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inborn or hereditary characteristics as an influence on or determinant of personality.

A month passed. In the short time I had with Cal, that first month was the best. Before it all got complicated and crappy and people started dying. I never liked that shed or that garden, but I sometimes want to just be back there, like those early weeks.

I kept going to school, so that everything seemed normal. After dark I'd wait until my dad was asleep, then sneak out with some food and we'd talk into the night, trying to figure out what to do next. Trusting him didn't come easy, what with the image of that cop falling off the roof still fresh in my mind.

"I was born twenty five years ago," he'd said. "If you want to know whether you can trust me, go to the records office. Look up my genodate." He'd pleaded for me to allow him to stay in the shed, hidden away, at least until I'd checked out his story.

Truth is, I didn't have any real alternatives. Here was a guy, bigger and older than me, who had transformed from wings to horns right in front of me, shrugging off a bullet wound like it was nothing. Some of the feathers still fluttered about the shed when the door was opened, even though we'd disposed of the wing carcass before it started rotting. Having a graveyard out the back turned out to be really, really handy.

On the way to the records office I'd thought about the rest of his claims: that he'd grown up in an orphanage, having been rejected by his parents. I'd always wondered why my parents hadn't given me up; they certainly didn't seem to have ever enjoyed having a child. Cal had gone to an orphanage out in the countryside somewhere nice and quiet. It sounded pretty great - I'd always wanted to be taken away to an orphanage when I was growing up. Better to be among kids close to your age, rather than attempting to forge familial ties with your actual parents, who you had nothing to do with, least of all genotype. My dad was a fluffy little thing, about as far removed from my scaly squamatan nature as was possible.

The orphanage had treated him well, right up until the point it burned to the ground. That's when it had all gone wrong. The stress from the fire brought on his change, which attracted all the wrong kinds of attention.

At the records office I'd found a secluded cubicle at the back of the room, behind filing cabinets and the endless shelves. Thumbing through brown cardboard folders I'd picked out the dozen-or-so babies that had been born on the same date as Cal. Which pretty much assured that they'd have the same abilities.

There was nothing consistent about the recorded dates of death, other than that they all had them. All at very different times and in different places. Some had died during birth. Others as children, in accidents or domestic abuse incidents. One had died as a teenager, killed by a drunk driver while travelling the world before starting work. There was no consistency or pattern but none of them were still alive. None of the deaths on their own looked particularly suspicious, but Cal assured me that it wasn't a localised coincidence.

Cal wasn't his real name, he'd said. I pulled out the file for Jason Parks. Born locally to rich parents, who had placed him into the orphanage along with a substantial investment to ensure his and the orphanage's success. They sounded like nice people. Jason Parks was generally unremarkable, doing okay in his studies without setting the world on fire. Which is a bad turn of phrase, I guess, because he died when the orphanage went up in flames ten years back, along with most of the other kids and half the staff. It had been big news at the time, but I'd only been about eight so didn't really remember it.

Although most people are born possessing an obvious genotype, some abilities only became apparent during the change. It was basically a secondary puberty. Because why settle for one when you can have an additional embarrassing physical development? For me that meant that I only started generating my own venom around age twelve. Having that happen right around when I started getting interested in boys was all kinds of trouble. Nobody wants to be a bad kisser, let alone kill your crush with slightly over-enthusiastic smooching. It kinda put a dampener on that whole part of my life.

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