An apex predator is a predator residing at the top of a food chain on which no other creatures predate.
"I should be more precise," said the man with the scarred face, speaking with a weird accent that I couldn't place. "I'm looking for him. Your friend."
Marv stood next to me, one hand placed on my arm. I wasn't sure if he was trying to warn me not to try anything, or gripping me out of his own fear. This guy in front of us had just vapourised the entire room. That kinda thing gets your attention.
"Don't know who you're talking about, man," Marv said, shaking his head so much that I was worried it might fall off.
The scarred man made an adjustment to his weapon, turning a dial, then aimed and fired at Marv. Now, the thing about guns is that you don't get that slow-motion scream or cry of anguish, as you lunge across the room trying to push someone out the way or take a bullet for them. Hell, I was standing shoulder to shoulder with Marv and still had no time to react. One moment his arm was gripping mine; then he didn't even have an arm. Half of it was simply gone, the forearm and hand still gripping mine, but nothing connecting it back to its owner.
At first Marv didn't really react. He jerked a little, maybe, at the initial impact, but that was about it. As the blue embers that had been his shoulder fizzled to nothing, he glanced down and his brain tried to register what had happened. Instead, he turned a little and, using his remaining arm, pulled at the disembodied hand, removing it from my arm and holding it up in front of him. Blood pumped from his shoulder.
He looked up and into my eyes. "Really want to make an unarmed pun, Kay," he said, not smiling. Then he collapsed to the floor and started convulsing.
"You'll want to do something about that blood loss," the man said. He threw something onto the floor in front of me. It was a bandage of some sort. "Put it on his shoulder, quickly now."
Grabbing at the bandage, I ripped off the packaging and fumbled with it. It wasn't long enough to wrap and, besides, there wasn't enough arm left to form a tourniquet.
"Apply it directly."
I did as the man instructed. As soon as it was placed onto the wound the bandage expanded to encompass it entirely, binding itself into the flesh and sealing it up, as if it knew what it was doing. I'd never seen or heard of anything like it. There wasn't anything like it.
Then again, this guy had a ray gun. So I probably should've been ready for anything.
"Consider that a gesture of goodwill," the man said. "So tell me, where is your friend?"
The man's outfit was as odd as his accent. Not just the style, but the materials themselves seemed unfamiliar: smoother and more form-fitting. A little like tight leather, but different and less natural. Around his chest he wore a circular contraption with metal filaments stretching out over his torso and down his limbs.
He raised the gun again, pointing at Marv's other arm.
"Wait," I said, holding up my hands in a vague and obviously useless attempt to shield him, "just wait. He was here. But he's gone, and I don't know where."
"There's no door out of this room. So where did he go?"
"I genuinely don't know, you arsehole."
The man grimaced and stepped closer. "I know your friend has unusual powers," he said. "What happened when he came in here?"
I thought about trying to feign innocence, but there was Marv, writhing on the floor and frothing at the mouth, and decided that now wasn't the time to be awkward. "Something happened when he touched the machine, or whatever it is."
His face turned towards me, eyes glaring and jaw set hard. "What happened?"
"He started changing again."
The man dropped the gun to his side. "Well, shit," he murmured. "That's really fucked it, then." He adjusted something on his chest contraption and I heard a barely audible hum as something electronic started charging up. "I didn't want to get into this, but you're both going to have to come with me so we can figure out what you know. If anything."
I couldn't take my eyes off his scars. "Go with you where?"
"Nice try," he said, smiling icily. "You wouldn't understand, anyway. The alternative is I just shoot you both now, so take your pick."
There's nothing more lame than being the damsel in distress. Generally, as a life rule, I made a point of not being that. It's pretty easy to avoid when you just go to school every day. Gets harder when you start hanging out with shapeshifting dudes and leftie anarchists. As it turns out. Anyway, it wasn't just me - Marv was in far more distress than me at this point, even if I was a lot prettier.
The air before me puckered then stretched, like when you pull at the surface of an inflated balloon. Where you're expecting it to tear and pop at any moment, but it doesn't quite. What I could see of the room refracted through the disturbance, then there was a snap and a rush of air and something formed in front of me, raised off the ground a little.
Dropping to the floor as he materialised, Cal stumbled a moment then sprang to his feet and reached forwards, grabbing both me and Marv. His clothes were shredded. There was a breath as Cal looked up at the scarred man, who was raising his gun, then the air stretched again and I felt myself being pulled and crushed at the same time as the world cracked in two and all three of us slipped inside.
Lights and energy flashed all around us and I couldn't tell up from down, then it was over as fast as it had begun, and I was in open air, floating, the ground half a mile below.
Scratch that. Not floating: falling. Those blue embers danced around me as I tumbled, and I could see Marv a little distance away, unconscious, dropping limply. Cal was between us and he was changing, his limbs growing longer and more slender, as I spun out of control towards the ground. Unable to really process the observation, I noticed that the city was nowhere to be seen. There was just desert, all the way to the horizon.
Cal was the only one not flailing. He was concentrating on the genoshift. The final alteration was a pair of wings, unfolding from his back as if they'd always been there, feathers rippling in the wind. He stretched out the wings and they flexed, then held shape, and he swooped towards me, scooping me up with one arm.
We arced about, closing in on Marv. Cal reached out and grasped Marv firmly with his other arm, pulling us all in close. Air buffeted my eyes and nose and ears and I could feel my sinuses streaming. The floor was coming up real fast now.
Cal tilted his wings and we moved out of freefall, slowing our speed and moving into a controlled descent. As we neared the ground, Cal flapped his wings, pushing down on the air and giving us some last minute lift.
We landed in a heap, rolling down a rocky outcrop for a while before coming, finally, to rest. I lay panting, face down, trying to get my breath back. Finally I mustered the courage to push myself up into a seated position. The sky was red and dusty. Some of the geography seemed vaguely familiar but there was no city, no people, no nothing.
Just me, a shapeshifter and a one-armed Marv.
I gave Cal a look.
"You're not going to believe this," he began.
And he was right. I didn't.
YOU ARE READING
A Day of FacesScience Fiction
A coming-of-age story about a snake girl called Kay and her shape-shifting friend who accidentally uncover a conspiracy and wind up changing the world. ***** Kay is a sarcastic, ordinary high school girl who enjoys her weekends and doesn't think muc...