Hugo, Cole, and Margaret rush to help Emma as she collapses off the bench. The bullet passed through her chest and perforated her lung and she begins to choke. Wile triaging, Cole tears his canvas tunic fairly effortlessly, demonstrating an inhuman strength. Right before Emma loses consciousness, she looks up at Cole and says “there was a Siberian wolf…at the zoo…you have his eyes….” Right after she passes out, Emma convulses and screams, but the sound is like the roar of huge creature and not a young girl. Wisps of gray-black steam stream from everyone in the room (besides Daphne, curiously) and flow into Emma, and her wounds heal before the party’s eyes. She wakes a few minutes later with no recollection after she fell unconscious.
A short time later, cleaning supplies and replacement scrubs are delivered via the dumbwaiters, along with a note saying simply “Don’t make us clean for you.” After some grumbling, the party goes about cleaning the blood and changing.
At one point, Seamus produces an antique Gaelic coin seemingly from nowhere. He says it happens from time to time. He tells his story of coming to the defense of a girl being attacked by “shadows”, and Margaret translates the words the girl spoke to him as “Defend me, slave, now!”
An older-model iPhone is delivered with dinner. It appears to be completely new, with no apps or configuration. It detects no signals of any kind. Emily demonstrates her power over machines, or at least data, by discovering that someone had stashed a copy of the Library of Congress circa 1995 onto the phone and psychically retrieving specific facts from it.
Most of the party is allowed to sleep naturally that night. A few wake feeling that they had been artificially forced unconscious, mainly Hugo, who continues to refuse to eat, and those that had items stashed in their cells. Everything is fundamentally reset. Daphne is woken by Boober, who mentions that their captors refer to “you” (meaning either Daphne or the party as a whole) as “the enemy”. He’s not sure why.
The party finds the tenth cell in their block opened for the first time and occupied by a woman. She appears to be in her early thirties and seems extremely sick or strung out. She huddles in the back of her cell and tells the party to stay out and to not come near. Her scrubs bear a dark red stripe with a bright red border. She identifies herself as Beth and the party learns several things:
- The facility studies people with special abilities. They’re kept in a coma while medical experiments are performed, then placed in cell blocks for observation. Beth has been locked in her cell for two days. She reports that the rest of her cell block killed each other.
- Beth identifies the blue stripes as people with special abilities, and expresses fear at Cole’s brown stripe. She says the person in her block with a brown stripe turned into a bear and ate several people. She hasn’t seen the green. She claims her own red stripe is because they turned her into a vampire.
- When the party asks if she wants food, she points out that they would be the food and they should stay away. She specifically points out Daphne, who she says “smells like candy”.
- Beth says the red flash is some sort of neural disruptor that keeps people in comas. Shielding ones eyes is no protection, but she says that it loses effectiveness the more times they use it.
- The party detects a chemical being introduced into the air. Beth says it stimulates these special abilities, or “knacks” as she calls them.
After being exposed for a short time, Beth becomes very still, then a change seems to come over her, and she approaches the party, looking much more dangerous than before….
It was obvious that the girl was dying, and they could do nothing about it. Cole was kneeling beside her when she looked at him and said: “There was a Siberian wolf, at the zoo… You have his eyes.”
Her eyes closed, and suddenly she coughed and spit blood. A lot of it. She screamed, or maybe roared; it was not a sound Margaret would normally have expected from a young woman, or any human, really. She felt faint with relief, almost entirely certain that her suspicion was right. Something that looked like smoke started streaming from each of the others except Daphne, but including Margaret, to Emma. It lasted for a few seconds, maybe, and when it stopped, the wound had closed.
There were two of Margaret, then. One was still not able to believe what she was seeing. The logical, rational part of her, the one that did not believe in magic. That part of her was, in her mind, curled up in a corner, gibbering. She ignored it; that part of her had been having problems ever since she realised what Ezra was.
The other part of her, however, was almost jubilant. Would have been, had they not been stuck in this prison. She had, for as long as she had been able to read the books she loved so much, dreamed of one day finding the right wardrobe or door, or meet a dragon, or maybe hear the whoosing sound, followed by the appearance of the blue box. Dreams, and none she had ever thought would become real. She had been too rational for that; it had been fantasies, nothing more. And those dreams had never included vampires, nor had there been werewolves, for obvious reasons. Not unicorns either. There had been dragons, though. And magic.
She remembered suddenly, how Ezra had not wanted to tell her much about himself. The words were burned into her mind, he had spoken them when she had asked him about the photo of him and her grandfather.
“I’m not going to tell you. There are, there are certain truths, and once you know them, it’s like slipping through the cracks of the world. You become lost in an alien place full of rules you can’t fathom and dangers you can’t know. Your life ends and you have to forge a new one out of ashes and forgotten things. For my love of you, I will not.”
So perhaps it had been something more than just a passing fancy. But he was gone, dead, killed, no, _murdered_ by mr. Jones. And she had, despite his attempt to keep her out of it, been dragged into this other world, and fallen through the cracks. Far better, she thought, had he told her what she desperately needed to know now.
With him, she would have been willing for forge a new life. She had not told him, neither then nor later; she had thought, foolishly, that they had time. She should have known better, after Brandon. What she should have told Ezra was that she had no life to forge anew. Her old life had collapsed when Brandon died, and until she had met Ezra, she had existed, but not lived. Not for real, anyway; there had been the books. Always the books. She missed them now, she wanted to be able to lose herself in a story, to forget the world around her, to escape from this cruel prison that they were all stuck in.
Emma seemed lost, confused. She clearly had not really believed that she had healed the dragon. Nor did she appear to want to believe that she had healed herself, and Emma was not the only one who had trouble coming to terms with it. One or two of the others sounded like they would have liked to huddle with rational-Margaret in her corner.
There had already been two demonstrations, one more forced than the other. Most people seemed to be willing to accept now that there was something not entirely normal at play here. Most, not all. But at least some of the others were more willing to talk about it.
Emily, after some coaxing, said that she needed a computer to show what she could do. Margaret wondered whether the girl had meant that she was simply extremely skilled, or that she actually had some supernatural abilities when it came to computers. She chose not to push further; if their captors wanted people to demonstrate their powers, she suspected they would find out soon enough.
Seamus and Mike were more willing to talk too, now. Mike said he had survived an explosion that should have killed him, and Seamus had been fighting shadows. There was a girl, or maybe a young woman involved as well. Porcelain skin, violet eyes, and she had spoken a language Seamus had not recognised. Interestingly enough, the Irishman did remember what she had said, even if he did not understand the words.
Margaret did, though. Seamus was clearly of Irish descent, although he might have grown up in the US. Perhaps she should not have expected him to recognise it, far less understand it. Half of the Gaelic languages were dying. Few people learned them these days, especially outside Irland and Britain; Cornish was pretty much dead, as was Breton. Still, that someone of Irish descent did not even recognise Gaeilge, Irish Gaelic, she found it somewhat sad. There was no reason to doubt that Seamus had repeated it accurately though, since he did not understand them; he would not be able to change the meaning much.
The girl had said “Protect me, slave. Now.” Which was a rather odd thing to say. There was also the matter of the coin, of ancient Gaelic make, that, according to Seamus, showed up from time to time. The two were probably connected in some way.
She suspected that the girl had not been human. That she spoke Gaeilge made Margaret wonder if she could be Aes Sídhe. When she mentioned the Sídhe, Seamus seemed puzzled, and did not seem to recognise the word. It was tempting to ask what his grandmother, or maybe grandmothers, had been doing if he did not know of the Fair Folk, but she managed to keep her mouth shut about that. Barely.
Two demonstrations, the third one arrived when the food arrived. There was an Iphone with the food. Margaret picked it up and called out to Emily that she had her computer. It took a while before the young woman was willing to demonstrate, but eventually, she took the phone. Without actually using it, she concentrated, then asked if anyone wanted to know something about 1995.
It was a whim that made Margaret answer “Who won the Hugo for the best short story?” Not that she wanted to know, she already knew the answer. While it was not one of her favourite short stories, she did find it almost appropriate, even if there was nothing supernatural in it. She almost, _almost_, regretted asking. But the differences were obvious, and the similarities subtle enough that she could ignore them. The answer came pretty much instantly: “John Haldeman, ‘None so Blind'”.
Part of her was still expecting to wake up and find that it was all a dream. It was, she supposed, more likely than vampires and dragons. But this bore none of the hallmarks of a dream. None of the jumps in time or space; the small ones where an afternoon passed in the blink of an eye, or she could step out the door from the bookstore right into the apartment that she and Brandon had shared. This situation was too static to be a dream. Too coherent. Not logical, but coherent.
The next morning at least brought some change. The last cell, the one that had remained shut so far, was now open. There was a woan inside, with a magenta stripe on her clothing, curled up in a corner. She kept telling them to stay away from her, not, or so Margaret thought, because she was scared, but as a warning.
Little by little, they managed to tease her story out of the woman, Beth. She had been with a group of people, from what she said, whoever were holding them had run their tests and taken their samples. They seemed to want to see what happened when these people were locked in together. The short verion was, and if it felt wrong to put it way, Margaret could not help it. Had it been a story, and not something that might very soon impact them, it might have been funny. Steve had died, then he had eaten Jack. Then Bob had turned into a bear and killed most of the others. Apart from Beth. She did not say it directly, but it was very likely that Beth had killed Bob at the end.
When Beth told them that she believed she was a vampire, Margaret was not altogether surprised. Nor was she when the woman confirmed her suspicions, that the coloured stripes said something about their powers. Blue was some sort of possibly innate ability. Green, the previous group had not seen. Then she saw Cole.
Bob had been a werebear. Beth did not seem to think Cole was a bear, but something similar. The answer was obvious; Emma had said, when she was dying, that he had the eyes of a wolf. So. But of course he had to be. She tried to tell herself that she would be equally dead if she were eaten by a zombie, or killed by a vampire, as if she was ripped apart by a werewolf. It almost made her giggle. Clearly, dead was not necessarily dead in this new world. She pushed it down, it would have been a giggle tinged with hysteria, and that was not something they needed right now.
The ones without a coloured stripe were regular humans. They might as well have given her a red shirt. She understood why Ezra had tried to keep her away from this other world. Here, she would be nothing more than prey. What would have happened, she wondered, if she had done what Ezra asked, if she had left when he told her to. Maybe she would have gone on living her half-life, working at the bookstore; going home to a lonely apartment full of books; talking to ms. Rogers about nothing important, the woman just seemed to need the company; quite likely talking to Tom whenever she came home to find her sitting in front of the door to Margaret’s apartment. Briefly, she wondered if Tom would find someone else to beg food from, or if she would keep returning to Margaret’s door. Tom was a fickle creature, though, by birth and nature, she had probably forgotten all about Margaret by now.
No, she did not regret staying. Not really. It could have, should have had, a better, a happier outcome. But had she left, it would have felt like a betrayal. He had been her friend, and she had hoped that they could, in time, become more than that. At least he had not been alone with his enemies at the end.
And mr. Jones had known her name. There was the very real chance that he would have known, or at least suspected, that Ezra had told her what he was. Not that he had. Neither of them had ever actually spoken the word ‘vampire’, unless they were discussing books. There had been no need. What else could he have been? His view on some of the books involving vampires they had discussed had been interesting, his somewhat dry comments on them had been hilarious. But if this mr. Jones had known her name, she suspected that she might have disappeared at some point anyway.
Then Beth mumbled something about being so hungry. Margaret decided to follow Falstaff’s example and let the better part of valour be discretion. Safety would be an illusion, and her cell was next to Beth’s. Still. Oh, she knew plenty of things that supposedly could stop, and even kill, a vampire. She knew, had seen, one. But she had no flare gun, nor did she have a stake, cross, garlic, sunlight, holy water or Buffy in her non-existing pockets. Of course, the people who had put all of them here would have made certain that there were nothing they could use, this was probably just another game or test to them.
She thought, and it was a bitter, bitter thought, that it was not the many cups of coffee with a vampire that had ruined her life, but the men who had hunted him. There was no longer any doubt in her mind who the real monsters were. Not Ezra, with his shy smiles; his boyish enthusiasm when he found a new, interesting book. It was not Jamie, with his odd pictures. Not Emma and her healing. Nor was it Emily and her ability to read computers. Not Cole; he had been so furious when Emma had been shot, he might not be a good man, or a kind man, but he was not a monster. And not Beth, who was even now struggling to keep control, to keep from harming the rest of them. The monsters were the people who had put them here, together, hoping, from what Beth had said, to see the prisoners kill each other.