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"We're opening the portal now," Announced Brei. "I suggest you brace yourselves."
When Gwethelyn had heard the word "portal" she'd thought the device would be some sort of window, or door- the word had a very mystical feel to it.
But instead, what she saw was a hole in the air.
It was growing gradually wider, looking like a technical fault in a movie's screen. She tried to peer in, but all she could see was bright light. Almost immediately, she began to feel strange, slightly disconnected; it was if she had pins and needles all over her body. This had been mentioned in the training- she'd been warned of Nega radiation that came through portals- it was the energy that ran through that space between the universe and the bubbles. Half an hour of this, she was told, and she'd be high as a kite. The idea of someone using the radiation as a drug passed her mind, and she had to suppress a giggle.
"Luckily for us," Said Brei. "The location is very, very vague in the target's mind. We can play with the geography a little, she won't notice. So, we'll be splitting you into two pairs- Gwethelyn, Adlef, you will go together, and be dropped into the ocean for Adlef's sake. As for Hannel and Jake, you two will be dropped into the woods, just outside the town. Check your packs when you arrive- the location will be on screen."
Adlef flicked his tail, looking up at Hannel. "They said they needed animals for this." He said, curious. "How come you're coming?"
Hannel, who was looking strangely tired, grinned, spreading out his palms. "I've got fingers. Very useful."
Brei cleared her throat. "Agents."
The men and animals fiddling madly at computers increased their frenzy. Now the hole began to split in two, drifting in opposite directions.
Brei nodded. "Go." She said. For a moment, her expression softened a little. "And be careful. We've lost too many." "I wasn't exactly hoping for a parade to cheer us out," Muttered Jake, who was curled around Hannel's shoulders. "But that ain't exactly cheerful."
Adlef and Gwethelyn went first, into their portal. It had lowered into the pool, and the water was slowly running out. The Nega radiation making them feel tingly at the slightest movement, the two allowed themselves to be simply pulled by the current into the portal, where they disappeared.
Hannel took a deep breath. "You done this before?"
He winced, walking towards the portal. "Hold on tight."
Jake nodded, then looked up again in alarm. "Wait, why ya makin' that face? Is something-"
Then they were gone.
Gwethelyn was falling.
At first she thought she'd awoken from a bizarre dream- her head felt fuzzy, her thoughts were trying to get themselves untangled- but then she looked down.
She flailed wildly, only to crash into something behind her.
"What are we doing?" He screamed back.
"We're going to hit the ocean!"
"Well, would you rather have a mountain to crash into?!"
To panicked to answer, she grabbed hold of his dorsal fin. The gleaming blue water was rushing towards them now, and Adlef, either out of instinct or planning, tilted downwards so that he was falling headfirst into it…
And hit it. Hard.
Gwethelyn rose to the surface, spluttering. She'd had the sense to hold her breath before they crashed, but the impact had knocked it out of her. Beside her, Adlef rose up, looking a little dizzy from his dive.
"That…" He panted. "Was not a good idea. I never want to… I never want to do that again. Ever. Remind me never to do that again."
Gwethelyn didn't reply. Instead, she climbed over onto Adlef's back to check to see if their packs were damaged.
"How far are we from land?" Asked Adlef.
"Give me a minute." She removed her pack, opening it and taking out a small box.
They called it the Headlight. It served as a GPS, a communications screen, a audio recording device, a camera… and those were just the things she could remember right now with a head full of sea water. She pressed a button, and the screen widened and lit up, filled with details of the mission. She pushed them away, pressing the picture of the landscape. It showed exactly what she was seeing, except for one minor detail- a thin red line of light, reaching towards the silhouette of land. Gwethelyn climbed down towards Adlef's snout, pointing.
"Straight ahead." She told him.
The ferret brushed the leafs from his fur, glaring up. "Well, thanks for warnin' me!"
Brian sighed. "I didn't exactly get a chance to."
He ignored Jake's grumblings and focused on trying to get himself the right way up and out of the tree. He grabbed onto a strong-looking branch with both arms, pushing himself off the one he was caught on. He swung, now hanging a long way from the ground, but at least he was upright. He found another branch and set foot on it, breathing out in relief.
"Hey, Hannel." Called Jake, who was looking at his Headlight. "I've found where we're meant to be goin'."
"Right." He was close enough to the ground to jump down now. Once safely standing on solid earth, he bent over to look at the screen.
"Do they always drop you off like that?" Muttered Jake.
"Well, let's put it this way- last time I did this, I ended up on a bolting horse. Backwards."
After half an hour, they found Gwethelyn waiting for them outside town. She didn't seem to be very surprised at their state.
"You guys have a rough landing too, huh?"
"Straight into a tree." Said Jake, shaking a bruised leg.
"I could sort of guess."
"You don't exactly look as if you hit a feather mattress, deary."
Brian cut in before an argument could occur. "Do you know what the target looks like?"
"Young human girl, with brown hair. Right?"
"Right." He checked his watch. "She looks like a teenager, so I guess she goes to school. Which should be ending soon."
"I checked for that." Said Jake. "We goin' there?"
"It's best if we get a look at her." Brian agreed. "You two- stay out of sight. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves." The two looked at each other for a minute, before reluctantly slipping into the shadows.
They kept pace with Brian during most of the journey, but at times they were slowed down, trying to find ways across roads and through streets without getting seen. What added to the difficulty was the uncomfortable silence between both of them, as each tried to go think of things to preoccupy themselves.
Finally, they reached the school. A couple of pupils were beginning to walk out, the rush was yet to begin.
Brian's youth helped him blend in here- he could have been anyone, a boyfriend waiting, or a brother, picking up their younger sibling. He leaned against a tree, sharp eyes scanning each person walking out. He drew his Headlight from his pocket, and connected a wire to it before placing it back again and clipping a tiny microphone to his shirt.
"Jake, Gwethelyn. Can you hear me?"
In the bushes, Jake sat on his hind legs and took out his own Headlight. "Yeah." He said. "We hear ya, Hannel."
"These people…" Said Gwethelyn, who had been peering at the humans for a few minutes. "Hannel, these people look so... there's something off about them."
"I know. They're not real, not properly. I call them drones."
"Drones?" Repeated Jake.
"They were created by the creature. Most take a lot of materials from our world, but according to the files, this one's smart. She didn't want to draw attention to herself, and made her own. They won't bother us, not yet, but if she needs them, she can manipulate them." His tone changed to one of sympathy. "The poor buggers probably have no idea what they're doing. She can't connect this many people to herself- she can only give them roles. Deep down they're just like lost insects."
Jake perked up suddenly. "Can you feel that?" He muttered.
Gwethelyn paused for a minute, then nodded.
"What?" Whispered Brian. "What is it?"
"Can't you feel it?" Whispered Gwethelyn.
Brian frowned. For a minute he thought about going back to check on them. Perhaps it was like that thing he'd heard before, about animals clearing out of a place before a natural disaster hit.
And then she walked out.
Strangely graceful, but in a way that made him sick to watch. Long legs, large chested, with long brown hair. Normally, this might have been seen as attractive, but this wasn't. It was more of an idea, a guess. Someone's attempt at making a pretty doll without fully knowing the way humans worked. And blue eyes, strangely clear, that.. that…
"That's her." He heard Gwethelyn whisper. "Isn't it?"
He didn't reply.
"No way…" He muttered. "She… can't…"
"Hannel?" Said Jake again. Then after a pause. "Brian?"
He felt a faint gleam of surprise from hearing the ferret call him by his first name, and it was enough to bring him back to his senses. He glanced back at the girl-thing again. At her eyes.
"What colour would you say her eyes are?" He muttered into the microphone.
"Er…" He could almost hear the shrug. "Green? Gotta say, though, they're pretty bright for us to see 'em from here. Why?" Jake was right. They were green. Brian rubbed his forehead.
"No reason." He said. "Had a weird moment."
This job is starting to get to you. He told himself. Maybe after this, you should consider going on vacation.
Still, Brian was good at what he did, and the wheels of his mind were turning before he'd finished that thought. Let's see… she was talking to another girl right now. According to the files, she had no animal companions, which was good. This girl must be one she had direct control over. She was around the same age as the creature appeared, with blond hair and an almost puppy-like expression. An instinct told him to check out this girl later, but right now he was focused on his target. Surely she had more protectors than that?
He cast his gaze around, eyes taking in everything he could use, plan forming in his mind.
"Jake, Gwethelyn." He whispered.
This time, Gwethelyn replied. "Yes?"
"I'm… going to try something out." He told her. "No matter what happens, I want you two to stay hidden there, okay?"
After being given an affirmative, he slinked off.
"Now what's he up to?" Wondered Jake aloud, chewing on a blade of grass.
Gwethelyn shrugged. She looked like she had something on her mind.
"When we first arrived back at base," She said. "You said you'd been there for a week."
Jake kept his eyes on Brian. "Yeah? So?"
"So," Replied Gwethelyn. "Where did you come from? You knew about us."
"Only what they filled me in on."
"Mind filling me in, then?"
Jake turned towards her. "Can't do no harm, I suppose," He said gruffly. "I came from a bubble as well."
She gave him a disbelieving look. "Cute animal companion?"
"Heh, no." He thought for a minute. "Well, sort of. Not cute though. And not a companion in the way you think. Ya see, these things get bored, and like to practice being in our world. You got taught that as well, right?"
She nodded, and he continued. "Well, this lady had made a villain. An opponent to play against. Tall, threatenin', big black cloak… the works. And he was given a threatenin' animals companion. Someone who caused trouble, couldn't be trusted…"
He gave a shrug. "Course, since I already hated her from the start, I gave the AD a good bit to work with. So they grabbed me after they took out Mary Sue. Though," He added. "They needed to do a bit of deprogrammin' first."
"Deprogramming." Gwethelyn repeated.
He gave her a rueful grin filled with sharp teeth. "You see, you weren't a major character, and Flipper there just had that love of his Mary forced on him, so he had all that resentment growing up in him. But me, I hated her, and she twisted that to make me, like I said, trouble-causing, untrustworthy… And I was called Biter for a reason. In short, Gweth, I was a villain." Unsure what to say to this, Gwethelyn turned back to the school then froze. "Where's he gone?"
"What?" Jake scampered over to join her. "You can't see him?"
She was cut off by the sound of an engine. The Mary, as Jake had been calling her kind, turned at its sound, then froze like a deer out on a road.
"Is he..?" Gwethelyn's jaw dropped. "He's not."
Both stared as the yellow bus raced across the parking lot towards her.
"He is." Breathed Jake, looking impressed.
The Mary didn't do anything to get away, but instead just stood there, stupefied. The bus came ever closer, speeding up- if it wasn't Brian, it was someone who really had it in for her- and then, as it was about a meter from sending her perfect body flying-
A shape, so fast neither animals saw nothing but a blur, shot out, strait at the bus.
There was a loud crash, and dust flew up into the air. For a few minutes total pandemonium broke out, as pupils rushed forward to see what had happened, and Jake and Gwethelyn argued whether to go see if Brian was alright.
Then, out of the dust, Brian came running. He looked surprisingly not shaken from his crash. Laughing to himself, he leapt over the bush, helping them squirm out of it.
"Best we got out of here for the moment," He told them.
"Hannel!" Squeaked Gwethelyn. "Brian! What happened? Did you-?"
"What, kill her? I wish, but no." He grinned. "I was checking to see what kind of protector she had. Got a good look at him, too." He let out another laugh. "Whoo, it's been a while since I did something like that! Come on!"
"You're mad." Said Gwethelyn. She shook her head, turning to Jake. "He's mad."
Jake nodded thoughtfully.
"You're right." He said. "I like him."
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