A/N: I hope you'll enjoy this first chapter. More soon!
The Fallen Kind
"Claudia, have you seen John F. Kennedy's rosary?" Artie called, seemingly into thin air.
With a clang, the overhead air duct popped open, and Claudia stuck her head out into the office. "Wasn't it over on Aisle 91 in Sector 3?"
"That's where the computer thinks it should be."
"The computer's probably right. Actually, the computer's always right."
"… but it's not there."
"Did you check?"
"Yes, I checked," Artie said with long-suffering patience. "It's not there."
With another clang and an oof, Claudia jumped out of the air vent, landing squarely on the floor. She and Artie both coughed for a moment as all of the accumulated dust in the air vent snowed down upon them.
Claudia waved her hand in the air. "Whoo. You really should have had these cleaned out years ago."
"Until you came along, nobody wanted to climb up in them," Artie said.
Claudia crossed to the computer and started typing away madly. "Are you sure? Pete seems like the kind of guy who would love crawling around in air vents. He'd probably just pretend he was in a spy film."
She gave the keyboard another few clacks. "See? It's right there."
"That's the rosary of Pope Leo XIII," Artie said.
"Are you sure?"
"I can read!"
"You know what? I'm going back into the air vents. They appreciate me in there."
"Who appreciates you?" Artie asked, exasperated.
"Um, the roly-polys and the earwigs," Claudia said. She hopped up onto the corner of the desk and hauled herself back into the air ducts.
"It's the great disappearing Claudia!" Myka said as the door swung open, admitting her and Pete.
"Hey, how come Claudia gets to crawl around in the air ducts?" Pete demanded.
"I volunteered!" Claudia said, her voice somewhat muffled.
"She volunteered?" Pete asked, peering upwards. "I didn't even know you could do that."
"Any time you want to volunteer to clean the air ducts, please do," Artie said. "What are you two doing here?"
"Didn't you call us?" Myka asked, holding out the Farnsworth.
"I've been here, looking for a rosary," Artie said.
"The air ducts can't be that dangerous," Pete said, still staring up into the dusty gray void.
"It's not to pray with," Artie said.
"The Farnsworth beeped," Myka said, "and your name came up on the screen but not your picture. I figured it was just a dropped transmission…"
"Wait, it beeped?" Claudia said, and poked her head down into the office again.
"I didn't call you," Artie said, turning back to the computer.
"It's the motion detectors!" Claudia exclaimed, and came tumbling out of the air ducts.
More dust filled the air as she windmilled her arms uselessly in the air, dropping in an ungainly heap. "Ow," she said, wincing. "No, no, I'm fine," she said, shrugging off Myka's assistance.
"So somebody's in the warehouse?" Artie demanded, bolting out of his chair.
"Could be," Claudia said.
"Or it's a ferret," Claudia said. "Or a bird. Or any of the thousands of roly-polys I've displaced."
She scrambled over to the computer and quickly brought up one of the security feeds. "Look, it's nothing," she said.
"Must have been a bird," Pete said.
"Wait," Myka said as Claudia freeze-framed the shot. "What's that?"
She pointed to the corner of the shot, and almost as one, the four leaned in towards the screen.
"It looks like… a foot," Claudia said.
"Oh, gross," Pete said. "A body?"
"Maybe it's just a foot," Claudia said.
"That's not better," Pete protested.
"Can you shift the shot upwards and to the right?" Myka asked Claudia.
"Sure," Claudia said, and clattered away at the keyboard.
The shot shifted in the direction Myka had indicated, with the flickering grainy pixels at the edge showing the feed was live. "Oh, my," Artie said, looking over his glasses. "Is that…?"
"It's a person," Claudia whispered.
"It's who?" Pete wanted to know.
"It's a girl," Myka said.
There was a quick second of silence, and then the office erupted in conjecture.
"Where did she come from?"
"… lot bigger than a bird!"
"Maybe she fell in through the…"
"… they're not supposed to get in here, but sometimes they do and…"
"- heard about this one agent who used to keep a BB gun next to his Tesla…"
"Wait!" Artie cried, throwing up his hands. "Wait. Slow down."
The conversation screeched to a halt.
"We need to go check it out," he said. "If it's a security threat we'll deal with it."
"What else could it be?" Myka asked.
"We work in a warehouse full of mystical objects," Pete said. "It could be… anything."
"Could it be related to the missing rosary?" Claudia spun in the chair to face Artie.
"No. Unless somehow our intruder is going to run for public office," Artie said.
"What?" Pete looked confused.
"I'll fill you in on that part later," Artie said. "Right now, we need to get down there and figure out what's going on."
As odd as it had looked on the security feed, from a distance things had seemed plausible. It was much easier to deal with the unknown when it was kept away, pixelated on the screen in black and white and gray.
It didn't hurt, Myka thought, as much as showing up in Sector 4 to find an actual person lying on the ground.
As long as it was pixels, it was okay not to care. Much harder to do so in the face of reality.
"She looked bigger on the screen," Myka said as they approached cautiously, guns and Tesla at the ready.
"She looked older on the screen," Claudia said.
"Guess you're not the youngest person to break into the Warehouse now, huh?" Pete asked, grinning at Claudia.
"A record I was, frankly, hoping would stay in place," Artie said a bit distantly.
A tiny dark-haired girl was sprawled on the floor between a box full of Emily Dickinson's pens and the juggling balls of Enrico Rastelli. She was painfully thin and her eyes jerked behind closed lids, as though she was having an unpleasant dream. She was barefoot and clothed in what seemed to be a mismatched set of loose pajamas, a long-sleeved shirt festooned with purple and red snowflakes and shin-length pants with a pattern of bright yellow stars.
"She's wearing a bracelet," Myka noticed. "I can't read it from here."
Cautiously, almost as one, the four stepped a little closer. The girl did not move; she remained on the floor as though she was an angel whose wings had been precipitously revoked, causing her to tumble to earth in a broken collapse from grace.
"How about now, Mikes?" Pete whispered.
"Why are we whispering? She's asleep," Claudia whispered.
"I think it's a number," Myka said, squinting at the white plastic bracelet fastened securely around the girl's scrawny wrist. "E-six-four-eight-nine-two-one."
"Does that mean anything to anybody?" Pete whispered.
There was a collective shaking of heads.
"Does she have a pulse?" Artie asked.
Myka, who was the closest to the girl, slid a bit closer and knelt down next to her, putting her fingers on the girl's wrist. "It's slow and faint, but it's there."
"What do we do now?" Claudia asked.
"We can't just leave her here," Myka said.
"No, that would be irresponsible," Artie agreed. "Let's take her back to the office. We'll try to figure out where the bracelet came from, and we can get Leena over here to read her aura, see if we can get anything off that."
Pete holstered his gun and scooped the girl up in his arms, leading the way back to the office. He laid her on the couch. For a moment they just stared.
"She doesn't have any wounds on her hands," Myka observed. "So she didn't break in the old-fashioned way."
"Could she have gotten in through the air ducts?" Pete stared up into the dusty void.
"No," Claudia said promptly. "They don't lead directly outside, which is why they're so… dirty. There's a secondary duct system that blind-ends before you even get in here. She would have ended up in an outside grate. Stuck, but outside. And plus, she's not dirty."
"So, then what? She came in the TARDIS?"
"Only if we've fallen into a TV show," Myka said, giving Pete a sarcastic glance.
"TARDIS isn't a bad idea," Artie said. "Myka, call Leena, will you?"
"What do you mean, TARDIS isn't a bad idea?" Myka questioned, pulling out the Farnsworth. "There's no such thing."
"Well, there isn't an actual TARDIS," Artie said. "But there are plenty of objects that, for lack of a better phrase, pull the geographic switcheroo."
"But they're all here," Claudia said.
"The ones we know about are here," Artie said. "There are plenty… hundreds, maybe… of artifacts we don't know about. Any of which could have caused a shift in temporal location."
"So, what? She time-traveled into here?" Pete was clearly getting more confused.
"Not time-travel," Artie said. "That's a difficult one to pull off. But changing locations is easier, relatively speaking. Whoever she is, I don't think she did this on purpose."
"How come it knocked her unconscious?" Claudia sat down gingerly on the couch next to the girl.
Artie sat back in the office chair. "Maybe she hit her head on a shelf on the way down. Or maybe… maybe she was pushed."
"Leena's on her way over," Myka reported, closing the Farnsworth.
"She's got a killer goose egg right there," Pete said, indicating the back of the girl's head. "Probably going to hurt like crazy when she wakes up."
They sat in silence, staring at the girl until Leena came through the office door. "Whoa," she said upon entering.
"Too much aura?" Claudia asked.
"No – girl in the Warehouse," Leena said. "I don't need an aura to tell me that. Where'd she come from?"
"No one knows," Artie said. "We spotted her on the security feed after a motion detector went off. Went down to check things out and… turns out she was there."
"Who hit her in the head?" Leena asked.
"No one," Myka said.
"She came that way," Pete added.
"At this point we're more interested in the who and the why rather than the how," Artie said.
"Well, sure," Leena said. She turned her attention to the girl. "She's scared. She's confused. That's all I get right now."
She leaned forward and placed one hand on the girl's arm. "And I think if…"
As though her words were some sort of trigger, the girl's eyes flew open. She grabbed Leena's arm and, with a frightened scream, began to smack herself on the side of the head with her free hand.
Leena pulled back. Pete and Myka got to their feet. Claudia jumped up off the couch.
The girl's eyes were wild as she scanned the office as though searching for something. She yanked back from Leena and jumped up, running around the office. "No, no, no, NO!" she yelled, smacking her hands against the door. She bolted over to the chalkboard in the corner of the office and stared at it, then smacked it, hard.
"No, NO NO NO!" she whimpered, panicked, and grabbed at whatever was closest.
It happened to be books from the bookshelf, and they fell around in her a torrent of pages and words. Their fall from the shelf startled her, and she screamed again, flailing out blindly. Her hip hit the desk, rattling the computer equipment, and she dropped to the floor, sobbing. She brought her hands up to her face and buried her head in them, pulling herself into a ball.
"Please, no," she cried, rocking back and forth. "No, no, no."
Myka and Pete exchanged glances. Leena looked at Artie, who looked shell-shocked.
Claudia took a few cautious steps towards the girl, and then sat down on the rug facing her.
The girl kept her head buried in her hands, rocking back and forth fiercely as she cried.
"Let's… let's give them some time," Artie suggested.
"Sure," Pete said. "Sure."
"We'll… go back to the B and B," Leena said.
As Myka, Pete, and Leena left, Artie put one hand on Claudia's shoulder. "Are you all right?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah," Claudia said softly. "So far."
"I'll just be right down the hall," Artie said.
He left, and then the only sounds in the office were the girl's sobs.
"I know you're scared," Claudia said after a while. "I'm sorry you're scared."
The girl brought her hands up to her ears and rocked forward blindly, her eyes closed as tears dripped down her face.
"It's okay to be scared," Claudia went on. "But you're safe here."
"No, no, no, no, no," the girl said. "No. No."
"I promise. You're safe."
"No. No. No. No."
"I'm here if you want to talk," Claudia said. "Actually, I'm here if you don't want to talk. I'm here."
The girl sniffled, and brought up one pajama-clad arm to wipe across her eyes. As she did so, the sleeve rode up, exposing the bracelet and what looked like another bracelet, a series of bruises around her wrist.
"Did someone hurt you?" Claudia asked, reaching forward without thinking.
It was the wrong movement. The girl screamed and pulled back, starting to smack her head again. "No, no, no, no, NO!"
"I'm sorry," Claudia said softly. "I'm sorry."
And she was – sorry that she couldn't console another lost soul. Sorry that the girl had suffered. Sorry that someone hadn't protected her. Sorry that people had to suffer at all.
But she couldn't express any of that, at least not without sounding far too chatty. So she sat, and listened as the Warehouse's newest inhabitant sobbed like her heart was going to break.
And it broke Claudia's heart, too.