Character Name: Matt Doppler
Alternate Identities: Stitch
Player Name: Wayne
|Eye Color:||Brown||Height:||5' 10"|
In the world of ‘normals’, those not born with a genetic anomaly, it has long been assumed that the manifestation of a mutant generally occurred with the onset of puberty. That was not always the case.
A huge, cold, wet, nose pressed against the child’s mouth and sniffed, followed by an equally huge, slobbery tongue.
Little Andy Doppler giggled as the family’s Golden Retriever tried his best to remove all possible taste of baby food from his younger brother Matt’s face. Tiny hands grabbed the dog’s ears and held him in place and for a moment the toddler and dog locked eyes.
“PUPPY!” shrieked Andy just as his mother entered the room.
She dropped the baby bottle and stared at the two dogs before her, one the seventy-five pound Carrot the other . . . about the size of an eleven-month-old toddler and wearing a diaper. If Matt’s mother had thought keeping up with a toddler was hard, she quickly discovered keeping up with a toddler in the shape of a thirty-pound Golden Retriever was even harder.
Though both of his parents were taken aback by this sudden development, as could be expected, they managed without too much of a stumble.
For the first couple of years, Matt’s changes remained focused on Golden Retriever as he was most familiar with the breed thanks to Carrot and this proved to be a good thing as no one in the family had considered the ‘conservation of mass’ inherent with shape shifting. That problem did not manifest until Matt was nine and weighted 75 pounds.
Until that point, Matt had been satisfied with his dog as a model and it was very easy to hide this power from the neighbors by simply attributing any sightings of a Golden Retrieve to Carrot, the new cat in neighborhood, however, turned into a problem.
Nine year-old Matt lay in the shade beside Carrot, at that moment, in his own skin. The dog, content, flicked an ear and barely raised an eyebrow when a cat began a tightrope walk along the top of the fence. The movement, rather, caught Matt’s attention. Sitting up the boy considered the cat.
“Think I can be a cat, Carrot?” he asked with a grin. “You could chase me around the yard!”
Pointed ears appeared first and rapidly spread down the length of his body, ending in a very long, slim tail. Though he lifted his head, Carrot’s nose wasn’t fooled and with a long-suffering doggy sigh he flopped back down.
Cat Matt looked up at the fence, the cat was gone. Things felt very different, he decided. For one thing, he couldn’t smell everything up wind of him, most things, sure, but not to the degree he’d been able to as a dog.
Another thing, his sight was different, and he could see some colors. Also, he squinted, the sun was much brighter. Coming up to all fours he stretched experimentally, arching his back and sinking claws into the turf of the lawn. That was new too. Claws. He flexed his ‘hand’s and inch and a half long claws popped out.
He considered the fence a moment then easily vaulted to the top where he found the 2 x 4 top rail barely wide enough for his new paws. His neighbor was in her backyard and stood open-mouthed for a moment before she screamed and dashed into the house. Several people stepped out onto their back porches to see what the fuss was and just as quickly ducked back into the house, locking doors.
‘Uh-oh,’ Matt said to himself, and dropped into his own yard hitting the ground as Matt.
Grabbing Carrot by the collar he all but hauled the dog bodily into the house and plopped down in front of the TV and tried to ignore the sounds of approaching sirens.
On the TV news that night, reporters on all the local channels interview the nearly dozen people that had seen the cougar perched atop a fence, each absolutely sure it was a cougar. A orange tabby cougar.
“Matt,” his father said, taking a seat on the couch beside him. “You have a new form, don’t you?”
The boy looked sheepish and nodded.
“I didn’t mean to,” he said. “That cat just got me thinking.”
“But a cougar?” His father scowled.
Matt shook his head.
“No, the orange cat, not a cougar.”
“That was a mighty big house cat by reports,” his dad said. “You better stick to Carrot, okay?”
Matt nodded again. “I will.”
I touched the holographic screen and it vanished.
“You look like a cat that swallows a cannery,” Raven said watching my reflection in the bay window over my desk.
“Canary, little elf,” I pushed by the chair. “I need to make a run up to Detroit.”
“What is it?” She was concerned, as always.
“Nothing serious,” I told her. “I think we have a new manifestation, a shape-shifter.”
“Why do you think so?” she asked, insinuating her way into my arms. The top of her head barely reached my chest.
“Because there are no orange tabby pumas in Michigan,” I explained.
“Where ARE orange tabby pumas?” She looked up at me out of the tops of her eyes.
“We don’t make pumas in orange tabby versions,” I said. “They are usually a tawny buff with a white chest and a black mask. Also, Michigan is more lynx country.”
“So it must be a cat person?”
“Or a shape-shifter,” I agreed.
Two hours later, Matthew Doppler, age nine, was on my RADAR.
Thirteen year-old Matt sat between his mother and sister watching the movie. He really had not wanted to go. He would rather have been watching Animal Planet but his mother had insisted. Slouched down in the seat, he munched popcorn and glared at the screen.
Idly, as he watched the blue koala like creature seemingly suck into his body an extra pair of arms, Matt wondered if he could duplicate the appearance of a cartoon creature. Probably not.
His sister leaned over and grabbed a handful of popcorn.
“Why don’t you do Stitch?” she asked in a whisper.
“It’s a cartoon!” he said. “It ain’t real.”
Thus began his sister Hannelore’s campaign for Stitch. She was unmerciful. At first, the occasional ‘please’ then a little begging, followed by puppy dog eyes then tears. Finally, she threw a fit, right in the living room, while both parents were out. It was amazing how much noise a single ten year-old girl could make and Matt could imagine what it must sound like to the neighbors, like she was getting murdered! He gave in.
“OKAY!” he shouted. “I’ll TRY!”
She thrust a stuffed Stitch doll at him.
“Just like this one!” she demanded.
Matt heaved a long-suffering sigh and took the doll, staring at every detail then closed his eyes. He could feel his body shift. It was like melting.
“No,” Hanner’s said when the melting stopped. “You’re TOO big!”
Sure enough, Stitch Matt was just as tall as always but . . . he had Stitch feet . . . and hands. Excited he bounded over to the mirror and promptly knocked over a table, the lamp smashing on impact. He never noticed.
Matt brought a hand (paw) up to his nose, his black button nose. He felt the huge ears and wiggled them, bring a spate of giggles from his sister.
“You gotta be smaller!” she demanded. “This tall!”
She held up a hand to indicate her requirements. It was about fourteen inches off the floor.
“I can’t shrink that small,” he complained.
“Ever try?” Hanner’s said.
Matt thought about it.
“Well, no . . . “
“Then this tall,” she made an imperious gesture with her hand at the proper height.
Matt sighed and closed his eyes.
Again he felt the melt and he seemed to ‘compress’.
“YEAH!” Hanner’s tackled him, or tried to.
It was like hitting a fireplug. She sorta bounced off him.
“Hey!” she climbed to her feet and rubbed her shoulder. “You’re too heavy! How am I gonna pick you up and cuddle you if you weight a ton?!”
“I am the height YOU wanted,” he snapped.
“Get lighter!” she demanded. “I gotta be able to pick you up!”
“I can’t get lighter,” he said. “What do I do, think I am a balloon?”
He imagined Stitch as a balloon and he expanded like one, a large void of air forming inside of him as his body thinned out in places.
“Not bigger!” Hannelore complained.
Then something clicked
Being carried around by a girl all day, cuddled and cooed over, might be a great thing, Matt figured. IF the girl wasn’t your annoying sister.
Stitch clung to the overhead piping like a monkey and stared down at the myriad of girls in various states of undress. He had only been hoping for a peek into the girls shower room and had never expected to find the open window so high up. For the fourteen year old, it was like dying and going to Heaven. Everywhere he looked, girls. Then the insulation covering the pipe he clung to gave way and he landed hard on his back.
For an instant, there was the expected female reaction, a few screams, a lot of bodies disappearing behind towels, and then everything froze.
“It that Stitch?” a girl said, stepping closer.
Matt took the hint and sat up, rubbing his head.
“That HURT,” he said in his best Stitchy voice.
Blinking, as if suddenly aware of his surroundings he came to all fours and growled at the girls like a little dog. Not one believed he was going to attack. They’d seen the movie.
“Bark, bark,” he said.
One girl, probably a senior, stepped closer and put her hands on her hips.
“You’re not scaring anyone,” she told him.
“Uh-oh,” he said looking around the circle of girls as if seeking escape.
He jumped to the bench that ran between the rows of lockers, doing his stiff-legged Stitch impression, and growled. From there he made a leap at the top of the lockers but just ‘missed’ and found his hind legs scrambling to get purchase and pull himself up.
Nervous laughter made him look back over his shoulder, dangling by his front claws. Not one of the girls seemed on the verge of panic or calling for help. He made a last effort and pulled himself to the top, then propped down on his butt and scanned the group, his head lowered between his shoulders, his attitude dejected.
“Rats,” he Stitched.
He had waited to attempt his infiltration until after school, after the girl’s volleyball team had finished practice. He figured no one would be in a huge hurry to get to their next class and he’d been right. All ten of the girls on the team were captivated by the little blue ball of fuzz.
Heaving a heavy Stitchy sigh, he weaved a paw in front of them.
“You saw nothing!” he Stitched.
“Your Jedi mind tricks don’t work on us,” one girl said.
Matt groaned dramatically and flopped over on his back, purposely banging his head on the locker top. Coming up onto one elbow, he rubbed his head.
“Are you really a Stitch?” a girl asked, pulling on a pair of glasses and peering at him.
“It could be an evil paranormal,” another said.
“Oh, what, invading a girls locker room for our secret volleyball plans?”
“More like to get a look at us naked!”
“It’s a BLUE koala,” one declared. “Just how excited is it gonna get watching a bunch of naked human girls?”
“Maybe it’s an alien come to take over the world,” a voice suggested. “Like in the movie.”
“Yeah, it’s SO powerful it can’t jump to the top of the lockers!”
“Think it would bite if I pet it?” one dared, stepping closer.
Stitch sat up and stared at her balefully, actually shrinking back as she approached.
“You’re scaring it!” one said.
“There, you see, NOT an invading alien!”
The closest one slowly reached out a hand as if to let him sniff it. He came to all fours and obliged. She smelled like soap. He sneezed.
“He’s allergic to you, Ally!”
Everyone laughed. With a sigh of defeat, Matt sat on his haunches and hung his head. He tried to look VERY pitiful and by the ‘ahhs’ coming from the group, it was working.
“Where are you from?” someone asked.
He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.
“Up there,” he Stitched, which was technically true if you meant the pipes in the overhead.
The nearest stepped up and lifted him off the locker top, cradling him in her arms like an infant.
“Poor thing,” she cooed.
That was all it took. They ALL wanted to hold him.
Ten minutes later the coach came in, wondering what was taking so long and found the girls gathering their equipment bags and whispering.
“Let’s go LADIES,” the coach yelled. “We should have been out of here fifteen minutes ago!”
As the girls filed past the other woman failed to note the weighty bag her tallest player had slung over her shoulder. Outside, the team scattered, disappearing in various directions as normal. This time, once the coach drove off, they returned and gathered near the only small stand of trees on school grounds.
Stitch popped out of the bag and disentangled himself from sweaty girl things then stood on his hind legs and peered around.
“City,” he muttered then sneezed.
“You gonna be okay,” one girl asked.
“Okay!” he repeated scanning the group surrounding him.
“Where will you go,” someone asked.
“Somewhere,” he Stitched then ducked between legs and scampered up into the trees.
That night Matt lay on his bed with his hands clasped behind his head and stared at the ceiling. This was going to be fun.
To come at a problem when not in crisis mode was something of an abnormality for me. Over the past few weeks I’d be racing Genocide to save the targets of their current campaign, usually getting there just in time for clean up. Fortunately Spock and I are very fast and without exception my team and I had managed to snatch nearly a dozen newly emergent mutants from beneath the claws of one Minuteman robot after another. The most difficult thing about it wasn’t being the last to arrive; it was convincing the target’s parents to allow their child to attend the new Academy. My target for that day wasn’t in response to a Genocide attack, or even a perceived attack, it was a preemptive strike.
Matt dropped his legs off the back of the couch and grumbled as he trudged to the front door. It was Saturday and his parents had taken Hanners to Wal-Mart with them for the weekly shopping. His older brother, Andy, has enlisted in the Navy and was currently slogging through boot camp so he had the house to himself for a couple hours and planned to spend it lounging around watching TV.
The first couple of buzzes from the doorbell he could ignore, but at the final, sustained noise at last irritated him into movement. As he headed for the door from the living room he used his angle of approach to catch a glimpse of his uninvited and unwelcomed visitor. It made him stop.
A hard-looking man of about thirty with shaggy black hair dressed in a dark gray business suit made Matt think ‘cop’ and he hurriedly thought back on the last few days, seeking an instance where he might have drawn unwanted attention. Maybe one of the girls, probably that new one on the soccer team, had reported the strange little blue Stitch that had been hanging around their locker room for the last few months. What if one had followed him and seen him change?
“Crap,” he muttered and shifted into a huge Rottweiler.
Retreating from a new spate of chimes from the doorbell, he ducked out of the doggie door into the backyard. Carrot raised his head and sniffed but satisfied with the identity of the new dog, settled his chin back on his crossed paws and returned to doggie dreams. Rottweiler Matt circled the house, easily clearing the six-foot privacy at the side of the yard. Peeking around the corner of the house he saw the front porch was empty and relaxed.
“What a beautiful Rottweiler,” the man’s voice made him jump and turn with teeth bared, ready to fight.
Green eyes regarded him without flinching. Matt instinctively dropped his eyes.
“One hundred sixty pounds is huge even for a Rottweiler,” the man said. “Conservation of mass, I surmise.”
What the hell was this guy talking about? Matt growled.
“Stop that!” the man snapped.
Matt did, more than a little surprise by the man’s immunity to being confronted by a huge, mean-looking dog.
“Why don’t we take this into the house,” the man said unhooking the gate and pushing it open. “Or at least the backyard.”
This time Carrot did come to his feet and approached the intruder wearily. The man squatted and held out a hand to the Golden Retriever. Rottweiler Matt circled around behind Carrot to face the man. The spring on the gate slammed it closed.
“Its okay, fella,” the man said to the dog. “I’m here to help not hurt.”
The traitor, Carrot, sniffed the outstretched hand then moved in for a thorough ear-scratching ending up on his back for a belly rub. The man eyed the Rottweiler.
“Don’t expect me to do the same for you, Matt,” he said.
Matt blinked, taken-aback.
“Yes, I know what you are,” the man said patting Carrot a final time before standing. “We need to talk and there is little chance of getting a response from you in a form with improper vocal cords. Why don’t you change back to human?”
I remained silent as the boy in the form of a dog digested what I had said. He sank to his haunches and watched me for a long minute before shifting into a lanky fifteen year-old boy with a stock of wild hair the color of walnut. I was surprised to see he was fully dressed.
“Who are you?” the boy demanded.
“Ghost Archer,” I replied.
“What do you want from me,” Matt demanded.
“Nothing,” Ghost Archer replied. “I am here to offer you a place at a very exclusive private school.”
Of course Matt had heard of Ghost Archer, everyone on the planet had, but what was he doing so far from San Francisco? And how did he know who and what Matt was?
“Recent events have forced me to take rather drastic action to protect young people like your self, and their families,” he said. “Until now, I have always been behind in such invitations and it has cost several lives. I can no longer be reactive so I’ve gone proactive.”
“What do you mean?” Matt hooked an arm around Carrot as the dog came over to lean against him.
“For the last few weeks an organization called Genocide has been systematically targeting young, emergent mutants like you,” he said. “They have been sending their Minuteman robots out to capture or kill every mutant they can identify. You are on that list.”
“But why?” Matt was suddenly chilled and Carrot sensed his mood.
“Because we are different,” Archer said.
A chill ran down my spine and all thoughts of the boy vanished except in a peripheral sense. Something was coming.
Without a word of warning, I pulled my combat gear from its ‘stored state’, the bow coming to my left hand. Stepping to the boy I jerked him to his feet by the collar, his face registering fear and shock. He stayed on his feet when I released my hold so grabbing him around the waist was easy and in seconds we were airborne.
Matt had no idea what was happening when the man was suddenly clad in leather with a bow in one hand and he had no time to react when he was yanked to his feet. Then they were flying.
“Ten miles out from target.” Reported the first.
“Attack plan Theta,”
replied the distant controller.
“Control, be advised a second target has appeared,” the center figure reported.
“What do you mean ‘appeared,?” came the response.
“Appeared, literally,” replied the center figure.
“Attack plan Omega, Team Three,” the controller commanded.
“Wilco,” returned the team leader.
Three miles out the targets became airborne.
“Kid,” I said. “Can you become something that can hold on tight to me so I can use both hands?”
Matt’s eyes where huge as we soared away.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I can do that.”
Stitch clung to the man like a limpet and used the strap of the quiver across the guy’s back to climb around. Once situated, claws gripping the rigid leather with arrow fletching tickling his nose, Matt had time to look around.
A trio of flying figures passed over his house. They were heading straight for them. Three against one. Time to run. Matt was horrified when Ghost Archer stopped.
The little blue thing Matt had become clung to my quiver and freed my right hand for combat. Coming to a hover, I turned to face the oncoming. To my amazement it wasn’t three of the gigantic Minutemen robots but a trio of Cyborg implanted humans, Genocide Rooks. It had been years since one had been fielded by the mutant hunters. I had assumed they had all been killed. Apparently the Black King had reinstituted the program.
In the early days of Genocide, their masterminds understood it would be impossible to send ‘normal’ human beings up against the vastly more powerful paranormals and had chosen utilize robots instead. The main problem with robots was expense. The secondary problem was some of their personnel wanted to battle the evil mutants personally, hence the Rook/Knight programs.
Volunteers faced painful surgery in return for becoming nearly as powerful as their enemies. The program turned out to be one of Genocide’s biggest recruitment points. Normals with the power of paranormals AND they got to hunt evil things. There were initial problems, mainly rejection of the bionic implants by the host body, but it never deterred the determined. Within a year, Knights and Rooks had become a mainstay of the Genocide forces. Most ended up dead or, after being captured and having the implants removed, crippled. The program faded after the capture of the scientists and doctors responsible, leaving only three survivors, one Rook and two Knights.
Cognizant of our position, several thousand feet above Detroit, I headed north toward Lake Michigan, keeping my speed low to lure my three followers. Matt, in the form of a blue koala, clung to my back without a word. I was surprised by his composure. Not what I expected from a 15 year-old.
“Where we going?” Matt had to raise his voice to be heard over the wind.
Below he could see the lake shore approaching but as he looked back over his shoulder, he could also tell the three flying men were gaining.
“Some place falling Genocide agents won’t land on an innocent family having a picnic,” Archer replied.
Matt nodded to himself. It was a good idea since they were moving away from his house and soon to be returning family.
“Then what?” Matt asked.
“Then you hold on and I take them out,” Archer said in an emotionless tone.
“Take them out?” Matt gulped.
“Target Two identified as Ghost Archer,” the leader of the team announced.
It was amazing clearly the Southern accent came across the airwaves in just two words.
“This is the Black King,” the voice continued. “You will kill that son of a bitch or die tryin’!”
The team exchanged glances. This was why they had suffered the pain of conversion to cyborgs, to kill mutants like Ghost Archer, and whoever was with him.
“Wilco!” the leader responded.
“Give me visual and keep your mic open!” the Black king commanded.
Somewhere a 60” plasma screen came to life, the picture centered on a distant figure.
The Black King growled at the man on the monitor.
The lakeshore had vanished over the horizon before Matt felt a change in Archer’s speed. For a few moments he forgot to breathe as forward flight became a sudden elevator drop.
“HHHHEEEEYYY!” Matt screamed, not quite like a little girl.
Archer slowed to a stop several hundred feet above the lake’s surface and turned to face the oncoming figures.
“If you fall, turn into a dolphin or something,” he warned. “Or a bird if you can.”
A dolphin? A bird? Matt hadn’t considered those as possible forms to take. He had to restrain himself from try them out immediately. Instead he watched the approaching enemy over Archer’s shoulder.
Judging by the implants and armor, I was facing three Knights, the multi-purpose version of the cyborgs. They would be faster with long-range weapons rather than the up-close in your face power of the Rooks. Well, it wasn’t like I was a novice at fighting from a distance. I drew a stun arrow from the quiver rather than one of the lethal rocket propelled versions. They were rabid anti-mutant killers, yes, but that didn’t mean I had stoop to their tactics. I’d try to put them out of commission first.
As expected the trio began to separate in a typical pincer movement with the one on the left going high while the one on the right dropped toward the lake. The center one bore in like a heat-seeking missile. Fine, then he could go first.
The arrow hit the bow and was nocked in a single fluid motion, a motion as natural to me as breathing. The bow came up and the two fingers I used to hold the string touched my right ear. A quick shift in targeting to compensate for the onshore breeze and . . . *thrum*
The arrow just disappeared from the bow, drawn and shot so quickly Matt would have missed it if he had blinked. An instant later he saw the distance figure try to roll to the right. It was too little, too late.
Blue electricity sparked over the man and he faltered.
“WOO-WHOO!” Matt shouted, loosening his grip long enough to pump a Stitchy fist.
The center figure plummeted toward the lake below but was conscious judging be the feeble movement of arms and legs.
“Hold still,” Archer commanded as he drew another arrow from the quiver.
Rather than watch the bowman’s new target, the one coming in high, Matt turned his head and located the one below them. It was coming faster then he had expected, probably faster than Archer expected.
“Um…” Matt Stitched.
He heard the twang of the bowstring release followed by a sudden acceleration straight up. From Matt’s point of view the approaching attacker would past directly below then and he had a sudden thought.
“Damnit,” I swore softly as the weight on my back disappeared.
The sudden upward maneuver had effectively dodged the third Knight but also dislodged my passenger. Turning to face the oncoming attack I was amazed to see a blue furry body riding the Cyborg like a cowboy. A short arm came up and slashed the Knight’s back and II saw him falter. Again and again the clawed blue paw came up ripping away ‘borg components as the Cyborg began to lose altitude and speed. I dove for the falling Genocide agent.
Matt howled in delight as his Stitchy claws tore into the man’s cybernetic implants. Curses changed to screams of pain as one particularly large piece was ripped free and discarded into the lake below. The Cyborg began to fall form the sky.
“Crap,” Matt said in his own voice. The lake was coming up fast and it looked cold . . . and deep . . . and a long way from shore.
Hands caught him under the arms and jerked his hold free hard enough to bring a jolt of pain to his shoulder. Then they were away, the last of the Cyborg men splashing into the water just fifty feet below.
“Home, Spock,” the archer said. In seconds they stood in the center of a huge room with grey walls and white lines making it off in a grid pattern, floor, ceiling and walls. On opposite walls where identical metal doors.
“This way,” Archer gestured to one of the doors and Matt headed for it, not bothering to shift back to human.
“Where are we,” he Stitched.
“The Valley,” Archer replied. “You will be attending school here along with others like you.”
“Like me?” Stitch Matt tilted his head.
“Not exactly like you, but the entire school is for meta-humans, taught by meta-humans,” the bowman replied.
“In the news they call us mutants.”
NOTES: When I designed Stitch for Wayne, I got the feeling he
didn't care for my efforts. To be honest, I was sorta pissed.
I think he got the impression I hadn't done all I could in the design.
I had to put him right. Stitch is one of the charactes that I am
the most proud of. He came out just as I wanted and I had
presented him to Wayne with every expectation he'd agree. Turned
out he didn't. Now, also honestly, I never understood what the
problem was though I think it was more personal than ingame. Some
people just rubbed each other wrong and I felt Wayne and I were doing
NOTES: When I designed Stitch for Wayne, I got the feeling he didn't care for my efforts. To be honest, I was sorta pissed. I think he got the impression I hadn't done all I could in the design. I had to put him right. Stitch is one of the charactes that I am the most proud of. He came out just as I wanted and I had presented him to Wayne with every expectation he'd agree. Turned out he didn't. Now, also honestly, I never understood what the problem was though I think it was more personal than ingame. Some people just rubbed each other wrong and I felt Wayne and I were doing that.
So, this is for Wayne: You did a damn good job of playing
Stitch and I have more fond thoughts about him than you can imagine.
He will always be one of my favorite characters.
So, this is for Wayne: You did a damn good job of playing Stitch and I have more fond thoughts about him than you can imagine. He will always be one of my favorite characters.