an innate, typically fixed pattern of behaviour in animals in response to certain stimuli.
I missed the simple things. Brushing my teeth. A proper toilet. Listening to music. Rain. The sound of traffic in the morning and at night. People watching. All I had was Marv, barely functioning, and Cal, rarely present.
"Does your brain power vary with each genotype?" I asked, acutely aware that my right eyebrow was doing its arched thing but deciding to just go with it.
"Nice," Cal said, "but listen, they've inadvertently given us a massive advantage. I bet they never thought I'd ever get to the device, sure, but you can bet they had no idea I'd be able to absorb its power. This must have totally caught them off-guard."
"And what is its power, exactly? Have you figured out what exactly is happening yet?"
"It's a bridge between worlds. Ours, theirs, this one. And other places."
I was standing on the edge of the shade cast by the giant red rock beneath which we'd made our shelter. The dust drifting over the ground a few feet in front of me glowed in the afternoon sun. "Seems too early for you to really understand it," I said. "You've been doing this for, what, a week?" I'd totally lost track of time.
Cal drank from one of the water bottles he'd brought back. He always drank too much. He didn't really know what it was like to actually live here - he spent most of his time exercising his new power. "OK, I might not know everything. I've got nothing to compare it to. Nobody on Locque has ever had this ability before, as far as we know."
"That's why we can't just go charging back in with guns blazing," I said, taking the bottle away from him. "Also, we don't have any guns."
"That's why you need to come with me. Just let me show you. We'll stay low, but let me show you what I've been experiencing."
"What about Marv?" He lay on the ground, a makeshift pillow beneath his head and a light sheet draped over him. "I can't just leave him here."
Cal shrugged. "Why not? He's not going anywhere in a hurry. There's no wildlife here. The weather hasn't changed the whole time we've been here. Anyway, we'll only be gone an hour or two. Plus, if we both go we can get more supplies for Marv. You can come with me, or you can sit here and do nothing for two hours."
It was the boredom that did it for me. Much as I wanted to look after Marv, Cal had a point. It felt like Cal always had a point. That was how I got into this mess in the first place. So I checked Marv's bandage, gave him some water, cleaned him up a bit, then stood up and took a deep breath.
"How do we do this, then?"
"You've already done it once," Cal said.
"Yeah, and I materialised a mile up in the sky. Can we not do that again, please?"
He laughed. "That's because we jumped when we were at the top of the Aviary." He waved a hand vaguely at the sky in the distance. "There's no Aviary on this planet. The city isn't here. So when we jumped here, we were suddenly without anything beneath our feet."
He was loving this. Even when he was bringing back medical stuff for Marv, it was like he barely even noticed him, he was so preoccupied with his cool new superpower. Being able to shift into anybody else's genotype must make you feel pretty powerful to start off with, I guess, but shifting actual planets, or dimensions, or whatever - that was a whole other thing. It could go to a young boy's head.
"When I concentrate, I can take a limited number of things with me that I'm touching. Actually, I'm not sure if it's based on the number or the size, or the proximity, or something. Anyway, it works."
We held hands, standing facing each other. I looked into his glowing eyes, wondering if the Cal I hung out with in my shed for a month was still in there. He closed them briefly, then the world parted behind him and we fell into the gap. Lights blazed around me and I clutched onto him, my fingers digging into his palms as all sense of direction departed and I floated in a nothingness, feeling buffeted as if on a bus being steered hard from side to side, a roaring in my ears that grew more and more deafening.
Then I was standing in grass, a cloud-flecked sky overhead and birds tweeting quietly in a nearby copse of trees. Blue particles surrounded us, spinning end-over-end, until they shrank down and disappeared into nothingness.
We were in a field. Hills rolled around us. It was idyllic, and cool. The air tasted fresher than anything I'd experienced. It didn't taste of home.
"Where are we?"
"This is their planet," Cal said.
"Why bring me here?" I spoke in a hushed voice, suddenly worried about being spotted.
"I wanted you to see that," he said, pointing behind me.
I turned to see an enormous scaffold, stretching up into the sky, its base somewhere behind the next hill. Metal and wood twisted around and around, forming an ugly, brutal tower. Its shape was that of the Aviary's spire, but with none of its architectural beauty or grace. It was a shell facsimile.
"That's their replica," Cal said. "When I first jumped, I ended up at the top of it, in a room just like the one we were in back on Locque. They've copied everything, at least in terms of structural positioning. It means they can jump between here and our world, and get anywhere in the spire. They've got open access to our main political building."
"That seems like a lot of trouble to go to."
He shrugged. "I wouldn't be surprised to find that they've got equivalents all over the world, matching seats of power on ours. Think about it: they're unknown. Maybe the wings know about them, but that's it. And probably not all of them. Now, I thought I was pissed with the elite on Locque, but they're not even really running the show."
I shivered. "I don't want to be here anymore."
"I don't blame you. Hold on."
The world split, the lights flared again, and then I was standing underneath a tree and surrounded by thick bushes on all sides. The air smelled right. "We're home," I said.
"We are," Cal said, waving an arm at the foliage. "I tend to jump in here, as it drops me into this hidden area. We're on the edge of the Aviary gardens."
"How do you know where you're going to appear? I mean, how do you know we're not going to appear stuck in the tree?"
"I was worried about the same thing. But it's like I've got some kind of sense of what's on the other side before I do the jump. If it doesn't feel right I know before I do it."
I crept to a gap in one of the hedges and looked through, out to the ornamental gardens. It was only a minute's walk to get out of the grounds and back into the city streets. It was home alright, complete with people out for their afternoon run, car horns honking in the distance and the smell of dog shit on the breeze.
"Aren't they going to be looking for us?"
"Oh, yeah." Cal pulled a hat and sunglasses out of his bag. "I got these for you. Also a change of jacket."
"You're a master of disguise," I said wryly, pulling the hat down low.
"I know," he said, as the blue glow faded from his eyes and they shifted to a deep red. His jawline pulled tighter and pointier as his hair became more burnished. He used his new eyes to read the heat signatures from everybody in the vicinity. "Looks clear," he said.
"Let's go see what they've done with the place," I said, adjusting my sunglasses and stepping out of the bushes onto the path.
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...