Issue #11 – Jekyll and Hyde

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

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…”

“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

Lavender green

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 stablized 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 at night. 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. 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.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

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 fased 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 – ”

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

Agent’s office.

“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?”

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

Medical Center.

“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?” se 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.”

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

Medical Center.

“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.  “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, 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 find 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

Lavender green

Then I’ll be king, dilly-dilly, and you’ll be my queen…

* * * * * * * *

Issue #4 – The Watcher in the Dark

One of Eon City’s DMVs.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Blackbird.

Boredom.

Parker Fawkes was bored.

He had been sitting in the DMV office for over an hour now, waiting for the clock to strike noon so that something a bit more exciting could happen.  His wings cramped, and he was getting thirsty. The long black trench coat he wore was hot and scratchy, which was made more uncomfortable by the warm day and many people surrounding him.  It was a testament to the disorganization of the office that he could be sitting there with a coat on for that long without anybody thinking that anything was out-of-place.

He hated waiting.

Across the gray-walled room he saw Reg, a dog-satyr, scratching his ear.  That flea-bitten mutt better not screw this up, Parker thought, snorting in annoyance.  He knew that Reg was only there to make sure that he stayed on task.

“What’s taking so long?” came a voice directly behind him, echoing his own thoughts.  Parker glanced at his watch: ten minutes left. He couldn’t wait that much longer.

“Quit whining, Chris,” said another voice, this one female.  “You know the DMV always takes a while.”

With nothing else to keep him occupied, Parker turned around to see who was talking.  A young monkey-satyr (who looked barely fifteen years old) was slouching in a chair next to an older girl.  They didn’t look related – the satyr had sandy-colored hair and wide ears, while the girl was a human brunette – but Parker still guessed that they were brother and sister.  He remembered with a slight pang of longing how much his twin sister looked different from him. It had been a month since he had taken this assignment, and a week since he had last been at Headquarters; Natalie was probably getting worried by now.

Or else she was preparing to hit him while pretending not to be worried.

“I don’t get why I have to get a license, anyways,” the boy complained.  “You never had to carry one.”

The girl rolled her eyes, as if she had been hearing this all day.  “I told you,” she said, “Until you’re twenty-five and can pass a citizenship test, you have to have a license.  I don’t, because I’m not a satyr; it sucks, but there you go.”

“I’m with you, kid,” Parker spoke up.  “Satyr licensing laws are the worst.” He wasn’t lying; he only got citizenship as early as he did because he became a Watcher straight out of high school.  Unless they became government employees, satyrs weren’t considered citizens until their twenty-fifth birthday; until then, they had to get a special license, like the animals they resembled.  Even though it didn’t affect Parker nearly as much as other satyrs, the unfairness of it all still rankled him.

The girl looked startled, not having noticed that Parker was listening.  “I’m sorry,” she told him automatically, “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“Not at all,” Parker replied, spinning his seat around to face them.  “I’m as bored as you guys. My name’s Parker.”

“Jane,” the girl told him, “and this is my brother Chris.”

“Nice to meet you,” Parker said, shaking Jane’s hand.  “The people behind the counter seem to get paid more if they take their time, am I right?”

Jane giggled, Parker had another pang of homesickness for the Asylum; Rina had a laugh like that.  “I think that’s the manager on his lunch break,” Jane pointed to a portly man behind the counter who was eating a sandwich.  His badge was slightly bigger than the others’, so Parker agreed with Jane’s guess.

Beep-beep-beep-beep went the alarm on Parker’s watch.  He glanced down at it, shutting it off as he said, “Ah, show time.”  He stood up, shaking Jane’s hand again. “It’s been nice talking with you, Jane,” Parker told her, “a real break from the people I live with.  I really hope you’ll forgive me.” He pulled out a mask from his coat’s inner pocket and put it on, pulling up his hood to hide his features.

“Forgive you for what?” she asked.  Parker took off his trench coat, revealing the large knives he kept hidden underneath and allowing him to spread his wings theatrically.

“This is a stick-up,” he shouted, jumping up onto his chair.  His voice echoed through the mask, but the slits in the front allowed his words to come through clearly.  The people around him began to laugh, but at that signal fourteen other satyrs jumped up, revealing a similar array of weapons along with claws and teeth.  They had all trickled in over the course of the morning, hiding amid the throng of the Saturday rush.

Some of the humans gave short, high-pitched shrieks.  Parker grinned as he caught sight of Reg’s face; the sound was clearly annoying the dog-satyr’s sensitive ears.

“What do you want?” the pot-bellied manager called out, standing in indignation while brushing crumbs off of his shirt.  “We’re a DMV; there’s no money here.”

“Perhaps ‘stick-up’ was the wrong term,” Parker grinned behind the mask, “I’ve just always wanted to say that.  ‘This is a terrorist attack’ doesn’t roll off the tongue as well.”

He pulled out two foot-long knives, brandishing them at the people around him.  Hopping up onto his chair, he called out to the entire room. “You all can call me ‘Fallen’,” he announced, “You might know my family here,” he gestured to the other satyrs wielding weapons, “and I as Fauns.  We demand equality for all satyrs, and we will use force if necessary. Please don’t make us use force,” he sighed, looking at the security guard who looked as though he meant to be a hero, “I’d really like to avoid bloodshed.”

“Down on the ground!!” growled Reg, firing a shot from his revolver into the ceiling.  The people all cried out and slid off of their seats in fear. Parker saw Jane drag her brother off of the seat onto the ground.

“Now, as I said, this is a terrorist attack,” Parker continued once the clamor died down.  “All we want is to destroy the computers and burn the paperwork – you know, cause a little chaos.  Ten DMVs are being hit simultaneously around the state, so I wouldn’t count on the Watchers,” he spat the word, as expected of a Faun lieutenant, “to come quickly.  If you all are good, and stay down, we’ll let you live. Say anything to annoy us, or lift any part of your body off of the ground, and I’ll let Fido over there rip your throat out.”

Reg growled menacingly.  The people might think he was emphasizing Parker’s point, but Parker knew better.  Reg was growling at him for calling him “Fido”.

“Why are you doing this?” Chris asked in a semi-loud voice.  Parker sighed as Jane hit her brother on the back of the head; at least one of them knew to keep their mouth shut.  “Ow,” he whispered, “I just want to know why they’re at a DMV.”

“Shut up,” Jane hissed at him.  Parker walked back over to them, keeping one eye on Reg as he did so.  Around them, the noise of satyrs smashing computers and ripping paper continued.

“Lucky for you, that’s a good question,” Parker said.  Speaking loudly again, he told the room, “Satyrs shouldn’t be licensed like animals.  We’re attacking the DMVs around Eon City to show the Fauns’… disapproval of that law.  Destroying your archives will show you how futile these oppressive measures have been.”

Crouching back down, he hissed at Chris, “Any more good questions, kid?”

He could tell by the look on her face that Jane wanted to hit her brother again when he asked, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to just come in and smash everything at night?  You know, without all of the people here?”

Parker’s eyes widened in alarm.  He stole another glance at Reg, unconsciously raising his wings to hide the kid from view; Reg had looked over, licking his lips.  Parker didn’t want any bloodshed, and he knew that he couldn’t keep Reg in check much longer.

“This is a terrorist attack,” Parker hissed, hoping that Chris would get the hint, “We did it in the middle of the day because people would be here.  Now shut up before someone less kind hears you.”

He stood up and began to walk away, thinking that was the end of it.

“What do you mean, ‘someone less kind’?”  Parker could have killed the kid himself for opening his mouth again.

Reg strode over, giving them a deep-throated growl.  Parker stepped between them, raising his wings again to hide the kid from view.

“Did I say you could come over here, Lassie?” he asked, holding one of his knives in front of his chest defensively.

“I heard him,” the dog-satyr growled, “talking out of turn.  We need to make an example.” He licked his lips, “And besides, I’m hungry.”

“I said, back off,” Parker snarled.  “I’ll deal with it. You go back to your corner, Wishbone.”  He put on his normal fighting expression, masking the fact that he was worried about a fight with the dog; Reg was bigger, and had been working for Claw for more than a year while Parker was still pretty new.  This was Parker’s first time leading an operation for the Fauns, which was a sign that he was gaining Claw’s – the leader of the Fauns’ – trust. His rapid promotion over the dog-satyr was mainly due to his unique abilities, as Claw valued Third-Gen/Satyr hybrids more than anyone else, particularly feral satyrs like Reg.  But Reg still saw Parker as the newbie who displaced him; Parker had thus far avoided a fight with his rival, and so had no idea what the outcome of such a battle might be.

He would rather not learn.  Reg’s teeth looked sharp.

The dog-satyr bared his wolf-like teeth, as if reading Parker’s mind.  “Fine, Fallen,” he spat, saying Parker’s street name as if it were an insult.  “I’ll tell Claw how merciful you’re being, and then we’ll see who’s in the corner.”

Parker smirked at him.  “And I’ll be sure to tell him of your insubordination,” he replied.  “Who do you think will impress him more? His right hand man,” he gestured to himself, “or Rin Tin Tin?”  He pointed at the dog-satyr, hoping that Reg wouldn’t call his bluff.

Reg growled, seeming to think about it.  Then he spun on his heel and marched back to his place on the sidelines.  Parker watched him for an extra second, before turning back to Chris. “That,” he emphasized, pointing back at the dog-satyr, “is someone less kind.  Shut up.”

Much to Parker’s relief, Chris kept his mouth shut.  The siblings kept their faces pressed to the ground for the next few minutes, as Parker paced the rest of the DMV.  Nobody else spoke up, much to his relief.

Suddenly, the fox-satyr standing watch at the door called out, “We’ve got Watchers.”

“How many?” Parker asked, “and which ones?”

“Looks like three of them,” the sentry replied, “From their outfits, I think… yeah, it’s definitely Trick and Nightmare.  I don’t recognize the other.”

Parker swore.  “Fauns, we’re leaving.  Now.”

“There’re only three,” Reg growled, “We can take ‘em.”

“Trick by herself, or the other one, maybe,” Parker told him, “but as a group we’re no match for Nightmare.  Move!!”

He heard a loud crash near the main entrance.  As he rushed to get his people out the back door, two figures strode in. Parker recognized Trick and Nightmare at once; they were his old teammates, after all.  Sabrina “Rina” Dawson, otherwise known as “Nightmare”, was a small woman in her mid-twenties. She had short white hair and blood-red eyes, and her white outfit covered most of her body from the sun.  She glared at the Fauns, her eyes widening when she caught sight of Parker’s wings.

Trick’s expression matched hers.  Her long blonde hair was dyed black, tied in a braid that Parker knew had spikes embedded in it in case someone grabbed her hair in a fight.  She wore all black, and Parker knew from experience that her trench coat held many nasty surprises. Her bright blue eyes glared accusingly at Parker, and her jaw was clenched in anger.  Even with her smaller frame, inches shorter than the two Watchers beside her, she was intimidating.

Trick’s real name was Natalie Fawkes, and she was Parker’s twin sister.

“Wow, look at them scurry,” Nightmare said, glancing at the last of the Fauns running out the back door.  “Like mice.”

Parker saw Trick pull a small dart out of her sleeve.  “Why are you here?” she asked him, also recognizing him through his mask.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Parker said, trying to warn them with his eyes not to blow his cover.

The new Watcher followed the others through the door.  This was another girl who stood taller than the others.  She wore a simple outfit – sleeveless, blue with red trim and a gold utility belt – but Parker knew better than to assume anything about her; this had to be the new recruit that beat Natalie in a fight last month.

“Guys,” the newbie said, “Are we going to fight?  They’re getting away.”

“That all depends on… Fallen, was it?” Natalie asked sweetly.  Now Parker was glad that he wasn’t going back to the Asylum tonight; the murderous look in his twin’s eyes would give him nightmares for a week.

Parker flipped his knives around, trying to appear jaunty for the Fauns.  “Not today, ma belle,” he said, stalling for time.  He already felt his pulse starting to race – though he couldn’t be sure if it was nerves or the sheer proximity to Nightmare.  “I think our work here is done.”

He gave a hand-signal, and the Fauns stopped trashing the office and gathered in the middle of the floor.  Parker could hear multiple vehicles pulling up outside.

Nightmare held up a hand.  “Don’t even think about running,” she warned the Fauns.  “We have police and other Watchers standing outside taking your friends into custody.”

“Oh please,” Parker rolled his eyes.  “The police don’t mobilize that fast. Besides, you can’t use your power in here.  You’d hit the civilians.”

Rina flinched, looking down.  She must have forgotten about the hostages, Parker thought.  He knew that she wouldn’t have risked coming in if she had known.  Natalie, on the other hand…

He turned to Trick, just in time to see her move.  She flicked her wrist, and Parker had to react quickly to keep from being cut by her playing cards.  He deflected them with his knives as his heart started to beat faster.

Suddenly, a blow hit him from behind.  The new Watcher had an arm around his neck, kicking him in the back of the knee to drop him to his knees.  Parker gasped for air, but the choke-hold would soon make him pass out if he didn’t do something. This girl was strong, but she obviously hadn’t been told about Parker’s Third Gen ability.

Parker grabbed her wrist and yanked – not hard enough to break her arm, but enough to pull it away from his neck.  In one motion, he stood up and yanked it around her back, telling Trick and Nightmare, “Back off, or your friend here gets it.”

He knew that Agent was on the coms; he had to be.  Trick put a hand to her ear with a furious glare at Parker, and then pocketed her playing cards.  Nightmare closed her eyes, turning down the pressure in the room and allowing Parker’s heart to slow down.  He felt like he had just run ten miles, but he would recover.

“That’s better,” he said, letting the new Watcher go and tossing her back to her teammates.  “Now, I’d love to stay and chat, but I have to go. Tootles!”

He waved jauntily at them as he hopped down from his chair and ran out the back door after the other Fauns.  He saw that Nightmare had been bluffing about having the building surrounded so quickly: his team had escaped in the getaway vans that had pulled up while he was stalling the Watchers.  As the police pulled up to the DMV, Parker dodged them by jumping from the ground – it was hard to take off like that, but it got him out of reach of their tasers. Flapping his wings as hard as he could, he slowly gained enough altitude to catch a thermal and glide away.

So now they know, he thought as he flew.  Agent’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

Agent’s in trouble.

“You WHAT?!” Natalie shouted at Agent.  “Without telling me? What the hell were you THINKING?!”

“Natalie, please,” Agent said, “calm down.  Parker’s an adult; he made his own choice…”

Natalie scoffed, but she stopped yelling.  Her voice turned icy as she continued to rant.  “My idiot brother is not undercover material, Agent,” she said.

“He’s been invaluable to us,” Agent argued.  “He’s given us a lot of information on the inner workings of the Fauns.  We even know where their headquarters are because of him.”

“Great,” Natalie said.  “So now we can raid the whole place and Parker can come home.”

“It’s… not that simple,” Agent said, looking away.

The rest of the team was back from their own DMV calls, and looked between the two like a ping-pong match.  Granny was the only member missing, flying patrol while the rest of the team were cleared for duty by Dale’s team.  David was currently getting his exam, leaving Frank, Reiki, Rina, and Haley to watch the verbal sparring match between Natalie and Agent.  They all knew better than to interrupt, though Reiki had popped a bowl of popcorn and passed it around in a pointed gesture.

“How is it not that simple?” Natalie demanded.  “You know where they are; they just admitted to being behind all of the DMV attacks today, so what’s the problem?”

“We’re trying to take down Claw,” Agent said quietly.

Natalie said nothing for a minute.  The mood in the room darkened at the mention of Claw’s name, so much so that Haley had to speak up for the first time since they got back.  “Who’s Claw?” she asked, shivering.

“Rina, could you…?” Agent asked her.  Rina blushed, and the dark mood around the team lifted.  “Thanks. As for your question, Haley, Claw is the Faun’s leader.”

“More than that,” Rina said.  “He’s a zealot. He’s a crocodile-satyr who believes that satyrs and Third Gens are the next evolution of humanity, and that humans should be wiped out.”

“I forgot,” Agent said, walking over to Rina and putting a hand on her shoulder.  “He tried to recruit you once, too, didn’t he?”

Rina moved away from him, lifting her shirt to show a long scar down her side.  “If I’d been any slower, he would have cut me in half,” she said. “He did that because I said ‘no’ to him.  Not because he was angry, though.” She let her shirt fall back down as she crossed her arms at Agent. “Claw doesn’t get angry.  He doesn’t panic, or fear anything.  He doesn’t feel much at all; my powers don’t work on him.  He hurts people because he can.  I saw him behead one of his lieutenants just because he disagreed with him; it’s the main reason why I refused to join in the first place.”

“And you put my brother in this psychopath’s inner circle.”  Natalie was shaking with rage. “You think you can take down the Fauns’ leader with one guy on the inside?”

“One hybrid,” Agent corrected her.  “Parker’s not an ordinary satyr; we received intel a few months ago that Claw was looking for satyrs with Third Gen abilities.  Parker’s not in his inner circle yet, but with his super-strength he has a much better chance than anyone else we’ve placed in the Fauns before.”

Natalie grabbed Agent’s tie and yanked his face close to hers.  “Oh good,” she hissed. “Parker’s got a good chance of getting close to the one guy who can rip him apart in seconds, and he has no backup.  And in the meantime, he’s sticking up DMVs and has to pretend to hate us. Did I miss anything?”

“He has backup,” Agent said, twisting his tie out of Natalie’s grip and straightening it.  “You think you guys are the only licensed Watchers in the city? In the country? We’ve got spies in every hideout the Fauns have ever built.  None of them can get close to Claw, but they can back Parker up no matter where he goes.”

“You need to get him out of there,” Natalie said.  “Now.”

“Natalie, he can’t,” Rina told her softly.  “Claw doesn’t let anybody go. If Parker tried to quit, we’d find his body in an alley somewhere.”

Natalie stormed off without another word.  She slammed the door to the stairs behind her with shaking hands – but none of the team could tell if she was shaking from rage or fear for her brother. Agent watched her go with honest regret in his eyes.  He sighed and took the elevator, but they couldn’t tell if he was going to his office or to talk to her.

Frank was the next to break the silence; he had hidden in the shadows until the argument was over.  “Parker can take care of himself,” he said. “Nat’s just worried because he’s impulsive.”

“She thinks he’ll do something reckless?” Haley asked.  “I mean, I don’t know the guy, and I only fought him the once, but he had a lot of control for a guy with such a big mouth.”

“People do some crazy things when they get emotional,” Frank shrugged, grabbing a handful of Reiki’s popcorn.  “Claw killed their mother; that’s probably why Parker agreed to this in the first place. I wouldn’t be surprised if going after Claw was Parker’s idea to begin with.”

“Claw killed their mom?” Rina repeated, sitting down on the sofa and drawing a fuzzy blanket around herself.  She was trying hard not to let her powers run away from her again. “That’s awful.” Reiki sat next to her, letting her lean her head on his shoulder.

“They could never prove it,” Frank continued.  “My mom told me once that they found her body in an alley, ripped to shreds.”

“That’s right,” Haley said.  “Agent mentioned that your mom and their mom were teammates once.  Team Ark, right?”

“Yep.”  Frank jumped over the back of a chair before sitting down.  “Mom says that Lyta’s death was what started the team breaking apart.”

“‘Lyta’?” Haley asked.

“Hippolyta,” came Natalie’s voice from the doorway to the stairs.  “Queen of the Amazons, with a belt that gave her super-strength. Mom was a Third Gen,” she explained.  “She was strong enough to lift a tractor over her head, just like Parker is.”

“You okay?” Frank asked her.

Natalie nodded.  “‘Course I am,” she said.  “It’s Parker I’m worried about.”

“Parker’s wicked fast with those knives of his,” Frank reminded her.

“I know,” Natalie said, sitting down on the armrest of his chair.  “I just hope that Claw isn’t faster.”

* * * * * * * *

Faun Headquarters.

Parker Fawkes, keeping his head down.

Parker was going to be sick.

He winced as he saw Reg eat, trying not to stare.  The dog-satyr was chowing down on a live pig, and the squeals of the dying animal were making Parker turn green.  He pushed his own plate away, even though the meat on it was already dead and cooked. Even after a month of living with these people, Parker could never get used to the more feral eating habits.  At least there was a place to sit, and a few utensils for those satyrs who didn’t give in to their animal side; the run-down building where the Fauns made their home base was a sty, and the blood left behind by the feral satyrs’ feasting would never come out of the floor.

“Disgusting, isn’t it?” came a voice on his right.  He looked over at the speaker, a striped cat-satyr who spoke with deliberate precision.  “I mean, I know Claw takes in the feral satyrs for more firepower, but they could still kill their food before they eat it.”

“The squirming makes it taste so much better,” Reg answered with a mouthful of pig, pausing for only a second before resuming his feast.  Parker noticed the cat-satyr’s plate also went untouched.

“You’re new here?” he asked, having never seen her before.

She grinned at him, “Nah.  I just don’t usually make myself noticed.  The name’s Kiara.”

“Parker,” he said, holding out his hand for her to shake.

Kiara took it, saying, “I know who you are, Fallen.  You’re making quite a name for yourself around here.  Claw’s protege, right?”

“Currently,” Parker admitted.  “I don’t know how long that’ll last.  One slip-up and…” he drew his finger over his throat, grimacing.

“Why do you think I stay in the shadows?” Kiara asked him rhetorically.  “Claw is very nice to his underlings, unless they’re in command.”

“So, Fallen,” Reg piped in, taking a huge swallow of pig and wiping his mouth on his arm.  “What happened at the DMV after we left? You didn’t come back for hours.”

“I gave my report to Claw,” Parker said, stiffening.  “If he doesn’t choose to share the details with you, Rover, then you’re shit out of luck.”

“Still,” Kiara put in, bringing their conversation back to the original point, “at least Claw treats us like people.  You know that the state’s trying to pass a leash law for satyrs? Not to mention the Senator calling for the death penalty for anyone even suspected of being a Faun.”

“Most people are going to vote against the leash law,” Parker pointed out.  “That’s just the extremists’ bellyaching. Satyrs work for too cheap for us to be tied down on the job.  As for the death penalty, they’ll have to catch us, first.”

“And they also know that we’ll retaliate if they try,” Reg grinned, showing his pointed teeth dripping with blood.  “That is, if Fallen there doesn’t chicken out.”

“What is your problem?” Kiara asked the dog-satyr, the short hair on the back of her neck sticking straight out.

Reg gave a short, barking laugh.  “Don’t you know? Fallen actually likes humans.  Stood between me and one the other day.”

“First of all, that wasn’t a human.  That was a satyr kid who just asked a question – you were the one out of line.”  Parker stood up, flaring his wings behind himself in a gesture of superiority. “Second, it was a tactical decision as well.  If he’d been the only casualty, then our message about fighting for satyr rights would be meaningless.”

“And those Watchers that you refused to fight?” Reg asked, standing up and closing the distance between them.  “There were fifteen of us there against three of them – but you retreated like the coward you are.”

“Don’t ever call me a coward,” Parker snarled, his eyes flashing with anger.  “Nightmare can create panic with a thought.  We wouldn’t have been fighting them; we’d have been fighting each other.”

Reg raised his fist, which was nearly as big as a football.  Suddenly, a deep, hissing voice called out, “That’s enough!”

Parker and Reg backed away from each other immediately; that was one voice that they knew to obey without question.  Parker came to attention, turning ninety degrees so that he could see Claw as the leader of the Fauns walked into the room.

Marcus Ford, also known as Claw, stood at five feet eleven inches.  From the waist up he was mostly a human male, with short black hair and a frizzled beard.  His eyes were slightly too big for a humans’, however, and his teeth were as sharp as a carnivore’s.  His fingers ended in claws that could cut through steel girders (Parker had seen him demonstrate before).

Below the waist, Claw’s legs were thick and scaly, like a lizard’s.  His feet were little more than claws, and his long reptilian tail swung back and forth as he waddled forward.  Parker knew better than to think that he was slow just because his gait was awkward; a lot of people mistook him for a lizard, but Claw was actually half-crocodile and the fastest person in the room.  Nobody was certain if Claw was feral or not; he wore clothes and used utensils like a normal person, but preferred his meat raw.

“What is going on here?” Claw asked, coming to a halt in front of Parker and Reg.  “I walk in to find two of my lieutenants about to brawl in the middle of the dining room.  Explain.”

“Sir, Fallen started it,” Reg said before Parker could talk, “He – ”

“I didn’t ask who started it,” Claw snapped.  “Fallen, what happened?”

“Sir,” Parker stood up straighter, hoping that his answer would be better than Reg’s.  “My loyalty was being questioned. I was about to demonstrate my devotion to the cause.”

“By in-fighting?” Claw shook his head in disapproval.  “No, that won’t do. Tell me, Fallen,” Claw lifted one of his clawed fingers up to Parker’s neck, “are you loyal?”

“Of course,” Parker said without hesitating.  He learned to say everything that Claw wanted to hear; it came naturally to him even when his life was threatened.  Especially if his life was threatened.

“Good,” Claw replied, patting him on the cheek and walking away.  “That will be the end of it,” he called to all of the Fauns in the room.  “Fallen, follow me.”

Parker made a face at Reg behind Claw’s back, and then ran to follow the crocodile.

“I hope you have an explanation, Fallen,” Claw said as they walked.  His voice was surprisingly soft for his appearance.

“We were interrupted,” Parker said, trying not to sound like he was making an excuse.  Claw was flexing his hands lazily, but at any moment he could strike. “The Watchers came in.  The Nightmare girl was among them – I wanted to get my team out before she made us all panic.”

“A reasonable course of action,” Claw agreed.  “The data was destroyed, and your team made it back.  The results speak for themselves.” He paused, but Parker knew better than to speak out of turn.  Claw would get to the point in his time, and no one else’s.

As they rounded a corner, Claw continued, “You’re a very promising recruit, Fallen.”  He scratched his chin with one of his pointed claws. “What are your aspirations here?”

“Sir?” Parker asked, not quite understanding the question.

“How far would you like to rise in the Fauns, Fallen?” Claw asked again.

“As far as I can,” Parker answered.  He knew that was the only answer he could give; if he stopped rising, chances were that he’d be dead.

Claw nodded.  “Good answer.”  He stopped in the hallway outside the door to his room.  “I have another assignment for you,” he said. “We’ll be hitting the Eon City museum tomorrow after hours.  Get a team prepared.”

“I can choose my own team?” Parker ventured to ask.  He didn’t want to deal with Reg this time.

“I trust you, Fallen,” Claw said, smiling.  Showing his long, sharp teeth, his smile was somehow more threatening than his frown.  It certainly seemed insincere.

Maybe that was just Parker’s nerves.  He smiled back, saluted, and turned back to the common area to pick his team.  As Claw watched him round the corner, he said, “I want you to follow him.”

Reg stepped out of the room behind him, also saluting.  He bared his teeth and left after Parker.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Park, later that night.

Parker Fawkes, also in trouble.

Parker waited in the dark, pacing.  He had managed to slip away from the Fauns’ base after everyone else had fallen asleep.  Most of the night guards that Claw had patrolling after dark were inept, so it was easy for a Watcher-trained vigilante to sneak past them – especially if they thought he was one of them.  Once he had flown to the park, there was nothing left to do but wait.

Parker hated waiting.

Luckily he didn’t have to wait long.  Something sharp flicked him in the back of the head, making him spin around.  “You idiot,” Natalie hissed, keeping her voice down. You never know who might be listening from the shadows.  “What the hell are you thinking?”

“Good to see you too, sis,” Parker said dryly.  “How’ve you been?”

“Worried sick,” she snapped.  “This is exactly the kind of stupid thing Dad made us promise not to do when we became Watchers!”

“What, join a cult?” Parker joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Natalie refused to laugh.  “It isn’t funny, Parker,” she said.  “I thought that your ‘secret mission’ for Agent was just some recon; so imagine my shock when I find you leading a raiding party on a DMV!”

Parker snickered at that.  Seeing the glare Natalie gave him, he said, “Come on, you’ve got to admit that was absurd.  ‘This is a stick-up!’  Priceless!”

Natalie looked like she was holding back a smile.  “This is serious, Parker,” she said. “He killed Mom.”

“Exactly,” Parker said, the humor falling from his voice.  “He killed Mom. And he’s been killing countless others before and since.  Claw needs to be taken down, and we can’t do that legally without someone in his inner circle.”

“So why does it have to be you?” Natalie asked.  “Can’t some other Watcher or Agent do it?”

Parker paused before answering.  “It takes a certain commitment to the part,” he said.  “I won’t lie to you, Nat; there’s a risk involved. What I pulled at the DMV would’ve cost me jail time if someone had gotten hurt, Watcher license or no – and I had to pull that off while pretending not to care about the consequences.  There aren’t many people who could catch Claw’s eye like I did, and then go as far as it takes to get the evidence we need to bring him down.”

Natalie pursed her lips; Parker knew that face.  She could see his point but didn’t want to admit it.  “Just – just come home safe, okay?” she said quietly.

Parker pulled his sister into a hug.  “Claw won’t kill me,” he told her. Looking over her shoulder, Parker saw a familiar flash of movement in the shadows.  “I promise,” he added. “Stronger together?”

“Stronger as one,” Natalie finished.  With that, Parker let her go. He watched as she walked away, before going to take care of the problem.

He could handle trouble.

* * * * * * * *

Faun Headquarters.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.

“Reg tells me that you met with a Watcher last night,” Claw said.  He didn’t sound angry; his voice was as soft as ever. “Care to explain yourself, Fallen?”

They were back in Headquarters, in Claw’s – for lack of a better word – throne room.  Claw sat on a small raised dais, surrounded by his lieutenants. The room was lined with onlookers, satyrs who took interest in seeing Parker’s fall from grace.  Parker had been preparing for this moment since he’d first seen Reg following him the night before – the only unknown factor was how much the dog might have overheard.

Time to commit to the part.

“I met my sister last night,” he said.  “She’s a Watcher, yes, but she’s still family.”

“You claim to hate the Watchers,” Reg growled, “but your sister is one.  How’s that work?”

Claw held up a hand, so Parker swallowed his comeback.  “Fallen,” he said. “Real name: Parker Fawkes. Also known as Blackbird – of the Asylum.”  He stood up, walking down the dais to stand in front of Parker.

There was a collective hiss from the onlookers.  Parker saw Kiara out of the corner of his eye; she shook her head, like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.  He could believe it, though – he knew that sooner or later the Fauns would figure out his true identity. There weren’t that many bird-satyrs with black-and-white speckled wings and super-strength.  Parker had known this moment would come since he had first agreed to take the assignment.

Now all he could do was tell the tale he and Agent had spun for just this occasion, and hope they believed him.

Formerly of the Asylum,” he corrected.  “I left them to join the Fauns when the government began cracking down on the licensing laws.”

“A Watcher in our midst,” Claw said.  “Pretty gutsy, to infiltrate our ranks.”

Parker looked Claw in the eyes, schooling his features into giving nothing away.  “I never lied to you,” he said. “I’m Fallen now – fallen from the ranks of the Watchers, fallen from the Asylum, fallen from everything.  What Reg saw in the park was me trying to convince my sister that I had done the right thing by leaving them.” Pause for dramatic effect. Add a small tremble to the voice for emotion.  “I can’t sit by and watch my people be treated like slaves,” he said, “and I really can’t work for the government that not only allows it, but encourages it.”

His speech got the reaction he was hoping for: satyrs all around the room began growling their agreement.  Parker continued, “These are my people.” He gestured to those around the room, flaring his wings for dramatic effect but keeping his eyes on Claw. “I believe in the cause.  I fight for the cause – like anyone else in this room.”

Claw looked around at the satyrs riled up.  Parker could see on the psychopath’s face that Claw realized what he’d done – the Fauns in the room believed Parker, and accepted him as one of them.  If Claw executed Parker now, it would cause dissent among the satyrs watching.  He might have to kill more, and the Faun’s numbers weren’t so large that he could afford a massacre of his own people. Any word of it getting out would set other Fauns against him – they might rebel, rather than risk Claw killing more of them.  To kill Parker now would be to dismantle the Fauns from the inside, and as crazy as Claw was, he wasn’t stupid.

“You talk a good game,” he finally said.  “I’ll give you just enough rope to hang yourself with.  Prove your loyalty, and you’re one of us – fail even once, and your life is forfeit.  Sound fair?”

The Fauns in the room quieted as Parker nodded.  “I only want to prove my loyalty to you,” he said, dropping his eyes as he bent a knee in fealty to Claw.  With that gesture, the Fauns now associated them together; Parker would be in Claw’s inner circle soon enough.

“No!” Reg stepped forward.  “You can’t possibly believe him,” he said to Claw, baring his teeth at Parker.  “Let me – ”

He couldn’t finish the threat.  Claw, needing to reassert his power, whipped a claw across the dog-satyr’s throat, beheading him in one clean motion.  Parker paled, only a few feet away from the body, realizing that had nearly been him.

“Clean that up,” he commanded, his voice as soft as ever.  Two Fauns rushed over to take the body away as Claw ascended the dais again.  “Never question me,” Claw told the others in the room. “Parker – Fallen – has earned the opportunity to prove himself.  Until he succeeds or fails, no one will speak of this.”  He sat back down on his throne, adding, “Dismissed.”

The Fauns filed out of the room.  Parker stood, his legs shaking. He had never been that close to an execution before; he could still smell the coppery scent of Reg’s blood where it pooled on the ground.  As much as he hated the feral satyr, the calm, cool way Claw had killed him shook his resolve.  The danger had never before felt so real.

“Fallen, you coming?” Kiara called for him from the doorway.  They were the last ones left in the room.  She looked slightly disgusted, but not shocked like Parker.

Parker looked at Claw on the dais, who smiled that crocodile grin back at him.  The message was loud and clear: if you fail me, you’re next.

Parker hid a shudder as he followed Kiara out of the room.  He had committed to the role, and he couldn’t fail. All he could do was play his part and wait for the outcome.

He hated waiting.

* * * * * * * *

Trailer #4 – Tower Climb

Pharos Tower, nine years ago.

Natalie Fawkes, way too high.

How did I get into this mess?

Fourteen year-old Natalie Fawkes was hanging on to the tenth-story window ledge for dear life.  Her hands ached with the strain of holding her, and she wondered once again if she really could finish her climb, or if she would fall to her death on the pavement below.

The book bag shifted on her back.  As flat as it was against her spine, it wouldn’t stay still with its bulky contents.  Natalie bit her lip and grunted as she pulled herself up onto the foot-thick ledge. She sat there for a minute, massaging her arms and hands to bring some life back into them.  The air on the ground was deceptively warm in the spring; eleven stories up, the wind nipped at her skin and froze her sweat-soaked shirt to her body.

“Wish I’d worn sleeves,” she muttered, looking down at her black tank top and sighing.  She felt a gust of wind beside her as her brother appeared.

Natalie’s twin brother was a satyr – in this case, half-man, half-bird.  Large, flexible, black-and-white speckled wings grew out of his shoulder blades, allowing him to catch the breeze and fly up to where his sister perched on the ledge.  His feathery blond hair ruffled in the breeze as he grinned down at her. “You okay?” he asked as he tucked his wings in to stand next to her on the ledge.

“Yeah,” Natalie grinned up at him.  “I’m just resting a sec. I don’t think I’ve ever done so many muscle-ups in a row before.”

“And you’re only halfway up,” Parker said, giving her a worried smile.  “You know, you don’t have to prove anything to those idiots,” he said, nodding his head at the ground below.

“’Course not,” Natalie told him, standing up next to her brother and looking out over the city.  “But I do need to shut them up.” She looked back at her twin, adding, “I’m fine; really. I can do this.”

Parker gave her a half-smile and an ironic salute before leaving his sister to her mission.  Natalie watched as he allowed himself to fall off the ledge, catching the wind as his wings unfurled.

Shaking her head to clear it from the height, Natalie turned back towards the building and jumped for the next ledge.  As her fingers caught the stone edge, she bit her lip and thought, Maybe I am crazy after all.

* * * * * * * *

Natalie had been working on a chemistry project when the whole situation began.  One of the instructions had not been very clear, and she needed the teacher to answer a question.  Unfortunately, the teacher seemed determined to ignore her; he went around to every other person first, even after looking directly at Natalie’s stubborn hand.  Natalie had been raising her hand for twenty minutes, unable to continue with the work, when she snapped.

Slowly, methodically – she needed to be obvious about what she was doing if she wanted to get away with it – Natalie began coating her hand with the dish soap next to her lab station.

“What are you doing?” Parker hissed next to her.  The question was rhetorical; he grew up in the same house, and had learned the same trick from their dad.  He knew exactly what his twin had in mind.

“If the teacher’s going to ignore what goes on right in front of him, then he deserves a little scare,” Natalie said, matter-of-factly, as she doused rubbing alcohol over the soap-covered hand.

Parker looked around at the class, some of whom were watching her with expressions that said she was being weird.  “You’re going to get in trouble for it,” he muttered, but he didn’t try to stop her as she turned on the Bunsen burner at their table.

“Maybe,” Natalie whispered back, running her free hand through her short dyed-black hair.  With one fluid motion, she ran her alcohol-drenched hand over the flame of the Bunsen burner and raised it up like before.

It took nearly five seconds before people registered that her raised hand was on fire.  Then chaos erupted in the classroom.

As expected, Natalie was sent to the principal’s office as soon as she rinsed off her hand.  Parker went with her, and marveled at how she talked her way out of trouble – she turned the tables on the teacher, asking the principal what her father might say when he was told that the teacher hadn’t stopped her.

They didn’t even call her parents.

“You know,” Parker said as they walked home after school, “that was risky.  If they’d called Dad, he would have been all for you getting suspended for that stunt; you know the rule.”

Natalie nodded.  Their dad had ingrained one rule of thumb into them since they were old enough to copy his magic tricks: never show off.  “‘True power requires subtlety,’” she quoted. “‘Your audience should never know all of your secrets; your strengths should be as well-guarded as your weaknesses.’”

“Right,” Parker said, acting as though he was ten years older than her instead of ten minutes. “And you just gave away the trick by doing it in front of the whole class.”  He grinned wryly at her. “Not to mention,” he added, “the entire class got extra homework assigned because you got the teacher in a mood. They aren’t going to like that.”

“Like I give a damn what they think,” Natalie retorted.  “We graduate in six months, and then we never have to see any of them again.”

Parker sighed.  “You know, eventually you’ll have to learn how to get along with people.”

“Uh-oh,” Natalie said, but she wasn’t referring to Parker’s lecture.  In front of the twins stood seven of their classmates, and all of them looked like they wanted a fight.

Natalie let her hand hover over her cargo pockets.  She kept her flash-paper and lighter in there, which would help if they needed an escape.  She was fine letting Parker do all of the talking; anything she said would be twisted around by these bullies.

“Can we help you?” Parker asked as they approached.

One of the gang, presumably the leader, stepped forward.  “We don’t have a problem with you,” he said carefully. “But her stunt just got us extra homework, so we want her to do it.”

The others piped in with things like “Yeah!” and “It’s only fair.”  Natalie rolled her eyes, walking past them without another glance. She knew it drove her classmates crazy when she pretended not to care if they existed.

As predicted, the movement just stoked the other kids’ ire.  “You think you’re better than us?” asked the leader. “You’re nothing but a wannabe – you think you’ll be a Watcher, but you’re all talk.”

Natalie stopped, and Parker put a hand on her shoulder.  “Nat, don’t,” he warned under his breath, but it was too late – they had hit on the very thing that Natalie herself was afraid of.

“I will be a Watcher,” she said, clenching her fists and whirling around to face them.

The leader smirked, knowing his barb had hit home.  “Oh yeah?” he asked. “Prove it.”

Later that evening, Natalie was climbing the tallest tower in the city, a book bag full of fireworks on her back.

* * * * * * * *

Pharos Tower, that night.

Natalie Fawkes, fifteenth story.

Each story of the building took two muscle-ups to climb: one to a bar in the middle of the window, where Natalie had only about two inches of space to grab on to, and one to the larger ledge in between stories.  The ledges of the twenty-story building were nearly eight feet apart; meaning that they were two to three inches above Natalie’s outstretched arms. This made the jump to the larger ledges especially difficult, as she couldn’t stop to rest between stories.

Natalie got into the rhythm of the climb early on, but fifteen stories up and she was getting tired.  Her current strategy of jumping straight from the window-bar to the larger ledges wouldn’t hold up forever, as the cold and the workout began freezing her aching muscles.

She reached up to the next window-bar.  Sixteenth story, she counted to herself, biting her lip as her arms shrieked from the movement.  Just do this one, and then only four more.

Her hands gripped the window-bar, and she forced her arms to lift her body up.  She put her right foot on the two-inch-thick space, and steeled herself for the difficult part.  From this position, she had to jump straight up as high as possible, grabbing onto the ledge above without falling.  Her legs were just as tired as her arms, and she shook with the effort of holding herself up.

“Come on,” she told her shivering body, “I’ll let you rest on the next ledge.”  She had used the same mantra for the last few stories, and it seemed to be working so far.

She tensed herself, and launched herself with her right leg.  She knew as she took off that it wasn’t good, though; her leg had been shaking too much, and her foot slipped as she threw her body straight up.  Her eyes widened as her fingers only scraped the ledge above, and she started to fall back down.

Years of practice paid off: adrenaline hit her system, and when her left arm hit the twelfth-story stone ledge she threw her head and chest forward to stop the momentum.  Her forehead slammed against the window, but she remained hanging from the ledge.

As Natalie swung her leg up, it, too, banged against the concrete. Ignoring the dull ache, she rolled onto her back, arching over the bulky bookbag.  She let herself lie on the ledge for a minute, cradling her left arm against her body and covering her eyes with her right elbow. She forced herself to breathe, fighting back against the shock and panic that her slip had caused, and mentally took stock of her injuries.

Head: aches a bit from the window, but should be fine. Doesn’t seem like a concussion.

Legs: probably bruised, but not bad. Ankle might have twisted a bit, but it’s still usable.

Abs: hurt from catching myself on the ledge, but no worse than before.

Arms: … Right one seems okay.  Left one hurts. A lot. Probably more than the adrenaline is letting me feel right now.

She blinked back the tears that had come from shock, swallowing hard as her breathing slowed back to normal.  She didn’t sit up, but she uncovered her face when she heard Parker landing next to her head.

“I’m taking you back down,” he said.  “No arguments. This whole thing is stupid, and you dying won’t prove anything to anybody.”

“Wait,” Natalie told him, her voice raspy.  Throat is dry, too, she mentally added, sitting up. She’d been in shock before, but this was the first time she’d needed to overcome it through sheer willpower.

Slowly, taking care of her injuries, she rose to a crouched position.  She winced as the bruises on her legs throbbed with the movement, but they weren’t as bad as she had initially thought. Clearing her throat, she stood up and leaned back against the glass of the window.

Parker put his hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off.  “I’m fine,” she said again. “I just mis-timed that last jump; I can still do this.” One good thing about shock, she thought absently, I don’t feel the cold as much anymore.

“I don’t care,” Parker said, his voice cracking.  “You’re done. You’re lucky that you grabbed that ledge; with how fast it happened, I’m not sure I could have caught you.”

Natalie looked up at her twin’s face, not saying anything.  She could see the worry in Parker’s blue eyes, even through the angry frown on his face. He had been calling her ten kinds of stupid ever since she made the bet, but she was determined to see it through.

Parker, on his side, saw the determination in his sister’s face.  Her short, spiky hair, dyed black to match her closet, only served to accentuate her icy eyes as they stared him down.

People always said that they looked alike, but Parker never saw it.  True, they both had blond hair (before Natalie dyed hers), and they had similar coloring and features, but while Parker was usually carefree and sunny, Natalie had a determined look in her eyes that never really went away.  He was the Third Gen with wings, the Satyr with power; people both feared and admired him for things beyond his control. But Natalie…

She was the human, growing up in his shadow.  Their classmates wouldn’t dare pick on Parker – at least not to his face – but Natalie was constantly teased for being “the weird girl who wants to be a Watcher”.  If she had been anyone else, the stunt in class would have been seen as cool, or even heroic to their high school classmates – but because Natalie was a loner, it was just another reason to pick on her.

The silent exchange lasted only a couple of seconds, but Parker eventually blew out a defeated huff.  “Fine,” he said, “climb the stupid thing. But I’m staying up here with you, just in case.”

Natalie grinned at him, too tired to speak but still standing up on the ledge.  She flexed her arms, testing the injured one to make sure it would still take her weight.  I’ll have to put more weight on my right side, but I can manage, she thought.  She looked back up at the window-bar, grit her teeth, and jumped.

* * * * * * * *

“ – fireworks display over the Pharos Tower in downtown Eon City is reportedly the work of an unknown party.  When confronted by investigators over the illegal pyrotechnics, Sean Hannah, CEO of Pharos Industries, had this to say…”

Parker looked over at Natalie as the news report played over breakfast.  She could barely move her spoon to her mouth to eat breakfast, but a huge grin covered her face as she listened.  Parker shook his head; his sister was wearing a long-sleeved turtleneck that she hated in order to hide the fact that her left arm was turning nasty colors.

“You are entirely too proud of yourself right now,” Parker hissed across the table.  Somehow they had made it home without waking up their parents. As annoyed as he was with Natalie, he knew that they both would be grounded until they were thirty if he gave away that they had pulled off the apparently-illegal fireworks display.

Natalie stuck her tongue out at him.  “I just pulled off the stunt of the century, and didn’t even get caught.  Of course I’m proud.”

Parker shrugged his shoulders, stretching them from keeping his wings folded around his waist at the table.  “You nearly died for that stunt,” he reminded her. “You’re injured, you got maybe an hour of sleep last night, and you have to act normal today so that Mom and Dad don’t get suspicious.  Have fun with that.” Natalie was too tired to come up with a retort, so she settled for kicking Parker under the table. From her wince, the movement hurt her more than it hurt him.

“Hey, have you seen Dad yet?” she asked, realizing how late in the morning it was getting to be.  Their father usually got up early, putting coffee on for their mom and cooking breakfast for the family before school.

“No, I haven’t,” Parker said, his eyebrows furrowing.  “That’s weird.” He got up from the table and went to their parents’ room to check.  He came back a minute later to report, “They aren’t home. Neither of them. On a school day – that’s never happened.”

Natalie groaned as she stood up.  Her side hurt more than ever, but her phone was in her bag and she needed to see if she had missed any messages the night before.  “I got five texts from Dad,” she told her brother.

“Ooh, busted,” Parker grinned.  But the grin slid off his face when he saw the expression on Natalie’s.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

Natalie ignored him, dialing her phone in a hurry.  “Dad?” she said, more timidly than Parker had ever heard her in his life.  “I’m so sorry I wasn’t… We were just out with some friends, we’re home now, we’re fine.  Dad, what happened?”

Parker piped up, “Yeah, sis, what happened?  Is he that mad?”

“… No.  No, no, there’s got to be some kind of mistake…” Natalie was close to tears – and Parker couldn’t remember ever seeing his sister cry.  “No, she can’t be… Daddy… Okay, we’ll wait here for you. I… yeah, we’ll talk later. Okay. I love you, Daddy.” She hung up the phone, turning to her brother with tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Parker asked.  He was getting a sinking feeling in his stomach, and he had never seen such a shocked look on his sister’s face before.  “Nat, what happened?”

“Dad’s at the hospital,” she said.  “Mom didn’t come home last night, either.  She was on a mission downtown, and… her team found her ripped to pieces.”  The tears started falling freely down her face, as she choked out the horrible truth: “Mom’s dead.”

* * * * * * * *

Trailer #2 – The Twins

Fifteen years ago.

The twins.  Not supposed to be here.

“We’re strong together, but we’re stronger when we’re all of one mind.”

Parker and Natalie first heard this phrase when they were nine years old, listening at the kitchen door to their mom’s team argue over their latest mission.

Most of the details about this meeting grew foggy over the years.  For example, if you asked the twins today about who said it, or what they looked like, you might get different answers.  Parker would tell you that it was their mom’s teammate Kindred who said it, while Natalie might insist it was their mother.

What, exactly, the team was arguing about is also a matter of debate.  They could have been going over failed battle tactics, or they could have been arguing over dinner options.  The Watcher team worked as a cohesive unit when fighting supervillains, but they rarely agreed on anything off the battlefield.

This story isn’t about them.

It’s actually about the twins listening at the door.

“What do you think that means?” Natalie asked her brother, shrugging away from his wings as they crowded the small door space.

“What what means?” Parker said, shrugging his shoulders to give his twin more room.

“’One mind’?” Natalie quoted.  She wasn’t interested in his answer; she asked it to make sure he was paying attention.

He wasn’t, really.  Parker had followed his sister to the door of the living room out of curiosity, not interest.  Their mom usually had her teammates over for strategy meetings, and the novelty was long gone. “I guess it means they have to agree on stuff,” he shrugged.

Natalie dreamed of being a Watcher like their mom.  At nine years old she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, and that conviction never wavered.  “Strong together, stronger as one,” she repeated, biting her lip.

Suddenly, a bright light illuminated the room.  Sunlight streamed in around them as their father opened the curtains behind the eavesdropping children.

“You know you two aren’t supposed to listen at doors,” he said, glaring at the guilty-looking twins.  He had just come from his workshop, and his face was streaked with black powder from his latest project.

Natalie and Parker’s parents seemed like polar opposites.  Their mother worked as a Watcher, one of the superheroes that kept the city safe.  Their father was a street magician – an illusionist – which was a difficult profession when there were people who could actually do miraculous feats.

Natalie was the first to recover from the surprise.  “How else are we supposed to learn?” she asked. “That’s an actual Watcher team,” she added, in case he didn’t understand the significance.  “They’re heroes!”

Parker shook his head and went back to his chair.  The living room was comfortably furnished, but the only chair that Parker could comfortably lean back in was the low-backed cushioned seat at the far side of the room.  He flopped down in it, stretching his wings behind him over the chair’s back as he listened to the exchange.

Their dad sat down in one of the matching recliners, pointing a clawed finger at the other one for Natalie to sit.  Of the three of them, Natalie looked the most out of place: as bird-satyrs, Parker and their father both had avian traits alongside their human ones.  Parker had feathery hair and wings, while their dad had a beak and talons in place of some of his fingers. Natalie, in contrast, was human: her thick blonde hair hung in curls around her face, and her softer features gave her an innocent appearance – or it would, if she didn’t insist on scowling at nearly everybody.

Their father sighed, settling into his chair.  “Your mother works very hard to be a Watcher,” he told them, “but the job is dangerous.  I’m not sure I want to see my children go into it. Especially you, Nat.”

“Why me?” she protested, crossing her arms to match her furrowed brow.  “I’m just as good as Parker. As anybody.”

“Natalie,” their father said in a warning tone.  She stopped glaring, and he nodded before answering.  “It isn’t about your ability, Stinker,” he told her, using the childhood pet name that he rarely called her any more.  “The doctors told us when you were little that you might never develop a third-gen ability. As twins, your brother got both the satyr and third-gen genes from your mom and me, and you were left as a regular human.  Because of that, you can’t protect yourself the way he can.”

“Mom’s not a satyr either,” Natalie grumbled.  “Most of her team aren’t.”

“Not many satyrs become Watchers these days,” their father conceded.  “Parker, you’d do well to remember that; there are gangs out there that target satyrs, especially ones who get their Watcher license and work with a company like your mom’s.”

“I know, dad,” Parker said, shrugging again to loosen his shoulders.  “Nat’s the one who wants to be a Watcher, not me.”

“So, what do you want to do?” their dad asked.

Parker tilted his head to the side.  “I don’t really know,” he admitted. “I like the idea of helping people, but the Watchers look like too much work.  Nat’s always been better at that.” It was true; Parker had better social skills and was good at making friends, but Natalie got better grades in school.

Natalie threw her hands up, drawing the attention back to herself.  “Exactly,” she said. “So why can’t I do it?”

Their father sighed and put a hand to his forehead.  “It’s not that you can’t,” he told her. “You could. I’m pretty sure you could do anything that you set your mind to, honey.”  Looking directly at her, he added, “I just hope you won’t.”

The twins both gave him questioning gazes, so he continued, “Every night your mom leaves the house for patrol, it worries me.  She’s on one of the best teams in the country, she had the best training and has a flawless record as a hero, and she can lift a tractor over her head.  But all it takes is one villain who is more dangerous than her, and she won’t come home.” He smiled, and Parker could see his eyes glistening. “I don’t want to worry about my kids, too.”

Natalie bit her lip.  Parker knew that look: her mind hadn’t changed one bit.  But now she felt a bit guilty about it.

“But I don’t want anything else,” she muttered, just loud enough for them to hear.

Their father stood.  “You know, as a human you’re going to have to work harder than anyone else at it.  You’ll be compared to third-gens and satyrs who can use their powers or claws or wings.  You’ll have to find some way to keep up with them.”

“I know,” Natalie said, her voice getting hard again.  “I don’t care. I can do it.”

Their father stared at them for a second.  While the details of this anecdote have been forgotten by the twins, both of them can agree that this was the moment it all started.  Their father, doing his best to talk Natalie out of her dream, realized that he couldn’t. So he made a decision that would change their lives forever.

“Come with me,” he said, turning back to his workshop.  “I’ve got a lot to show you.”

* * * * * * * *