Chapter 1

Copyright© 2009 by shrike

The man in front of me motioned quietly to his left. I looked there but didn't see anything. As silent as possible we crept forward till I could see what he meant. There was a very big black cat lying unconscious on the ground. And it wasn't a normal cat too, as it didn't look like any other large cat I knew. It wasn't a normal panther, though I had read somewhere that black jaguars as well as black cougars are referred to as panthers.

Our standing orders were to take any unusual animal we encountered on our security searches, and if we were able to, to transport it back to the Base, so we quickly assembled the lightweight, but extremely strong cage and put the possible cat hybrid in it.

As we got ready to go back to the Base, my shift partner said, "I hope this is the last one we have to haul back. I'm getting tired of the experiments they're performing. What do you say Lando?"

I looked at Corporal Levin Smith, I knew he wasn't lazy, just bored in the jungle of South America. "I think they're doing some good work, though they should be focusing on eradicating the disease, not trying to replicate it."

We made good time getting back to the Base, and after depositing the still comatose animal at the wildlife shack to be tagged and processed, we went to our CO to debrief. Major Skiggs heard our report and was interested in us finding the big cat. Then he gave us an unpleasant surprise, "Get some rest men, tonight you are both on guard duty."

I groaned, I really didn't like guard duty, especially with Smith. He could be a real asshole. Still it was part of the job. Major Skiggs had heard me, "Is there some problem Sergeant Johns?"

"No problem sir, just feeling a bit tired and hungry." I quickly responded.

"Good, dismissed both of you." The major looked at the papers on his desk ignoring us.

We quickly exited his office and headed to the messhall to get a snack. "Lando, you almost got us into more trouble there. Good thinking though on the reply, but next time keep the groans to yourself, okay?"

I grunted an acknowledgement and went over to the food dispenser to get a snack. After eating my sandwich I went to my bunk and lay down thinking about how I got here. I thought back to what happened after a mission with my former team to recover a MORFs survivor from a Russian-Chinese crime syndicate.

Several months earlier, Okinawa Japan.

I had just gotten back from the border between China and Russia. Now I really wanted to get some R & R. Too bad one of my teammates had gotten seriously hurt during that mission. I hoped that Sergeant Bartlett would be okay. He was a good soldier. As I was about to enter the barracks, someone behind me called out, "Sergeant Lando Johns, wait up please. I need to talk to you."

I groaned, when would they give me some time off? But I turned towards the man that had called after me and saw a Major wearing a Special Forces uniform run towards me. He quickly reached me and said, "Can we talk privately?"

I showed him an interrogation room that I knew had a recording device on 24-7. I wanted to have proof of what I was getting into this time. I had been on enough missions that went sour and one time one of the chaps had been left behind as a scapegoat. I was going to make damn sure that something like that wouldn't happen to me. As we sat down the major looked around, "This is a secure room, right? What I have to tell you is top-secret."

"Sure it's secure, I picked this room, because it's bug-free." I lied to him. I knew where the recording device was hidden and planned to get the recording as soon as we were done here.

The major visibly relaxed, "Okay good. I'm Major Skiggs, I want you on a team that I'm getting together. It will require for you to disappear from the radar completely though. You would be reported missing. Are you interested?"

"Why the hush hush on this, what is it all about?" I asked being suspicious.

He looked around, though it was obvious that we were quite alone in the room. He softly said, "We are guarding and assisting a group of scientists to research the MORFS disease and how to prevent our children from becoming animals."

Now I was interested. I was quite upset about the MORFS disease. Some of my friends that I grew up with had been stricken by it and a lot of them had turned into half or full animals. I didn't want to know them anymore and shunned them. My big half-brother Lars was even more outspoken. He really was a pure sympathizer. But last thing I heard was that a kid of his had come down with it. His wife divorced him and he was looking for her and her impure offspring. I had gotten the idea that he wanted to kill them both.

Well I didn't support that decision. Though I was still young with my 24 years, I already had quite a lot of experience with killing. I didn't like it, but as a soldier it was my job sometimes to terminate someone so others, including myself, would live. I turned my attention back to the major, "Okay, suppose I am interested, why do you want me Major?"

"We know your qualifications and your beliefs Sergeant. We are looking for people that believe in the cause as we do. We can't condone animals having the same rights as us people and perpetuate the situation where more children are born with this horrible disease, especially our children."

"Okay, so how are we proceeding, I can't very well just leave here. I'll be listed as AWOL. I don't want that on my record." I exclaimed.

"You'll be sent out on a mission, we'll have someone pick you up from there to our destination."

I looked at him with suspicion and curiosity, "What is the destination and who is 'we'."

Major Skiggs looked at me with a calculating look, "The destination is secret for now, though it is on the South American continent. As for 'we', we are a group in the military that wants to put a halt to the threat of these so-called humans, which are in fact no more than animals."

I nodded in agreement with some of his beliefs. We agreed on me joining his team and how they would pick me up. Finally when he was gone I secretly went to the recording station and secured the recording of our entire conversation. This would be my bargaining chip if things got out of hand and they decided I was to be the fall guy.

Present day, somewhere in a South American Jungle.

With a jolt I woke up, and scolded myself for falling asleep. Then I smiled, I needed the rest. I looked at my watch and saw that I still had a few hours. So I turned and slept a little more. I woke up just before the alarm would sound and quickly showered and dressed in a clean uniform.

In the middle of our watch we heard our supply plane coming in for a landing. Moments later the runway lights began shining their light and the C-17 began its landing cycle. I yelled at Corporal Smith, "I didn't know that we were expecting the cargo tonight. Did you?"

He shook his head in denial. We watched as some of the scientists and some other members of the team went out to the plane. Soon they returned with about half a dozen people that looked like kids to me. As they got closer I could see them better. There were 3 girls and 4 boys aged from 10 to 15 by my guess. I sneered to one of the scientists, "What is this, why are these kids here?"

He gave me a cruel look, "They are our new test subjects. They have a high chance of contracting MORFS. We want it to happen so we can study them."

I looked with contempt at them, but couldn't say or do anything. Alone I had no chance of helping any of these kids. I may be a pure sympathizer, but I draw the line at experimenting on helpless kids. One girl looked straight at me, "Please help me! Why don't you help me, please?"

I looked away from her, I couldn't do anything, nor would I be of help if I started protesting here. I might get a chance later. Smith was a real bastard, I already didn't like him very much, not like the members of my previous team. But now he even smacked the girl and told her to move her butt. I didn't show anything on my face, but internally I was boiling.

After our shift ended I headed for my bunk without saying a word to anyone. Smith did find it a bit odd, but didn't say anything. The next morning I got called into the Major's office. He asked straight out, "What happened last night? Smith said that you were angry about something."

"I was under the impression that the research here was done to stop MORFS, not to imprison small children, have them go through it and then experiment on them. You never told me anything about that, Major."

The major growled, "As you were soldier. We're here to follow orders, I didn't know it before either. Besides it doesn't make any difference. If it helps our cause then I don't have a problem with it. Now, am I going to have a problem with you? Do you need reassigning?"

I forced myself to stay calm, "No sir. I just don't think it's right. But I'll follow orders and I agree that it should be okay if it really helps." Internally I was seething. 'How dare they do that?'

The major relaxed a bit, "Okay, I won't make an official note of this conversation, but I will be watching you Sergeant."

I just saluted and waited for his next order.

He almost immediately barked, "Dismissed soldier!"

I hurried out of his office and went to the gym to work of my frustrations on a punching bag. I worked up quite a sweat, till I had to get ready for another briefing. There I was assigned to internal guard duty. I guess they didn't trust me that well anymore. Well the feeling was mutual.

I was roaming inside the Base watching if doors were closed and such, when one young scientist came out of a lab and asked, "Hi, can you help me for a moment? I need to have these specimens brought to lab 4, but I also have a time-critical experiment going on. Could you bring them there for me? It's a rush job, thanks."

And he went back inside after giving me a tray of some syringes and vials. I shrugged and started walking towards lab 4. As I was walking down the corridor, suddenly a door flew open, right into me making me drop and spill the vials and syringes. One of those kids, a boy that looked about 14, sprinted out. I felt a little sting in my leg, but didn't think much of it. The vials and syringes had all been smashed against my clothes and to the floor. It was a real mess.

Some fellow soldiers chased after the kid and caught him within moments. They were about to beat him, when I stopped them. "He has a right to try to escape, remember your SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training?"

They looked sheepishly at me before hauling the boy back to his feet and into the lab they came from. I watched them go and wished I could have done something to help that boy. Instead I went to find something to clean the mess up. After doing that, I took the remains and what was still in one piece to lab 4. I tried to explain what happened, but the scientist there started yelling really loud at me. When he didn't want to hear anything I had to say, I faked a swing, he tried to hit me and I took him in a sleeper hold. As I held him immobile, I hissed in his ear, "There was nothing I or anyone else could have done. Now let it go and get some new samples."

Then I released him and went back to doing my rounds. Afterwards I wrote up my report and handed it over to the major. He read it and said, "What is this incident with the vials and such?"

I explained him the circumstances and he reluctantly agreed that there was nothing I could have done. But he did say, "Next time don't let them use you as a delivery boy."

"Yes, sir," and I got dismissed again. I went straight to my bunk, not feeling too well. I figured that I was just a little tired and would feel fine after some sleep. I didn't know yet how wrong I was.

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling really nauseous. I also really had to go to the toilet in a hurry. As I was doing my business I realized that I wasn't just tired. I had contracted some sort of disease and knowing the symptoms I had a real good idea what that disease might be.

On my way back to my bunk I went into one of the deserted labs and swiped a MORFS detection kit. Back at my bunk I made sure no one could see what I did and let the device prick my finger to get a blood sample. I knew these devices weren't a fool proof test, you need a microscope and a lab for that. Though they were both available here, I couldn't take a chance of using them, even if I knew how to do it. I waited for a few minutes and looked at the result of the test. It clearly was a positive for MORFS. I was stunned with the revelation. 'I have MORFS?' I had already suspected it, seeing as this was a MORFS testing facility. But I had thought that I was too old to get it. Now I wasn't so sure about that anymore.

I was getting a bit scared, but that didn't distract me from making a plan. I knew that I needed to get away from here. I was sure that they wouldn't hesitate to experiment on me, when they found out I had contracted MORFS. So I needed to get out of here, but I also needed some stuff that would help me to get through the change. Whatever change I would go through. I hoped that I wouldn't change too much and most of all I didn't want to become some animal hybrid. Still I had to be prepared for the worst. I forced myself not to look too sick and put some of my stuff in my Alice pack.

Avoiding the patrol that was on duty I raided a supply locker that contained energy bars and sleeping pills. I knew enough about what was needed for a change and like the good soldier that I am, I prepared for almost every possibility. After finding everything I thought I'd need came the hard part, getting out of the Base and avoiding being followed. I knew I couldn't get out unseen. I helped design the guard schedule and knew all the alarms and weak points. To my knowledge there weren't any, not even for flying MORFS animals, though some places could use better alarms, like the ventilation system.

I knew of one entrance that wasn't much used and was only guarded by one man. I had been guarding that door once and felt bored and tired after a few hours. The guard there would be relieved at 23.00 and again at 03.00. It was now already 23.55, so I would have a three hour headstart unless someone noticed the incapacitated guard earlier.

I strolled leisurely up to the guard and as he noticed me, he challenged me. "Who goes there?"

"At ease private, it's just me, Sergeant Johns. I'm just doing a surprise inspection. Everything okay here?"

The soldier was still suspicious, "Uh, yeah. Everything's okay. I've never heard of a surprise inspection sergeant. What's going on and why are you carrying an Alice pack?"

I was almost close enough to him, "Oh I thought that I could put my laundry into the machine at the same time, save some time, you know." I smiled at the private, I recognized him now, his was name Butler and he was a bit older than me.

He relaxed a little, still looking at me closely though. At least he lowered his gun. Then as I got closer, he frowned, "Are you feeling all right sarge? You don't look okay."

'Did he notice something wrong? Better not take any chances.' I couldn't use my gun as it would make too much noise, so I got even closer and he tried to raise his gun again. I kicked it out of his hands and followed through with a roundhouse kick straight into his chest. He slammed against the wall and bounced back a bit. Next came my fist into his solar plexus and I finished him off with a karatechop in his neck. I could have killed him, so he wouldn't tell them that it was me who snuck out. But they'd find out anyway that I wasn't inside anymore. I didn't like killing that much anyway, so I just left him unconscious. I was taking a chance though, he could come around earlier cutting my escape time short.

I took his RA-M101 assault rifle, as I couldn't very well have walked up to him with my Barrett 110 and still pretend to be making inspection rounds. I didn't like it that I had to leave my sniper rifle behind. But it was too cumbersome to take with me. I quickly opened the door to the outside and quietly slipped out off the Base. This doorway opened up to a minefield, which was the reason for it not being guarded that intensely. But as we had laid the mines ourselves, I knew the way through. There were a few motion detectors, but only closely to the building so they wouldn't be disturbed by the animals. I quickly but carefully made my way through and soon was able to disappear from view through the trees.

I carefully made my way in the dark through the forest and tried to make as little tracks as possible. I even camouflaged most of the tracks I made. There weren't a lot of good trackers in the team, but at least one had been a hunter back home. I had learned reading tracks and tracking prey as well as unarmed combat very well from my friend Paul Bartlett. Maybe I should pay him a visit after I had gone through this ordeal. That is if I didn't change too much from this disease, or maybe it wouldn't be a problem if I changed a lot. If I remembered correctly he didn't mind hybrids. Maybe he even liked them.

After setting up some false trails and masking my real trail as best as I could, I retreated into a cave somewhere up a mountain ridge. I laid out all the things I had with me meticulously so I wouldn't have to search for something later when I really needed it. I also camouflaged the entrance as much as possible, I even laid a few boobytraps. Then I ate a few energy bars and even hooked up an IV to be ready just in case the bars weren't enough. I also swallowed a few of the knock-out pills and soon was out like a light.

The Base.

An alarm sounded and Major Skiggs woke up startled, 'What the hell is going on, what is that infernal racket all about?' He got out of bed, put his clothes on and just went into his office when there was a knock on his door. "Enter," the major said.

A sleazy looking lieutenant Bonnett came in with a worried look on his face. "We either had a break in or a desertion, major."

"What do you mean? Elaborate on this lieutenant." The major snarled at the soldier.

"We found Private Butler unconscious at entrance F3. His gun was taken and though there are no prints visible, our experts say that there was at least one person there."

"Coming in or going out? We need to know for sure lieutenant." The major was getting frustrated at the incompetence of his men.

The lieutenant was clearly flustered, "We can't tell, whoever it was, he or she was skilled at covering tracks. I already ordered a headcount, so we should know soon if anyone is missing or if we have to find an intruder."

Just then a junior grade lieutenant entered the room. "Sorry to intrude sir, we have ascertained that we are missing one man."

Major Skiggs barked angrily, "Who is it?"

"We can't find Sergeant Johns anywhere. And some personal items of his are missing according to people that know him." The junior grade lieutenant was visibly not at ease saying it.

The major started pacing his room, "So it seems we have a deserter on our hands. I want a patrol out searching for him."

"Yes sir," the lieutenant hastily said, "but I don't give a patrol much chance of success. Sergeant Johns was very skilled."

The junior grade lieutenant spoke up again, "Private Butler said that the sergeant looked a bit ill. Maybe he won't be that good in hiding his tracks. He might make some mistakes."

The lieutenant looked at the major, "You don't think he has come down with..."

"Nah, he's too old, or is he? What is the max age that anyone has ever morfed?" asked the major.

"I don't really know sir, maybe 20?" the lieutenant was caught unaware by the question.

"Well sent out the patrol and have Mr. Frantz come to my office ASAP. Dismissed!"

Both men acknowledged and disappeared from the office leaving the pacing Major alone.

The cave where Lando Johns is hiding.

I woke up startled, not knowing were I was for a moment. Then my memory returned. 'I'm going through MORFS and I'm hiding in a cave!' Then my bowels started to urge me to empty them. I had found a place in the cave to do just that with some water nearby to clean myself. So I took care of business but felt a bit strange doing it. I found the next batch of energy bars and pills by touch and chucked them down. 'I'd better not be too curious till it has run its course.'

Sometime later I woke up again but felt even more strange. My feet weren't responding right and my fingers and wrists felt, well odd is the best way to describe it. Also my face and ears felt a little odd, but I still was a bit groggy from the meds, so I didn't pay much attention to those feelings. I just did my business and washed up. The place was starting to reek a bit, I hoped it wasn't noticeable outside though. I reached around to the place where I put the supplies, but I couldn't find another batch of energy bars. Strange, because I had laid out enough for several days. Instead I just hooked up the IV and the included sedative knocked me out again soon enough.

I woke up again and for a moment wanted to stretch my legs like I normally do, but something was wrong. My legs felt wrong, as did my whole body. I did smell several odors though. And I heard noises, a lot of them. My body didn't feel hurt or anything, my guess was that the change was complete. I wanted to get up and walk out of the cave, but I had some problems with that. It was rather pleasant to walk on all fours instead of walking on my feet only. I smelled the odor of explosives. 'But I am not that close to my boobytraps yet. How can I already smell those? Oh, I guess my sense of smell has increased.' I kind of walked on all fours past the traps and into the light outside, I listened carefully during the short trip and heard only my very soft footfalls and the normal sounds from a forest. But they were a bit different. Sharper and more defined. I could identify several sounds, though I wasn't anywhere near them. Only then did I notice that I walked kind of on my knuckels and fingers and my fingers were bent into my palm? This was weird, very weird.

As I finally got out of the cave and into the light, I saw that it was probably already late in the afternoon judging by the warmth and the dying light. Now I could really have a look at myself. I looked down and saw that my arms were now covered in black fur. Even worse, they ended in what looked like paws. But I could still feel my fingers beneath them. I tried and after a few tries succeeded to stand on my feet, or rather what used to be my feet. I could see now that my entire body had changed a lot. And I didn't have normal legs anymore. I noticed a small pool of water to the side and dropped on all fours again to go over there to have a look at my face. As I bowed down to it, I saw my reflection and felt as if a bomb had been dropped on me. I was a spitting image of the black panther we had brought in to the Base earlier.

I quickly stepped back towards the cave entrance and thought fast and hard on what had happened. 'I'm a freak, a real animal now. I don't deserve to live anymore.' But I had a lot of self preservation, so suicide wasn't an option. I felt disappointed in the cards fate had dealt me, but I felt really angry about it. I wanted to scream out, but instead I roared, "Graaoow," really loud. 'Shit, I even sound like a big cat now.' I'd better see if I can still speak or am I just a dumb animal now? Well I can still reason well enough, I think! I tried to speak a bit, "Wgreswgring, wgreswgring. Wmy nawme is Whandho Shons."

Damn it, I couldn't speak well enough now. Maybe if I practiced more I could improve it somewhat. It got me thinking, 'This means that I have to change all my views on what I believed. I guess I have been a bigot treating all those hybrids as animals. Now I have joined their ranks and I still feel like a human. Or should I? I don't know anymore, this is really confusing. Still I've always been a practical guy, so I guess I could do that.'

I looked at my front right paw, strangely enough I could still feel my fingers there. I looked at the bottom of the paw and the pads did look a bit strange. I tried to stretch my fingers and they folded out and my paw became a bit more like a hand again. I put them back into their holding place and back out again several times marveling at how it looked like a normal cat's paw when my fingers were folded into my paw. But it functioned well enough when I extended them. I gripped my other front leg, uh ... maybe it still is an arm, and my grip was much harder than before.

As I was examining and testing my paw, I felt something else there as well. I thought about what that could be when suddenly 4 vicious looking claws extended from what should have been my knuckles. 'Strange, shouldn't there be 5 claws? I had read that cougars and jaguars have 5 front claws.' I marveled at the sharp looking claws. I really could do some serious damage with those. They were shiny and black. I absently scratched the wall behind me and saw that I made scratches in the stone. 'Maybe these are carbon nano-tube reinforced?' Than another thought seized me, 'Am I still a guy?' Quickly I looked down and though nothing was visible, I could feel that I was still male. I smiled in my mind, 'Well at least I didn't become a girly kittycat.'

I heard something and sniffed the air. I smelled people coming and they carried with them the smell of iron and gun oil. 'Must be a patrol out searching for me, good thing I got out of that place when I did. They would have loved to experiment on me.' I already had felt bad for those kids, but now I really thought that I should do something about that. I retreated back into the cave to get my things, but realized that I didn't have much use for most of them. I wasn't a regular human anymore. In fact I didn't look like a human anymore. To a first impression I looked like a big scary panther. I almost felt like crying and giving up. But a cat doesn't cry, and neither do I. And quitting? That's not in my nature either. So I toughened myself up. I am now a big black panther, a cat that had gone back to the wild, a feral. 'Hey that doesn't sound half bad as a nick name. Maybe I should start calling myself Feral.'

Searching through my meager possessions I found my flak jacket made of Nano-carbon reinforced threads and adjusted it so I could wear it like a vest. I would like to use it to carry my pocket army knife and maybe my guns on it. Since I was going on a recon mission, I only attached my army knife and my combat knife on the vest for now. For the moment I put the guns in an oily bag and hid it quite well in the cave. Some useful things like lamps and food I put in another bag and hid it there as well. The rest I gathered and disposed off in a hastily dug hole.

When I got outside again, night had fallen and though it was a very dark night, I had no problem seeing things. 'Guess these cat eyes are even better than I thought.' Also my acute hearing and enhanced olfactory sense were very helpful. Even weirder was the fact that I could also feel things and air currents with my whiskers. I planned to go straight to the Base and reconnoiter the place to see what I could do for those children they were keeping prisoner there, but something interfered with my plans.

As I was trotting through the forest I smelled prey. My mouth started salivating and my stomach growled a bit. I abandoned the path to my target for the moment and went after the critter that I had smelled. Soon I saw what it was, a Capybara. The small water hog animal was about to go into a pool when I caught up to it. I swiftly jumped at it, almost overshot it as I wasn't used to my new powerful hind legs. Nevertheless I swiped at it with my powerful paw and had my claws extended. My claws held it securely till I could put my maw across its neck and crushed it into a pulp. 'Wow, I read that the big cats are quite powerful with the jaw muscles, but this will take some getting used to.'

Out of instinct and driven by my hunger I tore into the animal, tearing the meat from it's bones and devouring it raw. As I was eating I caught myself doing it, and recoiled in my mind. 'What the hell am I doing? I'm acting like an animal nothing more and nothing less.'

I stopped eating and reflected on what I had just done. The memory made me lose my appetite and I turned away starting to feel sick in my stomach and mind. 'I really shouldn't be counted as a human anymore. Even though I have seen a lot of so-called humans do worse things.' I left the corpse there on the edge of the pool and started to head back to the trail towards the Base. I heard several scavengers move in to feast on the dish I had left for them.

Trotting through the jungle I was thinking about what I should do, when I suddenly smelled explosives and close-by too. My hackles rose and I decelerated quickly but not quick enough as I saw the glinting of a metal line across the path. 'Boobytrap, they mined the path here!' I knew I couldn't stop in time. I didn't want to just jump over the wire as they usually used to put another trap right behind the wire. So I jumped up, trying to get to a tree branch I saw hanging above. I would like to make it to the branch, so I could observe from above what they had done and if there were any other surprises waiting but I never thought I could make it, as it was at least 15 feet above the ground.

As I leapt upwards I suddenly realized that I had been mistaken about not reaching it. I was going to pass over it. I quickly extended my claws and halted my upwards motion. With some noise and groans from the branch I managed to find my balance on it. As I perched in the tree, I looked down at the ground and saw that my fear of a double trap wasn't unfounded. From up here I could see that the ground looked different behind the wire. They probably had dug a hole or put some sharp poisoned sticks or both there. Then I realized I had jumped up a lot more than 15 feet!

I remembered reading that a cougar could jump up 17 feet. The cat that Smith and I had brought in might have been a hybrid. I think it might have been just after stage 2 when we found it. It could have been a hybrid of a cougar and a jaguar, as it was too big to be a normal black cougar and too much of a jumper to be a black jaguar. Suddenly my memory caught up to me and held me in an iron grip, 'I had that accident with the vials of blood, and I had felt a sting of some sort. If that cat was still in stage 3 and I got infected with its blood, than that might explain why I'm now a spitting image of that cat, since stage three is supposed to cure illnesses with the enhanced immune system.' My thoughts led me to another dangerous path, what if the scientists figured that out too? They would start experimenting even more on innocent kids and with better results. I now knew that they wouldn't stop at just discovering how the disease was started, they would use it for military purposes. 'How blind could I be, it was all about using MORFS in the military from the beginning. I should have seen that much sooner.' I really needed to get into the Base now.

From the tree branch I leapt down past the trap and turned back to it. With my left paw I raked the leaves away. I immediately recognized the shallow pit with the pointy sticks. They made a real nasty trap with dirty sticks so anyone stepping on them would get an infection. I marked the spot with a scent flag, warning animals to stay away from it. Then I went on towards the Base.

A short time later I lay waiting on the ground looking at the Base building. I was approximately 30 yards away from it. I could just walk across to it, but I would get noticed and be subject to being blown up or shot at. I knew where the mines where, and even if I didn't, I could still see and smell them. The real challenge would be the infrared detectors and motions sensors. I would expect that the path I took out of the building was now more watched. So that path was out of the question.

I looked carefully where the motion detectors were placed and the infrared beams that alerted those inside of any movements. I observed the field for quite a while, till I knew where every mine, motion detector and infrared beam was. I was confident that I had discovered a path through it and started my run. I raced across the field zigzagging my way between the mines and detectors and was exhilarated at the speed that this body could achieve in a sprint. I almost flew across the ground. Moments later I arrived at the 15 feet high wall.

In one fluent motion I jumped up and landed softly on top of the roof. I managed to slip between two infrared cameras and avoided the laser beams on the roof as well. I quickly and softly made my way to the ventilation intake on the roof. The cap with the fan was screwed to the shaft, but that was why I had the vest with my knives on. I quickly unscrewed the cap and after deactivating the alarm sensor, I lifted it up to make room for me to get in. It was handy that I still had fingers to do things, I would have to look for another way in if I didn't. I doubt a real panther, even with a mind like mine could get in through here.

I slowly let myself into the ventilation shaft and put the top losely back on. Quietly and carefully I crawled throught the ducts searching for an exit point. Soon I came up to a grid, looking through it I saw that it opened up to storage room 3, which didn't have a lock on the door as far as I knew. I pried the grid off and slid into the room. I put the grid back on the ventilation hole before walking to the door. I sniffed and listened intently, but nobody seemed to be on the other side. So I opened the door and trotted down the poorly lit corridor towards the cells where I knew they had the kids locked up.

As I went past the major's office I heard voices. Curious I stopped to listen. I heard the major say, "So you think that Sergeant Johns got infected with MORFS because he came into contact with blood? With this blood in particular?"

My blood froze in my veins and I listened on, afraid of what I would hear next. I wasn't disappointed by them. Another voice, probably one of the scientists spoke up, "It all adds up, we know he went AWOL. We know he looked ill, and that he might have contracted MORFS. Our patrol heard a loud roar yesterday, I think he got infected by the blood of the panther that is in stage 3."

"If what you are saying is true, then we have our breakthrough. We have what we need to make our MORFS-soldiers." I heard the major say.

'Damn it, they already figured out that I got infected by the blood of the MORFed panther, and they just admitted that they wanted to use it for military use.' I knew that I had to act now before this knowledge spread. I didn't have any more time to waste on a further recon of the base. I started to get ready for action when the major asked, "When are you ready to start testing the disease on the children? And who else knows about this?"

The scientist answered, "So far only you and I know it. I don't trust all the other people. We can begin testing the infection right now if you want. I just need to fill a syringe with this blood and inject it into a test subject."

I almost couldn't resist growling. Then through the gap of the door which was ajar, I could see the major looking at the door. 'Did I make a sound?' I couldn't wait any longer. I burst through the door and jumped straight at the two men. My main target was the major, but my trajectory was close enough to the scientist that I took a swipe with a claw and with satisfaction noticed that I made some deep cuts into his torso. But my main focal point was the major, and he was already reaching for his sidearm.

I hooked the claws of my right paw into him and used my momentum and weight to push him back into the wall. The impact was quite big, and it took a moment for me to recover, but I recovered faster than the major. He shook his head and was about to yell for help and at the same time he tried to draw his gun or knife to stab me. Instinctively, I started to growl a little but managed to keep my cool thanks to my fighting experience, I had only a few seconds to act. I closed went in with my jaws wide open and closed them around his neck. I bit hard and without mercy through his spine and his jugular cutting the carotid artery.

For a moment I halted, thinking, 'What have I done? I just killed my commanding officer like an animal. Maybe I am nothing more than just a wild beast and should be locked up as one or even burned at the stake for being an unclean freak.' But that moment passed quickly as I realized that the scientist wasn't dead yet. I left the dying major, he still tried to save his life by putting pressure with both hands to his neck, though that would be invain anyway. I turned to the scientist, I didn't even know his name. He was still holding a vial of blood clutched in his hand. With the other hand he was trying to keep his belly from losing it's guts.

I growled, "I can'wgr whewgr you experiwmenwgr anywmore. I'wm shorry, buwgr you have wgro die here."

He looked at me and uttered in fear, "Sergeant Johns?"

I nodded, that must have been a strange sight seeing a big black panther do that. He continued, "Please don't kill me. I can reverse it. I can make you human again."

I snarled at him, "No way, wgrere is no giure. Nice wgrry."

He looked fearfully at me and I could smell the stench of his fear, along with something even more insulting for my olfactory sense. He lost control of his bodily functions. I didn't want him to suffer anymore, neither did I want to smell that horrible stench. So I quickly raked my claws across his jugular and sliced open his carotid artery. I extended my fingers from my other paw and took the vial of blood. I needed to dispose of it quickly and effectively.

I ran on all fours out of the office with the vial in my mouth and sprinted to the heating unit. There I tossed the vial into the fire. Next door was a cell block where I knew they kept the animals we found on our security rounds. Quickly I dashed in there and found myself eye to eye with my spitting image. The black panther that was the cause of MORFS giving me this body, looked at me and half growled, half purred at the strange similar cat. Wasting no time I opened its cage and it quickly jumped out, fortunately not at me, like I had expected, but just happy to be out of the cage. 'This cat isn't a normal one, he doesn't attack a rival.' Well I wasn't about to look a gift horse into its mouth and wanted to get to the other cell block where the kids were held.

But as I stormed out of the cell block with my new friend, my luck ran out. Some soldiers came walking around the corner and saw the two of us lose. They started pulling out their guns and started shouting. I growled at my new companion and together we sprinted in the opposite direction. We turned a few corners, making it impossible for the chasing soldiers to start firing at us and ended up running towards an exit. It was guarded of course, but the soldiers standing guard just stood there in shock. Well it's not every day that you get to see two very large black panthers running towards you. I imagine it would throw most people of guard. We quickly reached the three men and both of us attacked with a ferocity that was unprecedented.

Quickly the guards were bleeding to death or dead already and I opened the door to the outside. My companion wanted to jump outside in a hurry, but I growled a warning. He turned to me, looking at me strangely. I went past him and showed him the way through the minefield. I think he must have understood, if I could smell the stench of iron and explosives, then he too could do it. He might not have understood it before, but he did now.

After the minefield we proceeded to sprint to the treeline and I heard some gunshots behind me, though I heard nor felt any bullets fly in my neighborhood. Just as I thought we had gotten away clean I heard engines and three soldiers came riding from a different exit towards us on quads. Again I growled at my companion and I think he understood, He went right, while I went left. One soldier went after him, and the other two started chasing me. I did my best to get away from them, but I was getting tired. This cat body was good for a sprint, not for a marathon.

Then I noticed a familiar scent as I ran along the path. It was where I had marked the trap in the path. Just in time I noticed where I had raked the leaves a bit to the side and jumped with all my power up and ahead. I easily cleared the wire and ran for about 20 yards more. Then I slowed down and looked behind me. The first quad rammed into the spikes and the guy lost his control, but his momentum carried him further onto the wire. The Claymore exploded and the blast and shrapnel seriously injured the guy on the second quad. The shrapnel came dangerously close to my position, so I didn't wait there, but trotted off on my way again.

Free from persuers at the moment, I knew that they would soon be on my trail again. That was if they could find it though, there weren't too many good trackers and I had been one of them. For a moment I wondered if my friend was lucky enough to get away. I was going to use a different tactic now. Most times it pays not to run straight away from the people chasing you, but to double back and let the persuers go past. So that is what I did, I doubled back, climbed a big tree and hid within the leaves and branches waiting for my former teammates to come looking for me. I was sure that they wouldn't hesitate to shoot me or my companion on sight. I found myself wishing him good luck, He was a bit like family now, sort of a brother. 'Gee there I go again considering myself an animal. That reminds me, what should I do after I'm finished here? I can't very well go back into the army. Hell I can't even go back to any normal life, because I'm not normal anymore! I'm just a guy in the form of a dumb animal.' I shook my head, this thinking was getting me nowhere. I needed to focus on getting out of this mess and do my best to free the innocent kids in there.

The waiting wasn't as bad as it used to be. Somehow I had more patience as a panther. I just lay there on a big branch and without thinking started to clean myself like a kitty cat. After a while I noticed what I was doing, 'Shit, what the hell am I doing now? I'm cleaning and licking myself like a normal cat. I must have taken up over more feline instincts than I thought. This isn't good, not good at all.' I was torn between the desire to stop and the unwillingness to leave a job half done, so I continued with it, thinking a little more about it, but resigning myself as I did.

Finally my waiting got rewarded as I saw a squad exit the base and move carefully through the minefield. I recognized Sergeant Goldbaum in front, I was a bit nervous as he is was an excellent tracker, but then again so was I. I just hoped that I managed to cover my tracks well enough to stay ahead of him. I knew that he was too good a tracker to be fooled for long. Eventually he would find where I had been and follow me there.

I had been planning to let my pursuers pass me by and then go back into the base, but I saw that the security there had been tightened. I could make out some patrols on the roof and they had installed more sensors. Because that plan was foiled I needed some more firepower, but I had left that in the cave which would soon be found by Sergeant Goldbaum. After letting the squad pass the tree I was hiding in, I quickly bounded down and started following them, just out of sight. I didn't need to see them as I could smell and hear them quite clearly.

They were getting close to my hide-out cave due to the skills of Goldbaum, so I was forced to do something. I hadn't even taken into account how good a tracker Goldbaum was. It took him much less time than I had expected. If I had gone straight to the cave to get my possessions I would probably have been caught by surprise exiting the cave. As things stood now, I would have to do something or they would discover my cave and take my guns.

As I had made my decision, thought became action and I started my move. Silently I sprinted towards the squad and raked my claws across the behinds of two soldiers. I knew the pants weren't reinforced, so I could do the most damage there. As the soldiers I had just mauled, started screaming, I bumped with my considerable weight into the some others soldiers knocking them down. At the same time as I was doing that, I roared loudly trying to scare them even more into confusion.

It worked quite well too, most of the soldiers were so surprised and frightened, that they either didn't think of shooting, or shot wildly around. I quickly jumped away from them, satisfied that I caused enough confusion for the moment. Now it was time to get away and let them try to follow me while I led them away from my cave. That even worked though Sergeant Goldbaum wasn't scared enough by my sudden appearance and started shooting at me. He even hit me twice, though fortunately for me both bullets struck my Flak vest. The impact still hurt a lot though, and I was screaming as a big cat would.

My right arm or rather front leg was hurting from the impact and I limped quickly away from the squad, with them following me closely. My speed wasn't as fast as I wanted and I continually had to dodge bullets fired by my former teammates. I was forced into a new direction. I now ran for my life in front of them along a ledge of a mountain. I hadn't planned to go this way, but couldn't change directions now.

As I ran from my pursuers I rounded a corner and received the scare of my life. Right in front of me there was a group of natives ready with bows, arrows and blowpipes. I had no doubt that those darts would be poisoned. In my haste I hadn't even noticed them as I was running towards them. Of course it didn't help that they smelled a lot like the forest and were downwind of me. As I scrambled to go back the way I came, the pursuing squad of men came into view. 'Now I'm really out of the frying pan and into the fire.'

Both the natives and the squad opened fire on me and I got hit several times with bullets and darts. I had to get out of here through any possible way. In near panic I jumped at a tangent from the path, down a steep slope going straight for the yawning abyss.

On the ledge of the mountain.

The army men saw the panther jump away towards the abyss and then some crashing noises and afterwards a thud were to be heard, though most of the men didn't pay attention as they were too busy defending themselves against a bunch of natives firing poisoned darts and arrows at them. Hastily they fired back with automatic weapons and soon the natives retreated. But not without causing several deaths in the squad. The tracker Goldbaum was lying on the ground with an arrow through his side. The lieutenant in charge ordered the men to take the wounded and deceased men back to the base and looked in the direction where the panther had fled. Goldbaum said, "You don't have to look that way, I heard a thud. He must be dead. And even if he isn't we can't follow him down there anyway. Besides I'm sure that with the injuries he sustained he won't live long even if he managed to survive the fall."

The lieutenant still looked as far as he could down the mountain, but couldn't clearly see the bottom. There was no trace of the panther anywhere.

The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/

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