Author's Note: So I'm still here and still writing Teen Titans fiction. I've just had a couple set backs, namely, my hard drive keeps crashing. So I write something, it's beautiful, then boom. So I write it again, it's getting beautiful, then boom. So I was starting to kind of hate that last chapter of Siren's Call and had to take a little break. This is the result: a sort of "dystopian" start to the Titans. I'm hoping to keep it short and, to try and prevent those 6-12 month update times you're all used to from me, I'm trying to stay a couple chapters ahead in my writing. We'll see how that works out… Any whoo, here you go! I'm finding it interesting to write and hopefully you'll find it equally interesting to read.
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters nor am I making any profit. This is a harmless exercise in fandom and I can't afford a lawyer anyway, so please to not sue. Thanks and have a nice day.
"The subject is just up ahead," said a young man in his mid twenties in a rushed, nervous voice, taking quick steps towards a steel security door that filled the corridor ahead. The sharp click of heels told him his charge was having no trouble keeping up. He chanced a quick glance at her as he paused at the door, fumbling with a security card. She gazed back at him through rimless glasses with such intensity he had to look away. No response.
Very little about his life could be considered ordinary, not since the government agents had approached him at Cal. Tech. and offered him the internship of a lifetime. One minute he was a grad student, fighting for his doctorate in genetic mutagens, the next he "fit a profile" and was whisked away to this underground lab to help study a most peculiar subject. He'd never seen anything like it before and doubted he would ever again. Not at the rate their research was going, anyway. That's why this new scientist had been brought in. And she was perhaps the second least ordinary thing he had encountered thus far.
She did not fit "the profile" in any way shape or form and stood out as different even to the newly enlightened student. The woman was not tall, maybe 5'4" at the most, but did not need her 4" black heels to look imposing. Her dress was modest and high collared, professional but still feminine, and dark blue, her skin pale and beautiful. Her hair looked like she cut herself, crisp and straight at approximately chin-length, the front half held behind her head with a simple black clip. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it was that, though it seemed a simple blue-black, sometimes the light would catch it and it would, well, shimmer. Unmistakably violet. It couldn't be real, but it sure seamed that way. Like a trick of the light or mirage in the heat. Like her eyes…
She would have transfixed any human male if it weren't for the scholarly cold that accompanied her presence. There was something past intimidating, something almost frightening about her. At the ripe age of 28, Dr. Rachel Roth had obtained doctorates in animal behavior, comparative genetics, and abnormal psychology with additional degrees in mutagenesis, immunology, and in an unexpected twist of interest, occultism. Prodigy would have been the best way to describe her, yet she had published no papers, received no awards, nor conducted any research he knew of. To the academic world, she was unknown. No- unknown was too mild of a term.
For all intents and purposes, Dr. Rachel Roth did not exist. How they found her or why they brought her here was beyond his capacity to understand. "They" had almost unlimited resources and wanted him to discover haw the subject was physically capable of doing what he did. Questions were not part of the deal. He did his job and was rewarded with knowledge, experience, and more money than he though possible as long as he kept in line. That was as much as any student with his amount of debt could ask for.
"You'll need to be careful. The subject is highly unpredictable and dangerous," he said as the door slid open, not looking at her this time. He heard a delicate but distinctive snort as they continued on briskly.
"I've been around my fair share of wild animals, sir. I do know how to handle myself," she shot back with an icy edge. The boy stopped at the next metal door and swiped his card again, blushing visibly and dropping his head slightly. Dr. Roth regarded him with one raised eyebrow, unimpressed.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Roth. I did not mean to imply-"
"How much security does one subject need," she asked, cutting him off.
"The subject himself or the secret of its existence? Both are considered… sensitive."
"I see," she said, her gravelly voice dripping with sarcasm. She clearly did not see the need for so many doors or such high levels of security. The intern chanced a glance at her as the door slid open, still red.
"Forgive me, Dr. Roth, but how much do you know about the subject?"
"How much did you know before they brought you here?"
His color deepened.
"Next to nothing." There was the sound of arms being folded as they walked. "If you don't already know I'm not sure I have the authority to tell you…"
"I'll discover the nature of the subject myself. What I'd like to know is why you need so much security to shelter an animal, uncommon as it may be. Why all the secrecy?"
The boy paused, licking his lips. "Lets just say… The subject is of interest to us, animal rights activists, and…human interest groups. Its appearance- well, you'll see for yourself."
The hall ended in an abrupt steel door. A security pad flashed blue on the left wall and the boy pressed one hand to it. With the other he fished something out of his pocket, handing it to Dr. Roth. Their fingers brushed as she took the flash drive, sending a shiver down his spine. The final door slid open he stepped to the side, glad the transit was over.
"The enclosure is just up ahead. The USB port is hooked up to an encrypted data bank that acts kind of like a lock, so you should have no trouble getting in with this." She gave him a skeptical look.
"You're not coming with," she asked dryly. He shook his head and tried to smile. His neck tensed as she stared at him and he felt his palms begin to sweat. Something about this woman unnerved him. He wanted to be gone. He wanted to get back to the lab, to the cell cultures and microscopes. Back to the science. She held him frozen to the spot for a moment longer, then turned to brush by him. As she passed he caught the sent of lavender and a question leapt into his throat. Something he'd been wondering ever since he'd gotten the assignment to take Dr. Roth to the subject.
"If I may," he started quickly, tripping over his words. She paused, almost turning. The delicate curve of her jaw was visible over one slim shoulder. Permission granted. "Why are you here? I mean- I know and respect your credentials, and of course you would not have come without reason. But, if I may, I would think your skills would be of better use in the lab analyzing the DNA samples. Why are you going to see it?"
A mirthless smile curved her pale lips as she turned back to face front. "As I understand it, your work has been primarily genetic in nature," she started, more a statement than a question. He nodded and, though she couldn't have seen his head jerk, she continued as if she had. "Your superiors think its time we start looking at the organism in a… broader context. I was the only one qualified and the kind of work I plan on doing requires personal contact."
Something about the way she said that worried him. He swallowed. "What kind of work?"
"How much do you know about the nature of the subject?"
"Beyond his genetic abnormalities, next to nothing," the intern admitted with a stiff shrug. Dr. Roth let out a hollow laugh and shot him a final look before passing over the threshold into the next corridor.
"It may be demonic." The intern felt the blood drain from his face as the door slid shut.
Dr. Roth continued down the hall on her own, the sharp click of her heels echoing with each step. A small voice chuckled in her mind, amused at the intern's reaction to her story. It couldn't have been that odd by comparison; he himself had to have a similar one. Those ambiguous people in charge (some unknown sector of the government) had visited her in Gotham, claiming to have a creature that was best described as abnormal. Its genetic structure was unstable, capable of rapid shifting between expressed and unexpressed traits, and contained information from every known creature, even some unknowns. What had gotten her attention, and no doubt upset the intern, was the possibility of a demonic connection. Chances were slim, but anything that gave modern science trouble was worth some investigation. Natural was fine, but the unnatural? That's where things started to get interesting.
Intern probably had some quirky little curiosity himself. Mercifully, he just wasn't sharing. And now, he wouldn't be inviting her to any water-cooler gossip or office parties either. She was here to work. Investigate what she came to investigate, then leave. If this creature truly had demonic connections, then it was worth her time. If not, then leave the scientists to their pet. She didn't care. She had enough problems of her own to deal with without adding animal rights activism. Besides, anything these humans did to it was better than what her father would do in their place…
Shaking her head with a jerk of her neck, Dr. Roth halted outside the final door. White the others had been simple steel this one looked to be some sort of double platted titanium alloy. There was a low hum as electricity surged through it, a high voltage cage to restrain even the most massive of creatures. She almost wondered why there wasn't a moat and drawbridge. The previous doors had been designed to keep people out and would give if several tons of muscle were to slam against them a couple times. This door was built to contain. A massive power, still unknown to modernity, lay in wait just behind these walls. With a deep breath, Dr. Roth pulled the cap off the flash drive and inserted it into the one structural weakness in the hall, the tiny USB port by her right hand. After thirty seconds of grinding, clicking, and beeping, the door cracked. A gust of cold air rushed out at her, as though the room on the other side was pressurized, then the door slid slowly open.
Whatever monster Dr. Roth expected to see, whatever beast she thought had been entombed here, it was nothing close to the truth. The room was cylindrical and white; no corners to hid in, no abnormalities to stare at, no escape from the sterility of it. Just pure and unadulterated "sample chamber." At its center was a slightly raised platform, sloping up from the ground to avoid any sharp angles, and on that platform was something… green. At first she though it was some kind of monkey; she couldn't really tell, it had its back to her, but before she could decide what sort of primate she was dealing with, it changed. And not just "hair falling to one side" or "a new and shocking detail is noticed" kind of change. It wasn't even a subtle as "she thought it was one kind of primate, but from this new angle it looked like another." No, the thing changed its fundamental biological class. What she now saw could not be.
Where a mammal of some sorts had undoubtedly stood when the door had opened, sitting quietly on the raised platform, there was now nothing short of a dinosaur. A massive, carnivorous, crouching allosaurus. It looked at her with perfectly white eyes and let out a blood-freezing roar, shaking its head and rattling the white shackles around its wrists and ankles. The polymer had stretched to accommodate the new size of its charge, but even as Dr. Roth's eyes fixed on the chains something seemed to go wrong. A single link in each chain had begun to bend with the force of this new monster and, as it tried to stand up to its full height, they started to crack. The room was too small to comfortably fit a dinosaur and the allosaurus thrashed angrily, leg muscles straining to lift its front half as the bindings strained to hold it down. Dr. Roth heard screaming, either from herself or over the intercom, but she couldn't bring herself to move from the threshold. Her body acted as a door jam, preventing perhaps the most advanced door known to mankind from doing its duty and closing. All she had to do was retreat two steps to safety and let tons of titanium alloy and electric current crash down between her and the monster, but the shock of this encounter had left her unable to think clearly.
It was not possible. It was not natural yet in no way demonic either.
With a final ear-splitting cry the allosaurus snapped the weak links in the chains binding its arms and stood to its full, terrifying height. Its tail was pressed against the wall, pinned by the lack of space, and it thrashed its body in annoyance, stomping its feet and straining to move forward. The weak links cracked, then, in an explosion of metallic polymer, broke. The beast moved forward as Dr. Roth's insides constricted. Her ribcage was collapsing, her lungs couldn't expand properly. She couldn't breath, couldn't run, couldn't so much as move as the carnivore advanced. It dropped its head to regard her and she could smell its breath.
Then, in a blur of green, it was gone. Dr. Roth's pupils dilated even more as she searched the room frantically, wondering in the small part of her mind that retained rationality how something so big could just disappear like that. A sudden impact on her chest forced both her attention and her body downward. She fell, her head cracking on the cold metal floor on impact, causing colored stars to wink around the lupine form of her attacker. The same white eyes stared at her from above a salivating jaw lined with conical canines, perfectly displayed by a snarling snout. Paws pinned her to the ground and claws dug into her shoulders. She could feel the wolf's growl rumble through its entire body, feel its moist breath on her face. For the first time in a long time, Dr. Roth knew fear.
The wolf moved its attention from her to the hallway, still snarling. It dropped its head low so that its snout was just next to her ear and she felt the most peculiar sensation in the in the places the wolf was touching her. But it wasn't a wolf at all. The shoulders she saw hunched over her own, the curving back that arched along her midline, the legs squatting to either side of her abdomen… they were human. The skin, however, was definitely not human. Not unless there had been some recent disaster she didn't know about that had started turning people green. And there was enough skin for Dr. Roth to say with absolute certainty that this human was green. This… thing, whatever form it took, was always indisputably green. And its innate form seemed to be human. Her eyes darted back to the platform where he'd been bound and caught a pile of shredded white cloth. Hands gripped her shoulders and a rough, slightly high but very male voice whispered something in her ear.
He pulled back his head and looked her full in the face. It was only the briefest of flashes, more of a repositioning than an attempt to make eye contact, but in that instant Dr. Roth took in every detail she could find. His face was short and mostly round, but came to a sharp point at his chin like a teardrop, his cheekbones high and defined. His ears were long and pointed, and stuck out just a little like some kind of imp, his hair forest green and messy. It had been hacked short a while ago and was now growing out around his face. His canines and nails were unusually sharp and long, giving him a slightly animalistic appearance even in his human form. The eyes though… His eyes were unlike anything Dr. Roth had ever seen. They too were green like the rest of him, but the most remarkably brilliant of greens, and faceted like emeralds, alive in the sterile light. When she looked at them, past them, Dr. Roth could see the jungle. Yet at the same time they were cold and calculating, planning and very intelligent. There was a hardness there she somehow knew was not dictated by nature, but by circumstance. They were the most unusual eyes after her own she had ever seen.
The moment passed as quickly as it came and the man was gone. As Dr. Roth pulled herself into a kneeling position, rubbing the throbbing spot here her head had hit the floor and looking around, she caught a glimpse of a cheetah rushing towards the door. As it leapt she found it wasn't a cheetah at all, but a grizzly bear. Claws sank into metal and tore, leaving a gash in the steel. The bear screamed in triumph, ripping at the tears in the metal, pealing the cracks back to make a hole and puncturing the other side. Droplets of bright red blood fell from cut arms and paws, smearing around the jagged edges. And then the bear was gone and Dr. Roth saw a dot of green buzz through the hole to the other side.
There was yelling and shouting, then a loud crash of something suddenly large falling out of the air. Dr. Roth, still dazed, reached out to the wall and received a shock from the slightly charged security door. Yelping, she pulled back, clutching her hand to her chest. An inhuman howl echoed down the hall and she could see flashes of green and grey just past the steel door. With a moan she shifted onto her hands and knees, crawling forward, needing to see what was happening. The crashing and screaming kept getting louder and she thought she could make out words, but wasn't entirely sure. Her hand hurt more than she thought it should have from a simple shock.
"Hold it! Hold it down!"
"I can't! I- ugh."
"The prods! Where the hell are the damn cattle prods!"
"They won't do any good! Not against-Look out!"
"Watch its tail! Watch the tail! Give me that!"
"Give me that now!"
A cry of pain. The sound of something heavy moving through the air. An electrical discharge and another scream. Dr. Roth was almost to the hole. She tried to stand up but her legs were locked.
"It's down! The nets! Quick, the nets!"
"It's too big!"
"That's why we have more than one, idiot!"
A human scream. A crash as flesh hit the wall.
"No! Not the live rounds. We're not supposed to kill it, moron!."
"Is either going to be fine or dead. He's still getting paid isn't he? Now get it together or you're- Look out!"
"Don't let it change! Shock it! Shock it!"
More screams. Dr. Roth reached out to the door, to pull herself up, but recoiled at the sight of her own flesh. Her hand was black and charred, like she'd stuck it into a fire, and burns peppered her palm. What kind of security did these people have? What lengths had they gone- would they go to to keep their specimen?
Explosions like gunfire, roars of rage and agony. Electrical discharges and bangs.
"That right, you've got it! Now pull it- Pull it down! For the love of- Take it down! Gimme that!"
There was more banging and screaming and then, finally, something heavy hit the floor and men cheered. Dr. Roth bit her lip and willed herself to her feet. She peered through the hole. A green gorilla lay pinned under about three different nets that were magnetically adhered to both each other and the ground, straining against them. About four men lay either prostrate on the ground or slouched against the wall, either unconscious or clutching broken ribs. Four more were nursing less serious wounds and standing over the gorilla, congratulating each other. The gorilla snapped its jaws at the men, growling and sending at least one hopping away.
"And that, boys," gloated the one who seemed to be in charge, propping the net gun on his shoulder. "Is how the real men do it in Africa."
"What are we going to do with it? Shouldn't we… you know," said another one sheepishly, whipping sweat from his brow and gesturing vaguely to the gorilla. Another one grabbed what looked like an advanced cattle prod, its end sparking with blue energy.
"You know what the boffins say, no known anesthetic can take this thing down. I say we just shock it 'till it goes back to that other shape and stops fighting."
"Now now," chided the one in charge, amused. "Lets not damage the prize more than in necessary." Dr. Roth personally did not count the previous beating as "necessary," nor could she currently think of a better way to subdue a shape-shifter against whom all known anesthetics were apparently useless. "The docs say this should do the trick just fine, once he's subdued. They've only made a bit, so we don't get to waste it on games." He pulled out an autoinjector and tapped it lightly.
The gorilla squirmed angrily, thrashing, white eyes wide. The man squatted next to him, smirking. "Hey, there's no use arguing, we already won the fight. Good effort though, I think this is the farthest you've gotten. Be a good monster and accept defeat." The changeling roared and slid back to his human form. For a moment the bonds went slack and he took the opportunity tear his elbow across the other man's jaw. The man stopped smiling and dropped his knee into the changeling's gut, stabbing the autoinjector into his thigh. The green man screamed, writhing in pain for a moment and shot the guard a wrathful look. Then his body began to relax and his eyes glazed over. His breath slowed and, though he tried to shake it off with sharp jerks of his head, the drug quickly won out and he was gone.
The man grinned again, reaching out to pat the shape-shifter lightly on the cheek. "Good boy," he crooned, causing the other men to laugh, albeit a little nervously. "Come on boys! Lets put the animal back in his cage."