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uA's "Different Eyes" [Chapter Six]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by unrepentantAuthor, Apr 18, 2018.

  1. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    @AmericanPi, thanks for reviewing! It's always nice to see a new icon on the thread.

    DE is certainly a pokémorph fic in the making, but I want it to stand entirely independent from other stories about hybrids. I'm glad you didn't need to be a hybrid fic reader to get invested. And hey, I'm a sucker for xenofiction and the Warriors series too!

    I've now updated the Prelude to have a narrative framing device, I hope this is an improvement to the issue you described.

    I'm pretty proud of pokésign, if I'm honest. It'll show up plenty more as the story continues, what with it being a compromise between common body languages and vocalisations, and actual human signing. Voltorb and other pokémon with little bodily expressiveness genuinely have great trouble making themselves understood, and there's no real way to handle that problem unfortunately.

    Thanks for your encouraging comments about the setting and narrative! I understand perfectly how difficult it is to commit to longer chapterfics, but I hope that I can entice you to return to DE and maintain your interest once your capacity for reading is different. I assure you, the xenofiction element will stick around! Cheers.

    -

    @Marika_CZ, thanks as always for being a reliable reviewer, I truly appreciate it. I honestly feel like the pacing issue you've discussed is an inherent downside of the way in which I've approached the early story. I think that the edits I've made to Chapter Four are the best possible compromise at this time, and I will simply have to accept that the pacing at this point is naturally imperfect. You seem to find the edited version a real improvement, so that's reassuring!

    Your analysis of Salem's capacity for broad abstract thought is entirely on the ball. She is only an especially smart cat, and she simply cannot conceive of the nuanced implications of human behaviour. However, you used her failure to model Laura's grief and confusion and therefore to empathise with her as your chief example of 'naivety/immaturity'. Note that Salem's chief motivator in this context is fear of being left unstimulated for months on end having established no relationships besides that with Laura. She is already demonstrating signs of animal stereotypy in the first chapter, and the severity of this problem combined with her inability to make herself understood is the archetypal example of inadequate care provision by a human to a pokémon. Given Salem has such trouble communicating, I think it's a perfectly adult choice to leave, and subsequently not to cooperate with Jamie after he broke his first promise to her like it was nothing without even considering that she might have been abused. You also called Laura her 'owner'. That is legally true, but I've done my best to indicate that Salem is a creature with greater sapience and more needs than a real cat, and the idea that she is property without the right to leave is an idea I wish to discredit.

    I've implemented several edits in ch4, in part based on your suggestions, and I hope you noticed those in your second reading! Thanks so much for mentioning your favourite lines and for your well-wishing. I will strive forward and have the next chapter up shortly, despite my difficult circumstances offline right now. Cheers, WK, hope to hear from you next time as usual!
     
  2. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    Well, that was fast! Hope you all enjoy this relatively fast update. For various personal reasons, chiefly that I am moving house in the near future, updates may be a bit wobbly for a while. I'll still do my very best to keep the chapters coming, though. This chapter is a special one, as you might anticipate, so it gets some gorgeous illustrative art by the excellent @canisaries. Thanks, mate, you're a legend.

    Five
    Second Nascence

    [​IMG]


    It felt like dying.

    She couldn’t breathe. There was no air. Her lungs strained — no air. She choked and gagged on something, something stuck in her throat. Her lungs strained. Her chest heaved. Nothing.

    There was no air. Yet she did not die.

    She tried to move, to clutch at her throat. Her forelegs were so tired she could hardly feel them. Her limbs moved weakly, so weakly, as if through water. There was water, she was in water. Submerged. She was underwater!

    She tried to flail, to swim, but her limbs protested every command. Her eyes were shut; she could be asleep. No. She was not asleep. She opened her eyes, it stung, it hurt, but there — there was the room, through the faint glass and the green water and the dim light.

    She was in the tank.

    She kept forgetting she was in the tank.

    Each time Salem woke from sleep — if it was sleep at all, for her dreams felt like memories and when she woke it felt like a dream — it got a little easier to remember she was in the tank. It began with choking, then struggling, then opening her eyes. She always realised where she was when she saw the ward, made green in hue by the liquid in the tank. She was looking down at the room as if from a height, so she knew that she could not be standing on the floor. She must be suspended in the tank, like always.

    This time she was just barely lucid enough to notice an alien intrusion in her flesh. A tube from above pierced her chest. Another pierced her neck. More on either side of her head connected to the mask over her mouth. There could be more where she couldn’t see. She was suspended by them, held in place by them, held in this half-dream, half-death. She pawed weakly at one of the cables and felt it tug inside her. She would never have the strength to remove it. Maybe that was for the best. Maybe the cables were remaking her.

    She hadn’t expected to wake at all while she was being remade. This wasn’t right. Something could be wrong with the tank, with the transformation. Something could be wrong with her. This was wrong. But thinking about it got harder and harder, and soon she fell back into the darkness once again.

    Salem drifted in and out of unconsciousness, her eyes never open for long, her mind never able to cling to more than a droplet or two of memory from her dreams or her last days as herself. She dreamed of human faces and her own, of watching herself from behind and seeing her body standing on two legs; of needles; of being held; of being held tightly, too tightly; of blood and hunger and cold. Of fighting. Of losing.

    When she woke to the room, she would look around for someone she knew. A couple times, she thought she could perceive Alisha, as a momentary hazy glimpse past the water and the tank, or as a faint familiar scent. But that was surely an illusion. She could smell nothing but the dead scent of rubber, the smell of the mask fitted to her muzzle. Still, she kept looking for Alisha’s face past the tank glass.

    Her reality was fleeting. Her eyes lied to her. Now she was in the bed from before, but a different room. There were curtains around her. Different containers feeding fluids into her body. Different items applied to to her body. Different covers over her body. She understood none of it. Now she was in the tank again, and there were wires in her skin that felt cold, the way her pads felt on icy pavement. More numb than truly cold. The wires went up overhead and she could vaguely make out glass canisters of liquid fixed to the top of the tank.

    She was changing. It was hard to perceive, to concentrate, but she could tell. It was too clear even through the clouds in her mind. She could feel her body aching, she could see it stretching out below her, longer than could be true. She could feel sensations unfamiliar and strange — her tongue resting differently in her mouth, impossible to feel comfortable with. Different muscles twitching; different extremities itching. Even her heart was different. The beat against her ribs was slow and powerful, like the heavy thumping of human footsteps. A human heartbeat. She could hear her heartbeat in her head, slower than could be right. She’d known she would change, but she’d thought of documentaries, of evolution in normal pokémon, of instant growth and light. This wasn’t evolution. It was slow, human change. Like ageing. Like the growth of trees.

    Once, she woke up and tried to stretch, and she waved her paw in front of her face as she did. Her foreleg — her arm, it would be her arm — burned as she held her paw up, but she held it there all the same, to see the way her digits were lengthening. She tried to flex them, and they cramped up, making her whimper — a whimper that sounded strangely in her head, a whimper that felt odd as it formed in her throat. It never arrived at her ears past the mask and the fluid, instead she heard it from inside her own skull.

    Still she saw her paws nonetheless; pads pulled apart from each other and joints stretched out too far. They were neither paws nor hands now. They were ugly, useless, halfway things. Too stubby and crude to grasp with, but elongated enough that they would be hard to walk on. She imagined her paws being stuck like this; useless for all but the most crude pokésign. She dared not move them too much. It might stop them growing.

    She tried to tell how long she’d been this way. Days? Moons? Seasons? Hard to guess — impossible to know. There were only human lights — no windows, no way to measure the suns and moons. As her ordeal went on, she tried to track time by remembering details: what level the fluid canisters were at, how many plasters she wore on her arm and where, how far below her body her hind-paws — her feet — were. She tried to count how many times these details changed, and always lost cost after three or four.

    It never got easier to focus, to stay awake, or to control her body, but it did get easier to think. Not easy, but possible to do without her thoughts bleeding out of her head. The drowsiness was less raw, more like an irritating scab than a fresh cut. First, it was just that her thoughts were clearer. Then, she could recall details more readily. At last, she was certain, the drip that fed into her arm had been changed five times since she started counting, half as many times as the plaster where the tube that bit her arm had been changed. She was certain too that she’d never recalled so many distinct moments at once. It was as if she’d been half asleep her entire life, and only now was she truly lucid.

    Remembering several things at once and comparing them was thrilling enough, even through the continual panic of not breathing, not standing, not breathing. Even had she been breathing, it would have been breathtaking to think about something someone had said and at the same time consider why or how they had said it. At least, without the memory streaming out of her brain like water off her paw. More so to be able to think about both how she had felt, and why she felt that way. The difference between remembering and understanding… It was the difference between merely drinking water, and actually tasting it as you drank. For the first time, she could taste her thoughts. For the first time, she could clearly ask herself, “did I have to leave Laura? Was that the right thing to do? What if I hadn’t done it?” That was not thrilling. It was terrifying. It was miserable.

    She could not escape the dark panic that came with those thoughts while conscious. So, she sought sleep again, and despite the cold bruise flowering in her chest, and the burning of her skin and eyes, she found it. With sleep came an escape from these new and jagged thoughts. Her dreams changed too. Now she dreamed of speaking English to Alisha, of full and plentiful sentences spilling out of her mouth like water from a tap, on and off at will. She couldn’t make sense of what she was saying, though, and when she tried to pay attention to the way her mouth and tongue were moving to produce the words, the dream wavered and she was pulled out of it. She stopped trying to listen to her own voice, and willed the dream to continue. So long as she did not concentrate, she kept speaking. She would speak forever.

    She dreamed of speaking to Laura, but the words were trapped in her throat, and she choked on them, unable to make a sound. She dreamed of speaking to Mienshao, to the glameow tom, to the throh and the chatot. Of saying something to Church or another morph. These were good dreams. A zoroark hybrid, red mouth grinning and full of teeth, replied to her, saying “well, soft cat, Salem, good well, all and happy.” The words swam in her ears, meaningless but good, so good, and so comforting.

    When she woke next, it was dimly lit in the ward, and a torrent of thoughts hit her with “is my body any different today” and “where’s alisha is she here” and “jamie lied to me why would he do that” and “i’m going to live like this for the rest of my life” and “can i still become a liepard” and “i have never been this tired.” Not just feelings or desires or half-thoughts, but full, clear thoughts. A half dozen at once. Now a dozen. Painful and scary and beautiful. She had never spoken a word of English and yet somehow she could hear her own voice in her own head, sounding out her thoughts.

    The green-soaked shadow of a human moved past the tank, unseeing.

    Her body ached in every possible place: in her stomach and her limbs and her head and her pads and her eyes. Even her fur seemed to be hurting. Once she’d paid attention to the cacophony of hurt, the blunt pain behind her eyes was the worst of them. Still, she made herself lift her forepaw in front of her face, just to examine it one more time, to examine it as was now her habit whenever she was awake.

    Five distinct digits, long and dexterous and complete. A hand. A more or less human hand — albeit still covered in dark fur, still with firm pads, and still tipped with curved retractable claws. A hand all the same. One that could do everything a human hand could. A hand that could do anything at all.

    She curled her fingers into a fist, and squeezed. Her claws extended, and dug into her palm, but it felt more wonderful than painful. Tiny swirls of dark blood emptied from the punctures she’d left. She tried to flatten out her hand, then to waggle her fingers individually. The experimental flexing ached awfully, but the satisfaction overwhelmed the discomfort. Nothing had ever been so satisfying. Not a meal, not a warm bed, not a victory. This was the only moment that mattered.

    These were her hands. Her hands. Hers.

    Salem brought her other hand above her head, and the sudden effort made her pass out again. When she came to, the lighting was no different and she was still alone. She attempted a ginger, awkward stretch, and though her body complained in a chorus of aching bones and sore muscles, she felt faintly better for it. Simply floating where she was and listening to her body did not tell her much about the changes she’d endured. All that she could be sure of besides the hands was her new size and proportions. Her size! She filled the tank. She could never fit on a pillow now. Or fit into cupboards. Or be held tight. But perhaps she could do other things. Maybe even better things.

    Salem waggled her hind-paws in the same way as her hands, and to her vague surprise, they felt much the same as they always had. She tried flicking her tail, and found that it was still very much there, hanging weightlessly in the tank fluid. That was a relief. It would have been difficult to accept the loss of her tail. At least her limbs still belonged to her.

    Her investigation continued, and for the first time it made sense why Laura had always made lists of things. She checked off items on an imaginary list as she tested each body part. She began to explore with her hands, starting with her face. There was fur, still, but the shape of her head was altered. Oh, she still had the same nose, it seemed, and she discovered her ears where they’d always been, but the bones… the structure of her skull was new. New brain, new head to keep it in.

    A new brain. She would think differently now. Be different. A different person. That could mean anything. Now her new brain was screaming at her with thoughts and memories and sensory input and fear and pain and tiredness and everything, everything, everything all at once without letting up. She tried to gasp, and the gasp died in her chest. She couldn’t bear to think about her own thoughts, not yet. Not now.

    She couldn’t gasp, not yet. The tube that breathed for her also muted her. But gasping reminded her — she had been promised a voice. Even with her tongue pressed down by the tube, she could move it as if she were trying to speak. She put a hand to her throat and tried to feel it vibrate as she mimicked human noises in the complete silence of the tank. She heard her own hums and whines in her skull, like before, and she ached with yearning even as her throat ached with effort.

    Every part of her body that she touched ached in response, from her neck to her abdomen. Her gut churned when she pressed into it. Her muscles cramped as she touched them. She felt as tender as if her entire body was nothing but a person-shaped wound. But the important part wasn’t feeling like one enormous wound. It was being shaped like a person.

    Even in pain and exhaustion as she was, she wanted to yowl joyously, to run and jump and climb, to roll about and rumble thunderously. The weariness rose to match her joy, and she felt so tired that it hurt. The emotions, the mental fog, the bodily pains, all of it was too much. This was too much, and she should be dreaming. She could still be dreaming even now, but for her newfound and unstoppable unyielding unrelenting ability to think and perceive and remember all at once. Her eyes hurt from an unfamiliar pressure and her face contorted involuntarily as for the first time in her life, she managed to cry.

    She knew what crying was, of course. Laura had sometimes sobbed into Salem’s flank after difficult days, but she had never understood it. She understood it now, her chest heaving and her arms closing over on herself as tears welled up in her eyes and dissipated instantly into the hazy green liquid of the morphing tank. Her sobs were silent, but each one hit her bruised frame like a tackle blow. She let them happen, some part of her relishing the new and entirely human experience even as it hurt her.

    Eventually, she passed whatever threshold she had for endurance and passed into sleep once again.

    There were no more conscious moments in which to think and feel. Only a fleeting mist of faint and tiny memories.

    Green shadows outside the tank.

    The roar of draining liquid.

    “Looking good, no problems here.”

    Gravity, absent too long and unwelcome to return.

    “There we go. It’s okay. It’s okay, kitten.”

    Her lungs alive once more as they should be.

    “Salem? Salem, can you hear me?”

    Her tongue finally feeling at ease in her mouth.

    “I hear you.”
     
  3. Marika_CZ

    Marika_CZ Well-Known Member

    Uh, so this review is going to be tough. This is no doubt due to being unusual chapter compared to what we had before.

    Basically all my feelings can be summarized by two points, one positive and one negative:

    The good: There is a beautiful, detailed description of what happens in the head of a Pokémon undergoing this fantastical change (metamorhposis would be probably a better term). It makes the whole deal more realistic and shows us that the author takes this seriously. We get details for both physical and psychical changes to reinforce the notion Salem is becoming a completely new person. Great job on that one uA!

    The bad: That is all there is. From beginning to the end, it is one long very complex description.
    I will be honest, my mind constatly kept slipping after certain point, I couldn't focus. Usually in DE we get these philosophical questions and descriptions mixed with fun dialogue (Salem/Laura, Salem/Jamie, Salem/Alisha) and bits of worldbuilding (Laura's realistic take on Pokémon training in this world; Pokémon shelters and Pokémon living in wild realistically).
    In this chapter we get only descriptions of feelings and a bit of philosophy. The other two secret indgredients of DE are missing.
    I see this as a problem, but I also see why it was done. The morphing process is too big of a deal to just skip or to be shortened.

    After thinking about it, here are my two suggestions which might help:
    (I don't think trimming would do Ch5 a service so naturally both of these will end up extending the chapter if you go for it. Also, please take them with a pinch of salt. I honestly don't think any of them ideal to be frank, I just think they may help spice the chapter up a bit)

    1. This chapter could benefit from POV switch. Salem cannot provide fun dialogue for obvious reasons, but I could totally see Alisha having a conversation with other employees/scientists, the hybrids (maybe Church could return?) as she is clearly overseeing Salem's case. Salem's feelings could be interrupted in one or two points to give us Alisha (she can provide what Salem can't right now - dialogue and worldbuilding both).
    The downside is, your story is clearly meant to be told from Salem's POV only and this ould break the formula.

    2. If we insist on Salem's POV, this could be resolved by having her have one or two dreams (or nighmares) where you could have plenty of dialogue. To avoid making such a new section a complete filler, the dreams should foreshadow future events, or you could flesh out some important information about Zoroark hybrid / Church / Alisha / Jamie / Laura - or anyone else. Something Salem only got subconsciously but didn't fully realize, something that might come into play in future chapters.

    To summarize: I liked how you dealt with morphing process, but I also think the chapter needs something more.
    Thanks for the read and good luck with next chapters! :)
     
    unrepentantAuthor likes this.
  4. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Ahh, so many fun details when Salem gets to the lab and struggles to process everything happening around her. I love the fact that she invents a sign for hybird because that makes it easier to think about (that's one of the interesting things about language, that having the vocabulary to talk about something actually actually makes it easier to think about those concepts as well!) It was really interesting to meet Church as well. I couldn't help getting the feeling that he's really old, and has been a hybrid for quite some time, which means these experiments have been going on for a long time.

    The documentation on the process and its development really does make it seem like this is all being done all in good faith, for the betterment of science. Usually with these kinds of organizations, there's some kind of sinister ulterior motive lurking underneath, but there doesn't seem to be one (yet.) I'll still be keeping my eyes out though.

    And wow, that transformation chapter was absolutely fascinating. I can kinda see what Marika is saying about it feeling incomplete by only being the transformation, but that said, it was a damn good description with loads of sensory detail that you don't usually see. Especially regarding the changes made to the brain and how that affected Salem's thoughts. Amazing stuff, keep it up!

    ~Chibi~
     
    unrepentantAuthor likes this.
  5. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    Thank you for an uplifting review, @Chibi Pika! I very much appreciate the praise.

    If you liked that, hopefully you'll enjoy more of the communication-themed content ahead!

    Good, he's supposed to give that impression. However, he was already ageing when he was hybridised, so it shouldn't indicate that the experiments started more than a couple decades ago.

    It's useful to me to hear from people about their impressions of Perihelion. I wanted to subvert the 'sinister lab report' trope somewhat while not pressuring the reader to believe that Perihelion are entirely noble. Hopefully I'm striking the right balance.

    Thank you so much! I'm delighted that people are enjoying this entry.

    More to come soon, I hope — see you next chapter!
     
  6. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Crossposting reviews from Bulbs!

    Prologue

    This whole opening is a pretty unique way to start off a story. I do like it a lot when prologues are their own thing rather than just a short Chapter Zero.

    Man yokai makes so much sense. A one-eyed umbrella hopping around is basically a pokémon in all but name, anyway.


    iunno bud imma say it's like two and a halfth at best


    If we're going with a "logo, but not necessarily commercial" type of definition for symbol, I can certainly buy this as being the case for the pokémon world. The line between "symbol" and "drawing" is otherwise somewhat blurred, though - stretching the definition of symbol, we could include something like stick figures or smiley faces, that the human brain can recognize without specific teaching, and no image can really be more widely recognized than that. (Unless we consider recognition from non-human lifeforms as well, and find something primal we have in common. Perhaps an eye? Butterflies sure take advantage of that.)

    But either way: in real life, the most recognized symbol is said to be the cross, and Christianity certainly isn't as prevalent in the pokéworld as it is in ours, so something as widely utilized as pokéballs tend to be makes sense to take the number one spot. After all, despite many headcanons, you barely see the wheel of Arceus anywhere.

    I'm a bit unclear on what with no likeness between our DNA exactly means here. Is this just hyperbolic talk for "humans and pokémon can't interbreed naturally", or is this actually meant to be taken more literally, as in, pokémon have a completely different ancestor from all eukaryotes? I mean, "no likeness" already has to be some degree of false, as the fact that both are DNA means they're both deoxyribonucleic acid, which is the case for all (currently known) living things (and nature's malware, viruses). Sorry, I'm a nerd. But I know you are too. ;p

    Man Mewtwo is such bad PR for this whole concept.

    I think we missed something important here? Why would fossilized DNA be used of all things, when it's pretty rare to come by and practically always incomplete? Are they using the genes of some missing link? I kinda feel like if the guy has time to explain what pokémon are, he could give a minor refresher on whatever concept is being utilized here.

    As the following paragraph focuses on the process of morphing a specimen during its lifespan, I'm considering that this was just a case of an ill-fitting descriptor and you meant something like "extracted".

    Or you took the extra step and made the business guy purposefully use bullshit terminology, because that happens far too often.

    So I take it that you took the Pokédex entries for Alakazam and the like and threw them in the trash? Good. That's where most entries belong.

    General Comments

    Right, so I didn't expect to really go head over heels a introduction of morphing, as you know I'm a bit iffy on some related concepts - and I didn't, but I certainly didn't dislike it as the worst case may have been. A great quality of this prologue is its compactness. The concept of morphing is explained right out the gate, and already a kind of image for the world is established. (Which seems to be a mix of the real one and the pokémon one, with animals and real life locations present?) Also foreshadowed is the general public's rejection of the concept of morphing, something which no doubt the protagonist will later on have to deal with.

    There's something that is kind of questionable, and that's the fact that this really doesn't sound convincing from a business standpoint. I'm guessing they're ultimately in it for the profit, given drinking wine during a presentation isn't considered very acceptable behavior in scientific circles (or they lied to me at uni). I do suppose that this is only an excerpt of the speech, but it appears to be the start, and the benefits of a proposal should be brought forth as soon as possible.

    In the excerpt, really the only reasoning for this being done is "because we can". It's said that pokémon would love it, but it doesn't currently look like pokémon would own money. I don't know, I just never got the "because science" approach. Maybe it just doesn't appeal to me personally.

    Anyway, I'm mostly excited to get to read about Salem next and get a more grass-roots-level viewpoint. I don't know when exactly I'll read on, but I definitely will.

    Chapter 1

    Man this chapter is really that crying cat image all the way. That's not a bad thing, that's one of my favorite images.

    "meeoooww open door human oh you opened it well i changed my mind i want to stay outside" hmm i wonder why those humans won't open those doors

    [​IMG]

    The content of these sentences are technically different, but they kind of feel the same, as if they kind of repeated things the others already implied. To fix this, I think they'd need rephrasing to highlight the differences or simply condensation.

    Condensation, I feel, is something this chapter could benefit from in general. The balance between giving things enough emphasis and keeping things concise is a tricky one, and while this is in no way a big offender, I feel like it could be shifted just a liiittle bit to the "less is more" side. The dialogue, though, I believe is fine in this regard, as it doesn't go on for too long and it's meant to come across as Laura trying to explain something to Salem that the feline can't understand, anyway.

    My knowledge of English punctuation says there should be a comma after the "said", but I don't know if there are regional differences.

    General Comments

    As I've said before, I love the idea and execution of pokémon signing. I even remember the exact gif you showed as basis for the food signing thing. I do wonder about how many gestures involve waving one's foreleg, though, it seems like those could get mixed up. I guess it's really up to the pokémon to master the movement or the human to learn their mon's "dialect".

    I also like the idea of Salem being interested in anthropology. It does make it a bit difficult to form an understanding of Salem's intellect at this point, though. I think what would help is some description of concrete mental images (like "Grug throw rock at bird, Grug eat well that night" but you know, not as terrible), as those are very valuable in getting across someone's way of thinking and how they perceive more abstract concepts. Even for more intelligent beings - this is why graphs and allegories exist.

    Speaking of understanding, I was left a bit in the dark on how Salem knew that much about shelters when the narration kind of makes it seem like she hasn't been to one before. If she learned this through speech alone, she had trouble understanding how important Laura's school was, but was that just because Laura couldn't explain it to her properly?

    The description in this chapter felt sort of lacking, but it's very probably due to the fact that the majority is only a memory rather than happening in real time.

    No typos or clunky sentences spotted, so prose is squeaky clean, no problemos there.

    One last thing is that Salem just up and leaving didn't seem to make that much sense. I feel like it could make sense, but the narration doesn't put enough emphasis on how insulted(?) Salem felt. It says she didn't herself know why she never went back, but for even a cat I feel like there is some other answer to "why should I not go back" than "because no". If it's intended to be a mystery, you could have it established that there is a reason, but just not give it yet - rather than having the character who would probably have the best idea on how they feel not know how they feel. Or in general... I'm not sure if having a main character motivation as a mystery is a good thing to have at a point where we don't yet really know much of the character otherwise.

    Alright, so, this review turned out kind of critical... hope it was the constructive kind, at least. But I feel like the lack of positive feedback is on my side, since as I read this, I realize that this isn't really a genre or type of story I'm personally interested in. I'm hoping that the future chapters will engage me better as we'll get more than just boardroom discussions or flashbacks (although this whole thing is technically a flashback, huh) and it'll rise past my genre threshold. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that so far this seems like a good story but one that kind of isn't for me. For people interested in this type of fiction, I think it's great.

    Well, see ya in my next reply - or well, probably in chat, lol.
     
    unrepentantAuthor likes this.
  7. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    I have replied to Canisaries' kind review off-site.

    Sorry for the wait to anyone following this! I haven't posted much on Serebii for a while partly because I took up a job at a software startup for several months that had me working late and skipping breaks all while making giant commutes. It really sapped my time and energy. I'm unemployed again now for the sake of my mental health and looking for something part-time and local that will keep my bills paid while allowing me time to write.

    Here follows the long-awaited next chapter; thanks for reading.

    Six
    Life in Full Colour
    “I hear you.”

    It came out as indistinguishable vowels, a messy and useless noise. That wasn’t right. Was she not trying hard enough? She tried again — a strangled yowl. Her throat burned both from hot, angry shame and from the dry air rushing into her aching lungs.

    Her head hurt. No — everything hurt.

    She opened her eyes. Blinked against the bright — Not brightness. Colours?

    The world was different now. New colours. Bright colours. Her eyes swivelled in her head, jolting from one alien hue to another. Now that shirt; now that hair. Colours she had never seen. Never could have imagined. To see many of them, all at once — too much to take. She didn’t even face towards them, her eyes just raced — she was dizzy. She felt sick. Too strange. Too new! Too much!

    She screwed her eyes shut and made a wailing sound against the visual din.

    Alisha was talking, but she couldn’t see the meaning of the sounds over the pain and the panic and—

    That feeling. That difference. Even with her eyes shut against the world, she could tell.

    Her body was not the same.

    It felt distant. Stretched-out. Heavy. Impossibly heavy.

    She looked down. She saw herself laying before her.

    Human sized. Human shaped. Covered in fur, in patterns she knew well. Her body. Yet, not. This was it — the whole point. Her dream.

    She stared at it. Tried to move all at once, found she didn’t know how. She needed to see. Her head spun as she lifted it. She stared, choked, felt like she was falling.
    That was her arm, right there. Human-sized, aching bone-deep, pierced by a tube full of liquid. But certainly her arm. Her arm. Her hand. Right? She raised it. It took more effort than usual. It was too heavy. It felt like someone else’s limb. Held still for a moment. Then started to shake with the effort. She tried to splay her fingers, and they twitched in front of her. Useless. Out of her control. She tried yanking out the tube and found she had neither the strength nor the pain tolerance.

    What if— Could she get up? What if she couldn’t move? She needed to be upright. Now.

    She tried to flip onto all fours, something she’d done countless times. Pain; failure. Her body lurched and spasmed; her muscles screamed at her. She gasped, fell back with an audible thump, flinched, cried out in a voice that wasn’t her own.

    Around her, someone was talking, but she couldn’t think, she couldn’t listen, she needed to get up—

    —Alisha barely had to put her hand on Salem’s shoulder and she collapsed down again. Flat on her back, her limbs jerked weakly against the padded railings at the side of her bed. She was exhausted within moments.

    “It’s gonna be okay, Salem.”

    Above her was Alisha’s face. Muscles relaxed, grinning widely, eyes creased. That was good, right? Salem checked again. She didn’t trust her intuition. Yes. Alisha was happy, not distressed. Maybe this was normal. Church must have struggled too! Things were okay, she would get to speak. Soon she would speak. Next to Alisha were the humans from before. How could she know that? Had she really recognised them by sight alone? She’d only seen them once before. Hadn’t even got their scent yet. She didn’t understand.

    Behind the small crowd of humans were clean white walls, the kind of equipment they had in pokémon centres, and several beds much like her own. They were clearly visible at a much greater distance than she was used to. They were more in focus. The contrast between light and shadow sharper. The colours richer. She shrank back from it all. Her vision was drowning her.

    “It’s okay, you can close your eyes.”

    No. She was drowning, but so was that feeling of wrongness, of being in a body she didn’t understand. She fixed her eyes on Alisha. Wished she could read human faces the way she could read feline body language.

    “How are you feeling, kitten?” asked Alisha.

    She started to reach to sign, then stopped. She wanted to speak. She forced her mouth into the shapes that she thought were right. What was the thing Alisha had done when she said “feeling?” Teeth against lower lip. Something with her tongue. She didn’t know.

    “Fee— oh— I—”

    The words died in her mouth. She was so close! It hurt to be so close. Even if she had known how to make the sounds, how could she have explained everything she was experiencing? She felt too much. Too many things at once. A storm inside her head! Each sound and scent raised more thoughts and more memories, more than she could cope with, and emotions too, emotions she’d never had, flowing and flooding and breaching every part of her brain with the weight of her feeling, too much, too much!

    “Take it steady, Salem. You can stay calm, just keep still and you should start to get used to it.”

    She gasped and panted, clutching at the bed at if she was about to float away from it. Should? Start to get used to it? Only should? ‘It’ was her entire existence. She had to ‘get used’ to it or she— would she feel this way, this awful— today, forever? Overwhelmed. Breathless. For the rest of her life! Her breath caught in her throat. She needed to escape, escape from her own lungs— Please— A way out, please—

    “Salem, try to take big breaths. You can do it. One at a time, now. Slowly.”

    She tried. Breathe in, more, breathe out. Her breath rattled. Inhale, and somehow exhale. Again, again! Slower? — she only knew quick, sharp breaths. Her lungs were so much larger now. She panted to fill them. Strained. Failed.

    “It may not feel like it, but you can learn to control your breathing. I promise. Keep trying, Salem.”

    She breathed as deep as she could, as if it would brace her against the sensory tide, but it was still just a shallow gasp. Fear sunk its teeth into her throat. She wouldn't manage to handle her new eyes, new body, this was a mistake, she couldn't go back. She wasn’t adapting, she couldn't adapt. She didn’t know how to breathe deeply, to breathe against instinct and habit.

    Alisha was still speaking to her, but she’d lost her grip on the words. She wanted to feel nothing. Be nothing. She turned and curled into a ball— but she couldn’t. Not quite. Was there something wrong with her legs? Her back wouldn’t curve all the way, was it broken? Was she broken? She couldn’t pull her legs all the way up. They weren’t working. Why?

    Yet, to her tearful relief, turning on her side did help. It took pressure off her chest. Allowed more air in. Let her breathe easier.

    It took time, and continuous coaching from Alisha, but she did it. For the first time in her life, she breathed in, deep, held it. And out. What more might she be capable of, with time? She wasn’t quite her old self. There, there exactly, was the truth. She was not herself. She was new. Maybe with her new eyes, body, brain, she could adapt. There were new difficulties in being Salem, but new strengths too.

    She found something behind the fear. Something different. Different, but good, and strong. Not the anticipation before a warm meal. Not the relief after escaping someone’s vicious claws. Not the awe during a nature film, when the camera rose above a canopy to reveal an unimaginably vast expanse. But it was close. And it let her breathe.

    This was really happening. All she’d hoped for… within her reach.

    Alisha was speaking, guiding her breaths and inviting her to control of each part of her body in turn, to understand how it had changed, to take her time in experiencing the strangeness of it all. To welcome each thought and feeling one at a time.

    She tried. It seemed to take a lifetime. Somehow, she managed.

    Once the tide started to subside, it became almost… fun. Now fingers. Now toes. Now ears, still able to pin back against her skull and turn towards Alisha’s snapping fingers. Now tongue, strange and unfamiliar in her mouth, but nevertheless under her control.

    It was going to be alright. She was going to be okay.

    She opened her eyes.

    “Feeling better now, kitten?”

    Speech could wait. An affirmative miaow would do. It came out okay, but so much deeper than she was used to.

    “Sounds like you are,” said Alisha, smiling.

    With some coaxing, Salem rose from the bed and from her stupor. Sitting was hard. Her body weighed so much now. It was too far away from her. She’d much rather be curled up in the tightest ball possible, but this way was better for communication, so she struggled on with it. She was stable, at least. Her faintness subsiding. Her breath more or less even. Her exhaustion somehow possible to bear.

    She did, however, have to make several adjustments to her tail’s resting position before it was tolerable.

    She looked up at Alisha’s face, more carefully this time. She saw things now that had been invisible to her the last time she was fully conscious. Her hair wasn’t entirely dark: it was actually streaked through with some other colour. There was something about her expressions that marked her from her colleagues — but what it was exactly was beyond Salem’s perception. Something about her scent, too, was different…

    “Feels like nothing else has in all your life, right?” said Alisha.

    Salem blinked slowly and nodded. Alisha blinked slowly back. Those humans still paying attention clearly didn’t understand the gesture, as they were staring quite uncomfortably. Without looking round at them, Alisha waved them away.

    “Trust me,” Alisha told Salem, “it might be pretty overwhelming now, and you’ll probably feel a bit freaked out a few more times going forward, but it’s worth it. It’s so worth it. You’re gonna be able to do almost anything at all. There aren’t many like… many like you, you know? With your potential. Mind and body both somewhere between human and pokémon… it’s exciting, right? You’re in good company, kitten. You’ll be just fine.”

    Salem drank it all up, wide-eyed.

    Everything would be okay. Everything would be fantastic. She could handle herself. Learn. Even be special.

    She raised a weary arm and signed [THANK YOU. FRIEND/HUMAN.]

    Something went wrong along the way, because her hands didn’t go where she expected them to, and the motions were vague and amateurish. She could sign better than this.She tried again and just barely got the signs to form. Was she just tired? She was just tired. Yes.

    The clumsy signing must have amused Alisha, because she looked down and to the side, and grinned. “Sure, kitten,” she said.

    Salem concentrated harder on her next signs. Aligned her arms with great care. Thought it through. [WHAT WILL HAPPEN-?] she asked, before her hands cramped up, and she wrung them, wincing.

    “What happens next depends on you,” said Alisha, softly. "You should rest first, probably for a while. Once you're feeling well enough, then we can try teaching you to walk, use your hands, maybe even talk. But only when you're up for it. Please rest as long as you need to. Most new hybrids take a couple weeks to get their strength up."

    Salem had no energy left in her, but she wanted to do those things so badly she felt she could substitute sheer intensity of desire for actual bodily strength. She concentrated on bringing her hands up in front of her face and making the right movements. The signs came more easily every time. So easily that it would have shocked her if she’d had any room left in her body to feel shock. She knew exactly what she wanted to say almost in an instant; it was the physical actions that were hard. Her arms spoke a different language to her now, moving in ways she wasn’t used to, and aching instantly whenever they did. Were they even the same limbs as before? Why was it so hard to make familiar signs? Somehow, she managed.

    Paw to her chest, then a clutching motion. [I want.] A motion from her mouth, moving forward. [To speak.] Hand-over-hand motions. [To walk.] More subtle motions now, ending in a raised paw, high as it could go. [And, I will try very hard.]

    They were halting, staccato movements, ineloquent and cautious. Her hands hurt and she couldn't figure out how to move her fingers separately yet. It wasn’t anything like as skilled as what Church could manage. It was still some of the best signing she'd ever done in her life.

    “No way, kitten. Even bipeds take a few days before they can hope to walk around. You need rest!”

    Her tail thumped the bed in quiet anger. [Walk. I want to walk. I can.]

    “No way-”

    She yowled, signed. [I will walk.]

    “Not now, Salem-”

    [Walk now!] she signed with force. She hissed as she did, showing off her fangs.

    Before Alisha could decline another time, Salem grappled with herself and managed to get a couple limbs over the bed rails, preparing to throw herself off with or without help.

    "Alright!" said Alisha, hauling Salem back over before she hurt herself. “We’ll get you walking soon enough.” Was she impressed? Concerned? Her expressions escaped Salem. "We’ll start with standing upright. Let's get those legs carefully on the floor, okay? And I do mean carefully."

    She unfastened the rails at the bedside and pulled them down. It took time, but Salem got her hind paws off the bed and below her. If she moved suddenly, she felt faint, so she placed her pads on the floor and gingerly pushed off from the bed. She nearly toppled over, but Alisha was there, hands on either side of Salem’s torso, balancing her. She stood, tail and arms rigidly thrust out and apart as she found a precarious balance.

    "Now, you’re a purrloin, so you might think this'll be easy just because you've walked on your hind legs before. It's not going to be easy. Your legs are exhausted, for one, and your centre of gravity is different. If you were another species, I wouldn’t even let you try standing. So here's what we're going to do..."

    The plan was simple. With Salem’s arm over Alisha’s shoulders, the human could take much of the hybrid’s weight. The support made a real difference as Salem took her first steps in her new body. They were shaky, difficult steps, but her swelling pride made them worth it. Her chest heaved as she tried to keep up the energy to take her own weight. Unsupported walking, let alone running, would have to come later. Not only did she have to learn how to walk on her new legs, but there was very little strength left in them. No strength at all, in fact.

    Her near-collapse wasn’t long in coming. Her legs shortly gave way beneath her like so much jellied fish, and she slid to the floor, despite her best efforts to cling to Alisha’s shoulder. Alisha didn’t even wince as Salem’s claws dug for purchase. Why was that? Salem looked up at her from the floor, not sure what expression she could make with her own face. Her throat was burning again. This was proof that she wasn't ready to walk after all. As much as it stung, there was no denying it.

    “Don’t worry, kitten. You did well.”

    Alisha helped her back into the bed to do some light sulking, and reassured her that the emergency call button on the bedside table would bring someone if she needed help. She was going to attend to the next morph who needed support waking up, but she would be back soon, so don’t worry, and did Salem need anything before she left?

    She certainly did.

    The first thing she asked for was water, realising as she tried to punctuate her signs with quiet miaows that her throat was still painfully dry. Someone fetched her a cup of water from a sink across the room. Alisha asked if they had any water bowls — they did not. Salem signed a small thanks and held the thing between both hands, lapping carefully at the surface. She was just about dexterous enough to tip the water level towards her face, but her arms were still weak, and she spilt some in the effort. She refused help drinking it, of course. There had to be some limit to what she needed assistance with.

    Satisfied that Salem was feeling sufficiently well, Alisha gave her a wave goodbye.

    Salem returned it, but she wasn’t sure if Alisha saw.

    She considered calling out or trying to follow, but collapsing had been humiliating enough the first time.

    If she wasn't going to walk, she'd need something else to do besides lying in bed. Some mewling and charades earned her a magazine belonging to one of the ward staff, something with plenty of pictures to look at. Mostly, they were pictures of humans. The human owner asked if she needed help turning the pages, and she signed a perfunctory [NO]. If she needed help, she would ask. She touched it with her fingertips, and pulled them back as her claws punctured the delicate material. She tried to slide the pages over with only her pads. At first, she couldn’t get the hang of it, and she tore the paper more than once. Gradually, painstaking pawing at the pages taught her how to turn first one, then the next.

    It wasn't fascinating content, but staring at the colourful pages fascinated Salem all the same. It was a joy to see the new hues which now presented themselves to her, to soak them all up at once with her newly-improved vision. She cajoled a passing nurse over to ask him what colours things were by pointing at them and making the sign for [question]. It took a little while, but she had him cycle through every possible intended meaning before he eventually found the right answer. Getting specific, yet abstract information out of people like [what colour is that item of clothing?] was superficially difficult, but it was like opening a food cupboard door. Easy once you persisted long enough to learn the knack.

    She discovered ‘red’ from the magazine by pointing at a man’s clothes and being patiently answered by the nurse. Red. It had always been there, at least for humans. Now she could actually see it, really see it, instead of perceiving it as identical to orange, brown, even some purples. The change really was not in the world, but in herself. The thought was strange, that her eyes were different now. Forever. She decided she was okay with that. Maybe other hybrids would struggle with accepting the change. But not her. She chose this. She wouldn't regret it.

    Although this was like nothing Salem had ever gone through in her life, the man seemed to think that he had more important things to be doing. It was a struggle to correct him on this point. She decided it didn’t matter. She was too busy grappling with the dawn of a world in full colour. Brighter, richer, more whole. Brimming over with colours she’d never dreamed existed. Like red.

    Eventually, the nurse carefully insisted that he get back to more important work. Salem quietly tolerated the loss of her translator and the vague anxiety that came with being dependent without someone around to depend on, and spent a little while flicking through the rest of the magazine. Eventually she ran out of pages and pushed it over the side of the bed onto the floor. It was now time to stare at things, she supposed.

    But staring at things was in her past. She needn’t become bored for hours yet. She had barely been introduced to this body, and she could get to know it a little better, even bound to her bed as she was. She became consumed with consuming every sensation, even discomfort and pain, that her new form afforded her. Her body’s greater weight pressed her down into the bed. Her fur still felt very much the same: smooth from meticulous grooming, but as dull as it had been since she’d stopped getting regular meals. Her pads were still pads but they were more sensitive now, softer, and had not grown in proportion with the rest of her hands. Neither had her claws — at least, not quite. She held up a hand and licked the back of it, finding that although her tongue still worked, her fur tasted different. Or was it that her tongue did?

    As time passed, Salem kept moving her attention to another change, another hurt. Her eyes hurt, her paws hurt, her belly hurt. None of them felt like they belonged to her yet. But they would. Soon. It was difficult to relax, but she was still a cat, and therefore an expert in getting comfortable. Eventually, she found a position to curl up in that didn’t put any strain on her tremendously strained body, and she managed to sleep.

    In her dreams, Salem was running, running on her two legs, for miles and miles and miles, just running, and never getting tired.
     
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