The Gender Bug

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The Gender Bug

Postby LilJennie » Mon Sep 04, 2023 8:52 pm

The Gender Bug
By Miki Yamuri and Jennie Flint

Terry Stroight was wandering through the deep woods doing what he loved most, communing with nature. It was a hot day in the middle of July, and Terry had been hiking for several miles. He spied a perfect place to rest beneath a flowering tree. The nearby creek added its soft tinkle and created a really nice resting place with soothing nature sounds all around and filled the air with a wonderful coolness.

As he sat, Terry noticed a very large and pretty butterfly sitting on one of the nearby flowers. He got up and slowly approached. He could see the many colored sparkles in its multifaceted eyes as he slowly walked up.

The large creature began slowly opening and closing its wings as he came near. Without warning, the creature sprang on him and attached itself to his arm. The creature’s legs were like steel needles as they penetrated his skin and held the creature on.

It was so weird as he felt something being rapidly drawn from his body and it became more petit. His clothes and shoes were now loose and slightly large on him. The butterfly’s abdomen was now very large and swollen as it detached and rapidly flew off into the thick brush leaving Terry stunned and feeling so very strange.

Terry was still standing there confused when somebody ran into the clearing carrying a butterfly net. “Excuse me, Miss,” they said, “have you seen a very large and beautiful butterfly? Did you see where it went?” Terry pointed weakly in the direction it had flown in. “Thank you!” They ran off.

“Miss?” Terry wondered. How could anybody mistake him for a girl? He was a hiker and fairly well built, but … he looked in a pool of water. His hair had grown, and although his body still felt fit and trim, he was definitely shorter and slimmer, especially in the waist, and … his chest had expanded? He … he did look like a girl. How … what …

Had that person with the net known something about this? “Excuse me!” he squeaked in his now high-pitched voice. “Eep!” he squeaked again, astonished. “I even sound like a girl,” he whispered to himself. Seeing no one around, he pulled down his pants and checked between his legs. What he saw was perfectly normal, for a girl, which he hadn’t been until just a few minutes ago. “I gotta get outta here,” he said.

Rolling up his pant legs and hiking them up as far as he could, he made his way back through the woods to the parking lot where his car waited. He got in … and had to adjust the seat so he could see properly over the steering wheel. This was … surreal. He had no idea what to do. After adjusting seemingly everything about his car, he started driving home.

His phone rang. As usual, his car routed the call through its speakers so he could talk hands-free. But the screen said it was Hannah Linsky … his girlfriend. Oh no! How was he going to explain this? “Hello,” he said in as low and gruff a voice as he could manage.

“Hey Terry,” she said. “I thought I’d be leaving a message, with you out hiking in the middle of nowhere out of range of cell service. Anyway, I found this great Italian restaurant and was wondering if you wanted to have dinner there tonight.”

“Uh, tonight’s not really a good night,” he said, still trying to sound like his old self, and not really pulling it off.

“Hey, what’s wrong with your voice?” she asked. “Did you catch some kind of weird bug while you were out hiking in the wilderness?”

“That’s … an interesting way to put it,” he said. “Yeah, I think I’m getting sick with something.” He guessed that … girl-ness … was something.

“Do you need me to come over?” she asked. “Where are you?”

“Still driving home. I’m gonna … lie down for a while.”

“I can come over,” she said. “There’s some kind of cold going around. I can make you some chicken soup.”

“You don’t have to go out of your way. I just need to go home and get some sleep. I’ll call you later.” I said as my voice sounded more like a woman than I would have liked. I clicked off the cell and hurried home in a panic. I was already losing my mind over what had happened. I had no idea what I would do if Hannah found out about this.

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Hannah looked at her cell for a moment. If she hadn't known better, she would swear that was a woman on the phone and not Terry. But she was also concerned because of the new viral flu that had been going around. Many of the workers at her office were out with it, and it had put several of them in the hospital. She hoped Terry hadn’t caught it.

She went to the kitchen, took the lid off the crockpot, emptied several ladlefuls into a container, and put the lid back on. She smiled as she sealed the container of soup; it would make him feel better, and it tasted really good too. She had actually made it specially for him and had intended to take it to him anyway.

She tucked the container into a small backpack along with a few oranges and a small tub of strawberries. She put the pack on her back, then took her 21-speed mountain bike out the door to the sidewalk. It was a beautiful summer day. A bit on the hot side, but she had a large wineskin full of electrolytes around her neck. It was only a couple of miles to Terry’s house, and she knew a few trails through the woods to cut the distance.

As she slowly peddled around Sawyer’s Pond, she really enjoyed the many smells of honeysuckle and even a few whiffs of roses. It made her feel so good to be out like this. As she rounded the end of the pond and descended the embankment into the wide spillway, she noticed a huge growth of honeysuckle vines at the top of the other side in the direction she was heading. She pulled the front wheel of the bike off the ground and crossed the shallow runoff water in the spillway in a slow drawn out wheelie.

Once she had gotten to the top of the embankment on the other side and let the front wheel back down, she noticed a huge and very pretty butterfly perched on the honeysuckle vines. She did notice it had a really large and swollen abdomen. Hannah was sure the creature was about to lay eggs as she slowly approached it.

The butterfly turned and appeared to watch her approach. When Hannah had gotten within 10 feet of the large butterfly, it began to slowly open and close its wings. Then, when she had gotten within 6 feet of it, it moved as fast as lightning and fastened itself to her arm with its 6 legs. It felt like hot needles as they penetrated deeply.

Despite the initial sharp pain, she almost fell when the amazingly intensely pleasant rush all through her body began. She felt so weird in her chest, between her legs and her waist. Her clothes suddenly felt extremely tight as she seemed to grow larger and more muscular.

The large butterfly released her arm, rapidly fluttered off across the pond, and was gone. Hannah’s head felt like she was high on some kind of drug as she stood and tried to regain her composure. She was extremely uncomfortable. Her clothing had become way too small for her body, and she had a real pinching problem between her legs.

She removed her shoes, because they were painfully tight. She unbuttoned her jeans and put her hand in to try to relieve the painful pinch. She almost had a heart attack when her hands found her gonads and her … thingy. She was shocked. This didn’t happen. Hannah was on the verge of panic when she decided to continue on to Terry’s before someone came along and found her dressed this way.

It was very uncomfortable as she stuffed her now too small shoes in the pack, then got back on the bike and peddled off. This time, she wasn’t taking her time. She had to get to Terry’s and see if there might be something that could be done. Just as she left the pond trail to the one that led to Terry’s apartment, she saw a really strange man with a butterfly net poking around in the bushes. Hannah noted as she sped by that the man with the butterfly net appeared to be wearing a lab coat. Strange, but she had other things to worry about right now.

She reached Terry’s apartment and used her key to enter. She stopped when she came face to face with a very pretty young woman in just a pair of very oversized jockey shorts and a T-shirt.

Hannah gasped out in a really nice deep male voice, “Who are you?” then stopped and grabbed her neck. She could feel a large Adam’s apple that hadn’t been there before.

Terry looked at Hannah and said softly, “Hannah? Is that you?” Hannah nodded, not wanting to speak. “I see you encountered that huge butterfly too.”

Hannah replied softly, “How did it do this to us?” Terry shook his head, allowing a strand or two of his hair to fall adorably in his face. Hannah looked at her way too tight clothes and then at the ones Terry had on. “Tell you what. You seem to be the size I used to be. Why don't we swap clothes so they fit proper?”

Terry was in agreement as he stripped nude at the same time Hannah did. Both of them immediately noticed how attractive the other was. Hannah helped Terry into the panties, which fit him perfectly, and showed him how to put on the sports bra, which was easy. Once they were dressed, no one would have been the wiser that they had ever been any gender but the one they currently were.

“OK,” said Hannah, “now that my clothes aren’t cutting off my circulation and yours aren’t falling off you … what the heck? What’s going on? Are we in the Twilight Zone? How does this happen? What was that butterfly?”

“I wish I could tell you!” said Terry. “You’re getting really loud, by the way. Do I sound like that?”

“Oh! Sorry,” Hannah said, lowering her voice somewhat. “No, usually you don’t, except when you get really mad or enthusiastic about something.”

“I do that?” Terry said.

“Yeah. Anyway, what was that butterfly?”

“I don’t know,” said Terry. “I mean, I don’t collect butterflies or study them or anything, but I’ve sure never seen anything like it before. It was huge. And really sparkly, like it was made of jewels or crystals. I guess that guy didn’t catch it.”

“What guy?”

Terry shrugged. “Some little guy in a lab coat was after it. Had a butterfly net. Asked me if I’d seen it. Called me ‘Miss.’ That was my first hint that something was … amiss.” He giggled. It sounded adorable. He stopped himself and blushed.

“Wait, did he say anything else?” asked Hannah. “If he’s after it, he might know what it is.” Hannah did a double take. “Wait – I think I saw someone like that right after it bit me too. Only he didn’t say anything to me, just ran after it.”

“Where was it?” asked Terry. “Maybe we can backtrack and find him! Maybe he knows what we can do!”

“But that means …” Hannah replied, “... going outside again.”

“Looking like this,” Terry said, blushing.

“Let me at least fix your hair,” said Hannah.

“OK,” said Terry. “I have no idea what to do.”

So Hannah found some scrunchies in her backpack and made ponytails on Terry, and while she was at it she put the food she’d brought into Terry’s fridge. She did the best she could in just a few minutes, and at least got Terry’s hair pulled back out of his face. He still had that no-makeup look, but maybe it would work for him. He still was a very pretty young woman and the ponytails looked adorable.

Then they headed back out of the apartment, and Hannah rode her bike to the spot where she’d seen the butterfly, by Sawyer’s Pond. Terry jogged behind her. Both of them were pretty physically fit, fortunately, so they weren’t exhausted when they met up and admitted that they hadn’t seen the person with the butterfly net and the lab coat at all.

“Maybe we’re looking for the wrong thing,” said Hannah. “What if we look for people who look … disoriented?”

“Other people who the butterfly bit?” Terry replied. “Their clothes won’t fit, they’ll look stunned, they won’t want to talk … we’ve both been there.”

So they biked and jogged around for a while longer. Terry spotted her first: a young woman with clothes obviously too large for her walking down the trail looking upset. “Excuse me,” he said, “you wouldn’t happen to have seen a huge butterfly, or a person in a white lab coat with a butterfly net?”

“A-a net?” the woman said, gasping. and put her hands over her mouth. “Mm!” she squeaked, pointing into the woods, off the trail.

“Thanks!” said Terry, and went off the trail in the direction she’d poined.

They wandered around for about an hour. They did find a few more people in the same boat as they were, but they didn’t see the butterfly nor the strange guy with the net. They did have the unfortunate circumstance of meeting with a couple of ruffians who had some really scary ideas for a girl. Hannah actually stepped in and proved she was a more than just a figure; she really had huge muscles.

After Hannah had pounded the low lifes to a bloody mess, she took Terry by the hand and walked him back to his apartment as she walked with her bike. They discussed the weird predicament they had found themselves in. Terry got to see himself in a mirror for the first time and was astonished at what a very pretty and shapely young woman he now was. He already knew that Hannah was a really strong, well built, handsome man. He was also becoming embarrassed at the feelings that started creeping into him.

Hannah said, “Looks like we need to make some kind of trade. Your clothes fit me, and mine fit you. And I must say, you look very nice in them.”

“Well … thanks,” said Terry, blushing. “I was kinda hoping … that we’d get this fixed sooner, but we haven’t found this guy. But … wait, what if we’re stuck like this?” He took his wallet out of his backpack. Holding up his driver’s license, he said, “I don’t look like this! What if I get pulled over?”

“You’re right, what if I have to open a bank account or something?” asked Hannah. “What about going in to work?”

“Uh, maybe I should call in sick Monday,” Terry said. “But yeah, maybe I should pack up a bunch of my clothes and bring them over to your place, and you can do the same. This is just so weird.”

“Definitely surreal,” said Hannah. “I wonder if anything’s been … reported, you know?”

“Yeah,” said Terry, taking out his phone. His fingerprint wouldn’t unlock it, so he had to use his password. He searched the Internet and found a couple of social media posts from their area about people who claimed they’d been bitten by a butterfly and been turned into the opposite sex, but they were then roundly derided by all their followers for making up an impossible tale. There was also a weird story about something like it on some fiction website, but he didn’t read it because it was obviously made up.

So, out of lack of something to do about it, Terry packed up some clothes in a box and took them to his car to drive over to Hannah’s place. Hannah followed on her bike and, when they got the clothes inside, she used the same box to pack up some of her clothes to send home with Terry, and they put it in his car. “OK, now do you wanna go back to your place, or …?”

“Let’s try one more time to find that guy,” Hannah said. “This time let’s go to Memorial Park. You were up in the state park when it got you, then I was at Sawyer’s Pond, so it was going southwest, and the other people we ran into were farther southwest than that, so Memorial Park would be the next place in a straight line, anyway.”

“OK, let’s park at the east parking lot, and then we’ll take the hiking trails. Keep your phone handy in case one of us finds anything,” said Terry.

And that’s what they did. They split up and took two different hiking trails, both of which they were familiar with. Hannah met a guy who looked like he was in an all too familiar state, his clothes stretched nearly to the point of snapping. “You wouldn’t have seen a guy in a white lab coat with a butterfly net, would you …?” He nodded and pointed into the woods. After taking a photo of the location and texting it to Terry, she went off in that direction.

Terry headed toward that same area – it turned out that if he angled south, he’d meet up with Hannah in the woods. Then he saw a patch of white downhill through the trees. “Wait!” he said. “Stop!” He started to run through the lightly-wooded area. He could see the guy in the lab coat – who also saw him and started to run. “No, wait!” shouted Terry. “Please! Help us!”

“Don’t hurt me!” said the man in a medium-high tone of voice. “I’m just – oof!” He hadn’t been looking where he was going, and he’d run headlong into Hannah.

“Yeah, I do remember seeing you before,” Hannah said. The man had fallen to the ground, but she helped him up. “Sorry about that.”

“Look, I really have to catch that butterfly,” said the man. “It’s dangerous.”

“We know!” said Terry. “But what do we do?”

“Do? About what?” The man was confused. “Obviously it hasn’t gotten either of you.”

“Oh, yes it did,” said Hannah. “She’s my boyfriend, and I’m his girlfriend.”

“She’s – oh! Oh dear. That’s … unexpected.” He scratched his chin and said, “That’s not the effect it should have had … unless its initial feeding unbalanced it and it’s been trying to compensate … of course! Its equilibrium is unstable, and it can’t find a balance. That’s why it continues to feed.”

“What do we do?” asked Terry.

“I … don’t know,” the man said, looking despondent. “I was hoping that if I could catch it, I could find a way to cure myself – it bit me first as it was escaping – but now it’s affected others … I don’t know what to do unless I can catch it.”

Terry cocked his head to one side adorably and asked, “You used to be a girl, right?”

The man in the labcoat shook his head no, “How old do you think I am? Just make a guess.”

Terry and Hannah looked at each other for a minute. Terry guessed, “What, you look early thirties maybe?”

Hannah added, “Might even be late twenties.”

The man laughed. “I’m almost eighty. As a matter of fact …” He reached into his back pocket beneath his lab coat and brought out his wallet. “... here’s my drivers license. I know you can see the resemblance, even though I’m not that old anymore.”

Hannah and Terry both examined the license as the man held up his wallet. The elderly gentleman in the picture bore more than a striking resemblance to the man holding it for them to see. Either the man in the picture was his father and they looked exactly alike, or the young man holding the wallet was the same man.

My name is Dr. Jalarr. I’m a geneticist at the Nano/Gen research facility.”

Terry said, “I know where that is – I’m one of the engineers working on the satellite components to keep our GPS system operational.”

Dr. Jalarr looked Terry over from head to foot very slowly. “If you are one of that team, you really do have a problem.”

Hannah asked, “I know. But what other issues could come up?”

Dr. Jalarr replied, “As far as I know, the seven people on that team at this moment happen to all be male.”

Terry looked at his fingertips for an instant. “My fingerprint wouldn’t unlock my phone earlier. I wonder if my fingerprints have changed?”

Dr. Jalarr replied thoughtfully, “Maybe not. If so, that’s the way we can prove who you are. I know as far as genetics are concerned, they’re close enough that the results would claim you to be a twin. I can help with that, but first, we have to find the butterfly and stop it from feeding anymore. The more it feeds, the more the imbalance seems to grow. I’m not sure if anything like a genetic critical mass can happen, but I would really like to have it contained before we find out.”

We agreed and also agreed to aid in finding the butterfly. As large and sparkly blue as it was, it shouldn’t be too hard on a sunny day like this, especially now that they had a rudimentary idea of the direction it was traveling in. The question that kept going around in Terry’s mind was why was it traveling steadily southwest.

He brought out his trusty palmtop and called up Goo Goo Maps. As far as he could tell, a little further south there was a huge orchard for growing many types of fruit. He realized that many of the trees would currently be in bloom. Some kind of flavonoid had to be drawing it. He mentioned it.

“An orchard?” asked Dr. Jalarr. “Flavonoids? Of course! Their similarity to certain human hormones must be drawing it. If we can get there first, perhaps we can be ready for it! No time to lose!”

“Let’s get to my car!” said Terry, who knew the way out of the woods. They all followed him to the parking lot where his car was.

“Setting my phone to navigate to the orchard … fastest route … OK, buckle up!” Terry tried to drive as quickly as possible, but tempering his desire to reach the orchard quickly was the desire to not get pulled over by a cop just now. He didn’t look like his license at all.

“Of course, it’s a privately-owned orchard,” said Hannah, looking at the signs as they approached.

“I can tell them that we’re trying to catch a harmful insect,” said Dr. Jalarr.

“Or we can just park down the road and cut across the land,” Terry suggested.

“Oh, sure, and get arrested for trespassing,” Hannah said. “We really don’t want that.”

“Um, no,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Here, I’ll just call them.” He used his phone and started to explain that he and his assistants were from Nano/Gen Biotech, and they were trying to catch a large insect that had escaped. “... and we have reason to believe that it’s heading for your orchard.”

Meanwhile, Terry had pulled into the parking lot – apparently they had room for a lot of employees and visitors. They got out of the car and headed for the nearby farmhouse. “No, it’s potentially dangerous, so you may want to keep everyone inside,” said Dr. Jalarr. “All right, thank you. We’ve just arrived. We’ll deal with it.”

“Um, I don’t want to be a party pooper,” asked Hannah, “but how do we catch it?”

“A valid question,” said the scientist. “I’ve got a butterfly net and one capture jar.”

“We’ll just have to stay together, and try to steer it toward you,” said Terry.

So they looked at the GPS map and headed for the point where Dr. Jalarr thought it most likely for the butterfly to head for.

“What happens if it bites one of us … again?” asked Hannah.

“Well, the first time it bit me, it seems to have absorbed my maleness,” Dr. Jalarr explained as they walked toward the most likely area. “I lost some of my age, because it’s supposed to be an experiment on longevity, but clearly there are side effects. But I became physically female. The second time it bit me, it absorbed my femaleness, so now I seem to be … without gender. And younger still.”

“Androgynous,” said Hannah, astonished.

“So, as attracted to hormones as it seems to be, I doubt it would attempt to bite me again,” said the scientist. “But you two should probably be careful. Now, I’m not noticing that you look particularly young. Or were you older than you seem when it first bit you?”

“No, I don’t think I’m younger than I was before,” said Terry. “I mean, I’m 28 – we’re both 28.”

“Really?” asked Dr. Jalarr. “You look like you could both be 18.”

“What?” asked Hannah. “So if it bites us again, we might not only lose all gender, we might end up … eight years old?”

“Possibly?” Dr. Jalarr guessed. “It’s far from certain. It’s highly experimental. But here we are. Keep your eyes peeled.”

They were between a row of apple trees and another row of orange trees, both in bloom. They all knew that it was attracted to the flowers and could be on any of the trees.

“There!” Hannah hissed and pointed.

“All right,” said Dr. Jalarr, “stay together. I think it’ll come for one of you two, and I can catch it if it does.”

We approached the butterfly from three separate directions. As before, it had no indications it even knew we were there until we came to about ten feet from it. It turned and appeared to look at us with it’s multi-faceted sparkling eyes and slowly began to open and close its wings.

I yelled out, “STOP!! Don’t get any closer until the Doc is in position. It is getting ready to attack now. When we get to about six feet, it will lunge.”

Dr. Jalarr was able to approach the creature and it appeared to ignore him. Hannah and I crept very slowly towards it as the Doctor readied the net. Just as Hannah and myself had gotten to about six feet from it, it sprang … directly into Dr. Jalarr’s net. He twisted it deftly and trapped the butterfly within the pocket the net had made. The butterfly was large and didn’t have the room to flap its wings. It didn’t take Jalarr but an instant to put the very large butterfly into the containment jar.

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Terry found it easy to get back into the botanical research area due to the fact that no top secret projects were running at the moment. Dr. Jalarr led Terry and Hannah into the splicing lab. Terry could see on one of the large screens several diagrams of the huge butterfly and a genetic map comparison with a large moth known as an Atlas.

Their sizes were close, the Atlas being the smaller. However, the genetics were nowhere near similar. As a matter of fact, to Terry this butterfly’s DNA appeared to not even be of an earthly nature.

Dr. Jalarr came to the table Terry was standing in front of and laid a rather thick binder in front of him. He said, “I’m not sure how much of this data will make sense to you, but here it is … the whole project.”

In very large letters across the front of the binder, it said in large red and yellow letters, “Eyes Only – Need to Know.” There were other warnings about severe penalties for noncompliance. Terry opened the binder to the first page past all the introductions and other warnings about disclosure. In language Terry could barely understand, it told of the project’s systematic manipulation of an artificial genome created in the adjacent lab.

The main goal of the entire project was to find a protein or hormone that would arrest or possibly reverse aging. What they had come up with … had been this creature.

“So you’re trying to reverse the aging process, and you made … a butterfly?” asked Terry.

Hannah replied, “What? Reverse aging? That would be … amazing! But … why a butterfly?”

Dr. Jalarr answered, “It would be the breakthrough of the century – it would change the course of history! And we did it, too – except for a slight complication. As for why a butterfly, well … there was an interesting discovery in the Amazon rainforest, an insect species that matched no other on the planet. A genetic isolate, somehow developing independently and surviving for all these years.”

“That’s great, but what’s it got to do with your project?” Terry asked.

“Well, when we saw its exotic genome in the literature, unlike any other species on Earth, we were astonished to find its chemistry compatible with our most promising developments,” Dr. Jalarr explained. “It was easy to manipulate its genes to produce the molecules we needed. But what we didn’t know was … well, what it fed on.”

“Which was … gender?” asked Hannah. “How can anything feed on gender? It’s an invented human concept, isn’t it?”

“Well, what I should probably say is that it feeds on the biological expression of sex chromosomes,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Yes, your gender, or gender identity, is something that is determined only by your brain, your personality, who you are. It seems to have little or nothing to do with one’s actual body. But this insect, if indeed that’s what it is, feeds on the differences between male and female sex chromosomes. There’s somehow a differential in energy or entropy between them that fuels its metabolism. We don’t understand it.”

“But you’ve managed to make it produce the aging-reversal chemicals you’re experimenting with?” asked Terry. “And all you have to do is … feed it.”

“Yes – although of course we don’t need to feed it humans,” Dr. Jalarr said. “We can feed it laboratory animals. In the process we can study how its unusual feeding process works. But then … this one escaped.” He pointed to the one they’d recaptured, which slowly moved its jeweled wings inside its glass case. “It bit several of us, some more than once, before fleeing the facility in the confusion.”

“And when it bites … it injects the age-reversal drug, but also feeds on the … gender of whoever it bit?” asked Hannah.

“Yes,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Now, as for fixing what’s happened to you, and indeed to me, well, I don’t understand how it happened, so I don’t know how to fix it … yet. But maybe we can research that, now that the specimen has been recaptured. Catching it or destroying it so as to contain the damage was the first priority.”

“Dr. Jalarr,” asked Terry, “why are you the only one in the lab right now?”

“Err, well, I was the oldest scientist on this project,” he explained. “And thus my age was reduced only to this level, which appears to be somewhere in my thirties, or late twenties at most. But the others … they were younger.”

“Oh dear,” said Hannah. “And you said that it bit you all several times.”

“I’m afraid so,” Dr. Jalarr said. “We were all given multiple doses of the drug. The others … well, they’re currently in the Nano/Gen daycare center.”

“They’re babies?” asked Terry.

“Well, some of them are. Some are toddlers, and can still be conversed with … within their attention span. But they all need care that this laboratory isn’t equipped for. No diaper changing facilities, for one thing.”

“Oh dear,” said Hannah.

“So being bitten again doesn’t turn your gender back?” Terry asked.

“No,” Dr. Jalarr replied, “for example, when it bit you, it removed the male part of your sex chromosomes, leaving nothing but the female part, and it adjusted your body to match. If it were to bite you again, well, all that’s left is the female part, so it would remove that, leaving you sexually neuter. That would be bad, especially for you.”

“Why me?”

“I mean that as genetic experimenters, everyone on this project’s DNA was sampled and sequenced; there are samples in storage and our genomes on file. You two aren’t part of this project, so we don’t have samples of your original DNA. Now that it’s changed, it’s difficult to say what it was originally. We might be able to extrapolate … but if you’re bitten again, we’ll have no portion of your sex chromosomes to extrapolate from.”

“We’ll be stuck forever?”

“Not necessarily – it may be possible to make you male again, but it may not be possible to make you exactly as you were,” Dr. Jalarr explained. “You’d be different. Similarly for you, Hannah, you’d be female, but no guarantees you’d look the same as you used to.”

“So let’s get to work!” Terry urged. “The sooner we get my DNA and start extrapolating, the sooner we’ll have a genome to work toward, right? And the less likely it’ll bite us again.”

“Yes, of course.” Dr. Jalarr took genetic samples of both of them and started running them through the machinery. Computers started to work on the data produced by the genetic test.

The results didn’t look very promising for Dr. Jalarr. From what the test data showed, his gender could be restored after a fashion. The problem with the restoration was that he could only become female at this point – and there was no way to make him look anything like he’d looked originally, not even like a female version of the man he’d been.

The others, he made a baseline genetics profile that could be restored should they be bitten again. Once again, the only restoration option for either from neuter would be female. This brought up another line of research, although Dr. Jalarr wasn’t going to pursue that just yet. He was more concerned with those being bitten. A real worry was if it bit some individual under a certain age, the end regression had a very high probability of going beyond fecundation leaving nothing but a messy pile of goo. For Terry and Hannah, being bitten too many times could easily be the end of them.

Hannah understood enough of what she was reading to realize she could be female once again. She looked at Terry closely and really didn’t want him to go back to being a man. Terry was a very shapely and extremely cute young woman. The other thing Hannah realized … Terry was very attractive, and Hannah was having emotions and feelings tingle though her that she was almost unable to control.

“Terry,” Hannah asked, “what if … what if you stayed a girl? I mean, I want to go back to being a girl, but … what if I think you’re super attractive this way?”

“What?” Terry asked. “You mean you … like girls too?”

“I don’t know,” said Hannah. “Honestly, I’ve felt attractions to girls before, but never this strongly. I think I might just be attracted to you as a girl.”

“I … wow, I … don’t know what to say,” said Terry. “I mean … I’d do anything for you, but … what would it do to my life? My family would have to adjust … I’d have to change all my records, my ID … and somehow explain how it just happened overnight. I mean, there are trans people who go through the process of changing their gender, but … it takes years.”

“It’s more like affirming their gender,” said Dr. Jalarr, “but I believe that the Nano/Gen corporation may be able to help you, should you choose to remain female. It’s already going to have to put forth a bit of effort to help me, but you’re also an employee here. The legal department would certainly have a fairly easy time making the appropriate changes to official records, especially if we tell the truth and say it was due to circumstances beyond your control – an experiment gone wrong.”

“Wow,” said Terry. “I’ll … have to think about this.”

“You can keep my clothes,” offered Hannah. “I mean, it just means I’ll get to shop for new ones. Oh no, new clothes for me!”

“I mean … I just have to figure out whether this is … me,” said Terry. “I have to admit, there have been times when I’ve wondered what it would be like to be a girl. But I’ve never really considered … you know, whether I was transgender. How are you with being a guy?”

“I’m … well, I don’t hate it,” said Hannah, “but it really isn’t me. I don’t feel right at all. I’ve wondered what it was like to be a guy, I guess, but this body just feels all kinds of wrong.”

“Well, we can probably turn you back, Hannah,” said Dr. Jalarr, “though I’d like to do some in vitro tests first on some of your cells. I don’t want this to go wrong.”

“Oh, sure, go ahead, test away,” said Hannah.

So Dr. Jalarr took some tissue samples of Hannah and applied the cure to one of them, then adjusted the mixture and tried again, and continued to experiment until he pronounced the cure ready. He explained as he worked, “You see, we didn’t figure out how the butterfly derives nourishment from what it does, but we did figure out how it changes people. It has this genetic agent it injects that quickly spreads throughout the body and changes the DNA of every cell it finds. I’ve altered the genetic agent with your extrapolated original DNA pattern as a target, and it’s successfully altered the cells in these tissue samples. This is still risky, because I might be misinterpreting the test results, but if you want to go ahead with it, here are some forms to sign.”

He showed Hannah some papers that had the Nano/Gen corporate logo at the top. Reading them, Hannah found that they absolved Nano/Gen of all responsibility in case the procedure caused any unpredictable results; by signing them, Hannah would be stating that she’d be taking responsibility for whatever happened.

Terry, meanwhile, was still thinking about what Hannah had said. She wouldn’t leave him if he stayed female – in fact, she’d apparently be even more attracted to him. He’d have to start thinking of himself as “herself,” though. How did that make him feel? Then again, the only time limit on this now was the possibility of getting bitten again, so as long as the butterfly didn’t escape again, he could think about this, maybe talk to a therapist, and so on.

Was it a good idea to make such a huge life-changing decision solely based on how one other person felt about him? Although … Hannah was one of the most important people in his life. But his parents and sister were also very important to him. What if he talked to them about it? But that would mean showing them that he’d already become female by accident. He just didn’t know what to do.

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While Terry was struggling within … herself, over the new unavoidable life change, he noticed something in the side by side comparisons with the Atlas Moth the the Butterfly they had captured and held in the containment cage, Terry realized the genetics of the butterfly were totally wrong somehow.

It intrigued Terry enough that it took his mind off what he was worrying about and onto another item to worry over. Terry sat in one of the chairs in front of a research computer. It was already logged in to the proper sites, so he didn’t require any passwords.

He began looking up any and all data concerning life prolongation and the genetic manipulation of insects. He found many references to certain proteins and amino acid groups throughout the documentation. He wasn’t a geneticist, so much of the research meant little to him. He was an engineer, though, so some of it did.

On the entire Earth, there lived only one insect species that produced the necessary proteins and amino acids as a byproduct of feeding on certain DNA and RNA. According to theory, the insect should have fed, and then the team should have been able to easily extract the desired items. What it showed happening in the live security footage sent chills down Terrys spine.

Exactly how the butterfly got loose wasn’t clear. From the best Terry could see, all proper procedures had been followed. Once the insect was loose, it darted and dashed from individual to individual. Terry watched huge-eyed and open-mouthed as the team changed. Men became women, women became men, many of them became children … toddlers, crawly infants … and a few went even further and became a messy pasty goo. Terry was horrified.

It had all happened so fast that an emergency bio-release was never sent or initiated. The insect had managed to get out into the wild. The only thing on its mind had been finding and balancing the genetic imbalance caused by consuming only one sex-specific protein and amino acid.

From what Terry read, he’d been very lucky not to have become any younger than he was. Another problem he’d discovered was that he may have other issues that younger girls would have … like having accidents at the most embarrassing times. The thing that really upset him was where the report stated in large red warning letters that there was no way yet known to undo the genetic damage if bitten. What Dr. Jalarr had been saying was all theoretical, Terry realized. Anything the geneticist tried would be untested and might not work … or might cause other problems. If he didn’t want those other problems, he’d have to give Dr. Jalarr time to test and perfect the solution – and that was a solution to the sex-chromosome issue. The age issue … well, he supposed time would fix that if nothing else did.

OK, so now he had to tell his parents and his sister. He smiled; he knew his sister would want to borrow and swap clothes. He’d done that with her in play as a little boy. There were many of his sister’s friends at the time who had never discovered that Terry, the cute child they’d assumed was a little girl who had played dollies and went to parties and things with them, had actually been a little boy. Well, now they’d been made correct after the fact. But what would she think now? And what would his parents think?

“What are you thinking about?” asked Hannah, coming up behind him and putting her hands on his shoulders comfortingly.

“Too many things,” he replied, in that weird voice he now had. It was too high pitched. It pronounced things in a … tiny way, like he couldn’t open his mouth or throat wide enough to make words sound right. Everything was distracting him from the thing that was wrong about what had happened. “Something’s wrong, and I can’t focus.”

“Well, of course something’s wrong,” she said. “Neither of us is in the right sex body.”

“That’s not what I mean,” said Terry. “Something’s wrong about the … the butterfly.” He gestured at it in its glass habitat.

“Well, I’ve never heard of one that can do what it does,” Hannah replied.

“Something … wrong about it?” asked Dr. Jalarr, overhearing. “What do you mean?”

“Something … look, I’m not a biologist or a geneticist,” said Terry. “Is this correct? Is this butterfly the only species on the entire planet that feeds like this? Feeds on differences in genetic material?”

Dr. Jalarr inclined his head slightly. “Yes, to our knowledge, at least. No one has ever discovered another species like it.”

“And in the wild, does it feed so aggressively?”

“No,” Dr. Jalarr replied. “This one … changed. It’s reacted strangely to the genetic manipulation we’ve put it through. It developed great feeding speed and strength as a side effect.”

“I’m letting myself get sidetracked again,” said Terry, closing his eyes and trying to concentrate. “How can there be only one species like this on Earth?”

Dr. Jalarr replied, “Yes, several of our team … asked the same question.” His voice caught as he recalled the others on the team. At least some of them were still alive, but they couldn’t function as scientists and wouldn’t for at least several years. “Yes, some privately speculated that it could have come from … outside, but without more evidence, that’s hardly a conclusion we could draw. Besides, other genetic isolates exist. When there was once an entire ecosystem that supported a variety of species in a family, environmental change can bring about a situation where only one species can survive in its niche, and the others all die out.”

“Wait … outside?” asked Terry. “Like … from other planets?”

“That … is what was speculated,” Dr. Jalarr answered, “again, without evidence or supporting facts, so it never went beyond speculation. Certainly nothing publishable.”

“But … there are many species that have male and female chromosomes in the area where it lives, aren’t there?” Terry asked.

“Well, yes, though of course different species’ sex chromosomes take many different forms, so it’s difficult to say which ones the butterfly can feed on.”

“But its species survives in the wild,” Terry pressed. “Quite well, according to this.” He pointed at an article on the screen.

“It does, yes.”

“So it’s hardly in an environment where there’s scarcity,” Terry went on. “Nothing to make other species in its family, if there were any, die out.”

“Well, not today, but that may be a recent development,” objected Dr. Jalarr. “We’re talking about an evolutionary time scale – the past several million years. Perhaps there was a dearth of sustenance that has only recently been relieved by the shifting of other species’ habitats. Even a thousand years ago would be recent, evolutionarily speaking.”

“Let’s suppose it came from … out there,” said Terry. “What would explain its existence? Did it evolve somewhere? Or did … someone else genetically manipulate it?”

“If it evolved,” said Dr. Jalarr, “it must have been in an environment where this type of feeding was advantageous. On the other hand, if someone manipulated it … for what purpose?”

“Why are you manipulating it?” asked Terry.

“For the good of … oh. You’re saying that they, whoever they were, they wanted to make it easier to change their genders? Assuming they have genders where they’re from?” asked Dr. Jalarr.

“That’s basically it,” Terry said.

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Now, in other parts of the area, there had been about two dozen who had been bitten, and several after the bite who had become toddlers and infants. Fortunately, none had reverted back to prefecundation. There were a group of very confused and gender-changed males and females in a kind of age range.

The infants were fortunate that someone, or even the toddlers, who were mostly still in their right minds, had found them. It had at first been met with skepticism. I mean, for real, who ever heard of such a thing being able to happen?

It was rapidly being determined at the local hospital that these changes had indeed happened, and the only clue they had were the six puncture wounds on each individual’s body. When the wounds were examined, there were some very strange cells found within the wound that no one could identify.

It came as a bigger shock when they took genetic samples of the individuals for testing. The males had no X chromosomes, the females had no Y chromosomes, and the odd proteins circulating in the blood samples were completely unknown to medical science.

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A phone rang at the R&D department of the world-famous Nano/Gen. “This is Dr. Jalarr, Nano/Gen R&D. Mount Prussy Hospital? Ok, sure, how can I … say what? Males who have no X chromosomes and females who have no Y? OK, and there are babies? Take as many samples as you can. Prep the samples in vacuum sealed containers. I will send a courier to retrieve them.” He hung up the phone.

Terry had been watching the Dr’s facial expressions, “So, Doc.” Terry said, “Seem this problem has gotten away from you.”

Dr. Jalarr replied, “Not as bad as it could have been. From what the representative at the hospital just told me, only about 24 were bitten.”

Hannah said in a sarcastic tone, “Yeah, 24 more people whose lives have been totally disrupted.”

Dr. Jalarr replied in a faraway tone, “Yes, but from what they just said, we have accomplished the final hurdle. Now all we have to do is find out how to harvest only the hormones and proteins we want with no contaminations.”

Terry replied aghast, “People’s lives are being affected, and you’re only concerned about … your project?”

“You don’t understand,” said Dr. Jalarr. “If I can finish the project – harvest only the substances of interest from the specimen – we can use those to help them. Not only that, and the lives of my teammates won’t have been in vain.”

“Well …” said Terry reluctantly, “I’m just an engineer. What can I do to help you collect the stuff you need?”

“Do you do any mechanical engineering, by any chance?” asked the geneticist. “Because what we need to do is find a way to get the butterfly to bite a collection device, in such a way that the device can then collect the materials it injects.”

“Well, I can see the hurdles that we’d need to overcome to get such a thing to work,” said Terry. “First, it would have to be lured to the device. It would need to be convinced that the device was a living organism with gender that it could feed on. But we already know that fruit flavonoids attract it. We could simply wrap it in cloth that’s been soaked in them.”

“Doable,” said Dr. Jalarr.

“Well, second, the collection part would have to be similar to living tissue, so it would bite into it with those fang things it has. It’d need to be firm but still soft enough, and it’d have to have a hollow inside to allow the liquids it injects to flow into a reservoir. Maybe some type of rubber? Or gel?”

“Nano/Gen has developed artificial skin-like membranes for use in treating wounds,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Perhaps they could be adapted to this purpose as well. They’d have to be made thicker, but several layers of the material might work. The organism’s probosces would penetrate, but it’s resilient without being too rigid.”

“OK, and finally, a way to collect the liquids outside the terrarium it’s in, in such a way that they don’t get contaminated by these foreign materials,” said Terry. “That’s probably the mechanical engineering part. It would have to be installed carefully, to prevent the butterfly from getting out while we’re installing it.”

“Not a problem,” said Dr. Jalarr. “The habitat is designed to allow barriers to be placed, limiting the specimen’s movement to one side of the habitat or the other.”

So they got to work. Terry did some glassblowing, making a funnel that a hollow ball made of that artificial membrane stuff could be fitted over, and the thing’s venom or whatever could flow down a glass tube into a retaining vessel with a valve on it that could be emptied into other containers. The two parts of this apparatus could be connected to either side of an opening in the habitat with a tight rubber seal, and Terry installed supports for the two parts so gravity wouldn’t pull it apart. While he was installing the opening and fitting the parts together, the butterfly was kept away from him because of a large hard plastic barrier that Dr. Jalarr had inserted into the glass case from above before opening the lid. Terry couldn’t help eyeing the barrier warily as he worked.

“There,” Terry said when it was finished. Everything was installed. Now they just had to put the flavonoid-soaked membrane ball onto the funnel.

“I’ve got the lure,” said Dr. Jalarr, holding a slightly off-white ball the size of a softball with a hole in it. He fitted it over the funnel end of the contraption, and then they got out of the habitat and closed it up.

Slowly Dr. Jalarr removed the barrier.

The butterfly flapped its wings. Then it was suddenly attacking the ball, literally flying faster than the eye could see. Clear fluid dripped down the glass tube into the reservoir as it gyrated frantically in its attempt to feed.

“Excellent, excellent,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Soon it will tire, not to mention running out of its feeding proteins, but we’ll have our sample. And I can get to work.” He decanted a few drops of the clear liquid into a labeled test tube.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted,” Terry said to both the scientist and Hannah.

“It’s been a long day,” she said. “I’m tired and hungry. Can we go home? And how do we contact you about what to do next?”

“Oh, you’re both very important here,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Hold up your phones, and I’ll transmit you codes that can get you into the building and this lab at any time. I’ll also give you my phone number and email address. I’ll send you word as soon as I discover anything. With the tissue samples you’ve given me, I’ll know soon whether or not I’ve got a working cure.”

They held their phones up, and he tapped his phone against Terry and Hannah’s. They made tones as they registered the data transfer.

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As they had dinner, they talked more. “So, you want to go back to your old self,” Terry said.

“Yes,” she replied. “But … do you?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“No pressure,” said Hannah. “I mean, I’ll still love you no matter what you look like.”

“Thanks,” said Terry. “What if turning male turns me into a six-year-old?”

“I’d still love you,” she said, “but Dr. Jalarr said those effects were separate, right? Unless you’re actually bitten by the butterfly itself.”

Our phones chimed. Terry looked. “Well, Dr. Jalarr says he’s isolated the proteins. I guess that’s good?”

“It sounds like progress, anyway,” said Hannah.

“Good news,” said Terry, replying to the email, “keep us posted, thank you, send.”

Terry slept over at Hannah’s apartment that night. It was nice, Terry thought, falling asleep in Hannah’s arms. He’d never had the experience of being held comfortingly by someone larger than himself before – at least, not since he’d been very young. Of course, once Hannah was back to her original self, she wouldn’t be anywhere near this size, but relative to Terry, she’d still be bigger than she’d been before.

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Terry was about to doze back off when he felt a very wonderfully soft and pleasant caress of one of his new breasts. It was then he also realized he was in just panties and all snuggled and curled up in Hannah’s wonderful embrace.

Many very strange and intense needs and emotions began to invade him. He felt a momentary flash of fear as he realized he was in love with Hannah. Not just as he had been before, but truly as a woman. Terry felt the nice warm feeling creeping through his body at the caress of his breast. He felt really weird and strange over it, but he had this urge that came over him that proved to be more than he could resist.

Terry looked Hannah over in her male body. Hannah was only in a pair of track shorts. The hairiness of … his well formed chest and pecs made Terry feel even more helpless to resist the urge. Terry took Hannah’s hand and slowly started to bring it from his breast and slowly move it lower. Terry really couldn’t believe what he had in mind; he was also so in need of something, he didn’t stop.

Terry shivered slightly as he pushed Hannah’s hand across his bare tummy. When Terry had pushed Hannah’s hand to the waistband of his panties, Hannah’s fingers seemed to slide in without obstruction. Terry almost let out a gasping squeak when Hannah’s fingers touched his new place.

To Terry’s astonishment, Hannah whispered softly in his ear, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

Terry replied softly, “If you stay a man, yes, for you.”

Now, it was Hannah’s turn to feel all the warm and extremely strong emotions well up inside. She felt her very first erection as it stiffened. Terry gasped softly and slightly flinched as she felt Hannah’s maleness grow and press him from behind.

Hannah wanted to make love to Terry, who had become a very pretty and shapely young woman. Hannah also knew she had become a rather handsome young man. She smiled as she gently started exploring Terry’s new girl place. Terry squeaked adorably as she stiffened when Hannah slowly began pushing her finger in.

Hannah kissed Terry on his cheek as she whispered softly, “I’m sorry, Sweetheart. This will hurt a little.” Hannah then pushed her finger as deep inside Terry as she could. She felt the pulling tear as she took Terry's cherry.

Terry stiffened and gasped loudly when it happened. Hannah kissed Terry very deeply. Terry forgot the momentary pinch as he began to feel the wonderful part of it. Of course, neither one had any complaints for several hours as they each explored the other in a new and completely wonderful way.

Right in the middle of the deepest penetration Hannah had done, and a very wonderful kiss, Terry’s eyes grew large, and he shivered. He realized at that moment as he felt Hannah throb deep inside him that she had just gone all the way with him. He felt the wetness and the drip as it ran down his bottom.

Now as Hannah and he snuggled in one of the most wonderful embraces Terry could remember, a slight fear in the back of his mind almost but not quite went away. Was he now pregnant? It didn’t really bother him if he was, just the slight fear of the unknown. They hadn’t used protection. He’d have to think about that – there were pregnancy tests you could buy, right? How long before they would work? And … what would happen if he changed back to a man?

Hannah … started to snore. It was deep and loud. Terry almost giggled. It was … from the sublime to the ridiculous. But life was often like that, as they’d been discovering a lot lately. Terry nudged Hannah, who shifted into another position and stopped. It was the middle of the night, and he was tired. He got up, got cleaned up, and came back to bed for more cuddling and this time some really nice sleep.

By the morning, there were more emails from Dr. Jalarr. He’d eventually gone to sleep as well, as no one can think straight when exhausted. But he’d put in requests to have Terry’s Nano/Gen company ID updated, as well as to get some legal help for them if they either couldn’t get changed back or decided to keep their new bodies. Dr. Jalarr’s research looked promising, and it was certain that most of the affected people wouldn’t want to stay in their new bodies, but his work wasn’t complete yet.

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“All right,” said Dr. Jalarr, when they met him in the lab, “what I know is this. Terry, you were originally male, and normally that would make it difficult, but because we have a genetic workup on you on file from when you were hired at Nano/Gen, we could actually restore you to your pre-bite state. Hannah, because you were originally female, we could also restore you.”

“So the other men who were bitten are stuck as women now?” Terry asked.

“Not exactly,” Dr. Jalarr said. “We could make them male again, but there’s no guarantee that their bodies would be exactly the same as before. Some genetic factors may change – unless, as I said, we have their genotype on file already for some reason.”

“What about you?” asked Hannah.

He cleared his throat. “I … was bitten twice. We do have my genome on file as well, but there’s no sex chromosome state to start from. The best I can do for myself is to generate two identical X chromosomes based on my original genome. I’d be female, but at least I’d be one or the other. I’m planning on testing it on myself first.”

“Are you sure?” Terry asked. “You’re the only one left who knows how to do this. What if …”

“What if the cure was fatal?” he asked. “The chances of that are vanishingly small. The worst that can happen is that I come out infertile, really – and that’s precisely what I am right now. And besides, all my work is documented. Another geneticist could study it and pick up where I left off. I’m not as indispensable as all that.”

“But Dr. Jalarr … you’re doing so much work to fix this,” said Hannah. “I think you’re pretty awesome.” He blushed. “When can you test it?”

“I want to run more tests on tissue samples, but I’m going to try it this afternoon.”

“What, that soon?” asked Terry.

“Yes,” he said. “I see no point in delay. This has disrupted enough people’s lives. We need to move onward. I’ve filled out the necessary legal paperwork. The government isn’t going to be involved, as this is an emergency and I’m experimenting on myself.”

Terry was silent. The cure could be available and tested as early as that afternoon. That meant that he’d have to make a choice soon. He hadn’t even told his family. Would he have to? But what about Hannah?

“Terry, what’s wrong?” Hannah asked. “You’re so quiet.”

“I … don’t know what to do!” he said. “I’m … what? Am I a man or a woman? I get to decide, which is not something I ever expected would happen, but it has to be soon!” He looked at Hannah. “What about you?”

“Uh …” she began, “in my case, anyway, it feels really different, being a guy, but I really don’t think it feels like me. Being … with you is really nice, but it doesn’t feel like it’s really me with you. I really want to go back. But remember, no matter what you choose, it won’t affect how I feel about you! But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping you decide to stay a girl.”

“I’m going to let you two discuss things and get back to my testing,” said Dr. Jalarr. “I really need to do these tests.” He started preparing his samples. In the habitat, the butterfly continued to slowly flap its wings.

There were news stories all over the Internet and TV about all the people who had been switched from men to women or women to men in this area. Most of them didn’t want to be interviewed, but some of them were furious and demanded immediate action by the government to find out what had happened. Nano/Gen hadn’t admitted responsibility yet, probably waiting until the cure was ready. Some were telling their story to the tabloid media, obviously in exchange for money. “Some kinda sparkly butterfly,” said a girl in a MeTube video, “and it moved so fast! It was like bein’ stabbed with a han’fulla needles. An’ then … I looked like this!” She cupped her breasts with her hands.

Hannah and Terry looked at each other. She said, “Whatever we decide, we’d better decide fast. If the government gets involved, they’ll try to shut down this division of Nano/Gen, and we won’t get any kind of cure until it all gets straightened out legally.”

“That’s probably why some people aren’t talking, hoping the media frenzy and the legal craziness blows over so they can get some kind of real help,” said Terry. “I’d be surprised if Nano/Gen hadn’t quietly contacted the ones they thought were likely to stay quiet about it – not admitting that it was a Nano/Gen project gone wrong, but saying that the company’s working on a solution.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Hannah.

“I … I …” Terry gulped. “I’m going to stay … as I am,” he said. “I’m going to stay a girl. I’m going to tell my family it happened, and I’m going to tell them that I chose to stay this way. I got handed the opportunity to go back and live part of my life over as the opposite sex, and I’m going to do it.”

“Don’t forget to tell them that you’ve got my support,” said Hannah, trying to conceal her excitement. “I know your mom and sister will be OK. Your dad probably will be too.”

Unfortunately, they all lived hours away, so Terry couldn’t see them in person, but he could call them on the phone and even do video calls, so he could show them what he looked like now – but he didn’t want to do that until Hannah was back to normal, so they could see her too. They’d met her before, and her assurance that things were OK would probably help a lot. But being called by two people they’d never seen before would probably not reassure them.

A few hours later, Dr. Jalarr called them back into the lab. “I’m ready,” he said. “I’m going to test it on myself. I want you here to witness it, although I’ll also have several cameras recording the process.”

They came into the lab and took seats. Dr. Jalarr was wearing a loose-fitting gown, similar to a hospital gown, which was probably wise in case his body changed size or shape rapidly. He had a blood pressure and heart rate monitor on one arm. He stood well illuminated before a white backdrop and two cameras, so he could record what happened for science. And he had a hypodermic needle ready.

“Here we go,” he said. “Starting the cameras … swabbing the injection site … and … there.” He injected himself with the solution, carefully setting the syringe down on the table.

“Feeling the … memorable euphoric sensations,” he said. Terry and Hannah were amazed as they saw his black hair grow longer and the shape of his face become more feminine in mere seconds.

“I … feel myself to be changing,” Dr. Jalarr commented as the transformation process quickly kicked into high gear. “I am experiencing paresthesia in almost every part of my body, although it is beginning to fade. Some disorientation.” His voice sounded more feminine as well, rather than the androgynous tone it had had previously. “I’m attributing the follicular hyperactivity to the organism’s genetic factor, which is causing rapid global cell growth and reconfiguration.” He took several deep breaths. “Feeling the need for increased respiration; the process seems to require extra oxygen intake. Feeling strong hunger pangs. Body is probably depleted of nutrients. I will require water.” Terry gave Dr. Jalarr the water bottle he prepared before the test, suspecting he need it, and he drank most of it right then. “I believe the process is almost complete. Not noticing further activity. Paresthesia dropping below perceptible threshold.” His breathing slowed. “Will continue to monitor vital signs.” He hadn’t grown much taller, but his body … her body filled out the hospital gown much more. Dr. Jalarr made a lovely woman, still appearing as if she were in her late 20s.

The computer continued to record her blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. She turned off the cameras. “I am … feeling pretty good, really,” she said. “Although I will require a rather large lunch, I believe.”

“Dr. Jalarr!” said Hannah. “You look amazing! Just wait until we get some proper clothes on you! You could be a model!”

“Unfortunately I didn’t know exactly what size I’d be after the procedure,” she said, “so all I have are some fairly generic-fitting clothes that I ordered online.” She went behind a screen and came out wearing a shoulder-strap sundress over a T-shirt and some loose-fitting slippers. “This will do until I can get my measurements taken. Really need lunch.”

“Cafeteria’s open,” Terry said.

“Exactly my thought,” said Dr. Jalarr. They went to the company cafeteria in the building. The scientist didn’t say much at first, busying herself with eating.

Finally, though, she was able to speak. “So. The process clearly requires a lot of nutrients. We should keep that in mind.”

“I know I was hungry after the butterfly bit me,” said Terry.

“Me too,” said Hannah. “Once the initial shock wore off.”

“Proteins and carbohydrates appear to be the main requirements,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Now … have you decided what you will do?”

“I want to go back to how I was,” said Hannah.

“I’m … staying as I am,” said Terry.

“Very well,” Dr. Jalarr said simply. “I’ll prepare a solution for you, Hannah, and Terry, I’ll have Human Resources prepare your new corporate ID, and ask the legal department to assist you in making sure your government paperwork is in order.”

“What if the state gets in the way of that?” asked Terry. “There’ve been a lot of pretty terrible laws about that lately.”

“I think you’ll find that Nano/Gen’s legal department will get everything cleared up,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Especially considering that it would be difficult for anyone to prove that you were male, not even with a genetic test.”

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Terry didn’t know this at the time, but the insect Nano/Gen had used for their little genetic experiment had undergone a small change in its behaviors. Up to now, it had been feeding on certain very large fruit that grew wild all around the valley the insect was located in.

Due to there being a slightly warmer winter, and the lack of the monsoon this year and several before it, the flowering fruit trees didn’t bear any fruit. Since the flavonoid they had been feeding on was no longer available, it sought out the next best source … the large village just over the edge of the valley.

Strange rumors began to come from the deep jungle village. Then, an actual victim of a bite managed to find her way … or rather his way … out of the deep jungle and to the nearby river. A passing fisherman happened to see the bedraggled young woman in way oversized clothing sitting on the bank crying.

He didn’t know what exactly to do with her after she told him her story. Although, that nasty bite mark or sting mark on her arm would probably need tending to. From the best the fisherman could tell, he did have some basic medical training from when he was in the army, the purple, yellow, and green looking bruise needed professional attention. He convinced the petrified young woman to allow him to take her to the field hospital set up down river several miles.

This was only the first, as they had several young women, several young men, and a large group of infants, toddlers, and little kids. Only there were witnesses and relatives who knew these individuals and could vouch for who they were … and the fact that the form they werre in now wasn’t how they were prior to the insect stinging them.

Because of the remoteness of this location and the extreme difficulty in getting in or out of the many miles of thick imposing jungle, Nano/Gen wasn’t notified of the problem until it had almost gotten out of hand. Over two thirds of the huge village had been transformed before the field hospital became aware of the increase and severity of the problem.

It took several days after this for news to leak out and someone to convince the proper individual there was an issue. Another thing that had happened was several teenagers out testing their hunting skills with their new atlatls discovered some type of aircraft. It was obvious that it had crashed due to massive damage. It was also obvious that it was built to transport some type of creature, although there was no evidence of what it might have been transporting, just the severely damaged containment areas for it.

The craft was small enough that the teens were able to manhandle it back to their hut. Of course, to them this was a real prize, so they told no one they had it. If Nano/Gen had been notified, they would have been able to translate the language found within the small craft. Much of the next series of victims would never have happened.

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A phone rang within the R&D section of the world famous Nano/Gen Research Facility.

Dr. Jalarr answered on the second ring, “Hello? This is Dr. Jalarr, Nano/Gen R&D. How may I Help … Say, what is that now?” Dr. Jalarr still hadn’t fully gotten used to the fact that she was now a woman and would remain that way. She was still trying to speak in a deep voice, but failed miserably, “You’re saying that the Dieabacu Field Hospital has almost a thousand individuals who are not the gender or age they are supposed to be?”

The doctor typed on her keyboard for a minute and brought up a map. She found the remote location of Dieabacu, and then her heart sank. About a mile from the hospital was what used to be a large fruit orchard. This orchard ringed a certain valley. She was shocked. No ... it couldn’t be …

Quick as Dr. Jalarr could, she brought up the live satellite feed overlooking the area. To her horror, the stand of fruit trees were all barren, with no flowers or fruit. This was something Nano/Gen would have to handle immediately. She only hoped it hadn’t gotten too far out of hand before she could get mobilized.

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“So … um … M-mom and Dad …” Terry stammered.

“Mom and Dad?” said Terry’s father on the computer screen. “Who are you? Hannah, who is this?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Stroight, this is Terry,” said Hannah, who was back to her female self.

“Terry?” asked Terry’s mother. “Hannah, you’re not making sense.”

“Look, I don’t know if you’ve heard the stories coming out of this area,” said Hannah. “Men being turned into women, and vice versa.”

“Well, I don’t believe everything I see on the Internet,” Terry’s dad began.

“It’s true!” said Hannah. “We … look, it happened to me too. But the Nano/Gen company, where Terry works, they’ve figured out a cure. Women turned into men, they can undo that. But men turned into women … it’s not that simple.”

“Look, Mom, Dad, it’s me!” Terry said. “I’m the same child you’ve always had; something just happened, OK? And … well … the fact is that now that I’ve been a girl for a while, I’ve decided it feels right to me. There, I said it. Even if there were a cure for what happened, I don’t want it. This feels more like me.”

“Wait, are you saying you’re one of those … transgenders?” Terry’s mother asked.

“I … well, now that you mention it, I guess so,” said Terry. “That’s pretty much what it means, isn’t it? Somebody who realizes that the gender they were raised as isn’t right for them? Well, in my case it took being hit over the head by some kind of weird clue-by-four, but now I’m female right down to my chromosomes, and it’s just going to be that way.”

“But … I mean … how can that even happen?” asked Terry’s father, visibly stunned, even on the computer screen.

“It’s … I’m not allowed to say,” Terry said. “I can’t. Nano/Gen made me sign an NDA. Until there’s an official press release, I’m not allowed, or I’ll lose my job and get sued. Soon, though. They’ve said they’ll make a statement sometime soon. But it’s really me. Remember that time at Magic World? The show where I could be a little prince or princess? I really really wanted to pick princess, but I knew everybody would stare at me and think I was weird, so I picked prince like I knew everybody expected, and everybody but me acted like everything was normal. I felt wrong, though.”

“I … I never knew,” said Terry’s mother. “I thought you had fun that day.”

“I did, Mom!” said Terry. “That one experience was really awkward, but I still had a lot of fun anyway. And I had a lot of fun with everything else, too – all the rides and shows. But it’s just … I would’ve gone on being OK with being a guy, not ecstatic or anything, but then … this happened. And now … I’m not sure what words to use. I’m just … me.”

“Terry,” said his father, “look, I understand. You’re still the same Terry. It’s going to take some getting used to. But … we’ll get through this. Do you need any help? We can get you a lawyer if you’re going to legally change your name, your paperwork …”

“Nano/Gen’s got lots of lawyers, and they’re going to help me out,” said Terry. “That’s probably the best part of all of this. They’re going to figure all of that out. And I’m not even going to change my name – well, I’m going to be Teresa instead of Terrence, but I’ll still be Terry.”

“It’s … good to hear that, actually,” said Terry’s mother. “I’ve always loved your name. You can still be my little Terry. Only now you’re my little girl Terry, not my little boy Terry.”

“Aww, Mom …” said Terry, blushing. “I love you. I love both of you.”

“Does your sister know yet?” asked Terry’s father.

“Not yet,” Terry replied. “I’m going to call her next. But I wanted to tell you two first.”

“You know, you can call more than one person at a time on these video chat things,” Terry’s mother said. “I think. At least, we do that at work.”

“Yes, but … I didn’t think I could handle all of you at once. I might have started crying,” said Terry.

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Back at Nano/Gen research facility, the genetics section was going nuts. Coupled with the satellite images of the valley, the reports, as sketchy as they had been, were enough to inform the scientists there was a real issue.

The only saving grace was the fact that the unmodified insect wasn’t aggressive, and if the intended victim paid attention, they could avoid its feeding attempts. This was proving to be somewhat of a problem, however, since apparently no one was paying attention, as the most recent radio contact with Dieabacu Field Hospital informed them.

Currently, if the poor radio message was fully understood, there were several thousand in the remote village who were now either a different gender than they were born as, or they were infants, toddlers, older children, or a combination of all the above. There were even a few reports of empty articles of clothing smeared with some kind of weird genetic goo. Dr. Jalarr sat back from her terminal and sighed. She had found no way to recover those who had regressed past fecundation. She did have the material collected in separate isolation containers and kept under refrigeration or on ice until it could be brought to Nano/Gen for proper storage and they could begin research.

At the valley where the insects had made their habitat, large helos equipped with sprayer attachments and big tanks of genetic flavonoids arrived and began heavily spraying within the valley itself. When the choppers finally left, most of the interior ground within the valley itself was wet with the flavonoid. It had been specially formulated to resemble human X and Y chromosomes so as to attract the insects. Very quickly, the insects arrived and began feeding. It was a beautiful sight to behold as the sun glinted off the sparkling wings of the creatures. This in no way solved the problem, but it slowed them down – a form of temporary containment until Jalaar and her team could come up with some other method.

It was about that time that one of the helos landed in a clear space near the village. They had been picking up some strange energy readings emanating from a large cave near one of the villagers’ huts. It created a sensation when they landed, since the villagers had never seen a helo up close before. The crew found the natives to be friendly and pleasant. They also discovered rather quickly that the men, women, and children weren’t exactly who they appeared to be. Many of them could positively prove it, too, which astounded the crew even more.

A young girl in nothing more than her undies and a T shirt ran up and started pulling on the pilot’s arm, indicating he should follow her, which he did. She led him through the village and across a small creek. The trail went straight to the cave’s opening. The girl stood with one hand on her hip and pointed with the other.

The air crew’s mouths fell open at what they saw. It was clearly a wrecked aircraft. The aircraft had clearly been beautiful and elegant in design before it had crashed. It had also clearly not been of this world.

The pilot bent to one knee and asked, “Do you speak English?”

The little girl nodded and replied, “I do speak English, and maybe four or five other languages.”

The pilot’s eyes grew large in surprise to hear the little girl speaking as if she were an adult. “OK, where did that come from?”

The girl replied, “Two of the now infants at the field hospital brought it here. They didn’t tell anyone they had found it, but they did begin going through it and opening things.” She went to a small folding table that had a box sitting on it and picked up the box. “I … used to be Dr. Andrew Struttenburge. I also used to be fifty years old, which obviously I’m not anymore.”

She handed the box to the now totally mind blown pilot. He looked in. The box contained many pages and small tablets full of some type of writing. It looked like nothing more than swirls, squiggles, with intermixed geometric shapes. This was exactly what his orders had stipulated was his mission: Finding some kind of tangible artifacts, if there were any. It was known that those insects were unique to that one valley, and their genetics were nothing like any other creature on earth.

When Dr. Jalarr read the pilot’s report, it was a confirmation of what she’d already suspected about the insect’s origin – but it left a mystery unexplained. How had butterflies in the wild come to mutate in exactly the same way as the one in the lab, which had been deliberately and carefully altered in controlled conditions?

Dr. Jalarr opened some research files on her computer. She went to a refrigeration unit and took out one of a number of test tubes labeled, “Mutation Formula #73 – FINAL.” She got a clean pipette, took a few drops from the tube, and put them into a fresh test tube. Then she went to a piece of equipment and inserted the test tube, programming the device carefully. The device beeped, lit up and started to whirr.

After about an hour, the machine beeped again to signal that it was done. Dr. Jalarr removed the test tube and labeled it, “Mutation Reversal Formula.” Then she put on heavy gloves, introduced the flavonoid-saturated lure into the specimen’s habitat, and proceeded to inject the creature with the formula.

Now all she could do was wait and observe.

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They both woke up in the middle of the night, sitting bolt upright with a gasp. They looked at each other in surprise. “Did you just have … a dream?” asked Hannah.

Terry nodded and asked, “Was it about a kite?”

“What?” Hannah sounded surprised. “No, it was about … the moon? Or its light?”

“A kite, at night, with a light behind it,” said Terry. “I didn’t know that was going to rhyme.” She giggled.

Hannah giggled too, nervously. “No, wait, there was something in front of the moon. A moth?”

“The butterfly?” asked Terry.

“Oh my G- yes, it was the butterfly,” said Hannah. “In the night sky, with the moon shining through its wings, all blue and sparkly.”

“And there was a pattern or something,” said Terry. “In the wings. You could see it in the light shining through it. Some kind of swirly markings.”

“I don’t think the butterfly had markings like that, though,” Hannah said.

“No, I don’t think so either.” Getting out of bed, Terry got a piece of paper and a pencil. “This feels important,” she said. “Now, they looked like this, right?” She made some spiral marks.

“No, more like this,” Hannah said, taking the pencil and its eraser and changing the markings somewhat, adding some small triangles and squares in between them. “Yeah. Like that.”

“You’re right,” said Terry. “It was like that. And then like this.” Together they worked it out until they agreed that they’d drawn the markings they’d seen in the butterfly’s wings exactly as they’d been.

“Now, how did we have exactly the same dream?” Hannah asked. “And how was it so vivid that we could remember the patterns?”

“We’d probably better ask Dr. Jalarr in the morning,” said Terry.

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“What? Where did you see this?” asked Dr. Jalarr. Terry and Hannah had come to her lab in the morning to show her the drawing they’d made. Dr. Jalarr hadn’t revoked their access, because technically they were still experimental subjects under observation.

“We had a dream last night,” Hannah said. “At the same time. And it was the same dream.”

“I thought it might be important,” said Terry, “so I started drawing it, and we kept fixing it until we both agreed it was what we saw in our dream. It was the butterfly. And it had these patterns on its wings.”

“I had a dream just like that,” said Dr. Jalarr. “But I didn’t think it important, because of course I would dream of that butterfly – I’ve worked with it so much, and it’s caused so much trouble lately. But that’s not the thing I’m most amazed about.” She paged through the electronic reports she’d been reading on her computer. “There.”

There were several pages, taken from the box the little girl had shown the pilot, who had photographed them and sent the photos to Nano/Gen digitally. They contained the same sort of symbols or marks. “Are those some kind of … writing?” asked Terry.

“How could we dream about that?” asked Hannah.

“What does it mean?” Terry asked. “Do you know what it means?”

“I don’t know,” Dr. Jalarr replied. “We haven’t translated it yet. These are the only samples of the language that have ever been found. Well, those and your dream. This situation is full of unknowns. Quite fascinating.”

“This is getting weird,” Terry said. “Even weirder than turning into a girl. Now we’re having dreams about a language nobody knows.”

“Nobody on Earth, at any rate,” Dr. Jalarr replied.

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Dr. Jalarr sat at his computer terminal with Nano/Gen’s best linguist, Dr Marcus Denarius. If anyone on Earth could make heads or tails of this new script it was he and the Linguistic AI currently attempting to decipher it.

Thanks to Terry and Hannah’s strange dream, Dr. Jalarr had discovered that each insect had a unique set of strange words as part of the design within its very pretty crystalline wings. Dr, Denarius was in heaven as he delved right in and had piles of discarded paper with his many failed attempts.

Dr. Jalarr was pleased about one major aspect: Nano/Gen’s field researchers had managed to capture all of the insects in the valley. It had been much easier than they had first thought. Since their main source of food had failed this season, attracting them into an enclosure to capture them using the genetically enhanced flavonoids as a lure had worked to perfection.

Now Nano/Gen’s huge enclosed arboretum was filled with the beautiful sparkly insects. It was noted immediately, however, that the normal ones they had captured in the wild were nowhere near as aggressive as the genetically altered one in the lab – and that one was showing signs of returning to normal now that Dr. Jalarr had reversed its modifications. They had separated the wild ones that had spontaneously become aggressive into a separate arboretum, and they proved to be quite similar to the altered one. Their coloration was different from the normal ones in obvious ways.

As far as the crashed aircraft, it was immediately noted that it was definitely not from Earth. Some of the finest engineers and technicians at Nano/Gen were slowly studying and disassembling it. The forward section of the craft was destroyed, most likely from impacting the ground. From what was determined to be the second bulkhead back was damaged, but not destroyed. Impact must have been severe, based on what the scientists saw.

It was quickly determined, after they had found the many broken open and twisted creature containment units, that the craft had been ferrying some type of creatures that had managed to escape after the ship had crashed. Everyone’s best guess was the butterflies. As for how long ago it had crashed, the only estimate anyone had was centuries ago. Those living in the area told stories about the butterflies that went back that far.

The engine that powered the craft was so far beyond Earth’s science that even after weeks of study, they still knew nothing of how it worked or what type of fuel it might possibly use. Even the materials the power unit was constructed from were unknown to Earth science.

It created a huge sensation when one of the young techs pushed a button on what was thought to be the ship’s control panel and the main computer system came up. It was damaged, but intact enough that it still somewhat functioned. The data it displayed on the plasma screen still meant nothing to any of the scientists, however, because the symbols it used were still undeciphered.

The ship itself was constructed from a material also unknown to Earth science. They took apart every panel and traced each circuit in hopes of learning something they might be able to reproduce. Most of what they saw were more like crystals embedded in some sort of substrate that had tiny sparkly streaks running all through it that were thought to be some form of wiring. As far as components, it was quickly determined that almost all of the components were atom-sized or no bigger than a single molecule.

There were also a plethora of other items and devices stored or haphazardly scattered throughout the ship. Its scattering came as no surprise, since the ship had obviously impacted rather hard. Now Dr. Jalaar knew how these creatures had arrived here and had escaped containment when the ship had crashed. She had no clue as to where the ship had originated, nor why it had crashed on Earth.

“Dr. Jalarr?” A voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Oh – hello, Dr. Denarius,” she said. “How are the translation attempts going?”

“Not well,” said the linguist. “I’m unable to even get started.”

“That’s not good. Is there any way I can help?”

“Well, you said that … your test subjects, the ones who had been bitten by the genetically modified specimen, they’d had the same dream, and it involved some of the symbols?”

“Well, yes, although dreams are difficult to use as scientific evidence.”

“At this point I’ll take any hint I can get,” said Dr. Denarius. “Do you know if they’ve had any more dreams?”

“Well, they say they have, but other than suggesting that they write them down, I haven’t had much contact with them over the past few days,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Far too busy. You’re right, though, I should ask them to come in.”

When Terry and Hannah arrived, they brought a folder full of drawings and notes. It had been about two weeks since the first dream, and they’d continued having them every night. “This is Dr. Denarius, the head linguist on the project of deciphering what these symbols mean,” Dr. Jalarr said.

“Good to meet you, Dr. Denarius,” said Terry, shaking his hand.

“Charmed,” replied the linguist. “So you have been having more dreams, I hear?”

“Well, yes,” said Hannah. She opened the folder and laid it on the table, setting out several pages. “Some of them have had the butterfly and these symbols. Others have had other images, but always with symbols. We’ve tried to draw what we both saw.”

“And I don’t know if anyone else who was bitten has been having these dreams, but you might want to check with them,” said Terry. Dr. Jalarr made a note to do just that.

Dr. Denarius took photographs of the drawings and considered them carefully. “This pattern of symbols seems to always accompany the butterflies,” he said. “Dr. Jalarr, you say that the butterflies have markings on their wings?”

“Yes, they’re similar to these, but not exactly the same,” she said.

“Well, let’s suppose for a moment that the dreams actually mean something,” said Dr. Denarius. “The fact that the two of them had the same dream must mean that they’re not dreams in the usual sense, but a message of some kind. Leaving what could be sending them aside for the moment, the fact that the butterfly is always associated with the same symbols could mean that the symbols are associated with the butterfly in meaning in some way. Perhaps this is the word for the butterfly, for example.”

“I’m always feeling fear whenever that image appears in the dream,” said Hannah.

“Me too,” said Terry. “It’s like someone’s trying to warn us.”

“So … perhaps it’s not the word for ‘butterfly,’ or even this kind of butterfly,” mused the linguist. “Perhaps it’s the word for ‘danger,’ or ‘warning.’”

An alarm went off as a green light began to flash on the computer console. It was an image of the screen from the computer aboard the ship – it had started flashing and displaying symbols. They all looked at it.

“It’s that same sequence of symbols!” said Dr. Denarius. “They’re flashing all over the screen! Just a second. I’m telling my AI to proceed from the assumption that this sequence means either ‘danger’ or ‘warning.’” He typed quickly on his laptop computer.

“But why is it flashing?” asked Dr. Jalarr. “Quick – check the habitats! Have any insects escaped?” Several Nano/Gen research assistants ran to check.

“Look at this!” said Dr. Denarius. “The AI has deciphered some more.” Indeed, his AI had managed to almost translate a page of the documents from the ship. It wasn’t much, only a few paragraphs, but enough to be able to start translating the rest. However, the page that had been translated was a warning about the insects contained in the cargo hold. Dr. Jalarr gasped as she read the warning. The creature’s genetics were unstable and could mutate at any moment for no real reason. Some of the end results had proven to be disastrous. Dr. Jalarr knew they had to get the rest of this mess translated. Apparently the insects were more dangerous than she thought.

“If we’d known this, we’d never have chosen this species to experiment with,” said Dr. Jalarr. “The xenobiology research team would have gotten it instead.”

“Now, what other concepts do you remember from your dreams?” Dr. Denarius asked Terry and Hannah.

“Well, another dream was about some kind of plane crash,” said Hannah. “But not a plane. We drew it as best we could.” She slid that drawing from the pile of papers in the folder.

“Wait, this is –” said Dr. Denarius.

“This is the craft,” Dr. Jalarr said, “and you’ve drawn it before the crash. We had no idea what it looked like before it was damaged. It’s entire front section was destroyed beyond recognition. But it’s clearly that craft, from the rest of it.”

“And there are more symbols,” the linguist said. “Could these mean ‘accident,’ or ‘crash,’ or ‘destruction?’ I’ll work on that basis and see if I can determine which.” He typed furiously on his computer.

And once again the image of the computer screen flashed green. “Wait … is that thing reacting when we get something right?” asked Dr. Jalarr. “Is … is that computer what’s been sending you the messages?”

“I have no idea,” said Terry. Hannah shrugged.

They worked for a few hours, and Dr. Denarius got to the point where he and his AI had deciphered large swaths of the text.

“Well,” the linguist said, “we now know the symbols for the numbers zero through eight, and many common words. This word seems to mean ‘sex’ or ‘gender.’ The number eight is often associated with it – could that mean the species who created this language has eight sexes?”

“That would seem impractical for reproduction,” said Dr. Jalarr. “But suppose it were the case, or something close. It might explain why this species of insect exists. With so much variation between individuals of the same species, there would be a lot of entropy for it to feed upon. I’ll have to think about that.”

The screen flashed green again. “Whatever the case,” said Dr. Denarius, “these two are like the Rosetta Stone for this language. I suppose it’s talking to them because they were bitten?”

“The insect may have left some kind of genetic marker in their system,” said Dr. Jalarr, “a genetic pattern from the native planet of both this insect and whoever was flying that vehicle. Perhaps it allows the computer to focus on their minds.”

The research assistants returned. “All the organisms are accounted for,” said one of them. “No escapes.”

“That’s a relief,” Dr. Jalarr said. “There’s been quite enough of that.”

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Terry and Hannah were actually given a security clearance and access to the research materials. Terry was already, technically, an employee of Nano/Gen, and with her vouching for Hannah made it easy. Hannah found she was suddenly classified as a research technician of the life prolongation program and an employee of Nano/Gen.

They were most intrigued by the fact that they were having identical dreams. The only difference was their perspective. The dream came from whichever was actually having the dream’s viewpoint, although they were identical in every other way.

It had become more than obvious that someone or something was attempting to communicate. They had also noticed that the computer’s screen within the alien ship kept flashing green whenever they were correct in their assumptions about something pertaining to it, the writings they had collected, or the insects themselves.

After much exhaustive work and hours of supercomputer AI time, they had managed to discover that the insects had started out as a research project. They were still unable to completely decipher the writings, and some of the data was missing. They did decipher enough to determine that the original genetic experiment had gone awry. The insects were constructs. The function of each construct was embedded in the crystalline structure of their wings. But the insects were life forms and could reproduce, their offspring taking over the function of the parents.

After much head scratching, Terry and Hannah had determined that some unforeseen mutation had happened within the construct’s genes. The alien scientists had attempted to stop whatever cascade effect had triggered a fast spread of the unwanted genetic alterations. They couldn’t decipher enough of the conclusion pages to get the full picture, but enough to determine that the aliens were trying to dispose of the insect in a black hole, the only way they could be sure of ridding the universe of such a genetically unstable and dangerous creature.

Hannah turned from the screen and said, “I wonder how this ship crashed on Earth instead of being ingested into a black hole?”

Terry replied, “That is an interesting question. As I recall, don’t we put flight recorders on all our aircraft, so in case something happens, they can go back and find data on how the aircraft was operating at the time of the mishap?”

Hannah replied, “Yeah, they do. It’s called a black box. Although it’s more yellow with black stripes.”

Terry said, “Since we now have clearance to access all the project’s data and materials, maybe we can arrange a face to face meeting with this alien ship. Maybe we’ll even get a chance to play with its computer a bit, since it’s apparently somehow in contact with us through our dreams.”

Both girls saw the real-time image of the alien computer screen as it started flashing green very rapidly.

While Hannah and Terry sought out Dr. Jalarr to ask her opinion and gain access, something strange happened within the insects’ habitat as several of the butterflies started to glow. There was a very pretty sparkling blue flash, and now something that looked like a rather large lizard stood where the insect was. The lizard had very sharp claws on all four of its feet, as did all the others that had transformed. They all had what looked like a snake’s fangs in their toothy mouths.

As aggressive as the genetically modified insects had been, the lizards were far worse, as they attacked anything in their sight, including themselves. No one was there to observe it, but two of them started to fight, and in the altercation one of the lizards bit the other. The bitten lizard seemed to melt and drip into a small blue puddle of thick liquid. The one that did the biting glowed brightly for a few minutes afterward as it grew in size. By the time the growth spurt had stoped, it was the size of a large cat. The blue puddle began to give off a vapor of some type, before it exploded into a roaring flame for an instant, devouring everything within a 3 foot circle and leaving a smoldering char behind.

“I don’t see why not,” said Dr. Jalarr. “For one thing, you are members of this project. For another, your dreams may give you a unique insight into the computer. I had dreams too, but they seem to have stopped; it seems to have decided to focus on you two. I still don’t know why. But among the many questions this situation raises, that ranks as one of the least important.” She signed her name to the bottom of a form and handed it to Terry, then did the same for Hannah. “There, those in combination with your IDs should grant you access. I ask only that you record any progress you make, so we can all benefit from anything you discover.”

“Will do!” said Hannah. “Oh, one other question – how do we get to wherever the alien ship is?”

“Oh – yes, of course. You’ve only ever seen it on computer screens,” said Dr. Jalarr. “It’s in Building C, Bay 6. You go out the back entrance of this building, turn to your left …”

Not very much later, Terry and Hannah found themselves standing in front of the remains of the alien spacecraft. Many cameras and other instruments were attached to it, with cables leading from them to a point where they were fastened together and led across the floor in one large undulating snake to a junction box near the door. Large lights shone down from hanging racks in the ceiling and illuminated the craft from every direction.

“Should we go in?” asked Terry.

There were two green flashes from within the craft.

“Guess that’s a yes,” Hannah said. As they entered, the screen flashed green rapidly, so they went toward the computer. “Seems to urgently want us to come close to ittttttt …” Her voice trailed off, and they stopped as they were both suddenly barraged with vivid mental images.

“It … it … just showed us how to fix it,” said Terry after they stood still for a moment. “Or at least part of it. Let’s see if we both just saw the same things.” She got out the sketch pad and pencils, and they sat down on the floor of the craft drawing what they’d just seen.

After a few minutes, they had covered several pages with drawings. But they found themselves unable to get in touch with Dr. Jalarr. “Can I be of any assistance?” asked Dr. Denarius. “Dr. Jalarr has been called to the specimen habitat after a … development.”

“We need … stuff,” said Hannah.

“Parts,” said Terry. “Materials and electronic components. I think I know why it chose us.” They showed their drawings to Dr. Denarius, who agreed that they looked like plans and electronic schematics. The linguist got them in touch with Nano/Gen’s supply and fabrication department. Before long, 3-D printers were producing the physical parts in the drawings, while electrical engineers were soldering parts onto circuit boards.

“And this clips onto that … and that part fits in there …” said Terry as the technicians attached circuit boards and pieces onto the damaged circuitry of the computer in the alien spacecraft. “Then that attaches there … yes, just like that …”

“And you plug that connector into that socket … and you take that burned board off and replace it with this one …” said Hannah. “And then … we’re done!” The computer screen suddenly went dark. But a moment later it lit back up with symbols that they could now translate.

“Rebooting,” read Dr. Denarius. The technicians high-fived each other.

After another moment, the screen cleared, and several readouts appeared. Then a panel started to flash green, and a human handprint appeared on it. “It wants … one of us to put our hand there?” Terry guessed.

“You should do it,” said Hannah.

“Um, OK,” said Terry. It showed a right-hand palm print, so she put her right hand on the panel. Then she seemed to convulse and fell to her knees, losing contact with the panel. “I … I need a … chair or something,” she said, blinking her eyes. “It’s trying to communicate. It’s … much clearer than before.”

Someone brought a chair into the confines of the spacecraft, and Terry placed it in front of the console and sat down, placing her hand on the panel again. She again seemed to convulse for a moment before closing her eyes and sitting still.

Terry experienced a series of clear mental images. The aliens flying the spacecraft were quite different from one another in both shape and size, but the computer told her they were all the same species, just different sexes. They were the spaceship’s crew, each with their own specialized job, just as with the crew of a human ship. Their mission: to do a flyby of a black hole, releasing the specimen container at the precisely calculated moment to ensure its deployment on a trajectory leading it to fall into the event horizon via the most direct route.

But something had gone wrong. The specimens had somehow escaped containment, long before they got anywhere near the destination. They had fed on each member of the crew in turn until only two were left, locking themselves into the control cabin. There wasn’t enough food, water, or air in just the control cabin to sustain their lives for long enough to get them to any colonized planet or space station. But the computer had data about a nearby star system in which a habitable world had been detected but not explored. Terry recognized that world as Earth.

The pilot and navigator had been killed. The two remaining crew members, the biologist and the computer technician, didn’t know everything they needed to know to fly the ship, but the computer tried to guide them. They sealed the compromised crew cabin to their best of their ability, in hopes of containing the specimens, and attempted to land on Earth. It didn’t go well. The computer technician and biologist had done their very best to ensure that the computer would survive, however, and inform any intelligent life on their destination planet about the dangers of the species they’d been trying to dispose of and how best to deal with it.

“Our chances of surviving this landing are less than 32%,” said the computer technician. “I hope I’ve included enough information to repair whatever damage has occurred to the computer core so you can receive this message.”

“If the life on your world is anything like ours,” said the biologist, “the organism will do incalculable damage. It will gorge itself on the differences between your life forms’ eight sexes and multiply beyond all control. I can’t stop it. I apologize for ever having been part of the team that created it. We had only the best intentions, but they went horribly wrong. If by some chance your biology is sufficiently different from ours – for example, we have theorized the possibility that some biomatrices could develop using fewer than eight sexes – then perhaps you have a prayer. There may not be enough sexual diversity to sustain its reproductive cycle in such a case. The organism’s complete genome is contained within this computer core. I hope you have biologists who can find a solution by studying the data. We should have just steered the ship into your star. I can only hope you don’t judge us too harshly.”

The message ended. Terry opened her eyes. “What happened?” asked Hannah.

“I … just saw a message from the aliens,” Terry replied. She tried to describe everything she’d just seen. Cameras recorded everything she said.

“The nearest black hole to Earth is Gaia BH1, 1560 light years away,” said one scientist.

“The nearest one we’ve discovered so far,” replied another. “There may be closer ones.”

“Can we extract the genome data?” asked another scientist.

“Let’s see what we can do,” said a technician.

“This is the data port,” said Terry, pointing to a socket that they’d constructed as part of the repair process.

“I thought that was what it looked like,” the technician remarked.

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In the bio-containment habitat, technicians dressed in heavy level 1 biohazard suits were in the unit doing their very best to trap and contain the new mutations. The mutations were extremely agile and aggressive to the point one of the lizards that had grown to the size of a small dog jumped on the technician attempting to capture it.

Nano/Gen engineering had miscalculated the ferocity of the new creatures and the design of the biohazard suit. The wire mesh woven in the exterior fabric worked very well at protecting from the claws, however the small holes between the weave did little for the fangs.

The biting, clawing, snarling creature managed to get a good hold on the tech’s leg and sunk its fangs in deep. They passed through the hole in the weave and penetrated his flesh deeply. The tech had enough time to realize he had been bitten before his body literally melted into a gooey mess within the suit.

Fortunately for all nearby, the suit blew apart in many shreds when the biomass that was left over exploded, but not nearly as violently or with as much fire and heat as there would have been if not contained. The lizard that did the biting developed a strange glow about it, before it tripled in size. It now was as large as a full grown sow. From the looks of it, it weighed as much, too.

One of the techs was heavily armed and sprang into action. Immediately, he ignited the pilot on his flamethrower and let the critter have it. Loud squeals of agony rang out before the creature too seemed to melt into a strange puddle of sparkly blue colloid.

Fortunately, the other tech had moved away towards the exit as they called for more backup. The puddle of blue colloid began to give off a strange mist before it too caught fire and exploded violently. It was a serious kind of explosion that blew a divot in the floor of the habitat almost 8 feet deep and 20 feet across. The surviving tech stared at the smoldering hole as one of them made a frantic call.

“Hello? I need to speak with Dr. Jalarr, it’s extremely important.” The tech waited for a moment or two, “Hello? Dr. Jalarr, we have some rather startling news. Yes, we managed to contain and move the lizard creatures, except for one. I know, Doctor, we took all the precautions. The stupid thing can bite through the biosuits. No, the Tech that got bitten melted, then exploded. We did manage to stop the lizard after it grew to almost a ton. Yes, we used fire. It melted to this puddle of blue colloid … then exploded. I know, those things are even more dangerous now.”

Each of the new lizard creatures were kept isolated from any others in hopes to avert a catastrophic explosion and fire. That was when the scientists who were monitoring the butterflies saw several of them transform. This time, they took on the form of some type of raptor bird. They still maintained the beautiful blue sparkly colors with the strange markings on their feathers. This time, the birds were just as vicious as the lizards, but they didn’t attack each other as the lizards had.

The birds presented a new type of problem. Not only could they fly, they were cunning and highly aggressive and would attack anything that came within their chosen territory. It was easy to tell where the birds had designated their territory; they had even gone so far as to make a crude perimeter around their specific area.

The interesting thing with the birds was that they were highly territorial, but they stayed within the boundaries of what they chose as their territory. Anything that strayed beyond the barrier came under immediate attack, but they wouldn’t leave.

Dr. Jalarr called a meeting for the whole team. It was time for them to decide how to rid themselves of this highly dangerous genetic catastrophe looking for a place to happen. The meeting began with a description of what had just happened in the habitat area, to which everyone including Terry and Hannah listened with open-mouthed shock.

But the very next thing on the agenda was Terry describing what she’d seen when the computer had interfaced with her nervous system. “So … it would seem,” said Dr. Jalarr, “that the only reason the organism hasn’t entirely eradicated all other life on Earth is because our biology has by and large settled on only two sexes. This is fortunate for us, but it seems that it only buys us more time than this alien species had. It would seem that their technology was superior to ours, allowing them to isolate the last surviving organisms and send them into space, but even then they seem to have escaped their confinement. Now, what is next?”

Terry replied immediately, “Having interfaced with the computer, three ideas come to mind: Try to learn how they isolated and confined the species. Try to replicate their technology, especially anything that would help with this situation. And try to make contact with the surviving aliens and ask them for help.”

“But certainly none of them survived the crash,” said one technician, who had been on the team examining the spacecraft.

“None of the crew of the ship that crashed on Earth did,” said another scientist. “But more of them must exist somewhere, on their home planet, or the planet or space-based facility the spaceship launched from.”

“Wouldn’t that be light-years away?” asked another. “Any message would take years to reach them.”

Another replied, “But they may have technology that somehow gets around what we think is the limitation of the speed of light. There’s evidence that the craft somehow traveled faster than light.”

“Terry, you’ve interfaced with the computer once,” said Dr. Jalarr, “and Hannah, you and Terry both had contact with it before that. I suggest that both of you immediately begin trying to find out how they contained the organisms in the first place. See if the computer has records of that. And I suggest you not wait until this meeting is over; please, start as soon as you can.”

“OK, Dr. Jalarr,” said Hannah, and the two of them headed back to the bay containing the spacecraft and its only functioning part, the computer.

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This time Hannah tried touching the interface pad with her palm. Terry saw her close her eyes and stiffen and wondered if that was what she’d looked like when she’d done this.

But Hannah had a different experience. She seemed to be floating among the stars, with a voice echoing around her, saying, “What is your query?”

“Oh! Uh, hi.”

“Hello,” said the voice. “Please state your query when ready.”

“How did you – well, I think you’re the computer, so you didn’t –”

“Affirmative. I am the computer with whom you and your nearby companion have recently been neurally interfacing. Please continue.”

“OK,” said Hannah, focusing. “How was the dangerous organism contained for transport aboard this spacecraft?”

“Accessing records. Data incomplete. Reconstructing from available data.” A scene of devastation replaced the neutral starfield that Hannah had been floating in. A colossal quadrupedal beast miles high strode across the landscape. Its skin glittered with blue jewels. The computer’s voice said, “Colony world designated Ulindra C. Previously home to a thriving ecosystem and over 100 million colonists. Organism was engineered in a laboratory, escaped, and mutated, absorbing and destroying all sexually-reproducing life. Distress signals were answered, and some colonists were evacuated, but there was not time to save them all. Approximately 50,000 were rescued. The rest perished.”

A spacecraft entered the atmosphere high above. “A plan was formulated after the organism’s original genome was analyzed. First, a de-mutating agent was invented.” The ship fired a sharp missile the size of a large building, piercing the huge creature’s skin. At first, nothing happened, then, all at once, the creature burst into billions of butterflies. “Then a powerful weapon was used to reduce the original organism’s numbers.” The spaceship fired a wide-angle, deadly energy beam that set many of them on fire, but the falling, burning bodies of the butterflies shielded the ones farthest from the spaceship, and the ones that escaped and hid behind rocks or buildings survived.

“Finally, knowing there would be survivors, the rest were chemically lured into a level 7 force field,” the computer’s voice went on. A large bulb soaked with chemicals was dangled from the spaceship by a long cable. The remaining butterflies swarmed to it. Then a light show surrounded the bulb and the butterflies, which seemed unable to leave. “Once the lure’s chemicals were depleted, it was jettisoned.” The bulb’s cable was dropped, and it fell through the force field, slowing down considerably as it passed through. The sphere of butterflies contracted, and it was taken aboard the spaceship.

“And that … force field thing … was brought aboard this ship?” asked Hannah.

“Correct,” the computer voice said. “An unforeseen power fluctuation allowed some of the creatures to escape. This caused havoc in the crew cabin and loss of life. As you know, the two survivors escaped to the command cabin and crashed.

“Can you tell us how to create that energy beam weapon or that force field?” asked Hannah.

“Schematics for such basic devices are readily available,” the computer replied, three-dimensional circuit diagrams appearing before her.

“Um, I can sort of understand those,” said Hannah. “Can you make them two-dimensional? And what is this symbol?” Gradually she talked the computer through translating the schematics into something Earth engineers could understand, although there were a few exotic components she had to get it to explain. “I hope I can remember that,” said Hannah.

“Image sent to main display,” said the computer.

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“What?” said Terry when a complicated electronic schematic diagram appeared on the screen. Hannah was still in a trance with her hand on the palm pad, but apparently she’d asked the computer to display something. “Um, people watching the cameras, are you getting this?”

“Affirmative,” said a voice from one of the cameras. “We’re recording. Sending someone to get some better images firsthand.” And, in under a minute, a technician with an expensive-looking digital still camera had started taking photos of the screen in as much detail as she could.

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“Is there any way for us to contact … these people?” Hannah asked the computer. “Can we ask them for help?”

“It would require the repair of the craft’s communications equipment,” the computer replied. “Severely damaged on impact. It may be easier to construct a new console.”

“How … do we do that?” asked Hannah.

There was another schematic, and another schematic-interpretation conversation.

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“Wait, it just changed,” said Terry.

“Oops, yes, it did,” said the technician with the camera, taking more pictures of this new schematic. “It would be nice to know what this is meant to be the circuit diagram for. And what are some of these components, even? Oh well, we’ll figure it out.”

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As Hannah rested from her experience, which had been rather mentally exhausting, the technicians agreed that it would take them some time to actually build any of the several schematics that they’d captured. They all required undiscovered components that Hannah had described as best she could based on what the computer had told her, but that didn’t solve the problems.

“But at least we know what plan they used,” said Dr. Jalarr. “They had a genetic sample of the original organism, and they were able to use it to revert it to that form. It’s good to know that can work – we also have such a sample. But we don’t have their weapons or force fields. However, their force fields suffer from a critical dependency on continuous power. If we stored the organism in a physical container, it would not have that issue. We’ll have to make some plans.”

More and more divisions of the Nano/Gen Corporation were mobilized. Government briefings were arranged. Military forces were standing by in case things got out of hand. For now the organisms were contained within Nano/Gen Building B, but they weren’t sure for how long, so one team started … building. A new foundation was built next to Building B … or poured, more accurately, as it was going to be solid steel.

Dr. Jalarr worked with a team of geneticists to make the formula, basing it on their original genome data for the organism. It took days, and during those days things continued to develop. They kept everyone out of Building B and sealed every door and window, watching only via cameras. The birds were patrolling their territories in different rooms of the building, but they stayed separate from each other, and there was nothing for them to eat. They couldn’t afford to let the creatures feed, or they might change into something larger and more dangerous.

Meanwhile, Terry and Hannah were taking turns talking to the computer and reporting whatever they learned to the technicians. “So this pattern of beryllium and carbon atoms … is meant to be on a scale of nanometers, repeated a million times?” asked a tech, the one who had been photographing the screen. Her name was Susan, but there hadn’t been time for pleasantries.

“That’s what the computer says,” Terry replied. “The result is a … hyperdimensionally heterodyning oscillator? It’s hard to express what the computer says in English.”

“We’ll see if we can do it,” said Susan. “The molecular jet it showed us might help.”

“It said it would,” said Terry.

“Susan!” said another tech. “Come quick! The molecular jet completed the amplifier circuit!”

“I’ll be back shortly,” Susan said. “I promise.”

“It’s my turn next,” said Hannah. “Terry, take a nap or something. You look tired.”

Within days, three things happened. Dr. Jalarr’s group announced they had an experimental formula ready, the engineering group believed they might have built an interstellar transceiver, and one of the birds finally attacked another one. The loser melted into a puddle of goo, which exploded as usual, and the building’s fire suppression systems showered the area with fire suppression chemicals. And the victor morphed again, this time into something the size and approximate shape of a bear.

They risked quickly opening a door for long enough to shove the remote-controlled robot in and seal the door shut again behind it. Using the cameras on the robot and the ones in the building, they steered the robot through the halls to the room where the “bear” had been spotted last. The creatures completely ignored the robot, which wasn’t made of anything they could derive energy from.

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“This is the planet Earth, calling anyone who can hear and understand,” said Terry into the transceiver, which they had been calling an “ansible,” because some of the techs were science fiction fans. Terry had been chosen because she’d learned the most of the aliens’ language from interacting with the computer. She reproduced the aliens’ sounds as best she could. “Is anyone receiving?”

“Planet Earth, this is Station Luron 3,” came a voice. Hannah translated for the listening techs, who immediately cheered. Next to Terry she was the most fluent in the alien language. “We are not familiar with the name of that world. What are your galactic coordinates?”

“As near as I can tell, in your system they would be …” Terry rattled off a series of digits in the aliens’ base-8 numerical system. They were what the computer had told her Earth’s coordinates were.

“I see,” replied the voice. “Yes, we have an unexplored planet on our charts at that location … you are near the last known location of a ship that went missing some time ago …”

“Yes,” said Terry, “we found the wreckage of the ship and have been communicating with its computer.” She looked around her at the others. “We’ve been having some difficulties with an organism that seems to have escaped containment on the ship …”

“The organism!” said the voice, in what Terry believed was sudden urgency. “It’s alive and on your world? How is there still life on that planet? It must be destroyed!”

“Yes, we were hoping that we could ask you for your help in destroying this creature, which we’re trying to contain and kill, but it’s difficult.”

“We will send an expedition as soon as possible,” said the voice. The others in the room cheered as Hannah translated this. They stopped cheering after she translated the next sentence, becoming more upset with each word. “If it can’t be contained, we will have to destroy the planet Earth.” The technicians around them looked at each other in horror. What had they done?

“But - you can’t destroy our world,” Terry said. “It’s the only planet we have.”

“We will rescue as many of your people as we can,” the voice replied, “but you must understand that the organism must be stopped before it can mutate into a spacefaring form and threaten other worlds.” They all imagined giant butterflies flying through space, scouring the multicellular life off every planet in the galaxy.

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Dr. Jalarr operated the remote and steered the robot slowly into the room. There the creature was, seemingly sleeping. The robot slowly raised its arm, equipped with the firing mechanism … and fired a jet-propelled dart deep into the creature’s rump.

The “bear” instantly stood up, balancing on its hind legs, roared … and exploded into hundreds of butterflies. They immediately flew in all directions, some into the ventilation system, some down the hallway, dispersing everywhere in the building. Fortunately, the ventilation system was also sealed from the outside, but finding every butterfly would be very difficult now.

“Jalarr to tech team,” said Dr. Jalarr into her phone. “The experiment has been partially successful. The formula worked as intended. The largest organism has been converted into the original smaller ones. They seem to be the less aggressive variety, as well. However, the organisms have just become much more difficult to contain.”

Hearing this, Terry said into the ansible, “The organism is contained inside a building for now. We are working on reinforcing the building. We are able to reset its genes to its original small, less aggressive form. Please give us more time.”

“Do not worry,” the voice said. “We will not destroy your planet unless you completely lose control of the organism. Until then, we will help. A squadron of spacecraft is being readied and will depart for your coordinates when ready.”

“Um, in that case, we will see you shortly, I imagine,” Terry said.

“Affirmative,” said the voice. “Over and out.”

“That … could have gone better,” said Susan.

“I don’t want them to blow up the Earth!” Terry wailed.

“I don’t want those crazy butterfly monsters to eat the Earth, either,” Hannah added.

“Then we have to stop both of those things from happening,” said Susan. “Let’s hope the construction team is almost ready.”

The construction team had been building what was basically a giant steel box. Its base was the size of Building B’s footprint, and it was now large enough to hold all of Building B It was right next to the building, in fact. The only problem was getting the building into the box, or alternatively, getting all the organisms to leave the building and to into the box. The flavonoid had worked well as a lure, but opening the building to the outside world was a risk that nobody was willing to take. So they’d coated the entire back wall of the box, three stories high, with the chemical, and they’d started building a double-walled tent out of high-tensile-strength plastic to place over both Building B and the box. The final wall of the box could be slid into place and welded with machinery. The plan was solid. But would it work?

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While the finishing touches of the steel box next to building B feverishly continued, many space-based telescopes and the numerous observation satellites in orbit detected a strange singularity anomaly form just outside Sol’s heliopause.

As far as the technicians could determine, what looked at this distance like a large well-armed battle unit materialized from the heart of the singularity and formed up into a huge wall of space warships with several supporting large ships surrounded in a cone by dozens of smaller ships. Some asked how they knew they were warships, of course, but they simply replied that they’d spoken to them, and they said they were.

NASA techs and the SETI group in Arizona almost wet their pants when a radio message came through. It was obviously computer translated, based on the strange sound and analysis of the signal’s waveform.

“Greeting to all of Earth. We come in peace and offer our help and expertise in removing the organism from your planet. You must understand how lucky your world is not to have been totally destroyed by this creature. Its highly unstable genome will mutate rapidly for no known reason. It can also mutate instantly when it feeds. What’s left of the creature that was fed upon will explode. The power of this explosion can release more energy than one of your 12 megaton nuclear devices.”

One of the startled SETI techs monitoring the channel more accurately focused several dishes. This aided in clarifying the data signal and improved the comm link.

“He … hello? This is SETI listening station 1121 Bravo Arizona. We welcome you to our solar system and hope your aid rids us of this pest. It has already disrupted hundreds of lives and transformed them.”

A very concerned voice replied back, “Those who have been transformed will find that anything they do to try to fix the issue will fail. The males transformed into females will return to female. The infants will become infants again. And, we have found that some who hadn't started out as infants, transformed into toddlers not quite ready for potty training.”

SETI replied, “How soon after reversion does re-reversion happen?”

The reply, “Any time after 48 hours your time. And no longer than 3 months. No matter, the carrier within your genomes has been forever rewritten. Your bodies will constantly seek to become that set of genetic instructions.”

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Building B: Nano/Gen Research Facility

Dr. Jalarr had arrived and said with a bit of irritation in her voice that had started to sound more like a little girl’s, “How much longer? We must get all those organisms collected in the steel containment. We managed to isolate and capture the others, and they are being held in containment area 12 awaiting transfer to the steel isolation chamber you’re building.”

The job foreman said with irritation obvious in his tone, “I’m doing the best I can as fast as I can. You do want this accomplished safely, right?”

Dr. Jalarr realized her clothing had started to become too large for her. She could actually feel it as her clothes grew larger on her body. “OK, do it safely, but hurry. I just got two calls, one from NASA, the other from SETI in Arizona; apparently the aliens have arrived and are rapidly approaching. Remember, the aliens have said that they’ll destroy the Earth if we fail to control these creatures.”

As Dr. Jalarr quickly hurried off, she had a really pleasant, but awkward potty accident in her ever enlarging panties. Embarrassed, she quickly headed to the bathroom to deal with it.

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On the bridge of the flagship super-dreadnought that was rapidly approaching Earth, the commander flipped a switch on his console and said, “Attention, battle group. We are under orders to eradicate this planet if they cannot contain the creature so we can remove it. I do not take pleasure in reminding you of this, nor I believe will any of us find it anything but tragic if we should need to carry out this order, but … the consequences if we do not will be terrible for us and future generations, and probably for countless other species of which we’re currently unaware. But we have no desire to commit genocide, and that’s why Evacuation Group 2 is with us – should that eventuality occur, they will attempt to rescue as many of that world’s inhabitants as possible without risking losing the ones they’ve already saved.”

Many hundreds of very large and well armed warships assumed attack positions.

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The foreman finally said in his radio, “Ok, the final steel wall is in place. Bait the trap, and lets see what happens.”

In a mad flurry of ordered chaos, many techs dashed to the far back wall and fired what were basically magnetic flavonoid-filled grenades at it, then hurried from the steel containment. Almost instantly after they had sealed the tent, the grenades coated the wall with the chemicals, and a huge glittering blue cloud came from every conceivable nook and cranny. The back wall of the steel box was covered in sparkling blue fluttering wings. Moments later, several of the bird-like creatures emerged from Building B as well, and they also assaulted the rear wall of the huge steel cube. The final panel was slid into place and welded. Building B was now creature free.

However, deep within many miles of Building B’s twisty AC ducts, an egg mass began to hatch. Small wormlike creatures emerged and appeared to stand on their heads as their abdomens expanded like a small balloon and lifted each creature into the air. From the way they navigated, they had some means to propel themselves.

As fate would have it, the aliens had taken custody of the sealed steel box filled with the rest of the creatures and were rapidly transporting it to the sun where it was to be released and destroyed. This left a clear means for the new iteration of the creature to escape into the wild.

A young female tech near Building B was bent over a small plant taking samples when the creature rapidly floated up and settled on her arm. It wrapped its tentacles around her arm and jabbed is sharp proboscis into her soft flesh.

The girl stood up with a shriek, that rapidly changed into a toddler’s cry as she shrank away to a little toddler amid her now way over sized clothing. The creature released her arm and began to rapidly float away. Its balloon like abdomen was now swollen many times larger. The tech looked on in horror. She still had her mind, but her body refused to do anything but what an almost two year old toddler could do.

“What’s that?” came the shrill voice of Dr. Jalarr, who was by now still very pretty but looked like a young teenage girl, perhaps 14. “It sounds like a baby crying, and that makes me worry.”

“She’s right, spread out, and set out the chemical traps,” said the tech team’s leader. “And be ready with the reversion darts. We’ve gotten most of them, but we might not be out of the woods yet. Find that child!”

A number of techs in hazmat suits, which had been reinforced since the earlier incidents had proven that the suits weren’t strong enough, spread out and quickly found the toddler girl, who was sitting in the grass amid a pile of wet clothing far too large for her. They picked her up, and one carried her to Building C, where she was diapered and place in the nursery with the other victims of the organisms.

Meanwhile, legions of techs had set out thousands of traps, blanketing the area. Every so often one of the floating worm-like creatures would enter one of the boxes, which would then snap shut. The aliens were very proactive about capturing these, their ships swooping down and grabbing them with their force fields. And some of the aliens were in close contact with the tech team, designing more effective traps as well as machines to build them quickly.

Terry and Hannah were an integral part of this effort, as they spoke the aliens’ language the most fluently. The entities were more or less humanoid in shape, but they were several different sizes and colors – after all, their species had eight sexes, each quite different from the rest, and there were variations within each group as well. Terry still didn’t understand how their reproduction worked with that many different sexes; there really hadn’t been time to discuss such things.

“We are quite impressed at how much you have accomplished against this organism,” said the aliens’ lead scientist, who was small, squat, and orange, and was named Plynurr. “Especially with only two reproductive roles. Your discovery of the organism’s genetic code and the chemicals that lure it in such a short time speak well of your species.”

“Thank you,” said Terry, “on behalf of those who discovered those things – I didn’t. I was just one of the first ones bitten by the mutated organism.”

“Well, pass my congratulations on to those scientists responsible,” said Plynurr. “I do wonder one thing – it seems that the organism lived peacefully without mutation for hundreds of your world’s revolutions. How did it not mutate in all that time? And then why did it suddenly begin to do so just recently? Did they perhaps form a grouping?”

“That’s a very good question,” said Hannah. “Dr. Jalarr thinks it’s because of her team’s experiments on them, but how experiments on one individual could affect the others is something she can’t explain.”

“I see,” Plynurr replied. “Dr. Jalarr did not know what we discovered only recently ourselves. Our experiments revealed that once they form a semi-stable grouping, the removal of any of the individuals from the grouping imbalances both the one removed and the ones left behind.”

“As if they’re all one organism,” mused Terry.

“Precisely. But these stable groupings are difficult to achieve. It is lucky for your world that they formed such a grouping, and unfortunate that you disturbed it without realizing.”

“Do you know how to make them group up?” asked Hannah.

“Unfortunately not,” said Plynurr. “As far as we can tell, it requires a group of individual organisms in the same form, but that group can consist of under five, more than a hundred, or anywhere in between. But what causes these groups to form is unknown.”

“Urg … my bra is loose again,” Terry muttered to Hannah.

“I’ll adjust it for you, turn around.”

“Ah. Yes. You were affected by the organism, you said. Your physical form is regressing to infancy.”

“What?” asked Terry as Hannah adjusted her bra to the next tighter set of eyelets. “I thought I’d been turned female, and younger than I was, and that was it.”

“Unfortunately not,” said Plynurr. “Those bitten will regress. We have found no way to prevent this. However, you will not lose your intellect or memories. There are some benefits, it is said. But you must not be bitten more than a few times, especially the more regressed you are.”

“Yes, you turn into goo,” Terry said. “I don’t want that.”

“No, the reversion to explosive protoplasm is undesirable,” said the alien scientist. “Well, I believe we have developed something for you.”

“Really? That’s great!” said Hannah. “The machine that manufactures those traps is working very well, we’re hearing.”

“Excellent news,” said Plynurr. “We have another manufactory device. This creates small devices that detect the organism. They communicate with each other to produce a map – the more widespread the devices, the larger the map. Distribute these widely, and you will have a map of an entire area. This will help you deploy the traps.”

“That’s awesome!” said Terry, jumping excitedly. “We’ll be able to get them all!”

“Let us hope,” said Plynurr.

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Dr. Jalarr was watching the worms emerge from Building B and float into the traps. But two of them collided, leading to an altercation between them, and as usual, the loser collapsed into goo that exploded, taking out three nearby traps.

“Oh no!” she said. “Another form!” She realized that the pull-up for older children she was wearing was now feeling damp. Had she had an accident because she’d been startled by the explosion? Or had it been wet for longer than that? She’d have to go to the nursery for a new one; they had a large supply.

The smoke cleared, revealing that the winner had mutated into … some sort of spider? It had several legs and crawled into a nearby trap, which slammed shut. But then Dr. Jalarr started seeing more of the spider like ones emerging from Building B, one every few minutes, lured by the chemicals in the traps. An alien ship swooped down and plucked the closed trap neatly from the ground. Techs in suits went out and set more traps, and now they had some sort of disc-shaped device, the size of an old-time music or movie disc, only golden and displaying an image. She wanted to know what those were, but she didn’t want to go out there and potentially get bitten – she’d be the next one who turned into explosive goo if that happened, and another mutation would happen too. She opted to go to the nursery instead.

“Dr. Jalarr!” said an adorable diapered toddler girl inside the nursery’s playroom, coming to the baby gate. “Are things going OK? Are we winning?” It was Sandy, the young tech who had been recently bitten. “They don’t tell us what’s going on.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Dr. Jalarr said, “because many more are probably going to be in there, including probably myself, eventually. But the traps are catching them, and the aliens are taking them away, and it looks like they’ve given us some kind of detector, which will be very helpful.”

“Oh, hello, Dr. Jalarr, are you just saying hi or do you need a change?” asked Misty, a nurse who was taking it in shifts with a few others to run the nursery.

“I, well, kind of … both,” Dr. Jalarr said, blushing. “I’m … not sure how wet this undergarment is.”

“Well, here, I’ll check for you,” said Misty, lifting the geneticist’s dress up, which was almost dragging on the ground, and feeling her pull-up. “Oh my, it’s quite soaked; you’re lucky you didn’t leak! Let’s get you out of that.” She took Dr. Jalarr’s hand and led her, willing but embarrassed, to a changing table, where she lifted her up.

“Now, Dr. Jalarr,” said Misty, “you do know that these pull-ups are for kids who are big enough to know when they have to go and don’t need to come to an adult and ask for a change, right?”

“I – uh, yes, of course I’m aware of that,” said Dr. Jalarr as Misty cleaned her with a cold but refreshing baby wipe.

“And you know that you could have leaked if you hadn’t been lucky enough to come back here, right?”

“Yes, I suppose that was lucky …”

“So you probably won’t disagree that you might want to wear something a bit more absorbent that’s for kids who don’t always know when they have to go and need an adult to change them?” asked Misty.

“I … well … I suppose that makes sense …” Dr. Jalarr’s cheeks were on fire.

“Good,” said Misty, getting out a very thick disposable diaper with cute flowery prints. “Then I’ll just change you into what you already know makes the most sense for you.” Before Dr. Jalarr really realized what was happening, she was powdered and snugly taped into the diaper, which spread her legs apart and crinkled clearly whenever she moved. It was highly embarrassing. She wanted to hide in the nursery with Sandy, but she had work to do; she could still help.

“There we go, good girl,” said Misty. “But this dress … it’s way too big for you now, wouldn’t you say? It was dragging on the ground. Let’s get you something that’ll fit you better. We don’t have a lot of variety around here, but how about one of these?” She held up a clothes hanger holding a loose-fitting white dress with short puffy sleeves and a floral print. It looked like it was almost too small for her, but it might fit.

“I … I don’t …”

“Of course it’ll fit,” said Misty. “Here, lift up your arms … we’ll just take that off, oh, and you won’t be needing that bra now, and we’ll just slip this on … see? Fits perfectly.” She zipped it up in back, and it was actually quite tight, but considering how her clothes kept getting looser on her, that probably wouldn’t be the case for long.

“All right, some slippers for your feet, and you’re ready to go – oh, here, let me put your things into a smaller purse for you.” Misty gave her a small white cross-body bag for little girls, with a fairy princess on it, and she helped her put everything from her larger purse into it. “There you go.”

Dr. Jalarr was back on her feet again, but she realized that the dress she was in was short enough and its waist high enough that her diaper was now visible to anyone who looked. “W-wait, but now … everyone can see …” She tugged at the hem of the dress and tried to pull it down, but it really was quite short.

“It’s all right, dear,” said Misty. “Others will know you’re wet before you will now, so if someone sees you need a change and sends you here, you just tell them thank you like a good girl and head this way, or let them carry you here if you get that small.”

“But I’m not that small yet …” It was true; she was the size of a preteen, about 10 years old, but only a few hours ago she’d looked 14. Dr. Jalarr had to admit that there was logic to dressing her in something that was too small for her at the moment. Soon it would probably be too big.

“You will be, if the evidence is any indication,” said Misty. “Oh, look, you’re wet already. But only a little bit.”

“You can see that?” squeaked Dr. Jalarr in embarrassment. Could anyone?

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m a trained nurse, so of course I can see that. But not everyone can. Just go ahead and be on your way, dear. See you soon!”

Wondering where Nano/Gen got these people, Dr. Jalarr waddled off, crinkling noticeably, but still not feeling wet; the thick diaper had seemingly captured everything – assuming she was actually wet and Misty hadn’t just been teasing her.

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On board the alien flagship, the leaders of the alien mission met in a conference room. Plynurr, the chief scientist, was on one side of the triangular table. Hrulgon, the military commander of the expedition, was on another side. Finally, Lelgra, whose role as leader of spirit wouldn’t have translated as well to the humans if they had been present, sat on the third side of the table.

“Plynurr, you have been in close contact with the humans as they continue to capture the organisms,” said Hrulgon. “What are their chances, in your estimation?”

“Well, the fact is, multicellular life on Earth tends to have two biological sexes, though there are a few other genetic variations, but they are quite rare and not part of the species’ reproductive patterns,” said Plynurr as figures and tables appeared on a holographic screen in the air above the table’s center, “and because of that, the organism is starving on the planet Earth. It’s amazing that it has enough energy to reproduce at all. And in turn because of that, the number of Earth-humans who were bitten by the creatures before they were captured was quite small. Therefore, almost all of their scientists and engineers remain unaffected. This is a very different situation from what occurred on Ulindra C. There, we had no chance. Here, though, at this point I would say the humans have approximately a two-thirds chance of success.”

Both Hrulgon and Lelgra nodded and sighed, not quite with relief, but with the sensation of a lessened sense of inevitable doom. Neither of them wanted to destroy the homeworld of a fellow intelligent species.

“But that means that some of the humans were affected,” said Lelgra as pictures and videos of humans in various stages of being afflicted by the organism’s bite appeared on the screen in the air. “This means that they will inevitably be returned in physical age to the immature child stage of their development, and they will never be able to return to their adult stage. Some in my department have learned some of the humans’ languages and have been trying to encourage human caregivers to help them in this transition and show the afflicted humans more of the positive side of their transition, so their spirits will be uplifted and the humans as a species will be stronger for the fight ahead of them.”

Plynurr and Hrulgon nodded. Leaders of spirit worked in ways that they often did not understand, but their methods always led to the best results.

“We remain ready to assist the humans in any way we can,” said Hrulgon, giving his report, as maps, tables of military data, and videos of their operations appeared on the screen. “Their initial capture was well executed, and the large trap they constructed has already been delivered into the system’s central star. We have been providing more traps for the creatures and picking them up when they are full, and they have also been delivered into the fiery heart of the star as quickly as possible.”

“If even one of the creatures escapes,” said Plynurr, “we’ll be doing this all over again, possibly somewhere else.”

“Of course you’re right,” said Hrulgon. “We’re taking the utmost care. We don’t want to have to do it again any more than you do. If only we could find a more portable way to destroy the organism than dropping it into a star.”

“We continue to work on that, but without luck so far,” said Plynurr. “We may have a prototype ready for testing soon, however. When it is ready, we will give it to the humans to test on the organism. With any luck, though, it won’t be needed.”

“Well done!” said Lelgra gleefully. “You two avoided conflict just there and looked toward an optimistic future! That kind of attitude is so important to maintain!”

“Have any of the organisms escaped containment?” asked Hrulgon.

“Not to our knowledge,” said Plynurr. “The problem is that even if any had, the humans would try to conceal that from us, because they know that we’ll have to destroy their planet if this effort fails.”

“We should be sure they know that the destruction of their planet is a last resort,” Lelgra reminded them. “And that we have many more strategies for them to employ if the current one fails.”

“Of course,” said Hrulgon, “but as we all know, none of those strategies can involve our going down to the planet’s surface personally. The risk of the creature feeding upon any of us would be far too great.”

“Yes, it can derive so much more energy from one of our people than from one of these Earth humans,” said Plynurr. “It would reproduce itself almost immediately, and chances of success would drop dramatically.”

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“Terry, you’re … um, how do I put this? Your pants are wet,” said Hannah. Terry looked at her jeans, and sure enough, there was a large, dark wet spot around her crotch, front and back. She’d been on her feet all day so far.

“What?” asked Terry in disbelief. “I … don’t know when that could have happened! I don’t usually have accidents … at least, not since I was a lot younger …”

“Same with me,” said Hannah. “I don’t think I had an accident since I was potty trained. But … I think we have to accept that we’ve got a very young age in our future. That sounds weird, but from what they tell us, it’s true. Come on, let’s get to the nursery they’ve set up. They have, you know, things for this.” They started walking out of the room and down the hallway.

“Well … I didn’t have any accidents since I was potty trained either, but …” Terry paused. “That was growing up as a boy. Who knows what’s in this version of my genes? If I’d had these genes growing up, maybe I would’ve had accidents. There’s no way to know.”

“It’s true, you’ve had a change of genes,” said Hannah with a giggle, “and now you need a change of jeans.”

They met a young girl in a short dress with obvious diapers underneath it. But she had a Nano/Gen nametag … “Dr. Jalarr?” asked Terry.

“Oh my gosh!” squeaked Hannah. “You … you’re just so adorable! I can’t help it! I just want to hug you!”

“I, er, just came from the nursery,” said Dr. Jalarr. It was quite clearly still her, but her voice was tiny and cute now. “From the looks of things, Terry, you should probably get there as soon as you can. Hannah, you seem to be changing very slowly, but it’s still happening. I think that’s because you were both bitten only once and we tried to cure you, Hannah.”

“Shouldn’t you be, you know, there?” asked Hannah.

“I’m trying to help with the effort for as long as I can,” said Dr. Jalarr. “I may be small, but I still have my mind. I’m trying to be an asset and save the world from destruction. You can do that too, even if you might need, well, special underwear. Hurry along!” She kept going past them.

“She’s right, we need to get you there,” Hannah said to an embarrassed Terry. “You’re getting wetter by the minute.”

“Oh my goodness,” said Nurse Misty as soon as Terry walked in the door. “We need to get you out of those wet pants right now! Come on over here!” She took Terry’s hand and led her to a changing table, helping her up and taking her wet jeans off immediately. “Oh, those panties are soaked, I’m afraid,” she said. She dumped both pants and panties into a laundry hamper and started cleaning Terry off with baby wipes.

“I, err, don’t know what to do,” said Terry. “This has never happened to me …”

“Oh, it has, just not since you were a baby,” said Misty. “Don’t worry, I know just what to do. We’ll start with some baby powder, then a nice diaper …” She was already sprinkling baby powder over Terry’s soon-to-be diaper area.

“D-diaper?” Terry asked, blushing strawberry pink. “But I’m … err …”

“An adult?” asked Misty. “That’s got nothing to do with it. Did you realize it when you were wetting your pants? No? Then you need protection, and this is what protection looks like.” She held up a cute but thick disposable diaper, then unfolded it and started sliding it under Terry’s bottom. “Lift up, now.”

Terry gulped and complied. “I g-guess there’s no other way.”

“Not really,” said Misty. “Diapers are going to be a new way of life for you from now on, so you may as well get used to them. That goes for you too, young lady,” she said, looking at Hannah.

“Uhhhhhh well, um, I guess I knew that,” Hannah said, “but I hadn’t really been brought face-to-face with it until now …”

“Well, you should face it,” said Misty, fastening Terry’s diaper carefully and snugly onto her, “because you’re next on the table. No reason to wait until you have an accident. Now, Terry, you need some new clothes …”

Before long, both Terry and Hannah were expertly diapered, and dressed in very cute girly toddler clothes, even though they were a bit small for them, just as had happened to Dr. Jalarr. Misty was apparently aware that they would be shrinking in size and wanted to make sure they wouldn’t need to change clothes too often.

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Dr. Jalarr, Terry, and Hannah were under close observation. Those doing the watching had managed to do it in a clandestine enough manner that none of the adorably cute girls knew they were being watched. It was duly noted as they regressed in years and lost their potty training and had to be in pullups and diapers.

Terry and Hannah took considerably longer to regress than Dr. Jalarr, because of course Dr. Jalarr had been bitten twice. But as the aliens helped the Nano/Gen techs catch the creatures, Dr. Jalarr, Terry and Hannah had a new adventure in front of them, to the frontier of the nursery.

Of course, due to the fact all three of them were so adorable, Misty and the other nurses had started dressing them like infants. They were currently in very short babydoll dresses with matching rumba panties. It was more than obvious that the three of them were in diapers. They spent most of their time in the nursery now, where their diapers could be checked and changed easily, but they were still allowed to toddle down the hall to the other rooms to help.

There were others who were also under close observation. One of the dock supervisors had been stung, recovered, and stung again several times, meaning she’d regressed multiple times. The doctors and research techs were very worried about her, as she had now regressed to what looked like a 4-month-old. Dr. Jalarr’s serum had restored her body to the point where she was at least female enough not to be in danger of changing into protoplasmic goo. She still more or less had her mind intact, but her body had started refusing to do anything but what a crawly infant could do.

Terry sat on the nursery’s soft floor as a really cute expression came over her face. Several of the nurses giggled and snickered as they approached. The first nurse to arrive bent down to Terry’s level and whispered softly, “Did baby girl go potty?” then proceeded to pull open the back of Terry’s panties and diaper in order to check her.

Terry was totally embarrassed as the nurse picked her up and said, “Relax, sweetie. I had been waiting to see what your poopy face looked like. You are soooo cute,” then gave Terry a wonderful hug and a small kiss on her nose before laying her on her back and pulling down Terry’s plastic-lined panties.

Terry was so seriously embarrassed after her diaper was removed and the nurse lifted her by her ankles then began cleaning her with a sweet smelling baby wipe. Terry was almost spellbound as she was well powdered, then the nurse pinned a really thick crawly diaper on her, and the plastic-lined rumba panties were pulled back on.

Of course, the nurse made a huge deal out of the fact that Terry had poopied in her diaper and how cute her poopy face was. Terry almost passed out as she realized that many had taken pictures of it to place in the records they were keeping. But, of course, science had never seen anything like this before. It was necessary to keep records.

“Yes, we’re pioneers on the nursery frontier,” said Dr. Jalarr sarcastically. Her poopy diapers had already been changed multiple times, and there was nothing she could do about it.

“I just … hope there’s a human race to make use of the data,” said Terry.

“Oh, don’t worry, baby girl!” said Nurse Misty, picking Terry up and rocking her, patting her diapered bottom comfortingly. “Your friends are out there capturing those naughty creatures left and right, and our friends from space are sending us all kinds of help as soon as they figure out how. Why, I heard they just discovered a chemical that can stun them but has no effect on Earth life forms.”

“That’s great!” said Terry, cheered despite the fact that she’d wet her diaper already as soon as Misty had picked her up, reminding her that there was nothing she could do to prevent it from happening. But on the other hand … being in a wet diaper felt incredibly good for some reason. “Maybe they can make some kind of gas bomb with it.”

“That’s what they’re working on right now,” said Misty.

“I just hope the organism is still contained,” said Dr. Jalarr. “If they stay within the confines of the tent around Building B, they’re at least all in a small area and not spreading uncontrollably across the world. But what if they mutate into a form that can burrow into the soil? That’s why they wanted to get the whole building moved into some kind of metal box, but that turned out to be impossible, so they just changed the plan to a large box trap. If only that had managed to catch them all!”

“Well, they have those detectors,” said Hannah. “If one of them gets away, they’ll detect it, right?”

“Yes, but …” Dr. Jalarr began, but then an alarm started to sound outside the building.

[what is the alarm about? have the creatures escaped? will Dr. Jalarr need another diaper change? tune in next time and see!]

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Without warning, what seemed like an army of nurses showed up and gathered Dr. Jalarr, Terry, and Hannah into their arms and hurried them off to a different kind of area. Once they entered the door, a huge steel barricade slid into place. Several formidable locking devices clamped on, insuring the door was sealed. Inside was like an infant’s fantasy land with games, dolls, plushies, and almost anything else to intrigue an infant.

Dr. Jalarr screeched in frustration with her her tiny cute voice, “There’s no monitors, no computers, nothing here for us to see what’s going on outside.”

One of the nurses scooped Dr. Jalarr into her arms and started softly patting her bottom. “There, there, baby girl. It will be all right, nurse promises. We brought you to the infant safe room and all little babies like you need to do is relax and play.”

She placed Dr. Jalarr down next to Hannah and Terry. All they could do was look at each other. It was more than obvious they were expected to be toddlers and their help as scientists or engineers wasn’t needed. Their biggest frustration was that their only computer was the small tablet that Terry had had in her hand when they’d been brought here.

Externally, a very large creature that somewhat resembled some sort of feral cat with large claws, fangs, and an interesting addition of wings was making everyone aware of its destructive presence. From the location the creature had come, a very large explosion happened. Now everyone knew that at least one creature had fed on someone who had been reverted back past fecundation to the exploding goo stage.

Fear began to spread as the creature proved that it could spit fire – technically, large balls of superheated plasma. It had also begun to show signs of multiplying. The creature’s external body began to take on the familiar glow the creatures had shown when they were starting mitosis. If something couldn’t be done immediately, the massive issue they were trying to avoid in the first place would become unavoidable.

Terry was furious as she logged her mini-tablet into the main computer and asked for admin access to the emergency locks. Since Nano/Gen had granted them top level access, the system granted it.

The huge locking bars on the door slid back, and the mechanism returned to neutral position. The massively thick door rose up into the door header, leaving the passage unobstructed. The nurses turned with total shock on their faces as Hannah, Terry, and Dr. Jalarr did what toddlers had the magical ability to do: they rapidly exited the safe nursery and returned to the control center while the nurses freaked out over the whole thing, unable to leave the other babies alone.

Dr. Jalarr said with a bit of urgency in her voice, “We need to determine if this chemical compound we just devised will do what we hope it will do.”

Terry typed furiously on the keyboard, instructing the automated system to load the drone with the new compound. The drone was made of thick pasteboard. This made it light, maneuverable, and easily and cheaply replaceable.

Now, if they just had the time to load and launch the drone before the critter became … whatever it was going to become when its cells started dividing. From what the computer models were predicting, this was going to be very bad and happen any second.

On the alien command ship, the sensor tech swiveled slightly in her gravity couch and said, “Captain, we have a containment breach. We have pinpointed where the genetic explosion happened when this creature fed. Best we can tell, the individual had been stung several times already and pre-fecundation regression was instant and unavoidable.”

“Damn,” said the captain, and banged his fist on the arm of his couch, “From the data you’re sending me, this is an Omega class Z Prime mutation. By the Giver, it’s also about to go into mitosis. We must stop this here and now. That creature cannot create the next generation.” The captain pushed a button on his console, “Control Squad, arm and load all Delcron cannons and assume planetary destruction distance. Remember, the tidal disruption when the planet is destroyed will be unpredictable.”

Earth-based observers noticed the armada’s movements immediately. They also began to detect huge buildups of a type of energy they had never before seen.

As Hannah and Dr. Jalarr loaded the drone, Terry got on the communicator. “Plynurr! Dr. Plynurr, this is Terry! What’s going on? Please respond!”

The face of the alien scientist appeared on the screen. “Terry! There you are. Do not worry – all in your building will be evacuated shortly.”

“Evacuated? What do you mean?”

“The organism is on the verge of mitosis,” said Plynurr sadly. “If that happens … not only will it take on an even more powerful form than it has now, but it will divide, and there will be thousands of them – perhaps millions. I’m profoundly sorry, but that would spell doom for untold beings on countless planets for untold millennia. This is our best chance to contain it, here and now. We must destroy your planet, or all is lost.”

Terry paled. “No! No, Dr. Plynurr, please, we’ve got one more shot. We’re loading the drone now. We may have been regressed, but we’ve still got more experience with these things than anyone else on Earth. Dr. Jalarr’s going to fire her compound. It’s a long shot, I know, but give us a chance!”

“You have until the organism reaches its critical stage of 1.8 biojoules,” said Dr. Plynurr. “But after that, we evacuate your building and any other humans we can reach.”

“OK, what’s it at now?” asked Terry.

“It’s at … 1.65 biojoules,” said the scientist. “What does this compound do, anyway?”

“That’s not much time! We’ll have to explain later! Wish us luck!”

“Good …” Plynurr didn’t get to finish their sentence, because Terry closed the communicator app and ran to Hannah and Dr. Jalarr.

“We have to go now! They’re going to destroy the Earth!” Terry shouted as she ran.

“It’s loaded,” said Hannah.

“Open that window over there,” said Dr. Jalarr. “I’ll fly the drone out.” She took the control panel, laid it on the floor, and monitored its motion using the screen. It would be too heavy for her to hold it up.

Terry and Hannah climbed up a sofa that was in the hallway right under the window, which Dr. Jalarr had picked because it was low and in easy reach. It was very hard for a toddler to open a window, even two working together, but they managed to get it open enough that the drone could fit through. Dr. Jalarr pushed the stick forward, and with a hum it flew out.

There was a roar outside, and a thump against the wall – the creature had evidently seen the movement and slapped at it, but the drone was too small and fast. “Can the darts penetrate its hide?” asked Hannah, thinking of the giant creature from the computer record, the one that had practically required a needle the length of a shipping container.

“By my calculations, they can, with the caveat that my calculations are taking place inside my head under a great deal of stress,” said Dr. Jalarr. “Fortunately the creature is a large target, and missing is really difficult. I just need the right angle. It would help if it weren’t watching the drone – I could really use a distraction. Wait – what’s that?”

An alien spacecraft had just entered the atmosphere, probably the evacuation craft. The creature fixed its attention on the new target immediately and ran toward it, reaching upward to try to attack it, but it was still just below the cloud layer, far beyond its reach. But it was distracted, and Dr. Jalarr took the opportunity and the shot. The drone rapidly fired ten darts, and all but one of them hit their mark.

“Got it!” Dr. Jalarr screeched as she thoroughly wet her diaper. “Now work, darn it!”

They all watched the drone’s camera. At first the creature didn’t seem to have noticed the darts, causing them to worry that they hadn’t penetrated its skin. “How long is the formula supposed to take?” Terry asked nervously.

“It’s taking longer because the organism is larger than the subject it was tested on,” said Dr. Jalarr. “By a lot. Let’s see; length cubed, body volume is approximately a factor of 80,000 …”

The creature glowed, but it wasn’t the same glow it had been exhibiting. No, it was a blue glow. The creature suddenly exploded into thousands of butterflies. “There!” said Dr. Jalarr. “Stage one. Next … will stage two work?”

They all watched and waited. The butterflies weren’t attacking each other or dispersing to hide in corners; they were fluttering about aimlessly now. And then, mysteriously, more forms of the organism approached, coming out of holes in Building B or the nearby grounds. Lizard-like forms shot out their tongues and captured butterflies … then the lizards also exploded into more butterflies.

“It’s working!” said Dr. Jalarr. “The butterflies are producing the flavonoids and luring more organisms to attack them, and instead of causing them to mutate, it’s causing them to also take on the flavonoid butterfly form! Stage two works! Now the question is whether stage three will work.”

The detectors the aliens had provided had been distributed to humans all over the area – and they communicated with each other, so each one could see the area covered by every other detector as well as its own. By this time, the detectors covered about a 100-mile radius. And when she looked at the detector app, every blip was converging on their location. Many different forms of the organism were arriving, feeding on butterflies, and bursting into butterflies itself. The more butterflies there were, the more flavonoids were produced and the more attractive the area around Nano/Gen Building C became to the other creatures.

Soon there were nothing but the butterflies, fluttering around non-aggressively. Terry, Hannah, and Dr. Jalarr suddenly noticed that there were two colors of butterfly: the dark blue ones and a lighter shade of blue. They started to be attracted to each other, and when the two colors met, they merged into one butterfly. They kept merging, millions become half a million, which became a quarter million, and so forth.

Within ten minutes the last two butterflies merged into one. It was larger than the original species had been, but not by far. A tech captured it in a butterfly net and locked it into one of the metal box traps.

The detectors showed no organisms within a hundred-mile radius. A few detectors had been taken to more distant places, but they showed no creatures in range either.

“Plynurr to Terry!” Terry opened the communicator app. “What was that? That the organism could be brought back from an Omega class Z-Prime mutation … inconceivable! Dr. Jalarr, what did you do?”

“We’ve been able to temporarily modify its genes before,” Dr. Jalarr said. “It always recovers, but all we needed was long enough. First, we already had the serum that could revert it to its original form. But this time, I had it secrete its weakness … those flavonoids it loves so much, in the greatest quantities I could manage to induce. Then, well, it derives a great deal of energy from feeding off Earth species’ sexual dimorphism, so I had them use some of their energy to give them sexual dimorphism of their own.”

“You … gave them their own sex differences …” said Plynurr. “And because that takes energy, it caused their mitosis to reverse … I’m in absolute awe of this plan. It’s so obvious, and yet none of us ever thought of it.”

“You can have copies of all my research,” said Dr. Jalarr. “It’s my hope that you never need it, but just in case …”

“Yes, please!” said Plynurr. “There should be a ship coming to collect that trap …”

“There it is!” said Hannah, looking at the image from the drone’s camera. One of the light alien fighter craft had swooped down out of the cloud banks and seized the trap with its force field, then tethered it with a cable, being extra certain this time. It swooped back up into the sky and vanished among the clouds.

The detectors showed no blips whatsoever.

“That container’s on its way to your star … Sol, I believe you call it,” said Plynurr. “We’re going to have to do a thorough scan of Earth, to make sure all the organisms have really been caught. But you’ve got a reprieve, at least for now – I hope for good. The recon ships are spreading out right now, to scan for any signs. Commander, do you have anything to add?”

Commander Hrulgon’s face appeared on Terry’s screen. “I add only that I am greatly relieved not to have to carry out the most horrific and terrible orders I have ever received,” he said. “But we are waiting for the results of this scan, though it may take several of your planet’s rotations for complete information, is that correct. Dr. Plynurr?”

“Indeed it is,” said the scientist. “We must be certain. Lelgra, do you have any further words?”

“I wish to say that this proves that it doesn’t matter which sex you are or what age you are,” said the spirit leader, “you are valuable and can be a credit to your species and your world. I believe and hope that your species and ours can move forward together toward new realms of understanding between our peoples. I only wish we had met under better circumstances.”

“I wish the same,” said Terry. “I … don’t want to relax until we know for certain that the creatures are really gone.”

“But you must relax,” said Lelgra. “I have spoken with the caregivers in your building – we do not speak the same language, but I have spoken to them in my own way. It is necessary to find ways to relax, even in dire circumstances. How else will you have the energy to face them? This is something we have learned, and we offer to help your species learn this too.”

“Oh, so that’s why the nurses are like that,” said Dr. Jalarr. “They tried to keep us from saving Earth.”

“They have begun to learn,” said Lelgra. “But their understanding is as yet incomplete. Still, it’s a start. Go to them, and they can help you relax until the scan results are fully analyzed.”

“Should we …?” asked Hannah.

“I don’t know what else we should do until then,” said Terry.

“Well … all right,” Dr. Jalarr said. “We’ll go be babies for a while.”

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Hannah, Terry, and Dr. Jalarr toddled up to the gate that now blocked the passage into the Infant Safe Room. Terry looked at the other two and giggled, “So, now we have toddler obstacles to overcome.” She put out one hand in a wave as she took hold of the top of the gate, “I’ll have this whipped in an instant …”

Without any warning, Terry suddenly didn’t understand what it was she was doing, or how to accomplish what she thought she might have been doing. Terry leaned against the gate and started sucking her thumb. Terry was amazed as the world around her took on a shiny new aspect. So many questions! She plopped on her thickly diapered and messy hinney.

This made just enough noise to attract three young and pretty nurses, who screeched excitedly as they rushed over to the gate. “They’re here! The heroines of the century!”

The gate was whisked away, and the three girls were scooped into the nurses’ loving arms.

Dr. Jalarr, of course, began to fuss, “Lemme down. Am notta baby.”

The young nurse held Dr. Jalarr at arm’s length and cooed softly, “It’s so cute. Babygirl is trying to talk.”

The other nurses held Hannah and Terry to their breasts and started patting their bottoms too. The young nurse held Dr. Jalarr to her breasts and started patting her bottom in such a way that the good Dr. was losing her ability to think.

Then, the nurse holding Dr. Jalarr spun her around slowly as she exclaimed, “Wheeee!!” then kissed her on the nose before taking her back to her breast and starting in with the pats again.

Terry came to her senses again just as the nurse had finished powdering and diapering her. Terry looked on in amazement as the nurse pulled the plastic lined panties, cute purple with white ruffles, over her very thick diaper.

The nurse cooed softly, “There we go, Sweetheart.” She scooped Terry up with a twirl before bringing her to her breasts and started patting her bottom softly, making the plastic crinkle loudly. “Now, baby girls are to relax. That’s our orders for you. From what I’m told, for several hours you will all be about 3 years old, anyway.”

Next thing Terry knew, she was cuddled up with a huge fuzzy Teddy Bear, nursing a large bottle of strawberry flavored juice. Terry also realized her diaper was wet. All she had on were a pair of booties, the panties, and a diaper. She didn’t know how much time had passed.

Terry sat up and discovered that her hair had been done up in sausage curl ponytails. Terry realized she had been out of it for a while for them to have done this. Terry looked around through the bars of her crib. She could see Hannah and Dr. Jalarr not far away, basically doing the same as she had been doing. Each one was cuddled up next to a large fuzzy plushie and nursed a huge bottle of some type of juice.

Terry had no clue or any thoughts on how to let the crib rail down so she could get out of it. By total serendipitous accident, Terry’s hand hit the release bar below the mattress as she felt around. The rail slid down with a loud enough thump to scare Terry enough that she started to cry. She was totally amazed at her emotional response, and was even more amazed at how hard it was to stop crying. Her reaction to being unable to stop crying was to cry more.

It took Terry a few minutes to bring her emotions under control. No nurses had apparently heard the rail drop or her cries. Terry crawled over to the edge of the crib and looked down. Wow, it was a long way to the floor. Terry did notice, however, that the floor was padded.

Ok, she remembered she had seen how one of the toddlers an old girlfriend was babysitting had sort of accomplished this same feat. Terry swung her legs over the edge and dangled her feet, showing off her ruffles big time. When Terry let go, the floor wasn’t a huge drop, but her legs for some strange reason buckled when she landed, and she plopped on her bottom rather hard.

It was all Terry could do to keep from crying again, and for another reason too – her diaper was soggy wet and had squished. This made her feel terrible for some reason. Terry sat and sucked her thumb. This seemed to help her get her emotions under control.

As wet as her diaper was, there was no mistaking what had happened. She felt butterflies in her tummy that began to feel so weird. By this time Terry already knew it was that time for her as she helplessly felt it ooze into the seat of her diaper.

Terry already knew it was hopeless; she had been completely diaper dependant long enough, but she tried hard not to anyway. Everything she did only accomplished making it happen. This made Terry desperately want to cry. It was all she could do to stop herself and regain control.

By this time, Terry had no idea what it was she was wanting to do after she escaped her crib. The first and foremost thing on her mind was getting changed. Terry really didn’t like the wet messy feeling her now droopy diaper gave her.

As good fortune or bad would have it, one of the nurses came breezing in. She went to Hannah’s crib and gently and carefully checked her diaper so as not to wake her, and professionally performed the same feat when she checked Dr. Jalarr.

The nurse turned, put her arms akimbo, and smiled, “Well, Miss Adventurous. And just what sparked this toddler mission I find you on?”

Terry couldn’t help it as she giggled, “Was jus lookins ta gits changded. Am weal messies.” Terry was shocked. She was totally unable to talk any better than this.

The nurse clapped her hands together happily and said, “Ok, babygirl. I think we can handle that fairly easily.” Then scooped Terry up. Of course she did check Terry’s diaper to make sure before carrying her to the changing area and placing her on the thickly padded changing counter.

Terry realized it had happened again when her mind returned. She was sitting in the middle of the huge playpen with a googly eyed car that made silly sounds when pushed. Hannah sat next to her with a similar but different type of car. Terry could see off in the distance that Dr. Jalarr was getting her diaper changed.

Terry said with concern in her infant voice, “We gotsa nuver prollums comins.”

Hannah stopped pushing her car, sat up for a minute, and sucked her thumb thoughtfully before asking, “Wha uver prollums?”

Terry replied, “Think bouts it Hannah. Since we comeded to tha safe room nursery, how muchies of it dos ya members? An an an tha ways we talks changeded tons too.”

Hannah’s eyes got large with realization as she too thought back over how ever long it had been since they got back. There were many blank spots, but the extremely fuzzy remembrances of those times were of happiness and contented safety.

Hannah took her thumb from her mouth and replied, “We weally comin babies. No can helps it.” Hannah held her arms out and looked at herself, “We babies no shinkins no mo. Am stilla toddler size.”

Terry said with a slight fear obvious in her voice, “We mos weally is. Prollums is though, is we gonna gwows back up?”

Hannah giggled suddenly and babbled, “Wws lkdk dfzfvm fxmxzg Thhhhhhbbbbttt” and went back to whatever toddler fantasy she’d been in when Terry had tried to talk to her.

Terry immediately stood up like any toddler and showed off her ruffles. She had to find her tablet …

Terry realized as the young nurse was feeding her that time had once again slipped past. She saw Hannah and Dr. Jalarr sitting in their high chairs being similarly fed. Neither of them seemed to be any older than about the three they appeared to be and were definitely acting like it. Terry had to find out if there was anyway to reverse this ... as soon as Dr. Jalarr showed any signs of returning to her right mind, Terry was going to ask.

----------------------------------------------------------------

In the well-formed wall of starships, out of the Sol system’s galactic plane in a location with Earth plainly in their targeting systems, the massive alien armada showed major signs of powering down their attack posture. On the bridge of the flagship, the young science officer at the sensors put a hand to their ear for a minute then said, “Captain, Dr. Plynurr reports that the scouts have just completed their surveys. From all the scans, not one of the target insects or creatures have been found.”

The captain smiled, “Now, that’s very good news. I do hope they can adapt to having several thousand extra toddlers of whatever sex “female” means. From what our science department has reported, analysis shows they might not ever grow up but will at times revert to the ages they appear to be. Helm, set course for outpost Xertiq Six and transmit course to fleet ...”

The massive armada vanished in a swirl of energies unknown to Earth.

----------------------------------------------------------------

“So … we maby nebber gwow up?” asked Terry.

“Pobly our bodies be like dis fora resta our lifes,” Dr. Jalarr replied. They had found themselves in the playpen together, but by chance both of them were able to think in some semblance of an adult manner at the same time. “No likes losin times … no talkin like dis nievers. Dunno what we can does tho.”

A woman in a white lab coat entered the nursery and picked up Dr. Jalarr. “Here you are! I’ve been assigned a research project, and you can help me with it!”

“Wesearch?” asked Dr. Jalarr. “Weally? Can helps? Wanna helps wif wesearch … wanna help so much …”

“It’s true,” said the woman. “I’m Dr. Baines, and the CEO of Nano/Gen herself thinks we need to find out how to help the thousands who have been turned into babies against their will. She believes very strongly that they should all be happy.”

“Me be happy if could justest think n talk likes bfore,” Dr. Jalarr said. “No wanna forgets who me is.”

“Well, if we can just work together, maybe with your friends here, maybe we can figure that out. We want all the babies to be happy. So let’s start by getting you to the lab for some tests …” She buckled Dr. Jalarr into a triple stroller and went to pick up Terry and Hannah. “Don’t worry,” she said to the nurses, “I’ll be bringing them back in just a little bit. Just need to run a few tests.”

“Their diapers should all be good for a few hours,” said Nurse Misty.

“Buh wait …” said Terry, “is we gonna be fixteded so we cans talk wight n stuff? Or is we gonna be … be … blgrm plah flboo …” Her words degenerated into baby babble as her mind regressed again to its happy toddler state.

“Don’t worry,” said Dr. Baines, “soon we’ll figure out how you can be happy all the time.”

As Dr, Baines wheeled the three of them into the main lab, a very pretty woman with olive colored skin and long dark hair turned around and smiled at them. She wore an almost see-through type of dress with a golden belt holding it around her beautiful waist.

The woman spoke in a really nice and tingly voice all three babies heard all through their spirits, “Well, hello my precious toddlers. I hear you have a bit of a problem with unpredictable mental regression. I’m very sorry, but … ummm ... I have this thing for babies, and I won’t help your physical problem. But we can fix the mental part. Only thing, I have to ask all of you a simple question first.”

Dr. Jalarr spoke up first, “Whassa question?” She looked the beautiful shapely woman over in her dress that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. “Isit gonna helps?”

The woman giggled in a very tingly way as the babies felt the wonderful sensation of it wash through them. She asked in this same voice, “Do you accept Baby Rules? Say you do. You’re too adorably cute not to.”

The three of them felt like those words hit them like lightning. It surged all through them until they had to answer. At the same time all three shouted “We does we gooo goo sharnv nmzs arglkjh.”

The woman giggled again and said as she patted each adorable little girl on their heads, “Now, I want you all to be three years old forever, but … I also want a really nice mix of adult in there so you’ll all be toddlers who can perform adult tasks as necessary. I do need to tell you, though, you’re going to be infants for a very long time.”

-------------------------------- THE END --------------------------------
Sunshine & rainbows,
LilJennie
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