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Darkness. The darkness slowly became tangible. Like a sea through which he drifted, the darkness pressed against him from all sides. Daniel could hear the steady churn of cogs in the back-drop and found their presence soothing. He realized it'd been a while since he'd heard it last. Ever since vat-goat, things had been quiet. Too quiet.
There'd been too much space for his own thoughts to take hold and take root from ominous sprout into full-blown nightmare.
When the darkness grew hazy and distant, reality slowly seeped in. It did so in a way that clued away he'd been doped up till his eyeballs. Daniel decided he was okay with that. At least that much was familiar.
His wrists were tied down. His gut complained; a moaning, a low, steady moan.
Daniel opened his eyes slowly, hazily mapping out what little he could see. Nothing made sense. Yet.
It would, eventually.
Felt like drifting.
"...Bell?" Daniel tried, even though he knew it was a useless thing to hope for.
"Who is Bell?"
A woman's voice.
Memories of his time spent in captivity with Robert as narcissistic torturer popped up. Red flags were raised, but immediately dismissed. Daniel felt a general lack of caring.
"Bellwether," he muttered softly.
"Is that what you call the man who was with you?"
A slight nod.
Daniel's eyes slipped shut for a moment as he drifted. Everything felt like a dream. After what felt like hours later, the woman's voice was back.
"You're no longer entirely human, are you?" she said softly. There was no judgement in her voice that Daniel could detect and he opened his eyes to find her, stood some distance from the bed. Too far away to touch, even if he wasn't restrained. Daniel's eyes were moist and distant.
"Maybe," he slurred.
Maybe he was human still. He could still be.
"It promised," Daniel found himself saying. "It promised to try..."
"Try and help me survive."
Daniel's voice went from slurred to a mumble, so softly, Sarah had to strain herself to hear. Birth? The birth of -of another monster? Her eyes went wide with realisation. There were so many things she wanted to ask the man, but she'd taken considerable risk waking him up to this extent. Any more and he might actively resist.
But maybe in a more guarded setting... If he would cooperate with them...
The potential was endless.
The vat room was quieter, first thing in the morning. No unwanted visitors. Most of the hunters weren't even awake yet. But that was good. She wanted time to think.
Alphie sat on the floor before the vat and watched the new originator. There'd been pictures to take, bodies to count; they'd come to a total of fifteen distinct host bodies, and another twenty or so unidentified limbs that didn't seem to belong to anyone. There was no preference amongst the bodies. Young, old, male, female; if it'd been a serial killer, it would've been nearly impossible to catch, killing so indiscriminately that they'd be hard pressed to build a profile.
Fifteen bodies. How long had this one been active? Chills racheted up her spine just thinking about it. How many other monsters had been lurking for centuries, preying on humans without the humans knowing any better? How many others were this terrifyingly strong, this overwhelmingly powerful, and still on the loose? They hadn't even known about this one until recently. Were there others, equally powerful, lurking in the wings, slinking in the shadows?
Behind all of the flesh, the originator was still. Not still there way some of them got after a decade or two in the vats, the stillness that spoke of death even in a species that didn't seem quite alive in the first place; no, this was almost as thought it was sleeping. Waiting. She found herself trembling. What if it burst out this instant? What if it was playing possum, just for a moment?
No, that was stupid. They'd captured it now. It was just as trapped in that vat as any other monster, completely helpless to escape. She smiled to herself. Even one this powerful couldn't evade them forever. And now all it could do was sit in that vat, turtle down, and be a good little originator.
Familiar footsteps sounded, echoing in the vast emptiness of the high-ceilinged concrete chamber. Alphie stood and brushed herself off just in time for John to appear, busy sucking down the last of a disposable cup of coffee. At the sight of her, he did a double take and checked his watch.
"You're not late, don't worry," Alphie reassured him. "Let's go get the extractor started, huh?" With a smile, she led him up the rickety staircase towards the top of the vats.
"No, no, I know he won't be, but I want to try," Sarah said on the rehabilitation. Of course, trying him in a vat was always possible, but how much of a source could a hybrid be? Especially when they had his originator already.
Alphie agreed though, so Sarah allowed herself a small smile. This was promising. Finally they'd captured the one whose presence had hung above them like a doomsday blade. Finally they could breathe easily and things would return to normal.
She almost allowed herself to relax.
Sarah shook her head.
What creepy thing? She'd left before that. A dozen hosts? Sarah's brow knitted together in thought. She'd known the monsters used hosts to cover their presence and make their stay on this planet possible, but a dozen? And using them as a shield from the vat's liquid?
"That's...clever," she whispered. Clever and disturbing. It'd seen the vats before and had obviously devised a tactic even before coming here. Sarah shivered. What if it'd wanted to be captured?
Wasn't that the first facility's mistake?
Taking these two in?
"Yeah," she nodded with a high-strung exhalation. "Just...be careful, we don't want to be too hasty extracting from this one, I feel." There was a reason their hunters had almost dosed the man to death. As close to unconsciousness they could get him, shorting of killing him and bringing out the monster.
Or maybe that'd been their intent and for some reason, it hadn't raised to the bait.
"I'll get him in a containment-cell and instruct them to change the dose so he'll wake," Sarah started. "If we keep him on these two, he should be fairly talkative," she muttered, more to herself than anyone else. She needed to know what these two had done to create the utterly unique and interesting situation they'd created for themselves. That, and she wanted to run more tests.
"I wonder how his powers manifested," Sarah remarked.
"We know the originator is strong and fast -the qualities we'd like to exploit, but this hybrid might tell us more about what we'll actually get. I wonder if it's different, for a person with such a high resonance." Ninety-eight. Almost a monster.
They'd have to treat him as such and make no mistake.
Sarah smiled at Alphie, "I'll brief you once I know more. I better start arranging things."
Alphie raised her eyebrows as she stepped into Sarah's office. "Ninety-eight...?" she asked disbelievingly. The papers spelled it out, though; the man's resonance was insane, almost off the charts. The best hybrid's highest average didn't come close to his numbers, and this man wasn't a fresh hybrid, either. "Holy shit. No kidding."
Rehabilitate him, huh? She considered, stroking her chin as she looked him over. Yeah, there'd be no getting the secrets of it from his buddy in the vat, that was for sure--assuming the monster's host even knew what it was, exactly, that the monster had done to his friend.
"I don't think he'll be too cooperative," she threw out there. It wasn't as if there weren't more... heavyhanded rehabilitation techniques, but they tended to damage the brain and more importantly the memory. There'd be no getting the secrets of his hybridization from him if he was little more than a drooling puppet. Then again, there wasn't any downside to trying it out, was there? Worst case, what, he escaped? Without the originator, he wouldn't have a monster to set loose on the base, and without that tactic up his sleeve, he was little more than an ordinary man. "But it's worth a shot, huh? We can always vat him later."
Alphie winced and gestured, waving her hand in a so-so way. "Well... kinda," she admitted. "You saw that creepy thing it did, right? Manifesting a dozen or so hosts around it? Like it was turtling down behind them. I don't think it's given in yet, but it can't do much more than turtle. And we've still got a decent shot at its essence. I figure we give it tonight to settle down, maybe give up on the turtling a little bit, and try and extract essence first thing tomorrow morning."
"It's creepy, though, I'll give you that," she said, shaking her head. "Yeah, I don't know. With any luck, we'll extract the essence tomorrow and be on our way to making a fresh batch of harmonizer by evening, but... well, it's not every monster we can make harmonizer from. Even if it's powerful, it might not be..." she shrugged, then gestured widely. "Whatever it is that makes them the kind that can create harmonizer. The hybrids can only think about power, but it's not just that."
Then she shook her head. "It's our only chance, quite frankly. Well. Their only chance. For the hybrids' sake, I hope it works out." And if it didn't... she shuddered to herself. They'd have to start digging the mass graves, because the hybrids would start dropping like flies. Her eyes drifted back to the man on the table, and she frowned. If only they knew his secret!
Sarah looked up, surprised to find Alphie there. So all had gone well with the new originator. She smiled and chuckled at Alphie's comment about Ray.
"Ray was never even in the picture," Sarah said with a shake of her head. She snapped off the gloves and tossed them in the bin with the rest of the soiled bandages. Maybe Ray had been, in the beginning, but she'd quickly dismissed it as a fling. They'd never be a serious item.
She washed her hands under the tap to get rid of the clamminess and nodded at the results on the desk.
"I ran the tests twice, each time the exact same result; almost ninety-eight percent resonance," Sarah disclosed her results, "but he's not whole -he's a hybrid. I don't understand how they managed to do something outside of the labs with such perfection while we're ecstatic with sixty..."
Sarah approached the desk and flipped open the folder, laying out the two sheets -they looked like exact copies, with only minute differences to show they were actually two separate tests.
"So...I don't know how he'd respond to a vat, but..." Most likely; not that badly at all.
"He's interesting. I want to wake him and see whether or not we can rehabilitate him. Imagine the interesting experiences he could report. The secret to how he became a hybrid -we could make stable specimens. The hunters wouldn't have to be scared and sign away their lives just to get on the same level as those monsters."
She looked over the man. He was handsome, despite his injuries. She hadn't realized until Alphie mentioned it. Such thick blond hair.
Sarah pulled her eyes away. He was the enemy. He'd killed hundreds of them together with their new originator.
"How was it? Did the originator cede to the vat?" she asked, curious now. Sarah glanced away, leaning back against the desk to survey her charge. "I didn't stay...there was something...something unsettling about this one. It gave me the creeps." She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and looked up at Alphie. She wasn't like Alphie.
She wasn't quite as strong.
"I wonder if the new originator can help salvage our hybrids," she sighed out. "They're scared. All of their ratios are dropping incredibly low. Most have started to reject the foreign agent. The ones that don't are even worse off, I feel." She was quiet for a while, then shook her head. "So what do you think?"
With a sigh, Alphie pushed her hair back and strode out of the vat room, glad to finally be out of that claustrophobic, windowless space, and yet eager to head right back down there as soon as she could. They'd never seen anything like this. Everyone had been there, Steve with his stupid electrical worries, Janet and her biology, Greg, who mostly just seemed to be there to mooch coffee and watch it, and a million others. Everyone and their mother had come down to see the weird reaction and offer their uninformed opinions about what must be happening. She'd drawn the line at the hunters; they had absolutely no reason to be anywhere near the vats, especially when they were unstable to begin with and might react with the origin. Her assistant, poor John, was probably still down there fending off the rubberneckers.
For now, she was content to watch, see how long this one could keep up such a crude shell. Tomorrow they'd try and extract material, see if the human flesh was really human, gauge whether the black could be used as a proper origin. But might as well give it a little while to get used to the vat and settle down first.
At least it hadn't tried a mental attack. They did that, sometimes, the monsters did. Always gave her a hideous migraine. Some people claimed they saw visions our heard words during it, but that was just superstitious bullshit. Whatever these monsters were, they weren't sentient. Just some kind of mimic, a strange, parasitic creature using the ultimate in camouflage. The only problem was that they killed their "host" first. There was nothing magical about them, no strength that science couldn't replicate.
She headed up the long hallways, heading not for the exit but for the medical bays. With any luck, Sarah would still be there, and she could do a little rubbernecking of her own.
The door to Sarah's lab was open, so she peeked inside. The woman was quietly tending to the man's wounds, almost lovingly so. She smirked to herself and leaned against the doorway to watch.
When Sarah finished, she cleared her throat to make herself known. "Given up on old Ray, have you?" she joked, stepping inside. She nodded at the unconscious man. "So what's the verdict on our hottie? Do I need to get another vat ready?" Oh, that'd be interesting--she'd love to see the new origin react with this guy.
Sarah sighed, leaning over her desk and staring at the manilla folder underneath her. Slowly, her gaze went back up, to the man who was now on a steady drip of several drugs, combining into a cocktail that would assure the hybrid remained in a chemically induced coma for as long as they desired. Safe.
It felt safe.
So why did she feel so unsettled?
Sarah took a deep breath and righted herself, the swiped some of her long blonde locks behind her ear. She'd tied most of it away, but there were always some strands that disobeyed her in the morning. Ray used to make fun of her over it, until he realized she wasn't that into him.
"What am I going to do with you?" she sighed out.
A discrepancy caught her attention. Her brow knitted together as she slowly pulled away the carelessly placed sheet. Blood? Bandages. Oh, right. Hadn't the nurses said something about that? An incision-site in the front and back of the stomach, recent. Well-treated.
Her medical training kicked in: she undid the wraps and slowly peeled away the pads. Old blood greeted her with a sweet, cloying scent, mingling badly with disinfectant. Whatever powers this hybrid had, enhanced regeneration was no part of it. Sarah sat down at the side of the bed on a stool and carefully cleaned out the injury. The back was much the same. Mechanically, she turned the man over onto his side.
Marks. On his arm.
On his neck as well.
Probably something, or someone, had resisted their efforts of killing it -or them. Sarah reminded herself that usually, these two had been fighting them, more than anything else. For a moment she stopped, staring at her gloves fingers. Why was she aiding this person?
Then she recovered herself. If they could rehabilitate him, he could prove a valuable asset and an interesting research subject.
All she needed was Alphie's blessing and she could get the higher-ups approval. It'd be interesting and he could be more easily contained than the monster that had originated him.
He was close to human. He could be hurt and stay hurt.
Sarah wrapped up the man's injuries tightly and decided she'd make the necessary arrangements.
"Get the lid down and the field up!" Alphie demanded, glaring at the man who was working the controls. He nodded and pressed the button, and a heavy metal lid descended onto the vat. It sealed itself shut with a hiss, thin tendrils of vapor rising from under its lip. Seconds later, crackling filled the air, and she almost imagined she could feel the tension snap into place as the magnetic field hummed to life. It was an extra precaution, given how little they knew about this monster and how much damage it'd managed to wreak. There were rumors the first originator had agreed to be pickled away, and that this one might not be so agreeable. It was a standard precaution for the little vats, but less so for the large ones, where the sheer volume of preserving fluid was usually enough to hold the monsters in check. Couldn't be too careful, after everything.
She peered over the edge at the man and found a small audience had gathered on the floor below. [i Like flies to shit,] she thought to herself, giving them a disdainful look. Was it really that exciting to watch a murderer's execution?
Out of the small sea of faces bathed in orange light, a familiar one stood out to her: Sarah. She snorted to herself. "Should've come by and asked, I could've given you a first-row view," she muttered to herself, shaking her head. Then again, Sarah had been busy with her man, the other half of this insane pair. She'd have to see the results from him later, see if they didn't have to ready to a second vat. It was hard to imagine he could live alongside a monster powerful enough to serve as an origin for so long without being infected. Their last records had listed him as human, but if she knew anything about the monsters, it was that being human was something that could change in the space of a heartbeat.
Motion from the vat distracted her. She watched as the human shape within distorted, black roiling just under the surface, then breaking free. The monster began to take shape, unfolding out of the man like a shadow or a spot of rot, stretching further and further as it spread across the vat.
And then it stopped and folded back in. The man was back, but also a young girl, and an older woman, and another man, fractals of human shapes spread out within the vat, misshapen and glued together with the black essence that made up the monsters, tendrils knitting them together. It was hideous to look at, human bodies bent in impossible places, broken apart by gulfs of blackness; it almost seemed that the monster had made a shell, not of a human, but of many humans, all glued together around its body to keep as much of the preservative fluid off it as it could. Alphie stared, dumbstruck. For a long, long moment, that was all she could do; then she chuckled to herself.
"Well," she said. "Never seen that before." _
Ray's muddy brown eyes watched at the man -no, the monster- slipped into the orange toxin. Soon, it would coax forth the monster as the flesh perished. Then, they would witness its true for. All sympathy they could have for the young man whose face and body this monster adopted, would vanish with it.
Sarah shook with anger and sadness. So many had died at the hands of this man. So many lives, so many men and women who lived their lives fighting for a just cause, wiped out. And for what?
When the man slipped into the vat, Sarah inhaled, almost a gasp, and pressed a hand against her mouth. She had to be stronger than this. A hand landed on her shoulder. Ray. His eyes were dead set on the sight before them and would not turn to face her. Sarah calmed then, looking down at her hands and the report she had on the other man. Alphie would want to review the results of her tests before they decided on how to rehabilitate him.
Stable hybrids were valuable warriors to their cause.
"It's almost done," Ray muttered softly.
Neither the hunters nor Alphie moved from their place. All were watching and ready, in case this monster was an exception to their new formula. There was too much they didn't know about these creatures. Sometimes they were offered glimpses as to their vast knowledge from hybrids, who had made the ultimate sacrifice and ventured close to their source.
Not many came back alive. Those that did were often too far gone to actively deploy.
"Why do I feel this one's different?" Sarah breathed.
Ray shook his head.
"It's not different, Sarah," he chewed out, finally able to meet her gaze. "...just more ferocious."
She nodded, even though that wasn't how she thought this one was different. It was the presence of that other man and the fact that this man's origin still lived. There were a number of anomalies that just made the whole situation unique.
If it could become their asset, the could finally make a turn for the better and cleanse the world of these hostile invaders. When she'd graduated university, this wasn't where Sarah thought she'd end up.
"I'm...sure Alphie has it under control," she said, timid. For some reason, she didn't want to see this man broken down. She couldn't face the monster, even though her heart was racing. Maybe she couldn't, because she was scared.
The service elevator took them deep under the facility, down a narrow shaft, down, down, down until they were well-isolated from the radiation of the surface. The elevator dinged, the doors opened, and she stepped into the sanctum.
Amber light reflected off the walls, warm and almost welcoming, a shade too orange to belong to incandescent bulbs but steady, not flickering like fire. It played gently over the bare concrete walls, refracting gently in places like water on the bottom of a pool. She strode past a few smaller vats, ignoring the dark smudges within, and led the gurney into another room. Electricity buzzed just on the edge of her perception as she passed the threshold, and then she was in the main room. Huge vats stretched to the ceiling, as big as the ones that had held the old originator. Freshly finished, they awaited their captives.
"We're lucky we finished these in time," she muttered to the men who guided the gurney along. One gave a nervous laugh, and she glanced in his direction, then back at the vats. She couldn't help but admire them. The massive, perfectly clear structures, rising to the ceiling, filled to the brim with a material even Shane, their best molecular scientist didn't fully understand. It looked almost like honey, like a massive tub of honey, but she knew it'd taste bitter and deadly; one of the few things Shane had been about to divine was that the stuff was incredibly toxic to humans. Eating it would be a death sentence.
"Right, bring him around," she instructed as she marched to the spindly staircase that led to the top. There was a scissor lift nearby for the cages. The men loaded it up and sent it upwards, then went around and followed her up the staircase, guns at the ready.
She moved quickly at the top, loosening all the restraints on one of the beds--if a metal board with restraints could be called a bed--and lined it up with the biggest vat, clicking the toe-end into place against the lid of the vat. The cage arrived. She unlocked the door for the first time since it'd come here and removed the man inside, loading him onto the bed. With precise, disinterested motions, she undressed him, putting his clothes to the side. He looked young, younger than her, but that wasn't the truth, was it? They'd looked into his past--or, well, the real him's past. Oddly enough, the man was still living somewhere, almost twice the age of this monster.
She snapped the restraints into place; a meaningless motion with him this conked out, but she did it anyway. Alphie shook her head at the hunters. Didn't know the meaning of restraint, did they?
"Alright, lift him up," she said, gesturing at the nearest man. He stepped towards the control box and pressed a button. With a creaking roar, the engines started up, beeping a warning to anything in their way. The board lifted into the air, levered upright from the toes until he was almost ninety degrees above the vat. The board clicked into place. It held the man there, limp against the board; then the restraints released, and the man slid down the board and deep into the thick amber liquid.
"I don't understand," Sarah sighed out, pouring over the results. At least the case Alphie got was clear-cut. Just a goat. A unique and powerful one, but a goat.
A mug of coffee materialized next to her files and she looked up to find Ray there, giving her a wayward smile.
"You look baffled -which doesn't happen very often," he commented, then tried to steal a peek at the paperwork. Sarah let him and reached for the mug. Ray's face soon muddled, going from bemused to confused in a matter of seconds.
"Are you sure you ran the test correctly? I thought the second specimen was human?"
Sarah sighed out and tossed her pen at the desk, "I ran the tests twice, both with the exact same result -whatever happened to Turner, he's the perfect hybrid."
"How is that possible? As far as we know, they hadn't actually taken anything of the facility's? Didn't they have a dispute with our previous originator?" Ray started, leaning against the desk.
"He's not breaking down. Whatever's inside of him isn't our previous originator's. It must be...it must be the new one's," Sarah sighed out. "I want to know more, maybe if I wake him up, he could tell me."
"That's-...that's ill-advised," Ray countered. "Look, however interesting these men, they killed hundreds, because of stupid mistakes like these. Because of over-ambition. They're hurt and weak now and we got lucky, but if he's really a hybrid his powers will surprise you and he will go back to salvage his originator."
"Yeah," Sarah sighed hesitantly, "yeah, you're right." She closed the folder. She'd contemplated it because the hybrid was weak and injured. But others before her had under-estimated these two men before. They couldn't afford to, especially now that the majority of missions were under their control.
"How are things going with the new source?"
Ray shrugged. "I think Alphie was pissed the hunters drugged him almost to death -that would've been an issue, having an angry monster roaming the hallways. I hear that's how they hit the facility back then. Just released one or two of those and..."
"I want to see this monster," Sarah said, determined. She wanted to look into the face of the monster that fought back and had killed so many of them. Never before had one monster targetted them with such ferocity.
The unloading bay was full of bustle, men and women hurrying here and there, getting everything ready, reorganizing supplies, checking inventory. It'd been like that since the main base had gone down. Two bases down had them on red alert, all the personnel shifted from one place to another, new rooms made for the survivors and medical bays prepped to treat their wounds. The hybrids were taking it the worst; she wasn't sure how much longer they'd last. Without the Originator, it was hard to say whether the stuff inside of them would simply eat them, or be muscled into co-existence. So far, the alien material had seemed to prefer to eat.
But that might all be changing. White coat flying, she hurried across the bay, beelining for the new van. Two men; one was already being carried away, but the other lay limp in the cage, so boneless he almost looked dead. She cocked an eyebrow at the sight, then stepped closer and felt his pulse. Sluggish, weak, almost non-existent. "Who dosed him?" she demanded. They'd overdone it to the extreme--any more, and he'd have died on the way here, and then all the cages in the world wouldn't have been enough to bring him in.
"He's a special case," the hybrid grunted, arms crossed. She cast him a glance, then looked away, slightly disturbed by his appearance. The man had never been attractive, but now that black veins beat just under the surface of his skin and the alien material was eating away at him, devouring his muscle and leaving him skeletal, he looked downright monstrous. "Gotta treat him like a hybrid."
"Well, maybe don't, next time? He almost died," she snapped. A gesture had a heavy-duty gurney arrive, which the men just loaded the whole cage onto. Couldn't be too careful, even if he was a breath away from death. Perhaps even especially since he was so close.
The man snorted. "Think you'd best be hoping there's no next time," he muttered, then shook his head and walked away.
She glared after him. What, was he the doctor here? Couldn't get a moment's respect. Then she turned away, shaking her head. All the hunters were like that; insane assholes. Nothing she could do about it.
"Let's get him vatted up before he wakes up," she announced, then added, loudly, "if he's [i ever] going to wake up."
Her team chuckled and wheeled the monster-in-human-form away. From the door that led into the hunters' quarters, the hybrid watched, eyes narrowed, until they disappeared on the service elevator towards the vats; only then did he turn away and vanish into the base.
He was floating. Daniel was aware of several things: sounds, on the periphery of his awareness there was sound, his body and an overwhelming lethargy. If he focussed hard, Daniel could move his fingers, shift a limb. He couldn't tell if he was lying down or standing up or maybe both at the same time. Couldn't tell where he was.
The sounds were voices. Daniel wasn't certain how long it'd taken him to reach that conclusion. There was light now too, beckoning just outside his eyelids. Occasionally, he managed to open his eyes and caught the overflow of bright lights harassing his retina with their exuberance.
Windows. Just beyond the bright lights were windows, up high, set in a concrete bed. Sometimes he saw specks of light through them, sometimes they were lights themselves. Hands. A hand grabbed his chin and redirected his gaze. A blurred image floated in front of him, darkness and light fighting for dominance.
Daniel chuckled. It was funny, for some reason.
A grunt of frustration was all he got in return. Daniel continued to merrily float between light and darkness. It reminded him of the time he'd spent in the mental ward; blissfully unaware of what was going on until they got him settled on the right mix of medicine. All he'd needed was a 'cure'.
Or maybe a Bellwether.
Where was Bell anyway?
His initial merriness was wearing off. Daniel furrowed his brow. He was resting on something hard and shifted. Discomfort tugged at his gut. It was too distant for him to care.
"What's this one's name?" A woman's voice. Clinical and concise.
"Daniel Turner." Another voice. More distant. Like echoing through a speaker.
"Have we determined stage one?"
A pause and a crackle. "Negative."
"Well, mister Turner," the lady started. Daniel narrowed his eyes at her, confused. He felt sick. Like he was caught on the ocean. Drifting.
Drugs. It was the drugs.
He had to escape.
"...let's run some tests on you to confirm stage one," she said, all business-like. Routine. This was routine for her.
He wanted to tell her he wasn't a goat. Wasn't one of them. At the same time, it'd maybe be a lie. He wanted to know too.
"Just relax, this will be over in no time at all." It smelled like thunder. Daniel strained himself, tried to move, but found he could barely will his pinky to lift, let alone the rest of him. It didn't even hurt, not really.
Everything just went empty, like he was having a sensory overload through which not even pain could break through.
"Daniel!" Bell shouted, leaping forward as the dart hit home. He dug his heel in and tried to pull on the goat's speed, but nothing happened. He ran forward a step, no more than an ordinary human, stumbling a bit from having pushed too hard on his first step. The man holding Daniel tightened his grip and pressed the knife harder against Daniel's neck, warning him, and he forced himself to stop. "I got it," he spat. Damn hunters! Why couldn't they just leave him alone?
Damn it! They'd been careless. He should've had Daniel go with him to breakfast. Should've, should've, should've, so many options, and he'd done none of them. Just been stupid and careless and--and here he was.
"You think it's going to help you?" he snarled. Fat chance! Not his goat. They had the amber fluid, true. The stuff that snared goats like tree sap snared ancient insects. But it'd fight them! It wouldn't let them make hybrids out of it!
The hunter behind the door sneered. "You think that matters?" he asked dryly, almost amused that Bell had brought it up. With a sinking feeling, Bell realized the hunter was right. None of the goats had wanted to help the hunters, save vat-goat. They could keep the goats under their control, bend them to their whims, and there was nothing he could do about it.
"Mine's sick right now," he warned them. "Your dumb vat-goat fucked it up. It's not stronger."
The man shrugged, uncaring. He raised the gun.
Now! Bell reached down deeper than he'd ever reached before, searching for the spark of his goat's power, for some hint of anything. Nothing. Nothing, there was nothing. He lunged at the hunter in a last ditch attempt to attack, and felt the dart impact his chest. He ripped it out, but it was already too late.
"Don't hur' Dan'l," he slurred, fighting against the drug, eyes locked on the decaying hybrid. He staggered to his knees, then slumped to his face. Still he kept his eyes on the hunter, anger glittering bright in their depths."Don' you da..."
The toxin took effect, and Bell went limp, oblivious to the world.
Daniel's eyes were wide. Bell-boy. The man made sure to tighten his grip on Daniel, pressing his hand firmer over his mouth so he couldn't make a sound. He wanted to reach up, fight the guy, but there was just no way he would be able to do anything.
That didn't stop his hand from gripping the man's wrist, trying to pull it away. The other guy was behind the door. Bell-boy was oblivious.
"That's close enough," the man said, putting a single hand to the door to close it.
"We don't want anything with you," the hunter started. He raised the dart-gun and fired at Daniel. Daniel flinched. The dart hit him in the leg. He could already feel the numbing agent flood his system, his muscle tension dissipating from below on up. The hand that had been struggling to pull the other man's away lost its strength. He didn't have the adrenaline going to fight it. Didn't have as much resistance as he usually did.
Daniel's eyelids fluttered as he fought the drug. It was a useless struggle. Daniel's eyes rolled back in their sockets after a few precarious seconds and whatever pain had tensed him up flooded from him almost instantly. It almost was as if they'd done him a favour.
"Step any closer and I slit pretty boy's throat, got it?" the hunter on the bed threatened, pressing Bellwether's blade closer to Daniel's neck. The man's face was weather-worn, hands gruff. Brown hair stuck out in every possible angle and there was a mad glint to the man's eyes.
"You see," the other man started from his position near the wall as he reloaded his dart-gun, "Blondie over there is useless, but you...you're the grand prize, don't you get it? Now that we don't have the monster to supplement our cause, we need a new one to replace it. One that's stronger," the hunter grinned.
"And that would be you."
The man was tall, slender. His eyes were blue and seemingly dead. Though the man's hands were steady, the man's skin was writhing; black veins throbbed in the man's arms -a hybrid. "Don't try anything foolish, would you please? Just sleep, like a good boy," the hunter offered and took aim.
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