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The question is not how like the animals we are
But how we got that way.

(David Lehman, Mythologies, I)

1. Carapace

Axial ribs are more often present, but are lost in not a few reptiles, particularly the Pterosauria (Fig. 80 E) and Chelonia [i.e.: the superorder of turtles, tortoises, terrapins and Australochelys] (Fig. 80 M). [...]

The dorsal ribs of the Eunotosauria and all Chelonia have expanded to meet or fuse with each other, forming more or less of a carapace (Fig. 91).

(Samuel Wendell Williston, The Osteology of the Reptiles, p. 114)


The symmetry of the human form fascinated Maura. The scientific tomes made people, in their base physiology, predictable. Alike. It was a comfort to Maura, who found people very unpredictable. But the more she investigated, the more Maura also came to understand that there were exceptions to every rule. She always found those exceptions were so very interesting.

"The human body follows the same basic template, but there are infinite variations thereof," Maura explained to Bass.

They liked explaining things to each other. It was a good way to remember the many things they learned.

"The tiny imperfections and permutations, some so microscopic that they cannot be detected by the naked eye, are what gives any organism its singular character."

"Yes," Bass said. "Remember, we read in Swanne: As no two blackbirds are the same in every detail (as no two daemons in the shape of blackbirds are the same in every detail), so no two men of the same age and build are the same in every detail."

Maura continued: "All animals with a circulatory system have hearts. The average human skeleton consists of some 206 bones." She pointed to the drawing of the rib cage. "In humans, the thoracic cavity contains the lungs and heart. The bones protect the soft tissue, but the intercostal muscles give the rib cage an elasticity needed for us to breathe."

Bass nodded. "Isn't it funny," he mused, "that we call it a cage, while 'thorax' comes from the Ancient Greek word meaning breastplate?" (Whenever they encountered a new word, they would look it up in the dictionary.) "One word is about keeping things in," he continued, "the other is about keeping things out."

Maura touched a hand to her breast. "I don't feel trapped." She moved the hand to Bass' back, the tortoise shell like hard leather under her palm. "It's like your shell. It's for protection."

"It's like a house," Bass confirmed with alacrity. "A place you can go to be alone." He demonstrated by retracting his head.

On the opposite side of the library room, the sound of children playing drifted up from the yard and in through the glass of the closed window.


The library doors fell shut with a heavy whoosh. Maura felt the sensation echo in her stomach. Ms. Brown glanced up at her, gaze severe above her spectacles, and her elf owl daemon ruffled its wings slightly.

Bass fluttered above Maura's hand for an instant, then touched down on her palm as a small gray mouse. He breathed out, and it made the silence feel even thicker around them. Maura felt better. "Let's go to the reference section," he said.

In their usual spot, at the back of the room where the reading lamps always had to be on, Maura settled with one of the oversized tomes on human anatomy. She liked the intricate drawings of organs and bones -- perhaps especially the cross-section drawings that showed what was inside the insides.

They counted the bones in the human body, Maura carefully tracing her finger across the left-hand page, naming them as they went along. Bass stood with his forelegs on the book, hindlegs on the table, his reptilian neck stretching out long and taut over the page, his tiny tail pointing stiffly behind him. Whenever Maura would forget one of the Latin names, he would read it from the right-hand list.

"202. Scapula."

"225. Trapezoid."

"286. Third metatarsal."


"Maura the bore-a. Isles never smiles," they sang. Maura hunched in on herself, hugging her arms around her middle. The other kids were crowding close, pushing and laughing, making ugly faces at her.

Maura couldn't see Bass. He was crouching somewhere behind her, rolled up tight. Some boy's monkey daemon had reached out to poke him, and now she was hanging on to the boy's neck, sucking her fingers, and the boy looked very angry.

Maura didn't cry. She never did. Once, she had tried to fake it, hiding her face and shaking her shoulders. That had seemed to please the other children, but only until they discovered it wasn't real. She didn't like to remember the part after that.

"Bass, we have to leave," she whispered, turning to look at him. The other daemons crowded close, hissing and barking and cawing at him.

Bass trembled violently. "I can't move."

"Yes, you can, Bass, come on! Fly to the library as fast as you can, okay?"

Speed was of the essence. Maura and Bass knew that. First you had to huddle, make yourself small and seem like you'd forgotten how to move. Then, suddenly, you had to put all your energy into a burst of speed that would surprise them.

Maura burst out of the crowd, charging towards the school doors. Bass was a humming bird, so quick and small that he could slip up above everyone's heads. Angry voices and pounding footsteps followed close behind them.


2. Two (of many) animal forms Bass never took and one he did

Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

(Mary Oliver, Poem (the spirit likes to dress up))

i) mustang.

on their way from the airport to the vacation home, they see a herd of them out of the car window. maura is 10, home from school, and the wild stampeding of the horses makes her long to join them. she presses her nose against the glass. bass becomes a sparrow, becomes a bat, a sharp-clawed ermine, a moth, before mother tells them to be still.

ii) cat.

her parents have company. their conversation is dull for any child, especially for a small girl who is very good at understanding arithmetic and very bad at understanding people. she has been told to be quiet. to sit still. to eat everything on the plate. they want to be good. but bass can't help but sniff suspiciously at the new dish in front of them. "maura," her mother whispers sternly. no daemons on the table. bass the snail glides slowly across the table top. maura squirms because she mustn't giggle. bass the cicada hops from the table to her lap to the floor, caught in the next moment by scilla's paw. her mother does not look at her again during the whole, long dinner. scilla does not let go of bass until it's time for maura to say goodnight.


iii) frog.

there is a peculiar smell in the biology laboratory that most students comment on. maura supposes it's an amalgamation of formaldehyde and chalk and very old wooden desks. this day, the smell is laced with the sweet scent of decay. some of her class mates are complaining loudly, while others have fallen quiet and pale, but to maura they are all merely background noise. she studies the limp form of the amphibian in front of her, runs her finger along the length of her scalpel's handle. bass hops closer, his body elongating in slow motion, his webbed feet fanning out behind him. they place the first incision.


3. Meeting

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance -- always substance and increase, always sex;
Always a knit of identity -- always distinction -- always a breed of life.

(Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 3)

The detective's daemon enters the apartment several seconds before he does. She's a small dog, no particular breed, with alert triangular ears and shaggy fur. She sniffs around the apartment carefully, almost as if scenting the body.

She greets Detective Korsak's daemon, who comes forward to meet her. Maura is trying to stay focused on the evidence in front of her, but Bass watches oddly intently while the large white retriever touches noses with the tiny brown mutt. The detective who appears in the doorway is female. Maura can't help but stare for a second.

"Rizzoli," Korsak says, "This is Doctor Maura Isles. She's the new coroner with the department."

"Jane," the detective says, stepping forward with her hand extended. Maura glances at her own gloved hands and proffers her an elbow. They execute an awkward approximation of a handshake. Detective Jane Rizzoli jabs a thumb over her shoulder towards her daemon. "This is Joe Friday."

"Maura. That's Balthasar, Bass for short." Behind the detective, Joe Friday is sniffing curiously around the edges of Bass' shell. Bass is studying her quietly, trying to turn his head to keep her in sight.

The detective looks dubious. "He's a turtle. How did you get him up all those stairs?" she nods towards the door, and the fourth story landing beyond.

"Oh, he's not a turtle; he's a tortoise -- land-dwelling. And I carried him. I've heard of people with same-sex daemons," Maura continues, looking at Joe Friday. "They're rare but not unheard of."

"I know." The detective, Jane, looks at her as if she can't decide whether to be affronted or amused. At least, that's what Maura thinks she might be feeling.

"In some cultures individuals such as you are considered lucky. In others they are shunned. In several Meso-American tribes they were expected to live as the sex opposite of their daemons, and the North-American Indians had a special word for them. I guess in modern day Boston, most people don't even bat an eye."

"Thanks for the history lesson," Jane says with a dry intonation. They gaze at each other for another beat. Then she crouches next to Maura and the body. "So, what have you got?" She looks over the scene in front of her. "Apart from the blood on the floor?"

"Oh, we really don't know yet whether these reddish brown stains are blood. While lacerations do appear on the body's throat and wrists, there's no way for me to ascertain what these markings on the floor are before I've tested some samples."

Maura is used to the kind of look she is met with now. "You've got to be kidding me. It's a joke, right? That's blood!"

"It really wouldn't be responsible for me to say so."

Joe Friday has made it to Bass' front now. Her wet snout is hovering, as close to the rim of his shell as possible without touching, her breath puffing into the cavity where Bass has retreated.

Jane stares. Then she rocks back on her heels. "All right," she sighs. "You're the expert." Joe Friday sits, staring intently at Bass. Bass extends the very tip of his face from below his shell. Maura bags a sample of the reddish brown stain.