"They...created us?" Emma asked uncertainly.
"Yes," Mrs. Chatham said it as if each word she spoke required great effort.
"What do you mean?" Lewis demanded.
Mrs. Chatham sighed, "A little more than fifteen years ago, Itex pooled funds into research to learn more about genetic engineering; specifically, hybrids."
"What?" Rikki asked flatly.
"She means that they tried to change the genetic capabilities of a member of a given species," Lewis explained thoughtfully, "By inserting genetic coding from another species into another so as to..."
"SPEAK ENGLISH!!!" Rikki screamed.
There was a moment of silence before Lewis said sheepishly, "They take part of one species and put it in another species, resulting in an organism that has similarities to both."
"Well, that resembled English," Rikki muttered.
"So we're a...hybrid??" Emma said, still slightly confused.
"Yes," Mrs. Chatham said, "Part human, part fish."
"You lied," Rikki said accusingly.
Mrs. Chatham lowered her head and spoke in a soft voice, "I did. I'm so sorry, girls, Lewis. I was hired by Itex years ago. By the time I realized the horrific things they were doing it was too late to get out."
"So you betrayed us to save your own neck," Lewis said, voice deceptively calm.
Mrs. Chatham didn't say anything.
"What about all of the proof?" Emma asked, "We can turn into mermaids!"
"It's in your genes," Mrs. Chatham replied simply.
"No magic?" Emma asked.
"What about the lockets?" Rikki asked, voice low from restrained emotions.
"Created as proof of my story," Mrs. Chatham said, her voice faltering.
No one said anything as they took in this startling revelation.
Suddenly a blaring alarm seemed to come from everywhere at once, hurting Emma's ears.
"They are coming," Mrs. Chatham said softly.
"Who?" Lewis demanded, "The scientists??"
Emma felt a sudden dread at the mention of the evil people, remembering the agonizing things they had done to her.
"No," Mrs. Chatham said softly, "Not yet."
"Who's coming?!?" Rikki's voice portrayed the fear and dread the Emma felt.
Mrs. Chatham's face looked more characteristically serene than before, "The others are coming."
Then the heavy metal door, leading from the hallway to this room where they were locked up in dog crates, clicked as it moved open a dozen centimetres, then opened further to reveal several people standing outside.
I tensed, ready for action, as the heavy door rotated smoothly open. There were rows of dog cages and some old lady who didn't look very scary. But looks can be deceiving. I moved in slowly, alert, with Fang and Iggy flanking me. There didn't seem to be any immediate threat but, before I had finished surveying the area, Cleo gasped and ran past me before I could stop her.
"Lewis! Emma! Rikki!" she cried, emotions threatening to loose themselves again as she ran forward to her friends, who were trapped in several of the dog cages, "What happened??"
Kim's eyes were so wide I wondered if her eyeballs were going to pop out of her head.
"Oh, Mrs. Chatham!" Cleo had turned to the old lady and was sobbing into her shoulder.
She was looking for comfort from a Whitecoat??
And receiving it?!?
I didn't have any idea what was happening with this unstereotypical development, but I didn't have time to find out now.
"Iggy, get them out of those dog cages!" I ordered.
He nodded and produced his oh-so-magical lock-picking set.
"Fang, guard the door. Gazzy, standby Iggy in case he needs help! Nudge and Angel, watch the Whitecoat!" my flock moved into their positions, leaving only Kim and Total standing beside me, seemingly small and insignificant amidst the chaos around them.
"What about me?" Total whined.
"Oh, you can...uh...watch the door with Fang, I guess," I told him.
He trotted over to Fang.
"You...um...Kim," I said, remembering how she wasn't used to responding instantaneously to orders from me, "Just stick close to me," I made a small smile that looked more like a grimace and turned back to the dog cages.
Iggy had gotten the first dog cage out and the boy....Lewis...was crawling out. Apparently the initial shock had faded, because now his eyes were blazing with fury.
I've always wanted to say that, "blazing with fury".
"When I get my hands on those scientists who hurt Emma and Rikki I'm gonna—!" he growled.
"That's great, loyalty to your friends and all that," I interrupted him, "But right now we need to leave."
"Leave?!?" he said loudly, "After what they did to them?!? Why, I ought to..."
"Yes, leave!" I said, starting to get annoyed. What was it with men?
There was suddenly some loud and repeated pounding from the ceiling.
"W-what's that?" Lewis said, adrenaline-powered bravery faltering.
"That would be the reinforcements." I said pointedly.
He chuckled nervously, "M-maybe we should...leave."
"They're gonna be here pretty soon," Fang warned from the doorway.
"Right," I said, "Iggy, how you coming?"
"Almost got it!" he said through gritted teeth, working on the third and last cage, then added, "Pass the thin one! No, the other thin one, the one with the screwy end! Yeah, that one!"
"What? Oh, never mind," I said as Gazzy handed Iggy another tool.
"They're almost to the stairs," Fang said a moment later.
"Almost!" he said in exasperation.
"Good! Everybody by the door, but stay out of sight!" I ordered, keeping an eye on Old Lady Whitecoat as Angel and Nudge scurried past to the door.
"Cleo! Lewis! Emma!" I motioned for them to go to the door also.
Cleo hesitated, but Old Lady Whitecoat told her softly, "Go," and she reluctantly moved toward the door with Lewis.
"Got it!!" Iggy exclaimed and Gazzy whooped and pumped his fist.
"Alright! Go, go!!" I shoved them and Rikki at the doorway where everyone was huddled.
I looked at Fang, and as if reading my mind he said, "They're on the stairs," he nodded toward the way we had come.
I thought about hiding before I realized that we had left the dead Eraser sentry in plain sight! I was mentally pummeling myself before I realized wryly that, thanks to Gazzy's grenade, we wouldn't have been able to clean up the Eraser very well without a broom and a bottle stain-remover.
"Run!" I said, pointing in the opposite direction of the threat.
Fang nodded once and was out the door before you could say...well, I won't tell you what I was thinking.
"Go, go, go!" I pushed them out the door and was about to run out too when I saw Lewis staring back at the Whitecoat with a sad, yet bitter and vengeful look in his eye.
"Go, Lewis," she said so softly it was almost a whisper, "I'm not the evil person you think I am. Go!" she repeated a little more loudly.
He finally turned and allowed me to push him out the door and into an all-out run as we tried to catch up with the others, who were running farther down the hall ahead of us.
Zane dropped the television remote on the coffee table, where it set with a clatter. He couldn't stand the isolation any longer! He had to get out! He jumped to his feet and practically ran to the front door of their dwelling. He had to get some fresh air! Just a couple of breaths! He didn't care if his father had said to remain inside, he just couldn't take it another minute!
He opened the door and took precisely two steps before he froze.
Suddenly a lab door opened ahead of us and an Eraser ran out! He stopped, as if confused, and I prepared to take full advantage.
"Zane?!" Lewis exclaimed in disbelief from behind me.
There went the element of surprise.
The Eraser turned and looked at Lewis in shock. Not the Oh-Snap-The-Prisoner-Has-Escaped shock, but the What-Is-This-Guy-Doing-Here shock.
"Lewis??" he asked with incredulity, blinking in confusion.
"What are you doing here?!" Lewis asked more guardedly.
"My dad got a job here," Zane explained, although it looked more like he was the one who needed things explained to him.
"For Itex, underneath Mako Island?" Lewis asked in a doubtful voice.
Zane's expression got even more confused, "Mako Island? No, I'm in Italy."
"No, you're underneath Mako Island," Lewis said matter-of-factly.
"No," Zane said, "I'm in—"
"You are under Mako Island," I interrupted him, "And sorry but no time to chat, we have an escape to finish."
Lewis didn't look like he was as interested in saving his skin as he was talking things out with Zane, so I grabbed him by the wrist and started to drag him past Zane, further down the hallway.
But when I turned back toward our escape route I saw Fang, the flock, and the mermaids running back toward us. The reason for this sudden change is plans was behind them in the form of bloodthirsty Erasers— the real thing this time— running down the hallway behind them.
"Change in plans," I told Lewis, turning and starting to run down the hallway in the other direction.
Zane was still standing where we had left him with a priceless expression of shock on his face.
Too bad I hadn't brought a camera.
He was staring at the Erasers like he'd never seen human-wolf hybrids bent on murdering him and doing unthinkable things with him afterwards (or perhaps before). He obviously wasn't working for Itex, or at least not in the let's-mutate-things-and-track-down-Max department.
I sighed. Now we would have to get him out of here too.
This task was suddenly made infinitely more difficult as Erasers began coming down from the stairs into the hallway toward us.
We were trapped.
I stopped about midway beside Zane and held up my hand to halt the flock, who soon stopped (with mermaids in tow) behind me. No words were needed. We had been in situations like this dozens of times. Each member of the flock knew what had to be done. We would either fight out way out or die trying. In the unlikely event that a third option presented itself, we might choose that. But it was stupid to set our hopes on that unlikely possibility, and my flock knew it as well as I.
Zane, on the other hand, chose option four. He raised both hands and said loudly, "Okay, we surrender!"
The moron had seen waaaayy too much television.
Surprise, surprise, the Erasers didn't even consider his humble (and idiotic) pleas for mercy for half a second, continuing to charge at us with bloodlust in their eyes.
"STOP!!!" the voice carried down the hallway.
The Erasers stopped, not more than ten feet from us. They didn't want to— they wanted to rip out our throats— but they knew that voice and respected it.
Or feared it.
The hallway packed with Erasers parted to allow the speaker through. He walked calmly; confident, but not cocky. He walked down the hallway toward us from the direction of the stairs.
The growling and snarling of nearby Erasers stopped as he came near. He passed through the last of the Erasers and stood before us in the only open area of the hallway.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Zane's eyes slowly widen even further in shock before narrowing in anger. I was surprised that anyone could be as angry as I was at this man.
Then he spat out one spiteful word, "Dad."
My face remained neutral, but I poured all of the bitterness I was feeling into one word as I addressed the man, "Jeb."