Commission for Lockely. Most Switch City stories are patreon only, available to everyone who pledges $1 or higher, and at $5 or higher you get to have a character in the setting. After the most recent story, Lockely wanted a follow up, and so here we are. He tries to resolve some of the problems that occurred in the previous story.
The Scientific Process
“Again, I’d like to remind you that Genetic Augmenter is built into the ship and was never meant to be modified.” The voice of Oracle-3 came from a sphere currently hovering over the shoulder of an orange ferret in a yellow and black uniform.
“And our security officer was never meant to be the size of a flea.” Lockely replied. “Things change, we gotta adapt.” He approached the Genetic Augmenter at the back of the lab. It was a massive construct consisting of a computer pad and monitor that then connected to six large pipes which each ran to a pod large enough to fit a person in. “Besides, it’s not like I’m tampering with its security protocols, just its interface.” The ferret carried a large toolbox that he dropped next to the console that controlled the Augmenter and slowly looked it over. “I’m just… going to try to set this up so it can be voice activated, and give it a very sensitive microphone that can pick up very tiny voices. If I can do that, then our pilot, security officer, and Jason can all get back to normal.” Lockely bent down as he looked around the console for any signs of an access panel or anything he could unscrew to actually get into the machine’s interior circuitry. “Bingo.” There was a small panel at the bottom of the device directly at its base. There weren’t any actual screws holding it in place, and when Lockely tried to open it with his fingers he couldn’t get in.
“And are you sure this is the proper time?” Oracle-3 asked. “Per Imperial StarFleet protocol you should have accompanied the team on their away mission.”
“Look, it’s just an ocean planet. They don’t really need me.” Lockely waved a paw dismissively. “William’s got it, they’re just investigating some readings coming from some underwater deposits to see if they can be used for fuel.” With no luck getting it open by hand Lockely grabbed a flat screwdriver, forced it into the cracks of the panel and pried the panel open. Inside was a huge mess of wires going in every possible direction.
“Do you even know how to do this?” Oracle-3 asked.
“It’s been a few months, but I feel I’ve gotten the hang of repairing most things on this ship.” Lockely replied. “Most of them.” He got down on his back and squirmed partially into the opening to get a better look. “I just need to figure out which wires connect to the console interface, disconnect it, set the microphone into the console, rewire it, pray our star ship has plug and play, and then done!”
“I’d like to remind you this machine is not purely technological but actually consists of magical components as well.” Oracle-3 might have been chiding him, or it might have just been trying to help. It was hard to tell when the AI was literally incapable of speaking in anything other than a chipper and helpful tone. “And you do not possess any spellcasting ability. Tampering with the Augmenter in any manner may have unexpected consequences.”
“And I’d like to remind you that I spent several decades, probably, as a being of pure magic, so I know a thing or two. Besides, this is basically the same as a science experiment.” Lockley had finally identified the wires he was looking for in the tangled mess. “If we knew how everything would turn out in advance there’d be no reason for experimentation in the first place.” Even as a ferret it was cramped under the console. “Alright, I’m disconnecting the wires from the old interface.” Lockely very slowly disconnected a series of wires that ran into the back of the console’s keyboard.
And immediately felt a shock run through his entire body. Lockely let out a yelp and dropped the now dislodged wires, and then suddenly the uniform he was wearing collapsed to the ground and the ferret disappeared. A few moments later an orange speckled squirrel climbed out of the uniform. The squirrel looked around for a few moments, then looked down at himself.
“Squeak.” Lockely glared at the wires in annoyance. He was just a normal squirrel, not even able to talk. That wasn’t going to help things. Then again… He looked around. He had more room to move around and it’d be a lot easier work with the actual wires. And a lot harder to work with the actual hardware. The squirrel crawled out from the access panel and then looked up to where the keyboard was, which now felt like it was several feet above him.
“I did warn you.” Oracle-3’s sphere floated down to the floor to be near Lockely.
“Squeak.” Lockely gave the sphere a dead-eyed stare. But he also got an idea. After all, the crewmates he was trying to help had done the same thing. Lockely jumped onto the metal sphere, clinging to it with his claws. “Squeak squeak!” Lockely stood up on his haunches and gestured up at the keyboard with his paws.
“Alright, I’ll get you up.” The sphere floated up to the console. Once it was level with it the squirrel leaped onto the keyboard.
Luckily for Lockely, the new interface he was preparing was already sitting on top of the console. He was very thankful it had been the closest level surface when he set it down. Now, he just had to actually get the thing installed. Lockely was also fortunate the new interface was small. It was just a microphone. A small black circular one, no bigger than a dime. Lockely picked it up with his mouth and scrambled across the keyboard setting it on top. Now, he only had to get the wires through.
This was a problem. Lockely wasn’t exactly big enough to use a screwdriver right now to take the keyboard out, but he needed to run the wire through. Well, he only had to get it open a crack to run the wire through. Maybe he could unscrew one or two with his paws, just enough to create a crack. He scrambled to the corner and tried to grip the first screw and turn. Squirrels weren’t known for their strength though. Lockely strained what muscles he had as he tried his best. Eventually, the screw began to turn and come loose. After he got it out he fell back onto his large tail, using it as a bed as allowed himself to rest for a bit. Would one screw be enough?
After taking a moment to recover, Lockely clawed at beneath the panel holding the keyboard in place with his paws while trying to slide it open. It didn’t move much, but there was a crack and that was all he needed. He quickly slid the wires through the crack. All that was left was to hook everything back up. And that would be easy while a squirrel.
Lockely scrambled down from the keyboard and went back inside the access hatch. He moved effortlessly through wires, climbing some of them till he found both the old ones he had unplugged and the new ones he had run through. He carefully twisted the tip of the new wire together with the old one and then plugged it back into the back of the console.
And was once more shocked.
“GAH!” Lockely let out another yelp. “Oh I can talk again and…” He was now very cramped. He didn’t have a lot of room to move but he tried to get a look over himself. He appeared to be a snow leopard now. He also was completely unable to move more than maybe his tail and one arm. He was really jammed in here. If he had become anything bigger… Well either he or the machine would have had to give, so he was just thankful he didn’t. “Uh, Oracle-3 I need a little help. Could you activate the transponders and teleport me out of here?”
“Transponders activated.” Oracle-3 chimed. “Commencing teleport. In 3. 2. 1.” As Oracle-3 finished counting down Lockely’s body lit up with a blue light and he vanished. He reappeared in the ship’s transponder room one deck above the lab.
“Thanks. That was really uncomfortable.” Lockely stepped out of one of the transponders and paused. Currently, the controls and door access were above eye level than him. He was back to the same size he had been as a ferret. He slowly looked down at his body and saw it was… Not something that should naturally exist. He still had the spotted pattern of a snow leopard, and the long fluffy tail. However, his body was long and lean like a ferret, and he was roughly ferret sized. He had somehow become a hybrid of his programmed form and his last one. “Uhhh… Oracle-3 what just happened?”
“It would seem that your modifications to the Augmenter have had an impact on the transponders.” Oracle-3’s voice came from the ceiling. “Currently, there is a high probability that any attempts to teleport will result in a species change.”
“How…. How is that even possible?” Lockely stepped back and looked at the transponders. “They’re two completely different systems. How would the Augmenter interfere with these at all?! They can’t possibly be running through the same system!”
“Technically everything on the ship runs through the same system eventually.” Oracle-3 explained. “After all everything is routed through both the ship’s power core and through the motherboard. Somehow, the Augmenter is now emitting a signal traveling through one of those to interfere with the transponders.”
“Okay… Great, so, that’s another glitch we have to fix.” Lockely clapped his hands together. He had hands again, that was nice. And the system was hooked up. All he had to do was calibrate the new system and in the process troubleshoot the crossed wiring with the transponders. He quickly got into the elevator and went back down to the lab to get to work.
Lockely’s ferret body, and now his hybrid body, were both great for doing repair work on the ship. It was not however great at reaching the tops of tables or a keyboard meant to be used by someone roughly human sized standing up. Of course, he had already pushed a stool over to the system before beginning. He had been reading the logs from the system’s previous use trying to understand how the genetic lock worked on the system. Now, he needed to make sure that the voice activated version would still work with the genetic lock protection.
Oh and fix the transponder.
“Alright let’s see here.” Lockely climbed up onto the tool and began to type away at the keyboard. He bypassed the system’s normal operating system and entered administrator mode so he could get to the actual coding. This part was not exceptionally exciting and was going to take a long time. “Oracle-3 I’m going to need a lot of coffee.”
Roughly twelve cups of coffee later, Lockely had made a breakthrough! He found a line of code that was set to activate with the transponders. It looked like it was meant to be used to transform subjects between different forms when beaming down to a planet that would be uninhabitable to their previous forms, such as if the planet had an atmosphere lacking in oxygen. Then when beamed back up people would change back to their previous forms. Which was what it had tried to do to Lockely.
“Alright, I’ve changed a few lines of code, so any interactions with the transponder require confirmation to activate. That should fix that problem… Now…. Calibration.” Lockely paused here. With the rest of the crew on a mission he was the only possible test subject. Well, he was pretty sure he knew what he was doing. “Let’s try basic activation. Alright.” He spoke into the new microphone. “Engineer Lockely, requesting a new form, humanoid fox.” As he spoke one of the pods opened. That was good, it meant the microphone was receiving input. Lockely quickly stepped into the pod and waited as the doors closed and the room filled with smoke.
And then the doors slid open, and out stepped a red panda. He was still humanoid at least.
“That’s not right at all.” Lockely sighed and got back to work digging through code trying to figure out how to fix this. After a few changes he gave it another shot. Engineer Lockely, requesting a new form, humanoid fox.” Once more he entered the chamber.
And this time when he emerged, it was in his original body. He was a fox again! It was strange, it had been such a long time ago since he looked like this. Everything felt off, and like it was too small. But it was working now! At least, the new voice controls were. There was the problem of that one crew member who had gone feral. He wasn’t able to speak anymore, and so the microphone was going to have to be able to identify growls, squeaks, grunts or any other animal noises and somehow transform the person. Lockely didn’t see any way to actually translate animal noises into a form of speech. So instead, he had just gone for programming the machine to return people to their pre-programmed form when activated. Of course, he needed to test if it would work.
“Well here goes nothing. Engineer Lockely, requesting a new form. Feral mouse.” Lockely felt the ground come swarming up to him as he resumed a rodent form again. There would have been easier forms to test it with, but some of the crew members were very small right now and he needed to make sure the system would be able to pick up their voices. That meant he had to be small to test it, so back to being a rodent, an even smaller one.
“Squeak squeak squeak!” Lockely spoke into the microphone after Oracle-3 gave him a lift back up to the keyboard. One of the pods opened, so it had recognized the input. Had he actually pulled it off? If he had, then he should come back out in his ferret form.
And when the pod door opened again, indeed he was once more in the ferret form that had been pre-programed. However, he was still the size of a mouse despite the species change.
“Are you kidding me?” Lockely gave a large and hefty sigh. Getting people back to proper sizes was the main reason for this upgrade! Why wasn’t he proper sized? Sadly, the only way to learn the answer was going to involve reading a lot of code. “Oracle-3, I’m going to need a lift back up to the keyboard… And more coffee.”
“I wish to express concern that a standard coffee cup is now larger than you.” Oracle-3 sent it’s sphere down to pick the tiny fox up.
“Yeah….” Lockely sighed. “So probably only two cups this time.” It was best not to think too hard on how a small two inch tall ferret consumed more than ten times his own volume in coffee. Some things in this world science simply hadn’t found an answer for yet.
But… After much, much searching Lockely thought he had found the problem.
“Well, here’s the problem… The matter translocator is clearly set up incorrectly. It actually looks like this thing works like a glorified transponder, with excess matter being transferred into and out of an energy buffer to compensate for larger and smaller forms. Or at least it’s supposed to, but instead it’s just dumping the extra into the main energy storage. Oracle-3, can we activate the ram scoops and refill this buffer periodically while I figure out how to rewire the faulty circuit?”
“Yes. I can handle that.” Oracle-3 replied. “Was the explanation needed? I literally am the ship and understand what’s going on, you could have just given the command.”
“Thinking out loud helps me work.” Lockely replied. Work was slow. Taking care of the circuit wasn’t too much of an issue. Being mouse sized made it easy to go back in the access panel and take care of that. However being this small meant he had to enter lines of code by jumping up and down on one key at a time. But, it looked like he had just this one final hurdle to get over and it would actually be working. So… How did he fix it?
He couldn’t… In fact, this wasn’t a problem he could solve at all. It would require inhuman knowledge and speed to enter all the information. This was a job for Oracle-3.
“Hey Oracle-3.” Lockely looked up to the sphere after having scaled a third coffee mug to get a drink. “I need you to insert a line of code for every animal this machine can transform someone into, and what the average size of that animal is. Then, we’ll set the program so that when activated by animalistic noises, to default to a humanoid version of the animal at average size.”
“This will take some time.” Oracle-3 replied. “Compiling. Compiling. Compiling.”
“Are… Are you going to keep saying that till you’re finished?” The tiny fox looked concerned.
“Compiling. Compiling. Compiling.” Oracle-3 never broke its chant.
“That’s going to get old fast.” But there wasn’t anything Lockely could do other than wait. Several hours passed before Oracle-3 was finished and Lockely was honestly surprised that the rest of the crew hadn’t gotten back yet.
“Okay… Here we go again. First, small feral animal, then try to change back to normal.” Lockely walked up to the microphone. “Engineer Lockely, requesting new form. Feral squirrel.” Hitching a ride on one of Oracle-3’s spheres Lockely made his way to the pod. This time there were no surprises as an orange speckled squirrel emerged from the pod. And he was bigger now than he had been as a mouse! The proper size for a squirrel, now all that was left was to see if it’d return him to his proper size when he squeaked into it.
He quickly scaled up the console of his own power, squeaked into the microphone and ran to the pod. Lockely closed his eyes as the doors shut and silently prayed that he had gotten it right. This time, as the doors opened he found himself at a familiar size, not quite human, but ferret. He looked down at himself. He was back in his ferret body that had been programmed in originally. “I think we’ve got it!” Lockely gave an excited shout. “Alright… Since it’s working one more. Engineer Lockely, requesting new form. Humanoid fox.” Once more he went into the pod, and once more he came back out in his original fox body. Or at least so he thought. Having spent so much time as a smaller creature he was completely oblivious to the fact that he was considerably shorter than he used to be. Not quite as short as he was as a ferret, but at least a good foot shorter than his original form. Still, he was finally a fox again. It still felt strange. It had been years, maybe even decades since he had been in this form. It was going to take some getting used to get normal.
But it was working! He had actually done it.
“Lockely, I believe you would like to be informed that the crew has returned from their away mission.” Oracle-3 chimed.
“Great!” Lockely grinned and sat down on the stool. It felt good to be almost human sized again. “Fetch Zeelo, Jason and Aurum. Let’s get them all changed back to normal.”
“Is this thing really safe?” Jason asked after being brought into the lab with the others. The tiny werecheetah squinted at the microphone he now stood next to along with the equally small dragon cub Zeelo, and the much, much smaller saber-toothed tiger Aurum riding on Zeelo’s head. “I’ve already been in enough danger today after the mission and the whole ordeal with the carnivorous coral reef.”
“I mean Lockely knows what he’s doing right?” Zeelo asked.
“Rawr.” Aurum contributed.
“I can assure you I watched his work and tests, and the Augmenter should be working so you can enter voice commands.” Oracle-3 replied.
“Just state your name and rank, and the form you want. Aurum, you just need to make any growls or squeaks that you can and it’ll return you to a default form.” Lockely explained.
“… Okay. Jason, private. Human.” Jason had grown adapted to his cheetah body and likely wouldn’t stay human for long, but it would be nice to feel some normalcy for a bit.
“Zeelo, pilot, regressed dragon.” Zeelo gave his command.
“Rooooawr!” Aurum gave his own.
After they were done, Lockely scooped them up into one hand before delivering them each into the pod. Here was the big moment. Lockely waited in anticipation as the pods opened… But only two people stepped out.
One of them was Jason, who was mostly human. However, he still had cheetah ears, tail, and paw-like hands and feet. He was also only about three feet tall.
“Whoa…” Jason looked down at himself. “Suddenly feeling really naked without fur… And why do I still have a tail and other things.”
“Rooawr!” Aurum leaped out of his pod, still a saber-toothed tiger. But now he was roughly lion cub sized instead of flea sized.
No one emerged from Zeelo’s pod. After a few seconds Lockely investigated, and inside the pod found an egg roughly the size of a football.
“Well it mostly worked…” Lockely muttered. He quickly ran back to the system to dig through the logs to figure out what went wrong. For Zeelo, it turned out to simply be the command. Zeelo was already a dragon cub, so should have simply said dragon. Adding in the word regressed had caused the machine to assume it wanted him even younger and well… The ship was going to have to be on auto-pilot for the next week. The egg should hatch by then and Lockely could figure out how to get baby squeaks to turn someone back to their normal age.
For Jason and Aurum, the problems were a little more difficult to figure out. As Lockely dug through the logs he realized that Oracle-3 had updated the average sizes of all species.
“Oracle-3 what’s this?” Lockely asked. “Why is the average size for everything so small?”
“I made a miscalculation in my earlier attempt due to rushing.” Oracle-3 explained. “I only considered the average size of adults and not juveniles. Upon Zeelo’s return and seeing his age I realized this and rectified the error.”
“We really just needed the adult average.” Lockely face palmed.
“Okay, that explains why we’re short, I think. Why do I still have a tail?” Jason asked.
“There is a small error in the genome mapping system.” Oracle-3 spoke up. “Due to how fragile and impractical the human body is for most missions, it would seem that the full DNA sequence for humans was not programmed in. Your ‘human’ form was simply built from pieces of your werecheetah form.”
“But… I could turn into a human as a werecheetah.” Jason groaned. “I don’t understand any of this science stuff.”
“Roawr rawr!” Aurum meanwhile was just happy to be a reasonable size. Lion cub sized wasn’t what he intended, but now the tiger could get around the ship easily. Sure, he was small, but a great jumper, and not nearly as small as he used to be. As for while he was still feral… Lockely could only assume it was because that was what his preprogrammed form was.
“Whatever….” Jason replied. “I’m going to go find some pants.” With that he left the lab with Aurum following behind him. That just left the egg containing Zeelo.
“Only he can activate the Augmenter for himself, and he’s going to be asleep for a while, huh.” Lockely sighed. “I’ll get William’s help on this, I’m sure he knows more about how to take care of a dragon egg than I do. At least Jason and Aurum are partially back to normal.” Lockely paused as he thought about the two. Something Jason said had made him think.
He looked down at himself. He was naked. And upon realization, also too short. Maybe not as short as his ferret form, he could see over the table, but it was like he was child sized.This alarming development that his own size had not been properly restored was only matched by the realization that none of his uniforms would fit him now.
“Oracle-3, I don’t suppose there’s a way to fabricate new uniforms?” Lockely asked.
“Of course.” Oracle-3 replied. “We have a Universal Textile Fabricator installed in the closet of each person’s personal room. Past experiences have taught us that clothes have a habit of being lost or destroyed on missions, and while some people choose to just forget about it, for those who wish to remain in uniform, as Imperial Starfleet rules dictate I might add, you can use the fabricator in your room to create new outfits.”
“Perfect.” Lockely headed for the elevator. The changes had been mostly a success. He’d go find William to talk to him about what to do with Zeelo later. For now, he was off to get dressed. As the doors closed, he could be heard asking Oracle-3 one last question, “Can it do scarves, too?”