Community Service – Mirror

“Get out and put a brick on the pedal!” screamed a soldier.

“I’m sorry, old girl,” said the officer as he patted the wheel of the van before jumping out. Delta flinched as something exploded nearby. I will not get shot again. I will not repeat that experience. I will not get shot again…

Gears trundled up to the massive and battle scarred MHU van. He leaned into the van’s cab with a large cinder block, then jumped back. Tires squealed as the van shot forward, barely missing Gears and another soldier. The earth itself exploded as the van careened through the minefield that the robots had hidden in the narrow street. A ton of armor plating moving fast is hard to stop, I don’t care who you are. The burning mass of the van came to a stop just shy of the wall of the MHU headquarters, where Overlord had hidden his lair.

Heavy machine guns on both sides emitted an unceasing barrage of gunfire, filling the air with hazy white smoke in the morning light. Delta and the others, minus Olivia and gears, knelt behind a couple cars along with some soldiers.

An officer nodded to Delta. She activated the comm in her helmet and said, “Olivia, mess ‘em up.” For the love of god, make the robots stop screaming.

Olivia fell from the sky, landing feet first directly on a robot machine gun nest. The gunfire stopped not long after.

Delta gave the officer a nod. “Clear! Go!” he yelled.

Delta’s group, plus close to a dozen soldiers, rushed for the MHU headquarters. An armored robot emerged from behind a building and bulled into their group, flinging an unfortunate soldier flying and trampling another. The robot spun towards the largest remaining group with its oversized rifle raised, spraying bullets indiscriminately. Another soldier fell as the others dove for cover. Counter fire bounced off of its chest. Then, it stopped moving.

The armored robot toppled, a massive hole melted through its chest. What…

“I love this thing!” yelled Skulker from behind the scope of his sniper rifle. He stood and teleported over to join Delta and the others.

“Get inside! Go, go!” screamed the soldier before turning back towards the oncoming robot horde.

“Do as he says,” barked Skulker, returning the rifle to the sheathe on his back

They burst in through the front doors of the MHU headquarters. The thick walls deadened the sounds of gunfire outside.

“OK, now we need to find the vault. I’m not sure where that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s downstairs,” said Delta. Shit, I should have gotten out of my workshop more when I was here.

Skulker laughed. “Or just follow the massive trail of destruction,” he said, pointing to three ruined robots and a massive scorch mark in the ceiling.

Delta sighed. “Or we could do that. Come on.”

They jogged through the familiar hallways and corridors of the MHU headquarters. A couple rooms had exploded, a couple more had machine gun nests that would have cut down any intruder had they been functional, but beyond that the robots hadn’t done much to the place. Where do they get repaired and maintained? The bunker?

The trail led them a wide room in the basement. They climbed through a one foot thick steel door that looked like giant hands had twisted them aside like tin foil. Beyond that was an elevator. There it is. The vault is always underground.

“Think you can fly down there?” Skulker asked Olivia as they approached the elevator doors. The doors themselves were nowhere to be seen. There was simply an empty doorframe leading to a darkened elevator shaft with no elevator.

Olivia faced the shaft fully. She spread her wings out a bit and sized it up. “Maybe. Um, yeah, but it’ll be tight. But… what about you guys?”

“Point. Hold up. Oliva, pull this?” asked Skulker, motioning to a cable in the middle of the shaft.

She reached out and grabbed the steel cable. Gears steadied her as she pull it and herself back. She gave it an experimental tug.

“Hang on,” she muttered. She dug her clawed toes into the bare concrete floor and yanked, hard. “Heavy.”

“Can ya bring it up? Should be the elevator,” said Skulker.

“Yeah,” said Olivia through gritted teeth. She began the slow process of hauling the elevator up the elevator shaft.

Delta leaned against the wall beside the elevator door, feeling her eyelids droop with the sudden lack of threats to her life. Stay awake. Sleep later. Maybe I could give myself a shock. She smiled. Heh, terrible idea.

“One more pull,” said Skulker over the sounds of the elevator itself scraping along the walls, breaking Delta’s train of thought. The top of the elevator came into view.

“Think you can carry the five, no, four of us?” asked Delta, joining them by the torn up elevator door.

Olivia nodded, keeping her concentration on the elevator she held. Her feet dug deep gouges in the floor. Delta put an experimental foot on the roof of the elevator. Olivia held it steady. Well, let’s see how this goes. Delta walked onto the elevator, the others following behind her. Olivia let out a hiss when Gears in his armor stepped last onto the elevator roof.

“You good?” he asked her.

“Heavy,” she replied through gritted teeth.

She began the arduous task of lowering the elevator plus Delta and the others. Soon, their surroundings were dark, only the light from up above

“Think this’ll hold?” asked Skulker, tapping the taut cable in the center of the elevator.

Gears snorted. “It’s an elevator cable,” he replied. “Its purpose in life is to hold.”

A sharp drop stop cut off their conversation. Miya let out a stifled shriek. The fall jerked to a stop a couple meters down, slamming them back down on the elevator roof. Everyone remained frozen for a moment. Olivia slipped? She OK?

A faint voice above called out, “Sorry.”

Skulker let out a shaky laugh and stretched his neck. “We’re good, keep goin’,” he called back.

Could she hear that? She probably heard that. Olivia lowered them the rest of the way without incident. The elevator came to a stop just below the floor of the vault. They climbed up out of the elevator shaft and into an imposing concrete hallway. The remains of several bots were smeared across the walls and floor to one side. To the other was a bank of monitors. I’d be willing to bed that’s where the actual cells are. Overlord’s bunker look like it was hidden in the broom closet.

Wind blew out from the shaft behind them as Olivia descended. The bangs of her messy brown hair were plastered with sweat against her forehead.

“You OK?” asked Gears, offering her a hand up.

“Yeah,” she replied, accepting. “My arms kind of hurt. And I think a couple scales got torn off,” replied Olivia, flexing her hands.

“All the security stuff looks busted. And there’s Overlord’s bunker,” said Delta, gesturing to the broom closet. Follow the destruction.

“This shit is easy when Cyrus does everythin’,” said Gears with a laugh.

“No kiddin’,” agreed Skulker. Can’t argue with that. Maybe Cyrus will handle everything. That’d be nice.

They climbed through the wreckage and into the bunker. Olivia had tear out a piece or two of concrete so she and Gears could fit through. If it weren’t all in ruins, the defenses that greeted them would have torn them to shreds. I count… thirty armored bots. Too many normal ones. Can never have enough bullets, I guess. I can barely tell what kind of static defenses were here. It looks like Cyrus tore out solid walls here. The fuck? Who is this powerful?

“Gas canisters? Probably poison, cuz fuck you. Looks like they exploded,” said Gears, pointing to several holes torn into the walls.

“Yep, Cyrus was here,” agreed Skulker.

They climbed over more machine guns, more wrecked robots, and other, stranger things.

“The fuck is this?” asked Skulker, pointing his pistol towards what looked like a three meter long snake made of razor blades embedded into the wall. That’s a lot of wires in that wall there. Oil dropped slowly and steadily into a pool beneath it.

“I don’t know,” replied Delta. “Lick it and find out.” Oh, sure, the engineer will magically know all the technology things.

Skulker snickered and replied, “Pass, thanks though.” They moved on into what looked like the bunker proper. Less space seemed devoted to defense, and more to research. They passed several empty robotics labs.

“Hey, Delta,” began Gears. “When this is all over, wanna go get dinner somewhere?”

Sure, why… wait a minute. Delta blinked under her helmet. Really? I know we’ve kind of been spending a lot of time together. But dinner? Like, a date? That’s a date, right? But where would we go? I’d need to check if I can eat the stuff on the menu. Or…

“Yeah, sure. Where?”

It’s just the two of us, right? He would have asked everyone else otherwise, right?

“I dunno. Whatever’s left standin’?”

Delta laughed. “Sure.”

“Alright, sounds good,” replied Gears. Woo! I didn’t fuck that up!

“Why’d you two say that? Now one of you is gonna die,” said Skulker. You jackass.

Olivia swatted him upside the head. “Not funny.”

“Yeah, little too far,” said Gears.

Skulker snorted and held up his hands in mock surrender. “Sorry.”

Olivia stopped in her tracks. Miya took notice. “What is it?” she asked, bringing Delta and the others to a stop as well.

“I smell something,” replied Olivia, gaze distant.


“I don’t know. But…” She turned towards a side corridor labeled “Biology & Nanotechnology”. “Over there.”

They followed Olivia’s lead down the thinner corridor. She ignored several doors, until she came to a locked one. “Here,” she said. She worked her claws into the crack between the doorframe and the wall, then yanked the sliding metal door free.

A man in a lab coat with glowing orange goggles confronted them. “What are you doing here?” Beside him stood a similarly dressed man with grey goggles.

“You,” whispered Miya as she shouldered her way past Olivia. “You motherfucker!” she screamed.

The orange doctor tilted his head. “Hm? Oh! The initial mage subject. I remember you. You’re still alive! Amazing! Have you encountered any problems with the implants?”

“Problems? Problems? I was a fucking lab rat against my fucking will. I will put you in the fucking ground!”

“So? The advances we made were amazing! We have so much to thank you for.”

“Oh, oh, it’s that feral, too” said the grey goggled doctor with a small giggle.

The orange doctor looked at Olivia, and said, “Truly? That’s not my department. She’s the original?” Original?

Miya leveled her gun at Doctor Orange. “Shut up, you two. Any last words?”

He frowned. “There’s no need for that.” Wait, he kept his hands are in his coat pockets when a bunch of people pointed guns at him.

Right as Delta opened her mouth to yell a warning, a light flashed and mass of shiny grey goo burst out of a tank set into the wall next to Miya. Her shot went wide as she whirled around and backed away from the oncoming tide. The goo flowed over the desk and left a melted mass in its wake. Oh no. Miya scrambled away, the doctors giggling as they ducked under a desk.

Olivia skirted around the goo, heading for the doctors. The mass adjusted, throwing itself at her. She snarled and thrashed, trying to dislodge the flecks of the silver goo that had caught onto the edges of her wings. Skulker fired a couple shots into the oncoming mass, doing absolutely nothing to stop it. It formed a crescent on the floor, spreading towards all of them.

“Not helping. Run!” barked Delta.

Miya and Skulker made a break for the door they’d come in through. Gears pulled Olivia along. The bots had burned small holes through her wings, though there was no trace of them now. Delta brought up the rear.

We’re gonna run out of hallway real soon. She chanced a look over her shoulder. The goo advanced at a brisk walking pace. Always at the same speed, never slowing, never speeding up. The corridor after it looked partially melted. Not getting bigger. Not replicating, Don’t want apocalypse. Shiny. Metal. Heat! Heat or electricity. Not enough heat. Electricity, power, where? Wait.

She activated a baton at full power and dropped it in the path of the advancing goo. Where the active part of the baton touched the goo, it blackened and powderized. Soon enough, the tide overtook the baton, reducing it down to its elements. Yes. More power. Armor can’t provide enough. She looked around, still backing up. The lights overhead caught her eye. There. We have room? She glanced at the goo again.

“Gears, Olivia, tear the walls open!” she screamed, backing away from the oncoming tide. The two of them skidded to a stop. “Now!”

Olivia clawed open the paneling on one wall, Gears hammered away with his crowbar on the other. “Why?” he shouted.

“Power.” Delta took her eyes off the approaching grey goo to take a look at what they’d done.

“What’re we lookin’ for?” He pried his panel free.

“That one,” she said, pointing to a thick grey cable. Power line. The goo advanced, now only a couple meters away. Shit, need more space. “Olivia, over here. Tear out all the panels over this thing, as far down as you can go. Don’t touch the cables. Gears, with me.”

Miya and Skulker lead the way as Olivia rushed as fast as she could with one hand tearing through the panels on the walls. Gears and Delta followed behind, regaining a little distance from the goo.

Far enough. She pulled out a knife from her boot. Gears grabbed her arm. “What’re you doin’? Zappy things bad.”

Armor is insulated against lightning. So is his. Should work. “We need to cut this somehow.”

He shouldered her aside, pumped his shotgun, and fired it two inches away from the power line. “That work?”

Fuck it, sure. She grabbed the part of the cable furthest from the goo. Warning signs flashed in her helmet. Faster. “Gears! Other end! Get the end close to the ground.” Gears nodded and yanked out more cable.

The others had stopped at a corner. Long enough.

“Good!” she yelled.

Gears dropped the cable, letting it dangle just enough to touch the floor and the goo. They turned heel and ran, the goo just brushing up against Gears’ boot. Should work. Or it’ll arc and just burn little bits of the goo. No time. She looked over her shoulder. The grey tide overtook the first end of the cable. Gears thundered towards Delta.

“Now this end!”

He grabbed the other end and yanked it out of the wall. The goo washed up against his boots. No, no, no. Come on, Rob, faster.

“Drop it,” she yelled at Gears once he had a long enough length of cable free of the wall. He dutifully dropped his end of the cable on the floor and picked up speed.

The goo overtook the end he’d just abandoned. Complete the circuit. Please work please work please work. Sparks flew as the entire mass of nanobots writhed. Veins of black lightning shot through the mass. The goo contracted as the veins grew, until the whole blob was nothing but black ash. Silence fell over the hallway, with only the sound of Delta’s ragged breathing in her helmet as she finally stopped running.

“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” said Skulker, pulling back his hood and running a hand through his sweaty hair. Oh god.

Miya and Gears leaned heavily on the walls. “Thought we were going to die, there,” gasped Miya.

Delta pulled off her helmet just in time to avoid vomiting all over the inside of it. She fell to one knee, clutching her stomach. Breathe, breathe.

“Whoa, what’s wrong?” asked Skulker.

“Hurts,” she gasped. Running. Too much. Can’t…

“Here,” said Gears, offering her a metal canteen from his hip.

“Thanks,” she managed before gulping down a couple mouthfuls. Hate throwing up. Hate, hate, hate it.

“Good to go?” he asked after a minute had passed. The others had formed a semicircle around her, concerned looks on their faces, even Miya’s.

It’s not like I have a choice. Delta grimaced, straightened up, and replaced her helmet. “Come on, we need to keep moving.” God help me.

“Where are the bots?” asked Miya. “We haven’t seen any in here. Well, moving ones.”

“Probably gettin’ killed by Cyrus,” said Skulker. “Overlord’s got no other choice.”

They headed back towards Doctor Orange’s lab, the floor of the hallway now warped and misshapen. They paused a few meters behind the door Olivia had clawed open.

“Let me,” said Miya, going in first. Fuck it, sure. Don’t screw up. Delta and the others followed after her.

The doctor stiffened, then spun around as they rushed in, mouth agape. “How-”

Miya cut off his question with three bullets. The doctor staggered back, colliding with the counter behind him. Miya kept firing and advancing. The wall behind the doctor took a couple bullets. She let out a wordless scream, advancing until she came to a stop by the doctor, out of bullets.

She spat on his body and kicked his head for good measure. “Fuck you!”

“I think he’s dead now,” pointed out Gears.

“Grey?” asked Delta. If he’s waiting with some other horror I’m finished. I quit. Cyrus can deal with it.

“Don’t see him,” replied Skulker.

“That way,” said Olivia, pointing a claw towards a second door to the lab, opposite where they’d come in from.

“Wait, what about that thing you smelled before?” asked Delta.

“Also that way.”

Miya hadn’t moved, still standing over the orange googled doctor’s corpse.

Olivia wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her away. Miya kicked her in the thigh, struggling as hard as she could against her.

“Miya, stop,” Olivia whispered.

Miya stopped and took in a shaky breath. After a moment she said, “I’m good, let me down.”

Olivia spun around, putting herself between Doctor Orange and Miya, and set her down. Gears began systematically shooting every computer he could find.

“What are you doing?” Delta asked.

“Makin’ sure these can’t be used,” he said, cocking the shotgun and blasting the last computer. “Good to go.” Whatever. They’re not paying me enough to care anymore.

Olivia led Miya out the door she’d pointed out. Skulker and Gears followed after. Delta took one last look at Doctor Orange’s lab. Nope, not gonna fuck with whatever else he has in here. Nope.

They passed rooms with empty hospital beds, some with bloodstains and toppled IV drip stands. Miya kept her eyes firmly on the ground in front of her, following Olivia’s lead. She’s probably got a whole bunch of issues I’m in no way qualified to take care of right now. We should very probably get her out of here soon.

“Here it is. Um, the thing I smelled. Grey is further in,” said Olivia, stopping at a door.

“Cool,” said Skulker. “Let’s go.”

Gears kicked in the door, Olivia close after him. Miya, Skulker, and Delta followed after, and nearly collided with their backs.

“Uhhh,” began Gears.

Everyone followed his gaze to a wide room attached to the new lab they’d burst into. What the hell? Two long rows of floor to ceiling tanks stood along each wall. Five held people, floating in a pale and sickly green liquid. It took a moment for Delta to register the fact that each person had a massive and familiar pair of wings jutting out of their backs, and thick, scaly tails trailing behind them.

Skulker teleported and rapped a knuckle on the wall of one of the tanks. The girl gave a barely perceptible twitch. “They’re out of it,” he announced. “The fuck are we lookin’ at?” How is this possible?

Delta and the others joined him, still staring. Of the five people in the tanks, three were girls, two were boys. Each floated in the liquid, arms a few inches out from their sides. It took Delta a moment to realize they were breathing, albeit at an extremely slow pace. They’re all huge, too. Delta cast a glance at Olivia. She had frozen, a stricken look on her face.

“Let them out,” she whispered. Right. Delta spun on her heel and headed towards the one thing she knew well, the computers in the lab.

“Whoa, hold up. What if they come out swingin’?” asked Gears, holding up a hand.

“What? Fuck, let them out,” barked Miya, squaring off against him.

“Said hold up,” said Skulker. “Think this through.” Whoa, come on, you two. Delta found what looked like an important console. It’s got a computer, it’s got a bunch of important looking buttons. That’s why I went to college.

“What?” demanded Olivia, turning on him with eyes wide.

“Little Bird, I know you. I trust you. I don’ know ‘em. I don’ trust ‘em.”

“They’re gonna come out panickin’ and scared. I would,” added Gears.

“‘cept my hands can’t carve up steel an’ bones like paper,” concluded Skulker. Delta thought back to when they’d first met Olivia. She got mad and killed fifty people. Olivia, the big, cute teddy bear. She took her hands off the command console.

“So, what? You’re saying we should just leave people in there?” said Miya. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Both of you?”

“I like keepin’ my organs on the inside,” replied Skulker.

“Amanda?” asked Olivia.

Delta glanced at the others. Miya and Olivia’s eyes bore into her, while Skulker and Gears refused to look them in the eye.

“Hang on. Let me see if I can even get them out of there at all.”

She turned on the main screen. Looks like no one bothered to log out. It’s not like the robots would try to steal anything, I guess. A background of a beautiful tropical island greeted her, almost buried under folders on the desktop. Commands? No? Information. Information never hurt.

“OK, it looks like they were in the ‘let’s see what we can do phase’. And…” Delta’s eyes skimmed over the report. “It went better than they thought possible.”

“All this from just a few blood samples?” asked Miya, casting a look over her shoulder at the tanks.

“These are people who revived fuckin’ dinosaurs,” pointed out Skulker, making a vague gesture to Doctor Grey.

“Still though. How?”

The tension in Delta’s shoulders eased with the change of topic. “These aren’t the first experiments Overlord’s people have done with powers. From the wording, they have a way to induce certain powers. They keep referencing ‘the Lakhanpal effect’. It looks like this is just the first time they’ve done it with a feral power.”

“So they force a trigger.”

“Yes. It takes a lot of energy, it looks like. It doesn’t look like it comes from wherever a power’s energy comes from usually.”

“That’s the how. Where’s the why?” asked Gears.

“Hang on, I think I saw something about that back here.” A few more clicks brought up the document in question. Delta’s eyes flickered over the page. “Living magic generators, I think. Oh, this part makes a bit more sense. Whether certain aspects of her power could be isolated and used. Weapons, super soldiers, there’s about a dozen possible applications here. They want funding for cloning as well.”

“Wait, the fuck you readin’?” asked Skulker. “Why would that all be spelled out here?”

“A big report. They had a section labeled applications, I just went down to that. I figured it would explain things for non-geneticists like us.”


“Whoever was working here, they need to be able to communicate with people outside their field. Hell, that’s half of the average engineering job.”

“So, can we let them out?” asked Olivia.

Shit, right. Delta grimaced under her helmet. Compromise? “How about this? We let one out. One. If they’re fine, we release the others. If they go berserk, we…” How do I say this?

“We keep ‘em in there, let smarter people than us figure ‘em out,” said Gears. Delta gave him a grateful nod.

“But…” began Olivia, facing them fully.

“But we gotta look out for each other first,” said Skulker.

“Can you live with that?” asked Gears.

Olivia frowned. “Fine.”

Let’s see here. Ah, here’s the release command. Fluid first, then the person. She double checked the number of the controlled tank. “Alright, the girl in the middle. Be ready,” announced Delta. She hit the button.

A green light appeared at the top of the tank. The fluid began draining. Once its level passed the girl’s face, she coughed and a finger twitched. Once the tank drained completely, leaving the girl crumpled at the bottom, a yellow light came on next to the green light, and the machinery stopped. OK. Another command? Inside, the girl coughed, spitting up the green liquid. Her eyelids fluttered open. Ah, here it is.

With the press of another button, the walls of the tank retracted into the floor with a faint hydraulic hiss. Everyone except for Olivia stood back as the girl began climbing to her feet. Then, the girl let out a hiss.

Olivia growled. She grabbed the hissing newly released dragon girl by the throat, dragged her off her feet, and slammed her against the wall. Whoa. The girl bared her teeth and spat in Olivia’s eye. As she recoiled, the girl shoved her away with a hiss.

Olivia swung a hand at her shoulder and threw her to the ground. She grabbed hold of a flailing wing and twisted until the girl let out another hiss and went still, chest heaving. Olivia released her wing and stepped back. What… the fuck? What happened to nice Olivia?

“Olivia?” asked Miya in the silence that followed. “Are you…”

“I’m OK. Let the others out,” she replied, catching her breath.

“No, the hell was that?” demanded Gears.

“It’s fine, let the others out.”

The other dragon girl had climbed to her feet, keeping an eye on Olivia. She kept her wings drawn in tight behind her back, fingers and claws curled. The hissing from her had stopped, at least.

“No, the hell was that?” repeated Skulker. “You two gettin’ all territorial an’ shit?”

Olivia let out a frustrated growl. Her hand uncurled momentarily before she took a couple deep breaths to calm herself. “Nothing. She’s just… she’s fine. I’m fine. Please let the others out now. One at a time. Please.”

Delta’s fingers hovered over the next button. What do I do? Say no? That’s just cruel. She stared at the other dragon girl for a moment. She looks fine now. “OK, be ready for the next one.”

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Down South – Contact

Olivia fiddled with the edge of her pillow, trying to catch a single thread with the tip of a claw. She hadn’t moved in any substantial way since throwing herself onto the bed two hours ago. The amount of effort required to get up and pace just didn’t seem worth it. Too small. This room is way too small. Five steps one way, then five steps in the opposite direction; the only alternative to tearing up the corner of her pillow. Five steps, back and forth.

I hope the others are OK. How long have I been in here? I think it’s been four days. Maybe three. Or was it five? She closed her eyes, shutting out the bright lights of the cell. Three to five days for something bad to happen to them. What are they doing? What if one of them got hurt, or shot, or broke a limb? Did John do something permanent to them?

Olivia sighed. They can take care of themselves. Right? Yeah, they can. I’m worrying too much. I think. But I still don’t even know if they got away from the cops or not. I should ask. Should I ask? What if they don’t tell me? Why would they even answer that question?

This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t lost my temper. I… I just want to see them again.

She bit her lip. Stop it. They’re watching. And they’ll just start asking dozens of questions if I start crying. I still miss them, though. This isn’t home.

Think about something else. Olivia got up and extended her wings as far as possible. The wing tips came within a couple feet of the walls. I just want to get up and fly. Anything but this.

Why am I even putting up with this? Why didn’t I try to get out at Dr. Dabrowski’s office? The hidden, ever present cameras bore into her. They’re always watching me, and it’s getting annoying. They’ve given me nothing but vague promises about my past. That’s it. I really don’t see how most of the questions Dr. Dabrowski even asked were relevant.

Well, that’s not all they’ve done. Dr. Ruskov was nice. It’s good to know… health stuff. I don’t know what to call it.

She ran a hand along her back. Spikes. Spikes out of my back. What? That’s the stupidest thing. Was he just messing… Her hand hit a sharp bump. No. Please no. I can’t just grow stuff. Or, more stuff. She looked down. I mean, I’m kind of flat. But still… How old am I, anyways? I know I’m kind of tall, but that’s just me being weird.

A green light flashed on the wall, followed by the slot in the wall opening up. Olivia didn’t bother to turn. Oh, smells like food. I should eat. I’m kind of hungry. Olivia stared at the food. Same stuff. Why do they bother with that little slot when they let me out of here for a couple hours earlier today? Maybe that’s a weak spot, a way out of here.

Right, I should be eating. She got up, grabbed a fork off the tray, and poked at a warm, cooked cube. I wonder what they’ll do if I refuse to eat it? Not that I will, the food is pretty good. She sniffed. Smells good, too. So much less grease than fast food. Could I ask for something a bit more interesting, though? Like bagels or something?

She scarfed down the meat cubes. Yay, now I have nothing to do again. I already took a shower, and that’s about all there is to do in here. The food tray disappeared behind the slot. At least they gave me utensils this time. Didn’t they say something about letting me read some books? I think they did, but I still don’t have them.

She turned her head around, taking in the minimalistic sight of walls of pale concrete. The only seam in the walls marked the door. Even the scratches are gone. Wait, what? She walked up to the door to examine it, then froze. Please don’t use that shriek. Please don’t. After a silent moment, she leaned to examine where she remembered the scratches on the door.

How did they fix it like that? The even color of the wall, a sort of greyish white utterly devoid of any sort of spirit, showed no sign of patch repairs. Oh my god, I’m so bored I’m studying a wall. She rolled her eyes, which more means she just rolled her head a bit, then threw herself face first onto the bed once more.

“So bored,” she murmured.

A sigh escaped her. Nothing to do but sleep, I guess. Or I can finish ruining the edge of this pillow. It’s so quiet in here. Time stretched on, until she passed out as the lights dimmed.


“Hello? Olivia?” asked a chipper woman over the speaker the next day.

Olivia stopped in her tracks, having paced for several hours after waking up.

“Um, yes? Hello?” she responded. So very quiet in here.

“I’m Dr. Sullivan. You and I have an appointment today. Did Dr. Dabrowski tell you about this?”

“Yes, I think so,” replied Olivia.

“Are you still up for that?” asked Dr. Sullivan.

“Sure?” What else would I be doing?

“Oh, good! I’ll meet you at the door. We can walk and talk on the way to my office.” Why are you so happy about this? The speaker went dead, leaving Olivia and the room in silence.

OK, time for more annoying questions. But she sounded happier than that Dabrowski woman. Maybe this will be better. Or maybe I can get out of here. But what if they somehow figure out who I am? The room hummed faintly as the door to Olivia’s cell slid open. She approached, and  the secondary metal door opened from the outside. The dark skinned guard from yesterday stood beyond that door directly in front of Olivia.

Olivia blinked as everything she perceived shifted slightly. She narrowed her eyes at the man. It’s you. I was paying attention that time. Before Olivia could do anything, a woman appeared in the second doorway.

“Hello, Olivia! It’s good to meet you face to face. I am Dr. Sullivan, the resident psychologist here at the facility.” I guess I get to find out what a psychologist does. I probably should have figured that out before agreeing to this. The doctor continued, “If you’ll follow me to my office, we’ll get you out of that little cell for a while. I will be honest, I’ve been looking forward to talking with you. Oh, and you can call me Claire, if you like.”

Olivia silently followed after the doctor. The same four guards from yesterday formed a circle around them as they walked. The doctor chattered on, about the weather, about the break room, and about the overbearing security. So many words. The doctor would pause between topics, glance at Olivia, then continue talking.

They came to an office. “We’ll be outside if you need us,” said one of the guards as they came to a stop.

Dr. Sullivan rolled her eyes, her face turned away from the guards. “I’m sure we’ll be fine,” she said to them as she opened her door. “After you,” she said to Olivia, holding the door open.

“Thank you,” said Olivia as she passed the doctor.

Several pictures adorned the office desk; a newborn baby, Dr. Sullivan in hiking clothes with a mountain in the background, some old ruins Olivia didn’t recognize, and a wedding photo. A couple of knickknacks, one a small brightly colored human skull, the other a model of a white building with a dome on top and four towers in the corner, rested on the two tall filing cabinets behind the desk. What’s with the skull? Dr. Sullivan’s computer was powered down, Olivia couldn’t hear a computer fan running. Oh, that’s a nice touch. Nothing is stopping her from turning it on, but still.

Dr. Sullivan joined her in the room. “You can have a seat, if you like,” she said, motioning to a sturdy low stool with a thick pillow on top. Olivia gave a tiny smile. No backrest! I hate those things. Olivia sat as the doctor wheeled up a high backed chair and tapped a long clawed toe on the floor. OK. I have no clue what’s going to happen now.

The doctor dimmed the lights. “Um,” began Olivia.

“Something wrong?” asked Dr. Sullivan.

“Oh, sorry, no. Just… um, most people don’t see really well in the dark, but I can see fine. I didn’t know if, you know, you were, um-”

“Slow down, Olivia. What are you trying to say?” Well I messed that up. It was stupid to begin with, but I messed that up bad.

Olivia took a moment. Slow down. “Um, I wasn’t sure why you were turning down the lights, because it doesn’t really make a difference to me, and you won’t see too well. Um, I think.” I have no clue how well other people see.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” said the doctor with a smile.

“I just thought that a dimmer room would be more comfortable. I’ll turn the lights back on if you want.”

“Oh, it’s OK. Um, sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?”

“Oh, sorry.” Darn it! “I mean, I didn’t mean to be weird. Sorry.”

“Alright, it’s alright, Olivia. You’re not being weird,” said the doctor, grabbing a clipboard from her desk. “This is just an icebreaker session, but all sessions will be confidential. I will be writing notes, but I will always be listening, don’t worry. You can share as much or as little as you like.”

“But… this stuff is being recorded, right?” That’s what Dr. Dabrowski said, anyways.

“By me. I will be giving them my psychological assessment. I will not share details with them unless I believe there is a risk of someone being harmed. Again, this is confidential.”

“Oh, OK.” Of course. I’m a security risk.

Dr. Sullivan nodded and smiled. “You don’t have to look so nervous. This isn’t an interrogation. I’m not scary, am I?” Olivia forced herself to relax. I guess I’m kind of tense. That skull is still weirding me out, though. The doctor tracked Olivia’s line of sight to the filing cabinets. “Is this about the skull?” asked the doctor.

“Um, kind of.”

“Have you never seen one before?” asked the doctor.

“No.” Should I have?

“It’s a painted skull. Don’t worry, it’s not a real skull. I picked it up when I went to Mexico three years ago. You’ve really never seen one before? They show up in Aztec art a lot.”

“I… no, I haven’t seen one before.” I don’t remember anything, remember?

Dr. Sullivan considered her. “I know that your memory has been damaged. What was the first thing you remember? I know the questions Dr. Dabrowski asked, but what I’m asking for is your interpretation.”

“I… well, I woke up,” answered Olivia.

“And the first thing you did?”

“I can… I can hear really well. And, um, it hurt. A lot.” Dr. Sullivan remained silent. What more do you want? “I was… confused. Really confused. I was scared, too, until my friends found me. Well, kind of found. I was awake for about a week or two before.”

“Kind of?”

“I was doing stuff before that. I wasn’t, you know, just cowering in fear.”

“What were you doing during those two weeks?”

“Just… trying to figure stuff out. I didn’t remember a lot of stuff. I’m… better now, I guess.” I know, I’m weird.

“I can’t imagine you went a whole week without food or water or shelter.”

“I didn’t. There was this abandoned apartment building I lived in. I scavenged stuff like food and clothes.”

“So,” began the doctor, brow furrowed. “If you don’t mind me asking, how did you know to look for clothes? What was your thought process behind that?”

“Because… people wear clothes. And… I didn’t have any. Why? Was I not supposed to do that?” Why would I not do that?

“What? Oh, no, sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. I’m just trying to get a good sense of what you remembered at the time.”

“But… Dr. Dabrowski asked a bunch of those questions already.”

Dr. Sullivan frowned and rubbed the bridge of her nose for a moment. “Unless you’re in one of her test tubes Dr. Dabrowski can’t see past her to-do list. She’s a brilliant woman, just… not very good when it comes to people.”

That reminds me. “Oh, yeah. Thank you for the stool. Because, you know, no backrest.”

Dr. Sullivan smiled. “You noticed that, didn’t you? No problem at all. The wings must get in the way a lot.”

Finally! Someone noticed without me having to tell them. “Yeah, they get annoying.”

“But you can fly with them, yes?”

“Oh yeah, that’s fun! I can go anywhere, and the air is all cool and quiet if you get high up. And…” Olivia trailed off. I haven’t flown in a week. They might not let me go out ever again. Those guards probably don’t want me trying to escape. Stupid. I really don’t want to be here, and I’ll just get shot a bunch if I try to get out.

“And?” asked the doctor.

“Um, nothing,” said Olivia, looking down. Stupid wings. I wouldn’t be in here if I didn’t have them. And the tail. And the claws. And every other stupid thing that’s wrong with me.

“Is something wrong?”

“I… no. Um, maybe. No.”

“Is there something you don’t like about your wings?” Are you serious?

“What?” began Olivia. “They’re ugly bat wings. You can see veins under the skin if I spread them. They’re these huge things sticking out of my back, they get in the way all the time, and I can’t sit back in a chair with them and my tail getting in the way. Do you know how many times I’ve accidentally scratched something with my claws or whacked my head or wings against something low or hurt my friends when I tried to give them a hug or… or…”

Olivia stopped herself. Just… calm down. Stay calm. Bad things happen when I’m not calm. She took a deep breath and looked down. I know, I’m weird.

“Do you need a moment?” asked the doctor with a concerned frown.

“No, I’m OK,” said Olivia, eyes still fixed on the floor. Please pretend that never happened.

“Are you having any problems we should be aware of?”

“Can we talk about something else please?” asked Olivia.

The doctor nodded. “Very well. Something else then.” She tapped her pen against her chin for a moment. “You’ve mentioned your friends several times now. How did you become friends with them?”

“They… they helped me. A lot.”

“How so?”

“Well, I mean, they, um, they answered questions. Um, they didn’t, you know, just run off or shoot me. Well, there was that… one… time. But I, um, I’d stopped a mugging or two. Everyone just looked scared of me. My friends didn’t, or weren’t, or… however you say that.”

Dr. Sullivan nodded in understanding. “Where did you get your name from? Was that from your friends, or…” she trailed off, leaving Olivia to fill in the blank.

“I… just… came up with it. Because, you know, people have names.” Olivia kept herself from adding “right?”

Dr. Sullivan smiled. “It’s a lovely name. No need to get embarrassed. Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable here? And I’m sorry, but before you ask, I don’t think Mr. Walker will allow you to go flying.”

Olivia sighed. Figured as much. “I liked those donuts.”

Another smile. “I’ll talk to the chefs here. I’m sure they can get more.”

“Um, books would be nice. Oh! And music. It’s super quiet in there.” Please don’t say no, please don’t say no.

“I think we can do that. I know the books you requested are coming. I think they should be here today. Any music in particular you enjoy?”

“Um, well, I don’t know.” I know, I’m weird. “Just… any?”

Dr. Sullivan scribbled something down on her clipboard. “OK! I don’t think there will be any problems there.” She checked her watch. “I think we are running short on time. Anything else?”

“Um, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“Um, well…” Olivia trailed off. “Everyone seems surprised when I’m not, you know, a monster. Why aren’t you?”

“Do you remember your talk with Cyrus over a month ago? That was recorded. We didn’t have, and still don’t have, much information about you as a person. We’ve gone through every scrap we could find, and that one video was the best view of you we had. But my point is, I didn’t see a feral across the table from Cyrus. Trust me, I work with the other intelligent ferals, I know.”

“How do you know?”

“You weren’t making vague, half formed threats, for one. Slinky, when she’s lucid, calls me Fleshy.” At Olivia’s confused look, she added, “She’s covered in semi-metallic bands, kind of like plates or scales. She’s mainly that and bone, so she thinks everyone else is squishy. Of course, she calls everyone Fleshy, but we’re reasonably confident she recognizes me and a couple others who have been on the staff here for a while. Sorry, I’m getting off track.”

The doctor continued, “A lot of people, even people here, were calling for your execution after that Freedom Fighter incident. From what I could tell, you were just caught in a very bad situation, with no way to know what would have happened. Being manipulated by a power is not grounds for execution for anyone, especially someone like you.”

I don’t want sympathy. I want to go home. Olivia nodded. “OK.”

“Do you have anything else you want to talk about?”

“Um, no.” I’ll stop wasting your time being weird.

“If you want to talk about anything, let me know. Just ask for me over the speakers in your cell, and I’ll wrangle something out of the gun toting Neanderthals,” said the doctor as she got up. Olivia blinked. Wow. That didn’t sound complimentary. Olivia got up and followed her to the door. “Clones, Ortega,” called the doctor. “They’ll be taking you to see Dr. Ruskov now,” she said to Olivia.

Clones? Multiple? The other one must be Ortega, then.

The guards were waiting outside, lounging against the walls. They came to attention once Olivia left the doctor’s office. Without a word they began leading her back to the cell. They crossed paths with an overweight man in an ill-fitting tweed jacket. Someone smells like cigarettes. She’d seen other people, almost exclusively guards, in the hallways before, but this man stood in their way.

“Oh, oh, you’re that feral,” he said. Olivia’s group came to a stop.

Olivia met his eyes. There’s something strange going on there. And not the complete lack of emotion in there. They look almost too shiny. She glanced to the side. The different guard, Ortega, also tilted his head at the man. He sees it too? That’s creepy.

“Dr. Grey, please get out of the way,” said a Clone, choking out the word ‘please.”

“No, no, I’ve been meaning to get my hands on this one for a while.” This one? Excuse me?

“Clear it with the boss,” said Ortega, his earlier consideration of Dr. Grey gone.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve gotta see what makes her tick on the inside.” Stay away from me.

Olivia hissed and uncurled her fingers. The doctor giggled. One of the guards behind her began raising his weapon. Stop pointing those at me. A wave of nausea hit Olivia as her vision dimmed. Stop messing with my head. She lashed out blindly towards the nearest person as she lost her balance. Her hand connected with something.

“FUCK!” yelled Ortega.

The blindness and nausea receded. Kill them, kill them. No, no, bad thoughts. The giggling faded in the background. Before Olivia could regain her balance, several shots rang out.

Something, in fact three somethings, slammed into her and sent her sprawling against the wall. She began to get up, but stopped herself. Calm. Stay calm. Stay calm. She dug her hands into the floor.

Her vision fully returned, and she looked back up. Dr. Grey was nowhere in sight, though the stench of cigarettes lingered in the air. A red light flashed overhead.

The four guards leveled their weapons at her, not firing. Stay calm. Stay calm. Not going to lose control. Stay calm. She heard footsteps from down the hallway.

“What’s going on out here?” asked Dr. Sullivan.

“Ma’am, stay away,” said Ortega, not lowering his weapon despite the cut on his arm. The three Clones formed a semicircle around her.

“What is going on here?” repeated the doctor.

“Fucking lunatic was talking to her or something. She got pissed and attacked,” said a Clone. Stay calm. Stay calm.

“Why would she do that?”

“He was provoking her. She got aggressive, lashed out, and injured me,” clarified Ortega. Staying calm. I am calm.

“Really? She just lashed out at you. Has she ever been aggressive even once before?” The guards hesitated. “Out of my way,” she snapped. She pushed through them and offered a hand to help Olivia up. Calm. I am calm.

Olivia glanced at the guards, still aiming at her. If I stand up, will they just shoot me again? Those big things kind of hurt. A five centimeter diameter rubber round lay at a guard’s feet. Screw them. Olivia accepted Dr. Sullivan’s help up, careful not to pull too hard on the doctor’s arm.

“See? She’s fine. Put those guns down, and someone turn off that damn light,” said the doctor.

“Ma’am, she injured me-” began Ortega.

She spared a glance at his arm. “Oh, you’re fine. Get her and yourself to Dr. Ruskov, he’ll patch you up,” said Dr. Sullivan, cutting him off.

“Shut up. You ain’t our damn boss,” said a Clone. Olivia uncurled her fingers. Hey, don’t say that to her.

Dr. Sullivan rounded on him. “Your job was to get her to Dr. Ruskov anyways. Now you have two reasons. Go do your damn jobs.” She met Clone’s eyes for a minute.

“Let’s go,” said a different Clone, lowering his grenade launcher by a couple inches.

“Thank you,” whispered Olivia to Dr. Sullivan. Olivia thought she saw the corner of her mouth curl upwards slightly, but she otherwise gave no indication that she’d heard Olivia.

Dr. Sullivan walked with Olivia until they reached Dr. Ruskov’s office. The guards around them this time were far more attentive, and Olivia doubted a gun barrel left her back the whole time. The red light stopped. I guess that means everything is OK. It won’t be, but I can dream.

“Here we are,” said Dr. Sullivan as they reached the office. “Wait here.”

She entered Dr. Ruskov’s office, leaving Olivia crouched in the hallway. Right as the two doctors started their conversation, Olivia’s hearing faded to the point she couldn’t make out any words from inside the office. She glanced at Ortega, who stared steadfastly down the small corridor. Calm, remember? But I’m not saying sorry for that arm. Besides, the bleeding has stopped already.

After a couple minutes, Dr. Sullivan left the office and rejoined Olivia. Behind her, Dr. Ruskov called, “Ortega.” Ortega went inside, and they waited for a couple more minutes.

Eventually, Ortega came back out with a bandage on his arm. “Olivia,” called Dr. Ruskov.

“Alright, I’m going to leave you with Dr. Ruskov, OK?” said Dr. Sullivan.

“OK,” replied Olivia.

“Make sure there’s no trouble,” said Dr. Sullivan, glaring at the guards. With that, she left.

Olivia went into the office, happy to get away from the glares of the guards.

“Hello, Olivia. Take a seat,” said Dr. Ruskov, motioning to the rubber bed with the low cabinet thing next to it. Dr. Ruskov looked busy, typing away at a computer. Olivia took her seat.

“I understand you were shot with those big rubber bullets,” he said after a moment.

“Yeah,” said Olivia.

He froze and glanced at her. “No broken bones?”

“No. I mean, they’re kind of sore, but it doesn’t hurt too bad.”

“Let me see,” he said. She showed the nasty purple bruises on her arm. He gave a low whistle. “Seriously?” he asked.

Olivia nodded. I didn’t say anything. You saw it for yourself.

“No internal pain?” he asked.


“Wow,” he said. “Not much I can do about a simple bruise. Nothing, in fact. Just need to fill out a report saying as much.” He walked over to his computer. “Work, work, work,” he muttered under his breath as he typed.

“Sorry,” said Olivia. Stupid me.

“No need to apologize. It is my job, after all.” Why put up with it? This place is awful.

“Why… um, sorry. Never mind,” stammered Olivia.

“Do you have a question?”

“Well, why are you a doctor? Why here?”

He shrugged. “Well, I enjoy my job.”

“But… why?”

“I enjoy seeing what makes people tick, and how anything can go right or wrong at a moment’s notice. I was a medic for the Russian Army on the Siberian front for five years. The injuries I’ve seen in this place are… tamer. ”

“There are a lot of doctors here,” said Olivia. You’d think any injury would get dealt with fast.

“They all have different reasons. Some of them are fine to work with, some of them can get… annoying.”

“Dr. Sullivan talked a lot,” said Olivia. She awesome. I shouldn’t talk bad about her.

Dr. Ruskov grinned. “Her? I’m sorry. That woman does not shut up,” he said. “It’s just, jibber jabber jibber jabber!” he pantomimed in a high pitched voice.

Olivia cracked a smile in spite of herself. It was great when she talked down to those guards.

“She must have touched a nerve if you of all people got angry,” commented Dr. Ruskov. Olivia turned red. No, I was just being dumb.

“Um, no, it was that one other doctor guy. Dr. Grey, I think.”

Dr. Ruskov smiled mirthlessly. “William Grey. This place is a career killer and he knows it.”

“What?” asked Olivia.

“Well, those scientists, they get higher up in their… pecking order by publishing findings and studies,” replied Ruskov. “No one cares about whatever information comes out of here. Too small of a sample size to be taken seriously with unrepeatable data from each feral.”

“What about you?”

“Me? Well, I’m just a doctor. I don’t care for research. I tried it for two years. Hated it.”

“But… the other people I’ve talked to also have doctor in front of their names.”

“Oh! Oh no, I’m a medical doctor. They have scientific doctorates. Dr. Dabrowski specializes in xenobiology; I believe that is why she has been assigned to you. Dr. Grey, I believe has a degree in neuroscience.”


“Yes. So the only ones who work here are the ones that can’t get a job anywhere else, or have a personal interest in ferals. I know at least one man on staff had someone close to him go feral.”

“Oh.” I wonder where my family is. Would they take me back? They would, we’d be family. Right?

“Now, I’ve been thinking about the blood sample issue,” said the doctor. “I have a couple ideas that I would like to try, if you are willing.”

“Sure,” said Olivia. I don’t think I have much to fear from needles. They’re so small, anyways.

“Well, first off, I’m thinking I gave up on the original needle too easily. Just curl up your sleeve, preferably the non-bruised one.”

Olivia complied. He pressed the tip of the syringe to her arm. It bent once he applied pressure.

“As expected. Never hurts to try,” he said as he tossed the useless needle in the trash.

He grabbed a brown glass bottle from the top of the counter and a small cotton pad. Indecipherable medical terminology covered the white label on the bottle. I wonder if anyone actually understands any of that. The doctor unscrewed the lid, held the cotton swab to the opening, and upended the bottle for a moment.

“This should weaken your skin for a bit. Should. You should feel a tingling on your arm where I rub this.” Tingly? He rubbed the cotton pad on her upper arm. Hey, it’s tingly. That’s kind of cool. The doctor produced another needle, and pressed it to the same spot on her arm. It bent.

He added a little more of the liquid to the cotton swab, then repeated the process. That’s really tingly now. The next needle bent.

The doctor nodded. “Alright, never mind. If I use too much your skin will start flaking off. Maybe. I don’t really know with you. Do you want to find out?”

That sounds terrible. “No thank you.”

He smiled. “I thought so.” He opened a shelf and rifled through the contents. “Now, this is an iron needle,” he said holding up a silver and grey syringe. “Don’t ask how I got it. You seem to be part dragon, and dragons are… associated with magic. I doubt this will work, but if it doesn’t, I am only out forty dollars.”

I didn’t know they made iron needles. The doctor pressed the tip of the needle on her arm. It slid into the vein. That doesn’t hurt at all. His eyes widened for a moment, but he drew the plunger. Her blood flowed into the clear plastic tube. He removed the syringe, opened a small refrigerator next to Olivia’s seat, and placed the syringe on a cradle thing. The door shut as a mechanical arm came down.

“Magic, huh? I don’t suppose you control it,” said the doctor, righting himself and leaning back against the wall behind him, stroking the stubble on his face.

Olivia shook her head.

“I don’t suppose you’ve had your Wildfyre or S.P. shots, or…” he trailed off, frowning. What are those? “Or would you be immune? Or would the shots kill you? Hrm.” He returned to his computer, his eyes flickering over the monitor.

“Shots? Wild… fire?” None of those sound like good things.

“A shot will… inoculate you against a disease. Those things I mentioned are diseases specific to magic users,” said the doctor, not looking up. “Wildfyre burns you out, it will kill you if you are unlucky. S.P. is a parasite, it leeches magical energy. That’s all I know, magic is by no means my specialty. And I should probably monitor you for any allergic reaction to the iron syringe.”

“No. Um, I was kind of pricked with an iron knife thing before, and I was fine later.”

“Are you absolutely sure?”

“Nothing else has made me bleed besides a bunch of bullets.” I think I’d know what hurts and what doesn’t. Then again, I am weird, so maybe not.

He grinned. “Fair enough. I am still going to have to keep you here to make absolutely sure you don’t go into anaphylactic shock or get a seizure.”

I don’t know what either of those words mean. “Um…” began Olivia.


They talked for the next hour, interrupted only once by a Clone sticking his head in for a moment. Dr. Ruskov scolded him for not knocking and shooed him out. They talked about different pieces medical equipment, various diseases, the doctor’s war stories, and so on. Siberians are aliens. Huh. Didn’t even know there were aliens. Finally got an answer out of someone about that.

The door opened again. “What is it?” snapped Dr. Ruskov before the guard had a chance to say a word.

“Bosses want her back in her cell soon, getting close to closing time,” said a Clone, opening the door all the way.

“Did you not hear me last time when I told you about patient discretion?”

“Yeah,” said Clone. “Time to go.” I don’t like him at all.

Dr. Ruskov gave him a hard look. “Very well. We’ll talk again later, Olivia.”

Olivia got down from the table she’d been sitting on. But… but… fine. I don’t want to get Ruskov in trouble. “OK. Um, bye.”

“I’ll see you later,” he said.

The guards escorted her through the annoyingly small corridor and back to her cell. She found a surprise on her bed.

Oh, a couple books! And a little music player thing! After fiddling with it and the earbuds for a couple minutes, she clicked random. Loud, loud, loud. She turned down the volume, then scrolled through the various songs. She found a screen where the songs were sorted by genre. From the looks of it, they’d put on a grab bag of different types of music.

She avoided the louder, faster paced songs. Right as she settled in to some songs she liked, the music faded. What? The earbud said, “Olivia. Act like this is a normal song.” Olivia kept herself from jumping upright when she recognized Amanda’s voice. What? Amanda! Amanda continued, “This is a recording. I don’t have much time, and I can’t say much in case this ends up in the wrong hands. But stay safe, and stay strong, OK?

The voice vanished, and was replaced by music once again.

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