Forest Friends and Foes
I opened my eyes slowly. All I saw above me was blue sky. I felt warm. I couldn't possibly still be sprawled on the snow-covered tarmac at Bonnyville Municipal Airport; the weather was too nice to be Canada in February. Or was it even still February? With the heat, it felt more like spring. After a while, my senses returned to me and I sat up. I scanned around my field of vision and found that I was perched on a large flat boulder surrounded by green grass. The meadow was ringed by a clump of evergreen trees. I guessed that the temperature was roughly 70 degrees, with no snow in sight. This definitely wasn't Bonnyville!
If it wasn't Bonnyville, then where was I? I vaguely recalled the events that happened just before I passed out. Cardiff had said something about ... a forest. That was it! The forest was in ... where was it? Michigan! I must be in Michigan, I decided. I didn't know where in Michigan I was, nor did I know anything about the state. All I knew was that I was in a forest somewhere. If I had had any prior knowledge, I would have known that Michigan is famous for its cold winters, and that a Michigan February averages about 34 degrees F. But I didn't know that. What I did notice was that the scientists who had hovered over me before were nowhere to be found, and instead I looked down and saw what I nearly mistook for my own reflection staring back at me. I blinked twice and realized that my “reflection” was actually a small red fox. The fox sniffed me cautiously and recoiled when I put out my paw to scritch its ears. I held almost perfectly still and allowed the fox to creep forward and sniff me again. I must have passed inspection, because the fox sat down on the boulder and started licking its chops. I felt strangely intrigued by this small creature, so similar to me and yet so different. It was hard for me to believe that I once was what now sat in front of me.
“Hey there, little fella,” I said gently to the fox.
The fox became frightened upon hearing me utter those words. To it, I was an animal that smelled, and kind of looked, like its kind, but was so much bigger and made such strange noises. The small fox turned and loped off into the bushes. I felt a little sad, because for the first time in my known life I had associated with my own species, and the encounter had been so short. The forest was dead quiet; no birds chirping, nothing. Not even the common sounds of civilization encroaching, like the dull roar of faraway traffic. It was disconcerting to hear no noise at all in a setting so devoid of human activity.
I sat and examined the cloud formations in the sky for a while. Oddly enough, they didn't seem to move as normal clouds usually do. At the time I attributed that to the perfectly calm day -- there was no wind at all. I heard a twig snap behind me and turned around to see what was in the bushes. The twisting action of my torso sent a dull pain through my gut; I suddenly remembered having been drugged with the tranquilizer dart, which had left a small scab on my stomach. I shook off the pain and looked toward the bushes. There, sitting on the grass as if posing for a picture, were a good twenty red foxes. They all stared at me with their beady little yellow eyes. I felt awkward and didn't know what to do next. The foxes began to move toward me slowly, their gaze never leaving me. What were they going to do? What was I going to do? After what seemed like an eternity the group of foxes reached me. I sat in stunned silence as they inspected me, sniffing, licking, pawing at me. I had been accepted by them.
I spent the rest of the day with the foxes. They tolerated my presence and stayed near me as people might be attracted to an interesting stranger. I found that more than half of the foxes in the forest were female, and some of them were pretty cute. But it would ruin my reputation if I allowed myself to lose control. Diana would never forgive me. The large number of vixens reminded me of what Cardiff had said ... whatever he had said ... whenever he said it. I played with a couple of the foxes, who romped around without a care in the world. After a while, it started getting dark. I realized that I had not yet found shelter for the night. Not far from the boulder in the clearing was a large burrow that resembled a fox den but, on a much larger scale. In fact, it was perfect for a fox roughly ... my size. How odd. I was used to sleeping in strange places, and though I preferred soft, warm beds, this would have to do. The den wouldn't be the most comfortable shelter in the world, but it would be better than nothing if it rained during the night. I settled in and soon found myself accompanied by five or six other foxes, probably a family, who curled up around me and provided all the warmth I needed.
I woke up the next morning to find that the foxes had all left. I got up and left the den to relieve myself and then go find breakfast. Would I have to catch and kill something just to eat? I was so used to eating breakfast in the company of humans, eating human foods, that I wondered if I even could catch anything. It would be embarrassing for a creature of my intelligence, and with advanced military training, to be unable to provide for himself in the wilderness! I looked around for a while, then discovered a backpack just lying there next to a tree. Who would leave a backpack out here? I unzipped it and found a pack of wrapped Clif Bars in various flavors, as well as a large unopened bottle of Dasani water. Well, there was breakfast. I hoped it was safe to eat.
I ate and was soon rejoined by my foxy friends, undoubtedly attracted by the food. I didn’t share any of my breakfast with them, because I wasn't sure if normal foxes were able to eat Clif Bars. Some of them found berries to eat from nearby bushes, while others came back with rabbits they had caught. As I finished eating, I wondered what day it was. Where was the nearest town? I noted the sun’s position and considered setting out toward the east to see if I could reach civilization and find a phone. After breakfast the woods again became silent as they were the day before.
The silence was broken by the sound of approaching footsteps. The foxes scattered and fled for cover. I looked toward a clump of trees and saw a figure walk out. It looked like ... Cardiff? What was he doing here? I was in no mood to run or to fight him, so I just sat there.
“Good morning, Fox,” Cardiff said. “I hope you slept well.”
“Where am I and how did I get here?” I demanded.
“All in good time, my boy, all in good time,” Cardiff said, smiling. “It’s a long story.”
“Don’t call me ‘my boy’,” I said.
“To answer your question, you are currently in a Michigan forest,” Cardiff said.
“I know that already,” I said irritably.
Cardiff was still smiling. “Yes, but not just any forest. This is the forest at BioCon’s Michigan facility.”
Great. I was back in the grubby hands of BioCon. “How did I get here?” I asked.
“We didn’t want you putting up a fight, so we tranquilized you and loaded you in the van. We left Bonnyville and drove all the way to this facility just outside Dearborn, Michigan. We kept you sedated the entire trip to minimize the risk of you escaping. You were asleep for four days. Today is the eighth of February.”
“So that’s why I don’t remember any of it,” I said. “Where are the other scientists?”
“They are off doing their respective jobs,” Cardiff said. “You’re being monitored and studied as we speak.”
I felt under my shirt and found a small sensor attached to my chest, then scratched an itch between my ears and found another one there. “What are these for?” I inquired.
“The sensor on your chest monitors your heart rate and muscle functions. The one on your head monitors your brain activity. Dr. Yoshimitsu and Dr. Schlossburg have been using them to see what makes you tick, and Dr. Moskvitch has taken a special interest to your mental goings-on.” Cardiff sounded proud of himself for having caught me again, and now he was going to exploit me for all he could, it seemed.
I looked down at the rough texture of the boulder on which I sat. “Why am I here?” I asked. “Why didn't you drag me back to the California lab?”
Cardiff smiled again. “We thought that you would feel more at home in your native environment with some of your own kind.”
“But this isn’t my native environment. Not anymore,” I said. “I may be a fox, but I don’t belong here.”
“Oh yes you do,” Cardiff countered. “You are property of BioCon Corp and you belong to us. You’re staying here. It’s either this or a cell. I think you’d prefer this.”
“You don’t own me!” I cried. “Nobody owns me! I don’t want to be here and you can’t force me to stay!”
“If you don’t calm down, I’ll have no other option but to perform the procedure on you,” Cardiff warned. “You’ll be one of them again,” he said, indicating toward the bushes where the foxes were hiding. “You won’t be able to hurt yourself or anyone else.”
“Is that a threat?” I growled.
“Yes, that is a threat,” Cardiff said. “And as much as I would like to keep you as you are, I will act on it if you refuse to behave!”
He turned and started to walk back into the forest. I got up and started to follow him. “Wait!” I called after him. “Where are you going?”
Cardiff produced a small black object from inside his coat and held it out toward me. For some reason, at first glance I thought it was a cell phone. I reached out to accept it and instead was zapped with several thousand volts of electricity. It was a taser! My muscles locked up and I fell to the soft ground. I watched helplessly, immobile, as Cardiff reached a wall painted to look like trees and sky. He inserted a key card in a small slot, and a door slid open out of the wall. Cardiff walked through the doorway and the door slid closed behind him. Suddenly it hit me: I was trapped inside an indoor forest with no way to escape.
When I finally regained control of my limbs, I crawled over to the wall where the door was. The door was flush-fitting and was barely visible. I couldn’t have slid a piece of paper through the gap between the door and the wall. I saw the slot where Cardiff had inserted his keycard. Above it was a screen which required a retinal scan and fingerprint identification to open the door. I would have to wait until someone with security clearance came through the door before I could escape.
A red light was blinking inside a hole in a tree trunk. Security cameras, too? Damn, these people were thorough. I padded back to my den in the clearing and sat there for a while. I glanced up at the ceiling of the den and spotted another little red light. I was under surveillance everywhere I went in this infernal green prison!
Eventually I heard footsteps again. Had Cardiff come back to further piss me off so that he would have an excuse to turn me into one of his pets? The intruder stopped at the den entrance. It was Dr. Moskvitch. “What do you want?” I said bitterly.
“Wull, hulloo to you too,” she said in a thick Russian accent. “I am here to talk to you. I haff been studyink yoor brain and I must say that you exceed my expectations.”
“How so?” I said, my interest mildly piqued.
“Yoor brain voorks just like that of human,” she said. “You haff seemilar thoughts and emotions. You theenk nothing like vhat you once were.”
“I could have told you that,” I said, shrugging. “You wouldn't happen to have some vodka on you, eh?” I added as a joke.
“You theenk is funny? Not all Russians dreenk wodka. But we are not here to deescuss that. I vant to get eento your mind and see vhat makes you vhat you are.”
“I make myself what I am,” I said firmly. “You don’t have to perform an experiment to learn that.”
Moskvitch frowned. “Doctor Cardiff asked me to do thees.”
“You listen to that nutjob?” I said.
“I haff to. Ees my job. He ees my boss. He makes the rules around here. Now, as I vos sayeenk–”
“Okay, whatever,” I said. “I don’t need to hear your life story.”
“You eenterrupted me,” Moskvitch said, her eyes narrowing to slits behind her glasses. “You may be smart like human but you need to learn manners.”
“Oh, I have manners. I just don’t like being nice to people who bother me.”
Moskvitch was visibly getting angry. “We are gettink nowhere. If you do not cooperate I vill report it to Cardiff and he vill make you eento leettle forest creeture again.”
“You haven’t told me to do anything yet,” I pointed out.
“Ees true. We begeen now. Do you remember anythink about yoor family?”
“I don’t even know how old I am,” I said. “The program was started so long ago that I don’t remember my family at all. They’re probably dead by now.”
“Oh, you vant to bet, eh?” she said, smiling faintly.
“Come on,” I said, “they have to be dead by now.”
“Those foxes who stayed vith you last night recognized yoor scent. None of them are yoor parents, or even yoor siblinks, but they are related to you. Theenk of them as ... your nephews and nieces, Uncle.”
Whoa, stop the presses! Some of the foxes in that forest were my relatives? “You can’t be serious,” I said.
“Oh, I am veery serious,” Moskvitch said. “I haff voorked here veery long time and I know these theenks.”
“Doctor,” I said, “I need your help. Cardiff is clearly nuts. Please help me escape from this place.”
Moskvitch frowned again. She gestured in a sweeping motion around her. “Who ees crazy? Here you haff everythink you could possibly vant. Escape ... pssh! You are the crazy one.”
I gripped a rock. “Look, Doc,” I said seriously, “if you’re not with me then you’re against me.”
Moskvitch wasn’t impressed. “You are feelink like caged animal,” she said. “Ees typical for desperate prisoners to be hostile. I haff seen thees many times before.”
Now she was just starting to piss me off. “Please,” I pleaded, “just help me get out of here. Just this room! All I need you to do is open the door. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I don’t help other experiments to escape, so vhy should I help you? You are not to be allowed out of here for veery long time. So you ken talk and you have many humanlike emotions. That does not make you human! You are still animal and as far as anyone in thees compound ees concerned, you stay here.”
“I really don’t want to hurt you,” I said in a warning tone. “Don’t make me do this.”
“Do vhat?” Moskvitch said. “Are you makink threat? Remember you are on camera at all times.”
If I was going to make my big escape now, I would need Moskvitch’s keycard, fingerprint, and retina pattern. Since two of them were attached to her, and the third was tucked away in her pocket, I would need to take her with me. It would have been so much easier if Moskvitch had gone willingly, but she was being difficult. I would have to take desperate measures to escape, and this was probably my best chance. Moskvitch would be the easiest to overpower out of the BioCon Five.
Moskvitch got a new idea. “Tell you vhat, Fox. I vill give you sedative, make you sleep. We ken talk about thees again tomorrow.”
She pulled a small syringe out of her coat. “What’s that?” I asked innocently.
“Ees a form of benzodiazepine,” Moskvitch said. “Seemilar to Valium. Relaxes the muscles, you calm down like tired puppy.”
I might be able to work this to my advantage. I set down the rock and sat still, waiting for Moskvitch to come over. She bent over my arm and was just about to inject me with the sedative when I suddenly seized her hand with my other paw. She dropped the syringe in surprise and it nearly broke when it hit the dirt floor. We both made a dive for it, but I got there first. In one fluid movement I grabbed the syringe and poked the doctor in the shoulder with it, depressing the plunger fully until the glass chamber was empty.
“Vhat haff you done?” Moskvitch cried. “Oh, they vill get you for that.”
“Doctor, I’m very sorry I had to do that,” I said earnestly. “But you gave me no choice.”
Moskvitch was getting woozy. Her speech began to slur. “I underestimated you...are smarter than I thaw...ohhhh...” She passed out before she could finish her sentence.
I hoisted Moskvitch over my shoulder and carried her across the forest to the door in the wall, careful not to injure her in her unconscious state. I easily retrieved the keycard from her pocket, then pressed her limp hand against the fingerprint scanner. The retina scan was another story. Her eyes were closed. I gently pushed one of them open and found that they were rolled back so that the irises were mostly hidden. This was a problem. I let Moskvitch’s head hang down and then opened her eye again. This time the scanner was able to read it, and a small green light lit up. The door began to open. I had done it!
On the other side of the doorway was a corridor lit with fluorescent lights. I headed to the right and passed several doors. The hall branched off at a T-intersection. A directory sign pointed the way to the lobby, which was to the left. To get there I would have to pass the genetics lab and a security station. Yoshimitsu and Schlossburg would probably be in the lab, and Cardiff might, too. For sure the security station would be manned. I was surprised that no one had yet sounded the alarm. Maybe the guy watching the security cameras was on break.
The genetics lab had large, clear double doors. Anyone could have seen me walking past. I figured, why give them an easy target? I would run past the door so there was less chance of my being seen. Much to my dismay, the doors opened and some lackey with a coffee cup stumbled into me as I ran by. We both ended up sprawled on the slippery vinyl floor, and I was hit in the chest and face by steaming hot coffee. Yoshimitsu and Schlossburg rushed out to see what was the matter, and they spotted me getting up to run away.
“Stop!” commanded Schlossburg. “Do not try to escape!”
I ignored him and kept running toward the security booth. “Let’s get him!” Schlossburg called to Yoshimitsu. “Schnell! Hurry!”
I gauged my speed so that Schlossburg and Yoshimitsu were close to me but could not yet grab me. That way I could more easily trip them up without warning. I reached the security station. The guard on duty jumped up and drew his service pistol. “Halt!” he shouted. “Don’t move!”
I put on the brakes immediately, the pads of my paws skidding on the slick vinyl floor. I could not stop in time and slammed into the shocked guard, Schlossburg and Yoshimitsu both toppling on top of me. The guard’s gun was knocked away and slid underneath his desk. I started to crawl toward it and Schlossburg grabbed my leg. I kicked back viciously and ripped his lab coat. Yoshimitsu got up and screamed down the hall for an assistant to bring tranquilizer darts. Schlossburg and I grappled on the floor while the assistant ran up with the darts and a small blowgun. I kicked free of Schlossburg’s grasp and reached the security guard’s desk just as the guard recovered and lunged at me. I dove for the wheeled desk chair and flung it back at him. The chair shoved his legs out from under him and he lost a couple of teeth when he hit the hard floor.
The guard’s pistol was almost within my grasp, then Schlossburg tackled me. I kicked him in the nuts so hard that I hurt my foot. Schlossburg was down for the count, doubled over and singing soprano on the floor. That left Yoshimitsu. I looked up and saw that he was readying the blowgun to sedate me again. He blew once and the dart whistled past me, missing by inches. I reached up to the desktop and yanked the mouse cord out of the back of the computer, twirling it over my head like a sling. Yoshimitsu was nearly done reloading with another dart when I let the mouse fly. He looked up just in time to see the white Logitech 2-button connect with the bridge of his nose. The impact smashed Yoshimitsu’s glasses and rendered him nearly sightless. I bared my fangs savagely at the lab assistant and he ran away in terror.
With the immediate threats more or less neutralized, I reached down and retrieved the guard’s gun. How was I going to get out of here? I had no idea where I was, and I had no vehicle. All I had was a gun. Well, that was a start. I picked up a map of the facility from the desk and searched for a way out. I didn’t have the time to find the lobby; any emergency exit would do. The map showed an exit just down the hall and to the right, which opened up onto the street. I shoved the door open and an alarm sounded. I was immediately hit by a bitingly cold wind that penetrated my clothes and my thin layer of fur. It was freezing outside! There was a light snow on the ground. I had nowhere else to go, so I headed out. Behind me came heavy footfalls that were coming closer. They belonged to Farley. Now he was after me! I was sure he’d be carrying a gun, seeing as how he was an FBI agent.
I ran on foot along the street until I came to an intersection at Miller Road. I turned right onto Miller and tried to flag down a passing car. The driver peeled out and yelled loud obscenities at me as he sped away. Up ahead was a gigantic white factory complex. I could probably lose Farley in there, if I could get inside. I reached a large entrance gate, marked FORD ROUGE CENTER. The guard in the shack appeared to be doing a sudoku puzzle and wasn’t paying attention as I vaulted over the lowered gate and sprinted across the huge parking lot. Farley followed closely behind, and he was soon joined by other BioCon security staff. I led them up the main building and faked right, running down a narrow alley that ran the length of the building.
The alley opened up in a large yard next to another giant building. A door was open and I ducked inside the massive facility. I was immediately bombarded with noise and was astounded by what I saw. All around me were machines, robots, and people. It appeared to be an assembly line. I suddenly realized what was happening. I had just run into Ford’s River Rouge Truck Plant ... and I was still being chased.
(c) 2006 wannabemustangjockey