Saturday, October 26, 2019

Snippet: Shapeshifter

Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay

Just then the room got so warm that I thought the modeling materials might melt.
Nobody except me seemed surprised.
“Ah, is the air conditioning acting up again?” None of us thought the retrofitted air conditioning which the trustees had finally allowed us to install was worth much – except when it failed, when we became aware of how much worse matters could be. When I’d last been working in the office, the air conditioning had failed during August on a regular basis. If it was now so much worse that it couldn’t handle the benign warmth of May, we were going to be in for a very uncomfortable summer.
“Oh, that’s just Ben,” Ingrid said.
I remembered the fish episode. “Oh, God! You’re not letting him work on shapeshifting again, are you?” When Ben shifted into a smaller form, like a fish, the air heated up with the excess energy released; when he shifted back, he sucked energy out of the air and the office got icy cold. I felt that the temperature effect was quite as much as I wanted to experience, but Ben fretted about the fact that physics predicted much more extreme changes than we actually got.
“He’s being sensible about it now,” Colton promised me.
I seriously doubted that.
“He only changes to air-breathing species.”
That was a pretty low bar for “sensible.”
“Mammals,” Ingrid added.
“And there’s –”
A sound like a fire alarm echoed through the office. I jumped and eyed the sprinklers in the ceiling, but nothing happened. “What the hell was that?” The air around me chilled as I spoke, and I went from sweating to shivering in a heartbeat. For this first day back at the office I’d dressed up my jeans with a new cold-shoulder burgundy top; now I wrapped my arms around myself, wishing I’d settled for one of my comfy old vintage rock band T-shirts.
“I was about to tell you,” Colton said, “he sets an alarm to remind him to change back. A very loud one,” he added unnecessarily.
“That was my idea,” Ingrid said, “after he got out into the main office. As a monkey. A grey langur. I think that’s what he called it, afterwards.”
She waved one hand. “Don’t ask me how, I’m sure monkeys aren’t bright enough to visualize a Möbius strip. We think he might have followed Colton. Anyway, he was out here swinging from windows and chattering and throwing, um, feces, until Annelise coaxed him down with a bit of cruller, and he cuddled up to her and suddenly remembered that he was a human being. So now he has to set the alarm before he shifts.”
“And you trust Ben. In his office. With the door closed. To remember to set an alarm?” I cupped my palms over my bare shoulders, which were rapidly becoming a mass of goose pimples.
“He hasn’t forgotten himself since the monkey episode,” Colton said.
“And if you recall, there are certain problems associated with shapeshifting,” Ingrid added.
I deduced that his clothes still didn’t make the transformation with him. If he was stripping down before each experiment, I could see why my colleagues preferred him to work in the privacy of his own office. Still, it seemed to me that Annelise could have been asked to chaperone him. She certainly knew what he looked like without his pants on. Actually, so did the rest of us, since the fish episode, but she was his girl friend and could be said to have volunteered for the experience. Oh, well. Not my circus, not my monkey, right?
“Ben,” Colton called now, “cut it out with the shapeshifting. Thalia doesn’t like the temperature changes.”
A moment later Ben walked through the wall sideways and turned to face us as his imaginary Möbius strip twisted to deposit him on this side. I was glad to see that he was more or less fully dressed, if a bit disheveled. “Thalia, can’t you make some sacrifices for science? I’m noting the weight differential and plotting that against the temperature changes with each shift.”
“Mathematics,” I said, “is not an experimental science. And why can’t you just change to something approximately your size, so you don’t keep messing up the temperature for the whole office?”
Ben gave me a pitying look through his smudged glasses. “Thalia, are you forgetting that I weigh a hundred and sixty pounds?”
“Don’t think I ever knew that, but so what?”
“Do you really want me to turn into a jaguar?”
“Well, no, but…”
“What hundred-and-sixty-pound mammal do you suggest that I shift into?”


  1. Hrmm.. depending on the size of the office a smaller pony (or larger miniature horse) might be a possibility. There are also bovines of smaller size.

  2. We really don't want to upset the trustees by introducing large animals to the office. They already feel that we don't have proper respect for the historic house whose third floor we're using. Sheesh, a couple of little fires, some minor bomb damage, a couple of grackle invasions and they get all upset.

    1. But sharp-clawed cats.... or skunks or... well, now.

  3. Oh... I wish I'd thought of skunks! Too late now.


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