Woken from cryosleep, a cat must escape a post-apocalyptic training facility designed to turn him into a kangaroo supersoldier. Explicit.
In 2036, war began. Destructive, planet-wide, all-out war. Civilians, fleeing the encroaching devastation, sought out cryogenic stasis en masse. Governments pooled their resources with private companies in order to preserve their citizens, with the promise that, in five or ten years, they would be brought out of stasis and would return to the post-war world.
Sixty years later, war has changed. Gene-spliced soldiers fight a constant battle of attrition on the war-torn wastes. To fuel the never-ending conflict, warlords and military dictators search for stasis pods to replenish their bleeding ranks. With fresh pre-war blood, and genes ready for splicing, the civilians in the pods are the newest recruits in the endless war.
WARNING: HOMEOSTASIS BREACH. POD UNLOCK BEGIN.
He tumbled limp onto the floor. His lungs seared with chemicals as he coughed for breath. A computerized voice, back inside the pod, was saying something to him.
"You may be experiencing mild memory loss. This is normal. Please wait for a care counselor to come retrieve you."
No. This wasn't normal. His lungs were dying. His memories were a haze of feelings; anxiety, fear, wanting to curl up until the war went away. But who was he? It was a big blank in his mind. Brown fur, short claws, whiskers: cat, male, young. He spun the plastic tag around his wrist and read the name on it. 'Circutron.' Was that a name? Didn't sound like one, but it was all he had. 'Circ' was good enough.
He grimaced and clutched his chest. The sting in his lungs seeped into his veins. It spread into his body, some foreign thing that shouldn't be there.
The floor was littered with dust and flecks of concrete fallen from the ceiling. He leaned against the wall, cushioned by the tubes and hoses running between the pods. One hose had been ripped from the wall and connected to a rusted red canister with strips of duct tape. In yellow spray paint, the words 'RooD Jooz' ran down the middle of the tank. He coughed. Was that what he'd breathed in?
He took in the room: two pods to a wall, six in all. The two other pairs of pods were open and empty, coated in dust. Cold vapor poured out of his pod. And in the pod next to his, mist hung in the corners, dissipating as he watched.
Whoever was inside couldn't have woken up more than an hour ago. That meant there was someone else alive. Maybe they'd know more. Maybe they could work together.
Circ wobbled on his feet as he rose. To steady himself, he clutched the side of the pod. His heart was fluttering, beating out of step. A pressure rose inside his chest. He breathed in and his ribs creaked. His lungs and heart strained against the bone like a balloon inside a birdcage. His skin bulged in the space between his ribs. Bone and cartilage groaned and shifted around his larger organs, stretching to fit. The pounding in his ears evened. The top of his hospital gown stretched with each slow inhale.
This was not normal. This was bad. He had to find help.
Despite the worry twisting inside of him, the loud thud of his heart came slower and his breathing was less frantic than he'd expected. He took his hand off the pod and reached for the door.
Circ stepped into the hall. He barely had time to take in the cracked walls, the broken lights, the spraypaint and bloodstains strewn up and down the corridor. A PA system belted out a tinny recording of a gravel-voiced yell, enough to make him wince.
"Morning, recruit! Welcome to the Rood Boys, wake up an' smell the mutie-gen. Ready for your first order? Here ya go: Run!"
His ears swiveled toward the rat-a-tat of an engine. From the end of the hall came something like a lawn mower, if its blades were four feet tall and it had a V6 engine block on top and tank treads.
There was no time to question the voice or try the doors. The machine was already bearing down on him. He turned and broke out into a sprint. The noise of the engine echoed off the walls, mixing with the recorded laughter over the loudspeakers.
"Hah hah, you'd better be running. The Lawn Mauler likes fresh meat!"
Circ banked around a corner and lost his footing. His side slammed against the concrete rubble. The stinging pain wrapped him inside and out. Precious seconds slipped away before he scrambled back to his feet, just in time to avoid the whirling blades. His legs seared; he was sprinting as hard as he could, pushing his body harder than he ever had.
Each step felt as if it came in slow motion. The force of each footfall sprung back up into his legs, slamming joints and muscles together. If it weren't for the adrenaline, his knees would be jelly. His blood vessels burned as they dilated, letting his blood flow more freely.
The Lawn Mauler had turned the corner too. Circ hadn't broken his sprint yet. The ache of tired muscles could come any moment, but he had outpaced it so far.
A surge of muscle split his thighs. His calves flexed; they bulged tighter with each step. He leaned forward further, dashing like a feline bullet down the hall with the Mauler falling behind. There had to be somewhere safe from the machine.
He was flying, each step an explosion from the cannons that were his thighs. Up ahead, he spotted concrete barricades, the sort that went across roads. Behind them, an open door. He counted down: three, two, one, and his palms hit the barricade. Sheer speed carried him up and over and back down, flipping over the barrier and through the door.
The engine sound rumbled louder and louder, and then the Lawn Mauler hit the barrier with a rickety clunk. The sound hovered there, waiting and deadly, until it backed away back down its track.
Circ lay on the floor where he'd landed, breathing slowly, with his heartbeat pulsing from the tips of his ears to his pawpads. He sat up like his veins might burst and his bones break if he moved too quickly and massaged his throbbing legs. The fur stretched around the new bulk of his thighs. The muscles rippled less than he would have expected; they were broad and practical, not for show.
This room had once been an office, before the furniture had been smashed and the walls coated over with three different layers of spraypainted slogans. 'WarDogz' was still visible beneath the top layer: 'Rood Boys'.
"If you're still alive," the gravelly voice barked out of a loudspeaker, "you got mutie-gen to thank for that. Hope you're likin' it, cause it's your new lifeblood! By the way—hope you like turrets too!"
The blare of electric guitars too intense for the PA system filled the room. A corrugated cardboard barrier slid out of the way, revealing a paint-stained steel dome on a sturdy mount. A gun barrel stuck from the center, pointing in his direction. Circ spun to the side. A pwip, pwip, pwip of bullets peppered the floor, trailing behind him only inches.
The thicker, rougher pads on Circ's feet gripped the ground. He sprung up, running toward the door, leading with his shoulder. He plowed through it. The door slammed shut behind him, and he was now in a maze of office hallways. From ahead of him and to his right, two turrets whirred as they spun in his direction.
He broke left. Bullets peppered the ground beneath him. The floor was rough, ragged concrete, but it was either hurt his feet, or get shot. He crouched behind a corner, checked both directions for turrets, and let out a small breath.
The music was still hammering away at his eardrums. The PA system piped it throughout the halls. He grabbed his ears to muffle the sound, but they weren't the cat ears he was expecting. They were long, cupped, rounded at the end. Bovine? No, they were too narrow, too oval-shaped. But he didn't have time to think species right now. Add ears to the list of his complaints.
On the floor near his feet was a small blood spatter. There were plenty of dried bloodstains, but this was different—his foot had smeared it. The pod next to him. They must have come through here not long ago. But if they were wounded…
Circ tracked the trail of blood to an intersection where a turret was waiting. He backed up a few steps, took a running start, and launched himself across its field of view, tumbling back behind the wall before it fired its first shot. The blood trail led him to a broom closet with its door nearly off its hinges. No one was behind the door. Just ransacked shelves, empty syringes, and another bloodstain on the floor with a bullet sitting in the middle.
They'd ducked in here and dug out the bullet, he thought. Good. They were alive, and probably resourceful. And he'd just have to hope they knew what was going on, or had some way to stop what was happening.
A bolt of resourcefulness squeezed through the pounding noise in his head. The shelf was made of wire racks hung on metal poles. He pulled one of the poles free from the racks and kicked off the rubber foot on the end. With the four-foot pole in both hands, he held it low like a club.
There was no way to continue onward but past a turret. He peered out from behind the corner as carefully as he could. The gun was pointed the other way. It would take only seconds to turn, so he had to move fast.
Circ turned the corner and ran. One second to close the distance between him and the turret, another in a useless swing against the turret's base. The barrel rolled towards him. He brought the pole straight down. There was a crunch somewhere inside the turret, gears grinding and circuit boards breaking.
Circ took two big-chested breaths while his arms throbbed. The holes in the pole had torn into his paws and they were bleeding. With the tips of his fingers, tore off strips from the bottom of his gown. He wound them around his palms. They stung, but he gritted his teeth and pulled the makeshift bandages tight.
His hands looked different: thicker, duller claws; and thinner, more calloused pads. No time to waste staring at himself, though. He had to get somewhere safe, away from spinning blades and bullets.
The music must have repeated over and over by now, but it still blared away in his ears. The throbbing in his head matched the tempo of the song. He just wanted to smash every god damn loudspeaker to make it go away.
There was one just across the hall. Circ squinted up at it. He was just so sick of the sound. So sick. Just so smash it. Smash it smash it smash it. He swung his pole at the loudspeaker like it was the ninth inning and he was up to bat. It crumpled, bent in half, but that wasn't enough. He reared back and bashed again, and again. It fell to the floor and he swung overhead. Bits and pieces flew out and he smashed them too. A bit of plastic hit him in the face and he realized he was grinning.
He was breathing the hardest he'd been since waking up. Taut prickling bristled through his chest and torso, like his tendons were being plucked. His fur itched through the gown. Why had he gotten so angry? This was bad and getting worse.
His pole in hand, propped against his shoulder now, he crept forward until he found a turret, and then waited. He sprung, bashing until it broke. And then he did the same for the next one, and the next one, forging a path through the maze of corridors. Some of the old signs were still legible, pointing the way to the exit. It was the obvious direction to go.
Whoever had set up the obstacles knew that too, though. There was a three-way intersection that led to the stairs. And in that intersection, all within range of each other, were three turrets. Stopping to disable one of them meant leaving himself open to fire from the others. He hung back, thinking, wiping sweat from his brow.
Circ expected soreness after spending so much time swinging a heavy pole around, but aside from the ache in his wrists, his arms weren't tired. He didn't know if he was stronger, but he felt it. And his new stamina was undeniable. Mutation was terrible, but at least it helped him stay alive.
He hoped it would get him through the door.
Circ took a running start. He grabbed the corner to turn, his pole ready in his other hand. He pulled the pole back. The turret in his way was closer and closer. Bullets zipped by his sides, missing him by inches.
With the pole, he stabbed down into the turret. The crunch jostled his joints before it reached his ears. All his weight he threw against the pole. It twisted inside the turret as he sprung forward. Like a pole vault, he rose into the air on his momentum. Then he let go. He went feet-first into the door, slamming into it, knocking it open. Everything whirled around him, and then the bullets were muffled, pinging off of hard metal.
The door behind him had slammed open with enough force to bounce shut again. Circ was on the floor again, but safe. He scooted out of line-of-fire of the door, just in case. At last, the stairs—now he could get out of here.
He sat up and looked around. The stairs continued a few steps down, and then dropped down into jagged blackness. What stretched up above him was less a stairwell than a shaft, studded with metal beams and short spans of crumbling stairs hanging above a deadly fall.
"Bet that mutie-gen's feelin' pretty good now! See you at the top, recruit," the growling voice said, echoing down the stairwell from somewhere up above.
"Fuck you, ya cunt!" Circ snapped, grasping the railing. He wasn't surprised at his anger, but his aggression was shocking. Even if his memories were a haze, he knew he wasn't like that.
And his face felt wrong. He reached up and grabbed it like it was a stranger's, trying to feel the bits and pieces. His nose was wrong; too big, too rounded, not flat enough at the top. His teeth didn't fit right, they didn't slot together like they were supposed to. The tip of his muzzle was too far away. He held his palm against his snout, without pushing. Without moving his hand or his head, his nose slowly pressed against his hand. It was growing.
Circ was changing in front of his own eyes. He was spending too much time freaking out, not enough time getting that damn chemical out of him. He needed to focus. Get out, find the other, get help. But first, he had to take it step by literal step.
He paced to the edge and back, estimating the leap from the landing he was on to the next set of stairs, maybe ten feet away. And then he paced again, checking, seeing how far he could reach. What if he couldn't make it? Either he'd be stuck down here, or he'd find out what was waiting for him at the bottom of the pit. Most likely a quick stop.
Circ stood four paces from the edge and counted down in his mind. Three, as he took his first step. Two. One. Go! He pushed off with one foot and the stairs rose up to meet him in the chest. Wheezing, he scrabbled at the steps. One hand found the railing, the other a lip he could hold onto as he heaved, and heaved, and pulled himself up.
There weren't any stairs he could reach from here. The nearest piece of anything he could grab onto was a series of I-beams jutting from the wall. As he hunkered down, getting ready to spring, his heels cracked and rose off the ground. The muscles in his calves swelled and tightened. Three, two, one, and he leaped, both arms out, fingers catching the edge of the I-beam.
Circ grunted as he swung from side to side. His spine twisted, building enough force to swing one hand up to the higher rung of the beam. He reached up with the other, grabbed on, and began to pull.
His blood bubbled beneath his skin as his arms strained to lift him. They weren't getting tired, or else he might have slipped and fallen, but they were just on the weak side of being able to haul himself up. Down his front and across his shoulders, a flushed heat rushed through his muscles. His shoulders swelled, his back bristled with new mass, and with an angry cry, he pulled himself up until his stomach was hooked over the beam. From there, it was easy to climb up.
Circ stepped carefully from beam to beam, using them like stairs. Crouched on the highest one, holding it for balance, he spotted steps across the shaft. It was a long jump, but he'd come this far. Rising from his crouch, his foot, unaccustomed to his growing digitigrade stance, slipped sideways. He began to fall to one side, but he hooked his thighs around the beam and caught himself.
Now he was sweaty, anxious, and still needed to make the jump. He stayed crouched this time until he was ready, then he ran. The speed kept him steady, as he sprinted to the end and leapt off. His knees tucked into his chest and his feet stretched beneath him, lengthening his legs. This time, he cleared the edge and landed firmly on top of the steps.
Sitting there in relative safety, he grabbed his feet. The big, tough paws, the large claws, the sheer size, and the size of his thighs and calves too: it all added up to kangaroo. That's what the mutie-gen bullshit the PA squawked about was doing, making him into a kangaroo.
Could he hear static? His head throbbed. It was the same feeling he'd gotten in the offices. He stomped his foot against the ground and balled his hands into fists against the wall. His heart, calm throughout all the climbing, was hammering now. Veins bulged in his neck. Smash it kill it burn it breed it kill it kill it.
"When I get up there I'm gonna fuckin' kill ya, mate!" he shouted into the empty shaft.
That...was his muzzle's fault. It was messing up his voice. His foggy memories were probably to blame too. He knew he didn't have an accent. He knew he shouldn't have an accent. This was very wrong.
The tightness of his gown was becoming more of a liability, so he pulled it off and tied it around his waist instead. It might come in handy, but his shifting frame was too cramped inside it. No more time for sitting around, have to keep moving, he thought to himself. With a crouch and a spring from his powerful legs, he launched himself up to the next landing.
Climbing was easier now. Circ worked his way in a circle around the ruined stairwell with powerful jumps, learning the arc his body made when he flung himself forward. He must have climbed at least four floors up by the time he finally found a door he could reach.
He stood on a tiny ledge, barely big enough for his paws. Above him, rebar beams jutted down from the bottom of the ceiling. Some were bent like hooks, but there was one running across the gap that would take him to the landing and the door. His vertical jump wasn't as impressive as his long jump, but it was still enough for him to grab onto the steel beam and start hauling himself, hand over hand, toward the door.
A sharp ping rippled through the beam, followed by another. The section of the beam he held had snapped off. He started to fall. Maybe it was reflexes, maybe sheer luck, but as he dropped, he turned the steel pole and caught two of the rebar hooks with it. Adrenaline soothed the pain in his shoulders. He looked out ahead—the hooks were spaced too wide for him to just swing from one to the next with his hands. But the bar he was holding was long enough…
He swung back and forth, feeling the aching and swelling along his front, under his skin, as he used his core to build up momentum. Forward, curling his stomach and legs inward. Back, legs kicked out behind him. And then at just the right moment, he yanked the bar up and swung forward. Momentum carried him through the air. He lifted the beam, and hooked it on the next set of hooks. As he hung there, he took a breath of relief, but there were two more jumps to make.
His arms felt like they were boiling. The more he exerted himself, the more the mutagen seeped into his muscles and built his sinewy bulk. His upper body spread wider, broader at the shoulders and thicker around his torso.
Another heave, and he soared through the air harder than before. His shoulders threatened to pop when he caught himself on the hooks. Take it easy. The next jump he tried to do more gently, and the stop was less of a jolt. One last jump, and he'd be on the landing. He tucked his knees in and flexed his biceps as he rolled back and forth. His body almost hit the ceiling on the swing back, and as he swung forward he let go, hurling himself onto the landing.
Circ pulled himself up and sat there, breathing for a moment, looking at the chasm he'd just crossed. He hadn't felt afraid that whole time. Alert, focused, determined; yes. But not afraid. The only answer he had was that the mutagen dulled his fear response. What all would it do to him before this was over?
He put his arm against the wall as he rose to his feet. His upper body was meaty enough to match his thighs now. The thickness of his chest blended in with the rest of his bulky frame. He had almost assumed he would end up bigger, but instead of being huge and rippling, he was packed tight. Built for utility, not for show.
There was no getting around the kangaroo fact, though. His face had finished growing its new muzzle and snout. If he wanted to, he could prop himself up on his new, muscular tail. His paws, his stature; everything said kangaroo now.
Mounted above the door was a loudspeaker. It wasn't making a sound, but it was making something not-a-sound, something in the corners of Circ's ears. Smash it kill it burn it breed it smash it smash it smash it.
He jumped and wrenched the speaker from the wall. The wires broke off, sticking out of the empty socket. Holding it in both hands, he bashed it against the wall, shattered the plastic, snapped the electronics, twisted the metal. Again and again, he slammed it into the concrete, until his knuckles were bloodied from beating against the wall. And he was grinning.
He leaned his shoulder against the wall and rubbed his face. Why was he letting himself get carried away like that? Keep a level head. Keep moving, and breed, and find a way out, and smash, and then he'd be okay.
Circ pushed his way through the door and squinted as sunlight hit his eyes. It was a huge room, the original entrance hall of the facility. Piles of rubble sat like hills, bunched up against the walls and making a winding mountain pass through the middle of the hall. Light came through the high windows, filtered through an opaque, parchment-like material meant to be bomb-resistant.
The PA system was playing some thundering drumbeat, one that got Circ's blood pumping. Scattered across the floor were training dummies, made of sports equipment, trash, and bits of rubble, each with a target spray painted on its front. A small rack of weapons next to the door invited him to pick one. The guns were tempting, but more tempting was the club made of a slab of concrete and three rebar poles twisted together to form a handle. He'd gotten used to bludgeoning the turrets. He heaved the club onto his shoulder, holding it with both bandaged hands.
A buzzer sounded off as Circ stepped foot off the staging area. So he was timed? He'd make it quick. He swung like a batter, or maybe a steel driver, plowing the club into dummy after dummy. Some of them flipped down, like they were meant to—others, he scattered across the floor with one heavy blow.
His arms weren't burning. A big grin spread across his face. Smash it smash it smash it smash it, hahaha! He knew in an abstract sense that this was wrong, but it felt good. After devastating the first big area, leaving not a single dummy standing, he followed the path forward that wound around the hills of rubble.
His ears flicked. The sound of footsteps came from his side. He whirled around just in time for a kick to hit him in the hands. His fingers sprung open and his club fell to the side. A second kick knocked him on his back.
Circ looked up. A wild-eyed female kangaroo stood over him, muscles tensed, fingers twitching around the grip of the minigun slung across her shoulder. On her other shoulder, she carried a bandolier of bullets. A bloodstained bandage was wrapped around her leg and a plastic bracelet was still clipped around her wrist.
"I'm tryin' to save ya, mate!" he barked. He didn't have time to worry about the accent.
"Like how that voice is tryin' to save me? Fuck no," she said. She pointed the barrels of her gun at his face.
With a snap of his foot, Circ knocked the minigun back. He lashed out with both feet, and the gun flew off her shoulders and dropped to the ground. As she came running at him, he pushed himself up with his tail. His arms clapped around her and they both hit the ground.
"Piss off!" she snapped. Her fist caught him in the jaw. He started bleeding.
"Fuckin' crazy cunt!" Circ snapped back. His heart rate spiked. Shutting his eyes, he cracked his skull against hers, but she only reeled back slightly.
Her knee caught him in the gut and he socked her across the cheek. One moment she was on top, rearing back for a haymaker. The next moment, he was on top, trying to pin her arms to the ground. Then her hands were around his neck, but they weren't crushing as hard as they could. Hesitance softened her crazed look.
Or maybe it just softened Circ up for the sucker punch right to the gut. He was on his back, struggling for air as his diaphragm spasmed. She squatted over his waist, her claws on his chest.
Smash it kill it burn it breed it…breed it? Circ looked up at her, his expression shifting from violent anger to a different anger. 'What are you waiting for?' anger. A similar look drifted over her face.
In a quick breath, Circ whipped around. On top again, he tossed her to the ground and pinned down her shoulders. She fought to get back up. Her legs were still splayed around his waist. Breed it breed it breed it breed it. He dug his claws against the ground as he shoved forward.
A gruff bark snapped out of her mouth and she knocked her hips against his. She struggled to grab his arms, to pull him off of her. Her knees and thighs went weak around him as the swell of his shaft dug deeper into her. A confident grin spread over his face.
She punched him right in the chin, knocking his head back and stunning him just long enough to get back on top. Her feet planted on the ground, she pumped her hips up and down over him. She was practically his match in terms of strength, and it was a snug fit, like they'd been made to complement each other.
A sharp buck of his hips knocked the female kangaroo off balance, and then Circ flipped them both over, on top of her again and crushing her into the ground. She twisted herself somehow, pivoting and tossing herself over him with what had to be some kind of judo throw. Crouched, she leaned over him now, grinding away with a furious lust in her eyes.
Circ grabbed her arms and twisted them like pretzels, folding them behind her back and holding them tight with one hand. With a heavy heave, he tossed her over so her back was facing him. He rose to his feet. Her paws scrabbled against the ground for support, while her front half hung from his fist.
The longer they went, the more 'smash it' gave way to 'breed it' for the both of them. When they finally both dropped to the ground, exhausted and spent, she didn't dash for her minigun and he didn't go for his club.
Leaning against the rubble like it was a bench, Circ lifted his wrist, showing his own plastic bracelet.
"Circ," he said. Still needed to find a better name, when he wasn't busy escaping or breeding.
The female kangaroo was lounging on a concrete slab like Circ was. When he showed her his bracelet, she seemed to remember she had on hers.
"That even a name?" she asked. She snapped the bracelet off and crushed the plastic in her palm. "Just call me Sheila."
Circ snorted loudly. "You've got a problem with 'Circ' but you want me to call ya 'Sheila'?"
Sheila punched him in the side, hard. Even though it hurt, he didn't mind. She'd hit harder than that while they were breeding.
"So you didn't do this to me," she said, gesturing at her body. Circ thought it was a fine, powerful figure, all muscle and sinew, but then she probably thought the same about him. He hoped.
"Nah. Wanna find who did and bash their fuckin' brains in?" he asked. The hair on the back of his neck bristled eagerly, and his new mate grinned. It felt wrong to get so excited at the prospect of violence, but Circ was learning to stop listening to that voice in his head. Who he'd used to be wasn't going to help him survive.
With his club over his shoulder and her gun at her side, they left the ruined cryo facility. With their warband of two, soon to be more, they were going to wipe the Rood Boys off the face of the wastes.
The face of war can change, but war...
War never ends.