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When her eyes opened, the first thing she saw was searing, blinding white light.  Muffled, distorted voices were saying something, and the fuzzy, blurry face of a man she’d never seen before was leaning over her, his hand cradling her head.  There was more — Kim-na was there, leaning over her as well, and she was saying something to the man, but her speech was garbled and echoed like she was speaking through a cardboard tube.

Slowly, Caitlyn began to understand their words.

“ — probably be fine,” said the man.  “Her eyes are moving.  She’s breathing, and her pulse is back to normal.  That’s a good sign.”

“Yo, for real, you can be positive at a time like this?” said Kim-na, and Caitlyn then noticed Kim-na’s hands were holding her own head, as if it would fall off the Asian girl’s shoulders if it wasn’t being held steady.

“I’ve seen worse,” said the man.  His face was coming into view.  It was an angular, bony face, not gaunt, just with strong masculine features, buried under a tousled mop of short brownish hair.  He couldn’t have been much more than thirty years old.  His eyes were very kind, but they looked older than his face by far.

“Nubbuh,” said Caitlyn.  Apparently that was “What’s going on?” in gibberish; her tongue and lips seemed to have been wrapped in cotton and then super-glued to her teeth.  “Ze — gibeh...”

“Caitlyn?” asked the man.  “How do you feel?”

“Ibble,” she mouthed.  She felt like she’d been hit by a bus.  Feeling started to return in one of her fingers, and it wasn’t happy feeling.

“Yo, how you doin’, girl?” said Kim-na, still holding her own head.  “What’s the deal with her, doc?  How come she ain’t speakin’ right?”

“I’m not a doctor,” said the man.  “I know a CPR and that’s about it.  So you tell me what’s going on.”

“What’s goin’ on is that bitch fucked us up,” said Kim-na.  “Gonna cram my hoof up her ass ’n use her for a leg warmer next time I see ’er.”

“Her pupils are dilated,” said the man.

“Zgone on?” said Caitlyn.  Whatever Kim-na had just said, it didn’t make any sense to her.

Kim-na leaned closer.  “I gots a goddamn headache, and you been passed out,” she said.  “Yo bitch-ass sister poisoned us.”

“Ua...?”

“I’m afraid it’s true,” said the man, “you’re recovering now, but it’ll take awhile for the drugs to wear off.  But — are you really Ellen — Ellen Stockwell’s sister?”

Caitlyn just stared at the two of them, not sure what to say.

“I’m sorry to say that yes, indeed, she is,” came a voice from far to her right.

Caitlyn heard a door slide shut.  There were footsteps, and an ugly-looking brute of a man holding a large, uglier-looking gun used it to push Kim-na aside.  The other man’s face disappeared.  Ellen’s face appeared over Caitlyn, and it was dark and sober, neatly framed by her black hair.

“Cait, I’m sorry about this, really I am, but I’ve priorities, you see?  I hope you won’t be mad; I did this for your own good.  You’ll thank me later.  Don’t you worry:  The drugs will wear off shortly, and you’ll get the best of care here; you are my sister, after all.”

Another face appeared beside her, and it was the last face Caitlyn expected to see anywhere, much less — well, wherever this was.

“Wizzsh...!” said Caitlyn.

“Yes, hello,” said Wils.  “Sorry about this, but it can’t be helped.”

“Whur...  whuryu...  doin’ ear?”

“I know you’ve a ton of questions, but as usual, there are far fewer answers than there are questions.  But let’s cover the easy ones.  My name’s not Wils; you’re in our rather nice underground base; your sister did, in fact, drug you; and I hope you’ll excuse me for stealing your purse and setting the troops on you in Central Park, but we really needed your cooperation, and you’re so wishy-washy that we weren’t going to get it without them.  Ellen, don’t let me forget I owe you a dollar,” he added, glancing at Ellen.  He looked back down at Caitlyn.  “Her methods can be a bit crude, but she’s often right about people.  Certainly was right about you.”

“Ell...?”

“What did Ji-Cheng tell you?” asked Ellen coldly.

“Ell...?”

“Goddammit, Cait, we don’t have time for you to screw around.  What did Ji-Cheng tell you?”

Caitlyn closed her eyes, and her mind raced and raced, but the faster her mind raced, the fuzzier and blurrier the thoughts grew, until darkness enveloped them all and she passed out again.
*   *   *

When she came to this time, she was still in the same room, but her head was clearer.  The man whom she’d seen before was leaning over her again, holding a cold compress on her forehead.

“Hi.  How do you feel?” he asked as her eyes opened.

“Unngh...  Like someone wrapped me in a cactus suit,” she said.

“Glad to hear it,” he said.  “That means circulation is returning.”

“Uh, yeah...  And who are you again?” she said.

“Steven.  MacIntyre,” he added.

“Right...  and was I dreaming or was I sober when I dreamed that my sister and my ex-boyfriend drugged me and put me in a James Bond-ish secret underground base?”

“I’m sorry to say that part is real,” he said glumly.

Caitlyn fell silent for a few moments, then rolled over.  A pair of strong hands caught her, and she felt her hindquarters crash to the floor as her body rolled off the table she’d been lying on.  She looked up, and Steven was holding her torso tightly, gently smiling down at her.

With a little effort, she braced her legs and began to stand up, a little wobbly at first, but with his help, she grew steadier.  She looked down.  He was wearing a somewhat-torn white button-down shirt and a dirty blue tie over his strong, wide shoulders, and below the shirt, there was the unmistakable shape of a horse.  Strong horse.  Sleek horse.  Arabian, maybe.  With a brown that matched his unkempt hair.  And just a little five-o’clock shadow on that strong jawline.  And those deep eyes, staring straight at her.

“Thanks,” she said.  “Um — yeah.  Let me — let me get this straight:  I’m in some crazy underground fortress and Ellen and Wils drugged me?”

“Drugged by the best,” said Steven.  “The Human Society has ten thousand operatives, at least, and you got drugged by the head honcho and his girl Friday.  His name’s not Wils, by the way:  He’s William van der Wals, and a crueler man you’ll never meet.”

“Geez,” she said.  She looked around.  The room was white, and bright, not very large, and mostly empty.  There were no windows, not even one in the door.  There were a couple of panels in the ceiling with lights behind them, and a pair of cameras in either corner of the ceiling, and there was the metal table she’d been laying on, and there was a trough in the corner that was filled with —

“Oh, God, that’s not the bathroom is it?” she asked, pointing, her arm still a little wobbly.

“’Fraid so,” said Steven.  He took a step back and set his hindquarters down.

“Where’s Kim-na?” she said.

“They took her for interrogation,” he said, and glanced at his wristwatch.  “About two hours ago, just before you passed out again.”

“Holy hell,” she said.  “What’s going on here?  Steve — Steven, if you have a little time, I think you’d better tell me what you know.”

“If there’s one thing we have down here,” he said, “It’s time.”  He took a deep breath.

I came here about six months ago.  This is the headquarters of the Human Society — you’ve never heard of them?  That’s probably a good thing.  There was a time when they were just activists, racists, or species-ists, or whatever you want to call them, but in the last few years, they’ve gone from politics to terrorism to get their message across.

What they always said they wanted was normalcy; of course, what that means is anybody’s guess these days.  They used to be just an anti-Change group, but, well...  near as I’ve been able to learn from what I’ve heard around here, your sister and (—he shuddered—) van der Wals are the ones who run things now, and they’re crazy.  No...  that’s not right.  They’re evil, evil to the core — no, well, van der Wals is evil but he’s not crazy, but your sister — well, I’m sorry, but she’s psycho.  Bipolar, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, or something.  I don’t mean to offend; you seem nice enough so far.  It’s just — you haven’t seen what she’s done like I have.

Anyway, Human Society has been stepping up its efforts in the last few years.  Your sister’s the source of most of their money, I think, but van der Wals is the one who does all the planning.  We’re on the 27th floor, block J.  Uh, that’s twenty-seven floors down, I mean; (— he pointed up —) if you go up far enough, I think you’ll be underneath a concert hall in Arlington, but I’ve never been up that far.  Anyway, this is room twenty-seven twenty-two, and twenty through twenty-three are the “centaur” rooms.  They have other rooms for other species.  I don’t know how many people they have down here, but it’s a lot.

(He sighed.)  I used to just be an engineer for the DOD, nothing special, nothing big, it was a good day job, and after I Changed, I could even walk to work.  I was walking home one day, and suddenly a van drives up, a bunch of guys in black get out, throw a black sheet over my head, drag me into the van, and I’ve been down here ever since.

Yes, I know what you’re wondering, it’s been bad, and there’s been torture, but it hasn’t been that bad, really, compared to, say, a Mideast terrorist camp, because they’re really not out to kill anybody they’ve caught.  I mean, really, seriously.  Your sister sees to that; she’ll torture a man to within an inch of his life, but she won’t kill him if she can avoid it.  No, what they’re doing down here is trying to figure out how to reverse the Change.  Or control it.  Or something.  I’m not really all that sure.  Least, that’s what they say, and I think they’re telling the truth on that.  I’ve seen...  well, I’ve seen a lot of things nobody should ever see.  This one poor guy in the next room, they tried to change him back into a human with surgery...  his “legs,” wherever they got them from, never really “took,” and he died in a way I don’t even want to imagine.

So, um, miss girl, I don’t know what your sister has planned, but I wouldn’t be as worried about her as about van der Wals.  He’s dangerous and smart, and I don’t think his plans stop with just reversing the Change.

Caitlyn bit her lip.  “You’re sure my sister — I mean — and Wils — they’re both — they’re like terrorists?”

“Sorry,” said Steven.  “But cheer up.  You’ll probably get better treatment from your sister than the last girl who was in here.  They tried using refined form of M on her to change her back...  you don’t want to know how she died.”

“But that’s crazy, that’s insane, that’s — ”

The door slid open, and four large men dressed head-to-toe in black so that not even their faces were showing threw the limp and battered body of Kim-na into the room.  She bounced and bumped and stopped against the far wall as the door slid shut.

She looked up at Caitlyn, her face bruised and beaten with her right eye puffed up.  “It’s crazy, it’s insane, and it’s the truth,” she said.
Caity's World, Part 18. Things have gotten... messy. And they're not likely to get un-messy for a long, long time.

Part 17 can be found here, and part 19 can be found here. The Introduction and Author's Notes can be found here.

As usual, whether you love it, hate it, TLDR'ed it, or otherwise, please comment!
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:iconsagefillyluna:
SageFillyLuna Dec 14, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
LOVE
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Dec 15, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Heh, thanks. I was pretty sure you and ~MythicFables both would enjoy this story. Just wait: It gets a lot more interesting before it's done ;)
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:iconsagefillyluna:
SageFillyLuna Dec 15, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
i got up to part 26 i think last night, i couldn't stop and when i did it was 12:00!!!
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Dec 16, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Heh, my apologies for your lack of sleep. I hope you enjoyed the ride :)
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:iconsagefillyluna:
SageFillyLuna Dec 17, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
i certainly did!!!
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:iconcatgoyle:
...would SO not want to be wearing HER hooves right now...
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Jan 30, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Yeah, her life is kinda sucking pretty hard.
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:iconmorraha:
Actually...now that I think about it his full name has been used in my family more than once.
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:iconmorraha:
HA! I knew that twirp was waaaaaay too "good" to be for real!

Good choice on Steven's last name. That's one of my family names. :D
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