Dawn of the Asylum, Issue #14 – Complicated

Eon City, four months ago.

Frank Mejia, AKA Shadow.

Frank walked away from Parker with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, everything was falling apart around them, and it was all Parker’s fault.  On the other hand, Parker had been one of his best friends since middle school. Injuries and exhaustion aside, Frank couldn’t fight him.  So he had let him go.

As his stomach rumbled, Frank realized that he hadn’t eaten yet.  His body was screaming at him to find someplace to sleep – he had been awake for nearly two days now.  His muscles were on fire, and it hurt to move. His eyes kept closing, too – so he didn’t see the kid until he ran into him.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his eyes snapping open.  “I didn’t think anybody was out now. Curfew, and all.”

“Not a problem, Shadow,” the kid said.  He was a teenager, at least – obviously younger than Frank, but not yet fully grown.  Frank was used to people recognizing him, so the kid calling him “Shadow” wasn’t out of place.

“Look, you should go home,” Frank told him.  “The Asylum is still patrolling, but law enforcement is stretched thin right now.  It’s not safe.”

“Oh, I agree,” the teenager said.  “It isn’t safe right now. But it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.”

Frank frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, wondering if the scrawny teenager knew something he didn’t.

The kid looked him up and down.  “I’d have preferred to get you at your best, but you’ll have to do as-is,” he said cryptically.  He held out a hand for Frank to shake, adding, “My name is Janus, by the way.”

“Shadow,” Frank said, shaking the kid’s hand reflexively.

Janus grinned, tightening his grip.  “Good to officially meet you, Shadow,” he said.  “On your side, anyways. Now, please come with me.”

It wasn’t a request. As Janus’ grip tightened, the air around them turned opaque – as if a thick fog had settled over everything.  It cleared in what felt like only a few seconds later, but when Frank looked around, the sun had set.

Looking to his left, Frank saw that the Asylum Tower was suddenly whole again.  It looked a little different from before, but there was a building where only seconds ago there had been rubble.  The air smelled different; there was a distinct odor that hadn’t been there before, and Frank saw trash lining the streets.

Janus began pulling him back towards the tower.  “Come on, Shadow,” he said. “You need to meet yourself.”

“Wait, what the heck just happened?” Frank asked, pulling his hand out of the kid’s grip.  “This is Eon City, but it’s not – where am I?”

Janus turned back and gave him an exasperated look.  “I keep forgetting this is your first time,” he sighed.  “I know you’ll need a warning or five about what’s coming, but it still should be obvious.”

Frank just glared at him until he answered the question.  “Oh, all right,” Janus said. “You’re right – this is still Eon City.  Just, for you it hasn’t happened yet.” He grinned, throwing his arms out in a ta-da gesture.  “Welcome to your future,” he added.  “Hope you enjoy the show!”

“‘My future’?” Frank asked.

“Yes, your future,” Janus said.  “I’ve brought you a few years into the future.  You need to talk to yourself.”

Frank shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around what had happened.  “So your Third-Gen power is time travel?” he finally asked. “Who even are you?”

Janus gave an exasperated noise before answering.  “Seriously?” he asked. “Are you really that slow?  I told you already, my name’s Janus.  And I’m not a Third Gen,” he added as an afterthought.

“So what are you, then?” Frank demanded.  “Are you a Fourth Gen like Nightmare?”

“I’m what will eventually come to be known as a Fifth Gen, if you’re going to obsess about it,” Janus said.  “My parents were both Fourth Gens, and their powers mutated – kind of like what tends to happen in your time when Third Gens and Satyrs mix.  You have Hybrids – we have Fifth Gens.”

Frank was lost.  “What?” he asked again, his eyebrows narrowing in confusion.

“I’m not going to explain it again,” Janus said.  “Look, if you want answers, you’ll go into the Asylum building and talk to yourself.  The you of this time,” he added slowly, as if Frank wouldn’t understand.

Which, to be fair, he didn’t.

“This is the future?” he asked.

Janus put a hand to his forehead.  “Come on, man, the concept’s not that hard to get,” he said.  “This is a few years into your future. I’m not giving you the exact date because then it all might start getting messed up, but there are some things you need to know about what’s coming for you if you’re ever going to survive it.”

“Where do you fit into all of this?” Frank asked, still suspicious.

“I’m a traveler,” Janus said.  “I’ve been running around time since I was born, the way you ran around the construction site when you were a kid.  I can’t change anything, but I have a little influence if I can push people in the right direction.”

“You ought to talk to Casey,” Frank muttered.

“Sparrow’s powers aren’t the same,” Janus said.  He apparently knew exactly who Frank was talking about.  “She gets limited visions of the future, kind of like she’s skipping to the last page of a book.  And most everybody around her doesn’t believe a word of it, because her powers influence them, too.  I travel through time, so I can see everything – as long as I know when and where to go. People believe me when I tell them what’s coming, at least as much as they would believe anybody else.  Right now, I’m trying to get you to talk to yourself so you have an inkling about what’s going to happen.”

“Why don’t you just tell me what you want me to know?” Frank demanded.  “Why bother bringing me here?”

“It’s complicated,” Janus said, shaking his head.  “If I interfere with things directly, then other stuff starts changing until what’s supposed to happen happens anyways.  If I want to take steps to change the world – to, say, save everybody on it – then I have to work indirectly. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but I can take you to the guy who knows; namely, you.”

Frank stared at him.  “Say I believe you,” he said, folding his arms over his chest. “Isn’t that… I forget the word for it, but isn’t there some kind of physics law or something that breaks?” he asked.

“You mean a paradox?” Janus asked.

“That’s the word,” Frank said.  “Isn’t that a paradox?”

“Of course it is,” Janus shrugged.  “Paradoxes are kind of my specialty.  I’m a time-traveling kid who messes around the universe in six dimensions – I’m a paradox.  This,” he added, gesturing around them, “is nothing.  Now, are we gonna stand around yapping all day, or are you going to go inside?”

Frank thought for a moment, before nodding and walking to the edge of the alley.  “Thank you,” Janus said, walking right behind him.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, four months ago.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.

Parker watched his old friend until Frank rounded a corner.  He put his hands back into his hoodie pockets and turned to get away from the rubble.  As he wasn’t watching where he was going, he nearly ran into a man in a suit.

“Excuse me,” he muttered, moving to walk around him.

The man grabbed his arm with a gloved hand, making Parker look at his face for the first time.  The well-dressed man was wearing a mask, smiling kindly at him. “Parker Fawkes?” he asked.

“You’re Jaunt,” Parker said, freezing in his tracks.  “You broke up Team Ark!”

“And you just broke up the Asylum,” Jaunt reminded him.  Parker hung his head, all fight leaving him for the shame.  “The whole country is calling you the worst criminal since… well, since me.  Everyone knows your face by now, because you broke their heroes. You have no place to go, and nothing to do – except, of course, run from the law.”

Parker sighed.  “What do you want?” he asked.  “Here to rub it in?”

“No,” Jaunt said.  “I’m here to offer you a job.”

“You can’t be serious,” Parker scoffed, folding his arms in front of him.  “Why would I ever work for you?”

“There’s a lot more going on here than you know,” Jaunt shrugged.  “I think it’s time to fill you in on some of the more… finicky details.”

Parker rolled his eyes as Jaunt clapped his hands together to summon a portal.  “‘Finicky details’?” he repeated. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m not,” Jaunt admitted, throwing his hands apart to tear a hole in space.  “It’s a gross understatement, I know. But take a look through here, and I think you’ll have too many questions not to follow me through.”

Parker peered through the portal, seeing a blue haze on the other side.  “What the…” he trailed off, his eyes widening as he saw what lay beyond Jaunt’s portal.

Jaunt smiled beneath his mask, putting an arm around Parker’s shoulders.  “Like I said,” he repeated as they stepped through to the other side, “there’s a lot more going on here than you know.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, three months ago.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

Not him,” came Reiki’s insistent voice over the coms.  “I don’t care who we get, just not him.

“Trust me,” Outlier said grimly, “he’s far from my first choice, too.  But once we locate David he’ll be our best bet of getting him back. Name one person half as accurate with a blow gun.”  She walked down the sidewalk, shaking her head as she began listing to one side.

I don’t see why we can’t just do it ourselves,” Reiki grumbled. “He might not even show up – it’s not like we can pay him.

“David’s a powerhouse,” Outlier explained for what felt like the millionth time, stopping to lean against a building.  “He can level the tunnels if he wants to, and right now he doesn’t have any inhibitions. He’s why we’ve been having all the earthquake tremors this last month, and we need to stop him before he causes serious damage – he’s already been delaying work on rebuilding the tower.  Now, half the team’s down, and we’ll only get one chance at getting him Dale’s treatment. If we miss, then he could disappear for good. You and Granny can take him on head-to-head while I run interference, but we’ll need somebody else to shoot him with the blow gun, to get the treatment into his system.  With David’s powers, he’ll probably protect himself with his usual rock shield; we need somebody who can make a bull’s eye shot through any crack in his defenses.” She sighed, hating to be right, before adding, “That means we need him.  He’ll show up.”

I don’t trust him,” Reiki growled, sounding even more surly than usual.  “Ten bucks says he won’t show.  Are you sure there’s nobody else?  What about Holmes?

“I’ll take that bet,” Outlier said.  “And Holmes hasn’t been seen since the riots.  A lot of Watchers were hurt that day, not just Natalie and Rina.  Either that, or she can’t get away from her day job. That’s why the three of us have been on overtime since the curfew was lifted.”

Which begs the next question,” Reiki muttered – though since he was speaking into his comm unit, he must have wanted Outlier to hear him.

“We’ve been over this, Reiki,” Outlier said patiently.  “The city needs the Asylum now more than ever.  We can’t just give up on it.” She noticed some people walking towards her, so she ducked down an alley and began climbing up a fire escape to scope things out from a rooftop while she finished the call.  Agent had once told her that the point of patrols was to show the city their faces, to gain the public’s trust – so it wouldn’t do any good for people to see Outlier collapse from exhaustion.

Why not call the team quits?” Reiki asked.  “We went from a team of ten down to a team of three in one night.  Even Agent gave up on us; why won’t you?

Outlier bit her lip and counted to five before responding as she climbed up a fire escape.  Yelling at Reiki wouldn’t help matters, even if it was the hundredth time she had to answer the same question.  “I told you,” she said, “the city needs us. Even if we’re not at full strength, it gives people hope to see our faces.”  Pulling herself up over the top of the building, she added, “Besides, what would you do without the Asylum?”

Probably go to the Watcher board myself and take a paying gig,” Reiki answered immediately.  “It’s easier to be idealistic when we have a place to live and a steady paycheck coming in.

“Agent will be back,” Outlier told him.  “He just… needs some time.”

Haley,” Reiki started, but Outlier interrupted him.

“I’m Outlier when we’re on duty, remember?” she said.

Fine, Outlier,” Reiki grumbled.  “Agent’s probably not coming back.  He’s been through this before with Team Ark, and they didn’t lose so many people.

Outlier sighed.  “We didn’t lose anybody, Reiki,” she said.  “We know exactly where most of them are, and once they get back on their feet, things will get back to normal. We’ll get Earthborn back, Rina and Natalie will heal, Agent will snap out of it, and we’ll find out where Frank went.  We’ll rebuild the tower, and it’ll be how it was.”

I sometimes forget how new you are,” Reiki said dryly.  “Things will never ‘get back to normal’ for us.  Even if everything goes according to your plan and the others get back to Watcher work, we lost Parker.

“Parker isn’t dead,” Outlier pointed out.

No, he’s not,” Reiki agreed.  “He’s a traitor, which is worse.  We worked with the guy; he was on my patrol shift before you came along and he went on that undercover thing.  He’s Natalie’s brother, and he was Frank’s best friend. No wonder Frank ran off.

“Frank didn’t run off,” Outlier said.  “His family hasn’t even seen him since the day of the riots.  He used to go see them every week; he wouldn’t have left without at least talking to them.”  She shook her head. “No, something happened to him, and as soon as we get Earthborn back, we’ll find out what.  In the meantime, you and I’ll patrol the city and keep people from taking advantage of our lack of manpower.” She dropped to a knee on the rooftop, still watching over the city while giving in to her fatigue.

“When was the last time you slept?” came Reiki’s voice from behind her.  Outlier shut off her comm and spun around to face him, ignoring the slight tilt in her vision as she stood up.

“I’m fine,” she said, folding her arms.  “You’re supposed to be patrolling the other side of the city.”

“Haley, go home,” Reiki growled.  “I can handle things until dark; you can pick back up after you eat something and sleep for eight hours.”

“I told you, I’m fine.”  She took a step forward, and her vision swam.  “You can cut out your light tricks, too. I’m not falling for it.”

Reiki scoffed.  “Fine,” he said as Outlier’s vision cleared, “but I’m not the one making you lean to one side.  You were doing that before I came up.” He raised an eyebrow. “You patrolled yesterday, you stayed out patrolling all last night, and you’re still here this morning.  Haley, you’re human – you need breaks at some point.”

“Just because I’m human doesn’t mean I can’t keep up with the rest of you,” she shot back.

Reiki raised his hands innocently.  “I’m not saying you can’t,” he told her.  “I’m a Third Gen, and I need to sleep, too.  That’s where I was while you were patrolling last night – sleeping.  Like a normal person.”  He put a hand on her shoulder, adding, “You’re not immortal.”

Outlier took a deep breath, steadying herself.  “Fine,” she said. “I’ll go home and take a nap.  I’ll be back to take the night shift.”

“Good,” Reiki said, letting his hand drop.  “That gives you nine hours, at least.”

“And then I’m making that call,” Outlier added rebelliously.  “We need him.”

“Fine,” Reiki growled.  “Call the merc. Natalie won’t be happy about it, though.”

Outlier shrugged, stepping back down to the fire escape.  “She doesn’t have to be,” she pointed out with an innocent smile.  “Trick’s in no shape to go up against Dark David, so she won’t even have to know we called him.”

Reiki rolled his eyes.  “She’ll know,” he called after her.  Outlier just gave him a jaunty wave as she descended the ladder.

Haley Prince, also known as the hero “Outlier”, found her way home somehow.  She didn’t remember much of the drive once she got back to her motorcycle, but she had made it home without crashing so she must have been awake.

“Damn,” she muttered as she took off her helmet.  “I guess I do need sleep.”

But she didn’t go to bed right away.  Since the Asylum building had been blown up, she was staying at her parents’ house in the suburbs.  Her mom had left a plate of ham and cheese sandwiches out for her and her brothers, with a small note.

Kids, the sandwiches are to share.

Dad and I will be home at 5 o’clock to start making dinner.

I love you!

Since Haley was the youngest at twenty-one years old, her mom didn’t need to go through the trouble of taking care of them – but ever since Haley and her brother Scott moved back home, they regularly found their mom treating them like they had never left.  Haley shook her head, grabbing a sandwich and moving to the living room to eat.

Scott was sitting on the couch, staring at the blank TV.  Haley took one look at him, then returned to the kitchen to grab the plate of food and brought it back with her.  “Scott, Mom made sandwiches,” she said, putting the plate down on an end table next to him. “You need to eat something.”  she flopped back into the recliner, taking a big bite of her own sandwich.

Barely moving his head, Scott’s eyes moved to look at Haley.  He raised an eyebrow as he took in her uniform. Haley looked down before rolling her own eyes and turning back to her sandwich.  “No, I didn’t bother to change,” she said between bites. “I’ve been out on patrol for thirty-six hours straight, and I’m hungry.  So sue me.”

Scott shook his head slightly, grabbing a sandwich from the plate.  After another few seconds of awkward silence between them, Haley sighed.  “You’re going to have to say something to me eventually,” she told him. “I know you can – you were pretty chatty with Mom the other day until I came in the room.  What’s the matter?” she added, taking a bite of her sandwich and talking with her mouth full to hide the tremble that came into her voice. “You still hate me for becoming a Watcher?”

“That had nothing to do with it,” Scott muttered.

“Excuse me?” Haley raised her eyebrows.  “Did you just deign to speak to me?”

“Haley,” Scott sighed, resigned to his little sister’s attitude towards him.  “It wasn’t about you becoming a Watcher.”

“You could have fooled me,” Haley said. “The last time we spoke, you called me a ‘blood-traitor’ and said I was no sister of yours. You said the Watchers and the police were arresting the Fauns – whom you called ‘activist seekers of justice for the satyr community’, if I remember correctly.” The last part was redundant; they both knew that Haley had an eidetic memory, and never forgot details. “Then you ran off to join the Fauns, cutting off contact not just with me, but with the rest of the family, too.  Mom and Dad were worried sick!” She was nearly yelling at this point, pointing at him with her sandwich. “Then, a month ago, the day after the riots, you come crawling home with your hat in hand asking Mom and Dad for a place to stay, but not saying a word to me.  You wouldn’t even stay in the same room as me for two weeks!”

At the end of her rant, Haley was panting – she really needed sleep, if she could get that worked up.  Scott raised another eyebrow at her as she sat back down and took a defiant bite of her sandwich.

“Like I said,” he told her, “it had nothing to do with you being a Watcher.  I said those things because I was taken in by the Fauns’ ‘equality for all’ message.”  He shoved the last bit of his own sandwich in his mouth. “I was wrong, okay?” he said with his mouth full.  Swallowing, he added, “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, and I’m sorry for all the stuff I said before leaving.”

Haley stared at him, dumbstruck.  Scott had never apologized to her before, not even when they were little and he had pulled the head off of her favorite stuffed animal.  Not when he had broken her arm while sparring in high school. Haley’s memory was close to perfect, and this was the first time Scott had ever apologized for something.

All she could think of to say was, “Thank you.”

“I didn’t mean to snub you when we got home,” Scott continued.  “I just didn’t know how to face you after… you know, the riots and stuff.”

He was clamming up again.  Tired as she was, Haley didn’t want her brother to stop talking.  “You’ve been different this past month,” she told him. “What happened with the Fauns?  Why’d you leave?”

“You sure you want to talk about that?” Scott asked, resting his elbows on his knees and putting his head in his hands.  “You and me, we never saw eye-to-eye on a lot of stuff, but the Fauns were at the top of the list.”

“You were so gung-ho about joining them,” Haley said, polishing off her sandwich.  “Then the riots happened, you left them, and now you’re apologizing for what you said.”  She shrugged, dusting her hands of crumbs as she stood up to get the vacuum from the hall closet.  “I’m curious.”

Scott rolled his eyes as she got the vacuum out, but didn’t say anything about it.  Their mom would lecture them for an hour if she came home to find crumbs all over the carpet.  Instead, he said, “It has to do with Parker. You know, the Asylum guy?”

Haley stopped dead in her tracks when he mentioned Parker’s name.  “You mean the traitor who blew up our tower?” she asked carefully, starting to regret her line of questioning but too curious to stop.  “What about him?”

“He saved my life,” Scott said, standing up and taking the vacuum from his sister.  “The night of the riots, Claw was going to kill me, but Parker stepped in. That video went viral, but it didn’t show the whole story. Claw and I were off camera, and if Parker hadn’t pressed that button, I’d be dead now.”

Haley shook her head.  “Wait,” she said, “you’re telling me that Parker sold out the team to save you?”

“Yeah,” Scott said, looking away.  “Pretty much.”

Haley sat down hard in the armchair, the vacuum forgotten.  “That… that changes things,” she muttered, before suddenly standing back up.  “I need to go, there’s way too much to do – ”

“You aren’t going anywhere, baby sister,” came another voice from the doorway.  Apparently Haley had been so caught up in Scott’s revelation that she didn’t hear the front door open.  Dean, her oldest brother and a bear-satyr, marched over to her and pushed her back down into the chair.

“Hey!” Haley cried.  “Dean, what’re you doing here?!”

“That friend of yours, Reiki, stopped by the bakery,” Dean said.  “He asked if I could make sure you got home and got to sleep. Good thing I came by, too, since you seem to want to run yourself into the ground.”

Haley jumped up.  “I’m fine,” she insisted.  “I have to get some things together, and I need to talk to some people about tomorrow.  This is important, Dean!”

“You’re no good to anyone if you collapse from exhaustion, Haley,” Dean pointed out, sounding annoyingly like Reiki.  “You get to bed and get some sleep first, then you can go.”

“This can’t wait,” Haley insisted.  “If I’m going to talk to Parker – ”

“You are not just going to walk into Faun headquarters,” Scott piped in, his eyes going wide.  “That’d be suicide!”

“Not necessarily,” Haley shot back.  “Have a little faith.”

Dean folded his arms.  “Okay, tell you what, baby sister,” he growled.  “If you can get past me to the door, I’ll let you walk out of here.  But if you can’t, then you go to bed and sleep for at least six hours before you go gallivanting off somewhere.”

Haley balanced her stance and raised her arms, preparing for a fight.  Dean raised his eyebrows – he never could raise just one, even when he tried – and the fight drained out of her.  She couldn’t take Dean on in her current state, which meant that walking into the Fauns’ lair without a plan and before getting some sleep was a stupid idea.  Slumping a little in defeat, she muttered darkly on her way to her room.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, a few years in the future.

Frank Mejia, very confused.

“This is supposed to be the Asylum building, right?” Frank asked Janus as the elevator took them up to the top floor.  “Where are the licenses? They used to be hanging in the entrance hall.”

“Only copies were ever hanging there,” Janus said.  “Besides, you all don’t need them now.”

Frank shook his head.  “‘Don’t need the licenses,’” he repeated.  “I’m not even going to ask. So, the future, huh?  You can travel through time.”

“And space,” Janus told him.  “To me, it’s like walking down the street is to you.  I go where and when I want.”

“I only know of one other person who can go where he wants, when he wants,” Frank said.  “Jaunt. Any relation?”

“Oh please,” Janus said, waving a hand lazily in the air.  “That hack? His portal-jumping isn’t even a Third-Gen power.  He gets it from… but I wasn’t supposed to tell you that. I really shouldn’t have said that,” Janus began muttering to himself.  “The timeline needs to be handled carefully.  Stupid!”

The elevator dinged, and the doors opened onto a large living area.  It looked identical to their home before Parker had blown it up, and Frank looked around in awe.

The only difference he could see was the people.  Instead of his team, there were about twenty people in the different rooms, hanging out as if they were at home.  Frank had known that the Asylum was supposed to grow over time, but seeing how many members there were in the future shocked him a little.

“Who are all these people?” he asked his guide.  “How did the Asylum expand so much in just a few years?”

“Shit happened,” Janus shrugged unhelpfully.  “You recruited a lot over time, and more people began stepping up to follow your team’s example.  Come on, this way.”

Janus began leading Frank to the lounge, but they were stopped by a few people along the way.

“Hey, Shadow,” asked a young guy with a scottish accent.  “Merlin and I were wondering if you’d like to join us for dinner.  We’ve got a lot to talk about lately, what with Avis’ – ”

“Not now, Duck,” Janus cut him off.

“Janus,” the one called “Duck” greeted, “didn’t see you there.  So today’s the day, huh? Shadow’s been waiting.” He looked Frank up and down curiously.

Janus nodded.  “Yep. He’s in the lounge, right?”

“If I knew where he was, I wouldn’t have mistaken this one for him,” Duck replied, nodding back at Frank.

“Thanks anyways,” Janus said, continuing to lead Frank.

Frank had a million questions about this time, but he started with, “Who was that?”

“Oh, Duck?  You’ll meet him in a couple of years,” Janus told him.  “In your time, Duck, Merlin, and the rest of Avis are a group of Scottish heroes who basically do what the Asylum does, just in Scotland.  Ah, here’s Shadow!”

They entered the lounge, and Frank had a disconcerting moment when he first saw himself.  The other version of Frank – the one from this time – looked older, and had a few more scars.  One in particular ran along his jawline, which the younger Frank didn’t have yet. Frank rubbed his goatee, noticing that his older self had changed the cut.

The older Frank looked up from the papers he had been pouring over.  “Janus!” he cried, standing up suddenly. “Today’s the day, then?” He looked over at the younger Frank, looking him up and down.  “Dang, this job’s aged me,” he muttered. He gestured for the younger Frank to take the seat opposite him. “Let’s get to it,” he said.  “You have a ton of questions; I’ll try to answer them.”

Frank sat down across from himself, and began to hear about his future.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Hospital Rec Room, a little less than three months ago.

Natalie Fawkes and Sabrina “Rina” Dawson.

“Hit me,” Natalie said, tapping the table between herself and Rina.  Rina dealt a card face-up, shrugging as she did so.

“Not sure why you’re obsessing,” she commented.  “They’re going after Dark David tomorrow because he’s a danger to the city until they get him the treatment.  They can’t wait for us.”

“Easy for you to say,” Natalie scoffed.  “Your powers just got a little out of control.  You might be down for weeks. I’m fine; the stupid doctors just want to keep me here for ‘observation’.”

Rina raised her eyebrow at her.  “You think this is easy for me?” she asked.  “My powers imploded.  I’m kept in isolation at night so I can get some sleep without the entire hospital freaking out over imaginary monsters from my nightmares.  I can’t even use them the way I normally would to help during the team out during the day, not accurately. I have to stay behind because I’m powerless to help my friends – that’s far from ‘easy’.”

“You know what I mean,” Natalie muttered by way of apology.  “I never had powers. I’m used to going out exactly like I am right now – tricks up my sleeves and cards in the air.”  She threw her hand down and pulled a card from the top of the deck. Tossing it up, she caught it by making it float between her fingers.  “I could help right now, if the doctors weren’t so… so mother hen-ish.”

“That’s a neat trick,” Rina admitted, having seen her friend pull it many times over the last few weeks in the hospital.  “Let’s see you do the scarf-throwing one. You know, like you’d actually do in a fight.”

She grinned at the annoyed look on Natalie’s face.  Natalie had been trying unsuccessfully to toss her scarf around a practice dummy in her room for weeks – her shoulder hadn’t quite healed enough to use that particular trick, which is the real reason the doctors were keeping her in the hospital.  Dale had done his best with his Third Gen power, but some things would only heal over time.

“I just can’t believe Haley’s in charge,” Natalie said, changing the subject as she put the card back in the deck.  “Agent left the team in the lurch.”

“Agent’s dealing with his own stuff,” Rina said, shrugging.  As Natalie picked her hand back up, she added, “You know this isn’t the first time he’s lost a team.”

Natalie pursed her lips.  “Don’t make me say it,” she warned.  Rina just smiled knowingly. “Seriously, I hate agreeing with Haley on anything, but it’s like she and I are the only ones who haven’t given up on the team.  We’re not lost, we just had a setback.  A big setback,” she admitted, “but not insurmountable.  Agent needs to pull his head out of his ass and realize that, because Haley’s not a leader.”

“She’s not doing a bad job,” Rina shrugged.

“Did you not hear what Reiki said earlier?” Natalie asked.  “Haley’s running herself ragged trying to do everything instead of delegating anything.  That’s not a leader.”

“You should be happy,” Rina pointed out dryly.  “We finally found something that Haley’s bad at.  You don’t have to call her ‘Little Miss Perfect’ anymore.”

Natalie rolled her eyes.  “I liked calling her that,” she said.  “When the team fell apart, it was comforting to know that Little Miss Perfect could hold everything together.”

“Except that it’s been a month, and she’s barely hanging on to it all,” Rina added.

“Right,” Natalie said, showing her royal flush and raking in the chips.  “I need to get back out there, and so do you. We can get Earthborn back, and when the team’s back together Agent will come back.”

Rina nodded, twisting her mouth as if she didn’t want to say the next words.  “And what about Frank and Parker?” she asked.

Natalie’s face turned stoney.  She didn’t say another word, but stood up and left the room.  Rina watched her go, not surprised at her reaction. She sat back in her chair, wondering how her friends could have left them like that.

“Agent, we need you,” she muttered to no one.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, Faun Headquarters, four months ago.

Parker Fawkes, AKA Fallen.

Parker was battling cabin fever.

He had never been good at waiting around, and that’s all he had been able to do for the last month.  Sure, Claw left him in charge of Eon City, but he was still on the ECPD’s Most Wanted list. He had been holed up in the Faun’s headquarters since the riots, and he was going stir crazy from it.  He had taken to working out in the afternoons, just for some sort of movement – and because sitting around gave him too much time to think.

“You know, I don’t understand your obsession with push-ups,” Kiara remarked from the doorway, crossing her arms and smirking at him.  “Aren’t you supposed to be super-strong, or something? What’s the exercise supposed to do?”

“Did you want something, or are you just here for the snarky comments?” Parker asked, standing up and dusting his hands off.

Kiara raised her eyebrows, coming further into the room.  “Can’t I just be here to admire the view?” she asked, grabbing his shirt from the chair and holding it out to him.

“Thanks,” Parker said, grabbing the shirt and putting it on.  “Sorry I’m being a grouch. I can’t stand being cooped up like this.”

“I’m surprised you came back here after Claw leaked that video,” Kiara said, shrugging as she sat down on one of the room’s folding chairs.  “How can you trust him after that?”

“Didn’t have much of a choice,” Parker said, fitting his wings through the slits in his shirt and sitting down across from her.  “He leaked that video to make sure I had nowhere else to go.”

“I’d have just flown away,” Kiara said, “just to spite him after a stunt like that.”

“Then I’d be dead.”  Parker shook his shoulders loose, his wings feeling heavy.  “Law enforcement, Watchers, and the FBI are all hunting me – I couldn’t run from them and the Fauns, too.”

“But then he put you in charge here,” Kiara added, a curious tone creeping into her voice.

So this was why she was there.  “Well, you almost went a month without bringing that up,” Parker remarked, standing back up and stretching his arms.

Kiara stood up, too.  “You’re at the top of the Eon City police’s list for blowing up the Asylum building, and Claw put you in charge of the Eon City Fauns.”

“Is there a question in there?” Parker raised an eyebrow.

Kiara threw up her hands.  “Only the obvious ones,” she said.  “Why the hell are you now the leader here?  Why didn’t he send you someplace else until the heat cooled?  How does he trust you enough to put you in charge of the city?”

“It’s complicated,” Parker answered, shrugging.  “You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you, too – I almost didn’t believe it, myself.  But the short answer is that Claw’s not the only one calling the shots.”

“Oh, come on,” Kiara said, twirling one of her whiskers with a clawed finger.  “You can’t say something like that and not give me any details!”

“Kiara, you once told me that you kept your head down around here because that was the only way to stay safe,” Parker said, leaning against a table.  “Trust me when I say that asking questions about this will bring the wrong kind of attention.”

Kiara sighed, but said, “Point taken.”

She might have continued the conversation, but Lizard chose that moment to interrupt.  “Fallen!” came the cry by the doorway. “We have company!”

“What?” he asked, following Lizard into the hallway.  “What do you mean, ‘company’?”

“She just showed up,” Lizard explained.  “Walked through the front door like she owned the place.  Under Claw we would have just killed her on sight, but she’s… she’s asking for you, Fallen.”  Lizard shook his head. “By name, too. I thought we ought to let you see her before we cut her throat.”

“We’ll see about the whole throat-cutting thing, Liz,” Parker said.  “That’s how Claw does things, but I’m not Claw.”

“If she knows you’re here, then chances are she’ll tell someone else if you let her go,” Lizard warned.

“If she knows I’m here, then others might already know, and it’s a moot point.” Parker shook his head. “Just take me to her,” he instructed.

They came to the room Claw had once used as a throne room.  Parker was still uncomfortable taking Claw’s usual seat on the dais, so he entered the room intending to stand in front of the intruder…

… and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw who it was.

“Is she trying to get us both killed?” Parker muttered.

“Who is she?” Kiara asked from behind him.  Apparently she had followed them to the throne room.

Parker sighed in defeat.  “Kiara, meet Haley Prince, Scott’s little sister,” he said.  “Otherwise known as Outlier of the Asylum.”

“She’s an Asylum Watcher?” Kiara repeated. “I thought they were disbanded.”

“Not quite yet,” Haley said with a cocky grin.  The Fauns had tied her hands behind her back and forced her to kneel in front of the dais, but she didn’t seem bothered by it.

“There’s only two of you left,” Kiara shot back.  “The night of the riots we took your team down.”

Haley shrugged.  “Sure, we’re running on fumes,” she admitted, “but we are still running.  I’m making sure of that.”

“What the hell are you doing here, Outlier?” Parker asked tiredly.

“I had an interesting chat with Scott this morning,” Haley told him.  “Should I keep talking, or do you want this conversation to be more private?”

Parker paused for a second, before telling the Fauns, “Clear out.”

“Fallen – ” Kiara started, but Parker cut her off.

“Whatever else you all might think right now, I’m in charge here,” he said.  “Clear the room.”

The Fauns all looked confused, but they obeyed.  Haley watched them go with raised eyebrows. “I honestly had no idea if that would work,” she admitted once they were alone.  “So the rumors are true; you are in charge here.”

“So you had a chat with Scott,” Parker prompted, impatiently.

“I did,” Haley said.  “He had an interesting story to tell me.  He said the only reason you pressed that button was to save him – not just to save your own skin, like the video implies.”

“And you walked into Faun headquarters to confront me about it,” Parker finished for her.  “That was probably the stupidest thing you could have done. You realize that I can’t just let you go.”  He started pacing, shrugging his shoulders to loosen them. Of all the idiotic things…

“Since the video, you’re labelled as ‘unreliable’ to the team,” Haley pointed out.  “You think I walked in here without an exit strategy?”

“What team?” Parker asked, suddenly coming to a stop and rounding on her.  “You and Reiki are all that’s left, and Reiki won’t stick around forever. As for the others…” he trailed off, wanting to ask about his sister and his friends, but dreading what Haley might tell him.

“That’s actually the real reason I’m here,” Haley said, raising an eyebrow.  “We’re going after David.”

Parker blinked.  “David?” he repeated.  “You and Reiki are going after the guy who can shoot lightning from his fingers?  You’ll never be able to take him down.”

“We have help,” Haley said, “but it would be even easier if we had a super-strong bird on our side.  Especially one who knows what David can do.”

“Ha ha, very funny,” Parker crossed his arms.  “But right now, you have bigger things to worry about.  How do you plan to get out of here? You’re tied up, and I can’t hold back the Fauns forever.  Claw still has a kill-on-sight order out on you guys.”

Haley held up an arm, showing him the rope that had previously been holding her.  “You mean this?” she asked innocently. “I told you months ago, Natalie’s been teaching me some tricks.”

“Impressive,” Parker said dryly.  “That still doesn’t tell me how you’re getting out of here in one piece.”

Haley shrugged, standing up.  “Like I said, I’ve got an exit plan.”  She looked at the watch on her wrist. “In fact, I’ve only got about a minute left.  You in, or what?”

Parker shook his head, smirking.  “Okay, tell you what: if you can make it out of here alive, I’ll help you guys get Earthborn back,” he said.

“Awesome,” Haley said.  She held up a hand and started counting down the seconds on her fingers.  “Three, two, one…”

Right on cue, there came a loud BANG from outside the throne room.  The sounds of panicked Fauns mingled with loud animals roars from behind the closed door.

“What, exactly, was your exit plan?” Parker asked, staring at the source of the commotion.  His tone was unconcerned, but his eyes were screwed up with worry.

“I like to call it, ‘Little Old Lady With Dragon,’” Haley said, grinning proudly.

Parker raised an eyebrow at her.  “Granny?” he asked.

“And Herchel,” she confirmed.

“They sound pretty pissed off,” Parker observed as a loud roar shook the building.

“You did blow up her zoo,” Haley pointed out.

Parker put a hand to his forehead.  “Fine,” he said, waving his free hand in the direction of the door.  “Go on, get out of here.”

“We’re going after Earthborn tomorrow at noon.  Meet us at the caves,” Haley told him, heading to the door.  “Oh, and Parker?” she said, her hand on the doorknob.

“What?” Parker looked up at her.

“It’ll work out.  You’ll see.” Haley turned the doorknob, then stopped and looked back at him again.  “I’m glad we didn’t lose you,” she added, then opened the door and raced through it.

Parker watched her go, dumbfounded.  “She’s either the bravest or the craziest person I’ve ever met,” he observed to the empty room, “and I grew up with Natalie.”  Shaking his head, he waited until the sounds of roaring had faded before checking on the Fauns.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Tunnels, four months ago.

Haley Prince, AKA Outlier.

“You made it,” Haley said, biting back a grin as Eli Howard, also known as Butterfly the mercenary, strolled up.  Reiki was standing next to her, rolling his eyes. He handed over the ten-spot, and Haley took it with a satisfied smirk.

“Well, I wouldn’t have missed this fiasco,” Eli said, grinning at her.  “Besides, I have a different revenue stream for this gig. You’re in luck.”

“As long as you can use that thing,” Reiki growled, nodding at the blow gun Eli had strung across his back.

Eli shrugged.  “I’ve never actually used one before,” he admitted.  “But how hard can it be?”

Reiki started protesting, but Haley cut him off.  “We need him,” she reminded her teammate.

“So when’s the party going to start?” Eli asked, nonplussed.

“As soon as the other two members get here,” Haley answered evasively.

Reiki turned towards her in surprise.  “Two?” he asked. “I thought we were just waiting for Granny.”

“Right.”  Haley bit her lip.  “I didn’t want to tell you, because then you’d tell Natalie and it was bad enough that I called Butterfly…” she started babbling, talking around the answer.

Reiki saw through her mumbling.  “Who is it?” he demanded.

“Yo,” came a greeting from behind him.  Reiki spun around, his eyes narrowing as he saw Parker walking up.

Him?” he cried, getting into a fighting stance.  “What the hell is he doing here?!”

“I asked him to come,” Haley said, shielding her eyes from the sun as she glanced upwards.  “Hey, Granny’s coming now.”

“Don’t change the subject!” Reiki barked.  “What’s he doing here?”

Haley gave Reiki a patient stare, one she often used to let him know that he was being testy.  “There’s more to the story than the video showed,” she explained. “Parker’s not a bad guy; he was just put in a difficult spot.  He’s here to help.”

“Don’t worry, sonny,” Granny called over, dismounting from her dragon as it landed.  “Herchel and Louise will keep him in line. Bird-boy’s not going anywhere.” She took her plush wolf doll out of her bag, tapping her knitting needles to it and whispering something.  Louise the wolf sprang forward towards Parker, hackles bared. Granny laughed as Parker stumbled backwards in surprise.

“I forgot how big she is,” Parker said defensively, flapping his wings to get his balance back.  “Look, I’m sorry about the tower. Nobody was supposed to be there.”

Reiki relaxed his fighting stance, but crossed his arms as he glared at Parker.  “‘Nobody was supposed to be there’?” he repeated. “Natalie, David, and Dale aren’t ‘nobody’. And the security guards.  And the people we were saving from the riots. And the rescue workers from the riots.”

“And my zoo,” Granny piped in, giving Parker a disapproving look.

“And Granny’s zoo,” Reiki agreed.  “You know the riot drills: the tower was a designated safe area for civilians!”

“And the bombs were on the top floor,” Parker snapped back.  “The garage was reinforced, and the whole building wasn’t supposed to come down on top of it!  I took a calculated risk to save the life of the guy in front of me, and I stand by it!”

“Reiki,” Haley warned as her teammate opened his mouth to respond.  “He saved my brother’s life.”

Reiki turned to stare at her.  “It’s true,” she told him. “So just… stop.  Okay?”

He nodded and turned towards the tunnels. “Let’s just get this over with,” he muttered.  Granny followed, with her wolf and dragon shuffling behind her. Louise gave Parker another growl for good measure before stalking off after Granny.

“Well, that was entertaining,” Eli said jauntily, putting his hands behind his head in a stretch.  “Parker, glad we’re on the same side.”

“Shut up, Butterfly,” Parker growled at him, shaking his shoulders to loosen his wing muscles.  He followed behind Granny, keeping a safe distance back from Herchel and Louise.

Eli shrugged, saying to Haley, “You’ve got yourself quite a ‘team’ here,” he said.  “Everybody’s got each other’s backs, in any case. Just need to know if it’s help or a knife coming.”

“We can work together long enough to get David back,” Haley said hopefully.  “We may not trust each other, but we can get the job done if we all stay professional.”

“Not sure where you got that idea,” Eli muttered.

“So, you have an ‘alternate revenue stream’?” Haley asked, changing the subject as they all headed into the tunnels.

“Yep,” Eli said.  “Somebody seems to like you, in any case.  They paid for me to help you get Earthborn back.”  He peered ahead as the dark of the tunnels closed around them.  “How did you say we were going to find him?”

Haley marched on.  “He’s in here,” she said.  “I got reports through Agent’s network of crackling lightning down here, and a commotion involving new tunnels being created.  He’s definitely holed up here.”

“So… you have no idea how to find him,” Eli translated.  “Great.”

“Have a little faith,” Haley said.  “I have a plan.” Eli said nothing, waiting for her to continue.  “Okay, I have part of a plan,” she finally admitted.

“There it is,” Eli said.

“It’ll work!” Haley insisted.

“Milady, you are an excellent fighter, and I have great respect for your lack of fear,” Eli told her, “but a leader you are not.  When’s Agent going to start calling the shots again?”

“He’ll be back,” Haley said.  “I’m only here for now. We can do this!”

Eli shrugged, barely visible in the dark tunnels.  Haley found her flashlight in her utility belt and switched it on as Eli continued, “You rely a lot on faith, milady.  People aren’t all good, and life isn’t made of sunshine and rainbows.”

“I know that,” Haley said.  “I just think there are more good people in the world than bad, is all.  And I know that Agent will be back before we know it. Natalie’s looking after him, after all.”

“Oh, Natalie’s got him,” Eli said in mock surprise.  “That’ll fix everything!” He grinned, teasing her.  “What’s with you two, anyways? I can’t tell if you’re friends or what.”

“Me and Natalie? We work together,” Haley said.  “She and I came to an understanding, and we help improve each other.”

“So you’re rivals,” Eli said.

Haley shrugged.  “I guess, if you want to put a label on it,” she said.

“Hey, you two in the back,” Reiki growled from farther ahead in the tunnels, “this works better if we’re quiet.”

“Reiki’s mad,” Eli whispered, teasing Haley.

Haley took a deep breath.  “One more mission, one more mission…” she began repeating under her breath.  The familiar feeling of being watched crept up again, and Haley shuddered in the dark.  The tunnels were creepy.

The team came to the opening where they planned to set up their ambush.  Haley pointed Eli to the pile of rocks where they had captured Dark David the last time.  Eli mimed a salute, and hid behind the rubble.

The rest of the team took positions with their backs to the wall – which was pointless, since they didn’t know where David might appear.  They all looked at Haley expectantly.

“What now?” Reiki asked in a whisper.

Haley responded in her normal tone.  “Now we get his attention,” she said.  “David, I know you’re there. Come out where we can see you; we just want to talk!”

“That’s your plan?” Parker scoffed, rolling his eyes.  “‘Come out and talk to us’? You know, I thought you were gutsy for barging into Faun Headquarters like that, but you really are just making this up as you go along, aren’t you?”  He shook his head and started back towards the entrance to the tunnels. “I’m out of here.”

Louise jumped in front of him, baring her teeth in a snarl.  Parker jumped back in alarm as Granny laughed. “Nobody leaves until we see Earthborn,” Granny said.  “At least give her a chance.”

She nodded at Haley, who took a breath and continued.  “David, you told Natalie last time that you felt trapped,” she called.  “You said you just wanted your freedom. If you talk to us, we might be able to work something out!”

“This is stupid,” Parker muttered, eyeing Louise warily.  “It’s not going to – ”

“Last time I trusted one of you, you just trapped me again,” came a growl from behind Haley.  “Why should I trust you now?”

Haley turned around to face him.  Dark David’s face stuck out of the wall, but the rest of his body was still behind the brick of the tunnel.  “Because we just want our friend back,” Haley told him, keeping her hands in view so that he could see she wasn’t carrying anything.  “We’re tired of chasing after you, and you’re tired of running from us or you wouldn’t be here. Let’s work together to find a compromise.”  She gave a hand signal to Reiki, and he lit up the tunnels so that they could see.

“What compromise is there?” Dark David spat, squinting in the sudden light.  “Either he’s in control, or I am. We both can’t be there!”

“Help me understand,” Haley said, trying to keep him talking.  “Why not?”

“It just doesn’t work that way!” Dark David said.  His head came out of the brick wall, as if he took a step forward.  “He’s got different plans, different goals. When he comes out, I get locked up!  It’s not fair!”

Haley kept her eyes on his, showing him that she was sincere.  “I want to help you, David,” she said. “We need you.” She took a step back.

Dark David followed, stepping fully out of the tunnel wall.  “You need me?” he repeated, disbelieving. Electricity began crackling around his hands.  “You brought the traitor, the mercenary, the grouch, and the Djinn all because you need me?”

“How did you know about that?” Granny asked, surprised.  “I never told Earthborn; I never told any of the team!”

“Oh please,” Dark David smirked.  “It’s so obvious. You have one of the talismans.  Those needles – am I right? You meet some interesting people in the dark places of the city.”

Haley stepped between them.  “David, we all want to help you,” she began again, but David cut her off.

“Help me? Then why does the mercenary have a blow gun?” he demanded to know.  “You plan to trap me again.”

“If that were true, then he would have fired already,” Haley pointed out.  “You don’t exactly have your armor on.”

Dark David looked uncomfortable.  “That’s the only reason I’m still here,” he said.  “I can pull up my armor faster than he can shoot.”

Haley narrowed her eyes, taking in the scene.  He was hiding something; she silently thanked her brother for making her get a good night’s sleep so she could see it.  “I don’t think so,” she said slowly. “I think you and our David are more symbiotic than you let on. He controls the earth, and you control the lightning, right?”  She stepped towards him, making him back up, but he didn’t retreat into the wall like before. “That’s why your own mud armor held you down when Natalie faced you. That’s why Earthborn has such a hard time keeping his lightning straight – you two are fighting each other, so neither of you can use all of your power.”

“No,” he said.  “I can use the earth powers just fine on my own.”

Haley took another step in.  “I doubt that,” she said. “I think the reason you aren’t running right now is because our David won’t let you.”

“Haley…” Reiki warned.  She held up a hand to quiet him.

“Eli could shoot you right now, and you couldn’t stop him,” she said confidently.  “I’m right, aren’t I?”

“You want to find out?” Dark David said, raising a brick off of the floor with his powers.  “Try me.”

Haley took in the scene, calculating the odds.  He could raise a brick, but could he escape? “You’re bluffing,” she decided, reaching out to grab his arm.

Dark David let the brick drop as he shot her with a bolt of lightning from his hand.  “Clever,” he said, stepping towards the team. “But not quite clever enough.” He raised his hands, readying another lightning bolt, but Parker darted forward, grabbing his arms and holding them behind his back.

“Now, Butterfly!” he cried.

Eli used the rocks to keep the blow gun steady and fired.  In seconds, Dark David stopped struggling against Parker’s super strength and fell limp.  Parker let him fall, then turned to help Haley. She had fallen against the tunnel floor when the lightning bolt had hit her, and her shoulder had a large burn on it.

“Outlier?” Parker said, almost afraid to touch her.  “Come on, you can’t die. Outlier!” Reiki and Granny came over, pushing him aside as they checked their teammate.  “Hey!”

“Haley,” Granny said, picking up her hand.  “Come on, dear, get up.”

“Ugh,” Haley groaned, opening her eyes.  “That hurt more than I thought.”

“You freaking idiot,” Reiki muttered at her.  She tried to sit up, but he pushed her back down.  “Stay down,” he ordered. “You’re lucky that blast didn’t kill you.”

“Chip does a good job,” Haley pointed out, pulling some of the torn fabric of her uniform away from the scorch to reveal an insulated layer underneath.  “My uniform took most of it.”

Eli came over next to Parker.  “You didn’t think a little thing like that would kill her, did you?” he asked, clapping a hand on his shoulder.  “Haley’s made of tougher stuff than that.”

Parker shook his head.  “I can’t decide if she’s insanely brave or bravely insane,” he admitted.  “She took that bolt on purpose?”

“One thing I’ve picked up on, working with the Asylum,” Eli said, “is that you all have your roles.  Haley’s role seems to be taking whatever beating is necessary for the rest of the team to do their job.”

“So why did she even need us?” Parker asked.

Haley sat up, shaking off Reiki’s worrying as she looked at Parker.  “I had no idea until we were down here that he didn’t have the same rock armor as Earthborn,” she admitted.  “Reiki was here to light up the scene, and Butterfly was here to take the shot. Granny’s now going to get him out of here and back to Dale, before the tranquilizer wears off,” she said pointedly.  “I’m fine, Granny. Go.”

Granny shrugged, and whistled for Louise and Herchel.  The big wolf darted forward to Granny as the dragon walked over to David and picked him up in his jaws.  As Granny’s animals moved David out of the tunnels, Haley continued.

“When my brother told me what you’d done for him, I figured we could trust you enough to help hold David while Eli took the shot,” she said.  “That would make it easier for us. Then we got down here, and I found out that he didn’t have full control of Earthborn’s powers, and it suddenly got much easier.  I love it when that happens,” she added with a sigh.

Parker stared at her.  “So your plan really was to just come down here and ask him to talk?” he said disbelievingly.

“Yep,” Haley grinned as she stood up.

As Parker stood blinking at her, Eli and Reiki looked at each other and shrugged.  “You get used to it,” Reiki said, turning down the tunnel to head outside. “Come on, Outlier; you should see Dale about that shoulder.”

As they left the tunnels, Parker just shook his head.  “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that level of insanity,” he said, unfurling his wings in the sun, “but thanks for getting me out for a morning.”

Reiki glared at him.  “This doesn’t mean you’re forgiven, Fallen,” he spat, using Parker’s Faun name.  “Next time we meet, you’re fair game.”

Haley elbowed Reiki in the ribs, but Parker just flapped his wings.  “I wouldn’t expect any less,” he said. Giving Haley a cheeky grin, he took a running start to fly back to the Fauns.

Haley shook her head as she turned to Eli.  “You know,” she said, “even with Earthborn back, we could use an extra hand on the team.”

Eli considered it for a moment.  “Let’s let Agent get back first,” he answered.  “Sorry, Milady, but your particular brand of insanity isn’t something I can take on every mission.”

“Offer’s always on the table,” Haley said.

“Don’t push it,” Reiki growled.  “Natalie will be back any day now, too.”

“She’s still upset about the whole ‘I shot her’ thing?” Eli asked.  “She really needs to chill out.” He gave a jaunty wave as he jogged off.

Haley turned back to Reiki, grinning.  He stared back with a questioning look.  “How are you this happy?” he finally asked.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” Haley said.  “We got Earthborn back – that’s a huge victory. Rina and Natalie will heal, Agent will snap out of it, and we’ll find out where Frank went.  We’ll rebuild the tower, and it’ll be how it was.”

Reiki just sighed and walked away.  Haley looked back at the tunnels before following him.

Things really could get better.

* * * * * * * *

Dawn of the Asylum, 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 stabilized it, but I needed test subjects.  Human ones, not those satyr or Third Gen ones.”  He turned back to the Watchers. “That’s why the Fourth Gen project failed, you know – we used satyr and Third Gen subjects.  Fourth Gen enhanced their powers, yes – and even gave them new ones. But at a cost, a terrible cost. Even my own children…”

He hopped up to sit on the table, swinging his legs freely as he started singing again:

“Here shines the sun,

Shining so bright;

Now the whole world’s emblazoning.

Flowers in bloom,

Spring will come soon; we’re waiting.

When the green grass grows,

And the trees are close,

And the soft rain falls on the ground…

Here shines the sun,

Clouds gone away,

Rainbows are pretty amazing.

Just close your eyes;

You’ll see the sky someday…”

Tears started falling down his face as he said, “They never did see the sky, though.  They had to run away to leave the room, and they still can’t go out in the day. And poor Ryan, number one, he can’t even walk on the ground any more.”  He stopped crying suddenly, growing angry as he continued, “They all left me; abandoned me.  Those freaks of nature, who owed me their lives!  I saved them, you know – my work would have cured them and everyone like them of Third Gen and Satyrism!  Why doesn’t anybody see that?”

He gripped the side of the table, and the metal started bending under his strength.  Outlier hummed a couple bars of Lavender Blue, and Samson seemed to calm down. He began singing again, moving his head side to side in time with the tune.

“I wonder…” Trick muttered under her breath.  Turning to her teammates, she asked them in a whisper, “Should we tell him about Rina?”

“You think he’ll come if we tell him we’re taking him to her?” Shadow replied.  He sneezed, putting his hand to his mouth to cover it. “We really should get out of here.”

Outlier shook her head.  “We can’t take him to Rina,” she said.  “Anybody with eyes can see she tries to forget the Fourth Gen experiment.  I don’t know the details, but I don’t want to open up old wounds for her.”

“We won’t actually bring him to her,” Trick said, her voice as low as she could make it.  “We just tell him we will, and bring him to Dale instead.”

“Bad idea,” Outlier warned.  “His history with Dale, plus his super-strength and lack of inhibitions?  That’s asking for trouble.”

“You got a better plan?” Trick demanded.  “No? Okay then.” She turned back to Samson, saying, “Doctor Samson?  We might know where a Fourth Gen is. Do you remember Sabrina Dawson?”

Samson looked taken aback.  “Sabrina?” he asked. “The Nightmare Child?  She took her mother’s name, then – makes sense.  Her mother died young. Two children, nine years apart – but complications took her a week after Sabrina was born.  Sabby always looked up to her brother. Didn’t know he was her brother – that would have been problematic.” He hopped off of the table, adding, “Take me to her – I want to see Sabby again!”

Outlier gave an alarmed look at Trick, who avoided her eyes.  When she looked at Shadow, he was slowly becoming a smudge against the wall as his powers his him from sight.  They both understood what Samson had said, then.

“Oh dear,” Samson cut through the silent exchange, looking at the smashed jars and test tubes on the ground.  “Eleutherios – who smashed the vials? Shouldn’t have done that.” He shook his head. “Now the whole place is contaminated.”  He started humming Lavender Blue again, as the Asylum teammates looked at each other.

“Call Agent?” Trick asked, wincing at their mistake.

“Call Agent,” Outlier agreed.  Shadow turned on his com to ask for backup.

* * * * * * * *

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 fazed by Reiki’s threat.  “That would be cool; I might beat Parker at an arm-wrestling match.”

“Parker knows how to control his strength,” Natalie pointed out.  “He’s also still with the Fauns.”

“Oh yeah,” Shadow shrugged.  “Here, let me try – ”

He went over to Haley’s chair and tried to lift it, but it barely budged while she was sitting in it.  Haley shrugged at him. “Samson was human,” she reminded him. “Maybe the serum affected your Third Gen powers.”

Frank frowned, concentrating.  Shadows around the room began expanding until they covered the lamps, putting the room into complete darkness.  “Whoa, cool!” Frank exclaimed as their sight was completely cut off. He had never been able to make an entire lit room go dark before.

“Frank, stop,” Natalie said.  “We need to get you down to Dale.  Haley, we’ll all go; if Frank was affected, then we probably were, too.”

There was no response.  At Natalie’s command, Frank dimmed the shadows until they could see again, just in time to see the door to the stairs close with a click.

Haley wasn’t in the room any more.

Natalie put a hand on Frank’s shoulder, shaking her head.  “Aw, fu – ”

* * * * * * * *

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?” she asked, disbelieving.

“Yep,” Haley said with a cheeky grin.  “He’s my brother.”

“Hey, what’s going on here?” came a familiar voice from behind the cat-satyr.  “Who’s this?”

Another satyr stepped up.  This one seemed vaguely familiar to Haley: he had feathery blond hair and a pair of speckled black-and-white wings growing out of his back.  “You!” she cried, pointing at him. “I think I’ve seen you. You know my brother?”

Parker Fawkes cleared his throat.  “Kiara, why are you guys harassing a drunk chick?” he asked the cat-satyr.

“We think she might be a Watcher from the Asylum,” Kiara reported.  “The new one, Outlier.”

Raising an eyebrow, Parker asked reasonably, “Do you guys really think an Asylum Watcher would get this drunk and come into Faun territory at night without weapons or backup?  She doesn’t even have shoes on,” he pointed out.

“Do any of you guys know where I can find Scott?” Haley insisted.  “I need to find him. I need to ask something.”

Parker shook his head.  “She might not be a satyr,” he said, “but she’s related to one.  She probably just looks like the Watcher, but Scott’s family are all bakers.”  He walked over to Haley, adding, “I’ll see she gets out of here. You guys get back to patrols.”

The satyrs scattered at his command, and Parker guided Haley over to the sidewalk.  Once they were alone, he hissed, “Are you trying to get us killed, or are you just stupid?  If Agent needed me – ”

“Agent?” Haley asked.  “Agent doesn’t know I’m here.  I have the next few days off – I wanted to see my brother.”

Parker’s eyebrows furrowed.  “Wait, Scott’s really your brother?” he asked.  “You know he’s a Faun, right?”

“Right,” Haley said.  “That’s why I came here – he ran away from home a few months ago.  Well, I say ‘ran away’; he’s an adult, he can do what he wants,” she added.  “But I wanted to know why. And why he never comes to a family dinner any more.  And why I can’t see him…” Tears began to mist in her eyes, making her vision blurry as her brain went down that trail of thought.  “He’s my big brother. I’ve only got four; Sean’s been upset since Scott left. They were close, you know – the satyrs in the family.  Scott’s a gorilla, and I miss sparring with him and Sean. My mom’s been sick with worry, and my dad, well, he doesn’t emote. But he’s also had Scott on the brain, you know?”

Parker sighed.  “I know where Scott is,” he told her.  “I can give him the message. But it was stupid for you to come down here on your own – you’re a Watcher of the Asylum, Agent has rules against getting this wasted.”

“Oh, I’m not drunk,” Haley said, starting to dance again.

“Yeah, pull the other one,” Parker laughed, watching her, “it has bells.”

“Really,” she said, grabbing his hand and starting to dance with him.  “I just got hit by Eleutherios.” She grinned, repeating the name. “That’s a fun word: Eleutherios.  Eh-loo-theh-ree-ohs. E-leu-therios…”

Parker smirked.  “Isn’t that another name for Dionysus?” he asked.  “‘God of wine and revelry?’”

“You know stuff!” Haley exclaimed happily, throwing her arms in the air as she twirled.  “Oh, man, I had to tell Natalie and Frank who it was!”

She had been back-leading their dance to the tune in her head, but Parker took over the lead at that.  He was rolling with Haley’s drunk behavior so that she wouldn’t cause too much of a scene; while he could smell that the other Fauns weren’t within hearing distance, he had no idea who might be watching.  “Yeah, my sister’s studious, but she forgets stuff as soon as she doesn’t need it any more,” he said. “Besides, Nat was always more into Norse mythology than Greek. She wouldn’t know Dionysus from Apollo.”

“Natalie’s mean sometimes,” Haley said, “but she’s a good Watcher.  Small but scrappy; I’ve been teaching her Aikido.”

“Really?” Parker said, slowly leading the dance down the street to the edge of Faun territory.  “Nat listens to you?”

Haley shrugged.  “As much as she listens to anyone,” she admitted, twirling in the dark.  “Anyways, if you’re giving Scott a message, then you’re not taking me to him, right?”

“Right,” Parker said.  “I’m taking you out of here before you get in trouble.”

Haley stopped dancing and started walking.  “You’re a good guy, you know that?” she said.  “I know you’ve had to do some bad things, like sticking up that DMV, but you’re still a Watcher under it all.”

Parker bowed his head to hide a sheepish smile.  “I’m not so sure,” he said. “The DMV was small potatoes compared to some other stuff I’ve done.  If you remember this conversation in the morning, you might ask Agent about it tomorrow.”

“I always remember everything,” Haley said.  She shook her head. “Agent doesn’t talk about you,” she told him.  “Last I heard, he hadn’t heard from you in a while. But Frank contacted you last week.”

“I talked to Agent after that,” Parker said.  “But yeah, I haven’t been reporting in as regularly as he’d like.  Claw’s been onto me for a while, so I’ve been keeping my head down.”

“You okay?” Haley asked, hugging his side and leaning against him as they walked.  He smelled like flowers and some kind of citrus, neither of which fully covered up the scent of blood on his clothes.  “You sound sad.” She looked up at his face, studying it. “No, not sad… scared. You’re afraid of something.”

Parker tensed at the scrutiny, and Haley stepped away from him.  “You don’t even know me,” he said.

“True,” Haley nodded.  “We’ve never been properly introduced.  I’m Haley Prince, also known as Outlier,” she added, holding her hand out for him to shake.

Parker gave a short laugh at the sudden change of subject.  Taking her hand and giving it a mock kiss, as if she were a princess, he said, “I’m Parker Fawkes.  I went by Blackbird in the Asylum, and now the Fauns call me Fallen.”

“Pleased to meet you, Parker,” Haley said, grinning.  “Thank you for walking me this far. I guess you can’t go too much farther.”

Parker shook his head.  “But if you follow this road, you’ll get back to the tower.  I’m also texting both Agent and Frank to pick you up.” He pulled out an old-fashioned cell phone, which was how he contacted the Asylum members.

“Oh, Frank was hit by the Eleutherios too,” Haley said.  “So was Natalie. But Agent should get the message.”

Parker looked like he wanted to ask, but shook his head.  “I can’t be seen with you when Agent gets here, but I’ll keep an eye out so you don’t get into any trouble.”

“Nice to meet you, Parker,” Haley said, grinning at him.  “I hope you come home soon.”

Parker nodded.  “Tell Natalie I intend to,” he said.  “And Haley?” he added as she started to walk away.  She looked back curiously. “It was really nice to meet you, too.”

* * * * * * * *

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, turning back to him.  “The drug that you were under wore off; won’t it wear off for them?”

“Probably,” Samson said.  “All five had a limited effect in my trials.  Without further exposure, they’ll probably be back to normal in a day or two.”

“Okay then,” Rina said, picking her chair back up and sitting down.  “Next question: what other experiments have you done using humans, satyrs, or Third Gens as subjects?”

Samson looked her in the eyes.  “I’ll make you a deal, Sabrina. An answer for an answer – you answer my questions, and I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

“What could you possibly want to know about me?” Rina scoffed.

“Can’t a father want to know his daughter?” Samson countered.

Rina could almost hear Agent’s hiss from the other room; she had never told him that particular piece of information before.  “You stopped being my father the first time you cut off my arm,” she told him.  “Heck, you stopped being my father as soon as you put me in your precious Fourth Gen experiment.  So no, we can’t go to the beach, because you made me allergic to the sun!”

“That was unintended,” Samson said.  “I was trying to save your life.”

“From what?” Rina asked.  “I was perfectly healthy before you gave me the serum.”

Samson shook his head.  “You were born a hybrid, Sabrina,” he said.  “Your nightmare powers killed your mother before you were three.  I was trying to get rid of them.”

“Right,” Rina scoffed.  “You started me on Fourth Gen as a baby.  You ‘wanted to get rid of them’, but instead you made them stronger. Then you marketed me to any military, government and private sector, to say that you could create super-soldiers.  And then you cut off my freaking arms and legs just to show them that they’d grow back.” She cracked her knuckles again, showing him her hands.

Samson looked away.  “I’ll admit, I was not exactly father of the year,” he said.  “I needed funding, so I had to give them something. It wasn’t until your brother rebelled and broke you all out of there that I – ”

“Wait, hang on,” Rina said, leaning forward.  “‘My brother’? Ryan was the one that got us out of there.”

“Yes, Ryan,” Samson said.  “Your older brother. He was one of the first experiments in the project.”

Rina took a deep breath, trying and failing to calm herself.  “So it wasn’t just me,” she said. “I wasn’t even your first child to be born as a guinea pig.  Ryan was my brother…”  She shook her head to clear it.  Act now, emote later, she reminded herself.  She had learned that lesson in her early days as an interrogator, but she had never dealt with information that personal before.  “You said you had a question for me,” she continued, getting back on topic. “If I answer, you’ll answer my questions. Deal?”

“Deal,” Samson said.  “All I really want to know is: how have you been?  Since leaving the laboratory,” he clarified. “You’re currently a Watcher in the Asylum, correct?”

“I’ve been great,” Rina told him.  “Nobody prodding me, or making me learn to do things one-handed or use crutches.  I get to bring bad guys like you to justice.” She leaned forward. “My turn. What other projects have you been on?”

Samson shrugged.  “Aside from Fourth Gen and Eleutherios, I worked on the Gen Juice project at Pharos Laboratories.  In my spare time, I tried to perfect Eleutherios at home, but I could never get it to take away Third Gen or Satyrism.  It only enhanced the effects.” He sighed. “I don’t know what they put into the original Third Gen or Satyr serums that made them so resilient,” he said wistfully.  “We – humanity – created our own demise in trying to perfect ourselves. I want you to know,” he added, leaning in towards Rina, “that I only ever worked on these projects to help you and your brother.  I want to find a cure, so you can be a normal girl.”

Rina shook her head.  “How did you get the research out of Pharos?” she asked.

“Oh, that part was easy,” Samson said.  “When Eleutherios was shut down eight years ago, I just omitted certain parts from my inventory report and took them home with me that night.”

Rina glanced towards the mirror, knowing Agent was hearing every word.  “I’m asking about your recent theft,” she said. “When you were fired from Pharos, you took more.  What did you take, and how did you take it?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Samson said.  “I didn’t take anything else when Pharos fired me; just the research from eight years ago.”

* * * * * * * *

Eon City Police Department, interrogation room.

Agent and Rina.

“You believe him?” Rina asked Agent once the interrogation was over.  She joined him in the viewing room, noting that O.N.C. and Sean Hannah had both joined them at some point during her questioning.

“If he’s lying, he’s the best I’ve ever seen,” Agent admitted.  “Which then begs the question: why did you two put my team on a cold case without telling us?”

Sean raised an eyebrow, folding his arms in front of himself.  “Does it make a difference?” he asked. “The research he stole was proprietary, and he was recently fired.”

“It means you never answered Outlier’s question,” Agent said, folding his arms to mock the CEO’s posture.  “Why now? What changed?”

Sean grinned.  “Her,” he said, nodding to Rina.  At her startled look, he added, “I wanted to see how she could handle pressure; nothing seems to phase her, and I knew this would.”

Rina glared at him.  “She’s standing right here, and can be addressed directly,” she said.  Her powers began to flood the room, making the CEO twitch uncomfortably.  O.N.C. took a few steps back, and both of their breathing got harder and faster as Rina gave them the anxiety attack that she herself had been holding back since the start of the interrogation.

“Enough!” Sean roared, waving a hand through the air as if that would stave off the panic.  “If you can’t behave like an adult, then you can just leave!” Rina released the pressure on the room, turning and storming out the door.

Agent shook his head at them, unaffected by her powers.  “You deserved that,” he said, turning to follow Rina. “Don’t ever mess with my team again.”

He caught up to Rina halfway down the hall, calling her name.  “You okay?” he asked, tentatively.

Rina had tears rolling down her cheeks, and she was shivering.  Agent put his arms around her, letting her get control of herself.  “It’s okay,” he said. “He can’t hurt you any more.” Rina could feel him shivering from the effects of her powers, but he didn’t let go.

“It’s not that,” Rina sniffed, biting her lip to control the quiver in her voice.  “He said… Ryan was my brother. My actual brother! I always thought he was just another kid in the experiment.”  She sniffed, trying to control her crying. “This is stupid. It’s been nearly fifteen years since he died; I don’t know why I’m so upset now.”

“Hey,” Agent said, pulling away to look her in the face.  “Traumas like that don’t just leave,” he told her. “All we can do is move on and try to live despite them.  It doesn’t matter if it’s fifty years later and his name comes up – you take the time you need to mourn. As long as you don’t let it consume you, it’s healthy to cry sometimes.”

Rina sniffed.  “Thanks,” she said.  “You sound like you know what it’s like.”

“I was the Agent of Team Ark,” he reminded her.  “I lost friends, and other friends got badly hurt under my watch.  So yeah, I know what I’m talking about.” He gave her a sad smile. “If I ever found out that Striker was my brother, I’d be crying in the hallway, too.  I’m impressed you didn’t lose it in front of the others.”

Rina shook her head. “‘Interrogate now, emote later’,” she told him, turning to walk down the hall now that she had gotten herself under control.  “The detective I worked with taught me that. If you cry in front of the perp, you’re only giving him power.”

“True,” Agent said, falling into step beside her.  “Hey, while you were in there I got news from Dale.  Haley and Frank seem to be returning to normal.”

“That’s good!” Rina said.

“He’s still not sure why it didn’t affect Natalie, though,” Agent added, worried.  “I’m just hoping it doesn’t have any long-lasting effects.”

Rina put a hand on his shoulder.  “She’s fine right now,” she told him.  “We’ll worry about anything else as it comes.”

Agent nodded.  “Yeah,” he said.  “I guess I should be grateful she didn’t go berserk.”

“Super-powered Natalie with no inhibitions,” Rina said thoughtfully.  “That’s a scary thought. Then again, how can we be sure the drug didn’t affect her?”

“Meaning?” Agent asked.

Rina shrugged.  “Natalie doesn’t let much of anything stop her,” she said.  “That’s when she’s sober, and that’s why it seems scary for her to be on a drug like that.  But then, since she already lives her life with few to no inhibitions, maybe the drug did affect her – we just couldn’t tell.”

Agent raised his eyebrows, considering the point.  “That… sounds plausible,” he said slowly. “That actually makes me feel a lot better.  Thanks.”

“No problem,” Rina said.  “Now what say you we stop and get some ice cream on the way back?”

“Sounds good,” Agent said, grinning.  “Chunky monkey?”

“Chocolate chip cookie dough,” Rina said.  As they got to Agent’s car, Rina began humming an old tune that her mother used to sing as a lullaby:

Lavender blue, dilly-dilly

Lavender green

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

* * * * * * * *

Dawn of the Asylum, Issue #6 – Leech

Seventeen Years Ago, Unknown Laboratory.

Sabrina “Rina” Dawson, age eleven.

Nightmare on display.

“Here’s our most promising subject,” came the voice behind the mirror.  “Number nine, Sabrina Dawson. Our researchers call this one ‘the Nightmare Child’.”

Rina sat in the Pain Chair, waiting.  Every time they strapped her into the chair, they would try to bring out her powers any way they could – which usually meant pain.

Rina was used to pain.

“Why is that?” came a second voice.  The lead researcher was showing her off, then.  That usually meant they would start with the shocks.  Either that, or they’d cut off her arm to show that it would grow back in just a couple of days.  Today’s pain entirely depended on who he was showing off for, and Rina couldn’t see either of them behind the mirror.

The lead researcher was answering the question.  “Number nine has the ability to cause panic in those around her,” he said.  “Her mental abilities cause heart palpitations and a spike in adrenaline levels, usually manifesting in a fight-or-flight response.  In layman’s terms, she creates fear.”

It was going to be the shocks today, then.  The shocks always came first when they wanted her to show off the fear response.  Rina braced herself; the waiting was always the worst part.

Two nurses were in the room with her today.  She didn’t know how many people were on the other side of the mirror, but she knew her power would reach to them, too.  Ryan had told her that he’d managed to shock the lead researcher, so she knew it was possible.

Maybe I can hurt them, too, she thought, reaching for her powers.  She could feel the waves of fear radiating from her to the nurses.  One backed up a few paces, while the other started to shake.

“You see, she can use her power at will,” the lead researcher said.  They didn’t know his name, just that he was in charge of the experiments.  “But she has some trouble controlling it. This is the most basic reaction from our staff.”

Rina heard him, and redoubled her efforts.  She knew she had to show off soon, or the shocks would come.  She reached for her own fear and panic at the thought of the pain, and tried to throw it out past the mirror.

It didn’t work.  The second person was now saying, “She doesn’t seem powerful enough for our purposes.  Maybe the next one.”

“Hold on,” the lead researcher said in his oily voice.  Rina hated that voice, just as much as she hated what always came next.  “We have found that number nine responds better when stimulated. Observe.”

The shocks ran through her body without warning.  Every nerve was exploding with pain – Rina tried to scream but she couldn’t control herself.  She was thrashing against the Pain Chair, almost vibrating with the shocks running through her.  Just as she felt she couldn’t take any more, the shocks stopped.

One of the nurses was clawing at the door, and the other was curled up in a fetal position on the floor from Rina’s power.  The lead researcher was speaking again. “We’ve had number nine since birth, and gave her a new type of formula using both the Third Gen and Satyr formulas as a base.”  He sounded shaken. Good; that meant her power did hit him, even if only a little bit. “She has an incredible Third Gen ability, as demonstrated, but she also has satyr abilities.”

“Intriguing,” the second voice said.  He didn’t sound shaken at all. “Such as?”

“She has an axolotl’s ability for self-replication,” the lead researcher explained.  “She heals from any injury faster than a normal human, even going so far as to regrow limbs.”

They were going to cut off her arm again, too.  Great.

“She can regrow an arm or a leg?” the second voice asked in disbelief.

“It takes a couple of days to regrow, but she does.  Would you like a demonstration?” The lead researcher was hoping to get money from the second voice.  That was the only reason he would show off both of Rina’s powers so easily.

The second voice was willing to give it to him, too.  “Show me. Cut off her left leg, and I’ll come back in three days to see if it grows back.  If you’re right,” he added, “this could revolutionize the military.”

The left leg; that was new.  The nurses had composed themselves while the voices were talking, and now they came over to the chair.  The one that had been in the fetal position was now holding an electric bone saw, and Rina knew that today’s pain had only just started.

As the saw turned on, she couldn’t hear the voices any more.  As they began cutting through her leg, the coppery taste of blood filled Rina’s mouth as she bit her tongue.  Her eyes rolled back into her head as she lost consciousness.

When she woke up, she was in her room.  It was a tiny space, including four whitewashed walls and a small bed that she was quickly outgrowing.  Her right foot dangled off the bottom of the bed. She was wearing new clothes; someone had cleaned and changed her after the Pain Chair.  The lights were dim, to keep her skin from burning. Rina had read books about the sun, and Ryan had told her that it felt nice to sit in it – but she wasn’t sure she believed in that fairy tale.

“Hey there,” came a soft voice from the doorway.  Ryan stood just outside her room, giving her a soft smile.  “You okay?”

“No worse than before,” Rina told him.  Her tongue had already healed, and aside from her missing leg she was fine.  She sat up in the bed, swinging her remaining leg over the side to look at him.

Ryan clicked his tongue.  “The left leg this time?” he asked.  “Ouch.” He walked over to her, helping her stand on one leg.  “Why don’t we go to the playroom? The others are waiting.”

Rina smiled at him.  The pain was mostly gone from the morning’s exhibition, except for a fire in the stump where her left leg was growing back.  She liked playing with the others in the play room; it took her mind off of the Pain Chair.

As Ryan helped her hop over to a chair in the corner of the room, the others gave her sympathetic looks.  Rina was the only one who ever lost bodily appendages in the Pain Chair – the researchers knew that the others didn’t have the same ability, so they never had to test it.  In the playroom today, along with Rina and Ryan, were the sisters Katie and Leah, as well as Michael and Finn.

Ryan was the oldest of all of them, nearly twenty years old now.  He looked after the others as he always had, having come to the lab when he was seven.  Katie was close to his age, only a couple of years younger, but had been at the lab the longest.  Her little sister Leah was only eight, the youngest of all of the Fourth Gen kids. Michael was eleven, the same age as Rina, but he had come to the lab when he was five.  Finn was thirteen, but like Rina he had been a newborn when they started experimenting on him.

“The lead researcher is trying to sell the formula,” Katie said when she saw Rina’s leg.  “This one might bite. Most times, people say no as soon as they realize the side effects.”  She pointed to her skin and her eyes; like all of the Fourth Gen kids, her veins stood out black against her pale skin and her eyes were a bright red.  “Humans don’t want to look like monsters.”

“We’re not monsters,” Ryan said, sitting on the floor next to Rina.  “We’re people just like them, and one of these days I’m gonna bust out of here and really show them what I can do.”

Katie rolled her eyes at him.  “Ever the hero,” she scoffed. “What are you going to do, shock them like they shock us?”

Electricity crackled around Ryan’s fingers.  “I can,” he said, looking Katie right in the eyes.  “Someone should give them a taste of their own medicine.”

“But you won’t,” she shot back, “for the same reason you haven’t done it yet: they know you can shock them, so they always wear rubber suits when you’re around.  It wouldn’t work.”

Ryan smirked at her.  “Oh yeah?” he said. “Well, what they don’t know is the little trick I’ve been working on.”  He turned so that his arm was hidden from the cameras and showed them: the electricity wasn’t just around his hand – it was his hand.

As the other Fourth Gens gawked at him, his hand returned to normal.  “I figured it out about a week ago,” Ryan explained. “I think we’re all more powerful than they want us to believe, so they don’t let us practice with our own powers.  But I’ve been doing it in secret, and I know how to control it now.”

“So what’ll you do when you’re out of here?” Rina asked.  She knew Ryan was as good as his word, and that he’d leave the experiment one day.  Ryan could do anything.

He shrugged in response.  “When I was little, I remember seeing heroes on TV,” he said.  “I wanted to be one of them – and I guess I still do.”

“A hero?” Rina repeated, thinking of the knights from her storybooks.  She giggled as she pictured Ryan with a sword and shield. “How dashing!”

“I’d want to be a viking,” Michael said, getting in on the game.  “Sailing the seas, going on adventures; that would be exciting!”

Quiet Finn spoke up.  “Maybe I could show people my poetry,” he shrugged.  The others knew that he scribbled on any paper he could find.  He had even written a lullaby for the younger Fourth Gens in the experiment.

“Yeah,” said Katie, “because all of that could happen, and it would be sunshine and rainbows every day.”

Here shines the sun,” Rina began singing Finn’s lullaby, the lines she thought were relevant.  Finn joined her for the next lines:

Clouds gone away,

Rainbows are pretty amazing.

Just close your eyes;

You’ll see the sky someday…

“Right,” Katie said, her voice softening despite the huff she was in, “but you guys have never actually seen the sun, have you?  None of us have seen it in years, and we’ll probably never see it again.” Turning to Ryan, she added, “That’s why they keep this place so dark, you know.  Even if we do get back outside, we’ll just burn to a crisp as soon as we see daylight.”

She stood up, probably to go back to her room, but Leah spoke up.  “I just want a hug,” she said quietly. Katie’s eyes welled up, and she sat back down next to her sister.  Leah’s abilities kept her from touching people’s bare skin; if they did, she would leech away their powers, and their life.  She always had to be covered, and had never been hugged properly by anyone, even her mother.

Ryan crawled over to her other side.  “Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll give you a hug right now.”  He reached out his arms. After staring at him for a second, Leah jumped into them, hugging him tightly.  Ryan’s face was screwed up in pain, but he kept holding Leah until Katie shouted, “Enough!”

Leah jumped back from him, and Ryan gasped for air.  The color had drained from Katie’s face just as much as it did his.  “Are you suicidal,” she asked, “or just stupid?”

Ryan grinned weakly up at her.  “Leah just wanted a hug,” he said.  “That’s what heroes do – they make other people feel better.”

In later years, even as she blocked out most of her time in the experiment, Rina never forgot that moment.  Ryan was the first person to ever teach her what it meant to be a hero: being kind to other people, even when it could kill you.

* * * * * * * *

Eon City, Present Day (Nighttime).

Sabrina “Rina” Dawson, AKA Nightmare.

“You messed up,” Nightmare said, meeting back up with Shadow as they finished their patrol.

Shadow groaned, “I know,” as he skated along next to her motorcycle.  “I got cocky. It won’t happen again.”

“I wasn’t blaming you,” Nightmare told him, revving the engine as they kept an eye out for trouble.  “I’m just putting together what happened so we know better next time.”

“What happened was I messed up,” Shadow said.  “I wasn’t as fast as I thought I was. I shouldn’t have moved without backup.”

“You tied up the one,” Nightmare pointed out.  “You – hold up.” She skidded her cycle to a sudden stop, and Shadow had to turn around to pull up next to her.

“What is it?” he asked, glancing around.

Nightmare pointed to a jewelry store across the street.  “Looks like we got ourselves a good, old-fashioned jewelry heist,” she said, smirking.

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Shadow rolled his eyes.  “Who does that anymore?” He turned off the engine on his skates and rolled to the front door, glancing in through the glass window and immediately ducking out of sight.  “My goggles are showing three heat signatures: two by the counter in the back and one near the case in the front,” he whispered, pressing the button on his boots to retract the wheels as he replayed the image he recorded on his goggles.

“I’ll take the counter if you take the case?” Nightmare suggested.  Shadow nodded to her and disappeared into the shadows.

“Damn, that’s cool,” Nightmare breathed, sidling over to the door to pick the lock.

She opened the door slowly, hoping to slip in unnoticed.  She had just gotten it wide enough to enter when a loud buzzer went off.  Stupid, she thought.  Of course a store like this would have a door tone, to alert the salespeople to a customer walking in.

The element of surprise lost, Nightmare swung the door open and ran into the room towards the intruder by the cases.  The jewels left in the case glinted in the dim light, reflecting the streetlights outside. The shadow from the door closing crossed over them, making them glitter.

Nightmare shouted as her target tried to duck past her.  She was aware of Shadow flying out of the darkness behind her, but the Watcher kept her mind focused on her own task – the duo had already let one bad guy get away this evening, and she would be damned if it happened again.  The girl wasn’t alone; there were two others with her.

The target turned towards her, enough of their outline showing through their loose black clothing to reveal that she was female.  The thief wore a hoodie, much like Shadow’s, to conceal her face, but instead of goggles or a mask she seemed in the dark store to wear heavy black eyeshadow.

The girl tried again to duck past Shadow, but he pushed her back.  She let out a feral growl – could she be a satyr? – and moved her arms through the air.

A wave of water swept over him, knocking him off his feet.  This girl wasn’t human, of that much he was sure. He coughed up the water he had inhaled, unclipping his nightsticks from his side.  The water drenching him meant that he couldn’t turn on the Taser mode, but they would still work well enough as weapons without it.

The girl moved her arms again, but this time Shadow was ready.  He dove forward, knocking her down and tangling her legs up with one of the sticks.  “You know, my mother told me never to hit a girl,” he said, grabbing one of her arms and cuffing her wrist.  “She also told me that stealing is wrong. And she definitely told me not to drown. I think it evens out.”

He grabbed the thief’s other wrist and cuffed it to the first one.  Nightmare was putting her own cuffs on the other two. “Your mother told you, specifically, not to drown?” she asked, as Shadow hauled his target to her feet.

“Yeah, it’s a long story,” Shadow told her, “involving the ocean, some ankle weights, and some snorkeling gear.  Remind me to tell you some time.” He turned back to the thief that he held. “Now what gave you guys the idea that a jewelry store was a good place to rob?” he asked.

The girl answered with another feral growl, struggling to break free of his grip.  Her hood fell back from her face, and Nightmare gasped in recognition.

“Susie?” she asked quietly, kneeling next to the thrashing girl.  “Sus, it’s me.” She pulled her hood down, taking off her mask to show the struggling girl.  With a closer look at the girl, Shadow could see that she wasn’t wearing dark eyeshadow – her eyes were red, and her veins stood out black just like Nightmare’s.

“What’s going on here?” he asked.  “Nightmare, you know this girl?”

Nightmare moved over to the two she had taken down and pulled off their hoods.  One was a normal satyr, but the other one had the same black veins. “Mikey?” she asked.

The Fourth Gen thief looked calmly at her.  “Hello, Rina,” he said. “Long time no see.”

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters.

Interrogation room, behind the glass.

“Okay Rina, from the top,” Agent said, looking at the two Fourth Gens from behind the two-way mirror.  “Who are they?”

“The guy is Mikey – Michael Andrews,” Rina told him.  “The girl is Susan Dobbs. They were both in the Fourth Gen experiment with me.”  She was debriefing Agent while Shadow got checked over by Dale after their patrol.

“Any idea what they were doing robbing a jewelry store?” Agent asked, turning to look at her.

Rina shrugged.  “The last time I saw them was fifteen years ago, when we were breaking out of the lab.  After that, we scattered – I know Claw snatched up a few of us, but I thought that at least Mikey had joined government service like me.”

Agent picked up his data pad off of the counter in front of him and typed something in.  “Hmm,” he said. “Michael Andrews, Fourth Gen. Spent ten years in the military before being dishonorably discharged for striking a superior officer.  His criminal record indicates that he joined the Fauns shortly after that.”

“Of course he did,” Rina sighed.  “Mikey never liked structure, and I can’t think he’d be okay with authority figures after the lab.”  She cracked her knuckles nervously. Agent put a hand on her shoulder, and she flinched before realizing he was just telling her to calm down.  She slowed her breathing, getting her emotions – and her powers – back under control.

“What did they do to him there?” Agent asked.

Rina bit her lip.  “I’m not sure of the details,” she said.  “We never saw it happening to each other, just the after-effects.  But when we were younger Mikey always came out of it crying, saying that ‘they made him do bad things.’  They put him in solitary confinement for the last year and a half before we broke out, and I can only imagine what he went through.  I never even knew what his powers were.”

“And the girl?” Agent asked, typing something else into his data pad.  “Susan Dobbs has a criminal record a mile long; she’s labeled as a feral satyr.”

“A jellyfish,” Rina confirmed.  “They tried to make another regenerating Fourth Gen like me.  It almost worked – she heals fast, but she can’t regrow limbs.  You’ll find a scar around her right pinky where they tested that.”  Rina stepped forward, staring at her old friends in the room. “Susie was never all there; she can’t say more than a few words at a time.  But we might be able to question Mikey.”

“Are you up for that?” Agent asked her, gesturing to his suit.  “I’m obviously an authority figure; by your own description, he probably wouldn’t talk to me.  But you have a history with him; he might open up if you went in there.”

Rina took a deep breath.  “I can try,” she said, moving to the door.

She entered the interrogation room, feeling her fellow Fourth Gens’ eyes on her.  Susie was calmer, playing with a shoestring that Mikey had given her.

“So, the great Sabrina Dawson deigns to join us,” Mikey sneered.  “That ivory tower cozy enough for you?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rina asked, trying to stay patient.

“Oh please,” he rolled his eyes, leaning back in his chair.  “As soon as they busted us out, you left. Couldn’t get away from the rest of us fast enough.”

“That’s not true,” Rina said, sitting down across from them.  “I tried to keep everyone together. Katie was the one who split first, and the others that joined the Fauns.”  She leaned forward, catching his red eyes with her own. “You could have come with me, but you wanted to travel.  So when the government asked you to join the military, you left, too.”

Mikey was the first to look away.  “Maybe,” he admitted. “That was my bad.”  When he looked back at her, his face broke into a huge grin.  “It’s good to see you, Rina.”

Rina smiled back at him.  “So, you want to tell me why you were robbing a jewelry store?” she asked.  “My partner said it best earlier: who does that any more?”

“Oh, we were just trying to get your attention,” Mikey shrugged.  Susie echoed, “A-tten-tion.” She never looked up from the shoestring.  Mikey continued, “Leech wanted to let you know: we found him.”

Rina’s eyes widened in alarm, and she stood up from the table so fast that her chair fell over.  “What?” she breathed, wanting him to confirm it.

“We found him,” Mikey repeated, putting his hands behind his head in a very self-satisfied move.  “Leech is gathering the Fourth Gens, and she knew this was the only way to get you on board.”

“Leah joined the Fauns,” Rina said.  “How the hell did she find him?”

Mikey smirked.  “You think the Fauns don’t have eyes and ears everywhere?” he asked.  “We know who he is, and we know where he is now. He works for King Enterprises now, about an hour and a half away from here.”

Rina felt like she was going to be sick.  “And Leah’s calling all of us in for this?” she asked.

“Well, she thought we’d all get a kick out of storming the castle together,” Mikey said, grinning.  “Your powers would really make a difference.”

Rina shook her head, dazed.  Without another word, she left the room.  Agent was outside in the hallway, a questioning look on his face, but he didn’t stop her.  He just entered the interrogation room and left her to find a place to think.

Leah found him, she thought.  She said she would.  As she ran down the hallway to the staircase, she remembered the last time she had seen any of her fellow Fourth Gens.

* * * * * * * *

A run-down motel, fifteen years ago.

Rina Dawson, age thirteen.

“Ow, careful!” Rina hissed, trying not to move while Leah stitched her up.  Even with gloves on, ten year-old Leah’s powers sometimes bled through.

“Sorry,” Leah said, biting her lip as she tied off the thread.  “I’m done.” She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, a streak of Rina’s black blood appearing.  Rina took a cloth and wiped it off. “Thanks. That was a nastly gash,” she added for the hundredth time that morning.

“If I’d been any slower, he probably would have cut me in half,” Rina agreed.

“Would you grow back?” Leah wondered aloud.  “If he had cut you in half, would your bottom half grow a new head, or would your top half grow new legs?  Or both,” she added thoughtfully.

Rina shuddered.  “Probably neither,” she said.  “I’m not immortal. It takes days for me to grow an arm or a leg, and in that time I’d probably have bled out and died.”

Leah shrugged, going to the bathroom to clean her hands.  “I’m still not sure why you said no in the first place,” she called back.  Coming back out of the bathroom as she dried her hands on her pant legs, she added, “It’s not like we have many options.  The Fauns would be a roof over our heads and food on the table.” As if to accentuate her point, her stomach growled.

Rina closed her eyes, trying not to cry again.  “It’s not what Ryan wanted for us,” she said. Leah sobered at the statement.  “He wanted us to be free to pick our own ways, not just to trade one cage for another.”

“Ryan gave everything to get us out of the experiment,” Leah said, “but we’ve gotta survive.  He knew that.”

“Katie didn’t join either,” Rina pointed out.  “She just took off.”

Leah glowered at the mention of her sister.  “Yeah. But she’s also old enough to make her own way,” she said.  “You and me, they look at us and see kids. Heck, we’ve been out for a week and we’ve still never seen the sun.”

“I can figure something out,” Rina said.  “I promise. I’ll get a job, maybe become a Watcher…”

“You have to be eighteen to be a Watcher,” Leah pointed out.  “Face it, Rina, there’s not much choice. At least Claw would feed us.”

“Claw would kill me if he ever saw me again,” Rina said.

Leah shrugged.  “Yeah, you. But not me.”

“He’s dangerous,” Rina told her.  “My powers didn’t even work on him.”

“But my powers will.”  Leah began putting her few things into one of the bags they had procured.  She had made up her mind.

Rina had to keep trying to talk her out of it, though.  “We should stick together, Leah,” she said. “Katie went off, but what about the others?”

“What about them?” Leah asked.  “The feral ones are impossible to control.  Most of them already joined the Fauns – and the others took off to who-knows-where.  And Ryan – ”

“He’s not dead,” Rina said, folding her arms.

“If you say so,” Leah shrugged.  “He exploded in a blast of electricity when he took out the power, at least.  And none of us have seen him since, so he might as well be dead.”

Rina pursed her lips, knowing that the younger girl was right.  “Leah, we really should stick together,” she tried one more time.

Leah shouldered her bag, turning back to face her.  “Tell you what,” she said. “The lead researcher got away; I plan to track him down someday.”  She moved to the door. “When I find out who he is and where he’s hiding, I’ll track you down and we can go after him together.  Deal?”

Rina smiled despite herself.  “Deal. You better not leave me out,” she added.

Leah smiled at her and opened the door.  The sun was blotted out by storm clouds, but it allowed the Fourth Gens to step outside.  Leah still pulled up her hood before stepping out of the motel room. She wouldn’t hug Rina goodbye, but she waved a little sadly before she left.

Rina pulled up her own hood, watching her go.  She began singing their old lullaby to herself as she wondered if she would ever see the others again.

Here shines the sun,

Night’s gone away,

New days are pretty amazing.

Just close your eyes;

You’ll see the sky someday…

* * * * * * * *

Asylum Headquarters, present day.

Rina Dawson, sitting in the stairwell.

Rina was humming to herself when Agent found her.  “I was right,” he said. “He wouldn’t talk to me. Unless you count a truly impressive amount of profanity.”  He sat on the stairs next to Rina, adding, “So what was that about?”

She took her time answering, trying to get the right words.  “An old friend of mine, Leah. She found out who the lead researcher was on the Fourth Gen experiment.”

Agent whistled, impressed.  “Wow. The Agency had problems with that.”  He put a hand on Rina’s shoulder. “So what are you going to do?”

Rina looked at him.  “I don’t know,” she admitted.  “The plan was that we’d all go in and kill him, but…” she trailed off.

Agent finished for her.  “But you’ve come a long way since you were a teenager on the streets,” he said.  “You don’t think killing him is right, and as a Watcher you want to stop it.”

“But he deserves it!” she said, clenching her fists and remembering all the times they had to grow back.  “He caused us all so much pain. Who am I to tell the others to just let it go?”

“You’re one of them,” Agent said.  “You’re probably the only one who can.”

Rina stood up.  “I have to at least meet them,” she said.

Agent stood up too, grabbing his umbrella off of the staircase.  “I’ll go with you,” he said. “I won’t interfere, but I need to know the outcome of this.”

“You also want to see what the other Fourth Gens can do,” Rina guessed.  Agent just shrugged, and opened the door for her.

“You know that I can’t sanction this mission without some official reason,” he pointed out.  “And if you go without me sanctioning it, you could get in a lot of trouble. You might even lose your license, even if you avoid jail time.”

“Thanks,” Rina said, stepping through.  He reminded her a lot of Ryan – Agent was always willing to stick his own neck out for the team.  “You sure about this?”

“An attempted assassination and a raid on King Enterprises?” Agent said.  “Not at all. But I know what they did to you there, and I know this is something you have to decide for yourself.  I’ll bullshit the reports if I have to.”

They went back into the room with Mikey and Susie.  “You make up your mind yet?” Mikey asked her.

“Yeah,” Rina told him.  “We’re going with you.”

“You want to bring the suit along?” Mikey asked, taken aback.

Rina looked between him and Agent.  “Yeah, I do,” she said. “Where is the meeting?”

* * * * * * * *

Outside of King Laboratories.

Middle of nowhere.

“You’re here,” Leah said, looking at Rina.  Time had not been kind to her – she looked much older than her twenty-five years.  “I wasn’t really expecting you to come.”

“I said I would, didn’t I?” Rina asked her.  She looked around at the group. Six of the Fourth Gens had showed up – the five who had joined the Fauns, and Rina.  Agent was the only human present; the rest of Leah’s army were satyrs.

Leah shrugged.  “Yeah, but you’re a big bad Watcher now.  With the Asylum, no less.” She glared at Agent.  “And I have no idea why he’s here.”

“I’m not letting a teammate walk into something like this without backup,” he said, shouldering his umbrella lazily.

“He’s cool,” Rina told her.  “Finn and Katie couldn’t make it, then?”

“They declined my invitation,” Leah said dismissively.  “Here’s the plan: we’re going to go in there and wreck shit.  Rina, you use your powers on anybody who gets in our way. I’m talking all out – no survivors.  Got it?”

“No,” Rina said.  “Most of the people in there are innocent.  We’re just here for the lead researcher, nobody else.”

Leah rolled her eyes.  “Rina, this place runs similar experiments to the one we broke out of,” she said.  “They’re hardly innocent civilians.”

“It’s wrong, Leah.”  Rina shook her head. “I can’t let you do this.”

“They torture people,” Leah hissed.  “You want to be a race traitor, fine.  But the rest of us are going to stop them.”

“No,” Rina said, glancing at Agent.  “You’re not.” Agent nodded at her, and Rina let her powers go for the first time since escaping the experiment.

It was chaos.  The satyrs felt the effects first – the feral ones began attacking the others, who started scrambling in panic.  Susie bit Mikey’s arm, dowsing him with water from her powers. Mikey shook her off, and then Rina’s powers hit him, too: he clapped his hands together, and a shock wave knocked everyone off of their feet.

“What are you doing?!”  Leah screeched, grabbing Rina’s arm and using her own powers.

Rina doubled over, but she didn’t stop the barrage on the army’s emotions.  As the feral satyrs clawed and bit at each other, the non-feral ones had to fight back in self-defense.  Adrenaline spiked through them all, and their fight-or-flight responses triggered; half of the army scampered off into the night.

Leah growled, letting Rina go as she screamed, “Cowards!  Traitors!”

Rina concentrated on her powers.  She could see Agent out of the corner of her eye, using his umbrella as a shield to fend off attackers.  He was also feeling the effects of her powers, but his Agency training allowed him to keep his head in the brawl.

Suddenly, Leah grabbed his hand with her own, and he fell to the ground.  “No!” Rina screamed, as his face started draining of color.

“Stop this,” Leah shouted at her.  “Stop it or I kill him.”

Rina closed her eyes, drawing her power back.  The satyrs became less panicked, and the fighting died down.  “Let him go,” she said.

“I can’t believe you did that, Rina,” Leah said.  “After everything they did to us. After cutting you to pieces.  After killing Ryan!”

“Ryan was a hero,” Rina said, her eyes drawn to Agent as Leah leeched away his strength.  “He wouldn’t want us to do this.”

“Oh, grow up!” Leah said.  “Ryan wanted to kill the guy himself!  All that hero crap was just him blowing hot air.”

Rina shook her head.  “That’s not true,” she said.

“Ryan put on a show for us kids,” Leah said.  “That’s all it was. They tortured us, Rina.  They have to pay!”

“They did,” Rina said.  “The nurses and scientists that took part in our experiment are locked up.  The only one that got away was the lead researcher – the rest of these people are innocent!”

“You’re soft,” Leah spat.  “Soft and weak. We need to make sure they never do this to anybody ever again!”

Agent was slumped on the ground, unconscious.  Leah still hadn’t stopped draining him; Rina needed to move fast, or she’d kill him.  “I may be soft,” Rina conceded. “But I’m still stronger than you.”

She let out an enormous wave of her power, and the remainders of Leah’s satyr army fell to the ground.  Leah and Mikey were the only two left standing, and Leah had been shocked into letting go of Agent.

“What did you do?” Mikey cried, looking at the satyrs all writhing on the ground.

Rina pulled her power back in again.  “They’re exhausted,” she said. “That’s what happens when your heart rate rises too much too fast.  I knocked them out.” She walked over and grabbed Agent by his arms, dragging him away from Leah and towards their car.

“I thought you were a hero,” Mikey said, his eyes wide as he looked at Rina.  “Heroes don’t do this.”

“They’ll live,” Rina said, getting Agent into the car and slamming the door.  “And if you ever threaten innocent lives again, it’s more than I can promise you.”  Another wave of her power shot out, just strong enough to make Leah and Mikey run the other way.

Rina shook her head, getting into the car.  Let ‘em run, she thought.  They’d think twice before trying something like that again.

She called for police and an ambulance as she drove back to Eon City.  Agent wasn’t going to like that she left the scene before the cops arrived, but she knew Dale would want to look at him as soon as possible.  Leah’s powers didn’t leave permanent damage, but Agent would feel like he’d been run over by a bus for the next week.

Once she’d finished making her calls, Rina began singing to herself.  The lullaby from her childhood sounded out-of-place; she had seen the sky, after all.  But a weight had been lifted that she never realized she carried.

Rina wasn’t a kid from the Fourth Gen experiment.  She wasn’t a victim, or a follower, and she no longer felt a need for vengeance.  After twenty-eight years, she was finally, finally free of it all.

Here shines the sun,

Night’s gone away,

New days are pretty amazing.

Just close your eyes;

You’ll see the sky someday…

* * * * * * * *