A World Full of Monsters

Table of Contents

Chapter 22
Settling

They can’t keep not talking about it.


I was in the lab when she showed up. Of course, I’m pretty much always in the lab lately, but I was in there when Dave called out that we had company and after a moment of deliberation I forced myself to shrug it off and come out, straightening my lab coat as I walked through the door. “Oh, I smelled her,” I said, wrinkling my nose. “Whatever that perfume is, it needs to go, Ms. Perry.”

Her eyes went round, and she took a step back. “You’re…”

“Obviously.” I could smell her fear; it made part of me want to cringe away, and another part want to snarl and back her down some more. I did neither, just sat on the edge of the table and tried to keep my tail from twitching. “Why exactly are you here? I know the judge told you to drop it, and so did the DA, and so did your fucking boss and your lawyer. So?”

She got snooty again, or at least tried to. “That was predicated on the assumption that you weren’t doing human modifications, Dr. Darling.” She waved a hand at me. “Quite obviously, that is no longer the case.”

Dave sucked in a breath so sharp I wondered if it had hurt going down; I just rolled my eyes. “I didn’t do this to myself, Ms. Perry, and I’m quite sure you know it. A scientist who calls himself Doc did it when he abducted Miss Kim and I last month.” Hana heard her name and came out of her room, then out of the cage; she wrinkled her nose and started to say something, and I shook a warning finger at her. “Don’t you dare say it, Hana.”

She wrinkled her nose again, whiskers twitching. “But it smells like…”

“Ah!” She stuck her tongue out at me. “Cute. Are you sure you’re not secretly Joey’s kid?”

“Half the Internet thinks I’m yours.”

“Then that must mean Joey’s your mom. You should go tell him that.” She bounced off, and I rolled my eyes again. “Sorry, Ms. Perry, she’s young – and having enhanced senses can be a bitch sometimes.”

She was staring. “She…she talked.”

“Yes, Doc figured out a way to fix that problem. Unfortunately his price for doing that was me agreeing to let him do this.” I indicated myself. “Not that I could have stopped him, mind you, since he’d abducted us, but that’s just the way his mind works. He fancies himself an honorable sort of supervillain, you know.”

“They caught him?”

“They haven’t caught him, no.” I shrugged. “I’m not worried about it. He’s not a murderer, so it’s not like there’s anything else he can do to me – Doc’s pretty proud of his handiwork, he wouldn’t mess it up.”

Now she was looking really horrified. “But…you’re going to stay like this? Why haven’t you changed back? I heard…”

“Apparently you didn’t hear the part about Doc coming up with a way to make irreversible mods,” Dave told her. “He used Dr. Darling as his test subject, and unfortunately the new process worked really well.” He raised an eyebrow. “I’m going to ask you the same question I asked when you came in: Someone from legal isn’t here with you to keep the department from getting sued why?”

“Because she didn’t tell anyone she was coming.” Joey came out of the lab, Hana beside him. His nose wrinkled too, but he shook it off. “Ms. Perry, your boss isn’t too happy with you right now. Something about an obsession and you embarrassing the department. Oh, and our lawyer is now calling your lawyer – and not to ask about his golf game, either.”

She actually stamped her foot. “This can’t be allowed to go on!”

“Why not?” Those two words froze the entire room. I stood up and walked over to her; the mod had cost me nearly two inches, so I was quite a bit shorter than her now, even if she hadn’t been wearing heels. “Ms. Perry,  maybe this is the question we should have been asking you all along. Why are you so obsessed with this? Why are you willing to jeopardize your career over it?”

Her mouth opened and closed a few times. Me being closer seemed to be making her agitated. Or something; her scent was…confusing, and not just because of the awful musky ‘I’m in heat’ undertone of her perfume. “Because you’re…you’re wrong. What you’re doing is wrong.”

I nodded. “Some people think so, yes. Most people don’t agree with them, though. We don’t hurt animals, Ms. Perry; in fact, according to the ASPCA, we’re more ethical than a lot of animal breeders and have more care for the well-being of our creatures. Doc wasn’t even hurting people; so far we’ve only found one case besides me of a human he’s modded who didn’t freely volunteer, and most of the people he changed sought him out on their own. Was it always a good choice they made? Maybe not. But then, is it always a good choice to get a tattoo or a piercing, or to have breast implants or cosmetic surgery? No, it isn’t. But whether or not to go through with it is up to the person who wants that modification. You and I can have our opinions about whether it’s a good idea or not, but we don’t get to tell someone else they can’t make that choice.”

She was getting visibly more upset. “We have to protect the public!”

“Then go protect them,” I told her. “Do your fucking job, Ms. Perry. This, however, isn’t it. And everyone including your boss and the department’s lawyer and your lawyer has told you so.”

She looked at me for a long moment, growing even more agitated when I wouldn’t look away. She was very nearly trembling. “You’re a monster,” she finally blurted out. “You always have been, and now you…you look the part. It serves you right.”

And then she turned around and slammed out of the building, not looking back.

I heard the growl and put out one arm to stop Joey from going after her. Doc had sent a courier with a file for them – my file, which he’d apparently been keeping for quite a while – the day after he’d abducted Hana and I, and he’d also left them some instructions as a going-away present. Instructions for creating and controlling what we now call the mini-mod process, which was what he’d used to give Hana her voice back, and also on himself – he has sharp teeth, remember? Doc’s way of doing penance, I think, giving himself a little bit of wolverine to carry around. Which probably also helped him go more nuts, but that’s neither here nor there now. Anyway, he gave them the instructions, and they decided to use them. Solidarity, apparently.

And self defense, maybe a little bit of offense too – according to Pete, if we were going to have a supervillain for an enemy then we needed to all be superheroes to compensate. The other two agreed with him, and so did Barry. I knew that wasn’t the real reason they’d done it, though.

Joey did stop, and he also stopped growling – honestly, that wasn’t because of the mini-mod, I think he actually picked it up from Mike and JoJo – but he took hold of my arm. “Danny…”

“Joey, she’s probably got a private investigator or someone hanging around with a camera – she’s determined to take us down, even if she has to incite us into attacking her. Her boss is right, it’s an obsession.”

He didn’t let go. “Danny…you do know she’s wrong, right?”

I didn’t look at him. “She’s entitled to her opinion.”

“Which is a crazy bitch opinion, which makes her doubly wrong.” Dave was getting in on it now, which I should have seen coming. They’d been waiting for me to talk, but none of us are really patient people by nature. Especially not anymore. He put his arm around my shoulders. “Danny, man, we can’t keep not talking about this, all right?”

“Talking about it won’t change anything.”

“Talking about it will help you come to terms with it,” Joey corrected. “Which you haven’t been doing.” He forced me to look at him. “Danny, dammit, we told you about the file…”

“You won’t let me see it.”

“Yeah, for a damn good reason,” Dave told me. “It’s disturbing as hell. He’d been stalking you, Danny, he’s obsessed with you – what was in that file, and how far back some of it went, made that really, really clear. He’d been planning this for a really long time, we think him being about to bug out of the country was what made up his mind that it was the right time to…”

“Play with you,” Joey finished bluntly, and I winced. “You weren’t wrong, you know, it was a game…but that was his opening move, not his final one. He needs us to be all the way against him…and he needed to prove to himself that you were the good guy to his bad guy, Danny. And man, did you ever prove it.”

He says that because there’s apparently video. Which they also won’t let me see, they’ve been monitoring my Internet usage like I was a thirteen year-old girl instead of a thirty-two year-old ma…geneticist. Hana wriggled in front of him so she could look up at me. “You did. You’re my hero. And Barry’s. And Arthur says you deserve a medal.”

“I think Arthur deserves one more for putting up with his students.” She scowled. “No changing the subject?” She shook her head; the habit of nonverbal communication hadn’t altogether left her yet. “I’m not a hero.”

“Yes, you are.” That was from Joey, and it surprised me; normally he’d have been the first person to turn a comment like that into a joke about capes and tights. “Danny, this wasn’t even the first time you’ve done it. Ever since we started this business, you’ve taken point when it came to mess after mess – hell, you’ve been doing it ever since I first met you! And we know it’s not something you consciously think about doing…but dammit, that’s what makes it special. You don’t think anything about pulling a scared guy away from a DIY raptor, or walking up to a sex-crazed minotaur, or hell, running into a burning building. That day you called me from the airport wanting to know if it was okay for you to like being the go-to expert for this stuff…I almost dropped my phone, Danny. And I fed you a line of bullshit, yeah, but that’s because I knew that’s what you’d called me to hear. I was scared shitless about you going to Russia by yourself, we all were.”

“We all were,” Dave confirmed. “Because you don’t jump in and do stupid shit like some wannabe action hero, you do practical shit that’s twice as dangerous and you don’t think a thing about it – or tell us about it afterward, for that matter – because it’s just the thing that needs to be done and you happen to be there.” He tightened his hold. “You know, like you did in Russia.”

I flinched; Ivor and his team had been assigned to a high-security project not long before the kidnapping, so we’d been out of communication with them – and them with us – this entire time. That hadn’t worried me before, because again, we’re both grownups with demanding careers, but for the past few weeks I’d been trying not to worry about it a lot. Mainly about what was going to happen once he got back to Moscow and found out…

“Danny, stop worrying about what Ivor is going to think,” Joey ordered quietly, and I cursed the fact that they’d all decided they should have enhanced senses like mine. Scent speaks a lot louder than words, and I hadn’t been able to figure out how to control that. Assuming control was even possible. “You knew he was going to be in Siberia for six weeks, and he’s still got almost two weeks to go before he comes home – and that’s assuming they don’t run to extra innings on the project.”

“Which they might.” Pete had joined in now, and he smelled just slightly…guilty? He shrugged when I gave him a questioning look. “I wanted to be sure too, okay? I talked to Mike, and Mike got hold of one of the security detail guys over there. They confirmed that the project and the communications blackout are legit, Ivor and his people don’t know anything about this,” he brushed a hand up one of my ears, making it twitch. “And apparently none of them want to be the one to tell him, either. They’re trying to get their boss to do it so Ivor will be pissed at him instead of them.” He smiled at my surprise. “Yeah, apparently he’s got quite a temper on him when he’s feeling…territorial. But they also told Mike that they’re going to have a hell of a time getting him over here, Danny. They were going to risk it, hoping that handing him his passport and a plane ticket the minute he got back home would keep all of them alive and not worried about finding mod serum in their coffee, but so far the embassy’s attempts to expedite his visa aren’t getting anywhere – that’s our government clogging things up with red tape, not his. So I got hold of Dr. Tambor-Ellis, and she’s going to see if she can do anything to help.”

I swallowed. He seemed so sure that the only problem would be red tape. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

He shrugged again, putting a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve only known for a few days. And I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with all of that, so I wanted to wait for more information before I gave you what might turn out to be false hope. You’ve been upset enough lately, you know, I didn’t think I needed to add to that.”

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. “I’ve been trying not to…”

This time Joey was the one who flicked at my ear. “Danny, you’ve got different physiology now, remember? Your ears go down when you’re feeling depressed…and we haven’t seen them up a whole lot lately.” He used his greater mass to make what was now a group hug a little tighter. “It’s okay, you know. We don’t expect you to just get over it or something, we don’t expect you not to worry, but…please, buddy, don’t try to shut us out. We’re just happy we still have you. We don’t care that you look a little different now, you’re still our Danny.”

I’d needed to hear that so much that I cried on Dave for the next ten minutes and we just didn’t get any more work done that day. But that was okay, everything was going to be okay…because my friends weren’t going to settle for anything less.

Table of Contents

6 thoughts on “A World Full of Monsters

  1. Toby

    And and you still haven’t told us what his mod IS…. just that my guess of human doesn’t seem to be part of it, the weekly update schedule in zoom ways is killing me with anticipation.

    • Well, that’s kind of the idea. 😉 I probably give you guys too many hints in answer to comments already.

      I did drop a big hint – a couple of them, actually – as easter eggs in the last promo I put out on social media. It’s on Facebook, Twitter, and G+, and part of it involves a change to the book cover – you can click on the image to view it at full size to get a better look.

      • Yes, you did see a reflection in the coffee cup. 🙂
        Nope, he’s not – I didn’t use the alpha/beta trope stuff in this story, these characters and this universe don’t work that way.

      • Toby

        An additional note.. keeping fur out of things has got to made lab protocols really annoying now…

      • Actually, since Danny is wearing clothes there wouldn’t be much chance of transfer as long as he brushes himself down before he gets dressed in the morning. That’s what people with service animals do to prevent shedding.

Comments are closed.