NORMAN DELWAYO


Placeholder image until I can commission an art piece for him! Picrew by @artgl_asses

NAME:

Norman Delwayo

AGE:

Late 40s

ETHNICITY:

Zimbueskaeyan

HEIGHT:

5'9"

PRONOUNS & GENDER:

He/They; Non-binary-ish Man

SEXUALITY:

Bisexual

OCCUPATION:

Doctor -> Alien Biologist -> Whistleblower

LIKES:

Medical science, kids, gardening

SMELLS LIKE:

Very clean; cologne, doctor's office, and a hint of linen laundry detergent


CHILDHOOD & YOUNG ADULTHOOD

Norman Delwayo was born in a small coastal town in the Republic of Zimbueskaeya, where he quickly developed a fascination for the inner workings of society. Questioning everything from a young age, Norman's teachers regarded him as curious, but a bit too curious in some respects. He would often hold up classes by asking too many questions about what he was being taught and why.

But Norman's fathers supported him unconditionally. As an only child, his fathers had an easier time saving up for him to go to college; though college in Zimbueskaeya wasn't free, it was incredibly cheap compared to prices in the Provinces. His home was rather large, including not only his parents, but his ever-wise grandparents, one of his father's two brothers, and one cousin, as living with extended family was incredibly common.

But when Norman realized he wanted to go to medical school, he realized he might need to move to the Provinces, as they had a much higher demand for doctors and emergency responders than Zimbueskaeya ever had. But still, his fathers supported his endeavors, and waved a tearful goodbye when Norman graduated at the top of his class, spent a few years working retail to pay off a relatively small loan, and finally packed his suitcases for the Provinces, promising he would keep in touch with his parents as much as possible.

Having extended family already living in the Provinces made the adjustment process much easier. Norman moved into a small town in Christophen, just outside the bounds of a much larger city, just down the street from his aunt and her three daughters. It felt odd, for the first time in his life, he was living alone when his family was just a minute's walk away, but individual living was the predominant lifestyle in the Provinces.

Norman became a doctor at a local clinic and realized that Provincian doctors only wore medical masks on the job. In Zimbueskaeya, it was common for doctors to wear masks in any public space. So Norman, as he learned in school, continued to wear his mask all the time, despite getting the occasional odd glance for it.

He quickly climbed the ranks in both clinical skill and as the most well-liked doctor in the area. Where other doctors might dismiss a patient's concerns, Norman would always take them seriously, but kept cracking corny jokes to keep even dire situations lighthearted. So it was no surprise when he decided one day to open his own private practice with a few trusted coworkers.

His high income meant he had more than enough money to buy a larger house if he so wanted, but instead, he would share his wealth with his aunt, who was a hardworking single mother. But even a doctor's wage in the Provinces was not always enough to feed two adults and three very hungry kids.


INTO THE UNKNOWN

Norman ran his private practice until he was about 35, and though the culture of the Provinces had begun to wear on him, he felt that he could not abandon the people here.

One morning, he wakes up to a call from a private number and is asked if he is interested in a job offer. Norman begins to politely decline, but the voice cuts him off and sternly instructs him to stay on the line.

He is informed he will be offered double his current wage to work as a medicinal biologist for the Christophen government. Norman hesitates before responding that he is a doctor, but not a biologist; he doesn't feel qualified to accept such a position. But the voice assures him he is incredibly qualified.

They talk for a while, and Norman learns that he will be dealing with an undercover project, for which Christophen is seeking human medical doctors, biologists, chemists, physicists, veterinarians, and astrologers. Norman is dumbfounded, and he isn't quite keen on working for a government that doesn't seem to care about him very much, but he thinks of his aunt's wellbeing and decides to accept.

Announcing his transfer notice the next day, he appoints his second-in-command to be in charge of the practice. Many patients are sad to see him go, but his coworkers will treat them well, and they understand that he must move on to new endeavors, wherever they may lead him. Wherever he's headed, Norman is relieved he was able to make such a big impact on so many lives.

His new office is far, far away. It's nearly an hour's drive one way, mostly consisting of back roads through a thick, gnarled wood. Finally, he pulls into a massive lot speckled with dark vehicles with tinted windows. He feels a bit out of place in his old blue SUV.

He is made to call in and show his ID at a massive, metal gated face, topped with barbed wire and stretching on seemingly forever in each direction. A guard reviews his ID through the screen, and the gate opens; where he expects a dramatic metal creaking, there is nothing but silence speckled with the occasional birdsong echoing from the trees.

He meets his boss, a scrawny pale man with graying hair named Dr. Amadeus Leonard, about the same age as he, dressed in a lab coat and fingering through a fat stack of papers. He greets Norman and slides the pages over. "Sign each of these before we begin."

Norman nearly has a heart attack as he reads a threat of legal action printed along the bottom of each page. Sharing or redistribution of any information learned on the clock or on work grounds is strictly prohibited and will result in his punishment to the maximum extent of the law. Under that, a space for a signature.

It's all legal jargon, and as an experienced doctor, he knew what to expect. But this was entirely unfamiliar- this level of secrecy extended far beyond basic patient confidentiality law. Still, the pages actually explaining what he would be doing were incredibly vague. Studying biological samples mostly, it seemed. Nothing too insidious looking, so he began signing away.

And sure enough, that is what he began doing the following morning. Given a sample and a strict set of instructions, Norman would perform certain experiments on different types of cells, most of which he was entirely unfamiliar with, but he identified a few samples distinctly as plant or fungal cells.

One afternoon, he makes an offhand joke about his hearing beginning to falter with age. Leonard immediately sends him to an audiologist and covers the cost of hearing aids. He grieves for the average citizen, who would be paying thousands of dollars for the same privilege to hear.

After a few months of sample testing, he is provided a substance that does not contain cells at all; rather, it appears to be just a pile of slime. He is asked to mix the substance with various chemicals. Only one chemical garners any sort of reaction; when mixed with alcohol, the slime begins to sizzle and wrinkle, as if scarring over. He glances at one of the biologists who would be collect the samples, "What the hell is his?" It was the first time he felt comfortable enough to ask any sort of question. The biologist shrugged, "I don't know either."


CLIMBING THE LADDER

Despite all its twists and turns, this new job allowed Norman's aunt to reduce her hours to part time and spend more time with her kids. But Norman quickly realizes this is not information he should share with strangers in the Provinces- he would mention the joy of finding a new job and allowing his family to live an easier life, only to be met with retorts that she should "just work harder instead of relying on his handouts".. Being unable to share anything else about his job, he stopped talking about work altogether.

But his aunt, who would often stop by and invite him over for dinner, would also ask how work was that day. "Oh, it's a secret!" she'd always reply with a hint of excitement, but he felt a pang of guilt. The same feeling when he would call his fathers, unable to share even passing details of his day with his loved ones. And for what reason? A man once so curious it would burden others, Norman had slowly became quiet and reclusive.

He is approached by Leonard and praised for his hard work. "Would your sect be interested in a promotion?" Norman nods and is handed yet another stack of papers to sign, reinforcing once again that he will not be able to share his work with anyone, and this time, adding that he is not allowed to interact with his coworkers outside the jobsite. I have to figure out what the fuck is going on here. But he puts on a face of complete obedience. He will have to handle information more tactfully from here on out.

Norman is brought down to the second level of the laboratory, now underground, and introduced to the first recognizable item he will be working with. A strand of fur. Simply instructed to oversee the experiment, the biologists on his team are unable to identify the species it belongs to, and he takes notes silently in a computer document. But he is always thinking. Perhaps this is some sort of extremely endangered animal.

It isn't until about a month later when the answers suddenly click into place. First fur, then an eyeball from a small creature. Then a large, sharp tooth, and finally an organ resembling a stomach. Almost every DNA sample Norman's team adds to the database is entirely new, and those that already have matching files are classified and unable to be viewed at his current rank. This better not be aliens.

The slime appears on his desk again one day, this time in greater amount, and he exchanges a wary glance with his team. This time, they will be testing various destructive methods on the substance. Leonard is overseeing today, and furiously takes notes as neither extreme heat nor extreme cold seem to affect the substance at all. It stays gelatinous in nature, and does not seem to have a boiling or freezing point within the range of temperatures it's possible to create in a lab.

Norman is invited into the hallway, now totally alone with Leonard. The lights are dimmer much than usual, and a strange buzzing noise seems to be coming up through the floor, but his coworkers still in the lab didn't seem to notice. "Norman, I like you," he starts. "You're committed. You're quiet. Your interests seem aligned with that of Christophen's, am I right?"

Norman realizes that he must be a pretty damn good liar. He nods, and his boss continues. "I can see the glint of desire in your eyes. Just one more set of signatures, and I can tell you more. But consider that your lifestyle will need to change drastically. Will you accept another promotion so soon?"

A smaller stack of papers is placed into Norman's hands, and to his shock, he discovers that he is no longer permitted to date, marry, or have children so long as he works here. In addition, he will no longer be permitted to live in his home, and instead will be given a home on government property, just a short walk from the lab. "What about my aunt?" he inquires.

"You will still be permitted to send her checks," Leonard retorts. "But she will not be able to visit you."

Norman's throat begins to tighten. But he needs more than anything to know what is happening. "Can I just have one evening to spend with her and the kids? Let her know?"

"As expected. Just keep your lips zipped."

Norman nods and starts the long walk back up the stairs, feeling that buzzing sensation beneath his feet until he reaches the gate and clambers into his car.


A NEW TYPE OF FEAR

"You should do it!" his aunt cheers with an obviously strained smile. "We'll just miss you, that's all."

Pacing his room for half the night and laying sleepless the other half, the sun finally rises and Norman leaves the little town forever.

His new home is already prepared for him when he arrives. With very few windows and a brutalist sort of architecture, it isn't exactly the friendliest looking place on the outside, and the inside is washed over with a cold, sterile white. But it is what it is. A shipment of groceries is waiting for him in the fridge and freezer. Guess I won't be going shopping anymore. He briefly wonders if he'd ever see the outside world again.

He grabs a protein bar, barely able to force his anxious stomach to eat, and begins the walk to the lab. Leonard greets him and brings him down to the third and lowest story of the facility and into a small office to the side. "So," he begins. "I think you've figured out to some extent what we actually study here, cliche as it is, we are a facility with two main sects. One for xenobiology, the study of alien lifeforms, and one for the study of human transmogrification.

Norman nods, but his stomach drops at the confirmation. But "human transmogrification" is an unfamiliar term to him, and Leonard notes his confused expression. "Perhaps we shouldn't have sat down. Come with me." He is led back out into the main hallway, which seems to stretch on forever, with dozens of numbered doors on either side.

Leonard slides a keycard through a slot, and the door clicks open. A small, weasel-like creature with six legs, no ears, and a patchy red and orange patterning is sleeping in a large enclosure resembling a ferret habitat. Norman recognizes the fur as the same color as the fur sample in the lab. "They call this specimen a 'Reyin'," Leonard explains. "Omnivorous with a preference for plant and fungal matter; we know they live in colonies inside trees and overgrown fungal stems. It is so biologically similar to the niche we see weasels fill here on Earth, and yet it shares none of their DNA. A spectacle of convergent evolution, and the first alien creature ever contained."

Norman stares in awe. It's honestly kind of cute. Suddenly, it opens its overgrown, bulging eyes, and he quickly retracts that thought.

His boss chuckles. "Come on, plenty more to see." He locks and closes the door and walks down the hall before standing in front of another one. Instead of opening it, he instructs Norman to simply look through a peephole. When he does so, he spots a hulking, heavily armored beast with three rows of claws on each foot and a large rhinocerous-like horn. The room feels too small for its comfort.

Norman's jaw drops open, and Leonard explains, "This is the first predator animal we were able to capture, from the same planet. I thought you might find it humorous, that we've been abducting them instead of the other way around. Turns out, they don't have spaceships at all." He pauses and lets his voice fall to a dramatic whisper, "But we do know of a sapient species. Low-tech, peaceful, they are seemingly rather frightened of us. And though we cannot yet translate their language, we know a few of the words they use. They call these large predators kaiju."

Norman furrows his brow and nods, finally breaking away from the peephole.

"We are thinking of implementing a program," Leonard contines, "to introduce these sapient aliens to our society. But we also have a separate issue on our hands." He takes Norman across the hall and knocks on the door before unlocking and opening it.

A short, tan woman sits on a couch inside, adorned only in a white tank top and cargo shorts. Her ears are stretched into pointed tips, and two mangled, seemingly useless feathered wings are sprouting from her back. Most of the back of the tank top has been cut away to make room for them. A lion-like tail peeks out through a hole in her shorts, but despite her monstrosity, she greets the two men politely.

Rather rudely in Norman's opinion, Leonard begins explaining the woman's story for her. "She drove herself to the hospital after experiencing an unusual tingling sensation and noticing large lumps in her back. Her condition has worsened greatly, and the wings continue to grow larger each day."

"Are you an alien?" Norman asks. Perhaps it was a stupid question.

"No, no," Leonard answers for her once again. "She is very much human, or was. And similar transformations are happening to an exponentially increasing number of people. We estimate approximately two million, just within the Four Provinces. We have a team monitoring the Internet, trying to keep it on the downlow, but the media is catching up far too quickly. This information won't be classified for long. We believe it is connected in some way to the discovery of alien lifeforms, since both were discovered at approximately the same time, but it is truly a medical marvel on its own..."

Norman bends over slightly to make himself seem less big. "How are you feeling?" he asks the woman. Leonard seems taken aback by the display of kindness.

She shrugs. "Kind of scared, but not as much as when it first started..." she mumbles. "It doesn't hurt, but I can't sleep on my back anymore."

Norman sighs in relief and takes a moment to account for the fact that she seems to have food, some books to read, and a bed. It isn't the world's most humane enclosure, but it could certainly be worse.

"And they don't all look the same," Leonard continues. "We have one patient who has lost his ability to stand on two legs, but claims repeatedly that it doesn't bother him. The emotional symptoms of transmogrification are certianly deserving of their own study, but none of our psychologists are trusted enough yet as you are, Delwayo... You seem exceptionally good with people." It feels like an invitation.

Norman nods. "I care very deeply for my patients." The woman smiles at him, and he smiles back.


A NEW FRONTIER

"Our military team will be returning to Daeji soon." Leonard puts a hand on Norman's shoulder and extends a formal invitation. Daeji, Norman had learned, is the name of the alien planet, given by Daejiin, the sapient species who lived on it. "Tonight at eight PM on the dot. Would you like to come with us?" Norman had never seen the sapient species before. He was almost grateful that none of them were forced to live in those cramped lab rooms.

But a realization hit him, and he asked, "How will we get there?"

Leonard gave an uncannily perfect, white toothy grin. "I'm glad you asked." He leads Norman all the way down to the end of that seemingly endless hall, which opens up into a large room Norman had never seen before. Behind an incredibly thick pane of glass sits a massive, ominous metal archway. On one side of the window, an incredibly tough looking door that appears to require a special key card to unlock.

"There used to be... some sort of wormhole, just sitting here. It's why we've chosen to set up the facility here; we've harnessed it, and can now open it at will. I don't quite understand all the engineering myself. The big man Ashgrove's Capitol Engineers worked on it themselves." Ashgrove, the president of the Four Provinces, brings a sour taste to Norman's mouth. A deeply hateful man, in his opinion. But he says nothing, as usual.

"We don't yet know how to make our own. But if we find one that's already there, we can turn it off and on," Leonard clarifies. "Their atmosphere is stable, though the atmospheric contents are quite different, nothing seems toxic to humans, and there is enough oxygen that breathing doesn't require any sort of apparatus." He pauses, and gestures Norman back down the hall. "Come, we have some major briefing to do."

Two lines of fifty soldiers each stand in front of the window, decked out with weapons, bulletproof vests, helmets, and combat boots. Leonard takes a strange looking keycard out of his pocket and swipes it, allowing the doors to slide open. At the same time, a bluish purple flash jumps to life in the center of the metal arch, spiralling outwards until the entire shape is full of a soup-like, swirling mass of vibrant space. The familiar buzzing returns. Norman, feeling a bit naked in just his usual work pants and lab coat, gulps and follows the soldiers into the room and towards the hole. They walk in without a moment of hesitation, and when he notices Leonard watching closely, Norman follows suit.

It feels a lot like falling, but controlled somehow. The disorientation gives him vertigo for a second when he lands, a cartoonishly bright blue and violet landscape sprawling out in front of him. A pink-sanded beach to the right, featuring glistening blue water, and a massive cyan and purple forest sprawls out as far as he can see in every other direction. He takes a breath of air into his lungs and notes that it is unusually refreshing.

"Welcome to Tabigat, Daeji," the final soldier shouts over his shoulder. A couple soldiers are pointing in various directions and talking amongst themselves. "There's a town that way," one of them shouts, pointing down a path into the forest.

As they make their way down a path into an area with much thicker trees, Norman hesitates. He is simply here to observe while the soldiers collect more samples. He allows his gaze to dart around until he locks eyes with something. A humanoid creature with a similar body type to himself, but covered head to toe in grey and white fur. Its head resembles that of a bearded dog, with one blue eye and one pale orange, and its large paw-like hands tremble in what Norman assumes must be fear. It attempts to communicate, but it is clear there is a language barrier. Normally so easily capable of controlling himself, Norman can't bring himself to do anything but stare in shock. A sapient lifeform on another world, and one habitable by humans at that. Thoughts begin to rush through his head of translating this language and forming an alliance. This would go down as the greatest discovery of all of human history!


COMPLACENCY

Every morning for the following week, Norman is given the task of returning to Daeji to oversee another mission. On the seventh day, however, Leonard briefed the soldiers on a different procedure, and it suddenly seemed like the stakes were much, much higher this time.

Upon arrival into the alien forest, Norman notices that the soldiers are going in a different direction this time, all at once. They unsheathe long, metal poles strapped to their backs.

The dog-like Daejiin returns, this time holding a basket full of various samples from the area. Norman's eyes widen in wonder, and he very gently takes the offering from the alien's paws. "Thank you," he whispers, though he knows it will not be understood.

For the first time ever, the soldiers are moving entirely out of sight and towards the town, and a horrific thought crosses Norman's mind. He exchanges a fearful glance with the alien before breaking out in a wild sprint after the men. The dogman, too, seems to understand that something was amiss, and they run alongside each other as equals.

"Wait!" Norman screams, "What are you doing?!" But it's too late. The town center, a beautiful, impossibly massive tree trunk with hollowed out floors inside. Behind it, at least a dozen tree houses with beautifully crafted bridges strung between them. The soldiers take the hands of the youngest members of the species, keeping the adults back using sharp poles. They begin to lead the children back out of town and through the portal. Some adults attempt to fight back, but are quickly pushed away by the sheer number of soldiers. The dogman just stares in horror.

There is nothing he could've done, and yet he is complacent. Tears well up in his eyes. They're so small, all different types. Some of them look like lizards, some as deer, some as mice, some as dogs, cats, hybrids, some entirely unrecognizable. But what Norman does recognize is the glint of helplessness in the eyes of frightened children.

"Come on, Delwayo!" the final soldier shouts before disappearing through the wormhole.

A few of the adult Daejiin have appeared at the edge of the forest. Norman turns around and mouths an, "I'm sorry," before stepping back into Earth. But as his feet make contact with the ever-familiar laboratory floor, a loud thud rings out behind him. As the portal powers down, he realizes that the dogman has followed him through.


THE FOG

Insomnia becomes a regular aspect of Norman's life.

Once it is confirmed that Daejiin cope well with Earth's pressure and atmosphere, most of the children are sent to live in human homes, and the dogman Daejiin was educated on human society and language and released. The language barrier between human and alien has been mostly dismantled. There is no hiding transmogrification anymore, and the beast-people kept onsite have also been released. Nor is there hiding the existence of alien life. The public reacted in a lot of strange and unpredictable ways, but the most unpredictable of them all was that people were still expected to go to work. Monsters and aliens didn't matter when there was money to make. Norman saw on the news that other countries had put almost the entire economy on hold to study transmogrification. But not the Provinces.

Most of his assignments recently have simply been to keep the patients company, and to take notes on their behavior. He has not been allowed to return to Daeji. Perhaps Leonard is losing faith in his loyalty.

But not all of the children were released, a few who stuck out as strange to the scientists were kept in the lab for further study. One Daejiin, who resembles an odd mixture between a hare and a snake, sits alone in a dark room, hissing whenever the lights turn on.

Leonard hypothesized, "His fur is plain white. I wonder if this is an alien form of albinism?"

Norman shrugged. "I think he's just traumatized."

"Why would he be?"

Norman asks for some alone time with the alien, and Leonard reluctantly complies. Scrawled on the creature's door is "'Reptile' - Room 069". It seems in these aliens' culture, children choose their own names, and this is one of the few captured who has not done so yet, so his room remains marked with a vaguely relevant label and a room number.

'Reptile' is quiet when Norman sits down on the floor next to him. "How are you feeling?" in that same warm tone with which he spoke to the monster woman, though this time, his weariness has shown through. But perhaps that is a good thing. The creature meets his gaze; two very tired people, foreheads wrinkled from stress.

"You don't belong here," Reptile hisses.

"No, I don't." They sit in silence for a long time.

Every day, Norman begins staying overtime to spend time with Reptile. "Why don't you release him? He's just a child," he'd ask Leonard, who would reply every time, "Because he is dangerous." Other scientists would emerge from Reptile's room with slashes up their arms, but Norman never once felt threatened.

The slime. That's what all Daejiin are made of. Indestructible in almost every way, except for alcohol of all things, which would melt and often scar their flesh. A strange chemical reaction. In self defense, their physical forms would sometimes shift temporarily; extra eyes and teeth to scare off predators, or scientists. But Norman never saw it happen once. To think such a powerful creature was huddling in fear and anger in a small, dark room. To think so much has been learned, and yet so little.

Last he heard, The Daes who had been released into human society were suffering from the harsh culture of the Provinces. What had been an attempt to integrate the two societies had degraded into a kidnapping. He often cried for them with a deep and personal empathy.

"My name is Remy," Reptile said one day.

Norman was taken aback. "Are you sure?" It felt a little too similar to the label on his door. He didn't want the creature identifying too much with its suffering.

But Remy responded, "Yes," and was again quiet for awhile.

"I brought you something," Norman said, pulling out a protein bar. Though Daejiin didn't often need to eat, and Remy disliked most of the foods given to him, Norman had discovered that he had a sweet tooth, and what's better than a protein bar?

The alien widened its bulgy emerald eyes and licked the bar with a forked tongue of the same color. "Yum." He pulled the bar from the wrapper and swallowed it whole.

"You might like it better if you chew!" Norman laughed, and Remy growled in disappointment. "It's okay, I'll bring you another one tomorrow."


THIRTEEN YEARS

As Norman regains his motivation to give the creatures at the facility a better life (mostly non-sapient creatures, plus a group of about a dozen Daejiin, including Remy), he begins to regain Leonard's trust as well. Some of the Daejiin children are occasionally brought back in for check-ups and are sometimes even taken to Daeji for small vacations each summer, but others have moved too far away or even left the Provinces. During this time, he slowly realizes that it is not only Daejiin who suffer in the Provinces, but humanity too. He sometimes wonders what life would be like if he disappeared through the portal and never returned.

But on his occasional excursions to the outside world, he can see things changing before his eyes. Buildings are redesigned so that people who have become beasts have adequate room for their new shape. And though the Daejiin children struggle to keep up with the human school system, they seem to feel a great sense of solidarity with beasts and human workers. Something big is coming soon.

As the years pass, Remy is granted the same freedom as the average human child and spends most of his time outside in the lab's garden, where many of the alien plant samples have been growing in soil harvested from Daeji. Norman trusts him. He is often provoked by small changes in the environment, but Norman comes to understand these as reasonable reactions, and makes sure to plan around them. At one point, Remy is finally offered the ability to leave the facility, but refuses, as he does not want to go to a human school.

Norman begins to visit his aunt more regularly. Leonard begins to see him more as a coworker than an employee, and allowing him these small freedoms are his form of thanks for Norman's "loyalty" to the project.


THE FINAL DAYS

Remy is just days from adulthood, as are most of the Daejiin children now. Some of them, supposedly, have graduated from human high school, but the majority struggled greatly.

"I need to talk to you," Norman sits down with Remy.

Remy glares at him. He doesn't like the vague introduction, so Norman gets right to the point. "Do you want to go home?"

Remy glares harder. "If you were going to take me home, you would've done it already."

But Norman shakes his head. "I can't. There's a keycard, and I don't know where Leonard keeps it. Locked up somewhere, I'd imagine. But I think he trusts me."

The Daejiin doesn't quite understand.

"If I can get him to promote me to co-manager, I believe I'll be able to open the portal."

Remy just stares intently, expecting more. "When." It's more of a demand than a question, and rightfully so.

"Soon, I hope."

The alien has one more demand. "What about the others." The Daejiin children, plus the dogman Daejiin who was likely now an elder. Those who don't live in the area could be anywhere in the world at this point. Norman doesn't know what to say except, "I'll come back for them someday." He hopes it isn't an empty promise.

A few more weeks pass before a particular late afternoon, and Norman has just emerged from his office after writing a detailed report on the centaur transformation process, the fourteenth transformation process paper he's written thus far. "Delwa- Norman," Leonard begins. "You've gone above and beyond. The information here, if this transmogrification continues on an international scale, could be published..., we, you, finally have the answers."

He never appreciates Leonard's condescending tone, but he nods along. "Yes, we know about the process, but we still don't know why it started happening." That much is true.

And Leonard offers an understanding gaze. "We can figure it out." He pauses and laughs. "Ashgrove's goons already ran an extensive background check before hiring you, but I'm sure you've figured out your Internet history, your calls, and much of your personal lifestyle have been under surveillance as well. It's mandatory you know how the men at higher levels run these things."

Norman suspected as much, but at the same time feels incredibly lucky that none of his more risky conversations with Remy were recorded. Or perhaps he just spoke to him in too quiet a voice. Or perhaps it was a setup. He couldn't be sure, just nodded along solemnly.

"There is a training process. You'll need to do some reading and be briefed on a lot of safety protocols before you'll be allowed free reign of the facility. Come in a couple hours early tomorrow morning, and we can get started."

A few more days and he finally sees it for the first time. The control room. For some reason, such an important room is situated at the very end of the hallway on the top floor, as far as it could possibly be from the portal room. But it makes sense as he comes to learn how the locking mechanism works; there is a master keycard capable of unlocking all the containment chambers at once from this room, at the cost of activating an alarm across the premises. But the portal can only be activated at the portal room using Leonard's strangely shaped keycard. As an additional safety measure, the containment chambers will not unlock if the portal is already active.

He realizes he will need a partner in crime, and stays overtime to talk to Remy once more. Absolutely certain now that he is being constantly monitored, he sits very still, moving his lips as little as possible, pretending to eat a protein bar, and whispering in such a voice that he was certain no microphone would ever pick up. "Would you like to leave tomorrow?"

Remy's long, rabbit-like ears easily comply with whispers. He gives a subtle nod, still obviously not believing it will really happen.

"I will sneak out of the control room with both keycards. When I leave for the night, I'll leave the portal card with you." Remy knows what to do with it; Daejiin are capable of painlessly swallowing and regurgitating items. Rather disgusting, but it would be essential to hiding the card in case another employee walked in. Norman continues, "When you hear the alarm, you'll know all the doors are unlocked. Then go to the portal and swipe the card. Understand?" He didn't like speaking to Remy in such a simple tone- it felt condescending- but he desperately needed him to understand.

The alien nods again, and then they are quiet.


THE RETURN

Almost everything is in place. Norman does his nightly testing of the control room, unlocking the safe containing the portal key, pretending to check on its condition, and slipping it up his sleeve, allowing a poorly made cardboard copy to fall out in its place. A move he practiced in his room many times the previous night, and was exceptionally proud of.

Now just to bring the card to Re- what's this? Norman spots an odd stain on one of the control room security cameras. Upon closer inspection, a trail of dark fluid leading in from one of the back doors.

One of the night guards passes by the doorway behind him. "Sir, there's something loose in the facility," she states, hand already on her gun.

Norman quickly shuts the safe and looks at the camera more closely. "What is that?!" The guard begins to radio the head of security, but Norman holds up one hand. "Wait, let me check it out first."

She nods, but doesn't quite seem to approve. "We'll be just down the hall. You yell, and we shoot." Equipped with both regular guns and pressurized water guns filled with concentrated alcohol, the security team is equipped for intruders of any species, even Daejiin.

Norman nods nervously, re-locks the control room, and makes his way down the hall, stuffing his hands in his pockets to disguise the bulge of the keycard in his sleeve. God damn it, why tonight?! Remy would be expecting him.

Upon rounding the bend, he makes eye contact with a Daejiin he doesn't recognize. A pale whitish creature resembling an anthropomorphic borzoi. The trail, a starkly contrasting deep crimson blood, ends at its feet. It seems to have been severely wounded, likely by its climb over the barbed wire, but its wound has already started to regenerate.

Norman initially thinks to ask who it is and how it got in. but he then notices its skin; heavily scarred and patchy from what looks like repeated picking. And its face, as weary as his own, desperate to escape from a world it doesn't belong in. And its size, it looks to be about the same age as Remy.

He hatches a new idea, a last minute change. Though the Daejiin cannot see the security guards from where it stands, Norman subtly motions for the guards to stand down, and when they hesitate, he motions again. After a moment of silence, they slowly begin to break off, and he realizes how little his coworkers trust his judgment.

"Come with me," he finally speaks to the Dae, calmly and quietly.

It keeps direct eye contact and shakes its head, trembling as tears roll down its cheeks. "No. I want to go home." Its voice cracks.

Norman lets the keycard fall into his pocket and slowly reveals his hands. He has no weapon. "I'm sorry," he chokes. "What have they done to you?"

"The fence," it growls, misunderstanding his question.

"Not that," he mouths. He turns around and begins moving toward the staircase, peering down into the lower stories, motioning for the Dae to follow him. It does so reluctantly, until it is positioned just inches at his side. He slips the keycard into its hands, and it expresses confusion.

"I've been waiting for this moment for so long," he breathes. He explains the process, just as he did for Remy. "I have to turn on the lock override system. Run all the way down the stairs and keep going until you see the big window. When you hear the alarm, slide that card. If you do it too early, the others' doors won't open."

Before it has a chance to ask questions, he puts a hand on its back and pushes it towards the stairs. It looks back and meets his eyes one last time before disappearing into the dark.

Norman immediately turns and begins to walk back to the control room. The few guards left in the area stop him and demand to know what's going on. "I have everything under control," he says.

"You let it enter the lab unsupervised!" a guard screams, and the guard behind him once again radios head of security, pushing past Norman towards the stairs.

"S-stop! It's not a threat!" Norman demands, but it seems his employees have decided to usurp him. The head of security turns a corner and comes back into view, springing past Norman without a moment's hesitation. "I'm sorry Dr. Delwayo, but this is over your head." She too disappears down the stairs.

Norman turns to see Leonard staring at him from the end of the hall.

"I'm sorry, Norman," he announces, "But your current actions are against protocol. Don't you remember your traini-" He doesn't have a chance to finish his sentence as Norman breaks into a sprint and takes the control room keycard, still in his other pocket, and unlocks the control room. "What are you doing?!" Leonard demands.

He slams the keycard into the computer. Swipe once. Are you sure you want to unlock all chambers? This action cannot be undone. Swipe again to confirm.

Leonard screams, "Don't make me do this, Norman!" and begins to draw his gun, but Norman, without a second thought, balls his fist and gives his former boss a black eye, knocking him back onto the floor. His gun does a backflip, flying out of his hand and clattering on the floor a few feet away. Norman swipes it and keeps it pointed steadily at Leonard as he swipes the keycard again.

The alarm blares, and the entire building lights up as the emergency signals flash. Leonard, stunned and dazed, leans up from the floor. "No..." he whimpers, as Norman bounds by and starts making a break for the back door.

Finally, the buzzing sets in. That scraggly borzoi Daejin has opened the portal. Horrific screams echo from the depths as the large beasts are released, mauling the guards and bounding back to Daeji.

Time to get the hell out. The guards being concentrated downstairs give him a straight shot to the back door, slamming his entry level keycard into the door and flying across the property, past his brutalist "home" and grabbing his emergency kit he stashed in his yard a couple nights prior- a rope tied to a hammer, and a pack of protein bars.

He wields the hammer, and upon reaching the edge of the property, throws it atop the barbed wire fence. It catches between the barbs incredibly easily and hooks onto the topmost rung of the fence. Testing his weight on the rope, it won't last long, but it should be enough to get him over the fence. He begins pulling himself up the rope, walking vertically up the upright rungs. No time for better judgment; when he reaches the top, he wraps a hand around the barbed wire and uses it to pull himself over, stifling his screams with the collar of his lab coat between his teeth. His legs are mostly unscathed, protected by the multiple layers of long pants plus lab coat, but he can feel the spines pushing through. Using his uninjured hand, he switches the rope to the other side of the fence and begins his descent.

Disappearing into the woods, he begins the long journey around the facility. As he reaches the parking lot, the screaming of many injured men becomes audible, and the windows in the homes begin to light up. The other physicians on site have likely been called down and are sprinting to the site of the incident. But the few uninjured guards are moving rapidly towards him. The silent gate begins to open, and gunshots ring out.

He leaps into his car and slams his keys in the ignition, breaks squealing as he backs out of his spot. As he cranks the gear into drive, two bullets ding as they bounce off the hood and roof, leaving ugly dents.

Slamming the gas and pulling messily through the woods and finally onto the highway, Norman disappears into the night, knowing he can't stop driving. They're surely tracking his car. He thinks of his aunt and wonders if he should regret what he's done.

APPEARANCE

Norman is an average height middle aged bald man with dark skin, a wrinkled forhead, and a large, flat nose. He is said to have an incredibly warm smile, which people can sense even behind the medical mask he wears out of the house. He weighs about 165 lbs (75kg) and has a larger stomach and thighs, broad shoulders, and incredibly steady hands due to his years of practice as a medical professional. He is usually seen in semi-formal dress such as a white button-up shirt, sometimes with a blazer over top. On the job, he is usually seen in a white lab coat with various medical equipment attached.

Once he goes undercover, he often keeps most of his face covered, usually seen in a wide-brimmed hat and disguising himself in casual outfits that are not usually his taste.


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