I got up this morning, and as usual, nothing had changed.
Not one tuft of fur, not one plume of feathers, not one patch of scales.
I mean, I'm sixteen now. I have been for two weeks. Everyone else my age is pretty far along in their Change. But what's worse is that my thirteen year old sister has the beak of a cedar waxwing. And me, I've got nothing. Nothing but the boring human shape in the mirror before me.
For some reason about eight years ago everyone above puberty became part animal to some degree. They say something about the universe changed and so here we are; born human, remaining so for the first part of our lives, then it hits. No one knows why or how though thereís been a national research project to try to answer that question, but no luck. Take my mom. When she roars "GET OUT OF BED," you do it. Like this morning.
My high school health teacher says puberty itself is the trigger for the Change, and girls generally start earlier than boys do. My doctor says I'm one of those "late bloomer"-types. They've been thinking about giving me hormones to jump start the process, but I declined. I don't want anything to affect what I might become...
You see, for some reason it's pretty much random what species you become. I mean, my sister is going to be a bird-morph. My mom's a lioness-morph, and my dad, well, he's a bottlenose dolphin-morph. Lucky thing he's average Degree, else he could not live on dry land comfortably.
That's another thing. Degree. The short of it is that some Change more than others, ranging from the "furry human" to almost no different from the real thing, only with functional hands and the ability to speak.
But I've still got nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Of course I'm picked on at school. "Hew-man," or "pink boy." They all say to me. That's a real put down.
With a sigh, checking everything to make sure I did not miss the much awaited "First Sign" I go to the table for breakfast.
Breakfast. My most hated meal of the day since my sister started her Change. The problem is that my sister does not have a gizzard yet (though the doctors say one is slowly growing), so she's on a liquid diet right now.
My sister has the Surging kind of Change. She changes one bit at a time, part by part mostly spreading down from her head because she got a beak first. She also seems to be one of those fast-Change types. The docs say that her Change will complete in about six months. Most take at least a year.
Dad came in all wet, as usual. "Good morning, Thomas." He says to me.
"What's so good about it?" I respond. He says I suffer from "low self esteem," but I donít really care. We all sit down at the table, mom gets out our breakfasts. My sister gets her special drink, with the special straw. The one good thing right now is that she can't talk. Else I just know she'd be making fun of me. Especially today. Waxwings have an erect feathered crest, brownish in color, with a black stripe over their eyes. She's got that crest and stripe this morning. What's worse, she says to me, "still nothing yet?" I nod, then she laughs a chirping laugh.
Just my luck.
Of course, dad has fish. Lots of fish. And mom, mostly carnivorous, has her meat ration. Meat shortages are rather chronic, meat takes a lot of effort to produce. Lucky thing strict carnivores are quite rare. But my mom is one of them so... It's tough but she gets enough. They have come up with a meat substitute she can eat at least, though she does not like it much.
My dad is rather lucky. His skin has the texture and color of the dolphin, but has enough human skin qualities that he does not need to have it wet all the time. "Don't worry, son." He says through his blowmouth. "You'll get it any day now. At least for you it won't be a complete surprise like it was for me." The problem with my dad is I can't get him to stop talking about the day the universe changed. "I woke up with my newly grown dorsal fin jutting me in the back..." I listened to the whole thing once more. Like I wasn't eight at the time and don't remember it myself.
The only thing that saved me from the whole thing was a knock on the door. My friend Allen Zenkin was here. So I quickly grabbed my stuff and headed out the door. "Sorry dad, but I've gotta go."
Before last week, Allen ("Zenk," I call him) was the oldest besides me that had not begun his Change. "Did you get that second opinion you wanted?" I asked him.
"Yeah. And I'm still going to be a bull. Darn it! I wanted claws or wings... and I'm already a ruminant." My friend's First Sign was internal. He has a cow's four stomachs. "I don't wanna be a bull!" he says for what must be the fiftieth time. Then he hiccups and gets a disgusted look on his face. "Man!" And starts to chew on something.
All things considered, he's lucky. At least the teasing has really stopped for him. Now I'm the only one my age left at school that hasn't started Changing.
I really loathe school sometimes. The teasing started even before we got on campus. "Hew-man" was the least of the insults (the others I tend to ignore). Zenk was still on breakfast. "Bleah," he says to me. Again.
"Is it really that bad?" I ask him.
"Yeah, well, kinda. I've really got no choice anyway, the doc says. So I figure I might as well get used to it." Then he sighs.
Which is actually kind of funny looking. Over the past week (since his First Sign) or so his face had started to push out into a short muzzle, incidentally giving him the right teeth for his new diet. It's really hard to notice, but definitely there. Zenk has another method of Change. He's described it to me like having thick honey being poured all over him, very slowly. "Man, it's sooo eerie! I can feel it creeping all over my head and it's starting to go down my neck! I can feel something else different every morning! My doctor says it's because I started so late. He says I'll be done by the end of next month!" Six weeks in other words. Really fast. But it's the rule for we 'late bloomers.' Which worries me.
I'm about half a year or so more overdue than Zenk was. I remember mom and dad Changing in bare hours, like all adults did that strange day.
Anyway, we finally got on campus about twenty minutes before the bell rings. I got my morning donut, Zenk a whole wheat muffin ("bleah," he says), then we both waited outside class for Mrs. Aura to trot up. Even though I'm late in my Change, my counselor thought it might be a good idea to put me in Changeyear classes. Changeyear usually takes place sometime during High School, and was added just three years ago to help people my age acclimate. There are several major classes taken in Changeyear. I won't go into them yet, they aren't important to me right now. I don't understand them besides (not yet at least).
Most of the stuff they're trying to teach me is not yet applicable anyway. I just have to imagine it. Of course my grades in the gutter. Like I care... I rarely say anything in class anyway.
Of course Zenk and I are the first in class. I'm that kind of person. Mrs. Aura is a horse-morph, Low-D (or "Lowddie" as we say) and very human. "Good morning boys," she said to us. "You're coming along pretty well, Allen; and I've got a couple things to give you this morning, too." Zenk got a distressed look on his face. Then he madly scratched the side of his head above his left ear.
We sat down and Mrs. Aura (frankly, she's my favorite teacher) handed a couple of notes to him, the smaller one he looked at quickly.. "Oh, man! Now I've gotta take boring Herd Dynamics!" He scratched his head in the same place again, and a little on the other side, too. I'd not noticed before, but after he took his hand away there was a dark spot under his hair. A horn nub. It could be nothing else. He noticed my staring. "They've been bugging me all morning," he says. "Grew in last night." Then I noticed his eyes have changed just a bit, too... I wondered how much he'd Change today.
The other students started to come in a moment or so later. Zenk had started to read the other thing Mrs. Aura had given him, so did not notice. This was one of the new classes. Herbivores only, that includes birds and reptiles and fish, too. Though not so many of the last one. It is a large class, though. Fifty students. In the wild herbivores outnumber carnivores greatly.
Class would have started right on time, but for one guy Changing in to a whitetail deer had a Surge then and there (not uncommon, it actually happens at least once a week in this class). He'd had the head before (complete with antlers), now he has the signature tail, too. He'll be a Hiddie, (high-Degree) for sure. We spent the rest of the two-hour class discussing that kind of Change, and the problems of having a body part that we simply never had before. Of course I kept silent the whole time, with the other kids sniggering at me. Even the Lowddies who would never get tails anyway.
Not that I don't mind not having a tail yet. It gets me out of the stupid physical and mental exercises they have to do to get used to it being there. The guy who just got his actually did them without question. Maybe because he discovered it by sitting on it... Which is why I paid attention myself. It must hurt.
Zenk finished reading the booklet, and he handed it to me with a grimace (it says: "To Err is Human, to Moo, Bovine" on the cover). The booklet was actually an invitation from the local "Bovinity" club. One of the class requirements of Changeyear is being put with like types. So Zenk got to be put with other bovines like himself. He sighs and rests his head on his desk. "Man!" he says quietly.
The rest of class is mostly uneventful. My high school has block periods: 1-3-5 one day then 2-4-6 the next. So classes are normally two hours long. Zenk goes off to his new class, and I go to the carnivore version of the class I just had (I have to have that class too, because they don't know what I'll be yet). I hate that class the most. The class is much smaller. But the insults are much worse. I just grin and bear it, so to speak. I've got another friend who's a Black bear-morph. He's done Changing, and is about average Degree ("Middie," that is) for his type. He keeps the worst comments away from me.
The worst of the bullies are in this class. The worst of the bunch has been my enemy since the third grade Last year he was ecstatic when he started to get these really sharp teeth. But in a bit of justice he's actually turning into a Hiddie wombat-morph! He's also got Zenk's type of Change. The only thing on him untouched as yet are his feet. I try not to take him seriously, but it's no mean feat. I act like I don't hear him... but itís painful anyway.
Class ends, and I meet Zenk and Cody (the bear) for lunch. Zenk's horns had noticeably grown, his nose had widened and flattened, his muzzle was longer, and his forehead was a bit lower than the morning, along with a slight fuzz on his face. I had to think a moment before I recognized him. Six weeks might be too long an estimate for his Change. More like four, I think. We have a place where we're basically alone. Then for some reason Zenk picks up a bit of grass and puts it in his mouth. "Not bad," he says. "Not bad at all."
I looked at him kind of funny. "You've got to be kidding me?" I say. He just shrugs and all through lunch is picking little bunches of grass and putting it on things. Like his peanut butter sandwich. Yuck. I decided not to ask why he did that... I really don't want to know. If I become a grazer I'll probably find out myself.
My last class of the day is PE. This class runs a close second to the carnivore class in how much I loathe it. It's been modified for both those that can Norm-shift and not. On the roof of the gym is a platform for bird morphs, used for learning how to fly. Fully-Shifted hoofed morphs flashed by me like I was standing still while I ran laps. The comments were as usual very insulting.
But today was the worst of all days. There is one kind of bully I hate the most. The one who uses words to cause pain. He came running up behind me on the track. He's a Middie cheetah-morph with the ability to Shift fully (Norm-shift, that is). I have no idea, and don't really remember what he said to me. All I remember happening is it making me so angry I ran after him with all the speed I could muster, of course he's in and out of the locker room before I even get in the door. He'd called me that before, and I have no idea why I got so angry.
On the way home that anger became anguish. Why does he do that? I asked myself. Zenk is very quiet on the way home, I think he's starting to get used to the idea of becoming a 'minotaur' as it were. He then starts to speak animatedly about the "Bovinity" thing he's gotten involved with. I pay little attention, self pity can do that.
When I walked in the door I heard what must of been the tail end of an argument. "No, you're not changing your name yet and that's final young lady!" My mother was roaring. "But mom!" my sister replies. "What's wrong with 'Cedra'?"
"Nothing. But you've not even started any mental Changes yet. I just don't want you to make a such a momentous choice without thinking about it first." Mom's tufted tail moved back and forth reassuringly. Then she sniffed a the air a bit, the wind was blowing in the door when I opened it. She turned around and her tail whipped in joy, that turns to disappointment when she sees me. Then even she says, "I guess nothing happened on the way home from school?"
I hate that question, and I always answer it somewhat sarcastically, "Does it look like anything did, mom?" Then she shakes her leonine head. We'd long since stopped trying to not to do that daily routine. She sighed. "Well, go and do your homework and then we can go to the mall if you want. I need more meat substitute, anyway."
I did what homework I was able to for the only class I really had the next day. Predator/Prey Relations. Of all classes, both the most boring and the most exciting. Boring, because of the instructor (a lizard of some kind with the most boring lecture tone I've ever heard); and exciting because it's the only class I don't get teased in. Mostly because they're all teasing each other and ignore me. My other two periods (for now) are for two potential classes. One, something like Herd Dynamics or Flight or Instinct Integration some such class, and the other if I have a Power or not.
I decided not to go to the mall, choosing instead to go to bed early.
I felt a draft. When I opened my eyes and turn on the light I find my sheets all ripped up. It had happened before. I mean, mom still forgets sometimes she has those claws and when she puts on clean sheets she sometimes rips them... That does not seem quite right for some reason, so I got up and go to the mirror. Standing before it naked I find nothing different. Tensing my diaphragm I brought up nothing like cud. The doc says it's rather easy to discern any other internal Changes by balance. But I feel nothing at all. Still the same old me. I thought. Somewhat groggily I changed my sheets without waking my parents and went back to sleep.
I don't have any classes until midday, so I slept in a little. Long enough so I'm the only one at home when I get up. It's nice not to have to have family around all the time. That way I can wallow in self pity all by myself. Yesterday had disturbed me deeply for some reason. It was really just a normal day... but when I think about it I come to the conclusion that maybe it's Zenk's and my sister's Change that is bothering me. I've still got nothing.
I could only have one free period, so I'd opted to add another PE class for my midday class. I'd pretty much put yesterday out of my mind, or tried to. But it seemed my luck was both for and against me today. After last night I felt strangely unsettled. It's the strangest feeling... I mean, somehow I just know something is going to happen today.
So, I went out onto the track to do my laps. If it's one thing I'm good at for a human it's endurance. I could be a marathon runner if they still did that sort of thing anymore. But my feline Enemy also has another PE class. After yesterday he's feeling very cocky and pleased with himself. I started repeating to myself, "I will not react, I will not react..." over and over under my breath. It does not work for what he does to me.
Not content this time with a mere verbal attack, Spots-for-brains decides I need something physical. Deep in the 'running trance' that I've settled into, I didn't even notice him standing plainly in front of my path, digigrade foot shoved out in front of him in a classic trip maneuver. The strangest thing is... some part of me does notice, and I feel a strange tingle all over even as I trip over his foot, jaw clattering as I fall heavily to the ground, with the wind knocked out of me.
The tingle grows. Anger and rage I never knew was in me bubbles up seemingly out of nowhere. Of course, he's run off around to the locker room. Then just before I see him go inside, something in me snaps.
All activity on the field stops for some reason as I get back onto my feet and yell, "I'll kill him!!" Among other things, then dash towards the locker room myself.
I barely notice anyone who tries to get in my way, I merely leap over them like a hurtle. I seem to be going incredibly fast... but again I hardly notice through my rage. The only thing I want to do is rend him limb from limb! I incidentally notice how far forward I seem to be leaning, but again all activity stops as I burst into the locker room, in fact few back against the wall for some reason... What's with them? I think. I did not think humans were all that scary looking when they were angry. Hmph.
Then I see him, fear in his eyes, putting on a T-shirt that has "Tails from the Blind Pig" on the front, one of the more popular TV drama series (for all the humans are CGI), with the character "Spots" on it. The look in his eyes catches me off guard. I mean, am I that scary when I'm angry? Not like I'm the Incredible Hulk or something. But as I move closer to him, ready to punch him or something (my feet twitch strangely when I think about that) I notice that in the mirror behind him I see something else where my reflection should be.
The image in the mirror is so distinctive it could--I could--only be one thing, but before I figured things out fully I heard a couple of voices from the door behind me. "Do you think he's lost it, George?" said one voice. "I don't know, and I'm too cautious to find out. But I hope not." Then I heard a quiet popping noise, then a prick in my shoulder. I tried to scratch at it with my clawed hands... but they can't quite move up that far. Using my long tail for balance, I try to use a sickle-clawed foot but whatever it is they shot me with makes me lose consciousness and fall over when I lift it up off the floor.
I awoke with a pounding headache, wondering if it was all a dream. I mean, I must of knocked my head when I was tripped or something. What I saw in that mirror couldn't possibly of been me. Could it?
Something did not seem right. I could tell my feet were covered, and they felt strange when I moved my toes. Numb, kinda. "Tom?" said the very familiar voice of the nurse. "Good! You're awake. Your mother is here." I cringed at her last sentence. Mom being here normally meant that I had been beaten up or something. Now, even through my strange-feeling feet, I thought I must of been beaten up by Spots-for-brains. Mom is so overprotective I swear. I opened my eyes.
The look she gives me is one of great relief, by the way her tail is twitching. I sit up and look at the nurse. She looks at me with her sheep-like face. "Are you okay Tom? Do you feel normal?"
"I... think so," I replied. Then I noticed the bandage on my right shoulder; and the muscle underneath aches. Then I look the sheet covering my feet again. Sheíd placed something on either side of my feet on which the sheet is stretched tautly, and it's pretty tall so I couldn't tell why my feet feel so strange. The numbness does not help either.
The nurse saw my staring. "It's about time this happened," she says with a smile. "Want me to pull back the sheet?"
For some reason what she's saying does not quite connect in my head. I don't know what she's talking about. Then I got an itch on my ankle (which seems strangely high up...) and go to scratch it with my other foot. With a ripping sound, a grayish claw rips easily through the sheet. "What the hell?!?!" I yell, scooting quickly backward on the bed, but the claw follows where my foot should be!
Suddenly there's a pressure on my mind coming from the nurse's direction. She has some sort of projective empathy that she uses to calm her patients down. A good thing for teens in their Changeyear, often there are new instincts that get out of hand and such a Power enables her to do her work easier. My panic subsides. Then it hits me, and I stare at the long curved claw sticking out of the sheet. My heart skips a beat. "You want to see?" says the nurse.
Slowly, to up the suspense level I'm sure, she peeled back the sheet.
My feet felt strange because they weren't the feet I was born with. I was now digigrade, with four toes on each foot. The outer two are long, and have long claws on them, and the innermost toe is tiny and high up on my elongated arches, I now would walk on the balls of my feet. But it was the remaining toe that caught my attention the most. The long, grayish, four-inch curved claw that ended the toe (which was a bit higher up and looked like it would not normally touch the ground) looked like it could cut through anything I put it to. A shiver went up and down my spine. To top it off, the skin was dry, with definite scales that had a semi-glossy sheen to them, their color was a mottled dark brown and yellowish tan. There was only one kind of animal that had that kind of birdlike foot.
"Yes, Mr. Boxhall, you're going to be a dinosaur morph, and probably a Hiddie by your feet. The only dinosaur for fifty miles, by the way. I've not identified the exact species yet, but some kind of dromaeosaur. That's the dinosaur family that includes, velociraptor, deinonychus, and others. From the size of those big claws probably one of the first two. We won't be able to tell without an expert. One thing puzzles me, though. Perhaps I'll just show you the video." Then she clicked on a wall TV.
The picture had obviously been enhanced. It showed me running on the track, I had been on my seventh trip around. The camera clearly shows me in my "trance" when Spots-for-brains runs alongside me for a few hundred feet, yelling something into my inattentive ear. In my trance I don't notice (and the camera mic can't pick up sound that quiet from that far) so then he's clearly thinking about something. Then he seems to come to a decision, and with an evil grin on his face he runs about fifty feet ahead of me and puts his foot out in front of himself, just waiting for me to trip over it.
Then something funny happens. About three feet from tripping my image flickers for a moment. The nurse sees that I saw it, then backs up the vid. She freezes the image on what looks like me, but overlaying my image is what looks like the long-tailed visage of the dinosaur I'm supposed to be Changing into. I gape for a moment, unbelieving. Then I look at my feet again.
"That's not all," says the nurse. "Watch what happens next." I look up, and she plays the vid again. I see myself trip, Spots-for-brains takes off as usual (the coward), then I yell loud enough to be picked up by the mic. Only the word "kill" is discernible because anything else I might of said is an unintelligible bloodcurdling cross between a roar and a scream. I get up amazingly fast, my pants rip and fall off as a long tail grows out. I start running even as my shoes shred to bits by the monster claws that have appeared on my feet, then they fall off. My torso and legs are obviously completely different now, then my shirt rips off too, leaving me completely naked. The camera pans and follows me (with someone controlling it, obviously), and then as I sprint (going at least fifty mph the data at the bottom of the camera says) towards the closing locker room door, my arms and hands start to Change as well. Then the angle switches.
From inside the locker room, a scaled hand with three long, wickedly-clawed fingers opens the door. My head is looking very strange and distorted. I smile, cheeks disappearing which reveals teeth that are rather fierce and bladelike. I remember trying to say something like "Where is he?" inside the locker room, which the mic picks up as a loud angry hiss. My head is really different now, and as I pass close to the camera I see the pupils in my eyes elongate into vertical slits, the rest of my eye is overrun with a very green iris, with the venation almost visible. I now see why most were backing against the wall, by the look in my eyes I'm out for blood. Then my head loses all traces of humanity as scales take over from skin, my hair is absorbed, and my forehead flattens as my muzzle pushes out fully. My god, that can't be me! I think.
As I hiss at Spots-for-brains again, the camera pans back briefly to show the door opening again, revealing the barrel of a tranquilizer rifle. Then there's the pop noise, and then the dart in my(!) shoulder. As I fall to the floor, the camera captures something that makes me sigh in relief even though I'm sitting right here in a hospital gown. Very quickly, the reverse of what happened in my transformation occurs. My head flows back into my own, torso shifting around, pelvis jostling. The tail looks almost like it's being sucked into my body. Then my legs follow suit, all except for my feet, which change very little. The final image is of Spots-for-brains running from the room in norm-shape as fast as his four feet will carry him.
The nurse looked at me. "I guess Mr. Oxnard won't be bothering you again, will he?" she smiles, then turns serious. "Mrs. Boxhall, your son has had a very unique First Sign. It seems his Power was the first to show up, and we're lucky that he apparently had enough control over his instincts. It's a Shifter Power obviously, but if not for Mr. Oxnard I doubt it would have shown itself this soon. The unique thing is, he is the first ever to show a Power as a First Sign... and it's something I want to try keep quiet right now." Then I remember my ripped sheets last night, and the nightmare that I'd had just before I awoke. I guess that does not count, because my feet did not stick... I think.
The nurse speaks up. "You've got two days off to get used to things, and see a Change doctor. He should know exactly what into and how fast you'll Change." I scratch a the itching the skin just above my new ankles. Dead skin flakes off, revealing dark yellowish scales underneath. The nurse looks at the newly revealed scales. "Which looks to be pretty fast the way your skin is flaking. Mrs. Boxhall, if you could help Tom stand up and walk to your car I'll give you the address of where the doctor I've already arranged to have look at him. He's very good. Now if you'll try to stand up we'll get you through this as easy as we can."
Mom had brought me some clothes from home, so I put those on. Trying to stand was very difficult. My foot and ankle may of altered, but the rest of my leg had not changed a smidgen yet. Then there was the strange dissonance of feeling in the feet themselves. Numbness had given way to a pins-and-needles feeling. As Mrs. Aura explains it, it has to do with having to do with the way things are connected in my brain. It's because my brain is expecting certain sensations from my feet, but it's getting other information that it does not expect to. It almost felt like my feet were asleep, with the pins-and-needles as nerves are rearranging and making themselves known. The result is that I almost fall over when I try to stand, six inches taller than before.
I lean on mom's furry shoulder, conscious of everything different about my feet. The claws at the ends interfere with walking because I canít feel them, and they tend to kind of push me back when I try to roll my foot forward. "Come, son," my mom says. "You can do it. It took me two days to get used to these feet." She flexes her own toes, extending her retractile claws when she does so. Which makes me think about my own monster claws. The toes that they are on have an incredibly long arc of motion, but I've got hardly any control over them. I have to be careful that I don't hurt myself let alone others. "Then there are those things. Hmmm... I think I'll have to buy you some claw shields on the way home so you don't damage the carpets. At least until you either learn more control." For some reason that sounded very insulting.
"Mom, I can handle it. Really." So I let go of her shoulder, and promptly fell backwards onto my rear. Then I hear some laughing around the corner, "deal with it, pink boy!" someone yelled. That started to make me angry again. A growl escapes my lips and I feel a twitch from the base of my spine for a moment. Then I realize what's starting to happen to me, and quickly tune out the laughing, which had actually stopped abruptly anyway when they'd seen my feet.
My pants are straining in back from the short tail I know I have. Then there are the short claws on my fingertips and the line of scales on the tops of my arms. Feeling the inside of my mouth with my tongue, my teeth feel remarkably sharp and my lips are drawn back somewhat. "Tom! Calm down! You know that responding to their teasing only gives them ammo." She did not even seem to notice what was happening to me. Mom's like that. It takes a lot to get her hackles up.
I'm so used to doing what she wants I do calm down. I feel the Changes relaxing. Though the dry feeling of scales seems a bit further up my legs, now. The backs of my hands have kept a slight dark brownish discoloration, and feel drier as well. I'm going to have to watch myself... I think. With a bit more ease than I was able to manage before, I hobble to the car and we go to the doctor.
All through the drive I'm scratching at the skin above my ankles and the backs of my hands. The itch is quite intense there, and the skin is rapidly and visibly peeling off, kinda like a bad sunburn, revealing more scales. Enough new scales had now shown up on my legs to reveal a dark yellow/dark brown striping pattern above my ankles, with my feet being all dark brown, almost black in fact. I was leaving little flakes of human skin everywhere, too.
By the time we get to the doctor's office the itching was several inches above my ankles, and my bones in that area ached slightly. The numbness had moved up with the flaking area, with the pins-and-needles sensation not far behind. My feet had finally done with that uncomfortable sensation, and I could now really feel them.
My outer toes are large enough around and long enough so I can grab one fully with a hand and still have a bit of toe left before the claw begins. Other than the four-inch claw (which I cautiously feel, tracing it's outline) my outer toe claws must be an inch and a half long! I flex them a little, in complete wonder over the sensation of having toes that long. Feeling the outermost toe on my right foot, the skin is quite dry, but has a slightly oily feel to keep it pliable. The skin on the underside is tough and leathery, and the area of the toes that still touch the ground is about the same as my original foot. I flex them again... and almost slash my arm as the monster claw sweeps a long arc. I do manage to cut an opening in the car's carpet. "Tom!" Mom says. "Quit picking at it! You'll only cut yourself!"
Geez, mom. I'm not a child anymore. I'm sixteen and am finally Changing at that! I think. So I sit carefully in the passenger seat and cross my arms (which incidentally makes the tops of my hands itch more) and wait to get to the doctor.
"Velociraptor, no question." Says the doctor. "They're one of the most numerous of the dinomorphs for some reason. Though I've only seen two others like yourself. There are only around fifty thousand dinomorphs worldwide, remember."
"How much time until it completes?" My mom asks.
"I give him three days at most, more likely two." I gape at him, then scratch at the itch, which was about halfway up my calves, and my bones are aching. Mom shakes her head in disbelief. The doctor looks at me. He has a kind, ape-like face, (he must be a Middie gorilla) with a voice that one could listen to all day... Under other circumstances.
Two days! A dinosaur! The ability to Norm-shift! Admittedly, the ability to become the full animal shape is the most common of all the Powers, but it's still a Power! He gives mom a holocam so she can tape my whole Change for the record... but that is only a minor annoyance to the excitement I'm feeling!
"As for Degree," the doctor says. "Perhaps I should show you this graph." On a wall screen a bell curve comes up. I recognized it as the graph of Degree for the whole population. "As you can see, the great majority of people are Middies, but this is really illusory because it's a composite of all subspecies." Another graph comes up, one that is noticeably shifted towards the high-Degree end on the right. "This is the dinomorph graph. As you can see, there are practically zero Low-Degrees, and the top of the curve is somewhere between Mid-D and High-D. So you'll be somewhere in that range. I wish I could give you a preview of what you're going to look like, but you're Changing so fast the computer can't get a handle on it. Sorry about that." My shin bones are aching deeply, and I notice they seem to be just a little bit shorter... and my calves have muscled up, too.
"Then there's the mental aspect..." the doctor continues. "It's much, much harder to quantify, and harder to detect. Additionally, it often does not start to show itself for days or even months afterward. Along with the physical tests I'm going to give you now, and after you complete Changing, will be dinosaur 'instinct integration' tests devised by the Middle Life Organization. But let's get you into the scanner, shall we?"
With difficulty, I stood naked within the full body scanner, looking at my hands a moment. The scales have taken them over completely, and my middle and index fingers have started to move in unison. I showed this to the doctor. "It looks like youíre going to lose a finger on each hand. It's no big deal, and the rule for your type. They should start to fuse in a couple of hours. Then youíll start to get claws on your fingertips. I'll give you all the information I've got on dinomorphs. I normally don't give these references out, but I think you need as much information you can get."
There was an uncomfortable sensation from my knees, not painful, but itís one of those things that strangely feels like it should be painful, but isnít. The doctor uses his hand probe to check the joint. "Well, you should not have such a big problem walking now. Your knee joints have rearranged. You're getting hollow bones, too. I think I should send you home, familiar surroundings seem to help most. Just one thing more, though. Your Power that the nurse mentioned. I need to see how much control you have over it. See if you can stand up and I'll show you how to Shift. I can't do it myself, but I think I can describe how. Take off your clothes first, though."
It was much easier to stand up, but I still had to hold on to a table to keep from pitching forward. Then I take off my clothes. My calves had shortened at least two inches, but the new muscles feel much stronger than my old ones! I'm now standing knees bent a little. For some reason the Changes seem to have slowed down on my legs, but my hands are still itching.
The doctor looks at me when I stand clear of the table. "Look at your hand." He says. I do so. "Now focus on it. Imagine it as something else. You might feel a sort of barrier, try to visualize it. Then push your mental self through it."
I imagine the barrier as a long hall. A hall, for some reason, that has many doors that are quite similar to each other, except for one. There are hundreds of them. For a moment I'm overwhelmed. So many paths to take! I think. The meaning of my mental "hall" is a mystery, and I'm really not in any mood to experiment. So I choose the largest, most ornate "door," the one that feels the most familiar, the one that feels like itís been passed through at least once before. My mental hand turns that "knob."
A strange sensation surges through me. I shut my eyes as my skin feels like honey is being poured all over, the scales spreading from my calves and from my hands. Opening my eyes, I see my fingers fuse into three, the tips sprouting long claws the same color as the ones on my feet. I start to lean forward as the uncomfortable jostling starts in my pelvis. A sucking sensation from my groin is evident, as my equipment becomes internal. A tail slides out of my backside, and my torso starts to Change. Additional ribs grow in and my waist disappears, my chest pushes out, thrusting my altered arms down and forward. Then my head starts to feel like itís in a nutcracker. It squashes forward, my nostrils rotate to point forward, I can feel the edges of my mouth being drawn back into a reptilian grin, with my jaw joint cracking and popping. My tongue grows longer, and my teeth seem to flow into the flashing blades I saw in the video. My senses distort and change, scents growing stronger, vision blurring and widening in view, growing sharper. Lastly, my ears seem sucked into my skull and the surging Change stops.
I'm left standing there, my forepart balanced by a long tail, tiger striped by dark brown and dark yellowish tan, dark gray underneath. My hands are unconsciously held up against my chest, I breath deeply. I shake my long-muzzled head, confused for a moment by the scents. One of which, when I think about it, has to be my mother's. I turn towards her, and knock over a vial of something with my tail. I look at her for the first time. Then I sigh in defeat. Of course she's filmed the whole thing. Why did I agree to this? I think. I then try to say "Mom, shut that off!" But it comes out as a fierce high-pitched growl.
Strangely enough, she seems to understand and turns the thing off. Then she embarrasses me in front of the doctor. She hugs me around my long, flexible neck. That shocks me for moment (as if I weren't enough already), then the next thing I do shocks me even more. I lick her on the side of the face. Several times. I decide against trying to return the hug. I'm a little nervous with those long claws. "Tom!" she says. "Stop that! It tickles."
"Okay," the doctor says suddenly, clasping his hands together. I'd forgotten he was even there! "Now that we know you can do it, time to change yourself back. Then I'll give you all the references you can carry, as well as a booklet on the Meso Club, a division of the Middle Life Organization. They'll probably send someone out to meet you in the next week or so. Everyone needs some companionship from their own type of subspecies." He smiles.
For a moment I'm taken aback. I mean, this shape feels great! I can feel the power infusing every muscle, every scale. The senses are amazing! Then again... the lack of real hands and the ability to speak might be a drawback. Well, I can do it at any time I want, so why don't I Change back? I think. I then imagine the door again, this time it's behind me and open. All I do is step from the "room" that I'm standing in into the "Hall" that I'd originally imagined. I feel the reverse of my Change flowing though me, but I don't shut off my imagination just yet.
I ponder why my imagination brought up an image of a hall full of doors, one so much larger and more inviting than the rest. So I mentally walk over to the one next to it, and reach for a "knob". Then I stop and think a moment, having second thoughts. I decide to maybe try one later, but not now. I might not like what's behind it...
Before I put on my clothes I looked at myself again. My index and ring fingers are starting to be joined by a webbing, on both hands. With the palms of my hands turning grayish and dry, and the Change moving up my legs is now an inch above my knees. The doctor advised me not to eat any solid foods, I'm liable to get a gizzard and any food will probably be thrown up. He recommends a drink similar to my sister's. Yuck.
We must of taken about fifty pounds of material out of the doctor's office. Mom's really strong, though. So she carries it all without trouble. Much of the stuff are computer DVD's that have all the info I'll ever need, most of which can't be found on the 'net. We put the stuff in fast under a threatening sky that says "rain soon." Why we decided to move to Oregon I'll never know. I take out a vidpad to look at some of the stuff while we drive for home.
The doorbell rang while I was watching one of the vids the doctor gave me. Dad opened the door, and I heard Zenk's voice. I was wearing a pair of shorts, and the plastic claw sheaths mom insists that I wear. Especially since if I was not careful I tended to cut slashes in things... I heard him walking down the hall, "Tom! Man! You luckysaurus!" he says. "It's all over school. My best friend Tom, a raptor-morph! Heh." He was yelling this as he walked through to the living room, then I saw him.
His voice had sounded strange. Now I saw why. His head was probably finished Changing. He had long horns that were each probably almost a foot long, and his old hair was gone, replaced by a stiff whitish hair. His face had a massive square muzzle, large brown eyes that were very expressive, and he had a low forehead. It in no way resembled the face of the friend I'd had since kindergarten. He sees me on the couch. For a moment I'm doubtful that this is my friend, then a familiar voice comes out of the muzzle. "Wow, man! Look at those feet! Can I, um, feel 'em? Kinda?" His eyes have a friendly gleam in them.
It could only be Zenk. I shrug. "Sure, just don't remove the sheath off that monster claw, that thing is sharp!" I grin, and as he carefully feels the scales. His hand tickles slightly, and my monster claw twitches like I'm going to scratch an itch. Zenk gives me a bovine stare, another odd expression on his face. I'm staring right back at him, though I donít know why. "Sorry," I say. "I've got little control right now, that's why I'm wearing the sheaths. About you, though... your head." I trail off.
His nervous grin turns into a real one, his twitching ears getting into it, too. "Yeah. I had a random Surge in class today. Made me black out, woke up like this. But it's in my arms and shoulders now! I can just feel them getting stronger! My doc says I'll start to bulk up a lot soon, and I need to eat a lot. He gave me a special drink, the hairy ape. It tastes terrible!"
I grimaced for a moment, remembering the drink heíd prescribed for me. I looked at the parts of myself that are Changing. Apparently whatever-it-is that controls the Change is leaving my legs alone at the moment and working on my hands. Those fingers I mentioned had completely fused, and no longer felt distinct. My hand is pretty much numb otherwise. A good thing, because I can see things moving around in there. I really have to force myself not to look. My fingernails are rather pointed, too. Very claw-like, and the scales are halfway up my forearms.
Thinking about Zenk for a moment, I suddenly remember something. Funny, I'd never thought my memory was that good. "Youíre the one who liked 'Cow Boys of Moo Mesa' when we were five!" I say. That surprises him.
Understanding dawns on his face. He stops rubbing my scaled feet. "What? Oh! Oh yeah! I'd forgotten about that old show... I guess I know where my bull tendencies come from, eh? Um... Tom. Quit staring at me like that."
I shook my head. "Like what?"
"Youíre looking at me like I'm dinner or something."
"I'm sorry I don't quite know..." Then he starts to laugh.
"I'm only kidding man! Lighten up!" He laughs even more. But I just donít see what heís talking about... I laugh a token laugh. "But geez! Can you do anything else? There's a rumor at school that you're a Shifter.
I think a moment... "Well, I am a Shifter. I can go Norm if I want to, but I'm not really in the mood right now. My doctor said to wait until I'm done anyway." A small lie, but I was really not keen on doing something I might regret. My friend is becoming a herbivore, after all. And I'm...
He nodded in acceptance. "Personally, I'm hoping for some kind of energy projectile Power, like in that old 'Street Fighter 2' game that I found in my dad's collection. Might be cool." and smiles. Then he picks up one of the books the doctor had given me. Unfortunately, I'd had to go to video when my hands had gone numb. The DigiDisk player is voice command, so is no problem for me. "Whatís this?" asks Zenk.
"A video by some guy named David Smith. Heís the Chairperson of the Meso Club. It's some sort of informative thing. He's a 'raptor too. I've not paid much attention to it, too busy watching myself get scaly." To illustrate my point, I peel off a few more square inches of skin from my arms, revealing more of that striping pattern. By now my hands are starting on the pins-and-needles. I'd really not noticed, but I must of had a microsurge a minute ago. My hands were now finished, and they now ended in three-quarter inch claws. I'm glad I did not try to itch too deeply! I might of cut myself! "When did that happen?" I asked no in particular
"What do you think Iíve been staring at?" Zenk says. Then he itches at his own arms.
Hardly anyone has a single kind of Change. Most of the time itís a combination of Creeping and Surging. So the both of us were pretty normal in our method of Change, if not our duration. Zenk got up and said he had to go home, dinner awaited he said. So I nod, and he goes out the door. Leaving me staring at and flexing my hands.
My fingers are longer (and thicker) than they used to be, even without the claws. I can see my fingerprints just beneath the claws, they seem no different. The skin there is very sensitive now that the p&n are gone. Mom and sis walk through the door a moment later. My sister is staring at me. I can't tell her reaction, mostly because avian faces are not that expressive. "So..." she begins nervously. "So youíre a velociraptor then?" I grin, and hold up my clawed feet in response. She backs up just little. "I guess are a dinosaur! Well, um... I'll be in my room."î Then she runs down the hall and slams her door.
Mom just looks at me for a moment. "What?" I say, spreading my new hands wide in defeat. "Did I say something? No."
My dad walks up wetly behind me. Lucky thing we've got carpet that is mildew-proof. "Your sister is jealous, son. I'm sure you can see that. Personally, I was never interested much in dinosaurs for some reason. She'll come around though. Your mother brought you some of your drink for dinner."
Bleah. Dinosaurs were very birdlike, and had gizzards. I would need gizzard stones to grind my food. One thing my sister and I had in common. Once I got the gizzard, that is.
I awkwardly stood up. It's much easier to for me to walk, now. My muscles were twitching just a bit, and ached slightly from being on the couch so long. I tended to lean forward just a little. Mom gave me the drink, which tastes like chocolate-flavored sawdust. "Bleah." I say aloud.
I spent the rest of the night watching TV. My body seemed to be taking a rest from Changing, and other than my arms, which have been taken over by scales completely, nothing else has Changed. The respite is quite, well, restful. Energy for the Change has to come from somewhere. I must of drank a full gallon of that drink. Tonight I know is going to be tough if I start up again. I decided not to go with my regular shower, probably too clumsy and really might cut myself if I did try. Probably cut gouges in the enamel, too.
Mom had put some of her sheets on my bed. Hopefully the material they're made of won't rip under my own claws. These things are going to take much getting used to... I fell asleep after a lot of tossing and turning. Just can't find the right position for these feet. Until the rest of my body catches up, I doubted my nights would be easy. If the doctor is right about how fast I'm Changing (which just might be faster than he thought), then it might not be all that long. Eventually I fall into a dreamless slumber, too tired even to dream...
I was awoken by an incredibly uncomfortable sensation from my crotch! For a moment it does not quite hit me what it is thatís happening, then I realize that my insides are Changing, along with the exterior parts. My stomach burbles and seems to be flowing around like cold molasses. I clasp my belly with my arms. "Oooohhhh." I groaned. But it stops after a while, and I reach to turn on the light. More than my insides have Changed.
The scales have completely taken over the rest of my lower body to just above my waist. My torso is slightly different, my legs are wider apart, my thighs no longer quite touch each other, and they themselves are much more muscular and just a bit shorter. Between them is what looks like a dip in my ventral outline. I seem to remember in the video that dinosaurs had this dip, it came with the type of pelvis that my type of dinosaur had. I decide to get up and go to the bathroom and take stock.
I notice that I seem to be leaning rather far forward, and I tiredly wonder what the dead weight I that seems to be dragging is, and why I don't just fall on my face... I find out what when I turn the corner to go into the bathroom.
I have a tail.
I can't really see it in the dark hallway, and it tends to move when I do (duh), but it must be four feet long! It's quite numb right now, and I'm not looking forward to the pins-and-needles I know will follow it. Like the norm-shape raptor, it must be balancing my forepart. But not perfectly. On closer examination I see that I'm dragging the blanket behind me, itís twisted around it like a mummy wrapping. Must of really tossed and turned... I try to reach back and take it off, but that proves futile and I almost end up chasing it... Then the pins-and-needles hit.
"Owowowowowow!!!" I yell, then reach back and try to rub it, falling to the floor in shock and pain. I can only reach the base of it, the rubbing seems to help, but not nearly enough. I continue my yelling. Not too loud, though.
Loud enough to wake up my sister, though. She opens up her door, rubbing her eyes, feather crest somewhat mussed up. "Tom," she chirps tiredly, yawning (strange sight with that beak...). "What are you doing? It's three in the morning..." She flips on the hall light. Then sees what Iím doing, and lets out a surprised squawk. "Mmmmmooooommmmm! Dad! Wake up!"
I can't rub all that well with those finger claws. What little I can do helps a lot. Along with the p&n is a throbbing headache and dizziness. Mom and dad rush in. Mom from her bed, dad from the saltwater tank he sleeps in. I guess it's because I now have a tail that I really pay attention to his. It's about as long and thick as mine, and has his flukes on the end. Dad stares for a moment, then looks at mom. "Leona, get the massage rollers! Remember how much they helped me!" They rush to get them, then all four of us are busily using them to massage my new tail, which drowns out the p&n.
I don't really know how long it took, but the sun was coming up by the time the feeling subsided enough so I could handle it. The massaging feels really good for some reason, so I act like I'm still in pain just so they'll continue. They stop when I abruptly say, "Aaaaaahhhhh. Thaannk you!... Hey! Don't stop!" But they do so anyway. Then I feel the tail without interference.
Itís really hard to describe. My brain had obviously stopped rewiring for the new body part, hence the headache I'd had. I mean, I could feel all four feet of it behind me! It's thick at the base, and tapirs smaller and smaller. I can feel the cool air pricking the scaly skin like so many pins. I notice the last foot or so is quite flexible, and I can move it when I think about it. The rest is very stiff. I decide to try to stand up. I'm very hungry all of a sudden. "Are you okay now, Tom?" My mother says. I nod and smile... then notice the end of my tail is twitching along with my smile.
I stare at it a moment and it stops. "Whoa," I say. "Thatís new." Then I notice that mom's tail is twitching as well. Then something clicks in my head. "Guess I've joined the 'no smile' club, eh?" I say. Carnivores like mom rarely smile because of their teeth. You don't want a lioness to smile at you, trust me. My head has not Changed yet, but I imagined when it does that itíd look rather fearsome... I grab my dadís bluish hand and he pulls me up. Then I notice I must lean forward at least thirty degrees, and my tail, now that I can feel it, does balance my forepart. It tingles slightly from the massage, sending shivers all the way up my much longer spine. It feels quite good.
Then I realize that I'm standing in the hallway naked. With my sister standing there too. I try to move to cover my... my... what? There was nothing there to cover. So I just sigh in resignation of my species. Oh well, I think. Nothing experienced, nothing lost. I'd never been particularly possessive over it anyway. I decided to attempt a walk.
Before I'd had to hold onto the wall to keep from pitching forward. Now that I had the tail though, I discovered that with each step it would counterbalance my body exactly. I could, however, when I thought about it, make it move in almost any direction. That was almost weirder than having it in the first place... Otherwise it did its own thing, and I practically forgot it was there in a few minutes.
But not before I'd bumped it against the wall at least ten times. Ouch! In the kitchen, I thwacked it against the refrigerator after I turned around from taking out my nutrodrink. Then there are all the potted plants in the dining room... I won't even go into those. Let's just say that mom was not happy. The nutrodrink still tastes like sawdust, but I was so hungry I drank the stuff without really thinking about it.
My sister was sitting at the kitchen table glowering at me. So I just shrugged. "Sorry," I say. "Not my fault." For some reason this morning I'm noticing everything about everyone. My Change seems to have paused for now. So I practice just walking around and around and around, becoming more and more coordinated with everything, and doing all those mental and physical tail exercises from class (I knew they'd come in handy!). Until the doorbell rings.
Mom and dad are in my room stressing over my clothes. There were none in the house that would really fit me now. Even dad's pants weren't right, his tail is too different. Besides, for some reason clothes seem rather... unnecessary to me now. Redundant, even though Iím not covered with fur. Sure, I'd wear a raincoat if it was raining. A jacket and pants if it was cold. Why the hell else should I wear them? With the rest of my family preoccupied, I opened the door.
It's Zenk, come to check in on me. Heís rummaging in his backpack, though. So he does not notice me at first. He seems to find something in his pack, then as he takes it out says: "Morning Mrs. Boxhall I brought this as a present for..." Then he promptly drops the vid-disk heíd taken out of his pack. He stares at me for a moment, gaping. Purposefully, I bend down to pick up the disk. Clearly displaying the tail behind me at the same time, whipping it upwards, and nearly unbalancing myself. Zenk regains his composure. "Whoa dude! When you said fast you meant FAST didn't you?"
I smile, my tail doing it's thing. "I guess so." I laugh. Then look at the disk. "'Jurassic Parkí?'"
"Sorry, not my idea though. It's the original, and not any of those dumb sequels. My mom bought it to give your mom to give you. I did not think you'd be awake yet. When'd you get that tail?" I told him. "Three in the morning, huh?" Then he pauses for a moment, and looks at me quizzically. "You know something seems different about you this morning."
I kick the bottom of my strongly dark brown/dark yellow striped tail with the back of my left foot. "You noticed." I say, somewhat confused.
"No... it's not that. Not physical, I mean. Just that... well. I don't know really how to put it, but you seem a bit more... talkative? I guess that fits. I know I'm close."
I'm still not quite sure what he means. I know I'm the quiet one in class, it keeps others from teasing me. I just shrug. "Why don't you come in for a moment? You've got a bit of time."
Then he shrugs. "Sorry, can't. I'm meeting one of the Bovinity Club reps in a few minutes, along with my counselor. Guess I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Sure! I just hope I'm done by then. I look rather silly like this. Heh." I 'tailgrined' again, and he walked onward to school.
When I walk into the living room and mom says she wants to take me to the doctor again, just to be sure I'm okay. I'm really not keen on going, but I see her point. So I just rolled my eyes in resignation and we went out to the car.
Getting into the car is an easier task than it was a few years ago. Since they started designing cars with seats that had tails in mind.
But the hole in the passenger seat was almost too small, so it was very uncomfortable to sit in. I did anyway, though. At least the space between the seats was large enough that I did have to bend the thing all that much... My tail (wow) was still hurting from hitting it against the walls and knocking over potted plants. My brain might know it's there, but my mind surely does not. So much for "Maximum Tail Comfort Seating."
Of course when we get about five miles down the road I have to go to the bathroom. So we stop at a hydrogen fuel station.
All I'll say about going is: Yuck. Like birds and reptiles, it seems that dinos have only one opening for all functions, and on me it's just behind that dip between my legs. I had to sort of place my neither end over the toilet (which was a bird-morph model anyway) and let go. All I'll say about that is I guess I'm more birdlike than I thought...
When we get to the doctor he exclaims over not being able to predict things as well as he should, then takes another body scan. Then he confirms what I felt last night. "You've got a gizzard," he says matter-of-factly. I'm just sitting at a table, naked (and not really minding it, I had to insist to mom that it was redundant. She doesn't wear many clothes herself, anyway) resting my head in my left hand and idly drumming my finger claws against the formica counter.
"Duh, doc," I say. "That's what I said just a few minutes ago. Is there anything else you want to tell me?" with sarcasm. I scratched at my chest with my knuckles, it's gaining the grayish skin I'd seen in norm-shape. It's smoother than the scales on my back and tail. And practically up to my neck.
He rubs his forehead in exasperation. We'd gotten him out of bed. "You seem to be following that tail exercise program they teach you in school. It's a good method and I really can't give you any improvements. You're going to be pretty much a meat eater, I can tell. Not as much as your mother, but maybe sixty percent or so of your diet will have to be meat or an acceptable substitute. If your head had Changed I'd give you some gizzard stones, I'll give them to you anyway, though. With your speed you'll be done by tomorrow morning anyway." He sighs deeply. "Don't get me wrong, Tom. This has really been exciting for me. Someone like you only comes along once in a lifetime, after all. I really kind want to thank you."
Thank me? Just as I'm about to say something, my vision starts to distort and blur. I shut my eyes before the swimming room makes me want to retch. I cover my tightly shut eyes with my hands. "Tom! What's wrong?" Yells my mother.
I feel too bad to answer. My whole head starts to feel like itís vibrating, and I'm so dizzy I feel like I would fall off the couch, if the doctor was not holding me up. The numbness jumps from my neck, where it'd stopped, onto my face and the rest of my head. The only way I can feel my head is with my hands, my hair is rapidly disappearing. The numbness lasts for agonizing seconds, only to be replaced by a painful pricking sensation that is much worse. With one hand I can feel my jawline extend, with the other the edges of my mouth being drawn back.
There is a sound of cracking bone and cartilage, I can tell my ears are retracting, never to be seen again. My tongue is numb, too. Then even it starts to buzz with pins-and-needles. I try to yell, but nothing comes out but a pathetic wheeze. My senses distort and change. Scents become more intense and distinct. The place smells like disinfectant. My twisting and shifting nostrils contract to try to block them out. Then I realize I'm starting to feel things on my face again.
The dizziness and pricking starts to subside. With my tongue, I feel numerous, almost uniformly shaped, bladelike, sharp teeth inside my mouth. I can feel a small fork in the tip of my tongue. My jaw is a bit stiff, so I open and close my mouth. The sensation of just opening my mouth feels different. Duh. Saurian and mammalian jaws were quite different. I must be closer to dinosaur than human, then.
I feel the shape of my head with my hands, I've got a long muzzle, almost as long as the natural velociraptor's, I can tell. My cranium is a might larger, though. I have a relatively small forehead, and my muzzle seems a bit more steeply sloped than the normal raptor's. I continue to work out the stiffness in my jaw, incidentally noticing the corners of my mouth are behind my eyes, with my jaw muscle evident when I carefully feel further.
Then I realize I seem to be panting. The cool air actually feels quite good on my tongue, so I don't bother stopping myself. Then I take a deep breath.
The antiseptic smell is very intense. But I find if I concentrate I can filter it out. Then I smell a familiar scent. My mother's. She smells... excited? Is that what that is? I think. Excitement. Emotion? I'm smelling an emotion? I take a deeper breath, and smell it again. A whole world suddenly opens up to me. Then I start to laugh, a sound that comes from deeper in my throat than used to. "Incredible!" I say aloud.
"What, Tom?" my mom says. Concern in her voice... and in her scent. I take another breath.
The emotion-scent is in her breath, and in her fur. I'm going to have to read up on this... I think. "Just savoring your scent, mom. You know what I mean." Then I remember my mother's reaction to her new nose years ago. She sighs, remembering.
"I think I understand." She says. I swore I could smell her smile! Then I realize that I've not even opened my eyes yet, or taken my hands off of my head either. I slowly let go, perhaps with a bit of reluctance. But suddenly seeing myself in a mirror has become very important.
I blink a few times to clear the gunk from my Change from my eyes. The doctor brings over a full-length mirror, covered with a dark sheet. "You ready?" he says with a grin. I nod vigorously.
I've always been told that the first sight of yourself completely Changed in the mirror is a very profound one. I really had no idea what they meant by that. I do now.
I stand there I donít know how long just staring. I'd not looked in a mirror since I'd started Changing, fearing what I'd see.
I look positively viscous! I have a glare that could strip the paint off a car!!
I am definitely a Hiddie. A bit more Changed than that David Smith guy I'd seen in the vid. My forehead is very low, almost nonexistent in fact. My head is so close to the norm-shape raptor that it would take a very close look to really see a difference. My neck is connected more or less to the back of my skull, and it's very flexible. I can turn my head almost all the way around, and tilt it left and right by surprising amounts. It's long enough for me to easily lower my head to the ground and look beneath myself without moving my body much.
The muzzle is constantly in my vision. My field of view is wider and my vision seems sharper. Depth perception is less. Reds are more intense than they used to be. In the mirror, my eyes are the most amazing green, with slit pupils and very cat-like.
I love 'em.
I take another deep breath. The combination of sight and smell gives me a whole picture of the room that I'd never guessed. My hearing too, seems better. Though I'd imagine I'd get a better indication of how it'd Changed outside.
I looked at myself in the mirror again. My body was no longer numb or aching or stretching or anything. My Change was complete. I was finished. I felt consistent and looked so.
Just for fun, I started to pose a little. Opening my mouth displaying my teeth, my hands held out in front of me like Iím going to slash something (or is that someone?) with them. I flex my feet a little, bringing them into the pose. I run in place, pumping my powerfully muscled legs faster than I was ever able to. Everything works, I feel stronger than I used to be. Not all that surprising. I wondered if I'd still be able to run for long distances. The tip of my tail swished around in astonishment.
Then I stop, and sigh again. Looking at myself up and down in the mirror. "I guess this is me now," I say. Then I realize what I'm feeling. Emotionally that is.
It'd taken me a while to figure it out, and frankly, I guess I was never happy being human, I'd always felt so vulnerable and hardly ever tried to defend myself, I'd not even attempted to keep from being beaten up, I just took it as normal and never told anyone about it. I'd gotten quite adept at hiding all the signs. This was much better. Most of all, I was realizing, this thing out of the mists of time from life on Earth was me. Bullies would never bother me again. And if they did...
Along with the feeling of completeness of body, was a completeness and clarity of mind that I'd never before felt. As if a fog had cleared like magic. I know I'm a different person, now. I can remember my old self with perfect clarity, but his actions are sometimes a mystery, sometimes not. On top of that, I don't even know who the person I've become is. I briefly ponder a change of name, but dismiss it after a moment's thought. I am still the summation of my experience, I simply refuse to let the past rule my life anymore.
It's time to start anew, I think.
I tailgrin, and look at the doctor. "Well, doc. If you have any tests to run on me I suggest you do them now. I want to go home and give my friend a call..." I might want to start anew, but that did not include new friends. Zenk means a lot to me. Though I was just a tad nervous about seeing him since I'd become one of the best predators this planet had ever seen...
He runs all the standard stuff. I won't go into it. But I was exhausted when he was done. With the help of another bird-morph doctor, I swallowed the gizzard stones. I had to kind of roll them around on my tongue until they kind of fell down my throat. I could feel them in there, rolling around, making little clacking noises. Then my doctor gives me a plate of rarely cooked meat (beef? It smells like it...). "Is this beef?" I ask the doctor.
He shrugs. "Yes. It's a good way to help you learn how to eat, you basically have to swallow things in little chunks, your gizzard does all the work. Is there a problem?"
I cross my arms across my chest, then glare at him putting all the seriousness I could into my expression. Apparently I succeeded. "Doc, my friend is turning into a bull. Out of respect for him I won't eat beef, and won't until he tells me he does not mind. Is there anything else you can feed me? I am just a bit hungry."
He takes away the beef, giving me a bit of what smells like lamb(?) instead. Frankly, it'd taken a lot of self control to keep from just downing the beef in large gulps. The inside of my mouth had a strange hot taste in it, and was practically watering at the scent of the meat. Mom looks at the plate hungrily. For a moment I feel just a little bit possessive over my meal, and I almost turn to hide the food from her. Then realize what I'm thinking. Mostly from remembering the lectures in the Carnivore Class about feeding behaviors.
"Help yourself," I say between mouthfuls. With a thankful tailgrin, she takes a large slice off the plate and chews on it gratefully. When we got home of course she'd go sleep it off. Mom always takes a long nap after meals (and she always manages to look soooo comfortable while sleeping). It's a wonder she gets any work done at all. Lucky thing she's a telecommuter...
I wolf down the meat like I'd not eaten in days... months! I did not seem to be able to taste very much, though. My tests had shown that the amount of tastebuds on my tongue had been reduced by about half. My more sensitive nose more than made up for it, though. Not chewing was rather strange. What I ended up doing was use my bladelike teeth to rip off chunks if the bit on the fork was too big. They seemed designed for doing that. I also tended to use my fingerclaws like a knife. Very practical, those claws.
After my gizzard is full, the doctor says that he wants to have some vision tests run on me. I'm not really keen on more tests, so I fix him with my Glare again. But he's adamant, so I reluctantly submitted. I figure I might a well get it over with. Besides, I'd kinda like to know what my abilities are before I go back to school in the morning... then there's the trip to the mall I want to take. I had an eye on some of those new reptilian styles out. Just because I think clothes are redundant did not mean I won't wear them. Oregon is too cold and rainy most of the year not to anyway.
All through the drive I have the vanity mirror down and am just staring at myself. Out of curiosity I try a growl just to see if I can do it. I succeed very well, almost scaring myself. Well enough that mom pulls over. "Are you okay?"
I roll my eyes (that seems to of been an expression that transferred nicely). "Mom, how often have I heard you roar just to hear yourself do it?" Her face under her fur goes just a bit red to my enhanced vision. She's blushing. "My point exactly." She continues to drive. For a moment that makes me wonder about myself. I decide that is one of the personality Changes that have occurred. I was never very good at expressing myself before, now words seem to come much easier. Cool, I think.
"South City Optometry." The sign on the window says. The place looks rather small. Only a nurse/receptionist is sitting in front. She's a rodent of some kind, I can't tell exactly what. There are so many kinds of morph it's impossible to know them all. She hardly reacted to me at all. A sign that she's probably seen a few other dinomorphs. "He'll be with you in a moment," she says. "An old friend of his is visiting and they're talking. They've not seen each other in a few years so it might be a while."
It didn't take all that long. The door opened, and a very cool looking Hiddie bald eagle morph came out the door, followed by another Hiddie, this time a whitetail deer-morph. They both smelled very strange to me... I don't really know how to put it... I almost felt like I knew the deer-morph for some reason. Strange feeling, so I put it out of my mind. "I'm sorry I've got to go, Brian," The deer said in a smooth baritone voice. "But I'm afraid I've got to get back to my research. Two weeks in Oregon have been very restful, though. Thanks much for helping me proof it."
"No problem, Jon. It was a little dry reading, but it is going to be a history textbook after all. I'm just glad I was able to help." The eagle was the kind who had six limbs, the extra two being the large wings on his back. "I'll see you in San Diego in six months?"
"Sure thing. I don't know how much I'll be able to keep in contact, though. The Vidnet where I'm going is not so good. Email will have to do..." They shook hands. "Take care," he says. He looks at me for a moment, his eyes went wide and his ears back, nostrils pulsing while he smelled the air. He looked me over, then shook his head, I heard him say under his breath, "nah, I only think I know him, like that David Smith guy I've read about. Weird. Oh, well." Then he went out the door, got into an old Toyota RAV-4 that was still in perfect condition (briefly ducking to avoid damaging his growing antlers, the car was old enough to have look like it'd been one of the original post-Change modifications) and drove off.
"Sorry about that," said the eagle. "I'm Dr. Coe. Glad to meet you Mrs. Boxhall, Tom." I shook his hand, noticing it was very similar to my own.
I looked at him for a moment. Glaring. "Doc, I really want to get through this as fast as I can, there's a lot of stuff I want to do."
Then he fixes me with his glare. Then again, it looks like he always looks that way. Probably because of his species. "Don't bother looking at me like that, Tom. It does not work." He sighs. "Well, I guess we don't have to do everything at once. I'll just do a basic exam first then perhaps we can do some of the more exotic tests later in the week. I want to be sure that your eyes Changed smoothly. Won't you come into the examination room?" I shrug, then walk into the room.
I have to stand a moment while Dr. Coe changes seat types. He takes out an adjustable reptile-type stool that has a tail support. "Let's get started, shall we?"
Most of the instruments used before the Change for eye exams had not changed much. Oh, there were a few things that were different, the thing the optometrist uses to get your exact prescription my switching between various lenses, then asks you "does this seem better?" had to be redesigned to accommodate different head types. Eye charts had to be redone, and while I was under that lens-thingy he discovered a small problem. "You are slightly nearsighted in your left eye, compared to the normal acuity of your new species, that is. Overall your vision is much better. According to your last exam you were already nearsighted like that before you Changed, so you did Change smoothly. But I'm going to prescribe a kind of eyedrop. It's a kind of clear gel that has certain refractive properties and can correct very minor problems like yours. I need to do a glaucoma test first, though."
Unfortunately that meant he had to put an anesthetic in my eyes. He brought his wickedly hooked beak uncomfortably close to my head. I had to tilt my head to the side. The eyedropper was very close, he was wearing talon protectors so he did not stick anything, but I started to blink a lot. I finally managed to hold my eye open, but as soon as I saw the drop fall my vision suddenly went very cloudy. It sort of swept up from below, almost like... "Huh," says Dr. Coe. "You've got a nictitating membrane. I guess I should of expected it..."
"Excuse me?" I say.
"Look at me for a moment." He pointed at his own eyes, and a dull white lid swept up from the lower part of his left eye. "It basically cleans the eye of dirt and dust, I use it a lot when I fly. It also protects the eye from other things that might damage it. Must of been an instinctive reaction on your part... oh, well. I guess we'll save that one for later. Let me just give you the gel eyedropper and you can be on your way."
We made an appointment for the weekend to do everything else (I was not really looking forward to it), then we stopped briefly at the mall.
The stares that I got were often a mixture of awe and envy, sprinkled with fear from the more skittish among those who'd become prey animals. It's Oregon, so of course it's raining. Mom is wearing a loose full-body rainsuit that seals fully, yet still has air circulation. She's covered from her head to the tip of her tail in it, no fur is really exposed. Wet fur is not the best smell in the world.
Unfortunately, since I had nothing that would fit, this meant that I was soaked to the bone by the time we reached the door. The mall had several large full-body dryers near the entrance for the furry customers (who were the great majority), one was free so I spent a short time in there. I was quickly finding out that I was very happy that I did not have fur. It takes only a small fraction of the time to dry, if nothing else.
We managed to pick up some "Reptile" jeans, they trend towards being thicker than the mammal types, because from Middie above most reptomorphs are cold blooded. My doctor said I'm warm blooded, though. More like a bird than a reptile. We must of spent close to five hundred dollars on a new wardrobe.
I took off those annoying claw shields for a short time while trying stuff on, and incidentally discovered that they made a very satisfying click sound when I walked. I came out of the fitting room in the clothes I was to wear home (a pair of jeans shorts with a short tail sleeve, with a zipper on the top of the sleeve so I did not have to slip it over the far end of the thing), and a button shirt, but without the claw shields on. Mom yelled at me for a moment. That took me aback. How could I explain it to her? They felt unnatural for me to wear! Besides, I'd become coordinated enough that I wasn't cutting holes in things anymore. Sheesh!
We got home just before school was supposed to end. I knew Zenk would probably stop by, and I wanted to give him a surprise.
My hearing was a little better, not so much because what passes for an ear on me is just a hole ("auditory meatus" is the term, I'd read), I still heard him coming up the walk, though. I could not smell him because the windows were closed, besides, I was too busy getting ready in the entry for my little surprise.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" my dad says.
"Yeah, dad. He seemed interested in my norm-shape. I just thought that since I'm done I'd show him what it really looks like. I know Zenk, he'll be thrilled, not surprised. I doubt there's any instincts he could get that could faze him either."
"Okay..." My dad says with great reluctance.
I Shift, strike a fearsome pose that I'd practiced for the past half hour or so. Then there's a knock on the door and my dad opens it for me...
There's saying out there about the "best laid plans going to waste." Or something like that. When the door opened something happened that I never expected.
The door opened on a large, white, horned, Large, snorting, stamping, huge, bull.
Funny, I always thought of velociraptors as fearless.
On second thought, maybe when I felt was not exactly fear. More like: "This thing is much bigger than you. Much bigger. You can't do this yourself! So maybe it'd be a good idea to leave." So I did. I don't even remember slamming the door to my room, where I felt most safe.
A few minutes later I started to feel safe again, so I Shifted back to morph. There was a knock on my door. Opening it, Zenk stood there looking apologetic. He scratches his head around his horns, embarrassed. "Um, sorry I scared ya. I kinda found out during PE I could Shift and kinda wanted to strike a pose to show you when you opened up the door. Sorry about that. Um, your dad said you're done Changing?" He was looking at me kind of funny, somewhat in disbelief, it seemed.
"Seems so, this is me now," I say to him. I make a show of flexing my feet and my biceps, tailgrining at the same time.
"Are you angry at me or something?" Zenk says.
"No, why do you ask?"
"Well, I guess that maybe you just look so... um."
"Sinister? Menacing? Evil? No big deal." Then I inform him about what my tail does.
"Oh yeah! Like your mom! Cool. Um, I saw Mr. Wilkes today and he gave me this note to give you, and Mrs. Aura gave me this note to see your counselors. I can't stay much longer, my parents want to go out and get me some Shifter clothing. That's why it took me so long to knock on your door. I'd had to put my loners back on."
I suddenly start to laugh a growling laugh. "You know I was going to do the same thing? Strike a pose and show off when dad opened the door, I mean. When I saw you all I saw was something bigger than me that could kill me... out of curiosity, do you know how much you weigh in norm-shape?"
"Almost a ton."
"That explains it, then. I weigh about one-fifty. A good predator knows when he's beat, and you could of beaten me! Ha!" Then we both started laughing. Zenk had to go, he'd said he wanted to go to the mall and hang out this weekend, so I agreed to meet him in the arcade then, but I would see him in the morning tomorrow to walk to school, too. Even though tomorrow I was not supposed to have a class until midday, the note from my counselor said she wanted to see me bright and early. Nice thing it was going to be Friday...
For dinner we had ground turkeyburgers, (mom and I like ours rare, very rare) and a bit of pasta. Until bedtime I read as much about raptors as I could, even paid attention to that Meso Club video this time (the video's method on how to drink was helpful, kept me from spilling my soda out the sides of my mouth). The Club looked very interesting, and for some reason socializing with other dinomorphs was intriguing.
I took my evening shower. A very normal thing. But it was something else I had not done since I'd finished. I slammed the shower door on my tail both getting in and out. Then, how was I supposed to wash the thing? No way I could bend it around without falling over. There was also much more of me to wash than before. When I got out and contemplated brushing my teeth, I groaned. It took me a full half hour.
The only real problem I had that night was finding a comfortable position. Mom had gotten more sheets like those on her bed for me, and I'd tested them with my monster claws. They didn't even show a crease, and were very soft. So at least I would not be ripping up my bed.
I finally managed to fall asleep on my side, my head curled backwards somewhat next to my chest. Once I found that position, I feel asleep gratefully, wondering about school the next day... Ever have one of those mornings? No, not one of those mornings. The ones where you just so comfortable in bed and you just don't want to even move lest you destroy a full night's sleep?
If not for mom I doubt I would of gotten out of bed all day. I still felt like I'd been run over by several dozen busses, the past two days had not been exactly restful by any means. I'd had a full year crammed into a bare day of Change. In a bit of normalcy, mom roared "GET OUT OF BED" in a familiar tone. My only reluctance was that I was in an oddly comfortable position. I was on my side, my head was against my chest, my neck curled at an odd angle, the end of my tail (which had proved a bit more flexible than I thought) was curled and the end of it was resting atop my head.
For a moment when I opened my eyes I forgot that that... thing was a part of me. Then there was the sight of my hands, my feet... I almost panicked. Then I remembered the past couple of days. Then rubbed the end of my snout and chuckled in self-embarrassment.
Mom had washed my new clothes to get out some of the smell of the dye. I put on a pair of black jeans and a gray shirt. We'd not been able to find any shoes for my feet (I did not want any anyway).
Zenk knocked on the door right on time. "Are you ready?" He says. I down a bit of the chicken-flavored meat substitute (stuff tastes terrible! No wonder mom hates it), grab my backpack, and with Zenk smiling we head off to school.
I have to admit that I was feeling very nervous, as we got closer and closer to campus, the only thing that met us was utter and complete silence. I've never heard -- or not heard -- anything like it. For once we were coming onto campus in complete silence!
There is one group of girls that no matter how early or late that we leave we always seem to intercept walking to school. A funny thing. Most of them are seniors, so are Changed. But I always cringe when I see them. Not this morning, though. Let them make fun of me now! We saw them coming up a cross street, most of them were hoofed mammals (an antelope, a thompson's gazelle, and a gnu), with the last one of their group an English sheepdog. I'd known them since I was in second grade and they were in fourth. I've always hated them.
This morning though, strangely enough, I felt no real animosity towards them, only pity. I smelled them way before I saw them, of course, and they smelled me. They stopped, nervously sniffing the air. The sheepdog continued to walk, though. She had an odd expression on her canine face, her scent unbelieving, her long, thick fur hanging down into her eyes (she was the one among them who actually liked her species), she walked up to me and said, "You can't be Tom! Can you?"
Even though I really felt no hatred for her (isn't that the point of starting over?) I still felt that she perhaps had bugged me once too often. "Maybe yes, maybe no." I said noncommittally. "You decide. Choose wisely." The last bit I put a growl into it.
"Well, I, uh..." She began nervously. "Um, I guess you are. Tom, I mean." She looked at me up and down, pausing on my m-claws. Then turned around and walked away muttering to herself. "I can't believe it! At least he did not gut me like he did Ricky..." She went back to her little herd, and herded them off to school.
The whole time Zenk has had to clamp a hand on his muzzle to keep from bursting out in laughter. "Man! You've been wanting to do that for years haven't you?"
"Hell yeah! Felt pretty good, too. I doubt we'll ever intercept them again. Hah!" We walked onward, occasionally laughing aloud. Today looked like it was going to be a good day. Payback time, I think.
I'm not a saint. So a little revenge was in order. Nothing harmful. Nothing grotesque. Nothing permanent. I just felt like messing with their minds a little (those that had minds, that is). I knew for most of them I'd not have to do more than Glare at them. When I thought about it, they were all cowards anyway.
When we got on campus there was a mix of excited whispering, staring, gaping, looks of awe and admiration, fear, and just a bit of resentful looks on the other teens as we went to the cafeteria to get our breakfast supplement. I took out a diet sheet my doctor had given me, checking to see if doughnuts were still on the list. Yes! "Gimme one glazed please." I say to Mike, the mule-morph at the register.
"Sure thing, Tom. Glad to see you back. Haaaw! I wouldn't want to be Ricky Oxnard today!" He rung up my food.
"Why's that?" I say.
"Well, you know..."
"I do know. It's not your problem, so don't go spreading rumors on me, right?" I Glared at him.
"Um... ahhh... Sure Tom. Never even crossed my mind."
Oh, but it had. Mike was the worst gossip on campus. Last year in my Sociology class I did a project on gossip, and traced the source of about half the rumors on campus to him. (He was like that before he Changed, I'd found out; it had nothing to do with him being a mule.) One of the few projects I got an "A" on that year... "Good. Thanks."
I had a few problems eating the thing. I finally managed to just tear little bits off and swallow them after softening them up with a bit of chocolate milk. "So much for my morning doughnut." I mused aloud, looking sadly at the last little bit between my clawed fingers. I leaned against a light post, behind was a grassy "pasture" area. Zenk usually responds in some way when I muse aloud, but the only thing I got was a real, full blown "moo" right behind me! I looked back at him in total shock!
"Gotcha, didn't I?" he says slyly. The bell rings right then, so Zenk has to go to class. His first class is the Predator/Prey Relations (PPR) class, for some reason he sighs a sigh of defeat such as I've never heard from him. He smells... sad? Distressed? I don't know. Still learning how to use this nose. "See you at lunch?" he says dejectedly.
"Sure thing, I've got to go see my counselor anyway." As he walks off I wonder, he seemed to of reacted to that class like I did for the Carni Class. I'm left wondering about that as I walk throughout the crowd (which parts ahead of me like the Red Sea before Moses, for once) to the counseling office.
"I'm rearranging your classes," says my counselor. "I don't think it's a good idea to keep you where you might do something you might regret."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I said.
"Well, considering what you've Changed into, I was thinking of the safety of your classmates. You know the ones I mean. Don't be offended, it's not that I think you'll start skinning your classmates, but I just don't want some of them tripping over desks just trying to get out of the room!" She smiles.
I do not.
"Tom, believe me. I've met people like you before, and your type are usually quite emotional. And there's something else."
"What?" I said coldly.
"School policy requires that you wear claw shields at all times. Bird-of-prey morphs have to do the same, so we're not doing it just to you. I'm sorry."
No, she wasn't. I could smell it (the self-righteous quack). Not much I could do about it, though. Looking over my new schedule, it looked like this:
Period Course Teacher 1 Predator/Prey Relations Marker 2 Instinct Integration Boldway 3 Pack Dynamics Calvert 4 Carnivore Behavior Greenblat 5 PE Swansen 6 (Free) ---
For a moment I was disappointed. I was no longer in Herbivore Behavior with Mrs. Aura. I guess I should of expected it... it was saddening nonetheless. Then I remembered something. My first period was the same class and teacher as Zenk! So I still had one class with him! Yes!
So with a spring in my step (damn those safety sheaths!) I walked on to my new first class.
Then when I was about ten feet from the door, still out of sight, I heard why Zenk hated the class so much. What I heard coming from there I will not repeat, it was many times worse than anything than ever I got in any class I ever had.
Barely keeping my anger in check, I casually walked in the door and sat down in the empty seat next to Zenk. He'd been near to tears before I walked in. A funny thing, he'd never even hinted at anything like this. Well, maybe not so funny. He was not the type to saddle others with his problems.
When I opened the door his eyes lit up. The room went so silent you could hear a feather fall (and I did, from the macaw-morph at the far end of the room). The worst thing about it is that the teacher did not seem to care.
Zenk smiled throughout the rest of the class. When anyone even attempted to say something to him I just turned my head and Glared. That's really all it ever took. My tail was twitching so fast by the time class ended (and Zenk looked so relieved) I felt like I was going to explode in laughter!
Marker did not seem to care that I came into his class. All I did was show him my class sheet and he nodded once (the old... whatever. Some kind of weasel) and that was that.
When class ended, and we had a ten minute break before our next class, Zenk finally spoke to me, "Thanks a lot, Tom. Those guys were really ragging on me."
"Why didn't you tell me about that? I mean, I could of had myself transferred into that class and drawn some fire from you! Gladly, too."
He ducked his big head in embarrassment. "Well, you know me..."
"Yes, Zenk. I do. And you know me. You're my friend. Nothing that happens to either of us can change that."
"Well, it's just that you're so different now. Not that I don't like the 'new you', I like you better now in fact, it's just that... You were never like this before."
"You know as well as I do that the Change transforms you in more ways than one. Maybe it just seems counterintuitive that I am the way I am now, mentally, that is."
"What's you next class?" he asks, changing the subject.
I sigh, then take out my slip. "Lemme see, I've got Mr. Calvert for Pack Dynamics." Today was a 1-3-5 day.
"Calvert? You'll like him! He knows more about pack behavior than anyone I know! Most of his class are canines. Weren't raptors pack animals too?"
"I don't know, they must of stuck me in there for some reason. But if you're giving him a good rating I'm going to be happy with him. He also teaches Freshman English, right?"
"Yep. That's how I know him, from last year. You'll like it."
I surely did. Though he made an example of me throughout the whole class. Mainly by quoting from a book written by dinomorphs with this thing called 'racial memory', about how canid and dromaeosaurid pack behavior was alike. Most of those in the class had problems with excessive pack behavior, so I wondered again why my counselor (roast duck sounds good tonight...) put me in this class. He called my species "Cretaceous Wolf" instead of velociraptor. From what I learned in that class in just two hours it did sort of fit...
Just as the lunch bell rang, I asked Mr. Calvert about my seemingly cowardly behavior to Zenk's other shape. "Simple. You at least have a small amount of this racial memory, enough to realize when something is too big for yourself to handle. You were in norm-shape, right?" I nodded. "That explains it, then. When you're in norm-shape instincts are in more direct control. For all you or Zenk knows, he might of actually hurt you. Don't worry about it. Just think about what you're doing and you'll be able to override it." He went on to tell me he was a weak telepath and could tell I really did not need this class anyway, and would say as much to my counselor. I thanked him and went to lunch.
The note from Mr. Wilkes said he just wanted me to see him after school. So I met Zenk and Cody (who was very apprehensive, but he sat down once I recited a few things from memory only I would know) at our normal spot. Then Zenk surprised us. "I think I'm going to graze a little."
"What?!" Cody and I said in unison.
"You heard me. I think it's cool. Sorry I won't be able to talk with you guys, though. 'Moo' is not the most expressive word in the world. Heh."
Zenk seems to be one of those "flash" Shifters. The clothes he's wearing are specific to his kind of Shifting, he does not need to take them off, because they disappear when he Shifts and stay with him somehow. Frankly, I'm jealous. According to my science teacher there's a kind of ambient energy field responsive to thought. Those of us who are Shifters with large difference in mass either way either absorb energy from this field, turning it to mass. Or if you're something like a rat morph, converting the excess mass to this energy. That's the only Power that's really been explained, though just how we're commanding this energy field in the first place is a huge mystery. And it's thought, apparently, that's the key.
While Zenk grazed, Cody and I talked. I talked about the past couple days, mainly. He actually had similar experiences as me, so one more thing we had to add to our long list of stuff in common. He also had my class in Carnivore Behavior. "Mr. Greenblat is not the best teacher in the world." he said. "You might almost call him racist."
"Racist?" That was an odd word to use. "Racism" as a rule had really died out during the Plague almost sixty years ago! The Change had only made it deader. The guy must be a throwback.
"Yeah. It's just that Before the Change he had some strong opinions on some things. Seems he thinks that all dinosaurs were cold blooded, dumber than dirt, and were solitary. He's liable to say as much to your scaly face, too. I've never met a more stubborn man."
"I'll take it under advisement."
PE was very informative. Coach Swansen ("Coach" she prefers to be called) is not the morph her name implies (she's a river otter). All I really did was run. I ran and ran and ran. I found that I could go close to sixty for very short distances. But if I kept it to more around thirty I had as much endurance as much as I did before I Changed.
Not bad, not bad at all.
The note from Mr. Wilkes said just: "See me in my classroom after school. Mr. Wilkes."
I waited for the other students to clear the room, then opened the door and walked in myself.
I'd actually seen Mr. Wilkes on campus earlier. But I think that he thought that I was a new student, or something. "Can I help you?" He said.
When I was a freshman I had his class. Spots-for- brains (a.k.a. Ricky Oxnard) had also had the same class I did. The torment he put me through... I still shudder when I think of it.
The worst day of my life happened the day he walked in with golden spotted fur on his forearms, then arrogantly announced he was becoming a cheetah in front of the class. I had no peace after that day. Not like I'd had any before. But my grades had begun to climb out of the toilet. I'd gotten a "C" in Mr. Wilkes class first semester, and when Ricky started to Change... let's just say he gave me no peace.
"Hello Mr. Wilkes," I said to the big grizzly. "You wanted to see me?"
"I'm sorry, I don't recall..."
"I'm Tom Boxhall." His eyes went wide. He started to gape. Slowly, he lowered himself into his oversize chair.
"Tom? Yes... I..." Totally speechless. He shook his head to clear it. "Well, you certainly Changed faster than I expected! How are you feeling?"
"About eighty five million years old. Give or take a millennia," I joked. Then I sighed. "I Changed faster than I expected, too. I finished up just yesterday. My total time was about twenty two hours, four minutes, and thirty eight seconds." He gaped again, but recovered quickly.
"I'd just thought you were a new student... eighty five million? You mean the rumor is true?"
Mike. I pressed my hand against my tiny forehead, and gestured at myself. "Yes, I'm a dinosaur. You can see it was well as I can. Do you want to make an issue of it? Good. Everybody's got to be something. What did you want to talk to me about?"
"He came in here yesterday..."
"...and asked me for protection."
That stopped me short, I blinked in astonishment. "What?"
"I said protection. Mr. Oxnard is deathly afraid of you, Tom. He thinks you're going to corner him, then string his guts out on a fence."
That actually sounded like a good idea... against the law, but a good idea. Of course I did not say that to Mr. Wilkes. Ricky and I had a long history. He's made my life a living Hell. Often I would make myself sick just to keep from seeing him at school. I don't know how many backpacks and books I've lost to him because he's thrown them over a fence, off a bridge, into a road. He is truly the only bully I still hate.
But not enough to do anything physical to him. I know better than that. Even though stringing his guts on a picket fence was rather enticing... I doubt I have the stomach for it anyway. It sounded a little messy. "Don't worry about it Mr. Wilkes. You know me," I said confidently.
"Do I? Tom, you've changed. Before you'd of just sat and listened to me without saying a word. Now you're making all kinds of comments. Frankly, I like the change. At least I can tell you're listening." He sighed deeply. "A funny thing, when he was in here I said you were..." he started to chuckle, "...that you were becoming one of the 'best predators'! I never would of guessed this!" He seemed only now to really acknowledge what I was exactly. His expression (such as it was with that long bearish muzzle of his) went flat. "As I recall you failed my class the last semester you were in here."
I nodded glumly, "yes." Guess who made my grades drop? "I'm going to make it up this summer, Mr. Wilkes. I think I have the memory for all those dates now." I tailsmirked. Glad he'd changed the subject.
"Don't take this in the wrong way, Tom, but I think I'd like you in my class much earlier. I've been thinking about this since you identified yourself to me, and I think I want you at paw's length for a while at least. So for the rest of the semester I'm going to request you as my TA. You can do that instead of summer school."
That made me angry. Twice in one day! Do they think I'm some sort of monster? I scraped my claws across his desk, making long gouges. "Damn it! Why? What did I do? Is it because of these m-claws? Is it because I'm just soooo unique? I DID NOT ASK FOR THIS!!!" My voice was nearly that scream/roar I'd heard on the vid.
Then it was his turn to slam his claws on the desk, "That is quite enough Mister Boxhall! If you'll calm I'll tell you why!" I realized that when I'd gotten worked up I'd "put my foot in the Door" so to speak. My fingers had started to change to norm-shape before I realized what was happening. His voice had a nervous tint to it, he smelled just a bit... afraid? That helped me get a handle on it immediately. I took a couple of deep breaths.
"Tom," he said. "I'd of asked you if you were a lion, tiger, wolf, leopard, what-have-you. It's because you Changed so fast. Most of those your age have had time to get used to new instincts as they appear. You Changed so fast that one may hit you when you're not expecting it. Now, I don't have to deal with such instincts, but you might. I just want you at paw's length if something does happen, at least for a few hours at a time."
I sighed. He was right. If it's one thing I probably don't know how to handle it's instincts. Especially if what I've read about raptors is true. "Fine. Is there anything else Mr. Wilkes before I go?"
"One more thing. You've become a very powerful creature, Tom. And you've been bullied. That is a dangerous combination. All I'll say is: watch yourself. That's all I'll ask. I'll see you Monday."
I left his classroom in a bit of a huff. As soon as I was off campus I removed those stupid claw shields, and let the click, click of my m-claws help me forget a little of Mr. Wilkes speech. "'Watch yourself' he says. What for?" On the way home I pass a 7-11 store, and I was just a little bit hungry, so I decided to stop.
The smells inside made my nostrils ("naris" is the correct term, I'd found out) contract. It smelled like chocolate, potato chips, alfalfa, hay, and all sorts of things all mixed together. They obviously filter the air for odors, so I stood under a vent for a while to clear my nose. All the while the check out clerk (a rodent of some kind) stared at me.
I went over into the back behind a tall shelf of "Herbivore Delights" that hid me from view of the rest of the store. Some brilliant store designer had put all the carnivore stuff on the wall opposite the herbivore stuff. As a result I was left alone while I looked at all the stuff now available to me. Most of the items had beef in them, though, and I'd not had opportunity to ask Zenk about the beef thing yet, so I settled with a chicken meateater's burrito. I went up and paid for it, then went back to the microwave to heat it up.
While the microwave was humming away, I heard the door open. I was still rather hidden, and no one could see me (or smell me, I was under that intake vent again). I heard a familiar voice, "Yeah, uh... I was uh... sick this morning so I decided to ditch. What'd I miss in PPR Burnout?"
"Um... I'd hate to tell you this Ricky, but today was the absolute last opportunity to turn in your report."
I heard a snarl of frustration. "Damn Boxhead! It's all his fault!! Not like I did the thing anyway." There was more talking, but an admittedly evil plan was forming in my mind. As they moved more towards the back of the store where I was, I moved in the opposite direction, keeping hidden as best I could with that tail of mine. I succeeded rather well. "Oh look," said Ricky from where the microwave was, "Some idiot left his food in the microwave." Then I heard the microwave door open and close.
The next thing I did was go to the front of the store and open both doors. What happened next was very funny.
Ricky was eating my burrito as he came to the front. The scent of the burrito was really intense, I could smell it from here, but he had his eyes looking more at the floor than at the door. He did not see me leaning against the doorjamb, my legs crossed, idly cleaning my fingerclaws with a stiff brush (I'm quite vain about my claws if you had not noticed), alternating with a sharpening stone.
There had been a lot of talking between those two, but I knew they'd seen me when I heard the talking stop. The smell of fear was suddenly heavy in the air. "Hello Ricky," I said, not looking up from my sharpening. "Enjoying my burrito?" I glanced up from my fingers.
"Burnout" was actually a Lowddie black leopard (no tail), he was backed against the wall. Burnout was almost as bad as Ricky, but I felt no hatred for him. He was the follower type, and if he was not so influenced by Ricky I doubted he'd be so bad. So I let him go.
Ricky himself was so scared he looked like he was about to have a breakdown. I uncrossed my legs, tapped my foot (Ricky would jump at each loud click), then picked one foot up and made a show of sharpening the m-claw. "There, that's better. Nice and sharp." I said, then I repeated the performance with the other foot (I'd paid close attention to the claw care part of the dinomorph video).
With the atmosphere between us just the way I wanted it, I put away my stuff into my backpack, then made a show of stretching out, doing all the pre-run exercises. All the while Ricky was frozen in complete terror. I stepped aside from the door. "To give you a sporting chance this time, I'll give you a two second head start. Starting... now."
He was out the door before I even finished saying "starting." I gave him his two seconds (I'm no liar). The chase was on.
He was very clumsy, and his trail was very easy to follow, I did not even need his scent. Often I kept him just in sight where he could not see me. He'd stop sometimes to catch his breath, and I'd let him for a few minutes then do that terrifying roaring scream that I can do, and he'd sprint off again.
We did this off and on for about an hour. It was very fun (for me at least, he'd actually done this to me a couple times last month and last year, one of the reasons I'm such a good endurance runner, so it was payback time). Ricky was no endurance runner, though. After a while I just jogged a short way behind him, hardly tired, while he was panting hard and wheezing.
I finally cornered him at a tall wooden fence, he was way too tired to climb it. I paused at the end of the "alley" between two rows of houses, panting myself and growling. "Well, Ricky, you've given me my exercise for the day. And before we end it I just want to say one thing." Suddenly I ran towards him with all the speed I could muster... then skidded to a stop just in front of him (and amazed myself that I didn't crash into him, not used to this body yet). He had just pulled in on himself in terror, and was covering his belly in an attempt to protect it. His ears were back against his head, his eyes were tightly shut, and he was visibly trembling.
With no fanfare, I pushed the tip of a claw very lightly between his feline nostrils, just enough to sting a little, in the same gesture he always did to me at the end of our chases, then added my own touch. "Tag. You're it." I said in a quiet growl. Then I turned and walked away like nothing had happened.
It was starting to rain again and I heard a door open behind me, "Awww, did the wittle kitty wet his wittle pants?" said a female voice I sort of recognized from school, speaking to Ricky, who was still too scared to even move. "Poor wittle kitty got scared of Tommy Wommy..." I heard no more as I rounded the corner in the thickening rainfall, heading for home.
When I got home I surfed the web. I checked an entertainment page, there was a headline: "Are you a zebra? a wildebeast? a antelope? A gazelle? A leopard? A cheetah? Disney is doing a live-action remake of 'The Lion King'! You too can be a star!"
Bleah, I thought. That was almost worse than the thing they did for the remake of 'The Rescuers Down Under!' They were doing remakes of a lot of movies nowadays. What, they can't think of something original? Oh, there were a few good original movies out there, not nearly enough, though. TV was no better. The new version of the "Odd Couple" starred a leopard and an antelope, and was filled with bad puns.
I talked with Zenk on the Vidnet-phone. He told me he was going to the doctor because his Change had really started to accelerate. "I'm growing a tail myself, now." He said, his image was in the corner of the screen, a 21" Plasma Grid V6.0 superflat. He said it was only a stub so far, so could not show it to me yet (though he doubted he'd be getting much sleep tonight). "I've gained fifty pounds since this morning! I can already bench press one fifty! Yes!" I could do two hundred, but he'd probably be there by morning.
With some reluctance I asked him about the beef thing. "Why should it matter to me what you eat?" He said. "I won't force you to limit your food like that. You'd do the same for me if I were like you."
Probably true. "So you don't care if I eat beef?"
"I did not say that. I'm saying I understand that you have to. I've got to admit that I'm just a bit uncomfortable with it... but in PPR they teach us understanding. You know, you have the class yourself." That was true, though most are not really strict carnivores, some like myself don't have too much alternative.
"Thanks," I told him. Especially since dad was fixing hamburgers tonight. Yum!
I woke up in that strange position again. Weird waking up with the end of your tail on top of your head. I felt much more comfortable with myself, though. I was quickly learning the ropes with this new body. I got up, took a short shower, took another half hour to brush my teeth, but I had to stop myself before I reached for the comb. I slapped myself on the forehead. "Duh! No hair!"
I can't say I mind that much, though. I'd never liked having hair anyway, too much of a bother styling and combing it in the morning. Though when Zenk and I went to the mall I was going to look into the various kinds of scale polish...
There was a knock on the door while I was watching a bit of bird morph aerial PowerBall. Exciting sport, that. Sort of like soccer in three dimensions. I opened the door to a hairier, larger, and bleary eyed Zenk. "Man, I hardly got a wink of sleep last night. I felt like I was laying on a rock or something."
He stepped inside. "Is it done?" I asked.
In response, a ropy white-haired tail, rather long I thought, twitched a couple times behind him. He smirked. "I think I know how you felt two nights ago! Um... do you mind if I have a snack? I'm really hungry." I had noticed he was at least three inches taller. I nodded, and he came in for a bit of a salad. Mostly leftovers from my pre-Change days. I did not need many veggies now, and since my parents are both meat eaters and my sister is an insect eater (heh, her gizzard just finished up, so she's on solid food again), the lettuce was starting to go bad. Zenk ate all of the stuff we could not eat anymore very gratefully. When he was finished I swear he was a bit bigger...
Then he itched at his forearms... which while his back was to me (my turn to stare at his tail, I think) had been completely covered my that same whitish hair. "Damn, I hate Surges," Zenk said. He rolled up his sleeve and flexed his suddenly much larger biceps. "But this I can live with." He started to laugh. His hands had Changed as well. He now had three thick fingers per hand, with thick nails on all. His back also seemed to have a slight hunch to it, but not all that much. He was also at least an inch taller than me, where before he'd been about two inches shorter, and I'd gotten taller in my Change.
"Um, do you think we ought to get you to a doctor?" I asked.
"Nah, I can handle it. We'd better go, though, or we'll miss the bus."
It was clear and warm for a change. So as a test of my new personality, I went out without a stitch on, save for my watch and a belt pouch with my wallet in it. I was sort of nervous. I had to slip out of the house before my parents saw me; they don't seem to understand that I don't think I need clothes, but probably a sixth of those Changed never wear clothes again for one reason for another. We walked to the bus stop, my claws going click, click with every step (I absolutely love that click). The only downside happened that I apparently did not get on quickly enough for the driver, and she lightly closed the door on my tail. Not hard, but it gave me a surprise I'll never forget. It was a sudden reminder that I'd not always had the thing.
I was a bit quiet, thinking about the "new me" when Zenk spoke up. "I heard about your little chase with Ricky yesterday. Did you really string his guts out along a fence?"
"Where'd you hear that?"
"I got the munchies on the way home from the doctor for a chocolate Herbabar so decided to stop by that 7- 11. The cashier seemed a bit... spaced out. Heh. You have your own story?"
The ride was rather a long one, we were still five minutes away from the mall when I finished. "...when I got home I was soaked to the bone and shivering up and down my entire length, and I nearly ruined my new clothes, too. But that's really what happened."
He just looked at me for a moment. "You really have changed!"
"That's what everybody tells me, and I'm not denying it. Hell, I don't even know how I've Changed yet! All I know is that I refuse to be bullied any more." To make my point I loudly clacked my m-claws against the hard floor of the bus.
The bus was half full. People did not seem to notice what I was, or perhaps did not really care. Perhaps a few years ago they might of backed away in fear, or wanted my autograph, but to most people dinomorphs were but one more in the pot of diversity that humanity had become. I remembered something my health teacher had said last year: "For all our outward physical differences, we are still biologically a single species. I may look like a tree frog, but if I met and fell in love with, say, a flying squirrel morph we could still have a child. I'm a Middie, and still have a human uterus and most everything necessary for having a child in the human manner. I just need to buy baby formula for obvious reasons."
It was very strange being out in public wearing no clothes. I was surprised that I only felt a little bit self conscious, but it's not like I was going out naked when I had been human. I felt more like I was wearing a sort of costume.
I'd been wanting to go to the mall without my parents almost since the moment I'd finished Changing. Going out with friends somewhere for the first time after your completed Change is sort of a coming-of-age thing for teens. I opened the door, taking care not to let it close on my tail, then through the second set that keeps the heat in the winter, and took a deep breath.
Freedom is what I felt, strangely enough. No one here, and I'm a frequent visitor to this mall, will know who I am. They will not know what to expect of me. Which opened up a few possibilities. But the smells nearly made me gag!
Why didn't I notice this when I came to the mall with Mom? Maybe I was too preoccupied with other things. The combination of food places like Hot Dog on a Stick, Carl's Jr., McDonald's, Thai Hut, just to name a few made me lose my appetite almost immediately. My nose can't really wrinkle in the mammalian manner, but my nostrils can vary in size like an iris. Right now they were the smallest I could make them, and I was curling my lips in disgust.
Zenk's flat, leathery nose wrinkled too, "It does stink doesn't it? Whatsay we go into the arcade until we regain our appetites, eh?" He said in a deeper voice. Then he cleared his throat. "Woah, where'd that come from?" in his old voice.
"Sounds good to me." You'd think after nearly a decade since the Change they'd do something about odor overload... but perhaps it's just that Zenk and I are so soon in getting our new nasal equipment. Everything was new to us, so that might explain it a bit.
One the way to the arcade an interesting store caught my eye. It was called: "Python (Monty)" and seemed themed on (what else?) Monty Python's Flying Circus. It was also, to my dismay, the only real reptomorph specialty store in the entire mall, and the only one that sold the scale polish I was looking for. Damn it. My mother and I had gotten my other clothes at Macy's.
I decided to stop in anyway, Zenk followed me in. The place was well stocked. There were clothes made of special fabrics that would keep a steady temperature in any climate. A good thing considering ten percent of the population is reptilian, most of those cold blooded. Unfortunately there are not enough dinomorphs to merit such a store.
I'd briefly considered going into "Wild Birds", one of the avimorph stores. But they did not have clothes. Only stuff like feather dyes and flight computers. Looking at those computers, I almost wished I was a bird. They're cool little things that go on the wrist that have everything from GPS locator system, to altimeter, airspeed, transponder, and radio communication equipment. They're sort of required for long flights (some idiot duck morph only a week after the Change got sucked into an airplane's engine, so...). They've got 'em for as low as $200 now (they were more than $3000 just after the Change). If my sister gets wings in addition to her arms (about a 50/50 chance, the doc says) she'll need one. I envied her there.
The shop had several screens that were playing Monty Python sketches. The one currently on was about a cheese shop without any cheese in it... I stopped to watch. Funny stuff! The Monty Python bunch even got together after the Change and made more sketches. The best of the bunch of shows that had returned because the Change had given them new material, they'd gotten even better!
I was paying attention to one of these new sketches when I heard a familiar voice--not Zenk's--speak up behind me. "Hello Tom, nice little chase you had with Ricky yesterday, huh?" It was the female voice I'd heard as I was walking away from Ricky. "He stayed that way for about an hour after you left, you know. That was a pretty cruel thing you did." I turned around.
Who else? Ann Clayborne. She's some kind of monitor lizard, and was the geekiest looking, most made fun of (besides me), kid on campus before her Change. Now, the lizard-girl is one of the best looking. Even though she lacks breasts and hasn't a hair, the rest of her just screams "female". She also has a flicking forked tongue that I could not help but watch... I looked (not Glared) at her for a moment, my nostrils pulsing with her scent. "Didn't I hear you making fun of him while I was walking away?" I said sarcastically.
She had a fairly short snout, with eyes like mine, and her overall color was green with a medium gray belly. Very pretty for her type. "Well, um, yeah. But that does not excuse what you did. At least not in my mom's eyes. Frankly, it was the funniest thing I've ever seen! Ricky can dish it out but he can't take it!" She's a Middie herself, with the long tail and clawed hands, but still basically human shaped. She was wearing some kind of band over her... um... with no other clothing. And was also carrying one of those suits that has heating elements in it. Just one of those things that makes life easier for those who are cold blooded. Just like the moist-suit my dad wears.
Frankly, she was beginning to annoy me. "Ann, do you have anything you should be doing?"
"I work here," she said simply. "Now, what can I do for you?"
I shook my head in shock for a moment. "Well, I, uh..."
"Careful when you stick your foot in your mouth like that. You'll either bite it off or slice off your snout."
"Funny," I replied flatly. "Actually, I'll be right back after I go the arcade with Zenk here. Mind if I leave you this little order?" I gave her the sheet I'd with all the stuff I'd wanted and left her standing with her narrow snout gaping.
Her scent had been vaguely, condescending? That seems right. Then again... "She likes you, you know," Zenk said.
"Didn't you see her look at you all over very carefully? I bet you look pretty sexy to her now. Heck, I like her looks myself. But I'm too afraid to say so. Her claws look about as sharp as yours, and frankly she looks almost as evil as you do. No offense."
"None taken, hay-breath." We laughed. The arcade was, as usual, fun. I was noticing that my reflexes seemed much better than before. I beat Zenk as often as I lost to him. We played "Super Street Fighter Alpha V: Champion Edition: The New Challengers." Talk about lack of originality! The only reason I played it is that one of the characters is a deinonychus, a species close to my own. He had a "ripper" move that made my m-claws twitch oddly...
We both had fun. People were watching the two of us like I was about to rip Zenk's guts out every time he beat me. But I was really so used to that I'd long since ceased being angry about it. I'd simply lacked the self confidence to even try to beat him. The only thing I was in danger of was an overlarge ego from my success. By the time we ran out of tokens I felt so cocky that Ann said nothing when I picked up my stuff. She even flirted with me that made me feel even more cocky.
Ahead of us while we were walking out of the mall was a pig-morph and a chicken-morph, apparently boyfriend and girlfriend.
The two ahead of us came to a corner. A moment earlier the pig and chicken had rounded that same corner, which was behind one of the larger mall buildings. Then there was an odd flash and a terrified squeal and squak. "Whatinell was that?" said Zenk quietly.
"I don't know. But let's take a peek."
"Well now," We heard. "What have we here? A piggy wiggy and a chicken. Got any eggs, chicken? I feel like an omelet." We could both tell by his tone of voice that he did not mean it. In fact, it more resembled something Ricky might say when he was bullying me. I couldn't stand for that. We peeked around the corner.
"That guy's big!" Zenk whispered. I did not argue that any! The guy was at least as big as Mr. Wilkes, probably bigger because polar bears are the largest mammalian carnivores. But I just could not stand here and watch the guy humiliate those two people (I wonder how he got them to Shift?).
He was big enough that all the instincts I had were telling me to leave well enough alone. -otherhunter too bigHUGEbig!- It was saying. -notchallenge! BIGhugeBIG!- Damn inner voice. Many people have it, it's some sort of manifestation of one's animal instincts. Often hard to resist. This was my first experience with It, though. I almost ran! But the polar bear continued to his number on the pig and chicken. "Damn it! I just can't stand here and watch!" I said.
I'd come to the conclusion that the guy was probably an Inducer. Someone able to force a Norm-shift if the person has the ability or not. If the person does not then they would not be able to change back until another Inducer did it for them. Surprisingly, Zenk said, "Well, I'm not abandoning you. I'll help. Heck, all these muscles have to be good for something." He seemed to be as cocky as I was after that game.
At my nod, we came from behind the corner. The polar bear was not paying any attention, so almost jumped out of his skin when I tapped on his shoulder. "Excuse me," I said calmly, without a hint of anger. "But my friend and I just happened to notice what you were doing. We don't like it. Stop." I said this like I was talking to a wall. And frankly, it was all I could do to keep from running. For me, the amount of fear I had seemed to be a function of how many packmates I had around me (I would later learn), and at the moment that number was of course zero.
The polar bear cocked his big head. "What have we here? A dinosaur and a cow! Hah! Stop it you two. You're making me laugh." He said, unruffled.
Zenk's face went flat. "Bull." He said as emotionlessly as me.
"What?" the polar bear said.
"I'm a bull idiot! Texas Longhorn! And proud of it man!" That was a switch. "Bovinity" seemed to have done wonders for his self esteem.
"Okay," the bear said. Then he focused on Zenk. Who flashed into norm-shape. Zenk seemed very confused, almost dizzy. Before I could stop him the bear landed a punch on the side of Zenk's head. He fell over with a loud thump, unconscious.
Fear was starting to be replaced by anger. I clicked my m-claws ominously on the concrete and said darkly, "You wanna try that little trick on me?" I was getting angrier and angrier.
"Nah. Besides, what could a little squirt like you do to a big guy like me? I'd never let you get close enough to use those claws anyway, now that I know you're there. But I still want an omelet. And maybe some bacon." Again, he did not mean it. But at the very mention of the word "bacon" the pig squealed his heart out. I've never seen a worse bully in my life!
I was about to step through the door in my mind to my norm-shape. But I paused. I weighed no more in that shape than I did right now. But when I looked down the "hallway" something clicked in my mind. There was a moment of pure epiphany! I snapped my fingers. "D'oh! Of course!" I said aloud, and loudly, too.
"What?" said the bear, confused.
I grinned evilly (what else could I do when I look like this?). I walked my mental self down the "hallway" and came up to a likely door. Above each were what looked like writing. I focused on the letters and they became clearer, but not too much. I focused harder. This door had exactly what I wanted. "If you don't change my friend, and those two people back now you'll see."
"See what? All I see is a little tinysaurus with pins for claws! I could take you out in a second, and I think you're a little too cautious with those things anyway. You'd never hurt me! So I'm just going to walk away and you're not going to tell anyone about this. Are you?"
"Think again." I opened and walked through the "door."
The world seemed to shrink, and so did he. His jaw dropped open, he backed into the wall. When I finished, size was no longer a factor (for me at least). "Change. Them. Back. Now!!" I yelled. Of course, that's what I meant to say... but it came out a little different. I let out a roar that seemed to shake the building!
Zenk came to and flashed back to his normal self. He backed up for a moment in fright, but then he sniffed the air a moment. "Tom? That you?"
I nodded my huge head, and growled a little more at the polar bear. "Cool, you're a Polymorph, huh? Man, you get all the luck! Want me to get mall security?" I nodded again. Zenk Shifted and galloped off.
The bear was just frozen there. I doubted that he could move an inch. If he even tried I'd growl again. You know, 'Jurassic Park' was close, but not that close. I'd finally figured out what the letters on the door had said. I flexed my tiny, two-fingered hands on the ends of short arms. The T-rex was not one of my favorite dinosaurs. But I was really not in the mood to look for another one.
I heard some people coming up the walkway a few minutes later. One had the clop of horse's hooves, another a kind of "slap-slap" of a moist suit. I heard a confused voice. "So you say your friend is a T-rex? And this guy you've cornered was bullying a pig and a chicken?"
"Yup," said Zenk.
"Well, you're lucky I'm an Empath, because otherwise..." they rounded the corner. I could smell the man. I'd never smelled anything like it! For a moment I felt like I wanted to lunge around and eat the guy! "Oh. My. God. That you... um... what's his name... Tom?"
I tried to say "yeah" but there was that growl again. "Heya, Tom," Zenk said. "Can you change back now? I think you're making these guys nervous." I was making me nervous, too. So I backed out into the hallway.
I felt myself shrinking once more. The world got bigger. I was noticing that, other than size, there was not too much difference between the raptor and the T-rex. Sure, I had fewer fingers, and I did not have the m-claw. But otherwise there were no great differences.
Then I thought of the doors again. And I wondered... just how many other dinosaurs could I do? Maybe I should find out...
"I can't believe you left the house naked!" Mom growled as I sat at the breakfast table. Monday. I hate Mondays!
I paused in my breakfast eating (fake chicken meat, bleah) long enough to say "Mom, can we just drop it? Please? That was Saturday and this is... Monday." I said 'Monday' like I was saying 'broccoli.' I'd always hated that vegetable, but my mom had made me eat it. Bleah... thank god I never have to worry about that again.
"Well, okay Tom. But I just want to make sure that you don't go out like that again. At least while you're living under my roof. When you're out on your own you can go out and about naked."
"Mom, and I hate to point this out, but you're not wearing anything yourself right now," hypocrite, "and besides, that cold front that moved in has pretty much made clothes necessary. I might not mind being naked anymore, but freezing my tail off is not my idea of fun." Zenk knocked on the door a moment later, and I left for school.
Zenk had completed his Change on Saturday on the way home from the mall incident. He now looked like the classic minotaur. Smelled like one, too. The thing was, he was not yet used to those hoofed feet. So we were about halfway to school when he announced, "Man, my hooves are killing me." In his new deep baritone voice. (he certainly had "James Earl Jones" potential, for sure. If anything I was going to stay a tenor)
It was cold, but after my actions of Saturday I felt like doing something nice. Balance, you understand. "Wanna ride?" I asked him. I'd spent most of yesterday finding out what else I could do. Which turned out to be quite a lot.
"Ride? You mean? Like, thanks! I could use one right now. So, what're ya gonna do? Iguanadon? Stegosaurus? Apatosaurus? What?"
Among the things I'd found out was that I could only do dinosaurs. No mammals, though there were pterosaurs and ichthyosaurs in my repertoire. I'd gotten up early yesterday to experiment. Among the first ones that I'd experimented with was Apatosaurus (a.k.a. Brontosaurs). All I'll say is: that thing is huge!! I woke up my parents by looking through their second floor bedroom window. I'm not sure I like being that big. So I stuck with the smaller ones like Ceratosaurus and Iguanadon (my other favorites). Then I tried what I was going to do for Zenk...
I took off my clothes first, not minding the cold as much as I thought I would. Then I dropped to all fours, and went through the appropriate mental door. My claws retracted to mere blunt nails, my legs and arms became large and elephantine. My body inflated like a balloon so I was now comfortable on my fingers and toes. The world shrank. But the major changes were on my head. Three tingles made themselves known, two above my eyes, and one near the tip of my snout. The back of my skull felt like it was being drawn back as it extended into a bony frill. My teeth blunted to those of a herbivore. I blinked a couple times to clear my shifting vision, and it was over.
"Wow!" Zenk said, "A Triceratops! Cool! Sorta like a saurian bull! Um, how do I get up on your back?" In response, I dipped a shoulder and he climbed right up. Then he patted me once on the back of my frill. "I'm settled, let's go."
We must of been quite a sight as we ambled onto campus. After the incident at the mall on Saturday I knew my raptorish face had been shown on all the local news stations, so they would know what I could do. Or what I thought I could do. At the time I thought I was a true polymorph, able to do anything. That was not the case, though. Darn it.
Then I saw my counselor standing outside the Admin building, the ducky woman had a very confused tinge to her scent. I stopped right in front of her. "Good morning Mrs. Woods!" Zenk said. "Nice morning for a ride, isn't it?"
"Maybe so, Mister Zenkin. I assume that's Tom you're astride? Someone is here to see him in my office. And I'd prefer him a bit smaller than he is at the moment."
In response, Zenk got off, I changed back, then put on my clothes and he gave me my school stuff. "What is it now? If you don't mind me asking." I said. "Are you going to redo my schedule again?" I hoped not. She really screwed it up last week. But then, last week had been... interesting.
"Partially. But only because of that new Power that you showed up as having. The lady in my office wants to speak with you about it. So if you would please?"
I walked behind her as she waddled towards her office. As we got closer and closer, a strange and vaguely enticing scent reached my naris. It was so familiar... but I just couldn't place it. Then Mrs. Woods opened the door and I saw her.
One female velociraptor morph. Wow. Wowowowowowowowowow. Wow.
"Tom, this is Coonie Bennett-Smith, a rep of the Meso Club and the Middle Life Organization. Mrs. Smith, Thomas Boxhall. Freshly Changed as of last week."
"Um... I... uh..." There I go putting my foot in my mouth again. But this time I could not help but look at her. And look and look and look.
We shook hands (what delicate claws!). Her first words were, "I'm so sorry David himself couldn't be here. He loves meeting teens like yourself. But National Geographic keeps him moving all over the world. He's somewhere in Tibet right now I think. He sends his regards, though." Ohh! That voice! Words do not do is justice, though I seem to recall her name in the credits in some of those IMAX documentaries. Coming between those scaly lips only made it sound better. She looked me over.
"Well, you're a bit further along than my husband is in morph shape, but you're quite a specimen, I'll admit. I'm here because I saw that mall incident on The News Channel. You seem to be a polymorph, so Eos (the MClub president) thought I should show up right away. I'm here to teach you a few things, and induct you into the Club. I'll tell you more later, but for now I want to see you alone. If you don't mind, Mrs. Woods?"
"Oh... no. Not at all. Go right ahead." She seemed very nervous with the two of us there. Good.
Mrs. Smith turned and walked out. She was wearing what amounted to a simple green blouse, a pair of khaki shorts, and a hat. Her tail had an odd wide black and gray striping pattern, and her eyes had large black patches surrounding them. My only thought was that she looked not a little bit like a raccoon with coloring like that. I knew Mrs. Woods husband was a raccoon morph, and I'd seen him once or twice (they're actually fairly common as morphs go). I just stood there and watched that tail... that tail... that... "Tom? You coming?" She said, her snout just in the door from the hall.
"Uh... yeah. I'm coming." Sheesh! I shook my head and blinked a few times. What was with me today? Must be Monday... Gawd I hate Mondays! I walked after her quickly, and knocked my tail against the doorjamb. "Awrch!" I still occasionally did that.
"Walk beside me," she said as we reached the cold outside. I sped up a bit. We seemed to be walking towards the gym area, where there were private rooms for Power training. Unfortunately, no two Powers are exactly alike. Only someone with a similar Power can train someone else with one like it. Which made me curiousÖ "First off," she said. "I'm a married woman and I'm twice your age. If you stop and think a moment you'll realize that your reaction is quite instinctual. So I'd quash those thoughts right now."
"But... but... I c-c-can't. You're so... sooo." No words could describe it, really. It was another first for me, meeting another dinomorph who was the same species. And female at that... We reached one of the larger rooms and went inside. She locked the door.
The Power Training Rooms are pretty much bare with cheap furniture. The walls are treated with some sort of paint that's been affected by someone with a "Nullification" Power. So if some kid my age with some sort of explosive Power loses control he doesn't blow up the school and everyone in it. This was the largest room in the place, with a thirty foot ceiling and about a hundred feet on a side.
"Hmm," she said. "Then perhaps I'll do this until I show you how to filter your thoughts for unwanted instincts. Tom, I should tell you. Do not tell anyone what I'm about to show you. Yes, they know I can do this kind of thing. But they don't know what my Center Morph is."
"'Center Morph?'" I said, perplexed.
She thought a moment. "I guess I'll make this the first lesson, then. For Polymorphs, the 'Center Morph' is simply that which you originally Changed into before you discovered your Power. It's your 'center of being' if you will. If you were knocked unconscious, depending on how much control you have, it's the form your body would revert to. It also influences how you act and what you look like in almost any other form. Take myself, for instance." She closed her eyes, and without any fanfare, promptly changed into a raccoon morph.
Then I realized my attraction to her was instinctual. Because it disappeared moments after she did that. Then I realized what I'd been thinking and blushed in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Smith. I should have guessed.. but, well, you know." I ducked my head in embarrassment.
"Yes, I do know. And you're forgiven. I've encountered it before. But do you think any less of me this way?"
"No... but if I may ask. Why do you want to hide that you're not really a dinomorph? And why are you a member of the Club if it's not your Center Morph?"
"Well, to answer your first question, you're the only dinomorph in fifty miles. That makes you rather vulnerable in a way. Your counselor seems the type to force things she thinks is right based on what she thinks she knows. If she knew I wasn't a real velociraptor-morph she might not take me seriously. But my husband is one, and I can be one. So, in answer to your second question, I'm an honorary member with full benefits. Speaking of benefits, when I'm done teaching you today I'm going to give you a full run down of them. You'll be quite pleased." With that, her fur retracted, her pointed snout went scaly, her teeth into sharp blades, and her eyes slitted.
When she'd shifted raccoon (duh! I should have known from her name!) her scent had altered along with the rest of her. As she assumed the velociraptor morph once more, it changed again. And I recognized that my attraction for her was instinctual. Damn, how embarrassing! I blushed again.
"Tom, don't worry about that. I've got to admit that you're a pretty handsome 'saur yourself. But on to business..."
I've never been so exhausted in my life! By the end of two hours I was panting from both the mental and physical effort of Shifting. I was everything from an Apatosaur (again, and I almost put my head through the roof) to a Nanotyrannus, to an obscure species named "Zephyrosaurus."
"Can... can we stop now?" I said tiredly. "Please?" The disorientation was making me feel queasy. So much for lunch.
"Sure thing," she said. Actually, she was about as tired as I was. She had a facility with Shifting that I could only dream about! She said she could become anything once she touched it and 'acquired' it's shape. She demonstrated once when I did another obscure species ("Jaxartosaurus", a kind of hadrosaur). And almost fainted when she did it the first time.
So I did have one thing over her. I could be whatever I could see a picture of (I'd seen a lot of dinosaur species, and she'd brought a vid-disk with about 1000 species on it, so...). The "doors" in my mind got labels whenever I saw a new species. She also taught me the beginnings on how to organize the Hallway, which cleaned things up mightily. "You need to have easy access to the forms you use the most," she'd said.
It took a lot of work, but I managed to get my favorites into the immediate area around my raptor- norm Door. So, close by I now had: Iguanadon, Triceratops, Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, and another obscure meat eater (but bigger than T-rex) named Gigantosaurus.
I had two more drawbacks that she did not have. I could not automatically do morphs like Mrs. Smith (Coonie, she prefers to be called). It took a lot of work to do a Triceratops-morph! But when I did it I had the feeling that Zenk and I were going to have a bit of fun later... The second was more a frustration than anything else. No matter what I did, I kept my color pattern. She could change hers, but I absolutely couldn't! Can't have everything. I thought.
Then she announced the Meso Club benefits. My 2-4-6 classes had been slightly altered. I'd retained Mr. Wilkes for my TA thing, but Carnivore Behavior had been dropped and after this class I had the same teacher (Boldway) for Instinct Integration. But today I was to forego that class because of all this great stuff I was about to get.
"'The Dinotopia Catalog,'" she said, taking it out of a large bag with a bit of flourish. "No where else can you find more stuff specifically for dinomorphs. I doubt the reptilian-style clothes you're wearing are really comfortable for you." That was true. A little tight in the crotch. Different pelvic shape, you understand. "So I want you to thumb through this (watch those claws) and tell me what you want. The first benefit is a clothing allowance. We don't skimp on our members." She handed it to me.
I'd actually found the Dinotopia web site, but it did not have nearly as much stuff as this tome had in it! I had about a thousand dollars to use. I used it all. Then she surprised me again. "You are also lucky in that we will fund half your college education, no matter the field you decide to go into. Fully if you decide to go into paleontology. But keep your grades on the rise. I've seen your transcript. I know you can do better."
I was left speechless, really. And I knew Mom and Dad would be, too. Then the lunch bell rang. "See you Wednesday?" I said.
"Actually, Tom, I'd like to see you after school if I may. I need to meet your parents. And, I'd like to get to know you better. Besides, I need to look for an apartment while I'm here. You've still got a half a year left of school, and I'm your teacher for this class."
"Um... Okay." I said. What was I going to say? 'No?' Especially since it was taking all my concentration to keep from drooling all over her. If this wasn't infatuation I didn't know what was... and what made I worse was that I knew it was wrong, but wasn't in any condition to stop it. Oh well.
Lunch was fairly uneventful. I decided to save my little surprise for Zenk until after school, on the way home perhaps. I regained my appetite about halfway through, so was finally able to munch my lunch. Faux pork, "raw" (yum! The one kind of fake meat that tasted okay). I really wished real meat did not cost so much. But until they figure out a more humane way to factory raise meat animals the shortage will continue.
Then I remembered what my next "class" was. TA with Mr. Wilkes. Not that I was unhappy about it any more, but sitting there correcting tests in front of all those Freshmen was not my idea of fun. Unlike me (when I had his class last year), a lot of those in his classes had started their Change, and even one or two had completed it. No matter that I had Changed in a day, I still had been overdue enough that I dreaded going in there. Before my Change I'd even been made fun of by teens two years my junior.
I was one of the first in. Mr. Wilkes was sitting in his big chair. "Hello, Tom. How are you today?"
"Just ducky." I replied. "My counselor redid my schedule again. I still have you, but I'm a little miffed on being shuffled around like a deck of dinosaur trading cards. Otherwise, if you think I take up too much space in your classroom, tell me and I'll change into something smaller. Like a Compsognathus." I tailgrinned.
"I've had a few polymorphs in my classes over the years, Tom. So you're not the first of those. You are the first dinosaur polymorph, though. But class is about to start and I want to introduce you. As if they don't know about you already!" He rumbled a bit in a chuckle.
The second bell rang. The class was staring at me, of course. I'd put my stuff down next to the smaller TA's desk just beside his at the front of the room and sat down in the special chair he'd brought for me. He gestured for me to stand up. "Class, I'd like you to meet the new TA, Tom Boxhall whom I'm sure you all know about. You won't be able to bribe him like the last one. I guarantee. And if I catch any cheating on this test I'll won't even have to take it to the office to get it shredded this time. Right Tom?"
I knew what he was getting at. Most thought since Mr. Wilkes was such a nice guy that he wouldn't care if you cheated. But he has strong feelings for cheaters (as Ricky found out more than once). He had a tendency to make you watch your cheated-on test get shredded in the machine. I'd never had the displeasure, but to make Mr. Wilkes point I idly sliced a piece of scrap paper in half in front of the class. I nodded. "Right, Mr. Wilkes. Whatever you say. Otherwise, everyone. I had him last year for World Civ. He's a nice guy as I'm sure many of you have found out. But, don't bug me while I'm correcting tests. I won't like it."
"And if you do well you'll find Tom as nice as me," Mr. Wilkes added. I nodded and tailgrinned. Over the next two hours I found out that being a TA for Mr. Wilkes meant a little more than just correcting tests. His lectures were not just talk, but a full "multimedia" thing. I knew from last year that he tended to take kids right out of the room for little bits of play acting. "Hands on is the best way to learn history," he'd always said. "What better way to have a personal connection with the event?" It had had an effect on me, I was sure I was going to be a history major in college.
He was on to a new unit, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. My favorite unit from the year before, really. So the class passed quickly. Even moreso because one of the students had their First Sign right then and there. With a great noise of ripping fabric, a long reptilian-type tail grew out of the kid's backside. His yelling was kinda hard to miss... "Tom, take him to the nurse. Don't worry about getting back before class ends. Go, go, go!" Mr. Wilkes said. So we went.
The thing was, he had real trouble walking. "What's you name?" I asked.
"Daniel Buckley," he said, scratching at the tail. "My friends call me 'Dans.' Think I'm turning into a dinomorph like you?"
"Well, Dans. The nurse just might know. I'll even stick around until we find out. But are you okay?"
"I'm having some trouble walking... I don't think my legs are quite right yet."
"Then just stand right there. I'm going to do something that might help." I changed into a Plateosaurus. A prosauropod (long neck and tail) and built low enough to the ground that he had no trouble just hanging onto my neck. I left before I found out what he was going to be, but I'd unwittingly made a friend. As I walked back to the classroom I wondered just if he was going to be another like me. It was a possibility, but not likely.
I got back to class just as the bell rang. Mr. Wilkes asked me how Dans was, and I replied in kind. I'd seen his parents walking up (a flighted robin and a canine of some sort) as I left the nurse's office. I had a suspicions that I'd be seeing him where my friends and I eat lunch at some point. And strangely, I found myself looking forward to it. It was nice having someone look up to me for a change.
My normal thing was for me to wait in the classroom until Zenk showed up and we could walk home. But Coonie arrived first. "Mind if I walk home with you, Tom?" she asked.
"Who's this?" rumbled Mr. Wilkes from his desk.
Her scent was boring into my nostrils. I felt my jaw go limp for a moment, and I started to pant. Not out of being too hot... but heat of a different kind. "Mr. Wilkes, this is... this is..." In the immortal words of Curly Howard, 'I tried to think but nuthin happened!' I shook my head again to clear it. "Coonie. Um... Smith. Dinomorph. Um..."
She saved me. "And you are?" she said as they shook hands.
"Carl Wilkes. World Civ teacher. Nice to meet you," He said.
"Carl Wilkes? You're kidding me! No... it can't be you. Don't you remember me?"
"Not really... but I'm sure you can understand why."
"Yes, of course! Where was my head? Connie Bennett. I had you for AP European History when I was a senior. You were the yearbook advisor and I was the editor."
"Connie? No!" he shook his massive head and laughed. "I was wondering about you just the other day... wondering what you'd become and what you were doing. Are you still doing all that painting? You have real talent, you know..." And they started to talk. Talk a lot. About twenty five minutes later, they noticed me. It was kinda hard not to.
I remembered that I had those 'nictitating membranes' or whatever. So to show just how bored I was I slouched a bit in the chair, my tail limp behind me, arms hanging and legs splayed out in front. To top it off, I let my head rest on my chest and brought up those membranes, with my tongue hanging out of my toothy mouth. It looked like I was dead... Perfect.
"Tom, if you want to wait outside I'll be out in a moment." Coonie said, somewhat amused. "Mr. Wilkes and I have a lot to catch up on. But I guess I'll be here for a while so we don't have to catch up completely. Just wait for me and I'll walk home with you."
I gathered up my stuff and went. It was probably fifty five degrees out, so I zipped up my jacket. I found Zenk waiting out there for me. "You waited?" I said. I must of been in there a half hour after the bell listening to those two just jabber away.
"What're friends for?" he said. "But I think I can walk all the way this time. I've been on these things all day and I think I'm getting used to them. Should we go?"
"One moment... I'm waiting for someone," the door opened. I managed to keep my tongue in my snout this time. "Zenk, Coonie. My Polymorph teacher. And Coonie, Allen Zenkin. Newly Changed bull morph and my best friend." I said.
"Polymorph, eh? What else can you do?" Zenk said with a sly look on his bovine face.
In response Coonie Shifted into a cow morph herself. "Does this answer your question?" She said. Lucky thing all she seems to wear is Shifter clothing... Then she Shifted back to raptor.
"Wow... if you don't mind me saying so, ma'am, that's udderly-incredible." He grinned.
"Zenk! You know how I feel about puns!" I said with a growl.
"Sorry. I guess I shouldn't say that my parents own a China shop, then. Should I?"
"Your dad is in the Forest Management Service and your mom's a Policebird." And his dad was a hawk and his mom a raven, both winged ("Flighted," they have both arms and wings in morph). "So please, the puns stop here and now. Please?" Not like I expected him to actually stop doing puns, but sometimes Zenk gets in these whimsical moods and can't help himself. "But let's get a mooo-ve on." I can give as good as I get.
"Yes, please," Coonie said, shouldering a large bag. "Let's go before you two get any worse. Besides, it looks like rain."
"It's Oregon, Coonie. It always looks like rain," I replied.
"I know, but I live in Malibu. So call me a spoiled Southern Californian." With no further words, we started off to my house.
Tom and I walked homeward with Coonie out in front. Swinging her tail back and forth and back and forth... "She's got quite a tail, hasn't she?" I said.
"What, Zenk?" Tom said.
"You heard me. It's weird, man. I just have a thing for scales for some reason."
Tom seemed surprised. "She can be anything she wants, you know. Besides, she's in her thirties and we're both only sixteen." I could smell his attraction for her, and frankly I was not a little jealous that they could be the same thing. But the fact that she could also become a bovine like myself was also funny.
"Yeah, but for some reason what she looks like now appeals. But you said earlier you had something else to show me?" I said.
I stopped, so did Coonie when she could not longer hear the click of Tom's claws on the cement. "Just a moment," Tom said to her. "Watch," He said to me. Then he concentrated.
"Nice horns," I said, smiling. "And you kept your hands this time, too. But I think you ruined your shorts..."
"Oops!" he said in a deeper voice. "I'm going to need some Shifter clothing, glad I picked some out." He plinked the horn above his right eye, then the one near the tip of his snout. I had to admit, he was a pretty impressive-looking triceratops morph. "I think I'm going to stay this way a while, maybe have a bit of a herbivore snack with you." He grinned as best he could. The triceratops morph seemed pretty large, at least as large as me (I'm about two hundred fifty pounds) with a very stocky body and a slightly shorter tail. His head was basically a smaller version of the normal triceratops, with a more pronounced forehead and steeply sloped muzzle. His former finger claws were more like hooves. He seemed satisfied with it, and he said it was the only other dinomorph he could do at the moment.
"Nice work, Tom," Coonie said. "More practice and you won't have a problem anymore. But let's move on, shall we? You two walk ahead of me and I'll follow."
Tom's face suddenly went surprised. His nostrils were flaring, and I knew he must have scented Coonie. So I said, "Now you know how I feel around you all the time. But I do have a question for you since you're really just a saurian bull or rhino. What was your first impulse to her scent?"
He thought a moment. Thought hard. "It wasn't fear I felt... but more like. Anger. I'd wanted to charge, to defend something."
"Just wondering," I said, and said no more.
It made me think about my own Change. I mean, I'm a meat animal for crying out loud! But it was nice of Tom not to eat... that stuff until he asked me first. I left the two dinosaurs at Tom's door, and headed home myself.
Of course, nobody was home yet, and I had homework to do. But I never start it until my parents come home anyway. Since both my parents are bird morphs the only chairs in the house are for guests or myself. I'm lucky that my parents had the foresight to buy chairs with tail slots! Especially the easy chair. I plopped myself (narrowly missing sitting on my tail) down in the thing and turned on the TV. I had to be careful now when I turned my head, if I wasn't I'd probably skewer the soft cushions with my horns.
It had been loooong day. I mean, I finally got used to walking on these new feet. And my doctor said that I'm in all likelihood done Changing. Whoa, thank god for that!
I grabbed the remote (careful not to crush it like the last one) and turned on the TV. "America's Funniest Home Videos" was on. Bleah. I hate Bob Saget! But for some reason something draws me to that show... It's probably the man's Power. (Rumor has it that he probably had it Before the Change.) I sat there for a few minutes and watched yet another deer morph get his antlers caught in a tree branch while jumping and fall all over himself. Hah, hah, laugh riot.
I turned off the TV, and headed to the bathroom. To look at myself.
I sighed. A funny looking thing with my bovine head. I'm never going to get used to this! I thought. Why couldn't I be a dinosaur like Tom? I mean, he seemed so happy with himself. So happy... so of course I have to act the same way. I've only managed to hide my real feelings because Tom isn't used to his senses yet (heck, neither am I!).
I slammed my fists down on the counter. "Damn it! I don't want ta be a bull morph!" I yelled, nearly breaking the counter in the process. I sighed again. Wishing for the umpteenth time I had my old face back. Then I heard the rustle of feathers behind me, and my mom walked up.
"Are you okay, Allen?" she asked. I turned around.
Her raven head was tilted in her expression of concern. "Do I look like I'm okay?" I stared at my thick fingers, and my hoofed feet. I swished my tail back and forth a little, feeling the long end hairs swipe the carpet a little.
"Caw, you look like a fine specimen of a bull to me!" she said.
In response, I stormed past her and sit in my chair. "You don't understand, mom. It's different from me than it was for you. I knew it was coming!"
"That's true. But that doesn't mean I understand things less." She sighed. "Why don't you call Tom on the netphone? Maybe you should tell him how you feel."
"I don't know. I'll think about it." I did go and surf the 'net a bit. It helped me forget how I was feeling (that's a tough thing to do with a big muzzle in your vision). I decided that maybe it was a good idea to call him. My monitor said he was online (it'd been a couple of hours) so I put on a happy face and rung him up. "Heya, Tom. What's up? How'd the dinner go?"
"Not bad. We had duck, my favorite. Heh." He looked happy (if that's possible with a face like his). "Oh, and we might have someone show up at lunch tomorrow."
"Oh, really? Who?" Great, a new friend.
"A guy named Dans that I met in Mr. Wilkes class. He got his First Sign today. A big reptilian tail! He might be another dinomorph!" Great. Unlikely, though. Considering the way the Cosmic Dice roll. I decided to cut the conversation short.
"Tom, I've got to go. I've got a bit of homework and..."
"Hey, no problem. We're going out to find Coonie an apartment. I want to show her the sights. So I'll email you later!" With that, he clicked off.
I would have too, but another call came through. I said, "answer" to the computer. "What do you want, Taurine?" I said. I only turned on the audio, no video.
Taurine was a Hiddie cow morph (udders and all) in Bovinity with me. "Just checking to see if you've done your grazing for the day. Remember the Club's sixth Commandment: 'Thou shalt grazeth on the grasses that grow upon the fields, lest the Club will take measures to see that you do.'" Boy that club is strict! I had to have it for Changeyear credit, too. Darn it.
I was tempted to say "eat my methane, cowgirl!" but that would be dumb. Taurine should've been a parrot, considering the way she just repeats stuff out of the book. "I'll get to it. Goodbye." And I disconnected.
I had to admit, grazing wasn't actually half bad. It gives a lot of think time. The front lawn was rather overgrown anyway, so I went out, shifted, and started to graze.
I have no idea how long I did that. I briefly noted my father landing on the platform on the roof, but he apparently went and talked with mom. The front lawn was a cool half acre, and I'd grazed a corner when I realized it was getting dark, and there was a person sitting on the fence right in front of me. A raccoonish someone. Female, too. She also smelled familiar... "Hello, Allen. Or do you prefer to be called 'Zenk?'"
The voice was very distinctive. I shifted back. I smirked, trying to hide my surprise. "If I can call you Betty, you can call me Al." I said with a smirk.
"Paul Simon?" She took off the hat she was wearing. "Didn't know someone your age would be into 'oldies.' Glad to see it." She hopped off the fence, a neat trick with that tail of hers. "But I'm not here to talk about music."
"Then what're you here to talk about?" I was fairly dubious...
"Me? Why me? I'm happy with what I am!" I must have said it with more force than I intended. Then I realized I'd given something away.
"Are you? I know your parents are both bird morphs, Tom told me. And bird senses aren't geared for as much as yours or mine are. Even your father's hawk eyes might be useless if he's never learned to use them."
"I know, I know. I've gotten this lecture in PPR. What's the point of this anyway?"
"You seem to need someone to talk to that isn't your parents. And isn't a member of that club you're in. And isn't your best friend."
I shook my head. She was right... And she seemed a very easy person to talk to. So I started with the biggest thing on my mind. "Why aren't you in your normal raptor morph?" Whoops. That wasn't it. There you go again, Zenk. Doing whatever you can to avoid your problem... I thought.
She looked at me. "Perhaps this might be a good starting point. Put simply, this is me. This is what I transformed into on the Day of the Change. A simple raccoon morph." She swished her striped tail around. She seemed to be wearing a lot of clothing for someone with a lot of fur...
"But I thought that..."
"You know Tom's counselor, right?"
"Oh, yeah. Never mind. So this is you, huh?"
"Yes. And you've probably heard stories like this before, Zenk. But I think you need to hear it. Mine isn't particularly exciting, but perhaps you need to hear it." I nodded, knowing what she was about to talk about.
She cleared her throat. "I'll keep it short. Unlike others, I wasn't woken up by my Change. I was up and painting. I do that when I'm stressed. But anyway, I hardly noticed until I saw my hands turn black and furry. I denied it at first, of course. I'd been fussing over a particularly bit of fine detail, and my hands got even more nimble. So it really didn't hit me until this." She tapped her pointed muzzle. "When I smelled my roommate Michelle's sudden alarm, and heard her scream. Boy did I hear it! We spent the rest of the day after we finished staring at the TV.
"Not much of a day, really. Of course I was happy I didn't go fully raccoon and lose my mind (rummaging around in garbage cans seems a bit boring to me anyway). But it was the next day that was the most exciting for me... I met David." Her look was distant, remembering . "What about you?" she asked suddenly.
"What? Well, I got the hiccups pretty bad about three weeks ago, and brought up cud. Bleah." Cud. I looked down at myself. Cud. "I guess..." Cud. "I'm nothing but walking hamburger!" I blurted.
"Is that all?" She suddenly changed into a cow morph. "Am I any different to you this way?" She asked.
"Well... no. But that's not the point. I don't have any real Powers. I can only Shift. And, well... I'm just not happy."
"I can see that. You are one of the few I've met that is truly dissatisfied with what they're become. Strangely enough, most people become acclimatized pretty fast. Within hours, really. But you... you're a tough nut. And because of this, among other reasons, I'm about to offer you a chance for something different."
"You've just completed your Change. It is as yet unstable. I know someone that can give you a chance to become something else. It will be in effect roll your Cosmic Dice a second time. So who knows? You might become a bird, another hoofer, a fish. Who knows?"
My heart was in my throat. "Any chance I could be a dinomorph?"
She seemed to hesitate. "Well, I was going to give you a chance at that anyway."
"Well, there aren't enough dinomorphs around here close by that I can easily call in. But I do know someone who can temporarily induce a dinomorph transformation. I thought Tom would want you at the ceremony anyway. But the Club rules require those present to only be dinomorphs. Dumb, but easy to get around." She changed into her raptor morph.
"I can see that," I sighed. "Well, I have to admit that I'm thankful for the prospect. And I just might do it. When?"
"Well, the induction ceremony for Tom is this weekend. I want to give you a couple days experience as a dinomorph. So if we could go talk with your parents..."
"Sure thing!" She looked at me seriously for a moment. "What?"
"This isn't a choice one should make in haste, Zenk. If you decide to go with it, then whatever you change into will be what you are for life. Unless you get a polymorphic Power like mine. And when I say that your Change gets reshuffled. I mean everything. Including any Powers you may have, and have not discovered yet," she went raccoon again (she must've been wearing Shifter clothing...). "Let's go in, shall we?"
I sat down at our normal lunch spot to wait for Tom. Tuesday. Coonie said that the person with the Inducer Power would come in tonight. Then I'd have a few days to consider if I wanted to get completely reshuffled. Something I was inclined to do at the moment.
I smelled Tom before I saw him. I also smelled someone with him. So I put on my Happy Face and turned around. "Heya! This must be Dans!" I said with false enthusiasm. The kid (looked like a Freshman) did indeed have a long, green reptilian tail on him that strongly reminded me of an alligator's.
"Yep, this is Dans," Tom said. "Future alligator morph."
"Yeah. I'm not a dinomorph like I'd hoped. It's close enough for me, though. Croc types have been around just as long! I've even got a picture of what my doctor thinks I'm going to look like." He took a printout from his backpack and handed it to me.
"Upper-Middie, huh?" I said. He wasn't going to look bad. There was a 42% chance he'd end up with a gator's head on a fairly humanoid body. "Humph."
"I think I'm going to miss my old face. But at least my legs decided to catch up a bit so I can walk." Dans said. He hiked up a pant leg (his pants had the obvious large tail hole) to show greenish, nearly hairless skin. His legs seemed a bit shorter than human-normal. "My doc says I've stabilized, too. And that I probably won't change any more for at least a month. I'm happy for that. This is enough for now."
No kidding. After the last month or so in my life, I'm glad it's all over... or might be over. If I decide to go with the reshuffle thing. I smiled, thinking of tonight. What species should I choose? I thought. Another velociraptor? A stegosaurid? What about a Low-D apatosaur? Iguanadon perhaps? Hmmm...
"What're you thinking about?" Tom asked. I stopped to look at his saurian face.
Another raptor, definitely. I thought. Tom does look cool, after all. "Oh, nothing. Well... I should tell you that I'm going to visit a relative for the next few days. Until Monday, in fact."
"What? You're going to miss my induction ceremony? I thought you'd want to come!" Obviously Coonie hadn't told him only dinomorphs could attend. Damn.
"Sorry, it's something I just can't get out of," I said with a bit of apology. It probably wasn't true, but I wanted to "test the waters." I mean, who knows? I might not want to get reshuffled after all.
Lunch ended, and I went to my last class. It was soooo boring I can't even say what class it was. Of course I then met Tom for the walk home. He seemed... angry about his class schedule. "I hate Mrs. Woods!" he said with a particular lilt. I guessed duck would be on the menu again tonight. "What're you thinking about?"
"Oh, I don't know. Stuff, really."
He'd remained in his regular raptor morph. He looked so happy... and if he could be happy with what he'd become, so could I. Perhaps being something else for a while might give me another point of view... Hmm, maybe that's what I need, I thought. Another point of view, from a perspective closer to Tom's. "I guess I'll see you Monday?" I said.
"Yeah. Have a good time, I guess."
"Yeah. Sure," I said. Then I walked off towards home, my hooves clacking on the cement.
I spent the rest of the evening looking at dinosaur guide books, as well as what reference materials on the 'net that Coonie had pointed me to, depending on what species I chose. I must have lost track of time, because there was a knock on the door. My father answered it.
Coonie (in her raptor form) and an unfamiliar woman walked in. "Come in," my father said. They did. She had a veil over her face.
"Why all the secrecy?" I asked.
"Well, Zenk. Her Power is rather special. It's a lot like mine, in that she can change people into whatever she has touched. But the problem is, she doesn't like it noised about where she is going. Her Power is as rare as my own. Now, have you chosen a species?"
I really wasn't expecting having to do it quite so fast. I'd figured out that a raptor-type would be nice, but that I should be giving all other dinosaur types the same consideration. So I did what was probably the best thing in the first place, and the most fair. I'd rolled for it. I had about a hundred species on my list, from all dino types. And I really wasn't all that unhappy about what had come up. I flipped the book open to the page, planted a finger on the great picture (a dinomorph in norm form must have posed for it) and said, "That one."
Coonie grinned, and the woman stepped forward...
"Practice makes perfect" Coonie always told me. Which was why, at the moment, I was riding the wind as a pterosaur. A large one too, like the ones in the Dinotopia books. A Quetzalcoatlus skybax.
Dinotopia. The very word, invented by James Gurney, fit very well to the world that he had created in those books. As well as the drama series that was on UPN on Friday nights, last night. I just wish that they'd improve the CGI, the adult humans still look fake (though they tend to use Lowddies for those roles anyway).
Tonight was my Induction ceremony. Tonight I would finally be part of a group! Accepted as myself! But on the other claw...
I missed Zenk. He was my best friend. And I really couldn't bear the thought of him not being with me. I'd stopped by his house the other day, and I thought I'd smelled him around the neighborhood. But it hadn't been quite his scent. It almost had saurian connotations that were very confusing. Just what species I couldn't place just yet...
I sighed once and settled into my flying. I'd given this particular species of pterosaur a personal nickname of "Windrider" since their wings were so huge I hardly needed to flap them to take off! I'd done so from my father's work, were I'd been practicing my icthyosaurian forms. They were very dolphin-like. Though they lacked the sound-sense that my father had. It was nice to be able to do something with him, though. I'd even worked myself into a morph of one. I was getting better at that.
I'd spent maybe a half hour riding thermals when I noticed a bald eagle morph in the air angling towards my flight path. Then I remembered what I was supposed to do last Saturday! Dr. Coe! Darn it! He pointed towards the ground, so I started to lose altitude.
Landing was a trick. I bashed my beak a couple times. "You okay?" Dr. Coe said.
I nodded, though a bit dazed, and changed back to my raptorial self. "I'm fine. I'm fine. I just haven't gotten the hang of those landings yet..."
"I sympathize. I remember my first flight! But you missed your appointment last Saturday with me," he said ominously.
I shrugged. "Sorry. I got preoccupied."
Dr. Coe seemed unconvinced. "Were you? Well, you don't seem to have too much bothering you now. Perhaps we can get those tests out of the way? They'll only take an hour or two..."
I sighed once, deeply. When an eagle morph looks at you like that you do what he says! Besides, I was a bit too depressed about Zenk to argue. "Fine. But I hope you fly fast." I didn't say anymore, I just bolted off in the direction of Dr. Coe's office. It only took me a few minutes to get there in norm shape.
I sat in the examination chair as dejectedly as I felt. My tail was rather more motionless as usual. "Something wrong, Tom?" Dr. Coe said.
Trust an eagle to pick up on visual cues. He paused in his examination of my left eye. "You could say that," I said, reluctant. "Today's supposed to be a great day for me. My Induction is tonight. A bunch of other dinomorphs are arriving from out of town as witnesses. But..."
"You wish a good friend of yours could attend?"
My eyes went wide in surprise. "How'd you guess?"
"I'm the president of the local bird-of-prey organization. Though I don't like it, induction ceremonies are supposed to only be attended by other raptors. I've talked to a lot of other teens like yourself who've just completed their Change and are depressed because their friends can't attend."
I sighed. "I'm glad I'm not alone, then. But what makes it worse is that he's not even in town!" I emphasized the point with a click of my m-claws.
"I really wish I could help you, Tom. But I can't. Is there anything you want to talk about, though?"
I fixed him with a bit of a glare. "Talk about? The past month my whole life has changed! First my sister gets a beak, then my best friend can literally chew the cud, then I end up being able to rip through flesh with ease! No, doc, there's nothing I want to talk about." I sighed.
So did he. He leaned back on his perch against a bar. "Well, I'm done. We can finish this tomorrow when you're in a better mood. And something tells me you will be."
"Don't worry about it. I know tomorrow's Sunday, but my patients mean a lot to me. I need to give you some acuity tests, test your depth perception and such. That won't take long, so I'll see you tomorrow." With that, he showed me out.
I was a bit put out, but I could see his point. I probably needed someone to talk to who was close to the same species. I went outside, changed to Windrider, and flew off home.
I was in my room when Coonie arrived. But I heard three voices instead of the two of my mother and her that I expected. "And where is the young man?" said a light baritone male voice.
"He's in his room, David. I'm glad you got here from Tibet so quickly." Coonie's voice replied. "I think he's a bit depressed... "
"Well, I'll take care of that," he replied. "Good to meet you, Mrs. Boxhall."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Smith!" my mother rumbled reply in her cat-like voice. "My son would like to meet you very much!"
I didn't know about that. I'd seen him on the videos, and sure he was one of the richest people on the continent, and another dinomorph. Otherwise I was really kind of blah on the whole thing.
Of course, everything felt kind of "blah" without Zenk around.
I was laying on my bed on my back, all spread out. My tail hanging off the end, the tip idly twitching. I'd chosen to put on a pair of shorts and a shirt. I felt like wearing clothes for a change.
It was a good thing that Coonie had stayed in her Center raccoon morph form. If she'd walked in raptor form with David I'd probably have started to fight him for her attentions. I don't know why, it just seemed logical. As it was, I kind of pulled in on myself in submission. This was my pack-leader, right?
Then I realized just what I was thinking. Damn instincts.
"Stand up and let me look at you, Tom."
Without complaint, I did so. I looked at him, too.
"Boy, you're a high Degree, aren't you?" he said matter-of-factly.
I really was. The only difference between me and a natural velociraptor was that my hands had more fingers and an opposable thumb, and my posture was a bit more upright. Other than that... "You could say that," I replied.
There was an uncomfortable silence...
"Well..." David said. "Shall we go? We've got an exciting night planned..."
I shrugged and followed him out of my room, only whacking my tail against the doorjamb once. Ouch.
I sat in the back of David's old Ford Expedition. My parents thought it would be a good idea for me to ride with them for some reason. Coonie had changed to her raptor morph form again (with David around I didn't dare drool over her, I'd slowly worked myself out of that little problem... a little bit). I was fairly glad that they'd had the back seat pushed back. As it was I sat between their long tails, which were sticking out the back of the front seats. The vehicle was probably ten years old... "You're so rich, why don't you get a new one?" I asked bluntly.
It seemed to me like he'd answered questions like that a lot. He didn't get angry. "Why? This one works just fine," he said simply. "Anything you want to talk about, Tom?"
"I just wish Zenk was here..." I sighed.
Coonie seemed to be holding something in. "I'm sorry, David! I just can't hold it in anymore! He's feeling too bad." She turned around as best she could in the seat. "Tom, Zenk is going to be there."
That brought me up short. "What? How?" I said.
In response, Coonie went to raccoon, back to raptor, then she winked.
"Don't tell he's a polymorph!" I said, almost happy.
"No, but I've got a friend who can induce a change into another species." She smiled.
"So, what is he?" I asked impatiently.
David only tail-grinned slyly, "That, my young packmate, is for you to figure out..."
Two hundred dinomorphs. "I thought you said there was only going to be a few!" I said to Coonie, very surprised.
She only shrugged. "Well, I'd put it out on the 'net that there was going to be an Induction in this area, and it was an open invite for anyone who could attend. So here you go."
"Wow!" I replied.
David said, "From the data I've got, maybe thirty of those are teens like yourself who've just finished their Change. Most of them are different species, of course. But you get my meaning. Then ten in addition to that are in various stages of Change. So you'll have a lot to talk about." he grinned.
So did I. "And one of those dinomorphs is Zenk, right?"
They both nodded. And now that I knew that that saurian scent I'd detected near Zenk's house was Zenk's. But I didn't know what species. That was a rather simple obstacle to overcome. Zenk still smells like Zenk, after all. No matter the species. So I went inside, very confident that I'd find him in a moment.
Boy was I wrong.
Two hundred dinomorphs, and lots and lots of food combined to make the scent-landscape nearly impossible for me to even start to sort out!
"Something wrong, Tom?" Coonie said with a smirk.
I sighed deeply. "Wrong? What makes you think something's wrong?" I said sarcastically. "But I've always liked a challenge..." I ruled out about half of those there right away. They had female lilts to their scents, and I was sure Zenk wouldn't go that far to disguise himself!
David chose that moment to make his announcement, "The Guest of Honor is here!" He announced in a booming voice.
With a dinosaur smile, I waded into the crowd.
Dinner was first. I've never had so much meat in my life! Even though many carnivores like their meat raw, I like mine cooked at least a little. I'd found that I could digest it better.
Dinner was first. I've never had so much meat in my life! Even though many carnivores like their meat raw, I like mine cooked at least a little. I'd found that I could digest it better.
After an hour of mixing around, I'd narrowed down my prospects to three people. A Middie deinonychus, a Lowddie troodon, and Middie iguanadon. All three rather reminded me of Zenk quite a bit. They were my own age, just completed their Change (how long it took is impossible to tell.) and had many of his mannerisms (voices don't count since they usually change with the body). David and Coonie had obviously told all those my age to keep quiet about their names, since nobody was talking.
Otherwise I talked to a few other raptor morphs, one kid who'd started feet first like myself, and was up to about his knees in his Change. "They woke me up at night about a month ago," he'd said. "I almost cut my legs off!"
"I know the feeling," I'd replied. "Believe me." Though he went bug-eyed when I told him how long it took me. "Don't worry so much. I'm sure that you won't have the same problems I did."
About an hour after dessert was supposed to be the "Footprint Ceremony", then the traditional Mystery Science Theatre 3000 flick (some movie made with dinomorphs just after the Change. A cheap Jurassic Park knockoff). Then home. But first I had to figure something out...
I gathered my three prospects in front of me, and said flat out. "One of you is my best friend, and I'm going to figure which if you he is."
All three of them snickered, which was a very Zenk thing to do. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and pointed towards the deinonychus in the middle.
"Nope!" he said. "Wrong!"
I opened my eyes. "Well, then who are you then?"
He seemed to hesitate for a while. Then he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "I'm Ricky Oxnard, Tom." He was telling the truth. One of the other dinomorphs looked confused, and the other was bug-eyed.
I never noticed their expressions, though. My jaw hit the floor, and I was suddenly overcome with anger. "COONIE! GET YOUR TAIL OVER HERE!!!" I yelled. Everybody went silent.
She was over in a flash. "Is there a problem?" she asked cheerfully.
I couldn't say anything. I was so angry words just wouldn't do. And I just didn't want to do a raptor's scream and lose control and rip him apart. Instead I just made a vague gesture in Ricky's direction.
"Is that all?" She replied, unfazed.
"'Is that all'? You say?! How could you?! He... he..." Word failed me, and I growled menacingly in Ricky's direction. He backed up a couple steps.
"I'll just let him explain it. Ricky?"
Ricky looked at the floor, rubbed his long muzzle once or twice, seemingly just to make sure he was still a dinomorph. "How can I apologize, Tom? How can I make good? I don't know how..."
"Give me one good reason not to gut you!" I growled.
His eyes filled with tears. "How would you feel, Tom, if at every single turn your parents compared you to 'that nice kid down the street'? How would you feel if your parents said things like, 'why can't you be like Ricky Oxnard?'"
I gave him the most menacing Look that I could. "I can't imagine them ever saying that!" I thought it would be a bad idea to swear with my parents looking on.
"Tom, just back off a moment and think. Take a deep breath, and think about what he just said," David said sternly from behind me.
He was playing on my instincts. He was my pack leader, so I did back off, and forced myself to think critically about what Ricky had said. "No wonder you hated me," I mumbled.
"I'm sorry, Tom," Ricky continued. "I... I needed a punching bag. And you were it. What can I say? That little chase you put me through turned everything around! I can't believe I did that to you! I was so scared I wet myself!" Oddly, he was almost laughing!
Funny how some people can have an infectious laugh, I'd never have suspected him of having a laugh like that! I started to laugh, too. I stopped myself abruptly, though. "That doesn't make up for years of abuse, though." I said more calmly.
He stopped laughing. "I know. But we have to start somewhere, right?" he warily extended a clawed hand that looked very much like mine. "Truce?"
I gave him the Stare a while, just to see if he'd flinch. I extended my hand, just as carefully, and we shook. "Truce. Now go away; if I want to talk to you again, I'll do it on my own time."
"Do you want me to leave?" his voice was hopeful.
I thought a moment, and let go of his hand. "No, but find an out-of-the-way table. Shoo."
Without another word he melted into the crowd, who started to talk amongst themselves again.
I turned to Coonie. "How could you?!" I nearly yelled.
Coonie just shrugged. "He needed to say something, Tom. Something to you in a situation where you'd be equals. That's why he chose the species that he did. If you're angry with me, then you're angry with me."
I Stared at her for a while, but she Stared me right back. I closed my eyes and shook my head. "I'm not angry with you, teacher. But I am a bit unhappy. Now if you'll excuse me..." She walked off, her claws clicking. I turned to the iguanadon to the right of me, who was still looking in Ricky's direction in surprise. I smiled. "You're sneaky, underhanded, and downright untruthful, you know that?" I said to him.
He dino-smiled in return, and reached back to touch his thick tail. "Dude, I'm never going to get used to this thing!" he said. "And thinks for compliment!" He looked back in Ricky's direction. "But what about him? Want me to stomp him?" Zenk was probably seven feet tall, and looked like a shrunken version of his current species.
I looked at Ricky, who was sitting at a table all by himself, with a drink in front of him. He was staring at his drink. I saw him pick it up, attempt to drink it, and it spilled all over him. I chuckled at the sight. "What about him? Anything he says to me sounds... sounds..." I was searching for the right word.
"Hollow?" said a familiar voice behind me.
I turned around to see a Hiddie ceratosaurus standing there. "Hiya, Mr. Wilkes. Enjoy your dinner?" Zenk said.
He only smirked, just as amazed at his tail as Zenk had been. Then he stifled a belch. "Remind me never to be turned into something with a gizzard again. I'm stuck like this for two days, and swallowing those gizzard stones was murder! I'm not going to be in class, either. So you're going to have to oversee the test the sub will be giving, Tom."
I grinned evilly. "No problem." I clicked my m-claws.
His expression went serious. "You really should give Ricky another chance, Tom. Maybe not now, not this year. But at some point in your life."
My expression went flat. "I'll take that under advisement. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a footprint to do..." People were gathering near the platform and the "mud" had already been poured. With Zenk in tow, I went up to join my family.
"All this just for you?" my sister chirped quietly from where we were standing in front of the platform. David was giving some sort of speech I really wasn't paying attention to.
I shrugged. "Yeah. All for me. Don't worry, though. What about that songbird club you were looking into?"
She rubbed the tip of her pointed beak. "I've decided not do anything with it just yet. I'd rather see if I get wings first... I keep on getting these odd twinges from my back, though." Her feathered crest rose.
"Well, don't worry. If you don't get wings, you'll be able to shift. But the flying... wow, you'll love it!"
"My landings will be better than yours!" she smiled, or tried to. Then she sighed.
I tweaked her feather crest. "Don't worry, sis. You'll speed on through."
"I hope so! But look, David is gesturing in your direction."
I turned to listen to him more closely. "A step into the future," he was saying. "That's what this is. For all we look like species that have been gone from this earth for millions of years, we symbolize for many something compelling. The mystery of the past, and the wonder of the future. So, Tom, if you would please..."
My step into the future. I'd practiced this yesterday after school so I wouldn't screw up. My father gave me that grin he always has (though it seemed even wider now) and pushed me forward. My mother's tail was swishing back and forth happily. Even my sister's feather crest was as high as it would go! That seemed to replace a smile for her.
I changed to norm-shape, moving forward onto the platform. With a practiced step, I rolled my foot into the mud-like soil material. Leaving a prefect footprint.
An apatosaurus morph said in a booming voice, "Hear ye! Hear ye! The MC is pleased to welcome their newest member! Thomas Albert Boxhall of South City, Oregon! Hello, and welcome Thomas. Brethren, give him a proper saurian welcome!"
Those that could immediately to norm shape (Those who wouldn't get too big and poke a hole in the roof, that is!) and bellowed, roared, and whatevered for all they were worth! And I felt welcomed!
"Movie siiiiign!" somebody yelled suddenly. I sat down in my chair at the head table to watch the (bad) movie with Zenk, David, and the my family.
During the movie people told me when the show had only two robots and a human in the theatre. The same two robots are there (Tom Servo and Crow), but along with Mike Nelson is Joel, the original guy! Mike was some kind of rodent, and Joel was a Lowddie mule morph. With those four in the theatre most were rolling on the floor.
It ended all too soon, though. Once the movie was over people started to disperse. I said my most of my goodbyes, though I didn't know anybody, really.
I'd just had the best night of my life, though! Something I'd always remember.
But throughout the movie Zenk seemed to be thinking about something. Hard. I managed to get him in an out of the way corner and asked him, "what is it?"
He looked at the floor a moment. "Well, Tom. I've... uh... decided to get reshuffled."
"Resuffled. I hated being a bull morph. I hate to say it, but I was kinda hiding it from you..."
He clenched his fists. "Because you were so happy so I thought I should be too!" he said quickly.
"Zenk, just because I'm happy nothing says you have to be. But what do you mean by 'reshuffled?'"
"I'm going to have my Change done over. Coonie said she had a friend who could do that for me. The thing is, she said the resulting Change would be rather fast, like a few minutes... and possibly painful.
"But I'm willing, though. I've felt like being a bull morph is somehow wrong for me! I can't explain it... maybe my Cosmic Dice landed wrong. I don't know..."
I shrugged. "It's up to your, friend of mine. I can't decide for you."
"I'm going to do it... I'm going to do it... Tomorrow." He said it with a finality.
"Tomorrow." I said.
It was with great reluctance that I left the auditorium that night. What was planned for the morning was a long talk. I wanted to be really, really sure that this was what he wanted to do. After all, Zenk was my friend and I wanted him to know that I didn't really car what he looked like. But he was admant.
"Are you sure you want to do this, son?" Zenk's dad said for the last time, his mom echoed the question. The three of use knew his answer, though.
He looked at his parents seriously. "Yes, dad. I really do." There was a knock on the door. Coonie and her friend (a chipmunk morph with her face covered and her scent scrambled) walked in the door.
"Are you ready, Zenk?" Coonie said.
"I'm ready, I'm ready now, in fact. Just let me get to a mirror..." We walked to a full-length mirror that had been set up. He turned to the chipmunk-woman. "Do it!"
She only nodded, and touched him once. Zenk hadn't been wearing any clothes as an iguanadon, and good thing, too. He began to shrink. His tail shrank into the ropy thing he'd had before. His hide darkened with stiff hair. His muzzle shrank down, horns appeared. He took a moment to look at himself in a mirror. "Adios, Bovinity! See ya Taurine!" he said cheerfully.
Zenk turned back towards the chipmunk. "Zap me!" It was, indeed, a zap.
The reverse of Zenk's Change happened. His feet shortened into human toes, the hair thinning out as it went up his legs and onto his torso. He seemed to be in a bit of pain as his tail retracted. His torso lost its muscularity, as did his arms. His fingers thinned, and another one appeared out of the thickest one.
Reaching his head, his horns shrank into nothingness as his muzzle pulled inward to reveal once more the face that I'd known since childhood. But he never got a chance to look at himself in a mirror.
He screamed and doubled over in pain, and a pair of featherless wings suddenly sprouted out of his back! They were full size in a matter of minutes. Zenk's parents looked at each other, then went to help him. Zenk waved them off. "No, no, I'm fine. But it's not over yet..." he said through clenched teeth.
Teeth that were rapidly fusing, then thrust out of his mouth, forcing his nostrils to rotate onto the back part of a black beak, turning bright yellow at the same time. Feathers suddenly sprouted on his wings. They were dark gray above, white with dark gray barring below. His chest started to get feathers as it began to swell with flight muscles. The feathers spread up his neck and onto his head, which had narrowed and he'd lost his ears.
Moving downward onto his hands, they turned yellow, scaly, he lost a finger again, and they gained short, black talons. He went up on tip-toe as one toe seemed to twist around backwards, getting longer as it did so. His skin turned dry and scaly there, yellow, too. Thighs and shins shortened and changed.
His bottom half was still bare of feathers, but that started to change. His new keelbone dropped more between his legs, forcing him to lean forward slighly. But his new legs allowed for it. A stub of a tail grew on his rear end, then long tail feathers sprouted. The feathers stopped just below his ankles. Then he seemed finished.
Zenk gave out a hawk's cry, probably still in pain. Then he looked at his hands, then straightened himself out. "God that hurt!" he said, his voice a bit higher but still undeniably his. He took a deep breath, carefully put one foot in front of the other, and looked at himself in the mirror.
"Welcome to The BoP son! You make a handsome goshawk morph!" his father said happily.
He was overall dark gray above, white with dense gray barring below. His head was gray like the rest of him, but for a streaked white "eyebrow" flaring behind his eyes. Strangely enough, I had the feeling that this was how it should've been in the first place...
Then Zenk turned to me and said, "You know, Tom." His piercing glare (pretty close to mine, I thought) still seeming happy somehow. "I think I finally feel right, now. This is me. And I think I don't have a thing to complain about!"
Zenk's father smirked (or something). "Well, son. Just wait until next week! The BoP's monthly meeting, and I'd be glad to induct you! More than happy, in fact..."
"I'm not joining without Tom there!" Zenk said vehemently.
I turned to Coonie, "Well, if your chipmunk friend there could... where'd she go?"
Coonie looked apologetic. "Sorry, Tom. But doing that to Zenk took a lot out of her. There's no way she can do anything like that for at least a couple weeks. Sorry."
I looked at the floor, depressed again. "Damn..."
"I wouldn't worry, Tom," Zenk's dad said. "If I know Brian he'll be willing to bend the rules a bit. And besides, don't you have an appointment with him today?"
I groaned. How'd he find out about that? "Yeah. I guess I do... Mind coming with me, friend of mine? I think you need to have an exam or two yourself..." I looked up into the sky, and looked at the bird morphs visible there. "Besides, I have feeling that you might want to stretch your wings a little," I looked at Zenk's parents, who nodded enthusiastically.
Something told me this family of bird morphs was going to have a lot of fun together.
One week later.
Dr. Brian Eirik Coe, Optometrist, and flighted bald eagle morph (though right now he chose to look like a goshawk morph like Zenk was), looked right into the eyes of a ruffed up prairie falcon. "Tom here is a raptor. It's in his species name, 'velociraptor'. Therefore, since I'm in charge here, he stays. Get it?"
"Got it." the woman said grudgingly. Zenk and I laughed.
The look in his eyes when I'd seem him this morning was so incredible I'll never forget it. It was then I realized just how faked his comfort with his bull morph had been. He was also showing me how good a friend he was. Something I'd have a hard time returning.
Last week, his first flight had been flawless! His landing, perfect. Even Dr. Coe was impressed when we'd landed in front of his office! I'll never forget his surprise-scent when I told him what had just happened. Zenk's parents had been just as flabbergasted.
Like my own induction ceremony, there was more meat for lunch (yum!). Though instead the movie they showed was the original Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" rather than an MST flick. Rather appropriate, though.
It was over all too quickly, though. But there was one thing that I don't know how I forgot... "You're flying home with me, right?" he said with a grin.
I thwaped myself on the forehead in epiphany. "D'oh! Yes! Of course!"
He was poised on the take off/landing platform, waiting while I changed forms. When I was finished, we sprang into the air.
We felt the freedom of life like never before! And just for the hell of it, we went as high as we could into the sun.
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