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Animorphers 2.0.



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Thu Jun 29, 2017 2:53 am
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Lefty says...



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We were just kids... We didn't deserve this burden.

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How it all began...

In the year 2056, Japanese Scientists began the early stages of developing human-animal technology that would allow consumers to change their appearance to be more animal-like for fashion trends and social status.

When the American Government got wind of the experiment, they wanted it for themselves. They stole the research, killed the scientists involved and set their laboratory aflame. Soon, they would develop the research far beyond what the Japanese had even imagined. Except, the Americans didn't want it for recreational use like the Japanese... they wanted to create an army of super soldiers that could take over the world.

They perfected the experiment and invented chairs that were capable of altering a humans DNA to have the ability to morph between human and animal form at will. They were ready to test it, and their prime candidates to survive the procedure were teenagers.

Eleven unsuspecting high school students became their first batch of subjects. Ten of them survived...

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When the Japanese discovered who had stolen their research, they bombed the lab in which the experiment took place, destroying all evidence and research relating to the project... or so they thought.

The ten original Animorphers have been trying to get a grasp on their new lives, while trying to stay out of clutches of the Japanese who want to kill them and hold onto any thread of normalcy they can. The experiment was destroyed, but the burden that was given to them remains.

More People Know About Them Than They Think...

A rebel group by the name of The Protectorate has vowed to protect them, recognizing that these teens were unwillingly a part of the experiment. They believe they deserve better, and that if the government were to succeed with their army, it could mean the destruction of mankind.

The Japanese want to clean up their mess and destroy any evidence of the experiment... including the Animorphers themselves.

The American Government lost track of the Animorphers after the bombing and have been trying to find them ever since. Why? Because the Animorphers are valuable to them and they want to protect them at all costs. They recognize that the experiment was a mistake and just wants to make things right, with no intention of recreating the experiment... or so they were told.

Now, after everything...

Knowing that the experiment was destroyed, the Animorphers are trying to put it behind them. But when they stumble onto the knowledge that the American Government has another lab where they have recreated the experiment, the Animorphers work with The Protectorate to destroy the experiment once and for all, before they ruin any other kids lives or actually succeed in creating an army.

But they're too late.
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Animorphers 2.0....

Their plan to destroy the lab is going according to plan... until they find a new set of test subjects being kept there, and this time, they're barely teenagers. The Animorphers risk everything to rescue them, and once they succeed, they learn that these kids are not only orphans, but have already gone through the procedure. It's only a matter of time before they too, acquire the ability to morph into animals.

I trust them, I trust them not...


With the government having betrayed them, the Japanese still on their tails, and a new set of Animorphers they must mentor and protect, the weight on their shoulders has never been heavier.

And though The Protectorate has been helpful thus far, something about them seems off, and their intensions may be more sinister than they seem.

Time is running out, and with no one to trust but each other, they must do everything they can to stay alive, keep the government from creating the experiment again, and with any luck, find their way home.

Bottom Line:


3-6 orphans around the ages of 11 to 14 find themselves taken in by the government and are unknowingly experimented on and given the ability to turn into animals. Just after the experiment, the new subjects are rescued by a group of teenagers--the original Animorphers, and taken under the wing of The Protectorate. A couple days after their rescue, they start coming down with weird symptoms, until one by one, they begin to have the ability to morph into an animal. There is one specific animal they can morph into, and every kid gets a different animal. Some may be able to control it, some may not. And whether the original Animorphers like it or not, they have become the new Animorphers mentors.

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The Original Animorphers:

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The New Animorphers:

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Rules:


Light language is okay, but limit F-words please.
Romance is fine, just not too graphic.
No killing off characters without permission.
You may have up to two characters.
Characters should be between eleven and fourteen.
There can only be one of each animal. One house cat and one tiger is fine, just not two house cats. A dog and a coyote is fine, even two different kinds of birds are fine. Just not the exact same animal.
Try to post at least once every two weeks.
I'm not super concerned about god modding... just discuss it on the DT first!

Template:


Code: Select all
[b]Name: [/b]
[b]Age:[/b]
[b]Gender:[/b]
[b]Appearance:[/b]
[b]Personality:[/b]
[b]Family:[/b]
[b]Strengths:[/b]
[b]Weaknesses:[/b]
[b]Their Animal:[/b]
[b]Other:[/b]
[b]Became Part Of The SB In 1.0. or 2.0.?[/b]


End Note:


This is the second SB in the Animorphers story. You did not need to be a part of the original SB to participate in this one. We're looking forward to bringing new people into this world and we'll be sure to catch you up on anything important that wasn't mentioned in this main post. There is more info in the DT, so check that out if you're interested!

The original Animorphers storybook was voted best SB of 2015 and tied for best SB of 2016. It's also one of only a handful of SBs that have ever officially been completed, out of over 5000! Now we'd like to invite you to join in on the action and continue this storybook with us! What do you say? Want to become an Animorpher?
Last edited by Lefty on Tue Jul 03, 2018 5:23 am, edited 5 times in total.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes





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Mon Jul 17, 2017 1:31 am
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Lefty says...



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The flames were hot against his skin. It spread across the carpet, up the wallpaper. Every bed was a ball of fire, every doorframe burning. Jared bolted into the adjoining room. The door to the stairwell was blocked, too. He was trapped, and he was alone.

He coughed as the smoke filled his lungs. He needed to get out of there, and fast. He turned and headed the way he came, back through a couple adjoining rooms, all filled with the beds the kids in the orphanage slept in each night. It looked like everyone else had gotten out. Jared probably would have been with them, but he was in his secret hiding place, a small attic-like storage area he'd found a couple months ago. He went there to be alone, to draw without any judgmental eyes watching him. But this time, he'd fallen asleep, and the only thing that woke him with the smell of smoke spilling in from under the door.

Jared finally found a door the flames hadn't yet reached--the door to the roof. He pulled open the heavy door with all the strength he had and sprinted up the stairs. Beads of sweat spilled into his eyes, making it hard to see. The flames were startlingly bright against the black backdrop of the night sky.

He ran to the edge of the roof and looked down. Tons of people stood on the street below, watching the building go up in flames. Panic rose up in him. There was no way down.

One by one, people on the ground noticed him and started pointing. "It's Jared!" A little girl screamed.

"Jared! Don't move!" the head caretaker yelled, putting her hands out. She fancily pushed through the crowd, headed for the fire truck parked several yards away.

Jared did as she said and waited. He expected the woman to come back with a fire fighter and a really tall ladder. Maybe he wasn't trapped after all.

But then the ground beneath his feet began to crack. He jumped to the side just as the floor collapsed under him. He stared at it with wide eyes, his heart pounding. The flames lapped at the roof, taking more and more of it as the seconds ticked by. One side of the roof completely caved, then another and another. The fire fighter wasn't going to make it.

Jared ran to the other side of the roof, jumping over the holes where fire roared below. A fast moving river swept along the back side of the building, heading into the city. He stared down at it, horrified of the thought, but he didn't have a choice. He was out of time.

He took a deep breath and zipped his jacket up to his neck. He couldn't lose it. Not when it was all he had left of her.

He waited as long as he could, hoping desperately that a fire fighter would appear over the other edge on a ladder at any second. But the fire fighter never came. The ground crumbled under his feet and he nearly lost his balance. He leapt up onto the ledge of the building, took in a deep breath, and just as the final wall caved, he jumped.

Falling. Falling. Splash. He plunged into the swift black water below.

The river swept him along. He tried desperately to swim to the edge, but the current was just too strong, and it was all he could do to keep his head above water and not drown. But the further it took him, the harder it was to fight it. His muscles ached, his eyes were heavy and there was nothing he could do but to let the water sweep him away.

-~~-~~-

Jared's eyes shot open. He coughed water out of his mouth and gasped for breath. The full moon shown brightly above him, calm and still, everything that night wasn't. He laid on top of a rocky shore, the bright lights of the city shining in the distance.

He lifted his head when he felt something pulling at his jacket. An old homeless man was tugging on the zipper of his jacket.

"Hey!" he yelled in surprise, his voice strained.

The man smiled, many of his teeth missing, and continued trying to take the jacket. Jared scrambled up off the ground, away from him. The man laughed.

Jared stared at him for a long moment, eyes as round as the moon, then took off running in the opposite direction. He was shaking, cold and afraid. The more he ran, the less familiar things looked, and before he knew it, he wasn't even sure where the river was. How long had he been in the stream? A mile? Ten? Even if he found what was left of the orphanage, would anyone still be there?

The more he wandered, the more he panicked. The world seems to whirl around him. Strange people, strange places. Finally, he found a building that said Police on the front. He took off in a sprint for it. Flung the doors open and went right up to the receptionist. She took him in, startled. "Is everything all right, young man?"

"No, you have to help me," he pleaded. "I'm lost. I don't know how to get home."

"Calm down," she said softly. "Do you know where you live?"

"I lived in the Cedar Valley Orphanage. But there was a fire and I got separated."

"All right. Have a seat. I'll make some calls and find someone who knows what's going on. Someone will come for you. I promise."

-~~-~~-

Jared sat in one of the waiting room chairs. One of the nice policemen had given him his jacket and some hot cocoa to keep him warm. Tears streamed down his soot-smeared cheeks. He knew he was safe now, but everything that had happened was traumatizing to say the least and he couldn't help but wonder if anyone really was coming for him.

Hours passed by. He watched police offers walk back and forth, busy doing their jobs even though it was well into the middle of the night. He respected them. He even thought it might be cool to be one some day, if he could learn to be brave enough.

Finally, a man walked in and headed for the receptionists desk. After a moment, she pointed over to Jared, and the man headed for him. He wore a crumpled button-up shirt and a baseball cap. His face was clean-shaven and he had kind eyes. As soon as he got there, he knelt down in front of Jared. "So, I hear you got lost from your group when the orphanage caught fire. Is it right that you jumped in the river and let it take you five miles down stream?"

Jared nodded a little.

"That's some true bravery right there if I ever saw some."

He smiled at that.

"You've been through a lot. What do you say we get you somewhere safe and warm? Get a good meal in you?"

"That sounds nice," Jared admitted. "Where are you taking me?"

"I work with foster system. I help find runaway orphans and bring them to a safe facility where they can get a good night sleep, clean clothes, a hot shower... then once they're back on their feet I try to find where they belong. And given that the orphanage burned down, that sounds like the perfect place for you, don't you think?"

Jared nodded, a bit of hope rising up in him. Everything he said sounded wonderful. "What are we waiting for?"

The man smiled back at him. "I like your spirit. Come on. Let's get out of here."

Jared pulled himself out of the chair and shrugged off the policeman's jacket. The man lead him out the door, towards an official looking van. "What's your name, kid?"

"Jared," he replied. "What's yours?"

The man looked back down at him. "You can call me Jay."
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes





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Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:13 pm
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Lefty says...



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The hustle and bustle inside the hospital is far more lively than the empty streets outside as a light snowfall begins collecting on the streets. I walk down the hallway of the third floor, stopping briefly to say hi to the nurse, Jan. She's my favorite of the nurses. Not grumpy like all the others. She has five cats and goes skiing on the weekends. She thought my long lost twin story was hilarious.

I nod a Riley's doctor as he walks away from her room. Dr. Connor. He has two kids and collects baseball caps. I've gotten to know a lot about all of the doctors and nurses that come through this floor. I also know where the nicest bathrooms are, the best vending machines... If you pay with just dimes in the vending machine on the fifth floor, it'll give you the item for half price. And the chair in the right corner of Riley's room the most comfortable chair in her room, even over the leather couch in the second floor waiting room.

Finally, I make it back to Riley's room and slip inside, where she's sitting up in her bed, watching the crappy little tv hung in the corner of the room. "Hey!"

"Hey, you're back!" Riley says when she sees me. When she first woke up, she was really pale and maybe a little thinner than usual, but over the last couple weeks, the color has completely returned to her face and she's looking healthier. It took a little while, but she's almost completely back to her old self. The doctors even said they might let her try out crutches tomorrow.

I glance out the window in the door and when I don't see anyone coming, I pull a package of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups out of my pocket.

"For me?" Riley asks.

"No, I thought I'd just wave them around in front of you to brag." I toss them to her, then pull another package out of my pocket for myself.

"You're the best," she says, ripping the packet open with her teeth.

"Well, you know." I shrug. "I was getting some for myself and the machine gave me two, so..."

"Ah... Right."

I sit down on the end of her bed and pull a can of coke out of my bag and set it on her end table. Then I pull one out for myself and click back the latch.

Riley smirks at me. "And I suppose the soda machine gave you two also?"

"What can I say? The machines like me."

"Uh huh... Sure." She finishes the last cup, then buries her face in her pillow.

"You okay?"

"I am sooo bored," she says, muffled.

"Don't think about being bored," I tell her. "Think about... School."

"That's the same thing," she says, still muffled in the pillow. "I'd climb the wall if they'd even let me stand up by myself."

"Which is why they won't let you stand up," I tell her. "I don't think climbing walls is very good for gunshot wound recovery..."

She gives me a look.

"Okay, okay... Think about... your journal. You know, like what it's about. Or about telling me what it's about..."

Riley pulls the pillow away from her face. "One, hands off the journal. Two, I feel fine."

I chuckle. "Riley, whether you feel find or not, you got shot. Most people don't survive that. Just be glad you're alive and think about something else and you'll be out of here before you know it."

"You know what I'm thinking about right now?" she asks. "Food."

"Even after the peanut butter cups and the coke?"

"Yup."

"Well, I knew you were going to say that, so..." I open my bag and nonchalantly pull out a fast-food bag.

"You're so good to me."

"Oh, did you think this was for you?" I give her a crooked grin. She laughs. I pull out a french fry and start eating it.

"I take that back. You're the worst." Riley steels a fry.

"I know," I say. "And you love me for it." Riley playfully steels another fry and sticks her tongue out at me.

My smile fades. "You know you... You really scared me when you got... I thought..." I sigh.

"Well, I might have if you hadn't been there," she admits. "Same thing goes for the time we were attacked at the bomb site."

"Well, that was kind of my fault... It was a stupid idea."

Riley sits up a little straighter. "Yeah, it was."

I let out a laugh, then give her a bashful smile. "I'm just really glad you're okay. You know... you get yourself into a lot of trouble." I smirk at her. "I guess it's a good thing that I'm around to get you out of it."

Riley looks offended. "And who was the one who saved your sorry pelt when you fell in the lake? Hm?"

"First of all... You were the one who pushed me in. And if I remember correctly, you never helped me out. Either time."

Riley throws her pillow at me. "You can't give me anything."

"Oh. Ohh... I remember now. Yep, it was definitely you who saved me. I 'fell' in and would have drowned if you hadn't been there. My ego just wouldn't allow me to admit it before."

Riley smiles at me.

"See, you've completely forgotten about being bored, haven't you? I guess all you have to do is think about me," I say.

"Okay... I guess there's some truth in that," she admits. She looks thoughtful for a moment, then says, "So, I heard you knocked over a vending machine. Is that true?"

"They wouldn't let me see you because I wasn't family... But I admit... I've had better days," I say. "And no, they still didn't believe my twin story."

Riley rolls her eyes. "I have no idea how that didn't work the second time around."

"Meh... It was worth a shot." I shake my head. "Bad choice of words..."

Riley smiles at me and it makes me happier than I can express. But then it fades. "Cole, can I ask you something?"

"Okay."

"Why haven't you left the hospital? I've been in here for two weeks and you haven't gone home once."

I shrug. "Nothing better to do. Good excuse to get out of school. Besides, that chair is way more comfortable than my bed at Layla's house. I'm not even sure it's a real bed."

Riley nods slowly at my words. "Okay... Now tell me the real reason you haven't left my side."

I let out a sigh. "The last time I left your side, you almost died. The second I turned my back on you..."

"Cole, I'm fine," she assures me.

My face hardens. "You almost flatlined, Riley. I don't think it could have been any closer. The only reason you survived was because I got you to the hospital in time. There was so much blood..." I look down at my hands. "I still see it every time I close my eyes."

"It replays in my head, too," she admits. "But you know what I see? You, being there, saving my life."

I look up at her. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. And I can't thank you enough for what you did. But I'm safe now. I'm not in some rundown suburb being chased by a Japanese Assassin. I'm on the third floor of a hospital, surrounded by doctors and security guards."

"But what if something happens and I'm not here to--"

"What happened wasn't your fault," she tells me. "You're lucky that you weren't shot, too. And because you weren't, I'm going to be okay. And just because I'm stuck in a hospital room doesn't mean that you need to be. Go home. Get a good night sleep. You look awful."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive."

I let let out a breath and stand up. Grab my coat off the chair, then turn back to Riley. I hesitate. "Positive?"

Riley chuckles. "Go!"

I smirk at her, then head out the door.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes





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Sat Jul 22, 2017 11:34 pm
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Lefty says...



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The rain pattered against the giant windows that made up the outer wall of the F.U.S.E. lobby, running down in streaks and pooling on the white quartz outside. The weather might not have been pretty outside, but inside the building, it was just as pristine as it had been every time I'd visited for the past two weeks.

"It's good to see you again, Ms. Sanders," Jay Sterling said as he came into the lobby, right off the glass elevator. "And of course, it is good to see you again as well Ms. Tanner and Ms. Penn," he added, gesturing to Charlotte and Emma as they came in the doors behind me. This was the sixth time I'd been here, and the second for Charlotte and Emma.

Every time I'd come, they'd never been anything but kind and grateful. Explaining more about how the experiment worked, about why they chose me as a candidate specifically. Most of the others think I'm insane for even stepping foot in here, but the others also weren't there when Jay saved my life. When he looked me in the eye and told me with so much sincerity I couldn't breathe that he wanted to protect us. And given that Riley was still in the hospital, besides the fact that her injuries were bad enough for her to still need to be in the hospital, protection was definitely something we needed. The others were just too stubborn to see that.

Charlotte and Emma were hesitant at first, but when I'd been here a couple times and nothing bad happened, they decided to come along.

"Now, I don't want to rush you on anything. Especially if you're not completely comfortable with it, but the last time you were here, we talked about doing a medical exam this time. Were you still interested?" Jay asked.

I nodded. "Yep. We're ready."

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

We were led into a fancy medical facility. State-of-the-art would be an understatement. It felt like it belonged in the future, with modern design and fancy equipment I'd never seen before.

We were each separated into different rooms. In mine, I got into a white gown and was greeted by a woman in a doctor's coat. She had long blonde hair and kind eyes. She told me her name was Dr. Susan.

She ran through some basic tests, checking my heartbeat, blood pressure, reflexes, etc... She then used some of the devices to check things on a deeper level, but for the most part it was just lights or lasers scanning over me. She took a vial of my blood with a fancy gun that drew it right out of my arm, no pain, five seconds flat, and inserted it into a machine. Data exploded across the monitors around the room, everything you'd ever want to, and not want to know about yourself. The doctor scanned over the information on the screens, getting more excited with each screen she read.

"Remarkable..." She turned to me. "You are remarkable, Gwen. There is no other person in the entire world like you. Don't you think that's extraordinary?"

I shrugged, trying to fight back a bit of a smile. "I guess so. I'd never really thought about it."

"Well, everything so far looks great. In fact, the experiment worked on you better then anyone ever expected. Your body took to it extremely well. There were no side effects of the experiment that I can tell. You're in perfect health, Gwen."

I sighed. I hadn't realize it, but the worry of what exactly happened to me had been weighing a bit on my shoulders. "That's good to know."

She turned back to me."So, how are you feeling?"

"Fine," I said. "Great actually. Ever since the experiment took hold, I've felt stronger than ever."

The woman smiled. "There's a reason for that. Do you know why?"

"Is it because wolves are strong?"

She shook her head. "When you're in your human form, the animal DNA is essentially dormant, unless you start to activate it, either on purpose or by an emotional or physical response. So just because you can turn into a wolf shouldn't affect how you feel on a day-to-day basis."

"Okay... why then?"

She smiled and turned back to her machine. She typed something into the console and a moment later, a glass slide ejected into a tray with a drop of my blood on it. She placed it under a microscope that was hooked up to a tv screen, so the magnified cells were so enlarged they were as big as my head.

Tiny grey star-looking things were mixed in around the blood cells. "What are those?" I asked.

"Nanites," she said. "Millions of microscopic robots dispersed through your bloodstream that make you strong, keep you healthy and heal you faster. They also help you transition between human and animal form."

I got up from the table and took a closer look at the tv, in awe of what I was hearing.

"Now, you're no superman. Don't go jumping off any buildings... But, it's a nice little boost to help you maintain good health and stabilize the bridge between your human and animal DNA."

A smile spread across my face. "I had no idea," I said. I turned to her. "Thank you... For everything."

"You're very welcome. I'd love to take a look at your friends if you can ever convince them to come for a visit. Especially your friend, Riley. After everything she's been through, I'd like to see how her nanites are holding up."

"I'll keep trying," I assured her. "Maybe someday."

"Well, at least you three came in today. With being able to compile that information, it should give us a pretty good idea of how it effected all of you. And as for you, we got everything we needed to know."

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

I pulled my jacket back on over my teeshirt just as I left out the door of the exam room. Charlotte and Emma left their rooms just moments after I did. "Hey, how'd it go?" I asked.

"Fine," Emma said. "My doctor was really nice and she said I took to the DNA really well."

"Same! Sounds like I'm as healthy as a horse--Err... Gazelle?"

I smirked at her just as Jay came around the corner. "Ah, perfect timing! There's something I want to show you. Come with me."

Jay lead us down the corridor and up the elevator to the next level. He brought us to a door and pushed it open. Inside was a room with six bunkbeds.

"What is this?" I asked.

"This is your bunk. I told you back when I first met you that I wanted you to feel safe here. If you're ever in danger or need a place to get away to, you're welcome to stay here any time. Clean sheets, hot showers. And the cafeteria food isn't too bad either," he added. "You're certainly not obligated to stay here if you don't feel the need, I just wanted you to know that mi casa es su casa."

He smiled and left us be, getting in the elevator and heading back up to his penthouse office.

"Wow, they're being really generous," I said, wandering into the room.

"Yeah, maybe a little too generous," Emma said.

"What do you mean?"

"Why are they doing all of this? Just because they feel bad about the experiment? Or maybe because they want to get us back on their good side? I don't know, maybe so we don't tell anyone? Or do they want something from us?" she asked.

"I don't know, Emma," Charlotte said. "I think you're being a little paranoid. Gwen has been here half a dozen times over the last two weeks and nothing has seemed suspicious to her."

"Maybe," Emma admitted. "Maybe Dan is just getting in my head. It's just... No one is this nice unless they want something in return."

"Well, maybe they do," I said. "Maybe they haven't asked us yet. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

✦ ✦ ✦ ✦

I wandered down the hall, towards the bathroom with a towel slung over my shoulder. Jay's mentioning of a hot shower didn't sound too bad. I walked past a room with a metal door and a security key pad, but the door was open a crack, and inside was a computer with the F.U.S.E. logo filling the background.

No one is this nice unless they want something in return.

I hadn't had any doubts until Emma said that, and now the words were continuing to bounce around in my head.

I just wanted you to know that mi casa es su casa.

"Well, if your home is my home, Jay, I should humor Emma." I looked both ways down the hall, and when the coast was clear, I slipped into the room and shut the door behind me. It sealed with a mechanical lock.

Just as I sat down in the desk chair, the alarm I set on my phone went off. I pulled a bottle of the medication F.U.S.E. prescribed me out of my pocket and popped one of the tiny capsules into my mouth. Ever since I morphed at the warehouse, I'd had trouble controlling it. The scientists here said that, something about the fact that it took me so much longer to get my abilities made it so that, now that I had them, it was harder to keep them at bay. Like they had more time to manifest or something. Which meant that when any kind of emotion effected me, even if it wasn't not very strong, it was a struggle. But they gave me something they made just for me that helped keep it dormant, and I'd felt great ever since.

I slid the bottle back into my pocket, leaned back in the chair and brought up their file database. I scrolled through all the files. They were all unfamiliar to me, some things even in another language. Probably latin.

Finally, I scrolled past a file named project miles eximius and clicked on it. Then when the screen filled with more options, I clicked on subjects. The screen filled with detailed files on all of us. Pictures, addresses, list of family and all of their names. It was startling. How long had they been collecting all of this?

I clicked back to the main project page and selected the next option down which read lab. Pictures of the Miles Eximius Laboratory came up, the outside view, the labs on the inside, the M.I.C.'s.. Beneath them were dates. "Construction Started: May 14, 2052. Construction Completed: January 5th, 2053".

Back on the main page again, I narrowed my eyes when I looked down at the next option. lab 2.0.. I clicked on it, and a picture of a different lab, nestled deep in the forest, filled the screen. It was half the size of M.E.L., and instead of fancy glass walls, it was made up of thick concrete.

My eyes flicked down to the dates, and as I read them, I barely breathed. "Construction Started: June 1st, 2055. Construction Completed: Expected to completed Feb 12th, 2056."

I stared unblinking at the words. That's less than two weeks away.

Something on the monitor on the wall caught my attention. I looked up to see that it was a security feed of Jay's office. A man was just entering through the elevator. They shook hands.

I pushed the chair away from the desk and rolled closer to the monitor, then clicked the audio button on the screen to unmute the feed.

"Ah, good to see you again. I trust your visit to the lab went well?" Jay said.

"Everything is going according to plan," the man said in return. "Construction is right on schedule. They've already got the chairs in there."

My breath caught as I watched the conversation on the screen. The chairs? As in THEE CHAIRS?

"Good, good. And how is your search for test subjects going?"

"I've got some in mind, it'll just take a little time to reel them all in."

"Well, I trust you have that covered. Thank you for the update, Neil."

The man turned around to head back into the elevator and confirmed that it was none other than Mr. Neil himself.

I shot up from the chair so quickly I knocked it over backwards and it crashed into the ground. No time to fix it though, I had to warn Emma and Charlotte.

I flew back down the hallway, my heart pounding so hard my blood was rushing in my ears. I yanked the door back open and sprinted into the room, startling both of them.

"That was fast," Emma said.

"We have to go," I said.

"What? Why?" Charlotte said, bouncing casually on the bed.

"Get your stuff, we have to go right now."

"Gwen, did something happen?" Emma asked warily.

I started shoving all of my clothes back into my bag. "They lied to us." My voice shook. "They've been lying to us this whole time."

"Gwen?"

My breathing quickened. I tried desperately to keep myself from losing it.

"Gwen!"

I zipped my bag up and yanked it over my shoulder. When I turned around, Emma was standing right behind me. She grabbed my shoulders. "Gwen! Talk to us! What did you see?"

"They never shut down the experiment. They were just waiting for their second lab to finish being built. They're recreating it, Emma. And Mr. Neil is in on it."

"What? How do you know?"

"Because I saw him!" I let out a breath, trying to calm myself down. "They've been using us this whole time. And if they find out that we know, who knows what they'll do."

"Wait a second," Charlotte came over to us. "How do you know all of this for sure? Isn't it possible that whatever you found was old information? Maybe they were making a second lab, but then when the first one got bombed they stopped?"

"I saw Mr. Neil, Charlotte. He was talking about a lab and installing chairs."

"Did he specifically mention Miles Eximius? Or the M.I.C.'s?"

"Well, no... Charlotte, what are you saying?"

"I just saying, maybe we should confirm that there's another lab before we burn all our bridges," she suggested. "Did you get the location?"

I let out a breath. "Yeah. It's somewhere up by Idaho Springs."

"I think Layla and Jinx said they were going to pick something up for Jinx's dad near there today," Charlotte said. "Why don't we give them a call and see if they can check it out? If there's something out there for them to find, then we'll know we can't trust them for good."
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes





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Rydia says...



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Imani Azikiwe

They were super nice people and it was sad to be leaving them. Mr. Johnson opened the window when I asked and Mrs Johnson left the book on the table and then tucked me in super tight. It took at least five minutes to wriggle out of all the blankets and I stood in front of the window, book tucked under my arm and paused to take in the room one last time.

It was a nice room. A super nice room in a super nice house where two super nice people lived. But it wasn't my room. The wallpaper had been chosen long before I came on the scene and the pink unicorn could have belonged to any little girl. It certainly wasn't my pink unicorn so I had to leave it behind but I did cut a piece of hair from its mane to remember them. I dropped the scissors onto the bed and tied the lilac strands into my own hair. Then I pushed the window up and slid out onto the ledge.

There wasn't a tree against the house like the last time but there was a window box attached to the downstairs window. I dropped the book down first and then followed it by holding on to the ledge and dropping into the flowers. It wasn't so bad. From there it wasn't far to the ground and I grabbed the book and set off quickly down the street - it was a long way home.

Mr. Moon was in the sky and had turned off all the lights long before I reached the Orchard House children's home where Danny let me in the back door and we ran upstairs to Kiki's room. She smiled as soon as she saw me and held her arms out wide to receive my gift which I quietly and seriously handed over. And even though Mrs. Johnson had already read the story to me, I sat down between Matt and Danny as Kiki began to read The Magic Faraway Tree.

"Once upon a time there were three children, Joe, Beth and Frannie. They lived with their mother and father in a little cottage deep in the country."

There were seven of us in Kiki's room and there would have been eight except that Hattie had decided she was too old for listening to stories any more so she was pretending not to listen on the other side of the door. It was a good story and maybe even if I had known how it would change my world forever, I still would have taken it from the Johnson's house and left both my new world and my old one behind.

But I didn't feel like that at first. I was woken rudely by Mr. Henderson and dragged downstairs in front of Mrs. Atkins who owned the care home. She looked very red in the face and she told me immediately how disappointed she was. I looked down at my feet and tried to look like I was disappointed in myself as well. I don't think she bought it.

"You've left me no choice, Marnie. I'm sorry but I really am going to have to transfer you this time. It's for your own good."

I said nothing. Normally that worked - I'd look sad and say nothing and she'd give me one more chance.

This time she packed my bag and sent me off with a strange man to be signed in at a home more than two hours away. By car. I sat pressed up against the window the whole way and the man said nothing. But he didn't take me to another children's home.
Writing Gooder

~Previously KittyKatSparklesExplosion15~

The light shines brightest in the darkest places.





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TheSilverFox says...



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Mr. Golden


“Hey hey, it’s my favorite customer!” said the suave young man, propping his elbows on the library desk and smirking. His thick-rimmed glasses peered above the flickering blue screen of the computer to look at the tall, slouching teenager shuffling into the building with a few books in hand.

The teen looked at the librarian and grimaced. “This isn’t a store, Mike, and you don’t even need glasses,” he commented, though a small smile formed on his face. He walked to the wall opposite the young man, setting down his books on a blue cushion before slumping into a wooden chair.

“I didn’t think that you, of all people, would laugh at an up-and-coming car salesman,” replied the librarian, setting down his glasses and then switching from a grin to a more serious expression. “In case you can’t tell, Josh, I don’t have much of a job.”

Joshua Wright picked up a book from the cushion, read the cover – Algebra I – and opened it. “It’s Joshua,” he mumbled as he flipped to a proper page.

“Oh, hello Joshua, I was just talking to a nonexistent person who happened to have a shorter version of your name. My bad.” When the teen looked up from his book, glaring in frustration, Mike gestured to the rest of the small library. Beyond the few people occupied with computers in one corner of the space, there was almost nobody browsing the shelves or sitting on the weathered seats.

After a few seconds, Joshua returned to reading. “I don’t call you Mikhail,” he said absentmindedly.

Tapping a finger on his chin, the librarian contemplated this for a few seconds, staring up at a lightbulb flickering in a strange rhythm. “Touche,” he finally admitted, shrugging and typing loudly on his computer, peering from the side to watch Joshua’s reaction. When Joshua stared up and rolled his eyes, Mike sighed in exasperation. “What’s the matter? You almost always laugh after the typing bit. Is it…oh no, it’s Scotsgirl again, isn’t it?”

Grumbling, the teen set the book on the ground and buried his head in his hands. “They grounded me over the weekend after they found us trying to bash a hole through the fence with a rock.”

“You would think somebody would have the decency to tell her that her parents are probably dead by now,” mused Mike, spinning around in his seat. “Hey, if they’re so worried about you, why are you in here?”

“Mrs. Johnson’s outside right now,” said Joshua. He raised his head and pointed a finger towards a window, where there was a sudden blur of movement. “I can’t go anywhere without being watched. It’s getting annoying.”

Stopping and steadying himself by placing his palms against the desk, Mikhail hummed nervously. “I wish you wouldn’t try to follow her all the time, because one of the ladies from the orphanage says they’re thinking about transferring some kids to a foster home up by Idaho Springs. Yeah, they come here pretty often with other kids, and I told them we’re friends.” He scratched the back of his neck before finding another thing to do in twiddling his thumbs.

Joshua didn’t respond, choosing instead to open the book again and bend over in his seat to read it. The palpable silence was only broken by the boy’s setting down a notebook and writing on it with a pencil he’d stuffed into a pocket. His handwriting was smooth and curved, flowing neatly across the page.

“I’m just saying that we’re friends and I’m worried that you’re going to leave and I won’t have anyone to talk to,” said the librarian as quietly as he could muster (about as loud as normal conversation) while he watched the teen closely, trying his best to look as innocent and sad as possible.

In response, the teen, briefly turning his head up to see Mike, sighed and ceased writing. “They all tell me I’m a model kid, except when I get angry or I get close to her. It’s just…she’s done this a lot before. She says she’s street smart, and I know that she’s a sneak and always tries to get rid of me, but I don’t know if I have another choice. You still live with your parents, and I don’t trust foster homes. But…yeah, yeah…I’m leaving. Tomorrow afternoon, actually. They think I’ll be less rebellious wherever it is I’m going.”

When he spoke next, sometimes later, the librarian’s voice was loud, but he stammered. “I-I-I thought as m-much,” he said, standing up and pulling open drawers in his desk. “I h-have a lot of s-sawdust in my eyes t-today, wow.” Joshua, once more, stopped writing and closed his book, sitting up and watching the young man struggled to find something. “And you’ve-you’ve been a good f-friend, so I-I saved this for you.”

The teen rose as the young man took a small book from a bottom shelf, walking around his desk and heading for Joshua. As they met, Mike pushed the book into Joshua’s hands, and the latter realized it was the first book he’d borrowed from the library; ironically, a book on writing in cursive. It was battered from use, and had a large stain that Joshua didn’t really want to know about, but a quick look into the book revealed his own, formerly poor signature among the other names of people who’d borrowed it.

“T-this is probably illegal,” said Mikhail, laughing as he wiped an errant tear or two from his eyes. “But I-I’d like you to h-have it. Thanks for k-keeping my job a little l-less boring. H-h-hopefully I can ask t-them where you’ve gone and p-pay a visit sometime? I n-need my parent’s permission b-before I can drive t-their car, but-”

Joshua, a few seconds away from crying himself, hugged his friend. “Thanks,” he said, stepping back and sniffing as Mike laughed awkwardly and began to return to his desk. “Hopefully the new family isn’t too bad. I’ll still miss you, though; I can’t...can't really deny that.”

The librarian nodded in agreement as he unsteadily made his way past the desk and towards the storage room. “I-I’ll leave you to it,” said Mike, looking back one last time to see Joshua sitting down and reading through the book. “S-see ya.” He opened the door, letting it quietly close behind him, and walked into the other room.

It was about an hour before Joshua remembered that he had homework to do, so he solved math problems with a view of the sun setting over the Rockies to his right, somewhat blocked by an ever-watching Mrs. Johnson. Her gaze didn’t bother him anymore.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.





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Europa says...



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"Well" I sighed "that was a terrible idea." I swung my legs moodily over the edge of my bunk and kicked them. I heard Finn shift on the mattress below me. His ever-quiet vioce floated up from the bottom bunk.

"Maybe next time we just climb over the fence."

"That's definitely a better idea." I agreed. "Why didn't you bring it up before?"

"I did!" he sighed "I was trying to get your attention literally the entire time."

"Oohh..." I blinked a couple times. Searching my memory now, I was able to vaguely recall him trying to say something. "Sorry."

"It's fine." he said immediately "It's not like we won't get another chance."

I grinned. "And this time, we'll go over the fence instead."

Finn chuckled. "Anyone who tells you you never learn is crazy, Principessa."

The unmistakable creak of the doorknob turning silenced us. A flat-faced social worker poked his head in. "Ms. Atkins wants to see you two." He grunted. Finn slid off the bed and stretched, then looked up expectantly at me. I sighed. The very last thing I wanted to do at that moment was stand there for five minutes while the head caretaker yelled at me, but refusing would only make it worse. I climbed on top of the bed frame and jumped to the floor. Flatface only shook his head and lead the way to Ms. Atkins'office. When we entered she was already standing in front of her desk, completely red in the face. Flatface left the room and closed the door behind him. Ms. Atkins drew a breath and I immediately tuned out. She'd given up coming up with original material about seven years and countless escapes ago. Since then she'd resigned herself to shouting the same speech repeatedly, no doubt hoping I'd give up just to avoid it.
I judged she was about halfway done when the door unexpectedly opened. All three of us paused to look over. A younger looking man was standing in the doorway. Ms. Atkins took an extra few moments to gape at him like a goldfish, then straightened.

"Oh! Mr.--"

"Please," He interrupted her "call me Jay. I apologize for being so early."

"Oh it's not a problem." Ms. Atkins waved us aside and gestured for him to come in "I wasn't busy."

"Actually," I piped up "she was yelling at us."

"Yeah." Finn chimed in. "She was really, really busy with that!"

Ms. Atkins gave us a stern look, but her friend turned on us with a kind smile. "I heard about the incident with the fence." He told Ms. Atkins " I thought I might do some looking in on it. I assume that it was one of these two who masterminded it?"

I folded my arms and shot him a smirk "Me."

"Mastermind?" Finn muttered to himself.

I waved a hand "Just because it didn't work doesn't mean I'm not a genius."

Ms. Atkins sighed. "Yes. Alex is..." She didn't finish the sentence, only gave me a long look and sighed again. Jay looked thoughtful for a moment.

"Ms. Atkins, if she's that much trouble to you, I would be happy to take her as well."

All the heat seemed to rush out of my body at once. Beside me, I felt Finn tense. Ms. Atkins seemed to share our feelings.

"Happy to..." She made a sound like she was choking on a popcorn kernel and looked at him with bulging eyes. "This child?"

Jay smiled down at me. "My goal is to give kids like her another chance." He looked back up at Ms. Atkins with raised eyebrows "But if you'd rather keep her here--"

"No!" Ms. Atkins Put a heavy hand on on my shoulder. "No, no no by all means, take her!"

"Hey!" I squirmed away "I don't want to go anywhere alone with you!"

"Alex really!" Ms. Atkins huffed. "We're doing what's best for you."

I folded my arms." I'm not going anywhere without Finn."

"Please. She's my best friend." Finn pleaded more mildly. "If you take her away, I'll have nothing."

Jay regarded him thoughtfully. I grabbed Finn's hand, staring up at them defiantly. It only took a moment for Jay to make his decision.

"Alright."

I breathed out a sigh of relief, but at the same time a small seed of doubt burrowed in the back of my mind. Why had he agreed so quickly?

"Mr.--" Ms. Atkins checked herself. "Jay, I'm not sure that's such a good idea. Alone, Alex caused enough trouble. The second she met Finn it only got worse. It might be better for both of them if they were separated."

"It wouldn't be better for anyone!" Finn objected.

I finished the statement "You split us up, and all it'll mean is you both have to deal with a troublemaker."

"Exactly! And besides, we'll just run off again and find each other."

"Yep. So it doesn't make a difference either way."

Jay turned to Ms. Atkins "We have the room where I'm taking them. And if they do cause any trouble," He glanced down at us. "then I'm sure I can handle them."

"Good luck with that." Finn muttered. Ms. Atkins looked from us to Jay and then back at us again. I gave Finn's hand a squeeze.

Ms. Atkins sighed. "Start packing your things. You leave tomorrow."





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Lefty says...



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"What are in these crates again?" I ask, shuffling backwards through the snow as I hold onto one end of the wooden box.

"New uniforms for my dad's work. He was supposed to pick them up, but then he got the opportunity to work a double and he couldn't pass that up."

We hoist the box into the back of Jinx's crappy old pickup truck, next to the five other crates we'd brought out before this one. "Well, I think that's the last of it," he says, wiping his hands on the front of his jeans.

"Good, because I can't feel my toes," I say.

"You didn't have to help me, you know."

"If I didn't help you, who would have? Neon?"

Jinx snickers. "He probably wouldn't even be able to lift one of the uniforms."

"I can hear you, you know." We turn to look at Neon, whose sitting on top of the truck, most of his face buried behind the bunched up folds of his scarf.

"Tell me I'm wrong," Jinx says.

Neon glares at him. "Can we go now? I have stuff to do."

"Stuff to do?" I ask. "Like what?"

"Important stuff that could actually help our situation. Unlike some people whose most important task of the day is picking up clothes forty five minutes out of town," he retaliates.

"You know, you're really grumpy today," I tell him.

"I'm not grumpy. I'm cold. And hungry. You guys are terrible chauffeurs."

"Well, we've done what we came to do. We can head home now," Jinx says. "Maybe we can stop for a bite on our way. And if you're starving, well, I'm pretty sure there's a cat food store on 8th."

Neon glares at him again. "You're one to talk." He jumps off the top of the truck and lands in four inches of snow at the bottom. Jinx climbs into the drivers seat, me in the passenger seat, and Neon in the back. I see him pull a packet of bubble gum out of his pocket.

"I swear if you start popping that in here, we're leaving you behind," I tell him. Annoyed, he shoves the piece in his mouth, crumples up the wrapper and through it at me. I decide that if he gives me anymore attitude, I'm going to call him Grumpy Cat for the rest of the day. Seems fitting.

Just as Jinx pulls out onto the street, the phone in my pocket buzzes. It's Charlotte. "Hey, what's up?" I say.

"Are you still in Idaho Springs?" she asks, rushed.

"Yeah, we were just about to leave. Why?"

Charlotte talks so quickly I can barely keep up, and being in the mountains with the snow falling, the connection is spotty at best, so I only catch every third word. "F.U.S.E.... Hiding.... Lab.... Mountains.... Mr. Neil.... Working... Lied..."

"Whoa, whoa, Charlotte, slow down. What about a lab?"

"We.... Look... Gwen... Second... Urgent..."

I sigh. There's no way. "Jinx, can you get me to a payphone?"

"What's going on?"

"I'm not sure. But Charlotte sounds pretty worked up."

~ ~ ~

The hubcap-bare wheels of Jinx's pickup crunch through the snow as he pulls into a parking spot in front of a diner just off the highway. I hurry inside and make a beeline for the payphone in the back. Slip a couple quarters into the machine and dial Charlotte's cell. Finally, she answers crystal-clear. "Hello?"

"Charlotte, can you hear me?"

"Oh, thank god. Have you left Idaho Springs, yet?"

"No, what's going on?"

"There's a second lab, Layla. At least, there's supposed to be."

"What?" I blurt out.

"Gwen found plans for it and she saw Mr. Neil at F.U.S.E.. He was talking to the head guy and mentioned a lab and something about chairs. Gwen is convinced they never shut down the experiment, or rather, that they're recreating it."

My hand tightens around the phone. "Charlotte, get out of there."

"The only thing is, we don't know if the plans she saw were old or not. Maybe they were planning to expand, but when M.E.L. was bombed, they stopped and the info she saw was old. According to her, the construction was supposed to finish in a couple weeks," she explains.

"Where is it?" I ask, trying to stay calm.

"Right by you guys," she says.

"Okay, text me the address. We'll check it out."

~ ~ ~

"Layla, there's nothing out here," Jinx says, squinting through the windshield.

"It's not supposed to be easy to find. They put it out here for a reason. Just keep driving."

Jinx sighs and presses harder on the gas. We turned off the main road ten minutes ago and ever since we've been following a dirt path, nearly undetectable under all the snow.

Finally, we go around a curve and spot a security checkpoint in the distance. "Whoa, stop!" I say. "We can't let them see us."

Jinx pulls off the path and parks his truck behind a cluster of Fir trees, several yards from the checkpoint. I get out and head closer. The others follow behind me. When I get close, I peak around from behind a tree to get a better look. Electrified, barbed wire, chainlink fence wraps all the way around, complete with armed guards circling the perimeter. Beyond the fence stands a building made of thick concrete and few windows. It reminds me of military barracks.

"There's definitely something here," I say quietly as the others come up behind me.

"Well, now we know. So we should get the hell out of here and tell Charlotte that Gwen was right," Jinx says.

I nod, pondering his words, then I start forward towards the fence.

He grabs my arm and pulls me back. "What the hell are you doing!"

"I'm not leaving until I know what's inside."

"Layla, we're not prepared for this!" he hisses. "There are armed guards. We should leave before anyone catches us, go back to town, call Charlotte and tell her that Gwen was right."

"But we don't know if Gwen is right unless we check it out. They could be using this lab for anything. I'm not asking you to go with me. Just wait by the truck and I'll be back in ten minutes."

"You are insane. How do you think you're going to get in there?"

"Simple. Dig a hole under the fence and slip underneath," I say.

"There's no way you can do that without electrocuting yourself."

"You're right, I can't. But a fox could."

"Fine, but you shouldn't go alone," he says.

"Well you can't come with me. A tiger doesn't exactly blend in. And you'd be too big anyway."

"I guess that only leaves one option..." We both turn to look back at Neon. A sneer spreads across his face.

~ ~ ~

Come on! Come on! I say in my head as I watch Neon's tiny kitten body scramble under the fence.

Don't rush me!

Oh, I'm gonna rush you. You're a cat, not a sloth.

The ground is ice cold against my bare paws. I pad over to a crate and peek around the corner, the tip of my ear brushing against the splintering wood. A couple guards walk by, and when the coast is clear, I bolt across the open path. Neon hurries behind me, and what's left when we make it to the other side is a trail of eight tiny paw prints on the snow dusted concrete.

We slip through a small warehouse full of various crates and continue out the other side, where the concrete building comes into view. We circle the building until we come across an entrance with the title lab above it. Big metal sliding doors separate us from the inside.

I look around to make sure the coast is clear, then I will myself to morph back. My ears shrink back to the sides of my head, my legs and body lengthen, the fur disappears to reveal my skin underneath. It is the weirdest feeling. I don't think I'll ever get used to it.

Neon morphs back next to me. I look down at the keypad. It's not active. "I don't think they've wired the door yet, which means it's probably on manual. Help me pull them open." We each grab one side of the doors and pull as hard as we can. Slowly the doors slide open, scraping softly again the metal shaft they sit in.

Finally, the doors hit the end of their track with a loud clank! Neon and I peek around the edges of the doors to look inside. What I take in makes me unable to breathe.

Inside the doors are M.I.C.'s. New, shiny, improved M.I.C.'s. Rows and rows and rows of them, lined up with curtains on tracks attached to the ceiling to be pulled closed when in use. Bright lights shine down on each individual chairs, almost like spotlights, and they're all ready to go. Gwen was right. They never stopped the experiment. And the next thought I have makes me feel like I could throw up. If they didn't want to make things right, then what did they want?

~ ~ ~

"So, what the hell do we do now?" I ask, looking around the room at the others. Once we got back in range, we called a meeting. It's been a while since we've all been together, but this is important, so we all decided to meet up in Riley's hospital room.

Everyone exchanges glances. "Well, as far as I know, F.U.S.E. doesn't know that we know," Gwen says. "Maybe we could use that to our advantage somehow?"

I pace back and forth across the room, too riled up to be still. "I thought that everything having to do with the experiment was destroyed," I say, shaking my head.

"Apparently they were able to save enough to recreate it," Charlotte says.

"What I can't figure out is why they approached you in the first place," Cole says. "Were they really just trying to gain our trust? Maybe trying to get us to willingly move forward with the next phase of the experiment? Because I don't buy it."

"We're valuable to them," Neon says. "They know that we were unwilling participants, but it's too dangerous for them to have us out in the open unless we're on the same side as them."

"I think Neon's right, but I think they had another reason, too," Gwen says, hesitant. "What if they didn't have everything they needed to recreate the experiment?"

I take a step closer to her. "Like what?"

"The Nanites? Or something else they put in our blood."

"Why blood specifically?" I ask.

Gwen swallows hard. "Because when Charlotte, Emma and I went into F.U.S.E. today, they took a blood sample from us."

"You gave them a blood sample? Are you serious?"

"I didn't think--"

"You're right. You didn't think." I turn away, pace, then turn back. "And now they can continue the experiment and if they find out that we know about the lab, every single one of our lives will be at risk. I bet you didn't think about that either!"

"You know what? If it was our blood that they needed, you better believe that our unwillingness to give it to them wouldn't have stopped them from recreating the experiment. It didn't stop them the first time. So if we hadn't given it to them willingly, they would have taken it by force, and I don't want to think about how that could have gone," she says back.

"That's how you're justifying this?" I ask. "That's how you're making this whole thing okay?"

"I never said it was okay. I'm just saying that someone could have gotten hurt."

"Your right," I say. "And now we're in the clear while dozens of other teens are going to be turned into science experiments. Good job."

Gwen scoffs at me. "You can't blame this all on me."

"Gwen's right. It's not her fault," Michael says. "So for now, I think we should go home, let this all sink in, then when everyone is calm..." Michael gives me a look. "...we can figure out a plan. We can use the fact that F.U.S.E. doesn't know that we know and until we have a plan, we'll lay low and not do anything irrational. If I have anything to say about it, no more teens are going to become science experiments in because of F.U.S.E. ever again. For now, I think we should all try to get some sleep."

~ ~ ~

Despite what Michael said having made sense, I don't sleep at all. And when my alarm starts blaring at 6:45am, I can barely fathom the thought of going to school. Think the doctor would issue a sick slip on behalf of morphing into an animal and being wrapped up in an evil government organization?

Jinx picks me up at 7am since his car is better in the snow than mine and we stop at the gas station on our way to school. He stands outside by his truck while he fills the gas tank, and I go into the minimart to grab a quick breakfast.

Muffin. Banana. I start filling a cup up to the brim with hot coffee. A morning news broadcast buzzes on in the background, but I don’t notice it much until something they say gets my attention.

“After a long investigation into the fire that burned down the Miles Eximius laboratory earlier this month, killing a dozen scientists and destroying millions of dollars worth of equipment, the state police have finally gotten to the bottom of it. This morning, they put out warrants for the arrest of ten teenagers who were in the students of Neil Terek, one of the scientists at M.E.L..”

I stare at the screen as the news switches from the newscaster to the Police Chief. “It was a long process finding who was responsible, but after a trail of other crimes that took place in the area throughout the month of January, we were able to track them down.”

It switches back to the newscaster. “But this was no high school plank gone wrong. All ten of these local teens have been charged with arson, murder, assault, trespassing and theft. The names of these criminals are…” The screen switches to show a grid with ten empty spots, and as the newscaster lists off the names, the pictures appear in the spots. And it’s all of us. Every. Single. One.

I stare at the screen, unable to move. When Jinx comes up behind me and says “Hey”, I jump.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.

“We have to get out of here,” I say, my eyes never leaving the screen.

“What? Why—” Jinx follows my gaze until his eyes meet the screen, and his face drains of color.

“I think F.U.S.E. knows that we know.”

The screen switches back to the police chief. “These criminals are on the loose and highly dangerous. If you spot any of them, please do not hesitate to call 911. But I can promise you, we will not rest until each and every one of these criminals are in custody.” Then it switches back to all of our pictures, which were all taken from our school ID’s.

Someone walks by us, then stops. Looks at us, then at the screen. I carefully set the coffee back down on the counter, then Jinx and I casually turn and head towards the door. The person looks back at us. “Hey, you’re—”

We ignore him and quicken our pace.

The security guard rushes towards us from the back of the store. “Stop right there!”

Jinx and I stop, look at each other and I could tell by looking in his eyes that we were thinking the same thing. Run. In an instant, we shove the doors open and make a run for his truck. I yank the door open so hard I feel like I nearly rip it off its hinges. Jinx slams his foot down on the gas before I even have it closed again.

The wheels skid across the pavement so quickly they leave black streaks on the pavement as he turns out of the gas station and back onto the main road. “Where should we go?” I ask quickly, trying hard not to panic.

“Anywhere but here,” he says, his eyes flicking nervously between the road and the rearview mirror.

“If they have a warrant out for our arrest, we won’t be able to cross the state border,” I point out.

“Michael’s cabin, then. It’s the safest place.” Jinx cranks the wheel to make a sharp turn onto a road we nearly missed, as missing it would have meant a huge detour if we’re going to the cabin.

“Sounds good.” I pull out my phone.

He glances over at me. “What are you doing?”

“Warning everyone.”

I call Cole, Charlotte and Emma. Just as I’m about to call Neon, Jinx yells “Oh, shit!” A moment later, I notice the red and blue lights flashing in the side mirror.

He slams on the gas, going from forty to sixty-five in a matter of seconds. More police cars join the first and before long, we hear over a megaphone. “Pull over!”

“Like hell,” Jinx says.

I run my hands through my hair. This is really bad. After everything we’ve been put through, we’re the ones they’re after? Anger boils deep inside me. They can try to catch us, but they’re not going to. This is not how I’m going to go down.

Several miles down the road, it narrows and there isn’t anywhere to turn off for miles. So when we see the blockade of police cars and cones up ahead, it feels like all the air has been sucked out of the car. Jinx floors it.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Not stopping.” He slams into a couple orange cones, which fly up over the windshield. One lands in the bed of his truck. He maneuvers the truck just right and we slip between two parked police cars, both side mirrors snapping off on their hoods.

We seem to get through it, but we’re so focused on the blockade and the dozen policemen yelling at us that when we notice the road spikes they’ve laid out, it’s too late.

The spikes puncture Jinx’s tires instantly. He slams on the breaks and we skid around in a circle until we finally stop, facing the barricade. “Split up. It’ll be harder for them to catch us,” I say.

Jinx nods, and we both shove our doors open as the cops sprint for us. Jinx and I take off in opposite directions, him into the woods, me towards a brick wall lining the back of a parking lot.

I scale the wall, getting a handhold in a place where a brick is missing. I jump down on the other side, landing on the hood of someones car. The alarm wails in protest. Just as I get there, two police cars speed into the lot, headed straight for me. One of the cars stop and the two officers get out on foot. I run in the opposite direction and morph into fox form.

The cops on foot stop, staring at me. “What in the—” Quick on my paws, I turn into an alley, getting at least ten more miles-per-hour on my speed. I come to a chainlink fence, morph back into human form, and scale it. When I land back on the other side, I’m in fox form again.

I come out on the main shopping street. Run under one parked car, then in front of a moving one that misses me by inches. I successfully make it across and look back just long enough to see that the cops chasing me have been cut off by the traffic.

I turn and scurry down that side street, away from them. I slip through a crack in a wall and come out the other side into a grassy area next to a library. One second I’m running, the next, my back paw gets caught in something and is yanked out from under me and my small body hits the ground hard. I look back see my back leg caught in a slip knot—the harder I pull, the tighter it gets. They set a trap, and I fell right into it.

I morph back into human form and work to get my ankle free. Two police cars pull into the parking lot. They slam on their breaks and the cops get out, then sprint for me. I work as fast as I can to loosen the knot. Finally, I manage to slip my foot out and I run in the other direction, the cops closing in on me.

Just as I pass the edge of the building, a policeman around the corner tackles me from the side and pins me to the ground. I squirm under him, but his grip is too strong. They inject something into my neck, and I know instantly that I won't be able to morph again any time soon. F.U.S.E. must have given them pointers.

Him and one other officer yank me to my feet and walk me to the car. They throw me onto the hood, the metal cold against my cheek and it isn’t long before I hear the unmistakable sound of handcuffs being tightened around my wrists. One of the officers presses the button on his walkie talkie and says, “We got the girl.”

After a moment of static, a voice comes through on the other end. “We just brought the guy into custody.”

“Have any of the others been caught yet?” My officer asks.

“Not yet. But it won’t be long.”

I fight against the hold they have on me, defiantly trying to wriggle free again, but they’re too strong. Whether I like it or not, it’s over.

For now.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes





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Europa says...



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I was woken by someone gently shaking my arm. A soft voice whispered my name. I opened my eyes, squinting in the dim light. someone had pushed the curtain away from the window, and the moonlight shone through with new clarity, falling on my visitor's face so it was revealed in an almost ghostly light. It only took a second to recognize him. I sat up.

"Cole?" I whispered "It's the middle of the night. What are you doing here?"

Cole glanced over his shoulder at the door, then helped me stand. "Getting you out of here."

I swayed a bit on my feet, and Cole put an arm around my waist to steady me. I felt my cheeks heat and was suddenly that much more thankful that the room was dark. I frowned up at him. "What happened?"

He shook his head. "Nothing good."

"Well I figured that much out by myself."

"Look, I promise I'll explain later." He helped me over to the window, and pushed it open. My frown deepened.

''you...do realize we're three stories up, right?''

''Just trust me. It's a lot safer than going through the front.'' He knealt down with his back to me. ''Climb on.''

I sighed, but did as he said. He stood and climbed onto the windowsill. I peered over his shoulder. Below us, a ladder was leaned against the wall. It fell just short of reaching the window, and Cole had to grab onto the sill and swing down to reach it. I gasped at the sudden drop and tightened my grip.

"What?" He murmured. I could hear the smirk in his voice. "Think I might drop you?"

"No," I shot back "but I'm still hoping you won't."

Cole silently climbed down the ladder. The cold nipped at my bare arms and I shivered, wishing I had thought to bring a jacket. I peered down at the ground, trying not to envision what would happen to us if we fell. As we drew closer to the ground, another shadow grew clearer. It was small and scrawny, standing with its hands braced against the ladder. My heart skipped a beat. It was staring straight up at us. Cole risked a quick glance at me, and followed my gaze downward.
"Neon." He explained quietly. Cole stepped off the last rung, his feet crunching against the frost-coated grass. Now that we were closer, I could plainly see the scarf wrapped tightly around his shoulders. Cole rubbed Neon's head with mock affection.

"Thanks, squirt."

Neon glared at him. "Stop calling me that!" He hissed. Cole only shushed him and hooked his arms under my legs. Neon followed him as we started off again, fuming.
the three of us flitted from shadow to shadow. In the pale light I could just see the outline of Ms. Wood's old car parked at the curb. Cole froze as two people strolled down the sidewalk, both of them wearing the uniforms of police officers. I held my breath until they passed. Cole relaxed just enough to creep around the corner and out into the streetlights. He moved quickly towards the car, shifting me a little higher up on his back.
Cole, I reached out with my thoughts, sending them into his mind. you know you don't have to carry me. If you're getting tired I can walk myself.

Cole shook his head. You're still not too steady on your feet. His voice entered my head. If someone spots us, we'll need to get away fast.

We reached the car not a few seconds later. Cole opened the passenger door, and set me down in the seat, then rushed around to the driver's seat. Neon jumps in the back.

"Oh," I hear Cole mutter as he slams the door and jams the key in the ignition "you're riding in the car this time?"
"you never stopped to let me in last time!" Neon argues.
The car rumbles, then sputters and goes silent again. Cole cursed through gritted teeth. "Well I never asked you to hitch a ride on the bumper either!"
A pair of headlights blared on the road in front of us, drawing closer to where we sat. Cole gave the key a few more savage turns.

"Cole..." Neon was looking out his window. The car in front of us had stopped and its passengers were getting out. "sometime today, please!"

Cole turned around just long enough to shout "I'm working on it!" and with one more yank of the key the car rumbled to life. Cole didn't waste another second. He peeled away from the curb and shot down the road away from the other car.
"Are they chasing us?" He asked me, eyes locked on the road. I checked in the rear-view mirror. The people who had gotten out of their car were loading up again.

"Not yet."

"Good enough." Cole sighed. He slowed down as the hospital disappeared behind us, veering away from the highway and down an empty suburban street. I checked the mirror again. Still no one. The windows of the houses on either side of us were all dark.

"Now do I get to know what's going on?"

"Yeah." Cole pulled the hood of his jacket over his head as he neared the end of the road. I could hear the rush of cars on the other side, their headlights casting fleeting shadows on the ground. "Remember when we said we could get away with knowing about that other lab?"

I nodded. "Because F.U.S.E didn't know we'd found out about it."

"Well, we were wrong."

"What?" I yelped. The floor seemed to drop out from under me. "How did they find out?''

"No idea." Cole sighed, nervously checking behind him before merging into the sparse late-night traffic. "The point is they do,"

"And they want us gone." I finished his sentence. I felt heavier somehow, as if the situation was a physical weight on my shoulders.

Cole nodded. "They managed to convince the police we were responsible for the 'fire' at M.E.L." He explained, putting the word fire in air quotes with one hand. "We've been on the run all day."

"They would have gotten you earlier," Neon piped up from the back "But the doctors would let them arrest you until you were discharged."

"I thought it was smart not to wait until then." Cole glanced over at me, his eyes unreadable.

I nodded slowly. Tried to ignore my rapid heartbeat by focusing on pulling air into my lungs. "What's the plan?"

"We're headed to Michael's cabin. That's where Layla said she was headed when she called me."

"So we're all going to regroup there?"

Cole hesitated before answering. "Hopefully."

The light turned red, but Cole kept driving. A few other drivers honked their protest. Sirens wailed in the distance. Cole pressed harder on the gas. His grip tightened on the steering wheel. He turned off the highway as the sound grew louder and parked it in an empty lot behind a supermarket.

"Change of plans." He opened the door. "Everyone out."

"And how do you propose we get to the cabin without the car." Neon folded his arms. "Take the bus?"

"We can figure that out later!" Cole snapped back. "If someone saw us in this thing they could tip off the police we're driving it."

"But if we try to get there on foot, it would still only be a matter of time." I pointed out. "But if the cops think we've ditched the car, maybe it wouldn't be as risky."

Cole looked over at me, a spark of surprise briefly registering on his face. Then he nodded. "Worth a try."

I pulled the glove box open. "First off, you and Neon need to morph." Headlights shone in the distance. "Hurry!"

It only took a few moments for both of them to change. Cole climbed nimbly in, and I lifted Neon in beside him and shut the compartment. I scrambled behind my seat as the lights glared through the window. Pressed my back against the hard leather and focused. Felt my body contract and shift. The muted colors of the night seeped out of the world as I changed into something else. Something inhuman. Soon I was looking down at a pair of huge brown paws instead of my own hands. I stood, shaking out my ruffled fur. My ears pricked. Through the walls of the car I could hear muffled voices growing steadily nearer. Instinctively my claws unsheathed. The lynx inside me burned to fight, but I forced myself to scramble beneath the backseat and lie flat. The passenger door opened. I caught a flash of blue uniform before the officer disappeared from my view. The click of their walkie talkie turning on sounded disturbingly like the cock of a gun to my panicked mind.

"Vehicle seems empty." A woman's voice reported. "Passenger's side door open. It looks like it's been abandoned."

I held my breath, waiting for the reply. The walkie clicked again.

"Have you checked the entire car?"

The woman hesitated. "No, just the front."

I pressed harder against the floor, tensing every muscle in my body to keep from shaking.

"Check the back as well. I've gotten reports from other officers that these kids have some sort of strange shape shifting ability. They could be anywhere."

I closed my eyes. Flattened my ears against the silence that followed and prayed not to hear the glove box open.

The passenger door closed.

I let out a small breath of relief. At least some of us were safe for now. The back door swung open, allowing the winter air to slip through. It settled beneath my fur, freezing at my core. The officer climbed in. I shrank farther back into my hiding place, watching her boots travel across the floor. Listened to my own heartbeat pulsing loudly in my ears. The officer's waklie clicked on. After a moment of silence it clicked off again. She knealt down. My paws began working at the carpet nervously, claws tearing through the fabric as she slowly bent down. He face became visible below the seat cushions. I forced myself into the farthest corner of the shadows. Her head turned in my direction. Her eyes met mine. They widened for the barest second and then she straightened. The walkie clicked on again.

"Sir." She murmured. "I think I found--"

I sprang out from under the seat and into the air. The officer gasped and ducked to avoid my claws. I sailed over her head and out the door, scrabbling for a grip on the pavement as I scampered away. Footsteps pounded behind me. The officer's voice yelled, "Stop!"

Yeah, right. I skidded around a corner and squeezed underneath a fence and heard a thud as the officer slammed into it. I spurred myself faster. My surroundings blurred around me. The only thing in focus was the ground in front of me. Air came in burning gasps. Thoughts flitted in and out of my mind too fast for me to register. I sprinted through the night, doing my best to ignore the growing weight of exhaustion pulling at my limbs. I could feel my movements becoming more sluggish, and with it my panic grew. I slipped into a small gap between two houses and slowed to a crawl. The world around me was silent and empty. Strangely enough that did nothing to ease the fear.
Through the haze of exhaustion I spotted a shed with it's door slightly ajar. I crept closer and nosed the door open just wide enough for me to slip through. In the sparse moonlight, the shadows inside towered over me. I was a child again. Scared of the dark and the monsters that lurked there. I curled up in a basket behind some kind of machine. From the smell of gasoline and grass that wafted from it, I guessed it was a lawn mower.
The moment I laid down the last scraps of my energy slipped away. I let my chin rest oh my paws, and poured my focus into keeping my eyes open and watching. The moon slid slowly across the sky, sinking lower and lower in the sky. My eyes began to slide closed.

traitors... I cursed them lazily. The sound of wheels crunching over pavement sent them flying open again. An engine purred softly outside. No headlights. I sat up and climbed out of the basket. my muscled burned in complaint. The engine outside churned to a stop. A car door opened, then closed again. I tried to speed my steps but my paws seemed heavier than before. I sat back down again. There wasn't any hope of outrunning them this time.

"Riley?" A voice called softly. Male and disgustingly familiar. "It's me. Cameron."

Cameron. Literally the last person I would ever want to see. Ever. I growled a little to myself. Cameron's voice came closer.

"Your sister sent me. I'm here to help you."

My ears pricked.

"Look." Cameron whispered. His voice was just outside the door now. "I'm going to wait out here while you think it over, but I'm just gonna point out this is your only chance to get out of here."

I shuffled my paws, examining his words.

1. Janey had sent him.
Of course she would send her stupid boyfriend to do that. She might be dumb enough to trust him with something like this, but she knows me. Which means she knows I never would have done something like blow up a building.

2. He was here to help.
I seriously doubted that. He didn't even like me. But if my sister had asked him to...would he really do something like this for her?

3. This was my last chance to get to safety.
If there was one thing he wasn't lying about, it was that.

A soft knock sounded on the door. "You might want to hurry. Any longer and they'll catch up."

Another true point. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I felt the fur thinning into my skin. My ears shrink back into my head. When I opened my eyes again the world flooded back in full color.

"Okay." I called softly. "I'm coming out."

I stood up, bracing myself against the wall as my head began to swim. Cameron opened the door a little wider and peered in at me. I took a step forward. Then two back. My eyes narrowed.

"One question first." I ventured cautiously. "How did you know I was in here?"

Cameron's face went slack. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. My heart dropped a few feet in my chest. I shook my head.

"Janey didn't send you."

His features hardened. "I always told her you were too smart for your own good." I made a lunge for the door and Cameron shoved me back. He ducked back outside, and the door slammed shut.

"Cameron!" I pulled myself to my feet and pounded on the door. A lock clicked in place. I looked wildly around. No holes, no windows, no way out.

Outside I heard Cameron scoff. "I still can't believe you were the only one that hasn't been caught yet."

My hand froze against the door. They must have searched the car again. Cameron was talking with someone on the outside, but he had moved farther off and I couldn't make anything out. Multicolored police lights flashed outside. I could hear the footsteps of the approaching officers. The lock clicked again and the door swung open. Cameron was standing between three men, all of them looked as if they could snap my neck faster than I could take a breath. One of them grabbed my by the arm and shoved me facefirst against the wall. I shivered as I felt the handcuffs tighten around my wrists.
The one who had cuffed me was joined by one of his buddies and they led me to the car. The third had laid a hand on Cameron's shoulder.

"I'm sure your father will be proud of you, son." He said. "Come by the station tomorrow morning to pick up the reward money." Cameron grinned. He and the officer kept talking after that, but their parting words were lost to me as I was shoved into the back of the car. One of the officers pulled out his walkie talkie.

"We have the last one in custody. Heading to headquarters."
Last edited by Europa on Sun Aug 27, 2017 6:04 pm, edited 4 times in total.





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Steggy says...



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Trouble never stops. Trouble is having police lights blind you from your slumber. Trouble is what we’ve always gotten into. Since we escaped, the Animorphers, from that ghastly place. I still get recurring nightmares about it. The lights. The doctors, whose smiles were greatly affected by how much they were being paid. And, of course, Dr. Neil. Now, sitting in the back of a police car, these horrible memories came back in forms of regret and anger. I watched the passing trees of our secret camp while some crappy song was being played on the radio. I didn’t have the strength to tell the man driving to change the channel so I relentlessly listened. I was in the car by myself, handcuffs cold against my wrists. The police caught everyone, including the new members of the Animorphers, and were transporting us to some location. I guess some kid had told them about our location, revealing ourselves for the government to take.
I sighed, pulling my view from the window and towards the front. The police officer who was driving seemed to be around the age of thirty with a sharp shaven attempt of a beard and a strong jawline. He seemed more focus on the car in front of us instead of his actual prisoner. I had lost count about the amount of times I’ve been caught. Most of the times it was within the Animorphers. Other times it was because I picked a fight and ended up hurting someone.

Deciding the silence was too much in the car, I leaned forward. “Hey, where are we going exactly?” I asked, shifting my arms that were pinned behind my back.

“That is classified information, son.”

“I think it should be best if you told the person arrested where you are taking me.”

The police looked through the rear view mirror and me. His eyes were the color of marble; grey and cold and lifeless. “Like I said, son, I can’t tell you.”

I sighed, leaning back into the seat. My arms were slowly falling asleep with pins and needles riding up and down my arms. I tried to think of something for me to do but at last, I came up with nothing. Drowsiness kicked, due to my limited amount of sleep, and I passed out.

___________


When I woke up, it was morning. The dull, hot sun went through the police car’s window and onto me. The air inside of the car felt stuffy and warm. I shimmied up, attempting to see if the police officer was inside the car. Good thing, he wasn’t. Bad thing, I didn’t have any way of getting out. So, I sat there, sweat rolling down forehead. I lolled my head onto my shoulder and almost fall asleep when I hear the front door slam. The police officer had gone inside to get a donut to eat.
My stomach growled loudly. I licked my lips. The police officer looked through the rear view mirror and smiled.

“Sorry, I didn’t bring you anything. Oh wait. No, I’m not.” And we were off again. I groaned, leaning against the back door of the car, staring up at the pale blue sky. I had a headache that was forming in the back and it was slowly coming forward.

“Do you have any water?” I asked.

The police officer looked down and handed me a warm bottle of water. I took it graciously and open it. While it was warm, at least it was water. I drank the whole bottle in two giant gulps. We were still driving. The scenery had changed a bit. A town setting with some small houses clumped together. A few stores that looked a bit old-fashioned. One gas station that seemed to have one pump working. I blinked, still leaning against the car door. The rest of the police cars were still trailing behind us, the sounds of their engines permanently inside of my brain.
A voice over the walkie talkie inside of our car went off, saying how we had to stop. I was thankful; maybe then we could actually escape. We stopped, thankfully, by a park that had some bathrooms. We were huddled into groups, girls and boys.

The chief of police stepped forward. He attempted to look tough but it didn’t work well because he was a shorter man with soft blue eyes.

“Listen up! We are a few miles away from our destination. This is a rest stop, not some hang out with your friends and escape stop. I want girls to go into the girls bathroom and boys to go into the boys bathroom. If you chose to escape, we will execute you via stun guns. You have fifteen minutes and nothing shorter than that,” he stated as he signaled for police officers to take off our hand cuffs.
We all walked into the bathrooms. They were smaller than they looked from the outside. Like some cheap person was asked to design it. There were only two stalls (one of them was flooded to the rim with toilet paper). There was no A/C so the heat was twice as hot. We each took turns and finished rather quickly. We were welcomed to get some water so I did with the water bottle the police officer had offered me. Much like before, this water was way too warm to actually enjoy but like I said before, it’s water.

We were on the road again. This time, we switched cars and I was inside with a lady police officer who had her blonde hair tied back into a ponytail. She seemed more relaxed than the other dude. Hopefully, I could get an answer out of her.

“Miss, where are you?”

“The captain told us not to you little ones where we are or where we are going besides that we are going to the police station,” she quickly stated. I nodded, leaning back. I decided to make the conversation more light because I couldn’t stand being inside of a car for much longer.

“What’s your favorite animal?” I asked.

She took a moment to think this out. “It would be a tiger since they are the symbol of strength and loyalty, which is like me since I am loyal to this police force.”

“Cool. Mine’s the lion.”

“I know. The police captain gave us spreadsheets about each one of you and since you guys are the Animorphers, you change into animals. I believe you are the lion. The symbol of-”

“Power, courage, yadda yadda. Anyway, you mentioned the police station? Why are they taking us there?”

She seemed a bit offended by me cutting her off but she was cut off from answering when her phone went off. Her ringtone was some Katy Perry song but she answered it, seeming joyful at the caller ID. Her mood changed suddenly changed to regret as the caller seemed to be accusing her of something. The call didn’t last long and she hung up almost right after.

“Who was that?”

She remained silent for the whole journey and didn’t answer anymore of my questions. Luckily, we had arrived at the police station. I was let out forcefully by a tall dude with some major muscle. He glared at me with green eyes.

“Come on, twerp,” he deeply said as he pushed onto my shoulder hard. I winced at the pain but knew there would be more to follow as the shadow of the police station loomed overhead.
You are like a blacksmith's hammer, you always forge people's happiness until the coal heating up the forge turns to ash. Then you just refuel it and start over. -Persistence (2015)

You have so much potential and love bursting in you. -Omnom





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Oswin1800 says...



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New.
Things that are new can be hard to come by in a group home. Everything is filed carefully and run smoothly. Everything has a place, except us. I've swept the floor countless times and spent many nights plotting to escape. This was not the first time Ms. Atkins had yelled at Alex and I for bad behavior. I stood there staring vacantly longing for something new. Then as if to grant my wish the door flew open temporarily silencing Ms. Atkins.

I didn't like it. A tall man who said to call him Jay stood in the doorway, he was younger than Ms. Atkins but he carried himself in much the same way. Authoritative and demanding. He was obviously used to getting his way. He definitely wasn't a social worker. They had a weathered look in their eyes that told of too many late nights and not enough caffeine to keep them functioning. This man had daggers in his eyes.

"Ms. Atkins, if she's that much trouble to you, I would be happy to take her as well."

Those words solidified my understanding of his character. I tensed ready to grab Alex and bolt. She went pale beside me and I could see her shiver.

Ms. Atkins seemed to share our feelings.
"Happy to..." She gasped, "This child?"

Jay smiled at Alex making me wish we could be anywhere but here.
"My goal is to give kids like her another chance."
He looked back up at Ms. Atkins with raised eyebrows
"But if you'd rather keep her here--""No!" Ms. Atkins Put a heavy hand on her shoulder.

"No, no no by all means, take her!""Hey!" Alex shouted squirming away "I don't want to go anywhere alone with you!"
"Alex really!" Ms. Atkins huffed. "We're doing what's best for you."
She folded her arms.
"I'm not going anywhere without Finn."
"Please. She's my best friend." I pleaded more mildly.
"If you take her away, I'll have nothing." I offered. Jay may be a snake but I was hoping he wasn't heartless.
Jay looked down at me carefully. Alex grabbed my hand, staring up at them defiantly. It only took a moment for Jay to make his decision.
"Alright."
I breathed out a sigh of relief. Doubt and suspicion flooded my mind and I began to theorize who Jay was. I had already decided that whoever he was Alex wasn't safe with him.

"Mr.--" Ms. Atkins checked herself.
"Jay, I'm not sure that's such a good idea. Alone, Alex caused enough trouble. The second she met Finn it only got worse. It might be better for both of them if they were separated."

"It wouldn't be better for anyone!" I objected.

Alex finished my statement "You split us up, and all it'll mean is you both have to deal with a troublemaker."

"Exactly! And besides, we'll just run off again and find each other." I added.

"Yep. So it doesn't make a difference either way."

Jay turned to Ms. Atkins "We have the room where I'm taking them. And if they do cause any trouble," He glanced down at us. "then I'm sure I can handle them."

"Good luck with that." I muttered. There was no way I was going to let him boss us around. Ms. Atkins looked from us to Jay and then back at us again. Alex gave my hand a squeeze.

Ms. Atkins sighed. "Start packing your things. You leave tomorrow."


----

"Alex this is bad," I whispered as we lay on our bunk bed.
"It's better than getting split up" she pointed out.
"I don't like the look of him. He isn't a social worker he has a official air to him, like a cop or a senator."
"Well if he isn't a social worker what would he want with us? He agreed to take us far too quickly."
"He must need us then...." I struggled to think of reasons two young immigrants with no family to speak of would be important to someone official.
"Finn?"
"Alex"
"Together?"
"Forever!" I answered. "No matter what happens."


-----

We woke up early to leave. We each only had a backpack of personal belongings. The goodbyes were short and insincere. Before I knew it I was looking out the passenger window of a black car and trying to work out our escape. I once again wished for something new. Jay's smile flashed in his rear view mirror and I reminded myself to be careful what I wished for.
Why do we capital-N Nerds love Mars so much?
Because it's beautiful, it's tough, it's buried in our mythic, childhood memories.
It's covered with human triumphs but also with sad stories of failure.

-Greg Bear





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Wed Aug 16, 2017 1:30 am
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Lefty says...



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Jinx and I are the first ones to be brought in. They take us to a county jail at first. Get our headshots and fingerprints. The police confiscate our morphing suits and make us change into the grey teeshirt and sweatpants they provide us. It wasn't that big of a deal anyway; there wasn't much left of the suits after everything we've been through with them.

We're taken to our cells at 11am, separated into cells across the hall from each other. Three cinderblock walls, one wall made up of bars. Two benches are attached to two of the walls, while a small metal toilet is attached to the third.

It's not even a half an hour later before the police escort Charlotte down the hall and bring her into my cell. Any hope I'd had that the others would slip through the cracks and evade capture vanishes at the sight of her. "Charlotte, they caught you, too?"

She sits down on the bench across from me and hugs her arms around herself. She gives me a slow nod.

"But I called to warn you."

"It was a nice thought, but it was too late. Police cars swarmed my house about a minute after you hung up."

"I'm sorry," I say. After a minute, I shake my head. "How did this all get so messed up?"

Charlotte shrugs. "What do you think they're going to do to us?"

I don't answer.

Dan is the next to come in, around three. Then Emma an hour later, who they take into the cell next to ours. Gwen comes in shortly after, giving Emma some company.

At seven, they bring Michael through the doors. Charlotte shoots onto her feet the second she sees him. "Michael!"

His eyes light up at the sound of her voice. "Charlotte." He walks a little faster down the hall, making the guards nervous, and comes to meet Charlotte on the other side of the bars. I notice a line of blood has run down part of his face from a small cut above his eye. "Are you okay? Did they hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine. Just scared," she says.

"Me too," he admits.

"No talking to the other prisoners," the guard barks, yanking Michael away from our cell. Charlotte sticks her arm through the bars and Michael brings his cuffed hands to brush hers before they pull him too far away. They put him into the empty cell opposite Emma's.

It's a long wait after that. Hours pass, the sun sets, vanquishing any warm light that had come through the tiny barred windows at the back of our cell. Now all that fills the hall is the cold, florescent glow of the lights above us.

I start to have hope that the others escaped. I'd warned Cole before anyone else, and Neon is small and smart. Maybe they got away. And maybe the hospital wouldn't release Riley yet. They may have let her off the hook, for now.

The moon rises high in the sky, casting a blue glow down on the concrete floor of the cell. I cross my arms over my chest and lean back against the wall. I've lost count of how long we've been in here, but I'm guessing it's around midnight.

Charlotte laid down on her bench and fell asleep about an hour ago. I've been exhausted for hours, but have refused to sleep. I don't want to let my guard down for even a minute. I admit I'm in denial of all this, my mind constantly searching for a way out, trying to convince myself that it's not that bad. We'll get through this, right? We always do. But not this time. I'll do whatever I can to get us out of this, but at this point, our fates seem pretty sealed.

~ ~ ~

My eyes shoot open at the sound of the door opening down the hall. Despite my best efforts, I must have dozed off.

I come to stand behind the bars and curse under my breath when I see Cole and Neon. Cole wears a grey teeshirt like the rest of us, but they've put Neon in a straightjacket. I notice now that the police officer escorting them has small cat scratches up and down his arms and face. I guess Neon put up a pretty good fight.

Cole widens his eyes a little when he sees all of us. I guess he hadn't expected so many of us to have been captured.

Charlotte comes to stand next to me. I guess the commotion woke her, too. "Who's left?" she asks quietly.

"Just Riley," I say.

Cole looks like he's biting back his temper, and when they shove him into the last cell by himself, he turns around and looks like he's going to give them a piece of his mind, but then they slam the door in his face. "Cool down, kid," the officer tells him. "The only one you're going to hurt by resisting is yourself."

Cole forces a breath out his nose and his jaw is clenched tight. "Hey!" he yells as the officer turns away. He sticks his arm through the bars and grabs onto the officer's sleeve. "Hey, I'm talking to you!"

"You want a jacket like the little one?" The officer asks, turning around. "Then shut it!"

Cole tightens his hands into fists until his knuckles turn white. He stares hard at the officer, and the officer stares back at him. You could cut the tension with a knife. Finally, Cole lets out a breath, curses and turns away from the door.

"That's what I thought," the officer says. After a moment, he continues on his way.

Cole plops down on the bench and puts his head in his hands.

"Think he knows where Riley is?" Charlotte asks.

"Yeah, he definitely knows where Riley is. And I don't think it's good."

By 2AM, they bring in Riley. She looks exhausted and her face is smudged with dirt. She's shaky on her feet, still having not fully recovered from her injury, but otherwise seems unharmed. That means we're all here and accounted for, and that we are completely and totally screwed.

At sunrise, I notice an officer through the window of the hall door talking to someone. I watch him for a minute, then the door swings open, revealing the other man. My stomach tightens at the sight of him. "Shit," I whisper, leaning my head against the cool metal bars. I don't know who else I expected it to be. I guess a small part of me hoped I was wrong about F.U.S.E. finding out that we knew. That all this was something else, something easier to crack. But now I know for sure, because the man coming to pick us up is none other than Jay Sterling himself.

~ ~ ~

They escort us out of the prison, our hands cuffed behind our backs and two police officers flanking each of us at all times. They lead us out to a caravan of black vans.

The sun is startlingly bright after a day of being locked inside, and when my eyes adjust, I'm not prepared for what I see.

Some of our parents are here, including mine, looking on with confusion, shock and devastation filling their faces. They must know by now what we've been charged with. And the escorts and the black vans must be pretty convincing. But I wonder if my parents truly believe that I'm guilty. And I can't tell them any of the truth. For now, I have to live with the fact that they believe I'm a criminal. Maybe I'll have to live with that forever.

Just as they're putting me in the back of one of the vans, I get a glimpse of Mr. Gray. The look of utter sadness and defeat on his face, like his whole world has fallen apart and he doesn't know where he went wrong, is worse than my own parents. I know how much Mr. Gray cares about Jinx, and I know that last thing Jinx would ever want to do is disappoint his dad. The whole thing makes me feel sick. Even if we survive this, will we ever be able to face our families again?

~ ~ ~

The windows in the van are blacked out, and the car ride to wherever they're taking us is a long one. When we finally make it to our destination and they bring us out of the vans, we're in a big parking hanger. No view of the outside, nothing to give us any indication of where we are. I'd thought they'd take us back to F.U.S.E., but now I'm not so sure.

They lead us through the halls of this facility, but instead of taking up to new cells, or even to get us something to eat, they bring us right into small, white interrogation rooms. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars.

They handcuff my hands to the metal table and leave me alone for awhile. There's a window, but it's one sided, so when I try to look through it, all I see is myself staring back. The security camera in the corner of the room makes my skin crawl.

Finally, a man in a sharp suit comes into the room and sits down across from me at the table. "So, you're Layla Woods."

I don't say anything.

"I heard you put up a pretty good fight. The police said you scaled walls, dodged traffic, even escaped a trap. Your friend Jinx was hard to get, too. He ran three miles through the woods before we caught him."

I stare down at the table.

The man crosses his leg over his knee. "I've got a couple questions for you. The sooner you answer, the sooner I can get you out of this room. Got it?" When I still don't say anything, he clears his throat and continues. "Does your family know about the experiment?"

I don't answer.

"How did you find out you could turn into a fox? It is a fox, right?" he asks.

Nothing.

"Who knows about you and the others?"

Zip. Like hell I'm going to tell this guy anything.

The man sighs. "Layla, we're going to make you talk one way or another. But it's up to you whether we do that the easy way, or the hard way."

Finally, I look up at him and stare him in the eye. "Why should I tell you anything? You're going to kill me whether I tell you anything or not. You're going to kill all of us."

"I never said that," he says.

"You didn't have to."

He sighs. "Your ultimate fates aren't up to me, but until those fates are decided, I can make your life a living hell. Although..." He tilts his head at me. "You seem like you could take a lot. I have a feeling the way to break your walls isn't by making your life a living hell, but someone else's. Someone you care about. Like Charlotte..."

"Stop."

"Or Cole?"

I force out a breath.

"Or maybe Jinx?"

"I said stop!" I yell.

"But they're all already involved in this, aren't they? Maybe we should bring someone new into the mix." He pulls a picture out of his pocket and pushes it towards me on the table. It's a picture of my baby brother Danny.

"You son of a bitch," I say. I shoot up from my chair and the chain my wrists are connected to pulls taught with a clank. "You lay a finger on him and I will end you."

He smiles and suddenly I hate myself for letting him get to me. I'd told myself I would be ice, but he plays with fire.

"I won't lay a finger on anyone if you answer my questions."

"Fine," I say, plopping back down in my chair.

"Does your family know about the experiment?" he asks again.

"No."

"Who knows about you and the others?"

"No one."

He tilts his head at me. "Really?"

"Michael's friend Jackson found out about us," I say with a sigh.

"And where is he now?"

"Gwen killed him."

He nods and continues on. I let out a small breath, relieved I was able to convince him. If he found out that Michael's mom knows about us too, it could be catastrophic.

"How much do you know about Project Miles Eximius?" he asks.

"Not much. Just what Miles Eximius really means," I tell him.

His eyes widen at this. "You do?" he asks, surprised.

"It means Super Soldier in latin... Right?"

His face softens and he nods his head a little. "Interesting..." Then he smiles, almost amused. "You guys have no idea."

"What do you mean?"

He smooths out his tie and stands from the table.

"Hey, what did you mean?" I ask more sternly.

"I think that's enough for right now," he says. And before I can say another word, the door closes behind him.
Hear me out, there's so much more to life than what you're feeling now. Someday you'll look back on all these days, and all this pain is gonna be invisible. - Hunter Hayes





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Wolfical says...



Image

It’s hard to explain how I felt at that point, when we were all behind bars. I think most of all I felt disappointment. Not anger, fear, or guilt - I hadn’t done anything wrong to warrant that - just a taste of bitterness, knowing that everything we had struggled for to keep our powers a secret had been for naught.

For the past… how long was it? Weeks? Months? Years? It felt like decades, centuries, since we first sat in the chairs that would change our lives forever, and from which point I had been trying desperately to stay “normal.” Do you know how hard it is for a good girl like me to have maintained my parent’s trust all that time, as I snuck out my window at night to meet my morphing friends, and secretly disposed of any meat on the dinner plate lest I get sick, and tried to do well on tests I hadn’t studied for while my mind was spinning with worry? And what about all that trouble we had to go through at school, some of us signing up to be cheerleaders (ha!) so we’d fit in?

Not too long ago, if someone had told me that soon I’d be a highschool cheerleader with a football jock as a boyfriend, I would have laughed. How cliché and not-me can you get? Throw in the fact that I’ll also be able to change into a gazelle and he a lion, and things get a little less commonplace. Now it just sounds like something out of a wacko teenage fantasy book. But it’s not - it’s real life, and it made keeping things “normal” rather… impossible. The fact that we were in jail proves it.

They drugged us so that we couldn’t use our powers. We couldn’t morph, and we couldn’t communicate with thoughtspeak. I wondered why I wasn’t huddled in a corner quivering with fear; maybe it was a side effect of the drugs that made me feel indifferent, or maybe it was plain exhaustion. There was no immediate danger, a voice in my head told me. For once, I was safe. I didn’t have to run anymore. They got me. They got us. It was over. There was nothing we could do but sit and wait and not waste any energy on feeling scared.

I think there was something else, too. Courage. I had lived without it my whole life, but several times as an Animorpher, when I needed it, I had grabbed it. And I needed it in that jail cell. I needed that stoic sensibility that knows that crying and shivering won’t do you or your friends any good.

Image


Oh God.

My parents.

When they shoved me into one of the black vans, that’s when I started crying. So much for courage. I felt so frustrated. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to go up to Mom and Dad and melt into their love, and let them take me home. I was their good girl. I’d never do anything wrong, and I hadn’t. This was all a big mistake, the whim of a few rich scientists who tricked me and abused me. I didn’t deserve this, and neither did my parents.

And neither did my friends.

How the heck did this happen to us?

Image


I sat in the interrogation room alone for a long, long time. I was sore and tired from sleeping in the narrow little bed in my cell, and I was hungry and very, very thirsty - they hadn’t given me anything since they’d captured me. My tongue felt like a giant dry sponge. Light-headed and weary, I dropped my head onto the table, in between my cuffed wrists.

After a long while, the door opened and a man came in and sat across from me. He wasn’t a policeman; he was dressed in a crisp black suit and tie, with dark gelled hair and sideburns.

“Charlotte Penn,” he said, pulling out a chair across from me. “Nice to meet you.”

“Can I have some water please?” I asked before he could sit down.

He hesitated, but shook his head and took the seat. “I’ll give you some after we’re done here.” He looked down and smoothed the front of his suit. “So. You’re the gazelle.”

I didn’t want to cry, but I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks. It was the whole frustration thing again, bubbling up and over any courage I thought I had earned in my recent experiences. I think the man noticed the tears because he faltered for a moment.

“And I hear your boyfriend’s the lion,” he said, maybe trying to cheer me up or something with light conversation. “That explains the locker room incident down at Silver Creek High. How’d that relationship happen, anyway? Shouldn’t nature make you two enemies or something?”

I couldn’t answer. I felt miserable. I felt thirsty and dizzy and my hands were too busy being cuffed to a false accusation to wipe the tears away.

The man sighed. “You’re being just as helpful as your friend Layla was, at the beginning. But I got her to talk soon enough. It wasn’t very hard.”

He smiled, and I hated that smile.

“So,” he began, leaning forward. “Tell me about your parents. What did they know about the whole gazelle thing?”

“Nothing,” I croaked.

“Alright. Who knew, then?”

My mind spun wildly. Michael’s mom did, certainly, but this man didn’t need to know that. “Jackson did.”

“Mhmm. Anyone else?”

I shrugged and shook my head. Sure, there were other people. The Japanese, the rebel group, and Jay the traitor… did they count?

“What does Project Miles Eximus mean to you?” he asked.

“It ruined my life,” I spat through tears.

“What do you know about it?”

I shook my head again. I still wasn’t sure what the truth was.

“What does it mean?”

“Super soldier,” I whispered.

The corners of his mouth twitched. Then, suddenly, he stood up. “We’re done here. I’ll get you your water, Charlotte.”

Feeling very confused, I watched him leave. Once I was alone in the room again, I glanced at my frazzled reflection in the window and wondered who was watching back.
John 14:27:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.





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TheSilverFox says...



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Running his hand along the metal fence that rimmed the three-story brick orphanage, Joshua felt more sentimental and sad than he wanted. Not in particular for the people, who were now assembled outside the entrance and watching without interest as he let go, stepped forward, and pushed his small suitcase into the back of a blue sedan. At least the staff had been relatively friendly, but otherwise dull and marred by depression that comes with raising a few dozen kids who, like Joshua, had spent their entire lives in the foster system. The other children had long ago congregated into their own groups and generally ignored the isolationist Joshua. The fights hadn't raised their opinion of him.

Rather, it was the place itself. He knew where the old paintings of the original owners were kept (the attic), where he had stood and had notches marked on the wall to show his height, and where somebody had once dug a hole beneath the derelict slide in the tiny playground. The last had been his hiding spot and retreat from the world, small and uncomfortable and public as it was, before the library had been built. He was disappointed that he could not see it, thanks to it being behind the orphanage (though he had not paid attention to it in years), as he shut the door behind him. Ironically, he hadn't thought of about most any part of the orphanage in as much detail as he did now. It was his life flashing before his eyes, he realized; after all, he couldn't remember any other place he'd lived in. It hadn't exactly been an interesting life.

On the other hand, Joshua was a bit more relieved that he couldn't see the scottish girl or her compatriot among the crowd - they had likely made a run for it when nobody else was looking. At least, as far as he reasoned - he had woken up late, and only had had a brief amount of time to pack his luggage and ignore the glares of his superiors before running outside. Even if they had left for another foster home, the chances were good that it wasn't his; with luck, they would be in some place remote and boring, like Kansas. This brought him some comfort as the sedan began to drive slowly down the street, the staff and children waving Joshua goodbye half-heartedly. They disbanded quickly and marched up the stairs as the driver turned around the corner, removing the orphanage from Joshua's sight. He wanted to believe they were jealous, and was unhappy at his own lacklustre spirit.

He kept himself in a corner, looking out the window at the bright sunshine that spilled onto the battered neighborhoods and gnarled trees. Hand firmly positioned against the glass, the other gripping the hard seating, he gave no regard to the young lady driving the vehicle. In turn, she seemed to be focusing on her driving, only changing radio stations as they escaped the backstreets and entered into the throng of morning traffic.

93.2, bringing you classic rock from the 90s, zeroes, and tens, here to say you're-

doomed, from their latest album Actually, We Did Start the Fire-

Justin Bieber III is continuing his tour around Stockholm, promising to eventually return to the United States without being arrested for numerous--

As a country song began to blare in the car, the lady, now stopping at an intersection surrounded by shops and stores, turned to look at Joshua. "How are you doing?" she said in a conversational voice, smiling and trying to look as friendly as possible. Not wanting to stare at the huge pickup truck next to him, Joshua turned and faced her.

"Is it going to be a good place?" he said resignedly, noticing the tag on the lady's shirt that said her name was Monica.

A loud honk jolted her, causing her to spin around and put her foot on the gas gently as she drove past the green light at the intersection. After a few seconds of gradually slowing breathing, Monica regained enough of her senses to respond confidently, "Yeah! We already have a special room just for you, with a soft bed and a television and everything. Your new family will be a little large, but I'm sure you're used to that."

"How large are we talking about?" said Joshua, raising an eyebrow as he lifted a leg and rested it over the adjacent back seat.

"The plae has a staff of about...I don't know, 50?" she replied, looking at a sign positioned by the road and making a turn at the next intersection. "And we have a few kids who'll be great company."

Joshua frowned. "Wait, I thought I wasn't going to another orphanage, right? ...Right?" he said in an almost accusatory tone as Monica turned once more, bringing her on a path leading right to the packed freeway.

She hesitated. "No, of course not, don't be silly. It's just...umm...a better place for you to live and work in while we finalize your papers to join a foster family in the area. That's what they said, anyway." Laughing nervously, she craned to switch the channel once again, replacing the beginnings of a pop song with a news report, and then merged with the array of other cars traveling swiftly towards their destinations.

"That's still a glorified orphanage," commented Joshua as he peered towards the distant purple mountains in front of them. In the meantime, he focused on the radio channel and its reporter's slow, calm statements. Thanks to a few daring raids, police officers have finally apprehended the last of the ten teenage fugitives in a shed outside of Aurora. Charged with, among numerous crimes, over 50 counts of arson and murder, the Colorado National Guard, in cooperation with the United States Government, has indicated they will be taken to the AD-

"Not for children," mumbled Monica as she rapidly changed the channels to something more soothing. Her eyes darted towards the scowling, annoyed figure of Joshua in the back. "Ugggh, yeah," she admitted, lowering her head in embarassment. "On the bright side, you at least have-"

A buzzing came from the purse that she had positioned in the front passenger seat. Joshua quickly erased the smug smile on his face as she reached over, pulled the purse onto the lap, and rummaged through the contents while peeking every now and then at the road. He pushed himself into his seat as she pulled out a cell phone and stared at the number in confusion. Half-concerned that it would be the orphanage calling for his return, temporary or otherwise, and half-concerned that her poor driving skills would get them both killed, Joshua waited with bated breath.

Pressing a button, Monica held the phone between her ear and shoulder as she stared at the interstate. "Who is this?" she said in her same cheery voice. An audible pause. "Who are you, and how did you get my number?" she suddenly shouted, causing Joshua to leap up in his seat. A briefer pause; whoever was talking on the other end seemed to be frightened, considering how fast and high-pitched their words were. Joshua found it eerily familiar.

This carried on for a brief time, and then Monica, nodding moved herself to face Joshua, keeping a hand on the wheel. "It's for you. Some guy called Mike?" She sounded confused and distrusting, but calmer.

Joshua eagerly snatched the phone from her outstretched hand, wiping sweat from his brow as he held it up to his ear. "Hello? Is something-"

"Thank God it's you," said Mikhail from the other end. "I'm so so so so so so so screwed."

"What are you talking about? And calm down, you're talking too fast." Monica cast a few possibly-concerned glances from her position, but said or did nothing.

"Well, um, um, um, I was sort of relaxing and, er, looking out the window and, um, drinking some coffee when this fox ran by and then it just sort of got caught in some kind of trap and turned into a girl. And then the police came and arrested her but I think they're still looking for witnesses because they keep searching the library because I spat out my coffee and spilled it all over the floor and I couldn't clean it up and I'm so screwed man."

It was a miracle that Joshua could understand anything he was saying. "What are you even smoking?" he asked, cutting into Mikhail's intermittent sobs and panting. Now Monica gave him a strange look, which managed to be both curious and disturbed. Joshua chose to ignore her.

"Not the usual stuff!" pleaded Mikhail, his voice rising even higher. "Um, not anything, I swear! One second she was a fox and then, um - I'm not lying, I'm not lying, you have to believe me - she was a girl. Just like that! I've been hiding in the backroom for a while now and I forgot how long because I don't have a watch but I've been eating all the spare chips and crackers I dropped on the floor and didn't feel like picking them up and I'm too pretty to go to prison. I always wanted to say that, you know."

Joshua facepalmed. "You're okay, you're not going to jail...you made sure to take your medication, right?"

There were a few deep breaths. "They're in my pocket, yeah. I don't ever forget them. Josh, I'm serious, there's some crazy sh...stuff going on, and I think the police know where I am because I can hear footsteps outside the door and I think they're waiting for me to come out and surrender. And I'm going to do that because I'm tired and thirsty and scared and I haven't slept in forever, and all I want to know, all I want to make sure of, is that you're alright. That and also call my parents, but first things first, as I don't normally say! Just tell me you're okay."

"Yeah, I am. I'm heading over to another place by Idaho Springs and staying there until they can find someone for me. I'm totally, 100% okay. Just...if you go outside and there isn't anything, get a cab, go back to your parent's home, and get some food and sleep." Sweating and tense, Joshua looked around in the interior of the blue sedan and wished that he knew how to drive. This was the worst of Mike's episodes.

"Oh, they're all out there, believe me. All of them watching me." His jumpy laugh was disturbing, though prefaced by a deep sigh and a voice that lowered to something almost resembling his normal one, tinged more with determination than anxiety. It was perhaps even creepier. "But...thanks, and, uh, goodbye." The line went dead.

Josh placed the phone on the seat next to him, stared at his feet, and tried not to cry.

******


The car door opposite Joshua swung open. Blinking at the influx of bright light, he made out the concerned and saddened face of Monica. She still hadn't the ability to say anything as he handed her phone back, choosing instead to step out of the way for him. Josh went for his suitcase next, grabbing it from underneath his seat, and dragged it with him, lifting it up with surprising strain as he stepped out of the vehicle and into the parking lot.

In this nestled place, surrounded by imposing mountains, a lone building was poised on level ground. Close enough to Idaho Springs that Joshua could see the small town in the distance, the structure was white and modern. Poised over the top of the building was a logo of three purple triangles, one after another, beneath which were the words Nemo me impune lacessit. Neatly trimmed bushes surrounded either side of the front entrance, where a small gathering of cheery staff and slightly-less-cheery children had assembled on the front steps. It was such an exact opposite of his morning that Joshua was almost unsurprised to see Alex and Finn among the audience.

However, Joshua was confident. He hoped that he could finally have a chance to make friends, or at least escape this endless cycle; he was never going to fall into somebody's games ever again. Though, in the back of his mind, he did fear what would happen if Mike was right, and if the police would choose to go after him next. If they hadn't already.
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per ciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò vivo alcun, s'i' odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

Inferno, Canto 27, l 61-66.





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Rydia says...



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Imani Azikiwe

We didn't leave straight away. Apparently there was paperwork for the man and Ms. Atkins to fill out so I was told to pack my things and say goodbye. I thought about not packing my things but that probably wouldn't stop them from sending me away. Probably. So I packed my things but I didn't say goodbye.

Danny and Kiki both tried to say goodbye to be and Kiki tried to put the book from last night in my bag but I pushed it back at her. She hadn't read it all yet and if I took the book then Danny might never find out what happened at the end of the story.

Danny nodded and squeezed my hand. He understood. That was enough to make the tears start pricking against my eyelids because it was nice to have someone who understood.

"I'll be back," I promised quietly.

"You always are."


When Ms. Atkins called me downstairs, it was to tell me I'd be staying the night afterall. And that Alex and Finn would be going with me in the morning since they were as bad at running away as I was. I wanted to correct her. I wanted to say that Alex and Finn were always running away from the home, while I was always running to the home. But she wouldn't have understood.

The man ushered us into the car - Alex and Finn in the back and me in the front. He told us his name was Jay and that he was taking us to a new life but I didn't believe him.

I spent the first half hour of the drive trying to memorize the route and imagining the look on silly Ms. Atkins' face when I found my way back to the Orchard House children's home. I'd be tired and half starved from the long walk and I'd rub some dirt in my face for extra effect, of course, and she'd feel so bad that she'd take me in. And she'd let me stay. And she'd never send me away or let anyone try to adopt me ever again.

Alex and Finn whispered to each other in the back, probably plotting their escape for the moment the child locks were taken off the doors. I prefer to wait a few days until they least expect it, but the other two attempting an escape might screw things up for me. I was going to have to be ready. I was going to have to be faster.

Of course, I imagined my dream scenario for so long and the scenery outside zipped by so fast that I started wondering how I'd ever get home.

"Can you drive slower?" I asked the man driving the car. He turned his head to look at me and I expected him to make some kind of wise crack about how I could talk since these were the first words I'd said all day. And adults always do that. It's like they can't understand that us children have inside voices too and we don't always want to share them with the world. The driver turned his eyes back to the road and said nothing.

Fine. I could out-silence the best of them so I went back to looking out of the window and I imagined I'd meet a nice family and tell them where I lived and they'd be so surprised at how far away from home I was and how small and brave I was that they'd drive me straight back and everyone would be happy to see me. Even Ms Atkins.

The car pulled up to a white building nestled in the mountain range and slowed to a stop much sooner than I'd expected.

"It's meant to take two hours," I said in my most grown up 'I'm not complaining, just saying it how it is' voice.

"But it didn't and this is your stop," Jay replied. There was a small huddle of other children outside but they had to be just the new comers since there were at least three staff members in their starched white suit for every child. Even Alex and Finn had to know there was no running away from them until they were less on guard.

"Go and meet your new friends," Jay encouraged.

"You're not coming with us?" Alex asked.

He shook his head and smiled but it wasn't the kind of smile to make you feel at ease. It was the kind of smile the shark gives to the little fishies before he eats them for dinner. "I have other things to do."

So we got out of the car and several staff approached to herd us toward the other children. Then the car drove away.
Writing Gooder

~Previously KittyKatSparklesExplosion15~

The light shines brightest in the darkest places.








A classic is a book which people praise and don't read.
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