the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.
The lecture hall was only half full, which made it easy for me to grab a seat all to myself up in the corner at the back. Professor Aben was doing his thing. I wrote notes, my hand moving over the paper of its own accord. My mind was elsewhere.
"Therefore," he was saying, "we can identify chromosomes. We are starting to understand how particular gene combinations lead to a person's genotype. Yet we still have been unable to pinpoint the process by which genes are passed down generations - indeed, it would seem that they are not, given that children do not inherit any apparent genes, and that their composition relies more on birthdate than any other factor."
It had been the sticking point in biology for decades. I'd never been particularly interested. Maybe I should have paid more attention.
My dad was dead.
He was an arsehole, but that still pretty much sucked. I didn't want anyone dead, obviously, but it was the lame-ass way it had gone down which kept coming back around in my mind. It hadn't even been a proper fight. He'd just slipped over, like an idiot, and fallen onto Cal's horns. It was farcical. It was hilarious. You know, aside from the blood and death.
Cal had freaked out. For the next ten minutes he sat in the corner going on about how he'd forgotten he even had horns, and that it had been an accident.
There was obviously nothing to be done for my father, so I'd buzzed about the place trying to figure out what to do. My mum was lying unconscious on the floor where he'd knocked her, and part of me had wanted to help her and another, colder, more rational part told me to wait. She hadn't seen Cal, yet.
Eventually he'd got it together and had forced another genoshift, the horns pushing out of his forehead and dropping to the floor, like he'd lost a couple of giant teeth, and his skin cracked and flaked and crusted over, while his eyes widened a little and a second eyelid fluttered into existence. He had become squamata, like me.
"Take the horns," I'd said, "and go. I'll say a guy with horns attacked us. There'll be nothing to link it to you, or to me." I'd given him an address and he'd ran. At the time I didn't know if I'd ever see him again.
"Curiously," the professor said, snapping my attention back to the present, "historical records only go back so far. You'd think there'd be evidence throughout ancient texts, even aside from science. But from markings on cave walls to religious texts from the dark ages, there's curiously little cultural relevance to our current society." He paced the stage, whirling his arms, as if trying to summon up knowledge from somewhere far away. "Some more...daring scholars and scientists have suggested that our genodate biology may have only commenced five to six hundred years ago."
Rachel in the front row put up her hand. "How could hereditary behaviour change so drastically in a species?"
The professor smiled. "It can't. That's the paradox."
Once Cal had gone I'd called the police. They seemed to buy the story, even after they found evidence of someone sleeping out in the shed. In fact, that seemed to help. I played the young, terrified girl. Mum work up the next day, oblivious. She mourned him like he had been the most wonderful guy in the world.
The school arranged for a counsellor to see me. It probably even helped. I mean, my dad had just died. But honestly it all felt pretty artificial. I still hadn't wrapped my head around someone being able to shapeshift, let alone what had just happened.
I kept a low profile. The police kept an eye on me for a while. They said it was for my own safety but that was bullshit. Someone there had their suspicions, even though they hadn't pushed it.
At the end of the class Rachel walked past where I was sat, not stopping or saying a word, and left a folded square of paper on the desk. I unfolded it, revealing the name 'MARV' and a hand-drawn love-heart. My eyes darted around the room but nobody was paying me any attention. Just in case, I did my best schoolgirl-in-love, then grabbed my bag and walked out.
It was a pretty short tram ride across the city to get to Marv's place. It wasn't the fanciest part of town and Marv was basically the only functioning adult in the house. His mum had pretty much lost her mind, his dad couldn't walk after some industrial accident, and his little sis' was only five. I hadn't figured out how he kept it all straight.
He opened the door and grinned at me. "Hey, girlfriend," he said, actually winking. He even slapped my arse as I went in, just in case anybody was watching. I'd have to have words with him about that, later.
All the houses in his street had basements - big ones, almost as big as the ground floors. He led me past the living room where his parents sat, largely inert, and the dining room where his sister was reading, then we headed through a cluttered storage room to the basement door. He unlocked it and we descended the stairs, a bare, dim lightbulb the only illumination.
Cal stood up from a battered old couch.
"How's the plan?" I asked, grabbing a beer from a dusty shelf.
"The plan's good. It's ready." Cal lifted his chin, his diamond-irised eyes glinting in the basement light. "Are you?"
I smiled, fangs and all. "Oh, I'm ready. Let's find out why everyone is so scared of you."
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A Day of Faces (complete novel)Science Fiction
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