The gentle breeze eased across the deck while the tide below rocked the boat gently on the water. Lying in a chaise lounge, his eyes closed and seemingly dead to the world, lay Captain Jacob Jarvis. In one hand, he held a signed first edition of The Old Man and The Sea, and on the deck next to the lounge chair, an open bottle of hundred-year-old scotch.
Captain Jacob Jarvis had retired from active duty from the Space Council and had fought hard to live the remainder of his years on Earth. The last mission to Earth had been problematic. Rush missions usually are, and, in the end, he stayed than intended to ensure the true nature of his visit remained hidden.
At the time, he’d decided he wasn’t ready to retire. But soon after he returned to his home planet, he found that he could no longer shift and return to his natural state as he had been able to. His doctor told him that it was time to retire. Shapeshifters do live extraordinarily long lives, especially compared to Earth years, but they are mortal. Jarvis knew he had fewer years ahead of him—time to enjoy them.
Arrangements were made for his retirement from the Space Council. His affinity for Earth was well known, and he found that after so many years of taking human form, it was the most effortless body for him to maintain. He requested to return to Earth and live out his remaining years as a human.
His ship had been outfitted with a cloaking device, loaded with provisions, and prepared to stay in space indefinitely without support. He said his goodbyes to his home planet and embarked on one last journey.
Jarvis parked the main ship in a LaGrange point outside Mars and loaded his shuttle with his things. The ship would remain parked in place in the gravity-neutral well. He shut everything down and, without looking back, departed in the shuttle.
He had chosen a tropical location on the seashore to make his home. He landed on the beach at night, unloaded his belongings, and then hid the shuttle deep in a swamp far from human habitation. Sensors on the boat would alert him if anyone came near. He walked several miles until he came to a community where he had stashed a human vehicle and headed to his boat, where he chose to live.
On board the boat, he stared at the small locker he had allowed himself to bring. Most of his memorabilia remained on the ship, and he had to admit that he would miss being around all the items he had collected over the centuries. He brought small items he couldn’t part with, including the old map and swords from Diedre’s time—his most precious keepsakes.
He took a sip of scotch and let his mind drift to Deidre, who he met when on his first assignment to Earth His time here had spanned from the sixteen hundreds until the mid-twentieth century, and he had loved many women overall those years, all redheads. But his heart was and always would be with Diedre, a pirate, and a woman to be reckoned with. Their adventures together had become the stuff of legends both on Earth and in his world. She was the true love of his life.
Jarvis had fallen asleep when something bumping against the boat roused him. Startled, he sat upright in the lounge chair and swung his legs over the side. The book slid to the deck, and the bottle of scotch almost spilled as he rose. Seconds later, a voice drifted above the swish of the water slapping the hull.
“Ahoy there. Permission to come aboard, sir?” A female voice called cheerfully.
By now, Jacob was standing and facing the back of the boat. “Eh, yes, please come aboard, mam.” He managed to speak as he hurried to the back safety gate to unlock it. His old legs wouldn’t move as fast or steadily as he liked, so she was almost up to the safety gate when he got there. He unlatched the gate, and she strode past him.
Standing on the boarding deck was a beautiful redhead. Her long red hair blew in the sea air, framing her face in a blur of red. Shaking his head slightly as if to shift his eyes from the sun, Jacob blinked twice to refocus his eyes. Deidre?
The boat gently rocked under the extra weight and movement on the deck as they climbed the stairs to the top deck. Steading himself, he waved his free hand, inviting her to sit. She moved with ease into the middle of the deck. He took a deep breath and forced himself to talk.
“I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
She faced him and took his hand, and grinned the grin he knew so well. His heart pounded in his chest.
“I heard you were back, Jacob!” She pulled him into a kiss and hug. Centuries of memories flooded his mind as he returned the kiss.
“Deidre!” He managed to stutter when she finally broke the kiss and stepped back.
Jacob stood staring at her as Deidre nodded yes.
“But how? You died centuries ago.”
“As did you several times, as I recall.”
He shuffled his feet on the deck and looked down. “Yeah. about that...”
“Never mind, it's ancient history.’” She looked serious. “You don’t look good, Jacob.”
That’s when it hit me. “You—you’re like me?”
She nodded. “Yes. The Space Council also sent me to Earth. I was there on another assignment when I met you.”
She sat down on a bench. Jacob offered a glass of his scotch, which she accepted. And began to tell him her story.
The moon hung low over the bay, casting weird shadows over the water as the boat bobbed in the water. The changing tide causes it to shift slightly around its anchor. After several hours of talking, comparing lives, and telling tales of their various missions all over the galaxy, she put her glass down and looked serious again.
“You need to shift again.” It was more of a statement than a question. He nodded yes and pointed to the hatch leading to the lower deck.
“I use a small stateroom as a shifting room.”
“Don’t let me stop you. Do what you need to.” She motioned to the hatch. “I’ll hang out in the living room and keep watch for aliens.”
Jacob reached over and kissed her before he passed through the hatch.
In the past, he had been able to take a desired form and persona and maintain it for an extended period without having to return to his natural state. Often, he had stayed in one form for several decades or even centuries without a problem. He was also aware that the differences in time between his natural world and the world he was in made a huge difference in how long he could stay in character—the slower Earth time always affected him when he came back.
The last mission to Earth had shown him that changing and staying was getting more challenging for both bodies. His earthly body was much older and worn out, and his natural body showed signs of degeneration and the effects of the many changes over his lifetime. The doctors told him that staying human too long would wear out the human body faster. His body needed to rest best in his natural state. When he came back to Earth for the last time, arrangements were made for him to have a place to return to his natural state as needed. He knew he would eventually be in one state or the other when he finally gave in to his fate.
His love of the sea and being on the water had made the idea of a boat seem natural. When the idea of his having to change regularly was discussed, a boat appeared to be a natural place because the chances of his being observed were slighter on the water than on land near people. He selected the catamaran boat because it was stable and more manageable for him to handle by himself and blended into the places he wanted to visit.
As he closed the door and prepared to make the change, he considered not changing again. It was tempting to stay human, but the afternoon and the shock of seeing Deidre had tired him. He needed to rest.
As he went through the transformation, questions about Deidre filled his mind. While he was more than glad to see her again, why hadn’t she contacted him before, and where had she been all this time?
Several hours later, Jacob emerged from his stateroom. While his body felt better, his mind now wrestled with new thoughts and old feelings. He had long ago made peace with the fact that he was dying. Or at least until late yesterday afternoon, he had been.
The sun had risen when he came up on deck. Deidre sat in the chaise lounge chair, drinking orange juice and munching on a bagel.
“It's a glorious day!” She proclaimed as she held up her glass of juice. The sun reflected through the orange liquid in the clear glass and glinted against her red hair.
Jacob found himself at a loss for words as the rail. The sight of Deidre’s red hair blowing in the gentle breeze of the late morning reminded him of their many adventures centuries ago. Looking past her and at the waters beyond the boat, he considered what was next.
Deidre joined him and wrapped her arms around him. She kissed him, and he responded, wrapping his arms around her and reliving something he thought he’d never experience again.
The boat gently rocked as they sat on a bench. Deidre brought him orange juice and a toasted bagel, and coffee for both from the tiny galley kitchen below deck. Jacob sat back, munched the bagel, and took in the new reality. Many questions still rattled around in his mind. But he said nothing for some time.
“So, tell me, what's the plan?” He finally spoke. It had occurred to him that her being here was more than random. There was a reason she was here.
He understood why she had never revealed her true identity to him when he met her back in the sixteen hundreds. But why was she here now? It was more than just moral support and rekindling an old flame. Both of which were fine with him. As much as he wanted to know the truth, a bigger part of him didn’t want to ask.
Deidre leaned back on the bench and stared at her coffee for a minute before she answered. “Jacob. It's our seventh great-granddaughter. She is ill and needs our help.”
He leaned back in his chair, speechless. He knew that he had children here. Much had been made of their relationship at the time. But no one had ever hinted that Deidre was more than another human at the time or afterward.
Deidre pulled a tablet from her bag. She tapped the screen and then turned the tablet around to face him.
“This is our family line. From our child, Lauren, to today. Seven generations of humans. Only not quite. You and I knew the rules about mixing with the natives. There are good reasons for them.”
Jacob nodded yes, transfixed by the chart and names on the screen.
“You remember the stink it caused when I became pregnant with Lauren?”
Again, he nodded yes.
“There was another reason for it besides the obvious. A shifter had never mated with another shifter in alien form. They didn’t know what would happen. Usually, when we mate with an alien species, the baby dies soon afterward. So, while tragic, it ends the possible line. But Lauren lived. Thus, creating a whole new problem—a human born with alien and human DNA. The Council didn’t know what to do with me then, so they left me here to raise the child and watch it for signs of our DNA. Which I was glad to do. Eventually, my human body died, and the Space Council closely watched her. She never exhibited any symptoms of our DNA. So as far as she knew, she was human. She had kids, who had kids until now. They were all watched closely. No one ever showed any signs of our DNA. Fortunately, shifter DNA didn’t show up in Earth’s test, so there was no indication they held extra DNA.”
She tapped the screen on the tablet and brought up more pictures. Detailed reports from doctors appeared on the screen. Finally, a picture of a young red-headed woman appeared.
“This is Samantha, your seventh great-granddaughter.” Jacob took the tablet and looked at the picture closely. He could see the resemblance between Deidre and him. The shape of the face and the features said she was his. Her red hair sealed the deal. “She is an orphan. Her parents, her mother was also our descendent, were killed about six months ago. She was injured and in the hospital for several weeks. As she is fifteen with no other family, she was released to foster care but became ill.
“So, she’s sick. What’s wrong?”
“They don’t know what's wrong or how to try to treat her. Everything they’ve tried so far hasn’t worked.”
“And The Space Council thinks it's because she has shifter DNA in her?”
“Yes, from the test they’ve been able to conduct from their labs and the evidence that Earth’s test shows. For some reason, our DNA is trying to assert itself and take over her body, which is treating it like an infection and attacking it.”
“What am I supposed to do? I’m not a doctor.”
“I know. We need to see her and tell her the truth. She is sick because she has alien DNA, and maybe take her back with us.”
The rule had always been that no human could be brought back to his planet for several reasons. One important reason was that they wouldn’t survive on the planet due to the atmosphere. Jacob knew this was different. This human had shifter DNA in her and was part alien, but he had seen what happened on other planets when a new species was introduced. It hadn’t gone well.
Deidre filled him in on all the details of the generations before. One thing that had always puzzled the Space Council was why none of the others had been affected, especially in the earlier generations. The only reasonable conclusion that they could draw was life expectancy. Until the last several generations, the average life expectancy had been much shorter. Samantha was now older the any of her previous generations had lived. The other consideration was that environmental factors played a big part in awakening her alien DNA.
While the discussion had focused on the possible causes of the girl's predicament, The more immediate problem was what to do about her. To that end, it was agreed that they would meet with her, see the situation firsthand, and go from there, to tell her everything eventually. Several times, Jacob mentioned that she might be unable to handle the new information mentally. He questioned if telling her everything would do more harm than good. Deidre agreed. They had both seen what humans with mental issues could do or be like and the results of a mental breakdown.
While Jacob didn't have any direct communication with the Space Council, as he was officially retired and not working, Deidre did. She had been in constant contact with the Space Council, updating her on Samantha’s condition and what the doctors were doing. The last report said that she was showing signs that her body wasn’t responding to treatments being tried.
They pulled up the anchor the following day, opened the sails, and headed out of the bay. It would be a full day of sailing to get to the town where Samantha was. If the strong wind died down, they’d use the engines.
Jacob felt a pang of homesickness as they left the bay heading north. He had been anchored in the same bay when he met Deidre in the sixteen hundreds. This time he was leaving the bay, possibly for the last time. Deidre was feeling nostalgic and said she’d miss the bay as they rounded the entrance into the main channel heading up the coast.
The winds died down, and after hours under engines, fuel was getting low by late afternoon, and they stopped at the next marina, refueled, and bought extra supplies. Jacob noted a crowd of young people on the far end of the docks milling around an old schooner moored there. He asked about it, and they told him they were considering buying it and restoring the schooner.
Back on his boat, he wrote down the name of the old ship and the location. Deidre asked him about it. “Just an idea.” The old schooner had put a gem of an idea in his mind, and he hadn’t fully worked it out yet, but it would have to wait until they had dealt with Samantha’s illness before he could even think about it. But it was still good to have ideas, no matter how far-fetched.
After sunset, they arrived in the coastal town close to where Samantha lived. The rising moon reflected off the water as they found a slip to dock in and found the Harbor Master, checked in and paid for rent on the slip.
Fortunately, Deidre had all the necessary paperwork to rent a car. Jacob had some identification but not everything needed for such things. They rented a van, which allowed them to put in what they would need when Jacob had to change again, which would probably be soon. They knew shapeshifting in unusual and unsecured places was dangerous, but Jacob’s condition made it likely that he would do so soon.
The rest of the night was spent driving the van inland to the nearby city. The early morning traffic was light but starting to get heavy as the sun rose and the city woke up. By then, the GPS in the van had pointed them to the hospital, and they parked in the visitor garage near the hospital.
The next step was to figure out how to get to see Samantha. The Space Council had furnished Deidre with all the reports, room numbers, doctor’s names, and even the names of the technicians and nurses who worked on the floor. But it didn’t tell them how they would get to see her as they would have to figure it out on their own. As nonfamily to all involved, they had no reason to be there.
Jacob took the lead when they approached the main desk in the lobby.
“I’m Jacob Jarvis, I’m Samantha Brown’s great grandfather, and this is Deidre Smith,” the name on her driver’s license. “She’s her aunt. We’ve just heard about Samantha and rushed here to see her.”
The young lady behind the desk took their information and gave them forms to fill out, which they did and were eventually pointed to the nearby elevators and told what floor she was on. That was easier than they expected. The three-minute ride up the elevator was the longest ride either of them had taken in centuries.
The elevator doors opened with a ping, and a soft female voice announced what floor they were on. The wide hallway felt eerily empty. Glancing at each other, they worked their way down the hall past several doors that were opened, showing various people in beds with machines hooked to them. Signs next to the doors proclaimed various restrictions, from diet to safety precautions such as masks and the like.
About halfway down the hall, they found Samantha Brown's room. Stopping in the middle of the hall, they hesitated for a moment. Jacob squeezed Deidre’s hand, and they entered the room.
The array of machines hooked to her was dizzying. Several machines beeped regularly, and at least one showed her heart rate, temperature, pulse, and oxygen levels. Several IV bottles hung from a couple of poles at the headboard. Their clear plastic lines ran to needles taped to both of her arms. Wires snaked their way out of the loose fitting one size fits all hospital gown that covered her, leading to the various boxes on stands beside the head of the bed.
They knew that she was sick from reading the reports. But seeing the physical evidence and the equipment needed to keep her alive was another matter. They were both stunned by the amount of equipment crammed into the small room.
They hesitated, standing in the doorway. Samantha perked up a little at the sight of strangers who weren’t doctors.
Approaching the bed, they introduced themselves as they had downstairs. She asked how they knew about her. They said that they had heard about a girl being extremely sick and that doctors couldn’t figure out what to do with her, and when they checked, they found she was related to them, and they came as soon as they could. Samantha seemed to take the story at face value.
Deidre sat on the edge of the bed next to Samantha and took her hand. Gently holding it, she traced the lines of her hand under a finger and realized that her hands were soft, squishy, and had no natural substance. Her human bones were gone.
“Tell me, Samantha, what does your hand feel like?”
“Oh, I don’t know, it's hard to explain. It's like it's there, but it's not there. I can feel sensations like you touching it. But when I try to use them, they don’t work.”
Deidre nodded and looked up at Jacob. He pulled a chair over and sat so he was facing her directly.
“Samantha, we have something to tell you. I know it's going to be hard to understand or believe. But It's true and explains why you are sick, and your body is changing the way it is.”
She nodded, and he continued. “I know this is difficult to comprehend, but I am not human. I am from another planet and was sent to Earth to gather information as part of a planet protection program. Many centuries ago, back in the early sixteen hundreds, I met your great-grandmother, seven times removed. We fell in love, and things happened as they will, and another line was started—your material line. I believed her to be human, but she was not. She was of my kind. We are shapeshifters who can take human form or almost any alien form. Because we were both in human form, the baby born was human, and we did not expect that the human baby would carry alien DNA.” I stopped for a second to see if she was comprehending.”
“Go on, tell me.”
Samantha, you are part shapeshifters, like us, but for some reason which we haven’t figured out, our DNA has never created any issues until now. But this is what is happening to you. Your body is trying to fight the new genes asserting themselves and why your limbs and hands feel like they do, and why you're so sick.”
She tried to sit up in the end but only managed to rearrange herself in a less comfortable position. Deidre helped her move pillows and get more comfortable as we waited for her reaction.
“So, let me get this straight. You both aren’t human, but you take the form of humans here on Earth. You’ve both been here before, in the past, and you two screwed back then as humans. So, your kids are all human, with a bonus DNA gene floating around in us. Which until now, as far as you know, hasn’t been a problem.”
“That’s it in a nutshell,” Deidre confirmed her summary.
“But you came back now because?”
“I came back to Earth to retire. I spent much time here and am very fond of the planet and its humans. I’ve been here several times over the centuries. Deidre has been here, but not as often as I have. We were both here, back in the sixteen hundreds. I was on a mission to study your water supplies, and she was on a different mission. We met and fell in love. Neither of us knew the other was anything but human. It wasn’t until recently that we discovered we were both shapeshifters.”
“Sooo… How old are you two?”
“It's hard to explain. Our planet’s time is very different than it is here. Let's say that we’re way older than we look. In Earth years, probably about a thousand years old. Deidre is a little younger, but not by much.”
Diedre spoke. “Our people have been tracking all the descendants from my child back in the sixteen hundreds. None of them have shown any signs of the problems you’re experiencing. This led us to conclude that something triggered our dormant DNA to assert itself. We don’t know yet what it is.”
Samantha closed her eyes as if trying to take in the new information. We waited quietly. I kept glancing at the door expecting a nurse or doctor to show up any minute. The hallways were too quiet. I barely heard any movement outside of the room. This began to concern me. I’ve been in hospitals for centuries and rarely is a floor this quiet.
“When is the next nurse due in to check on you?”
“They pretty much leave me alone most of the day. I think they’re scared of me. I heard some nurses refuse to work with me. But they come in every shift change and do a check and see if I need anything. THEY COME when I ring the bell, but I don’t think they like it.”
Jacob shot a glance at Deidre—time to get to the details. Deidre sat straight on the bed and looked Samantha in the eyes. “I need to ask you some questions, and you must be honest with us.” In turn, Samantha nodded yes and swallowed hard.
“How do you feel? Can you walk and go to the bathroom by yourself?” We wanted to ask her many questions but had to see if she could travel first.
“I can walk a little, but I need help. My hands and arms mostly don’t work right, and I feel weird. My breathing is off too. As for the bathroom, at this point, I can do most of it by myself, but it's not easy with my arms and hands not working right.”
“Okay. We don’t know what's next for you or how to help you, but we think you should come with us. If you're becoming what I think you are, we are in a better position to help you deal with it than the doctors are.”
“You mean, I’m turning into a...”
“Shapeshifter. Like us. Yes. Your hands and arms are beginning to become more like us in our natural state. Your body will eventually follow suit. The doctors here have no clue what's happening or how to deal with it. We don’t either, except that we already know about shape-shifting and how to change forms, which is what you're doing. Don’t get us wrong. The doctors here have done a great job of caring for you, but they’re way over their heads.”
Samantha sat straight up in the bed and pushed back the covers, which revealed that her hospital gown was barely covering her, and the wires and IV lines ran from her arms and upper chest.
“You have clothes here?” She nodded towards the small closet on the far side of the room. Jacob retrieved the clothes and other bags from the bottom of the shelves. Nodding to Deidre, he closed the door behind him as he went out to the hallway.
Twenty minutes later, the door opened, and Deidre nodded for him to come in. Samantha sat on the side of the bed, wearing a light top, blue jeans, and sneakers. Her red hair was still messed up from getting the op on, and she was trying to brush it with a small brush. The machines had all gone wild when they unhooked the wires from her IV needles which lay on the tray next to the bed, their valves shut off.
“Let's get out of here before they come looking,” Deidre insisted, and Jacob didn't need to be told twice.
The doors to the elevator closed just as they heard a nurse scream for help as she entered the now-empty room.
It took them some time to get out of the hospital and get to the rental van. But they made it without being caught. They stopped several times to let Samantha rest, walk, and try to eat before they made it to the dock where Jacobs's boat was moored.
The late evening moon found them sailing out of the harbor. Jacob needed to change again, and Deidre took over the boat while he rested. She sat with Samantha and explained more about their lives. Eventually, Samantha fell asleep on a bench in the main cabin.
It was early morning when Jacob came out of his room. Still not feeling as well as he’d like, he did feel better. The two ladies sleeping in the main cabin brought a smile. He made his way to the deck. Checking the navigation system, he found they were on course to return to the bay where they started. Diedre did love it as much as he did. As he made coffee and a bagel in the galley kitchen, it occurred to him that decisions would have to be made soon. Jacob was eating on the main deck when Dedrie came from the cabin.
“How soon can we head back home?” Sitting across from Jacob, she took what was left of his bagel.
“I don’t know. It would take a day at least to get back to my landing ship, from there to my mother ship.”
“She's not good. I couldn’t move her this morning. I barely got her into your shifting room. She’s shifting faster than I expected. “
“Shit.” was all he could get out. “Is she awake?”
“Yes, but not coherent, and her temperature is up. She needs a proper changing room.”
“Can she change here?”
“She may have to. I’ve talked to the Space Council doctors, who say her chances of surviving her first shift are slim, especially here without support.”
“Okay, let's do this. I’ll head for the landing ship, you take care of her, and if she shifts before that, we’ll deal with it.”
They needed to get back to the bay to get to the landing ship. This would take time, and this boat was a little slow, even with the engines.
Jacob was at the boat’s helm two hours later when Deidre called from the cabin.
Below deck, they helped Samantha change from a human into a creature no one on Earth had ever seen. Fortunately, with their help, Samanta survived, and over the next few days, they could transmit data to the Space Council. It was determined that a newly developed antibiotic contained a chemical trigger that caused her alien DNA to activate. The good news was that in discovering how Samantha changed, the Space Council scientist discovered how to rejuvenate the shifting process. The new compound would give Jacob his strength back and the ability to shift less often.
Jacob and Deidre taught Samantha how to shift back into her human form, and then Jacob and Deidre had a chat with her.
“Sam, we are both going to stay on Earth. We have come to love it, and it has given us you. I have decided to purchase a schooner I saw a couple of weeks ago and sail the world. As you have no family, we would love for you to join us.”
Deidre smiled and hugged her. “We would.”
Six months later, they set sail on a moonlit tide aboard the newly christened Shifter III. With Dedrie and Samantha beside him, Jacob felt at peace for the first time in centuries.
He finally had a family and was sailing on the waters of the home he loved. He would die on earth a happy man.