Gone Forever

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       Is this what it feels like to die?

       Consciousness crept back, only just. Just enough to listen to his own thoughts. He floated, stuck in a void of inner monologue. How long was he out? Was he even alive?

       This shouldn't be happening...

       The last thing he could remember, was seared into his memory. It had branded him with pain and shock that returned without asking, over and over again.

       Jaydin would never forget the numbness in his hip, the muting of sensation as he had fallen to his elbows and knee. The shock of looking behind himself only to see his leg limp and lifeless on the concrete, having been detached from his hip like he was nothing but a configurable toy. He couldn't push the memory away, rethinking it, overthinking it, hating to admit to himself that it was his own actions that surly led to his own death. Everything that came after was an unrecognizable blur of blood and coldness crawling through his body.

       Jaydin balled his hand into a fist in his frustration, and just as quickly, his focus switched onto the fact that he was at least alive enough to move and feel his own body. There was some sort of plastic and metal clip on his left hand's index finger. With a marginally clearer mind, he let his eyes open slowly. At first glance, he spotted his own body, covered in a thin white bedsheet. He looked forward, past his covered toes, and out into the distance to scan around. To his left, he could see a door with a tall window, leading to what was most likely a wide hallway. To the right, a pair of thick blue curtains, shut over what must have been a dark night skyline, seeing as no sunlight was bleeding in. The artificial lighting, wherever he was, was dim and gloomy, most of it spilling in from the beyond the door, a white daylight color. Maybe it was just the lack of illumination, but the room seemed pretty bare and undecorated to him.

       The fog in his mind was clearing, just a little...It took him long enough to eventually notice a slow beeping noise. Unmistakably, it was the beep of a pulse monitor. Something was monitoring someone's heartbeat. He began to turn his head about the place, looking around at where he had been left. Soon enough it became apparent that he was put in some sort of hospital bed; quiet, chilly, and alone.

       He was saved, evidently; however, Jay couldn't help but wonder if those men in dressy suits were the ones who brought him here, and why they even lopped his leg off in the first place. He was grateful for having been kept alive, at the least, but no one could fault him for asking why.

       The curious cat in him had to know. Taking one hand, he slid it over his flank, feeling over the soft, thickly fluffy fur, then the underwear, then straight down to the sudden absence of any fur at all, from the thigh and further down. Something was there, it felt off. Something was there, where his leg used to be.

       Jaydin took his other hand, grabbed the thin blanket, and tossed it off that leg to reveal what was going on. Something was there alright, that something being a bare off-white, rubbery analogue to his natural left leg. He couldn't believe it, a fully-fledged artificial leg from hip to toe. Thin pinstripes of the color black went around the knee, ankle, and toe joints, and the same blackness took shape in the form of claw-like nails on the toes, just like he had on his real ones. These things were stupid expensive, and rightfully so, he thought.

       Jay was so focused on the new limb. He tried to lift the thing's knee under its own strength just like he would a natural one, which caused a somewhat mild stinging sensation to surge in the thigh, up to the attachment site right at the hip. Nevertheless, it moved like a real leg, and Jay let it sit upright with its sole planted on the bed and ankle pressed to his rear. He could get a better look at it now, especially since his senses were awakening, albeit very slowly.

       Jay lifted his back up off the hospital bed, pushing the blanket all the way off of him in the process, and made a quiet grunt from another sting in his fake leg as he put both his legs over the edge to sit upright. The young man rested his feet on the plain white tile floor, feeling the cold in it, feeling it in both his feet, the real and the fake. Jaydin felt over his man-made thigh again, the slight pain slowly dissolving away. But then, his own arm caught his attention. He glanced over it, and then spotted his left leg too, looked off. His fur markings were different. No longer were they white with black rosettes; now they looked like white with black stripes. The beeping got faster...

       Jaydin's asymmetrically colored eyes widened at the sight. "th'Hell-" He cursed quietly to himself, however that only brought him to stop short in the middle of his question. Even his voice was strange. It was deeper, and had a darker, slightly more growly timbre. Jay began to feel unwelcome in his own skin, and quickly lifted both his arms, front and center in his field of view. "wh-...What the fuck!?"

       The beeping got even faster. Then, suddenly turned to a high-pitched flat tone, when he pulled off the clip on his finger. The boy could hear himself breathing in panicked huffs. Both his arms had completely different markings; stripes all over. His gaze shot down to his torso, where he found stripes hugging around his sides there too. Thrust into existential dread, Jay quickly stood up on the tile floor, "h-nngh!" but he was immediately was knocked down onto that floor by a sudden pang in his hip. Jay found himself cowering on his elbows and knees again, just like he cowered in front of those two businessmen before. He must be dreaming, he has to be. People don't just wake up as a completely different person. That flatline screeched louder in his head, and Jaydin's eyes grew wet.

       The light went out, or so it seemed. A muffled beep sounded from behind the door, just before its chrome handle swung down and to the right a full ninety degrees. It opened with the sound of an industrial 'clack'. Bright lights in the clicked right on. A dog dressed in regular blue scrubs took his hand away from the wall switch and stepped inside, then immediately spotted Jaydin on the floor, who was groaning deeply in mental and physical pain. The nurse quickly came down to Jay's level and began to assist the young man back up and into a sitting position on the bed. "Anata wa kyūkei suru hitsuyō ga arimasu!" They exclaimed firmly all the while.

       Another man that had been following the nurse let out an annoyed huff, seeing as there wasn't anybody readily holding the door open for him. That man was one of them, another business-like swordsman, this one of the light fox variety, dressed up and styled like they owned the place. They walked in with that pompous 'ka-lock' of the dress shoes on the tiles, while the nurse was calming the alarmed patient down. The door shut by itself with a gentle latch, as soon as the dressy man's long tail cleared its swing. The sound prompted Jay to look up at the second new guy. The nurse in blue scrubs left Jay sitting on the bed for just a moment, so he could disable the flatlining pulse monitor, stopping that annoyingly high-pitched tone.

       He had a pair of golden, tired eyes, that businessman, like he was about ready for bed. They were quick to fixate on Jay's own red and purple. Jay was quick to avert eye contact. "ah, Glad you're awake." The swordsman started, politely enough, even if it did sound ominous, like he was expecting this meeting. Jaydin sighed a short and tight huff from having been caught up in such this bizarre series of events. Coming over and stopping just a few steps in front of Jay, they soon continued with, "I see you're done with well-deserved nap." The guy had this calm routineness to their relatively young voice, like he'd done this before; as if, in the back of his mind, he just wanted to get this over with and was trying not to show it.

       Quietly, Jaydin took a second to look over the man, glancing nervously once or twice at the occupied scabbard they held at their left hip. All the while, the nurse stood at the sidelines as if they were avoiding confrontation. Jay straightened up slightly, about ready to reply, when he was rudely interrupted by the businessman. "oh, But where are my manners?" They drawled, putting their free hand up to brush their own hair back. "My name, is Yozuko Kenshin, and I have the ever-fulfilling pleasure to represent the Atsumichi Cybernetics corporation."

       Despite the sound of his name, Yozuko's accent wasn't all that eastern. "I've been told you already met a couple of my brothers." He paused a little, but still not long enough for the fidgeting Jay to get a word in. "Well, this place they brought you to, is an after-care center for tending to Atsumichi patients, following bionics surgery. And judging by your new leg there, looks like they set you up with one of our fine products." He pointed, to the clearly artificial right leg Jaydin woke up with. Jay looked down at it and slid his hand over the bare, featureless surface of the leg. He could still feel it almost as if were real. Almost.

       "That there is one of the good ones." The guy went on. "High-grade synthetic muscle, bone, and sinew; hip to heel. Could kick a man's head off without even trying. And would you look at that, they even custom-modeled it after a mirror of your other leg, fancy." Yozuko seemed proud with his words, but Jaydin only grew more uneasy.

       "But why?" Jaydin finally barged his way in on the 'conversation'. "What's the point? Could've just killed me and been done already..." Jaydin lifted his forearms at Yozuko and raised his voice a little. "And what's with these stri-"

       "Hey hey, slow down," Yozuko interrupted smoothly, "I was getting to that..." and attempted to appease. "It's just that first we have to talk about payment-"

       "Payment? Really??" Jay rudely cut him off there.

       Yozuko frowned, "Hey, this shit ain't free-"

       "I didn't ask for 'this shit' in the first place!" Jay raised his voice again, and rose out of the bed as he shouted. The instant he stood on his feet again, he grunted in pain, suddenly leaning off to the right as he tried to get pressure off his of synthetic limb. The nurse suddenly stepped in-between the two and skillfully caught Jay. "Suwatte kudasai!" The nurse instructed firmly. Yozuko, on the other hand, just stood still and watched the cat struggle. The nurse physically urged Jay to sit back down, which he reluctantly agreed to do. "nghh...You think I can even afford this?" Jay growled at that.

       "Hmph." The businessman let his head tilt subtly, with his sharpened golden eyes still trained on Jay's face. "I know you can't; after I had the leisure of draining your bank account dry." He revealed in a cold matter-of-fact tone.

       "You what!?" Jay snarled up at the man, looking like he was about to stand up again, but being firmly held in-position by the nurse's hands being put on his shoulders. "Sit!" The nurse orders, in a distinctly heavily Japanese accent.

       "You heard what I said..." Yozuko coldly resumed. "Not a dollar left, and you still owe us..." He pointed his nose forward, his showy eyes looking down on Jay like the boy were nothing but a dirty peasant underneath him. "That's why I've been sent here to offer you a job." There came a metallic 'klink', and the man reached across himself to put his free hand on the hilt of his sword. "But if you're not interested..."

       The nurse glanced behind himself, and spotted Yozuko unsheathing his sword from its scabbard, while pulling the scabbard itself backwards. The dog in scrubs took his hands off Jaydin and immediately cleared the way. Before Jay could even react, there came a fast whoosh through the air, and the sharp silver tip of a blade appeared right under the boy's chin, nudging it upwards. "Maybe you just need me to sweeten the deal." Yozuko's voice lowered; a change of plans maybe. The point of the blade pushed up just enough to be felt against the skin, to which Jay groaned shortly. The man's pupils narrowed. "Is that what you want, huh, punk?" The tip was pushed in ever so slightly more. It effortlessly pricked the skin...

       "Okay!! Fuck!.." Jaydin pleaded. Yozuko's blade eased up, and Jay shuddered as it left him alone. His next couple breaths were made audible while he put a hand under his jaw. "I'll do whatever you want..." He said, clearly defeated, though it was obvious now that he didn't stand a chance in the first place. At the side, the nurse sighed in genuine relief, but otherwise stayed quiet.

       "Good kitty..." The man cooed condescendingly, while he drew the back edge of his blade across the scabbard, then sheathed it fully. Yozuko turned his head. "Leave us." He said, taking a strong tone with the nurse. The dog nodded once, then quietly vacated the room and shut the door softly behind themself.

       "You're at the mercy of Atsumichi now." Yozuko continued, alone with Jay. Finally breaking from his otherwise still position, the company man wandered away to grab a nearby chair, bring it over and setting it down near the wall beside the bed, all the while stating, "You have been since we took that leg of yours. But you're no use til you can stand." The dressy guy plants the end of his scabbard on the tile and sits down, smoothly and swiftly crossing his right ankle over the left knee. "So with that out of the way, we're going to sit here, and go over what we expect out of your new life..."

       Yozuko paused yet again. This time longer than before, as if he was finally allowing Jaydin the privilege of speaking back to him. Jay broke his gaze on the businessman to look back down at his own arms and legs. Those stripes were still there; he wasn't just dreaming them. "New life huh..." Jay shook his head, huffing once through the nose in disbelief. "Is that why I look like this?" Jay's fingers clutched at the air at the middle joints. "Like some white tiger?" The cat's own new voice still put him off, putting something of a pained look on his face.

       The businessman chuckled, casually reaching behind himself to open a drawer while keeping an eye on Jay. "hmhm, Oh I assure you, you look better than you think." Yozuko showed off a smirk. He looked back, into the drawer, then reached inside it to rummage around.

       "What's that supposed to mean?" Jay insisted, brows angled in tune with the question. Meanwhile, Yozuko picked out a large square slate from the drawer, and flipped it around for Jay.

       "Heh. What do you think it means, huh?" The man kept his smirk going, holding the slate out to Jay. It was a clean mirror, showing Jaydin exactly what he looked like. Jay quickly grabbed the mirror from Yozuko's hands, bringing it close to his own face.

       "You've been in a coma for a while." Yozuko began to explain casually. "Don't worry, we kept you safely under." He assured. As he spoke, Jaydin's heart began to race again as he stared into the mirror. His shoulders drooped; his brows angled out; his eyes widened. Jay ran his fingers over his face with even more existential apprehension, feeling it over as if he weren't sure if it was real. His piercings were gone. He had a wider muzzle, a wider neck, fluffier cheeks and neck, and more of those black stripes all over the place. Jaydin exhaled a quiet shudder. It was as if he had his mind put into the body of a completely different person.

       Yozuko simply watched as Jay discovered their fresh new look. "You belong to us now, see. And seeing as you used to be, 'government property', we had to take some unique measures." The fox sighed. "I tried to talk the boss out of it, but he insisted on your recruitment, lucky kid you."

       It was obvious that Jay was barely even listening to what Yozuko was talking at him with, too busy coming to terms with his transformation. "ey! I'm talking to you." The businessman called out. Soon enough, Jay snapped back down to earth.

       "So you actually turned me into a tiger? What for!?" Jay asked obliviously, finally putting the mirror down to his side. "Nobody's gonna recognize me anymore, not even my own family..." Jay stopped short, his thoughts having hit a bottleneck at his ability to voice them, illustrating his distress.

       Yozuko sighed. "That's the point." He affirmed pointedly, no sugar-coating necessary. "You're correct. Nobody is going to recognize you anymore, and that solves two of our problems...One," the fox held out his thumb, "the military won't find you ever again. And two," he stuck out his index digit, "neither will your friends and family." Jay seemed more afflicted by the confirmation of the latter. Yozuko continued, his tone getting slightly more casual again. "It's a good insurance policy for us, really. If you decide to desert us, not one person in this country is going to believe your sob story about a poor nobody getting himself transformed into a tiger. You'll be put in an insane ward. And they'll do even worse things to you, hmh..."

       "Now, allow me me repeat myself. You've been in a coma for quite some time. Two months, to be exact." Yozuko further revealed. The length of time gave Jay a shock to the soul. To him, it only felt like yesterday that he had been attacked and passed out. Yozuko uncrosses his legs, then crossed them again the other way around, getting comfy in his seat. "We kept you in a controlled state of unconsciousness while we put you under the knife, first stabilizing your vitals, then attaching your new leg, and finally changing your looks. Only recently, did we detach you from the automated systems, and let you wake up on your own."

       As it was all being explained, Jay began to examine his own body again. An aura of dread had long since formed about him. His new face began to contort subtly, he put his brows together, and his eyes gently welled. To Yozuko, it was obvious that Jay was holding back his emotions, just so that the boy wouldn't look weak in front of him.

       "No questions? Good." Yozuko somewhat condescendingly broke the silence. "You know, there's a reason why I haven't called you by a name so far." He started again. "That's because you have a new one. From now, until the end of days, your name is now Mason. Mason Kyrill Leufroid." Yozuko narrowed his golden eyes just slightly. "You are a tiger that was born in Europe, and later on immigrated to this country, where you took up a job at Atsumichi Cybernetics." Yozuko took a hand and slid it back across his hair. "'Jaydin', isn't necessarily dead; however, he no longer exists. You will not respond to 'Jaydin' anymore; you will not refer to yourself as 'Jaydin', any longer. Your name, is Mason, and you will be addressed as such by everyone you meet."

       "This is your life now, Mason. You are a part of Atsumichi, you will be treated as such, and you will be put to work as soon as possible." Yozuko uncrossed his legs again, then got up from the chair, standing tall above Mason. "But like I said before, you're no use to us until you can stand up and walk around, which you obviously can't yet." The fox walked up to the newly made tiger, who had their head down nearly the whole time, absorbing the information in silence. Yozuko stopped just in front of Mason, and let out a quiet, gentle sigh. He reached out to place his right hand on the tiger's shoulder. "Hey." The businessman greeted, more softly than usual. Mason lifted his head, looking back up at Yozuko with that expression of disbelief still apparent on his face.

       "Get some rest. You've got a long road ahead, but you won't be alone along the way." The man nodded his head subtly, giving Mason's shoulder a pat before turning and walking to the door. "I'll check back up on you in the morning, little brother." He assured, opening the door, switching off the lights, "Good night." then he walked out, leaving the tiger alone for now.

       A long road ahead...

       A moment later, Mason pushed back and laid himself along the bed again. He put his hands on his face, and let out a long breath, which began to break up and shudder.

       You won't be alone...Little brother...