Molotova Genetics Lab
“I’m spending half my summer vacation in a frozen wasteland,” said Nik, slumping down onto the bed. “Wonderful.” The Russian teenager sighed.
“It’ll be educational,” said his father, as he had multiple times.
“Couldn’t I have stayed with a relative or in a hotel or something?”
“There aren’t that many relatives nearby, and I don’t trust you alone in a hotel.”
“But there’s nothing to do here!” Nik protested.
“You could read your books or use the computer or…” Nik’s father trailed off.
“Yes?” the boy inquired.
“I’m thinking.” The scientist did so for a few seconds. “You could… ride your bike.”
“Oh, yes. I could pedal around in twenty degree below freezing weather. And if I want something relaxing to do, I could bike twenty freaking kilometers over to the nearest thing that passes for civilization. What fun.” Nik rolled over and glared out the window.
“Look, it’s not that bad. You’ll find something to do.”
“Sure I will.” Nik continued to glare as he heard his father leave the room. After that, he started to actually inspect the landscape. Sheer bleakness – except the far-off outline of a house. Nik craned closer to the window. That house hadn’t been there the last time he visited this wretched place. The house seemed to be glowing blue. Creepy mysterious glowing house… that was worth a look. Then again, whatever was in it was probably dangerous, or it wouldn’t be hiding in this hellhole. The house plagued Nik’s thoughts for a week as he desperately tried to think of something to do. Finally, he decided to go over, find out as much information as possible, and then get the hell out of there. It wasn’t like his life would be ruined just because he was curious.
Nik braked a few meters away from the front door. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe the house was an enemy military base. Maybe it was the dwelling of a criminal on the run – a convicted killer or child molester. Nik cringed at his last thought. Best not to think about that.
The door of the house – metal and imposing – opened and a boy walked out. “Looking for something?” he asked.
“Just checking out the house,” Nik responded. The appearance of the boy had assuaged most of his fears. It was unlikely that a boy who looked about thirteen was engaged in any sort of illegal activities, other than possibly hacking. Plus, if he was doing something criminal, the boy wouldn’t have idiotically opened the door to a complete stranger.
“I didn’t know there was anyone else my age in the area.”
“Neither did I. Last time I was here, there wasn’t. Your name?”
“KJ Fox. You?”
“Nik.” Last names could be used against you. “You’re not from around here, I take it.”
“Nope. I live in the US – River Valley, Wyoming. Did the last name tip you off?”
“First, actually.” This KJ person divulged personal information far too easily. It made Nik suspicious. “You do realize that most people are going to pronounce your name ‘K-Chay’ – if you’re lucky. I sense major embarrassment from being called ‘K-Yay’ in your future.”
KJ cringed. “How fun. Yet another one of the perks of spending the summer here.”
“Wonderful place, isn’t it? What with all the snow, and the ice, and the vast expanses of nothing… Tons of fun, neh?”
“Not from around here either?”
“No.” No further information had to be given.
“Where are you from, then?”
Nik hesitated for a moment before answering. “Europe.”
“Where in Europe?”
“The east part.” KJ looked at him suspiciously. Nik shuddered as he felt a sensation like a full-body static shock run through him. Changing the subject would be a good idea here. “For a non-native, you’re surprisingly fluent in Russian.”
KJ shrugged. “I’m good with languages. Plus, my dad’s from here. Which is why we – me, my dad, and my brother – are spending the summer here. I don’t think this place is very conductive to raising kids, seeing as my dad’s a complete nutjob.”
“Parents suck,” Nik agreed. Time to worm out more info. “What does your dad do?”
“He’s… a journalist, so he can work away from home.” KJ’s answer seemed contrived. But who would lie about something like that?
More information could still be gleaned. “I think I might’ve read an article by him. What’s his name?”
“Nope, the article wasn’t his.” Nik had serious doubts that Jason Fox actually existed. Another subject change. “Your house looked like it was glowing earlier. What the hell was that caused by?”
“Some stupid bird went and flew into the bug zapper.”
“A bug zapper? Here?”
“What can I say – as earlier stated, my dad’s completely insane.”
“Yeah, must be annoying.” KJ was getting nervous - might as well try his luck. “I’ve got absolutely nothing to do - could I come in?”
“No. Sorry. My dad wouldn’t like it.”
“I see. See you, then.” Nik got back on his bike. He had enough information to do some research. Time to get back to the lab.
KJ watched Nik leave from the window until he realized that the Russian was checking every few seconds to see if KJ was still watching. He turned away to face the room. What a freaky guy. There was something extremely suspicious about him – the constant pestering for information, the condescending tone of voice, the shifty eyes. KJ always noticed eyes. They were near-perfect gauges of emotion and personality. Blue eyes weirded him out, and Nik’s were exceptionally creepy. He didn’t have any Reiak technology on him when he showed up – KJ had checked with a plasma tendril. But supposing he was one of their spies who had been promised a better fate when the world was theirs... This required further investigation. KJ took a deep breath, turned into a Siberian jay, and flew off. There was a resounding crack, and KJ decided that next time, he would try opening the window first.
Molotova Genetics Lab
Nik cracked his knuckles and got to work. Good ol’ Google was probably a good starting place. First off, the name. Nik typed in “KJ Fox” and waited for the infernally slow computer to do its work. Only one pertinent result of around 450 showed up, on an American local news site. It was a small article, dated three years ago. The article stated that a ten-year-old boy had died of mysterious causes in Stone Creek, Texas. There was a picture of the boy. It looked near-exactly like the KJ Nik had met half an hour ago. Nik considered hacking the site and making an addition that the boy had shown up alive three years later roughly half the world away, but it was in poor taste and there was work to be done. Next up: Jason Fox. A humongous amount came up, but on closer inspection, almost all of them turned out to be about a comic strip character. None were news articles. Fox was not a very prolific journalist, if he existed. How about River Valley? Not much, except some hippie song about the place and a tremendously high level of UFO sightings. He looked up the hippie song, but it was by some defunct garage hippie band that only made one album and meant nothing. So KJ was dead, had a ten-year-old cartoon character for a father – Nik stifled a laugh at how that might’ve happened – and might be related to aliens in more ways than the obvious one. This required further investigation. Nik put on his coat and went outside.
I’m Tired of Location Headings
The boy looked up at the imposing metal door. Breaking and entering wasn’t exactly legal, but that had never stopped him before. Above him, a Siberian Jay flew from a window. He liked those birds. The boy inserted a foam lock pick into the door. The pick expanded to fill the shape of the lock and the lock clicked open. He repeated the process with the other three locks and the door swung open. No alarms went off, since he had dismantled all of them earlier. There was a confused guard, but after a kick in the grill and a jab at the back of the neck, he was down. Thank you, after-school karate classes. With silencer-padded boots, the boy crept upstairs. The bedrooms were down a hall to the left. The boy brushed a shoulder-length hair from his blue eyes. Why didn’t he get it cut? It made him look like a hippie. A hippie from a communist country. The boy smirked. He passed one person’s room, possibly a sibling’s. Was he ever glad that he didn’t have siblings. Random muttered phrases in English drifted from the next door. “Thank you, Mister Beeblebrox… My gruel-flavored nachos, not yours… Why do you want to know if I wear boxers or briefs?” The boy grinned. So his new nemesis talked in his sleep. Maybe he would spout something useful. The computer was in a room at the end of the hall. The boy turned the computer on, plugged in the flash drive he had brought with him, and got to work.
“No, you eat the security cameras… This place sucks… Why’d I break into American juvy anyway…” Nik rolled over and woke up. Another America dream. Did he subconsciously miss that place? Well, it was more exciting than here. He’d probably go lurk around the Fox house again, even though it wouldn’t do any good. None of his lock picks had worked on the door. It was a cheap-arse set anyway. Nik looked at the clock. Eight in the morning. His father had probably gone to the actual lab part of the Molotova building. In the hall, someone was typing on the computer. His dad had already left, so that was probably his little brother randomly banging on the keyboard. Nik groggily got out of bed to yell at his brother for touching the computer. After all, he might end up deleting something important, like the hard drive. He walked into the hall to be confronted by himself using the computer. Nik’s jaw dropped.
“Hi,” said the double.
Nik dove back into his room and checked his reflection in the awesome shades he had “borrowed” from whoever had left them lying around a few months back. He was still the same. No body-snatching had taken place. So someone had for some reason created a copy of him. Nik supposed he should feel honored. He walked up to the doppelganger. “I didn’t know that this lab was in the human cloning business,” he mentioned.
“Oh, I’m not a clone. This was just the easiest way to get into your files.”
“Rather than simply hacking?”
The copy shrugged. “Hacking is unreliable. Plus, I suck at it.”
“But why the elaborate disguise?” Nik poked the non-clone in the nose. The facial features were real. “And why do you want my files anyway?”
“The disguise was in case anyone found me here. Which they did. I mentioned to your dad that he should really shave before he goes to work. And I could’ve told you that I actually rearranged my face. No poking required. I wanted to search your computer for any evidence of suspicious activity. We’re very worried about enemy detection. But you’re harmless. We’ve been monitoring your communications and scanning this building for enemy tech, and we have nothing to fear from you. We won’t be bothering you any further.” The double stood up as if to leave.
Nik stood in front of the other boy, whoever he was. “We?” he inquired.
“A few of my friends and I.” The copy made no move to leave.
Nik studied the ditto. “You’re taller than me, with a lighter skin tone – and, may I add, you’re quite a bit wimpier than me.” The copy flinched. “You were using the mouse with your right hand. I’m a lefty. You can’t tell me my dad didn’t notice any of that.”
“The thing about most people, Nik, is that they don’t notice.” The double still didn’t move.
Nik glared. The other Nik glared back. This continued for some seconds. A mirror could’ve suddenly appeared between then and neither would’ve noticed.
“I suppose I should attack you or something,” Nik finally said.
“I suppose you should,” the other Nik agreed.
Nik drew his fist back for a punch. The other Nik didn’t move. Nik’s fist made it about halfway through the air between them when he felt a burning sensation in the back of his neck. His arm unclenched and fell and his legs collapsed.
“Well, that was unclimactic,” Nik said to the other Nik’s sneakers.
“Yes, it was,” the other Nik agreed.
“What was that? The evil eye?”
“I have many talents.” The copy pulled Nik into the computer chair. “Now, the paralysis should wear off in around five minutes. By that time, I will be around ten miles away, in the local Starbucks. Thank God they have one here.”
“Two miles per minute? I seriously doubt you could do that.”
“As I said, I have many talents.” The double turned on his hell and strode away. Nik found that he could turn his head to watch as his copy ambled away at a speed approaching 250 kilometers per hour.
Nik stared at the computer screen, which had a lesson in Quenya on it. As he looked at the arcane language, a thought occurred to him.
A similar thought occurred to the double, who was approaching the halfway mark from the lab to the town, and no longer looked one whit like Nik, whatever a whit was. The translator he was wearing changed ideas into whatever language the person he was speaking to had first learned the appropriate word for the idea in. Nik was bilingual, as he had learned from his research in government databases – he spoke both Russian and English. And the double had said a word that only existed in English – worse, only in a certain variety of English… Preoccupied with his thoughts, the double, now a Siberian jay, flew directly into a lamppost.
Nik pedaled around the tiny town. He had been so utterly bored that he had ridden his bike the entire way to the smudge of civilization. He checked the Starbucks, but his double wasn’t there. Nik wasn’t expecting him to be wearing the same face anyway. Maybe he had been stupid to bike this far. There really wasn’t much to do here. An outstretched leg suddenly appeared in front of the bike. Nik managed to brake, but not before he hit the pavement.
“You Nikolai Radonsky?” hissed a voice from the alleyway. Nik turned to look at whoever had said his name. A shady-looking man in a leather jacket next to a pile of electronics was staring at him. Nik started to get back on the bike, but the man grabbed him and pulled him into the alley. The man grabbed something from the pile of electronics and shoved it in front of Nik’s face. The device beeped and he dropped it. “Yes, you are,” the man confirmed. He looked down at a paper he held in his hand. “Your school photo was inexpertly edited, but I can still recognize you. Your nose is bigger in real life.”
Nik struggled against the man’s grip, then realized that this was probably what karate was intended for. Seeing as the man was holding Nik’s arms against the boy’s sides, Nik opted for a simple snap kick in the grill. The man didn’t even flinch. What kind of person did nothing when you kicked them in the groin? Nik tried a variety of kicks, all without success, as the man waited patiently. He attempted a head-butt, but the man was holding him too far away. Reluctantly, Nik stopped trying.
“Good,” said the man. He dragged Nik further into the alley. “My name’s Gregor. Shake.” Gregor held out a hand. Nik didn’t move. “Shake! I won’t spontaneously combust or something if you do. I thought you were a ritualistic people.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Shake, dammit.” Slowly, Nik shook his hand. “Right then,” said Gregor. “Since it took you so long to execute that simple movement, relax.” The man pressed a button on another electronic device. A sickly scent filled the air. Nik struggled not to inhale, but quickly decided it was useless to resist. “I understand that you’ve recently become interested in a mysterious house near yours.” Nik nodded. He didn’t think to ask how the man knew that. “I want you to break into the house for me.” Nik nodded again. It was illegal… but the law… the law was just symbolic… meaningless…
“It’s got cutting-edge defenses, so you’ll need top-of-the-line technology.” That made perfect sense. “How many locks were on the door?”
It took a second or two for Nik to realize that he had been asked a question. “Five.” His voice sounded weaker than normal.
“Right. You’ll need five of these.” Gregor fished five six-centimeter-long sticks out of the pile. One half of each was a light pearly green, and the other half was metallic green ringed with gold strips. “Lockpicks,” Gregor explained. “The light green end is a foam pick. Insert it into an analog lock and it’ll expand into the shape of a key. The other end’s a digipick. Wave it in front of the sensor and it’ll reprogram itself to match the correct access code. For deadbolts, use this.” The man held up a complex-looking device of gears and hinges. He pressed a button on the side and the device mimed the action of worming its way into a door and pulling open a deadbolt lock. “Before you use the picks, though, use these.” Gregor pulled out a bag of coin-sized objects with spidery legs. “Alarm nullifiers. Let ’em loose on a building and they’ll find and disarm any alarm on it. To avoid detection…” He grabbed a gray Trekkie-style coverall, a pair of goggles, and some boots that looked as Trekkish as the coverall. “Infared goggles, silenced boots, and a thermal suit – it’ll make you invisible to heat sensors by keeping your skin exactly room-temperature. Nik stared at the heap of technology “Take it,” instructed Gregor. Nik shrugged and stuffed most of the stuff into the multitudinous pockets of his jacket, then slung the coverall over his shoulder and just grabbed the boots. “Good luck,” said Gregor, slapping the back of Nik’s neck. The place he had slapped stung for a few seconds, but the sensation soon disappeared. “Now, get yourself back to the lab.”
Go home, agreed a voice in Nik’s head. Well, since everyone wanted him to… Nik set his bike upright. It fell over. How did this thing work again?
Nik stared up at the house. It was even creepier than it had been in the bleakness of the Siberian day. His head had gotten clearer since that afternoon, when he had fallen on the pavement five times within one minute while attempting to ride his bike. The voice in his head had suggested walking the bike back to the lab, but after an hour or so of it urging him to go faster ended in Nik collapsing into the permafrost, he had remembered how to use the bike again. Nik had a sneaking suspicion that he had been drugged, but something about that seemed implausible to him. Did it matter? Gregor had given him cool espionage technology, and now he could break into the house, which was what he wanted to do in the first place. Something about this business seemed like cheating to him, but there was no cheating in life. What are you waiting for? asked the voice in his head. A written invitation? Nik dumped the alarm nullifiers onto the doorstep. The bug-like objects scuttled away and over the walls of the house. Nik gave them about a minute, then used the lock picks and the deadbolt device. The door eerily swung open. The boy stepped inside and flicked on his thermal suit, the door closing as eerily as it had opened.
Try upstairs first, urged the voice. Nik crept upstairs, sticking to the edges of the staircase in case it creaked. There were only three rooms. Nik looked into the first room. KJ lay on the bed there, asleep. Investigate further, instructed the voice. Nik crept into the room. Look at the boy. Nik glanced at KJ. Nothing abnormal. Focus on the ears. Nik did so. Okay. Continue looking through the room. The boy scanned the room for anything suspicious and, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, decided to check the closet. Wait! Something just occurred to me. Look at the boy for a little longer. Nik did so.
After a few seconds, a thin blue spark ran through KJ’s hair. As I suspected. Now, slowly leave the room and move on to the next one. Nik obeyed.
The next room housed a computer on a desk. Don’t touch the computer, the voice warned. Look at- You turned off the infrared goggles, didn’t you?
They screwed with my depth perception, thought Nik.
You’ll have to speak louder. I can’t hear you.
Nik repeated his thought aloud. If the voice was in his head, why couldn’t it hear everything else in there?
I don’t give a concussed ant about your depth perception. Turn ‘em on. Nik did so. The computer was shedding an infrared glow on the room, a tendril of which snaked out into the hallway. Don’t touch anything that glows like that, advised the voice. They’re usually deadly. Look for the glow, though. It leads to important objects. Next room.
Nik opened the door to the next room, then jumped back. This room was also a bedroom, with a circular bed. Curled up on the bed was something that looked like the spawn of a lynx and some sort of human mantis. The face was flat, with humongous iridescent black eyes. Whiskers framed the head like a mane. The body was furry, with humanoid proportions. The hands were long and six-fingered, and the feet were roughly dome-shaped. On the tip of the tail were six wicked-looking claws. The cat-thing glowed infrared.
“Moo,” it said.
I said get the hell out of there! Nik had been too preoccupied staring to notice the voice. He quickly ducked out of the room. An Ailu, the voice explained. It can sense body heat, so I suggest you leave before it wakes up. There’s another infrared trail leading downstairs.
“It’s not awake already?”
Nope. Its eyes are closed. The actual eyes are red, blue, or green. It’s evolved to look awake while asleep.
Okay. This was getting weird. Nik decided to try figuring out what exactly was going on. There were two possibilities. Either this was real or it wasn’t. It was probably the latter. The cat could be any sort of visual BS-ing, but the voice was either some sort of hidden microphone or a hallucination. If it were a microphone, he would only hear it from one direction, but the voice sounded like it was all around him. Since a huge array of hidden microphones would be unfeasible, it had to be the traditional voice-in-your-head hallucination. He was going schizophrenic. Nik had wondered if the paranoia that had plagued him for years had any sort of physical manifestation. He was a paranoid schizophrenic, and he was going to die. Soon his IQ would plunge, everyone would look like a government agent out to get him, nothing would make any sense, and people would have flying bunnies for heads or something. What a fun way to die.
I thought I told you to go downstairs.
“I’ve just figured out that you’re a figment of my deranged schizophrenic imagination and that I’m going to die young, insane, and shrieking.”
You’re not schizwhatever. Now obey me.
“YOU DON’T EXIST! LET MY BRAIN ROT IN PEACE!”
A wave of intense pain coursed through Nik’s body, followed by dizziness. Do that again and you won’t have a brain after I’m done with you.
“Do what again?” droned Nik sleepily, voice barely above a whisper.
Good, good. Now, downstairs. Shakily, Nik descended the stairs, forgetting all about that sticking to the edges thing.
The infrared line led to a trapdoor in the kitchen. Nik stepped onto it and waited. I think it opens upward. The boy shrugged and walked across it to the side with the handle. The trapdoor opened under him. Okay, maybe not.
The room under the trapdoor was completely dark, the only light shed by a menacing infrared shape with more than the average number of legs huddled in one corner. “Spy!” the thing hissed. It launched itself at Nik and pinned him to the wall with one huge talon. Holy [expletive], what IS that thing? A claw plunged into the back of Nik’s neck and a keening sound filled his ears. Then the pain kicked in and his vision turned white. And then - nothingness.
“Nik? Nik, can you hear me?” Gregor stared worriedly at a device built to resemble a Nintendo DS. All the inputs were flat-lining. So Nik was dead. The neural transmitter couldn’t be removed without severing the spinal cord. Gregor set the device down. That had been a once-in-a-lifetime perfect spy, and whatever was in the trapdoor room had snuffed him out. Being a nice person, Gregor would’ve given him a proper mourning in accordance with his culture, but he had no idea what that would entail and he wasn’t willing to spend more than five minutes on it anyway. Soon Nik’s family would start looking for the boy, and would trace him to this little stub of a town... They wouldn’t get much farther than that, though, unless someone tipped them off. What if the real killers turned in the body? They could bring it to the authorities, saying they had found it in their backyard or something. The humans would be infuriated by the death of one of their young and by the massive amount of chemicals he had injected into the boy’s system through the transmitter. The kid had had a major overdose. He hadn’t even had enough free will left to fight back when the whatever had killed him. Gregor had been going to kill him anyway, but only when he had finished being useful...
Suddenly the DS buzzed. Gregor grabbed the device. The buzzing stopped and manic laughter rose from the speakers. Not human laughter... no, the laughter of Gregor’s kind. The man stared as letters in his own language appeared on the screen.
HELLO, REIAK, the words said. They disappeared to make room for the next message.
THANK YOU FOR THAT LITTLE SPY.
HE WAS DELICIOUS.
WE DO NOT KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
BUT WE WILL.
AND WHEN WE DO
WE WILL HUNT YOU DOWN
AND KILL YOU
IN THE MOST BRUTAL WAY POSSIBLE.
WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO THE HUNT.
HAVE A NICE LIFE.
Like a bloodstain spreading over a shirt, the screen slowly turned blue. The manic laughter escalated into hysterics. Gregor turned off the shrieking DS. Who or what was that? One of his people would never do something like that. No mental virus could cause that kind of insanity - and besides, eating human flesh caused internal bleeding. But it wrote in his language, and laughed like a member of his species... Their enemies could not do that, and would not eat a human child because of its resemblance to themselves. Either this was a plot by an extremely sick and cunning member of the enemy species - and they had never shown either characteristic - or this was the work of another, unknown enemy. The thing he had seen in the upper level of the house was capable of it, but he suspected that it still retained its original form and therefore would not consume a human, and its species had no sense of taste. The Ailu in the room near it had neither the means nor the motive to do so - if it for some reason wanted to kill him, it would never notify him. Then there was the question of if whatever had killed Nik had sent the message. The shape of the thing vaguely resembled a spider, making Gregor think back to one of the strangest news events in his lifetime, besides the wormhole-like blob that had destroyed several cities on a rampage, which was partly his fault. Gregor winced as he remembered his corporal punishment for that incident and returned to thinking about the other event. A cyborg experiment had gone horribly wrong, resulting in the murders of six people - not counting the ‘borg itself, on which was used a portal bomb. Two nights later, six people mysteriously disappeared from the ruins of Tethys Power Plant on the other side of the planet. The same thing happened the night after that. And the next night. And so on, continuing to the present. Some people had linked the two events, saying that the cyborg had managed to reprogram the bomb and hide elsewhere - another city, another planet... What if it was this one? So he was dealing with the most prominent serial killer of his race, probably kept as a pet by the thing upstairs... Well, he had no chance of surviving an attack by those two, but at least he had found out what he wanted to know. Sighing, Gregor got up to go have a nice life.
“Just one stab on the left side of the rib cage...” The cyborg raised a claw to about the level where he was holding Nik’s neck in preparation for the finishing blow. The boy twitched and angrily muttered something about cows in a language his subconscious had invented. At least the kid had stopped trying to maim himself. The cyborg didn’t want his job done for him. If it got done at all. But this time, he would do it, he wouldn’t let himself stop... The claw plunged downward and abruptly shifted to throw Nik to one side. Nik twitched as if to try and get to the new claw wound on his side, then shrugged and resumed babbling. “No!” yelled the cyborg, burying his face in his claws. “I can’t kill him!” The ‘borg stomped in anger, then cringed as he realized that he had just applied an immense amount of pressure to Nik’s ankle, which was probably now in many more pieces than it had been before. The cyborg made a long whirring noise equivalent to a sigh. If the boy refused to die, he might as well try some information retrieval. He grabbed Nik - causing more wounds - and pulled open one eyelid with the back of a claw. The eye underneath looked around wildly before settling on the cyborg.
Nik blearily looked up at the thing holding him by the back of the neck. His hallucinations were getting more creative. The thing was metal, with six legs that bent diagonally, crab-like, then flared outward to end in a claw-rimmed base. The torso looked vaguely humanoid, with a simplistic conical design. The decahedral head was spartan, with a saurian shape, jutting fangs, slanted oversized eyes which were definitely glowing, and rust-colored spikes resembling anime protagonist hair. It was wearing tattered
clothes that looked like they had had a few runs through a blender before use. The overall effect was rather chilling.
“Good morning,” the thing hissed. Nik was silent. “Respond when I speak to you. That is, if you still remember how. I don’t know how drugged you were.”
“Drugged?” asked Nik, then realized that his mouth was covered in something. He wiped a hand across his face. Dried blood. Nice.
“You were exhibiting major withdrawal symptoms all night. It was pretty funny. You kept trying to maul yourself. You somewhat succeeded, too. The blood on your mouth was partly from coughing - another withdrawal symptom - and partly from... well, look at your left forearm.”
Nik glanced at his arm. A ring of deep tooth marks pierced the skin there, causing one of the many bloodstains on the idiotic thermal suit. “Did I...”
“Let’s just say I have no way of doing that.” The thing smiled, showing a set of jaws reminiscent of a bear trap.
“So I did all this to myself?” Nik asked, surveying his large array of wounds.
“Not all of them. The gashes on your shoulders were from me trying to restrain you, and the ones on your sides were from... me trying to... destroy evidence.”
“You mean you were trying to kill me.”
“You had seen far too much! The knowledge you’ve gained is a danger to your entire race!”
“Yeah, yeah. What stopped you from completing your task?”
“I don’t know... It was something about your age, and the fact that you look so much like a... like one of the ones I’m programmed to protect... You’re just so little and big-headed and big-eyed and squishy... Excuse me for a moment. I just realized something.” The thing swiveled its polyhedron of a head around to check the labels on the inside of its shirt. “Just as I thought. Right under ‘Venom may cause paralysis, severe pain, genetic recombination, and death’ - ‘This device not intended for use on children’. Cute.”
"Well, that's the first time my good looks have saved my life. How exactly did I get drugged in the first place?" Nik’s memories of the previous day or so were foggy.
“There was a sensory neural transmitter embedded in your spinal cord. Reiak-manufactured, which is why I freaked when I saw you. I managed to hack it to make it appear to the Reiak receiving your transmissions that you had died a horrible death. It worked really well, too. You did a lot of shrieking and writhing.”
“That was me screaming?” Nik cringed, embarrassed. He didn’t know that his voice went that high.
“Oh yeah. Plenty of sobbing and howling, too. Real fun. I also sent a nasty note to the Reiak. He’ll be paranoid for a while... until his untimely fate at my hands. That was a pretty nasty thing to do to a little squeaky like you. He’ll get retribution for it. I like to find reasons for doling out punishment. Makes me feel better when I do it.”
Why the hell was this thing in KJ’s basement? “What exactly is a Reiak, anyway?”
“A type of thing.”
“I don’t want to give you any vital information. Let’s just say they’re a group of people. Speaking of information, I need to interrogate you. Retinal scan.” The thing lifted Nik to eye level, looked at him for a few seconds, then dropped him. Nik attempted to stand, but fell over again when a few ankle bits poked the inside of his leg. “Oh, and I stepped on your foot. That was an accident.”
“You really dislike me, don’t you?”
“Hey, I saved your life.”
“How exactly did you do that? By relieving me of excess blood?”
“If you had successfully completed investigating the house, the Reiak would’ve killed you. The knowledge you now possess - even though you don’t understand it - is just as dangerous to him as it is to us.”
“The knowledge that we exist. Stop delaying me. I promise the questioning will be quick and painless, as long as you answer truthfully, with as much detail as possible. Tell you what, we don’t even need questions. Just tell me how all of this happened.”
“You seem to know more than I do about it.”
“All I know is that a Reiak did it. They don’t export their spy technology. Look, I’m just trying to find out where the people who did this to you are, so they can meet a horrible fate at my claws.”
“You can’t be doing all this on my behalf.”
“Of course not. I’m trying to eradicate the Reiak.”
“Don’t like their religious beliefs or something?”
“Oh, no, we’re the underdogs here. They’ve got all sorts of evil plans. Excuse me for a moment.” The whatever-it-was picked up Nik and slapped him with the back of a claw, causing the immediate formation of ugly bruises. “That was for further delaying me. Now, do you have any idea who did this to you?”
“How’d you know he was male?”
“They’re all male. Describe him.”
“Not much to go by - ginger hair, unshaven, hooked nose, ragged jeans, leather jacket.”
“Where’d you first see him?”
“The alley between the liquor store and the Starbucks. I thought there weren’t going to be any questions.”
“It wasn’t a question in the language I said it in.”
“Which wasn’t Russian?”
“Why the hell would I speak Russian? It’s a pretty useless talent if you have a built-in translator.”
“What language were you speaking?”
“One that you don’t and can’t. For that delay, I think I’ll knee you in the gut.” The thing did so. Nik made a sound like a flattened duck. “I’ll devise worse punishments for the next time. Detail any interaction between you and the guy. Be... detailed.” Nik relayed what had happened. The thing cocked its head and listened, nodding occasionally. “Didn’t your parents ever tell you not to talk to strangers?” it asked when he had finished.
“I didn’t want to talk to him! He didn’t react when I kicked him in the grill, and I couldn’t do anything while I was drugged.”
“Don’t kick Reiak in the grill. They don’t have anything useful down there.” Nik smirked, wondering what the thing defined as useful. “Spit in their eyes instead. It works much better than you’d think. He probably slapped the neural transmitter on your neck while you weren’t looking, then used it to give you auditory hallucinations containing instructions. The town’s not big - I should be able to find the dork. Now there’s just the question of what to do with you.” The thing leaned on a nearby intercom button. “Yo, KJ, got a prisoner down here.”
There was a thump upstairs, and KJ walked over to the trapdoor. “Hey Tez. Oh, and hi - whoa. What the hell happened to you?”
“That,” said Nik succinctly, jabbing a thumb towards the thing KJ had called Tez. “You keep some interesting pets.”
“He’s not a pet.” KJ walked directly into the trapdoor, landing catlike with all four limbs on the floor. “He’s an employee.”
“I shudder to think of what you would employ him for.” Nik would’ve liked to use the word it rather than him, but it might tick the Tez-thing off.
“Oh, nothing worse than what he’d do normally. Just a bit of espionage tacked on.”
“And what would he do normally?” inquired Nik.
“Kill. Eat,” replied the other boy. “But here it’s toward a good cause.”
“Really depends whose side you’re on whether or not it’s a good cause. I mean, if you’re the one getting his head torn off by a - what exactly are you?”
“Killer cyborg prototype. Mostly spider, with a computerized nervous system and mechanical exterior and interior skeletons,” said Tez, counting the specs off on his sparse claws.
“Prototype? You aren’t going to be mass-produced, are you?” Nik asked. Now that would be interesting.
“I was, until I... er... got rid of the director of the project at my public unveiling. He tasted good. Anyway, it caused a bit of a stir. KJ found me after they discarded me. Of course, I was supposed to be blown up, but when you’ve got the government on your side, those things just don’t happen.”
“Not yours.” The cyborg smiled again.
Meanwhile, KJ was inspecting Nik’s wound collection. “Tez, what exactly were you trying to do to this guy?” he asked, looking at a claw mark.
The cyborg shifted what could aptly be called its shoulder blades upward and together, bent its neck forward, and clasped its claws behind its back, resulting in a gesture resembling a sheepish slouch. “He had seen far too much,” it repeated.
“Yes, but after you realized you couldn’t kill him - which you couldn’t, since your recognition programs probably subliminally registered him as a wounded and thus unrecognizable ally, given his resemblance to me and... our friends - you should’ve called me. You should’ve called me in the first place.”
“If I had taken the time to call you, the Reiak controlling this lil’ fella’s neural transmitter would’ve realized the danger of Squishy here being detected and would’ve blown him up by overloading the transmitter.” Nik twitched, uncomfortable with the idea of potential explosives embedded in his spine.
“Neural transmitter?” KJ pressed a hand to the back of Nik’s neck, causing a static-like sensation. “All right. I’ll commend that action, and take into consideration the fact that the presence of Reiak tech made you somewhat ADD-“
”Yeah, thanks for removing that thing just now,” said Tez. “It was annoying the hell outta me.”
“Strange that it didn’t really affect the person it was embedded in,” Nik commented.
“Besides getting you stoned,” noted Tez.
“I wouldn’t consider that affecting him,” said KJ. “As I was saying, those factors still don’t excuse your subsequent actions.”
“Bit of an extensive vocabulary for your Texan guise,” said Nik.
“Guise?” asked KJ.
Nik rolled his eyes. “Don’t play dumb. You’re obviously not the real KJ Fox. I suspect you adopted the poor kid’s form and extinguished him using one of your many talents.” He smirked and folded his arms.
KJ’s shoulders sagged. “You caught the ten miles thing?”
“Of course. It was a dead giveaway. Really, if you’re going to be speaking another language -“ Nik paused. Had KJ been speaking Russian? He couldn’t remember any of the words the boy had said. He was probably using the same sort of translator that Tez was using.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter now that you’ve realized that I’m not exactly Joe Average. But I am the original KJ Fox - well, if there ever was an original... I suppose what I consider myself - my body, at least, and part of my mind... what I consider my mind...” KJ stared at the patch of wall directly above Nik’s head.
“I think we’ve all stopped understanding or caring what the hell you’re talking about,” Tez said after a few seconds of silence.
“And I don’t believe a word of that mangled sentence, but I don’t think now is really the best time for an in-depth explanation,” said Nik.
“Probably not. Tez, we’ve done enough harm to Nik today. Let go of the poor guy.” Tez’s claw opened, ungracefully depositing Nik on the cold stone floor. KJ pressed another button on the intercom Tez had used earlier, causing a set of stairs leading to the trapdoor to unfold from the ceiling. “There’s a bathroom upstairs with assorted medical supplies. Feel free to use as much as you want.”
“That’d be nice, if I could walk.” Nik tried to at least stand, but his ridiculous boot slid out from underneath him whenever he put his weight on his right foot.
“Something wrong with your leg?” asked KJ. Tez looked at the ground and made a grating noise somewhat like a cough. KJ glared at him. “What did you do?”
“Stepped on his foot,” Tez sheepishly admitted. “It was an accident.”
KJ shook his head. “You’re such a nice person.” The boy crouched down over Nik’s leg and put a hand to it, causing the static feeling again along with a good deal of pain.
“Ow,” Nik mentioned.
“Hey, it’d hurt more if you tried to heal it yourself. And I’m doing a better job than you would normally. There’s too many fragments for it to heal properly.”
“I take it you’re much better than me at everything.”
“Be quiet. You really don’t want me to lose my focus right now.” After a few seconds, KJ stood up. “You should be able to walk now, although it’ll hurt for a while. While you do something about all those wounds, let me go get my - oh, what the hell. You probably guessed anyway.” Blue sparks covered KJ as he transformed into a middle-aged man with a goatee.
“Yeah, it was pretty obvious at this point,” Nik agreed, not fazed by the transition at all. He got up, shaky from blood loss, and headed for the stairs. “God, I feel like I’m about to pass out.”
“Try to get past the stairs before you do,” said KJ, jumping up and somehow grabbing the edge of the trapdoor, which he swung himself through.
“Sheesh, that guy can’t do anything like a normal person,” Tez mused.
“I don’t think he has any right to,” said Nik as he trudged upward.
KJ shoved the keys into the SUV’s ignition. The car was silent, but began to move regardless. “Are you sure you know how to drive this thing?” asked Nik, who was covered in messily-applied bandaging.
“What’s there to hit out here?”
“Oh, that’s comforting. Thank you for filling me with anxiety.”
“This car has autopilot anyway. I’m just keeping my hands on the wheel for the sake of appearance.”
“Appearance to who? The snow?”
“You never know who’s watching. Speaking of which, when you get asked about what happened to you, don’t tell. Say you woke up covered in gashes in the middle of our yard and called for help, and I found you and brought you home. Or something. Just don’t mention anything out of the ordinary.”
“None of this was ordinary.”
“I know. I’m sorry you had to go through all this, and that you can’t tell anyone. We didn’t mean for it to happen. You weren’t exactly the attack we were prepared for. Which is probably what whoever sent you intended.”
“Can’t I at least tell people about the guy who sent me out here?”
KJ shook his head. “If you find them, you find us - and if you find us, we’re goners. There are some people who’d do anything - kill anyone - for the sake of scientific discovery, even if it means putting the entire human race at risk. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true. I’ve had experience in the area.”
“The entire human race, eh? And how come nobody’s told me about this?”
“Like I said, because we have to stay hidden. Widespread panic won’t aid our cause.”
KJ shook his head again. “The more you know, the more dangerous you are to both sides. And the other side won’t have any regrets about disposing of such a threat. Just try and forget all of this, for your own sake.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Probably not. Which means you’re probably screwed. And we’re probably here.” KJ pulled the car to a halt in front of the Molotova building. “You can go in alone. I don’t like being seen.” Nik half stepped, half fell out of the car. The blood loss was taking its toll on him. He was beginning to feel like he was drugged again. The boy walked up to the lab and waved his keycard - which, thankfully, he hadn’t been zonked enough to forget - in front of the door, then unlocked the manual lock and opened the door. Nik sighed as he realized the building had no elevator. Reluctantly, he began to climb one of the three flights of stairs. He was so tired... Nik stumbled onto the third floor and leaned against the first door there, which was fortunately his father’s. The boy weakly banged a fist against the door. His dad opened it, causing Nik to stumble yet again. The man’s face quickly changed from anger to shock as he saw what had happened to his son. “Hi, dad,” Nik said with a grin before collapsing.
Four Weeks Later
Nik biked around the collection of buildings that barely deserved to be called a town, anxiously watching the very rare passerby in case one happened to be Gregor. His father hadn’t wanted him to go outside, but the boy had desperately pleaded for escape from the endless boredom. When that didn’t work, Nik just snuck off. He was being careful anywa-
Nik’s bike flipped forwards over the leg extended in front of it. In midair, the boy caught a glimpse of the familiar Starbucks insignia. Damn.
Gregor’s hand shot out from the nearby alleyway and pulled Nik inward. “You are supposed to be dead,” he hissed, shoving a gun under Nik’s chin as he held the boy by the back of his shirt. “And I can easily remedy the fact that you aren’t.”
“Wh-what did I do?” stammered Nik. He figured it was best to play dumb.
“Oh, you didn’t do anything wrong - in fact, I’d like to thank you for your services by making your death quick and painless - but I don’t want you wandering around with all that dangerous knowledge.” Gregor’s mood seemed to have abruptly changed from his original outburst. His voice was now calm and velvety. “Best get rid of you before you cause any more trouble. I take it you’ve told everyone about your little adventure?”
“N-no. They’d - they’d think I was c-crazy.” Nik tried to make his voice sound as scared and childish as possible, in case there was any chance of invoking Gregor’s sympathy.
“Oh, you didn’t? Good boy!” Though Gregor’s words were condescending, his voice was somehow extremely pleasing. Nik almost enjoyed the praise. “If I could, I’d invoke a happiness loop before you died, but I don’t know how to do that with your race... It’s a shame, really. You deserve a pleasant death. Too bad.” The gun Gregor was holding made a small whirring noise. Nik panicked, realizing that there was no way out. A much-appreciated epiphany hit the boy as he remembered what Tez had said and spat in Gregor’s eye. The man threw his head back, making an inhuman noise somewhat like a shriek. Nik dropped to the ground as Gregor’s grip loosened and made a break for it,
the still shrieking man clamping a hand over his oozing eye and grabbing him again. Nik spun around and kicked Gregor in the gut, making an odd crunching noise. Gregor staggered back as Nik jerked forward and ran, his jacket collar tearing off in Gregor’s hand. Gregor, whose screaming was escalating into an angered whine, ran after him.
Nik kept running, panting. Gregor was a slow runner, and Nik could hear his running footsteps receding and finally disappearing altogether. Nik grinned. He was going to make it, he was going to li- Nik turned and ran directly into Gregor, who was waiting in the alley ahead of him. Gregor clawed Nik’s face, ripping open the slow-healing scabs from his earlier adventure, and clamped the other hand around Nik’s neck. “Bastard!” Gregor spat. He spasmed, blue fluid leaking from his damaged eye. “Forget the pleasant death. I’m going to enjoy killing you slowly and painfully.” His hand tightened around Nik’s neck, cutting off the boy’s air supply.
Well, this is an improvement, thought Nik. Now, instead of being painlessly shot in the head, he was going to die slowly by asphyxiation. Fun. At least he died fighting, and his death would help both sides in whatever war these people were fighting. Nik tried to keep that thought in mind as whiteness took over the corners of his vision, but it was becoming harder and harder to keep anything in mind... Also, Gregor smelled really weird.
“What are you looking at?” Gregor snarled, turning towards the entrance to the alleyway. Nik managed to summon up what little strength he had left to turn his head and look at who Gregor was talking to. An angular teenage boy was staring at the odd couple, head tilted. “Go away. Nothing to see here. Shoo.” The boy smiled a reptilian and oddly familiar smile, then made an odd gesture comprised of three nods dispersed with fist movements at three different levels. Gregor’s eyes widened and the kid ran off. The man ran out of the alley, still holding the barely conscious Nik. “Damn, he’s gone.” Gregor dropped Nik, who gasped, taking in lungfuls of blessed nitrogen-oxygen blend. “You still alive, kid?” Gregor asked, prodding Nik with a boot. Nik nodded, aware that if he pointed out that that was somewhat obvious he would probably at the very least have some nonfatal damage done to him, like the loss of a limb. “Good. You may still prove useful to me. I... I’ve never been able to track people, so I’ll need you to follow that boy for me.”
“Gladly,” said Nik, getting up. He started running in the direction of the boy’s footsteps, an arcane government trick he didn’t feel like pointing out to Gregor. The man didn’t seem quite normal - besides living in an alley and having super-advanced technology, he couldn’t hear footsteps and was oozing some goo the color of window cleaner. There really weren’t that many bodily fluids that color. Maybe Gregor would tell him what exactly he was before shooting him. As these pleasant thoughts ran through his head, Nik caught sight of the boy he was chasing. The creepy boy looked behind him, eyes narrowed, and began to run faster. Nik couldn’t shake the feeling he had seen this boy before. Gregor made a loud clicking noise and the freaky boy grinned and dashed into an alley, Gregor leaping in after him. Nik ran in too. He wasn’t going to miss this.
“Thank God I’ve found another one of us,” Gregor panted to the odd boy once they had reached the end of the alley. The boy stared back at him with unblinking expressionless eyes. “I’ve been stranded here for months without shelter or any form of communication. I desperately-“ The boy cut him off by grinning and making an oscillating whirring noise something like a mix of a siren’s wail and crickets chirping.
“I... I’ve heard that laugh...” said Gregor, then buzzed loudly in a way that somehow managed to sound like cussing. “I’m an idiot,” he said to the rather confused Nik as the still “laughing” boy began to glow blue. Gregor watched with horrified apprehension and Nik with a raised eyebrow as the boy transformed into Tez.
“‘Idiot’ really doesn’t do you justice,” said Tez, chuckling in that weird way. “One Reiak submission gesture and you assume I’ve come to save you.” Gregor stared, open-mouthed. “Hi Squidgy,” Tez said to Nik, waving. “If you wanna stay and watch me get revenge for you, that’s fine by me.”
Nik smiled and nodded. “Sure. This guy is really annoying.”
Gregor, having recovered from his original amazement, pulled out the gun from earlier and shot Tez with what appeared to be a beam of electricity. A multicolored bubble formed around the cyborg, the beam spreading as it hit and running off into the ground. “You really think I’m that easy to kill?” asked Tez, grinning.
Gregor kept his finger down the trigger button. “You... the murders... it was you all along... escaped... hid here... the disappearances... the invasion... missing infiltrators... American failure... all along...” he sputtered.
“Your face makes a lot of noise,” said Tez. He stepped forward, causing the gun’s beam to cross itself and making the gun quietly explode in Gregor’s face, and clamped a claw over Gregor’s mouth.
“Don’t kill me,” the man squeaked.
“Oh, hey, do you two know each other?” asked Nik, bemused but amused.
“Well, we’ve never met,” said Tez, running a claw through Gregor’s hair as if petting him. Gregor’s eyes widened in realization. “But we’re from around the same area,” Tez finished, pulling something out of Gregor’s hair and crushing it between two claws. A scan line moved over Gregor as he watched it helplessly. The line reached the ground and the “man” squirmed as he flickered and turned into something that looked like a very large anthropomorphic green and orange cicada wearing a robe and a solar panel-covered backpack. The huge blue eye Nik had spat in had a charred wound in it the color of rusted copper, and was fizzing slightly.
“I’m not surprised,” said Nik placidly. “Seems there’s something strange about everyone here.”
“You included,” said Tez. The cyborg stretched his folded-back neck to one side. “Hey, KJ,” he said. “Can I kill him yet?” Gregor chirped nervously when he saw who Tez was talking to.
“Nah, wait a minute,” said KJ, who had inexplicably appeared next to Nik without entering. “I wanna read his memory.” KJ leaned back against Gregor’s solar-powered backpack or whatever it was.
“You’re reading my mind with your elbow?” the whatchamacallit... the Reiak asked.
“Yeah, why not?” asked KJ noncommittally.
“Because... you know, there really isn’t a reason.”
“Precisely. Ooh! You’re an exile?”
“Naw, he just likes the weather here,” said Nik, who felt that he had gone far too long without saying a snotty comment.
“Er... there was a bit of an accident in the lab when I was doing research on your kind,” Gregor sheepishly admitted. “Ate a few cities and dissipated. At least, I think it did.”
“Happens, man,” said Tez.
“His kind?” asked Nik, but as usual, everyone ignored him.
“I’m surprised you didn’t get the death penalty,” said KJ. “Usually your government wouldn’t think twice about it.”
“I knew the judge.”
“Lucky you. And lucky that you’re an exile rather than a full-fledged infiltrator. Because people won’t notice if you start acting a bit strangely. And because of that, you’re more useful to us alive than dead.”
“Yeah, I’m the luckiest Reiak on the planet. Woo freaking hoo.”
“Actually, you are,” noted Tez. “We’re killing the rest.”
“I’m honored, but why the hell aren’t you getting rid of me too?”
“Since you asked, I’ll monologue my evil plan to you for the hell of it.”
“Doesn’t that usually end in the hero - not exactly an applicable word - running off and telling everyone about dastardly deeds and the like?” asked Nik.
“Yeah,” said Gregor, “but they’re usually not being faced by the most prominent serial killer of their race and something that could destroy the entire solar system in a picosecond and be all the more powerful for it.”
“And they’re usually not utter wimps either,” said Tez.
“Yeah, that too,” agreed Gregor.
“Be quiet, I’m monolouging. Anyway, my plan is to put a power extension in you-“
”You know, those things cause cancer,” interjected Gregor.
“Too bad. So I put-“
”And, judging by the fact that you seem to be enacting the plan right now and the inside of my head is glowing, it also feels like alkaline reflux.”
“Shut up or I lower your IQ. So after you get the power extension, I reprogram you so that you no longer have as much will to take over the planet but have a dire need to find other infiltrators. As soon as you find another one, they get a power extension and the same reprogramming. This goes on for as long as I feel like it. After it’s happened for a while, all the modified Reiak turn homicidal... well, Reiak-icidal. After they’ve killed enough, again measured by what I feel like doing, they go back home. There’s probably some stupid downside, but I haven’t thought of it, so for now the plan is foolproof.”
“Well, now I have a goal in life. Guess that’s a good thing,” said Gregor, not exactly cheerfully.
“And now that that’s done with, I’d like to know what the hell is going on,” said Nik. “After all, I’m pretty much the one who caused... not all this, but quite a bit of it.”
“Just the usual story,” said KJ. “Aliens disguised as humans trying to subtly take over the planet. Us trying to kill them. Blah de blah blah. We’ve got a control unit in America, but... eh, you don’t need to know that.”
“Actually, I’d like to,” said Nik. He stopped himself, then continued. It didn’t really matter why he was saying this. He… he had to… “Though this has been a pretty crappy summer, I kinda like the whole alien-fighting thing. And I spend most of the year in America, so I’d be able to join that pest control team or whatever. If you don’t mind, that is.”
“Ooh, that’d be good. Except for the fact that the only way to identify a Reiak is by its... Actually, that can be fixed quite easily.” KJ grinned and snickered evilly.
“That can’t be a good sign,” said Tez. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, kid.”
“But you didn’t,” said Nik.
“I thought I told you not to say that.”
KJ pulled out an odd-looking and rather thin laptop from nowhere in particular and began typing. His left hand glowed blue and a small box appeared in it. “Thank God for the order by Elemental option,” he said.
“What’s an Elemental? And what the hell is that blue glow?” asked Nik.
“The Elementals are KJ’s species,” said Gregor.
“I thought I knocked you out,” said KJ.
“It didn’t last very long. Anyway, Elementals are this sort of sentient sun made out of exotic matter, which creates wormholes, that exist in another dimension with far different laws of physics. You see the blue or infrared glow when they react with things in this dimension.”
“You expect me to believe that BS?” asked Nik.
Gregor shrugged. “Just telling the truth.”
“Yeah, for some reason he is. Take this.” KJ shoved a pill into Nik’s hand.
Nik stared at the pill. It was silver and seemed almost mechanical. “Um, I have this thing against taking random drugs from strangers...”
“Okay,” said KJ. “Let’s use a little metaphor, then. Say this is Pill A, and there’s also Pill B. You take Pill A, you get to fight aliens and it’s all awesome and so on. You take Pill B and the story ends. However, since you know too much, you don’t ever wake up again, because it’s a freaking cyanide pill. And if you don’t take Pill A, you’ll be taking Pill B no matter what.”
“Sheesh. You don’t have to be so harsh.” Nik swallowed the pill and waited for a few seconds. “What exactly is this thing supposed tAAANGH!” The boy staggered back against a wall, hands over his nose as his sense of smell increased tenfold. There was just... too... much... god it smelled bad out here. Then something clicked and Nik found he could focus on different smells, quite similar to sight. Everything still smelled putrid, though. Especially Gregor. Gregor was positively beaming with smell. Nik looked up, eyes watering. “You suck.”
“Yes,” said KJ. “And, if that biomechanical upgrade worked correctly, we also smell. Quite bad.” KJ turned to Tez. “You know, there’s really nothing left to do here, is there? Now that we’ve solved the whole Reiak problem?” he asked.
“Nope,” said the cyborg.
“Then we can leave.” KJ typed something else into the laptop and a large red delta-shaped ship appeared in the sky.
“Finally,” a female voice yelled from the ship.
“Yeah, yeah,” said KJ. “Just... beam us up or whatever you call it.” He turned to Nik. “I’ll quite possibly be seeing you later, with us both fighting in the war and all. The team will contact you.”
“Great,” said Nik cynically.
“So long, squishy,” said Tez. He and KJ disappeared, and the ship did so soon afterward. There were a few moments of silence.
“You suck too,” Gregor said finally, and then left. Nik got up and headed for his bike, wondering if he had just ruined his own life. God, even the permafrost smelled bad. At least he would be going back to America soon.
Some School in America
Nik dejectedly slunk down the hallway. Between the relentless queries from his friends about his scars, which seemed like they would never heal, and his far increased sense of smell, he didn’t know if he would be able to stand nine whole months of school. There were some good points, though. For example, most of the girls smelled far hotter than they looked. Actually, that was really the only good point. Sighing, Nik pushed open the door to the bathroom, cringing at the horrible smell. A rather short boy jumped out of one of the stalls and dragged him in.
“Um, these stalls are really only meant for one person,” Nik commented to the boy who held him by the front of his shirt. The boy was sandy-blond with dark brown eyes, giving him a strange golden-retriever look.
“You’re the new recruit, aren’t you?” asked the short kid
The boy rolled his eyes. “You know, for the Reiak war.”
“Oh yeah,” said Nik. “That. Yeah, I’m part of that.”
“Good, good.” The other boy handed him a business card with the address of a building in the town nearby on it, plus some odd runes and the number 13. “There’ll be some signs around town that say the stuff on here. It’s an address.” As if Nik couldn’t already tell. “Come on over and we’ll start your training.” Having given his instructions, the boy strode out of the stall. “It smells horrible in these rooms,” he said as he left.
Nik stared at the card, then at the door. Seemed as if the parade of weirdness would never end. No, that wasn’t right. After this summer, nothing could be considered weird anymore.