It is the year 2162. One hundred and fifty years previously, Professor Philopios Polgas created a formula that could transform a human being into their inner beast. We all have an animal inside of us and it is this animal that exposes itself when we experience rage, lust, dominance or any other primal instinct. Professor Polgas gave a select few the chance to experience what it would be like to physically manifest oneself into their inner animal; man to beast in a matter of seconds.
There were forty-two people who drank this astounding formula all those years ago. Many bore children, some of which inherited the gene to transform into the animal of their ancestors. One of these children went by the name of Skye, the great-granddaughter of the original 'Wolf.' Another was known as Raphael, a descendant of the one who held the 'Tiger' inside him. Fate brought them together one fine day in Spring, a day that neither of them would ever forget …
Skye Archer was not a girl who considered herself to be physically beautiful. Indeed, her large brown doe-eyes were something to be admired and her curvaceous frame was the reason for the wolf-whistles that followed her when she stepped outside of the house. But other than this her appearance bordered on average to plain. Skye did not allow herself to dwell on the subject of aesthetic appearance, however, for it was her ambitions that truly lit the fire within.
And it was her very ambition - to work with endangered animals on the far side of the world - that was firmly in her mind as she crossed the local High Street to collect some money from the cash point at the bank. She was absolutely determined to send off her application to work for the charity that very afternoon, one that would take her to the farthest corners of the earth and fulfil her desire to save the beautiful creatures this world had to offer. Truth was, there were very few species that were not endangered; the threats that mankind had been hanging over the heads of the animals for so many centuries were finally coming to pass. Skye, for her part, was determined that these threats should not succeed in their entirety. Travelling the world would also satisfy her need for excitement and adventure, which was hard to come by in West London where she resided. The most interesting thing that ever seemed to happen to her here was being yelled at as a Customer Service Agent during her long dreary hours at work.
"Nice backside," leered a man, as he walked past her. Skye pulled a thoroughly disgruntled look and hurried on, wondering - as she had done many times - how someone could say such an audacious thing to a complete stranger. She pulled her bank card out of her bag and inserted it into the cashpoint, retrieving four £100 bank notes. It wasn't a lot, but this pittance would be going straight into her savings for the travelling.
At that moment, someone knocked into her with such force that she almost fell to the ground.
"Oi!" she yelled, spinning round to view who had collided with her but dread set into her heart as she immediately realized, without a doubt, that she was in danger.
She gulped as five young men surrounded her, all of them smiling in a nasty sort of way. The closest to her, and presumably the one who had knocked her over, grinned widely. He was rather rough and rugged-looking, and Skye noted a nasty scar that ran down his left cheek.
"Hello - sorry about that. We were just wondering if you'd like to hand over your cash."
Standing her ground, she tried not to betray the fear she felt inside. She did not know these men but she knew what they stood for and what they would try to do to her; everyone in the city knew. She also knew that to show any sign of weakness was the worst possible course of action.
Regarding them in contempt, she spoke coolly.
"No, that's not something I want to do. Excuse me, I need to get past."
But the men closed in on her and the one with the scar pushed his face straight into hers so that their noses were practically touching. Several shoppers who witnessed the confrontation hurried on as they walked past. Skye could not believe her bad luck, to be targeted by these muggers. She cursed herself for not being more alert when retrieving her money. Such thugs were numerous in this day and age and they roamed freely on the streets of London; law and order had crumbled significantly in the city over the past century; decent citizens rarely went out at night and even during the day they weren't safe.
"Well, I suggest you start to want to do it," sneered the one with the scar. "Because we're a bit broke right now and need a little help."
"Well, I can't help you!" Skye snapped and she forcibly tried to push her way through the men. They reacted instantly, two of them pushing them back, and Skye's heart pounded within her breast.
Not here, she thought desperately. It was broad daylight and there were flurries of people surrounding them. A long time ago, there might have been a couple of police officers wandering around to keep an eye on things, but not anymore. Skye tried to stay calm and compose herself. Anyone else in this situation would have been in fear of losing their life, but not her. Her fear prevailed, only for the destruction that would follow if this went any further.
Not her destruction … but theirs.
"I'm warning you," she growled at the men, while four arms kept her pinned back. The men, however, just yelled with laughter.
"Really?" said the scarred one, an amused glint in his eye. He raised his hand and ran a finger down her cheek, while Skye flinched, revolted. "What you going to do?" he whispered.
I'll show you! Skye thought, enraged.
At the sound of the sudden voice, the gang of men and Skye whipped their heads round to see where it had come from. A young man, probably in his early 20s, was charging towards them. He had wide, almond-shaped green eyes, shoulder-length jet-black hair and a muscular frame beneath his white shirt.
The stranger stormed up to the gang, his stance aggressive, his head thrown back menacingly.
"Nice one, Pearson. Picking on girls again because you're too much of a coward to target anyone your own size?"
The gang's demeanour shifted from cocky and derisive to cold and rigid. Whoever this man was, Skye noted, he was clearly no friend of theirs and not someone they would take lightly. The sadistic smiles that had been plastered on the faces of the men quickly vanished and it wasn't long before teeth were bared towards the unwelcome newcomer.
"Move on, Renzo," glared the scarred one.
But 'Renzo' stepped forward.
"I don't think so," he snarled, pushing his nose up to the ringleader's. "Put it this way … if you and those other losers don't take your hands off her, I'll make sure you've got no hands left in the next five minutes."
Pearson, though his whole sturdy frame was visibly icy, laughed out loud in contempt.
"You sure you want to be doing that, Renzo? We've got a mutual agreement with your lot … Any dumb act you do now would completely destroy that. And it'd be your fault, trust me."
"So be it."
And Renzo's piercing green eyes flashed a bright orange as he shoved the scarred man's shoulder so hard that the man's hand almost knocked Skye round the face.
Skye, her heart still thudding uncontrollably, fully expected all hell to break loose and she braced herself. However, much to her surprise, the gang did not fight back. The hands released her from their grip and all five men backed away like hissing hyenas, glaring in sheer hatred at the one man who stood before them, whose eyes still blazed a brilliant orange.
"You might be a Morpher, Renzo, but that don't mean that one day we won't creep up behind you and set fire to your little tail. Watch your back, kitty cat. We'll be seeing you, that's a promise."
He's a Morpher! thought Skye, amazed, though it should have been obvious to her, what with all the eye colour changes; it wasn't the reflection of the sun after all, as she had thought; plus, she should have noticed the dilation of the pupils.
The one with the scar gestured to his gang and they sauntered off down the road, bashing into people as they went. Skye was left alone with the young man, who turned to her with an almost apologetic, anxious look on his face, his eyes now a sparkling green, pupils back to their regular size.
"Are you OK?" he said, moving towards her with a concerned outreached hand.
But Skye, who was slightly shaken by the ordeal and not one who was particularly friendly when she was afraid, rejected his hand and shook herself.
"I'm fine," she snapped.
Taken aback by her abruptness, the man said:
"You know who those guys are, right?"
"Some random thugs?"
"Not just any thugs. Pearson, the ugly one with the scar, his dad pretty much runs the whole of East London. They're notorious for the stunts they pull on people. They could have done some serious damage to you …"
"Doubt it. But thanks, you're my hero."
The sarcasm in her voice did not go unnoticed by the young man and the concern left his face, replaced with an affronted expression.
"Doubt it? Seriously? A girl like you … They would have done a lot worse than take a bit of cash off you. It's lucky I was passing through the area."
There was a definite tone of resentment in his voice now, but Skye didn't care. She was not one to glorify knights in shining armour, especially not ones who were on speaking terms with those thugs; and besides, despite the fear she felt which always came automatically to her whenever she found herself mixed up in confrontation, she really would have been able to look after herself.
"Like I said, you're my hero."
"You know, a simple thank you would do." The man frowned.
"I said thanks, remember? What do you want, a medal?"
Renzo stared at her in astonishment.
"Is there a reason why you're being so rude?"
"Erm, well, let's see. I just got cornered by a bunch of guys who wanted to steal my money and then, according to you, would have probably dragged me to a back alley and had their wicked way with me. Then the hero of the day strolls in and saves me from a fate worse than death. It's been a bit of a nasty experience; I think I'm entitled to a little rudeness, don't you?"
"Not to the one who actually saved your pretty little behind from being ravaged by those scum."
Skye felt herself flare up and before she could stop herself, she snapped:
"Let's get this straight - you did not save me!"
"Thought you just said I was your hero?" smiled the young man; whether he was riled or amused was unclear.
"Yes - in the most sarcastic way possible, I said you were my hero. You're not the only one who's special," she blurted out, immediately regretting it.
Renzo's bright green eyes widened.
"What do you mean?"
"Urgh - look, I have to get going. Seriously - thanks for wading in and saving me. It means a lot. Bye."
She hurried off down the road, cursing herself for her big mouth. If there was one thing she tried to keep secret at all times, it was the fact that she had the ability to morph into an animal. This ability had been passed down to her by her great-great grandmother; it had skipped a few generations but she had been born with the gene and, from a young age, she had been able to transform into a wolf at will. However, Morphers such as herself were rare; about one in fifty thousand, if truth be told. And they were born, not made. Their presence was accepted in society, with some even revering them for their ability, but the stigma attached to being a Morpher sometimes affected people's immediate impressions of them; Skye learned a long time ago that advertising it was a bad idea; there were many who feared Morphers and cast automatic judgements. Skye liked to believe that she didn't care what the majority of people thought, but she still preferred not to suffer the hurt when others discovered she was a Morpher and immediately started gossiping and whispering about her.
To meet another Morpher was quite a significant event as they rarely mingled together; indeed, they often kept low profiles. But Skye had no interest in acquainting herself with a fellow Morpher, no matter how unusual the occasion was to stumble upon one.
"Hey! Hey, wait!"
Great, he's following me, Skye thought with a groan.
"I really am in a rush," she said hurriedly, speeding up as the young man fell in line beside her.
"Yeah? Where you off to in such a hurry?"
"Got to buy, erm, a present for my mum. It's her birthday - today - no time to waste."
"Think I might join you. It's my dad's birthday - today - no time to waste either." He grinned down at her, showing pearly white teeth, his eyes crinkling in amusement. "I'm Raphael, by the way."
"Thought your name was Renzo."
"That's my last name. You should know the thugs all call each other by their surnames."
"So you are a thug then?"
"No … not like them. So … you got a name?"
"Nice name. You fancy grabbing a coffee after we've brought the presents for our parents?"
Skye stopped in her tracks and turned warily to face him, the suspicion that he was coming onto her rising steadily in her mind.
"Look," she said, "I'm really flattered you want to take me out. But the truth is, I'm not really interested in guys right now, I have so many important things I need to think about -"
She was cut off by Raphael's roar of laughter.
"I'm not interested in dating you, sweetheart, believe me!"
Skye blushed a deep crimson, feeling hugely embarrassed and realizing her assumptions had got the better of her. Obviously, she scolded herself, he had only been following her because of what she had revealed with her big fat mouth! She wasn't sure why she thought he had been attracted to her, especially (she had to admit) as he was actually very good-looking when she got a good look at him. His eyes were a remarkable shape and deep green; he had a straight nose, a strong jaw and his body was toned and sculpted. His jet black hair hung carelessly about his shoulders. He was definitely out of her league in terms of appearance and her own presumption caused her to feel rather mortified. She knew she wasn't the prettiest girl out there, but did he have to be so abrasive about it?
Still, she thought, it's your own fault for jumping to that conclusion!
"Well," she said stiffly, trying to hide her humiliation as he continued to chortle, "the feeling's mutual. Now, if you don't mind, I have some shopping to do."
"Hey - come on! I didn't mean it in a bad way!"
He reached out to her and clasped her hand in his. Shocked by his forwardness, still embarrassed by her own postulations and yet (surprisingly) strangely endeared to his touch, Skye didn't move or speak, but stared into his piercing green eyes in an almost mutinous manner.
"Look … I'd like to get to know you. Just to chat. It's what you said back there … Are you a Morpher? I had a weird feeling about you as soon as I saw you."
"Alright, yes," hissed Skye, "I am a Morpher. But keep your voice down!"
"Wow … I've never met another one before. I'd be thrilled - honoured even - if you'd think about being friends?"
Skye removed her hand from his grip, composing her dignity and clearing her throat.
"Well, I don't know. I'm not sure you and me would make good friends, to be honest."
"Come on - you were rude to me, I was rude to you. We're even."
"Oh, whatever; you want to be friends, we'll be friends."
"Unless you're hoping for something more?" said the young man, a glint in his eye.
"I assure you I'm not," Skye snapped, glowering at him.
"So how about that coffee?"
"Yes … well, I prefer tea, but coffee will do. But not today, I honestly can't. I have to get home and fill out this application form. It'll have to be another time. Plus, I was thinking of getting my mum's present from this little shop near my house, it'll be less hectic than shopping in the town centre …"
The disappointment showed plainly on Raphael's finely-carved features but he eventually resigned himself.
"OK fine. This means you at least have to give me your tag number so I can contact you again."
Reluctantly, Skye informed Raphael of her tag number. Tag devices had replaced the ancient mobile phones from years back; each individual was assigned a tag number and whenever someone wanted to contact another, they simply said their name into the tag device. A holograph of the person's face would also pop up in the air once they answered their tag device so that it was as though the conversationalists were speaking directly to one another.
"Skye Archer, 814367."
"I'll call you soon, Skye," said Raphael, with a slight grin. He turned away from her and walked in the opposite direction and Skye tried not to stare at him as he walked away. Thoroughly disgruntled with the whole episode, she clutched her bag tightly and made her way towards the nearest shuttle bus-stop. Why oh why had she given her tag number to this man? She had no intention of socialising with any new 'friends', especially not one who was a Morpher like herself! Fair enough, he was very attractive …
Did I just think that? She thought, horrified with herself.
When it came to men, Skye put them somewhere near the bottom pile in her list of priorities. She'd had two boyfriends in her lifetime of eighteen years. The first was when she was eleven and it had lasted a day. The second, when she was fifteen, lasted for three months and he ended up ditching her for the raven-haired bombshell of the school they attended. Unfortunately, she was the last one to find out and she only did so when she caught them eating each other's faces off behind the dustbins one lunch hour. To add insult to injury, this particular stud-muffin of a boyfriend tag-texted her that same day to inform her that he had enjoyed their time together, but he felt that due to her 'little problem' (the morphing) everyone around him didn't really agree with the relationship and it was better they remained 'friends'. Safe to say, the humiliation and hurt that this rejection caused her had rather put her off the notion of boyfriends and she threw herself into her ambitions, her love of animals and focussing on the working world so that she might earn enough money to achieve her dreams.
Besides … this Raphael had made it perfectly clear that he didn't find her attractive; and why in the world was she so bothered about what he thought anyway?
To be fair, he did save you from those thugs, said a little voice in her head as she stood waiting at the bus-stop.
No. Skye knew she could have easily saved herself. Had things turned any nastier, she would have transformed in an instant. One of the upsides to being a Morpher was that they were revered by the thugs of the city. Though there were very few Morphers in the city at all and mostly their identities were secret, should any Morpher show their inner beast to the general public, respect was automatically commanded. And as the thugs worked on the basis of primal animal aggression, they immediately 'bowed' to any who held the ability. But Skye did not want respect from thugs, who made it their primary duty to hurt and terrorize decent people. Dark memories that she had buried from her past spoke of the loathing and hatred she felt towards such thugs, memories that she had needed to repress in order to function …
But yes, she could easily have saved herself and there was no need for any other Morpher to come along and do it for her.
But he didn't know that, argued the little voice in her head. He put himself at risk for you, thinking you were just like everybody else …
"Yes, yes, I know!" she said out loud in an irritable voice. Several people turned to stare curiously at her.
Why she was even still thinking about this man bothered her in the extreme and she forced herself to think of something else. With one last thought of how she hoped that he would not call her and pushing the image of his striking green eyes out of her head, she hopped on the bus that had now arrived and took a seat at the back, slipping into a daydream about living with beautiful Bengal tigers on the far side of the world.