Pharos Laboratories, eight years ago.
Laboratory outside of Eon City.
“What do you mean, ‘our funding’s being cut?” cried Doctor James Samson, ripping the paper out of Doctor Carson Dale’s hands. “The work we’re doing here could change the course of human history!”
“Come off it, Samson,” Dale said, shaking his head. “You know as well as I tha Ethics Board always had a problem with your work. This la’est project – ”
“This latest project is about understanding the human brain’s effect on the body,” Samson retorted. “It could tell us how the Third Gen and Satyr serums progenerated so easily, when all other evidence says that neither species should be fertile. They both should have died out in a generation or two, but instead the population rates have been hitting record highs. With further study, this project could have told us how that happened! We might have even found a cure – ”
“A cure for wha’?” Dale asked. “For Third Gens an’ Satyrs? We’re talkin’ about people, Samson; this is who they are!”
Samson shook his head. “We’re talking about an anomaly,” he argued. “Neither evolution was natural; they were both man-made. They’re closer to genetic disorders than actual identities.” He walked back over to his lab table, still talking. “If we could find a cure for autism, or Achondroplasia, or some other disability, then nobody would bat an eye. Third Gen and Satyrism are no different – they just weren’t caused by any environmental factor other than human error.”
“Human error is wha’ tha ethics board is tryin’ ta prevent,” Dale pointed out. “Unauthorized human experimentation is how Third Gen and Satyrism came about in tha first place.”
“Dale, you may have just gotten here last year, but I have been studying the effects of the serums all my life,” Samson said. “My research has already led to breakthroughs that nobody else had seen before! Pharos hired me because of my work – ”
“Oh, you mean tha Fourth Gen serum?” Dale asked. “Sure, tha was a ‘breakthrough’.”
“I recreated the effects of Third Gen and Satyrism in a controlled fashion,” Samson countered. “I controlled what powers the subjects got – ”
“You mean tha kids,” said Dale. “You experimented on children, and called it ‘progress’. Now you run human trials on an experimental drug without goin’ through tha proper channels, and next you would have combined it with one o’ tha serums!” He slammed his hand on the table to accentuate his point. “You’re jus’ lucky that nobody was hurt this time!”
Samson sighed. “Scientific discovery takes risk, Carson,” he said. “If Pharos doesn’t want to take them, then maybe I’ll take my work to King.” He started stacking loose papers, as if he would leave right away.
Dale raised an eyebrow. “Pharos an’ King both play by tha same rules,” he said. “King more so, since the Satyr serum first came out. If Pharos will na’ fund your research, wha’ makes ya think King will? Especially since tha protests started last year; all companies are playin’ by tha letter of tha law.”
Samson stopped shuffling, putting his hands on the table in defeat. “So if Pharos is cutting this project, what do they intend for me to work on?” he asked.
“Pharos wants us on tha ‘Gen Juice’ project,” Dale told him. “By tha time we come in tomorrow, this stuff will be packed up in storage, an’ we’ll be startin’ fresh.” He clapped Samson on the back. “Come on, we’ll go ta tha pub, have a drink.”
Samson shook his head. “You go on without me,” he said. “If they’re packing all this up tonight, I need to get some things in order first.”
Dale shrugged, and walked out the door. Samson looked around at the lab. This project had taken over the last seven years of his life; for the funding to be lost felt like his legs being cut out from under him. He waited a minute to make sure that Dale wasn’t coming back before moving over to the vials labelled “samples”.
Checking over his shoulder in case anyone came into the room, he pocketed three vials. This work is too important to lose, he thought rebelliously. Maybe he could continue his work on his own.
After all, scientific discovery takes risk.
* * * * * * * *
Pharos Laboratories, present day.
Agent meeting with O.N.C.
“Why, exactly, are we here?” Agent asked, looking uninterestedly around the laboratory. Trick, Outlier, and Shadow had all been ordered to come with him, but he addressed the lady who had just entered the room. She wore a business suit and horn-rimmed glasses, giving her the appearance of an executive. Her steel-grey hair was tied back in a no-nonsense bun, and the way she carried herself suggested that she was in command.
“Who’s that?” Outlier whispered to Shadow.
“Agent’s boss,” he whispered back. “They call her O.N.C.”
Outlier frowned. “‘O.N.C.? Why?” she whispered.
As the executive lady turned her intense stare on the whispering duo, Shadow added, “You’ll see,” under his breath.
“Mr. Hannah has requested our presence by name,” O.N.C. told them. “There was apparently a break-in at one of the more sensitive labs, and he wants to keep this quiet.”
“‘He wants to keep it quiet’,” Trick scoffed. “So he called in three of the best-known Watchers from the highest-profile team in the country, along with their supervisor and his boss, because…?”
“Because you three have impressed me.” Sean Hannah, CEO of Pharos Industries, chose that moment to walk through the door. “Blackbird is currently on an undercover assignment, Reiki is a loose cannon, the Fourth Gens are unstable, and, frankly, Granny’s just weird. The people in this room have shown ability and restraint,” he added, glancing at Trick.
“I’m sorry, but what is this research?” Outlier asked, trying to ease the tension from the CEO’s implication. “We haven’t been briefed at all yet.”
“Right,” Sean Hannah said, picking up a sheet of paper. “Eight years ago, my predecessor had research here called Project Eleutherios.”
“‘The liberator’,” Outlier said. “Eleutherios was one of the names for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry.” As the others stared at her, she shrugged, adding, “I did a project on Dionysus in middle school. The guy was scary.”
Shadow raised his eyebrows. “‘God of wine and revelry’,” he quoted. “Sounds like he had fun.”
“He made people lose their inhibitions,” Outlier explained. “In small amounts that could be a good thing, but Dionysus could drive people crazy – literally insane – with his powers. Some of his followers even turned to cannibalism. Some legends even claim that Dionysus was a conqueror – ”
Sean Hannah cleared his throat, and Outlier cut herself off with a sheepish apology. “Origins of the name aside,” the CEO continued, “Project Eleutherios was supposed to be a drug that heightened a human’s natural abilities.” He looked at Agent, adding, “Much like the Fourth Gen serum, except not quite as powerful.”
“This was the precursor to Fourth Gen?” Trick asked, glaring at him.
Agent narrowed his eyes. “It was shut down only eight years ago,” he pointed out to his team. “More like this was what Fourth Gen led to.” Crossing his arms, he asked, “So what was the problem with this one? Photosensitivity? Dual personalities?”
“Lack of inhibitions, as the name suggests,” Sean admitted, nodding to Outlier. “The lead scientist, Doctor Samson, was called in front of the Ethics Board for attempting human trials without authorization. While the effects proved to be temporary without continuous application, the subjects became unstable, and a danger to themselves and others. Watchers managed to get the situation under control, and Pharos Industries immediately cut funding to the project.”
“So why now?” Outlier asked. “Eight years later, why would anybody steal this drug?”
“Better question: why wasn’t the research destroyed?” Agent asked.
O.N.C. answered. “Projects like Eleutherios cost a lot of time and money,” she said. “Most companies would rather store such a thing for possible reuse later than to start from scratch in the future.”
“So again,” Outlier repeated. “Why now?”
“I’m sorry, who are you?” O.N.C. asked her.
Outlier looked at her, seeing what she was trying to do. “They call me Outlier,” she said, extending her hand. “And you are?”
“My name is of no consequence,” O.N.C. said dismissively. Behind her, Shadow mouthed to Outlier the letters O-N-C, trying not to laugh.
Outlier bit back a grin of her own as she said, “Fine, O.N.C. Now if somebody would please answer my question: why now? What changed to bring this research back to light?”
“Doctor Samson was recently fired,” Sean Hannah told them. “We believe that he might have stolen the research before he left.”
“Wait, back up,” Trick said, walking up to the CEO and getting in his face. “You’re saying that this guy, who by your own admission was a sociopathic jerk called in front of the Ethics Board, wasn’t fired until eight years later?”
“And that he stole proprietary information from you?” Agent added, also crossing his arms.
Sean Hannah gently pushed Trick away, saying, “I only became the CEO here five years ago. I had no idea that the company had done such things, and it wasn’t brought to my attention until he almost tried a similar stunt on the Gen Juice project.” He straightened his jacket. “Of course, he was fired for even suggesting we go to human trials at this point.”
Shadow stepped up next to Trick. “I recently had a run-in with your Gen Juice project,” he said. “My sister and a bunch of other satyrs were kidnapped and tested for it.”
“That wasn’t Pharos Industries,” the CEO said sternly. “That was a copycat, trying to catch up with our research. Pharos has always been ahead of the curve in the R and D department, and so we have a lot of rivals trying to catch up. Unfortunately, word about the Gen Juice project leaked to the public years before it was supposed to – again, probably Samson trying to accelerate it – and I’ve been running damage control for the last year because of it.” He shifted on his feet, putting a hand to his temple. “You have no idea how many press conferences I’ve had to make just to tell people that it’s years from being finished.”
“Okay, so you know what was stolen, who stole it, and why,” Outlier said. “So what do you need us for?”
“Muscle,” Agent answered, still glaring at both O.N.C. and the CEO. “This is a test, right? You want my team to find Samson and bring him in so that you can see them in action.”
“And evaluate them,” Sean Hannah added. “You three have done exemplary work thus far. Trick took down King Enterprises’ pet project – in front of a crowd, no less. Shadow broke up the satyr kidnapping ring last week, and Outlier has been making quite a name for herself around the city. Didn’t you help stop the museum thief?”
“Along with Reiki,” Outlier said, folding her arms. “Why isn’t he here?”
The CEO shook his head. “As I said, Reiki is a loose cannon. He doesn’t work well with others, and if he gets involved there’s usually violence.” He walked around a table, adding, “I would prefer to avoid a scene, if you can.”
“Fine,” Agent said, uncrossing his arms but still glaring. “We’ll help. Do you know where this Doctor Samson is?”
“Yes,” O.N.C. told them. “In fact, we do.”
* * * * * * * *
Doctor Samson’s home lab, Eon City.
Outlier, Shadow, and Trick.
“Doctor Samson?” Outlier called, knocking on the doctor’s door. “We’re Watchers from the Asylum. We have a few questions for you.”
“Doesn’t seem like he’s home,” Trick said after a minute, nudging Outlier aside. “Give me a sec.”
Neither Outlier nor Shadow saw what she did to the lock, but in a few seconds the door was unlocked. “How’d you do that?” Shadow asked.
Trick shrugged. “Magic,” she answered, grinning secretively and holding up her hands to show that they were empty. Given that she wore her Watcher outfit – which Chip had helped design with plenty of hidden pockets – Outlier was pretty sure she had just slipped something up her sleeve.
Shaking her head, Outlier stepped into the lab calling for Doctor Samson again. “Hold up,” Shadow told them. “I sense something.”
“Something’s in the shadows?” Trick asked him.
“Shh,” Outlier held up a hand. “Do you hear that?”
Someone was muttering to themselves in the dark house. “Doctor Samson?” Trick called, heading towards the noise. “Is that you?”
“I think he’s singing,” Outlier said. “Listen.”
Sure enough, the halting voice was singing a jaunty tune from the next room:
“Lavender blue, dilly-dilly
If I were king, dilly-dilly, I’d need a queen
Who told me so?, dilly-dilly
Who told me so?
I told myself, dilly-dilly, I told me so…”
“Any guesses?” Shadow asked, heading to the next room.
Trick shrugged, but Outlier answered, “Lavender Blue, by Sammy Kaye from the nineteen hundreds. My mom sometimes plays classical stuff like that. But why is he singing it?”
As they entered the room, they saw a small laboratory. The tables were heavy and metallic, and the only light came from a few desk lamps scattered around. Various test tubes and jars were scattered about the room; a few had flowers in them, while others had A man was dancing around the table, still singing:
“If your dilly-dilly heart
Feels a dilly-dilly way
If you’ll answer yes
In a pretty little church
On a dilly-dilly day
You’ll be wed in a dilly-dilly dress of
Lavender blue, dilly-dilly
Then I’ll be king, dilly-dilly, and you’ll be my queen…”
The man was dressed in beige slacks and a white lab coat. His hair was pulled back into cornrows, and he had a flower in his hands.
When he caught sight of the heroes, he grabbed Outlier’s hand with his free one and pulled her closer to dance with him. “Umm, excuse me?” Outlier asked, trying to push herself free of the madman. “Are you Doctor Samson?”
“Doctor, doctor…” Samson chuckled.
“Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain;
He stepped in a puddle
Right up to his middle
And never went there again!”
“Doctor Samson!” Trick practically shouted at him, startling him into letting go of Outlier. “Snap out of it!”
“That’s not helping,” Outlier said.
Samson shoved the flower at her, saying, “Pretty flower for the pretty girl. Smells like… smells like…
“Lavender blue, dilly-dilly – ”
“Nope, not starting that again,” Trick said, grabbing his wrist and wrenching it behind him. “Doctor Samson, you’re under arrest for the theft of – ”
“No!” Doctor Samson suddenly screamed, wrenching his arm around and throwing Trick over his hip in a display of inhuman strength. “No! Not theft – this was my life’s work!”
He picked up the metal table, looking like he would throw it on top of Trick while she was down. The jars and vials flew everywhere around the room, smashing against the floor and walls and splattering their contents everywhere. Shadow stepped forward to tackle the man, but Outlier grabbed his shoulder to stop him.
“Doctor Samson!” she shouted, trying to grab his attention as she wiped a few drops of liquid off of her wrist. “Don’t you want to dance? Lavender blue, dilly-dilly, lavender green…”
“If I were king, dilly-dilly, I’d need a queen
Who told me so? dilly-dilly
Who told me so?
I told myself, dilly-dilly
I told me so…”
Doctor Samson began singing again, swaying to the tune. He put one end of the table on the floor and began to dance with it. Trick scrambled back to her feet, wiping some of the test tube contents off of her coat with her hand. Shadow clapped her on the back, shaking off his gloved hand as he realized she was soaked in the stuff. Outlier breathed a sigh of relief, saying, “He must have been affected by his own drug. We should take him to Dale.”
“Dale?” Samson said, still dancing with the table. “Doctor Carson Dale? I know him!”
“You know Doctor Dale?” Outlier asked slowly. “Do you want to go see him? He wants to see you.”
Samson paused for a second, considering. “Nah, not really,” he told them. “Dale helped the board cut my funding, see. He’s a liar, and I don’t want to see him.”
“He says he’s really sorry about that,” Trick said, taking her cue from Outlier. “He’d like to be friends. But you have to come see him.”
“I’m uninhibited, not stupid,” Samson told her, setting the table down. “No need to talk to me like I’m a child. Dale said many years ago that he wanted nothing more to do with Eleutherios.” He put his hands on the table, adding, “I was so close, too! I could have stabilized it, but I needed test subjects. Human ones, not those satyr or Third Gen ones.” He turned back to the Watchers. “That’s why the Fourth Gen project failed, you know – we used satyr and Third Gen subjects. Fourth Gen enhanced their powers, yes – and even gave them new ones. But at a cost, a terrible cost. Even my own children…”
He hopped up to sit on the table, swinging his legs freely as he started singing again:
“Here shines the sun,
Shining so bright;
Now the whole world’s emblazoning.
Flowers in bloom,
Spring will come soon; we’re waiting.
When the green grass grows,
And the trees are close,
And the soft rain falls on the ground…
Here shines the sun,
Clouds gone away,
Rainbows are pretty amazing.
Just close your eyes;
You’ll see the sky someday…”
Tears started falling down his face as he said, “They never did see the sky, though. They had to run away to leave the room, and they still can’t go out in the day. And poor Ryan, number one, he can’t even walk on the ground any more.” He stopped crying suddenly, growing angry as he continued, “They all left me; abandoned me. Those freaks of nature, who owed me their lives! I saved them, you know – my work would have cured them and everyone like them of Third Gen and Satyrism! Why doesn’t anybody see that?”
He gripped the side of the table, and the metal started bending under his strength. Outlier hummed a couple bars of Lavender Blue, and Samson seemed to calm down. He began singing again, moving his head side to side in time with the tune.
“I wonder…” Trick muttered under her breath. Turning to her teammates, she asked them in a whisper, “Should we tell him about Rina?”
“You think he’ll come if we tell him we’re taking him to her?” Shadow replied. He sneezed, putting his hand to his mouth to cover it. “We really should get out of here.”
Outlier shook her head. “We can’t take him to Rina,” she said. “Anybody with eyes can see she tries to forget the Fourth Gen experiment. I don’t know the details, but I don’t want to open up old wounds for her.”
“We won’t actually bring him to her,” Trick said, her voice as low as she could make it. “We just tell him we will, and bring him to Dale instead.”
“Bad idea,” Outlier warned. “His history with Dale, plus his super-strength and lack of inhibitions? That’s asking for trouble.”
“You got a better plan?” Trick demanded. “No? Okay then.” She turned back to Samson, saying, “Doctor Samson? We might know where a Fourth Gen is. Do you remember Sabrina Dawson?”
Samson looked taken aback. “Sabrina?” he asked. “The Nightmare Child? She took her mother’s name, then – makes sense. Her mother died young. Two children, nine years apart – but complications took her a week after Sabrina was born. Sabby always looked up to her brother. Didn’t know he was her brother – that would have been problematic.” He hopped off of the table, adding, “Take me to her – I want to see Sabby again!”
Outlier gave an alarmed look at Trick, who avoided her eyes. When she looked at Shadow, he was slowly becoming a smudge against the wall as his powers his him from sight. They both understood what Samson had said, then.
“Oh dear,” Samson cut through the silent exchange, looking at the smashed jars and test tubes on the ground. “Eleutherios – who smashed the vials? Shouldn’t have done that.” He shook his head. “Now the whole place is contaminated.” He started humming Lavender Blue again, as the Asylum teammates looked at each other.
“Call Agent?” Trick asked, wincing at their mistake.
“Call Agent,” Outlier agreed. Shadow turned on his com to ask for backup.
* * * * * * * *
After a decontamination scrub.
“Well, I feel like I lost a layer of skin,” Natalie said, rubbing her pink face as she guzzled water in the kitchen.
“Do you guys feel any… effects?” Agent asked. “Seriously, at the first sign of trouble, I’m sending you down to Dale.”
“Don’t worry, mother,” Frank said from the couch. “We’ll be fine. I mean, look at Doctor Samson: mostly he was just humming some classical music and sitting around. What’s the worst that could happen to us?”
Agent glanced at Natalie. “I’m not sure,” he admitted, “but I’d still feel better if you three would stay here for the next few days – just in case.”
“Can’t,” Haley said, sitting in a chair across from Frank. “I teach self-defense at the community center tomorrow. I can’t just cancel.”
“I’ll send someone to cover your class for you,” Agent told her. “Most of the people in this business are good enough at martial arts to teach a basic move or two. I think Sara would be more than happy to help, and she’s a certified instructor.”
“My mom?” Frank said. “Sure, she’d be awesome. But she also teaches at the dojo.”
“We’ll make it work,” Agent said. “If not Sara, then I can find someone else. You guys just rest up, and if we don’t see any symptoms in the next few days you’ll be back to your routine.”
Natalie gave him a mock salute. “Aye, captain,” she said, grinning. Agent flashed her a smile and went into the elevator.
As he stepped in, Rina and Reiki stepped out. “How are you guys feeling?” Rina asked, seeing the teammates sprawled across the living area in their pajamas. “We heard what happened.” She and Reiki were still in their uniforms, having just returned from patrol.
“Ugh,” Natalie called from the kitchen. “Agent just grounded us for ‘a few days’. Didn’t even say how many.”
“Myeh,” Frank shrugged from the couch. “Could be worse. What would you guys do if we were affected?”
“Sit around singing Lavender Blue?” Haley giggled. Natalie rolled her eyes.
Rina furrowed her eyebrows, sitting across from Haley in another chair. “Lavender Blue?” she asked. “Why that song?”
“Oh, nothing,” Haley said, waving a hand dismissively. “The guy we were tracking down was dancing around his laboratory singing it.”
“He’s the guy who ran the Fourth Gen project,” Frank blurted out. “Apparently he continued researching it on Project Aloofness – ”
“Eleutherios,” Haley corrected.
“Yeah, that.” Frank turned over on the couch so that his head hung upside-down on the seat.
“Guys!” Natalie was looking at Rina, who looked stricken. “I thought we were going to avoid the whole Fourth Gen thing?”
“Oh pish,” Haley said. “She deserves to know. This is the guy who ran the experiment on her, remember?”
Natalie walked over to the living area, hands on her hips. “Haley, it was your idea in the first place,” she pointed out. “Rina, I’m so sorry – ”
“No, it’s okay,” Rina said. “I’m glad you guys told me. I… I just need to talk to Agent.” She headed back to the elevator as Reiki moved over to Frank.
“You happy?” he asked, pulling Frank up by the collar. “Rina’s upset. Why’d you tell her that?”
“Dunno,” Frank said, looking confused. “I guess I just felt like it. Weird.”
“‘Weird’,” Reiki repeated. “I’ll show you ‘weird’, you – ”
“Reiki, drop him,” Natalie said. “I think we may have been more affected than we thought. The experiments he was running, Project Eleutherios, it had a side-effect of making people lose their inhibitions.”
Shadow grinned as Reiki let him go. “Hey, you think I got super-strength like Samson did?” he asked, not even fazed by Reiki’s threat. “That would be cool; I might beat Parker at an arm-wrestling match.”
“Parker knows how to control his strength,” Natalie pointed out. “He’s also still with the Fauns.”
“Oh yeah,” Shadow shrugged. “Here, let me try – ”
He went over to Haley’s chair and tried to lift it, but it barely budged while she was sitting in it. Haley shrugged at him. “Samson was human,” she reminded him. “Maybe the serum affected your Third Gen powers.”
Frank frowned, concentrating. Shadows around the room began expanding until they covered the lamps, putting the room into complete darkness. “Whoa, cool!” Frank exclaimed as their sight was completely cut off. He had never been able to make an entire lit room go dark before.
“Frank, stop,” Natalie said. “We need to get you down to Dale. Haley, we’ll all go; if Frank was affected, then we probably were, too.”
There was no response. At Natalie’s command, Frank dimmed the shadows until they could see again, just in time to see the door to the stairs close with a click.
Haley wasn’t in the room any more.
Natalie put a hand on Frank’s shoulder, shaking her head. “Aw, fu – ”
* * * * * * * *
“Where is he?” Rina demanded, bursting into Agent’s office. “Where did you take Doctor Samson?”
“He’s in the holding cell at the ECPD,” Agent answered calmly. “Why do you need to see him?”
Rina shook her head. “Of all people, you know what I’ve been through,” she said.
“Yes, and that’s why I ask,” Agent told her. “You’ve known who he is, obviously, so you’ve had plenty of chances to see him, but you didn’t. Why now?” He gestured for her to have a seat.
“I found out a month or so ago,” she said, slumping into the prooffered chair. “After the stuff with Leah and Mikey, I looked into it. It wasn’t hard – I don’t know why the others had even waited that long. I just… I’ve been putting it behind me for so long, I didn’t want to dredge it up.”
“And now that he’s been involved in a case, you want to face him,” Agent finished for her.
Rina shook her head. “No,” she said. “Now that I’ve found out he’s been continuing his experiments, I want to ask him why.”
“Who told you that?” Agent asked, concerned. “I thought the others agreed not to bring it up to you.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Rina muttered, but Agent stood up.
“It does matter,” he said. “The other three have been exposed to the same thing Samson was. The main side effect is a loss of inhibitions; if they’re spilling secrets, that might be a symptom, so who told you?”
“Frank,” Rina answered, standing up and heading to the elevator with Agent. “But Natalie was telling him to stop.”
Agent pursed his lips as the elevator doors opened. “Frank’s a little impulsive on his own, so it may be nothing,” he said, “but heaven help us if they’ve been affected.”
“Why?” Rina asked. “So they act drunk for a day or so; no big deal, right? They’re adults, they’ll be fine.”
As they stepped onto the elevator, Agent pointed out something that made Rina’s blood run cold: “Have you met Natalie?”
* * * * * * * *
“There you guys are,” Agent said, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw Natalie and Frank in the medical center. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I made Frank check in when he found out his powers were enhanced,” Natalie said. “But I lost Haley.”
“What do you mean, you ‘lost’ her?” Agent asked. “Where is she?”
“Best I can figure, she left.” Natalie said. “But you know, it’s Haley; what trouble could she get into? She’s the sensible one.”
Agent looked at his data pad, typing something in. “Not sure,” he said, “but I’d feel better if we found her.”
Dale chose that moment to come in. “I know why you didn’t bring Samson to me,” he said, “but I think I’ll need to see him after all. This isn’t the same as the project we worked on eight years ago – he’s been tweaking it.”
“What do you mean?” Agent asked.
“Frank’s Third Gen powers are erratic,” Dale pointed out. “He can’t control them. He also doesn’t seem panicked, but that could just be because he’s Frank. I’ll need another subject to compare in order to be sure, and I’d like to ask Doctor Samson what he did to Eleutherios.”
“I’ll get him here,” Agent promised, “and I’ll track down Haley. Natalie, you stay here; text me the second you start feeling the effects of it.”
“Will do,” Natalie said, swinging her legs off the side of the table. “You let me know when you find Haley.”
* * * * * * * *
Eon City, night.
Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.
About to do something stupid.
Haley danced down the street, humming her favorite songs as she went. On some level she remembered that Agent had told them to stay in the building, but she didn’t care. There was something she had been curious about, and she was on her way to get answers.
She was still dressed in her pajamas, barefoot, but she didn’t care about that, either. There wasn’t any reason to worry about her outfit – she was just going to ask a question.
A section of the south side of the city was Faun territory – Haley had learned that in her Watcher training, which is why she was currently dancing down their streets. When she went on patrol in the afternoons, she rode a motorcycle through this side of the city. Many satyrs were nice people; Haley had met plenty of them on her rounds, as she kept an eye out for trouble. Most of the people in the city knew her face as a Watcher of the Asylum, so a lot of them would greet her during the day. She had met a lot of people in her last few months as a Watcher, so she had no fear of the south side.
Although, she usually met people during her daytime patrols when she had a mode of transportation, a com unit, and her uniform’s utility belt to help get her out of trouble. But she had spent the last hour walking down here, and she had left her equipment at the tower.
The thought was in the back of her mind, but like her lack of shoes it just didn’t seem to matter at the moment. That’s something for future Haley to worry about, she thought, still dancing down the street to the songs stuck in her head.
“Who’s this?” came a voice from behind her. Seven satyrs stepped out of the shadows, surrounding Haley before she could react.
The satyr who had spoken first was a cat-satyr. She had round, cat-like ears, and a striped tail that waved in the night breeze. Her eyes were small and yellow, and she had tufts of white fur – whiskers – on the side of her face.
Another satyr, a small man with a rat-like nose, spoke up as well. “Hey, she looks like one of those Asylum guys. That new one, what’s-her-name.”
“Outlier,” said a third, a burly fellow with lizard scales covering his skin. “The new Asylum Watcher’s name is Outlier – I’ve seen her around here when she patrols. But she’s a sensible person; she wouldn’t have come down to this side of the city without a reason… or backup.” Haley could see the glint of knives in his jacket.
Despite the threatening poses the satyrs had adopted when the rat-satyr called her a Watcher, Haley didn’t feel any danger. “I’m looking for somebody,” she said. “You wouldn’t happen to know him, would you?”
“Depends,” the first satyr said, grinning like a hungry cat. “Who are you looking for at three in the morning in Faun territory?”
“Brother of mine,” Haley said. “He works as a bouncer on this side of town – I’m just not sure where. Name’s Scott Prince; would have just gotten off work. You wouldn’t know him, would you?”
The cat-satyr raised her eyebrows. “You’re looking for Scott?” she asked, disbelieving.
“Yep,” Haley said with a cheeky grin. “He’s my brother.”
“Hey, what’s going on here?” came a familiar voice from behind the cat-satyr. “Who’s this?”
Another satyr stepped up. This one seemed vaguely familiar to Haley: he had feathery blond hair and a pair of speckled black-and-white wings growing out of his back. “You!” she cried, pointing at him. “I think I’ve seen you. You know my brother?”
Parker Fawkes cleared his throat. “Kiara, why are you guys harassing a drunk chick?” he asked the cat-satyr.
“We think she might be a Watcher from the Asylum,” Kiara reported. “The new one, Outlier.”
Raising an eyebrow, Parker asked reasonably, “Do you guys really think an Asylum Watcher would get this drunk and come into Faun territory at night without weapons or backup? She doesn’t even have shoes on,” he pointed out.
“Do any of you guys know where I can find Scott?” Haley insisted. “I need to find him. I need to ask something.”
Parker shook his head. “She might not be a satyr,” he said, “but she’s related to one. She probably just looks like the Watcher, but Scott’s family are all bakers.” He walked over to Haley, adding, “I’ll see she gets out of here. You guys get back to patrols.”
The satyrs scattered at his command, and Parker guided Haley over to the sidewalk. Once they were alone, he hissed, “Are you trying to get us killed, or are you just stupid? If Agent needed me – ”
“Agent?” Haley asked. “Agent doesn’t know I’m here. I have the next few days off – I wanted to see my brother.”
Parker’s eyebrows furrowed. “Wait, Scott’s really your brother?” he asked. “You know he’s a Faun, right?”
“Right,” Haley said. “That’s why I came here – he ran away from home a few months ago. Well, I say ‘ran away’; he’s an adult, he can do what he wants,” she added. “But I wanted to know why. And why he never comes to a family dinner any more. And why I can’t see him…” Tears began to mist in her eyes, making her vision blurry as her brain went down that trail of thought. “He’s my big brother. I’ve only got four; Sean’s been upset since Scott left. They were close, you know – the satyrs in the family. Scott’s a gorilla, and I miss sparring with him and Sean. My mom’s been sick with worry, and my dad, well, he doesn’t emote. But he’s also had Scott on the brain, you know?”
Parker sighed. “I know where Scott is,” he told her. “I can give him the message. But it was stupid for you to come down here on your own – you’re a Watcher of the Asylum, Agent has rules against getting this wasted.”
“Oh, I’m not drunk,” Haley said, starting to dance again.
“Yeah, pull the other one,” Parker laughed, watching her, “it has bells.”
“Really,” she said, grabbing his hand and starting to dance with him. “I just got hit by Eleutherios.” She grinned, repeating the name. “That’s a fun word: Eleutherios. Eh-loo-theh-ree-ohs. E-leu-therios…”
Parker smirked. “Isn’t that another name for Dionysus?” he asked. “‘God of wine and revelry?’”
“You know stuff!” Haley exclaimed happily, throwing her arms in the air as she twirled. “Oh, man, I had to tell Natalie and Frank who it was!”
She had been back-leading their dance to the tune in her head, but Parker took over the lead at that. He was rolling with Haley’s drunk behavior so that she wouldn’t cause too much of a scene; while he could smell that the other Fauns weren’t within hearing distance, he had no idea who might be watching. “Yeah, my sister’s studious, but she forgets stuff as soon as she doesn’t need it any more,” he said. “Besides, Nat was always more into Norse mythology than Greek. She wouldn’t know Dionysus from Apollo.”
“Natalie’s mean sometimes,” Haley said, “but she’s a good Watcher. Small but scrappy; I’ve been teaching her Aikido.”
“Really?” Parker said, slowly leading the dance down the street to the edge of Faun territory. “Nat listens to you?”
Haley shrugged. “As much as she listens to anyone,” she admitted, twirling in the dark. “Anyways, if you’re giving Scott a message, then you’re not taking me to him, right?”
“Right,” Parker said. “I’m taking you out of here before you get in trouble.”
Haley stopped dancing and started walking. “You’re a good guy, you know that?” she said. “I know you’ve had to do some bad things, like sticking up that DMV, but you’re still a Watcher under it all.”
Parker bowed his head to hide a sheepish smile. “I’m not so sure,” he said. “The DMV was small potatoes compared to some other stuff I’ve done. If you remember this conversation in the morning, you might ask Agent about it tomorrow.”
“I always remember everything,” Haley said. She shook her head. “Agent doesn’t talk about you,” she told him. “Last I heard, he hadn’t heard from you in a while. But Frank contacted you last week.”
“I talked to Agent after that,” Parker said. “But yeah, I haven’t been reporting in as regularly as he’d like. Claw’s been onto me for a while, so I’ve been keeping my head down.”
“You okay?” Haley asked, hugging his side and leaning against him as they walked. He smelled like flowers and some kind of citrus, neither of which fully covered up the scent of blood on his clothes. “You sound sad.” She looked up at his face, studying it. “No, not sad… scared. You’re afraid of something.”
Parker tensed at the scrutiny, and Haley stepped away from him. “You don’t even know me,” he said.
“True,” Haley nodded. “We’ve never been properly introduced. I’m Haley Prince, also known as Outlier,” she added, holding her hand out for him to shake.
Parker gave a short laugh at the sudden change of subject. Taking her hand and giving it a mock kiss, as if she were a princess, he said, “I’m Parker Fawkes. I went by Blackbird in the Asylum, and now the Fauns call me Fallen.”
“Pleased to meet you, Parker,” Haley said, grinning. “Thank you for walking me this far. I guess you can’t go too much farther.”
Parker shook his head. “But if you follow this road, you’ll get back to the tower. I’m also texting both Agent and Frank to pick you up.” He pulled out an old-fashioned cell phone, which was how he contacted the Asylum members.
“Oh, Frank was hit by the Eleutherios too,” Haley said. “So was Natalie. But Agent should get the message.”
Parker looked like he wanted to ask, but shook his head. “I can’t be seen with you when Agent gets here, but I’ll keep an eye out so you don’t get into any trouble.”
“Nice to meet you, Parker,” Haley said, grinning at him. “I hope you come home soon.”
Parker nodded. “Tell Natalie I intend to,” he said. “And Haley?” he added as she started to walk away. She looked back curiously. “It was really nice to meet you, too.”
* * * * * * * *
“So this drug makes people dance randomly?” Natalie asked. “If I try that, please stop me.”
“Eleutherios releases inhibitions,” Dale pointed out. “We’re just lucky Haley didn’t try to use any powers.”
“Don’t need powers,” Haley said. “I’ve been fine ‘til now, I can go without. No, thank you.”
Agent crossed his arms. “You’re lucky Parker found you and convinced those Fauns that you weren’t Outlier.”
“Meh,” Haley shrugged. “I am who I am.”
“Still,” Dale said, “for tha sake of research, Haley, could you grip tha table?”
Like the table in Samson’s lab, the one Haley now sat on had a metal frame. She studied it for a second, before grabbing the edge and squeezing until her knuckles were white. “Nope,” she said. “No powers. No, thank you.”
“Hmm.” Dale studied the table, before looking back at Haley. “I guess this version of tha serum in’t as potent as tha one Samson took.”
“Or else it just got mixed with a bunch of other stuff,” Haley said, hopping back up on the table. She began humming to herself.
“Not that song again,” Natalie said, rolling her eyes. “It’s never going to get out of my head now.”
Dale moved over to his work station, where he had a microscope slide with some of the Eleutherios on it. “She has a point,” he said. “Dinnae you say tha you got soaked with the stuff after some jars broke?”
“Yeah,” Natalie said. “Samson pushed me to the ground and the jars broke around me; I got it all over my back. Shadow put his hand in it, and some must have splashed on Haley.”
“But you’re na affected,” Dale pointed out. “You got tha worst dose, but you arenae loopy like these two.” He gestured to Haley, who was still humming to herself, and Frank, who seemed intent on doing handstands.
“Okay, so I’m not dancing in the streets yet,” Natalie shrugged. “So?”
“So maybe you have a natural immunity,” said Dale, still adjusting his microscope. “I have samples of yer blood on file; I’ll need a sample now, post-affliction, to compare. Agent, this might take a bit.”
“Not a problem,” Agent said, pressing the elevator button. “Rina asked to see Doctor Samson, and she might help us get some answers out of him.”
“Good luck,” Natalie called wryly. “Have fun interrogating the prisoner, while I’m stuck here getting poked with needles.”
“There’ll be other prisoners,” Agent told her as the elevator doors opened. He flashed her a grin as he stepped on. “I’ll make sure you get a turn, too.”
Natalie threw a hospital pillow at him as the elevator doors closed, Agent laughing from behind them.
* * * * * * * *
Eon City Police Department, interrogation room.
Sabrina “Rina” Dawson, AKA Nightmare.
Rina shuddered when she saw the lead researcher through the two-way mirror. Samson was hunched over the table, looking like he was asleep; he could just be any other old man, except she knew him as a monster.
Agent looked at her with concern in his eyes. “You sure about this?” he asked. “He might talk to you more than he would to me, but if it’s upsetting…”
“I can do it,” Rina said, cracking her knuckles. “I rarely saw his face, so it’s not that bad. He’s just another bad guy, right?”
“We need to know what was in the Eleutherios,” Agent reminded her. “Also if he’s been conducting human, satyr, or Third Gen experiments outside of Pharos.”
“And about how he stole the research from Pharos, and what else he might have. Yeah, I know,” Rina said impatiently. “Can we get this over with?”
Agent nodded. “He’s still under the effects of the drug,” he added, “so he might have trouble staying on topic. You need to guide the conversation.”
Rina looked at him sideways as she opened the door. “I have done this before, you know,” she pointed out. “I worked as a police interrogator before you recruited me for the Asylum.”
“Right, right,” Agent said. “Just… you can pull the plug at any time. I know how personal this is for you.”
“I’ll be fine,” Rina told him. “You just worry about him.”
She left the viewing room and entered the interrogation room. Agent watched from the sidelines, letting Rina talk to Samson on her own.
Samson’s head snapped up to look at her as she walked in. “Sabby?” he asked, studying her. “It’s my Sabby! Number nine, the Nightmare Child.” He chuckled. “You really put the nurses through the ringer, you know.”
“Good,” Rina said, sitting down across from him. “I need to know what was in Eleutherios.”
“Dionysus, Bacchus… probably a lot of wine!” Samson giggled.
Rina raised an eyebrow, letting her power affect the doctor. “The drug, doctor. The one you’ve been working on in secret. What’s in it?”
“Ooh,” Samson shivered. “You’re controlling your powers, and you didn’t even need a shock. Impressive.”
“I’ve learned a lot since we broke away from you,” Rina hissed. “I don’t have time for games. Tell me what I need to know so I can help my friends.”
“Here shines the sun,” Samson sang. “Have you ever seen the sun, Sabby? I’d love to take you to the beach. Why don’t we go to the beach?”
Rina slammed a hand on the table. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself before asking again, “What was in the drug?”
Samson considered her for a moment. He could see that she was close to snapping, and realized that he might not want to be on the receiving end of that. “I don’t really know,” he admitted. He lost the silly grin, straightening up in his seat and folding his hands on the table in front of him. “I know what you’re asking me, Sabrina, but I’m not sure what affected your friends.”
Rina’s eyes widened. “You weren’t really affected,” she accused. “You’ve been foxing this whole time!”
“On the contrary, I was affected,” Samson said. “It wore off about an hour ago. I maintained the charade because that Agent and his like were less likely to let me see you while I’m sober.”
Rina stood up, knocking her chair over. “Sabrina, wait!” Samson said, reaching for her hand. The handcuffs chaining him to the table prevented him from reaching her. “Sabrina!”
“You want me to wait?” Rina said. “Tell me what I want to know.”
“I’ve already told you, I don’t know,” Samson said. As Rina turned for the door, he added, “There were five different trials of Eleutherios on that table, and when they smashed they combined. I’m not sure what combination might have affected your friends – they might have canceled each other out, or strengthened each other’s effects. I just don’t know!”
“Are they in danger?” Rina asked, turning back to him. “The drug that you were under wore off; won’t it wear off for them?”
“Probably,” Samson said. “All five had a limited effect in my trials. Without further exposure, they’ll probably be back to normal in a day or two.”
“Okay then,” Rina said, picking her chair back up and sitting down. “Next question: what other experiments have you done using humans, satyrs, or Third Gens as subjects?”
Samson looked her in the eyes. “I’ll make you a deal, Sabrina. An answer for an answer – you answer my questions, and I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
“What could you possibly want to know about me?” Rina scoffed.
“Can’t a father want to know his daughter?” Samson countered.
Rina could almost hear Agent’s hiss from the other room; she had never told him that particular piece of information before. “You stopped being my father the first time you cut off my arm,” she told him. “Heck, you stopped being my father as soon as you put me in your precious Fourth Gen experiment. So no, we can’t go to the beach, because you made me allergic to the sun!”
“That was unintended,” Samson said. “I was trying to save your life.”
“From what?” Rina asked. “I was perfectly healthy before you gave me the serum.”
Samson shook his head. “You were born a hybrid, Sabrina,” he said. “Your nightmare powers killed your mother before you were three. I was trying to get rid of them.”
“Right,” Rina scoffed. “You started me on Fourth Gen as a baby. You ‘wanted to get rid of them’, but instead you made them stronger. Then you marketed me to any military, government and private sector, to say that you could create super-soldiers. And then you cut off my freaking arms and legs just to show them that they’d grow back.” She cracked her knuckles again, showing him her hands.
Samson looked away. “I’ll admit, I was not exactly father of the year,” he said. “I needed funding, so I had to give them something. It wasn’t until your brother rebelled and broke you all out of there that I – ”
“Wait, hang on,” Rina said, leaning forward. “‘My brother’? Ryan was the one that got us out of there.”
“Yes, Ryan,” Samson said. “Your older brother. He was one of the first experiments in the project.”
Rina took a deep breath, trying and failing to calm herself. “So it wasn’t just me,” she said. “I wasn’t even your first child to be born as a guinea pig. Ryan was my brother…” She shook her head to clear it. Act now, emote later, she reminded herself. She had learned that lesson in her early days as an interrogator, but she had never dealt with information that personal before. “You said you had a question for me,” she continued, getting back on topic. “If I answer, you’ll answer my questions. Deal?”
“Deal,” Samson said. “All I really want to know is: how have you been? Since leaving the laboratory,” he clarified. “You’re currently a Watcher in the Asylum, correct?”
“I’ve been great,” Rina told him. “Nobody prodding me, or making me learn to do things one-handed or use crutches. I get to bring bad guys like you to justice.” She leaned forward. “My turn. What other projects have you been on?”
Samson shrugged. “Aside from Fourth Gen and Eleutherios, I worked on the Gen Juice project at Pharos Laboratories. In my spare time, I tried to perfect Eleutherios at home, but I could never get it to take away Third Gen or Satyrism. It only enhanced the effects.” He sighed. “I don’t know what they put into the original Third Gen or Satyr serums that made them so resilient,” he said wistfully. “We – humanity – created our own demise in trying to perfect ourselves. I want you to know,” he added, leaning in towards Rina, “that I only ever worked on these projects to help you and your brother. I want to find a cure, so you can be a normal girl.”
Rina shook her head. “How did you get the research out of Pharos?” she asked.
“Oh, that part was easy,” Samson said. “When Eleutherios was shut down eight years ago, I just omitted certain parts from my inventory report and took them home with me that night.”
Rina glanced towards the mirror, knowing Agent was hearing every word. “I’m asking about your recent theft,” she said. “When you were fired from Pharos, you took more. What did you take, and how did you take it?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Samson said. “I didn’t take anything else when Pharos fired me; just the research from eight years ago.”
* * * * * * * *
Eon City Police Department, interrogation room.
Agent and Rina.
“You believe him?” Rina asked Agent once the interrogation was over. She joined him in the viewing room, noting that O.N.C. and Sean Hannah had both joined them at some point during her questioning.
“If he’s lying, he’s the best I’ve ever seen,” Agent admitted. “Which then begs the question: why did you two put my team on a cold case without telling us?”
Sean raised an eyebrow, folding his arms in front of himself. “Does it make a difference?” he asked. “The research he stole was proprietary, and he was recently fired.”
“It means you never answered Outlier’s question,” Agent said, folding his arms to mock the CEO’s posture. “Why now? What changed?”
Sean grinned. “Her,” he said, nodding to Rina. At her startled look, he added, “I wanted to see how she could handle pressure; nothing seems to phase her, and I knew this would.”
Rina glared at him. “She’s standing right here, and can be addressed directly,” she said. Her powers began to flood the room, making the CEO twitch uncomfortably. O.N.C. took a few steps back, and both of their breathing got harder and faster as Rina gave them the anxiety attack that she herself had been holding back since the start of the interrogation.
“Enough!” Sean roared, waving a hand through the air as if that would stave off the panic. “If you can’t behave like an adult, then you can just leave!” Rina released the pressure on the room, turning and storming out the door.
Agent shook his head at them, unaffected by her powers. “You deserved that,” he said, turning to follow Rina. “Don’t ever mess with my team again.”
He caught up to Rina halfway down the hall, calling her name. “You okay?” he asked, tentatively.
Rina had tears rolling down her cheeks, and she was shivering. Agent put his arms around her, letting her get control of herself. “It’s okay,” he said. “He can’t hurt you any more.” Rina could feel him shivering from the effects of her powers, but he didn’t let go.
“It’s not that,” Rina sniffed, biting her lip to control the quiver in her voice. “He said… Ryan was my brother. My actual brother! I always thought he was just another kid in the experiment.” She sniffed, trying to control her crying. “This is stupid. It’s been nearly fifteen years since he died; I don’t know why I’m so upset now.”
“Hey,” Agent said, pulling away to look her in the face. “Traumas like that don’t just leave,” he told her. “All we can do is move on and try to live despite them. It doesn’t matter if it’s fifty years later and his name comes up – you take the time you need to mourn. As long as you don’t let it consume you, it’s healthy to cry sometimes.”
Rina sniffed. “Thanks,” she said. “You sound like you know what it’s like.”
“I was the Agent of Team Ark,” he reminded her. “I lost friends, and other friends got badly hurt under my watch. So yeah, I know what I’m talking about.” He gave her a sad smile. “If I ever found out that Striker was my brother, I’d be crying in the hallway, too. I’m impressed you didn’t lose it in front of the others.”
Rina shook her head. “‘Interrogate now, emote later’,” she told him, turning to walk down the hall now that she had gotten herself under control. “The detective I worked with taught me that. If you cry in front of the perp, you’re only giving him power.”
“True,” Agent said, falling into step beside her. “Hey, while you were in there I got news from Dale. Haley and Frank seem to be returning to normal.”
“That’s good!” Rina said.
“He’s still not sure why it didn’t affect Natalie, though,” Agent added, worried. “I’m just hoping it doesn’t have any long-lasting effects.”
Rina put a hand on his shoulder. “She’s fine right now,” she told him. “We’ll worry about anything else as it comes.”
Agent nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess I should be grateful she didn’t go berserk.”
“Super-powered Natalie with no inhibitions,” Rina said thoughtfully. “That’s a scary thought. Then again, how can we be sure the drug didn’t affect her?”
“Meaning?” Agent asked.
Rina shrugged. “Natalie doesn’t let much of anything stop her,” she said. “That’s when she’s sober, and that’s why it seems scary for her to be on a drug like that. But then, since she already lives her life with few to no inhibitions, maybe the drug did affect her – we just couldn’t tell.”
Agent raised his eyebrows, considering the point. “That… sounds plausible,” he said slowly. “That actually makes me feel a lot better. Thanks.”
“No problem,” Rina said. “Now what say you we stop and get some ice cream on the way back?”
“Sounds good,” Agent said, grinning. “Chunky monkey?”
“Chocolate chip cookie dough,” Rina said. As they got to Agent’s car, Rina began humming an old tune that her mother used to sing as a lullaby:
Lavender blue, dilly-dilly
Then I’ll be king, dilly-dilly, and you’ll be my queen…
* * * * * * * *