After Dr. Burnbeck and I finished eating, we separated, him going back to Stienhaus and me back to my car. As I walked along, I thought about the incredible powers some people seemed to have. I remembered Dr. Burnbeck’s glasses just floating off of his head, the doctor controlling them with an invisible hand. I also remembered that ill-fated osprey morph that crashed through the window without getting so much as a scratch.
Do I have a power? I thought to myself as I got in my car.
-Yes.- was the reply, stunning me. I stood half in and half out of my car, everything else forgotten as I had a conversation inside my own head.
Who are you?
What do you mean?
-I am the mind of the tiger. Some would call me ‘instincts’, but I think it’s much more than that.-
Well, the fact that you can think is proof enough of that.
You said I had a power. What is it?
-Well, not just me. Your power is what gave me the ability to think this clearly.-
Wait a minute. You are still me, right?
-Yes and no. I’ll explain later. For now, get home.- Too confused to protest, I shut the door and drove home.
Once home, I paced on the carpet, the internal dialogue continuing.
So, are you me or aren’t you me?
-I am you, sometimes.-
-Allow me to demonstrate,- he/it said, and suddenly I felt dizzy. I closed my eyes as I felt my legs twisting around, and my face pushing into itself. I got down on all fours, noticing that I had hands again, instead of paws. My insides felt like they had collected in a pool at the bottom of my stomach, then they straightened out again. I opened my eyes, and found myself not two inches from a saber-toothed tiger. My eyes growing wide, I scooted backwards on my butt, noticing my tail was gone.
“Relax,” The saber-tooth said, raising one of its paws in the air. I looked around, and finally took stock of my situation. I looked at myself, amazed. Save for a very light coating of fur, and claw-like fingernails, I was completely human again.
“How...?” I asked it.
“This is your power, and hence, mine as well.” The saber-tooth said, walking around the chair to face me. “A near total separation of halves, your human and my saber-tooth. When the separation is taken further, as I just demonstrated, I’m given physical form. This also explains why you become more human-like. I’m the saber-toothed ‘half’ of you, so when we separate completely, I take most of the saber-tooth’s characteristics with me, for obvious reasons. And, understandably, you lose the ability to norm-shift when we’re split, seeing as I’m already in norm... We’re both still you, in a sense, just different halves of the same whole.” I put my head in my hands.
“This is too much...” I said. “And how is it that you know all this, if you’re me and I don’t know?” He/it/I shrugged.
“Probably, whatever caused me to appear gave me the information. Remember, I’ve had a life so far of about eight hours, although I do have your pre-change memories.”
“So, how did you...” I said, pointing to me and... me.
“It’s your power, but since I am you, I could induce the split. You were willing by default, but from now on, we both need to be willing to split or merge.”
“Close your eyes and relax.” I did so, not comfortable with the thoughts I was having.
I felt my chest barrel, my face stretch out, and my hips twist around. I shook my head, clearing the last pieces of change out of my mind. I blinked a few times, and opened my eyes. I was back to normal, as if such a word could be used to describe anything today.
So, now what?
-What do you mean?-
I mean, what’s going to happen to me... I mean, us... er... whoever we are, now that we’re back together? I felt a kind of mental shrug.
-I could go to sleep, if you want.-
Sleep? How’s that?
-I can fade into the background, letting your mind have total control. It’d be like setting the cruise control on a car.-
-Observe.- it said, and I suddenly felt like something was missing. I thought my own thoughts, knowing somehow that he couldn’t hear them. I felt him return, and waited for him to speak. -Did I miss anything?-
No, but I am curious... Can I do that?
-I don’t see why not. You want me to take control, then?-
-All right, here goes...- I let my body go limp, and found it supported by him.
“Whoa, cool.” I heard myself say. It was a very strange experience, because I felt my lips moving, and I heard the words come out of my mouth, but I hadn’t actually thought them. I watched out of my own eyes as I walked around my living room, and towards my computer.
“What’s your password?”
Unseen, I thought to him, confused as to why he wouldn’t know that. After all, he was me.
“Hey, you’ve got some mail here.” He said.
Really? From who?
“It says, ‘cloak and dagger’. Want me to read it?”
Oh, that’s Conna. She’s cool. Go ahead. “All right, here goes. Dear Ryan, just wanted to say hi. I’m curious as to what you are, and I’ll tell you now that I’m a wolf.”
Thank God... I thought.
I was certain she was gonna say skunk.
“A skunk? Why a skunk?”
“Okay... Nothing much more to report, so please drop me a line when you get a chance. The Evil Dictatorship has given me a few days off, so I hope to see you around. Best wishes, Conna.” he paused, thinking to me.
-You wanna write a response?-
Sure. He/I clicked respond, and held his claws over the keyboard. “Ready when you are.”
Dear Conna, It’s nice to hear from you. A wolf, eh? Well, I’m a cat -- but not one you’d like to chase, I assure you! :P That is, unless you like saber-toothed Tigers...
Well, I’m glad to hear you’re okay. Everyone around here seems okay, too, so I guess I’ll talk to you later.
“Armageddon has four legs and wings...”
“‘Armageddon has four legs and wings’? What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked me (God this get confusing sometimes) as I hit the send button.
Oh, that. Nothing. It’s just an inside joke, is all. I thought for a second as he opened the refrigerator. You know, I’m curious...
-Yes?- he thought to me, as his mouth was occupied with an orange.
If you have my pre-change memories, how come you didn’t know my password, or get the joke?
-Well, I didn’t say I had all of your pre-change memories. I guess you get to keep some things private from me...-
Well, I guess that’s for the better. After all, there are some things you don’t tell anybody, even if it’s yourself.
Hmm... You know, I’m still curious about something else. When you went to “sleep”, I couldn’t sense you at all, but when I was “sleeping”, I could still hear your thoughts. How is that?
-You heard my thoughts because I wanted you to. But unless I’m directing it towards you, you won’t hear it. It’s kind of like watching a movie through your eyes, no?-
Yeah, that’s what it felt like... But could you still see and hear like I could?
-Of course. I was just giving you a chance to ‘test the waters’, as it were.-
I was still confused about this whole thing. I mean, was that me, or another me, or a different side of me, or what?
You need a name, I thought.
“Why?” I asked.
It’ll make me feel better. Just, like, for when you and I are split. Okay?
“Hmm, okay. But what?”
How about Shade? You’re pretty much my shadow, after all...
-All right, Shade it is, then. You wanna go try out the new name?-
-Well, you need some more food, for starters. This is almost empty.-
Well, okay, but where do you come in?
-I dunno, I just wanna get back on four legs again...-
All right, I’m game. I stopped myself. Er, maybe I should rephrase that...
I laughed, or rather Shade controlling my body did. So how do we do this? Just think “split”, or something?
-Pretty much, yeah.-
All right, here goes... I pictured myself as the saber-tooth morph, then I pictured my human side and my animal side as two separate people. I felt the familiar uncomfortable shifting, and I tried to keep my balance as my feet went from digitgrade to normal human feet. I felt my tail being sucked into my rear, and even as it did I saw one fade into existence on Shade’s body. Once again, I was human save for a light coating of fur, lateral pupils, and small claws on my fingers.
“Ready?” I asked Shade.
“Sure.” He said, then smiled. “Can I drive?”
“In your dreams!” I said, opening the door. “I’ve still got four payments on that car.” I shut the door behind him, and walked to my car.
“You mind sitting in the back?” I asked as I opened the door. He leapt into the back, laying across both seats. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’...” I said as I got in the front and started the car.
I pulled up to the grocery store, hoping it would be open. To my surprise, it was both open and busy. A large, hand-painted sign on the door said “Carnivores: 5 Lb. of meat per customer MAX.” Makes sense.
I went down the aisles, Shade stopping me every so often to get something for him. It turned out that, for some odd reason, Shade had different tastes them I did. For example, I hate olives, but Shade had me get two jars of green and one of black.
“If you’re me, how come you like foods that I hate?”
“I dunno, probably just tiger taste buds.”
“I doubt there were canned olives in prehistoric times.”
“Hey, you got a better explanation?” I didn’t, so we just continued on. We approached the meat counter, and I told him to wait while I got the food. I approached the counter and asked for fifteen pounds of sirloin.
“Didn’t ya see the sign, buddy?” A rhinoceros said. And it was as close to a rhinoceros as you could get, too. I thought it was one in norm shape, except for the fact that it was walking on two tire-sized legs. His hands were almost as thick, but he still wielded his cleaver with surprising dexterity, considering his form.
“Oh, come on, man, I’m having a dinner party on Wednesday. Do I look like I could eat fifteen pounds of meat by myself?” He glared at me, but then his expression softened.
“All right, I guess so.” He started wrapping the meat in a bundle. “What are you anyways? You’re the most low-D person I’ve seen so far.”
“Oh, sorry. Means Low Degree. As you’ve noticed, people didn’t all change the same amount. You’re a very low degree change, while it’s pretty obvious I’m a high degree. And, since you’re so low degree, you probably don’t need to depend on meat as much as some other guys do. If that guy--” he pointed at Shade, who was looking over some bags of potato chips, “--tried to ask for what you did, I’d laugh right in his face. Meat is gonna be scarce from now on, what with all the predators around. I’m lucky I’m not a prey species, I’ve seen deer that give ‘skittish’ a new meaning.” He finished wrapping the meat, and handed me the white paper bundle. I thanked him and put it in my cart.
"You know, he’s probably right.” Shade said to me as we walked down the produce aisle.
“About the meat thing. If everyone’s changed as much internally as they have externally, that could present some major problems.”
“Well, it all balances out in nature, but I can’t just bring down the closest deer morph when I get hungry. There’s that little thing called capital punishment to worry about.”
“Hmm... I see your point.”
“I mean, I don’t believe this to be life-threatening, but it will require some major alterations to the average person’s lifestyle.”
“Um, maybe ‘average’ is a bit strong of a word to use...” Shade laughed, and continued.
“Very true. Considering how convoluted the word ‘normal’ is going to be, maybe it’s best if we just avoid some words altogether.” We got in the checkout line, and a parrot-looking woman started to ring up our purchases.
“Who’s that?” She asked me, pointing with her beak at Shade.
“That’s Shade.” I told her.
“Shade, huh? Friend of yours?”
“A very close friend, yes.”
“Why is he in norm?” That seemed to be universally known. Maybe all the news anchors were using it.
“Um, he can’t change to morph form.” She did her best to look sad, but it was difficult to do with a beak.
“Oh, how horrible...”
“It’s not so bad,” Shade chimed in. “I can still talk, after all.” The woman seemed surprised at that, but she continued to ring up our purchases.
“Oh. Well, I guess it could be worse... That’ll be $54.63.” I handed her the money, got my change, and loaded the groceries into my shopping cart. After loading the groceries into my trunk, Shade got in the back and I drove home.
“You know,” Shade said on the way home, “it’s amazing how fast some people have recovered. I mean, it’s only been a single day, and already you’re doing the same boring, mundane things.”
“Believe me when I tell you this: the days to come will be anything but boring.”
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