The voice of Mary Mahajan pierced the silent hallway after class, emanating from a lab that Doreen thought would be empty right now. The tone of voice suggested that the mad-scientist-in-training was working on a new project, which was a very concerning prospect since Doreen hadn't heard of any new projects recently.
Normally, a science project wouldn't be an issue, but this was Mary: a smart engineer with a love of doomsday devices and weapons of mass destruction. It was widely agreed that all of her projects should be meticulously peer-reviewed before being put in action.
So of course Doreen followed the voice and entered a lab with two occupants: the aforementioned Mary, and Doreen's best squirrel friend Tippy Toe.
The two were focused on an odd conglomeration of metal and wires that appeared to be something between a hair dryer and a sci fi ray gun. Mary picked up the device and aimed it at Tippy Toe.
"What the heck is going on?" Doreen asked as Mary fired the device.
Doreen had to avert her eyes from the miniature sun that temporarily emanated from the weapon to blind her. Poor Tippy was in the center of the blast, and Doreen couldn't even see what was going on! She rubbed the spots from her eyes and Mary finally regarded her presence.
"We're turning Tippy into Super Squirrel. It was her idea."
"Tippy!" Doreen groaned. But the squirrel gave no indication that she'd heard her name. In fact, she seemed unaware of her surroundings at all, instead focusing on a spot between her two front paws. The squirrel sat perfectly still, hardly even breathing.
"Tippy?" Doreen asked hesitantly. "Are you okay?"
Still, Tippy ignored her.
"She should be fine," Mary reasoned. "I've quadruple-checked all the wiring and chemical components of the Atomic Blaster 8311. She's probably just getting used to her new super strength."
"Okay, despite the fact that super strength is awesome, and Super Squirrel is inarguably the greatest concept for a superhero ever," Doreen said, "if you've hurt Tippy at all, you're going to find out why my catch phrase includes kicking butts."
"I told you, she's..." Mary trailed off as Tippy Toe began to growl. "...fine? Tippy? You okay?"
Doreen pushed Mary to the side, thinking only of helping her squirrel friend. "Tippy, it's okay, it's Doreen," she said calmly in Squirrelese (Northeastern variant).
Tippy Toe began chittering, but the unintelligible sounds were meaningless. It was as though she were possessed by something with only a rudimentary understanding of what squirrels were supposed to sound like. Doreen reached out a hand. "Tippy Toe, calm down; you're scaring me. And I don't normally get scared, So you know that's a Big Deal."
The squirrel stopped for a moment, a gleam of recognition in her eye as she stared at Doreen. For a moment, everything was quiet and still, as frozen as if someone had hit the pause button.
Tippy Toe suddenly jumped to Doreen's hand, thrashing wildly and gnashing her teeth. Doreen let out a squeal of surprise when Tippy's teeth sank into her thumb, evoking a pinprick of blood. She didn't notice she'd loosened her grip on the squirrel until Tippy had scampered to hide beneath the desk on the other side of the room.
Her vision went fuzzy and she found herself sitting on the floor with no recollection of getting there. Had Mary's blaster somehow given Tippy rabies, despite the fact that squirrels were immune? Had it given her a squirrel-specific disease of which Doreen was also susceptible to due to her partially squirrel blood?
"Doreen!" The familiar voice pierced through the fog, but it was quiet, as though spoken from a distance. "Doreen, are you okay?"
"Doreen, I'm so sorry."
Mary's words were nonsensical to Doreen's ears, and she struggled to comprehend, repeating the meaningless sounds to herself. "Zo..sah...ree. Soooooooo...soerah."
Doreen's vision went black as a dull pain materialized at the back of her head.
Doreen awoke to lights that were far too brign't, so she squeezed her eyes shut in the hope that the lights would dim before she had to open them again. Something felt... wrong. She still had all her limbs, her fingers and toes, her tail. As far as she could tell nothing seemed out of place. And yet she was certain something about herself had changed.
"Doreen? Are you awake?"
That was Nancy's voice. Her best human friend. Unlike Mary, Nancy could be trusted to do the right thing 100% of the time. So Doreen opened her eyes with a groan, blinking in the brightness that made it impossible to see anything. "I'm awake."
Even her voice seemed different but she couldn't pin down what was wrong.
"Do you feel okay? Does anything hurt?" Nancy asked.
"Nothing hurts," Doreen confirmed, rubbing her eyes. "Just... feel weird."
"That would make sense." Ken's voice carried a hint of wry amusement that Doreen couldn't decipher.
Finally her eyes adjusted and she determined she was at the apartment she shared with Nancy. But everything seemed wrong. Like she'd entered an alternate dimension and was now seeing everything from the wrong angle.
Ken, Tomas, Mary, and Brain Drain were all looking down at her in concern. But it was when Doreen tried to look at Nancy that her brain fully awoke and she figured out what had changed. Nancy was towering over her (well, more than usual. Doreen was fairly short, and therefore used to people towering over her). Doreen blinked and looked down at her feet... paws. She was standing on all fours in Nancy's hands. Fur covered more than just her tail now. Somehow...
Doreen was a squirrel.
An actual, fullblooded squirrel.
With clearer understanding, Doreen looked once more at her friends. "Have I..." Now that she was paying attention she could hear the difference. "Have I been speaking Squirrelese the whole time?
Tomas let out a surprised chuckle. "You get turned into a squirrel and that's your first question?"
Nancy said, "Yeah, it's a good thing you taught us all to understand it."
"Hang on, where's Tippy? Is she okay?" Doreen asked, feeling frantic worry as she remembered the events leading up to her transformation.
"She's fine," answered Mary, far too calmly.
Doreen narrowed her eyes and sent a questioning glance toward Nancy.
Nancy nodded. "Whatever caused her to react like that wore off after a few minutes. She went outside to run off her excess energy."
"Without superpowers," Mary grumbled.
Doreen looked around the room with quick, sharp movements. "I'm going to go find her."
She jumped from Nancy's hands, but Nancy caught her tail before she could land. "Oh, no, you don't. We have to find a way to get you back to normal. Tippy will be back soon."
Doreen huffed, though it came out as a squeak in her new form. "Nancy! I'm a squirrel! I've literally dreamed of this my entire life! I want to enjoy it while I can."
Nancy exchanged glances with the others, though it was Brain Drain who spoke. "Aristotle once said that leisure is the end goal to all human behavior, toward which all action is directed. I believe working toward purposeful leisure is a counter for the unrelenting ennui which plagues us all, and the life of a squirrel is filled with far more leisure than humans - or human brains on jars on robot bodies - can comprehend. Furthermore, change happens whether we want it to or not, and it is those who don't accept this truth who find themselves with the most missed opportunities.
"Therefore, I agree with Doreen, and feel she should enjoy her time as a squirrel."
When nobody else spoke, Doreen argued, "Nancy, it's Friday. We have all weekend to change me back! Remember how we got out of hypertime in just one weekend?"
"No, I don't," Nancy sighed, repositioning Doreen back onto the palm of her hand, "and neither do you. And I don't see how that situation is applicable here since we technically had a lifetime to figure that one out."
"But...?" Doreen prompted.
"But you can go play with the squirrels as long as someone else goes with you."
Doreen frowned. "I'm not a child, you know."
"No, but you're also not a superhero anymore and we don't know if you're still invulnerable, and I'd feel better if there was someone to watch your back."
"Oh. Right. That's a good idea."
Mary said, "I'm going to get started with the blaster and take it apart to figure out what went wrong."
Brain Drain said, "I will go with Doreen to enjoy leisure time with squirrels, due to the fact that I am alone in my lack of knowledge about machinery and computational science. Furthermore I have truly enjoyed my past endeavors among squirrels and prior experience says I should thus enjoy their company again."
Doreen grinned. "Then it's settled! I won't be gone too long. Thanks, everybody!"
She leaped from Nancy's hands and scurried to the front door, stopping sheepishly as she realized she wouldn't be able to open it. Even if she managed to reach the doorknob, she was too small to be able to grip it or turn it. She was about to head for the window (Tippy's usual method of entry) when Brain Drain opened the door.
Doreen rushed to the tree just outside the apartment, where Tippy Toe lived during the rare times they weren't together. She tried not to go too far ahead of Brain Drain, but her excitement got the better of her.
The leaves of the trees were the wrong color and it took her a moment to realize why. Like all squirrels, she was now red/green colorblind. How strange!
"Tippy Toe?" she called hesitantly at the base of the tree.
The familiar squirrel with a pink ribbon around her neck climbed halfway down the tree. Tippy Toe asked, "Who are you? Are you new to the city?"
"No, Tippy, I'm Doreen! Whatever Mary did caused me to become a squirrel!"
Tippy ran the rest of the way down. "Is it because I bit you? Is that my superpower? Turning humans into squirrels?"
Doreen said, "It might just be a one-time thing, but I think we should wait to test it unless Nancy is here. Unlike me, a lot of people probably wouldn't want to be turned into squirrels."
"I don't know why they wouldn't," Tippy said. "Being a squirrel is great!"
Doreen grinned. "You got that right, Tips. But I think the problem would be turning someone into anything without their permission, not just a squirrel."
The squirrel ran around Doreen, sniffing cautiously. "You don't smell like Doreen any more. But you don't smell exactly like a squirrel either.
Doreen's sense of smell remained unchanged, since she already had squirrel senses as a human, but she couldn't always detect her own odor. She turned to sniff her tail, but her changed proportions meant that the appendage stayed out of reach, and her arms weren't long enough to grab it and force it forward. She circled herself to chase it, and that was how Brain Drain found her when he at last caught up.
"Does chasing one's tail bring joy?" the robotic man asked. "Or is it simply reminiscent of Sisyphus fruitlessly rolling a boulder in an attempt to feel as though one can accomplish something?"
Doreen was slightly embarrassed at having been caught doing something as silly as chasing her own tail. She hadn't done that since she was a toddler! (Well, except for that one time when she was twelve, but she didn't want to count that)
"Tippy said I smell different now, so I was trying to check," Doreen said sheepishly.
"I am glad you found Tippy Toe, for if I hadn't recognized the ribbon, I would never have found you. Unfortunately my databases do not contain information to distinguish every squirrel from one another," Brain Drain said.
"Hmm, that's a good point," said Doreen. "When we get back, I'll ask Nancy to give me a ribbon, too. What color should I choose, Tippy?"
Tippy considered the new squirrel. "I think you'd look lovely in yellow."
"Yellow it is!" agreed Doreen. "But first, I'd love to see your drey now that I'm the right size to fit in it."
The two scurried up the tree to the wad of leaves, branches, and various odds and ends that made up Tippy Toe's drey. Doreen had wanted to visit an actual drey since she'd first started talking to squirrels. She'd even tried to make her own in her bedroom when she was eleven, but it wasn't the same. Tippy's drey was colorful, full of candy wrappers and dried flowers. Old pink ribbons adorned the edges at various intervals.
"Is that my sock?" Doreen asked, noticing a bit of dirty fabric tucked into one side of the drey.
"It's very soft," Tippy smiled. "And I made sure to use a plain white one since I know you like the pretty patterned ones, and you have enough white ones to share."
Doreen rested her paws on the sock and was pleased with the satisfying way her paws sunk into the spongy fabric. "I wish you would have asked first, but it works really well here!"
"Now that you've seen my drey, do you want to go look for nuts together?" Tippy asked eagerly. "I can show you all the best places to find them, and bury them!"
"I'd love to!" Doreen answered.
Tippy scampered down the tree, but Doreen paused. She was an actual squirrel now, so she could experience one of the ways in which squirrels were superior to humans. She could rotate her feet 180 degrees and climb down the trunk headfirst.
"Doreen?" Tippy Toe called from the ground.
"I'm fine, Tippy. I just haven't done the whole 'rotating my feet' yet and I want to make sure I know how to do it."
Doreen was wide-eyed. She twisted her ankle, and watched as it kept going without resistance. This was so rad! If only human evolution could mimic this trait!
Doreen dug her claws into the wood and made her way down, pleased with the simplicity of it. "Wahooo!"
Once she was on solid ground, she explained to Brain Drain where she and Tippy Toe were going.
Brain Drain said, "I ask that I may accompany you, for I find pleasure in the search for acorns, as well as the action of planting them to aid in the creation of beautiful oak trees which can be enjoyed by future generations, as this is a simple task which can create a lasting legacy and positive impact upon the world."
"Of course you can come with us!" Doreen exclaimed.
The squirrels scurried to the park along with their nihilistic robotic friend. Along the way, Tippy was stopped multiple times by other squirrels asking about Doreen. All were excited to learn who this new squirrel was, and by the time they found their first fallen acorn, Doreen and Tippy had a bit of an entourage.
Tippy seemed frustrated by the crowd since she couldn't hide her acorn with an audience. That would defeat the purpose of hiding it!
Doreen yelled, "I know you're all my friends and you're excited to show me all the best things about being a squirrel, but I promised Tippy Toe I'd hang out with her today. I promise I will talk to the rest of you later, okay?"
The other squirrels complied with minimal complaints, leaving Doreen alone with Tippy and Brain Drain once more. The three searched for acorns and other nuts, occasionally snacking on their finds (with the exception of Brain Drain for obvious reasons).
Once they'd all buried a few nuts, Doreen kept her promise and played with the other squirrels. One by the name of Lady Acorn-alot introduced Doreen to her three newborn kits, which Doreen gushed over for an embarrassingly long time.
After Doreen had spoken to many of the squirrels present, Brain Drain said, "Doreen, it is dark now, and I believe it is time to return you to Nancy. Otherwise she may worry."
Doreen hadn't even noticed the sun setting. "Oh, dang, you're right, Brain Drain! Sorry, everybody, I have to get home now!"
"Will you be back tomorrow?" asked a young squirrel named Twizzler.
Doreen pondered that. She wasn't sure if her friends had found a way to transform her back. And even if they hadn't, she needed to work on a solution as well. "I probably won't be back tomorrow. And if I am, I'll probably be human again."
"Then can we go with you?" asked a squirrel called Georgie Porgie.
Doreen said, "I don't think that's a good idea. You'd bother the cat, and I don't think Nancy would be too happy either.
"Can we just follow you home then, and leave after?" suggested Lil Bignose.
Doreen couldn't think of any reason to decline that request, so she allowed it.
Doreen, Tippy, and the rest of the squirrels followed Brain Drain to Doreen's apartment. Doreen joined a few of the young squirrels in a variant of tag.
The apartment door opened before Brain Drain touched it. Nancy had been expecting her.
In the column of light from the living room, Nancy looked down at the mass of squirrels. "Doreen, I'm not sure which one is you, but you better not have invited all these friends to stay."
Yeah, Doreen definitely needed a ribbon like Tippy's.
She scaled the front steps and curled up against Nancy's foot until she picked her up. "No, they just wanted to walk me home. I figured Mew wouldn't like being around so many squirrels."
Doreen turned to her squirrel friends. "Everybody except Tippy Toe should go back to your homes. As you can see I've made it back to my home."
Within seconds, Doreen and Tippy were the only remaining squirrels. Nancy carried them both inside and closed the door.
"Nancy, could you tie a yellow ribbon around my neck, like Tippy?" Doreen asked.
"Did Mary find a way to change me back?"
"No, she took the blaster apart completely, and couldn't figure out why you turned into a squirrel. The rest of us didn't have any luck either."
Doreen said, "That's okay, I'll try to find a way tomorrow. I will absolutely definitely be back to normal before class on Monday!"