The whole group hovered over Amanda’s shoulder as she navigated the contents of her two flash drives. Ben and Rob flicked each other in the ear, breaking up the otherwise silent moment.
“Here we go. Here’s your file, Red,” called out Amanda after a minute.
She brought a few documents up on the laptop screen. Olivia tilted her head at the picture of the familiar scowling, dark haired girl on the screen, then to Red, standing on the opposite side of the cluster of people. Wait, I’ve seen that picture before. Wasn’t… wasn’t she one of the girls that Amanda thought could be me? She tucked her wing in tighter, letting Miya beside her get a better look.
“I don’t know her. I… I don’t recognize her,” said Red, her usual identical scowl replaced with a curious frown. Her claw fiddled with a small hole in the sleeve of the shirt Olivia had loaned her. Buddy and the other girl watched the proceedings from opposite sides of the lair, gauging her reaction. Good. Just… stay over there.
“Yeah, not totally unexpected,” said Ben.
“Listen up,” said Amanda, reading off the document. “Here we go. Name of Samantha Weiss. Age fifteen. Runaway. Mom was single. They… they grabbed you off the streets, sometime in late March. They kept you under until they needed a…” Amanda’s mouth twisted. “They needed a subject, age fifteen, female. Like Olivia. After, you know, the stuff, it looks like you’re in very good health. Nothing went horribly wrong.”
“Something wrong?” asked the nameless girl from the table, halfway across the lair. “What do you mean something went wrong?”
Amanda blinked in surprise, and spun around in her chair to get a look at the girl who’d spoken. She said something! Olivia offered her a small smile, though the girl’s eyes remained fixed on the screen.
“Oh, hi. What?” replied Amanda. “Nothing went wrong.”
“No, but something could go wrong? Or could have already?”
“Yes. There were twenty initial subjects, ten male, ten female. Hang on, there was something about this somewhere.”
Amanda brought up another couple of documents.
“Here it is. Blah, blah, blah, ‘Two females expired during the process. Five more expired due to complications, detailed,’ in some other part, ‘three males expired during the same process, and five due to similar complications. Of the two remaining, one has developed abnormalities within its heart and requires further study. While the larger number of surviving females, as well as the source of the genetic material suggests they are preferable, with the small sample size any such conclusions would be premature.’”
Ben let out a low whistle and said, “Clinical motherfuckers.”
Amanda shook her head closed the new document. “I haven’t read your file, so I don’t know about you,” she said to the girl. “But so far as those Overlord guys could tell, Samantha here has a clean bill of health.”
“Samantha,” Red repeated to herself.
“Anythin’ comin’ back?” asked Ben.
“No.” By this point, everyone had turned to face Red. Rob leaned against the desk beside Amanda, and Miya watched as she bit her lip “No, nothing,” Red continued. “Is there anything else?”
“That’s all Overlord’s people had to say on you. I don’t think they cared, so long as you were healthy. But…” Amanda shooed Red and Ben out of her way, moving to a computer on another desk. “We stole a file the feds had on you. Or copied, whatever. There might be more details in there.”
“Stole?” asked Red, the corners of her lips quirking up in the beginnings of a smile.
Amanda let out a quick laugh. “Yeah, it’s complicated.” A moment later, she said, “Here’s what there is in the missing person case for you. Ran away from home. Mother is normal suburbanite. Maybe… yeah, the feds thought you were acting out. Looks like it was a messy divorce between your parents.”
“What now? Divorce?” asked Red.
“They were married, and now they’re not.”
“Oh, right,” replied Red, shaking her head. “I don’t remember.” I know, I know. Red let out a hiss. “I can’t remember shit. Fuck this. Fuck her.”
“Well, who are you, then?”
“Hold up, I meant that as a nickname, not a real name,” said Ben.
Red shrugged. “So? I’m not her. She doesn’t have claws, she ran away from a family I don’t know. It’s not like I have a better name, and I’m not taking the name of some idiot girl I’ve never met.” She shook her head, a growl rising in her throat. “Fuck it, I’m going for a walk.”
Olivia felt her eyes widen. What is wrong with you? We just handed you your whole past and you’re just walking away? What?
“Whoa, hold up,” said Ben, teleporting between Red and the door as she walked away. Her shoulder collided with his, sending him staggering back. No. Olivia uncurled her claws and marched forward. Red whirled around, wings half spread and teeth bared.
It took Olivia to realize that she mirrored Red. Ben had teleported between the two of them, Rob rushing to join them. Buddy and the nameless girl hissed in the background.
“Calm down, calm down,” said Rob, trying to pull an unyielding Olivia away from Red.
Fine. Olivia curled her hands and backed away a step.
Ben talked up to Red. “Jus’ listen for a minute. You hearin’ me?” He held up a hand, his other behind his back, resting on something. Is… is that a knife? An iron knife? Red narrowed her eyes at Olivia and nodded. “OK. You’re gonna wanna stay outta sight. People ain’t gonna react well to ya, an’ soldiers might shoot at ya. Got that? Hell, I’ll come with ya. Sound good?”
Red jerked her head in a quick nod and stormed out the door without a look back. You get to know who you are. Why are you being… being an asshole? Ben grimaced and teleported after her.
“Jesus Christ,” muttered Rob, running a hand through his hair as the door shut behind Ben.
Silence fell over the lair. Olivia walked over to her beanbag and collapsed on it. Ungrateful little…
“So, do either of you want to figure this out?” Amanda asked Buddy and the nameless girl, breaking the silence.
“Yes,” said the girl. Buddy just glowered, keeping an eye on Olivia. You want some too? Once he finally broke eye contact, Olivia pulled out her tablet, with the sound of Amanda typing in the background. Stupid, stupid… She took a deep breath. Calm. No dragon. Calm.
Olivia kept her eyes on the book on the tablet, though she kept her ears open. “Beth. Your name is Bethany Alderson,” Amanda explained to the girl.
“Thank god. Is there anything else? I… I can’t remember anything,” asked the nameless girl, now Beth. She stood with the others, her tired eyes fixed on Amanda’s screen. Buddy kept his distance at the far end of the lair, near the food and long table.
“Not too much. A runaway, like Sam. Or Red, whatever. Again, healthy, no real issues. They thought something went wrong with your ears. Overlord’s people were about to start tests.”
“OK, Overlord. I keep hearing that name and I have no idea what it means. I’m tired of being confused. What is going on?” asked Beth.
“Yeah,” agreed Buddy, his voice deeper than Olivia would have expected. “I’m tired of this.”
Everyone’s heads whipped around as Buddy spoke. He stood upright and glowered at the stares. “So both of you can talk, I was wondering,” murmured Amanda.
“What, exactly, am I? Are we?”
“Olivia didn’t explain?” asked Miya.
“Yeah, I thought she’d have done that already,” said Amanda.
Olivia looked up from her book. “No, nothing.” It’s not like anyone ever listens.
“Well, ask away,” said Amanda. Olivia mostly tuned out the conversation, she’d heard it all before.
“So yeah, that’s that,” concluded Rob.
“Feral. Fuck,” muttered Beth with a grimace. Hey.
“You get used to it, I guess,” said Olivia.
“Real helpful,” said Beth, a small sneer forming on her face. Go away. Olivia set aside her tablet with a hiss.
Rob jumped between them. “Nope, nope, no fightin’. You hear me?”
Olivia locked eyes with Beth. “Sorry, I’m just frustrated. Sorry,” said Beth after a moment, curling her clawed hands.
“Sorry,” Olivia mumbled back. Just let me read my book.
“You two good?” asked Rob, taking a cautious step back.
“Yeah,” said Olivia and Beth at the same time. Just leave me alone.
“Would you want to find your family?” asked Miya.
“Alright, we’ll get that all sorted out. There’s not much here right now, but with a name I can find almost anything about you. You’re up, Buddy,” said Amanda. Beth skirted around him as they switched spots in the lair.
Olivia hit the next page button, forgetting to use the back of her claw. It left a deep scratch in the screen. No, no, no. She placed the tablet to her side and buried her face into the dark blue beanbag as the others talked. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Alright, Buddy, your real name is Hank Lentz. Another runaway kid. Grabbed in early June. And, whoa. That’s bad. They’re thinking you have heart problems.” Buddy, now Hank, frowned. Heart? Wait.
Amanda stared hard at the screen for a moment.
“I have no idea what they’re talking about,” she said. “They saw heart irregularities? I think that’s what they said. That other guy, the one that didn’t make it, they mention him as well.” Hearts, something about our hearts. What?
“Why am I alive, then?” asked Hank.
Amanda threw her hands up. “I don’t know, they don’t know. Hell, they were just seeing what the fuck they could do. They were surprised any of you made it. So I guess watch your heart health or whatever.”
Gland. “Gland,” Olivia repeated out loud.
“What was that?” asked Miya.
Olivia lifted her head up. “Um, at that feral research place. Dr. Ruskov said he found a gland thing close to my heart. Is that it?”
“I… have no idea,” said Amanda. “How did they find that?”
“Um, an X-ray I think. And they were talking about magic. That might be it,” replied Olivia.
Rob and Amanda turned to Miya, whose eyes widened at the sudden scrutiny. “Oh, yeah, I can take a look.Olivia sat up as she approached.
“Wait, magic? Seriously?” asked Beth, eyebrow raised.
“You’ve got claws and wings, and you’re questioning the existence of magic? Really?” replied Miya with an incredulous smile. Beth folded her arms and stayed quiet. “Alright, where is this gland thing?”
“Near my heart, on the right.”
Miya nodded as her eyes turned a solid dark red. She knelt down and placed a hand on Olivia’s bare shoulder.
“I’ve always wondered, what exactly do you see?” asked Rob.
“Just magic. People are easy enough. Organs here, bones here, and so on. The lungs take in air, so that’s what the magic tells me. Intestines take in stuff, so that’s what the magic tells me. Olivia is a bit more complex, actually. A lot more going on, some of it active.”
“Wait, we got magic an’ shit in us?” asked Rob.
“Are you made of matter?” Without waiting for a response, Miya said, “Then yes, you have magic in you. It’s dormant, don’t worry.”
“Huh,” replied Rob. Cool.
“I think I found it. Maybe. Magic is weird,” said Miya. Her eyes returned to normal as she broke contact with Olivia. “I have no clue what it does right now, but let’s see if Buddy has one.” I know, I’m weird. But there’s other weird people now, too.
Hank let out a bared his teeth as she approached. She froze. “I’m just going to put my hand on your arm. Nothing else.” He considered her for a moment, then relaxed.
“Yeah, nope, not there,” said Miya after a moment.
“Does that mean anything?” asked Beth.
“Fuck if I know,” replied Miya. “It’ll take me a while to figure it out. I spotted something there that I need to check out, first. I had no idea what it did.” That can’t be good.
“Hey, think the internet’s back?” asked Rob.
“That’s a good question,” said Amanda, wheeling herself over to another desk, with Rob following.
Miya turned to Hank. “You’re standing after a day, and I didn’t see anything terribly wrong, but if you’re feeling off, come to me.”
Hank just shrugged and turned away, heading for the side of the lair opposite of Beth and Olivia. Miya exchanged a glance with Olivia. He’s just being an ass. Whatever.
“Hey, it’s back! That was quick,” called out Amanda. On her largest monitor she put on a news channel.
“This live?” asked Rob.
Amanda tapped the bottom of the screen, where LIVE appeared in bright red letter. “Yep.” Oh, that’s easy enough.
“This is the internet,” said Rob, a confused look on his face.
“Why do they have a cable style news thing goin’ on?”
Amanda laughed. “It’s on cable and online. Why would they want to go out of business? News stations aren’t staffed by retarded monkeys.”
Rob threw up his hands in mock surrender with a grin. “Sorry, I’ll try to be less of an idiot.”
Amanda patted him on the leg. “You do that.”
On screen, the two anchors both stared at the camera, dark rings under their eyes. The man had four long scratches in his suit across his chest. The woman stammered something about Overlord, one eye swollen shut.
“Yeah, they’re in bad shape,” said Miya.
“No, well yeah, but not that, read the ribbon thing at the bottom,” said Amanda.
Olivia read, “Erbil leveled by Lionhead, Peshmerga forces in full retreat. The Mother spotted near the French border after botched missile tests. Nuclear detonation by Overlord in Venezuela confirmed. No survivors in Caracas. Renewed Siberian incursions into China suspected.”
“Oh shit,” said Rob softly.
“That’s a lot,” said Miya, voice equally quiet.
“In… in other news.” The woman’s hands started trembling. “I… I can’t. I can’t do this. I won’t-” The feed cut off, replaced by a please wait sign.
Are… are they OK? What’s going on? Olivia looked around to the others, who looked as confused as she felt. A few seconds later, two different anchors appeared on screen, wide plastic smiles plastering their faces. They continued with their broadcast.
“What the hell?” muttered Beth.
“You see that, too?” asked Olivia.
“What’s wrong with their faces?” Oh thank god you do tpo.
“What do you mean?” asked Miya.
“You don’t see those smiles?” asked Beth.
The others considered the anchors for a moment. “Kind of?” asked Amanda.
“They’ve always done that, right?” said Rob. What?
“No, really,” said Beth. “The hell is that?”
“Yeah. That’s super weird,” added Olivia. How do you guys not see that? I mean, I know you guys don’t see very well, but come on. We’ve had this discussion before, too.
“Hold up, I’m seein’ a pattern. What about you, Buddy?” asked Rob.
“Creepy,” replied Hank, trying to look bored..
“I’m really not seeing the problem,” said Amanda with a shake of her head.
“Are you guys insane?” asked Beth.
“Are you?” asked Miya.
“Look,” said Olivia. “Really look.”
Amanda said, “It’s the news. Why would they be hiding something?” Rob and Miya nodded in agreement. Olivia hung her head. Fine. It’s not worth the argument. Whatever. The anchors continued, expanding on the stories that had run on the ribbon below.
Just then, the door opened, and in walked Red and Ben. Red kept her eyes on the ground, heading for the food cabinets near Beth.
“Hola,” said Ben with a wave. “Anythin’ fun happenin’?”
“We were talking about the news people,” said Miya.
Beth let out a low hiss as Red approached her and the food. Red snapped. She grabbed Beth by the throat and lifted her off of her chair. Beth drove her foot into Red’s stomach. Red doubled over, loosening her grip on Beth enough for her to tear herself free, leaving small red marks along her throat.
Enough. Olivia climbed to her feet as Red recovered and tackled Beth to the ground, sending them both to the ground in a tangle of wings and limbs. Olivia hauled Red off of Beth and threw her halfway across the lair. She crashed through the curtains and into the sleeping area.
“Are we interrupting something?” asked a familiar voice. Olivia whirled around to find Smith standing in the middle of the lair with two of her agents. Olivia let out a snarl. Stop teleporting. Get out.
“Jesus! What do you want?” demanded Miya. She and the others had spread out, torn between self-preservation and breaking up the fight. Rob and Ben both had knives at hand, flanking Red.
“We need to speak to Cyrus.”
“He’s sleeping. He don’t wanna talk to you, he don’t wanna talk to you,” said Rob, sliding his long knife back into a sheathe on his back.
“No, no, it’s fine,” said Cyrus, untangling himself from some curtains. “Having someone thrown on you tends to wake you up.”
He managed to climb to his feet, a heavily breathing Red following suit behind him. Don’t do anything stupid again, Sam. She noticed Olivia’s gaze and seemed to deflate a bit, her wings tucking further in behind her back. Good.
Cyrus dusted himself off and walked up to Smith. “Is there any reason you’re harassing me and my hosts?”
“We deal with problems. And you could very well be a problem. A big one.”