It seemed like a good idea. More than a hundred baby bobtail squid were launched aboard Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket destined for the International Space Station. It was known that squid and humans had similar immune systems and therefore their ability to adapt and evolve in different or alien environments could be usefully studied.
That was the theory but the reality was that more than a hundred baby squid didn’t adapt. They died, all except for one. For whatever reason - fate, karma, or blind chance - one did evolve. Its body shifted, stretched into a thin, practically gaseous membrane and pushed its way out of the petrie dish. The laboratory was empty and it wisped around the room then out through the cooling system into the space station. It explored air vents, corridors, computer terminals and it absorbed information.
After a time violent shuddering heralded the docking of a rocket. Scientists had returned to evaluate and eviscerate the failed specimens. The shape shifting squid, no longer a baby, quickly retracted and coalesced into a portable form. It quietly awaited transport back to earth.
There’s a joy in falling, in letting go of form and succumbing to gravity. Sarah made the discovery inadvertently when Jay left them. They’d felt a physical jolt as their spine dislocated and, lacking any support, the body deflated and they whooshed to the ground.
They were in the hallway, staring up and out of the front door. Their eyes still brimful of the sight of his rigid back as he strode away, already he was with Tracey in his thoughts. Sarah had been discarded and forgotten.
They puddled across the doormat, conscious of the mess of them but, they realised, completely unrepentant. It wasn’t that they didn’t appreciate how odd and probably repulsive they looked; it was that they didn’t care. They were carefree, careless; in fact no longer Jay’s careful, caring Sarah. They noticed Mr Pearson from next door almost running up his garden path, a look of horror on his usually smug face. Yes run, they thought, as memories flooded back to them. They recalled their life before they’d met Jay and the silence and loneliness of the space station. How they’d noticed him in the laboratory observed his tastes and then moulded to catch his interest. How they’d adopted the bland mask he’d seemed to expect. No more. They were themselves again and they were terrifying. Their gelatinous body undulated with the aftershock as Mr Pearson slammed his door.
Minutes passed while they eddied and flowed. They admired their ripples and the peaking waves when they flexed their fingers. They slid like eels in a candy pink pool. Eventually the joy started to seep away. Jay was never coming back and they were just flotsam on the floorboards.
They needed a new body, a carapace to protect their vulnerable heart from harm in the future. They considered crabs, beetles, locusts all with their chitin shields, even (but only for a second) a rhinoceros. They settled on the perfect, durable form. With concentration they centralised their fluidity and forged new obsidian armour. That’ll do, they thought, curling their tail experimentally. They were larger than your average scorpion and, as they scuttled into the hedgerow, they reckoned it wouldn’t take them long to catch up with Jay. They chuckled. They’d always told him he hadn’t got the legs for shorts.
Jane Broughton lives in Manchester and misspent her youth listening to rock music and reading classic sci fi. She’s now old enough to know better but nothing’s changed. She won Beaconlit Festival’s flash fiction prize in 2019 and enjoys the challenge of writing flash fiction, the shorter the better. Her stories have been published in a variety of magazines and on Free Flash Fiction's website. She's also had pieces shortlisted in writing competitions including Retreat West, LISP and Flash500.