Slowly, Caitlyn began to understand their words.
probably be fine, said the man. Her eyes are moving. Shes breathing, and her pulse is back to normal. Thats a good sign.
Yo, for real, you can be positive at a time like this? said Kim-na, and Caitlyn then noticed Kim-nas hands were holding her own head, as if it would fall off the Asian girls shoulders if it wasnt being held steady.
Ive 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 couldnt 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 Whats 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 shed been hit by a bus. Feeling started to return in one of her fingers, and it wasnt happy feeling.
Yo, how you doin, girl? said Kim-na, still holding her own head. Whats the deal with her, doc? How come she aint speakin right?
Im not a doctor, said the man. I know a CPR and thats about it. So you tell me whats going on.
Whats 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 didnt 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.
Im afraid its true, said the man, youre recovering now, but itll take awhile for the drugs to wear off. But are you really Ellen Ellen Stockwells sister?
Caitlyn just stared at the two of them, not sure what to say.
Im 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 mans face disappeared. Ellens face appeared over Caitlyn, and it was dark and sober, neatly framed by her black hair.
Cait, Im sorry about this, really I am, but Ive priorities, you see? I hope you wont be mad; I did this for your own good. Youll thank me later. Dont you worry: The drugs will wear off shortly, and youll 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 cant be helped.
Whur... whuryu... doin ear?
I know youve a ton of questions, but as usual, there are far fewer answers than there are questions. But lets cover the easy ones. My names not Wils; youre in our rather nice underground base; your sister did, in fact, drug you; and I hope youll excuse me for stealing your purse and setting the troops on you in Central Park, but we really needed your cooperation, and youre so wishy-washy that we werent going to get it without them. Ellen, dont 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 shes often right about people. Certainly was right about you.
What did Ji-Cheng tell you? asked Ellen coldly.
Goddammit, Cait, we dont 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 shed 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?
Im 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 shed 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-oclock 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: Im 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 names not Wils, by the way: Hes William van der Wals, and a crueler man youll 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 shed been laying on, and there was a trough in the corner that was filled with
Oh, God, thats 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.
Wheres 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. Whats going on here? Steve Steven, if you have a little time, I think youd better tell me what you know.
If theres one thing we have down here, he said, Its time. He took a deep breath.
I came here about six months ago. This is the headquarters of the Human Society youve never heard of them? Thats 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, theyve gone from politics to terrorism to get their message across.
What they always said they wanted was normalcy; of course, what that means is anybodys guess these days. They used to be just an anti-Change group, but, well... near as Ive been able to learn from what Ive heard around here, your sister and (he shuddered) van der Wals are the ones who run things now, and theyre crazy. No... thats not right. Theyre evil, evil to the core no, well, van der Wals is evil but hes not crazy, but your sister well, Im sorry, but shes psycho. Bipolar, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, or something. I dont mean to offend; you seem nice enough so far. Its just you havent seen what shes done like I have.
Anyway, Human Society has been stepping up its efforts in the last few years. Your sisters the source of most of their money, I think, but van der Wals is the one who does all the planning. Were on the 27th floor, block J. Uh, thats twenty-seven floors down, I mean; ( he pointed up ) if you go up far enough, I think youll be underneath a concert hall in Arlington, but Ive 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 dont know how many people they have down here, but its 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 Ive been down here ever since.
Yes, I know what youre wondering, its been bad, and theres been torture, but it hasnt been that bad, really, compared to, say, a Mideast terrorist camp, because theyre really not out to kill anybody theyve caught. I mean, really, seriously. Your sister sees to that; shell torture a man to within an inch of his life, but she wont kill him if she can avoid it. No, what theyre doing down here is trying to figure out how to reverse the Change. Or control it. Or something. Im not really all that sure. Least, thats what they say, and I think theyre telling the truth on that. Ive seen... well, Ive 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 dont even want to imagine.
So, um, miss girl, I dont know what your sister has planned, but I wouldnt be as worried about her as about van der Wals. Hes dangerous and smart, and I dont think his plans stop with just reversing the Change.
Caitlyn bit her lip. Youre sure my sister I mean and Wils theyre both theyre like terrorists?
Sorry, said Steven. But cheer up. Youll 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 dont want to know how she died.
But thats crazy, thats insane, thats
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. Its crazy, its insane, and its the truth, she said.