Chapter 5 – Inserted

It was warmer on the day we set our trap. I waited beside the house three doors down from our object's home. Just as she had the last two days, the girl came out and walked up the street. Thankfully, she had waited until the sun was closer to setting, so there was too little light to shine in my eyes. As she walked past me, I came out of my hiding place and called to her.

"Excuse me?"

She turned, and then looked surprised to see me.

"Hi," she said with a smile. Her voice was high, like a child's.

"Hello. My name is Melanie." I tried to put on a convincing expression. "I'm new in town, and I think I'm lost."

She smiled a perfect set of white teeth. Now that I was close enough, I could see how her eyes were huge and gray. Her skin almost had a silver sheen to it to match and a light dusting of freckles across her nose.

Her face showed all the concern of a friendly soul upon hearing of my predicament. "Oh! Where are you trying to go? I'll take you. Our car is just back-"

I interrupted her. "No, it's not far." A car wouldn't be necessary. Jared and Jaime were waiting just down the side street. We had checked the names and knew she took this alley often. "I was going for a walk, but now can't find my way back to Becker Street."

It wasn't as strange as I thought it would be, talking to a soul in broad daylight like this. Wanda had taken me with her so many times that it almost felt like second nature to me.

Almost. I was still a little jumpy.

"You're very close. It's just around the second corner up that way. But you can cut right through the little alley here. It takes you straight there."

Perfect. "Could you show me? I'm sorry, what's your name?"

"Of course! Come with me. I'm Petals Open to the Moon, but my family mostly calls me Pet. Where are you from, Melanie?"

I had to laugh at her name. Pet. How fitting for this gentle creature that was about to become a pet soul to a whole crew of humans.

"Do you mean San Diego or the Singing World, Pet?"

"Either one." She was perfectly at ease, laughing with me. I almost felt guilty. But Wanda would pick a perfect world to send her to. "There are two bats on this street, they live in that yellow house with the pine trees."

I could see Jared and Jaime in the shadows. Jaime looked a little nervous. Jared, of course, was alert and ready.

"I'll have say hello. These are my friends, Pet," I said, watching her expression as she saw the two men in the alley. I didn't want to scare her.

"Oh! Oh hello!" Like any good soul, she stepped right up to Jared and offered him her hand.

He took it, hugging her close and pulling out his can of Sleep in one lithe movement. Before Pet could really react, he had sprayed her face and she fell limp.

Jared caught her quickly and we all rounded the corner. Jaime pulled the back door of the van open and they piled in. I hopped into the driver's seat and tried very hard to not stomp on the gas. I mostly succeeded.

It wasn't until we were 20 miles outside the city limits that we all really started breathing. I had been watching the rear view mirror more than the road.

It was Jaime who finally broke the ice. "Whew, did we do it?"

Jared smirked and ruffled his hair. "I think so. Let's just get home."

We both heartily agreed. We drove straight through the night and the next morning. It was close to afternoon again when we arrived back at the caves. There was a small reception party waiting for us. Aaron and Brandt insisted on checking our eyes before letting us in, Jared carrying Pet, and me and Jaime with a crate of medicine each.

We met Doc and Candy in the hospital, looking like they were still having the same discussion from my first morning. The others following us filed in.

"Got a tank, Doc?" Jared asked as he put Pet down on a cot.

Doc and Candy sprang into action. Doc grabbed the No Pain and Candy took an empty cryotank while asking how long she had been asleep.

"It's already been almost 24 hours," I told her. "We had to drive all the way from Washington."

In what looked like an already practiced series of movements, Doc and Candy removed Petals Open to the Moon, placed her in the tank, and healed the wound in her neck. It all seemed to take less than a minute. They made a very good team.

"Wow, that's how it works?"

I had forgotten that Jaime was still here. Turning, I saw that there were at least a dozen people crowded nearby, each trying to get a look at the new addition to the community. Ian was right up front, Wanda still in his arms.

"Hey, Ian, what do you think? Can I hold Wanda?"

Ian ignored Jaime's second question. "She's perfect. But you know I don't care what she looks like."

"First we need to make sure there's no one else in there," Doc said. "You've been using the chloroform? When was the last dose?"

"Actually," Jared said, "we've been using the stuff Candy told us to get." He brandished his can of Sleep. "Her last spray was a few hours ago."

Candy nodded. "Then it should wear off in about an hour. We'll wait rather than using the Awake."

I liked how she seemed to almost be taking over the hospital. She was clearly perfectly comfortable here.

We spent the next day rotating our time with Pet, talking to her, trying to get her to respond. I couldn't help but feel like no one was doing it wholeheartedly, but no one could say we didn't try.

The following morning, Jared and I found Ian in the hospital, alone with Pet. He was talking to her, but it sounded more like he was talking to Wanda. One of his hands, as always, was occupied with a lit cryotank, but the other was stroking the billowing blond hair of the tiny girl on the cot.

I cleared my throat to announce us. "Has she responded at all?"

He shook his head at me. "Nothing."

We joined him next to Pet. "Well, I think it's time then."

Ian's face broke into the first genuine smile I'd seen from him in ages. He also didn't say anything. I belatedly noticed how quiet he had been. I wondered if he had just been sad about Wanda, or if he was naturally a quiet person and Wanda opened him up. I'd have to ask Jared later.

"We'll go get Doc," Jared offered.

Doc was in the river rooms, washing dishes. When we told him what we wanted, five other people jumped up with him. We made quite the parade through the tunnels. I made one stop to pick up Jaime from school. He should be there when she woke up, but Doc refused his requests to help in the actual process. I would have said the same.

Even more people joined us on our walk. Everyone, I was sure, that Wanda would want to see.

Ian looked up with surprise at the crowd that pushed its way into the hospital.

He gave me an incredulous look. "Decided to bring the whole world with you?"

I shrugged. "Don't look at me, they invited themselves."

"I guess they can stay," he commented, "but if they scare her, they're all leaving. We're doing this for Wanda, and I won't let a bunch of nosy people's curiosity make this difficult for her."

It was the most he'd said in days. I supposed that answered my earlier question. Now that he knew Wanda was coming back, he had come back as well.

Candy and Doc were a team again, No Pain, flip, cloth, incision. Ian was the one who handled the tank, though. I didn't think anyone could have picked Wanda up with more care. He marveled at her for one moment before guiding her to the opening waiting for her.

Being only my second insertion, I couldn't be sure, but it seemed to me that Wanda stretched herself out in a fraction of the time it had taken Sunny.

As soon as Doc had her flipped back over, Ian was talking to her.

"Wanda? Can you hear me, Wanda?"

I joined him. "Wanda. Come back. We aren't letting you go."

"Use the Awake," Candy told us.

Doc had a can next to him. He gave one small puff, and we all watched her eyes flutter and her breathing come faster.

"Wanderer," Ian said, leaning in and holding her hands tightly, "we're all waiting for you, honey. Open your eyes."

Her fingers twitched and Ian responded by cupping her cheek with his hand. Then he lightly kissed her lips and her eyelids. When he moved away, she started to slowly blink.

"She's waking up!" Jaime crowed.

She opened her eyes, getting her first look straight up to the ceiling, the blue sky showing through.

Ian tried to catch her attention. "Wanderer?" She blinked a few times, and then I saw her look straight into Ian's eyes.


Wanderer was home.