McCormick’s Pharmacy, Federation Border Station Seven
Lowering the Saverus goggles, Eddie confirmed what they’d suspected with a sharp nod.
Julianna held her gun close to her body, her back pressed to the wall beside the entrance. She cut her eyes at Eddie, who stood in the same position on the other side of the door. With a curt nod, she swung into the mostly empty shop.
“Hands up,” she commanded, pointing her weapon at an elderly woman who had been sweeping the floor of a wide aisle stocked with cold remedies.
Eddie directed his gun at a decrepit man sitting behind the counter, leaning over an adding machine.
“What?” the woman said, dropping the broom and hurrying closer to Julianna.
“Stay back,” Julianna ordered.
You’re holding a senior citizen at gunpoint, Pip scolded in her head. How low have you sunk?
She rolled her eyes. Penrae says that we can’t trust them, and fear and surprise, along with keeping them at a distance, could inhibit them from shifting.
Penrae, the same Saverus who tricked you into jumping into the middle of the enemy’s fleet?
I think we can trust that these two are up to something nefarious. The goggles confirmed that they are shapeshifters.
Or they are just two Saverus trying to make an honest living in a world that would distrust them if they showed their real faces.
Would you shush? I need to concentrate.
Yes, I think the evil villain you’re after just peed herself.
“What is this about?” the man behind the counter asked, looking between Eddie and Julianna.
“We need to see what’s in the back,” Julianna stated, her voice clear and deliberate.
“There are only supplies in the back. Nothing of much interest.” The old woman dared to take a step toward Julianna.
“Stay back!” Julianna commanded, her gun pointed at the woman’s head.
“We’re honest business owners,” the old man said, his body shaking as he attempted to push up from his stool.
Eddie kept his gun trained on the man. “We know what you are, so stop the bullshit, Saverus.”
The woman glanced back at the man. “You must be mistaken. We’re human.”
Eddie let out a breath, fully annoyed. “You have blue scales and creepy green eyes.” He tossed his head in the direction of the man. “And you are yellow with golden eyes.”
“Oh, well, since when is it a crime to be an alien?” the man asked, wheezing between each word as he clutched the countertop, inching forward.
“We simply asked to take a look in the back,” Julianna stated, pointing her gun at the woman before pivoting it in the man’s direction. “You two are going to stay frozen under my supervision while my partner checks it out.”
The old man hobbled forward, fumbling with the half-door dividing the counter from the rest of the shop. “That’s fine with me. You okay with that, Daisy?”
“I don’t see why not,” Daisy said as the man continued to attempt to pull open the door.
Why these two picked these feeble bodies, I don’t know. Jules lowered her weapon, focusing her gaze on the woman only a few feet away.
“I’ve got this,” Eddie stated, striding for the half-door where the old man seemed to be struggling with the lock.
“This darn thing needs to be greased,” the man said, taking a step back so Eddie could unlock it.
“Yeah, it’s pretty stubborn,” Eddie agreed, his voice returning to his more relaxed tone. These two didn’t at all appear to be the criminal Saverus that Penrae had described.
“Mind if I resume sweeping?” the woman asked Julianna, pointing to the broom she’d dropped.
With her curly blue hair and spectacles, she reminded Julianna of her own grandma. Julianna remembered that Granny used to whistle while folding laundry, and often called herself ‘an old fart’. The commander found herself smiling at the long-ago memory.
“The afternoon rush is coming, and I’d prefer to get my chores done before then,” Daisy said, inclining her head toward the clock on the wall.
Maybe these really are just two, hardworking Saverus, trying to make it in a world that won’t accept them for who they are. Shapeshifters aren’t considered the most trustworthy, but is it their fault they have such a powerful skill?
“Yeah, go ahead,” Julianna stated, stepping on the end of the broom so that its other end popped up.
She leaned forward to retrieve the broom for the old woman and only barely registered movement from the corner of her eyes.
The old woman had vanished, shapeshifting into the hulking figure of a man over seven feet tall. He reached forward, grabbing the broom, and swung it around at Julianna’s head. She ducked, then popped back up and brought her arm holding her gun around, slamming it into the massive man’s shoulder to no effect. He picked her up by her neck and threw her into a nearby shelf, knocking it over. Julianna’s head slammed against the sharp, metal shelf, and her gun flew from her grasp.
From the sound of it, the feeble old man had also shifted and was currently fighting Eddie. Julianna scrambled off the shelf and chanced a look in their direction. The old man had taken the form of a giant Kezzin, and he towered over the captain. He’d apparently fixed his problem with the rusty lock, and threw open the half-door, making Eddie jump back to avoid being hit.
The Kezzin grunted before barreling in Julianna’s direction. She kept her shoulders low, darting to the side to get him to chase her, his position matching hers. Tapping the side of his head with her hand, she taunted him in a circle, the two facing off, both looking for the perfect time to attack.
When the huge brute dove for her, Julianna pivoted, putting her back to him before springing backwards into the air. She performed a flip over the imposter, landing hard on his back as he continued forward. Before he knew what was happening, she wrapped her arms around his torso and used her momentum to tumble to the right, pulling the man over her body and down to the ground, pinning his hands. She grabbed his head with both her hands and slammed it into the ground. He fell still at once.
Yeah, so I guess they’re probably not as unsuspecting as I first thought, Pip said as Julianna peeled herself off the giant’s body.
A gunshot stole her attention.
Eddie stood, his feet a shoulder-width apart, with his gun pointed straight out in front of him. On the ground, lying lifeless, was the Kezzin. Its body flickered before shifting into the form of a giant snake with golden scales.
“I thought we agreed not to use deadly force if it could be avoided,” Julianna said, searching the floor for her gun.
“We did,” Eddie said, pointing at the ground behind her. “So what’s your excuse?”
She retrieved her pistol from underneath a package of gauze bandages and cast a look at her back. The man she’d fought had been replaced with a blue serpent. “Oops. I guess I don’t know my own strength.”
“Well, it could still be alive. They do shift back when they’re unconscious,” Eddie reasoned.
“Good point.” Julianna aimed her gun and shot the Saverus in the head. Eddie gave her a questioning look. “What?” she asked, rolling her stiff shoulder. “We can’t risk these assholes waking up and starting another fight.”
“Good point. Shall we see what’s in the back of this seemingly innocent mom and pop shop?” Eddie asked, holding the half-door back for her. It was partially off the hinges, having been punished during the brawl.
Julianna strode behind the counter, gun at the ready, and eyes scanning the back area. She didn’t hear noises indicating that anyone else was back there, but she couldn’t afford to drop her guard again. Damn Saverus had hit a soft spot, reminding her of her grandmother. She understood exactly why they’d taken on such unsuspecting forms.
A curtain divided the pharmacy from the shop area. It was far less secure than most of the pharmacies on the station, but those tended to have lots of customers; the same didn’t seem to be the case for this store.
Julianna and Eddie stealthily moved into the back room, their guns leading their way as they searched the small space. It was no more than fifteen by fifteen feet, and the walls were lined with shelves all holding rows of an identical item.
“Holy fuck!” Eddie exclaimed, looking up to the ceiling.
“Looks like Penrae was telling the truth.” Julianna holstered her weapon and picked up one of the vials on the shelf.
There were thousands of small, labeled, stainless steel containers. The one in her hand read:
“So this is the Saverus’ one-stop shop for getting ahold of new identities,” Eddie deduced, picking up a vial and studying the label.
Julianna set down the vial she held. “Apparently, it’s one of many shops operating right under the Federation’s nose.”
“I don’t get why they don’t just absorb a person’s appearance, or whatever it is they do. Why have a shop for specific identities?” Eddie asked.
“I think it’s supposed to give them options,” Julianna reasoned, picking up another vial.
Eddie held up a bottle. “Hey, how much do you think they charge for these? Do we have a reason for Penrae to look like a Trid?”
Julianna stiffened after reading the label on the vial in her hand. “I’m guessing this one would cost a bit more than the rest.”
“Why is that?” Eddie asked, squinting in her direction.
She turned the label around as she extended her arm, showing him the bottle.
His eyes widened. “ ‘General Lance Reynolds’.”