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 – 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.”

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

One Day II

Walker started the engine. As they pulled away, heading in the direction of the address Jude had given them, Chrissy said, “I’m assuming I shouldn’t ask how you know that guy.”

“And you would be correct in that assumption.”

“Does that guy have a power?”

“What do you think? I want to hear your logic.”

“Well, he seemed like an information broker of some kind, so he probably had some sort of mentalist power. Memory or intuition based probably,” she said immediately.

“Good. You’re wrong, not even close, but a good start down the long and arduous road of critical thinking.” She gave him a weary look. “A good lesson, expect nothing, you will never be disappointed. Jude is actually a fairly powerful bruiser.”

“You’re kidding.” He shook his head. “Why is he not punching things then?”

“He is intelligent. He believes in the whole ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ kind of stuff. That little quote doesn’t quite work, but you get what I’m saying. All his power tells you about him is what kind of trigger he had. He’s still human, just like you, just like me. People can do all sorts of stuff if they put their mind to it.”

“He could be more useful fighting or something though.”

“Good, good, get all of those misconceptions out now. Your standard criminal is a criminal for the money. For most it’s more profitable to escape than get bogged down in a brawl with us. You can’t spend money when you’re dead, after all. The fights you hear about are anomalies, more often than not. Psychopaths, murderers, variations thereof, those are the ones you hear about leveling a city block in a fight. But that’s what’s interesting, and that’s what the news always covers,” he explained.

She sighed. “People, there’s our inherent problem. For every techie that tried to raise buildings, there’s a bruiser to knock them down. Mentalist warlord with an army at his beck and call? There’s a trickster or null there to stop him.”

Well that was philosophical. They continued on in silence. Chrissy sent what they had learned to HQ The building they headed towards was near the docks, an iffy place in terms of how strenuously the law was enforced. To their right they passed a burned and bombed out husk of an old building.

Chrissy asked, “Why do aliens keep attacking us? It seems more effort than it’s worth for them to me.”

“Important distinction to make here, a xeno is a hostile alien.” Walker responded.

“Well aren’t you Mr. Exposition today?”

“Hey, you’re the one who keeps asking questions. I may as well impart as much information to the younger generations while I can before I’m done. Though I’m taking a job with the Freeman Company as a trainer/consultant, so I guess I’ll be continuing that tradition,” he said with some eagerness. The change of pace and better pay for less physically strenuous work appealed to him. I’m getting too old for this… If this were a movie or something, I just sealed my death warrant didn’t I?

“Going mercenary then.” Chrissy stated.

“Pays well, especially for soon to be former MHU personnel. Gotta pay rent somehow.”

“Blegh, I know. I’m probably going to have to take out loans for the Academy. After that I’d like a job in the New York Unit, but we’ll see who hires me in the first place.”

Am I being too hard on her? It’s not as though I can just grab some random guy off the street and expect him to know all this too. “I wouldn’t sell yourself short. There’s a good balance to be struck between job happiness and job availability.”

They were interrupted by Walker slamming on the brakes as someone merged ahead of him without warning. “Jackass,” he muttered under his breath. “Anyways, you asked a question?”

“Yeah…wait. What was it? Do you remember?”

“You asked a question, I know that much. It was…goddamn, what was it? Something about the xeno?” Walker was struggling to recall, and by her expression, so was Chrissy.

“Oh, yeah! Like, something about why the alien or xeno thing is here. No, that wasn’t what I asked, but whatever. New thing. My thinking is he’s a scout of some kind. Hear me out, hear me out,” she added hastily before Walker could respond. “There’s probably only one, maybe a couple more. Otherwise they would have been found out already.” OK, I came to the same conclusion. “Alright, so what are a couple things going to do where an army failed? Something subtle. They’re obviously not peaceful, otherwise they wouldn’t have killed that guy, and they wouldn’t be sneaking around. You with me so far? I know, it’s, like, a lot to take in. Stay with me though.”

“Yes, please, continue to illuminate my feeble, inexperienced mind.”

“That’s more like it. So, what are the few aliens, sorry, xenos, going to do? Either sabotage something important, or collect information for their many friends up there for later,” she said, pointing upwards. She was getting more animate now, speaking faster. “Now you might know more about this than me, but I didn’t recognize that kind of alien Jude described, did you?”

“No, not that I can recall.”

“So yeah! That probably means scouts. They figure out what the defenses are, the lay of the land, and whatnot of this new species they’ve discovered. Then, BOOM, another invasion. They probably think we’re still weak after the Bears. Of course, Jude could have lied, but that seems like a bad policy for an information broker.”

When she puts her mind to it, she’s actually pretty good at this. Walker had come to some of the same conclusions himself. Xenos were typically hard to predict in the short term, but long term, their goals were the same as every other species, including humans: strengthen the race. To that end, species were constantly jostling for resources. The only truly non-hostile aliens humans encountered had developed post-scarcity utopias, and had little interest in the affairs of lesser beings like humans or Bears. Earth was capable for sustaining humanity on its own thanks to techie gear for the next two centuries, and the cost of large scale space flight was still prohibitively expensive.

“Couple things I want to point out. One: correct. Jude doesn’t lie when it’s his business’s reputation at stake. We, the MHU, are actually one of his biggest customers. Two: how do you explain the writing that was found? That’s what gave them away in the first place.”

“OK, um, let me think.” She had a look of concentration, staring unseeing at the closed glove box, her hands tapping on her lap. “So, they’re aliens right?”

He broke in, “No, we’ve been dealing with cute fuzzy kittens this whole time. Didn’t you get one?”

“Yeah, right here.” He coughed and looked at her. There was a cute fuzzy kitten sleeping peacefully on her lap. Stop manipulating my sight. I’m driving over here. The kitten vanished and Chrissy smirked. “So the writings might be some cultural thing, like intimidation or something. You and I might think that’s weird, but if they’re new to the whole ‘human’ thing, they might revert to their own mannerisms or whatever.”

“Alright, second question: How did they get here in the first place. We have three cruisers around Earth now. They are there to prevent this exact occurrence.”

Her response was immediate this time. “Well, if we’re still going with the ‘small number’ theory, they probably had a small ship made for this kind of mission. That could possibly get through. Of course, we could be completely wrong, and it’s a super intelligent feral or something.”

“Good. Now you are learning. Everything could be right. I’d like to point out another tidbit: they could have a super with them.”

“What, like a mercenary?”

“No, I’m pretty sure any sufficiently intelligent life form can trigger, access magic, and so on. Don’t look so shocked. You think humans are unique and special? We are not. We are not the smartest, strongest, quickest, most vicious, or anything else. The only thing we have going for us is endurance. A human can endure far more psychological or physical stress than any other species we’ve encountered so far.”

“So this just got a lot harder than I was anticipating.”

“Exactly. Now here we are.”

They were next to yet another bombed out building. However, there were no repair efforts made here, no attempts to fix anything. The asphalt of the roads was grey and cracked, with tar and newer patches haphazardly dotting its surface. Out front were six young men, more around their late teens than anything else, spray painting a large flaccid penis and profanity on the walls. One motioned to a portion of the wall and they all laughed. Walker noted at least two appeared to be armed.

“Alright,” Walker said. “You know how to handle that pistol of yours?”

“Of course.”

“Just checking. Let’s get rid of these chucklefucks and search that building for anything that might help.”

The boys (I think I’m old enough to get away with calling them hooligans. Hooligans I say!) noticed them and started to cat call Chrissy. Walker had yet to fully exit, pulling the shotgun from its holster and ammo from a box below it. He advanced with Chrissy, the hooligans (I’m already starting to like that word) looking far more apprehensive than they did moments ago. Unfortunately, their expressions hardened and the two of them reached for their weapons, probably pistols.

“I wouldn’t do that guys,” said Chrissy “He’s from down below.” Had he been willing to take his attention off the armed hooligans in front of him, he would have questioned Chrissy’s sanity. Australians are badass, sure, but not enough to deflect bullets. The second I open my mouth they’ll know that’s a lie.

He plunged ahead anyway. “Yes. Now, if you would kindly move along, I’m sure we would all be better for it.” Surprisingly, they were all frozen, presumably in terror. That’s right, you don’t mess with a guy with a shotgun and a MHU uniform.  One bolted, and the rest followed suit, screaming about demons. Chrissy did something didn’t she?

When they had receded out of sight, he looked questioningly at Chrissy. She smiled wide. “They saw you as a demon. A demon with a shotgun. Basically you, but with flames licking at your feet, fangs, horns, all the works. My whole thing is vision, after all. Though if there were any more people, or had they stayed any longer, that wouldn’t have worked.”

“Works for me. Let’s head inside.”

The building was unlocked, nothing to keep people, or aliens out. It looked just as bad on the inside as it did on the outside, right down to the crude graffiti on the walls. Dimly lit, Walker could barely make out the bullet holes and scorch marks from the battle a year ago. Walker took point, shotgun at the ready, Chrissy behind him, pistol drawn and pointed at the ground. The next room made Chrissy stop. The roof was collapsed, the resulting debris scattered about the room. There was still graffiti, a skull and crossbones on the wall to their right, indecipherable writing to their left, multiple doorways into and out of the room. All of the walls were covered in the same script written at the murder site.

This is bad, thought Walker, moving towards the wall to his left as several shots rang out, the last grazing his leg. His leg buckled, but he aimed and fired several shots in the direction the other bullets came from, which tore up the wall around the doorframe. The missus is never going to let me live down yet another injury. He heard chattering and clicking from above him, as if from a giant insect. More accurately, two giant insects. Walker turned as two xenos jumped down from the ruined roof, knives in hand. One for Chrissy, one for Walker.

He saw Chrissy temporarily split into two different people as the xeno facing her rushed forward. Chrissy dodged to the right, the image of her going in the other direction before vanishing. The xeno recovered enough to bring its knife to cut her arm. At this point the second xeno distracted Walker by clicking and swinging knives at him with three of its four limbs.

Now that he could see it clearly, up close and personal, he could verify what Jude’s sources had said. It was mottled grey, a kind of leathery carapace around its body, with dark grey, almost black at the joints. It came up to Walker’s chin, and he was around 6’1”. The four arms ended in a bizarre combination of a hand and a foot, not dissimilar from a monkey’s. The head was a bulb where the shoulders of the final set of limbs were, pincers composed of its mouth.

Reacting quickly, he bashed its face with the butt of the shotgun before it could bring its knives to bear. I know firearms aren’t meant to be used like that, but my face isn’t meant for knife storage. The clicking xeno kicked him hard, causing him to involuntarily loosen his grip on his shotgun. With its fourth hand it grabbed at the offending shotgun. He shoved it towards the surprised xeno; it wouldn’t do much good at knife range, and the thing was faster than him anyways.

There was a large place on its carapace where the rib cage would be if it were human, it was a slot where Walker hoped its skin would be more vulnerable. After losing the shotgun, he immediately drove his fist into that part and was rewarded with a sharp hiss and fervent clicks. He grabbed the knife on his belt with his other hand simultaneously. He heard several shots ring out from Chrissy’s location. Keeping focused on the xeno in front of him, he stabbed forward with his knife. The xeno twisted to the side, but still took a deep cut in its (I’m going to go with human anatomy terms) torso. He withdrew his arm as the xeno slashed at him with all knives.

He was about to turn when he caught something from the corner of his eye. A xeno with what appeared to be a rifle. It took aim and he dropped into a crouch. There was a crack of a single shot from the xeno, then several more shots from Chrissy. The knife wielding xeno was distracted, so Walker plunged his knife into a vulnerable looking spot. Then another. Then another.

He was on his feet again, and the xeno lay dying at his feet, letting out a final feeble click. The xeno with the rifle was also dead, Chrissy’s aim was good. Chrissy herself looked shaken, she now held a hand to her arm where she had gotten cut, leaning against the wall to Walker’s right.

“You alright?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. It didn’t cut me that deep.”

He grabbed the shotgun from the ground and limped to where he had originally been shot from. There was a fourth xeno there, or at least what remained of it. The wall was flimsier than it looked. Hooray for guns. Though my leg would disagree. The wound on his leg wasn’t deep and had missed any important vein or artery. He’d survive.

He saw Chrissy concentrate, and the slow flow of blood out of her wound stopped completely. And that is why shapeshifters are dangerous. That and the whole ‘I can look like anyone’ thing. Her hands were trembling though, and she was looking paler than before. Must have lost more blood than I thought.

He called HQ. “Hey Dispatch, it’s Walker. We ran into four previously unknown xenos, so you might want the biologists to come down here and do their thing. Also, a couple more officers would be welcome, we think we got all of them, but there could be more.”

“Gotcha, good work. Relaying to Cap now. Need anything else?”

“Medics would be great, me and Chrissy got hurt.” Chrissy was holding her injured arm closer to herself now, looking strained, still trembling. “Make it quick.”

He ran as fast as he could to Chrissy’s side. “Let me take a look at that,” he said, motioning for her arm. She extended it towards him, and stifled a yelp of pain as he touched it. The shaking was getting worse. The wound site had turned black. What the fuck, knives don’t do this unless…poison.

He grabbed his radio again. “HQ, tell the medics to get the fuck over here NOW. The xenos used some kind of poison on Chrissy. It’s not looking good.”

At that moment Chrissy made a choking sound and collapsed on her face, now convulsing violently. The radio squawked at Walker, but he was occupied at the moment.

“Fuck, no.” He knelt over her, not sure if he could even do anything about the poison, but unwilling to do nothing. It’s spread through her system, nothing I can do. He turned her over, her face was devoid of color, some foam coming from her lips. Then, the convulsions stopped. She wasn’t breathing. Check for pulse…Fuck, fuck, fuck. Nothing. Dead.

<- Previous Chapter

Next Chapter ->

One Day I

Officer Richard Walker woke at 6:00 AM. It was the middle of summer in 2010. He showered, ate breakfast, said goodbye to his wife and two children, and drove to work. The route to work was shorter now, the repair crews had finally managed to scrape the pieces of the invasion force’s mothership off of and out of the roads between Walker’s house and the substation of the Meta Human Unit he worked at. New York was finally recovering from another xeno invasion. He parked and headed towards the glass and steel building with the NYPD emblem above the door, passing by the monument to the soldiers and police officers who had made their stand there. Too many of these monuments around nowadays. Too many tragedies.

He entered, dropped by his desk, and grabbed the clean mug waiting for him. The shift before his had already performed the sacred coffee preparation ritual for the office, so Walker grabbed himself a cup. He greeted his fellow officers, then returned to his desk. There was always paperwork to fill out in any government job. Always.

He was about to dive headlong into his ever growing to do pile when someone walked up to his desk. He looked up. She was young, no more than twenty or so. She was very good looking, to the point where Walker suspected she was a super of some kind. It was the MHU after all. The playful smile she wore was also a good indicator.

Unless they wore a costume or had an obvious power going on, there was nothing to distinguish a super powered officer of the MHU from an ordinary one in terms of uniform. That way, the criminals didn’t know who to shoot first, as only supers with some response to bullets wore a costume anyway. People respected the MHU, there had been one active in the US in some capacity since the seventeen hundreds. She’s one of the new interns. Chrissy, that’s her name. Chrissy Marshall.

“Hey Officer Walker,” she said, slapping down a manila folder full of papers down onto his desk. “I know you’re, like, a week from retirement, but Cap’s got one more alien related thing for you.”

He sighed, reaching for the folder. He opened it, skimmed through the papers, and frowned at what he saw within. “Something wrong?” asked Chrissy. He looked up, realizing that she was still there.

“Yeah, this doesn’t look like a Bear attack at all. Besides, I thought we had that all wrapped up at this point. If it weren’t for the bullet wounds, I’d say this was a feral attack.”

Bear was the catchall term for the most recent alien invaders. Though alien, like humans they came in a variety of appearances. Aliens had their own names for themselves, but they were invariably unpronounceable to humans. Therefore, humans called them by what they most resembled. Bears looked more like bears than anything else a human could recognize. Sort of. If you squinted just right.

Just because the invasion had been defeated did not mean that every Bear soldier died instantaneously. Though that would have been nice. Most surrendered, some went underground in the city, attacking any human they came across. The military, police, and independent heroes spent months rounding them up, killing when necessary, capturing for later ransom or exchange if they could.

Bears had a thing against human blood. Something about it being a hallucinogen to them and not a fun one. They preferred snapping bones and general blunt force trauma to projectiles and gouging. The body Walker observed on the report had been viciously hacked at and shot.

How do they know this is alien? His question was answered when he turned the page. There was a knife found in the body, nothing of Earth. There was also writing on the walls in blood near where it happened. The writing was also in some bizarre alien script. Either a psycho is on the loose, or more likely this is alien. Then he saw what the forensics lab had come up with: alien biological compounds. They had no idea what they were, but it wasn’t from Earth. Well, that’s one question out of the way.

He looked up again. Chrissy was still there. “I take it you’re with me on this one?”

She smiled. “Yep. Cap’s philosophy seems to be that experience is the best teacher.”

“Right then. I’ve got some ideas. To the Batmobile.”

***

They drove through the city in Walker’s patrol car. The day was shaping up to be great, no clouds, a good temperature, the wind wasn’t too bad. This of course did not prevent traffic. There was still construction and repairs going on all throughout the city to various buildings.

Walker and Chrissy were waiting at a light, having been there for two cycles while people ahead of them went. They had engaged in small talk for a while, things pertaining to the case, and so on, but had since lapsed into silence.

“So,” began Walker, “I’m guessing you have a power of some kind.”

“Am I that obvious?” she asked.

“That or you won the genetic lottery, in which case you probably would be modeling, rather than doing grunt police work. Kind of a tip off.”

“Jesus, I’m a trickster, I should be better at this. So, yeah, I actually have a very minor shape shifting ability. Like, super minor.” Shape shifting. That explains it. He gave her a sidelong glance, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. She caught the glance, gave a somewhat sheepish smile, and said, “What?  Do you think it’s easy being hot? People always stare, guys hit on me constantly, it’s a nightmare.”

“No, sorry, I had no idea. Truly yours is a life of suffering.”

“Indeed,” she said, nodding sagely. “Anyways, my main thing is vision manipulation. Also somewhat minor, I’m no Facade. ”

“Just get out of the Academy then?”

“Despite appearances, I’m actually just out of high school.” Bullsh- wait, shape shifter. “I am actually planning on going on to the Law Enforcement Academy this year. Felt like it would be good to get some real world experience, since I’d didn’t join the Academy in high school like most.” The light finally turned green, and they started moving once again, this time making the light. “While we’re on the topic of my inexperience, this has been bugging me for a while. Why is Cap called Cap? I can’t get anyone who knows to tell me his name, they always just laugh.”

Walker laughed and said nothing.

“Really?” she said. Walker continued to laugh. “You’re really going to do this too? Alright, fine, whatever.” She threw up her hands in frustration.

They came to another red light. He looked at her with a grin and said, “No one ever told you why you don’t get to know his name?”

“I know he’s not a super, so I don’t know why he’s in charge in the first place.” Oh, please don’t be one of those arrogant newbies. Me and every non powered person in the Unit could put you into a coma. How do you think we got our jobs in the first place?

“What we have going on here is a meritocracy kind of system. You get to be the head of your unit based on skill, not whether you ejaculate the most lethal boiling venom or what have you.” Once again they started moving. Walker returned his attention to the road. “If the person doesn’t have a cape name, they go by rank only. Lieutenant, Cap or Captain, or even Sergeant in some cases.  It would actually considered quite disrespectful to call Cap by his real name.”

She digested this. “You see, this is why I took this opportunity. I doubt they would teach this kind of stuff in, like, a classroom or something.”

“I couldn’t tell you. It’s been about twenty five years since I stepped foot in a classroom.”

They continued further into the city. Chrissy eventually asked, “Also, what are we doing?”

“Going to the area around the scene of the crime.”

“Yeah, I know that. I’m capable of reading street signs. But the guy’s in forensics have already been all over there, and they have techie gear made specifically for that. You may recognize techie gear as better than your eyeballs at this kind of stuff.”

“You have much to learn, young grasshopper. You read the part where is said no one reported the murder as it happened, same as me, right?”

“Yeah.”

“That doesn’t mean there were no witnesses at all.” She looked confused. “You may recognize the results of a recent alien invasion right there.” He pointed to a skyscraper missing its top several levels, the top a jagged grey ruin. “Or there.” One wall of another building was covered in construction equipment and workers repairing it. “Or anywhere else.” He made a vague gesture to the whole of their surroundings.

“So what?” You are going to have to learn to read between the lines quickly if you want to go into this field.

“We’ve been busy. Bears were our number one priority, and as such the underworld has been less contained than it should have been. Said underworld is notoriously hesitant to alert the cops to their activities unless they have some profit in it.”

“So you think there might be a criminal, or someone connected to a criminal, saw what happened. So do we just grab someone off the streets and interrogate them?”

“Only if you want nothing but lies. I have…an associate, who might, might, know something. It’s a long shot, but I’ve been meaning to talk to him about another matter anyways.”

Chrissy had a look of…apprehension? Shock might be closer. She said, “So you know some criminal guy, and just hang out with him? Just like some old buddy or something?”

“Buddy might be a bit of a stretch. But more to the point, I think the term ‘the lesser of two evils’ applies here.”

She nodded hesitantly. Walker continued, “You need evidence to put away the big threats. That how our legal system works. It’s the same for every person, no matter what. It keeps the man, which we are a part of, from tossing anyone we damn well please into prison. If you want information, the underworld is a great place to start, if you need answers about clandestine affairs.”

They drove on in silence. A bit tense, isn’t she? She thought this was all glorious, put away all the bad guys, and rescue the city, keeping your hands clean all the while. The drove up to a bar, a hole in the wall looking worn, with beer advertised on every available square inch of the exterior. It being the morning, the bar was closed. Or so it appeared to the common observer. They parked at the back of the bar.

He turned to Chrissy once again. “Alright, an important thing before we go in. Don’t say or do anything stupid. I cannot stress that enough. If you think you won’t be able to contain yourself, watch the car. If you can, follow me.”

He got out of the car, followed by Chrissy. They walked up to the back door. Walker called out, “Hey Jude! You there? It’s me, Walker.”

“Hey Jude? Seriously?” Chrissy was struggling and failing to keep a smile off her face.

“Yes, and if you mention that song to him this will get infinitely more difficult. So don’t. Though I applaud you for knowing the reference in the first place. Doesn’t make me feel quite so old.”

“My parents are big fans of the Beatles. They’re old too.”

He was spared the need to think of a retort when a man walked to the doorway from inside the bar. He was a short, portly man, round faced and balding with stringy brown hair. He took them in at a glance, then motioned them to enter.

It appeared you could judge the book by its cover in the case of the bar. It was exactly as beat up and cheap as the exterior advertised. There were a couple old tube TV’s, all but one of which were off, on the walls. The other was muted, currently playing the news. Jude gestured for them to sit at a grungy table. Walker sat in a wobbly old chair, Chrissy to his right, and Jude across from him.

“Good morning. So, what brings you to my humble place of business, Officer Walker and the lovely…” he looked to Chrissy expectantly.

Say Officer or he won’t take us seriously. Walker was mentally kicking himself for not preparing Chrissy beforehand. He’d honestly expected her to refuse to sully her hands with this business. Too late for that, now she would have to take care of herself.

“Officer Marshall,” said Chrissy, in a somewhat tense voice. YES! Now watch your tone.

Walker kept his face neutral. “We were wondering if you’d heard anything about a murder that happened in this area late last night. We are beginning to suspect that the perpetrator was…not from around here.”

“Was this perpetrator ursine or perhaps something else?” Testing just how much we know, seeing just how little he can tell us. Jude was an information broker, just because he took government payments didn’t mean he wouldn’t take the money of others as well.

“Something else. We believe that the Bears have been fully contained, and this killing wasn’t in their style. No one we know of saw anything, but there are some who trust the force to handle these matters…less than they should.”

Jude was silent for a moment, with a contemplative look about him. Finally, “When did the force even find this out, I wonder?” Testing how on the ball we are.

Before Walker could respond, Chrissy said evenly, “And I wonder why you are so curious. You of all people should know it’s rude to pry.”

Jude smiled. “Yes, forgive me. There are two things I can tell you.” Well that panned out quite nicely. “One, an employee of mine observed an unfamiliar figure exiting the premise where this murder happened. He described it as thin, grey, and slightly shorter than the average man. It possessed six limbs, and appeared to be able to walk on two, four, or all. It made clicking sounds as long as my employee observed it. As well, my employee observed blood on its…hands, for lack of a better word.”

OK Chrissy, don’t ask how he knew this or what the “employee” was doing there at that time of night. She remained silent, and Walker nodded to Jude to continue. You know? Maybe she’s smarter than I gave her credit for.

“The other is from an acquaintance of mine. She voiced concern over…certain noises and sightings near her place of work. These may be connected to what you seek. I can give you her work address if you like.”

“That’ll do. Thank you. And, also, there’s the small matter of what happened at the docks two days ago.”

Jude grimaced as he wrote an address on a notecard he pulled from his pocket. “Yes, please send the good Captain my apologies. My associates were…clumsier than they should have been.” He produced a flash drive. “This should help clear things up.” Walker took both the flashdrive and the notecard. “If there is nothing else?”

“Thank you, and no. We’ll be on our way now.”

They got up and Jude escorted them to of the door. They said their goodbyes, Jude shut the door after them, and Chrissy and Walker returned to their car.

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