Whatever horrors Project Zero could put him through, Daniel was sure he'd stand a better chance of facing them if he wasn't alone. The only problem was, he had no idea which experiments his friends had chosen, or if they had even been given the same set of options. Except Jake; the scientist had specifically mentioned Furries when he called Jake in, so it was a pretty safe bet that Jake had been sent to--
"Hybridization," Daniel said with certainty. The scientist smiled.
"I think you'll like that one," he said as he pressed the computer. The cage opened and lit up, and Daniel stepped inside. This time, there was no countdown, no instruction on use of the abort button, and no announcement of his destination. He presumed that they only used such measures for long teleports (assuming Area 50 and Project Zero were not actually in the same place) or maybe just for effect the first time. Of course, he had to question the necessity of teleporters at all. The facilities must have been immensely vast to justify the expense. Or they were just another method of messing with subjects' heads. Since teleportation took almost no time at all, he was deprived of any sense of distance every time he traveled. For all he knew, he could have been sent halfway around the world, or just into the next room.
Daniel's musings distracted him from the teleport itself, and he realized with some embarrassment that he had been standing in the now-deactivated teleporter, staring off into space, for some time now. He had arrived at Hybridization.
The Hybridization Section formed a stark contrast to the rest of Project Zero. Or at least, it attempted to. The room was rather small, with one wall occupied by touch-screen computer consoles. Next to each screen was a large beanbag chair. The wall opposite the teleportation chamber had 3 soundproof metal doors, like the ones he had seen when he first arrived. However, somebody had numbered each door in a fanciful, flowing script, again in an attempt to lessen the institutional nature of the place. The other wall had a single door in it. A plaque on the door read "PRIVATE," but a hand-written note under it said, "Just kidding, come on in." All of the walls were decorated with posters of animals, the linoleum floor had a dark green carpet on it, and the ceiling was decorated with glow-in-the-dark plastic stars. In the center of the room was a low table, also surrounded with beanbag chairs, and laden with snack food and sodas.
Daniel ignored most of this though, because his eyes immediately found the most reassuring sight in the room. Sitting in one of the beanbag chairs and clearly very excited, was Jake. He was engrossed in whatever was on the computer screen, so he hadn't noticed Daniel's arrival.
"Jake," Daniel called playfully. Jake touched the screen one more time, then jumped up and ran to Daniel.
"Dan!" Jake squealed as he hugged Daniel. "This is the coolest thing ever!" Daniel was naturally incredulous. Jake was, after all, already into this sort of thing...whatever this sort of thing was. Dan had never really been interested in Furries before, and was therefore out of his element. At that moment, though, a large middle-aged woman burst from the side door.
"Ooh, a new arrival!" she sang, walking over to Daniel. "And who might you be?"
"I'm...I'm Daniel," he stammered, surprised to meet someone so friendly after the welcome he had gotten initially.
"Well, it's very nice to meet you Daniel," the woman said. "My name's Margaret, but everyone here calls me Maggie." Like the room, Maggie was clearly trying very hard to break out of the normal Project Zero look. She was wearing the lab coat that Daniel assumed to be standard-issue, but it was covered in brightly-colored stickers of cartoon characters. "Help yourself to some snacks, and whenever you're ready you can head over to a computer and start the experiment."
"You're going to love this," Jake laughed good-naturedly as he went back to his computer.
"If you need any help," Maggie said, "I'll be in my office."
Daniel walked tentatively to a vacant screen next to Jake's, and sat down slowly on the beanbag chair. Playfully bouncing around the screen was the text, "Touch Screen to Begin," and he did so.
The screen faded to black, and some vaguely classical-sounding music started playing. Stock footage of a sunlit forest faded into view, with a man's voice narrating: "Welcome," he began, "to the Project Zero Hybridization Section. If you would like to pause this introduction at any time, just press the screen." The narrator waited, as if expecting the viewer to pause the show. "The natural world," he finally continued, "is filled with wonders that never cease to astound and amaze us." The scene cut to a shot of a tiger stalking through tall grass. "It has wonders that are both exotic..." It cut to a time-lapse of a flower blooming, "and familiar." It cut to a crowded city street on a dull morning. "But humans have largely moved away from nature." The scene cut to a large concrete dam, "We try to control it," it cut to a shot of smokestacks billowing gases into a sunset, "or destroy it." The music began to pick up here, as the screen changed to show a computer-generated image of a person. "Here at Project Zero, though, we seek to combine the best of humanity with the best of nature. Using the magic of nanotechnology," a picture-in-picture of what appeared to be a metallic virus floated past the CGI man, "and a few of Mother Nature's secrets," another image, this one of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, "you will become an ideal hybrid of both humanity and nature." Before his eyes, the person onscreen morphed into a black anthropomorphic cat.
Daniel hit the screen, pausing the show. That presentation had just said that he was going to become a hybrid...thing. His immediate reaction was that it was impossible, but nothing seemed to be impossible to Project Zero. Teleportation was, evidently, commonplace here, and he had thought it was just the stuff of science fiction. Anyway, he thought, turning into an human-animal hybrid probably wasn't the worst thing that could have happened to him. "Paranormal" certainly didn't sound appealing, and he didn't even want to know what FURIES was. He touched the screen to start it up again, resigned to his fate, at least for the time being.
The music died down, and the screen changed to white. "You are now ready to begin your own hybridization process." A computer-generated image of Daniel appeared onscreen. "We begin," explained the narrator, "with the body template your Override Device created. From there, choose from a list of animal or plant templates to add to your design." On "animal," and "plant," corresponding buttons appeared on the right side of the screen. "If you like, you can add multiple plants and animals to your design. After that, customize your creature's markings, coloring, size, proportions, and even gender!" A menu of options appeared at the bottom of the screen. "When you're done, you can save your design and start on another from the human template. When you've created a design you like, press the 'Confirm' button," the corresponding button flashed in the onscreen menu, "and Project Zero will make your creation a reality. You are now ready to begin. Remember, the only limitation is your imagination!"
Written by Zodiac on 04 October 2008