I sat at my computer, taking in the events of the day. I ran my thumb and index finger along the surface of one of my giant fangs, the saber-like teeth that gave my species its name. My eyes wandered around my desk, finally falling on my MicroBiological Chemistry book. My eyes wide with horror, I looked at the clock, seeing it read 1:15.
“Oh, shhhh-” I started, grabbing the book and racing towards my bedroom. Throwing it in my backpack, I looked frantically for my note book, grabbing a pencil and scantron off of my bookcase as I did so.
You might ask why I was in such a panic. You’ve never met Mrs. Gena Rodgers. Her motto is “No exceptions.”, and she means it. This was a woman who would routinely throw liquid nitrogen at misbehaving students, just to see the looks on their faces as the freezing liquid would evaporate into steam before hitting them. She was nice, as long as you didn’t do anything to tick her off. If you were unlucky enough to do so, you had to be perfect to get back in her good graces. No exceptions. This was a woman who taught class through earthquakes, not repeating anything to kids who had bolted out of the room when the ground started shaking. No exceptions.
And this was a final exam. Mrs. Rodgers gave onefinal exam per class.
Now, you may think that she would at least postpone it for this, but I doubted it. I crammed myself into my car and broke several minor laws getting to the University of California, Irvine campus. I parked my car diagonally in two parking spaces, and lurched out of the car. I ran as fast as my feet would carry me into the Physical Science lecture hall, crashing through the doors.
“Holy-!” I said, stopping too quick to keep from pitching forward. I landed on the ground in a heap, in front of a very tall and very huge polar bear.
“Mr. Sharpe, I presume.” Mrs. Rodgers said to me.
“Y-Yes?” I said in response. I heard a little voice in the back of my head say, -Boy, that’s a huge bear...-, but I dismissed it. I took the test booklet she handed me, and took the nearest available seat.
An hour and a half later, I turned in my test and walked outside, mentally exhausted. I righted my car so it fit in one parking space, then decided to walk around, clear my head. I decided to buzz Stienhaus hall, just for laughs. Stienhaus was the Biological sciences building, and I wagered they were having a doozy of a time in there.
As I walked along, I noticed the large amount of pandas and other Asian animals I saw. I even saw what looked to be a kimodo dragon walking towards the student center. I wasn’t terribly surprised, considering that one of the less flattering tellings of the UCI acronym read, “University of Chinese Immigrants”. While not nice, it was partially true. UCI had a sixty percent Asian population, which was reflected everywhere from the comic-book shops to the restaurants.
I entered Stienhaus, and was amazed at what I saw. The halls were packed with people, going into and out of doors, flooding the elevators, and just generally creating organized chaos. Someone in a lab coat grabbed my arm, and as I spun around, I heard that voice again. -I could take him,- it said to me as I looked at the fox morph.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“You. You’re the first saber-toothed tiger we’ve seen here.”
“So we’re going to run some tests on you.” He spoke to me as if I were an object, a lab rat or something. -Impudent little runt,- I heard again.
“But-” was all I managed to say as he dragged me down the hall, weaving between people. We went into one of the rooms, and he plopped me down on a chair with an arm rest. He withdrew a hypodermic needle, and started towards me.
“Now wait just a minute...” I said.
“You will be fully compensated. Now hold still.” Out of nothing more than shock, I stood still as he withdrew three vials of blood from me, and put a Band-Aid over the pinprick.
“All right, get up, we’ve got to get to the X-ray machine while we can.” He said. I started to protest, when that voice cut in again. -Hmm, a friend’s coming. Perhaps he can help?- I shook my head, and sniffed the air. Through the mush of smells out in the hallway, I singled out a semi-familiar one. Where was that from...? I saw a Siberian tiger, glasses on his muzzle, his nose buried in a book. He was totally oblivious to the chaos around him, and he weaved through the mass of people without once looking up from his book.
“Dr. Burnbeck!” I called out to him. He stopped and looked up from his book, then promptly got trampled. He managed to fight the moving tide to the lab doorway, and lunged inside. He looked around, seeing me and the other doctor.
“Yes, what can I do for you?” He said, one of his furry fingers wedged in his book to keep his place.
“It’s me, Ryan.”
“Oh! Well, hello Ryan. What are you doing here?” -Good friend. You can trust him.- I blinked a couple times. What was that? “I’m being turned into a guinea pig by doctor Frankenstein over here.” I said, indicating the other doctor. Dr. Burnbeck turned to the man.
“Did you get a blood sample?”
“Then you’ve got plenty.” He beckoned to me. “Come on, let’s go get lunch.” I followed him out of the door, despite the other doctor’s protests.
Once we were back in the hall, Dr. Burnbeck immediately returned to his book, weaving through people as if it was a sixth sense. We managed to squeeze out of the doors, and we started down towards B.C., a little-known restaurant nestled between the Engineering Tower, and the Humanities Lecture Hall. We walked side by side, and talked as we did.
“So,” he said, not looking up from his book, “when did yours happen?”
“What, my change?”
“Um, actually, I slept through it.”
“That’s odd.” He said, still reading his book. Talking to Dr. Burnbeck while he was reading was an odd experience; he would respond, but you were never quite sure how much of his concentration was being put towards you.
“And you?” I asked, watching him dodge a bike-riding dolphin (why not?) without looking up from his book.
“I was first awoken by an odd itching sensation on my face,” he said, turning a page as he spoke. “I reached up to scratch the offending itch, only to discover that my face was no longer in a completely humanoid shape. I must admit, I was more intrigued than shocked when I felt my face extend into the shape you now see it in. Although my intrigue was soon lost when I felt my internal organs dissolve into the consistency of a milk shake.” He fixed his glasses, anchoring the arms on his facial fur, since his ears were too high on his head to use for that same purpose. “After that, My fur spread down to the rest of my body, giving me my new physique and posture.” I looked, and noticed how his chest had barreled, his thighs had swollen, and how he walked... digitgrade, I think Laura had said. “After I had finished changing, I attempted to dial 9-1-1, but the lines were all in use. Failing that, I turned on the television, noting that most of the stations were either static or doing news broadcasts. It was then that I learned the transformations were occurring worldwide. Figuring that I now looked no stranger than anybody else, I got dressed and headed here. It may have been a shock, but I had much to do. I’ve been cataloging all the different species that I could locate, although there seems to be a slight racial bias.” He cleared his throat, a deep growling sound that put me on alert for some reason. “The special selection seems to be mostly random from person to person, although certain factors seem to have influenced the outcome. I am sure you’ve noticed the large amount of Asian species on campus?”
“Now, there is a correlation between racial heritage and special selection, but it isn’t a very strong one. In some cases, it makes no difference at all. Case in point, a kimodo dragon I recently made acquaintance with was a native Texan.” I laughed at the picture of a dragon with a Texan drawl in his voice. “Another case in point, I’ve never been to Siberia, nor even seen a tiger from there save in photographs, yet here I stand, a Siberian tiger. Likewise, I assume you’ve never seen a saber-toothed tiger in person?”
“I’m pretty sure no one has.” I said as I opened the door to the restaurant. “So then, what does determine the species?”
“Thank you. I don’t actually know, and I doubt we will for a few months at least. That is, if there even is a rhyme and reason to the change.” He took a seat and put his book down for the first time since we left Stienhaus, being careful to dog-ear his place so he wouldn’t lose it.
“And there’s another matter which I believe will forever defy reason,” he continued, “because of the unpredictable-”
SMASH! Tink tinkle tink tink...
I jumped in my seat as what looked like an osprey crashed through one of the picture windows, landing in the restaurant in a hail of glass.
“Holy-!” I said as I rushed over to the osprey morph, Dr. Burnbeck in tow. I knelt beside the groaning man, and started to brush away the shards of glass, I scanned him for major cuts, then minor ones, but there wasn’t a scratch on him!
“Oh, man...” he started, opening his eyes and rubbing his head with a taloned hand, “I gotta watch out for those trees...” He sat up, and saw the gaping hole he had created in the side of the building. “Oh, s**t!” he said, standing up suddenly. I remained frozen in my kneeling position, my jaw dropped as far as it would go. As he hurried over to the owner to apologize and beg that he not make him pay for it, A tuned slowly.
“How- What- He-” I stammered. Finally collecting my wits, I turned to look at Dr. Burnbeck. “Did you see that?”
“Indeed I did.” he said. “I was just starting to explain that when our avian friend demonstrated my point so eloquently.” He led me back to the table, and I sat down in a daze. “Along with out new shapes, some people acquired abilities, things they can do with but a single mental command. Our avian friend just gave a very adequate demonstration of what is called a ‘Kinetic Shield’.”
“A ‘Kinetic Shield’?” I asked.
“Essentially, it prevents any kinetic force from being released onto the person’s body. That’s why he crashed through the glass without getting hurt. The shards touched him, but the kinetic energy wasn’t enough to penetrate his shield, and thus his skin.”
“Incredible...” I said, at a loss for any further words.
“At our earliest estimations, it appears that eighty percent of the general population has some kind of power beyond that of normal humans.”
“Do... Do you have a power, Dr. Burnbeck?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” he said, holding his hand out, palm up. I watched in amazement as his glasses floated off his head, folded themselves, and came to rest in his outstretched palm. “Interesting, is it not?” He said as they unfolded themselves and placed themselves on his head.
“To say the least,” I said, eyes wide. “do you have any others?”
“None of any note, although I can shift to a full Siberian tiger at will. I’ve noticed that most other people can also-”
“Norm-shift,” I said.
“A nurse I met this morning said that’s what the other doctors were calling it, ‘norm-shifting’. Not incredibly scientific, but it has a nice ring to it.” Dr. Burnbeck thought about that for a second.
“Hmm. Indeed it does. Well, I suppose we have to call it something, so...” He raised his water glass. “To norm-shifting.” I raised my glass in response, and clanked it against his.
“And to the strange days ahead.”
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