Ripple In The Pond
by Gary Starta
forum: Ripple In The Pond
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Ripple In The Pond


"The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change" — Scorpions

          Spreading disillusionment like a virus throughout her body, the gun poking at Tanya Charles' ribs threatened more than just her existence. The weapon disrespected her way of life. Raised to embrace change and respect freedom, Tanya believed the White House represented the last vestige where words mattered. But you couldn't trust the history books. The white Roman columns had become a façade for Pres. James P. Knowles to hide in. Up until now, the structure concealed Knowles' lies and protected his true identity quite nicely. Now Tanya's intrusion threatened that alliance. The President knew the only cure was her demise.

          She wouldn't be in this mess right now if she simply continued to blend in and accept the status quo. But Tanya Charles couldn't accept existence as a zombie. Her genes were engineered for rebellion. Sooner or later, her desire for change would outweigh reason and discretion. Like dough rising in a baking pan, the seed of her discontent began to grow a long time ago. It finally forced her to quit her job and move to Washington.

          Three months earlier, Tanya worked as an administrative assistant for a Manhattan advertisement agency. Her boss, Fenton, often utilized Tanya's witty remarks in ad campaigns for such products as beer and automobiles. He intentionally failed to compensate the talented author for her ideas. "You can really think outside the box," the executive would often remark to Tanya, as if this would compensate for his plagiarism.

          Tanya managed to maintain a sharp edge on her wit over the years thanks to people like Fenton. The irony of their situations provided ample cynicism. But their trappings also frustrated her, and in an effort to maintain her sanity, she often joked about their plight. She once wrote in a diary: "They so desperately want to change themselves, yet they continue to live in a society which commands them be the same person day in and day out. The majority of them go to the same jobs every day as if portraying an actor in a play. All the talk about makeovers and reinventing oneself is just babble on a talk show. They are all living in a chrysalis, never daring to become butterflies." Charles destroyed the diary, but continued to play out this conversation in her head countless times. And although the self-conversation surged within her like molten lava, she would not bare her to soul to anyone—not even her foster mother Amanda. Tanya worked hard to earn Amanda's respect. If she were ever to reveal her true makeup, all that respect would be flung out the window like rotten meat. Consequently, she would also be betraying her late parents. For her own safety, they made her agree never to disclose her real name.

          As a consequence, Tanya commiserated, taking pity for all those souls living repetitious lives in quiet desperation. Perhaps she identified with these souls on a subconscious level. She had earned membership in their club as well. And more than anyone, she was trapped in a confined existence. Yet, she could not believe the majority of humans stood as much to lose. Charles blended in mostly to secure her survival. The revelation of her true identity could spell life or death. She wondered what held the rest of humanity at bay.

          Doubtful that her fellow humans were really content to live out their unimaginative existences, she decided to conduct an experiment. Maybe they would dare to change if they were encouraged to do so. One day she introduced her opinions to fellow subway riders. "Our leaders are becoming so concerned with being politically correct that they are losing sight of the bigger picture. We must strive to live in complete harmony with nature if we want the world to survive. That means we sometimes have to offend some people who are blatantly abusing our ecosystem under the guise of democracy." The majority of her subway buddies looked on with disbelief that day. But soon they would be converted to supporters, taking great solace in Tanya's profound statements.

          Many of the commuters encouraged Charles to run for office. They maintained a leader of Tanya's caliber would keep the press busy with stories of substance. "The rags wouldn't have time to report on what kinds of junk food our political prisoners enjoy," one rider named Seymour maintained. "A candidate like Tanya would encourage me to vote again," another commuter pointed out.

          Tanya found she was not immune to human praise. She wrestled with the decision to quit her job for several nights based upon her friend's compliments. Maybe she could achieve her goal in small increments without detection. The people had spoken and Tanya felt obligated to serve them. By the end of that week, Charles had resigned from the marketing firm and applied to serve as an intern at the White House.

* * *

          When the Office of Strategic Initiatives notified Tanya it had accepted her application for internship at the White House, the ambitious 33-year-old quickly traded her Bronx apartment for a townhouse in Baltimore.

          Charles suddenly felt transformed. Feeling much less restricted, she even confided her goals to her foster mother, believing the internship would open new doors for her. "My job may still be confining; but at least I will able to effect some small change."

          Amanda feigned happiness, hoping Tanya was just going through a phase. She only revealed her true feelings to her friends. "No one but a fool could hope to change Washington."

* * *

          "Mr. President, I have some news which should cheer you up. Some young, beautiful woman will be joining us in the Oval Office today."

          Jack Harcourt's announcement was like a cool breeze on a hot summer day to the president. The president's aid was well aware of this fact and made sure he took all the credit for scheduling a meeting with the White House's newest interns. Jack knew his commander in chief possessed another kind of sweet tooth in addition to the one that craved sugarcoated donuts. This other type of sweet tooth lusted for the sweet young flesh of blond interns. Harcourt was also quite aware that he should schedule the president's meetings with the interns when the First Lady was on holiday. Yes, Jack Harcourt would do just about anything to watch the back of his president. But he would also make sure that his back would receive ample scratching when it was time to collect.

          Harcourt made sure each female intern met with the president separately so Knowles could ogle each breathtaking form with uninterrupted adulation. "Go worship your art, Mr. President," Harcourt would often joke to Knowles before each appointment. Harcourt was right; Knowles had incorporated the human male penchant for lust into his repertoire with the skill of a native. "You've sure got everyone fooled, my friend," Harcourt stated after the president's second appointment.

          Then came the wind of change. The pleasant breeze the president had enjoyed with the first two interns had suddenly metamorphosed into a bitter Arctic chill. The physically fit, blond-haired woman announced as "Tanya Charles" strode into the office with an air stating she was all business.

          Deep in the recesses of Knowles' mind, the president was sure he had met this woman before. However, Charles launched into the reason for her visit so quickly the president had little time to place her face.

          "As an intern with the Office of Strategic Initiatives, I find myself obligated to advise you Mr. President that your duty to the people of this country has gone off course. Your election speech promised the people that you would devote more time to the problems on our own soil. Your popularity rating has suffered because of your broken promises. The people want all conflicts involving matters on foreign lands to take a back seat. I know I am speaking candidly without your permission, Mr. President, but I am here as an unpaid employee who feels compelled to serve the interests of our nation's people. In other words, I am enduring the humility of toiling as a waitress at The Golden Chicken to fund this endeavor. I speak with the conviction of a woman who spends her nights with elbows emerged in grease when I say I must appraise you of your folly."

          Knowles didn't know if the woman who sat before him was a concerned citizen or a lunatic on release from a mental facility. He briefly considered calling for security guards until he allowed his eyes to peruse the shapely legs of his guest. The president's lust had instilled a small amount of courage in him. "Yes, it's worth the torment to hear her speak if I can find a way to get her into my bed," the commander in chief told himself.

          Charles began to speak again as she quickly sensed what the president really wanted from her. Tanya could not conceal her tone of disgust as she pleaded with Knowles to reconsider his stance on the current foreign conflict. However, the president continued to listen in silence. The voice was beginning to provide a clue to this woman's true identity. At the same time, Tanya's mind began to focus on the words Harcourt had used to introduce the president: "Tanya, please say hello to the President of the United States. The first foster child to assume command of the greatest country on Earth."

          In the back of their minds, the president and the intern became aware that they had met before.

* * *

          On Xylas, there was no need for the phrase: "Same shit, different day." The beings on this planet possessed the ability to change their shape at will. In fact, the process was done so frequently that many Xylans argued over whether they were originally corporeal beings. Tanya and her fellow Xylans often spent days at a time assuming the shape and biological makeup of a wild animal. They would then romp through a forest and discover what it meant to be a phormon—a beast-like creature that resembled the bear species of Earth.

          On another day, the shape shifting beings might take flight in the form of a winged-being that inhabited their world. But those days were gone. Twenty-five years ago, the sun that Xylas orbited went supernova. The Xylans worked frantically to evacuate as many children from the planet as possible by sending ships through a nearby wormhole. The Xylans did not know if the space portal would really transport their offspring to another place in the universe, but necessity and desperation were the mothers of invention.

          Approximately one hundred young Xylans were successfully evacuated before their planet met its fiery demise. The children had been instructed to find a planet that could sustain carbon-based life once they were through the wormhole. If the planet was inhabited, the children were advised to assume the shape of the most intelligent life on that world and "blend in." "I know we are asking you to stifle your creativity and lust for life with these imperatives," one adult Xylan professed, "but this is the price that must be paid if you are to survive. Please remember that a limited existence is still an existence."

          And so it was. The adult speaker had created a new and harsher reality with his words. Tanya Charles was now experiencing what it meant to live a limited existence. Earth was a place where you had to choose what you were going to be when you grew up.

          Upon their arrival, Tanya and her alien friends managed to conceal their nightly recuperative cycle from the staff at the Cranburytown Adoption Center. They stuffed pillows underneath their blankets. Staff workers unwittingly believed the children were asleep in beds when actually they were resting in a nearby stream. Each night, the children slipped out of the building's windows in liquid form and slithered to rest in their aquatic beds. In the morning, the process was reversed.

          The Xylan children reveled in their hijinks. Only one time did Tanya fear that the humans had discovered their secret. One Tuesday evening, Tanya overheard a staff employee talking on the telephone. "Yes, I believe she's a changeling."

          For a few minutes Tanya wrestled with the idea of assuming an adult form to escape the facility. But the child wisely opted to access an Internet website instead. There, she learned the worker was applying a different definition to the word. The electronic source noted that changeling means, "a child secretly exchanged in infancy." The staff worker was simply theorizing that Tanya's real parents had intentionally switched her for another child upon birth. Neither the staff worker nor Tanya could fathom what could possess parents to commit such a heinous act; however, Tanya was relieved to find that her secret was safe. Yes, she was a changeling from another planet. But no Earthling was the wiser. They all simply thought she was just another foster child.

          Tanya and her cohorts used their shape shifting skills to procure phony identification records at the center. Each Xylan chose a name with the aid of a government database.

          Tanya chose the last names Charles because backwards it spelled "Selrach", which was her name on Xylan.

          While assuming the shape of Earth children, no biopsy test could identify that the aliens did not possess human DNA. Only when their bodies were in their recuperative state could a genetic coding difference be detected. And so far, no human was privy to this fact.

          The alien shape shifters also used the government database to mimic the physical makeup of humans who had died in childhood. The aliens made sure they did not assume the resemblance of any children listed as missing in order to maintain a low profile. This ingenuity kept the aliens' secret safe for several decades. The children eventually assumed human forms, which mimicked the progression of aging and went on to attend college and take their place in the work force to the complete ignorance of several national security agencies.

          Tanya eventually lost contact with one male friend. He majored in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts.

* * *

          "Is it really you, Selrach?" the president whispered in Tanya's ear.

          "Oh great Xylas—you're the one who's running this country into the ground," she answered in disbelief. "How many people know who you really are, Knowles?"

          "Just my aids and my wife. Now please keep your voice down."

          "I foolishly squandered many years I could have devoted in pursuit of my dream, while you threw caution to the wind. How could you betray both our race and the humans?"

          "I was following the orders of our people, Tanya," the president whispered in a combative manner. "We were instructed to blend in, so that is what I am doing. I am following the usual party line. Any deviation would result in my complete exposure."

          "I am sure our fellow Xylans would want us to do more than just blend in when the fate of an entire nation is at stake. How self-serving can you be, Knowles? You have learned to acquire the worst traits of humanity."

          "In any event, you must keep your mouth shut about this, Selrach. Our families sacrificed their lives so we could survive. And that is what I intend to do. If you want to make waves, go take a jump into the Atlantic Ocean."

          "The way you're eyeing me, I really don't think you want my body to go to waste. It's like you've been transformed you into some shameless, wide-eyed salivating barbarian."

          "You are speaking foolishly. Whatever we once were no longer exists. So get that through your pretty blond skull and go sling dishes at The Golden Chicken."

          "I will do no such thing. However, I do promise to become your nemesis. I will run for president and beat you, Knowles."

          "You know very well that I cannot let you step out into the world and expose me along with my fellow Xylans.

          "You do not care about any fellow Xylan or any fellow man, period."

          "I suppose you're right. You see right through me whether I assume human form or not. I have learned to adapt. You have not, Tanya. And you know the old saying rings true—it's the survival of the fittest."

          The president silently motioned for Jack to join them. Harcourt, who strategically positioned his thug-like body outside the closed door of the office, sensed the president's urgency and bolted towards Knowles. "Are you all right, sir?" the aid asked with exaggerated concern.

          "I am fine. However, our intern friend is refusing to follow the party line. Maybe you can take her on a little trip to the National Arboretum and pick out a nice plot for her."

          Both the president and his aid foolishly ignored the camera that was recording every visual and audio move they made. Tanya, who was well aware of the monitoring device, made sure the camera caught her best angle. That angle would be the one where Jack Harcourt was stupidly shoving a pistol into her ribs.

          Charles knew better than to resist the men here. She quickly acted to remove the racing human heart that beat wildly in her chest. She could not afford a panic attack; besides, no shape shifter required this organ for breathing.

          "I will not resist you," Tanya quietly whispered to Jack while she extended her arms away from her body. Charles knew the cameras would record this odd behavior that she hoped would serve as evidence of Knowles' misdeeds. "At least he'll be taken down whether I survive this ordeal or not," she reasoned.

          Harcourt kept his weapon concealed in his coat pocket as the pair made their way out of the White House. Jack threatened to use the gun without hesitation if Charles tried to alert any of the security guards of her plight.

          Fifteen minutes later, Harcourt and Charles were seated in a black car. Tanya was riding shotgun while her six-foot-three-inch abductor kept an automatic pistol trained on her from the driver's seat.

          Tanya's mind raced to find a solution to this dilemma. "How can I help this planet if I'm dead?" Meanwhile, the car carried her closer to what the president hoped would be her final destination.

          Calling upon her natural survival instincts, Tanya willed herself to become a huge bear-like beast known as a phorman. Her mind drifted into a semi-conscious state while her body scanned the DNA sequencing code of the desired transformation. Tanya had not called upon these mental and physical powers for many years and was not entirely convinced she even met the definition of a changeling anymore. After two minutes, Charles began to come out of her semi-conscious state thanks to a human-like panic attack. Apparently, fear existed outside the confines of a racing heartbeat.

          Tanya silently chanted in a desperate attempt to alter reality. "Unleash yourself from all the human restrictions." There were only minutes to spare as the car turned onto Bladensburg Road; if she couldn't transform herself in the next three minutes she would most likely never shape shift again. The grounds of the arboretum lay just a few hundred meters ahead.

          Harcourt ignorantly assessed his captor had given up hope of escaping. Believing Tanya had passed out, he slowed the car down and relaxed his vice like grip on the pistol. In addition, the shortsighted aid also forgot to turn off the inside surveillance cam mounted on the interior's roof. The camera continued to record the aid's folly in high definition.

          As Tanya's lax state continued to lull Harcourt into a false sense of security, the aid fought in vain to stifle a yawn. In this same instant, a large black object began to invade the corner of the aid's right eye. Harcourt's small mind associated the image with another sedan. Fearing he was about to be sideswiped, Jack cut the wheel hard and swerved left.

          Just like the warning in the side view mirrors, the black-colored object was indeed closer than it appeared. A slobbering extraterrestrial beast emerged in the passenger seat. It whispered sweet grunts into his ear. Harcourt's beady eyes grew wide. Summoning what little courage his character allowed him, Jack squeezed the trigger of his pistol. The shot missed the beast entirely. The bullet exited out of the passenger window before coming to rest in a telephone pole.

          Jack prepared for his departure, realizing the stronger species would prevail. The aid's mind foolishly dreamed of scantily clad babes to minimize his horror. Jack realized this fantasy was as likely to come true as President Knowles' campaign promises. Still, he clung to his dream for a nanosecond. That's when reality solidified itself. The phormon began biting on the arm that threatened its metamorphosed existence. For one psychedelically enhanced moment, Jack saw stars dance before his eyes. Tanya had become one with the phormon in the name of survival. And neither the phormon nor Charles stopped to feel Jack's pain.

          The mighty jaws of the phormon separated Jack's right arm from his body with the greatest of ease. The circus was in town and Jack Harcourt was about to realize what it meant to be the unfortunate member of Siegfried & Roy.

          The car swerved violently as gravity took precedence. The weight of the alien beast soon rocked the vehicle to its left side. The slight tip placed the beast/Tanya Charles squarely upon Harcourt's pain wracked body. Jack's last thoughts were: "Where did that blond chick go?"

          The weight shift in the vehicle caused it to tumble side to side like a huge clothes dryer. When the car came to a rest, a phormon was no longer draped over the dead body of Jack Harcourt. However, the unconscious form of Tanya Charles was.


          The Ford that had nearly transported Tanya Charles to her demise was beyond repair, much like its driver. It came to a rest in an empty patch of field located along Bladensburg Road. Tanya Charles had come to a rest at George Washington Medical Center. The shape shifter was quite alive despite her dormant state.

          Charles opened her eyes to find detectives levying a barrage of questions at her. A throng of reporters threatened to swoop down next. Banned from entering the medical facility, the journalists aligned themselves along the perimeter of the facility during the overnight. They waited impatiently like birds aligned atop a telephone wire.

          Charles could not recall all the details. In fact, she did not realize her nearly lifeless body had entered into its liquefied recuperative state after the crash. However, several uniformed officers would not soon forget this fact. Detective Robert Stanton did not doubt the young officers on the scene were telling the truth when they recanted the surreal event. "One minute there was a pool of liquid, and the next, there was this unconscious hottie," one shocked patrol cop stated. This officer also experienced the aftermath of a liquid release in his trousers.

          Detective Stanton knew an officer who suffered the embarrassment of wetting his pants was not one to make up stories.

          "How was I saved?" Tanya asked Stanton.

          "I don't know. It looks like you saved yourself. The doctors told me they couldn't make heads or tails of you physiologically. One of them even told me you didn't have a heart." The detective tried to maintain his best matter-of-fact tone, but shaking hands compromised his "seen it all, been there" bravado.

          Tanya was way too busy to notice the detective's discomfort. "I want to make formal charges against the President of the United States for conspiracy to murder."

          "You don't have to, " Stanton answered. "Your ordeal in the White House and in the car was captured on video. The president was physically removed from his position three hours ago. Suffice to say, he did not step down with dignity."


          The secret of the Xylans became public knowledge. James P. Knowles was sentenced to two life terms in the prison. The public was not so much outraged that a public figure had lied (apparently Americans were use to this sort of thing), than they were sickened over his plot to murder the idealistic intern. "I'll take a concerned shape shifting alien over a self-involved politician every time," one teenager told NNN.

          Two months later, Tanya determined she was totally healed from her accident despite pleas from her doctors to stay admitted as a test subject. "There's not much to study anyway, doctor—psychologically speaking that is. I am filled with as many neuroses as you are. I am quite content to live out my life in human form. But if my life is ever threatened again, you can bet your malpractice insurance premium that I won't hesitate to turn into a bloodthirsty phormon again."

          Upon hearing Tanya's candid answer, the admitting doctor couldn't sign her release papers fast enough.

          Two days later, a press conference was held. Tanya received a pardon from the Vice President for falsifying identification documents. The acting president—who was quite human—also extended the pardon to all other Xylans inhabiting the U.S.

          Charles advised reporters her next task would be to gain citizenship. "There's nothing in the Constitution that states a shape shifter can't become a United States citizen," Tanya remarked without acknowledging the absurdity of the situation.

          The journalists ate this up. They fell in love with the shape shifting blond alien who cared more for her country than her own well being.

          "After I become a citizen, I think I will run for the governorship of California. Californians seem to be pretty liberal when it comes to electing candidates. But seriously, one day I do hope to lead this great country."

          One reporter asked Tanya if the idea of becoming America's first female president intimidated her.

          "No, but the notion of becoming America's first honest president does."




copyright 2006 Gary Starta.

Gary Starta

I have been published in Circle Magazine and Neometropolis. An English/Journalism major, I have authored a print on demand science fiction novel entitled What Are You Made Of?

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