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Have you ever had that nagging suspicion -about anything supposedly impossible- that there is really an easy, obvious solution, just eluding your realisation because you aren’t looking at the problem in the right way? Things like, oh, time travel; faster than light travel; telepathy; matter transmission.
Shape shifting has always been my particular fascination: the ability of a person to transform his or her physical shape at will, into any chosen form. If you look at the concept in a conventional fashion, it’s prohibitively difficult. Conservation of mass makes any variation in size dubious: if one were to become an elephant, it would be an elephant with flesh of such low density that its body would be more like a sail; change to a mouse and still weigh twelve stone: you’d be denser than lead, unable to lift a paw. That little problem is insignificant next to the sheer complexity of marshalling all the atoms in one’s body into a new and specific configuration. What goes where and how do you control it?
And yet… Well, sometimes I just can’t help thinking there’s something really glaringly obviously that I haven’t thought of: that the problem is truly trivial, if only one could see the short-cut.
I was typing a new TF story when it happened. Inspiration was with me, and the words were just flowing. I love it when I can write like that. The text evolves almost without any conscious thought on my part: the story just emerges, and those stories are always the best ones. The laboured ones; the ones that cautiously emerge into existence word by tortuous word, are at best mediocre.
It was a rest day, so there was nothing to interrupt me. I’d risen early, as I usually do, and having nothing scheduled for the day, had simply shrugged into a dressing-gown, made a coffee, and settled down at the PC. I didn’t even tie my dressing-gown cord: though occasionally lonely, there’s a delicious freedom in living on your own. The knowledge that your behaviour and habits whilst behind closed doors need conform to no-one’s approval but your own. My little Sussex cottage, beamed and thatched, painstakingly restored over the last three years, was pleasantly secluded, several hundred yards from the nearest neighbour. Not that I’ve got a lot to hide. I think the worst of it is my taste in artwork, which largely consists of scantily clad women in various stages of transformation into different creatures. Even this doesn’t glare at a visitor: my parents visit fairly often and it’s not something I want to have to explain to my mother. The point is, it's mine and it's private, and if it's warm -as it was today- there was precious little point in dressing properly.
And so I sat at my PC, happy as a clam, coffee at my side, with the story flowing from me like the stitches from a well-oiled sewing machine, almost whirring onto the screen.
At the end of the paragraph where my hero had just realised what was in store for him -permanent transformation into a young stallion- I arose to fetch a second coffee, and, my thoughts focused on how to turn a human into a different creature, completely forgot that my computer sits in a low-ceilinged alcove off the main room.
Very low ceilinged.
I dropped to my knees clutching my ringing skull with both hands and waiting with gritted teeth for the purpley-green stars to stop exploding in front of my eyes.
And then, epiphany. My eyes opened wide and my hands dropped. So did my jaw.
"Oh my God!" I whispered.
Ever look at a stereogram picture? An array of fuzzy dots like static that, if you're one of the lucky ones, suddenly reveal themselves as a three-dimensional image? Or any kind of optical illusion where the brain suddenly twigs to the trick and tells the forebrain what it's really seeing. This was a little like that.
Suddenly, completely out of the blue, I realised how to change my shape. Fully, consciously, with few practical limits. Nearly instantaneous, with no pain or loss of mental faculty. No equipment was needed: no drugs; no DNA viruses; no ceremonies and no potions: just the power of pure intellect, applied in a certain way. An incredibly simple, easy, obvious way. I didn't need an intellect sharp enough to cut diamond, or a will strong enough to deny Reality and rewrite it.
I couldn't believe no-one had stumbled on this before, and yet, thinking about it, who would? It required a jump of quite extreme lateral thinking. Who would ever suppose that if you just -------- and thought about -------- then you could change your body to just about anything you chose, as long as it was a viable life form.
It was too much to take in, and too much to believe. A bit like suddenly being informed that you have won the National Lottery's Roll-Over Jackpot all to yourself. It had to be verified.
The only full length mirror in my house was in the hallway. I crossed the living room, and ducked the low doorway into the hall. My revelation had distracted me admirably from the pain of banging my head, but it was still throbbing painfully, and I didn't want to knock it again if I could help it. The only downside to my house is the large number of low beams and I was going through a painful learning process at the moment.
I stood in front of the mirror and shrugged my dressing gown off to stand naked. My lanky form looked back at me, looking decidedly unimpressive to my critical eye.
I decided not to start off too dramatically. Small things first, just in case I had made a mistake and this thing wasn't as controllable as I thought it was.
I willed my hair to become a little longer. Nothing happened for a moment, and then I willed it in a different way. A very obvious way, once it had occurred to you. My hair visibly lengthened before my eyes.
"Shit," I said, with feeling. I'm not normally given to swearing, but the occasion demanded some kind of verbal outburst: an emotional pressure valve. Afterwards I always felt I should have engaged NASA's PR department to write me a "One Small Step" sort of speech.
Another twist of will, and my hair shrank back to its original appearance. It was effortless. I didn't even have to concentrate particularly hard - in fact it was probably better if I didn't. It was as if something in my mind knew what to do, and all I had to do was stand aside and let it.
I began to experiment in earnest. I changed my eye colour, then the shape of my pupils. I gave myself cat's eyes, and marvelled as my vision changed to become less colourful but sharper. I turned fingernails into claws and back. I made my ears Vulcan points, then elephant-like flaps. I changed my body weight, running the whole gamut from emaciation to Nutty Professor. The transformations were smooth and comfortable; a sort of sliding sensation that felt rather good. They took little more than a second each time, and almost no effort at all. I changed my apparent age, from infant too small to even see myself in the bottom of the mirror, to stooped, wizened old man. On a whim, I shrunk myself to a mere thirty-six inch height, gave myself long, pointed ears that projected out to the sides, and a greenish, wrinkled complexion. My feet became three-digit claws. I cackled at my reflection. "Ready you are, my young apprentice. Only one thing remains. An animal you must become: only then, a master will you be!" Frank Oz couldn't have bettered my performance. Well. Maybe he could.
I hesitated. What I had achieved was amazing. This incredible technique worked beyond hope: pure wish fulfilment. I had no doubts that I could become anything I wished on a whim. But it was still a big step to completely forsake my human shape. But I had to do it. Just one, obvious choice, before I hit the Internet and posted the single most incredible email ever to hit the TSA list. Wait until everyone heard about this! And they'd all be able to do it too, because it was just so easy!
There was only one choice of animal shape really. All I needed to do was decide on things like breed and colour. I considered this for a few seconds, then drew a deep breath and changed.
It worked. Of course it worked: I had known it work, but still… It WORKED! I grew suddenly massive. My chest barrelled, limbs growing thicker and stronger, muscle layering itself around me. A long flowing tail and a mane equally long. Long neck and long face, and a bay coat of glowing red-brown. A horse, naturally a horse: a big, beautiful Anglo-Irish Hunter, fully seventeen hands and then some…
The collision with the ceiling nearly knocked me unconscious. In my enthusiasm, I'd forgotten that equine height is measured from the shoulder. There was room for a horse to stand in my hallway, but only if he kept his head down. For the second time that day, I almost concussed myself, only this time my cursing and swearing emerged with a distinctly equine accent.
Still… I had done it! I was cramped and uncomfortable in the human confines of the hallway, but I had done it! I was a horse! I could feel it all the way through me; the odd feel of hooves: of a body constructed to stand on all fours; my huge heart and lungs; my long head, wide nostrils sucking in a river of air; the pricked ears either side of my aching head.
The front door was in front of me. I was pretty sure I could still open it. It was tempting to head outside and try things out. Maybe play a few practical jokes. I whickered in amusement: I could think of a few things!
But first, to share things around. There were a number of friends I wanted to share this with.
I went to change back. Now how did it go again..? Just… or was it…?
I snorted in annoyance. I had the nagging sensation that this ought to be simple…