Change of Lifestyle

He set the large bowl of stew down on the table with a dull click. He sat down at the head of the narrow table. The ship's mess was a narrow hall, economy of space was very important on a ship, he supposed. He was a soldier himself, and still dressed in the rumpled grey-green fatigues. His face was stubbled with the beginnings of a beard, and his brown hair, though uncombed, was clean.

He began to shovel the muck into his mouth and after a few moments a sailor entered the narrow room. He was a young man about the same age as the soldier, with straight blond hair. "You at the trough again?" he asked the soldier good-naturedly.

The man behind the bowl grinned up at him. "How are you Dan?" he asked.

Dan took a seat opposite him. "Alright, well as much as any one on this ship is alright. Your going to get a gut again if you keep eating like this."

The soldier shovelled another spoon full into his mouth then laughed. "Just as long as you don't start calling me gutman again." He quietened a bit before continuing. "I've just been so hungry lately. Any way most of the supply ships survived so there's more than enough."

Dan nodded. "There are a lot of men who won't be eating with us now." He said. The pair quietened, withdrawing into their own memories of the defeat.

"How's the rest of the ship coping?" the soldier finally asked.

Dan sighed. "Most are just trying to keep their minds of it, others think of getting back to their families. Jackoby disappeared."

"What?" exclaimed the soldier, "I heard he was sick, that the doc had quarantined him."

"He was, but when they went to check on him, well he wasn't there. Some recon he went overboard."

"Jezz." The soldier said subsiding again.

"Hey you know what the captain's talking about giving you a medal." Dan said in an effort to change the mood.

The soldier snorted, "Yeah what for?"

"Well you did rescue that solder when you were in the water."

The soldier shook his head. "When the Jervis Bay was sunk I was blown clear. When I grabbed on to that piece wreckage he was just floating near by, I couldn't just watch him sink. Anyway if you hadn't picked us up neither of us would have survived."

Dan shook his head sadly "I hadn't seen you in six years till you were hauled over the side."

"Whish it could have been under better circumstances." The soldier said ruefully. He shovelled the last of the stew into his mouth and sat for a moment, enjoying the warmth in his stomach. The warmth seemed to spread out, carrying a feeling of relaxation and peace with it.

"You know what?" he said to Dan.


"I could go to sleep right here." And he did, his face falling forward into the empty bowl.

* * *

"And he just fell asleep, right there at the table." Dan said to the ship's doctor. They were standing at the entrance to the soldier's small room. Inside the soldier was lying in his bunk. The fever he was in had broken out as Dan and a few other sailors were carrying him to this room.

"And you say he had been eating a lot over the past few days?"

"Yeah." Dan replied. "It's not something in the food is it?"

"No, if it was we would have a lot more sick people."

"Will he be okay?"

"Well," said the doctor, uncertain how much to reveal, "if it is what I think it is, he will live through it. But I'm going to quarantine him any way. Have a few sailors picked out to monitor him."

Dan nodded his head dumbly as he looked past the doctor at his friend.

* * *

The soldier stood up. He was standing in front of a forest, though by the tangle of branches and heat in the air it would have been better to call it a jungle. He turned around. His body felt strange, like it didn't fit. He looked down at himself. No, everything was in place; arms, legs, feet. He was wearing only a pair of his kaki pants. Looking up he found that the forest fronted onto a huge savannah. A sea of yellow grass rippled gently in the wind, punctured occasionally by a splayed limbed, tall tree.

There should be animals, he thought. But the whole place was empty, soundless. He strained his ears, trying to catch some indication of the animals he thought should be there.

Then he heard it, a rustle of leaves from the jungle behind him. He turned. There, in the shade of the undergrowth, the two luminous yellow eyes of Black Panther watched him. The panther began a low growl and the soldier stepped back in fear.

"Your mine." Snarled the panther and leapt.

* * *

Dan stared into the room, beside him the sailor he had set to watch his friend waited warily. It had been two days since they had brought him up here. Last night all the soldier's hair had fallen out, all of it, from the fine hairs on the back of his hands to his eyebrows.

This morning, the soldier had moved. He had begun to convulse and the sailor watching him called Dan and the doctor. They had had to strap him down. It took four men to hold him for the restraints. The creepiest part was that he didn't wake up at all. Without a scream of a whimper he had thrashed like a mad thing.

He had stoped after about twenty minutes or so. But Dan had stayed to watch his friend, jut in case he started again. "Your dismissed, I'll take this watch." He told the other sailor. The man saluted quickly and almost ran down the hall.

Dan dragged the small chair to beside the door and sat down. "There must be something I can do?" he asked the unconscious man on the bed. There was no reply.

"What's happening to you?" he asked, more quietly. Again there was no reply.

* * *

He ran through the city. His bare feet pounding on the hard tarmac. Occasionally he would dodge past a ruined car. Those were the only type on the otherwise empty streets. The cars weren't the only sign of damage; many of the buildings had huge cracks in their sides, like from an earthquake. Piles of broken glass frequently lay on the sidewalks and near the cars.

It was a very strange city; there were no people. The windows of the huge skyscrapers gaped emptily at him. There was no sound either, except perhaps for the wind. The trees, he noticed, were all dead, their leafless limbs clawing at the pale blue sky. But there were no leafs on the ground, anywhere, just the dead trees.

He was still running. He could remember from what. Seized by a sudden compulsion he spun around.

"Your in my jungle now." he called to the empty air.

"Your jungle?" A voice said mockingly. It sounded oddly familiar. "This city?" the last word was tempered with contempt. "You never liked the city." It seemed to be coming from the empty windows, all of them. "That why you joined the army, the last thing you wanted was a cramped desk job in a confined city."

"I had more reasons than that." He yelled back.

"Indeed." The voice almost sneered. "Anyway this is not your city, this is a different city, it's part of the future. Like you. Like what your becoming."

He realised why the voice was so familiar. He had heard his own voice on tape once. That was this voice. It was his own voice.

He spun around to begin running again, but the Black Panther was blocking his path. "I'm yours" Snarled the panther and leapt.

* * *

"Is it like a cancer, or a tumour?" Dan asked the doctor. "They cause lumps, don't they?"

The doctor shook his head sadly. "It's not a cancer," he said, "it's a virus. Cancer is random. This is more systematic, and a lot is what his own body is doing to adapt to his new DNA. This virus is like nothing we have ever seen before."

"DNA?" Dan asked, "What do you mean? What is it doing to him?"

"Somehow the virus changes the DNA in every cell in the patient's body. Essentially the DNA tells his body what it is, and with that changed his body is trying to become what is prescribed in the new DNA."

Dan turned to look in at his friend. It was had to recognise the soldier now. Part of the sheets had been kicked off to reveal a distended, malformed foot. His hands spasmed occasionally. The tips of his fingers were swollen badly. His face was the worst though. His jaw was stuck out at an odd angle, his nose was receding into his face and his eyes were swollen shut. Also his ears had begun to crawl up the side of his head.

Dan turned back to the doctor. "You mean it's changing him."

"Yes, most who contract it live through it, but the change seem to be permeant. It is a very new virus though and we don't know much about it."

Dan looked back into the room. "This is shit." He said bitterly, "He survived the war only to end up like this."

The doctor turned to go. "It will take a few more days." The doctor said. "See that there is food ready when he wakes up, he'll be very hungry."

* * *

The soldier hunkered down in the tall grass between the trees. He was dressed as he had been before; in only a pair of kaki pants. This time though he was also holding a small officers pistol. The Black Panther sat beside him, as quiet and as still as death.

They both avidly watched the same thing; a small zebra grazing in a nearby clearing. The smell of it filled their noses, like horse and hot water. The crunching of its grazing reached their ears in a soft continuos manner. It did not expect them at all.

Suddenly it stopped. The zebra raised its head warily and began to scan the edges of the clearing.

Now or never.

They leapt, both the soldier and panther, springing from their hiding place in a flurry of dust and dead grass. They closed the distance easily, the man in long strides, the cat in bounds. The zebra turned, panicked, and ran. It was not quick enough. The man grabbed it, and fired the pistol point blank into its hide even as the panther sunk its teeth and claws into the zebra's neck.

The zebra took but seconds to die. The panther began it meal right away, tearing open the body's side with its teeth. The soldier looked down as he stood panting. "We eat now?" he asked. He was very hungry.

The panther stopped and looked up at him. "Never with out a reason." It said. "Never without a reason, do we hunt and kill." Which seemed to be enough, for the big cat returned to his meal.

The soldier knelt beside the corpse and sliced away a section of the meat, pealing off the skin. He looked at it for a moment, the warm wetness spilling over his hand. He was so hungry. He tore a smaller piece of with his teeth, chewed and swallowed. It was raw, and didn't go any way to relieving his hunger.

The Black Panther had stoped eating and was gazing up at him with un-blinking yellow eyes.

"We are one." Snarled the panther and leapt.

* * *

FOOD. The thought roared inside his mind, forcing it to consciousness. His eyes fluttered open. They felt strange. In fact his whole body felt strange. These thoughts were drowned out as the hunger caught up to him. He was lying down, so he tried to get up, so as he could get some food, any food. He couldn't move. He was restrained. He forced himself against the restraints, his muscles knotting unde his skin.

With violent snaps whatever was holding him gave way. In a moment of surprise he look down the restraints were thick leather straps. He wouldn't have thought he could break those things so easily. He had a strange feeling as he looked down at his black furred arm, with the long claws on the end of each finger. Something was very wrong, he almost figured out what when the hunger roared back into his mind. He had to eat. Something, anything.


The word floated into his mind and he fastened on to it. He must find some meat, kill it and eat it. Some small part of his mind screamed at him that something about this wasn't right, but it quietened in face of his huge hunger.

Leaping out of the bed he nearly fell over. Steading himself he advanced upon the door. He flung it open with a metallic screech, and entered the hallway. At the far end there was a sailor talking into the ship's intercom in between throwing fearful looks towards him. Seeing the door open the sailor dropped the receiver and started to run.

Meat, food. His mind yelled at him. With a bound he began to pursue the sailor. He closed quickly, tackling the sailor in the back, driving them both to the ground.

Recovering his breath he drew back to strike, his jaws wide, his fangs gleaming. As he did so he inhaled, drawing air into his nose. Two smells registered; one was the sailors fear, thick in the air, the other was of fresh cooked meat and stew. He paused. It smelled much better than this man soaked with fear.

Hauling himself off the quivering, but unharmed sailor, he inhaled a second time. Following the sent of food back down the corridor he soon found the source. In the galley, a huge pot of stew was cooling before the crew's meal. He attacked the food with relish, diving his face in and eating with huge gulps. Occasionally he would use a hand to shovel some into his mouth, but mostly he just gulped it. Finally he was dragging his claws across the bottom of the pot.

He exhaled and licked his lips rigorously. His hunger was sated now, his mind was clearing. He looked up at the image in front of him, reflected of the polished metal of the galley's cupboards. It was a panther's face. Black furred muzzle, twitching pointed ears and luminous yellow eyes looked back at him. Un-phased by the strange image he began to clean his teeth. The panther raised a hand and scratched between two fangs with a long black claw. He stoped. The panther stoped.

It was like being slapped in the face with a bucket full of cold water. That was his reflection. He was the panther.

* * *

The wind tore loosely at his kaki jacket, nearly pulling the hood off his face. It was three days since he had woken up, almost two weeks since he had first fallen sick. After his revelation in the galley the soldier had returned to his room where he had spent most of the past few days. When he did leave the room he had taken to wearing a spray jacket with the hood drawn up. Dan brought him meals when he didn't turn up to the mess. His friend wouldn't look at him though; talking to the cupboard or wall while he handed him the bowl. The soldier rarely replied. The ship's doctor had tried to see him twice on the first day. He had kept him out, putting his weight against the door.

He had examined his new body. He looked humanoid, but that was as close as it got to human. He was covered, almost every inch, in dense, short black fur. He had a tail, which had been a surprise. He had had to alter several pairs of his pants to accommodate it. He had claws on the ends of each of his fingers, long and sharp, he had tried to cut them but had only succeeded in blunting the scissors. His face was the most remarkable though, a perfect reproduction of a panther's. he still had hair though, short and black growing on the top of his head.

Yesterday he went to the back of the ship. There he could get some fresh air without running into anyone. While there he over heard someone talking on a lower deck. From what he heard there was a ship breaking away from the fleet, heading east to America instead of south. It hadn't taken him long to make his decision. Which was why he was here, on the deck of the HMAS Jason.

He wasn't the only one on the deck of the leaving ship. There was quite a collection of people gathered on the deck, and he wasn't the only one wearing concealing clothing. Some, he guessed, were just part of the small American detachment sent to aid the UN in the war. Many though were probably just people who wanted to go anywhere but home.

Beside him was short figure wearing a sailor's spray jacket with the hood pulled up. The soldier didn't look too closely; he found his own reflection disturbing enough. He breathed deeply as he leaned back on the railing. He was still getting used to the his enhanced senses and found him self filling his noses with a strong mix of scents. It was amazing how well the smells would recall memories.

That was strange. He sniffed again. Turning to the figure beside him he asked in an quiet, amazed voice, "Jackoby? Is that you?"

The figure pulled back in surprise, but not before the soldier saw beneath the hood. Not before he saw the flat grey furred face, large brown eyes and long grey ears.

"I don't use that name any more." Said the man with the rabbit's face, before tuning and quickly walking away.

The soldier leaned back on the railing again. It had been quite a shock to recognise the man's smell. A shock again to see his face. He then noticed that the ship's crew were helping another person up over the side. He blinked. It was Dan.

His old friend wasted no time in identifying him and crossing the deck. "Thank god I found you." He said. The soldier looked at him, but Dan wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Your not going on this ship are you?" Dan asked. "Your not leaving are you?"

"Yes I am." Was all he replied.

"This is crazy. You've got a life. You've got family back home. What will I tell them?"

"Tell them; their son is missing in action."

"Look. Come back with me. The doc say there are people in Sydney working on a treatment…"

"Treatment?" he snarled. "Look at me Daniel." He waved his clawed hand in his friends face. "Look at me."

Dan raised his eyes and drew a shuddering breath.

"You don't even know what I am now. The soldier said, "There is no treatment for this. I'm not going home, not like this."

Dan looked steadily at his friend. "I can't convince you can I?" Dan asked.

"No." it was a simple statement.

Dan held out his hand. "Your still my friend, you know."

The soldier shook Dan's hand. "Good by, old friend."

When Dan had left the ship the soldier watched the small dingy cross back to the fleet. After a while the HMAS Jason turned away from the rest of the fleet and began to sail east. He watched the grey boats until at last, her turned his back to the retreating fleet.