Chapter One: The Men in White
A lone figure sat in a brightly-lit cell, clutching a gas mask to her face as her orange eyes scanned the peculiar scene outside of her window. The Men in White were wheeling another subject on a gurney through the hallway, past other cells similar to her own. The subject on the gurney was tossing and turning, making horrible retching noises, and had to keep being forced to lie down as he struggled against his restraints.
In her oxygen-free chamber, the girl stood up and leaned closer to the window, the long tube connected to her oxygen mask that snaked up to the ceiling pulling along behind her. She knew before the Men in White had said a word—this one was sick too. It was spreading faster.
The lead Man in White seemed to have the same idea. "I don't understand it," the girl heard him saying as she pressed her dark face against the glass for a better view. "A quarter of our subjects all have caught the same illness in only a week. Isolating them doesn't appear to be any help at all…At this rate, in a month nearly all of our mutants will be infected."
The two men had slowed down now, and were looking into the cells of the other subjects, observing their progress. The girl pushed away strands of burgundy red and dark brown hair from her face as she strained to listen to more.
The second man looked slightly alarmed at the first's assumption. "You can't possibly think it's spreading that fast, sir?"
"I'm afraid it could be."
Across from her own cell, there was another subject being checked by one of the local physicians. He was now starting to display symptoms of the illness as well.
"This is just what we need," the second man said bitterly. "If this keeps up it won't be too long before Falcon shows up to stick his nose in our business."
The girl's orange eyes widened in shock, Falcon? She thought eagerly. She had never met him before, but according to the Men in White, Falcon was nothing but trouble for them, releasing their mutants and recruiting some of them to continue to do the same for others. If Falcon possibly came here, perhaps he would free her and the others as well…
She chanced a cough, but behind the gas mask, it was barely noticeable.
"Perhaps, but I think this illness goes beyond just our own subjects," the first man said quietly. "If from what I and some of the other researchers are seeing in the patterns of other mutants in other laboratories, all mutants are at risk to this illness; Including their beloved Falcon."
"…Eric?" said the girl suddenly, in a voice most unlike her own. In fact, it sounded suspiciously raspy and strained, like that of an older gentleman. "Eric, are you listening?" The voice, still issuing from the girl's mouth, sounded increasingly annoyed.
The cold, empty, brightly lit cell faded from view and was replaced by a blurry, dimly light room that felt very crowded and warm.
Eric Young's eyes snapped open, and he looked around him. His history teacher, Mr. Brennard, a slim man nearing his sixties but looking like he was continuously approaching eighty-two, was looking highly irritated amid a group of snickering students. "So glad you could join us in the land of the living, Mr. Young." Brennard said, clearly affronted that Eric had once again fallen asleep in his class.
Eric muttered an apology in embarrassment and avoided Brennard's gaze. Tall, with handsome features, strikingly mix-matched blue and brown eyes, and a distinctly "All-American" look nearly all of the Young clan had inherited; Eric looked every part the normal, upstanding citizen and all around good boy. Those who just met him would be rather taken aback then to learn that Eric now spent the majority of his classes in a deep sleep, suffering from the repeated visions of the orange-eyed, red-streaked haired girl in the lab. He could never remember much of anything else, but he did know that the girl was always there.
The visions were getting more frequent, starting only about a week and a half ago, when they had been minor snippets of images. Now they were full-blown dreams that appeared whenever they felt like it, coinciding, he believed, with a cold he had been developing for the past few days.
Brennard must have noticed Eric's lackluster look, because the next moment he was asking if Eric needed to visit the nurse. Before Eric could think of a proper response, a note was being shoved into his hand, and Brennard said in an exasperated tone, "Here. And please, try to come back to my class when you've had a decent night's sleep, Mr. Young."
Eric gratefully took the note, swept his things into his backpack, and hurriedly left the classroom, amidst a few indignant stares and muttering of those at his lack of punishment for sleeping in class but instead getting to leave it.
As he walked down the hallway to the nurse, he tried to replay the dream in his head. Apparently, the girl was, once again, in a lab, but this time, he could distinctly remember two men in lab coats, talking seriously about something. For the life of him, he couldn't remember anymore what they had been discussing, but they looked rather grim all the same.
Eric looked up and realized that he had already reached the nurse's office—his feet seemed to have taken him directly there even while his mind was preoccupied.
"Excuse me, but I was sent—" Eric began upon entering the room, but stopped dead. "Jesse? Gonzales? What are you two doing here?"
Cody Gonzales looked up in surprise at Eric. "Presumably? Being sick, I'd wager." Cody was slightly short, but by no means was there anything minor about the rest of him. His shocking blue hair, assortment of body piercings, collars, chains, and other complicated accoutrements made him a bit of an unwelcome guest at the Young household. He and Eric's younger brother, Guy, were both in junior year and a band together (Eric's mother forbade them to hold practices at their house).
Cody was also best friends with Eric's willowy cousin, Jesse Woods, who was sitting next to him. As a rule, Eric normally tried to avoid Jesse at all costs, what with his cousin's odd tree-hugging, hippie-like ways, but it was almost undeniable they were related. Jesse was, in every sense, a softer version of Young. His features were softer, his manner was gentler, and generally, he gave off that specific air of one of those yoga-practicing, tofu-eating, animals-are-people-too, love Mother Earth, sensitive types. Jesse's older brother Adam, Eric's favorite cousin, used to like to tell everyone that Jesse was adopted.
Jesse, on the other hand, rather liked his cousin. Well, that was to say, he got along with Eric best out of all of his relatives on his mother's side of the family. The other Youngs tended to take their "All American" status rather seriously, and saw Jesse as a bit of a black sheep. Or a green one, perhaps. Jesse's father was just as ostracized as his youngest son; Australian, tan, and good-looking in a definitely un-All American sense, it was a wonder he had ever found himself joined with a family as austere as the Youngs.
Eric went to go sit next to them when he was suddenly bombarded by someone around about his midsection. The nurse was frantically busying herself around Eric, shoving a thermometer into his mouth while she prattled on, "…Seventh one today, absolutely unheard of, no one was sick a week before and now…I've already had to send the other four home; nothing I could do for them." She was short and pear-shaped with graying auburn hair and reminded Eric forcibly of his Aunt Estelle. Shoving him down into chair she continued, "Just have a seat here, dear, by the other two while I just pop out to get some more things…" And then she quickly bustled out of the room the same way Eric had just entered.
The tall senior stared dumbfounded after her, and then slowly turned to his cousin and Gonzales. After looking agape for a few minutes, all he could manage to get out was, "Seventh?"
"Yeah, we just came as the last two were leaving," said Gonzales, leaning back in his chair. "Some mousy-haired freshman and this sophomore in pigtails."
"She can't seem to diagnose us," Jesse replied, a small crease appearing on his brow as he frowned. "But she says we all have the same symptoms…"
"High fever, fast heart rate, loss of appetite, dizzy-spells, fatigue…" Gonzales ticked off on his fingers. "And then she said something about our eyes…"
"Eyes?" Eric said, alarmed. "What about them?"
But before Gonzales could finish, Jesse sneered and said with an uncharacteristic coldness in his voice, "You." Eric realized Jesse was staring at the entrance. When he turned to look as well, he understood why even his normally sweet-tempered cousin would be staring daggers.
Jordan McClain stood in the doorway, leaning casually against the doorframe, dark wavy hair swinging effortlessly into his oddly attractive face, eyes a dark, piercing blue. He was only fifteen, but upon first glance, one might assume he was the same age as Eric, who would be turning eighteen in less than three months time. There was rather self-satisfied smirk on his face despite the fact his temperature was pushing 102.
"Didn't know there was a party going on—I would've come earlier." Jordan smirked effortlessly.
The sneer stayed fixed to Jesse's face, distorting his soft features. "STDs finally catch up with you, Jordan?" His voice was quiet and cool. Both Eric and Gonzales stared incredulously at Jesse, as if they couldn't believe their normally pacified friend could say such a thing.
Jordan looked shortly caught off guard, but quickly regained himself. "Fancy seeing you here, Woods." Jesse looked down and firmly said nothing more to Jordan.
At that moment the nurse came bustling back into the office, carrying more supplies in her arms, and when she saw Jordan, let out at small gasp and dropped a box of thermometers. Jesse and Eric quickly went to help her pick them up as she muttered, "More of them just keep coming…I don't understand…Oh, for heaven's sake, go have a seat over there by the rest of them."