Olivia jerked upright at Ben’s mention of Doctor Grey. I remember him. “Doctor Grey?” she asked. Did I hear him wrong?
“Yeah. I don’ know what he did, but those fellas I got outta there mentioned him an’ Doctor Green. Why?” replied Ben.
“He was at the research place.”
Everyone froze. Uh oh. It’s never a good sign when they do that. “So ya met him?” asked Ben.
“Yeah. I bumped into him once. That wasn’t… wasn’t fun. I got shot. But, um, he was there. He wanted to do brain scans and stuff too. He was a, um, a neurologist, I think.” That’s the word, right? Miya blinked as sunlight started streaming in through the windows near the roof and moved to join Olivia on her cot.
“Could it have been a different Doctor Grey? Grey is a real last name, it could be coincidence,” said Chris, across from Olivia in the circle they’d formed to talk.
Amanda snorted. “Coincidence, he says. Let me see what I can pull up on the staff,” she said as she jumped up and opened a third laptop on her ad hoc desk a couple feet away.
“Ben, what else do you know about Grey?” asked Chris as Amanda started typing.
“Nothin’. He was jus’ mentioned as one of the guys the scientists had to work with. But they might have mentioned something about him making sure the velociraptor clones had functioning brains, now that I think about it. But I can’t say for certain. One of the guys only spoke Nahua, the other’s English wasn’t so good.” So, is that a maybe then?
“Olivia, is this the guy you’re talking about?” asked Amanda as she spun the laptop around to show a picture of the pudgy, balding man.
“Yes, that’s him.” Olivia frowned. He’s still got that creepy little smile in that picture. At least I can’t smell him though the picture. Cigarettes smell awful.
“Alright,” said Amanda. “He’s a neuroscience guy, like you said. A couple HR complaints, he had his pay docked for a week for a disciplinary infraction. He’s had jobs at a couple other labs, worked at Johns Hopkins for a year. It looks like that kind of stuff was by no means outside the norm for him. But… they did have some suspicions about him. It looks like he was under investigation for research theft.”
Johns Hopkins? Who is that? And how do you work at a person? “Um, who is that? Johns Hopkins?” asked Olivia.
“Who? Oh, Johns Hopkins is one of the best medical universities in the US. It’s probably named after some old dead white guy named Johns Hopkins, if I had to guess,” answered Amanda.
“Oh, OK. Thanks.”
“No problem. Anyway, he’s got a fairly extensive record, and the government is always looking for Overlord agents.”
Everyone is really freaking out right now. But they don’t know if Grey even works for Overlord. “Why is this such a big deal?” Olivia asked. Everyone else stared at her. “I mean, I get that Overlord isn’t a nice guy, but is there only one Doctor Grey in the whole world?”
She saw Miya frown and open her mouth. Before Miya could say anything, Chris said, “If you’ve caught Overlord’s attention, that’s a very, very bad sign. He’s overthrown two dictators, in Serbia and Iraq, just to get what he wants.”
“So, what does he want?”
Amanda and Chris exchanged glances. “That’s a very good question,” said Chris.
After a silent moment, Olivia asked, “Does my very good question have an answer?”
“Not really,” replied Amanda. Hey! I don’t feel dumb for not knowing something for once.
“He’s the fuckin’ boogieman,” said Rob. “Every Techcon I’ve ever been to has stories ‘bout him. He’s fuckin’ everywhere, but that’s mainly because it’s not just him. Lots of employees like this Doctor Grey guy. Sometimes you hear about a car factory bein’ a front for one of his drone manufacturers or somethin’ like that. In Iraq, he spent most of his effort diggin’ up ancient shit. Ancient shit ain’t exactly the cuttin’ edge of tech he usually is.”
“He’s trying to figure out magic, too,” added Miya quietly, staring at her hands. Olivia wrapped a wing around her.
“So, long story short, we need to make absolutely certain he doesn’t know and/or care about you,” said Chris.
“Oh, OK,” said Olivia. This doesn’t sound good.
“Wait, Amanda,” said Rob. “You said stuff went wrong when we were bustin’ Olivia out, right?”
“Yes,” replied Amanda. “The only thing that should have happened was a false alarm, the cameras tampered with, and Olivia’s cell unlocked. Every feral being released was definitely not part of it.”
“Yeah, an’ it was mass chaos, right?” asked Ben, nodding to Rob. He grinned.
“Yes,” replied Chris.
Olivia scratched at the scab that remained on her back. Thanks, mass chaos. Her leg and back wounds had healed to the point she rarely noticed them anymore, but her arm still had a thin white line from where a knife had caught her. I think that’s a scar now. It hasn’t changed at all lately.
“OK. Who on staff is still listed as missin’?” said Ben.
“Let me check,” said Amanda. “Why?”
“If he was workin’ for Overlord, an’ was under scrutiny, what’s a good way to escape? Mass feral breakout’s a good way.”
“Yeah, but how would he know that we were going to break Olivia out?” asked Amanda.
“Maybe he had it set up for a while, then noticed when we started with the false alarm. An’ if he’s workin’ for Overlord, a computer system is nothin’.”
“Yeah, you’re right. They do get that alarm about once a month when a feral loses it. Ours could have just happened to be the one he chose to take advantage of.” Really? I didn’t hear one when I was there. But I was only there for a week or so, so I guess that wasn’t long enough.
“But why?” asked Chris. “He wouldn’t have known about the investigation. If they were letting him keep working around sensitive material, they obviously didn’t want him to know about it. What changed?”
Everyone looked at Olivia. What’d I do? Oh.
“Olivia, what kind of tests were they doing with you? If you’re OK with answering…” said Amanda, trailing off.
Why wouldn’t I be? “A lot of it was psychological stuff. Um, there were also things like strength and reflex tests and stuff.”
Not that I can… wait. “Oh, yeah. They took a bunch of samples of my blood.”
“How much is a bunch?” asked Chris.
“Ten? Yeah, about ten.”
Everyone stayed quiet for a moment. That means something bad, but I’m not sure what. It’s just blood. They just wanted it for DNA stuff, right? I remember asking Dr. Ruskov about it.
“Amanda, can you check on if any of those blood samples have gone missing?” asked Chris.
“Can do,” she replied.
“Um, what’s wrong with the blood samples?”
“You know what DNA is?” asked Rob.
“Oh yeah! DNA is the genetic code of all life on earth. It governs how our cells work and how traits are expressed, like height. And it’s, um, a double helix. Yeah.” Olivia smiled. I knew something!
Amanda’s typing faltered for a moment. Miya glanced at Olivia as Rob blinked. What? “How did you know that?” asked Rob.
“I was talking with one of the doctors at the feral place, and he told me.”
“Oh,” said Rob. “OK. Well, I’m no expert, but from what I understand, DNA is needed to know what exactly is goin’ on in somethin’. Also, that’s what you use to clone somethin’.”
“Could also get genetic enhancements from your DNA,” added Amanda. “Sky’s the limit for Overlord. There’s not much official progress on genetic manipulation, it keeps getting bogged down by politics, but he’s not so restricted.”
“The magic stuff that makes you bulletproof was biological, too,” added Miya. I’m not bulletproof. They hurt.
“Yeah, you said you could duplicate the magic Olivia has, right?” said Chris. Miya nodded. “Then so can Overlord.”
“Alright, found what we’re looking for. Their records indicate that everything is where it is. But… oh. Someone altered the records, not me. The number of samples stored went from ten to seven. Three unused blood samples were taken,” said Amanda with a frown. “Uh oh. And guess who’s missing?”
“Doctor Grey,” said Chris. Amanda nodded. “So Overlord is probably after her.”
“Maybe. The chance is definitely there,” replied Miya. Oh, so the government and this scary guy are after me, rather than just the government. Miya wrapped an arm around Olivia’s waist.
“So, what does that mean? Like, should we do something, or…” said Olivia.
“We’ll have to be cautious,” said Chris.
“We know he pays Slim Jim,” added Miya with a stormy look on her face.
“But he already has my blood,” said Olivia. What more would he want?
“True. But we have no concept of what his goals are. Like I said, there’s not much we can do besides extra vigilance.”
“Real question is what’s keepin’ us from just skippin’ town an’ findin’ someplace else to be? Keep it harder to track us,” said Ben.
Amanda coughed. Rob said, “We might need to take a day or two to get Amanda’s car back in workin’ order. Maybe three.”
“Three days?” asked Chris. “It took you two a couple hours to tear it apart.”
“Yeah… but…” began Amanda, not making eye contact.
“Makin’ a whole new engine will take a little longer than rippin’ one out,” said Rob, finishing for Amanda.
“What did you do to the old engine?” asked Chris.
It was Rob’s turn to avoid eye contact. “Yes… well…”
“It might be in many pieces now,” said Amanda. “Rob can make this super conductive copper wiring stuff, and I was trying to improve the battery and wiring, and a lot of pieces were in the way. And I had this good idea for this awesome electric motor, and a lot of other stuff would need replacing for that. And so… yeah. It definitely needs replacing now.”
Chris sighed. Ben started laughing. “What was that stuff about the magnets?” asked Miya.
“Oh right! The car is a hovercraft now!” said Amanda. Olivia blinked. What? Just… but… what?
“It’s fuckin’ amazin’,” added Rob.
“We were right about to test it when you called this meeting thing.”
“Yeah, the power source we made puts out a bunch of heat. Took up the whole trunk, too.”
“And we needed to make sure the materials wouldn’t deform when it’s turned on for more than a minute or so.”
“Yeah, the wirin’ don’t have a good heat capacity, even for a metal. That thing is a monster. We were lookin’ at other coolin’ options. Air may not do the trick.” Oh, so that’s what that mechanical roaring kind of sound from outback is.
“You turned it off before we came in, right?” asked Amanda. Rob and Amanda looked at each other and froze, smiles vanishing from their faces. That doesn’t look good.
“Oh shit,” he said as they scrambled out of their chairs and sprinted out back. Chris massaged his temples and sighed again. So, wait, the car is hovering right now? Or melting, one of the two?
Ben grinned and stared at the door Amanda and Rob had left through. “I dunno ‘bout the rest of ya, but I kinda wanna know what they’re doin’ now.” With that, he jumped off of his cot and jogged after them.
Olivia looked down at Miya next to her. At least she’s not frowning anymore. She’s been angry ever since we got to this city. In contrast, Miya now had a slight smile on her lips.
“He’s right, I want to know what they did to the car,” said Miya as Ben reached the door. Miya, Olivia, and Chris followed Ben outside. The roar of what sounded like a small jet turbine grew louder as they approached.
Whoa. Amanda’s car floated about a foot or two in the air. The air shimmered from two vents on either side of the car, running the entire bottom length, jetting out hot air. Olivia could barely hear Amanda and Rob shouting at each other.
Loud. Too loud. Olivia grimaced and hung back about twenty feet from the car. Behind Rob, Ben smiled and sat on one of the metal desks they’d made, his legs swinging below him and his back to a scrap heap. Miya headed forward, but stopped and joined Olivia.
Olivia saw Rob shout something to Amanda, who sat at a computer she had attached with several long cables to the trunk of the car. Amanda gave a thumbs up. He grabbed the frame of the car, they still hadn’t replaced the doors, and pulled himself in the car. The hovering car leaned a couple inches to the side, then leveled out as Rob sat in the driver’s seat. He returned Amanda’s thumbs up.
She nodded and the sounds began to recede, the car drifting to the ground. Nothing exploded. Good. Amanda almost lit herself on fire with this one circuit thing once.
“It worked!” exclaimed Rob as he hopped out of the car.
Amanda rushed over to the trunk and opened it. “No smoke,” she announced. You were expecting smoke? “The thing was on for maybe fifteen minutes.”
“Mission accomplished?” asked Rob, joining her.
“Have to check the insides once it cools off. But I think so. The energy fluctuations were reasonably small, so I don’t think anything was going wrong.” Amanda and Rob exchanged a fist bump.
“Why is the back left tire missing?” asked Chris.
Rob leaned over to check the wheel well in question and paused. “I… don’t remember. Oh, yeah, I was gonna replace the shocks when Amanda looked at it and thought she could use black magic to help ease the load.” Black magic? Oh, right, magnets. I remember.
“And then, after some calculations, I thought I might actually be able to lift the mass of the car into the air. And so we did,” said Amanda, a crazy grin on her face. At least you two are happy.
“Oh yeah. An’ I don’t think I ever got around to replacing that tire,” said Rob.
“Obviously,” said Ben. “Also, how’s it supposed to go?”
“What are you talking about?” asked Amanda.
“How do ya make it go forward when it’s hoverin’? Ya got no traction with those tires up in the air.” Oh, I wouldn’t have thought of that. I still can’t believe they made a hovercar in the first place.
Amanda’s face fell, as Rob said, “Motherfucker!”
“Wait!” exclaimed Amanda. “We could just use forward momentum on the ground, and then put it in the air.”
“That defeats the purpose,” responded Rob. “Air resistance or drag or whatever would slow it down. An’ the point is that it not rely on bein’ on the ground.”
“Damn. Maybe… reroute the cooling air, use them as a jet?” Do they even know the rest of us are here right now?
“Could. But I think that only works for combustion-”
“Hey!” broke in Chris. “We need that car working. Not the hovercraft. The car. You can do this once we get to a city where the cops aren’t explicitly looking for us. Can you do that?”
“Yeah, but… but…” said Amanda.
“So cool,” said Rob. “Such a fun challenge. This isn’t even the coolest thing, just the hardest.”
“The mini EMP thing is almost done,” added Amanda.
“The caltrops, the armored seats and doors,” continued Rob.
“I bet you two can’t get that thing working in less than twenty-four hours,” said Chris, deadpan.
“Oooooh!” said Ben with an extra wide grin.
“What?” asked Rob and Amanda simultaneously. Olivia recoiled slightly at the heat in their voices.
“I bet you two can’t get that thing working in less than a day,” Chris repeated. While I would say that’s not very nice, I don’t see much in the front thing where the engine goes. Which kind of makes me wonder why you have it propped open, but maybe that’s just me.
Rob’s eyes narrowed. “I see what you’re doin’ here.”
Chris maintained the same neutral expression. “So? That doesn’t prove me wrong.”
Amanda glared at him, then exchanged glances with Rob. “Fine,” she said through gritted teeth. “It’ll work perfectly by this time tomorrow morning.”
Chris nodded. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, yeah. All you, fuck off unless you wanna help,” said Rob, heading towards a toolbox. Hey.
“Wait, no, not even then. He’ll do it wrong,” said Amanda. Miya, beside Olivia, snickered. He just told us to fuck off. How is that funny? Or was that meant as a joke? Oh, yeah, never mind.
Chris shrugged and backed away without a word. Ben started laughing. “You too,” snapped Rob.
Ben hopped down from the desk, still laughing. “Come on, let’s let them work,” said Chris as he headed back towards the main building. Olivia and the others followed.
Olivia stifled a yawn as she returned to her cot. Sleep time. I didn’t even get to fly around last night. She fell forward onto the cot, her feet sticking about a foot off the end, and closed her eyes. I hope Ben is OK. He lost two fingers and he’s acting the same. I know I wouldn’t be able to do that. I should ask him about it. But what would I say?
“Hey, Miya, totally forgot about this, but I got that bag full of tha’ stuff outta Don’s safe,” said Ben in a hushed voice.
Olivia wrapped her pillow around her ears, not that it would help all that much. I hate my sleep schedule. Olivia usually went to sleep about the time everyone else woke up. They tried to stay quiet, but she could hear almost everything anyways.
“Oh shit,” said Miya. “How did we forget about that?”
“I dunno. I was kinda out of it.”
“Oh, right.” Oh, is this the stuff Ben got hurt for? Olivia raised her head out of curiosity. Ben and Miya stood on either sides of a table, and Ben upended a black duffel bag. What was that? Olivia cocked her head as she spotted a yellow metallic flash amid the papers.
“Here’s everything,” said Ben as Olivia got up to join them. “Hey,” he said to Olivia in greeting. “No sleep?” Olivia shook her head.
“How did you get that safe opened?” asked Miya as she lifted one of the papers.
“He had a little notebook in his desk, found the combo written in there.”
“Why was it written down?”
“He’d be screwed if he couldn’t remember it.”
Olivia moved aside some papers and picked up the two small yellow metal bars off the table. Gold. Shiny.
“Hey, what’cha got there?” asked Ben, startling Olivia. Her hand reflexively closed around the two little gold bars.
“What? Oh, um…” Maybe he didn’t see anything. No, wait, he did. And why does that matter? She forced her hand open enough for him to see.
“Oh shit. Is that gold?” He reached for one, and one of her claws nearly stabbed his finger as her hand closed again.
“I, um, sorry,” stammered Olivia. What’s wrong with me?
He gave her a strange look. “I’d like to keep the rest of my fingers. I’m jus’ gonna look,” he said.
“Sorry. Sorry,” she stammered again, forcing her hand open once more.
“Gold, really?” asked Miya. Chris joined them, a questioning look on his face.
“Yeah, they’ve got Overlord’s little symbol thing on ‘em,” said Ben.
“How much do you think we can sell them for?” asked Miya.
“What? But… sell?” But… shiny.
“Yeah,” said Miya. “What else are we going to do with them?”
“But… we could, you know, hold onto them. Or something,” said Olivia.
Ben started laughing. “They’ve got Overlord’s symbol on them. We’ll be arrested in a heartbeat if we try to sell these legitimately. I get the feelin’ these are worth more than gold in the right circles. You wanna hold onto ‘em, Little Bird?” Yes!
“Wha-” asked Chris, his question cut short by Ben’s kick to his shin.
“Um, yes please,” said Olivia, answering Ben’s question.
“Cool,” said Ben with a grin. “Need help reading through all this, Miya? I think the gold proves he had ties to Overlord if nothin’ else.”
“I think I’ve got it. Thanks though.” Miya took a deep breath. Olivia shoved the gold in her pocket and stood next to Miya.
Chris opened his mouth again, and Ben leaned in next to his ear and whispered, “What do dragons hoard?” He winked at Olivia. Gold, apparently. It’s so shiny.