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Prologue

Bryan Harley stood quietly in the night air, observing the house before him. It wasn’t terribly late at night, but still many of the nearby windows were dark. Bryan was a Shape Shifter. At the moment, he was naked, kneeling behind a bush. The evening air was getting crisp as fall came into its own. Bryan didn’t care to be cold, but it was necessary; after all, he needed to hide. Bryan was exceptionally skilled at hiding. Shape Shifters or Shifters as they are called, are rather adept at not being spotted. Bryan could not turn himself into a couch or any nonsense like that, but he could change his skin tone to whatever he liked. He changed his skin, rippling his flesh and breaking up the pattern of his body, defusing his form. Bryan couldn’t become a couch, but he could turn himself into any other human shape he wanted, even changing his voice to that of the human he copied.

The downstairs lights went off in the house. Bryan paused for a moment before creeping to the front door. He had a key given to him by Angelica Vies, his employer. He looked around before slipping the key into the lock, and then turned it with a soft click. Carefully, he opened the door and stepped inside. A bristly welcome mat brushed the soles of his feet, tickling them. He looked around the entryway. Above him, the sound of a shower started.

Good, he thought. That should keep him from hearing me.

Bryan made his way up a narrow staircase, the narrow carpet runner making his approach even quieter. He turned his skin off-white to match the stairwell walls, just in case his quarry wasn’t in the shower. Bryan only held a small syringe clasped in his hand, hidden from view. The staircase wound up to the second floor. Bryan padded down the upstairs halls and peeked through the gap of a bedroom door. The room was bright, making his eyes water for a moment. Bryan moved around a queen-sized bed and pressed himself against the wall next to the bathroom door. This is where he would wait.

While the movies made it seem like shower ambushes were the best, Bryan disagreed. It was one thing if you were planning on shooting the mark, but didn’t work so well when you wanted them alive. No, he couldn’t kill the mark -- he would need information for months to come -- and he didn’t fancy wrestling a slippery, soapy man to the ground while also trying to stick him with a needle. Instead, Bryan waited and thought back to when he’d started all this Shifter stuff.

1972 was when Bryan figured out what he was. He was in junior high at the time. He’d just been caught taking a candy bar from a gas station. Bryan was an accomplished thief but had been caught this time, so he bolted, hiding under some trash behind the station as the clerk ran out back looking for him. Bryan had heard of the clerk, some guy who did some time for breaking into houses. Bryan figured that’s how he’d been caught. Thieves know their own. He also knew this guy was going to kick his ass. The clerk had been clear about that, yelling it at the top of his voice and thirteen-year-old Bryan was on the verge of pissing himself. He just wanted to not be found, he wanted to blend in with the trash. The clerk searched for a solid ten minutes before giving up, passing Bryan by several times. It wasn’t until Bryan stood and looked down at his hands that he saw why he hadn’t been seen. His hands were black and shiny like the trash bags.

Bryan stood against the wall smirking, thinking back on the memory. After freeing himself from the trash, he’d had to spend a day getting his hands back to normal.

Bryan didn’t truly start to come into his abilities until he was seventeen. He sighed, remembering the year. Britney Wamble had shot him down when he asked her out. She wasn’t rude about her rejection in any way, but Bryan was still pissed as hell. Who had she been to say no? He’d gotten her back and that cocky little prick Richard Hicks, too. Richard was one of those good-at-everything, never-made-a-mistake kind of guys. Bryan hated that type. He remembered the night well. He’d discovered if he concentrated when he touched someone, he could mimic their appearance perfectly. Later he’d learn to find scars and learn a mark’s personality, but in 1976, Bryan hadn’t progressed that far yet. Still he thought he’d made a pretty decent Richard.

He’d tracked Britney to a small shop where she worked and followed her home. Bryan closed his eyes, relishing the memory. Oh, the lesson he’d taught her. Bryan smiled at the thought; she was one of many. Bryan hadn’t done his homework and when she told the authorities it was Richard Hicks who had raped her, Richard was able to alibi out. He’d apparently spent the week with his family in Portland.

Bryan shrugged. You were young and dumb. He didn’t make mistakes like that anymore. Now he knew what he was doing, knew how to mimic people to a T. After his failed attempt with Richard, Bryan had doubled his effort at mastering his craft. He caught his reflection in the glass of a picture on the wall. It was a picture of the mark and his wife. Bryan was currently taking on the appearance of someone he’d run into at the airport. Bryan couldn’t even guess what his own appearance was anymore; it had been decades since he’d been himself. He reached out to get a closer look at the picture, looking at the mark and his wife. She wasn’t anything to write home about, but from his recon, he’d only have to screw her once every few weeks.

Families were the quickest thing to blow a job. Pulling one over on someone’s co-workers was hard enough, but convincing a mark’s spouse that you were their loved one was something else. Bryan spent weeks watching people, seeing how they worked together and how they played off each other. He’d also have to get little details from the mark, things like family trips and the like, things that kept someone’s mind at ease when a loved one didn’t seem right. In this regard, it was easier to be a woman; men rarely picked up on the little things.

The shower stopped. Bryan focused, gripping the syringe tightly in his hand. He held his breath as the bathroom door opened and a figure came out in a towel. Bryan rushed forward, wrapped his arm under the mark’s chin, and pulled back as he jammed the needle in the guy’s throat. The man jabbed an elbow into Bryan, but Bryan held fast and waited for the tranquilizer to take effect. As it did, the man’s body went limp in his arms. Bryan lowered him to the bed and pulled off the towel. He placed his hand on the man’s chest, his own flesh rippling as it took on its new appearance. Bryan began methodically inspecting the mark’s body for tattoos or scars, finding only a few. The wife wouldn’t be home for two days. Bryan made the skin on his belly split open, revealing a plastic bag with a phone inside. He turned on the phone and dialed Angelica.

“Did you get him?” she asked, not even bothering with a greeting.

“Yeah, I’ve got him. Where do you want to store him until we’re done?” Bryan asked.