensic cloth then stepped over to the humming P-11 forensic robot and removed its shoulder-plate controller. His fingerprint allowed him command rights and on seeing the light flash, he spoke, ordering the robot to remove the sensor cloth.

Floating over on silent jets the robot touched the sheet, sucked it back into a roll and placed it in a canister. A dark area beneath it contained a corpse-shaped mass, yet the details of it were something indefinable. It shivered like dark jellies one moment and seemed to solidify to coal hardness and textures the next.

There were a few initial gasps behind him then none of the witnesses said anything more. San assumed this to be due to confusion caused by the lack of a realistic body. “What sort of beam could turn a human into that?” he said, shifting his gaze to Bill Broad.

But Broad said nothing, and San noticed that he wasn't speaking because he was as stiff as a post. He looked back at the circle of people and saw that the entire crowd of journalists, investigators and cops had turned to stone … faces transfixed and gorgon-struck as they stared at the quivering black mass.

Dangerous confusion, a fast feeling of near panic swept over San. He didn't quite know what to do. Then one big Nestle cop suddenly inhaled deeply, turned blue and fell face first like a board to the grass.

San saw others losing their composure and balance as their expressions unlocked and transformed with terror. Jon Weston of the Post went to his knees and vomited. A hair-raising scream followed. Other deafening shouts caused him to bite his tongue. He saw Ann Tilger of ATV Net News clutch a constricted throat and go down. Within a minute, all of the people had succumbed.

Stepping over and doing a fast check on Ann Tilger, he found her to be alive. She had fainted but otherwise seemed to be okay. The others were in a similar condition, yet he had no idea what had done it to them. He couldn't see anything all that shocking there on the ground.

Addressing the forensic robot, he told it to scan the people and administer first aid, and then he turned back to the corpse and looked at it long and hard. It hadn't changed but after some moments, he saw mist rise and vanish -- an effect like a magician's trick. A body lay in the shallow depression of earth below.

As one of the few people who'd seen death in all its horror, he knew this wasn't a corpse - not a human one at any rate. The body had humanoid structure of a fantastic sort and a raw form of ugliness that was close to being incomprehensible.

An invisible acid worked to etch the image into his mind. The facial features grew strong and gripping with hideous details that stabbed at his thoughts like needles of pain. This thing had the most revolting characteristics of humans, predators and insects; whiskers or feelers surrounding a mounded mouth and hooked fangs. Its nose was triangular in shape, armoured and indented with pulsing membranes. It also had bulbous fly-like eyes, a mat of flattened tentacles on the crown and grotesque protuberances covering the naked flesh.

The creature appeared powerful and strangely natural, like a genuine product of the wild and not some genetic freak. The cause of its demise was a huge gash to its chest - a wound that oozed blue gelatin-like gore and appeared self-inflicted. A hunting knife resting beside the creature's open hand appeared to be the weapon used.

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San watched spotlights swing beams through the clouds above the distant Nestle complex. The breeze had died and the trees hung over him heavy and motionless in the summer dark. He was alone in the park now, remaining to consider his error in surroundings where he could think.

Nestle Chief Bill Broad had been taken away to one of their psychiatric facilities as a second exposure to the hideous corpse had snapped his mind. The others had recovered but most of them couldn't remember what they’d seen. Those who did all had different descriptions of the corpse and San believed that only his personal description was accurate as it matched the description made by the P-11 forensic robot.

The forensic robot's report had been straightforward - the creature was dead through suicide. It had been human but an unknown genetic key had caused a hideous transformation and it had occurred while the man was alive. Broad's madness and the general collapse of witnesses were cultural phenomena. Society was genetically perfect and nearly all traces of human physical flaws had been eradicated long ago. Most people used pheromones and visual stimulation devices to make their beautiful bodies even more attractive. A sudden dose of hideousness was more than any person could comprehend. San was the exception because he'd been culturally conditioned to view things that were unpalatable. But even San had not been able to readily see the features of the corpse because the power to see ugliness had been partially removed through genetics.

Pursing his lips, he watched the rising moon paint the grass with pale gold. He supposed he was alone on this one … only the robots working with him, as he couldn't use security officers that would collapse. It was almost like one of those recent alien-encounter double-D movies, only in this fantastic episode you got to see the horrid thing instead of just hearing a bunch of spooky ghosts. An unknown genetic key had done it, according to the P-11 forensic robot. Yet the call he'd got earlier seemed to be from a clever but otherwise fairly ordinary criminal. Obviously, the guy had powerful scientific backing; he was not sure exactly what he was up against here.

It was very late, but he rose from the bench with it in mind to go downtown and see if the lab had anything further. His phone tone suddenly sounded in his mind so he answered and when he heard the voice of his chief suspect, he sat back down and listened carefully.

“I guess you know what ugly is now,” the man said. “So it's time for stage 2.”

“Stage 2,” San said angrily. “You bastard. What did you do to that man?”

“It's not what I did to him but what we did to him.”

“I see. This is the work of organized retro-end terrorists.”

“Terror is a tool we sometimes use, San. It isn't our vacuum-pouch bread and butter. Haven't you ever thought about it? I mean, how do you think organized crime exists across the world when the technology used in crime prevention is so sophisticated?”

“Through corruption and bribery. That's what I've always assumed,” San said. “And it hasn't existed here. We wiped it out.”

“You wiped nothing out and there isn't any bribery. There is only terror and control. We're relocating in this city. That corpse was a demonstration done specially for you. Because if you don't cooperate with our organization you will die in the same manner.”

“I have no intention of cooperating, and it'll only take me a short time to find you.”

“Well, that's good because you only have a short time. Mere hours to be exact. That IT you just saw was a man infected with a certain genetic spore, and just a few short hours ago we infected you with the same microscopic bug.”

“What are you saying? What do you mean?”

“We mean that we want total retro control. Over the next while, you will become totally hideous. We can provide the antidote at any time provided you agree to join us and grant us control of security for our operations out of this city. And you will agree. We know that. No person has ever lasted more than 16 hours without begging for the antidote that only we have. Keep in mind that if you tell anyone else we'll just leave you to die. You might be interested in knowing that what you are becoming is a creature called an ogre, though those who've seen it call it just a monster. An expedition in the Arctic dug one of the things up 25 years ago - the last of its kind mummified in ice. There are some things to be appreciated about it. The creature is a branch of man and genetically superior to man in some areas. It is unfortunate that it will remain extinct - it relies on mutating men into its own kind and as you know modern man can't bear any transformation involving physical ugliness. For you it means that you will cooperate or die screaming in terror of your own revolting face.”

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San resided in the Scarborough suburbs with his wife Karen Brookes, and he also kept an apartment downtown that he used mostly as an office and crash pad while working through high priority cases. A massive residential hive on the waterfront contained the downtown digs, and as he walked toward it, the building glowed softly in the night. Its thick portal windows revealing colorful blurred snapshots of a thousand personal worlds.

Transient night-lights winked in the hybrid trees overarching the dim park path. A spiral parking complex hulked in the dark to the north - massive beams of a gray ash color, blending into the night. Faint odors of algae, fish and mud carried in the cool air blowing off the quiet lake and his eyes caught the long gleam of the moon on the slick surface of the water. It was a gentle scene and it gave birth to schools of strange ideas. His thoughts flowed to a great depth like the lake, and in the primeval bottom of mud, something vicious lived. Something that had been forgotten now returned to memory; a great bulking monster that had always been stirring there in the murky deep.

Peace will come with our surrender to beauty - San remembered those words as his gaze drifted on the water. Variations of the peace and surrender sentence formed the doctrine of most new religions. San had never been a believer and like most people, he enjoyed daily existence in a rich social order. He had no use for fairy tales of heaven, and he believed the politicians that claimed Earth was the only heaven. His wife Karen did entertain religious beliefs. She went to a sort of nature church based on the old Wiccan religion. Being a cop through and through, San did not attend, and the thought of it curled his lips into a momentary expression of bewilderment. Perhaps there was nothing stranger than the continued existence of religious faith. On an Earth where through genetic manipulation people were far more intelligent than ever before, the most common religious theme was belief in the Garden of Eden. Of course there had been attempts to genetically eliminate religion, but they had failed - creating either robotic humans or individuals with suicidal tendencies and a lack of artistic drive. Eradicating religion seemed impossible, as even atheism, to a small degree, had to be labeled as an article of faith.

Nowadays the public became irrational when notions of beauty were challenged. Genetic changes in favour of splendor meant the fabled Garden of Eden was magnificence and an addiction they could not stop themselves from believing in … they could not tolerate disturbing images. Pitted against rational thought, fear won out nearly every time. The old theory of evolution had been mostly forgotten among the general public as the image of mankind rising from slime and with apes was a revolting thing of sleepless nights and shivering nightmares. It existed as secret and sanctioned science while the general public believed Humankind had arisen from Eden; near perfect creatures with genes designed to be rearranged. In the words of the wealthy men, women and transgendered of faith and beauty - to believe anything else was to torment oneself with emotional hellfire. Hell was believing in it and that it could possibly exist. God had created Earth in beauty and left, and now the beings of Earth were following as angels spreading that perfection across the universe as they pursued the ultimate love of the Almighty they could not find. Yet San believed differently and it didn’t torment him. He knew that the great hulking beast might be the truth. It lurked like a terrifying giant in the mud and primeval soup, threatening to rise at any time to drive humans insane with terror.

Picking up a flat stone, San tossed it and watched it splash on the silver water. If the destiny of humankind was to live in a fairy tale and to believe in beautiful princesses, then Eden and perfection had been attained. If not then real history was an IT and a behemoth waiting to tear the columns of human psychological support and humanist genetic science asunder.

A day would come when it all tumbled down. Humans were not superhuman at all and they were blind to that fact. A fašade of perfection blocked the view of the truth. Everything was sugar coated like Nestle had made the world, but it was only sugar and it could be washed away by harsh experiences and trauma in a person's life.

Radiant light rising from ten thousand tiny embedded cells illumined the main entrance. He crossed to an area that was busy even at this time of night. Luxury cars rushed in and out and hurried people paced from the swift elevators. Fortunately, the main stream of the crowd remained distant and no one noticed him. He passed a teenage boy who gave him a startled glance and quickly ducked away. That worried San so as he entered the corridor he turned and stared at his reflection in a metal plated wall.

A dim image stood in slight distortion. There was a stained greenish cast to his face and tiny lines and splits appearing in his features. It was as though his body had been suddenly segmented into tiny portions and was about to swell. The sight threw him off balance and his mind swam with rushes of dreamlike fright. He turned on his heel and staggered forward into a swarm of bodies that seemed otherworldly, like they were ants or aliens. San felt like he'd been some creature of a hive all of his life, and was only now detached from its controlling mind to see its inherent features.

There were gasps and shocked faces. Jamming his hat down over his face he pressed on, deliberately keeping his head down and staggering even more. Feigning intoxication proved a good cover as people always turned away from drunks - leaving them as something dirty the police were to sweep out of the public areas.

Small planes rushed along their pathways to the night sky outside the field of the rising elevator. He was alone and glad of it as the experience dizzied him. Exiting the elevator, he stepped slowly down a radiant hall, his blurred vision spotting a faint trail of greenish liquid oozing and spattering from his soggy shoes.

Brilliant overhead lights came on as he stumbled into the apartment. San thrived on strong lighting, but now it blinded him. His eyes ached and throbbed with hangover misery so great he was forced to dim the place to the illumination level of a cave. He found the soft jazz he'd set for automatic play to be offensive noise, like he now owned a canine's ears and could not bear the squeaking of reed instruments.

Nothing would do but silence so he imagined it and then he walked to the centre of the spacious living room and looked around. The drugged feeling was impossible to shake; he considered the possibility that the gangsters had somehow hit him with hallucinogens. It seemed plausible but a stark memory of the corpse killed the idea, as did his reflection when he stepped up to the mirror.

The thing staring back was shocking - green cast skin of a leathery reptilian texture. Brutish features - an expanded forehead and popping eyes that seemed to be reeling in self-terror. His whisker shadow grew denser by the moment, almost tufts and his once firm mouth had widened to something freakish.

He heard a horrified scream begin inside his head, and he grasped a chair to keep himself from falling. Shaking and choking, he fought the feeling off, and the scream failed to gain the use of his vocal cords. Then very slowly, he steadied himself, forcing his mind to accept what it saw.

That worked for a moment, but to bear up against it he decided it would be best to avoid looking at himself. Walking back to the light panel, he set the room for darkness, finding it soothing as he could now see in the dark. Alert lights flashed from his personal phone so he walked over and checked the messages.

There was only one message - an alien sounding voice saying 'hit the hello button to surrender.' And San did just that. “Congrats,” he heard the man say. “Seventeen hours, San. You've set a new world record. No one has ever resisted for this long. Just say the word and we'll arrange things.”

“Go to the hell no one believes in!” San said, the thickness of his throat and the gross tone of his hoarse voice strengthening his intended effect.

Clicking the phone shut, he staggered upstairs. From the study he could see the sky, stars and a hypnotic moon - a force of heavenly light so powerful it threatened to possess him. This was an attunement to nature he'd never known before. In spite of it, he fought off the potent alien sensations, sat at his connection workstation and tried to bring his powers of reasoning to the forefront.

Concentration did work. In moments, he was thinking things through. It became clear that he was transforming physically a great deal, but the brute he was becoming was not lacking in intelligence.

The special search machine powered up. He adjusted the headset to his new skull shape and thought most things through. The enemy had made three vital mistakes - He had been told that the transformation would not cause death. The end would come through intense fear of the hideous transformation. He also knew that the transformation could be reversed via an antidote and that in the transformed state he would be a creature called an ogre.

Documentation on such a creature would not be in any legal library so he used his search machine and got through a police hookup to get into classified historical files. As he made the switch over, his default settings for environment suddenly lit the room with images of a quiet sunlit library - a change that caused him agony. Shielding his eyes, he went through the settings. Nature scenes were another common background, but the beauty of nature was an overwhelming distraction so he ended up sitting in simple darkness and silence reading a dim screen.

San skimmed through an incredible amount of data on the ogre. But it was all information on a fairy tale creature of the old forbidden literature.  Generally, it was a large monster of the forest, and it ate human flesh. Genuine scientific information on the creature did not exist. And this left him at a disappointing dead end. It seemed like there was nothing more he could do, and then on an off chance he searched using the word IT that he'd got from an old book on fairies.

San expected little or nothing and got a lot. Listings on a long novel by Stephen King bearing the title came up. The book being of the variety called horror or dark fantasy - highly illegal material in civilian society. He really had no time to read huge novels or other related fantasy works so he narrowed the search to the factual and came up with an essay titled “The power of Monsters.” The introductory blurb listed the work as written by an insane novelist of the past – and the man was again Stephen King.

San felt thick slime moving in his mouth as he pursed his lips, and he thanked Eden that he didn’t have to look at himself. He wondered about the classification of King as insane. King lived in a period when all people were inferior and mad so it was possible that good old modern man feared him for other reasons - that was usually the case when it came to history.

He read through the essay, and he realized that the author was really a clever fellow of that period. Bright enough in fact to make San appreciate something that should have been obvious but hadn't been only moments ago. Everything written about monsters and ogres painted a picture of them as hideous but powerful creatures. Here he was being blackmailed, supposedly into submission, all on the theory that he couldn't psychologically bear up against the transformation. But what if he managed to control the horror just a little longer - long enough to gain the strength and power of this creature? If he got lucky and it was enough, he could fake surrender, and kill his foes when they arrived with the genetic antidote.

Thoughts of murder caused blood to race in his temples. Veins pounded and a crushing power seized his mind. A taste like venom ran in his mouth and spots of red whirled in the darkness. He pushed the chair back and felt his shirt tear from the expansion of his muscles as he rose. There was an incredible desire to lash out and kill something, but there was nothing so he thundered across the room and went down the stairs. His feet took him to the bedroom and he fell across the mattress and lay there as his thoughts settled. Several deep breaths helped to calm him down. Then he sat back up and stared at the dresser and an old photograph of himself as a boy.

As he stared at the photo, a tiny scar split open and grew to a long gore-oozing gash. The pulsing tissue swallowed his mind and a sunny day flooded into memory. He was nine years old and playing in High Park, using a remote control app to fly a miniature FN22 race plane through the mix of trees. It ascended, looped, swung down and dodged through the leafy boughs. San brought it in for a close approach, dogged some chipmunks and suddenly his piloting skills failed. It rose, caught a branch at high speed and broke up. Shards and sparks rained down, and a large chunk of debris glanced off of his cheekbone.

San tumbled in the deep grass and rolled up to his feet. He'd thrown himself back, trying to duck and that softened the blow. His right hand flew to his injured face and came away covered with blood. Shock settled in as he watched the thick liquid drip from his fingers, then tears welled in his eyes and mixed emotions rose in his breast. He let out one sob, then confusion swept him and he began to laugh. More tears poured as he laughed insanely and ran back to the picnic table, his parents and their friends.

San tore at his face as he ran, smearing blood across his forehead, hair and down his shirt. He burst in on the peaceful picnic scene, a gore-soaked sight that inspired much panic and no sympathy. Soda got spilled and food tumbled as the adults scattered with screams on their lips and horror on their faces.

In memory, their screaming came as a long fading echo that ended as a vision of Doctor Cleeson rose - his face cocked half sideways as his disdainful frown appeared. Cleeson removed San's scar using a painless laser technique. In the end, the huge gash was no more than a tiny scar that could only be seen through a magnifier.

The operation didn't make San happy. Losing the scar was like losing a pet frog. At nine years old, the wound had been a great thing that allowed him to terrify his friends and take time off school. With the surgery, it was all gone - and something much worse came about. His mother's introduction to the new modes of plastic surgery became something close to a living nightmare. She had never been satisfied with the face she'd selected for him before birth and now she began to change it the way she changed her hair. As San suffered through operation after operation, she reviewed faddish magazines and lectured him on the necessity of it all. If they would work long enough and hard enough, she said, eventually they would find that special combination of features and expressions that would make him stand out from his peers.

After two years of compliance only loathing for his parents stood out, and another change had gradually taken place … He spent so much time at the clinic that staff let him roam unsupervised. San entered forbidden rooms and toyed with taboo objects. Plastic surgeons used models, busts and photos of all types of people in their work. The images Cleeson surrounded himself with in his private office were varied - beautiful, plain and some of them outright creepy. San's favourite was a huge photographic record of girls and women who were quite hideous by modern standards. He often bit his tongue and grimaced as he went through these photos, and they fascinated him to the point that he removed some pages and hid them under his mattress at home.

This led to discovery, a confrontation with his mother and five years of forced psychiatric treatment under Ms. Jane Alboe. San hated her. She existed as a miserable and filthy-minded psychotherapist who often twisted her lips in a fashion of disgust and accused him of masturbating while studying sick pictures. She demanded a full confession and that he open up in regards to all of his perverse sexual fantasies. At that time, he hadn't known what masturbation was but soon learned as Ms. Alboe forced him to strip and masturbate while touching her “perfect body.” In his further therapy, he was to be taught to love beautiful women.

San felt a grimace form on his face and his eyes left the photograph and went to the mirror. The immediate sense was one of disbelief. Most amazing was that there'd been no pain. He'd undergone a near total change without feeling a thing. And he wasn’t horror-struck this time, but drawn to himself to the point that he got up and went over to view himself in full-length pseudo glass.

Eye contact worked to create acceptance and a genuine self-image or feeling that the new appearance was also the new him. He'd unmistakably become a gruesome fanged being of ancient forests. A monster with soft branch-like tentacles on its head, and shining eyes that were oval, ruby tinted and pushed to the sides by a nose and mouth reminiscent of the snouts of predatory creatures pictured in forbidden fantasy books. His skin was scaly with brown and green camouflage patches below the eyes and on the cheeks. In fact, all of his skin was a lizard-like blend of pale chalks.

His neck, arms and legs had thickened. Taut with muscle and tendon they were as sturdy as tree trunks and they blended well into his barrel-shaped torso and armour-plated chest. Gnarled hands and feet were attached with wrists and ankles far more flexible than those of a man … standing out like the crown of his new appearance was a serpent-like penis.

San stared at himself for a full five minutes, watching the amazing change complete itself with brush-like touches. He was managing to cope with the new appearance and enjoyed the feelings of great physical strength that came with it.

His mood stabilized to one of confidence and clear thinking and he decided it was time for the call. He picked up the phone and hesitated. It seemed like a toy he could easily crush. A moment later, he put it down and tried to talk. “Hello,” he said, noting the hoarse nature of his voice. Then he said it again a few times, adding weakness to the tone. When it sounded just right, he hit the saved number.

“Guess it must be you, San,” he heard the man say. “Damn, you really have put on a show.”

“I know, but I'm ready to surrender,” San said meekly. “You've got to meet me now before it's too late. This transformation has turned me into a walking corpse.”

“Just relax, San old boy ... or should I say, very ugly old boy. Listen up. We can reverse it and there won't be any pain. You'll just have to do a few things for us to keep it from happening again. Meet us in one hour at ....”

------------------------------

Fully transformed and animal naked he left the apartment and went down the long hallway to a second bank of elevators humming at the rear of the complex. The first car to open carried three male passengers and they stared at him briefly and blankly. He didn't enter but waited for an empty car to arrive. Recognition appeared to be the same as with the corpse in Springhill Park; he was now so ugly by society's standards that his appearance did not fully register when people first looked at him.

As he rode down, he looked through the transparent barrier tube at an umbrella of starry night and decided that the ugliness factor gave him a distinct advantage. He would always be a partially invisible being as long as he didn't let human contact last very long. Socialize for any length of time and people would be sure to start fainting and screaming.

The doors rotated silently open on an arched exit ramp leading to a nearly empty public court. Moonlight spilled down generously, glistening on broad rubbery leaves, a mosaic of stones and a bubbling fountain pool. Breathing in the fresh night air was like decompressing a rush drug in his throat. He felt an incredible boost of strength and arousal, almost like he was the guy in the beam commercial for Nestle Rush bars, but not quite since he was a lot stronger and much of the feeling came from his vastly improved hearing and sense of smell.

He was about to go down the sweep of steps, then he gave way to an errant animal impulse and leapt up the boundary wall. His claws seized clumps of ivy and he went straight up for 12 metres and over to land softly on his feet in a quiet parking bay. It had all gone so smooth he felt certain that he could probably climb a mountain with similar ease. Walking between some large Chase delivery trucks he headed for the exit ramp, then the situation suddenly changed as an armed guard appeared from a booth and confronted him near the gate. The guard was unduly large for a person of Chinese extraction and he had his speedgun drawn as he stepped up.

Stopping a few paces from San, the guard wiped his tired eyes, like he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. His hand left his face, and San remained still, engaging him in solid eye contact. A deadly chain reaction followed as the guard's face became a mask of fright and he swung the gun into place and fired. San ducked left and the shot went wide. It grazed the side of a tanker, ringing it like a bell. The bolt went on to pop the tire of a Sun transport. The projectile, composed of a nearly pure form of kinetic metal, transferred its blast force, rocking the tanker and shattering all of its windows and headlights.

As the guard swung the gun for another shot, San moved in with the liquid speed of a lion. He dove and came down on him hard, mauling him with his claws as they went to the concrete.

The force of impact knocked them apart and they both rolled up. Blood oozed from the guard's torn face and chest, but he still had the gun and was about to fire. Since San had come up within reach he simply swung his long arm in and turned the weapon back on the guard, and the motion was completed as the weapon went off. The fire of the blast tearing the guard's head and chest from his body and sending them and trails of exploding flesh into the Plexiglas window of the guard post.

As the rest of the body crumpled to the pavement, San found himself frozen, staring down at blood and moonlight and finding the scent of raw flesh very appetizing. Without a doubt, the hunger for human flesh was in him now and it disturbed him. He wasn't ready for it yet, so he backed away slowly, terrified of what he had done and looking around to see if the noise had drawn any more guards.

Some fast agile leaps got him out and a street away. Sucking in a deep breath, he turned down an alleyway that ran a quarter kilometre over to the next major avenue. The narrow space contained spongy ground, exposed earth tufted with deep grass and weeds that his new feet found to be much more soothing than concrete. Beside him, the walls of a residential complex rose into shadow and ebony darkness, nearly reaching the smudged light of the stars and blue satellite conglomerate carpeting the sky.

Fragrant odors lingered on the damp grass and touched his nostrils. There was subtle detection of the metallic content of loose earth. Fumes laced with the smells of spent fuels drifted to him as he passed a puddle. He found his psychological state to be sound and he felt far more in tune with the night world as the creature than he had as a human being. There was a sense of great power like he could tear ten men limb from limb and enjoy doing it. All of the predatory instincts that had been genetically removed for the good of society had been returned to him. They flowed as new blood in his veins, yet he felt fully in control. His mental balance could only be described as the superior state of a superior being. And with the euphoria came the realization that scientists had been trying in vain for a century to do what nature had done long ago. The hideous ogre was the true genetic leap - superior strength, senses and intellect.

In tune with nature and not dependent on technology, San believed the ogre branch of man could build a far better world than his artificial rival. Genetically improved man had built a great technological society, but there were always bugs and glitches spoiling the smooth operation of the hoped for perfect world. Too many items important to culture and freedom were considered messy and left out of the equation. An army of government and corporate employees swept them up. San supposed that on some future day humankind would sweep up and exterminate itself. Clean moneymaking android machines would claim the great eternity of the flawless corporate technocrats and planners … all of it for the glory of nothing and no one named or unnamed that had a real face. Just some idea out there in a cube of how the world could be better and more profitable for fate and the monster scabs it brought along to rule.

A couple more fast and dark shortcuts took him to a rubbish-strewn road that was an unusual scene in the modern city where vacant space was a luxury. It was a trail thick with freak weeds - huge shivering mistakes that had never been completely eliminated. Ruts and spill erosion had chewed into the main track to a depth that would make an all-terrain vehicle necessary for any person wanting to drive it. San's rendezvous with the gangsters was to be at the end of this gopher path at the wall and gate of an abandoned Nestle industrial complex.

He could see much farther as the creature, and even through deep darkness. The wall of the complex was a short distance ahead. Cracked and dripping with vines it rose high in the night. At its top, a force shield resembling smoked glass flashed and glittered ominously, and beyond it stood a gleaming onion dome and a tower.

A faint haze of yellow nightlight filtered through the black web of boughs overhead and as he grew closer, he spotted some fresh tire tracks in the earth. They ran parallel to the gate, meaning the gangsters hadn't used the road but had come through the bushes from the south. He knew they were using a big hydrogen vehicle because he could smell traces of the acrid exhaust. There were also odors of alcohol and human sweat drifting in the air from some willows to the right of the gate.

A cloud of insects suddenly swarmed down and then away nearly as quickly as his body emitted a defensive odor. San was close now so he perched on a huge rut in the dried mud, and with some concentration, spotted two armed men standing in the darkness under one of the willows. One had his hands in his pockets and the other appeared relaxed but watchful. Obviously the men were backup for the person he was about to meet. They couldn't see him yet and wouldn't until he stepped out of the deeper darkness into the open moonlit area near the gate.

Due to the bright moonlight spotlighting the gate, he decided to walk toward it but stand at its side in the shadow of the wall and foliage. Putting his head down and hunching his shoulders, he moved into the light and went over to a post on the left side of the gate. There he was visible to the men but only vaguely so.

He kept watch on them from the corner of his eye. They didn’t see him but he noted that they had drawn their weapons. Clearly, they were waiting for some signal or for someone else to show.

The arrival of a third man came with movement in the bushes and the rustling brush automatically triggered San's night vision. It instantly turned the darkness into a form of faint colored light. Shadows vanished like mist and he saw the man clearly. He had a combination of rugged features and a strong gaze that added up to a look of handsome though somewhat sinister ferocity. His suit was loose but the collarless shirt beneath the jacket was tight; the clothing being all in gray tones that camouflaged him neatly. An ordinary man would not be seeing him yet, but San saw him so well that he noticed him doing a pat check on a weapon he had shoved down his belt under his jacket at the back. Packing a gun that way meant he had prepared for a possible fast draw.

As the gangster moved out of the bushes, San lowered his head and shuffled back and forth. Then when the guy got closer, he looked up, feigning surprise. This worked to disarm the criminal and he walked up confidently. He stopped before he got too close to San and pulled dark wraparound glasses from his jacket pocket and put them on.

Tapping the right lens he said, “It's easier to talk to you when I can stand to look at you. My name is Daniel Grant, and you'll be taking orders from me from now on.”

“You got the stuff?” San said, an urgent tone in his voice.

“Patience, patience. It's in my pocket. It's never been used on an advanced case like yours, but our scientist says it will work. The reversal will go as smoothly as your current transformation has.”

“So how long did you last before you cracked and begged for the reversal?”

“Seven hours. You knew it happened to me? I’m surprised”

“Most people can't see me or look at me directly, even with tinted glasses on, so you've had some experience. You're also a military genetic type and old enough to be an officer of some sort. Obviously the gang wanted agents in the military so they recruited you in the same cruel way.”

“I'm glad you're observant. You've saved me a lot of talking. It is true that I didn't volunteer, but I'm at the top in this region now. One reason I'm here is to tell you that it isn't bad at all – you'll easily adjust and you can't beat the benefits. You'll not only get to call the shots in this big town, but you'll be able to exercise power in a way you couldn't as a cop. We don't see ourselves as gangsters. We're a sort of hidden police force. The state doesn't pay us of course. We take care of that ourselves.”

“I'm sure you do, Daniel. In sending you, your masters have also picked the right man for my notions. I might as well tell you straight off that my mission is similar to yours. I'm here to recruit you.”

“Recruit me,” he said, chuckling quietly. “Don't tell me you're still trying to play cop at this stage of the game?”

“Not cop, but criminal. I want you to join me and create a new organization?”

“Ah, a man with ambition. But no, it doesn't work that way. We take you in and you work your way up. Attempts at a takeover would fail.”

“I'm not a man with ambitions; I'm a monster with certainty. I passed the test you see, and I'm the IT or the ogre. What I've discovered is that the full change creates a superior being. Our society attempted to create the master race using our notions of beauty and strength, and failed. Nature makes no such errors.”

“It looks like nature's error is madness or a form of mania. Do you really expect me to help a thing like you? I underwent that change partially. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. Maybe you always were some kind of undetected freak - a genetic misfit who can somehow tolerate the grotesque. But others can't. Your plan would never work. You really have no choice other than to do what we say.”

“No. I can't return to my former human self. And once I have the spore I can select people who have a chance of making it. I need you in human form, because you're good at what you do. You can organize for me. My plan is not to destroy all men or transform everyone - just a select few. An organization controlled by us would have incredible power. No one could fight us and win.”

Putting his hand to his chin, Daniel thought it over, not knowing that San could see through his dark lenses. The mood in Daniel's eyes was at first supportive, then his thinking shifted to the contrary and San detected very faint movement. He knew Daniel was going for his gun with his other hand.

Striking out with cat speed San raked a claw up Daniel's chest, cutting cloth and flesh and sending him tumbling back onto the rutted road. Then as Daniel rolled, San did a quick turn and leapt for the wall, bullets from the backup gunners spraying in a trail behind him as he moved like a blur. He went for the top on all fours like an animal running and when he was high enough he jumped straight to the trees.

The force of his leap sent him flying through the leaves; he connected with a sturdy bough and swung up even higher. Suddenly the whole tree shook and a glance down showed him that Daniel had been smart enough to shoot the trunk, causing a force transfer to the tree. The other two weren't as clever; they were spraying bullets up through the leaves.

The trees arched over the road making it easy for San to race out on a limb and leap across. From there he circled in other dark treetops, positioning himself high in the second tree back from the open gate area.

Below Daniel moved into the shadows near where they had met while the other two gangsters were in the open moonlight and looking up. They conferred then stepped back and again sprayed a tree with projectiles.

While the guns rattled, San busted off a piece of branch and tossed it lightly over to the first tree. It dropped down through the limbs and on seeing it land, the men quickly changed their aim.

Random fire was getting them nowhere so they held off and moved forward slowly, looking up and shifting their gaze from tree to tree. Daniel had not joined them; he was slowly climbing the ivied wall to an open portion in the force field.

One of the men was directly under him and in shadows now, so San decided to make a move. His skin brushed the bark as he slid silently down the trunk to the lowest limb. There he wrapped his feet around the branch and swung down hard, coming out of the darkness to rake the gunman's neck with the full force of his claws. It was a blow so deadly that it ripped most of the man's throat away and sent blood pulsing out in a spray of dark rain.

As San scrambled back up the boughs, he heard the other gunman gasp and then a rattle as bullets pounded the branch. Daniel was on top of the wall now. He'd removed his jacket and was using it to stop the bleeding from the claw wounds on his chest. His gun had been holstered. It looked like he planned on seeing if his men were successful and if they weren't he was going to escape over the wall and into the abandoned complex.

Luck came as the remaining gunman suddenly ran out of ammunition and began a quick and desperate reload. It wasn't fast enough as San dropped to earth five metres from him and charged. He tackled the man, knocking the wind out of him, and he held onto him as he ran into the brush. From there he dragged the guy through the thorns and went up a maple tree.

Daniel had not attempted to shoot him and he remained standing at the top of the wall. San decided to test his strength. Locking his feet into the tree trunk, he lifted the limp body and threw the man. It took every ounce of his strength. The body arced out over the boughs and into the force shield, a few metres down from Daniel. It was like hitting a spike or powerful magnet. The shield held the body, lit it up like transparent neon, super-heated the flesh and sent organs and blood showering out in a boiling explosion. A cloud of hissing steam rose, the bones burned and the skull shattered like pottery. Moments later wisps of smoke and dust remained. A dark stain ran on the ivied wall.

Daniel turned toward the opening in the shield and went halfway through, then he turned and yelled back to San. “The spore's in the tower, inside the complex. The scientist and a couple other men are all we need. The rest we can kill.”

San watched as Daniel disappeared over the wall. Then he leapt, went through the opening and dropped down to a weedy field. He spotted Daniel ahead of him. He’d halted on a path leading through the brush, and was looking ahead to the tower.

San studied the structure; it rose amid industrial wreckage - a powerful engine of the past. He felt his chest muscles contract like a second potent engine. And at that moment, the genetic changes became complete. His mind rose with super intelligence. He knew the spore could be obtained easily and that Daniel would remain as his partner.

The new world would be a Garden of Eden … a jungle … but mankind and all of old earth would remain or be reborn. Ogres would rule the world, but it had always been that way.

---- the end -----