I get hungry when I shift.
They don't care, though. They wont let me stop.
Please let me stop.
They watch me from behind the reinforced glass. Most are standing, their hands resting in the pockets of their white coats. A few are holding clipboards, their pens at the ready for any notes they might want to take. One of them sits at the console desk and fiddles with the microphone. I can clearly see the small black box sitting beside him.
I hate the box. I hate hate hate hate please don't please please please no-
The goggles they wear obscure their eyes.
"Test zero thirty four," the seated one says. "March third, day twelve. . ."
The same old routine. I wait until he says my name-
IT IS NOT MY NAME
-before paying any attention.
"Subject Zero," he says. "Unspecified shift."
The command is familiar. It's the warm up to make sure I'm functioning correctly. I have to shift, but it can be into anything I want. Anyone I want.
So I do.
Bone cracks. Skin tears, stretches, heals and ages. My coloring darkens, my eyes slant just a little. Every part of me burns with the change, yet there is only one thing on my mind.
I'm so hungry.
I look up at the window through eyes that aren't my own. Despite the pain, I find myself grinning.
"Subject Zero," he says. "A different shape, please."
Though he tries to hide it, I can hear the quaver in his voice. He's nervous. Shaken. Good.
I laugh. The voice is that of the speaker. I am wearing his face. I am using his voice.
They talk among themselves. Some are looking down at their clipboards, writing things. The seated man is switched out for another. I know this one. I'm already changing.
It takes only a moment, now that I'm ready. A second passes and I'm taller and doughier than before. My face is rounder, the jaw is softer, the eyes are slightly wider. I've had a few years shaved off. The hair is thinner now, and pale. It is only a shame I don't have any glasses on me to complete the look.
There is more discussion in the viewing room as they bicker. One of them leans over and snatches the mike from off the desk.
"Subject Zero," he says. "I insist that you refrain from taking on the forms of SCItech personnel and staff. Change out of Dr. Mathewson immediately."
I glower up at him, my arms crossed.
"I'm hungry," I say. "I haven't eaten." I'm pushing my luck, I know, but I can't help myself.
Fine. He wants me to shift, I'll shift.
I've passed by this one's office before, back when they were first transferring me from my old holding cell to the new one. It was only for a second, but it was long enough for me to see his desk. To see the picture on his desk.
I don't need to be exact.
When the shift is over, I'm barely four feet tall. I'm scrawny, tan, have black curly hair and a round face. The smock they've given me hangs around my shoulders loosely. I flash the viewing room a lopsided grin that's missing a few teeth.
There's a loud gasp before the mike cuts off. It's all I can do not to laugh.
It's not perfect, I know, but it's close enough. I look like the smiling boy in the photo.
They argue. He shouts so loud I can almost make out what he's saying. The others seem to calm him down. He nods and, still standing, takes up the mike. The speakers crackle to life.
"Subject Zero," he says. "Change form now, or there will be severe consequences."
"But daddy," I say in a child's voice. "I'm so hungry." I clutch at my belly and look up at the window beseechingly. I'm only guessing at what the boy sounds like, but most kids sound alike at that age anyways. Especially when they're whining.
I've gone too far. I really should know better by now. He snaps. He leans across the console and reaches for the Box. The others try to stop him, but it's too late. He's already pressed the button.
It always hurts. Why does it hurt?
I'm on the floor, now, screaming in the voice of a child I've never met, my hands clutched to me ears as though that will help.
It doesn't help. It never does.
The noise- oh God, the noise. They don't hear it, they never do. It comes from the box they have. The box they made specifically for this purpose. The wailing, the high pitched keening reverberates around the room and makes its way straight through my skull. It destroys everything. All semblance of control, of thought- I can't move, I can't shift, I can't do anything. It's all slipping away. I can feel myself morphing into nothing. Something. A blob- a thoughtless pile of mush.
No no no NO NO! Don't let me go, I can't let me go!
Instinct has me desperately cling to a form. Any form.
Human, a thought breaks through. I'm human.
The noise stops eventually, and I'm left lying on the ground, struggling to breath.
Lungs, lungs. They moved around, but they're still there.
I cannot move. I cannot shift.
The hunger comes roaring back.
Minutes, hours, ages later and I'm lifted from the cold tile floors by even colder gloved hands. I don't fight when they come for me. I can't. The most I can do is continue to breath and hold desperately onto my shape.
I can't let me go. I can't let me go. . .
They carry me through the double doors into a room smelling of antiseptic and lemon cleaner.
Oh God, I think.
I don't struggle. I still can't, but as they dump me onto the operating table and start with the bonds, a small mewling sound reaches my ears. It takes me a moment to realize that it is coming from myself.
They don't drug me when I'm on the table, they just make sure the bonds are tight. They say drugs will contaminate the subject-
Me! I'm not a subject, I'm a person I'm a person! I'm so hungry. . .
-and so I feel it all. I feel the knife cut into skin. I feel gloved hands curiously exploring my insides. I feel when they ever so carefully remove parts of me for study.
Stop it stop it stop it! If you keep taking them then there wont be any left for Me!
They cut me open. They look around. They take bits out, then sew me up again. I have to shift once they're done, or else I'll bleed to death.
Not my blood! Not mine! Don't take it away!
It's just that simple. A new body, a new slate. I can heal from anything they give me.
But. . .
Lately, on my new forms, there are scars. Scars that shouldn't be there. They're thin and pink and form a Y across my collar, going down along the center of my torso. No matter how I try to get rid of them, they never leave.
The surgery is over, eventually. They hastily sew me up, then wait for me to shift. They dump me back into my cell.
Foul little room. Foul gray walls. I hate it hate it hate it hate being cooped up. I'm stuck stuck stuck-
It is a small room, maybe six by six. I have to morph into something short in order to lie down comfortably.
I crawl to the mattress on the floor and curl into a ball, my stomach growling. I've never been this hungry before.
I try not to think about the pieces of myself I'm missing. It has to be adding up. You can't just keep taking little bits out of someone and hope it works out all right.
They were probably playing with them. The bits were probably under a microscope, being prodded at just that second. They were probably poking them and cutting them and heating them and freezing them and X-raying them and zapping them and studying them-
The slat in the metal door opens and a tray slides in. Lunch time.
They feed me pellets they say are healthy. Vitamins and water. They say I'm technically eating healthier than they are. It's not true. The pills do nothing to make the endless gnawing in my belly anymore bearable.
I curl back up and try to sleep.
Try not to think. Try not to think about not thinking.
Thoughts circle around in my head, chasing one another. I'll never get to sleep at this rate. I'll never. . .
I don't dream. I haven't dreamt since they brought me here.
I wake to the sound of my own screaming. Something is wrong.
The hunger burns in my stomach as the rest of me burns with the shift. I'm losing it, and this time it isn't the box's fault. It's me. I'm broken. There's nothing I can do. I curl into the fetal position and watch with a dull horror as my arms blur and stretch. Nails lengthen, harden and curve. Their sides bend inwards and taper down into talons.
It ends in a strange sense of euphoria.
For the first time in my life, I can smell things. They don't smell bad- just new. Interesting. I can hear. I can hear my heart beating. I can hear their hearts beating. Them, in their office down the hall. Keyboards clacking, security cameras whirring. Someone sneezes. . .
I've only ever changed into people. Age, shape, eyes, hair- never species. Never animal.
I stare at my new hands. My new claws.
A slow grin spreads across my face. I can feel my teeth elongating, growing and sharpening as I do. Reptilian spikes pierce through skin, but it doesn't hurt anymore.
This is an interesting development.
* * * *
If the bonds had metal, it wouldn't have worked.
If the bonds had been metal, I wouldn't have been able to shift without seriously hurting myself.
If the bonds had been metal, the spikes coming out of my skin wouldn't have been able to cut them.
If the bonds had been metal, I wouldn't have been able to stop them.
But the bonds weren't metal.
They were shocked. Shock gave way to horror. Horror to terror.
I was up, I was angry, and I was hungry.
So, so hungry.
* * * *
My smock is drenched in blood by the time I'm done. The floor is slick with it, the air is thick with its scent. I laugh. I cant stop laughing. It starts off with a bubble in my chest that breaks its way out and grows into a tumultuous, uncontrollable storm. I laugh and laugh and I lean up against the operating table because if I don't I'm going to fall over. I let myself slide to the floor, down into one of the many bloody puddles, and I laugh.
I am not happy.
I feel sick. My hands are shaking. It's cold. Why am I laughing? And if I am laughing, why are there tears streaming down my cheeks? I choke and force myself to stop. The tears keep coming.
I can't just stay here. Not like this. Someone will show up, eventually. Someone will wonder 'hey, why haven't we heard from those docs with the shapeshifter?'.
I've gotta get out of here.
I look around. There's a coat hanger in the corner. Just a piece of metal stitching out of the wall. On it is a large, brown coat. I stumble over and take it. It engulfs me, covering up nearly all of the bloody smock. That'll help, but I still need . . .
Over by the wall, still halfway beneath the table from when he tried to hide is the one with the broken neck. He's still intact. Mostly. I'm already putting on his face by the time I reach him. I take his pants and shoes. Size isn't a problem. There's still a smattering of blood from where the pant leg had been splashed, but it can't be helped.
He had a wallet in his pock- no. I've got a wallet in my pocket. There's about forty dollars cash, plus a couple plastic cards and an I.D. I resist the urge to throw the I.D. away. I may need it. Forty dollars. It won't get me home, but it's a start.
I want to go home. I really want to go home.
One last thing before I go. I step through one of the adjacent doors and find myself in the viewing room. I grab the box and ram it as hard as I can against the wall. Then on the floor. I keep tossing it until it starts to fall apart. When I'm done, it's nothing but a hunk of bent up metal. Absolutely useless. All the same, I tuck it into one of the coat's pockets. The others could probably make more, but I don't care. I don't want them to have it.
I give the mangled corpses one last look as I head for the exit.
Now that the moment has passed, I don't feel ashamed. I should, I know. And I probably will, later. But for now, I don't even feel sick anymore. I just feel. . . full. It is a good feeling.
I step over them, careful not to get blood on the stolen shoes. I flick off the lights.
I walk out the door.