The young woman slammed the front door shut, carried in the two paper bags of groceries, and set them on the wooden island in the kitchen. She flicked on the television, and the local news station sprang to life.
" er member of the Human Society was arrested today, bringing the total killed or captured to twenty-seven," said the woman on the box. "Juan Alonso Ruiz was considered to be a mid-level operative in the terrorist organization. Allegedly the director of the Human Society's M-based experiments to turn Changed people into humans again, he is accused of kidnapping, torture, assault, and wrongful imprisonment. He faces life in prison, but his attorney says he intends to fully cooperate with authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence. Prosecutors are hoping that with his cooperation, more middle-level and upper-level members will soon be found. Unfortunately, no trace has yet been found of William van der Wals or Ellen Stockwell, believed to be the ringleaders of the Human Society."
She shook her head sadly and began unpacking the groceries.
"Also, the military tribunal today will hear continued testimony against General George Silver. FBI agent Dan Parker, one of the prosecution's star witnesses, is expected to testify that General Silver willingly negotiated with the Human Society during the siege on the University of Philadelphia. Parker's account will join that of Major Miley Adder and Lance Corporal Yuri O'Connell. O'Connell testified yesterday that at the battle at the University of Philadelphia, General Silver ordered her and her squad on a personal vendetta, that he knew it was a suicide mission, and that she was, in fact, killed during it. Other accounts from her squad members have corroborated her amazing story. Silver is accused of dereliction of duty, of aiding terrorists, and of engaging in prisoner trades. If convicted, he faces at least twenty years to life. Prosecutors have not yet ruled out seeking the death penalty."
She got to the bottom of the bag and noticed the mayonnaise bottle had sprung open, covering the eggs in a nasty white sludge. She took them out and began to wash them off as the news switched over to the male anchor.
"The University of Philadelphia research team announced today that they are withdrawing from the stadium site," he said. "The black shell surrounding the stadium has proven impenetrable and is apparently harmless, so it will be placed under permanent government quarantine. This has not dissuaded the thousands of people who have returned to City of Philadelphia in the last few months. No explanation has yet been given for why the city suddenly was restored to normal after the University siege, or why gold bars suddenly appeared in every house in Philadelphia. Sure wish a gold bar would appear in my house, though, don't you, Katie?"
"I sure do, Ron," said the female commentator. "But it looks like making money has to be done the old-fashioned way, and even drugs are no longer easy money: Another cache of M was found today, the largest yet at five hundred kilos. The drug, which used to be manufactured en masse by the Human Society, has been the source of a number of recent FDA busts. Drug dealers have been discarding it rapidly and carelessly in the last three months due to its sudden ineffectiveness, and while M use has plummeted, it appears older drugs like cocaine and heroin are on the rise again. All next week, Channel 3 News At Five will be airing a special segment by Dawn Alexander titled 'New Dangers, Old Drugs: Is Your Neighborhood At Risk?' Be sure to tune in to this special report."
She finished washing off the eggs and put them into the refrigerator. She picked up the paper bag and put it in the trash, and then set about cleaning off the kitchen counter.
"We turn now to our newest member of the Channel 3 family, Kim-na Yu, with the traffic report. Kim, are you there?"
A pretty Asian woman's face filled the screen, and she paused putting away the groceries. "I'm here," said Kim-na.
The camera turned downward, and after a moment she realized that the cameraman was riding on the back of a winged centauress. She paused: She'd never seen a centaur with wings before.
"The city's not doin' too bad right now," said Kim-na. "Fifth Avenue is a mess from Forty-Second to Fiftieth 'cuz there's some kinda fruit truck that tipped over and now there's oranges all over the road, but other than that, traffic's movin' pretty good for five o'clock. Got a small backup on the Brooklyn, and the Lincoln Tunnel's a little slow, but other than that, it all looks pretty good. Rail's got no reported delays. Back t'you, Ron."
The camera switched back to the smiling man's face, and she went back to putting away the second bag of groceries.
"Thanks, Kim. In international news, President "
The doorbell rang.
She turned down the television and walked over to the front door. She peered out through the peephole, startled, and quickly opened the door. A female centaur and a male centaur stood on the front porch, and he was holding the unconscious body of a human girl in her late teens or early twenties.
"Hi, Mom," said Caitlyn.
"Caitlyn! What are you doing here!? Where've you been!? I've been so worried about you! And who are they?"
Caitlyn smiled. "This is Steven," she said. "And she's someone. And I see you're a centaur now too."
Sharon blushed and stepped back from the hug she'd thrown around her daughter. "I always was jealous of you," she said. "But it looks like I got my wish. Three months ago, right after the siege in Philadelphia, I woke up one morning looking just like this. And I swear I'm not a day over twenty-five to boot! It's not as easy being a centaur as you made it look, but even so, I don't want to change back. You wouldn't believe how many guys have asked me on dates since then!" She twitched her tail, which was smartly-coiffed and tied with a bow.
"You look good, Mom," said Caitlyn.
"But please, come inside. I'll put on some coffee, and even make cookies if you li "
"We can't stay," said Caitlyn, shaking her head.
"No? I'm sorry to hear it, but you always were flighty," said her mother. Sharon stepped forward and kissed her daughter on the forehead. "But it's good to see you again anyway. Where have you been?"
"Sorting some things out," said Caitlyn. "I have more to do."
Sharon shook her head. "Caitlyn, I know you feel bad about it, but I keep telling you there's nothing wrong with what you are and there never was. But did you hear that in Midtown they're going to open up a transformation parlor next week? I don't quite know how it works, but even the government says it's going to be safe and easy. You could be human again."
"I know," said Caitlyn. She looked up at Steven. "But I think I'll be okay like this for a little while longer."
Sharon smiled. "Maybe you will."
"And you, who are you, and why are you carrying that girl?" she added, pointing at Steven and the unconscious girl he carried.
"That I " began Caitlyn. "It's complicated," she said.
"My name's Steven. And this is your daughter, Ellen," said Steven, stepping forward, past Sharon, and setting her on the sole chair remaining in Sharon's house.
"What? She's not Ellen!" said Sharon.
"I know," said Caitlyn. "She looks different now. Her face is different. And there's no more M in her. Her old life is gone, but she has a chance at a new one."
"But Ellen she's a wanted criminal "
"She needs you now, Mom. She'll be okay, but she needs you. She can't go with me."
Steven came back outside.
"Go with you? Where are you going?" said Sharon.
"I don't know for sure," said Caitlyn. "But we'll know when we get there."
"Are you sure you're okay?" said Sharon, holding the door. "You're acting very strange."
"I'll be fine, Mom," said Caitlyn, and gave her mother a hug. "I know it doesn't sound like me, but I think things will be okay."
She took three steps backward, smiling, and took Steven's hand.
"Don't worry," she said. "I'll be back someday."
There was a woosh of wind, and Sharon raised her hand to shield her face. She lowered her hand as the wind subsided, and Caitlyn and Steven were gone.