Chapter 6: False Awakening

He had hoped not to dream that night.

Alas, the universe had never been one for compassion.

It started just as it had always done the few times it had reoccurred over the past several weeks. He found himself pinned in the narrow space between a dumpster and a brick wall in an alleyway. But it was not the dumpster that made him unable to move; his fourteen year-old frame was paralyzed by a force he could not define, his mind trapped within his immobile body, and he was left a passive observer of what was to follow.

There came the frantic footfalls, originating in an alley lying outside his field of vision. The shadow of this individual was projected onto the wall, a breathing picture that looked around left and right. Another shadow entered the scene, dropping from above, dwarfing the first in size. The shadows grew smaller and smaller as their casters drew nearer to the brick wall that comprised the totality of the boy's view. The man backed up against the wall; a beanie was set on the top of his head of long, shaggy hair. His eyes shifted to the dumpster, and a single thought emerged above all others in Dan's head.

...You weren't there.

The second shadow took him, arms extending to grab the man's collar, whereupon a symphony of creaking bones and agony accompanied the wall's penumbral depiction of cruelty. There was no time in this place; the display went on forever, but it was done in an instant. Then the footsteps of the second shadow crept to the dumpster in the moment the boy dreaded worst. Ever closer it inched, until at last, its face appeared to him.

And the face that stared was his own.

He awoke with a subtle jolt, his slumbered eyes facing the wall to the side of his bed. Wearily, he glanced at the digital clock at his bedside, whose teeth smiled back with a two o'clock grin. He sighed. Of what rest he was able to find in recent times, most had been dreamless; but when he did dream, it was always that same accursed one that came to haunt him.

He was prepared to have another go at REM cycles when his drowsed senses detected something. A displacement of air; the creaking of the floorboard, ever so minute. He reached for the lampshade and turned it on, and with squinting eyes, was met with a perplexing sight.

An elderly woman was standing at his bedside, seeming almost as confused as he was.

Dan steadied himself upright on unlimber arms, his brain taxed by puzzlement; the woman quickly regained herself, smiling warmly.

"Time to go back to sleep, dearie," she said. "You'll wake up soon enough."

She came closer, and Dan lowered himself into the bed, his unquestioning mind numbed by fatigue, allowing her to tuck the covers over his body.

"Wait... who –"

"Hush, now," she interrupted, running her hand down his face in a single fond stroke. She distanced herself, reassuming her bedside position. "Good night, Dan."

At that, she turned off the lamp.

Seconds later, she pressed a pillow firmly upon Dan's face.

It did not occur to him that he was being suffocated until the ache to breathe pierced through the complacency of his senses. He began to struggle, attempting to leverage himself out of his assailant's grasp, but the strength in the old lady's arms was closer to that of a strong man than of a frail senior.

...What the hell?!

The sudden threat to his life sobered his body and mind in instants, and Dan, adrenaline fostering lucidity, actively resisted, fighting back with all he had. Blinded, partially deafened by the insulation of the pillow, his thrashing was unfocused, untempered; even so, he managed to land a kick to the woman's gut, and he didn't hesitate to exploit the brief window of respite it afforded him.

Freeing himself from the pillow's choking entrapment, he rolled off the opposite side of the bed, falling to the floor with heaving coughs and gasps, barely escaping the woman's clutches as she reached over the bed to seize him. He scrambled to his feet just in time to see the intruder round his bed to grope at him in the darkness, and ducking to evade a wide, arcing blow, he thrust his shoulder into her body – which was heavier than it seemed – and she slammed into the door, twirling away into the living room.

Dan followed, aiming not to yield any ground and give her the advantage. She returned to her feet; her form was nebulous in the darkness. It was when he saw her draw a knife that he knew for certain this was not a dream. The switch blade flicked open, the steel reflecting a band of moonlight through the window. She swung at him, and he arced his torso back; he did the same again as she struck once more.

They stood at odds in the living room. Who – or what – was he dealing with? Many candidates ran through his mind, flashes of Wendigos, of Shapeshifters, of Reptilians in disguise; whatever this woman was, he had no doubt she wasn't human.

Without warning, she bridged the gap, arm braced above to deliver a downward blow.

Seeing the glint of the blade in the darkness pouncing for him, Dan, with a speed he didn't know his reflexes possessed, gripped the nearest object his hands could find – a gargoyle statuette he once procured on a whim at an antique shop – and struck her arm out of the way, placing another strong blow on her now-exposed head. She teetered, the hit connecting to reeling effect; one final strike proved sufficient to send her slumping on the floor in unconsciousness.

For several moments, Dan remained rigid in the living room, his body trembling. When full awareness returned – a gradual process – he ventured to the nearby light switch panel and flicked each switch on. An old woman was lying on his carpet, knocked out, potentially dead. He looked at his statuette; there was a silver stain on the edge where there was once nothing. With surmounting dread, he circled his uninvited guest, only to see a bit of blood trickling from her skull, laced with silver droplets.

...A Shapeshifter. Great.

Holding his statuette firmly above his head in case of sudden movements, Dan crouched by the Hybrid's side and disarmed it, placing the blade on the nearby coffee table. He went back to check the body for a pulse; there was indeed one, which Dan took as a sign that it was still alive, if such a term was accurate. As he did so, his brain, now freed from the baser instincts of survival, worked to analyze the situation.

The most pressing question was how the Shapeshifter entered his apartment.

He checked the most obvious entryway. The door to his apartment was closed, but unlocked; the Shapeshifter had managed to pick the main lock and somehow undo the door chain from the outside. The surprise subsided in seconds, seeing as the Shapeshifters were most keen on efficiency.

But then, why come here?

He drifted back to his incapacitated guest, standing before it with arms crossed. The Shapeshifters were never ones to do things without reason, which meant that visiting Dan was part of its mission; a mission which, as it seemed, was meant to end with his death.

His eyes widened as a thought occurred to him.

...If they know where I live...

He made for the phone. The call was placed, and the tone resounded for what seemed like ages.

"...Hello?" answered the voice.

"Spock! Hey, you alright?"

"Crow? You sound worried. Did someone try to break in to your apartment too?"

Dan's eyes flashed wide.

"You know?"

"Ten minutes ago, I heard someone trying to break into my front door. Heh, good thing I have six locks. He was in the middle of the fourth one when I took notice, and I started re-locking the ones he had opened just to screw with him. He knew the jig was up, so he left. What about you?"

"Spock, I think that guy was a Shapeshifter."

Spock's voice lowered to a whisper.

"Really? What makes you say that?"

"Just now, I knocked one out after it damn near killed me."

"Holy crap! Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. But I have an unconscious Shapeshifter on the floor."

"So what are going to do know? Are you going to kill it?"

Dan stared at the inert body in his living room, deep in thought.

"Crow? Are you still there?"

"Spock?"

"Yeah?"

"I have an idea... Call Keane, and tell him to come with you at my apartment. I'll call Becca and George and see if they're alright."


XxXxXxXxXxX


"I still think we should kill it."

Enigma stood with Spock and Crow in the living room, gathered before the Shapeshifter. It turned out that neither Enigma, Polaris, nor Druid were attacked by Shapeshifters, or had some sent after them, which was odd; they then figured that the Shapeshifters must have learned only of Spock and Crow's identities. Polaris and Druid remained on standby at their respective domiciles as the trio deliberated on their next move.

"Why?" asked Dan at Keane's suggestion. "This Shapeshifter is of more use to us alive than dead."

"In case you've forgotten, this thing tried to kill you," replied Enigma. "It could wake up any minute now. It's too dangerous. And there's no guarantee we'll be able to get anything useful out of it."

"We have to try," said Dan. "This thing knew where I lived, and another one knew Spock's address. They know who we are, now; hell, they probably know everything about us. And that puts you guys in danger, too. We won't get another chance like this."

"I don't know, Crow," said Spock. "Can a Shapeshifter even be interrogated? It's a trained soldier, so it probably won't tell us squat."

"We won't know for sure until we give it a shot," said Dan. "But we can't do it here." He turned to Enigma. "Keane, you said you know of a place where we could bring it?"

"Yeah. There's a bunch of closed-up apartments in Roxbury I sometimes pass by. We could conduct our interrogation there."

"Excellent," said Spock. "Now we just have to figure out how to smuggle this thing out the building without drawing attention to ourselves."

The three of them stroked their chins in collective musing.


XxXxXxXxXxX


Spock led the way as Enigma and Crow carried the rolled-up carpet from Crow's living room down the stairwell.

It was the dead of night, so there were few souls to be seen; however, they did cross paths with one passerby.

"Don't mind us," said Spock. "We're just carrying a carpet."

The man plastered his back against the wall, granting the trio some space. He stared with perplexity, but after they had passed, he thought little of it and continued his ascension, failing to notice the tip of a shoe that protruded from the end of the carpet's compacted bulk.


XxXxXxXxXxX


The Liberation Front was gathered inside the foreclosed apartment Enigma had led them to. They had followed Enigma's car, with Spock sitting in the passenger seat of the Oldsmobile as Dan drove. Spock had stared back the entire time, keeping the body under unyielding supervision; only once did he have to use the lug wrench he gripped to placate their guest when it began to rouse within the confines of the carpet.

They had made a quick stop to Enigma's place so as to gather materials indispensable to an interrogation. Following this, they proceeded to the foreclosed apartment proper, where they set up shop. Polaris and Druid had arrived around fifteen minutes after the trio had stripped the entrance to one of the rundown apartments of the wooden planks barring entry, where they found Enigma tying the Shapeshifter to a chair they had found on an upper floor with liberal amounts of rope. An electric lantern lay in the corner, illuminating the room to a sufficient, though less than optimal standard.

Through the doorframe, Druid and Polaris observed the old woman strapped into a chair via rope with wary eyes; the carpet from Dan's living room was cast in the corner, a small stain of blood and mercury tainting the fabric. Dust clung to the beams of light projected by the lantern, as well as those of the street lamps and the moonlight seeping through the cracks of the barricaded windows, and only baying hounds and police sirens could be heard, emanating from the outside world.

When at last the Shapeshifter began to stir, Polaris went to find the rest of the Liberation Front while Druid stood guard; the others were huddled in the hallway, outside of the holding room's earshot.

"Guys," said Polaris, interrupting their hushed conversation. "I think it's waking up, now."

Spock addressed Dan.

"So, how are we going to play this?

"I don't know," shrugged Dan. "Good Cop, Bad Cop?"

"I call Bad Cop!" said Spock excitedly.

"Seriously?" said Enigma, raising an eyebrow. He exhaled the smoke of his cigarette. "I doubt a Shapeshifter would give in to such an obvious tactic."

"Do you have any experience in interrogating non-human subjects?" retorted Crow.

"...Point taken," said Enigma, squashing the cigarette with his shoe upon letting it fall to the floor.

"We'll try it out, see what it gives us, and change our strategy accordingly," said Crow. "Druid will stay at the door. You two, stand in the corners of the room. Spock and I will do the talking. Everyone got that?"

They nodded in acquiescence, after which they proceeded to the holding room. Enigma and Polaris positioned themselves in the corners, with Druid's frame obstructing the exit; all three held their weapons openly, their metallic surfaces faintly reflecting the ambient light. Crow took a seat placed on the side of the room, spun it around, and sat in it before their guest, while Spock stood off to the side, hands clasped before him.

"Rise and shine, dearie," said Crow.

The Shapeshifter lifted its head groggily, the corner of its forehead caked with drying blood. It assessed its situation, determining that its torso was restrained, as were its wrists, tied with rope to the armrests. The old woman shot defiance from her eyes, analyzing every individual present with mixtures of loathing and offence; so menacing was her stare, and so unbecoming it was for an elderly woman, that Crow could not stop a chill from tracing a finger along his spine.

"You know, I think we got off on the wrong foot," continued Crow. "Let's start over, shall we? My name's Daniel. But I suppose you already know that, just like you already know who my associate here is. And I imagine that you don't have a proper name, either, unless you'd like to share it with us."

Silence.

"Now, I know you'd rather be elsewhere, and frankly, so would I. But you can only leave on one condition. You'll answer a couple of my questions, and if you cooperate, we'll let you be on your merry way, and we'll forget this ever happened. Of course, if you decide to be difficult, I can't promise that I'll be able to control Spock over here."

Spock gave his best intimidating stare, which came off as a more deranged one than anything else.

"So, let's have at it," said Crow. "Why did you come for me?"

The Shapeshifter remained stoic.

"Who sent you? Who do you work for?"

It remained decidedly uncooperative, prompting Spock to intervene.

"Listen carefully, my friend," said Spock, circling the Shapeshifter, "because I'm only say this once. It is entirely within my power to create a pathway from my mind, to yours; a mind-meld, if you will." The Hybrid glanced to Crow, who nodded, giving credence to Spock's ultimatum. "In moments, I can siphon every ounce of data from your hard drive, and do so effortlessly. The only reason I have yet to do so is because I'm willing to give you the option of coming out of this with your dignity intact. So either you surrender your secrets on your own terms, or I will have no choice but to invade your mind, and I can't guarantee that it won't be messy."

Then, quite suddenly, he turned and gripped the Shapeshifter's shoulders, staring directly at its face.

"Look into these eyes and ask yourself; do you really want to make enemies with a Vulcan? Are your Romulan masters truly prepared to face the full wrath of the Son of Sarek? Well? Are they?"

At this point, the Shapeshifter seemed distraught, cocking its head back so as to distance itself from the man with the crazed blue eyes.

"Thank you, Spock," said Crow, trying to calm his partner. "I think our friend has gotten the message."

Spock seemed lost for a moment, then retracted himself from the chair, assuming his former position, and Crow continued.

"Now, let's try this again, shall we? Who do the First Wave Hybrids report to? What are the Harvesters? What are the Titans? What are you planning?"

The old woman seemed surprised – and perhaps even a bit impressed – that these people knew so much. Even so, her thin lips remained tight, remaining steadfast as ever. Seeing that the Shapeshifter would not yield, Enigma stepped out of the corner, sighing with irritation; he patted Crow on the shoulder, and Dan relented, giving Keane the floor.

Enigma stood before the Shapeshifter, placing his hands on his knees.

"Tell us what we want to know."

She didn't answer, prompting him to deliver a swift backhand across her cheek.

"Tell us what we want to know!"

Enigma knelt before the chair, gripped the Hybrid's left index finger, and bent it backwards; the bones snapped, causing the Shapeshifter to cringe, as well as everyone else in the room.

"Tell us what we want to know!" repeated Enigma, maintaining his stern, direct approach.

Receiving no answer, he tried again, this time breaking its middle finger, and a pained groan escaped the old woman's wincing lips. Enigma stepped back, the only sound in the room that of their captive's laboured breathing. Then, to their collective astonishment, they watched as the woman closed her constrained palm into a fist, and by apparent strength of will, her skewed index folded back into place while her middle finger creaked and cracked itself erect, which she flashed to Enigma in a gesture of iron audacity.

In response, Enigma steadied his pistol and placed a bullet in the Shapeshifter's kneecap.

It writhed in its seat, contorting in agony. It then looked up to Enigma, but a sadistic smile was added to the contempt on its face, as though goading Enigma to go further.

Do you have what it takes to set me free?, her eyes seemed to whisper.

Enigma readied his pistol once more; he wasn't about to let this thing get the better of him. However, Crow stepped in, lowering Keane's arm with his own. With a tilt of the head, he bid Enigma follow him, and they went into the hallway. Spock bowed out as well, leaving Polaris and Druid to keep their prisoner under surveillance.

Once outside of earshot, they spoke.

"This thing isn't going to budge," said Enigma. "We can't get anything more out of it. Let's take it out now and be done with it."

Dan held his hand to his chin, growing ever more desperate.

"Not yet," said Crow, running a hand through his hair. "Damn it! There's got to be something else we can do."

Torture and threats of violence and mental probing revealing themselves inefficient, Crow returned to the holding room, a new, nascent strategy formulating in his mind. Upon entering, the Shapeshifter directed its attention onto the oncoming human.

"Since you won't tell us what we want to know," he said as he towered over her, rummaging in her pockets, "I suppose we'll have to play the guessing game, won't we?"

The first thing he removed was a sleek black box.

The Conversion Device.

With nonchalance, Crow fiddled around with it, tugging at the flexible rods that ended in tri-pronged pads. He passed it to Spock, who too examined the object; he fiddled with the switch, turning it on and off again. All the while, Dan watched the Hybrid's reactions with great care; it did not appear very appreciative of their mishandling of its equipment, elderly traits configured in annoyance.

Seeing this, Crow took out not one, but two wallets from the woman. He flipped open a first one and scanned the driver's license.

"Eleanor Middleton," he read. "Age, 78. Brown eyes. Resident of Brookline, Massachusetts."

He looked at the photo, which matched the current guise of the Shapeshifter in their custody. Looking up at their prisoner, he realized that he was staring directly into the face of a dead person, the ghost of a woman who died in agony at the hands of the thing that was bound to the chair. In fact, he thought, all Shapeshifters wore the faces of the slaughtered, a further insult to those whose lives they had unjustly taken.

Crow's loathing of the First Wave burned with greater ferocity.

He scoured through the rest of the wallet, revealing meagre sums of money and a few debit, credit, and membership cards, which presumably all belonged to Eleanor when she was alive. He passed the wallet to Spock for a secondary examination before passing onto the next wallet, and he once more recited the information presented on the driver's license.

"Kurt Lawson. Age, 36. Green eyes. Resident of Manhattan, New York."

The Liberation Front members perked up at the differing address.

"So you were sent from New York City?" noted Enigma.

The Shapeshifter that once took the form of Kurt Lawson didn't deign to reply, seeing as the truth was plainly evident. Inspection of the wallet yielded nothing helpful, and with that, they had processed all the items on the Hybrid's person; Dan's improvised plan had run its course. The Shapeshifter would not talk, did not respond to physical threats, and could not be intimidated in any way.

Nothing more could be done. The Shapeshifter appeared to notice this too, and was pleased, knowing that its captors have exhausted all their options. The Hybrid's breathing was still a bit haggard from the injured knee, but there was an undercurrent of victory in its exterior temerity, and Crow clenched his jaw, none too pleased at the outcome of their interrogation.

"Do you want me to initiate a mind-meld?" suggested Spock.

"No," said Crow sternly. "We're done here."

To everyone's surprise, Crow held the Conversion Device plainly in his hand, dropped to the floor, and crushed it under the sole of his foot, shattering it, rendering it useless; the Shapeshifter was grossly displeased, boring holes into Dan's head with seething eyes.

"Listen closely," Crow said, approaching their prisoner. "You're going to go back to Manhattan to relay a message to your superiors for us. Tell them that the Liberation Front is coming for them, and that their days are numbered." He gestured to Enigma. "Cut her loose."

Enigma did as he was instructed, going behind the chair and cutting through the rope with a retractable knife. Polaris and Druid held their weapons fixed onto the Shapeshifter, deterring the prospect of taking any brash action. Enigma then cut the ropes binding its arms, freeing it from its confines; it rubbed its wrists with annoyance. Keane took his pistol and waved it, ordering the Hybrid to get moving. Slowly, the Shapeshifter arose, flinching when it tried to apply pressure to its bloodied knee, but the Liberation Front took no pity, and the Shapeshifter hobbled along in a pained limp.

Crow led the way as the team escorted the sluggish Hybrid to the exit, and upon determining that the coast outside was clear, he turned to face her.

"You can't hide behind new faces anymore, Eleanor Middleton," he said. "So if I ever see your face again, my face will be the last thing you ever see. Got that? Now get the hell out of here."

Defeated, the Shapeshifter could only offer a harrowing scowl as it limped out the door and across the street, marching down the sidewalk.

"That was some smooth maneuvering, there, Crow," said Druid as the team gathered outside the apartment.

"I still think you should have let me initiate a mind-meld with it," said Spock.

"I guess we'll have to call a rain check on your Vulcan finesse, unfortunately," retorted Crow.

"He has a point, though," said Enigma. "We're just as clueless as we were before. All we know is that it was in Manhattan at one point. We're fumbling in the dark."

Dan peered into the starlit abyss above their heads.

"Knowing where it came from is better than nothing," he said, turning. "If we're going to make a difference, we need to take the fight to them. And New York is a big place, far bigger than Boston; there must be plenty of First Wave activity there waiting to be uncovered."

"Are you kidding me?" said Enigma. "We're just six people. How the hell are we going to tackle a city of eight million?"

"I don't know yet," said Crow, "but I'm sure we'll figure out something. All I know is that I'm done sitting around. So pack your bags, people. We're going to New York City."