“Daxton? Sweetie? Can I come in?”
Well, this was inevitable. Daxton knew he’d eventually have to talk about what happened with his own parents. But he hadn’t gathered his thoughts! It’d been two whole days and he was still as confused as the night it all happened. But then, who else could say they’ve been through what he and his pack went through that night at Quincey’s house?
He could still see that strange, inky creature in his mind’s eye. That was one of the bad things about not having eyes… images that could only be seen when your eyes were closed were forever present when he had his STOP turned off. Sometimes it helped, not only to be alone with his thoughts, but to face them with the rest of the world just shut off to him. This time, however, was not some situation brought about by growing pains of an adolescent boy – it was more like staring into the abyss. But even if his mind was plagued with thoughts of some freak wearing Quincey’s face, he was sure he’d find something in the imagery. No matter how scary it was.
“It’s a free world,” Daxton called back.
Edward took at as the most invitation he’d get out of his son and opened the door to the pup’s room slowly to peek inside. Daxton simply laid there on his bed bare-clad save for some cloth-elastic shorts, so he couldn’t even see Edward as he stepped into the room. Daxton’s ears still twitched as the beaver approached his bedside, and he turned his hand at his bedside so his palm faced upwards, because he knew when Edward sat down, he’d immediately take hold of it. He always did that when he wanted to comfort his son.
As expected, Edward moved right to Daxton’s beside where he tucked his legs in under himself and settled in on the floor before slipping his fingers to lace with Daxton’s own and lifting the boy’s hand so they both were propped on their elbows. This assured Edward that even if Daxton wasn’t looking at him, even if he couldn’t see him, he was listening.
“How are you holding up?” The beaver took a gentle tone, “Have you been sleeping better yet?”
“A bit,” Daxton sighed, “Did you hear--”
“She’s in quarantine, sweetie,” Edward cut the corgi off, “She hasn’t woken up yet.”
Daxton rolled onto his side to face his father, making them break their hand-holding. “But she’s okay? I didn’t--”
Edward smiled a sorry smile. “No hun, you didn’t hurt her too badly,” The beaver said as he settled both his hands into his lap, “She’s got some bad bruises, but considering what happened she’s doing remarkably well.”
The young canine breathed a sigh of relief. However it was only one weight lifted from his shoulders, where many more still bogged him down. “Can I visit her?” He’d ask. Edward more than anticipated the question.
“Sorry Daxton, you can’t yet,” the father said, “They’re still trying to figure out just what… or where… or… whatever that thing was.”
Daxton knew what it was. After everything he’d seen in the past little while, he was certain about just what that creature had been. “It was an alien,” He said, “Like the ones that were at Locksmouth.”
Even if that was obvious, hearing it made Edward uneasy. The feeling was projected into the expression on his face, but Daxton couldn’t see it. What he did identify though was the inflection in Edward's voice when he said, “Well, yes… I suppose they know what it is, but they don’t understand the nature of it.”
“Its nature?” Daxton repeated, letting himself flop back onto his back, “It’s evil is what it is - an evil body-snatcher from Nebula 5.”
Edward reached out to rest a hand on Daxton’s head that gently brushed through his messy blonde hair. “They’re doing everything they can,” The beaver assured, “Right now all we can do is wait… you’re my greater concern right now, Daxton. I wouldn’t mind if you missed school and still got your homework, but your friends haven’t even been coming around.”
Daxton grunted, “School’s still going to be around tomorrow. Quincey though…”
Edward quietly sighed. “Fair enough,” He surrendered, not wanting to push his son too hard. This wasn’t like forcing Daxton to clean his room or spend a few hours a day without his STOP. This was something Edward and his husband had never expected to have to deal with – they were as blind going into it as their son.
Perhaps that was enough talking about it for the moment, so Edward moved on. “I’m making stew tonight,” He said, tussling Daxton’s hair, “And I expect you to eat some. You won’t do Quincey any good if you keep skipping meals.”
“I wish she could eat it with us…” Daxton said, resting his hands on his stomach.
Edward paused at that. It was good that Daxton wasn’t using his eyes, so to speak, because hearing the sad longing tone in his son’s voice made his confident parent act waver a little. He bit his lip, shook his head slightly, and then moved to stand up. “I’ll have her over for dinner every night for a month when she gets better,” He said, kissing Daxton upon the forehead, “I promise; guaranteed to put two pounds of pig on your cutie or your money back.”
Daxton groaned and rolled his head to face away from his father. “Jeez, Dad…”
“Don’t you pretend like you don’t like how super-duper soft she is. I know my son,” Edward grinned, “Dinner’ll be at five tonight. I have to have it ready for when your father gets home; he’ll be hungry after spending all day arguing with Jim to keep him from starting some kind of arms race.”
“Guess he’ll be super stressed, huh?” Daxton asked, setting aside his own feelings for a moment. This situation affected everyone, not the least being his other father, Eddie.
Edward flicked a wrist. “Oh he’ll just be terrible,” He said, “I’ll be giving him a rub all night no doubt.”
Daxton furrowed his brow. “Back rub?”
“… A rub. Remember, five o’clock.”
Daxton rolled over onto his side to face the far wall and pulled his pillow up around his head. “Ugh, you guys…”
Eddie Kemberge and Mr. Jim Mason sat together in a room. Silence hung over them like a smothering blanket as the two of them peered through the viewing screen acting as a one-way mirror into the room where Quincey Abram now slumbered. The viewing wasn’t particularly exciting: just a girl, lying in a comfy hospital bed, unconscious, with machines monitoring her respiration and heartbeat, IV systems giving her the nutrients she needs. Every now and then an attendant would pass through the erected force field that would separate the porcine girl from the remainder of the ward. At the moment she seemed anything but dangerous – just a sad sight of a girl far too sweet to have that many bruises.
The two men sat in a state of obvious fatigue. They’d spent hours in that room. Their clothing, normally very presentable, was wrinkled, their shirts partially un-tucked. Eddie Kemberge’s tie had lost its knot and just hung draped across the back of his neck. Jim Mason had long discarded his purple business jacket, and had the top few buttons on his black shirt beneath undone. In one hand each they held glasses, and Mason held a bottle in his other. They watched and drank in silence, the viewing room seeming like the worst movie theatre in existence.
“You see?” Mason mumbled, “This is what happens.”
“Damnit Mason…” Eddie, the buck, grumbled.
Eddie held out his glass. Mason filled it with the clear beverage held within the bottle.
The hyena took a drink of his own then, before filling his glass back to its top and setting the bottle on the floor. “We let our guard down thinking those freaks had left and we get a little girl in the hospital,” He said.
“And what do you propose we do?” Eddie snidely responded, “Oh, let me guess: we put guns in the hands of toddlers.”
“It’d be better than what we’re doing!” Mason barked.
Eddie scoffed, but grinned, looking into his glass. “Wouldn’t it,” He muttered, angling his reflection cast into the drink as he swirled it around. Light from the ceiling flickered in the fluid. “Simple fact of the matter is, Jim, we can’t just undo a hundred years of gun control at the drop of a hat.”
“But you know we have to do something,” The other man replied as he cast his attention finally to the buck, “That’s your fifth.”
“So?” Eddie cast a look back.
“You’re worried,” Mason huffed, “Or you would’ve stopped at three.”
The two simply looked at one another for a few moments. Then they turned their attention back to Quincey, and shared a swig of their drinks in unison.
“Of course I’m worried,” Eddie then said, “This could mean all kinds of things, not to mention that sweet girl in there has been there for my son every day since they were six. She’s practically my daughter.”
“And she’s my niece,” Mason added, “It’s not just about the aliens any more. I need to know what you’re going to do for her.”
“Everything we can,” Eddie answered, “As soon as we gauge and contain the situation. We have to put a lid on the news outlets, keep panic from spreading through the city, and make it seem like we can contain this thing. As far as Miss Abram goes, that’s a job for medical science. I’m afraid that’s in your lap then, Mr. Pharmaceutical.”
Mason paused and took a hefty swig, nearly draining his glass. “We don’t even know if that thing is still inside her, or… or whatever it is it does,” He explained, “Around the clock tests, day and night, no expense spared, for Paula’s sake… and we’ve got nothing. Everything comes up as if she just got a nasty bump on the head.”
“She did fall down a flight of stairs,” Eddie sighed, “After getting punched in the face.”
“Hard, too, if we heard right from the Baxter kid,” Mason added, “Assuming she was hit hard enough to have her snout broken, it’s boggling. She fell down those stairs and tumbled all the way down. No twists, no sprains, no shattered bones, no snaps, no nothing. And that’s why I’m sure that thing is still in there. No kid should have gotten away with that so easily.”
“We’re talking to Locksmouth,” Eddie said, “We’re getting everything we can on these things and what we can do.”
There was a knock at the door, and the men both turned to see a porcine woman enter. She wore a long white coat, attendant’s scrubs, and had a casted arm tucked into the coat. She eyed both Eddie and Mason as they stared back at her in their somewhat ragged state, and she shot them a glare through her glasses.
“If anyone should be drinking over my daughter’s condition, it ought to be me,” She said, stepping past their seats and moving right to the window where she looked in on Quincey. She took a deep breath, and let it out with a quiver of her lip. Swallowing her nerve and adjusting her glasses, she spoke. “I heard the latest tests came back inconclusive.”
With his free hand, Mason counted, “No foreign substances in her blood stream, skin tissue shows no evidence of even coming into contact with anything unusual, and no unusual brain activity – you know, minus the two-day coma. Girl’s doing a whole lot of dreaming, but other than that she’s… well, you know.”
Paula turned to Eddie, “And what about you?”
Eddie gestured to himself with raised eyebrows, and then shrugged. “Ever hear of martial law? We’re doing what we can, but I can’t really put any definitive statements out there until we learn a thing or two.”
Normally this is when Paula would rub both her temples in frustration – but considering one of her arms was broken, she could only handle one. Turning, she pushed her forehead against the glass window looking in on her daughter, and let out a snorted sniffle. “Isn’t there more we can do?” She pitifully asked.
Both Eddie and Mason got to their feet to comfort the grieving mother. Both stopped when they realized that both were moving to act, and rather than step in and embrace her, they simply stayed standing. “Paula, you’ve got me and Mason on it,” Eddie said, “You couldn’t ask for a more dysfunctional, but effective team.”
Mason gave him a smack on the arm, “You can’t be dysfunctional AND effective, idiot.”
“I have enough drinks in me to kick your ass, Jim,” Eddie almost slurred, pointing at the hyena, “But we’ve got bigger problems.”
“Go home,” Paula suddenly turned to them, “Both of you. Just… go home.”
“Paula…” Mason started.
“GO HOME, JIM.”
The hyena leaned back as if Paula’s shout had draconic dialect strung into it. He then raised his hands in surrender, and gave Eddie a nudge to get him moving too. The two men gathered their things and made their way towards the door. Mason ushered Eddie out before turning his attention to Paula. “I’m on high alert, P,” He said, “If anything happens, I’ll break speed limits to get back here. She’s my niece. I’m not completely heartless.”
“Thank you,” The woman turned back towards the window.
“And if you need anything…”
“… We’re both here,” Eddie said as he stuck his head back into the room.
“Thank you, Jim, Eddie,” The woman repeated.
Quincey would have never thought it possible, but she had been ‘jumping’ dreams to try and find Duplex ever since she’d fallen unconscious. Even though dreams and reality often worked on very different time-streams, she knew she had been asleep for a while. How else could she have gone through so many dreams? It was quite a journey, with seemingly no real destination. How does one physically locate something in the subconscious?
Her first dream had been a relaxing one. After being rendered unconscious by Daxton and her following tumble down the stairs, she had awoken in her youth – so far into her youth that she was in a play pen, surrounded by the comfort and safety of everything she used to love: her blocks, her children’s books, and strangely enough, a merman action figure. She loved that monstrous little fish-man, looking like some creature from the Black Lagoon. She remembered that in her head-canon, the freaky fish man was actually very nice. He enjoyed tea and naps. But Duplex hadn’t been there though, so Quincey was forced to continue her search.
They weren’t in the dream where she had been bound, ball-gagged, and spent an evening with Daxton either.
Nor were they anywhere to be found while she had to run away from one giant arachnid wearing tennis shoes on all of its eight feet.
It was strange however. Most often when someone was dreaming, they didn’t always act with the full knowledge that they were, in fact, just dreaming. Usually she would almost be a spectator to her own actions in some fabricated world brought on by figments of her imagination. But this time, she was fully aware, and not only that, but also very focused on finding Duplex. She was a thinker, an intellect, so this didn’t escape her. It was significant somehow, but she had nothing but theories as to why. In the end it served to aid her in her quest, and finally she’d have her chance to meet Duplex again.
She was thrown into a familiar dream – familiar because it was the sort of thing she used to act out as a child. When she was little, she would gather up pillows, cushions, blankets, mattresses even, and make labyrinths. And after she finished these small mazes, she would go through them, imagining herself in the role of a hero sent to slay a Minotaur, just like in the old, old stories. This Minotaur was often just Daxton who she would send in first, and pounce and cuddle the love out of as soon as she found him.
In her dreams, however, the labyrinth was quite real. Solid sandstone brick from top to bottom, with torchlight, and she was an adventurer garbed in chain armor, a tabard, and a chain coif, armed with various supplies, a mace, and a large shield. When she’d find the Minotaur, she’d do battle with it, and often beat it so silly that she’d emerge victorious with the damsel in hand – which had once been Kenny, much to the lemming’s chagrin when she told him of the dream. This was where she would find Duplex again.
She crept through the dimly lit corridors of the maze with no real idea of where she was going. She had no string to leave as a trail, no bread crumbs to help her find her way back, and the ‘landmarks’ she’d find were usually just skeletons and cobwebs – but she never seemed to hit a dead end. She could just go forwards almost endlessly, only suffering the occasional left or right turn. It was never long before she found the beast, but this time the form of the Minotaur was that of a silver-skinned, blue-eyed monster – Duplex!
Except it was rather small… it looked less like a Minotaur monster and more like… just a young bull boy.
“You!” Quincey shouted at the creature, “Duplex!”
The silver bull stopped its aimless wandering through the maze, and turned to lunge at Quincey. All it got for its troubles was a heavy thwack atop its head that stopped it in its tracks. The mace sunk into its skull, mashing it like gelatin and deforming its face in a comical manner before the force of the blow crumpled the creature in a heap on the floor. Then, upon instinct alone, Quincey would turn and thrust her large tower shield out to slam into the second silver alien bull who had tried to jump her from behind. The force was like running into a brick wall, so it too crumpled quickly.
“One of you had better start talking!” Quincey shouted, but she had already picked one out to stomp on its jelly-like head to vent her frustrations, “Right now!! Why did you take my body?! Why did you attack my friends?!”
“We must get to Locksmouth!” The other bull shouted in that familiar, dual-layered voice.
Quincey stopped her stomping. “Why?!”
The bull that had been stepped on staggered to its hoofed feet, holding its head in a dizzy stupor. While it recovered, the other did the talking. “… It is a matter of importance,” It simply said, “We need you to--”
“Take us to Locksmouth, I know!” Quincey butted in, dropping her mace and shield. She did this for no other reason than to free her hands for frustrated, pouty, foot-stomping gestures. “But why?! I don’t understand!”
Both of Duplex’s forms shared a look as they stepped closer to one another. One then turned their gaze to her and said, “We require assistance.”
Quincey groaned, “I know that part, but why?”
Duplex stopped to gather their thoughts, one answering with frustration. “We must locate Echelon,” It said, “And Echelon must assist us.”
Quincey took a deep breath. Okay, now they were getting somewhere! Echelon. It was a name she did her best to commit to memory. “Alright, second question: why did you not just ask me for help?”
“Our hosts have been less than co-operative. There was no reason for us to believe that you would be any different,” One of Duplex’s forms explained.
“And you are not strong enough,” The other continued, “We require a stronger host.”
“For what?!” Quincey crossed her arms with nothing short of a snarl.
“… Our home is in danger.”
The girl took pause at that, her expression momentarily softening. She never considered that these beings were actually in trouble and in need of help. But, for all she knew, they could be lying. She drilled further, “Your home?”
“This is why we must not waste time!” One of the Duplex forms suddenly broke out, “Our home will be erased if we take too much time! We must get to Locksmouth and find Echelon immediately!”
Alright, if they weren’t going to tell her any more, Quincey would move on. “Well thanks to you, the dome’s closed down,” She explained, “Before we could have just taken a tram to Locksmouth, but now we’re not allowed to leave.”
“You must find a way,” Duplex said.
Quincey glared at one of them. “Are you serious? You made it difficult to do that; you should fix your own problems!”
“Host body, we will make it to Locksmouth. You will either help us, or you will die,” One of Duplex’s forms stepped in close to lean upwards towards Quincey’s body. “You must choose: you must take us to Locksmouth, or we will take what we need from you and find one more capable.”
Quincey jerked back in shock, “What?! You’ll kill me?!”
The other Duplex leaned over her shoulder from behind. “We are Inklings. We feed off prana – something found within your evolved human brain,” It explained, “If we must, we will absorb all of your prana. You will expire, and we will have the energy to find a new host. This would be forceful, and you are powerless to stop it.”
All the anger and bravado Quincey had taken into the encounter drained from her face, leaving her pale and afraid. “You can’t do that! I didn’t do anything wrong!” She squealed.
“However, if the host body does as we request, we will not need such amounts of prana,” The Duplex before her explained, “The host body may live.”
“May?” Quincey repeated, “MAY live?!”
“We give you this choice,” The Inklings said in unison, “You have provided us with clear alternatives that would prove more beneficial; stronger hosts – Daxton Kemberge, Kenny Baxter, Laila Lavinia…”
Quincey gasped, pulling out from between them and backing herself up to one of the walls. “You leave them alone!” She shouted.
The two beings simply stared at her in silence. Quincey panted for breath, but calmed herself as it became clear that the ultimatum she had been presented were, in fact, her only choices. “So… I either die, and you infect one of my friends…” She said, “… Or I bring you to Locksmouth, and you… leave me alone?”
The two forms of Duplex shared a brief look and a nod. “Yes. These are our terms.”
The girl took a deep breath. Duplex wasn’t giving her a ‘choice,’ there was no ‘choosing’ anything. She found it infuriating that they would even veil it as a choice while basically stating “cake or death.” But the reality was difficult to process. How many times has Kenny shouted “I’ll kill you” to Daxton in a fit of anger? Quincey would say almost too many to count, but Daxton and Kenny remained friends despite their banter. Duplex was nothing like that. The amount of sincerity from the alien creature that Quincey was forced to face was staggering. It scared her, it hurt her as her brain tried to process just how real it all was. It would have been so much easier to say that Duplex was bluffing, or that everything was a dream…
… But if she hesitated, she really would die, wouldn’t she? They’d taken her body once before, and she’s been knocked out ever since. If it really took that much strain on her body… how long would she have before she fell unconscious and just never woke up again?
She received no comfort from Duplex. Both of its forms stared back at her when she looked up from the little ball she’d curled into against the wall. The Inklings’ blank eyes held no emotion. There was no sympathy, they weren’t sorry that they put her in that situation; to them it was all a means to an end. Their objective was clear, their feelings were obvious, but the one question that remained was simply… Was Duplex chaotic good? Or did it align with a more evil nature?
Not knowing scared her even more.
Quincey let out a pitifully sputtering breath as her lip trembled. She was crying. She didn’t want this. She didn’t deserve this. It wasn’t fair. She never did anything to anyone, she never hurt anybody; so why? Why was she the one to get picked on and threatened? Why was she the one to be a hostage to some kind of interplanetary being?
“O… Okay…” Quincey barely mumbled her submission to her new alien masters, “I’ll… I’ll do it. I’ll take you; just… please don’t kill me.”
“Very well, host body,” The Duplexes nodded.
Quincey hugged her knees to her chest and shivered. She dropped her gaze from Duplex and stared at the sandstone floor. Had it always felt so cold? Did it always look so dark? It seemed like the dim light from the torches on the wall had abandoned her, spreading apart to leave her in darkness. She didn’t notice the hooves of the two silver beasts had disappeared for some time, as they too had left her in her despair. Now she was alone. It had gotten so cold inside the labyrinth that her breath misted in the air, and her tears began to crystallize against her face.
It became all too apparent that the labyrinth wasn’t a dungeon to be tackled. It was not there to fuel her child-like sense of adventure or satisfy her deep desire to be the hero. It was a prison that had held her for years. Every block was built of uncertainty, every skeleton was her pride, and the beast within was far more frightening than any Minotaur.
It was hopelessness; and it had found her.
A breeze picked up, and upon it an incomprehensible whisper drifted. Quincey barely noticed as she rocked back and forth, squeezing her legs tighter, desperately searching for some sense of security. The breeze picked up, blowing more and more strongly. The sandstone around her began to rattle. The breeze had become a vacuum. Quincey looked up and down into the dark corridor that stretched almost endlessly before her, watching as everything was sucked away into the darkness. Brick by brick the labyrinth began to crumble and fall apart, and it was only a matter of time before the floor and walls around her were pulled apart and drawn into the blackness. She was sucked away too, the poor pig girl flailing through the air as she was drawn into nothingness by a whirlwind.
The darkness became as water. It filled her lungs, choked her, and smothered her. Her struggle found no breath, her fussing made no noise. Then, her mind simply shut down. Everything stopped.
Then there was a light.
Quincey opened her eyes, staring directly up into a blinding light. The shock made her gasp loudly, allowing air to fill her lungs much too quickly, and her body jerked upright in panic. She felt cold, and with wide eyes she tried to take in her surroundings, but she was blind with fright. There were machines, four walls, lights, a door… she was on a bed of some kind, and her clothes were replaced by a gown. Where was she? Her mind reeled and raced, working too hard to come to a solution. She reacted in the only way that felt natural: she began to sob.
“Help me-e-e!” She cried, “Someone! Anyone!”
“Quincey!” A voice called, but she didn’t respond. The girl continued to wail.
“Quincey, sweetie, it’s Mom,” The voice came again, “Quincey, can you hear my voice?”
The girl’s chest heaved as she panted, looking all around the room for her mother. She wasn’t there. When Quincey tried to move, she felt something in her wrist, and looked to the IV stuck into her and began to try and pull it free. In her mind, she had no idea where she was, and she had to find her mother.
“Don’t pull on that!” Paula’s voice came again, “Quincey, sweetie, calm down, please...! You’re safe, Quincey, you’re okay.”
Quincey stopped her tugging and looked around. There was a speaker! Her mother’s voice as coming from there, she realized. Her mother was okay! Then did Duplex didn't hurt her too badly...
“M-Mom?” Quincey sniffled, “Mom?!”
Just as Quincey came to realize, the speaker box produced her mother’s voice again. “Shh, shh…” Paula tried to ease her daughter’s fears, “Quincey, I’m here.”
The door at the end of the room had opened, and inside walked two… officers? Quincey stared at them in fright as they stepped inside and took a sort of position maybe seven feet away from her. They seemed to be dressed in heavy uniforms, with protective vests and even helmets. They had neu-rods on their belts as well, assuring Quincey that Duplex had indeed done everything she witnessed on that terrible night. She tried to shift away from them on her bed, the sterile cover on it crinkling beneath her as she lifted one of her legs onto the bed. It became apparent to her that she was in a hospital, in a sterile room, wearing a patient’s gown.
“What’s going on?!” She shouted.
“There was an… an accident, sweetie,” Paula explained over the speaker as she stood not ten feet away from her daughter behind the protective one-way mirror that looked into Quincey’s room. “You’re at the hospital.”
“Why? I…” Quincey continued to look around the room, but she began to settle down, “O-Oh… Mom, I… Duplex… the alien!”
“You remember?” Paula asked, “That’s good, Quincey. But relax… settle down honey. Take deep breaths.”
Quincey did as she was told, taking slow, deep breaths. She looked to the officers then, who watched her intently. “Why are they here? Mom, are they going to…?”
“They’re here to help you,” Paula explained, “In case something happens.”
That’s when Quincey noticed the humming energy projectors on the walls. She was in one of the rooms designated for dangerous patients. She was behind a force field! “Mom, what happened?” She asked.
Paula licked over her lips, as they felt dry. She knew her daughter was a smart girl, but she wasn’t certain telling Quincey what had transpired was best when considering her condition. But, not letting the question go unanswered, she did the best she could. “You said it yourself, dear: the alien. It…”
“Oh my God,” Quincey snorted, reaching up to grip the sides of her head.
“Honey, it wasn’t your fault,” Paula quickly spoke, “The alien, it made you do things – things I know you would never, ever do to anyone. You’re a gentle girl, a sweet girl.”
“Are you okay?” Quincey looked to the speaker for lack of anything better to see, “Where are you?”
“I’m watching you from behind the mirror,” Paula answered, “I’m fine. I’m just fine.”
Quincey shuffled forwards and stepped carefully to the floor. She touched the cold linoleum with one toe tentatively, and then slipped off the bed to stand upright. The officers almost moved, nervously resting their hands on their neu-rods despite the protection they got from the force field. Quincey noticed this, but did her best to ignore them as she took hold of the IV she was hooked up to and wheeled the machine so she could approach the mirror. All she could see was her own reflection, but she rested a hand against the glass anyway.
“I’m so sorry Mom…”
Paula swallowed, “It’s not your fault.” She pressed a hand to the glass as well, right over Quincey’s own.
“The doctor will be in soon to ask you some questions,” Paula explained, “Will you be all right with that?”
“O-Okay, just…” Quincey peered over briefly to the officers, and then leaned in closer to the glass to lower her voice. “I really need to use the bathroom…”
“Sweetie, I can’t hear you if you lower your voice,” Paula responded.
Quincey cleared her throat, “I really have to pee.”
Despite everything, Quincey’s mother couldn’t help but laugh just a little. It made sense… they’d been pumping Quincey full of liquids for two days. “Okay, that’s fine. I… think I should take you. Wait just a moment.”
Quincey waited, just as she was told, as silence fell. She hesitantly turned and wheeled her IV machine to where she knew the force field was erected, and stopped about a foot short of actually touching it. The strong-force containment shield was invisible to most, but may have been visible to a person with the proper eyes, such as humans spliced with the genetics of certain reptiles. It was there Quincey stood, facing the two officers that had entered the room, a stallion and an armadillo, and said nothing. Not one of them uttered a word, and despite their difference in age, size, and over-all threat… every one of them was nervous.
The silence was broken when Paula entered the room. The officers stepped aside to let the woman through. She was a woman whose relation to Quincey was obvious. With her fair skin, tall, but chubby build, and her dazzling scarlet hair, Quincey was her spitting image. What Quincey noticed immediately however was the woman’s broken arm… something that was no doubt inflicted by Duplex during its outrage. Paula saw where Quincey was looking, and she shook her head.
“I’m fine,” She insisted, “It’s not like I haven’t broken an arm before. It’s set now, and should be healed in a couple weeks.”
“I’m sorry…” Quincey murmured.
Paula clipped a sort of disk-shaped device to her white coat, and pressed on two distinct buttons to hold them down. The metallic disk let out a beeping sound, and lit up in segments until the lights created a full-ring shape. Paula then stepped through the force field, the containment barrier rippling around her as she passed through, and reached out to take hold of her daughter and give her a big hug. Quincey fell into the embrace, awkwardly returning it with a feeling that she had no right to do so. “You don’t have to be sorry, Quincey…” Paula whispered soothingly to the younger girl, “I know what happened. It doesn’t matter. I still love you, so, so much.”
Quincey nuzzled her snout against her mother’s shoulder until Paula released her. Reaching into the pocket of her coat, she presented a second Shield Pass and meshed it with the threadlinks in Quincey’s gown. The light-weight disk attached, and Paula activated it just like she did with her own. When the teal lights flickered on and created a ring around the center of the disk, Paula smiled. “Come on now,” She said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
Mother and child passed through the field, and Quincey felt more at ease at her mother’s side. Though simply passing by the officers was hoping for too much. The two well-armed men followed, and after only a few steps, Quincey stopped to look back at them.
“Sorry ma’am,” The stallion officer said, “We can’t take any chances.”
For a moment, Quincey’s gaze drifted with her thoughts. She nodded, “Right… Okay.”
With a deep breath, the girl turned to look straight ahead. Her thoughts moved from one worry to the next settling on one big question: how was she going to get to Locksmouth…?
“She woke up, did she?” Mason stepped back into the viewing room. It seemed Quincey’s rousing from her coma attracted quite a crowd. The Police Chief was there, along with several doctors and many of the dome’s Arbitrators – including Eddie Kemberge. Seeing the buck there, Mason grunted, “I’m sure your son’s happy to hear that.”
“Let’s just focus on what’s in front of us, Mason,” Eddie cocked his head aside to direct Mason to the window.
“And what’s in front of us?” Mason would ask, “Chief Reynolds?
The Rottweiler police chief had her attention focused solely on Quincey’s room as the girl was brought back inside. “We’ve instructed the doctor to try and find out just what we’re dealing with,” She said. “To ask what the girl knows.”
“We’ve had Paula spending time with her,” Eddie said, “Quincey’s agreed to tell us everything.”
“So she knows something?” Mason asked.
Chief Reynolds grunted, “We’ll find out.”
Quincey, now back behind the force field, stood face-to-face with a doctor. The old frog sat in a folding chair on the other side of the field. He wet his lips with his tongue, and seemed to hunch forward tiredly. He clicked a pen against his clipboard, and then finally turned his tired gaze upon the girl. “Miss Abram… Why not take a seat?” He asked, “I’m just going to ask you a few questions.”
“You want to know about Duplex,” Quincey cut straight to the point.
Much like the on-lookers behind the glass, the doctor raised his brows. “Duplex?” He repeated, not understanding the significance of the word.
“The alien calls itself Duplex,” Quincey said as she shifted her weight from one leg to the other. Standing felt too good, she felt as if she’d been laying down too long.
“How do you know this?” The doctor asked.
“It told me,” Quincey explained, “In my dreams. I… I don’t know how, but I swear that’s where I see it. It’s called an Inkling.”
The doctor quickly jotted down notes. Mason looked to Eddie and said, “The same blasted creatures from Locksmouth.”
“What can you tell me about Duplex, Miss Abram?” The doctor asked.
“It scares me…” Quincey answered with a deep breath, “And it… it wants me to bring it to Locksmouth.”
Paula pushed through the crowd around the viewing window and stepped as close to it as she could. She was as confused as the rest of them, but somehow just hearing that these aliens were still involved with Locksmouth did not make any of them feel comfortable. Did that mean there was still alien life in Locksmouth? Was it going to join its kind? Just how was Locksmouth connected to it?
“Why?” The doctor pressed for answers, “Why Locksmouth?”
Quincey shifted uneasily. “It wants to find someone,” She said, “Echelon.”
“The one that made the broadcast,” Eddie murmured, “Right after the Incident.”
“And why does it want to find Echelon?” The doctor asked.
Quincey couldn’t take it anymore. She balled her hands into fists, but refrained from acting too irrationally. “I-I need to get there,” She said, “I need to get to Locksmouth right away. Duplex said I’d die if I didn’t.”
That same word was murmured not only by the doctor, but everyone watching on as well. Paula raised a hand to her mouth to silence a gasp, her brows wrinkling in distraught fear.
Quincey bobbed her head in a quick nod. She was getting nervous, too nervous. She began to breathe a little heavily. “Duplex said that Inklings live off of sucking the life out of their hosts! And if I don’t do what it wants it’s going to suck the life out of me too!” She explained quickly.
Mason shook his head. “Like hell it is,” He grumbled, pressing his finger down on the intercom, “That’s not going to happen.”
Quincey jumped at the sudden sound of Mason’s voice, and she looked towards the mirror. “Uncle Jim?”
“That thing’s still inside you, isn’t it?” Mason asked, “You said it talks to you in your dreams. That means it’s in there somewhere.”
“Y… Yes, but…” Quincey stepped closer to the mirror, “But I have to go!”
With a sidelong glance at the police Chief, who was shaking her head, Mason continued, “You’ll stay here. We’ll get it out of you before it has a chance.”
Quincey shook her head quickly and stepped right up to the mirror to smack her hand against it, startling everyone on the other side. “You can’t!” She shouted, “Uncle Jim, I’ll die! It’ll kill me if I don’t do what it wants!”
“Not if we kill it first,” Mason stubbornly responded, “We can find it. We will find it, and when we do it’s going to wish we hadn’t.”
“No!” Quincey almost whined, pounding against the glass again, “You don’t understand! I… I don’t want to leave it to chance Uncle Jim! Locksmouth isn’t that far away! I can just go and then it’ll leave me alone!”
“We can’t just let you go,” Mason said, “What if that thing’s controlling you right now?”
“What?!” Quincey squealed. Tears were welling in her eyes now, “I’m fine! I feel fine!”
Eddie pushed Mason aside and took his place at the intercom. “Quincey?” He spoke to get her attention first, “Mason’s right. We can’t just let you go. We paged Locksmouth for some notes on these things, and they do have the ability to control their hosts. Many reports from the Locksmouth Incident state that no one would even be able to tell if the infected were being controlled until it was too late.”
“Lots of people got hurt, Quincey,” Eddie firmly took his stance, “We can’t take that risk. You’re safest here where we can keep an eye on you.”
“WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?!” Quincey screamed, pounding on the mirror again, “Do you want me to die?! What’s wrong with you?!”
“No we don’t want you to die!” Mason growled into the intercom, squeezing up against Eddie to speak, “Listen to us. That thing needs a host to survive. It’s not just going to kill you. That’s how symbiotic relationships work: it needs you in order to survive.”
“AND we’re going to help you,” Eddie said, “We won’t let anything happen to you. We’d never let that happen.”
“But if I die it’ll just infect someone else! It said so!” Quincey snapped, “Don’t be stupid! Just let me go!”
Eddie and Mason shared a look, before Mason roughly shoved Eddie aside. “If that’s the case, we’re putting you under maximum quarantine,” He said sternly, “No one in, no one out.”
“WHAT?” Quincey shrieked, “Why?! Why, why, why?!”
Eddie tried to force his way back to the intercom, but Mason grabbed him by the scuff of his shirt and held him firmly away. “I want her condition monitored at all times. ANY drop in life-signs is to be responded to critically, no matter how small,” He barked at the doctors, “Schedule her for more tests.”
“What kind of--”
“ALL OF THEM! For God’s sake!” Mason growled.
“Calm down, Jim!” Eddie grabbed hold of Mason’s coat and held him firmly as well.
Mason shoved Eddie away from him, causing the buck to stumble into the gathered crowd. “Don’t you tell me how to act in my hospital,” He said, turning his attention to Chief Reynolds, “I want more security. Someone’s going to be watching her room at all times. I want someone stationed inside the room and outside the room.”
Quincey continued to thrash against the glass, trying to get their attention, shouting profanities Paula had never heard her daughter even whisper before. She tried to step towards the intercom, to calm her daughter down, to assure her that everything would be okay. Mason stopped her. He grabbed her wrist and spun her to face him where he stared her in the eye and shook his head. He gave one firm instruction: “Don’t.”
“Jim!” Paula gasped.
“We don’t have time,” Mason insisted.
“She’s my daughter!” Paula fought, yanking her wrist free, “And you’ve scared her half to death!”
Mason growled lowly. “She’ll go the other half if we don’t work faster,” He said as he turned his attention to the doctors in the room, “Get. To. Work. NOW.”
The doctors shuffled out of the room in a frantic race to clear scheduled tests and fit Quincey in for a series of scans. Mason gave Paula a stern look, “And you’re a conflict of interest. Go home. Eddie, make sure she gets home safe.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Chief Reynolds? If you’d please?” Mason sighed.
While the officer had been quiet during the sudden outburst, she reluctantly turned to Eddie and Paula, and nodded towards them. Both Eddie and Paula stared at Mason in shock, and no small amount of disgust at his behavior. But against their judgment, Eddie took Paula’s hand and made off with her, leaving the room with the Police Chief and the other Arbitrators in tow. This left Mason alone in that room. He turned back to the window, where Quincey had all but given up standing, collapsed to the floor with her back to the mirror, seated on the ground where she sniffled and sobbed.
The doctor had been pulled out of the room, and only one officer remained inside with Quincey.
“Give us a chance, Quincey,” Mason said into the intercom, before turning to leave the room too.
Quincey squeezed the pole that suspended her IV machine. “No, no, no…” She whispered to herself, “Please don’t kill me. Don’t kill me yet…”
“I’ll get out. Just please don’t kill me.”
She was staring at the glossy floor. It was so clean that she could see her reflection in it… though her reflection was a silver-skinned, blue-eyed alien staring right back at her.
“Host body, you will take us to Locksmouth,” Duplex’s strange voice sounded off in Quincey’s head.
Quincey nodded in compliance, and in spite of herself and the situation she was in.
“This time, we will help you.”
“So what’chya workin’ on?” Laila asked, peering down at the smaller boy in her lap.
Kenny relaxed against the giraffe’s chest, slumping against her like the world’s most comfortable chair. Her breast cradled his head just right; it was certainly a benefit to their height difference. “History,” He answered, tilting the binder he was using forwards and waving it around, “Paper and everything.”
Laila bit off a piece of licorice with a firm tug to split the candy between her teeth and her fist. “Pre-splice?” She’d ask. She tried not to move too much, but her slight movements sent her chest jiggling around his head just enough to remind the boy where he was: sitting in Laila’s room in little more than understickers. Laila sat cross-legged with Kenny seated filling what most kids would call “the pot hole.”
“Ancient,” Kenny sighed. He tucked the binder back in against his belly and continued writing, “Constitution junk.”
“Ohhh… Original American?” Laila asked, taking another bite of her candy, “Say, you ever figure out if the Second Amendment specifically refers to people being able to bear arms against the States’ militia? Or just that it’s just more general than that?”
“I dunno,” Kenny shrugged, “You know who’d know?”
“Yeah, Quincey…” Laila sighed, “But she’s in the hospital now gettin’ poked like a tender ham steak.”
“I might just write down that the whole debate over that outdated blurb was stupid in the first place,” Kenny grunted, “Just to get this stupid thing over with.”
“Mmm? Why? Somethin’ got ya all…” Laila grinned, leaning forwards to press the weight of her breasts against and around the back of Kenny’s head, “… Anxious, lil’ guy?”
Kenny lifted his head and tilted it back as far as he could to grace the giraffe with a flat look. “Seriously?” He asked, wearing his friend’s chest like earmuffs, “I mean, really? Don’t you ever get tired?”
“It’s my roots is all!” Laila grinned, “You more urban-minded fellas just don’t understand good Southern Hospitality.”
Kenny rolled his eyes, “Well unless Southern Hospitality is going to get my homework done, then can it.”
“Okay, fine then,” Laila sneered, licking her thumb and then smearing the spit-wet digit between his eyes, “I’ll let ya off this time, y’varmint.
Kenny dropped his books and thrust his arms up to bat away the spit-bathed chastising, grumbling as he wiped his fur dry using his forearm. By the time he lowered his arm again he spotted a younger giraffe skipping into the room, her brown pig-tails bobbing around and her violet dress flipping about. Having been listening in, she stopped before the two of them and laced her fingers together, pushing her palms outward in a stretch. “Ah do declare! I reckon I could show ya’ll real Southern Hospitality!” She spoke in a forced accent, her eyes focused on Kenny.
“Val, quit crushin’ on Kenny,” Laila immediately dismissed her little sister.
Little Valyrie Lavinia shot her older sister a look and then stuck out her tongue. “Pbbt!”
“The boy’s busy don’tchya see?” Laila leaned back, resting her hands back to support herself, still with the end of a licorice stick clutched between her thumb and forefinger. She arched her back a little and thrust her chest out with no small sense of pride. “With a lady of his age group,” She added.
“I could have boobies like that one day!” Valyrie huffed, “Big ones! Huge ones!”
“Maybe if they borrowed a size from you rump, darlin’,” Laila jeered. The younger giraffe gasped her offense.
“Kenny likes my bum!” Valyrie immediately turned and lifted her dress to prove her point, jutting her young giraffe booty back towards his face, “Don’t’chya Kenny?”
With Laila sitting up again, Kenny was lifted with her and her breasts against mashed against his head while Valyrie’s rear wiggled in his face. His gray-furred cheeks reddened like tomatoes and he cast his eyes towards the ceiling both as a distraction and a silent curse to whatever powers that were who controlled his life and the people in it. “Would you two knock it off?” He grumbled, “Seriously.”
==RING RING RING! PHONE CALL! PHONE CALL!==
==RING RING RING! PHONE CALL! PHONE CALL!==
Laila’s PET, not so much placed on the floor as it had just been dropped there, and began its obnoxious ring-tone nearby, close enough for Laila to reach it. Picking it up, she looked at the screen and her eyes suddenly lit up. In all too much a hurry, she answered with the push of a button, and the familiar face of a pig-girl with chubby cheeks, freckles, and glasses appeared on the screen. “Haaaaamleeeeet~!” Laila beamed, “Oh my goodness it’s so good to hear from you!”
“Hi Laila,” Quincey smiled, “Yeah, I finally managed to get my hands on my PET.”
“Is that Quinn?” Kenny blinked, tilting his head back against Laila’s chest again, “Hey! Quinn! You better be feeling better!”
“Yaaay! Quinnie!” Valyrie beamed, hurrying to her sister’s side to mash her face into frame of the call.
Over on Quincey’s side of the frame, she smiled. But she looked up from her PET for just a moment as she sat in the hospital’s lobby. People passed her by as if she weren’t even there, despite how extravagantly she had dressed herself. With an O-ring tube top one size too small, a flannel half-skirt, and spandex blue shorts, she was revealing far more than she felt comfortable – but what was important was that she looked… relatively normal. She stared as an officer passed by – the same sort of well-armored officer armed with a neu-rod stick that she had grown accustomed to seeing over the past few days.
“I’m… feeling better!” She smiled, “Mhm!”
“Well that’s great!” Laila said, “I heard they were doin’ tests on ya.”
“Oh yeah,” Quincey sighed, “Magnetic scans, neural-electro scans, blood tests, even some time in a brain bullet! It was awful!”
“And they didn’t find anythin’?” Laila asked.
Quincey blushed for a moment, and shook her head. “No, the alien seems to have gone…” She said, looking up from the call again just for a moment.
“Sweet,” Kenny smiled, “Like seriously? Just gone like that? Convenient.”
Quincey took a deep breath, “S-Say… Mom can’t give me a ride right now… Laila? Could you pick me up? I… I don’t want to make you go out of your way or anything, just… Can you bring some of my clothes too?”
“Oh of course sweetie-meat-pie!” Laila answered, looking surprised that Quincey would even question her willingness to do so, “I’ll grab my clothes and hop into the ol’ clunker. I’ll grab Daxton too, he’ll be tickled pink!”
“Good. That’s good,” Quincey smiled, “Then… please, hurry.”
“Sure thing,” Laila smiled, “See you in two shakes of a Kenny-butt.”
Quincey smiled and hung up on the call. Kenny looked up, puzzled. “The heck was that last bit?”
“Pff~” Laila chortled, pushing to stand up, bowling Kenny out of her lap, “Ya’ll heard the porker, get ready! Girl’s anxious to get home!”
Two days with no results. Jim Mason was getting frustrated to say the least.
He’d watched some vids from the Locksmouth Incident. There were a lot of them collected from various journalists and PETs from Locksmouth residents depicting the sort of unexpected chaos that arose from the Inklings’ arrival. People walked the street like zombies, family turned on one another, and the destruction of property at the very least looked as if it would cost far more money than the city had expected to dole out that year. He watched accounts of epic battles between rainbows of the strange creatures, all with terrifying or strange powers, making it clear that these Inklings possessed a capacity to be dangerous.
He watched as Echelon bid farewell to Earth and Natalie Grayswift, explaining that an Empress Osoth had been responsible for the destruction, the misery, and the deaths that had indeed racked up… And as much as he tried to think that perhaps this Duplex wasn’t part of Osoth’s plan, it was still a possibility that ate away at his rational thought. In the end, for all his money, all his sway in the community, he was just an Uncle whose niece was suffering, and he had floundered desperately to help her only to come up short every time.
The only saving grace was that Quincey’s condition didn’t seem to worsen. For all intents and purposes, she was relatively healthy aside from being under a tremendous amount of stress. Her nights were often spent waking up several times, and she didn’t have much of an appetite… But then, she was far from happy, too. All her shouting and protests died, and in their wake remained a girl stricken of joy, who looked at him with such sadness… Mason may as well have told her to her face that he intended for her to die – the impact on her personality would have remained just the same.
Mason wasn’t running on much sleep either. In fact, most of his system was probably an excess of electrolytes mingled with too much fermented beverage.
He’d forge on, approaching his slog through sleepless, hazy nights like a marching soldier. He never left his office without cleaning himself up, making himself presentable, and taking a few deep breaths before he’d put all his effort into just walking straight. He was an Uncle, protecting his family, but not only that… he had to prove, to everyone, that there was nothing to fear. He had to prove that humanity had an answer and a means to stand against the unknown alien power they had all come to witness. He had to save everyone.
But not the least of which was Quincey. He stepped into her room, clipping a Shield Pass to his business jacket, and passed through the security to approach the pig-girl’s bed. As always, she laid there, in her patient’s gown, with her identification tags. She’d been taken off the IV since waking in favour of a more solid food diet, and had been allowed the use of her PET just the day before. But as always, she lay on her side facing away from the door. Odds were she didn’t want to even acknowledge that there was an officer standing by the door, just watching her.
“Hey kid,” Mason spoke somewhat hoarsely. All his yelling had hurt his voice, “Any word from the stars?”
“Nothing,” Quincey responded with a sigh, “As usual.”
“You feel alright? Any weakness, headaches, anything?” Mason asked again while checking Quincey’s charts to see if any doctor had presented any sort of change. Quincey confirmed the disappointing lack of reports with a simple “no.”
The hyena breathed a sigh, eying his niece while his mind hesitated and a certain sense of anxiety nibbled away at him from inside. “… You see your Dad? I heard he came in yesterday,” He carried on. Information like that wasn’t relevant to his mission, but… he felt he needed to ask, awkward as it was. He’d never been close to Quincey, or even her father, Walter. Paula was his only life-line to that family.
“We… I saw him,” Quincey answered as abruptly as possible. She didn’t give Mason any more than that, and he couldn’t blame her. She was mad.
Putting down the chart, Mason took a chance and seated himself on the side of Quincey’s bed. After a moment of no response from Quincey, he spoke, “Listen, kiddo… You know I’d never purposely do anything to hurt you, right? I mean, your Mom would tear me apart. You can’t even imagine how she can get.”
He got nothing in the way of a response.
“… We just need to try,” He went on, “We need to try and beat this thing. We have to know we can do it. But we have to keep people safe, too. I’m… I’m not saying you should die for the greater good, I’m just…”
Well, even if she did die, the creature would be stuck here without a host. While such a thought ran through his mind, he rested a hand on the girl’s exposed bicep and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You won’t,” He said simply, “You got some Mason in you. Take it from ol’ Jim, a Mason is strong.”
Meanwhile, out front of the hospital, a sturdy-looking vehicle finally managed to pull in past the police vehicles parked outside, though to avoid other emergency services it had to pull in almost so far up the parking lot that it was almost back on the road. Laila put the thing into park however, and twisted her body to look over into the back seat where Kenny and Daxton sat. She just smiled, and then opened the driver side door to exit and allow the boys to file out behind her. Then she strode with eager purpose towards the front doors, with Kenny following right along, and Daxton smoothing out wrinkles in his navy-blue, Au Motti t-shirt most of the way, and the cuffs on the white long-sleeve beneath the rest of the way.
They didn’t even make it there before the sliding glass doors opened and an all-too-eager pig trounced out to meet them with a bouncing skip.
“Quincey! Hey!” The three of them lit up with smiles, and the rotund pig in the slapped-together outfit practically bowled Laila over in a hug. The giraffe stumbled, but her long legs kept her stance, and she stared down at Quincey in surprise as the adorable sow mashed and rubbed her face against the soft flannel fabric that was buttoned up over the giraffe’s even softer chest.
“My goodness!” Laila giggled, “You’ve got the June-bug jitters!”
Quincey released Laila and moved to Daxton, throwing her arms around his shoulders and nuzzling into her neck as she bounced on her toes, rubbing her body all up against his. “I just missed you so much!” Quincey snorted, “Mmn! You used Edward’s shampoo again.”
Daxton returned the hug with strong arms and firm squeezes to Quincey’s rear just to pull her that much closer. It was brief, and Daxton looked her in the eyes when she retreated. “I missed you so much too,” He said simply,” So… crazy much.”
Quincey turned to Kenny, who had been watching with arms crossed. But when their eyes met he gave a little smile and opened his arms to her. She responded by snatching him right up off the ground and squeezing the stuffing out of him. “H’oh God…!” Kenny groaned, “W… We all missed you!”
Quincey put Kenny down and looked at the three of them. They all looked so happy. Kenny couldn’t even hide his big, happy smile, and Laila let out a gentle laugh, but raised her hands to her cheeks, looking like she was about to cry. Daxton didn’t even let her go without contact that long, and had quickly taking hold of one of her hands. He held it firmly, like he never wanted to let go. Quincey herself was so happy she felt it rising from the pit of her like she’d just… throw up rainbows all over them.
But, slowly, Quincey’s smile faded. “We have to go,” She said.
Inside, Mason pulled his hand away from Quincey’s arm, staring in morbid confusion at the silver, glue-like substance that now dripped off his palm. He mouthed a silent ‘what the fuck’ before looking past his hand to see that Quincey’s body had began to develop similar silver blotches all over. He jumped from the bed and stumbled backwards in shock, letting out a little cry of alarm that had the officer inside rushing to his side immediately, only to freeze in place as well.
Quincey was… melting.
Mason rushed over to a pager and almost pulled it free from the wall. “Code Blue, Code… Brown! I don’t--! Emergency teams report to patient room 182, IMMEDIATELY. Emergency teams report to patient room 182, OR YOU’RE FIRED!”
For a moment everyone in the hospital paused, but then it broke out into a flurry of motion like an angry hornet’s nest. The doctors scrambled, frantically assembling the standard emergency equipment for a response to a code blue – defibrillation devices – and the code blue response team specifically trained to respond to critical patients. However when they arrived, they froze in momentary confusion at what they saw. Mason’s insistence had them proceed, and they rolled the girl onto her back as her skin continued to change pigment.
“Can you hear me?”
Quincey’s body was almost morbidly unresponsive, and calm, despite no longer breathing. Her body continued to liquidate, and any girl in her slowly dissolved into a silver mess.
“Miss Abram, open your eyes.”
She did just that. The attending doctor recoiled in surprise when Quincey’s eyes opened to reveal no whites, no irises, and no pupils – just shining blue. After that, her body lost solid consistency and began to ooze out over the bed, beneath her clothing. This process quickened rapidly, and the scrambling doctors eventually simply stood back as they watched the girl turn into nothing more than an inky puddle on the bed. Her medical monitor had long since flat-lined, leaving the stunned silent room with little more than a constant tone to fill the space.
“What just happened?” One of the doctors asked.
The officer in the room, slack-jawed, shook her head. “That colour matched the reports of the alien,” She said.
Mason blinked a few times, seemingly returning to the present. “… The alien? The alien… The… Oh God damn it.”
“We have a Code Yellow,” He announced not only to the room, but to the entire hospital, “I repeat, Code Yellow!”
He then looked to the officer, “Get on that radio now, Missy.”
Doing just that, the officer raised a hand to her feline ear to press onto her communications earpiece. “We need emergency back-up at Welkin General,” She said as she turned to leave, “Emergency lockdown protocol. Be on the look-out for Quincey Abram – porcine, approximately five-six, red bob-cut hair, glasses, round build. Suspect is believed to not be wearing her patient identification tags. Exercise caution, suspect is infected with an alien parasite.”
Outside the hospital, the sound of alarms resounded around the building. The four teenagers turned their attention to the noise – three of them were confused, but one was just worried.
“I mean right now,” Quincey quickly said.
Kenny’s eyes widened. “Quinn, you didn’t…!”
“I-I’ll explain in the truck, just MOVE!” She squealed, shoving Daxton towards the vehicle. Confused, Laila and Kenny scrambled to the truck as well, climbing inside. Quincey was the last to get in on the passenger-side front seat, and she stopped only for a moment when she heard police sirens in the distance. Looking back to see what commotion might be happening, she spied her mother getting out of her car in the parking lot, and their eyes met.
“… Quincey?” Paula squinted.
Quincey gasped in alarm and ducked swiftly into the truck, slamming the door. “Go Laila, GO!” She squealed.
“Sweetie, I don’t understand what’s goin’ on!” Laila protested, “What in the Sam-Hell did you do?!”
“Laila, I will DIE if you don’t drive this truck right this second!” Quincey shouted back, “I’m serious!”
For a moment, they all just stared at Quincey with shocked, wide eyes.
“… O… Okay… Okay!” Laila surrendered, starting up her vehicle. The older reactor inside it hummed clumsily to life, and with shaky hands Laila pulled out of her parking space to exit hastily onto the street just as three more police cruisers pulled up to the hospital. The back end of the vehicle bounced as it left the curb, and Laila just… drove. She’d turn a corner if she reached a traffic light, but she did her best to keep from having to stop completely.
“What the flying fudge do you mean you’ll die?!” Kenny pulled himself forwards to lean over Quincey’s seat as he shouted.
“Daxton, are my clothes back there?” Quincey asked first. Daxton found the folded clothes in the back, Mary-Janes and all, and gathered them up to toss over the seat to her.
“Quincey, what’s going on?” He asked, “Why did you run away from the hospital?”
“Yeah, um…” Quincey flushed, the adrenaline finally catching up to her. “U-Um… Duplex… said that if I don’t bring it to Locksmouth, that I’ll die… D-Duplex is the alien. It’s an Inkling.”
Daxton shot forwards just like Kenny had, practically standing from his seat to lean over into the front. “You still have that thing inside you?!” Daxton gasped, “You said it was gone!”
“I-I l-lied…!” Quincey squealed, “I… I… um…! Hold on!”
She rested one of her Mary-Jane shoes on her open palm and held it up so that Kenny and Daxton could see it. Then she rested her other hand on it to grab hold, and she gulped. “U-Um… Duplex!” She shouted, as if to announce something. Then, she pulled, and silver, viscous goo stretched between her shoe and her hand. She pulled it apart maybe to a foot before the goo snapped off the shoe like some kind of elastic gunk. It remained an oval blob of the same Inky substance that had once covered Quincey’s skin so many nights ago, and the boys stared in shock as it began to shift.
In mere moments, it had taken on the shape, colour, and texture of the shoe she held in her other hand. It was an exact replica. Even Laila had taken a moment to stare at this feat slack-jawed.
“It’s… a long story…”