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Product 16

The bird was there again when Sam opened her bedroom window. She frowned, seeing the small blue jay perched on the branch of her tree. Sam wasn’t a bird person; they made her break out in hives. That was why the blue jay sitting outside bothered her so much, but that was not the only reason. It had been sitting there for three days now, and had tried to fly inside her room when Sam had last opened the window. Not only was it behaving strangely, but also it kept looking at her intently, as if it was very interested in Sam. She shivered in the autumn morning air and closed her window.

James stepped out from behind the bush he had just changed behind. The blue jay was his favourite, but seemed to attract too much attention in these parts of the country. And that Sam girl hadn’t seemed too pleased to see James outside her window in the least. James snorted. Coastal people. They just couldn’t see the beauty around them, and probably wouldn’t be able to if it bit them in the...
He shook his head. Sam was leaving her house, her perfect blonde hair falling perfectly over her shoulders as she locked the door. James changes partially to form the beginnings of cat ears, to hear the scratching of the key as it turned the lock. He memorised the pattern, and made a mental note to ask the Institution for a duplicate key. James drifted off into a dream, where he was back in Institution Headquarters with the rest of the Changers...and Lucille...
He snapped to attention when Sam began heading down towards her bus stop. James barely remembered to change his ears back to human ears before stepping out behind Sam. James dug through his wallet as he walked, looking for a dollar to take the bus with. Hundred-dollar-bills and twenties got in his way, but he finally managed to dig out a handful of change. When he looked up, Sam was stepping onto the bus. She hadn’t even noticed James. James smiled with self-satisfaction. He wasn’t sure why the Institution wanted Sam, but whatever reason it was, James was happy to oblige.

Sam plunked into her seat. A teenage boy, looking about sixteen or seventeen, sat down across from her. He had short black hair styled into a feathery cut. The tips of his hair were dyed a screaming blue. Sam must have stared at him for a little too long, because he suddenly looked up at her. His eyes latched onto hers; light blue jewels set in a face with strong, sharp features. Sam inhaled sharply as she was taken completely by surprise. He smiled wanly at her, then ducked back into a book. Sam leaned over to retie her shoes, sneaking a peek at the title of the book while she was down. On the Wings of Eagles, the title read. It showed a strange creature, something like the body of a man with the head and wings of an eagle. Sam shook her head. Crazies, she thought. She settled back into her seat and stared out the window for the bus ride to school.

When she got off the bus, the boy with the blue hair followed her. Sam didn’t notice him, but instead walked over to a large group of laughing teenagers. She joined them, still not noticing the way James peered at her intently with his bird-like eyes. Sam didn’t even look up when James brushed by her as he walked into the school.

"Yes?" The frumpy secretary asked him, examining James over the tops of her bifocals.
"I’d like to register, please?"
She pushed a thick stack of forms at him. "Fill these out. Mr. Roberts, our principal, will see you shortly."
James plopped down into a stiff plastic chair and dug around in his pockets for a pen. "Um, can I borrow a pen?"
The secretary gave him a withering glance and handed him a half-used Bic.
"Thanks." He began to work on the forms, making some things up as he went. Some of the questions puzzled James, ones like:State your current address. And, What do you hope to accomplish here? Then there were the hard ones. Do you have a criminal record? Have you ever participated in a criminal activity? How well do you get along with your parents? Do you live with them? And so they continued, seemingly bent on uncovering everything there was to know about James and his past. James filled out the application as best he could. He laughed inwardly at Have you ever participated in a criminal activity because he, in fact, was a delinquent. Disasters at medical labs; raids on government institutes; the sudden unexplained disappearances of leading scientists researching genetic mutation—all were his doing.
James was in the middle of putting down the address of a vacant building on the outskirts of town when he heard a door open. Involuntary, his head snapped up and he was about to change to eagle—feathers had even formed on the back of his hand—when he saw that it was only Sam, coming into the office. James quickly reversed the feathers and gave her an easy smile. "Hey, how’s it going?"

Sam was startled. It was THAT BOY, the one from the bus, the one with the blue hair. Now he was here, in her school! And he had even talked to her! He was looking just as good as he had on the bus.
He was staring at her, and Sam realised that he was waiting for a reply. "Oh, uh, good. How about you?" Stupid, STUPID girl, Sam thought.
He raked his hand through his spiked hair and replied, "It’s good." He stood up and extended his hand towards her. "I’m James Graidon. My family just moved here from Toronto, but I like this town already. The mountains are beautiful, and, as I’ve just discovered, so are the women." James grinned.
Sam flushed and took his hand. "The same goes for the men. Toronto sure turns out some decent guys. There’s another guy from Toronto in school, he moved here last week. Do you know him?"
For just a second, James frowned. "What’s his name?"
Sam thought. "Mikhail Riteford. He’s in my English class right now."
The door to the principle’s office opened, and a classic high-school principal stepped out. He was short, about five-foot-six, had a few spare tires, wore thick round glasses, was balding, and was wearing a brown tweed suit.
"Miss Hunter? Shouldn’t you be in class? If I am not mistaken, I believe you are taking a test."
"Yes, Mr. Roberts. I was just, uh, picking up these forms for the Student Committee." Sam grabbed a pile of forms off the office counter and darted out the door. She flashed a smile over her shoulder. "Bye, James, nice meeting you, see you around. By the way, my name’s Sam Hunter."
James chuckled inwardly, and called back after Sam. "Bye Sam. Nice meeting you, too. See ya."
The principal turned towards James. He cleared his throat. "Ah, yes, Mr..." He squinted at the forms he had taken from James. "Graidon. James Graidon. That’s a good strong name, boy. You’ll do great in Coastal High, I promise you."
Mr. Roberts grabbed James’s hand and began pumping it up and down. James smiled painfully and tried not to let his arm fall off. "Thank you, sir. I, too, hope to do well here. Where can I pick up my class schedule?"
The principal laughed heartily. "My, aren’t you eager to learn, my boy! Mrs. Kamersack!" He called over his shoulder to the secretary. "Set up a schedule for young James here, and make sure he is in some classes with Sam Hunter. He seemed to have an attraction to her." He winked at James.
James smiled automatically. His mind was somewhere else. So...Mikhail had fled Victoria. Mikhail had classes with Sam Hunter, the girl who was wanted urgently by the Institution. Little did Sam know, but she was the product of half-a-century of genetic engineering. She was known within the Institution as Product 16F1.

Product 16 was the perfected version of the genetic project that incorporated animal DNA into the human genetic code. Product 16 had yielded only four known successful subjects—two males and two females. Sam Hunter was one of the females. The other female, Lucille Upstand, had a history with James. The Institution had attempted to breed the two of them to create an even more advanced Changer. Lucille, unfortunately, died during pregnancy, because Mikhail murdered her in a jealous rage. The child had died, leaving James wishing to revenge both of the deaths.

Mikhail Riteford was one of the males—Product 16M. A Changer called Shawn Carver had been the second male. Shawn had been on a previous mission to capture Sam Hunter, but had made a mistake while in wolf form. A group of Change Hunters—people who tracked Changers for sport and killed them—caught up with Shawn in the backwoods. Instead of simply changing form and escaping, Shawn stayed in his wolf skin and fought. When his body has been discovered in the woods, he had been in the middle of changing from wolf to human to tiger when he had been shot through the heart. At Shawn’s memorial service, the Head Leader had remarked: "He died as he lived—a warrior to the end."
Products 16F/M were Changers. Product 16 Changers had something that other Changers could not match. They could change from animal to animal, without stopping to regain full human form. Shawn had only been returning to human partially to conserve energy. Any creature that had ever existed had its DNA intertwined with the Product 16. Product 16s could change in the blink of an eye, from a blue whale to a protozoan. To add to the deadly force of the creature they were, they kept their full human identity. All the emotions, morals, and thoughts of the individual stayed with them, leaving them smarter than the average animal they were at the time. Product 16s were truly the perfect biological weapon.
James mulled over the possible reasons Mikhail could be in Victoria...where Sam was as well. Could it be possible that Mikhail was trying to find Sam before James could? What could he want with a fellow Product 16? These thoughts ran around in his head as Mr. Roberts led him down a hall towards a classroom. Suddenly the realisation hit James full force—Mikhail was here to harm Sam...but why? Sam was the last Product 16 alive, aside from Mikhail himself. He must have a hidden agenda...and there was no evidence to disprove that Mikhail had not been on the scene when Shawn had been killed...and that Mikhail certainly had been there when Lucille had died.

James was led into a classroom, where thirty pairs of teenage eyes stared at him. Suddenly, he saw himself through their eyes—a lanky teenage boy, with stylish clothes and dyed blue hair. As he looked around the room, he painfully noticed that he was the only one with dyed hair—aside from the highlighted blondes, that is. His shoes matched that of the popular guy...the one in the corner surrounded by jocks. The Popular Guy met James’ eyes and glared back. James let his eyes slide away indifferently and continue his survey of the room. He spotted Sam, sitting in the middle surrounded by a clan of friends. He allowed himself a small half-smile of recognition, then stiffened when he saw who also sat in the classroom. Mikhail Riteford. A fellow Changer—and a former friend.

Changers were people that were able to change fully—or, like James, partially—into any animal they had been programmed with. Only a select few could change into anything they wanted to be. Those were the Product 16’s. James was a Product 15—just one step away from being as powerful a Changer as Mikhail. The only difference between them was that Mikhail could become anything—past or present. Both James and Mikhail could change into other people, or create an entirely new person. James was inhibited because he could not become something that was extinct.
James was the only Product 15 in existence. A predecessor to Product 16, his genetic code had been created on a whim by a scientist. It was only a matter of three genes separating Product 15 from Product 16. Product 14’s could not become people, and could not become something extinct or that didn’t exist. The earliest Products, numbers one to five, were assigned a specific animal in their genes. Product 5 had three animal codes. Products 6-9 had to be exposed to the animal and absorb its DNA to be able to Change. It was not until Product 10 that scientists could insert an unlimited amount of animal genes into the human genetic code. Product 10’s, however, rarely survived for long after they changed into a complex animal. They, for some reason, had an inborn susceptibility to having the animal’s genetic code destroy their own. For this reason, only two Product 10’s were alive in the Institution. They could not Change, and they stayed under strict supervision. They lived in a prison.
Product 11 fared much better. Product 11’s could change into any living animal, but had an upper limit of fifty total Changes. Any more, and they met the same fate as Product 10. Products 12-14 were bettered and more efficient versions of the previous Products. The Institution had done well in creating the perfect weapon.

None of that helped James as he stared, in shock, into Mikhail’s eyes. Mikhail gave a smirk and a little wave. James clenched his fists, already feeling tiger muscles rippling under his shirt. His eyes had already started to Change before he realised where, exactly, he was. His rage subsided long enough for James to reverse the changes to his body.

"Now, class, I would like to introduce you to our new student here at Coastal High. This is James Graidon. He just moved here from Toronto, and I expect you all will treat him with the same respect and courtesy you treated Mikhail Riteford a few weeks ago."
There was a smattering of applause, and Mr. Roberts left the room. The English teacher gave James a disapproving look.
"If you would be so kind as to grace us with your acceptance of the seat next to Ms. Hunter, we could continue our discussion regarding Macbeth."
James obediently sat down, giving Sam the barest reply of a smile to her grinning Jack-O-Lantern wide smile. Her face fell as she was, essentially, blown off. James had no interest in pursuing anything except a professional relationship with Sam—as of right now...oh, who was he kidding? She was gorgeous, but she was, after all, the pride and joy of the Institution. High-and-mighty Samantha Hunter, the only Product 16 who was not aware of what she was or what she could do. Now, her ignorance (or innocence, a voice in his head pointed out) annoyed James. He opened his binder and began to write. The teacher babbled on, explaining the brilliant way Shakespeare had cultivated his characters into living, breathing humans. James half-listened, busy outlining the information he knew about Mikhail, Sam, and the possible connection between them. Although James had an IQ of 263, he had difficulty presenting information to himself in his head. It had to be out on paper, neatly organised and ordered. His paper began to look like this:

QUESTIONS (stuff to find out/research)

  1. Can Sam change?
  2. Where was Mikhail in the 2 yr. between when he escaped/was in TO?
  3. How did Sam get here?
  4. Does she know she is a Changer?
  5. Find out Sam’s parent’s background—do they have ANY connection w/ Institution?
  6. Find out as much as possible re. Mikhail.
  7. Where is the best doughnut/coffee/food joint?
James was so involved in his research that he didn’t notice Mrs. Yadinsky prowling up and down the aisles towards him. James was just putting the finishing touches on a fire-breathing Mrs. Yadinsky when he sensed a hand ready to tap his shoulder. He whirled around in his desk, half-expecting Mikhail to be behind him. Instead, it was a frowning Mrs. Yadinsky.
"And what do we have here?" She reached over James’ shoulder and grabbed the paper off his desk. Her eyes skimmed it briefly before opening wide in shock, then slitting in anger. "Mr. Graidon, this is not a good way to start your year. I will not tolerate this kind of..." She trailed off, then picked up the pace again after some thought. "Rubbish, slander, and outright disrespect in my classroom. These cartoons of yours alone are grounds for suspension, but these comments..." Mrs. Yadinsky shook her head.
"Yes, Mrs. Yadinsky, I know. However, you see, I learn best if I concentrate on something else. The comments there are, uh, something I’m working on at home. A novel," James rushed on. "And those are just the outlines that I’m working on. The cartoons are just doodles. If you look closely, you can see that they’re of a Mrs. Vadinsky. She’s my next-door neighbour." James could hear the jocks in the back laughing their fool heads off. Sam was giving him strange looks, and Mikhail was sitting back with his arms folded, smirking at James.
Mrs. Yadinsky bought it. "I’m so sorry, James, for accusing you like that. Please forgive me."
"S’okay. No biggie." He shrugged his shoulders and nonchalantly surveyed the rest of the class.

Sam was mystified. James had been thisclose to having the full wrath of Yadinsky turned upon him, but he somehow avoided it. Not only that, but now he was scribbling away again. Nobody in class had bought that half-brained lie about a novel except Yadinsky—-how did James pull it off? Mikhail tapped her shoulder. "Whatcha doin’ tomorrow?"
Sam shrugged. "Not much. I have to watch my brother and bathe the dog. Sunday I’m headin’ to the flicks with Lianne and Stan. Wanna come?"
"Sure. I’ve got nothing better to do." Mikhail fiddled with his pen. "What do you think of James?"
Sam was startled. "Well, he’s nice. Did you know him in Toronto?"
He nodded. "Yeah. But I’d watch out for James if I was you."
"He got kicked out of the school we were in for delinquency. Drugs, that sort of stuff. He lived on the streets until I moved. I think he’s here to get me, because I was one of the people who busted him. James wants to be a big fish in a small pond. Victoria doesn’t have much of a drug scene—yet. James is an opportunist. He can kill two birds with one stone here. He can get rid of me, and start a new drug ring at the same time. If he really wants to, he will kill more than one person." Mikhail looked Sam in the eye. "That’s why I don’t want you to get involved here. James is dangerous, and I don’t want you to get hurt."
Sam gave a nervous laugh. "I would hardly think James is into big-time stuff, Mikhail. Plus, he was extremely nice to me today when I met him. I’ll draw my own conclusions, thank you very much."
Mikhail gave a shrug and slid back into his seat. "Have it your way, Sam."

James sighed and changed his ears back into human ones. Mikhail was spreading lies about him yet again. In all actuality, it had been Mikhail that was the drug lord. He had been thrown out of his school—a school James never attended.
He continued to pretend he was working until the bell rang. As soon as he was in the hallway, he headed for the nearest exit and started for ‘home’—a vacant building on the ocean.

James dumped his stuff on a dusty, dilapidated table and walked out the back door (which hung wildly on rusted hinges) to the rocky shore fifty feet away. He sat on a rock and threw some pebbles into the waves. Thoughts ran through his head, clamouring for his full attention one after another—first Mikhail, with his self-assured smirk, then Sam, with her innocent and unknowing eyes. Finally, Lucille—laughing, the way she used to—sprang up. It all rushed in front of him, image after image and sound after sound piled up in his mind, their weight pushing at him. The sun reflected off the water brightly—too brightly. A pounding started far back in James’s mind: started soft, but grew to an unbearable level. James grabbed his head, shaking it back and forth. He was Changing—he could feel it now. James’s eyes flew open uncontrollably to see his hands Change. Paws. Flippers. Fins. Fur, claws, wings, feathers, scales. Spots, stripes, black, brown, white, patterns. Everything he had ever Changed into was surfacing one after another. James gave a cry that was more animal and carnal than what little human was left in himself, and dove headfirst into the sea.
He tried to focus on one animal, one single form, but they kept racing in his mind. Finally, as his lungs were about to burst from his being underwater for so long, James settled on dolphin form. His new lungs filled with sweet, fresh air and James felt the sun on his blowhole. James felt so desperate and trapped that he just wanted to swim until he could forget all what had happened in the past few minutes. He kicked his tail and dived.

They’re all around me, a whole group of them. I feel like one of them, and yet I am not. I’m too human, though I wish I wasn’t. There’s tension in the group—and I am but one cause. Though my being here would otherwise be unaccepted, the dolphins have other things to worry about. A female is lost, they tell me. She’s called Moonwave, and she hasn’t been seen since three sun-cycles ago. She’s not really part of the pod, a chatty juvenile tells me, she just comes to hunt and play every few sun-cycles.
Then why worry?

The young one chirrups indignantly. Moonwave promised to return four sun-cycles ago, when the tide was low. She has not yet been seen.
Has she no family or pod of her own?
No. Moonwave swims in her own current, much like you.
I nudge him for more information. What do you mean?
The pod leader swims over. You are not like us. Perhaps you are of a different pod, or perhaps you usually spend your sun-cycles on land, walking with the Land Dolphins.
The what?
Dolphins that walk on two tails, and live out of water.
The old dolphin shies away.
That is Tempest, our pod leader. I am Tide-Tracer. My new friend clicks and whistles and playfully blows bubbles at me.
I surface for air. I am called Wavebreaker.
Now that I have a name, the rest of the group welcomes me. One female will not approach and swim with me, so I join her.
Moonwave is my friend. She visits the waters sometimes, down where the ocean meets the shore and the beach is rocky. When she comes, she comes alone. The female rolls and dives, clicking sadly.
What is Moonwave? You all speak of her like she is dolphin and yet not dolphin. I push her gently with my beak.
You, are not dolphin. Your inner being does not love the seas. Moonwave is dolphin at heart-—she truly loves the waves. The female shoots towards the surface, then leaps clear of the waves. Soon she is at my side again. My name is Seafoam. Wavebreaker, you do not belong with us...please leave...
Seafoam nips me softly and swims away as fast as her flukes can beat the water. I am alone, and yet not alone. The dolphins surround me and I am caught up in their dances. I ignore my human self, telling me that what the pod has said is important, and I need to become human again...I need to remember...
I shake my head and surface for air...I am too happy right now to go back to being human...

Sam picked up the ringing phone. "Hello?"
"Hi, is Sam there?"
"Speaking." Sam hopped up on the kitchen counter and began winding the phone cord around her finger.
"Hi, this is Mikhail. Look, I was wondering what you’re doing tonight..."
Sam smiled. "Are you asking me for a date, Mikhail?"
"Don’t flatter yourself." He laughed. "Actually, I was, kinda, asking you out. Listen, I know this really cool place down by the ocean, and I was hoping you’d join me there—the dolphins go there sometimes. And I know how much you love the ocean and dolphins."
Sam leaned back into a cupboard, ignoring the handle biting into her spine. "What in God’s name drove you to this?"
"What, is it so crazy that I like you? Come on, Sam. There’s no school tomorrow..."
Sam sighed. She could hear the disappointment in his voice. She hated making people unhappy. "Fine. When do you want me to meet you?"
"In half an hour? Do you know that restaurant on the Inner Harbour?"
Sam nodded to herself. "The Wharfside? Yeah, I know it."
"Great! Meet me there, okay?"
Before Sam could answer, Mikhail hung up. She hopped off the counter and sprinted up the stairs to her room, but not before scribbling a quick note on the wipe-board to tell her Mom where she was going.
Sam flounced around her room as she punched her best friend Amy’s speed-dial button on her cordless phone. "Amy? Guess what! Mikhail just asked me out for a date tonight...yes, Mikhail Riteford."
"Sam, are you serious?"
Sam burrowed through a drawer, the phone tucked between her shoulder and ear. "Of course I’m serious! Isn’t this fabulous? Mikhail and me...eating dinner on the patio of the Wharfside..." She pulled out a pair of jeans, examined them, and tossed them on her bed as a potential date outfit.
"Sure, Sam, great, but why in God’s name would he call you and ask you to meet him in half an hour?"
"Why, is it so hard to imagine that I, Sam Hunter, would be asked out?" Sam squinted closely at a barely there purple tank top to scan for dirt, then tossed it back in the closet.
"No, it’s just unusual that Mikhail-—who, I would like to remind you, never showed interest in any girl before-—calls you and asks you to meet him in...well, twenty minutes the hottest place in Victoria. Doesn’t that seem a little strange to you?"
"Not really. Amy," Sam said impatiently, "I have to go. Like you said, I have twenty minutes to get there. I’ll call you tomorrow and give you all the gory details, I promise."
She said goodbye, then hung up. Sighing, she gazed at the pile of clothes on the bed, then looked at her watch. It took her ten minutes to bike to the Wharfside...she now had seven minutes to get ready. Sam took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and reached into the pile with both hands. She looked at her winnings, and found that the tight flares and the purple tank went together perfectly.

Mikhail looked at his watch impatiently. It was long past seven, when he had told her to meet him, and Sam still wasn’t here. Leaning on his elbows, Mikhail gazed lazily around the restaurant patio and took in the sights of the Harbour. On the other side of the water, near the Undersea Garden, a couple walked hand in hand laughing. Mikhail changed his eyes to see better and smiled coldly at them. The colourful blend of the street performer music floated to Mikhail’s ears, but he did not hear it. His thoughts were turned elsewhere, away from this salty-smelling, loud, dusky wharf. A single face accompanied by a chilling threat rose up in front of his eyes.
James. The name made Mikhail’s hackles rise in any form. Today had been the first time the two had seen each other in two years. The last time had been when Mikhail had Changed in an alleyway in Toronto and killed five cops in his anxiety to escape—-not from the police, but from James, who had been hot on his tail.
Mikhail had just barely Changed into a fly and buzzed around looking flyish when James had entered the scene as a lion. At the sight of his old rival, Mikhail couldn’t resist the urge to take him on. He became a lithe cougar and leapt out of reach. James had snarled in rage and flew in the air, becoming a falcon at the same time. Mikhail accepted the unspoken challenge, but instead became an eagle-—a bird that preyed on the falcon. The fight had been vicious, both being wounded severely. Mikhail escaped by Changing to a tiny sparrow and hid in a flock of like birds. Unable to locate him, James had changed back to human, his many wounds dripping blood onto the rooftop.
"I’ll find you, Mikhail!" He screamed to the sky. "Someday, somewhere, we will meet again, I promise you that! And when that day comes, you will suffer...I will make you suffer like you made Lucille suffer! You will die, Mikhail, and I will slit your throat for what you’ve done to me!" James had collapsed on the roof, his blood seeping around him, his tears mixing with the blood on his face.
Mikhail frowned unconsciously into the crowd. He was a fool, Mikhail thought. James never had a shred of courage in his pitiful body. He had a chance, once, to join me...but he let that chance pass by, and never will it come again. He let his emotions get in the way of his mission, and look where it got him. His one true love is dead-—and he has no one to blame but himself. James thought she was pristine and innocent...when truthfully Lucille was as heartless as I am. He looked up to see Sam walking through the crowd clad in a flattering tank top and tight jeans. Mikhail smiled in spite of his thoughts. Even Carver wasn’t the moral, honourable warrior he appeared to be. He wasn’t even trying to find Sam for the Institution-—Sam was going to be his own personal chew toy. But there is something different about Sam...all the other Product 16’s turned out corrupt...why not her?
She was smiling now, flashing perfect white teeth at him as a look of extreme happiness spread across her face. Automatically, Mikhail stood up and walked to meet her. As he pulled the chair out for Sam, Mikhail caught a glimpse of a small scar on the back of her neck as her blonde hair swung forward. It was shaped like a dolphin. He jumped back instinctively. The scar was something that all Products had-—it symbolised the creature that was most like the individual, and it stayed on their skin in no matter what form they were. Mikhail’s scar was a snake, Lucille possessed a black widow, Shawn Carver had had a wolf, and James’s was an eagle.
She really is a Product. But a dolphin? There is no sort of deceit or trickery in that animal...they are one of the few genuinely pure creatures on earth. Something is definitely different about her.
"Mikhail, I’m so sorry I’m late! By the time I finally got off the phone with Amy and was ready, I was late."
"It’s okay." He grinned. "I already ordered—-hope you like crab."
Now it Sam’s turn to beam. "Like it? I love it!"
They chatted on the patio over several dishes for the next two hours. As Sam babbled away, using her hands frequently to express her point, Mikhail always kept a sharp eye out for any sign of James.

James awoke on his back, lying on a pebbly beach. “Uhh...where...?” He sat up, rubbing the back of his head with one hand and looking around.
The tide was going out. He was, from the looks of things, about half a mile from ‘home’ and the Inner Harbour. He was also naked, save for a soggy pair of jean shorts. James ran a hand through his sopping hair and groaned. Where had he been? What had the...dolphins?...told him that was so important? Did it have something to do with Sam?
James jumped up as her understood what the dolphins had meant. Sam was Moonwave, and had joined the local pod. She hadn’t gone back in a few days-—was Mikhail stopping her somehow? James scowled. What had she been thinking when she joined the pod? Every single Product knew that you never, ever join a group of animals when you are Changed. Attachments form, status must be gained—and then there’s the risk of being captured by a research team or being hunted down. No, it was better to be a ‘lone wolf’ of sorts. How could Sam go against one of the most basic principles, one of the things they had all been taught as young as three, taught in the special school-—a school that, James realised, Sam had never attended.
There must be some sort of mistake here, James thought. Sam was never taught how to Change-—even Mikhail was taught how. Nobody was born knowing how to Change. It was something that needed to be taught, something that needed coaxing to show itself. How was Sam able to Change on her own, without instruction?
James sighed aloud and Changed wearily into a seagull and set out for his roost. He flew for twenty minutes, lazily looking around. The smells and noise of the Inner Harbour called out to the mind of the seagull, and James, too tired to fight, obeyed. As he flew over the patio of The Wharfside, his eye spied a familiar blonde head. James swooped in and took a closer look—it was Sam, sitting across from a smirking Mikhail Riteford.
Anger blurred his vision and sent the seagull, screaming, towards Mikhail. James landed next to the table and began pecking around, looking as inconspicuous as possible for a seagull while also trying to keep his anger in check. Mikhail looked down and gave him a look reserved for crap on the bottom of your shoe. James pecked some more and listened intently.
“ that’s why I think that Amy needs to lighten up and get over Matthew already. I mean, they broke up over three months ago, and he’s obviously moved on to better things. She’s obsessed, and she needs to go on with things.”
“Obviously.” Mikhail nodded in agreement and looked warily at James again.
Sam noticed his agitation. “Oh, is that little seagull making you nervous? Here, just give him some food.” She put some pizza in her palm and reached out to James. Both Mikhail and James eyed her warily. “Here ya go, little guy,” she crooned to the seagull. “I’m not going to hurt you, just take some of this.”
What the heck. It can’t hurt anyone. James hopped forward and grabbed the pizza. Squawking, he retreated several paces, chomping on the food as he went, still trying to look seagull-ish.
The pizza tasted like Sam. As his seagull mouth choked it down, James bitterly wished he were human so that he could enjoy it fully. It was like being half-blinded: you know what it could be like, but you also know you can never have it. The salt of her hands added an extra dimension to the simple pizza crust. Deep down, James knew that he would never taste pizza this sweet and fine again.
Mikhail was shocked. “Well…I never…how did you do that?”
Sam laughed, her voice tinkling like so many little bells. James watched her with beady eyes as she replied, “It’s easy…I guess I’ve always had a way with animals. It’s actually a little weird because I’ve never really liked any animals except for dolphins.”
Mikhail snapped his fingers. “That reminds me. I was planning on taking you down to the beach where the dolphins are…we can still go—that is, if you want to.”
She smiled in such a way that James felt his heart ache. “Sure. I would love to.”
They rose, Mikhail slapped some money on the table, and the pair walked out of Wharfside holding hands. James felt his heart sink as he took off. In the back of his mind, he knew that he loved Sam.

Sam was elated. The moon shone on the ocean with an intensity she had never seen before, and everything seemed to take on a different dimension. The sea breeze chilled her skin, but the warmth of Mikhail’s hand was enough to warm her in a blizzard. She didn’t think that she could be any happier—and then she saw the dolphins.
They leapt in the water out in front of her, their lithe bodies cutting the surface effortlessly and scattering droplets in arcs of diamonds that caught the moonlight. Sam breathed in sharply, stunned by the vision.
“They’re…they’re dancing…” she whispered, and felt Mikhail tighten his hold on her hand.
“Yeah…isn’t it great?”
They stood in silence, unaware that James was flying overhead. Again, his heart grew heavy, but this time he followed it to the surface of the sea. As he bobbed there, James dived. He switched from seagull to boy, and surfaced for air. The second his head was above water, James Changed again, this time to dolphin. I’ll show Sam what real dancing looks like.
He gave completely into the feeling of freedom…

Unexpectedly, Seafoam is there at my side; I’m with the same pod I was before, and she welcomes me.
Wavebreaker, you’ve returned. What brings you back?
I playfully slap my tail. The one you call Moonwave is on the shore, she has returned as well. In my joy with being there again, I leap high above the waves.
It is unlike anything I have ever done…I have been every creature on this planet, and yet the feeling of cool sea air against my rubbery skin is seductive and alien. I know that I cannot stay here forever, in the bliss of salty air and cool waters. I am human…and yet I do not care…

Sam could barely contain herself. If only Mikhail would leave, only for half a minute! The dolphins called out to her, to her core. Sam could feel the salt water against her skin, and she shivered involuntarily. The dolphins in front of her were her pod, her family…and she knew that she had been neglecting them. It had been a time since she had become a dolphin—did the pod even miss her?
Mikhail looked sideways at her. For a fraction of a second, Sam saw a cold, calculating look in his eyes. Then, it faded away and was replaced by an intensity that froze Sam in her tracks. “How much do you love them?” His voice was warm, but his eyes were piercing.
“More than you would ever know.” Suddenly, Sam no longer wanted to be here, on this beach, in the middle of nowhere. If I screamed, no one except the dolphins would hear me, Sam thought. And Mikhail was getting closer all the time. She thought fast. Whirling around, Sam whispered, “Did you hear that?”
Mikhail frowned. “What?”
Sam purposefully stepped away from Mikhail. “I don’t know—but it was over there.” She pointed. “And I didn’t see what it was. Could you go check?” Mikhail faced the moonlight inexplicably. Sam’s breath caught in her throat as the cold light lit him up. Mikhail closed his eyes and tilted his chin into the light, seeming to bathe in it. She saw him in that moment in a way she never had before—his strong, slim jawbone, the way his blonde hair fell across his perfect hazel eyes, and the startling effect of the contrast of moonlight and shadow on his fine features.
He sighed. “Sure I’ll check. Do you think you’ll be fine here by yourself?”
“Of course I’ll be fine. But you go check, ok? Please?”
Mikhail nodded and walked away from her. How dumb did she think he was? Of course, there wasn’t anything there—she just wanted to get rid of him. Mikhail reached the tree line and melted into the shadows. He transformed his ears and eyes into those of a jungle cat, and watched Sam through the bush.

Sam sighed. Finally, he was gone. Now she could visit the pod. Methodically, she began to remove her clothes. Piece by piece, Sam exposed more skin. When she was done, she walked into the surf. Sam shivered as the water reached her thighs, then her waist. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes. Her dolphin body swam into her vision, and she let herself Change.

Mikhail, watching from the trees, couldn’t believe his eyes. Sam was Changing—but for the moment her body was enough to astound him. Then, she started. The moonlight illuminated her white skin—she seemed to drink the light, and it was helping her Change. Mikhail had never seen someone Change in a more beautiful way—it was like a dance. First her skin became rubbery, then took a greyish tinge. Her arms shrank into flippers, and her feet fused together to become the powerful tail. Sam’s head and featured melted into the dolphin head, and the Change was complete. The dolphin dove off into the water. Mikhail emerged from his hiding place and performed his own Change, then pursued Sam.

Pod, I’ve returned!
Who is that voice? Someone new…someone I have never met—and yet the voice reaches into my very soul. It is like hearing Lucille from the grave…
The pod is excited, but I cannot understand why. Tide-Tracer swims beside me.
It is Moonwave! She has finally come back to us! Come meet her, Wavebreaker!
The young dolphin swims off, and I follow him. Although I have been in this body for a short time, I recognise beauty in its form. The one they call Moonwave is beautiful, all fluid and supple. She moves in ways that no dolphin can, she dances to shame the elder. My dolphin form loves her, and yet my human heart refuses to consider anything along those lines.
The beauty turns her head to face me amidst a storm of introductions. In her eyes, I recognise her. Sam.
Her poise falters for a moment, then returns. Wavebreaker? She asks in a way that suggests she knew me before we met each other here, under the tumultuous waves and in this watery world.
She is visibly taken aback. Panicked, she turns suddenly and flees the pod, heading for open ocean. Before my brain can stop my heart, I am chasing her, pushing my body to the limits. The cries of the pod fade in my ears as we speed through the waves.

Mikhail, too, was pursuing Sam. He had Changed into a shark, and he now glided soundlessly behind the two dolphins. He brooded as his form slipped through the water.
So, they thought they could fool me, he thought silently. Sam especially—how DARE she! I take her out and she runs off for James. Typical female bitch. Even Lucille would have left me for James if I hadn’t stopped her. Well, never again. From now on, I’m calling the shots with Sam. James isn’t going to defeat me this time. This time, I’ll be the one who wins.

Sam suddenly slowed in the water and whirled around. All of her senses were telling her that something was wrong…but the water was dark and cold and carried no sense of danger. And…yet…
She surfaced and rolled on one side to see the moon. James, in his dolphin form, leapt above the waves and began to sing a song in the dolphin tongue. Sam listened. Over the sounds of the pod and the waves moving, there was little noise over the water. But there it was—underneath the clicks and whistles of her pod, beneath the noise of drunken boaters taking a midnight spin, and quieter than her own heartbeat—the sound of something large and unnatural swimming towards the pod.

Did you hear that? Sam turns towards me, her supple skin shining in silver moonlight. Concern darkens her brown eyes and worry radiates off her. What? I hear nothing except the boats and ocean. Well, that isn’t true—I hear Sam’s heart beating, and my own heart skips a beat when we beat in time.
She turns away, staring into the south, out onto the open ocean; out where life and death struggle hand-in-hand for existence in the unforgiving world. Waves of worry have turned to fear and she is shivering in terror. Mikhail. He’s coming.
How…how can you possibly know…
I listen beside her, and then I hear it. The waves are being pushed by something much larger than either of us, pushed out of a natural rhythm. A low vibration is carried to us, a primeval predatory growl that threatens of danger and death. But it is the thoughts I can hear…and they are the thoughts of Mikhail.
James. I know you have her. We both want what we used to have, but she isn’t Lucille. I need her, James. You have no idea how much I need her. You’re only here because there’s a big paycheque on her chromosomes, and you need to pay the bills. Don’t try and disguise it as some heroic deed—sweeping her off her feet and taking her away to her perfect world…don’t turn it into Lucille, don’t turn it into Shawn, don’t turn it into your atonement for bloodshed. Her life won’t save yours.
And then he is there, the shadow under the bed that keeps you awake at night, which appears in your darkest and loneliest hours. I don’t even see him coming, I am transfixed so strongly by his thoughts. But he is there, underneath us, scattering the pod and separating me from Sam. I can hear her frantic plea for me. James! Oh, God, Mikhail…what have you done…

Sam couldn’t see James anymore. A wall of chilled flesh was between them. She couldn’t understand what had just happened—-she could have sworn she heard Mikhail’s voice in her head…but that was impossible, wasn’t it? Mikhail couldn’t have her power, could he? Wasn’t she the only one? But you’re not, the little voice whispered, because James is here with you, dancing under the waves. Maybe Mikhail is the monster that you knew was inside you.
She remembered then, suddenly, in that instant when the enormous eye of the creature Mikhail had become passed her, the first time she realised that she could do things other people only dreamed of.
“Mommy, I had the strangest dream last night! I followed Puss outside and we walked around the block and hunted mice and she talked to me, Mum, and I was a cat just like her!” I’m four years old and I’m standing in my kitchen wearing Barbie pyjamas. My mom doesn’t believe me, of course, but I know I’m telling the truth. I was a cat, I walked and smelled and saw with cat senses.
That was the first time I Transformed. It usually happened in dreams, but I would wake up and find my skin patterned or feathered. At first it scared me. I tried telling my parents, my friends, my teachers. Within a month I learned that other people couldn’t do what I could, and that little girls shouldn’t talk about becoming animals. So I kept it to myself.
This all happened when we lived in California. Then we moved to Toronto, where I met a girl named Lucy. She had bright green eyes and long black hair, and she took an interest in me immediately. She was always asking me questions about my family and my dreams. I liked Lucy, but not enough to tell her about my “animal dreams” as I started calling them. She never talked about her family or anything outside of school.
One day I was late leaving school, and I saw Lucy waiting for someone to pick her up. I opened my mouth to call to her, but then I saw the limousine come around the corner. It was black, glossy and shiny in that movie star way. It pulled up beside Lucy and she stepped in it, without a backward glance. As it passed by me, Lucy rolled the window down and made the driver stop.
“Hi, Lucy!” I said excitedly. I was secretly hoping she would offer me a ride in the limo.
Instead, she gave a strange half-smile and said, “Goodbye, Sam.”
“But I’ll see you tomorrow, right?” I blurted out unexpectedly. I still wanted a ride, and suddenly I was much more curious about Lucy and her life.
“No, you won’t. I don’t suppose you’ll see me ever again.”
I was confused. “Where are you going?” She smiled secretly. “Somewhere special, where I’ll get to live out my dreams. I won’t ever have to see annoying, pathetic little jerks like you again.”
I stood there shocked. My ears refused to believe what they had just heard. My eyes welled up and I began to cry.
Lucy laughed icily and, as the limo pulled away, her head swung forward, exposing the spider-like scar on the back of her neck.
I never saw her again.

James Changed himself as soon as he understood what Mikhail had become. The real problem was that nothing James could think of would match the power of Mikhail’s form.
There is no predator on Earth that has ever had the size or the ferocity of a Megaladon shark. With jaws that could swallow a Volkswagen Beetle without scratching the finish, and teeth longer than most steak knives, it was the terror of the ocean. And now, in front of James, Mikhail had become it.