Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…
When you regain consciousness the sudden flood if sensory input hits your brain and hits hard.
The sounds you hear are too loud, the odors you smell are too strong, the colors of heat you see are too bright.
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…
"Uugghhh…" You groan and roll over. The sweet smell of the tetrachloromethane still lingers in the air, but it's no longer strong enough to keep you under.
Wait… Where's Vriska? And where were the other hybrids?
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep-
And for the love of Jesus Christ where was that incessant beeping coming from?!
No matter which way you turn it always seems to be coming from just off your right side. You squeeze your hands against your ears and snarl in aggravation. When you find out where that beeping is coming from you're gonna-!
Just then you remember your collar. So that's what it is. You push the top button.
"Argh! What? What do you want? Whatever it is I'll give it to you! Just make the beeping stop!"
"Ten Twenty-five!" The voice through the collar sounds surprised that you answered. You hear a quiet, "Sir, we've made contact," as the speaker talks to someone away from the mic.
"Ten Twenty-five, we've been tracking your and Eight Eighty-eight's movements and you've ceased progression for over five hours. What is your status report?"
"I was jumped from above by one of the little feathered fuckers and had my face shoved into a chloroform soaked rag," you grumble. "Ugh, I can still detect some vapors of it in the air. That's probably what kept me out for so long."
The man on the other end of the radio doesn't respond. You hear him mumbling something to someone away from the microphone. Suddenly the man is replaced and a new voice is speaking to you. A familiar voice. An impassive voice.
"Hello experiment Ten Twenty-five."
"Heh. What's up, Doc?"
"You claimed to have encountered one of the escaped hybrids. How did this run in go about?"
"Well, we managed to catch up to the little Houdinis. We even managed to net the dog girl. I was about to drug the felidae one when, as I said, one of your avian creations decided to use me as a landing pad! Nocked my face right into the Sweet Sleep…"
"I assume that's what caused you to be K-Oed for the last five hours then? Tell me, what has become of the experiments?"
"What do you think, Scratch? They got away while they could. And I bet-" you break off for a moment to pat yourself down. "Yep. They jacked us too."
"Have you any idea in which they are headed?" Scratch goes on.
"Doc, I just woke up. Do you think I know what's going on?"
"I expected more from you, Ten Twenty-five. You boasted you would have them apprehended before sunset and now that marker has passed. In fact, after hearing this report on how you let your quarry get away, I'm beginning to question your competence."
"Listen here, Scratch!" You hiss, feeling offended. "We will catch those sorry sons and daughters of bitches and return their goddamned asses back to you within the thirty days you allotted us! So stop getting your vanilla scented panties in a twist and let us do our job! Good day to you sir!"
You disconnect the conversation and take a minute to seethe in anger. Lousy god damn stupid director. Lousy god damn stupid experiments! You shake and flex your body, regaining your motor skills and forcing the chloroform to wear off faster. Then, nose turned up, you begin to search for your accomplice.
You wonder in a small circle, trying to pick up a scent, but no luck. UGH! You can't smell anything! God, you hope long exposure to chloroform doesn't damage one's olfactory senses. If you lost your sense of smell you'd be practically twice as blind as you already were.
As if to prove a point, you suddenly trip over something hard and lumpy. Oh, there's Vriska.
"Vriska. Vriska, wake up." Your partner is unresponsive. Uh oh. That can't be good. Squinting your eyes, you check her over. Her heat signature is cold- much too cold for arachnid or human. No wonder you didn't see her. You grip her wrist. She has a pulse, but it's slow and shallow. Her body's gone into a hibernation state, a survival mode, but she can't last like this for long. She needs help and fast.
Heat. She needs to warm up and to warm up she needs heat. You know, you'll start a fire! Yeah! That'll warm her up! But wait… you were both removed of your matches. Shit…
"Hang in there, Vriska," you mutter as you hug her to share what heat you could offer. "I'll think of something." It didn't make sense. Reptiles go into hibernation just like insects do if they got too cold, so why weren't you going into survival mode?
Were your human genes dominant enough to give you the power of homeostasis, or did dragon DNA have some sort of self-creating heat system?
Hmm… Dragons creating heat… you wonder…
"Hold tight, Vriska. I gotta collect some kindling," you tell her even though you know she can't hear you. "I think I found a solution.
The sensation of warmth arouses you. You open your eyes to a small fire. Terezi's sitting across from you, blowing on the fire to make it bigger. No, wait… she's literally blowing fire.
"What the fuck? You can breathe fire?!" you exclaim drowsily.
"Oh, hey. You're awake!" Your partner's voice is terribly coarse and croaky. She tries to clear her throat before speaking again. "Yeah, I had never tried before but apparently I can. It's tearing up my throat and makes it hard to breathe, though."
"Then why don't you fucking stop?" you scold.
"You were dangerously cold. If I hadn't done something you would have died."
"Ugh! Why'd you have to save my ass? You should've just let me die. At least that way I wouldn't have to deal with any more of B.E.T.A.'s shit." Despite saying all this, you were extremely grateful Terezi saved your life. But you weren't about to admit that any time soon. You really would rather die than put yourself in someone's debt.
"Well, God. You're fucking welcome." Terezi huffs and turns away from you with arms crossed.
"Ssssoooo…" you say after a length. "How much did I miss while I was out?"
"Eh. The experiments got away, Scratch called, he's pissed at us, and I told him to fuck off." Terezi says nonchalantly.
"Maybe… maybe it's better things happened this way, Vriska," Terezi says while absentmindedly drawing scribbles in the dirt with her claw. "At least now we get to stay out longer."
"Truuuuue. But the fast we get them back the better it'll look for us."
"Why are you making such a big deal on how it will look for us?" The dragon hybrid sneers. "You know they don't give two shits about how fast we do it as long as they get the results they want, so who are you trying to impress?"
"I'm not trying to impressss anybody!" You argue. "I just want to get this whole thing fucking over with already so I can get this fucking collar off."
"Vriska, have you forgotten we may never get another chance like this again? I say forget the fucking collar. Forget the fucking escapists even! We should just screw around for a while and catch them when the month's almost up. You know, make the most of it."
"If you want to do that, Terezi, then be my guest. But if you get punished for wasting time it'll be your own fucking fault."
Terezi sighs. "You always were a fucking joy killer. Anyway, let's just forget about it for now. It's too cold and I'm too tired to argue with you. We might as well just camp here for tonight and decide what to do in the morning."
"Fine by me."
With a scoop of dirt, Terezi extinguishes the flame and you both bed down for the night.
"So what's your story?" The elderly man asks after he shuts the door behind you.
"We are… were… experiments in a research lab," you hesitantly begin.
You and your friends stand in a small living room, taking in your surroundings. In the small den there's a well-worn armchair, a couch and a fireplace that's ablaze. The kitchen is directly attached to the living room, only a few steps to the right. It only consists of a small fridge and ice box, sink, gas stove, toaster oven and a table with room for four. (Or, it could seat four if three of the chairs and three fourths of the table top weren't covered with papers and junk).
The old man hobbles over to the worn armchair and takes a seat. Despite the heat in the room he doesn't take off the heavy trench coat he's wearing.
"We were created to one day fight Lusii, but we escaped and now we're just trying to find a safe place to hide-"
"Hold on," the man interrupts. "You mean to tell me you were transformed into what you were now?"
"Well, duh," says Dave. "What, do you think we were born this way?"
The old man looks away and creases his brow even more than it already was. He says nothing to Dave's statement.
"We followed the trail of smoke we saw coming from your house. There were two more experiments sent to track us down and bring us back, but we think we lost them for now. We're trying to find the city, actually. Do you… do you think you could point us in the right direction?"
"That depends," the elderly man puffs. "What do you plan to do once you get there?"
"Well, uh, hopefully find something to eat first."
"And then what? Wonder around for the entire world to see? Kids, if you don't have a plan of action, you'll find yourself back at that laboratory faster than you can blink."
At a loss for words, you don't say anything. Somebody's stomach rumbles. You think it was yours.
"When's the last time any of you have eaten?" Your host asks.
"Nothing substantial for quite some time," Rose says.
The man hoists himself out of his chair and lumbers over to the kitchen. He searches through the cupboards, pulls out some cans then opens the fridge and takes out some fruit.
"I've got some apples and oranges and a few cans of stew. Can you eat that?"
"Y-yes," you stutter, a bit abashed by the man's generosity.
"Sorry it's not a whole lot. I usually don't have to feet four." He lights the gas stove and set a pot on it to heat the stew then passes out the fruit.
"Th-thank you, Mister… um," It occurs to you that you don't even know your host's name.
"Vantas," he mumbles. "My name is Karkat Vantas."
"Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Vantas."
"Don't mention it."
"So, now that your stomachs are full and your minds are off food, have you figured out what you're going to do when you get to the city?" Karkat asks you after you've finished eating.
"I guess we'll just try and live there unnoticed," Dirk suggests.
"Yeah, good fucking luck with that," Karkat scoffs. "Not one of you looks a day older than thirteen. You're all still just kids. With the child labor laws here, you'd never be able to find work to support yourselves, even if you didn't have all those feathers and fur and tails. What you need is an adult to take you in."
You, Rose, Dave and Dirk look at Karkat hopefully.
"Oh… oh, no! Not me. I'm too old and I'm a hermit. I just want to be left alone and I only go into the city when I need to. If I allowed you to stay I'd have to start buying more food and supplies. People will question that kind of thing and I don't want to deal with the bullshit that'll follow."
"Then… do you by any chance know of someone in the city we can go to?"
Karkat shakes his head slowly. "I'm afraid I don't. Sorry."
"Oh…" you say a bi crestfallen.
"But," Karkat adds. "There is one thing I can help you with."
Curiously, the four of you watch as Karkat pulls himself out of his chair once again and heads into his bedroom. The sounds of grunts and shuffling items soon follow and before long your host returns, arms laden with… clothes?
"I can't assure you safety in the city, but I can do something to help you stay under the radar if you go there." He places the garments on the chair then holds the first one up for you to see. "These clothes should be long enough to cover up your… unique features.
"For you young ladies a long enough dress should be able to hid your tails, and a hat will cover your ears, and these heavy coats should be big enough to cover your wings," he nods to Dirk and Dave. "As for all your hands and feet, I've got a few long gloves and one or two pairs of boots, but I don't know how well they'll fit."
Karkat wastes no time passing out jackets and hats and socks and pants for all of you to try on. He's throwing clothes at you so fast and you're all a bit overwhelmed by his eagerness to help you.
"Why are you so willing to help us?" Dave asks when he gets a chance. "Do you really care what becomes of us once we reach the city, or do you just want to get us out of your house?"
"That's rather rude, don't you think bro?" Dirk reprimands him. "I think we should be grateful someone is willing to help us when we can't help ourselves."
"No, it's fine," Karkat says to Dirk. "It's good he's suspicious of other's motives. That kind of awareness could save your life in the city. I speak from experience. But if you want to know why I'm doing all this for you, well," He trails off for a minute, looking out the window into the night. "It's because I was in a very similar position you are all in when I was your age. I could've used a helping hand, but no one was there for me. Had to figure shit out all by myself. Maybe you won't have to go through the same problems I had to if you get a little help."
"Gosh… thank you…" You say.
"Don't mention it." Karkat slowly limps over to the door of his room. His age clearly shows after all the moving and work his body has done today. He stops in the door and turns to the four of you.
"One last thing. I can only offer you one night's respite. It's too crowded in here for five and I can't spare much more food. Where ever you decide to go, I want you out by morning, got it?" You all nod in agreement. "Good. Goodnight." With that, Karkat shuts the door to his room, leaving you alone in the den.
"We got lucky," Dirk says once he shuts the door. "Of all the possibilities from our encounter, he ended up helping us. I sure hope we can find someone in the city who will do the same."
"I guess we won't know until we get there," Dave sighs as he spreads out on the floor. Dirk joins him while Rose curls up in the chair. You take to the couch and watch the dying embers of the fire in the hearth.
You've been out of B.E.T.A. labs for barely more than twenty-four hours and already you've escaped pursuers and found refuge. Tomorrow you'd be heading to the city, a whole new place with new situations, encounters and dangers.
Your friends would still be counting on you to guide them, but you would be just as lost as what to do once you got to the city as they would.
Would you be able to keep them safe? Would you be able to keep them together? Would you be able to find enough food and shelter for them? Even if you could, what would you do then? Sure, you're free… but what now?
You sigh and close your eyes. It was no use worrying about those problems until you came to them. For now you were safe. For now you could rest. And that's what you decided to do.
Hours after you bid your guests goodnight, you still find yourself awake, sitting on the corner of your bed, unable to sleep.
Those kids… Those kids.
Rarely do you see another face. You try to avoid them if you can. It's different when faces come looking for you. Usually they're just a nuisance; pranksters, ruffians, hooligans.
But those kids…
As silently as you can, you open the door and step into the main room. They're all asleep; the two boys on the carpeted floor, and the girls on the furniture.
You always knew there were more, deep in your heart. You knew you weren't the only one. Yet to see not one, but four…
You go back to your room and hobble over to your dresser and mirror. You study yourself for a long time; your greying hair, your wrinkling face, your yellowing eyes which hide the green of your irises, your hunched back.
Actually, it's not a hunch at all, or are you as elderly as you make out to be. All this… a ruse… a lie to protect who you truly are… what you truly are.
Slowly, delicately, you pull off the trench coat you wear to hide your true self, revealing the white crustacean shell that encases your body.
Those kids were just like you.