The Shape I’m in
“I need to go to Earth,” shapeshifter Wolf said.
“Now?” Holly sighed and put her tools down. “I guess I could use a break. Why do you need to go to Earth?”
“I figured we could all use a bite. The food out of the processor is awful.”
“Yeah, it’s a little buggy. I haven’t had a chance to adjust it.”
“So it’s settled then. To Earth for…ah sandwiches or something.”
“Sandwiches? We’re going to Earth to pick up sandwiches?”
“Wow, that psilocybin is hitting you pretty hard.”
“Psamurai’s tincture,” Holly shook her head and frowned.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The samurai’s tincture.”
“It must be pretty powerful stuff to catch out Wolfram Jones like that.”
“Very. Powerful, yeah,” he bobbed his head.
Holly regarded Wolf for moment then began scribbling a note on paper.
“What are you doing?”
“Low tech, I know,” Holly chuckled. “But unfortunately, the most reliable tech in the station. I’m leaving mom a note.”
“Right, don’t want her getting worried.”
“Not worried, but she will get curious. And when she gets curious, she turns into freaking William of Baskerville. Plus, she can look forward to some real food,” Holly put her head up and stared into middleground, “Though this is the twenty-first century. Not sure how real it will be.”
She stood and put her coat on, patting the pockets. “Oops, forgot my scanner. Should be lots of interesting things down there,” she said as she opened a drawer, pulled out a pistol and slipped it in her pocket. She looked up and smiled, “Ready.”
As they boarded the Starcrossed, the shapeshifter scanned the lounge as it followed Holly to the cockpit. It let out an audible groan of disgust.
“What’s wrong with you?” Holly asked.
“Oh, nothing, just hungry. By the way, can you fly for me?”
“What?” Holly spun around and shouted. “Who are you?”
The shapeshifter laughed.
“I’m serious,” Holly jabbed the pistol into the shapeshifter’s Wolf belly. “Wolfram Jones would challenge his own wife to fisticuffs to fly. He loses most of the time, but still.”
“Oh, it’s just the Psyocilbin.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. Off the ship.”
The shapeshifter took on the form of Carl and rapped Holly on the head with a knuckle that matched it in circumference. She grunted and dropped to her knees, clutching her head.
“That was just a tap, sweetie,” quasi-Carl crouched down and whispered. “Now fly this ship to Earth. How many traumatic brain injuries do you think you could sustain with your intellect still intact? Fly, little monkey, fly.”
Holly drew herself up, her head hanging. She looked up and fired a shot into the shapeshifter. It stepped back and grinned as the wound healed.
“Fly the ship, dear,” it sneered and pushed her toward the cockpit.
Holly entered and the shapeshifter took Sophie’s form. It followed her in and sat at the console, then gestured for Holly to take the seat along side.
“We could have made this a nice daddy-daughter day out,” pseudo-Sophie cooed. “But now mommy has to be here to make sure you stay out of trouble.”
Holly shook her head and smirked at the shifter, “That’s not my mom.”
“Oh,” it shifted into Luna, “This one then.”
“I thought all you monkeys looked alike, but you guys definitely look alike.”
Holly clenched her fists and looked sidelong at the shifter. The shifter turned its Luna fist into Carl’s and grabbed her by the head with his thumb and forefinger.
“Thought maybe the confining space would restrict me from forming into the gorilla? I don’t need to do whole thing. Just the useful bits. It would be really easy to crush your skull just enough to make you a gibbering idiot who wouldn’t even be able to feed itself.” It leaned in close to Holly’s ear and drew out a breathy whisper, “Fly.”
The trip to Earth was mostly a silent affair, punctuated by Holly’s sniffles, which drew a derisive, “Would you like a tissue?” from the shifter. As they entered the atmosphere, Holly scanned for an open area to land. The nearest was the marshlands that bordered the Philadelphia airport.
“Coming in for a landing,” Holly said, slipped on a crash helmet and jammed the stick forward, “I hope you can shift into something with head protection.”
They augered into the marshes and both Holly and shifter were thrown forward. The shifter’s head slammed against the console and it wailed, phasing through a series of half-formed and mismatched visages. Holly made a run for the cockpit door as the shifter held its head, moaning.
“Get back here, little monkey,” it shouted in a rapidly modulating voice, slurring.
Ian and Hunter helped Carl to his feet. Cheryl and Sophie each hugged a forearm.
“Are you alright?” Cheryl looked up at Carl.
“Yeah,” Carl grumbled. “I just got my bell rung. By me.”
“Apparently, someone had a shapeshifter locked down here,” Luna said.
“And I let him out,” Carl said with a hangdog expression rubbing his head.
“Don’t blame yourself. It’s not something I would have checked for either. This place was decommissioned centuries ago.”
“Looks like Ray had himself a little private prison,” Wolf giggled.
“Oh come on. Ray? That seems a bit extrajudicial.”
“A shapeshifter does seem like it presents an extraordinary case,” Ian added. “Perhaps one that requires extraordinary measures.”
“Ray isn’t the ‘black site’ type. On top of that, he didn’t say anything about it when he gave us the place.”
“I don’t think he’d be going around blabbing about black sites if he had them,” Wolf said. “Look, I ain’t judging.”
“You’re saying Ray keeps secret prisons. How’s that not judging?”
“Well, I guess on the surface it looks bad…”
They heard the sound of the Starcrossed, roaring out of the hangar above them.
“What the fuck?” Wolf frowned and darted up the steps.
“Holly?” Luna called up the stairs as she flew.
At the top, Wolf was ramming his shoulder against the door.
“Closed and latched,” Wolf shook his head.
Luna pounded on the door, “Holly?”
“Let me give it a go,” Carl said from behind.
Wolf and Luna stepped aside and Carl put his fist through the door.
“I come in handy sometimes,” Carl smiled.
Once out on the hangar deck, Luna found the Starcrossed and Holly missing and a handwritten note in their place.
I was taken to Earth by not-Dad. I took a tracker.
Luna showed Wolf the note.
“I’m killing it,” Wolf growled through gritted teeth.
“How are we even going to get down there, Wolf?” Luna barked.
“I think I can help again,” Carl piped up. “When I was looking around last night, I found another hangar with a ship in it. Now, whether it works or not…”
“There’s another hang…?” Wolf asked askance then gasped. “My man cave.”
“Over there I have a vintage Asteroids cabinet, and the holoprojector is on that side. And all along that wall…booze from every planet.” Wolf said as he gave Carl a tour of the second hangar.
“This is the ship, huh?” Luna stood regarding the ship, face pinched.
“It is a piece of shit,” Wolf said. “We’ll see if she turns over.”
Holly staggered down a long stretch of road that twisted through marshland in a long loop behind the airport. It was dusk and some school boys were in the clearing among the reeds. They had a erected a pathetic but functioning bonfire and were pretending to smoke the cigars they had lit.
“Hello,” Holly said approaching the boys. “Do mind if I use your fire to dry off?”
The boys were stunned by the sudden appearance of a human female. Then they took a moment to process what she was wearing, then the battered condition she seemed to be in.
“Are you coming from a con or something?” One of the boys snickered.
“I don’t know what that is,” Holly replied.
“I still don’t know what that is.”
“A comic book convention.”
“No,” Holly held her hands over the weak and flickering flame.
“Yeah,” another boy said, “I think she’s supposed to be a mad scientist.”
“If by ‘mad’ you mean ‘pissed’ then that’s correct,” Holly said.
One of the boys was gazing wistfully when he noticed her face was bruised. “Are you okay? You look like you got beat up.”
“Am I okay?” Holly droned. “A few minutes ago I accidentally unleashed a shapeshifting psychopath on the Earth three hundred years before I was born. My only hope is that I can dry my boots again before I cease to exist. My parents and Miss Ellers, Psamurai, The Piper, Carl and The High Priestess are trapped on an asteroid orbiting Saturn and I crashed our only ship in John Heinz Refuge. Am I okay? Not really.”
The boys fell silent and exchanged nervous glaces.
“So,” one of the boys peeped, “You know Psamurai?”
“Shut up, Kearney,” the boys shouted and threw empty soda cans.
“I got a lock on Holly and The Starcrossed,” Luna said, tapping on a display. “They are both stationary at the moment.”
The ship began to buck and emit a piercing, intermittent squeal.
“It’s doing that thing where it sounds like an angry blue jay again,” Wolf said fighting with the stick.
Carl reached back and banged the engine block and the ship stopped whining.
“Dude,” one of the bonfire boys yelled to another, “You’re not gonna meet Psamurai. This chick is either crazy or lying.”
Holly just stared into the fire.
“She doesn’t know Psamurai, she’s not from the future and she didn’t come in a spaceship. We should call the cops and have her 302’d,” the boy yelled at Holly.
“You know, I’m trying to think here,” Holly barked back. “It’s difficult with your constant chattering.”
“Dude,” another boy laughed, “You gonna let a girl talk to you like that?”
The first boy stood over Holly, trying to look menacing.
“My father taught me how to throw a punch. My mother taught me how to snap a neck,” Holly said, never looking from the fire.
The boy pushed Holly to her back. She kicked him in the ankle. It snapped and he fell, his face meeting Holly’s other foot. The boy shoved his face in his hands and rolled on the ground.
“Bitch broke my dose,” the boy shrieked. The other kids laughed.
“Now, can I think in peace?” Holly said, propping herself on her elbows. “Any more loud noises you want to make? Get them out of your system.”
A loud droning erupted overhead and a stiff breeze kicked up, snuffing the struggling little bonfire, leaving the area in darkness. Flood lights snapped on and illuminated the area around Holly, still lying prone. She saw the ragged underbelly of a Seraph short range transport vessel.
“Holly Cynthia Jones,” Wolf bellowed over the PA, “What have we told you about getting into cars with strangers?”
“Holly, hon,” Luna cut in, “If you’re done beating up on your new friends we have work that needs doing.”
“Would you lower the ramp already?” Holly shouted.
“Jeez, alright,” Wolf broadcast.
“And could Psamurai come out?”
“Just go with it,” Holly groaned.
The ramp lowered and Hunter walked out to greet Holly.
“Kid,” Holly barked and pointed at the boy who had asked about Psamurai, “You. Get over here.”
The boy lolled over and stood dumbstruck.
“Who’s this?” Hunter asked Holly.
“The only one of these Lord of the Flies wannabes that wasn’t a complete jackass.”
“So you’re the Piggy of the group?”
“Mr. Psamu…sir, Mister Psamurai,” the boy yammered, “I’m your biggest fan.”
Hunter’s arched eyebrow poked out over his glasses.
“I want to grow up to be just like you.”
“Oh, well, I can recommend Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Robert Ant….”
Holly grabbed the sleeve of his robe and pulled him up the ramp.
“Grant Morri…” the hatch hissed shut and the ship sliced off into the sky.
“It’s got a vintage, old timey charm to it,” Luna said, assessing Bart’s erstwhile basement and current base of operations for Cheryl and company.
“It smells like shit, Lu,” Wolf said through his hand.
Holly seemed in pain as she nodded in agreement.
“It’s fertilizer. There’s a florist upstairs. He grows Hunter’s mushrooms,” Cheryl sighed her monotone apology-explanation hybrid.
“The dankest shroo, grow in the stankest poo,” Wolf sang.
“Poetic,” Cheryl winced. “You’ll go nose blind eventually.”
“It explains the occasional hint of pig farmer.”
Cheryl frowned and smelled her sleeve.
“Before we leave we’re hooking you up with some shit.”
“You know we can’t do that, Dad,” Holly said. “That might break time.”
“At least a place that doesn’t smell like a sewer. Aren’t we breaking time just by being here? We went to Saturn to avoid messing with Earth history as much as possible and then let a shapeshifting criminal loose.”
“That’s on me,” Holly and Carl said in unison.
“It’s not on anybody,” Luna said. “You don’t usually think to look for clandestined prisons in Seraph outposts.”
“How do you track a shapeshifter?” Cheryl asked.
“It would be easy if I had a sample of its DNA,” Holly replied. “But, we’d have to track it down to get it so,” she turned her hands over like she was shaping an invisible ball in front of her. She popped to life, “Wait, it smacked its head on the console of the Starcrossed, there might be blood, or tissue, something we can use.”
Bart came ambling down the steps, “Hunter? You down there?” His head cleared the ceiling and he saw nine people shoved into his tiny basement. “Oh, the gang’s all here,” he squinted through his thick specs. “There’s more of you, is there?”
“Bart,” Cheryl said. “Wolf, Luna, and Holly. The Joneses. Joneses, Bart. The florist.”
“Bart,” Wolf shook his hand. “This is a fine medieval dungeon replica you have down here. You even have the stables in the corner.”
“Oh, well,” Bart chuckled. “Tools of the trade.”
“Bart,” Cheryl said in the voice of a school teacher, “The Joneses are visiting us all the way from three hundred years in the future.”
“Oh, is that right?” Bart said with a warm, broad smile. “Welcome to the twenty first century.”
“Why did I just get fifty seven calls from the Philly PD?” Hunter said grumbling, lying on bags of seed. “And forty two calls from Bart?”
“I’ve been trying to contact you all for hours, the police as well. There’s a beast rampaging downtown.”
“Did anyone try animal control? The zoo?” Cheryl asked.
“This beast falls more under your purview,” Bart replied.
“Why do I have a bunch of calls from the cops?” Hunter growled.
“How did they get my number?”
“I gave it to them?”
“You gave it to them?”
“It was the only one of yours I knew. They put out a call for you on the television. So I gave them your number.”
“Did you ever consider it might have been a setup?” Cheryl asked.
“It’s legitimate, Miss Ellers,” Bart was solemn. “There have been casualties. If it’s a setup, it’s gone terribly wrong.”
“Bart, if you can get in contact with the police, please offer our apologies. We were outside of our service area most of the day,” Ian said, “But we’re on the case now.”
“What is the case?” Cheryl asked Bart.
Bart held up his tablet showing shaky news footage of a dog-sized ant terrorizing a busy street.
“It calls itself Video Drone. An enormous telekinetic ant that seems to interact with and manipulate EM fields in the very high and ultra high frequency radio range. Can pluck things off a video feed and manifest them into reality. These manifestations then do Video Drone’s bidding.”
“A few things,” Cheryl said. “Enormous? That’s like the size of a collie at best.”
“That’s enormous for an ant,” Bart replied.
“It calls itself drone, yet it seem to bear and manipulate entities,” Ian said. “Isn’t that more like a Video Queen?”
“I did not name it, sir.”
“Okay, guys,” Cheryl said turning in her office chair. “Carl and I go with the Joneses to get the Starcrossed spaceworthy again. Ian, Sophie, and Hunter, I think you guys can handle Video Drone. Sound good?”
Nods of agreement.
“Well,” Cheryl looked around, “I guess this is where I shout ‘break’?”