“You are not Bob!” the small, elderly woman accused, shaking her finger in my face.
I thought fast. “No, ma’am, I’m not. My name is George, I’m Bob’s identical twin and-”
She cut me off. “Sir, I have no idea who you are, but I am Bob’s mother and I assure you, they only pulled one baby out of me. Now who are you and where is my son?”
I was about to say that I was actually Bob’s illegitimate half-brother who happened to look exactly like him, but after a second look at the woman I knew that wouldn’t fly. The form I was currently in was the splitting image of his mother, if younger and more masculine. No, I’d have to tell her the truth. “Why don’t you come inside and sit down, and I’ll explain,” I offered.
“Nuh-uh. I’m not letting you get me alone. You’ll kill me, just like you must’ve killed my son. POLICE! MURDER! HELP!” she screamed.
I sighed. “I haven’t killed anyone,” I told her calmly. “Bob’s in Hawaii. If you don’t want to come inside, you can call him from out here if you have a cell phone.”
She eyed me suspiciously and took a large step back, but pulled a cell phone out of her tiny flowered purse and made a call. I assumed it was to Bob, it was too many numbers to be 911, and the side of the conversation I could hear confirmed it.
“Bob? This is your mother. Where are you? Don’t lie to me. Robert Caspian Jones, I am at your house, and that man is not you. How could I tell??? You’re asking me how I could tell? I am your mother! Now where are you? Hawaii? What are you doing in Hawaii? You’re snorkeling with your new girlfriend. You just take off in the middle of a work week to go snorkeling with some girl you just met, without telling anyone. You can explain? Fine, I’ve got to hear this.” Up until this point her voice and expression ranged from infuriated to exasperated and back again. But with whatever she was hearing now, her eyes widened, then darted around nervously.
“But you’re sure you’re safe there?” she asked him finally. “You promise? Do you want me to come out there? Are you sure? I’d feel so much better if I was there with you. Promise you’ll call me if anything happens? Okay. I love you, sweetie. Bye. Don’t forget to call me.”
Finally, she turned back to me. “So what’s your role in all this?”
“How much did Bob tell you?”
“Just that someone’s trying to kill him and you’re a friend who’s helping him out.”
I nodded. “That’s true, as far as it goes. Come inside and I’ll explain the rest.”
She didn’t argue this time, just followed me inside and sat down on Bob’s couch.
“I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch your name?” I asked her.
“I’m Nick.” As I introduced myself and while I was shaking her hand, I shifted into my true form.
She blinked, twice, but to my surprise that was her only reaction. I’d have expected her to shriek and run out of the house. Most people who actually see me shift without knowing what I can do beforehand get pretty upset. It’s not like there’s some disgusting morphing thing either, like I go all squishy and mush into another shape. I just suddenly look different. It’s just the shock of it that can upset people. But I guess Ethel’d had enough shock in one day to be immune for the moment.
“Ah. That explains it,” she commented. “Now, who is trying to kill my son, and what are you doing about it?”
“I wish I knew,” I confessed. “To both questions. Right now, I’m pretty much acting as a decoy and hoping someone’ll show up and try to kill me, thinking I’m Bob.”
“That’s obvious,” Ethel said. “But surely you know more than that. What makes you think he’s in danger in the first place.”
I shook my head. “I have a friend who’s a psychic, or a prophet, she’s not exactly sure yet. But she knew that someone is trying to kill Bob, and she told me that I could stop it... Basically, I guess she sees thousands of different possible futures, depending on the course of events, and the ones where I step in… turn out better than the ones where I don’t.”
She sat staring at me. “A psychic said that someone wants to kill my son, so a shapeshifter is sitting in his house pretending to be him.”
I grinned at her. “Yep. Sounds crazy when you put it like that.” I shifted back into Bob’s shape. “Anyway, you should probably go, in case anything does happen.”
She agreed, and I walked her out to her car. I’d just turned to go back inside when I heard her scream.
I spun around in time to see a masked man with a gun pulling Ethel into a van, which was beginning to drive away. I shifted my legs to those of an Olympic runner and began to run after her. The van was moving fairly slowly; I could have caught up with it. Even running like a normal person I probably could have caught up with it.
That’s why I stopped.
Cassie (yes, my prophet/psychic friend’s name is Cassandra, how ironic, prophetic, weird, whatever, ha ha ha, now get over it) had said that the futures where I was here were better than the ones where Bob was, and now I realized why. It wasn’t just because I had more experience with this sort of thing, or even because I can shift shapes. It was because I didn’t have the emotional attachment to Ethel that Bob did. Sure, I’d liked the woman, but she wasn’t my mother. If it had been the real Bob here, he would have run after the car, and he would have been killed.
So I glanced at the van’s plates, watched it drive out of sight, and shifted into Ethel’s shape. I took the cell phone out of my little flowered purse and called 911.
I didn’t have any particular reason to take Ethel’s shape, except for the vague hope it would confuse the kidnappers, but it felt like the right thing to do. I spent the time waiting for the police to get there trying to decide what to tell them.
When they finally arrived, I told them, “My sister was kidnapped!” I explained that I’d been house sitting for my son while he’s on vacation, and my sister Mildred had been over to hang out, and she’d been leaving when a van pulled up and a man dragged her inside and drove away, and the license plate was….
When the police left, I went back inside the house and waited. Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later the phone rang, and when I picked it up a technologically blurred voice told me, “That was stupid, calling the police. If you ever want to see your mother again, you won’t make a second stupid mistake.”
“I’m sorry?” I said, filling Ethel’s voice with confusion. “I think you must have the wrong number. This is Ethel Jones. My mother’s been dead for nearly forty years.”
There was silence on the other end of the line. Then I heard in the background, “He must be faking it!”
I grinned. Despite using a machine to make his voice unidentifiable, my caller didn’t know how to use a mute button.
“Naw, it sounds like her. Hey Jimmy, go to the house and pick up whoever’s there. Once we got ‘em both here, we’ll sort it out.”
“Damn waste of an exploding van,” someone commented, and I shuddered. Then the muffled voice came back on the line. “Mrs. Jones? I don’t know if you’re you or this is you, but I can tell you this—do anything stupid and the other you will die.”
“I won’t do anything stupid,” I said, then made it a lie by waiting quietly for them to come kidnap me.
There were three of them, all wearing masks. I went with them willingly, struggled feebly a bit for show, but let them bind and gag me and shove me into the van.
They brought me to a warehouse. There were a couple more of them, also in ski masks, and Ethel. Her eyes widened when she saw me, but she said nothing—probably because of the duct tape over her mouth, but I thought she had enough sense not to give me away when they took it off.
Almost as soon as they’d shoved me on the ground next to her, they ungagged both of us. “Where’s your son?” one of them demanded. I didn’t know which of us he was talking to, and I don’t think he did either.
“Florida,” I said. “What’s this about? What did he do?” Sure, I didn’t really think they’d tell me that easily, but I really did want to know.
“What did he do??” one of my captors repeated angrily. “He hacked into our accounts and stole $50 billion from us.”
The explanation actually made sense—stealing money from mobsters from behind the safety of a computer screen was exactly the kind of thing Bob could, and would, do.
“Now where the hell is he? And don’t give me any of that ‘Florida’ crap!” He took out a gun and aimed it at me.
It wasn’t until that very moment that I had a plan. I shifted into Bob’s shape, which startled them for long enough for me to maneuver so the gun was pointing at my stomach. I know, some plan, right? I’m stupid and foolhardy and all that. As soon as the guy realized what had happened, or at least that the man they’d been looking for was standing in front of him, he pulled the trigger. Which is what I’d been counting on, of course, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. I writhed in agony. It was real, but I managed to make it seem just a little more fatal than it actually was.
“Distract them,” I somehow managed to whisper to Ethel. I think I managed to whisper it. Actually, I probably just thought it really hard. Anyway, whether it was through my intervention or not, when I let my head fall to the ground, eyes rolled wide open, a pool of blood all around me, Ethel began to wail. “My baby!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You killed him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuughhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You killed him!”
It gave me the time I needed. It was harder than I expected. Normally, shifting shapes is nearly as easy for me as breathing. All I need to do is concentrate on the shape and just… shift into it. But since I was using most of my powers of concentration on just staying alive and conscious, it took every ounce of will I had to shift.
But I did it. I shifted into my own shape first, since I knew it best and couldn’t have managed another. I can’t describe how wonderful it was to shift into my own, unwounded form. I had been dying from a gunshot wound to the stomach, and suddenly there was no gunshot wound no pain, no bullet lodged inside me.
Before they could notice anything, I shifted back into Bob’s shape, but a healthy Bob. The puddle of blood was still there, and I lay in it with my eyes wide open, unmoving. I steeled myself to stay as still when they dragged me out of there, but they didn’t. They completely ignored me as they gagged Ethel again, and then ignored us both as they cleared out of the warehouse.
I waited and waited, just in case. Finally, I whispered, “Are they gone?”
I sat up and pulled the duct tape from her mouth.
“You’re…” she stared at me.
“I’m fine. I can shift my physical shape in any way I want, so I can shift injuries away. Of course, if I’d died I wouldn’t have been able to.”
“What’ll happen now?”
“Well, they think they killed Bob, so they’ll be leaving you alone now. It might be a good idea if he stays in Hawaii for a while. Hopefully the police’ll pick them up soon.”
“And if they don’t? Will Bob have to hide for the rest of his life?”
“No. If the police don’t get them, I’ll track them down and make sure they get put away. And I doubt Bob will mind staying in Hawaii for another month or two.”
The police did get them though, the next day. I testified as three different people in that trial, and I guess the jury believed all three of me.