Caitlyn didnt have much chance to look at Kim-nas wounds, because the same four guards whod tossed her into the room came back only a moment later, grabbed her, and hauled her out as Kim-na shouted after her. Steven just looked sad and defeated, and the door slid shut.
There was a long hallway outside, and they carried Caitlyn down it, with one man holding each of her legs tightly. Had she really been a large horse, she might have been strong enough to squirm against them a little, but she was a centaur, pony-sized at best, and they we so strong that she couldnt move anything except her arms. At first, shed tried to punch them, but she learned her lesson: Punch equals taser equals pain. So she let them carry her, her arms folded and a grumpy look on her face, like a French queen being carried on a throne to her beheading.
The hallway was white, and reasonably lit, and as they passed various doors, she could see they were labeled with room numbers, and there were small windows into some of them, and various people slouched inside. Centaurs, then satyrs, then a lonely-looking unicorn just before the hallway reached a T, and they turned right. Down the next hallway, same as the last, an interminable bland white tunnel, and the only thing that distinguished this hallway from the last were the nightmares on the other side of the doors.
Inside those chambers, Caitlyn could see that Steven hadnt been lying to her. A mermaid, lying unconscious on an operating table, her green tail cut wide open and tied to the table while three men in white uniforms argued over a pair of human leg bones they were holding. A man, a satyr, once, tied to a wall, his horns ground down to stubs, and a woman in a white uniform beside him shaving his once-furred legs, saying something enthusiastically to him that didnt pass through the thick door.
And then there was the little girl, that sad little girl, perhaps not more than eight years old, sitting on the table and crying, bawling, her face covered in her hands, the tears streaming down as pretty white feathers fell like flower petals from great wings that lay motionless on the table beside her, with short, bloody, bandaged stumps behind her shoulders where they had once been attached. No-one else was in that room, just the little girl, a picture of suffering so sad, so lonely, that Caitlyn could not help but stare. She wanted to leap from her captors and run to the poor little girl, to comfort her, to tell her everything will be alright, to give her a gentle hug, to give her back what made her sad, those pretty wings, to make her smile and giggle and run and fly, too, soaring and sweeping through the air, dancing through the skies, bouncing over zephyrs and gusts, laughing with the birds, like only a child could. For a split second, she saw in her imagination the happiest days of that little girls life, and then she was back in the sobering reality of the worst day of a little girls life.
Caitlyn dragged her eyes away, wiping away a tear. Wwhere are you taking me? she said. But the men didnt respond.
At the end of this hallway there was a split sliding door, shiny, silvery, and metallic with no window, and as they approached, it opened. Caitlyn noticed that the front mens badges lit up just before it did. Inside they went, and it was an elevator. The doors closed, and up they went, 27, 26, 25, 24... At the tenth floor, the elevator stopped, and the doors slid open again. The men carried her through the doors, dumped her unceremoniously on the floor, then stood at attention.
This room was different. It was large, and open, and in fact it had windows. Sort of. There were several windows here, large screens that displayed what was probably being seen by a camera high above the city somewhere, so that it looked like the room was itself a penthouse suite in a skyscraper, with expensive wooden floors and a vaulted ceiling. There was a dark brown mahogany desk on the other side of the room, past the pair of wide wooden steps that led down to where Caitlyn lay, and there were a number of soft easy chairs and couches scattered about, some red, some green, all very expensive. She glanced back at the elevator, and it was the only place where the huge windows were absent. Despite the dark wooden floor, it was brightly lit and would have been cheery anywhere else.
The woman behind the desk stood up and walked over. She stopped just past the steps. Hello, Cait, Im sorry for the rough treatment, but it couldnt be helped.
Caitlyn pulled herself together and stood up. El... what the hell is going on here? she said darkly.
I brought you here because we need your help, said her sister. Weve tried so hard, but we havent been able to make any real progress, substantive progress.
She fell silent, and walked back up the steps, then over to one wall. The window-panel slid to the side, revealing a very nice, well-stocked bar.
Can I get you a drink? she asked.
Ill pass, said Caitlyn, remembering the drugs.
Oh, I wont drug you this time, said Ellen. Dont worry about that. I didnt have a better way to bring you here. They wanted to beat you up and knock you out, you see, and I thought a little sleeping pill would do the job a bit more civilly. It was a compromise.
El, Im gonna ask it again: What the hell is going on here? said Caitlyn, her voice still cold and steady.
Whats going on, sis, is that were trying to fix Daddys mistake. She sipped a little brandy that shed poured into a glass. Im doing this for the honor of our family name, you see.
You took Moms name, said Caitlyn. Youre not a Camberley.
Oh, well, hrm, yes. But its still our responsibility. Daddy made a mistake. I know he was trying to stop the terrorists from getting his work, but his solution was worse than anything else they couldve done. I mean... look at you. God, Cait, look at you. Youre a horse. Thats not right.
Caitlyn suddenly felt even more defensive, and put her hands on her brown hide as if to stop Ellen from stealing it. It is what it is, she said. She took a step toward her sister, and the four attendants darted around in front of her, their arms spread wide.
Relax, boys, shes safe, said Ellen, and sat down in one of the red easy-chairs. The men whisked smartly to the side and stood at attention.
I saw what youre doing down here, said Caitlyn, taking another step. Those people
Those people are better off dead than living as monsters! said Ellen, her eyes black and wide and wild and glaring at Caitlyn. She calmed herself. They in every war, there are casualties, she said. Were fighting to put the world back to rights. If only one person has to die so billions can live normal lives, thats a small price to pay.
Caitlyn started walking carefully toward Ellen. She climbed up the steps and stopped. El, youre torturing people down here. You have to stop.
And we will! said Ellen. We have a better solution now that youre here. Weve tried surgery, weve tried she spat a little brandy on the floor, and one of the men rushed over to the bar, grabbed a napkin, and before Ellen could continue he was already cleaning it up on hands and knees weve tried magic, weve tried drugs that might let those of you that can change hold your shape permanently, weve tried everything, Cait, we have, but none of it works. None of it solves this awful, awful, monstrous plague. None of it can give you back your life.
Caitlyn gritted her teeth. I like my life.
No you dont, said Ellen. You hate it.
The lump in Caitlyns throat grew too large, and she said nothing.
Thats why we have to change you back, you see? You and everyone else. Make the world normal, nice and neat, just like before.
What did you do to Kim-na? asked Caitlyn.
We asked her questions, said Ellen. She set down the brandy and stood up. She was being difficult about the answers, so we had to persuade her. Im sorry that she wasnt very useful, though. But you, youre here now, and youll help us. Were going to finally be able to fix everything.
El, this is crazy! said Caitlyn. Maybe the Change is wrong, but what youre doing down there is even more wrong. That little girl... she was an angel...
Yes? Let me tell you about that little girl, said Ellen, walking over to the windows. She was human a year ago, perfectly normal like a thousand other little girls. And one day, she woke up with great big wings. Her parents were scared. She was scared. She was unhappy. She went to school, and the children laughed at her. Pointed fingers at her. She was miserable, dont you see it? She was crying all the time, every day, for hours on end. She couldnt understand how the world had done this to her. Shed had everything shed ever wanted and now it was gone. She had so many plans, she had such a bright future, and now they were all gone. She was going to get a good education and a fast-track career, and she married a good husband, and she won the respect and admiration of her peers, and then she got pregnant, she was going to start a happy family, and everything seemed so normal, and then the ultrasound showed a little thing with a tail, a hideous ugly horrible deformed creature, an offense against God, an offense against nature, a goddamn freak! And all she ever wanted was a normal goddamn life! A normal goddamn family! A house in the suburbs, two kids, a dog, a good job, but no, her Daddy had to fuck with the world and instead of a baby she had a freak monster growing in her belly!
Suddenly Ellen balled her fist and punched the window, hard. It cracked and sparkled and fizzled, and the left side of the picture disappeared.
Ellen was breathing hard, but her voice grew soft as a trickle of blood inched down from her fist, still pressed against the glass. She had an abortion then. She used a back-alley quack to keep it out of the papers. There was blood everywhere. Her body was ruined then, that was her last chance at a baby, but the monster was out, a mangled pile of blood and guts and God! scales and slime strewn across the floor, and she ran out into the night, and that thing, that abomination, it was gone, gone, gone forever.
She stood leaning, breathing against the window for a quiet minute, and Caitlyn didnt dare move a muscle. Ellens eyes slowly softened, and at length, she lowered her hand and turned to her sister, her head down, her face and eyes buried in her hair. A tear dripped down and landed on the floor. I I never told you. I never told Mom.
But dont you see? said Ellen, looking up, and her eyes were ablaze with a madness that Caitlyn had never seen before. Dont you see? Thats why I have to do this. Thats why this has to be done. No-one else can ever be allowed to suffer like that. We have to fix Daddys mistake. We have to do this.
No, said Caitlyn.
The madness in Ellens eyes grew dark, steady, and cruel. Youre helping whether you like it or not, she said. Itll go easier if you cooperate, but in the end, Im going to fix the world, and by God youre going to be human again if it kills us both. Go back to your dark cell with the freaks for now if you want, but Im going to bring you back into the light whether youre ready or not.