I blame you guys for this, you came up with a good idea and it made me snicker. Then write...


"What are you grinning like a demon for? That's my job."

"It is an impressively demonic expression, I agree. I'd rate it at least eight out of ten."

"She's definitely learning."

"Shut up, the pair of you. I just had a really funny idea."

"A good one?"

"Yes."

"Sure?"

"Yes!"

"Only we all remember the last 'good idea' from the Life Sculptor branch of the Family. There are still people who can't look a grapefruit in the eye even now, and the cafeteria asked me to make sure you stayed away from the fruit section..."

"I was seriously impressed by the sheer strength of the bite, actually. I'd never have thought a citrus fruit was capable of..."

"How is this never talking of it again!? Anyway, this idea has nothing to do with bitter fruit."

"Or some unholy cross between a cow and a potato, I hope. I mean, I like roast beef and potatoes as much as the next person, but even I draw the line at something that moos when you're slicing it."

"Again, shut up. No one appreciates true genius these days. Some cousin you are."

"All I'll say is that when you fuck it up, you really fuck it up..."

"Thanks. Very much."

"It's an impressive talent, Amy. Own it."

"You're worse than she is, so I'm not listening to either of you. I'll go talk to Lisa, at least she'll be sensible about things."

"Bet she won't. The last time you did something weird, she fell over twice. I really have to get that seat belt fitted… OK, tell us what your great idea is, Oh Expert Beyond Compare In The Life Arts."

"Glad you're finally giving me the respect I deserve. I didn't study under the greatest Family BioShapers for a thousand years for nothing, you know!"

"Indeed. Enlighten us, then, please."

"I just worked out it's Max's birthday tomorrow."

"..."

"Ah."

"Ah?"

"You feel the man should have something to remember it by, I assume."

"Definitely. Smarmy bastard just rubs me the wrong way. And we haven't reminded him we're here for a while."

"Excellent point."

"Oh! Ah!"

"Try to keep up, Taylor."

"Sorry, I got distracted by that movie. Why are we watching something that old anyway? I mean, it's a good one, but..."

"Pause it there."

"Ah."

"That's what I said."

"I know. Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Will it be dangerous?"

"Well… not as such, but then they won't actually know that, will they?"

"Hee hee hee."

"More or less what I thought. OK, grab some onions and follow me, I need a nice box to put it in and a few things made."

"One day I would very much like to see what you'd do to someone you actively despised, Amy. It would be a tale to echo down the ages, a warning for all those who would make enemies of The Family."

"Bet your ass it would. Now hold this like this, and don't move."


Signing for the box, Victor handed the clipboard back, then watched the brown-clad man leave the office. Turning his attention to the delivery, a cardboard carton approximately eighteen inches on a side, he prodded it cautiously, then picked it up and gently shook it. Nothing particularly interesting happened although he could feel something shift inside, the weight of a few pounds moving just a little. Checking the label once more, he shrugged, then headed for the elevator, nodding to Krieg as he passed. The other man was reading something on-line and chuckling under his breath and didn't respond.

When he arrived at his destination, he tapped on the heavy wood door, then opened it, going into the penthouse office. Closing the door behind him he walked across the thick carpet towards the desk at the far side. "Delivery for you, Max."

Their leader looked up from some paperwork, appearing momentarily relieved that he'd been interrupted. Victor could see the top document had the seal of the IRS on it. A second later Max frowned. "Delivery? What is it?"

"No idea. It went through the standard security scan without any problem, though. Nothing dangerous."

"You sure?"

Victor shrugged. "Pretty much, yeah. We upgraded the system a month ago, remember? Better hardware than the PRT uses."

"Who's it from?"

He looked at the label. "Just says RepTech Biosystems, and under that 'Evaluation Sample.' Probably another new company trying to get us to fund a drug study or something."

Max sighed, but stood up and came around the desk to accept the box. He looked it over for a few seconds, shook it, then put it on the desk and picked up his letter opener, which was a WWII Nazi bayonet. Sliding the razor sharp blade across the tape holding the cardboard shut, he quickly slit all sides of the seal, then put the blade down again. "This is the fifth one in the last six weeks," he complained as he folded the flaps back. "I wish these idiots would learn that we come to them about their products, not just send their crap data over whenever they..." He paused, looking at the revealed contents. "Huh. That's different."

Victor nodded, reaching out to feel the thing in the box, which appeared to be another box, this one made of a dense wood stained a deep red-black color by what looked more like age than anything else. "Expecting an antique jewelry box or something?"

"No." Max inspected the thing, then felt it. "Weird. Feels old."

They exchanged a glance, before he carefully lifted the inner box out of the cardboard one, Victor holding the latter down when it threatened to come with the contents. When it was clear, the other man put the outer carton on the floor allowing his boss to put the wooden box down. They both studied it closely.

"Really old. And really expensive. I've seen stuff like this in a museum. Early Austrian cabinetry, I think, and maybe rosewood or something?" Victor was impressed. The box, which had beautifully inlaid brass fixtures, looked perfectly at home in Max's office, merging nicely with the vast desk which was of a similar age and worth a small fortune. "I think the label might have been a diversion. I wonder who really sent it?"

They exchanged a glance, then Max reached out and fiddled with the catch on top of the box. The lid looked like it split down the middle and opened to either side like a toolbox. After a second or two there was a muted click and the two halves moved apart slightly. He put a hand on each side and opened it the rest of the way.

Both men stared at the contents, nestled in deep purple velvet. It was an oval object about a foot tall and slightly less than that across, shaped a little like an egg. The top had markings that divided it into four quadrants, faint ridges running across it and down the sides. It appeared to be made of leather or something of that nature.

"Someone sent me an antique soccer ball?" Max sounded befuddled. He prodded the thing, then felt it curiously. Victor was staring at it, wondering why he had a vague sense of recognition.

"What the devil is this for?" his boss went on, reaching into the box and picking the thing up, then turning it over in his hands. "I mean, nice box, true, but why put a… whatever this is… in it? And why send it to me?" He put the thing down next to the box and peered into the container, adding, "You sure there wasn't a letter or something with it?"

Victor also looked into the box, then checked the carton at his feet. "No. Nothing, just that box and the label."

"Bizarre." Max took the carton from him and checked the label for himself. "No return address. I wonder who..."

They both froze at a faint sound, which was vaguely akin to someone cracking a large egg, overlaid by a sort of squishing noise.

Meeting each others eyes, they slowly turned to look at where the sound had come from.

Victor blanched as a memory suddenly came to him, while they watched the top of the mystery object, which had split along the lines they'd noticed, peel back all by itself in an unpleasantly organic manner. A faint smell reminiscent of the sea came to them as it stopped moving. "Um, Max? I think we need to leave the room."

"What the fuck is this thing?" Max demanded, pointing at the ovoid on his desk. "That slime is going to ruin the polish."

Victor was backing away, very slowly and carefully.

"Max. Seriously. We need to go."

"Someone is playing some sort of stupid joke on me now. First lizards running up and down my damn building, then flying lizards buzzing me, then a tiny Death playing me for a fool, and now this?" Slightly red-faced with anger, Max moved a little closer to the thing on his desk and glared down at it. "When I find out who sent me..."

"Max. It's them."

"What?" Max half-turned to look at Victor. "Who?"

"Them! The fucking Family. It has to be."

Max froze again, then closed his eyes for a moment. "Oh. Fuck it." He glanced back at the thing that had arrived out of the blue, tensing and ready to jump away.

He was too slow.

Victor involuntarily yelped in shock even though he'd half-expected something like this as an appallingly fast-moving thing abruptly erupted out of the open leathery object, spraying clear slime everywhere across the desk. Max ducked even as he shouted in shock, but didn't manage to get out of the way fast enough. His yell of fury was cut off half formed, the bony and scaly creature that had jumped at him attaching itself across his face in a fraction of a second. Long finger-like legs wrapped around the back of his head while a long tail flicked half a dozen times about his neck, holding on with hideous strength.

Victor fell back against the door, stunned and horrified, as his boss rolled around on the floor futilely tearing at the thing covering his face completely, muffled screams coming from him. "Jesus Christ," he moaned, his pistol in his hand covering the other man. He didn't know what to do, aside from get the hell out of there.

And wonder who the hell had had the appalling bad sense to show the fucking Family the movie 'Alien.'

A few seconds of horror passed while he desperately tried to come to grip with the sudden descent into horror movie scene his life had become without warning. Without any obvious sign of why, the thing holding on to Max suddenly unwrapped its tail from his neck, then the finger-like legs uncurled. Nearly as quickly as it had attacked, it dropped off the man on the floor, rolled over onto the tips of its legs, and looked at Victor with the quartet of glowing blue eyes he could now see.

Gaping and so shocked he didn't even think to point his gun at it, he watched the creature look around with quick motions like some sort of hideous spider, before it scuttled off across the room towards the nearest heating vent at carpet level. Coming to his senses he fired at it, the report sharp in the quiet of the room.

It looked back at him, somehow made a gesture with two legs that he could only think of as obscene, then punched a hole clean through the vent cover and disappeared inside without slowing. Even over the ringing in his ears from the gunshot he could hear a skittering sound echo through the ventilation system, rapidly diminishing into the distance.

"Victor?"

Twitching in surprise, he turned to see Max lying flat on his back staring at the ceiling with a befuddled expression.

"You're alive?"

"I think so." The other man licked his lips, then added in the slow tones of someone in shock, "Why can I taste peppermint?"

Cautiously, far more aware of the movie he could remember clearly now than he was comfortable with, Victor went over and helped his superior to sit up. He inspected the man closely, his eyes widening, then blinked a few times.

"That… wasn't what I was expecting."

"What?" Max still looked confused, and was running his tongue across his teeth.

Which were sparkling white, looking like he'd just got back from the dental clinic. Not to mention how his face was perfectly shaved, his eyebrows looked like they'd been carefully trimmed, and his complexion was fantastic.

"You need a mirror." Victor helped the other man to his feet, then watched as he went into the bathroom next to the office.

"What the hell?" There was a long pause. "Where did my fillings go? And I had that wisdom tooth out five years ago!"

Hearing a hammering at the door as the security team finally put in an appearance, Victor heaved a sigh and went to deal with it. Now they were going to have to sweep the entire building for whatever the fuck that thing was, which would take hours. And he had the horrible thought that what they were really going to be doing was looking for the Family equivalent of an electric toothbrush.

Fucking lizards. They couldn't even do the classics right.