The girl woke up, her hazel eyes focusing on a single fisheye lens.
"Whaaaaaaa....?" she said in a groggy voice. "Where is this?"
"I'll be asking the questions," said a metallic voice echoing from the spider-like robot with one eye.
The girl looked down and noticed she was strapped to a chair. The only other thing besides her and the robot was a long table. The room was pure white and cleaned to where not even a speck of dust could be spotted. Where's my brother? Did the CIA capture me or something?
"Were you bitten?" the metallic voice asked. "I can detect any falsehood, so, make sure, to tell the truth.
"B-bitten? Like by a dog? My apartment wouldn't let us have pets so..."
"Do you not understand?"
She shook her head. "Not really. I was just in my house and then my brother came home and... Oh, he was puking up some nasty purple stuff, and then I passed out! Did you take him for inspection or something? Please let me see him!"
The robot veered backward, its long appendages digging into the table. The robot went silent for some time, a hidden conversation playing out in another room while the girl waited. Then the robot skittered forward again, causing the bound girl to flinch.
"What is your name?"
"Oh, um, Shira Goldstein. nice to meet you spider bot."
"And Shira...what year is it?"
She tilted her head, puzzled. "What kind of question is that? It's obviously 2015. I may have blacked out, but the year only started last month. Can I see my brother now?"
More silence permeated the room.
"Your brother is likely deceased. As you should be if your records are anything to go by."
Shira's jaw fell open. "'Deceased'... Um, like...dead?" She glanced down at her body. "Is this...heaven?"
"No, but it is 2025. We are in the midst of a global pandemic."
"What? Really? But how can that be? It was just 2015. Was that why you were asking if I was 'bitten'? Are there zombies now?" A sudden realization seemed to dawn on her, causing her mouth to widen. "Are there zombie superheroes?!"
The robot, IXILON, went silent once more.
Cypher rubbed the concealed head. "Can you explain what happened one more?" She gazed back towards the monitor that oversaw one of their sterilization rooms. A lone girl was strapped to a chair, running her mouth about any and everything.
Kage sighed. "It's like I told you. I found her resting next to where Wire was supposed to be. You don't think she...?"
"Unlikely. Nothing she has said was a lie. She really believes it's 2015."
Kage grimaced. "Then where did she come from? A time machine or something?"
"If the cameras in the generator room didn't short circuit, I would have an answer for you. Unfortunately, information is the one thing we lack."
"Well, if she isn't bitten. Then should I just let her out and have Jacky take care of her?"
"That won't be necessary...yet."
"What do you mean?"
"IXILON detected something abnormal in her brain. It resonates with her whole body but lives off of her. It's like she's hosting something, but I can detect any actual body. It's more likely that her entire body is a part of the unknown entity..."
"This is getting a little too sciency for my taste. Could it be that wormy creature from your database?"
"Karavak? IXILON could easily locate a brain-dweller like the... Ah...." She clutched her head. "Sorry."
"You've been getting headaches too?"
She nodded. "It happened last during the attack. I saw something in one of the cameras, but I can't seem to recall it."
"It happened to me when I was talking about a...place. But which place was it?"
"Let's table that for later. As for what to do with the girl. Have Artoria check her out. If she gives the okay, you can drop her off with Jacky. Just make sure she has a vacant bed. After today, there should be some..."
"Yeah..." They had lost 8 people during the attack today before Kage and Asad could resell them and repair the barrier. At least they didn't have to shoot anyone this time. They had been torn to shreds by the sheer voracity of a Corpse under the rain.
"Alright. I'll get to it. Kage got ready to warp. How strange is all of this? The headaches, the kid, the ruptured wall. Why is it all happening now?
Kage had no answer to his thoughts and he knew Cypher didn't either. That was new. She usually knew everything.
"So here's where you will be staying from now on," Kage said, patting the small bed. "This is a place for kids without parents and those who are recovering. Any questions before I dip?"
She nodded vigorously. "Can I get your autograph? I never imagined seeing the Kage in the flesh. Can you do the little teleport thing for me, please? Please?!"
"Uh... Maybe later. We also don't have a lot of paper right now." He patted her head. "Listen, just follow what Jacky says. You'll get three decent meals a day and have some books and shi—I mean—stuff to read and do. Just be a good girl."
"You don't look very happy. What's up? I don't wanna drop our troubles on you, but you should know it's a pretty sweet deal. Children have it good here. Just make sure to eat your veggies."
She looked down, holding the hem of her dress. "It's... Well... My brother... Is he really gone?"
Jeez. She asked about him before her own parents. Guess she wasn't close with them. But I would have asked the same thing if I was in her position.
He thought back to what Cypher had pulled up when she searched up his name. "He's been missing since February 10th of 2015. The same day this girl had supposedly disappeared," she said. "There's a good chance he kidnapped her and killed her in some remote location. They never found a body, but it's more plausible than her being the exact same age as she was before. Unless it's someone else in disguise."
"Like Shifter or Doppel? I think IXILON would notice that, right?"
She nodded. "Whatever it may be, Shira Goldstein is an anomaly. What happened to her brother is something of our concern. Just say he's missing."
Missing, huh? Isn't that worse than telling her he's dead? After all, hope could be a lot worse than despair at times.
"...He's missing, but it's likely that he really is gone. Most of the world is at this point, even guys and girls like me. That's the even scarier part." I'll leave out the part about suspected murder.
"Okay," she said after a few seconds. "Thanks, Mr. Kage."
He gave her a thumbs up. "Don't worry about it, kid. Just focus on living like the rest of us. You can talk to me whenever I'm in District One, but don't ever wander to the outer gates. And don't ever leave this place at night. There have been a few disappearances over the past few months."
"Scary..., but I understand."
"See ya. I'll show you a warp as a little gift for being such a good little girl. Peace."
The air around him converged, pulsating like a heart until it enveloped his body like a thick veil. And just like that, he was gone.
Around midnight, Shira awoke from her slumber like a robot following its commands. She climbed out of the window and slid down a pole on the second story of the mansion that acted as the Refuge's orphanage. She walked for a good ten minutes before coming upon District Three. Miraculously, no one had spotted her on the way here, despite cameras and guards both being posted.
She meandered until she came upon a large opulent home—the exact one that Kage had wanted people to move into. She tried the lock, but when it didn't budge, she forced it too through brute strength that did not belong within an 11-year-old.
As she got inside, she clicked her tongue. "You can come out now. I know you have been watching us since I got here."
A lone figure entered from the darkness of another room. They had long blond hair formed into ringlets, a gorgeous visage with luscious skin, and the most enviable of body proportions—especially in the chest area. The cleavage peeked out from her tank top. She was easily the prettiest girl on the whole Refuge, yet her gaze was one that could manifest ice with its frigidness.
"So you were aware," she said with a smirk. "I was preparing to come to you myself, but this makes it a lot easier."
"Try it, and We'll rip your head off, along with that thing that lives inside you."
"What a terrifying child you are."
"You and we both know that neither can't be compared to humans."
"Indeed," she agreed while crossing her arms. What really made her stand out were the crescent-shaped pupils of her amethyst eyes." Shira—or whatever was possessing her—knew exactly what they meant. Most wouldn't be able to notice them unless they could bypass the pheromones that caused light hallucinations emanating from every pore on her body.
"We want to make a deal. Once he returns, we will require your help. He is very hated by those here but has nowhere else to go. That's where you come in—Mental Queen."
"And what's in it for me?"
"The continuation of your peaceful life. You know what would happen if they found a wanted criminal hiding in plain sight, but even more, if they realized what was living under that mask."
"Is that a threat?" She inched closer.
Shira spread her arms. "Do I look like a threat? I could show you something a lot more terrifying if you desire. The reason you hide now is that you are useless out there. Am I wrong?"
This time, Mental Queen clicked her tongue. "Just tell me what you want, Fiend. I better not get discovered or I'll have to start all over again. It is very challenging to find a vessel that is so great at dealing with humans."
"Splendid. Now listen closely."
The two figures chatted until late into the night.
Shira woke up the next day, feeling beyond tired, but thought nothing of it. After all, she had just met one of her favorite heroes. What could possibly ruin her day?
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