When theyd crossed the Virginia state line and were passing Woodbridge and were just starting to finally feel free and safe, the lights flashed and the siren blared and their rustbucket of a truck was hauled to the side of the road. The State Trooper had glared at Caitlyn sweetly as he walked up, thinking hed just be giving a cute girl a ticket for a noise violation it was a shame her tastes in music were so awful, especially given how bad his dating luck had been lately and then he saw her sporting a stolen motel towel instead of pants, and then he saw the tarp move, and in a moment, Caitlyn and Kim-na were both whisked out of the truck and handcuffed. This business with the horse girl in the back was unsafe, it was weird, it was fishy, it probably violated some kind of law or two, and when Caitlyn had the sorry misfortune to lose her composure for a moment and suddenly sprout extra legs herself, well, that was all the excuse hed needed. Freaks. Toss em in the clink and let a judge sort it out. They had to be guilty of something. Besides, that ancient truck couldnt have been safe even if they were both human and normal. It probably hadnt even been retrofitted how many cars still ran on gasoline these days?
So away they went. They were photographed, and fingerprinted, and at about a quarter to three in the afternoon, their cell door slammed shut.
This was a large cell, probably once designed for holding dozens of criminals, but this cell was properly separate but equal for Changed female arrestees only. In the corner, a sullen-looking blond mermaid sat on a bench with her tail wrapped in a wet towel, her green fin sweeping the floor like a slow broom. The absurd makeup, skimpy dress, and excessive jewelry all screamed exotic call girl. There was a black-haired, black-tailed naga wearing a black leather jacket, coiled up in another corner, and everyone else was obviously avoiding her. Nearby, there was a gigantic creature that neither of them could identify that looked nothing so much as an eight-foot-tall round layer cake made of dripping brown mud, and when they entered the cell, eyes opened in the side of one of its layers to watch them. There were two girls sitting on another bench, and their pupils told a story of an ambitious night of M pills. Well, their pupils did, but the random body parts that seemed to be growing out of the sides of their torsos and heads told it better. They were lucky: After a few trips, most M abusers werent even recognizable as once having been human if they were still alive at all. There was a circle of trees still standing in Central Park that had once been a love-in of M users before its dangers had been well understood, and once a year the anti-M crusaders descended on the spot to hold a rally.
Add a few more random furries, a pair of satyrs, a sphinx, and a strange thing that looked like a walking hat rack with a blond wig and a purse, and the large cell was actually quite full.
Well, now what? said Kim-na, brushing away somebodys cat tail.
Caitlyn shrugged. I dont know. At least were safe in here from whoevers chasing me.
Kim-na looked at the motley assortment of creatures surrounding them. Yeah, just what a ghetto girl needs, a nice, safe, crowded prison.
Well... we each get a phone call, said Caitlyn. Ill call my sister. Shes not that far away. Maybe shell help.
The mud cake glared at her.
Soonerd be bettern later, said Kim-na.
They called for the guard, who was a big, clean-cut, burly but friendly-looking African-American man in his early twenties, and Caitlyn requested her phone call. The guard was skeptical but sympathetic, and ushered Caitlyn out to the pay phone.
Her sister... Caitlyn choked for a moment. Ellen had been nice the last time shed called, but, well, this time she was calling from jail. And asking for bail.
Caitlyn? Is that you?
I... um... yeah.
Where are you? Are you on your way yet? Can we expect you for dinner?
Cait? Whats the matter?
I... Im in jail.
The other end of the line was silent.
The Virginia State Police arrested us for unsafe driving. El... I have nowhere else to turn. Were only about ten miles from you, I think. They want five hundred. For bail. The court does, I mean. Can... can you bail us out?
My friend Kim is here too.
The line was silent again for a few heartbeats that seemed like a few years.
Alright. Ill... talk with Jeremy. Well come up with the money. Sit tight, Cait. Your little sisters coming to the rescue.
The phone went click, and dissolved into silence and then a dial-tone. Ellen hadnt sounded terribly happy at the end of the conversation, but, well, she was on her way. Hopefully. Caitlyn hung up the phone and nodded to the guard, and he escorted her back to the cell.
* * *
Three hours later, the guard rapped on the door of the cell. Caitlyn Camberley and Kim-na Yu?
Yo, aint no -na in my name, nigs, grumbled Kim-na irritably.
The guard glared at her just as irritably for a moment, shook his head, and turned to Caitlyn. Anyway, youre both outta here, he said. Youre being remanded to the custody of Ellen Stockwell. The rest of you step aside and let em out.
The door swung open and Caitlyn and Kim-na paced through under the gaze of both guard and camera. The door swung shut with a loud metallic clang, and the women inside began hooting and hollering at them, and a few began to claw through the bars some with actual claws. See ya, baby! Uh huh, you go, beeyotch! Bring back some sugar, sugs! Woo! Yall come back now, yhear? The catcalls dissolved into derisive laughter.
The guard led them out to the main part of the station where there were several desks and a handful of people hard at work at them. A young woman was bent over one of the desks, signing papers. She stood upright as they entered, and locked eyes with Caitlyn for a moment.
Ellen was short, perhaps not more than five feet tall, not including an inch or two from her high heels, and her black hair was smartly coiffed in a style that only a lot of money could explain. With the black skirt and the white blouse and the black vest and the tie, she was every inch the executive Caitlyn knew shed always wanted to be. Even if there werent very many inches.
Alright, Mrs. Stockwell, theyre all yours.
Of course, she said, nodding.
Thank you, said Caitlyn, her eyes glued to the floor.
I struck a deal with the judge, said Ellen. I said you were being stalked, and you needed a little lenience. Youre getting off with a warning.
What about our truck? said Kim-na.
Ellen shook her head. Its staying. My mechanic said itd cost more to make it road-safe than it was worth, so its a cube of scrap metal now. If you want, Ill cut you a check for a hundred bucks for it.
Nevermind, said Kim-na. The guy probably didnt expect to get it back anyway.
On second thought, make that out to Yu Kim, thats Y as in my big yellow
Caitlyn smiled at her sister and thumped Kim-na on the head with a fist. Come on, lets go home.
* * *
The ride home was uneventful and quiet. Caitlyn and Kim-na lay in the big empty back of the van, and Ellen sat up front in the drivers seat. The radio was off, and no-one spoke, leaving them only road noise for company. Caitlyn wondered where her sister had learned to drive a stick-shift.
They rolled into a driveway in a nice neighborhood of expensive two-story colonials a few miles outside of Woodbridge and came to a stop. Ellen unbuckled and got out, and opened the back doors of the van for the two centaurs. Caitlyn clambered out, and Kim-na followed her.
Well, lets have a look at you, said Ellen, holding her sisters shoulders. She took several steps back and shook her head. My God, what have they done to you?
Its been a long couple of days, said Caitlyn, trying to straighten her ruined mud-and-grime-stained blouse.
Ellen walked closer and gave her sister a large hug. Dont worry; itll be alright. Well make it alright.
You two must be hungry, she added, turning up the front walk. Ill get Jeremy to make some sandwiches. Come on inside, and well get you cleaned up, and you can tell me all about what happened.
They went into the house, and Ellen led them down one hallway and down another and into the kitchen. A man was sitting at the table, reading the newspaper, and another man sat beside him sipping a cup of coffee. Both were clean-shaven and well-dressed in dark polo shirts and slacks. The room smelled faintly of nutmeg and cinnamon.
This is my husband Jeremy, said Ellen, waving her hand at the man with the newspaper as she walked past. Cait, I think you remember him, she added.
Yes, a little, said Caitlyn. Weve only met once.
But the tall, thin man at the table was standing and smiling, and shaking her hand. Welcome, welcome, he said. Why dont you two have a seat? He waved his other hand at the extra chairs at the table.
Yo, centaurs, said Kim-na, still irritable and grumpy.
Of course, of course, yes, that would be impractical then, wouldnt it?
Caitlyn remembered him from the wedding, the first and only time shed seen him before. He had seemed a bit more taciturn then, a fitting match for the Ellen shed remembered, but here he was, grinning and shaking their hands, his gaunt face grinning from ear to ear like he was shaking hands with the President.
Coffee? Tea? Orange juice? asked Ellen, standing at the refrigerator.
Just water, said Caitlyn.
You got beer? asked Kim-na.
Draught, ale, or lager? said Ellen. Jeremys fond of microbrews, arent you, dear?
Dont matter, said Kim-na. I had a shitty day. Ill take any booze ya got.
So now tell us all about your adventures, said Ellen, coming back with a glass of ice-water and an open beer bottle. You were actually chased through Central Park?
Caitlyn took the glass and nodded. Big guys, with dark sunglasses, and guns, and these weird dog-wolf-things. She sipped the glass; it was incredibly refreshing, like she hadnt drank anything in years. My day was going fi well, actually, Ive been having a lousy month, honestly. My apartment got broken into, my purse got stolen, I got I got dumped, and, man! Then Central Park, and her weird uncle, and the sewers, and that awful motel, and jail I dont know what the hells going on, but my life went from normal to crazy in only a day or two.
That sounds awful, said Ellen, sitting down at one of the kitchen chairs and crossing her legs neatly. She sipped at a cup of coffee. Well, things will get better. Im sure of that.
I dont know, said Caitlyn. I dont even know who these guys are. I think I think theyre after me because of Daddy, though. He She shook her head. He I think I think he had something to do with the Change, Ellen. I dont know what but
Cait? Are you okay? asked Ellen, setting down her cup of coffee.
I I dont know. That jail cell
The last thing Caitlyn remembered was the room spinning and then her head striking the floor, and Ellen and the two men leaping out of their chairs and rushing over to her.