Chapter 3 Transcription
A young woman is running on a treadmill. It's the same woman who was waiting for Nate at Miller in the first chapter. She's in some sort of fitness room, but she's the only one there. She's wearing a sports bra, track bottoms, trainers, and an exercise tracker on her wrist. Her hair is tied up in a thick ponytail to reveal a small, square inhibitor attached to the back of her neck. The walls are lined with TVs showing a news broadcast.
”Good morning. This is Olivia Strand with today's headlines. Chalice, an anti-conscription group growing in popularity among variant protestors, has been under investigation since the attack on the Miller Institute two days ago. Rowan Wirth, spokesperson for the organisation, held a press conference yesterday to address growing concerns of their movement instigating violence." The screen changes to show Rowan Wirth: "Chalice does not condone nor encourage acts of violence to further our cause. While we do not agree with the practices that take place at facilities such as Miller and Urquhart..."
The woman steps off the treadmill and checks her exercise wristband, feeling her pulse. She picks up a towel and begins wiping herself off as she turns to watch the news. "...we fully condemn the actions of the individual or individuals who committed this crime."
The young woman takes a quick shower. There is a row of shower cubicles but she is the only one there.
Now dressed in her Urquhart uniform, she knocks on a door that automatically slides open. The nameplate outside the door says JEREMY AGUBA. "Ready in fifteen minutes?" she calls in.
"Hold on," comes Nate's voice from inside.
Nate is sitting at a desk in the room. The lights are dim and he is illuminated by the light from the hallway. The woman lounges against the doorframe. "Writing a report?" she asks.
"The fire at Miller," Nate replies.
"If you give me a copy, I can co-sign before lunch," she says.
"No need," Nate says curtly.
The woman is surprised. "Oh," she says, "did Holly already-"
Nate cuts her off: "I don't need a co-signer."
The woman frowns and says, "I thought you used to co-sign for Jeremy."
"Did you watch Chalice's press statement?" Nate says.
"...Just now, yes," she says. "Do you believe them?"
"Of course," Nate says dismissively. "They're not stupid enough to burn down a militarised facility. But the fact that they made a public statement instead of contacting us directly means they're still trying to ride off the publicity."
He is filling out some forms, both with the header URQUHART CLINIC OF VARIATIONAL RESEARCH. The woman frowns slightly as she watches him.
"Well, we're on retrievals today, so how long til you're ready?" the woman asks.
"We need to go get the kid first," says Nate.
"We can just get a regular officer to go," the woman says, but Nate waves his hand at her, not even looking up from the forms.
"Holly's going," he says. "I've already told her. We'll head when they're back."
"But-" the woman starts to say.
Nate whirls around to face her. "Are you arguing with me?" he snarls.
"I'm only saying," the woman says, hands on her hips, unimpressed.
"I'm not just second-in-command anymore. I'm in charge now. I'm the boss. I'm the one who decides what we do. Got it?" Nate says, nearly shouting.
The woman tilts her head, scowling. "Yes."
"Yes what?" Nate demands furiously.
"Yes, captain," the woman says. It is obvious she is extremely unhappy.
"I'll be down in five," Nate says. "Shut the door behind you."
The woman leaves, the door sliding shut behind her. Nate is left alone in the dark. He rests his head against his hand, looking exhausted.
Meanwhile, back at the Earl Estate, the morning bell rings. "Good morning!" comes the announcement over the tannoy. Victor is already awake, sitting on the floor of his bedroom, head also resting on his hand. The morning light filters in through a crack in his curtains. He is dressed but his inhibitors lie waiting on the floor.
The scene cuts to where the kids are in the cafeteria eating breakfast.
“You're going where?" Cameron hoots in disbelief.
"Leave him alone, Cam," Julia says, a little annoyed. Her chin is resting in her hand, and her elbow is resting in her plate of eggs. A pair of crutches are propped up against the table next to her.
"Sorry, I've just never heard of that happening," Cameron says. "Ever."
"Yeah, well," Victor says loudly, looking hard at his food.
"Maybe it's a good thing?" David says. "Maybe they're looking at you for a work licence, not domestic."
"Mm," Victor grunts, playing with his food.
Sid, who is passing by the table, looks over and asks, "What's going on?"
"Victor's been called to Urquhart for his release interview. They're not doing it here," Julia explains.
"WHAAAAAAT," Sid says gleefully.
They turn to Jo, whose hair is now blue. "Jo, did you hear that?" they say.
“Hear what?" says Jo.
Victor looks pleadingly at Julia and says, "Don't tell Sid! They'll tell everyone!"
Rabbit appears in the cafeteria doorway and calls out, "Allen! Walten-Kite! Your cars are here." Scott is dressed in regular clothes and has a large duffel bag; Sylvia and Toby, two of the kids, are hugging him goodbye. Victor reluctantly pushes his seat away from the table as he gets up.
"Good luck," David says.
“Please make sure Julia doesn't tell anyone else," Victor mumbles.
"You know I can't promise anything," David says.
Victor tugs on his hoodie drawstrings and walks away with his shoulders raised. "I know," he says grimly.
Victor and Scott wait awkwardly. outside the Earl Estate. There is a sign above the door that says VISITOR'S ENTRANCE and another, smaller sign next to it that says ENTER AT OWN RISK. Scott has his duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He looks up at Victor. "Are you being released today too?" he asks.
"No, I'm..." Victor trails off. "No."
"Oh, okay," says Scott. "I was gonna say." He holds out his hand. "Well, good luck with the future," he says brightly. Victor just looks at him. Scott quickly closes his fist, nervously looking down at Victor's own hands, tucked in his hoodie pocket. "Yeah," Scott says, opting for a thumbs-up instead.
"Thanks," Victor says lamely.
Someone calls Scott's name and he immediately races towards the voice. "Mum!" he shouts. "Hi!!"
Two women greet him. One grabs him in a firm hug, laughing happily, while the other beams, hand resting on a pregnant belly. Victor watches from a distance.
"Allen. This way," Rabbit calls.
He's waiting beside a large Urquhart van. A very tall person with short, thick, curly blonde hair and wearing an Urquhart uniform waves goodbye at another security officer and is heading to meet Victor. "Looks like you're in big trouble this time," Rabbit says.
"What are you talking about?" Victor says as he walks over.
“Being picked up by Urquhart?" Rabbit says. "Doesn't look good.”
“That's- it's not-" Victor stutters, but the Urquhart officer interrupts by loudly saying, "Good morning!"
"So you're Victor! Nathan's little prodigy." The officer gives Victor a friendly punch on the shoulder. She is considerably taller than him.
"His what," Victor says, recoiling backwards.
The officer laughs. "Okay, let's get you cuffed," she says, holding up a pair of handcuffs.
"Cuffed?!" Victor repeats disbelievingly.
"Yep," the officer says cheerily. "It's the law."
"Hm. Nope. Doesn't look good at all," Rabbit muses, making a small note on a notepad. Victor shoots him daggers.
"I'm Holly, by the way," the officer says as she holds the handcuffs out.
"Victor," Victor mutters. He slips his hands through the cuffs.
"I know, I just said your name," Holly says, smiling.
They get into the van and head out onto the road, Victor in the front passenger seat. Holly waves another goodbye as Victor struggles to put his seatbelt on. "We'll be there in about twenty minutes," Holly says.
"Okay," says Victor.
She fiddles with the dashboard. "Want any music on?"
"I don't mind," says Victor.
"Nervous?" she asks.
"I guess," Victor replies, unenthused.
"If you're not feeling chatty, we don't have to chat," Holly says kindly.
"I-" Victor starts to say, but stops himself. He looks down at his cuffed hands, then turns to look out the window instead. The van speeds away towards Urquhart.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, there is an explosion of fire. We cut to what seems to be a training area of some sort, a room scattered with weights and exercise benches, with a stack of cons in the corner. There is a dip in the middle of the floor where the floor is lined with cushioned blue mats. One young boy is sitting lazily at the edge of the dip, watching from a distance as his twin, illuminated by flames, brings their hands up and shouts “Ha! Bullseye!” They are both wearing matching Urquhart uniforms; a white triangular design with white armbands.
“Nah, mate, you missed,” the first boy says dismissively. He is missing a tooth.
“Does that look like I missed to you??” his sibling says, jerking their thumb angrily at the remains of a burning mannequin.
“Missed its head, yeah,” the boy says. “Hardly a bullseye.
His sibling lights a ball of fire in their hand. “Fine. Tenners says I can hit the head.”
“A pound,” the boy retorts.
“A pound and a packet of crisps.”
His sibling gears up to throw the fireball. “Deal,” they smirk.
They throw the ball of flame at the target. It hits the head directly with a WHOOMPH, exploding.
“YEAH!!” both twins cheer, throwing their hands up.
“Cough up then,” the second twin says, pointing at his brother.
“Nah,” the first one says.
“There you are,” the young woman from earlier says, peeking into the room just as the second twin is about to land a punch on the first. She pulls her hair back in a thick ponytail. “Clean up in here, we’re leaving soon.”
“Masha!” the second twin exclaims, throttling their brother. “You missed the coolest thing. I got a bullseye not once...” - they leap up and wink dramatically - “but twice.”
“Just once, actually,” the first twin says from the floor.
“Shut it, how about,” the second twin says loudly, flames dancing on their shoulders.
“Good job,” Masha says, smiling. “You’re getting really good.”
“I know, but thanks,” the second twin beams.
An aerial shot of the Urquhart compound. The buildings tower over their surroundings, shining with glass. The centre of the front courtyard has an enormous fountain. Victor looks out at the buildings with an unreadable expression on his face. They come to a stop.
Nate suddenly appears and jerks the door open, giving Victor a fright. “Get out,” Nate says. He is holding a folder and has an Urquhart jacket slung over his arm.
“I’m doing it,” Victor snaps, climbing out.
Nate takes the handcuffs off Victor’s wrists. “Oh,” Victor says. “Thanks. Why did I have to - ow.” He frowns as Nate begins shoving him backwards. “Ow! Nate, stop it! Just ask me to walk, don’t shove me.”
Nate continues pushing him to the back of the van. “Get in,” he says.
“Um?? Why??” Victor asks.
“Why do you think?”
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking,” Victor says exasperatedly.
Nate pushes the folder into Victor’s chest. “Take this,” he says. “And put this on.” He flings the jacket onto Victor as he walks away.
Victor sits in the back of the van, pulling on the jacket and scowling. He is startled by one of the twins jumping into view and shouting, “He’s here!!”
“Holy shit,” Victor says, clutching his chest.
The twins clamber into the van and sit across from him. “This is Dipak and Nirav,” Nate says from the front seat.
“Hey,” Victor says uncertainly, clutching the folder.
“Hi,” one of them says, beaming.
“Nirav uses ‘they’ pronouns,” Nate calls back.
“Yes, I do,” the second twin says.
“I use he,” Dipak says.
Nate continues: “And you already know Masha.”
“Hm?” Victor says, not noticing Masha as she also climbs into the back of the van, floating a duffel bag beside her using telekinesis. “Masha?” He turns to see her and turns white.
Masha bursts out laughing. “Oh boy, I haven’t had to babysit in a while. This should be fun,” she says.
“What?” Victor says. The twins yell with glee.
“I’m just joking with you,” Masha says. She sits beside him and smiles. “What’s new? I haven’t seen you since entry.”
“Yeah, not… much…” Victor says, avoiding her eyes and giving a weak smile. In the front seat, Nate intently checks his phone.
Masha tries again. “You been doing alright?”
“I guess,” Victor says.
She looks at him.
“Well you definitely don’t talk as much as you used to,” she says, slightly put out.
“Haha. Hm,” Victor says, staring straight ahead.
“Okay, team, listen up,” Nate says. Masha and Nirav lean forward and listen intently. “We have three retrievals, stragglers from the Miller transfer. A licensed cryo, an unlicensed electro, and an unlicensed bio. None are indirect.”
“Easy,” Nirav says.
Dipak is squinting and looking closely at Victor, who squirms uncomfortably, but then looks up as Nate mentions his name: “Victor is just here to observe. He’s not getting involved. Any questions?”
Dipak raises his hand. “Ah, yes. Is that Jezza’s old jacket?”
“It was the only spare I could find,” Nate replies. “Any important questions?”
“I have a question, actually,” Victor says. “I kinda thought I was just here to train and stuff? Not go on jobs with you. Or maybe I was just misled by the fact that, I dunno, that’s literally what you told me.”
Nate rolls his eyes. “Kid, listen. It doesn’t matter. You just read that folder I gave you.”
“What is it?”
“Information. Protocols. Read the whole thing.”
Victor opens the folder up. “This is just stuff we learned in entry.”
“Then it won’t take you long to memorise it,” Nate says.
“You don’t get taught all that in Earl?” Nirav asks.
“Earl is just a residency, not a training facility,” Victor replies.
Nirav screws up their face. “Then what do you learn?” they ask.
Victor frowns. “I don’t know. Geography? Maths?”
“Boring,” Dipak declares.
Victor glares at them both before bringing the folder up to his face angrily.
“What? It’s true,” Dipak says as they drive away from Urquhart.
Cut to a residential street, surrounded by rundown flats. The van is parked alongside the pavement. The Urquhart crew jump out. “Holly, stay in the van with him,” Nate says, closing the door.
“No worries,” Holly says.
Victor briefly looks up then returns to reading.
“You don’t have to concentrate so hard,” Holly says.
Victor looks up again, surprised. “What?”
Holly is leaning on the steering wheel, smiling over her shoulder at him. “He’s not going to quiz you on it.”
“Oh, no,” Victor says, “I just didn’t bring my reading glasses.”
He hears a commotion outside and turns to look. Suddenly another boy is thrown into the back of the van and bumps into him with a “OOF”. He is wearing a green shirt that says MILLER on it, some handcuffs, and a large silver collar around his neck. He is sporting a fresh bruise on his cheek.
Masha follows him in and begins buckling him in with telk. “Do you require immediate medical attention?” she asks.
“No,” the boy grunts.
“Is there anything you’d like to say regarding your arrest?”
“No,” the boy says.
“Good job, Victor. You’ve officially been on one retrieval.” Victor eyes the boy nervously, who glances back at him. “Next.”
They drive through the city and eventually stop outside another house.
“Holly-“ Nate starts, checking his phone again.
“I know,” Holly says, leaning on the wheel again.
“If he’s here to observe, shouldn’t he come out and actually watch instead of sitting in the van?” Masha asks.
Nate frowns. “Do you want to?” he asks Victor.
“Not really,” Victor says.
Masha looks surprised. “It’s safe. Get out,” Nate says.
Victor carefully gets out the van, giving the boy in the green shirt a wide berth. The boy looks resigned, staring up at the ceiling.
The crew gather around the front door. One of the twins stops to pet a cat in the garden. “This one’s the electro so Masha and I will take lead,” Nate says. “Right,” Dipak says.
Nate begins banging on the front door. “Use the doorbell, Nathan,” Nirav says, gesturing at the button right next to him.
The door opens to reveal and older woman in a blouse and a flowery skirt. At first she looks annoyed, but as she realises who Nate is she tries to close the door again. “What?” she demands, worriedly.
Nate is unfazed. “We’re looking for Arush Robinson,” he says.
“He’s not here,” the woman says.
“Yes, he is,” Nate says calmly.
“No!” the woman insists. “He’s at the-“
Nate sees someone in the depths of the house and speaks over her. “Arush.” The boy turns, wide-eyed, a spoonful of cereal in his mouth. He has thick, rust-coloured hair and a bright red jumper. “You have once chance to come peacefully.”
The boy promptly drops his bowl of cereal and sprints to the back of the house. “Fine,” Nate says. He runs after him and tackles him to the ground.
“Arush!” his mother yells. Masha barges inside, pushes her into the corner, and throws up a telk shield just as an enormous arc of electricity shoots towards them with a sharp KRAK.
Nate is crouched on Arush’s back, pinning him to the ground. “Get off me!” Arush yells, giving off waves of electricity. “Knock yourself out, kid. That’s not going to work,” Nate says mildly.
“Catch,” Masha calls, throwing him something. Nate reaches behind him, grabs it out of the air and loops it around Arush’s neck. The electricity immediately cuts out. Nate gets to his feet, leaving Arush lying defeated on the floor.
“Handcuffs, please, Masha,” Nate says.
Arush’s mum is still standing in the corner, hands over her mouth, looking horrified. As Masha hurries over with the handcuffs, Victor peers in.
“Is there anything you’d like to say regarding your arrest?” Nate asks.
“No…” says Arush.
His mum looks at Victor, shocked. “I’m, uh, I’m with them,” he says, pointing nervously.
Nate begins moving Arush, now on his feet, towards the car, hands on his shoulders. “Do you require immediate medical attention?” he says.
“Is that your mum?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Arush says quietly.
“You should apologise for the mess you just made,” Nate says.
Victor watches them go. Masha nudges him in the ribs with her elbow. “Fun, huh?” she grins.
“What did he do?” Victor asks weakly.
“Ran away from Miller,” Masha replies.
“That’s it??” he says.
“Yeah,” Masha says with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Happens a lot, but everyone’s trackable.
“He’s unlicensed and still under contract at Miller,” Nate says. “He could have caused a lot of damage.”
The twins point finger guns at Arush as he passes them. “Yer nicked,” Dipak grunts.
“That cryo we got was from Miller too,” Nate continues. “He was licensed, but all retrievals have to wear handcuffs in vehicles. Same with the inhibitor collar. Got it?”
“Why are you the ones going after Miller’s people?” Victor asks.
Nate pushes Arush into the back of the van. “It’s standard practice. Retrievals aren’t made by people from the facility they come from. Miller would come after anyone from Urquhart who went rogue. It keeps each facility accountable for their trainees and licensees.” He brings his phone out his pocket and checks his texts. “That’s why Urquhart is looking into the Miller fire as well.”
“The what?” asks Victor.
“The fire,” Nate says without looking up from his phone.
“Don’t you watch the news?” Nate frowns.
Victor shrugs and looks away. “Not really.”
“Whatever,” Nate says. “Let’s go. One more.” He leaves Victor looking back at Arush’s house, his mum standing weeping in the doorway.
Cut to the outside of the Earl housing units. Two crows perch on the outer wall, which is lined with old barbed wire. Inside, Sid and David are trying to wrestle a bed frame through a door. “No! You have to turn it!” David exclaims.
“It’s fine, I know what I’m doing,” Sid says calmly.
“Okay, but you don’t,” David snaps. “There’s no point pushing, there’s nowhere for it to go!”
Jo and Julia are sitting on a mattress, which is now lying on the floor. Julia’s crutches are lying next to her and she still has a little bit of egg on her elbow. “Maybe we should help them,” Jo says.
“Nah, this is funnier,” Julia says, grinning.
Sylvia, the blonde girl with the pointed nose, holds up a small grey backpack. “Will you be alright to carry this?” she asks Julia.
“Sure!” Julia says.
Julia stands up, holding onto her crutches, and slings the backpack over her shoulders. Sylvia presses her hands together and bows her head. “Thank you for letting me move to your unit, Jo,” she says.
“No worries,” Jo says with a smile. “I wasn’t going to make you stay here all by yourself.”
“Okay, if we turn it like this-“ Sid muses.
“Why don’t we just dismantle it?” David says exasperatedly.
“It’s faster this way, trust me,” Sid says.
“It’s really not faster,” says Sylvia.
“Sid, stop pushing like that, you’re going to break it!” Jo says, frowning.
“I’m not going to break it,” Sid says. They promptly snap a corner off the bed frame. “We can tape that bit back on,” they say, discarding it.
“Please dismantle the bed,” Sylvia says.
“Please,” David nearly shouts.
Cameron comes down the hall and squeezes past David and Sid into the room. “Hello, Cameron,” Sylvia says. “Could you take this box please?”
“Sure, just a - woah, hey,” Cameron exclaims, reaching for the backpack Julia is carrying. “Let me take that.”
“Haha, it’s fine, I’ve got it,” Julia says.
“You need to be careful!” Cameron says worriedly. “You don’t want to strain your leg any more.”
Julia bats his hand away, grimacing. “My shoulder isn’t my leg, Cameron.”
Jo begins lifting the mattress up with some wobbly telekinesis. She looks over her shoulder at Julia. “Everything okay?” she asks.
“It’s nothing,” Julia says. “Leg kinda twinges from mucking about in the medblock yesterday, that’s all.”
“I can’t believe I missed out on antics,” Jo says.
“I’ll invite you next time,” Julia says.
The kids file downstairs and out of the unit, carrying various boxes. Rachel is waiting out in the hall. “Is that everything?” she asks.
“Yes, Ms Hofstee,” Sylvia says.
Rachel begins typing a code into the panel next to the door. Julia lingers behind to watch, but Rachel notices her.
“Can I help you?” she smiles. Julia just smiles back.
She slowly makes her way down the hall to a different unit. Cameron waits for her by the door as the other kids continue speaking.
“Oh!” Jo says excitedly. “We should have a moving-in party!”
“Yeah!!” Sid shouts.
“I only moved to the other side of the building,” Sylvia says.
“Yes, but you moved to my unit. I’m throwing you a party,” Jo says decisively.
“I live here too,” Cameron pipes up.
“Barely,” Jo says through gritted teeth. “We can make it a farewell party for Scott too!”
“He’s already gone,” Sylvia says.
“A good-riddance party, then,” Sid says. They are sitting on the newly installed bed with David.
“That isn’t very nice,” Sylvia says sternly.
“I’m sure he was a tippity-top flatmate,” Sid says mildly.
“Why have you got so much stuff?” David asks, looking over the piles of boxes. “You’ve been here for like three months.”
“It’s my art supplies,” Sylvia says brightly.
Julia finally reaches the bedroom and drops the backpack on the floor. She looks back to the stairs, thinking.
“You don’t need ten boxes of art supplies,” David says.
“OH!” Julia says loudly in mock surprise. “I forgot something!” She scurries away. “Back in a sec.”
“What is it?” Cameron calls after her.
“Nothing, nothing,” she says. “Be right back.”
She sneaks back down the hall to the unit Rachel just locked and draws a screwdriver out her pocket. Then her eyes go wide as someone behind her says, “Put your hands up.”
Julia whirls around, a panicked look in her eye, saying, "AAA NO WHAT I WASN'T DOING ANYTHING I WAS-"
She stops talking. There is no one else in the hall.
She pasues, processing this, but then she hears someone: "Hahaha, you should see your face right now."
"NEIL!" she barks.
"What are you even up to?" Neil says, still invisible.
"None of your business!" Julia snaps. "Get lost!" She waves her hand in the air, trying to slap him away.
"You can't tell me to get lost if you don't even know where I am!" Neil says smugly. "Wooo, spooky disembodied voice, ooo- OW!" he exclaims as Julia lashes out with one of her crutches. It whacks him right in the shin.
"Oops," Julia says.
Neil crouches down, a tear leaking from his eye, clutching his shin. "The punishment does not fit the crime," he says weakly.
"Thanks for helping us move Sylvia's stuff, by the way," Julia says, poking him with her crutch.
Neil sits down on the ground. "Me and Toby were on cleaning duty."
"Oh, excuses, excuses!" Julia grins.
"Oh, changing the subject!" Neil retorts.
They glare at each other for a moment before Julia breaks. "Okay so I was trying to see if I could break back into Sylvia's unit," she says, pointing at the number pad next to the door.
"Nice. Why?" Neil asks.
"Laughs," Julia says.
"Cool," Neil says.
"Don't tell anyone," Julia says pocketing her screwdriver as Toby turns the corner.
"I won't," Neil says with a sigh.
"And stop sneaking up on people," Julia adds.
"I... maybe," says Neil.
Julia jabs a finger into his cheek. "Aye, you will," she says sternly.
"I said maybe," Neil says.
Julia presses her finger harder against Neil's face. "Say okay!" she demands.
"Mmmmnnnnn," Neil mutters, looking away.
Toby passes the pair as they wrestle on the ground. Julia grabs Neil's cheeks and is pulling at his face. "Toby! Mate!" Neil pleads.
"Keep walking, Toby," says Julia.
"Toby, you need to save me," Neil says.
"Toby," Julia says.
Toby gives them both a thumbs up. "Oh, I'm definitely not getting involved," he says brightly. He opens the door to his unit. "Cheers though."
Julia winks at him. "Love you, Toby!" From the floor, Neil points a furious finger in Toby's direction and exclaims, "You are dead to me, Toby."
"That's nice," Toby says as he disappears into the unit.
Julia presses her hand against Neil's face again. "Come help Sylvia unpack," she says. Neil groans.
An immediate cut to a dark alleway There is rubbish scattered around the scene. Nate is crouched in the forground, examining a blood splatter with a small chunk of flesh on the ground. In the distance, Victor stands with Masha, Nirav, and Dipak, watching Nate.
Nate stands, holding something in his hand. "We got a chip," he calls back.
"Gross," Dipak says, grinning. Masha looks slightly more concerned.
"That's... a lot of blood," she says warily.
Nate turns back to them. "I want Holly out for this one. Deep, you watch the van."
Dipak wilts. "Aw, bum."
"Should I go back too?" Victor asks.
"Do what you want," Nate says dismissively.
"Yeah," Victor says, "I think I'll-"
He jumps as Masha slaps an arm around him. "Nah, he'll stay," she says loudly, but Victor shrugs out of her grasp.
"Uh," he starts to say, but stops when Holly appears and throws an arm around him instead.
"What's going on?" she says calmly, oblivious to Victor's discomfort.
"Bio's pulled his chip out," Nate replies. "There's blood all over the place. It's obviously fresh. He'll be about, just keep your eyes peeled."
Nirav snorts and pulls their eyes open wide. "Yes, sir," they say. Victor glances down at his hands, squeezing them together.
As they start walkign down the alley, Nate turns to Victor. "Did you finish reading the folder?"
Victor ducks out from under Holly's arm and trails behind. "Not yet," he says.
"Well, hurry up," Nate says. "I've got more for you to read when we get back."
Victor leans towards him conspiratorilly. "...Nate," he says slowly, "is this all you do?"
"What, retrievals? Among other things," Nate says. "Why?"
Victor holds his arm and looks away. "I dunno, you've just never told me anything about your job."
"You trained at Urquhart. You know what we do," Nate replies.
"Yeah, but..." Victor trails off. "Nevermind." "What did you want me to tell you?" Nate asks exasperatedly. Ahead of them, Masha cheers on Nirav as they run towards something in the distance.
"I don't know!" Victor says. "You never even told me Masha would be here."
"Masha's been on the team for three years," Nate says, holding up three fingers.
"Yeah, see, I didn't know that? You never told me that??" Victor says, frustrated.
"Is there a problem?" Nate asks.
Victor shrugs. "No, it's just kinda awkard."
"Jesus. Grow up," Nate says.
"Nate!" Masha shouts from further along the alley. "Got a lot more blood over here!"
"Haha, ewww," Nirav says.
Nate puts his hands on his hips as they approach. "Oh, come on. The hell did this guy do?" he says. Victor reacts with far more emotion, staring wide-eyed at the scene.
Masha and Nirav are crouched by another large splatter of blood, scattered with white fragments. Nirav points at one of the fragments and says, "I think that's a bit of bone."
Victor backs away, saying, "Okay, no, sorry, that's it, I'm done, I'm out. I'm going back to the van."
"Don't get lost," Nate calls after him.
"No bones about it! That's a bone," Nirav announces. Masha chastises them.
"Why don't you get lost," Victor mutters. He clicks a discarded can with a satisfying KLAK. As it rolls away, he hears a shuffling noise behind a large skip. He looks up, caught off guard, and slowly looks towards the source of the noise.
There is a strange shape crouched bheind the skip, covered in streaks of blood. Victor stares, horrified, and takes a step back. "Nate," he says quietly. The figure turns to see him; it's a boy in a green shirt, cluching his shoulder. There are bloody white spikes protruding from his arm, head, and cheek. He looks a mixture of furious and terrified.
Victor raises a quivering finger and points at him. "Uh! Um!! Nate!!" he says. He finally finds his voice and whirls to shout down the alley: "Nate!! Nate, the- there's the-"
"Stop yelling," Nate says as he saunters towards Vic.
"There's someone down there!" Vic insists. "They look hurt!"
"Where?" Nate asks, unimpressed.
"There, down there, I just saw them," Victor screeches, clutching his face and pointing.
The boy leans forward, breathing heavily. He clutches his deformed, swollen arm. It is purpled with bruising and studded with the white spikes. His shirt is patched with dried blood. As he tilts, a dogtag necklace swings from his neck. At the other end of the alley, Nate calmly calls to him.
“Shit,” the boy mumbles, staggering to his feet.
“Ben,” Nate repeats. “You have one chance to come peacefully.
The boy keens, his back turned. Nate cautiously approaches and raises a hand to touch his shoulder. “Ben.”
The boy whirls around. “Don’t touch me!!” he snarls. A cluster of spikes is bursting from what used to be his left eye socket and blood courses down his cheek.
“Okay, what the hell is that,” Victor says shrilly, stepping back.
Nirav appears at his side. They don’t look concerned, just mildly interested. “Bone,” they say.
“Bone?!” Victor shrieks.
Nate looks back at his team, now gathered around Vic. “Masha, I need you to hold him,” he says urgently.
Ben clutches his head as Masha begins to form her telekinetic hold around him. “Heh…” he chuckles, panicked. “Heheheh… No!” He breaks out of the weak hold, suddenly furious.
Nate gives Masha the sideeye as Ben clutches his mutated arm again. “He’s a weird shape,” Masha says uncertainly. “He’s hard to hold.”
“Just kinda scoop him,” Nirav suggests.
Ben bends over, grimacing. “Ow, shit… fuck…”
“Listen, Ben,” Nate says, putting his hands up. “Calm down. You know you can’t run. We’re going to take you to Urquhart.”
“No,” Ben says quietly.
Masha calls out. “Nate, the collar won’t fit but I’ve got tranq.”
Ben’s head snaps up as Nate replies, “That’s fine. Tranq him.”
“Okay, hold on.” Masha begins rooting through her bag for the tranquiliser, but before she can find it Ben takes off. He shoves a gate open with a BANG and starts sprinting away. Nate shouts after him. Vic has been watching the proceedings through a crack in his fingers and as soon as Ben starts running he screams.
“Get after him!” Nate bellows.
The team take chase. Masha leaps into the air, propelling herself forward with her telekinesis. Nirav laughs maniacally as they gather a fistful of flames.
As they head after Ben, Nate whips around to face Vic and points furiously at him. “Keep up! Do not fall behind!”
Vic recoils. “But I was heading back to the va-“
“Keep up!” Nate disappears. Vic starts to run after him, muttering under his breath. “Shit, shit, shit.”
Ben’s feet pound on the cobblestones as he runs, his shoes splattered with his own blood. He bursts from the alley onto a street, startling a passing shopper. A car honks at him as he darts onto the road and nearly knocks him over; he slips past the car, panting, and tries to dodge down another side street. Nirav is close behind him. “Nah, mate!” they call. They throw out their hands and two streaks of flame shoot past Ben. WHOOMPH!! Ben’s path is blocked by the burst of fire. He screeches to a halt, the flames illuminating his terrified face.
Masha flies in, landing neatly behind him in a crouch and smiling determinedly. She reaches out with her telk, grabs Ben’s leg, and pulls. His leg sweeps from underneath him and sends him crashing to the floor, snapping off one of the spkes of bone jutting from his head.
Masha looms over him, the tranquiliser syringe hovering before her. “Don’t move,” she says.
Nirav pokes out from behind her. “Ha ha, yeah.”
Masha telk-forces Ben’s head to the side as she brings the tranquiliser close to his neck, but he grabs it with his deformed hand and tosses it to the side. It smashes on the ground. Ben grins wildly as he gets to his feet.
“Come on, then!” he says. “Don’t just stand there!” The two Urquhart officers stand there, staring at him defiantly. “You’re not gonna come near me, are you?” Ben says in triumph. “What you gonna do? Do you think I’m scared of you?” Mash and Nirav step aside with knowing smiles as Holly marches down the alley towards Ben. She grabs his shirt and lifts him into the air. “Yes,” she says. Ben dangles from her grip, suddenly panicking. “Let go! Or I’ll make you sorry!” He kicks at her fruitlessly. “Let go, let go, let go!!” Holly holds out her hand, not breaking eye contact with Ben. “Give me a tranq.”
“Ha,” Ben says weakly. “Ha ha ha. Okay.”
He presses his hand to Holly’s face and suddenly her nerves are set ablaze with pain. She reels back, nearly rendered blind with agony. Ben falls to the floor.
“See?” he grins, pointing at the other Urquhart officers. “I warned you! That’s what you get! You want to fucking go? Just try me!”
“Masha,” Holly says in a cracked voice.
Ben’s face falls. “What.”
Holly straightens up and holds out her hand again. She grits her teeth against the pain. “Give me a tranq.”
“NO, LET ME GO!!” Ben shrieks, wrestling desperately against Holly’s grip. His eyes go wide as Holly jams the tranquiliser into his neck, then he drops to the floor, completely still. Holly glares a thim.
“Holly? Are you okay?” Masha asks.
Holly turns to face her, her expression bright and cheerful again. “I’m fine,” she assures Masha. “Just a nerve trigger.
A crowd has gathered at the end of the side street. Nate raises his arms to warn people back. “What’s happening?” the onlookers clamour. “Are you from Urquhart?”
“Everyone back up,” Nate says. “Don’t come any closer.”
“What’s going on?”
“That was so dangerous!”
“Someone could have gotten hurt!”
“You’re more than welcome to call and complain,” Nate says wearily.
Nirav skips down the street towards him. “Hey, captain! Did you see how cool that was? He was running and I was like swoosh!” Nirav’s hands crackle with flames.
“I saw, it was pretty cool,” Nate says with a smile.
Holly approaches with Ben slung over her shoulder. “He’s out.”
“Great work,” says Nate. He claps a hand on Nirav’s shoulder.
“Where’s Victor?” Masha asks.
Vic is standing on the other side of the street, watching the goings-on with an unsettled expression. Nate leads the group back over to him.
“I told you to keep up,” Nate says, irritated.
Vic looks away. “Mm.”
“Aww, you weren’t watching?” Nirav says. Holly puts a friendly arm around Vic and he shrinks away from her.
To be continued!