Olivia didn’t get to leave her cell the next day. She got a fresh change of clothes and two meals, but no space to stretch her wings or walk around or do almost anything. Stay safe, stay strong.
Day two. They let her out again. Right as she got excited about that, the guards took her to Dr. Dabrowski. She thankfully kept the inane questioning to a minimum, but then came a barrage of different tests. Tests for strength, vision, hearing, and reflexes. They took a few more blood samples. Different scientists came in for each one, sometimes two. Other than one outright hostile one, the scientists were polite, if indifferent, towards her. Stay safe, stay strong.
Day three. They kept her in the cell again. Dr. Sullivan came around and told her through the speakers that they were still debating whether to keep letting her out. She let Olivia know that she was vouching for her, as were Dr. Ruskov and a couple other scientists Olivia hadn’t heard of. Walker, the head of security, and Dr. Dabrowski remained neutral, and they were the ones the decision ultimately rested on. Stay safe, stay strong.
Day four. More testing. Some the same, some different. Dr. Sullivan was even there for one of them. “Do you recognize this object? What does this picture mean to you? What do you associate this word with?” Over and over. Dr. Sullivan assured her there was a point to it all, though Olivia couldn’t see it, and they shuffled her off before she could ask. An ENT, short for ears, nose and throat, doctor looked at her ears and told her they were healing as best they could. Dr. Ruskov had her lay in a strange tube thing on her back. I trust you, Dr. Ruskov, that’s why I’m putting up with the wings sticking into my back right now.
Stay safe, stay strong. Olivia paced, ate, read, and listened to music, cycling through those activities in a random order when not out of her cell. They’re coming. My friends are coming. I haven’t heard anything beyond that first message. Could I get out myself? I have no idea how to get out of here. Getting shot a bunch is not fun, and they’re always watching.
They’d added to the cell the fourth day while she was away. A light switch and a bookshelf. They made sure to tell her they could override her light switch at any time, but she could still dim the lights to sleep should she so choose. Turning them completely off was not an option, the complete absence of any light freaked her out. Can’t see. Hate it when I can’t see.
Day five. Another visit to Dr. Sullivan. This time, no Ortega, only two Clones. Ortega had been glowering at her the first time she’d seen him since the incident, but the second time he seemed more subdued.
The Clones took her to the elevator, and this time accompanied Olivia instead of taking their own elevator ahead of her. What the? What’s going on? They arrived at Dr. Sullivan’s office without incident. Oh, OK. Nothing, I guess.
Dr. Sullivan greeted her, then they settled down and began. Small talk, but better than anything Olivia had heard all day.
“What was the point of all of that stuff yesterday when you were there?” Olivia asked during a lull in the conversation. I’ve been trying to figure it out, it’s been bugging me all day.
Dr. Sullivan smiled. “They’re trying to narrow down who you are.”
“Like, me now, or me…” Olivia trailed off. They’re really working on that?
“Yes. I don’t know what the scientists were doing, they’ll probably get around to telling you later. But so far as I’ve been involved, it has all been trying to piece together what you knew from before. For example, someone from the mountains might associate snow with hardship, while someone from someplace warmer might say fun, or nuisance, depending on their age. Someone from a farm may know farm terminology better than someone who has spent their life in a city or suburb.”
Dr. Sullivan nodded. “They are still narrowing down the list, but we should have it for you within the week.”
Olivia blinked. A week? “A… a week?”
Dr. Sullivan nodded again. “Less than. Say what you will about law enforcement, they’ve gotten good at tracking people who don’t want to be tracked. Goes with the rash of masked villains of late.”
“Wow. Th… thank you so much!”
Dr. Sullivan smiled. “I have a surprise for you, too,” she said, getting up from her chair. She motioned for Olivia to follow. Surprise? I can’t think of a surprise I’ve liked so far. The Clones jerked to attention as they left the office. “Did Mr. Walker inform you of today’s plan?” Dr. Sullivan asked the two Clones in passing.
“Yeah, of course. Thought you’d be a bit longer,” one said. They followed them as Dr. Sullivan led Olivia down the hallway.
Dr. Sullivan ignored him and addressed Olivia, “Alright. We’re going to the main elevator.” The whole group got in, and the heavy elevator began to ascend with agonizing slowness. Going up? Cool! I don’t think I’ve been here before.
After a minute or so, the elevator doors opened. Sun? The sun! After Dr. Sullivan and a Clone, Olivia walked out into a hallway. The setting sun beamed in through the skylight above her and a window down the hallway. Olivia felt a small smile form on her face as she followed Dr. Sullivan. The sky! The sun! Man, this is great!
They took a right at a junction and came to a large conference room. As with Dr. Sullivan’s office, the Clones stood outside instead of following. Olivia looked out of the window as Dr. Sullivan shut the door behind them.
From her ground floor window, Olivia saw at least four spacious, open air enclosures, complete with trees and running water. A huge, bloated brown thing with six legs munched on some grass in one of them. All around, though, Olivia saw a tall, dark grey wall.
Dr. Sullivan joined her by the window. “I am sorry your experience here has been so confrontational,” she said.
“No tiny cells?” asked Olivia. No fair.
“No. Some herbivores are actually fairly peaceable once removed from hostile situations. Most ferals do tend to calm down, but are easily agitated. The ones up here are approachable. Where you have been, the lowest level, is basically supermax prison for ferals. There is much more to the institute than you’ve seen.”
“Why are you down in the lower level then?” If there’s so much here, why would you be in the worst place?
“Because that’s where I’m needed most. The ferals down there are especially in need of help. I do give support to guards help if they need it, the occasional scientist, and even the Zhengs have stopped by.”
“The… Zhengs?” Have I heard that name before?
“Oh, right. You haven’t met them yet. They’re the head zookeepers. They keep the animal side of the institute running and healthy.” Healthy.
“Oh. Could, um, maybe, um,” began Olivia, trailing off.
“Yes?” prompted Dr. Sullivan.
“I, um, I’d like to fly again.”
“I’m sorry. But I think they’re concerned you flying off and not returning. Not that I’d blame you, so far. Underground is not a good place for flyers, I assume.”
“Don’t worry about your cell too much longer. I think they’re talking about moving you to one of the wings up here.
Olivia brightened up immediately. “Thank you so much!” she said, trying hard not to bounce on her toes.
Dr. Sullivan smiled. “It’s still a frustrating couple of debates away, but most of the staff here agree.” Most of. What about the others?
Dr. Sullivan’s smile vanished. “He’s been forbidden from getting close to you, since he was basically baiting you when you met him.” There is justice in the world! “Don’t worry about him.”
They contemplated the window for a while, talking about one thing or the other, until Dr. Sullivan checked her watch.
“Do you have anything else on your mind, Olivia?” she asked.
“I, um, no. But thank you. Thank you so much.” I get to get out of that awful cell soon!
“Don’t thank me, they should have been doing this in the first place. But you’re welcome.”
They said their goodbyes, and the Clones escorted Olivia back to the elevator. Something caught her attention on the way back. What was that? She looked around as they reached the elevator. That smelled… really familiar. That was… Chris? Chris! What is he doing here? Wait, dumb question. How did he get in here? The elevator doors shut.
The next day, they brought her up to the surface again. Sunlight! Dr. Ruskov greeted her in a much larger and fancier version of his office in the lower level, along with Dr. Dabrowski. No tiny corridor to crouch in outside. This is so much better. They took yet another blood sample.
“There we are. You have very interesting blood, they keep asking for more,” said Dr. Ruskov, placing the needle in a small refrigerator.
Olivia just sighed.
“Now,” said Dr. Dabrowski. “There are some matters we thought you’d like to hear.”
The two doctors put up a couple pictures on a lit up wall panel. Is that? That’s me, unless there are other people with wings I haven’t met yet.
“We took these two days ago. There were a couple interesting things we’ve found,” said Dabrowski.
Ruskov pointed to a blurry white spot on the picture next to her heart. “That concerned us for the longest time, but after a while we figured out it’s an extra gland. What it governs we don’t really know, but due to the type of interference involved there is a good chance magic is involved.” Of course. Magical nonsense.
“We’re talking with a couple medical magicians,” said Dabrowski. “If we can bring one of them in, they’ll take a look at you and we can find out what exactly is going on.”
“OK,” said Olivia.
“The spikes I mentioned earlier seem to be made of the same substance as your claws. At least, they are showing up as the same on here,” said Ruskov.
Olivia considered her clawed fingertips for a moment. I always kind of assumed these were bones. The sleek, dark grey claws acted as a fingernails, the scales overlapping where the claws met her fingers.
“Well, um, what are they made of?” asked Olivia.
“We don’t know,” said Ruskov.
“Given that you have torn through metal and concrete objects with them, we’ve ruled out keratin, unless of course magic is involved somehow. It wouldn’t be surprising,” said Dabrowski. Magic. I’m starting to hate magic. “We’d like a small sample of them, if you are willing, later.”
“Your bones are not nearly as dense as was expected, considering their estimated strength. But they are not as hollow as we would have thought, considering you can fly,” said Ruskov. “Your back is densely muscled, no surprise there. Those muscles need to be strong enough to provide you with lift. Other than that, everything seems to be connected appropriately.”
“Oh, that’s good, right?”
Both doctors nodded. “No real medical problems that I’ve been able to find,” said Ruskov.
“The bloodworks told us a lot of interesting things about you,” said Dabrowski. “You do have a couple extra chromosomes.”
Olivia blinked. “Um, what does that mean?”
“In practice? Nothing. For us, it means we’ll be spending a lot of time mapping your genome,” said Dabrowski.
“The number of chromosomes is fairly meaningless except for reproduction,” said Ruskov. “But that isn’t a problem for you.” Hey! Or is it because of something else?
Olivia’s brow furrowed. “Why?” Do I want to know?
Ruskov’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, sorry. That is not what I meant at all. Apologies. And you didn’t explain this to her?” he asked Dabrowski.
“I was going to ask you the same question,” she responded. Now what?
Ruskov sighed at her response. He turned to Olivia and said, “Well, Olivia, you cannot conceive.”
She blinked again. “Um, what?”
“Yes. During a feral trigger, all gametes are destroyed, as well as any potential structure which could make more,” explained Ruskov.
“Gametes?” Is that something else I should be concerned about?
“Ah, sorry. Sex cells. Sperm for males, eggs for females,” clarified Ruskov.
“You had considered having children before?” asked Dabrowski. Olivia felt her face flush.
“I, well, I guess I… I’d never thought about that, you know, before. But, you know, it… it would have been nice to have had the choice,” she said, staring at her feet. So many stupid things wrong with me.
“You won’t have periods. From what I understand those aren’t fun,” said Ruskov.
Dabrowski glanced at him before saying, “There are other things we must discuss first.”
Olivia nodded. Yeah, let’s get this over with. They’re just throwing a bunch of stuff at me.
“You are about fifteen years old or so, based on your psychological profile and the blood samples,” said Dabrowski. Olivia looked back up. That’s promising.
“What else did you, you know, find out?” Like, who I was? Narrowing it down?
“Well, you’re still growing,” said Ruskov. Not what I wanted to hear.
“Um, what?” said Olivia after a quiet moment. No. Please no.
“You still have growth plates on your bones. And looking at the level of hormones in your blood and how tall you are now, you are going to gain about five inches, minimum. Between five and fifteen inches. That is a huge range, though. We really have no idea,” explained Ruskov.
Olivia sighed. Oh, for the love of God. “Wha… Bu… How?”
“You seem to be in mid-adolescence, both human and dragon. Feral development, like everything else, is a combination of human and the second species,” said Dr. Dabrowski. “The vast majority of animals reach maturity in a couple years, so even young teenage feral triggers are full grown, or at the very tail end of adolescence post trigger. A fifteen year old human is not the same as a fifteen year old lion, age wise.”
“You don’t, um, you don’t seem surprised by this, though.”
“Well, ferals generally suffer from gigantism, so this is not without precedent,” said Dr. Ruskov.
“Yes,” added Dr. Dabrowski. “You are currently a mid-sized feral, by all accounts.”
Olivia hung her head. Gigantism. Great. I’m going to get taller, and grow spikes, and still have a tail and wings and claws and everything. Great. Wonderful. And there’s still a bunch of stuff they don’t know, and I could get cancer or a bunch of crazy diseases, and my reproductive system is all messed up, and it’s never going to end, is it?
Dabrowski opened her mouth, but Ruskov cut her short with a nudge.
After a minute, he said, “I think that’s enough for the day. We’ll talk more tomorrow, OK?”
Olivia mutely nodded.
Next day. This time, Walker took the place of her usual guards. He acknowledged her surprise with a nod and a “Miss.”
Right. Respond. Should have slept last night. “Um, hi?”
A corner of his mouth curled up in the beginnings of a smile. “Hello. Dr. Dabrowski want’s another meeting with you.” He indicated the direction, and they began walking side by side.
“No… no guards?” Not that I’m complaining.
He smiled fully, eyes straight ahead. “I’m a guard. See the uniform?”
She glanced at his grey hair. “Really?” Is it rude if I mention his age?
He laughed instead of responding.
“I hope you don’t make me regret that decision to let you up top,” said Walker after a minute. “Dr. Grey aside, the folks here don’t bear you any ill will.”
She cocked her head at him. “But… what about the cell, or that shriek?”
“Gotta see it from our side. You showed up as super strong feral with a double digit body count. We aren’t gonna put our lives on the line just because some psychologist said so based on one little video. Now, don’t get me wrong, you’ve proven yourself more than enough. But we didn’t know that going in.”
“So, you, um, you decided later to, you know, let me go around more.”
“You, well, you didn’t have to. Why?”
He gave a mirthless laugh. “Miss, I’ve been working with meta humans for over twenty five years. I can’t count the number of young people with powers I’ve met wasting their lives doing boneheaded stuff because they think they’ve got no other option. You’re just in an especially shitty situation.”
They came to a stop near the main elevator. Walker froze as red lights began to flash. I’ve seen this before. Different pattern, though. When she had lashed out at Ortega, the lights had flashed a steady red for three seconds. This current alarm was a quick flash followed by a longer one. No loud alarms? Why?
“Ferals loose. Get back to your cell, now,” he said with urgency. But, you know I’m out of my cell. Wait, not just me in here.
“I don’t want someone accidentally shooting you. Trust me, get back. I need to get to security.”
Walker confirmed she was moving, then ran off. Please don’t shoot me, please don’t shoot me. Strangely, every machine gun nest she passed was unmanned. Something’s not right here.
Boot steps echoed from around the corner of a side passage before she reached her cell. She looked for a place to hide. Wait, I smell something. I haven’t smelled that down here before. Instead of hiding, she swung around the corner and nearly collided with Chris.
“Chris!” she blurted out, wrapping her arms around him in a bear hug. He immediately shifted to liquid form and pushed off of her.
She froze. What? What’d I do? Chris reformed back to human and staggered against a wall, rifle in one hand pointed at the ground. Is he hurt? Did I hurt him? Why is he wearing a guard uniform? “Nearly gave me a heart attack there, Olivia,” he said.
“Oh no, sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean-”
He smiled under his bandana and stood fully upright. He wrapped his free arm around her waist. “No worries. But we should probably get out of here first.”
“Oh, yeah. Right. I don’t, um,” said Olivia, failing to suppress a smile. Chris!
Chris cut her short. “We’ve got an exit strategy, don’t worry. And remember, Nomad,” he said, taking the lead.
“Right, sorry,” she said, following. “But I don’t think there’s a way out this way with all the elevators not working.”
“No,” said Nomad. “But there are a couple service elevators this way that Delta didn’t mess with.” She tried to get control over her smile. We’re not out of this place yet. And Chris! And Amanda!
They rushed down the abandoned corridors. Bad. She grabbed Nomad by the shoulder. “Wait,” she whispered.
“What?” he whispered back.
Stupid me, should have recognized this earlier. “People down that hallway. They’ve got guns.” That weird, metallic, oily smell. “They’re yelling at each other, too. Something about no one at the machine guns.”
“Shit. They caught on. Delta messed with their comms and scheduling. The main elevators are down, those ones they’re near are the only way in or out.”
Uh oh. “People running up behind us, too.”
“Do you know how many?” asked Nomad.
“Five behind. Maybe… eight ahead. It’s hard to tell.”
He nodded. “Break down this door,” he said, motioning to the door to a lab of some kind, “and put a bunch of claw marks in it. Quick, then follow me.” He hefted his rifle and cautiously strode down the corridor, rifle sweeping to either side.
Why? Wait, less questioning and more doing. She raked her hands down the door, then rammed her shoulder into it to break it down. The footsteps behind her sped up at the sound of the lock and hinges breaking.
She hurried to catch up to Nomad. They turned two corners, then he held up a hand to stop at a third. They’re getting closer. She heard shouting from where she’d broken the door. Why do I destroy so many doors? I have nothing against them, except when they’re too low. They took turns taking a quick look around the corner.
She saw a large room. Hallways split off in three directions, including the way Olivia and Nomad had come from. Four separate elevator doors took up the last wall of the room. The eight guards were a problem, but one guard in the center gave an order, and two guards went down each hallway.
“They split up. Four now. They’re heading this way,” she whispered down to Nomad. One of them is a Clone, I think.
He nodded in confirmation. “And those grenade launchers some are carrying are going to be a problem. Be quiet, see if we can’t take them out before the other nine figure out where we are.”
She nodded in response. Nomad phased to liquid, and they waited a moment for the guards to round the corner.
The first guard around the corner had been paying attention. The second he caught sight of Olivia and a mass of blue liquid lunging for him, he opened his mouth to shout. Olivia caught him by the neck and pulled him out of Nomad’s way before he could. She ripped the grenade launcher from his grasp before he managed to pull the trigger.
Nomad barreled into the three other guards. Two lost their balance, the third managed to backpedal out of the way. That one is Clone. Wait, he has a name like that. That means he could have more powers. Stupid me.
Clone grinned under his balaclava. He split in two, beginning at the top of his head. The two halves regenerated in the blink of an eye. Now two shoulder to shoulder Clones grinned at them, weapons and all. Both Clones split again. Enough of you.
Olivia hissed, dropped the guard she was holding, and pushed past Nomad subduing the other two guards. Three Clones opened fire, one drew a knife and charged. She winced as the bullets hit her, but pushed forward.
The charging Clone swung his knife towards her face. She blocked the knife blow with her arm, then grabbed for his throat. The knife left a long cut along her forearm, and as her hand made contact the Clone disintegrated into white powder, including the knife. Ow. OW.
The other Clones began shooting and splitting. Two more rushed her with knives drawn. Olivia roared and met them head on. She ducked low and took out one before he could get her with his knife. Another Clone in reserve split. The second Clone hacked down at her. She twisted so that it barely grazed a wing bone, then whipped her tail around to his midsection. Another Clone split.
A third Clone slashed at her face again from her blind side. She caught a cut to the cheek before she shot forward and squished him against a wall. Another Clone split.
The guards coming up from behind them started firing. Nomad, who had been right about to wash over the five reserve Clones, turned his attention to them. The reserve Clones weren’t firing anymore. In fact, Olivia was only ever attacked by two at a time. The just kept splitting every time she killed one. Kill them.
One faked a lunge at her. Right as she brought up an arm up to defend herself from the nonexistent attack, another stabbed at her from the side. She backhanded that one, his neck snapped right as he dissolved. Another Clone split. She rushed forward, ignoring the knife the one in front of her held. She bulled over that one and was suddenly among the five reserve Clones.
They reacted sluggishly. Two raised their knives in her direction with limp wrists, two more stumbled off to the side, and one simply dropped to the floor. She hacked the two closest down. The walking ones broke into runs, flanking her. The two on the ground, the one that dropped for no reason and the one she’d brushed out of the way, climbed back to their feet.
Olivia hissed, trying to decide which of the flanking Clones to go for. During her one second of indecision, the one on the ground behind her stabbed her in the calf. Her knee buckled even as she brought her tail down on his spine. The two flanking her charged from opposite directions. The remaining Clone split as she dropped to one knee. Stop it stop it, stop it.
She took another cut to her right arm fending one off, and outstretched her left wing to trip break the other’s charge. She grabbed the arm of the Clone to her right, and twisted. As she twisted, she dropped to her back and arched her grabbing arm over her body, pulling the grabbed Clone off his feet. He swung in a wide arc over her and crashed into the other Clone. Both disintegrated. She followed her momentum and twisted further, coming up to her knees. The two remaining Clones split. One took a bullet to the head. Nomad had reverted to human near an elevator door, and was firing in three different directions.
Up. Get up. She hissed and forced herself upright. She blinked as her leg screamed in protest. Olivia hissed and drove a hand through the nearest Clone’s throat. He disintegrated. Several bullets hit her in the chest. She staggered back. Other guards had finally caught up. Nomad hammered a button console by the elevators before dropping to one knee and returning fire.
A Clone slammed into Olivia’s back. She roared in pain and whirled around, throwing him off of her and into a wall. Nomad shot another Clone. The remaining Clone attempted to split until Nomad aimed at him. Clone retreated.
The elevator opened with a pleasant ping. “Olivia, come on! Now!” yelled Nomad, backing into the elevator. He fired a couple shots at guards behind her as she limped in. The doors closed.
“Did… Did we… we kill him?” asked Olivia between pants. Ow, that hurt a lot.
“Splitter like him? No, he’s probably got another one of him around somewhere. Damn. That scuffle wasn’t supposed to happen,” said Chris as the elevator began to rise. Olivia leaned a shoulder against a wall.
“So, that’s, um, not… not good?”
“Could be worse. Everything is still going as well otherwise. I’m sure Delta will inform us otherwise once we get back in comm range. We’re still on track.”
Olivia took a deep breath and nodded. What’s that dripping sound?
“Olivia, can you move your wing?” asked Chris, tilting his head to the side and looking behind her.
“What?” responded Olivia, stretching the wing closest to Chris.
“You have a knife in you.”