Since revealing his condition to the other Rangers, Sully was amazed by how well they all seemed to be handling the situation. He was still self-conscious about his appearance, though not quite as much as before, so he'd stopped isolating himself.
He hadn't heard back from Yvette yet regarding the DNA samples she'd taken from him, and couldn't help worrying about what they may've turned up. Noticing Sully's anxiety, Gabriele suggested he run the obstacle course to take his mind off things. Sully was dubious, but since it wasn't like he had anything else to do, decided to just go ahead and do it.
Currently, Gabriele was sitting in the training room's control booth watching Sully, who was below in the training room itself ready to begin. He was becoming more used to moving around on his toes, to the extent where he was confident that he wouldn't trip and fall flat on his face if he attempted to run or jump.
Adjusting the loudspeaker, Gabriele shouted into it, "Okay, Sully. Go for it!"
Like countless times before, Sully took off down the ramp. The pendulums came swinging at him, but he effortlessly wove around them. Clearing the pendulums, Sully came to the end of the ramp to meet his old friend Mr. Plastic Hanging Log. He stooped slightly, coiling his legs underneath him, then jumped. His legs propelled him six feet into the air, almost right over the log, but he unsheathed his claws and latched onto it just in time. Hanging there, he looked around in disbelief. Had he just really jumped that high?
Sully jumped down and landed on the other side of the course. As soon as his paws hit the hard plastic surface, his legs were already moving, pushing him towards the climbing bars. After making his way across them, next was the spinning log. He sped across it without stopping. While he did, something in his mind prompted him to hold his tail straight out in the air behind him, which helped him maintain his balance.
The next leg of the course was a series of large floating bright red plastic steps, fifteen in all, lined up in a row in a rectangular pool. 'I'm not even winded yet!' Sully thought, astonished as he effortlessly sprang from step to step with an almost abnormal grace, relying on his tail to keep him balanced. When he touched down on the fourteenth step, he grinned as an idea suddenly occurred to him. He performed an immense jump that carried him all the way to the next ramp. Coming up to the cargo net, which had been vertically stretched out to ten feet, he all but attacked it, scaling it with a speed and nimbleness that would've put a spider monkey to shame. His destination was its summit, a blue platform.
Pulling himself up on the platform, Sully didn't waste any time in bringing his open palm down on a big red button there. The triumphant blast of a horn rang out through the room, signaling that someone had just successfully completed the course.
Gabriele exited the booth and whizzed towards Sully, looking as excited as he felt just then. Seeing her approach, he called out, "So, how'd I do?"
"That was incredible!" She exclaimed, hovering in front of his face. "It only took you a minute and twenty-one seconds to complete the whole thing!"
Sully's jaw fell before he grinned widely. "That makes my previous times look like a joke!" Looking back over the course from atop his perch, he couldn't help but feel an immense sense of pride. He was the first Danger Ranger to have ever conquered the whole thing. His eyes then went to his hands. He was never going to get used to seeing them like this, but looking at them now he marveled at the power they contained. Sully had always been athletic of course, owing to his species and the fact that he just like staying in shape, but not only was he stronger and faster than before now,, but he felt completely reinvigorated, more alive than before. Before he'd just been going through the motions, like a puppet that couldn't see or know what was going on around him. There was nothing that could stop him from doing anything he set his mind to. Incredible didn't even begin to describe it.
As Sully's gaze traveled back to Gabriele, he wondered if she'd recently visited the beauty shop. Her feather seemed to be a brighter shade of red than normal. It was the same for the rest of the room. Everything looked brighter and more colorful than normal. Why he was noticing all this just now he had no idea, but he guessed he'd never really picked up on it before due to his state of distress. It was like he was seeing the world in a new light. These epiphanies he was undergoing were strange, surreal almost. Maybe it was a side-effect of the transformation. If it weren't for the fact that his new abilities included a very obvious physical mutation, then Sully would've relished them.
"Sully, slow down!" Kitty shouted, her voice loaded with exasperation.
Halting as he came to stand at the crest of the hill, Sully expectantly looked back as Kitty and Squeaky clambered across the rugged forest terrain after him, walking sticks in hand.
Earlier, Sully had surprised himself when he announced he wanted to go out, finding himself craving fresh air and a change of scenery. The others were incredulous, and expressed worries about other people in the vicinity like tourists and hikers spotting him. Sully had warred with himself about that very same fear, but in the end, chose to take a chance and venture out. Gabriele had acquiesced to his request, but told him he would stick out like a sore thumb if he threw on his trench coat like he initially wanted to. So instead, Sully had put on some baggy navy blue jogging pants that Burble had loaned him, a gray T-shirt, and a camouflage print hooded jacket. Kitty and Squeaky had offered to go with him, so here the three of them were now, running around the forests of the Black Hills.
"I gotta say, dressed like that, you look like you're up to no good. Thank God there ain't any tourists around." Squeaky snickered as he caught up with Sully and earning a laugh from him.
For Sully, it felt good to be able to laugh again. He looked at the forest around him in wonder for the umpteenth time. The sunlight was streaming brilliantly through the trees, which were green and healthy. In the near distance, the cobalt sky highlighted the gray rocky hills. The cool summer air blowing softly in his face felt nice and brought with it a myriad of scents to his nose: crisp pine, rotting wood, the musk of animal fur, and many others. Truth be told, Sully hadn't realized just how badly he missed being out in the fresh air, and he reveled in both it and his surroundings.
"You might be laughing, but Squeaky has a very good point." Kitty said to Sully in her sternest authoritarian voice. "You shouldn't just take off like that. What if someone had seen you?"
'Didn't take you long to slip back into "Miss Bossy" mode.' Sully silently thought, wanting to roll his eyes at the feline. "Then I jam my hands in my pockets, say hello, and walk off in the other direction." He airily replied. "Or give them my autograph."
While his answer amused Squeaky, Kitty had a different and, to the guys, rather predictable response. She rolled her eyes. "Haha, very funny."
Sully just grinned at her visible annoyance.
"I can scout around for us, make sure the coast is clear." Squeaky offered.
"That's one courageous mouse." Sully commented to Kitty after Squeaky had set off down the trail. "I don't think I'd have the guts to walk around these hills all by myself."
"That's the problem with you Californian boys. You're so used to worrying about sharks that you think dangerous animals are lurking everywhere." Kitty replied.
Sully flexed his claws. "Well, I guess now I don't need to worry so much. I could probably take on a bear and survive now, huh?"
His attempt to joke about his condition led to an awkward silence. Then, Kitty asked in a quieter voice, "Did it hurt? When you changed?"
Sully stared down at his claws. "I never felt a thing. I was asleep when it happened. Glad I was." He wondered if she was going to question him further about his transformation, but she said nothing else. Both began to head in the direction Squeaky had gone off in.
The gentle cooing of birds suddenly drew Sully's focus. He glanced around, trying to see if he could spot them. Unaware that Sully had stopped walking, Kitty moved on. For a few seconds, Sully carefully Listened, then quietly crept towards a stand of trees. Peering out from behind a tree trunk, he could see a group of grouse foraging together. His sharpened senses took in every little detail about them - their mottled brown, tan, and black plumage, the quick movements they made as they scurried to and fro, their scent. One grouse was drifting further away from the rest of the flock and closer and closer to Sully's hiding spot in its quest for food. Moving slowly and deliberately so that he wouldn't give himself away, Sully lowered himself to the ground until he was crouching on all fours. Not once did he take his eyes away from the stray grouse.
"Sully! Where'd you go now?"
Kitty's words barely registered in his ears. She had been completely forgotten. Sully's attention was entirely on the grouse, which was eating some pine needles it had just found. The muscles in Sully's legs tensed as he prepared to spring. His jump would carry him over the bushes and right on top of the grouse. It wouldn't know what hit it.
"Uh, what the heck are you doin'?"
Startled, his concentration broken, Sully lost his balance and fell back on his backside. The sound of Squeaky's voice also served to upset the grouse, and the whole flock took off as one. From his position, Sully watched them until they were nothing more than black specks against the clear sky.
Around that time Kitty came marching over, looking peevish. "What happened?" She demanded, dividing her hard glare between Squeaky and then Sully.
Squeaky didn't reply. He was still staring quizzically at Sully, obviously wanting some answers himself.
For his part, Sully wasn't sure himself. For some reason he'd wanted to catch that grouse. He knew he'd looked like a nutcase stooping down in the dirt like he was. He rose and dusted his pants legs off, taking care to avoid the eyes of the other two Rangers. "Sorry for spooking you guys. I just wanted a closer look at the birds." He quickly answered. "Why don't we go back and get lunch? This mountain air is making me hungry."
'Am I going crazy?' was the question that kept racing through Sully's mind as he aimlessly wandered DRHQ's halls. He, Kitty, and Squeaky had come back and had lunch. Sully didn't really touch his food, and finally opted to leave with an excuse about not feeling well.
He knew he could've and would have caught that grouse had it not been for Squeaky's intervention. What would he have done if Squeaky hadn't interrupted him while he was stalking it? Sully hadn't wanted to admit it before, but he remembered wanting to grab the bird in his jaws, taste its warm flesh and blood…
Sully's cell phone buzzed, snapping him out of his disturbing daydream and causing him to stop. Pulling it out of his jacket pocket, he glanced down at the screen. To his relief – and exhilaration - he saw Yvette's name there. "Sully here." He greeted as he answered the call.
"Hello, Sully. I'll spare you the formalities and get down to business. Foreign DNA strands were found intermingled with your DNA – canine and feline mostly, but there are small traces of marsupial DNA as well. The lab technician thought the samples had been contaminated somehow. I didn't tell him where they came from or what happened."
An expert in the fields of biology and genetics Sully was not, but he did have a basic understanding of what DNA was. "So this foreign DNA is what made me change?" 'Or is making me change?' He thought, ice coursing down his spine.
"It looks to be the likely culprit, yes."
"So can you get rid of it and return me to normal?"
Yvette hesitated. "I… I'm afraid not. If this was a disease, then I could study it and possibly devise a cure. But I'm not a geneticist, and I neither know how to or have a way of purging the foreign DNA. I'm truly sorry."
Sully sighed heavily. That was the last thing he wanted to hear. "That's okay, Yvette." He forced himself to say. "I know you tried your best. That's all I can ask for."
"If you have no objections, then what I can do is bring in someone knowledgeable in genetics onboard to have a look at you."
"Well, I've got nothing to lose at this point."
After Yvette said her goodbyes and hung up, Sully put his phone away. For a moment he remained where he was, staring blankly ahead. Without warning, the expression on his face suddenly changed, switching from a vacant stare to utter fury in a matter of seconds. Making a fist, he swung at the nearby wall with everything he had. Breathing heavily, Sully lowered his hand and stared at the latest bit of damage he'd caused before storming back down to the kitchen. A dent was left where his fist had impacted.
Not finding Kitty and Squeaky in the kitchen, sully left to search elsewhere. By virtue of his hearing he eventually found them in the Debriefing Room speaking with the others. Everyone glanced up when Sully entered, and the conversation ground to a halt. Immediately they sensed that he had bad news.
Burble was the first to speak. "Everything alright?"
Sully shook his head, his eyes closed. "Yvette just called. She can't cure me."
The faces of the others fell. "Oh no." Kitty murmured, staring at him with sympathy.
"She said it'd be best if a geneticist took a look at me." Sully robotically droned on. His nightmare about being turned into a lab animal at the mercy of cold-eyed scientists was returning. Who could Yvette find that was trustworthy enough?
"Don't worry, Sully," Squeaky said as he ran up to him. "We'll help Yvette find ya the best geneticist money can buy!"
Hearing his friend's heartfelt promise made Sully want to smile, but he just couldn't summon the reserves to do so. "Thanks Squeak, but I'm not gonna be an idiot again and get my hopes up for nothing." He walked past the bewildered mouse.
"Huh? Whaddaya mean?" Squeaky asked, scurrying after Sully as fast as his little legs could move.
Sully turned to look down at him. "What I mean is that I might as well start preparing to stay here for the rest of my life. What if this geneticist can't do anything for me either? I mean, after all these years, no one's found a cure for cancer yet. So what makes you think this," he pointed to himself, "can be cured?"
"Don't be blue, Sully!" Fallbot said, joining Squeaky. "You gotta stay positive!"
"Fallbot's right. Don't talk like that." Gabriele firmly chimed in. "No, a cure for cancer hasn't been discovered yet, but if you go around with a defeatist attitude like that, then you've already lost."
'Real easy for you guys to say that.' Sully darkly thought. But he kept his thoughts to himself. He knew what his friends were trying to do, and telling them what he was really thinking would've been like spitting in their faces. "If no one minds, I'll be going to my room." He said, heading for the way out.
"Did Yvette figure out how this happened in the first place?" Kitty asked him.
Sully stopped. "Apparently I've got foreign DNA in me. Canine and feline mainly. Figure that one out." He flatly replied over his shoulder.
Burt suddenly spoke up. "I have a thought, actually." Seeing he had everyone's attention, he continued. "Well, remember when Manderbill used his transporter on Sully? It can transport matter, so maybe it affects living organisms by transporting, or moving their DNA around. Suppose it altered Sully's DNA that way?"
"I hadn't thought of that." Sully slowly said, considering Burt's theory. He looked over at Burt, the beginnings of an excited smile on his muzzle. "Good thinking, buddy! You think the transporter could change me back?"
Burt smiled back, glad to see Sully's spirits picking up. "Well mind you, it is just a theory. Genetics isn't really my forte, but it's worth a try."
"So we need to get our paws on that transporter!" the fires of determination lighting his beady eyes, Squeaky smashed his fist into the palm of his hand.
"Before someone else gets hurt by that thing!" Burble added.
"I'll contact the police department." Kitty said. "They still had it the last time I checked!"
Sully was feeling genuinely excited. He knew he'd said that he wasn't going to get his hopes raised, but looking back at everything that'd occurred, the transporter was looking to be the likely culprit. Maybe it was also the cure.
"Danger alert, danger alert!"
SAVO's voice arrested everyone in their tracks. Everyone turned as one to stare at Sully.
Getting over his own distraction, Sully waved them off. "Go on. Someone out there needs your help. I can wait."
Kitty shared a hesitant glance with the other Rangers before finally nodding. "He's right. Come on, guys. Let's hear what this is about."
The danger alert turned out to be for a mountain climber in Alaska who was stranded on Mount McKinley. In Sully's absence, Gabriele and Kitty would lead the team. Since this particular mission wasn't quite as serious as the freeway pileup had been, Burble volunteered to stay behind to keep Sully company. Presently the polar bear was in the kitchen, preparing to make a fruit salad for everybody to enjoy.
As Burble rooted through the refrigerator for kiwis, the ceaseless clatter of metal against the floor that grew louder as it drew closer towards the kitchen announced the approach of Fallbot.
"Burble, Burble! Come quick! You gotta see what Sully can do!" Fallbot cried, poking his head around the doorframe and into the kitchen.
"Huh?" But by then Fallbot was already off again before he could be questioned. Burble followed him with some trepidation. Honestly, he had no clue what to expect. It probably wasn't anything disturbing (well, he could only hope it wasn't, but liked to think that Fallbot would be more alarmed if it was), but he knew Sully had been having a rough time of things due to the… well, strangeness of his predicament.
Seeing Fallbot duck into the weightlifting room, Burble entered to find Sully there using one of the weight benches. Now, Burble knew that Sully liked to lift weights like he did, but this time Sully had a 50 lb barbell in his hands. Burble was the only one who ever used weights that heavy, since nobody else had the power to lift them. He'd spotted Sully practically tearing cars apart in Gera a couple of days ago, but even so the scene still took him off-guard, and he rushed to Sully's side. "Hey, be careful with that!"
"Chill, Burb. I got it." Sully calmly replied, though he was grinning from ear to ear. Stopping, he set the weight back down on the bench press and sat up. "Hey, mind if I try something?" He suddenly jumped up and moved behind Burble.
Still not quite able to believe what he had just witnessed, Burble twisted around to see what Sully was up to. "Wha – hey!" He was surprised to find himself being lifted off the ground as Sully picked him up with both hands. Burble was no lightweight, easily weighing 800 lbs, but Sully didn't seem to be having any problems holding him up.
"Wow!" Fallbot gushed from where he stood to the side watching. "That's awesome!"
"Uh, you mind putting me back on terra firma Sully?" Burble requested. Although he wasn't scared of heights, he didn't want to chance Sully losing his grip and the both of them getting hurt as a result.
"Sure." Carefully, Sully put him back down.
"Me next!" Fallbot said, servo raised and eagerly waving in the air.
"Why don't we quit picking each other up for now, huh guys?" Burble suggested, hoping to restore some order.
"Don't be such a spoilsport." Sully grabbed his towel from off a nearby weight machine and draped the sky blue material around his shoulders, although he didn't seem to need it. "Scared I was going to drop you?" He flashed Burble a toothy smirk.
Ignoring the comment, Burble asked him, "What was that about?"
"You heard about me and the obstacle course, right? Sure you have. Anyways, I got bored waiting for the others to come back. I figured if I'm faster and quicker now then I'm probably stronger too, so I came here to test that theory out. And I am. Cool, huh?" Sully flexed an arm.
"It's something." Burble answered neutrally. He found himself feeling a little disturbed. Something about the look in Sully's eyes and the way he would eye him almost seemed… feral. Burble decided to change the subject. "You hungry? I was gonna make a fruit salad."
Sully shrugged. "Sure. Hey, we got any steak or anything like that? I could really go for some red meat."
"I dunno. Let's go look together. You too, Fallbot." Burble said. He allowed Sully to walk out ahead of him. His instincts, which had been finely honed from youth, were warning him to keep Sully where he could see him. He found himself being reminded of his days out on the streets of Detroit. There were some guys he didn't trust to let out of his sight because it could give them an opportunity to get the drop on him. One moment of carelessness and you could wind up dead, just like that. Normally Burble trusted Sully with his life and knew he'd always have his back no matter what, but not right then.
Trenton, New Jersey was as different from the Black Hills as night was from day. There In one particular neighborhood in the city was a building sitting on the corner of a busy street. While from the outside it looked like an ordinary three-story structure and housed a restaurant which served eastern European cuisine, in actuality, it served as a base of operations for two dangerous criminals.
Two years ago, the Lupescu brothers had set up shop in the city. The building actually belonged to a family friend of theirs', Claudiu Serban, but only by following a long, winding paper trail could ownership actually be traced back to the businessman.
Inside, sitting at his desk in a chair like it was his own personal throne, was a gray wolf. Tall and athletic, his fur was a grizzled mixture of white and gray, with a darker gray upper face. He wore a finely tailored cocoa-colored business suit.
"We can proceed?" He was asking a human who was standing in front of him, calmly regarding the man. Listening to his voice, it was clear that the wolf wasn't an American, as his Romanian accent was as heavy as seven feet of packed snow.
The human, a fit man with close-cut black hair, simply nodded. Compared to other species, humans were somewhat rare, and the wolf felt a bit of pride at having a unique minority among his crew. Not because he was interested in diversity, no, but because it was almost like having a rare zoo animal in one's collection.
"Kinda funny that you're gonna be stealing from the cops, Dracul." The man added.
Dracul, the wolf, smiled lightly. "Yes, the irony isn't lost on me."
Nearby in the office was a smaller wolf, this one reddish-brown with white fur on his face, throat, and hands. His style of dress - a gray blazer, white shirt, and black pants - was a little more casual then Dracul's was, but not by much. He wore little black-framed glasses, and seemed to be preoccupied with his Blackberry as he leaned on the wall.
"So now can we go get my transporter back?" That was Quentin, sitting in another chair across the office and impatiently swinging his webbed feet like a petulant child. After escaping the Danger Rangers, he had rejoined the Lupescus. Obviously, the loss of his transporter had affected him.
Lifting his gaze from his Blackberry, the smaller wolf scowled in Quentin's direction. "Shut up, you fool." He growled, baring his white fangs. "Need I remind you that it's because of you the police have the transporter to begin with?"
Knowing better then to press his luck, Quentin fell silent under the wolf's yellow glare, although the expression on his face became pouty.
"Thank you, Radu." Dracul nodded to his sibling before addressing the entire room. "We will retrieve the transporter very soon, but doing so requires patience and cunning." He shifted his gaze over to the sulking duck. "Something you could use a little more of, Quentin. Now if you'll do me the favor of listening, I can tell you how I plan to go about that…"