the human soul, mind, or spirit.
He didn't take it well. To him, it was like losing a limb. All your limbs. Genoshifting was as much a part of him as walking was to me, or being able to see, or the venom in my glands. He'd lived with it since puberty, or thereabouts, and hadn't had to settle for a single identity like the rest of us.
Now he was nothing more than Cal, the unique dimension-hopping miracle being. But I guess that's just not enough when you're used to being all that and everything else as well.
"I'll only ever be one thing," he said to me, as we walked in the garden on the rooftop of a mega-skyscraper somewhere in Cord. The building's height had been designed to always be interacting with the cloud layer, leaving everything glistening with moisture and a mist hanging in the air. The smells were almost too much for me to handle. He held his arms out wide. "I'll never be more than this."
"That's more than some people get," I said. Honestly, his moping was starting to irritate. Catastrophic an injury as it may have been, there's only so much moaning a girl can take.
Cal rubbed his hand over an enormous leaf, as wide as I was tall. "Do you have any idea how lucky we are that I was still in this form?" His eyes flickered their characteristic pale blue, slightly illuminating the surrounding water vapour. "If I'd shifted after we got back, we'd have been stuck here. We'd never have gone back to Locque."
That thought hadn't passed me by. "You know," I said, "you're not defined by your genotype. I'm not defined by my legs, or my ears. Sure, you could change form before, but that's not what made you you. It was your actions and your attitude that did that."
"My actions were only possible because I could change form, Kay," he said with a sigh. "I get what you're saying, and I've heard it before, but you're wrong. You know how many squamata have joined the army, or intelligence services? You know how many 360s are police?"
"Sure, there's social constraints and influences, but—"
He stopped walking. "Listen to what you're saying, Kay. Think about who we've been fighting this whole time. Wings. The ruling class. They're in that position because of their genotype. There's no more obvious example."
"No," I disagreed, "they're in that position because the people pulling the strings on Earth decided it should be that way a long time ago."
Cal waved a hand and continued walking between the botanical aisles. "Fine, you tell yourself that. Most people are born, they do what they're told, then they die."
"If that's the case, then why are we bothering?" He'd been going down this line increasingly since waking from the surgery. Some of the fight had gone out of him on that operating table.
"Maybe we're fighting for different things," Cal said, not even turning to look at me. "You, you're fighting for everyone. You want everyone to be free and happy and to be important."
I stared at the back of his head. "I thought that's what we're all fighting for."
He laughed, short, and unpleasantly. "I've been fighting just to stay alive," he said. "After that, I've been fighting to teach them a lesson. To stop them. Maybe there's nothing more to it than revenge, for me."
Moving closer, I rested a hand on his shoulder. He jumped a little. "Then you're letting them define you. Don't let them. Don't let others make your mind up for you."
Cal reached up and took my hand for a moment, then he moved it off his shoulder and walked a couple of paces away, then turned. His face was downcast and he wouldn't look at me. "About that," he said. "There's something you don't know. I didn't want to tell you. It's not mattered for months, anyway."
I smiled thinly. "You're an entoma."
"Not anymore," he said, shrugging.
"Why tell me now?"
"You know I can't change. If I'd told you before, you'd have always suspected, or been paranoid."
"We've known for ages, you idiot," I said. "So, is it true? You used mind control on us?"
He laughed bitterly, shook his head. "It's not mind control. It's a kind of persuasion thing."
"I know what it is. Did you use it on me and Marv?"
Cal leaned back on a wall, ferns draping around him. "What difference does it make, now?"
"I think it'll make a difference to you."
I'd not seen him quite so lethargic. His whole body had sagged and even the fire in his eyes seemed to be burning less energetically. "Yeah," he said, "I used it on you. Only at the start, in those first few months. When I met you in the shed. I couldn't risk you telling others about me."
"Same with him. I didn't think I'd end up with the both of you at the top of the Aviary, let alone stuck on alien worlds. But the persuasion worked too well. That's how it goes - it taps into pre-existing thoughts. All it can do is amplify or suppress what you were already thinking."
Hearing it from him helped, in a way. It made sense of it all, at last. I'd always been my best since Cal disappeared back at Simons' house. That's when I really figured out what the point of it all was, and what I was doing. Whatever had come before, those decisions were entirely my own. Nobody could take that way from me, not even Cal.
And now that I knew for sure? I was like an arrow shot from the bow: my path was clear.
"I don't want an apology from you," I said. "But you need to know two things. First, I'm the one deciding what happens now. Two, there is one person you should apologise to, because you took him away from his family, and he's always blamed himself for that."
The mists were starting to clear, as the late-morning sun burned them away and the garden started to take on a golden glow.
"You were just a means to an end," Cal said, "back when I met you."
Charming. But honest, at least. "And now?"
"Now?" He stopped leaning on the wall and stood up straight again. "Now, I'm glad that it's you calling the shots."
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...