Olivia blinked. Someone is bothering to talk to me?
“Olivia?” the woman’s voice repeated.
What am I supposed to say? She looked around for something to address, eventually settling on the speaker embedded in the roof. “Yes? Hello?”
“You can understand us, yes?”
Of course I can. “I answered, didn’t I?” I did, right? I’m not going crazy, am I?
A small pause. “Would you be willing to answer some questions?”
“Um, why?” Olivia looked around the room again. Where should I be looking? I’d rather not talk to an empty room. I’m not going crazy. I hope.
“We need to know more about you.”
“Can I say no?” asked Olivia.
“If you want to just keep pacing, yes,” responded the speaker.
Olivia considered for a moment. I have nothing else to do. Why not see where this goes? “OK.”
“How has the food been that you’ve been served? Do you have any problems with it?”
“No.” Everything actually tasted pretty good.
“Is there anything else in particular that you would like?”
“Um, donuts?” Olivia asked, perking up. Been a while since I’ve had any of those.
“Donuts?” asked the woman over the speaker.
Olivia blinked. “Yeah.”
“You’ve had donuts before? They didn’t poison you or cause any adverse effects?”
How do you answer that? “Yeah.” Yes, I had donuts, or yes, they poisoned me? “Um, nothing bad happened.”
A longer pause. “Any kind in particular?”
I haven’t had a bad donut. “Any? Oh! The brown ones… um… cinnamon. Those are good.”
“Sure. We can do that.” Olivia felt a small smile at the corner of her lips. Donuts! “Is there anything else you would like for your quarters?”
“Um, a shower?”
Another pause, with some muffled talking in the background from the speaker instead of going dead. Then the voice addressed Olivia. “That’s already underway. It will be available in the next day or so.”
Olivia looked around at the bare walls. How? Whatever. Olivia waited for the woman over the speaker to say something else, who eventually asked, “Anything else?”
“I… don’t know. Something to do? Like a book. Or books. Yeah.” I’d really like to leave, but I really don’t think they’ll let me do that. “Oh, clothes that aren’t full of holes, or bright orange.”
A much longer pause. “Please specify.”
This isn’t how I imagined prison would be. Why would they shoot me a bunch, then ask what I want? “I was… well… I was reading the Calvin and Hobbes books before. And clothes, can they not have ‘Prisoner’ stamped on them?” Or fall apart. Some of the things Miya and Amanda got for me fell apart when I cut the wing slits on them.
“We’ll have those things for you in the next day or so. Now, someone else is going to be on.”
Olivia might have heard papers rustling over the speaker, she wasn’t quite certain. Then, a different, deeper voice said, “Do not mistake this for complacency. You’ve tried to open the front door, you know full well security here is tight. These are privileges which can be revoked.” I’ve decided I don’t like where this is headed.
Olivia nodded. More to say I understand than agreement. The man continued, “If you are a security risk, security gets heavier. If you aren’t, life is easier.”
Olivia kept her head still this time. I really don’t like this, so we can just sit in silence until you get bored.
“Very well. Now, there are close to sixty deaths attributed to you. Would you deny any of them?” There it is.
She hung her head. “No,” she whispered. I was stupid. I was stupid and lost control and other people died and I tried to ignore and forget about it. Stupid. “I didn’t… I didn’t know.” I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t know enough to stay away from a power that caused riots.
Silence reigned for a minute. Olivia took a deep breath and bit her lip. The man over the speaker sighed, then continued, “The Westward massacre we understand to be caused by a power. However there are three separate incidents linked to you, so you understand why we think you may be dangerous to those around you. This is a chance for you to set the record straight.”
“I… three?” I can only think of two. No. No, no, no. I didn’t forget something like that, did I? No, I didn’t forget. I’m not going to forget.
“The third of June, two bodies found with claw injuries at the construction site for the St. Nicholas Children’s Hospital. Overlooked at the time due to the Watch’s activities at the same time. One week later, a large mantis feral of unknown origins found torn to pieces on the streets near where PETA busted an animal smuggling operation. And two days ago, four people killed when their houses were destroyed.” One, two, three. I remember all of those. Good. I remember all of those.
“The first one, um…” she trailed off. How much should I tell them? Not a lot, but how much of not a lot? “We were, me and my friends, were helping the Watch. Kind of.” That one was me. They were shooting me, I don’t really have any bad feelings about that.
“OK, that’s consistent with the reports we have.”
“The feral, the other feral, was trying to kill a friend.” Other feral, I know.
“And… and the last one… um…” Four people? I only remember one. And of course I can barely remember that. “I… I got angry. Really angry and messed up. I didn’t… didn’t mean to.”
“Angry?” asked the man.
Olivia stayed quiet for a moment. “Yeah,” she answered.
“Had you been outside of Freedom Fighter’s influence, would you have committed those murders?”
“No! No, of course not,” said Olivia. In the silence that followed, she added, “Please… please don’t dissect me.”
“What, do you think we work for Overlord or something?” responded the speaker, the woman this time, with outrage seeping into her tone. “No, of course we’re not going to dissect you.”
Olivia looked up at that. I really hope you people are honest. The woman continued, “We will be performing basic medical tests, but you will be free to turn down anything you may find objectionable.”
“Oh, well, OK. Wait, medical?”
“Yes, to make sure there are no unforeseen medical complications for you brewing further down the line.”
“Um, a friend of mine already did that, I think.” Thank you, Miya.
“OK, I see. You friend will have only noticed any health concerns relating to their specialty. Regardless, we will have a real medical professional check up on you.”
“Ummm…” I’d rather not get poked and prodded. “What do you mean by checkup?”
“A standard physical, some X rays, blood testing, and maybe some psychological testing. Nothing you wouldn’t see outside of a normal hospital visit.”
Wait a minute, you people shot me a whole bunch. Why do you care about my well-being now? “Why?” asked Olivia.
“Why do all of that?”
“We are responsible for your well-being. You are imprisoned, not slated for execution.”
“I… I don’t know.” Well, Miya and the others were concerned about… health stuff. I don’t know what exactly. And Miya keeps saying she’s only good with bones, so I guess this wouldn’t hurt.
“Think it over. We will respect your decision either way. Now, we’ll talk again tomorrow.” The speaker went dead, leaving the room silent once more.
The next day started much the same as the last. Olivia woke up, ate the meat and donuts provided, paced, and waited for something interesting happened. They held up the donut promise. That’s a good sign, right? This time, however, the speaker didn’t crackle to life like last time.
She felt subtle vibrations through the floor. A loud humming noise filled the whole room in response. The wall opposite the cell door began to slide to the side, revealing a thick glass wall. Olivia whirled around and uncurled her fingers.
Five people stood behind the glass. Two armed guards stood to the rear, one with a thick grey mustache on his upper lip, the other a young guy toting what appeared to be a grenade launcher. The three people in the forefront, near what appeared to be counter with its top obscured from Olivia’s view, looked more like civilians.
The bald man, off to Olivia’s left, stood with arms folded and the beginnings of a scowl on his face. In the center sat an impassive woman at the counter. The woman to Olivia’s right, in contrast, leaned forward eagerly, a small smile on her face. Both looked about forty years old. Not a lab coat in sight. Those movies didn’t have it all right.
The woman in the middle grabbed something unseen on the counter, then said, “Hello, Olivia. I am Dr. Dabrowski. This is Dr. Sullivan.” She pointed to the woman next to her. “And this is Dr. McCormick.” She pointed to the man.
“Um, hi?” What am I supposed to say?
Dr. Sullivan smiled wider and nodded. The man, Dr. McCormick, as well as the older security guard, frowned. What’d I do? Dr. Dabrowski continued, “Have you found the food satisfactory?”
“Yes. The, um, the donuts were good. Thank you.”
Dr. Dabrowski nodded. “Good. Have you thought over our proposal?”
“I… I still don’t know. I was, I don’t know. I was trying to avoid this exact kind of place for… as long as I can remember.”
“And how long is that?”
“I… um… two months.” I know, I’m weird.
Dr. Dabrowki nodded again. “There are many reasons for you to not trust us. We understand. But we can provide you answers. They may not be the answers you want, or were looking for, but they are answers. But you need to meet us halfway. We need your cooperation, and Mr. Walker needs to know you’re not a security risk. Otherwise we will be content to let you pace in your cell.”
“You… you can figure out who I was?” I… I can find out who my family was? What my real name is? The various scowls and smiles disappeared, replaced by looks of focus and consideration. Olivia ducked her head down.
“We’re working on it, yes. You can expedite the process.”
Olivia’s mouth opened, then closed. Open. Close. I really hope I don’t regret this somewhere down the line. “I… um… I… sure.” I really, really, really hope I don’t regret this somewhere down the line.
“Good,” said Dr. Dabroski. Behind her, the older guard pulled out a walkie talkie and began talking into it. The doctor turned around and exchanged a few words with him. She turned back to Olivia and said, “There will be an escort to Dr. Ruskov’s office. Please do not cause them any trouble.”
Olivia nodded. If I see a way out, I’m taking it. If not, then maybe this won’t be so bad. I hope.
The other two scientists headed towards the door as the wall slid back over the window. Behind Olivia, the door opened. She whirled around, and stared at the open doorway. No one appeared. Someone smells close by. Several someones. She approached. Can I just go through?
She went through the doorway, and found herself in another, smaller concrete room, this time with a large metal door in front of her. Three thick bolts in the door retracted, and the door opened. The guard who’d opened the door stood off to the side.
Oh, OK. She went through the next doorway, and came face to face with a very large gun pointed directly at her. She blinked. The four guards flanking her, two to each side, also carried the same grenade launcher looking things the guard with the scientists had carried. Them, and the two guards manning the gun, stared at her without expression. They are not messing around.
“This way,” said a guard to her right, motioning down the hallway.
She followed his lead. Like the time she’d been caught by the MHU, the four guards formed a box around her, two in front, two behind. They stayed well out of arm’s reach. The concrete of this hallways was a darker grey, though that might have been the dimmer lighting. What is it with all the concrete?
Her group passed two more set ups similar to her cell’s; a heavy gun aimed at a fortified metal door. Both were also manned. The sign above the first had “Steve” emblazoned in large black letters. The second had “Frogger” in the same style, with a bright yellow sign with a skull and crossbones next to it.
Steve? What’s wrong with Steve? I guess the same could be said about my name, but still. Wait, how did they know my name? And Frogger? I don’t see frogs as being particularly dangerous.
They came to a low, narrow door. One of the guards opened it. Olivia had grown used to having to duck under most doorways, but the hallway that extended beyond was exactly the same height. That was, about six inches lower than what her wings cleared. Olivia stopped, and looked at the guard who seemed to be in charge.
He noticed her look and shrugged. “One of the real big ones gets loose, they can’t get to anyone in here too easy.” He motioned for her to go through.
She sighed. Fine, whatever. Beats getting shot with grenades at any rate. Wait a minute, they’d get caught up in the explosion too. What do they shoot, then? Not that I want to find out firsthand, of course. She ducked down and hunched over. Thankfully, this didn’t go on for too long, and they came to an opened door.
“Doctor, she’s here,” called the lead guard.
“Ah, yes, thank you,” came a slightly accented voice from within. The guards stood off to the side to let Olivia in.
“We’ll be out here if you need anything,” called the guard, watching Olivia. Yeah, yeah. Dangerous feral. Got it.
She finally got to the office, and smiled when she found she could stand fully upright in the clean, well lit room. A man in the first white lab coat she’d seen in person typed away at a computer at the desk in the far end of the room, next to a wall of various instruments.
The doctor motioned over his shoulder to the bed, not looking away from his keyboard. “Please, take a seat.”
Olivia sat on the edge of the bed as the doctor muttered to himself, too indistinct for her battered ears to make out. After a moment, he stopped typing, grabbed a clipboard with a thick stack of paper in it, and propelled himself backwards towards her, spinning in the chair as it rolled towards her. He came to a stop about a foot from her and stood, adjusting his glasses.
“I am Dr. Ivan Ruskov. You are Olivia, yes?”
Olivia nodded. Um… you’re doctor? I mean, I see the lab coat, but really?
“Good, good,” he said, pulling a pen from the breast pocket of his lab coat. He scribbled something unintelligible. “This won’t be anything invasive. Just a simple physical, make sure nothing is amiss.”
“Physical?” They’re treating it like a thing, rather than a description, so I’m not quite sure what they’re talking about.
“Physical examination. Height, weight, just a visual examination to make sure you aren’t infected with some horrible virus, and so on.”
Olivia nodded. “OK.”
The doctor scribbled something else, then flipped the page. He stared at the next page on the clipboard for a moment, then sighed. Olivia’s brow furrowed as he plopped back into his chair and scribbled furiously.
“Sorry, this will just take a moment,” he said, not looking up.
After what Olivia felt to be an intensely awkward minute, she spoke up. “Um, excuse me?” she asked. You’re not going to get mad at questions, are you?
“You’re a doctor, right?”
“Yes,” he said, taking the question in stride.
“But… aren’t the other people I saw… um… Dabrowski, I think it was, doctors too?”
“Ah, you met the researchers. Well, no, they have doctorates in other things. Dr. Dabrowski’s specialty is in xenobiology.” He flipped the page, then continued his mad scribbling.
“No, they are the ones assigned to you. Each feral has about three to five scientists assigned to them.” He stopped, sighed again, then got up to check on something on the computer across the room.
“So, um, you’re not a researcher?”
“Well, I’m the medical doctor here. Mr. and Mrs. Zheng are the resident zookeepers, but I don’t think you’ll see too much of them. Everyone else is either a guard, scientist, or just a blue collar worker of some kind.” He wrote one final thing on his clipboard, held it up to the screen to double check, then returned to Olivia. I can read all of that stuff on his screen and clipboard, it just makes zero sense.
“Um, blue collar?” What does the collar have to do with anything?
He tilted his head one way, then the other, eyes on the ceiling. “Well, basically… lower end jobs. Janitors, the keepers working under the Zhengs, delivery boys, and so on. Blue collar is just a saying.”
“Rather inquisitive,” he commented. “OK, ready to begin? Do you know how old you are?”
“I, um, no.” What was it Ben said to Miya? “Um, my friends said I was about fifteen, maybe. I don’t know.”
He nodded and wrote something down real quick. “OK. We’re already… operating under, what were their words? ‘Assume human until something isn’t.’ Not knowing age won’t hurt too much.” Assume human. That’s positive. Right?
He followed with a battery of questions, only half of which she understood. Why is everyone so concerned with what I eat? The doctor simply nodded whenever she told him that, so she couldn’t really get mad at him. Then he had her stand on a scale, and pulled up a metal thing attached to the back.
“Six foot ten, two hundred and eighty seven pounds,” he murmured to himself.
Back at the bed, he pulled out a small flat wooden stick. “Open wide, stick out your tongue.” Olivia eyed the stick. “It’s a tongue depressor, let’s me see,” he clarified. She complied after a moment. “Hrm. Split tongue, serrated teeth. Everything else seems human, nothing is swollen or off color. Good,” muttered the doctor. This is weird, isn’t it?
After disposing the stick (call it something fancy all you like, it’s a wooden stick), Dr. Ruskov walked over to some cabinets over by the door. He grabbed a small box of latex gloves and some syringes and placed them on the counter, then left them there. Um, I don’t think I like that. He then walked over to the other side of the room and grabbed something metal with black plastic on the end.
“You have good eyesight, yes?” he asked, clicking on some application on his computer.
“Um, yeah. I think.”
In response, a projector hummed to life, and the lights went dim. A series of letters appeared on the blank patch of wall in front of her. After reading progressively smaller and small letters, until the projector reduced them to indistinct blurs even she couldn’t read, he turned the lights back on.
“I want to try something.” He stood directly in front of her and held out a finger. “Keep your eyes on my finger. Keep your head still.” Um, OK?
She tracked his finger as he slowly swept it left, then right. I think I was moving my head. Oops.
The doctor nodded. “Alright, let’s try this. Hold still” He held her chin lightly between his index finger and thumb. “This time, try not to push against my fingers, OK?”
She tracked his finger as far as she could, about five inches to her right until he stopped.
“OK, keep your eyes on it,” he said. He moved his hand about two more inches out. Her head jerked to keep track, brushing his hand out of the way. What the… What am I doing?
He moved his finger to her left. Same response. He repeated the process, Olivia getting more and more confused in the meantime. He nodded, then returned to the counter to his clipboard. He flipped another page and began writing again.
I think I missed something. “Um, excuse me,” she said.
“Yes?” he replied, not looking up.
“What was that? I mean, I know that was something to do with eyes, but what… exactly… was that?”
“You have been watching me like a hawk, literally. It is quite noticeable. Your eyes can move a small amount in their… sockets, but you still need to move your head to track things.”
How have I never noticed this before? This seems like something I’d have noticed. “I… um… really?” she asked.
“Yes. Why would I lie? I don’t… foresee this being a problem, but I thought you should know.” He sat back on his chair and resumed his clipboard scribbling. Oh, great. Weirder eyes along with everything else. This is just wonderful.
“This is a lot easier,” murmured Dr. Ruskov
“Um,” began Olivia. What?
“Hm?” he said, looking up from his clipboard. He realized she’d heard him. “Oh, well… ferals are sedated before we give them medical checkups, so you can’t ask them questions or tell them ‘keep your mouth open’ or something. It’s that or I’m patching up guards after ferals try to get out before the… ambulances get here. This is much easier. Now, ears.”
“They’ve been ringing a lot. For a while.”
“Let’s take a look.”
After sticking some cone thing in her ears, he said, “Your ears are pretty… banged up, but I’m not seeing any other injuries. I heard you got… roughed up on the way in here.”
“Yeah. I heal fast, I think,” replied Olivia. Roughed up? Is that what you call it?
“Hm,” he said, nodding “Any problems hearing?”
“No problems, but it’s all kind of… um… lessened. Not as clear.”
“I see,” he responded. After some more quality clipboard time, he had her walk over to the blood pressure cuff. He then took her wrist and checked her pulse.
“Now, stay there,” he said as he walked around behind her. She started to track him, until he said, “Please don’t twist around.” Right, freaky hawk vision. “Your wings. Are they functional?”
“Um, yeah, I fly around and stuff.”
“Hang on,” he murmured. She felt him move aside the flap of the shirt between her wings. “Olivia, can you tell me anything about these dark spots along your back?”
“No! What? No,” she stammered, twisting around and getting a faceful of wing for her trouble. Now what?
“Please hold still,” he said immediately. She ignored him, backing up and trying to get the offending wing out of the way to look around. “Olivia,” he snapped. “Let me look. I will explain, and there is a mirror for you to see for yourself. Calm down.”
She forced herself to stop. “What are you talking about? What dark spots?”
“There are two lines of them along either side of your spine. I saw something I might need to check. Please hold still for just a moment.”
She held still, though every urge she had told her to brush him aside. “Hm. Tell me if you feel this.” That’s not a good sign.
Something along her back twitched. She jumped. “What was that? What was that?”
“If I had to guess, spikes.”
She whirled around at him. “WHAT?”
“Spikes,” he repeated. “The spots are rather… oblong. You didn’t notice them before?”
“I… it’s not like I check my back for spikes every morning. Or at all. Whatever.” She crashed on the hospital bed again. No. No. This is stupid. The world can’t be this stupid. I can’t just grow new stuff. What next? Antenna? Another pair of wings? What? How?
“Well, I have a theory,” said the doctor. I said that last question aloud, didn’t I? “Well, dragons.” He stopped. “You would consider your other half to be dragon, yes?”
“Sure.” Please get on with it.
“Yes, dragon. So, we don’t know how long adolescence lasts for dragons. You are young, you could still be in the beginnings of puberty, and this is part of it. We don’t know.”
Olivia hung her head. Spikes along my back? Because of dragon puberty? This is stupid. This is so stupid.
“Do you need a moment?” asked the doctor.
She stayed quiet for a moment. Deal with this later. And no, I don’t want to look at them. One deep breath later, she said, “No… just… no. Let’s get everything else over with.”
I’d rather not have to deal with this while complete strangers are waiting on me. But I also have wings and a tail sticking out of my back, spikes aren’t too weird, right? Or am I just deluding myself?
Dr. Ruskov leaned back against the counter. “No, that was it. Do you have any questions?”
“Um… was there anything… you know… weird? Weirder.” I know, I’m weird.
“Well, your teeth are more shark-like than anything else, which is… a bit odd.”
“Why?” Why am I weird? Dumb question.
“Well, sharks are fish, crocodiles are reptiles. We figured crocodiles would be closest to you, biology wise, but evolution always throws us… curve balls like this.” Why does almost every answer of yours start with ‘well’?
“Does it matter?”
He did his head tilting thing again. “Well, neither sharks or crocodiles have evolved to any significant degree in millions of years, so it’s basically a choice between the teeth of… one evolutionarily perfect hyper carnivore and another. I wouldn’t worry about it, but then again I’m not a dentist, so I don’t know for certain. Though I am curious as to whether you have wisdom teeth now.”
“Your heart rate is a lot slower than I would have expected, but blood pressure and everything else seems to be in order, so no worries there. I told you about your eye movements. Other than those, nothing out of the ordinary.”
Olivia nodded. I guess that could have been worse.
The doctor continued, “So far as I can tell, you are perfectly healthy, but there are still a couple concerns. Sometimes the bacteria in your digestive system don’t… make the jump, but if you haven’t had any problems in the last two month, you should be fine for now. The two big concerns we have for you right now are diseases and cancer.”
“Aren’t those concerns for everyone?” asked Olivia. Ask about the bacteria later.
Dr. Ruskov chuckled. “True, but for you especially.” His easy smile vanished. “We don’t know how well your immune system adapts. If you catch strep throat, you could shrug it off in a day, or be put in the emergency room. We don’t know what the pathogens from your other half are like and we don’t how you will react to the ones here. Vaccinations will be very risky. As for cancer… well… do you know what that is?”
“Bad?” Certainly doesn’t sound good, from what I’ve picked up.
He nodded, scratching his chin, then continued, “In… layman’s terms, cancer is the uncontrolled division, the reproduction, of cells. Your cells got a bit… wonky? Yes, wonky in the jump. Wings are not… standard issue for people. All that added mass got there somehow.”
“Um,” began Olivia, scratching the back of her head. “That’s… um… that’s bad.”
He nodded. “The sample size of ferals is far smaller than any other demographic, but cancer has a disproportionately large occurrence rate. You appear to be very naturally resilient, so this shouldn’t be too big an issue, but you should be aware. Don’t stress about it, stress is never healthy.”
Olivia sighed. “Sure.”
“Don’t take this as a cancer diagnosis. You just need to be aware of the risks.”
“OK.” That’s still terrifying.
“Any other questions?”
Olivia shook her head.
“Alright. We just need a blood sample and we will be done here. Dr. Dabrowski may have questions for you, but the majority of those will probably wait until after it gets through the bloodworks.” He walked over to the counter.
“Bloodworks?” I’m not being stupid, am I?
“Hrm? Oh, that’s just the big analytical machine we use for getting almost anything you could want from a single sample of blood. Some crazy… techie contraption, very expensive, but it’s damn accurate,” he said as he put on some blue latex gloves and prepped a syringe.
He held up the empty syringe, then stopped. “This little thing isn’t going to work, is it?” he asked. Olivia shook her head. He scratched his head. “I… don’t know what will.” There’s iron, but that’s going to stay my little secret for as long as possible.
“Wait, they said they had a knockout drug administered via drip. How…” he trailed off. He set the needle aside on the tray and pulled off his latex gloves, throwing them in a red trashcan with a bunch of almost finished circles arranged on it. He hurried over to his computer. “Oh, those fucking idiots!”
This just keeps getting better and better. Olivia sighed. “What?” she asked. He’ll fill in the blanks, I’m sure.
“Those idiot police just taped a needle in a bullet hole,” he said, anger creeping into his voice. “I don’t care how advanced their techie was, that’s…” he muttered to himself, his speech descending into a different language.
He sighed after a time and stood upright. “I’ll assume you don’t want to get shot, so we can’t do the same thing. I’ll think on it. I’ll also find a good ENT doctor to check your ears out.”
“Oh. Um… thank you.”
He nodded and picked up his clipboard for the nth time. “We are done. Dr. Dabrowski wishes to speak to you.”
“Um, thank you. For… um… telling me.” Well, they did promise answers I might not have liked.
“Of course. If you are ever feeling unwell, let me know. Stay healthy, and good luck.”