This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
“Please give me a moment.” The creature opposite asked. “If I wanted I could incapacitate you easily. Leave this room in your form. Ask one of the guards to help me, saying the prisoner had collapsed, then taken his form as soon he entered the room.”
Once again the creatures form rippled, now one of the prison guards was sitting opposite Jens.
“I could be free of this place in minutes. Or I could just take a form that let me rip the doors off and shake off any weapons aimed at me. I could even become diffuse, simply slipping past each door without anyone noticing. But I won’t!”
The conviction in the last statement shook Jens. The creature rippled once more and Jack was sitting opposite him once again.
“I won’t escape. Doing so would only confirm the suspicions. Jack Salter would no longer exist. Could no longer exist. And he has responsibilities. I have responsibilities. I need to clear my name. Not to mention ensuring the real murderer is brought to justice.
I’m going to release your hands now, I’m sorry for having to hold you down but I needed time to explain. Please, let me finish the explanation.”
Jens snatched his arms back as soon as they were released. His first instinct was to reach for the panic button, but something in Jack’s face stopped his hand halfway. A look of desperate sadness. Heart still pounding Jens nodded slowly.
“Right. I’ll give you your chance. But my finger is going to be right by the panic button. Try anything like that again and I’m hitting it.”
Jack nodded, smiling slightly. “I completely understand, and I truly am sorry for doing that to you. I had to show you though. Let you know what I could do but choose not to.
Firstly you’ve seen how I can change. It’s almost instant, just a slight flicker between the two forms. Nothing like what you saw on the video. I don’t think I could produce that effect even if I tried. If I was truly so angry that I was prepared to kill then why would I have taken so long to change?
More importantly though is why I need to fight this rather than just disappearing. That needs some history. Firstly my own…”
* * *
I don’t know where I came from, what my species is. It’s possible they’ve never been properly encountered by humans or the other races you know. Or maybe they have, maybe there’s a few of them living amongst you. If they are then they do an exceptional job of hiding. I’ve searched for years and there is no hint of shape changers being real. Plenty of fiction about it, but no more than there is of werewolves, vampires, mind controlling parasites and other bogeymen.
My memories start in this city. Wandering through the poorest quarters searching for food. I already knew how to take a form, to hold it, to use it. I knew how to speak. I knew the things I needed to survive. To this day I have no idea if I’ve lost the memories before that time or if that’s how my species comes into being, fully formed and ready to deal with the world. Unless I find another of my kind one day the question will never be answered.
I soon settled into life as a labourer. Earning a reasonable wage tackling the more dangerous jobs, particularly the ones involving hazardous chemicals or radiation levels. Neither posed any threat to me. I had a small rented home. A life. I even went drinking quite regularly at a local bar. That’s where I met Jack Salter. The real Jack Salter.
For a few weeks we chatted occasionally if we were both at the bar getting drinks at the same time. We got on so well that soon we were seeking each other out. Discussing our lives, our plans for the future. Well, his. I was still coasting along then, uncertain of what to do with my life.
Jack’s big dream was to set up a master artisans shop, a place where everyday objects are fabricated as works of art. Tables and chairs individually styled and a match for the greatest antiques. Other furniture, doors, cutlery. Pretty much anything you can think of.
The pieces are produced for the rich, the super rich. There’s a huge amount of money to be made. And for that reason setting up costs a fortune. Jack had the training, had the flair for it which is even more important. He’d spent years building his expertise. He knew he could make it pay. He applied and was granted a license, granted the right to set up his shop. And given the capital needed to start.
The conditions in the contract were draconian though. For the first two years he’d hardly turn a profit, so much would be diverted to the company who granted him a license. The next three he’d earn a reasonable amount. Then he’d finally have a chance to buy them off over the next five years.
The personal terms were pretty harsh too. Only Jack could run the shop. If he was unable to it defaulted back to the company, and all outstanding debts were still owing. There was insurance to cover that of course, and Jack took it out even though it cut into his meagre profits even further at the start.
Everything was going well for the first year. Jack’s work was truly beautiful, he had soon built a large group of followers and his work was in constant demand. Things were looking good.
Then came the renewal details for his insurance. Jack noticed something he hadn’t before, buried away amongst the hundreds of clauses was an exclusion. He wasn’t covered for Edert’s disease. Jack had never heard of it but some quick research showed it to be an extremely rare condition. It presented no symptoms until it was already too late to save the patient. It could be treated, but only in childhood. Before too much damage was done. However it would be detected by a full medical scan. The type of scan Jack had endured in order to gain the insurance.
I remember that evening so vividly. Jack was in a state, drinking far more than normal. I managed to get the story out of him. Of the disease, of the insurance. He’d immediately become suspicious. Why was that particular disease excluded from the cover? He’d contacted a back street doctor, one of those with extremely advanced equipment that treats wounds and conditions people want to keep secret. Or those people who themselves want to stay out of the official worlds attention. He wanted the consultation kept off the record.
His fears were confirmed. He had the disease. Not only did he have it but it had advanced quickly. The doctor told him that the year before he would just have had risk markers, that the disease when it went truly active was always fatal within six months, often sooner. He estimated that Jack had four at the most. Worst of all it was hereditary. Jack’s son would almost certainly have it too.
I’m sure you can imagine the state he was in that evening. He faced losing his life, losing everything he’d been working for, leaving his son with the huge debts he owed on the shop and worst of all leaving his son with the same death sentence he had. His son was eight then, easily within the age range for treatment, for a cure. But the treatment was expensive. There was no way Jack could pay for it, nor could his ex wife, his sons mother.
So Jack and I spent an evening drowning his sorrows. I offered what words of support I could, but it was little enough. Near the end of the night Jack could barely stand. I was fairing better, alcohol affects me but not as badly as it does humans, but I was still quite tipsy. And then he said it. The words that changed his life and mine.
“If only I had a double. A clone. Someone to take my place.”
He didn’t. Human cloning is strictly illegal, but more importantly it doesn’t work. He had no double. But he could have.
I managed to contain my excitement at the idea until we’d walked back to his house. I dosed him with some sober up tablets and made him some coffee. He was too far gone for that to straighten him out completely but it allowed him to stay awake. Then I started to explain my idea to him. Explained who I was, what I was. What it would mean. I could see he was just humouring me, right up to the moment I changed. With hindsight I really should have made him put his coffee down before giving my demonstration. Though in some ways that may have helped. Spilling hot coffee down your shirt certainly helps soften the blow of finding out your best friend is a shape shifting alien.
So, for the first time I’d told someone what I was. After the initial shock Jack started to warm to my idea, and we refined it. In essence it was very simple though. Over the next few months, as long as he had left, I would start to become Jack Salter. Learning his trade, learning his life. Then, when the sad day came, rather than losing everything and saddling his son with a mountain of debt a Jack Salter would continue to live. A Jack Salter working, earning, paying for his son’s treatment.
We set to work on it the next day. There were issues of course. Jack had learnt his skills over years, I had a few months at most to learn them. We needn’t have worried. Jack was a great teacher and I was, in his words, an exceptional student. I was able to pick up in hours things that had taken him months to learn, as long as I had changed into his form. It must be something to do with my race. Being able to look like someone is only part of the trick. You need to be able to speak and act like them too. Jack took a little while to get used to working with his double but soon it started to give him confidence that our plan would work. Within a couple of months I had reached the level that Jack had, though my pieces differed from his in subtle ways. Luckily not enough to put off his loyal customers.
That left one major issue. Samuel, Jack’s son. While Jack was happy for me to deceive his clients, his contacts at the corporation and pretty much everyone else he didn’t want Sam to be kept in the dark. I would have to be a big part of Sam’s life, playing the role of his father. But Jack wanted him to know the truth.
How do you tell an eight year old that his dad is dying, that a friend is going to change shape and impersonate his dad and that he mustn’t tell anyone else?
Jack had to tell Sam the details of the disease. How Sam was at risk. That it wouldn’t be curable if he wasn’t treated while he was young. That Jack had the same disease and hadn’t had the treatment. That he was dying. An awful lot for an eight year old to take in.
Jack and Sam were alone for that talk, though Jack often talked about it to me in the days after. He would have liked to give Sam time to come to terms with the news before explaining our scheme, but he couldn’t risk Sam telling anyone else about Jack being ill. So some time later I walked into a room containing Jack and Sam, both with red eyes from crying.
Sam stared at me as I entered, clearly uncertain. We’d met several times before so my normal appearance was what he was used to.
“Is it true? You can change how you look?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Watch this…”
I’d thought carefully about this, changing straight into his dad was a terrible idea. Instead I changed into a popular character from kids shows at the time. It worked out well, rather than being scared it made Sam laugh. Over the next few minutes I worked my way through a series of presenters, famous sports stars and several other well known faces. Sam was rather disappointed when I told him I couldn’t change into cartoon characters. Not that I’d ever tried but it just felt like a bad idea to me.
Then came the moment of truth. We warned Sam and then I changed to Jack’s appearance. Sam studied us carefully for a minute or two, then his face split in a big smile.
“I can tell you apart!” he exclaimed.
And he could. We tested it out over the next half hour or so, and he could always tell us apart. This might have worried us except I’d already spent days at a time working in the shop, meeting clients without anyone ever spotting I wasn’t Jack. Even Jack’s ex wife, Sam’s mother, hadn’t noticed anything the two times I’d met her as Jack.
No one knew Jack as well as Sam and somehow he could always tell us apart. Being able to distinguish the real Jack from me made Sam feel far happier with the arrangement.
It still wasn’t easy though. Over the next few weeks Jack’s condition worsened daily. I soon had to take over the role of Jack fully. Sam watched his dad fade day after day. Jack wasn’t in pain particularly, his body was just shutting down. He slept more and more. Ate and did less and less.
Sam was with Jack when he died. Jack was pretty sure he was going, either then or soon after. They had a tearful last conversation before Jack slipped off to sleep. Within twenty minutes he slipped into that deeper sleep that no one ever wakes from.
Sam took it hard, of course, but amazingly well for an eight year old. Despite his tears and his fears he didn’t once let slip any of the details.
At that point I had to carry out the one task I truly regret. Jack was dead but he couldn’t be processed in the usual way. No death certificate, no funeral. I had to take his body into the countryside and bury it. I buried it deep. Very deep. I changed into a form well suited for digging and buried him at least fifteen feet down. I said goodbye to my friend and filled in his grave.
And then life continued. I became Jack fully, my old persona upped and left town as far as anyone was concerned. The shop thrived. Sam struggled for a while but got on top of things. I was never his dad, would never replace his dad, but I was there for him. We developed a strong bond.
* * *
Jack stared into Jens’ eyes, trying to judge how his story had gone down.
“Seven years passed. Sam is fifteen now. Another two years of the treatment and he’ll be fully cured. He has to finish the course though, until he does the disease can easily take hold again.
The shop is mostly paid off now, another three years and all debts will be gone. Five and Sam will have a sizeable nest egg to rely on. Any time after that is a bonus.
But if I’m convicted of this crime, or I have to escape to avoid conviction, then that all falls apart. Even if I’m stuck in here for more than a couple of months I’ll lose the shop. Either way Sam won’t finish his treatment. He’ll still be stuck with significant debts from the shop. Everything Jack worked for, everything I worked for, will be in vain. Mr Hagen. Jens. I need you to clear my name, and to do it quickly.”
Jens sat staring for a few minutes, trying to absorb the amazing tale he’d just heard. Searching for weak spots in the story.
“Assuming what you say is true, a big assumption though your demonstration earlier helps convince me, how do I know you didn’t kill the real Jack yourself? Will Samuel confirm your story? Is he in a position to?”
Jack paused for a while before answering. “Yes. Yes, he can. He often spoke to both his dad and I at the same time about the plan. And as I said, he could tell us apart somehow. I’ll need to get a message to him so he knows you can be trusted, that you know the story. Then he can confirm it.”
Jens nodded to himself. “Right. For the moment let us assume that he will back up your story. I can see why you need me to clear your name, and without exposing the fact you are what you are. The charges though, the accusation of being a shape shifting alien, it’s far too much of a coincidence. Whoever set this up must know about you. Who else knows of your… skills? Other than Samuel and now me.”
“No one. Well… maybe one other person. There was a woman, a couple of weeks ago. We’d had some drinks. A lot of drinks. And I ended up back at her place. First time I’d been in that situation. First time I’d had those feelings. Maybe there was something special about her, or maybe I’d been holding human form for so long that some of the bodily desires had developed.
Anyway, I was nervous. Wanted to make the right impression. Without thinking about it I started changing. Increasing the size of my muscles, toning down the fat around my stomach. And… er… certain other improvements. I’m sure you can imagine what I mean. We were both caught up in the moment and had drunk quite a lot, so I don’t know for sure how much she guessed. I do know she commented on my seeming to have more muscles than she first thought. Certain other comments. I’m ashamed to say that I slipped away in the night, mostly because I realised what I’d been doing and felt it best to get out so her memories of me were all still confused by alcohol. We swapped a couple of messages the next day but she was clearly hurt by my disappearing act. We didn’t have any contact after that. Probably for the best I suppose.”
“I’m going to need her details then. I need to see what she might have guessed and who she might have spoken to.”
“If you must. Her name was Rebecca. I can give you her phone number and address.”
“Off the top of your head?”
“As I said, I have a very good memory. It’s necessary for impersonating someone.”
“Next thing I really need to know. Do you have any enemies? Any rivals? Anyone that might wish you harm? Or for that matter did Jack, the real Jack, before he died?”
“No enemies that I can think of. Sam’s mum isn’t exactly keen on me, but that’s no change from when Jack was still around. She certainly wouldn’t wish anything like this on me though. If only for Sam’s sake.
Rivals… yes, there is one. Anne Marie Durand. She set up a fabrication shop a couple of years after I took over from Jack. She’s from old money, paid off all the costs immediately and thought the money would just roll in because of her contacts. She gets some custom but not that much. Her work just isn’t very good, it doesn’t have the touch that mine does and Jack’s had. She’s tried a few dirty tricks so far. Spreading rumours about me, trying to claim that poor quality items came from my workshop, even visiting on a few occasions and making thinly veiled threats about running my business into the ground. I never thought she’d go to these lengths though.”
“Maybe she didn’t, but it’s worth following up. I’ll try to dig out a photo of her so I know who to look out for.”
“I can save you some time there. If you have a camera with you.”
“Yes, I’ve got one here. What do you have in mind… oh…”
Jack Salter was gone. In his place was a woman in her thirties, with long deep red hair and striking eyes. A face ruined by a mouth stuck in a sneer. After a few moments Jens recovered enough to lift the camera, snapping off a picture with the background deliberately blurry. As soon as he had finished and lowered the camera Jack returned to his usual form.
“That’s… very effective. Can you become anyone you’ve ever met?”
“No. Just those that made a strong impression or I spent time learning to impersonate. She made quite an impression, though I couldn’t simulate all her habits and mannerisms without more study.”
They continued discussing items around the case for some time, but Jens didn’t feel he learnt anything else that was critical. He stood, shaking Jack’s hand, and then went to the cell door. Signalled that he wanted to leave. Took a long look at his client as the door opened, then left.
* * *
As Samuel settled into the visitors chair Jens studied him. Jens had decided his office was the best place to discuss the matters they needed to. It was swept for bugs regularly, had eavesdropping countermeasures and, above all, he felt relaxed there. It leant the proceedings a sense of normality given the subjects to be discussed.
Sam seemed to be relaxed, surprisingly so for a fifteen year old in a lawyers office. In looks there were many similarities to his father. Jens had been over this meeting in his head many times but still couldn’t decide the best way to start. He decided to just dive in.
“So Samuel. Sam. You know I’ve spoken to your dad?”
“No.” The reply was flat, giving nothing away.
“No. You haven’t spoken to my dad. You’ve spoken to my father. Dad died when I was eight. I consider the man you spoke to as my father. He’s more than earned that right over the past years. But he will never, ever be dad.”
Sam smiled the smile of a teenager who had got one over on an adult, and seemed to relax a little. Jens smiled back. The difficult first step had been taken, the subject broached.
“Sorry. Your father. You know then that he told me his story.”
“Yes. You’re the first to know other than dad, father and me. I know why he told you but it still feels strange.”
Jens smiled, then spread his arms in apology.
“I’m sorry for my next question, but I have to ask. To be sure. Are you certain that the story is true? That your dad definitely agreed to this plan? With the nature of the charges against your father I have to be sure.”
Sam stared at him angrily for a few moments, opened his mouth to say something but stopped himself. Took a few deep breaths. Stared at Jens some more. Jens sat still, waiting. Finally Sam spoke.
“OK. I understand why you’re asking. I’m not happy about it, but I understand. So let me be clear. My dad was one hundred percent behind this plan. I saw him on his own and with Father on many occasions. I could always tell the difference between Dad and Father. No, I won’t tell you how.”
He paused, locking eyes with Jens. When he spoke again he hammered the words out.
“Father helped us, both me and Dad, when we desperately needed it. He didn’t have to. He took on a huge responsibility, tied himself down. Became my parent. And took the huge risk of being discovered for what he was. Left that knowledge in the hands of a grieving child. He did nothing to dad. And he didn’t commit the murders. I’m certain.”
Jens nodded. “Thank you. I was already almost certain, but I had to ask. You probably won’t like my next question either, but again I have to ask. Have you ever let your Father’s secret slip? Ever told someone or given a hint of it? At any time, when you were young or more recently?”
This time Sam didn’t get angry, he just smiled.
“I knew that question was coming. And no, I haven’t. I’m certain. You have no idea how difficult it is discussing it with you now.”
Jens asked him a few more questions then called up a photo.
“Do you recognise this woman?”
“Anne Marie Durand.” Sam’s face darkened. “Yes. I know her. She’s tried to cause a lot of trouble for Father. I’ve had a visit from her too. Trying to befriend me, to get information on Father from me. I already knew what she looked like though, Father had warned me about her. She really didn’t like being given the cold shoulder by a teenager. I barely spoke a few words to her, and walked off when she started to make veiled threats.”
“Threats? Anything you can remember?”
“No. Sorry. It was just vague stuff. I didn’t stay long enough for her to get into details, even if she would have.”
Nothing else came up in the meeting that Jens felt was important. Having assured Sam that the secret was safe with him he watched the young man leave, then sat back in his chair thinking.
He was truly impressed by Sam, by the maturity he showed. Jens had done his research and there hadn’t been any rumour of there being a shape shifter before the recent murders. There were no rumours at all surrounding Jack. Sam really had protected the secret for all those years. Jens believed Sam when he said he hadn’t let it slip recently.
That left one definite lead, Jack’s recent one night stand. Jens had tracked her down, now he had to interview her. Try to gain information from her without giving away Jack’s secret, without confirming any suspicions she might already have. Somehow.
* * *
The interview with Rebecca proved to be every bit as tricky as he’d imagined. The subject matter was difficult to discuss and Rebecca was hostile, evasive. She didn’t want to talk about her evening with Jack and Jens couldn’t risk asking any of the questions he wanted to. Any questions relating to Jack’s ability to change might trigger a connection she hadn’t already made.
“I don’t understand why you need to speak to me about this,” she complained. “Why can’t you just read the report I gave to the police?”
“The police? They interviewed you because of the murders? I didn’t see any references to that in the case files.”
“No. Before the murders. The day after he and I spent the night together. A female police officer interviewed me, asked me all about it. Told me it related to an ongoing investigation, though she didn’t say how.”
The day after they’d slept together, and there seemed to be no record of it. Any recent interviews relating to Jack would have been cross referenced in the murder trial notes, even if related to something completely different. Jens had reviewed all the documents and there was no mention of this interview or investigation.
On a hunch Jens pulled up an image of Jack’s rival Anne Marie. Not the picture he’d taken of Jack disguised as her, instead a recent public image shot of her in a smart grey business suit.
“Do you recognise this woman?”
“Yes. That’s her. That’s the police woman.”
“Thank you. Please wait for a few minutes.”
Jens stepped out of his office, called up a contact in the police force and explained his suspicion that someone had impersonated a police officer.
* * *
Twenty minutes later the police had an official statement and things started to happen. With a criminal charge lodged against Anne Marie the police were able to follow leads that Jens wouldn’t have stood a chance with. They traced her bank accounts. Identified a large payment making its way via several shadow accounts to a visual effects specialist. Another disappeared into the account known to be used by a local gang, though the police couldn’t prove enough to shut the account down.
The visual effects specialist was ready to cave in even before the police arrived. He’d thought he was working on an advert until he saw parts of his work on the news. He’d kept a copy of the original video which showed someone wearing a powered exoskeleton which he’d replaced with the hideous creature Jack was accused of becoming. He’d been told the people being killed were computer generated. That they just needed his expertise to add the alien.
Soon after that Jack was released with all charges dropped, and Anne Marie was arrested on charges of conspiracy to murder and impersonating a police officer. She seemed to have believed her status would protect her from any consequences, from the need to clean up loose ends. To some extent she was right. The murder charges were dropped. She still spent six months inside for impersonating an officer though. She lost her shop, thanks to another clause in the contract relating to conviction for any offence.
Anne Marie tried to insist that Jack truly was a shape shifter, that she had proof. No one believed her. Rebecca wanted no further attention, and seemed to have decided that the memories of her night with Jack were seriously impaired by alcohol. That any apparent changes to Jack were simply down to beer goggles.
As for Jack and Sam, they carried on as before. Well, nearly. For the first time someone else knew their secret. Jens had grown to like them both and kept in contact. Both Sam and Jack found having someone else to talk to a huge relief. Especially Jack as he could admit his total lack of knowledge of the experiences of teenage boys and pick Jens’ brains for at least some idea of the best things to do and say.
* * *
Many would say it was an odd friendship. The boy, the man and the shape shifting alien. But it worked. Just last week they had a big celebration. Sam had been given the all clear, his treatment complete, and Jack had finished paying off the shop. It was lovely to see. And still Jack’s secret is safe, known to just the three of them.
And me of course. A father has to look out for his son, keep track of how he’s doing. And he’s doing well. Growing into a fine lad. Working his way through puberty right now. Once that passes and he becomes an adult I’ll be there to greet him, to explain my long absence. That’s a long time off yet though. Jack, as he calls himself at the moment, won’t leave puberty for a century at least.