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Then came a thump from out in the hall, which at first Chiela thought was a thump from within the room because, honestly, who could tell the difference when the ship’s rocking was knocking everything sideways and off surfaces and into walls? This thump though was followed swiftly by - well it sounded like somebody was gargling in Russian, what was probably, based purely on context and tone, a string of inventive cursing. Chiela levered herself up onto her knees and, gripping the bed beside her with both hands, managed to peak over top of it to the door, which a woman had just staggered up against and was now leaning on heavily and gripping tightly. She looked - well, there was something just slightly off about her, her bone structure and the curve of her neck, and the spacing of her eyes and mouth, subtle difference but there all the same. More noticeably? She was freakishly tall. Like 6’5”, Chiela would be willing to bet.

She pulled one hand away from the door, curled it into a fist, and pounded against the wall.

“Hey, assholes,” she said, all that garbling resolving itself into something Chiela could understand, “Cut it out! I can’t fucking fly this thing with you two fighting!”

The ship gave another violent lurch and she fell over (again, if Chiela were interpreting the previous thumps correctly) which only brought on more of that strange garbling-and-probably-cursing. A, “Whoa!” from the other side of the room brought Chiela’s attention back to Nikolao and Pipra, the latter of whom was sprawled across the floor and the former of whom was grimacing with his eyes tightly closed and his hands clenched around a bed post. When he opened his eyes, again, Chiela was startled to find (okay, really, she was still more freaked out than anything else) that they were faintly luminescent. Suddenly the shadows were sliding away, retreating and dissolving, to reveal Terasu sprawled across the floor looking no happier than when she’d taken that first swing at Nikolao. The rocking, at least, had stopped, and Chiela was able to push herself up to her feet along with the rest of them.

“Okay,” she said, sounding shaky to her own ears - she went to scrub one hand through her hair before she remembered that, oh, right, she had talons. “I want an explanation, like, yesterday.”

“Oh,” Terasu said, as she finally managed to regain her footing, “This one’s all yours, Nikolao.”

“Oh! Oh!” Pipra said, “Let me!” and then barreled on before anyone could tell him otherwise, and, Jesus, he barely paused to breath and never once opened his eyes, “We’re, like, outcasts from our home planet - which was awful at first but turned out to be a good thing, okay, because it just got wiped out, only we weren’t there, so not everybody got wiped out - there’s some other ships, right, but now we’re, like, an endangered species, and the people who did the wiping out - these Xenomorphs, right - are totally trying to track us down. Which would be really, really bad news because then we’d be extinct.”

“Extinct,” Chiela echoed, faintly - hadn’t she said she didn’t want to know how much weirder this could get? - and then, because the beginning of that didn’t make much more sense than the end, she added, “Wait, wait, wait, why are you outcasts?”

“Oh my gosh!” Pipra said. “That’s the best part.” He took a few excited steps forward, so that he was poised halfway between Chiela and Terasu, with Nikolao, looking irritated - though he wasn’t interrupting him which must have meant something - at this back.

“Nikolao, “ Pipra said, “is a total mad scientist!” He raised his hands in Bela Lugosi claws and bared his teeth at Chiela. At that Nikolao bristled and looked as if he was going to interrupt, except Pipra looked back at him over his shoulder - or what would have been looking if his eyes weren’t still closed and what was up with that? - and said, “Oh my gosh, you know its true,” and Nikolao scowled but stayed silent.

“So, like,” he continued, “the war with the Xenomorhps was going so, so bad, and the Council decided they needed a back-up plan, like, yesterday. And the brass picked out Nikolao,” he gestured back at Nikolao with one hand, who looked no more thrilled than he hand a minute ago, “because of his mad science!!” He drew the two words out nearly to eight syllables. “He tried genetic enhancement first, right. And he got me!”

Chiela must have looked as skeptical as she felt because Pipra went, “No really, watch this!” and grabbed one of the nearby metal trays, the sort used to hold medical instruments, and bent it the fuck in half and then in half again and in half again. Looked like he could make origami out of that thing if he wanted.

“And, oh!” he said, “This is even cooler.”

He looked to be concentrating hard on something and then he was dissipating like mist in the sun - the spoctopus fell to the floor with a gurgling yelp and started flailing all its limbs at once - a swirl that engulfed Nikolao, then faded. Suddenly, Nikolao set his hands on his cocked hips and beamed which was causing Chiela some real cognitive dissonance, being that she’d bet Nikolao never smiled like that of his own free will. And the next moment, Chiela’s suspicions were confirmed because Nikolao (or Pipra and, Jesus, her headache was just getting worse and worse), said, excitedly, “I can totally possess people, too! Before I could only read their minds, but now I’ve got, like, control.”

Nikolao breathed out that mist, again, and Pipra reformed where he’d been standing before. At his side, Nikolao was scowling fiercely and saying, “I’ve told you never to do that.”

“Blah blah blah,” Pipra said, making that little talking gesture with his hand which Chiela had never seen anyone do, again, who was over about 10 years old. “It’s your fault I can, in the first place.” He turned his attention back to Chiela and added, “I can totally fly, too. But I’m not very good at it. I run into things a lot. Like, all the time.” While he was talking the spoctopus had squirmed its way up his legs and over his belly and chest to reattach itself around Pipra’s neck. Pipra gave it an absent-minded pat with one hand and said, “But this little guy helps a lot.”

“What is that thing?” Chiela said - because she’d held that question back as long as she could - and was dismayed to find that all her freaked out came through in her voice. Pipra lay a protective hand over it, as if he could sense just how much Chiela wanted to squish it.

“He,” Pipra said, “is my eyes,” which made no sense at all until Nikolao cut in with, “The trials were a failure. He went blind,” and Pipra blinked his eyes open to reveal that those eyes were covered with a milky white film.

“Totally!” he said, “Which was awful. But then Nikolao made Cael for me and I can see again! We’re, like, genetic experiment buddies.”

“You made it?” Chiela said, turning to Nikolao, and Pipra interjected with a “Him,” that honestly did nothing to make the idea less freaky.

“Engineered,” Nikolao said, as if that were just the sort of thing people did, “And yes.”

“But why?” Chiela said.

Nikolao looked incredibly uncomfortable when he replied with a, “He went blind,” which Chiela guessed if she’d genetically engineered some dude to give him more super powers than he already had and made him go blind, in the process, the guilt might make her do crazy things, too. Hypothetically. Even hypothetically, though, she thought she’d have come up with a less freaky seeing-eye whatever-it-was. Spoctopus. And how did that even work. On second thought, she might as well say that out loud.

“But how does that even work?” she said, and she sounded a little more pleading than she’d like to have, as if she were hoping they’d make things make sense for her if only she asked the right questions. Probably nothing would make this make sense. And, Jesus, she had this awful itch between her shoulder blades and - God damn it - her wings were sprouting from her back totally without her permission.

Pipra looked totally unperturbed by the change when he said, “Cael’s psychic, too! Sort of. I mean he’s basically psychic. He, like, links up with a person by touch, right, so they see what he sees. Or, I see, I guess. Oh! Here, you can see,” and he glided across the room - because, as he said, he could fly, though, thankfully he didn’t run into her - to stand in front of Chiela, wound his hands in the spoctopus’s tentacles, pulled it off of himself, and plopped the thing onto Chiela’s shoulders before she could even protest. It immediately locked its tentacles around her neck and, oh, okay, that was a weird feeling, a really disorienting feeling, dizzying, and she closed her eyes against it, only she could still see, and not just in front of her or in her periphery but all around, the full 360 degrees, and it was kind of nauseating.

“Jesus,” she said, because apparently that was all she could think of, anymore.

“I know!” Pipra said, and he was still standing in front of her, gesturing wildly with his hands, and it was probably lucky he wasn’t taking someone out like that, being that he was blind. “You have to get used to it. But then it’s awesome.”

“Right,” Chiela said, “Okay, I’ll take your word for it. Would you mind taking it back now?”

Nikolao - who Chiela had honestly forgotten for a minute there - sighed gustily through his nose - like his life was so difficult, right? Let him wake up on a strange spaceship, turning into a God-damned lizard, with a bunch of kidnapping space flunkies, and a girlfriend who apparently had superpowers, and see how he liked it - and crossed the room, sidestepping Pipra neatly and unwinding the spoctopus from around Chiela’s neck, plopping it back on Pipra’s shoulders where it happily wound its tentacles around his neck. Pipra blinked a few times which made no sense to Chiela because it wasn’t like that would help him bring things into focus. He then brought a hand up to stroke across the spoctopus’ head - with all its freaky little unblinking eyes - and said, “That’s how it works.”



“That’s great, Pipra,” Terasu said and Chiela jumped, a bit, in surprise - she’d almost forgotten Terasu was there, too, “now why don’t you tell her what she’s doing in space,” and, oh, yeah, that really should have been the first question that Chiela asked.

“Yeah,” Chiela said, “What the hell am I doing here? And what’d you do to me?” she shook - or attempted to shake, though she didn’t have a terrible lot of control - her wings to emphasize the point. Nikolao looked unmoved by and unimpressed with the whole situation, which kind of made Chiela want to slug him. So maybe he really was just used to people wanting to take a swing at him.

“You’re here,” Nikolao said, “because you transformed in the middle of an orchard, with seven eyewitnesses, all of whom could have attested to the fact that you’re a… I believe the Earth word for it is dragon.” And, Jesus, there was the word Chiela had been carefully avoiding up to now, “I’m not entirely familiar with Earth’s culture, but I thought that leaving you there, like that, might make things… unpleasant for you.”

“Well,” Chiela said, “Yeah, I guess.” Because, just as she’d thought before, they had a bunker for this kind of thing and she didn’t want to be taken there. Although she also didn’t want to be in space with a guy who’d just confirmed the fact that yeah, she was turning into a dragon, and his lover who was blind and crazy and - well, Chiela didn’t know what to think of the other girl, whatever her name was. She hadn’t said much - or anything - since she’d come stumbling into the room to break up the super powered fight that Nikolao and Terasu had been having and even now she was standing silently in the doorway and hold on a second -

“Aren’t you supposed to be flying this thing?” Chiela said because, hell, she might not like being on a strange spaceship but she’d like even less to be on that ship when it crashed into a comet or something.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the girl said, as if that were unnecessary nagging or something which it totally wasn’t. She gave Terasu and Nikolao a last distrustful look and said, “If you’re going to fight, leave the ship out of it,” and then turned from the door, seeming suddenly to shrink down upon herself and… and turned into a big-ass cat with wings and stalked down the hall and out of sight. What the hell. Seriously, what the hell. As a matter of fact Chiela was going to say that out loud.

“What the hell,” she said

“Actually,” Terasu said, still watching the doorway, as if she expected the girl, her freaky big-ass cat self, to appear once again, “I’d like to know, too.”

“That’s Venka!” Pipra said, and at least now Chiela had a name to go with the freaky big-ass cat. Jesus. “She’s awesome! She was a resistance fighter before the Xenomorphs found out. She totally had to pull a runner. We crashed into her! She’s a way better pilot that Nikolao.” None of which made sense to Chiela. And Terasu was just watching Pipra with both eyebrows raised, so maybe it hadn’t meant much to her either.

“There was a counter-movement among the Xenomorphs before they attacked Amah,” Nikolao said. “Venka was one of their leaders. She was discovered and had to flee. We found her in the Alpha Deltori complex,” although Pipra was still totally mouthing crashed into her behind his back, “And,” he added sounding aggrieved, “I’m a perfectly sufficient pilot.”

“Yeah,” Pipra said, “for C class, maybe.”

“Okay, right,” Chiela said, not asking what C class meant because she figured it didn’t matter as much as what she was doing in space and what was going to happen next. “So you can just put me back now.”

“I’m afraid,” Nikolao said, “that I can’t do that.”
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