Down South – Drown Out

“Huh?” Olivia twisted around. She jumped up with a stifled shriek at the sight of the knife sticking out of her back, about two or three inches from her spine. She grabbed for it. I don’t know if she’ll bleed more if she gets that knife out. It might be plugging the wound a bit. Or it’s tearing her up on the inside more. Less thinking, more decision making, she’s still bleeding a lot.

Nomad swatted her hand. “No. Keep that knife still,” he ordered. Shit. That’s not a small amount of blood. Fuck, it’s not just her back. Leg too. I’ve got about a minute until the elevator gets to the top and we get moving again.

“But, but-” she began, eyes wide.

“Olivia, trust me.”

After a moment she jerked a quick nod and leaned against the wall, keeping her weight off of her injured leg.

“Alright, hold still, Olivia. Calm, deep breaths,” he ordered as he knelt down to check her left calf, where a nasty knife wound seeped blood. Make that stop. He drew his own knife and cut the fabric of her pants away from the wound.

“Um, Chris?” asked Olivia, one hand on the knife. “Is it… bad? Should I do something?” She’s seen enough people get stabbed or shot to know what’s going on.

“It’s fine,” he said. I think. The blood dripping from the knife in her is concerning. Not as much from her arm, considering the length of those two cuts. The cut to her face isn’t bad. “Just keep your wing out of the way.” After looking around a moment for inspiration, he ripped the bandana off his face and wrapped it around her leg. Should I keep her talking? That seems like a good thing to do. “That knife hurt?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you still function?”

“Yes.”

He finished the knot on the bandana. Don’t have anything else. It’ll have to do. Fuck, I hate winging it like this. Wait, I was breathing on that and we have nothing to clean out these wounds right now. Fuck. Nothing I can do about it now.

“There. Think you can stand?”

Olivia stood fully upright, putting some weight back on her injured leg. “It’s fine, I think.”

“You sure? How fast do you think you can walk?” The comm in his ear connecting him and Delta started buzzing with static. Got five seconds until that door opens up top, and there’s still that knife to deal with. He motioned for her to back up as he pressed himself against the opposite wall. “Don’t stand in front of the door, it’s about to open.”

She nodded. “I think I can walk. Running might hurt. It’s kind of hurting a lot now. My back is still bleeding,” she stammered, her voice shaking slightly.

Adrenaline wearing off. Fuck, we had to run into Clone when he had an iron weapon, didn’t we? At least Delta got him, Ortega, and that fire dude separated. Fire dude could make small fires from thin air. This would normally concern Nomad if he were alone, but he figured Olivia could deal with fire easily enough. I just have to turn into gasoline. Not water, gasoline.

The elevator doors opened with a ping. After a moment, Nomad poked his head around the doorway and saw an empty hallway. “Hear or smell anyone close by?” he whispered to Olivia.

She shook her head, then hissed softly. What? “Um, the knife is gone,” she said.

I’m just gonna repeat myself here. “What?”

“It dissolved.”

“Damn. Out of the elevator.” Didn’t know Clone could just get rid of his clones like that. I know his consciousness is spread over all the clones, so he can only really control two or three at a time. Getting rid of a Clone to him is like cutting off your hand. Nomad led the way out, stopping at a corner in the hallway of a four way junction.

“Nomad, you hear me?” asked Delta over the comms.

“Yeah, I hear you now, give us a moment,” he responded. Olivia tilted her head at him with a confused look. He tapped his ear and said to her, “Delta’s on the comm.” Olivia gave a small smile. That cheered her up.

“Yeah, I know I am. The other ferals are actually loose,” said Delta.

Nomad froze. “What?”

“All of the ferals were released.”

“All of them? Did you do that?” That was only Olivia’s cell that was supposed to open. Delta had wired it so they’d think a couple on the mid level had malfunctioned and released the ferals.

“No! I don’t think so. Unless Skulker fucked up my directions somehow.” Ben had gotten a job as a cook in the cafeteria, just as Chris had a job as a guard for the institute’s security. I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do to my foster father when this is done and over.

“That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in either of you, you know.”

“Hey! When is the last time I fucked up like this? I put time into my work-”

Nomad cut her off. “Delta, Olivia’s wounded, we need to get moving.”

“Fine. Get her out of there. I’ll tell you if anything else happens.” The comm went silent.

“Alright,” he said to Olivia. “The other ferals are loose.”

“I know. I heard. Um, both the comms and the shouting and shooting,” she answered.

Gunfire? What? Nomad listened to his surroundings for a moment. He heard faint popping noises, but nothing he would have noticed had Olivia not pointed it out. We are deep in the facility. No reason not to believe her.

“Alright, we need to close that wound. Turn around, hold still.” As she complied, he looked around for anything that might be suitable for soaking up blood. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Crap.

As with her pants, he cut away the shirt on her back around the wound.

As he worked, Olivia said, “Hey Chris. Um, they were, um, they were offering to find out who I was.”

“You mean you pre-trigger?”

“Yeah. I just… maybe…” she trailed off.

“One, we’re committed now. They’re going to keep you in supermax security after this. Two, Delta’s been trying to leech their info on you. You’ll have to talk to her, but I think she’s already got a good estimate of what they know as well. Don’t worry, we’ll help you figure it out.”

The blood made the shirt stick to her back as he sawed off the last bit. Is that shrapnel I see next to her spine? “Olivia, anything else hurting beside the knife wounds?”

“My arm, but that bleeding has kind of stopped. The one on my cheek still stings.”

“Nothing else on your back?”

“No, nothing,” she said, a touch defensively.

Good enough. Major wounds right now. He removed his guard jacket, cut the midsection of the jacket in half, then bundled the whole thing up, minus the sleeves. He passed it to Olivia.

“Here. Tie this around your midsection. Put as much of the cloth on the wound as possible, then tie it as tight as you can while still breathing. If you can, apply pressure with a hand after you’re done,” he explained.

He kept lookout as she followed his instructions. Of course, she’ll hear or smell anything coming long before I figure it out. “We good?” he asked once she finished.

“Um, yeah, I think so.”

“Alright, we’re heading to the maintenance building on the west side of the facility. Got a way out there.” He led the way down the nondescript hallway to the right of the elevators.

“No!” blurted Olivia. “Guns and screaming down that way. No.” I concur.

“Um,” began Nomad. What’s the quickest way now? Wait, the other way leads to the guard barracks. He spun around and pointed out the opposite direction of where he’d been heading. Olivia nodded after a moment. I’ll take it.

Going down towards the main entrance, away from the others with a getaway car. Damn it, there was a nice tunnel leading to the garage and everything. We’ll make due. “Um, some people ahead of us,” said Olivia. “They’re running this way.”

“Guards?”

“Yeah.” Dumb question. The civilians should be evacuated at this point, only guards here. Wait, all their communications are fucked by what Delta did. They might be getting slaughtered by the dozens of rioting ferals in here. Worry about it when we’re out of here.

He spun around. The oncoming guards, the guard barracks and central security, or a feral fight. No good options here.

“How many?” he asked.

“I, um, I don’t know. Four to eight. They’re really close now.” Fire starter should be on the mid-levels. We can do this.

Nomad turned and aimed down the corridor. He and Olivia began advancing. Half a dozen guards, Ortega included, rounded the corner in front of them.

Ortega sees me. Fuck. Got about thirty seconds until I’m out of commission if I keep in eyeshot. Ortega’s power let him piggyback on other peoples’ perceptions and alter them, but it took him a moment to do that. His control was not absolute, but letting Ortega make Nomad feel anything resembling, say, tear gas was something to be avoided.

Behind Nomad, Olivia hissed. No, no, bad. He shifted to liquid without firing a shot as his vision began to blur. That’s not supposed to happen. Nomad withdrew, wrapping a tendril around Olivia’s wrist and tugging as the guards began to fire. Vertigo is setting in. It’s not just the five simple senses, oh no. He can fuck with your spacial awareness and everything. Olivia resisted for a moment as several bullets hit Nomad. Getting harder to see,  she needs to get moving, right now. She eventually yielded, and followed him to behind the corner.

There we go. I can see properly now. Nomad immediately shifted back to human and shot a couple bullets back around the corner at the pursuing guards. He didn’t hear a scream, but he did hear the boot steps retreating. He tried sticking his head around the corner to gauge what they were doing, but three bullets whizzing down the hallway persuaded him otherwise.

Can’t stay here. He looked around after firing another couple of blind shots around the corner, more to keep the guards from advancing than actually hitting someone. Idea! Ventilation. Need to keep them where they are, there’s a nice vent above them. He shoved a rifle into Olivia’s hands, along with a spare magazine. “Keep them occupied,” he ordered.

“Wait, what?” asked Olivia.

“Shoot at them, keep them there,” he said.

“But-” began Olivia.

The longer this takes, the more likely the situation is to change, and that’s never good. He shifted to liquid and flowed through the vent above him. More light came in from another vent about twenty feet ahead of him and around a bend. He flowed towards it.

There we go. The guards remained in cover, firing the occasional shot in Olivia’s direction. Nomad’s senses were kind of like having his face suspended in the middle of his liquid body. He could put his “face” in a tendril, but preferred to have a wider view of what was going on.

He checked over the various guards. There’s Ortega. Let’s do this. Unless one of them has a lighter, I don’t think they can hurt me. He braced himself and burst through the vent covering, flowing out after it.

He slammed down on the first two guards before they had a chance to react. They smashed into the floor as Nomad concentrated himself on them. The others had no time to react as Nomad shifted his attention to Ortega.

Ortega and the remaining guard beside him backed up a few steps, shooting a couple times before Nomad dragged the two he had grabbed behind him forward. The rest of Nomad lunged, engulfing Ortega. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. There we go. No oxygen for you.

Nomad released the three guards, Ortega included, and turned to the two he had knocked down. Olivia swatted one to the side as the other scrambled away. Well that makes my job easier. Nomad caught the scrambling guard and subdued him as well.

After reverting to human form, Nomad said, “Thank you, Olivia.” She smiled weakly and nodded, leaning against the wall. Some blood oozed from her calf. Reopened the wound. At least the back injury is somewhat closed. Maybe. “You alright?” he asked.

“I’ll be fine,” she said, short of breath. We’ll patch that up later.

“Come on, we’re almost outside.” He offered an arm for support. “Oh yeah, what happened to my rifle?” he asked as they walked.

She turned her head towards a busted rifle, bent about thirty degrees in the middle, behind her before catching herself. You’re joking. “I, um, I broke it. I’m really sorry.”

He sighed and paused to reach down and grab one of the rifles dropped by the guards. “Thank god for standard issue,” he murmured. I’m using the same weapons and am in the same uniform as the rest of them. At least this ammo I’m lugging around will still work.

“I… I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“Olivia, it’s alright, it wasn’t even mine.”

“Oh. OK.” Damn, you’re limping badly. Why did you charge those guards?

They came to a set of broken glass doors. A smear of blood streaked across the floor, trailing off to a side corridor. Not going that way. The two exchanged a glance before climbing through. Nomad could now clearly hear the gunshots and screams, both human and inhuman, all throughout the area. Something outside in the night bellowed.

“Almost there,” said Nomad. It’s a quick, two minute walk normally. This will probably take twenty minutes and another fight for our lives, but less talking and more walking.

They stepped down the broad staircase leading to the main facility. “To the left,” he said, indicating the path next to one of the empty guard booths. They walked as quickly as possible, Olivia’s limp getting worse and worse.

“Van ahead,” panted Nomad, pointing towards the maintenance building in front of them. She’s heavy. And I think any girl will slap me upside the head for thinking that, but they’re not the ones half carrying Olivia, so they can fuck off.

“Something is coming towa-” said Olivia, over the sound of a couple spent shell casings crushed underfoot.

A rasping shriek to their right cut her off. Down the central path to their right came a feral.

Nomad would have called it an ostrich, if ostriches were nine feet tall and had a set of useless wings in addition to arms. The feral shrieked again, revealing about four human teeth embedded in its upper beak. A two foot long neck stretched out of its distended and twisted humanoid torso, with the odd feather jutting out of its skin. In fact, the only areas without patchwork feathers were the skinny yet otherwise human legs. Ew.

Nomad glanced at Olivia. She’s pale, her fingers are shaking a bit. She’s in no shape to fight. Well, she could probably cut this thing wide open right now, but that might reopen one of her knife wounds and I think she’s lost enough blood. He readjusted his grip on his rifle.

Two shots rang out from somewhere behind Nomad. The feral flinched as one hit it in the gut. Olivia faltered, looking at a guard tower next to the maintenance building. Forward planning is paying off. The feral backed off with another threatening shriek.

“Skulker’s covering us. Get to the van,” gasped Nomad, spurring Olivia onward. He eased her off his arm and checked his rifle. Please don’t be jammed. He aimed at the feral as he backed away. The feral circled, keeping its distance. It’s not trying to kill us? That’s convenient.

Miya opened the back doors, plastered with ads for the repair company they’d stolen the van from, for Olivia and Nomad. Gears, in only street clothes and his mask, started the engine as Nomad and Olivia climbed in the back. Nomad slammed the doors shut behind him.

“Outta here!” yelled Gears as Nomad sat back on one of the two benches lining the sides of the van.

“Wait, Be- I mean, Skulker,” protested Olivia.

The feral outside rammed the back of the van, jostling the occupants inside. The impact punched a wide, three inch deep dent in the back door. Thank god the only windows are in the front of the van. Miya, Olivia, and Nomad scrambled away from the door, further into the van. Nomad aimed his rifle at the door. Olivia flinched as something exploded outside.

After a second, the passenger door opened and Skulker climbed in. “Outta here!” said Skulker, slamming the door shut behind him. Gears hit the gas.

“Um, where’s Delta?” asked Olivia.

“What happened to you?” asked Miya instead of answering Olivia’s question.

“Delta’s in her own car. She’ll meet us at the motel. And Miya, she got stabbed a couple times. Grab that first aid kit under the bench.” Miya nodded.

The van drove down the empty streets. They dressed Olivia’s wounds as best they could in the back of a moving van, expecting at any moment for Gears or Delta to announce the cops were on to them. Other than Delta’s brief call to tell them she had gotten out of a nearby parking lot safe and sound, no one said a word. We’re not out of this yet.

Delta had reached the cheap motel ahead of them, and she monitored the area around it as Gears pulled into the parking lot.

“OK, no one is at their windows right now. You’re good to go,” said Delta as the van came to a stop. Thank god for techies and thermal vision. Olivia and two guys with grinning masks kind of stick out. Miya hadn’t assembled a golem; one less thing to move around and keep track of.

They piled out of the van, Skulker taking the driver seat to dispose of the van with several cans of gasoline elsewhere in the city.

They hurried into one of the three motel rooms they’d rented. Not as shitty as the other ones, we’ve been here for a week or so. Delta opened the door for them as they helped Olivia up the stairs. Inside, Delta had her helmet off, but still had a shock baton close at hand.

Chris took a position by the curtained window. “Alright, we’ll need to stay on our toes, keep an eye out for-” Chris was cut short when Olivia wrapped Miya, Amanda, and Rob up in a bear hug, lifting them off their feet.

“I missed you guys so much,” Olivia whispered. Miya gurgled, and Olivia relaxed marginally. Having been hugged by her before, I know that is a painful experience right there.

“Olivia. Need… to… breathe,” managed Rob, his mask dangling from a pinned hand.

She finally released them with a “Sorry,” still about hip to hip with Amanda.

Amanda twisted her back and said, “We missed you too, Olivia.” She wrapped an arm around Olivia’s waist.

“You cryin’?” Rob asked Olivia with a grin. Chris felt a smile form on his own face. Olivia wiped her eyes and ducked her head. Yes. The answer is yes.

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Down South – Hand That Feeds

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.”

“Oh. Wow.”

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.”

“I… yeah.”

“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. Grey?”

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.”

“Yeah.”

“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.

“Wait, what?”

“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.”

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

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.

“No.”

“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.”

“Oh.”

“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.

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

Down South – Asylum

A guard opened the door behind Olivia. Dr. Ruskov turned to his computer, so Olivia took that as her cue to leave. She hunched over again to fit in the small corridor leading back to the main hallway. Her escort led her to a large elevator. They motioned for her to get in, not following themselves.

The lead guard said, “Interior controls have been deactivated. It’ll take you two levels up to the white coats’ offices. We’re taking a different elevator up and will be waiting for you at the top. Try to open the elevator in any way, even if it’s not a door, and bad things will happen.”

Olivia eyed the grey metal elevator with its welded patches on the walls and dim lighting. “Can I not go in?” asked Olivia.

“It’s the elevator or back to your cell,” he replied.

The idea of just throwing herself on her bed and ignoring everything else tempted her. Well, they’ve been honest with me so far. Let’s see how far this goes. And if they wanted to kill me they would have done that already.

She entered the elevator as another of the guards hit a button on the wall. The door closed behind her. Olivia stood in silence for a moment. Then another moment. Right as she thought something bad was about to happen, the elevator jerked to life, moving upwards.

It went up. And up. Oh, maybe I can go outside. I kind of miss flying already. All these rooms are too small. The elevator slowed to a halt, and the doors immediately opened. She blinked at the same four guards from before standing in wait for her.

“This way,” said the lead guard.

I recognize that smell. You smell exactly like two of the other guards behind you. The shock of new smells and sounds, the experience of which she’d found to be at least tolerable, had kept her from figuring out the sources of said smells and sounds the first time she’d exited her cell. Now she’d grown used to the new building, and knew full well that these guards had smelled radically different not five minutes ago. Olivia blinked again as something changed.

Wait, now they all smell like they did before. Ben and Rob are identical and they don’t smell the same. And now that I think about it, these guards are the same height and build, except for that one slightly taller guy with darker skin like Miya. And all four are wearing balaclavas for some reason. Hang on.

Olivia made no move to follow. “Um,  are you all, you know, the same guy?” she asked, glancing to each one of the three identical guards in turn.

The one she addressed shot a tiny glance at the different guard. He grunted noncommittally, not looking at the glancing guard. “We need to get to Dr. Dabrowski’s office,” said the lead guard.

Olivia stood her ground. I’m not going anywhere until you answer my question. That was really weird. “Please answer me.”

“What do you think?” he responded. All the guards stood taller. Two readjusted their grips on their weapons, holding them tighter. She smelled adrenaline, then the sensation vanished. Again?

“Um, yes?”

“You trust your senses too much.”

What’s that supposed to mean? “What?” asked Olivia.

The guard shrugged. I need to learn your name at some point. Can’t just call you guard. People have names. “Doesn’t matter. Are you coming with us or no?”

Fine. I still don’t want to get shot. Maybe there are windows here or something. “OK,” said Olivia.

Everything seemed normal. Actual normal white tile composed the floor, rather than dirty grey concrete. Normal lighting, instead of the harsh fluorescent lights from her level, lit up the normal sized hallway. Nice normal wooden doors. The only things that marred the scene were Olivia and the grenade launcher packing guards. Grenades explode, why would they be carrying them if we’re in such close quarters? Maybe they don’t shoot grenades, then.

Olivia’s group rounded a corner and found two people in guard uniforms by a door. The man held up a hand to stop them. “Boss is talking to the white coat,” said the woman next to him.

“I don’t think he’d like it if we just stood out here,” said Olivia’s guard.

“He knows. Told us to tell you to wait.”

Olivia’s guard grunted. One behind her leaned against a nearby wall, the others spread out a bit around her. If Olivia concentrated, she could make out some muffled talking in the room beyond over the tinnitus in her ears. Hey, I can hear properly again. Kind of.

An angry sounding man said, “… over my head like that.”

“You allowed her to see Dr. Ruskov,” responded an icy sounding woman.

“You do know the only reason I agreed to let her out in the first place is because of Clone and Ortega, yes?” Clone? What does that mean?

Olivia momentarily glanced around at the guards. The four that had accompanied her had spread out somewhat. At least two kept an eye on her, the others watching either way down the hallway. The two unarmed guards stood by the main door. Am I supposed to just stand here like this?

The woman beyond the door continued, “Yes, you have made me very much aware. They will be right outside, and I assume the same precautions that were taken in Dr. Ruskov’s office were taken here.”

“No. That’s a clinic we set up to use for smaller ferals, it has security measures that are not in your office. She’s not getting out of here, but here there might be bodies.”

A guard coughed. Olivia felt a subtle shift in the other three: darting eyes, faster breaths, and so on. The two unarmed guards remained unmoved. What’d I do?

“Still though, Dr. Ruskov didn’t report any trouble. He was face to face with her,” replied the woman.

“That doesn’t mean anything! Ivan’s insane!” Hey, I kind of liked him.

“I think you are overreacting, Mr. Walker.”

“My men are not prison guards. They’re not trained for that. You want us to keep people out and unintelligent ferals in, that’s fine. But they’re not trained for the psychological aspects of actual sentient beings that can plan. Steve makes them more nervous than Frogger or Slinky. With all due respect, I don’t think letting another Steve out of its cell longer than absolutely necessary is the right thing to do. There’s a reason my men are here and not the MHU or military,” replied the man. Olivia presumed that he oversaw the guards. What did she call him? Mr. Walker?

“She has complied so far. After her first few attempts at the entrance she has given us no trouble,” said the woman. Well, if they were taking me to someone called Dr. Dabrowski, and we’ve stopped here, she must be the doctor person. It probably took me longer than it should have to make that connection.

“Neither did Steve, but it turned out he was just learning and biding his time. I know she hasn’t been violent so far. I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt, but if you’re wrong, people will die.”

“Unlike Steve there’s no record of her hunting and eating people.”

Olivia shivered. Eating people. I’m so glad that’s not me. And who is this Steve guy? Or feral, whatever. He had just as much security stuff that I have at my cell.

“So? She still has the third highest body count here. We don’t know what will set her off.” Third highest?

“She could shed light on so many questions we’ve had since this institute was founded. If getting those answers requires an olive branch, so be it.”

The guards backed off.

“Maybe she takes your olive branch. Maybe she wants revenge. That room we talked to her from before, for instance. You could talk to her from there without testing her like this.” Silence reigned for a moment. “That’s… that’s not a good idea,” said Mr. Walker. What’s not a good idea? Is it something that they can see inside the room?

“Honest answers require trust. And even if this doesn’t work, there are other ways of gathering information.”

They both remained quiet for a moment. Eventually, Mr. Walker said, “If you are insinuating what I think you are, no. One, I will not order my men to torture anything. And two, that never works anyways.”

More silence. “You really believe I’d ask anyone to torture anything?” asked Dr. Dabrowski.

“I think you know the answer to that question.” Now I kind of get the feeling that I don’t want to go talk to this woman.

“Those tests were necessary to discover Slinky’s pain threshold. Dr. Grey agreed.”

“Of course Dr. Grey agreed. Have you spent any time with the man? He’s the kind of man who’d pull the wings off bugs to see how long they’d last.”

“What’s taking them so long?” asked one of the guards by the door, over the sound of the doctor’s response.

“Dunno. He looked pissed ‘bout something, though,” responded the other one.

The non-identical guard grunted just loud enough to be heard by the two by the door. The woman only glanced at him, but the man’s eyes widened marginally. Both ceased their conversation. What was that? I’d ask, but I’d rather not miss more of that conversation about me in the other room.

“… three separate incidents over the course of two months. Two months. Every other feral gets that many over the course of two or three days if they’re not captured or killed. Maybe four days for the herbivores. You yourself said that she should be given a chance,” said the doctor.

“Yeah, the chance and decision come before letting her up to this level.”

“Very well. I understand your concerns, Mr. Walker. After this interview I will not bring her or another feral up here without your approval. But think about it this way. This is obviously the lowest security area she’ll ever see here.”

Another, stronger cough from the non-duplicated guard.

“If she doesn’t try to escape here, I believe we can trust her, within reason, from here on out. And please trust I will do nothing to antagonize her.”

Olivia looked at one of the guards. He faced her, feet spread apart, grenade launcher pointed at her own feet. She jerked her head to either side, and saw all of her other guards in similar stances. Even the door guards had picked up on something, no longer lounging against the wall near the door. I’ve just been standing here. What did I do? No one said a word.

From inside, the man said, “Fine. I’ll get some extra guards on this level. If this goes wrong, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Noted.” The conversation ended as the door opened from the inside.

The same older, mustachioed man Olivia had seen earlier that day on the other side of the glass wall of her cell exited the room.  He took in the scene and frowned.

“She given you any trouble?” he asked the guards, meeting Olivia’s gaze. The door guards fell in behind him.

“She overheard your conversation with the white coat, sir,” responded non-duplicate guard. Olivia blinked. What the… how? Some power? Is that what they were talking about with… what was it? ‘Clone and Ortega?’

“You mean Dr. Dabrowski?” asked Walker, turning his head towards the guard, his tone stern.

“Yes, sorry, sir.”

“So,” began Walker, turning back to Olivia. “Will you be giving us any trouble?” he asked, stepping into normal talking range.

I don’t know where to go to get out of here. I can’t smell any fresh air to point me in the right direction. You’ll probably shoot me a bunch, and the last time the MHU shot at me I actually bled. I’m not entirely sure I’d be willing to murder my way out unless there’s no other way. You’ve promised me answers, and so far you haven’t lied to me. So, right now, no.

“If, um…” What was it they said about torture? I’d like to avoid that. “If I don’t get, you know, tortured, sure,” she answered.

The corners of Walker’s mouth curled up slightly. “Fair enough. That won’t happen, don’t worry. Don’t cause trouble and there won’t be trouble.” He nodded. “I’ll leave you with the doctor.”

He left, his two guards trailing behind him. Olivia’s guards remained ready. The two in front backed up past the door Walker had left open behind him. One jerked his head towards it. Please calm down. Olivia entered the office.

Dr. Dabrowski, as the small plaque on her large L shaped desk and the multiple diplomas on the wall behind her attested to, looked up as Olivia walked in.

“Please. Come in, sit down,” said the doctor. She grabbed a thick book off of her desk and returned it to one of the shelves lining the entire wall to Olivia’s right as she greeted Olivia.

Olivia walked up to the chair. She sighed. Of course it has a backrest. Every chair I’ve seen has a backrest. I hate those things.

The doctor’s eyebrows knitted. “Is something wrong?”

Oh, right, I sighed out loud. “Oh, sorry, no,” said Olivia as she sat at the edge of the seat, with her tail curled beneath an armrest. Stupid backrests.

The doctor nodded. She tapped a few times at the keyboard of her computer with the screen facing away from Olivia. “We spoke earlier over the intercom. You do remember this, correct?”

Olivia blinked. “Yes. Of course. Um, why?” Why would you ask that?

“We’re not entirely confident how well your memory works. Also, in case no one has informed you yet, you are being recorded at all times.”

“I… don’t like that?” If that makes them change it, great. But it hasn’t affected me at all so far.

“Was that a question?”

“Kind of. I think.” I’m not quite sure what question I should be asking, honestly.

“Part of it is security, as Mr. Walker may have hinted at as he left. The other reason is research. Behavioral, mainly.”

Research. Wonderful. I’m a bug or something. “So, um, did you find out… anything?” Am I weirder than I thought I was?

“Dr. Sullivan, our psychologist here on staff, noted that you have been acting as any new solitary confinement inmate would. She also noted that solitary confinement is not ideal for mental well-being, and recommended that we open talks with you. I agreed.”

Like a bug. Just something to observe. Just… just move on. “Oh. Um, thank you.”

The doctor nodded. “Do you have any questions for me before we get started?”

You guys have been honest with me so… wait. I keep telling myself that, but have they? They could just not be telling me stuff. “Um, when you said answers for me, you meant, you know, who, um, who I was, right?”

“Yes. We are working towards discovering your previous identity. Your answers may help expedite that process. Usually there are substantial clues as to where ferals originated from, but you have none.” Oh, well, that’s a nice change of pace from getting shot by the authorities, or being threatened with getting shot.

“Clues?”

“Yes, where you were originally sighted and the site of the trigger itself is a good indicator. From there we can work out who was where at the time. Eyewitnesses help as well. My expertise is not in forensics, mind you. I do not know exactly how they draw their conclusions, but law enforcement does eventually forward any medical records they can find to us and who they believe the feral was. In your case they don’t know.”

“Oh. Um, OK.” Olivia spoke up again, right as Dabrowski opened her mouth to speak. “Why- oh, sorry,” said Olivia as she realized she’d cut Dabrowski off.

“No, continue.”

“Why, um, why do the police care?”

The doctor tapped her desk for a moment. “There are several reasons. A feral trigger is technically a homicide. At least, that is my understanding, I’m no legal expert on the matter. If nothing else, they give closure to a community, and feral attacks are well publicized enough for them to not sweep it under the rug. As for your case, the fact that you appeared out of nowhere is ringing MHU alarms.”

“They… they didn’t seem to look for me too hard. When I was… with my friends.”

“I spoke with Cyrus when you first arrived; he was part of your escort. I believe he had hoped for more peaceful talks with you, on your own terms. He seemed strangely knowledgeable.”

“What… what do you mean?”

“There are many misconceptions about ferals among the general public, and even the scientific community outside of this facility. I got the impression that he knew more than he let on, which was surprising, to say the least. I assume he has a feral relative.” I saw that mantis feral, but it’s still annoying how everyone thinks I’m just going to go crazy and kill everything. “Do you have any other questions before we get started?”

“No,” replied Olivia. Let’s get this over with.

“I would like to talk about your earliest memories, if that is alright,” said Dabrowski.

“I… I don’t remember much.”

She nodded. “That’s fine. Now, obviously you are capable of speech, so the next question is whether you can read or write.”

“I… I asked for a book. You know, when you talked to me earlier.”

“A comic book, yes. We were fairly confident you could, but we needed to make sure.”

What followed were more and more inane questions.  Time dragged on and on. Olivia felt her jaw clench. No, don’t get angry. I do stupid stuff when I’m angry. I’m here because I got angry.

“No, I don’t know how I know stuff. I… I remember random stuff. I don’t remember different random stuff,” said Olivia, suppressing yet another sigh. With any luck that blanket statement will make this stop.

Dr. Dabrowski blinked. “Very well, we’ll leave that topic for later.” Later. Wonderful. I miss my friends. I don’t think they ever wasted my time. “If you are comfortable with telling me, what is the very first thing you remember? Not a concept like we’ve been discussing, but the first thing you remember doing, as yourself.”

“I woke up.”

The silence hung in the air until the doctor asked, “Could you specify? Anything notable about your surroundings?”

“I… well… I was in this alleyway, I think. There was a dumpster between me and the street. It smelled pretty bad. That was… that was it, really.”

“No blood?”

“No!” exclaimed Olivia as she shot fully upright in her chair. “Why do… No. I don’t like killing. I can barely remember when I do and I hate it. No blood. Just dirt. Some trash. Nothing else.”

The door opened behind Olivia. She didn’t bother to turn around. I don’t want to see the gun he’s probably pointing at my back right now. “Everything alright in here?” asked the guard.

“Yes, we’re fine,” said the doctor, waving him off. She waited until the door closed behind Olivia to speak again. “That is not what I was alluding to, I’m sorry. How much do you know of the actual, physical feral transformation?”

“I’m… I’m not… human anymore.” There, I said it. Happy?

“Yes, but I’m talking about the actual process. That brief span in time between pre and post trigger.”

“Um, I don’t know.” I haven’t really thought about it before, actually. I think I just kind of tried to ignore it.

“There is only one that has ever been captured on video, but there are many more eyewitness accounts of them for us to get an accurate picture. They are… brutal. Bloody. I will save you the description, unless you truly want it. But the point is you did not wake up at the site of your trigger. This has some unfortunate implications.”

The doctor stood up and reached for a white two inch binder labeled FOUND DECEASED IV on one of her shelves. “If I recall correctly, you have had a face to face encounter with another feral, yes?” She set the binder down and rifled through the tabbed sections. She stopped at the last one. “The mantis specimen? It was killed by a combination of claw wounds, gunshots, and a four story fall.”

He, not it. “Yeah. He was attacking us.”

“Indeed. It was caged, and probably mistreated. Many ferals do display some limited self-awareness, so it was no doubt near berserk. But that is common for ferals if they are not killed outright or if the government gets to them first. Exotic pets, fighting rings, unconventional weapons. This is their usual fate. What is unusual is that you appear to have no memory of how you got to that alley in the first place. I cannot fathom why someone would just put you there and leave. Was there anything on your person at the time?”

“Um, no.”

“Really? No note, no jewelry on you, no scrap of clothing?”

Olivia felt a small blush creep up her cheeks. No clothes out on that street. Eeeugh. “No,” she said, eyes fixed on the edge of the desk in front of her.

The doctor returned to her high backed office chair. “That is… very surprising. Are you absolutely certain?”

“Yeah.” Why would I lie?

Dabrowki steepled her fingers and pursed her lips, remaining quiet for a moment. I know, I’m weird. “I don’t believe something like this has happened before, to my knowledge. We’ll see what the Westward investigators make of this.”

The doctor spun in her chair towards her computer and began typing. Her eyes flickered, and she said, “Ah, Dr. Sullivan would like to meet with you.”

Olivia closed her eyes for a moment. No more talking. Please, no more talking. “Do I have to?”

The doctor turned her full attention to Olivia. “No, it’s completely up to you. She just wants to know what time would work for you.”

Let’s put the ‘I can choose’ theory to the test. “Tomorrow?”

“Morning, afternoon, or evening?”

“Um, afternoon?” I have no concept of what the current time is, so sure, afternoon, why not? I haven’t even seen the sky in a couple days, that’s depressing to think about.

“Very well, I’ll let her know.” She typed a few more sentenced, then pushed her chair away from the computer. “I have no more questions for you at this time. Do you have any questions for me?” she asked for the third time.

“No.”

“Then I believe we are done here. Thank you for your cooperation. I believe the renovations to your cell are complete as well. Your guards will escort you back to the lower levels.” Renovations? The whole thing was solid concrete. How did they change it in less than a day? I want to see this.

The doors behind Olivia opened once again as she stood. Without a word, the guards escorted her back to the elevators. They descended in the same process as before. This time, they didn’t bother masking the smells, however they did that. They can manipulate my senses. I’d rather they not do that ever again. They parted ways at the cell. At this point the enormous, tripod mounted gun pointed at her back, so she was in no position to argue.

She re-entered her cell, and the first thing she noticed was an alcove carved into the side of the hall. She poked her head in. Three steps down she discovered a shower. A simple thing, all concrete with a drain at the bottom and the showerhead embedded in the ceiling, but a shower nonetheless.

I don’t have to crouch to fit in this thing! The one in Amanda’s house was so small compared to this one. She stood in the shower with a small smile on her face. I have no clue how they removed a good portion of my cell wall, but I don’t have to almost kneel down to get my head under the showerhead so I don’t care.

Olivia poked her head out again and saw a change of clothes, normal clothes, neatly folded. Thank god. They’re not bright orange. She enjoyed the shower with no one talking to her or aiming guns at her or prodding at her. Just silence and running water.

After getting out and cutting the requisite holes into her new shirt, she threw herself face first on her bed. Tired. It’s so quiet. Usually Amanda’s muttering to herself at about this time. Or Ben is harassing her. Or Miya is off cursing to herself out back. Or Rob and Ben are holding one of their arguments. Olivia fought back a tear. I’m going to get out of here. I don’t care how many showers they make.

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

Down South – Doctor’s Orders

Olivia blinked. Someone is bothering to talk to me?

“Olivia?” the woman’s voice repeated.

What am I supposed to say? She looked around for something to address, eventually settling on the speaker embedded in the roof. “Yes? Hello?”

“You can understand us, yes?”

Of course I can. “I answered, didn’t I?” I did, right? I’m not going crazy, am I?

A small pause. “Would you be willing to answer some questions?”

“Um, why?” Olivia looked around the room again. Where should I be looking? I’d rather not talk to an empty room. I’m not going crazy. I hope.

“We need to know more about you.”

“Can I say no?” asked Olivia.

“If you want to just keep pacing, yes,” responded the speaker.

Olivia considered for a moment. I have nothing else to do. Why not see where this goes? “OK.”

“How has the food been that you’ve been served? Do you have any problems with it?”

“No.” Everything actually tasted pretty good.

“Is there anything else in particular that you would like?”

“Um, donuts?” Olivia asked, perking up. Been a while since I’ve had any of those.

“Donuts?” asked the woman over the speaker.

Olivia blinked. “Yeah.”

“You’ve had donuts before? They didn’t poison you or cause any adverse effects?”

How do you answer that? “Yeah.” Yes, I had donuts, or yes, they poisoned me? “Um, nothing bad happened.”

A longer pause. “Any kind in particular?”

I haven’t had a bad donut. “Any? Oh! The brown ones… um… cinnamon. Those are good.”

“Sure. We can do that.” Olivia felt a small smile at the corner of her lips. Donuts! “Is there anything else you would like for your quarters?”

“Um, a shower?”

Another pause, with some muffled talking in the background from the speaker instead of going dead. Then the voice addressed Olivia. “That’s already underway. It will be available in the next day or so.”

Olivia looked around at the bare walls. How? Whatever. Olivia waited for the woman over the speaker to say something else, who eventually asked, “Anything else?”

“I… don’t know. Something to do? Like a book. Or books. Yeah.” I’d really like to leave, but I really don’t think they’ll let me do that. “Oh, clothes that aren’t full of holes, or bright orange.”

A much longer pause. “Please specify.”

This isn’t how I imagined prison would be. Why would they shoot me a bunch, then ask what I want? “I was… well… I was reading the Calvin and Hobbes books before. And clothes, can they not have ‘Prisoner’ stamped on them?” Or fall apart. Some of the things Miya and Amanda got for me fell apart when I cut the wing slits on them.

“We’ll have those things for you in the next day or so. Now, someone else is going to be on.”

Olivia might have heard papers rustling over the speaker, she wasn’t quite certain. Then, a different, deeper voice said, “Do not mistake this for complacency. You’ve tried to open the front door, you know full well security here is tight. These are privileges which can be revoked.” I’ve decided I don’t like where this is headed.

Olivia nodded. More to say I understand than agreement. The man continued, “If you are a security risk, security gets heavier. If you aren’t, life is easier.”

Olivia kept her head still this time. I really don’t like this, so we can just sit in silence until you get bored.

“Very well. Now, there are close to sixty deaths attributed to you. Would you deny any of them?” There it is.

She hung her head. “No,” she whispered. I was stupid. I was stupid and lost control and other people died and I tried to ignore and forget about it. Stupid. “I didn’t… I didn’t know.” I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t know enough to stay away from a power that caused riots.

Silence reigned for a minute. Olivia took a deep breath and bit her lip. The man over the speaker sighed, then continued, “The Westward massacre we understand to be caused by a power. However there are three separate incidents linked to you, so you understand why we think you may be dangerous to those around you. This is a chance for you to set the record straight.”

“I… three?” I can only think of two. No. No, no, no. I didn’t forget something like that, did I? No, I didn’t forget. I’m not going to forget.

“The third of June, two bodies found with claw injuries at the construction site for the St. Nicholas Children’s Hospital. Overlooked at the time due to the Watch’s activities at the same time. One week later, a large mantis feral of unknown origins found torn to pieces on the streets near where PETA busted an animal smuggling operation. And two days ago, four people killed when their houses were destroyed.” One, two, three. I remember all of those. Good. I remember all of those.

“The first one, um…” she trailed off. How much should I tell them? Not a lot, but how much of not a lot? “We were, me and my friends, were helping the Watch. Kind of.” That one was me. They were shooting me, I don’t really have any bad feelings about that.

“OK, that’s consistent with the reports we have.”

“The feral, the other feral, was trying to kill a friend.” Other feral, I know.

“OK.”

“And… and the last one… um…” Four people? I only remember one. And of course I can barely remember that. “I… I got angry. Really angry and messed up. I didn’t… didn’t mean to.”

“Angry?” asked the man.

Olivia stayed quiet for a moment. “Yeah,” she answered.

“Had you been outside of Freedom Fighter’s influence, would you have committed those murders?”

“No! No, of course not,” said Olivia. In the silence that followed, she added, “Please… please don’t dissect me.”

“What, do you think we work for Overlord or something?” responded the speaker, the woman this time, with outrage seeping into her tone. “No, of course we’re not going to dissect you.”

Olivia looked up at that. I really hope you people are honest. The woman continued, “We will be performing basic medical tests, but you will be free to turn down anything you may find objectionable.”

“Oh, well, OK. Wait, medical?”

“Yes, to make sure there are no unforeseen medical complications for you brewing further down the line.”

“Um, a friend of mine already did that, I think.” Thank you, Miya.

“How?”

“Magic.”

“OK, I see. You friend will have only noticed any health concerns relating to their specialty. Regardless, we will have a real medical professional check up on you.”

“Ummm…” I’d rather not get poked and prodded. “What do you mean by checkup?”

“A standard physical, some X rays, blood testing, and maybe some psychological testing. Nothing you wouldn’t see outside of a normal hospital visit.”

Wait a minute, you people shot me a whole bunch. Why do you care about my well-being now? “Why?” asked Olivia.

“Why what?”

“Why do all of that?”

“We are responsible for your well-being. You are imprisoned, not slated for execution.”

“I… I don’t know.” Well, Miya and the others were concerned about… health stuff. I don’t know what exactly. And Miya keeps saying she’s only good with bones, so I guess this wouldn’t hurt.

“Think it over. We will respect your decision either way. Now, we’ll talk again tomorrow.” The speaker went dead, leaving the room silent once more.

***

The next day started much the same as the last. Olivia woke up, ate the meat and donuts provided, paced, and waited for something interesting happened. They held up the donut promise. That’s a good sign, right? This time, however, the speaker didn’t crackle to life like last time.

She felt subtle vibrations through the floor. A loud humming noise filled the whole room in response. The wall opposite the cell door began to slide to the side, revealing a thick glass wall. Olivia whirled around and uncurled her fingers.

Five people stood behind the glass. Two armed guards stood to the rear, one with a thick grey mustache on his upper lip, the other a young guy toting what appeared to be a grenade launcher. The three people in the forefront, near what appeared to be counter with its top obscured from Olivia’s view, looked more like civilians.

The bald man, off to Olivia’s left, stood with arms folded and the beginnings of a scowl on his face. In the center sat an impassive woman at the counter. The woman to Olivia’s right, in contrast, leaned forward eagerly, a small smile on her face. Both looked about forty years old. Not a lab coat in sight. Those movies didn’t have it all right.

The woman in the middle grabbed something unseen on the counter, then said, “Hello, Olivia. I am Dr. Dabrowski. This is Dr. Sullivan.” She pointed to the woman next to her. “And this is Dr. McCormick.” She pointed to the man.

“Um, hi?” What am I supposed to say?

Dr. Sullivan smiled wider and nodded. The man, Dr. McCormick, as well as the older security guard, frowned. What’d I do? Dr. Dabrowski continued, “Have you found the food satisfactory?”

“Yes. The, um, the donuts were good. Thank you.”

Dr. Dabrowski nodded. “Good. Have you thought over our proposal?”

“I… I still don’t know. I was, I don’t know. I was trying to avoid this exact kind of place for… as long as I can remember.”

“And how long is that?”

“I… um… two months.” I know, I’m weird.

Dr. Dabrowki nodded again. “There are many reasons for you to not trust us. We understand. But we can provide you answers. They may not be the answers you want, or were looking for, but they are answers. But you need to meet us halfway. We need your cooperation, and Mr. Walker needs to know you’re not a security risk. Otherwise we will be content to let you pace in your cell.”

“You… you can figure out who I was?” I… I can find out who my family was? What my real name is? The various scowls and smiles disappeared, replaced by looks of focus and consideration. Olivia ducked her head down.

“We’re working on it, yes. You can expedite the process.”

Olivia’s mouth opened, then closed. Open. Close. I really hope I don’t regret this somewhere down the line. “I… um… I… sure.”  I really, really, really hope I don’t regret this somewhere down the line.

“Good,” said Dr. Dabroski. Behind her, the older guard pulled out a walkie talkie and began talking into it. The doctor turned around and exchanged a few words with him. She turned back to Olivia and said, “There will be an escort to Dr. Ruskov’s office. Please do not cause them any trouble.”

Olivia nodded. If I see a way out, I’m taking it. If not, then maybe this won’t be so bad. I hope.

The other two scientists headed towards the door as the wall slid back over the window. Behind Olivia, the door opened. She whirled around, and stared at the open doorway. No one appeared. Someone smells close by. Several someones. She approached. Can I just go through?

She went through the doorway, and found herself in another, smaller concrete room, this time with a large metal door in front of her. Three thick bolts in the door retracted, and the door opened. The guard who’d opened the door stood off to the side.

Oh, OK. She went through the next doorway, and came face to face with a very large gun pointed directly at her. She blinked. The four guards flanking her, two to each side, also carried the same grenade launcher looking things the guard with the scientists had carried. Them, and the two guards manning the gun, stared at her without expression. They are not messing around.

“This way,” said a guard to her right, motioning down the hallway.

She followed his lead. Like the time she’d been caught by the MHU, the four guards formed a box around her, two in front, two behind. They stayed well out of arm’s reach. The concrete of this hallways was a darker grey, though that might have been the dimmer lighting. What is it with all the concrete?

Her group passed two more set ups similar to her cell’s; a heavy gun aimed at a fortified metal door. Both were also manned. The sign above the first had “Steve” emblazoned in large black letters. The second had “Frogger” in the same style, with a bright yellow sign with a skull and crossbones next to it.

Steve? What’s wrong with Steve? I guess the same could be said about my name, but still. Wait, how did they know my name? And Frogger? I don’t see frogs as being particularly dangerous.

They came to a low, narrow door. One of the guards opened it. Olivia had grown used to having to duck under most doorways, but the hallway that extended beyond was exactly the same height. That was, about six inches lower than what her wings cleared. Olivia stopped, and looked at the guard who seemed to be in charge.

He noticed her look and shrugged. “One of the real big ones gets loose, they can’t get to anyone in here too easy.” He motioned for her to go through.

She sighed. Fine, whatever. Beats getting shot with grenades at any rate. Wait a minute, they’d get caught up in the explosion too. What do they shoot, then? Not that I want to find out firsthand, of course. She ducked down and hunched over. Thankfully, this didn’t go on for too long, and they came to an opened door.

“Doctor, she’s here,” called the lead guard.

“Ah, yes, thank you,” came a slightly accented voice from within. The guards stood off to the side to let Olivia in.

“We’ll be out here if you need anything,” called the guard, watching Olivia. Yeah, yeah. Dangerous feral. Got it.

She finally got to the office, and smiled when she found she could stand fully upright in the clean, well lit room. A man in the first white lab coat she’d seen in person typed away at a computer at the desk in the far end of the room, next to a wall of various instruments.

The doctor motioned over his shoulder to the bed, not looking away from his keyboard. “Please, take a seat.”

Olivia sat on the edge of the bed as the doctor muttered to himself, too indistinct for her battered ears to make out. After a moment, he stopped typing, grabbed a clipboard with a thick stack of paper in it, and propelled himself backwards towards her, spinning in the chair as it rolled towards her. He came to a stop about a foot from her and stood, adjusting his glasses.

“I am Dr. Ivan Ruskov. You are Olivia, yes?”

Olivia nodded. Um… you’re doctor? I mean, I see the lab coat, but really?

“Good, good,” he said, pulling a pen from the breast pocket of his lab coat. He scribbled something unintelligible. “This won’t be anything invasive. Just a simple physical, make sure nothing is amiss.”

“Physical?” They’re treating it like a thing, rather than a description, so I’m not quite sure what they’re talking about.

“Physical examination. Height, weight, just a visual examination to make sure you aren’t infected with some horrible virus, and so on.”

Olivia nodded. “OK.”

The doctor scribbled something else, then flipped the page. He stared at the next page on the clipboard for a moment, then sighed. Olivia’s brow furrowed as he plopped back into his chair and scribbled furiously.

“Sorry, this will just take a moment,” he said, not looking up.

After what Olivia felt to be an intensely awkward minute, she spoke up. “Um, excuse me?” she asked. You’re not going to get mad at questions, are you?

“Yes?”

“You’re a doctor, right?”

“Yes,” he said, taking the question in stride.

“But… aren’t the other people I saw… um… Dabrowski, I think it was, doctors too?”

“Ah, you met the researchers. Well, no, they have doctorates in other things. Dr. Dabrowski’s specialty is in xenobiology.” He flipped the page, then continued his mad scribbling.

“Just them?”

“No, they are the ones assigned to you. Each feral has about three to five scientists assigned to them.” He stopped, sighed again, then got up to check on something on the computer across the room.

“So, um, you’re not a researcher?”

“Well, I’m the medical doctor here. Mr. and Mrs. Zheng are the resident zookeepers, but I don’t think you’ll see too much of them. Everyone else is either a guard, scientist, or just a blue collar worker of some kind.” He wrote one final thing on his clipboard, held it up to the screen to double check, then returned to Olivia. I can read all of that stuff on his screen and clipboard, it just makes zero sense.

“Um, blue collar?” What does the collar have to do with anything?

He tilted his head one way, then the other, eyes on the ceiling. “Well, basically… lower end jobs. Janitors, the keepers working under the Zhengs, delivery boys, and so on. Blue collar is just a saying.”

“Oh, OK.”

“Rather inquisitive,” he commented. “OK, ready to begin? Do you know how old you are?”

“I, um, no.” What was it Ben said to Miya? “Um, my friends said I was about fifteen, maybe. I don’t know.”

He nodded and wrote something down real quick. “OK. We’re already… operating under, what were their words? ‘Assume human until something isn’t.’ Not knowing age won’t hurt too much.” Assume human. That’s positive. Right?

He followed with a battery of questions, only half of which she understood. Why is everyone so concerned with what I eat? The doctor simply nodded whenever she told him that, so she couldn’t really get mad at him. Then he had her stand on a scale, and pulled up a metal thing attached to the back.

“Six foot ten, two hundred and eighty seven pounds,” he murmured to himself.

Back at the bed, he pulled out a small flat wooden stick. “Open wide, stick out your tongue.” Olivia eyed the stick. “It’s a tongue depressor, let’s me see,” he clarified. She complied after a moment. “Hrm. Split tongue, serrated teeth. Everything else seems human, nothing is swollen or off color. Good,” muttered the doctor. This is weird, isn’t it?

After disposing the stick (call it something fancy all you like, it’s a wooden stick), Dr. Ruskov walked over to some cabinets over by the door. He grabbed a small box of latex gloves and some syringes and placed them on the counter, then left them there. Um, I don’t think I like that. He then walked over to the other side of the room and grabbed something metal with black plastic on the end.

“You have good eyesight, yes?” he asked, clicking on some application on his computer.

“Um, yeah. I think.”

In response, a projector hummed to life, and the lights went dim. A series of letters appeared on the blank patch of wall in front of her. After reading progressively smaller and small letters, until the projector reduced them to indistinct blurs even she couldn’t read, he turned the lights back on.

“I want to try something.” He stood directly in front of her and held out a finger. “Keep your eyes on my finger. Keep your head still.” Um, OK?

She tracked his finger as he slowly swept it left, then right. I think I was moving my head. Oops.

The doctor nodded. “Alright, let’s try this. Hold still” He held her chin lightly between his index finger and thumb. “This time, try not to push against my fingers, OK?”

She tracked his finger as far as she could, about five inches to her right until he stopped.

“OK, keep your eyes on it,” he said. He moved his hand about two more inches out. Her head jerked to keep track, brushing his hand out of the way. What the… What am I doing?

He moved his finger to her left. Same response. He repeated the process, Olivia getting more and more confused in the meantime. He nodded, then returned to the counter to his clipboard. He flipped another page and began writing again.

I think I missed something. “Um, excuse me,” she said.

“Yes?” he replied, not looking up.

“What was that? I mean, I know that was something to do with eyes, but what… exactly… was that?”

“You have been watching me like a hawk, literally. It is quite noticeable. Your eyes can move a small amount in their… sockets, but you still need to move your head to track things.”

How have I never noticed this before? This seems like something I’d have noticed. “I… um… really?” she asked.

“Yes. Why would I lie? I don’t… foresee this being a problem, but I thought you should know.” He sat back on his chair and resumed his clipboard scribbling. Oh, great. Weirder eyes along with everything else. This is just wonderful.

“This is a lot easier,” murmured Dr. Ruskov

“Um,” began Olivia. What?

“Hm?” he said, looking up from his clipboard. He realized she’d heard him. “Oh, well…  ferals are sedated before we give them medical checkups, so you can’t ask them questions or tell them ‘keep your mouth open’ or something. It’s that or I’m patching up guards after ferals try to get out before the… ambulances get here. This is much easier. Now, ears.”

“They’ve been ringing a lot. For a while.”

“Ah. Tinnitus?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s take a look.”

After sticking some cone thing in her ears, he said, “Your ears are pretty… banged up, but I’m not seeing any other injuries. I heard you got… roughed up on the way in here.”

“Yeah. I heal fast, I think,” replied Olivia. Roughed up? Is that what you call it?

“Hm,” he said, nodding “Any problems hearing?”

“No problems, but it’s all kind of… um… lessened. Not as clear.”

“I see,” he responded. After some more quality clipboard time, he had her walk over to the blood pressure cuff. He then took her wrist and checked her pulse.

“Now, stay there,” he said as he walked around behind her. She started to track him, until he said, “Please don’t twist around.” Right, freaky hawk vision. “Your wings. Are they functional?”

“Um, yeah, I fly around and stuff.”

“Hang on,” he murmured. She felt him move aside the flap of the shirt between her wings. “Olivia, can you tell me anything about these dark spots along your back?”

“No! What? No,” she stammered, twisting around and getting a faceful of wing for her trouble. Now what?

“Please hold still,” he said immediately. She ignored him, backing up and trying to get the offending wing out of the way to look around. “Olivia,” he snapped. “Let me look. I will explain, and there is a mirror for you to see for yourself. Calm down.”

She forced herself to stop. “What are you talking about? What dark spots?”

“There are two lines of them along either side of your spine. I saw something I might need to check. Please hold still for just a moment.”

She held still, though every urge she had told her to brush him aside. “Hm. Tell me if you feel this.” That’s not a good sign.

Something along her back twitched. She jumped. “What was that? What was that?”

“If I had to guess, spikes.”

She whirled around at him. “WHAT?”

“Spikes,” he repeated. “The spots are rather… oblong. You didn’t notice them before?”

“I… it’s not like I check my back for spikes every morning. Or at all. Whatever.” She crashed on the hospital bed again. No. No. This is stupid. The world can’t be this stupid. I can’t just grow new stuff. What next? Antenna? Another pair of wings? What? How?

“Well, I have a theory,” said the doctor. I said that last question aloud, didn’t I? “Well, dragons.” He stopped. “You would consider your other half to be dragon, yes?”

“Sure.” Please get on with it.

“Yes, dragon. So, we don’t know how long adolescence lasts for dragons. You are young, you could still be in the beginnings of puberty, and this is part of it. We don’t know.”

Olivia hung her head. Spikes along my back? Because of dragon puberty? This is stupid. This is so stupid.

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

She stayed quiet for a moment. Deal with this later. And no, I don’t want to look at them. One deep breath later, she said, “No… just… no. Let’s get everything else over with.”

I’d rather not have to deal with this while complete strangers are waiting on me. But I also have wings and a tail sticking out of my back, spikes aren’t too weird, right? Or am I just deluding myself?

Dr. Ruskov leaned back against the counter. “No, that was it. Do you have any questions?”

“Um… was there anything… you know… weird? Weirder.” I know, I’m weird.

“Well, your teeth are more shark-like than anything else, which is… a bit odd.”

“Why?” Why am I weird? Dumb question.

“Well, sharks are fish, crocodiles are reptiles. We figured crocodiles would be closest to you, biology wise, but evolution always throws us… curve balls like this.” Why does almost every answer of yours start with ‘well’?

“Does it matter?”

He did his head tilting thing again. “Well, neither sharks or crocodiles have evolved to any significant degree in millions of years, so it’s basically a choice between the teeth of… one evolutionarily perfect hyper carnivore and another. I wouldn’t worry about it, but then again I’m not a dentist, so I don’t know for certain. Though I am curious as to whether you have wisdom teeth now.”

“Oh. OK.”

“Your heart rate is a lot slower than I would have expected, but blood pressure and everything else seems to be in order, so no worries there. I told you about your eye movements. Other than those, nothing out of the ordinary.”

Olivia nodded. I guess that could have been worse.

The doctor continued, “So far as I can tell, you are perfectly healthy, but there are still a couple concerns. Sometimes the bacteria in your digestive system don’t… make the jump, but if you haven’t had any problems in the last two month, you should be fine for now. The two big concerns we have for you right now are diseases and cancer.”

“Aren’t those concerns for everyone?” asked Olivia. Ask about the bacteria later.

Dr. Ruskov chuckled. “True, but for you especially.” His easy smile vanished. “We don’t know how well your immune system adapts. If you catch strep throat, you could shrug it off in a day, or be put in the emergency room. We don’t know what the pathogens from your other half are like and we don’t how you will react to the ones here. Vaccinations will be very risky. As for cancer… well… do you know what that is?”

“Bad?” Certainly doesn’t sound good, from what I’ve picked up.

He nodded, scratching his chin, then continued, “In… layman’s terms, cancer is the uncontrolled division, the reproduction, of cells. Your cells got a bit… wonky? Yes, wonky in the jump. Wings are not… standard issue for people. All that added mass got there somehow.”

“Um,” began Olivia, scratching the back of her head. “That’s… um… that’s bad.”

He nodded. “The sample size of ferals is far smaller than any other demographic, but cancer has a disproportionately large occurrence rate. You appear to be very naturally resilient, so this shouldn’t be too big an issue, but you should be aware. Don’t stress about it, stress is never healthy.”

Olivia sighed. “Sure.”

“Don’t take this as a cancer diagnosis. You just need to be aware of the risks.”

“OK.” That’s still terrifying.

“Any other questions?”

Olivia shook her head.

“Alright. We just need a blood sample and we will be done here. Dr. Dabrowski may have questions for you, but the majority of those will probably wait until after it gets through the bloodworks.” He walked over to the counter.

“Bloodworks?” I’m not being stupid, am I?

“Hrm? Oh, that’s just the big analytical machine we use for getting almost anything you could want from a single sample of blood. Some crazy… techie contraption, very expensive, but it’s damn accurate,” he said as he put on some blue latex gloves and prepped a syringe.

He held up the empty syringe, then stopped. “This little thing isn’t going to work, is it?” he asked. Olivia shook her head. He scratched his head. “I… don’t know what will.” There’s iron, but that’s going to stay my little secret for as long as possible.

“Wait, they said they had a knockout drug administered via drip. How…” he trailed off. He set the needle aside on the tray and pulled off his latex gloves, throwing them in a red trashcan with a bunch of almost finished circles arranged on it. He hurried over to his computer. “Oh, those fucking idiots!”

This just keeps getting better and better. Olivia sighed. “What?” she asked. He’ll fill in the blanks, I’m sure.

“Those idiot police just taped a needle in a bullet hole,” he said, anger creeping into his voice. “I don’t care how advanced their techie was, that’s…” he muttered to himself, his speech descending into a different language.

He sighed after a time and stood upright. “I’ll assume you don’t want to get shot, so we can’t do the same thing. I’ll think on it. I’ll also find a good ENT doctor to check your ears out.”

“Oh. Um… thank you.”

He nodded and picked up his clipboard for the nth time. “We are done. Dr. Dabrowski wishes to speak to you.”

“Um, thank you. For… um… telling me.” Well, they did promise answers I might not have liked.

“Of course. If you are ever feeling unwell, let me know. Stay healthy, and good luck.”

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