Fang wasn’t quite sure where he’d gotten the tip – from an email or a comment on his blog or something. He’d only just remembered it while he’d been flying over a small town in Colorado, and he’d decided to check it out.
He was on his way to meet up with someone who’d responded to the notice he’d put up, about forming a group against Itex. His own flock.
Not that it could replace his old one.
Touching down outside a building, he kept his wings out and ready, just in case. From what the tip had said, this building had once housed the small genetics lab of a local pharmacy.
Further research had unearthed the truth: the afore-mentioned pharmacy was currently owned by Itex.
Fang probably wouldn’t have been more than mildly interested, if it weren’t for the fact that said Itex-owned pharmacy had recently been subjected to a fire, and was thus abandoned completely.
Of course, the sudden appearance of dozens of strange children roaming the streets didn’t hurt, either.
The tip-off-er had made the connection between all those facts when all the homeless kids started to just…disappear. The conclusion: not good. So he’d started searching around the internet and had found Fang’s blog and had contacted him immediately.
And so here Fang was, crawling through ash and grime at midnight in a burnt-out building searching for clues as to what happened and where the kids had gone.
Shaking the soot off his wings, Fang rummaged through charred files and pictures, glancing through the sheets for something he could use. It seemed that anything worth his time had vanished along with those children.
Straightening with a sigh, Fang made his way back towards the door and out the crumbling building. He was just about to take off when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his feathers tensed. Fang froze immediately. He knew this feeling – it was what Max would have called an you’re-being-watched-so-you-better-get-your-butt-in-the-air kind of feeling.
Of course, Fang usually ignored Max.
Instead he turned fractionally, just enough to look over the edge of his wing and get a glimpse of huge, reflective eyes staring back at him, pupils huge to take in light. Fang couldn’t tell what kind of creature the eyes belonged to, but he was eighty-percent sure that it wasn’t an Eraser – a realization that was half-relief, half-uneasiness over the fact that he had no idea what was watching him.
While Max might’ve gone charging in, guns blazing, Fang took a more reasonable approach.
He stared right back at the eyes and the shadow they belonged to, catching them in a silent battle of wills.
They stood there for what seemed like hours, studying each other. Fang strained to see any kind of intent, any kind of motive that would be in those glowing eyes, but he couldn’t get the slightest hint of any sense of emotion.
If anything, he would’ve said those eyes belonged to a dumb beast.
And then, just as suddenly as they appeared, they were gone.
Fang drew to a stand, blinking rapidly as he tried to digest what had happened. And then he took off after them – a very Max-like move, he noted with a grimace.
But he followed the shadow anyways, weaving in and out of alleyways and ducking through doorways with blinding speed. Twice he had to take to the air just to find his quarry, and he lost count of the times he nearly ran into dead ends.
Hmph. Maybe not such a dumb beast after all, he though sourly.
And then, suddenly, the chase ended when the shadow ducked down into an open hatch. Peering in, Fang heard it hit the floor and take off in a scrabble of claws. Taking a breath and throwing his caution to the wind, Fang dropped into the hatch. He landed as softly as he could in the damp tunnel, making sure not to slip into the water next to him. Glancing around, Fang found himself in a sewer tunnel. He grimaced as he took in the dark corners. This was not a good place for someone with bird DNA to be.
He was distracted from his musings by a scuffle around the corner. Well, he’d come down here to find that shadow, and he darn well would. Max would’ve charged around the corner, demanding to know what was going on and who was in charge.
Fang was not Max.
He kept himself tightly wound as he crept closer to the corner, footsteps light and quiet, as near silent to true darkness as he could be.
But perhaps not silent enough…
Fang froze when the creature he had been hunting stepped around the corner. He froze not from fear or despair or dismay – no, he froze from the sheer shock of it all.
It was a human girl – or, at least, what was left of one, fresh out of Itex hands. It was on all fours, and it looked just a few years older than him. Its spine was rigid and pronounced, its hands a clawed mess, and the elongated feet reminded Fang vaguely of a cat’s. And its face… Fang grimaced in a mixture of pity and disgust. The face was stretched out and pointed in a crude imitation of a muzzle, grotesque but still recognizably feminine. Still a little bit human…
And then its lips curled back from glinting teeth, and a guttural snarl choked out of its throat, and Fang realized this thing in front of him was no more human than the people who’d created it.
The creature leaped for him, and Fang raised his arms in immediate defense, already weaving backwards. He landed heavily on his back, wincing as he wrenched his wings, and grunting in pain as the thing on top of him closed its jaws around his left forearm. He grabbed a fistful of brown hair and jerked viscously, but the creature only snarled louder and bit down harder. Scrabbling claws caught on his shoulders and chest, and he kicked out at the creature, catching it in the chest and sending it tumbling away from him.
The creature crouched snarling, and then abruptly cut off all its sound. Fang watched it warily, cradling his left arm to his chest as he tried to stem the flow of blood. The once-human experiment gave him a final glance before it slunk back down the tunnel and around the corner, answering some call that it alone could hear.
Fang collapsed back on the ground, finally letting himself breathe. Feeling his heart start to calm down, Fang examined his cut and was pleased to find that it had already stopped bleeding and was scabbing over.
Well, then. On to more pressing matters. Fang stared down the hallway for a long moment.
Max would have gone straight after the creature.
Max would have hunted it down and torn it apart.
Max would have destroyed the threat.
Fang needed to start thinking for himself.
Closing his eyes in sudden defeat, Fang decided that it was now or never. He went after the creature.
He ducked around the corner and darted down the hallway, wings brandished and ready for anything as he neared light and sound, tearing around the corner’s edge and –
Stopped dead when he realized what he was looking at.
The creature was stretched out along the ground, head cradled in the lap of a calmly fidgeting young boy. He stared up at Fang the way a lamb would before the butcher – a kind of resigned helplessness in his eyes, accepting his fate and denying it all at the same time.
Fang’s wings shuddered as he folded them back against his spine, he himself shivering under the scrutiny of boy’s gaze. Finally, he spoke.
“Who are you?”
At the sound of his voice, the creature jerked with a trembling snarl, but the boy kept his arms encircled around the thing’s neck, running a hand down its head as if to sooth it.
When he wasn’t given an answer, Fang tried a different approach. “I’m Fang.”
The boy studied him once more. “Did you come to take us back?” he asked suddenly.
Fang jerked at the question. “No.”
The child visibly relaxed, the tension sliding out of his small frame. “Okay.”
When nothing more was said, Fang lowered himself to the ground slowly, trying to make himself less threatening. The creature snarled once more, almost desperate, but the boy again twined his fingers in its hair, and it quieted.
Fang tried again. “Who are you?”
Fang frowned. “Hudson?”
“Like the river.”
Silence fell again, and still the boy ran a soothing hand over the creature’s head. Fang nodded towards the trembling hybrid. “What’s that?”
The boy gave a small smile. “This is Cissy.”
Fang watched the creature warily as it stilled at the name. The boy continued on. “She won’t hurt me, you know. She’d never hurt me.”
Fang looked into the boy’s eyes and saw only firm belief. “Why?”
“She’s my big sister.”
Rocking back on his heels in as subtle a gesture of surprise as he could make it, Fang stared at the creature who lay blinking in the boy’s arms. He imagined that he could see some resemblance between the innocent boy and the disfigured monster, but he knew he wasn’t fooling himself.
The boy saw his expression. “She didn’t always look like this,” he said as means of explanation. “She was even prettier before they grabbed us.”
Fang’s eyes slid back to the child. “’They’?”
Hudson nodded fervently. “The scientists. We were walking back from school, and then everything went dark. I woke up in a cage. Cissy was next to me. She told me not to make any sound, ‘cause then they’d notice me. But when they came to take her away, she made a lot of noise.” The boy’s gaze never wavered from Fang’s own. “I heard her screaming in the room they took her to.”
Swallowing thickly, Fang watched Hudson gently brush his fingers across his sister’s mutilated features. “She was gone a long time. When she came back, she looked different. And she acted different. After the third time they took her, she stopped talking. I don’t think she could anymore.”
The tortured girl’s foot twitched, and Fang let himself study the disfigured body. He tried to imagine what this girl might’ve looked like before the whitecoat’s experimentations.
Fang turned his eyes back to Hudson, feeling that the boy needed to finish his story, if not for explanation, then for his own sake. “What happened then?”
“Then they took me. They poked me with a lot of different needles. It hurt at first, but then they gave me something so I couldn’t feel it anymore.”
Fang’s wings flicked back in surprise. This was the first he’d heard of any sort of kindness from whitecoats.
“Then it started to hurt to breath, but they gave me some water, and then I felt better. They said my lungs would change faster if I didn’t move, so I kept really still. Then it stopped hurting, and they put me back in the cage next to Cissy.” Hudson stopped, hurt flashing across his face. “Then they took Cissy again. She was gone for days, and when they finally brought her back, she wasn’t really Cissy anymore. She acted like our dog did when he was scared. She…”
Fang stretched out a hand in wordless comfort. Hudson leaned into the touch, ignoring his sister’s incessant whines, instead soothing her as well as he could with a stroke down her back.
“But she’s still my Cissy,” Hudson said firmly. “Even if she’s more animal than human.”
Fang nodded, pleasantly surprised at the adult-sounding proclamation. “I understand.”
The boy looked at him, studying him. “Yes. You do.” His eyes spoke a silent question.
“I was born in a place like that,” Fang began. “Me and my friends. We were experiments, too. We escaped after a long time there.”
Hudson nodded. “Me an’ Cissy were in cages for two years.” He leaned forwards, suddenly eager. “Did your place catch on fire, too?”
“No. We… were let out. Someone helped us.” It was all Fang could say.
He would never speak Jeb’s name aloud if he didn’t have to.
The boy drew back, shoulders falling. “Oh.” His sister twitched, letting out a rumbling sigh as she curled tighter in her brother’s hold. “I thought, maybe, that you would be like us.”
Fang looked at the child, who was grimy and chilly and more alone than he’d ever seen anyone before. He looked at the girl who lay in her brother’s arms, who had lost her sanity and her humanity forever. He looked at himself, strong and alive and carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“We might be different,” he said finally. “But we can still be friends.”
Hudson looked back at him for a long time, studying him with big dark eyes. “Cissy brought you here,” he said abruptly. “She knew you were a… a friend.”
Fang dropped his eyes to the fearsome creature that dozed in the arms of a child. “I’m glad,” he said softly.
The boy smiled. “Me too.”
Fang spent the night in those tunnels, talking to Hudson until the child fell asleep against the side of the monster he still called his sister. Fang sat alone for a long time after that, staring at the pair and wondering what kind of sick people Itex really were.
Eventually Fang’s hatred dissolved into exhaustion, and he too slumbered against the damp stone walls.
When he woke in the morning, the boy and his sister were cold.
Fang stared down at the mound of fresh dirt in front of him, hands in his pockets.
He’s buried the two the way he’d found them – curled around each other, the arms of a nightmare wrapped protectively around her brother, his own small face turned towards her with an air of trust.
Fang smiled. He supposed they must have died the way they lived.