1There was something fishy about the whole thing. I had no doubt in my mind that something wasn't right here… Problem was, I had no proof… Yet, I kept reminding myself. The journey was just barely begun, the assignment just now set into play… There was no need to worry…

Who are you kidding… There's a lot to worry about…Given such vague information, told to be cautious… And being the only one who could be accepted properly… Yeah, I was taking a lot of risk… And so was the other 59 students riding along with me. At least I had some inkling that there was trouble ahead… And the prospects… Ah… Let's just say that I was not in the best of moods… And everyone else knew it, too… Hence why I was the only one in the back of the bus, surrounded by empty chairs, listening to the perpetual drone of the bus engine spinning off into oblivion…

I be so bored… Alone I may be, and though it suited me fine… I sincerely wanted someone to talk to… Doubt it'll work out well… Considering that no one else saw the risk of potentially getting his or her head bitten off particularly fun. So instead of pushing the issue, I turned and watched as dust trailed behind and clouded all but the sky in the clear country landscape.

*~*~*

Eventually the dust settled, giving to the forces of gravity and the lack of thrust the wheels created as we slowed down… Turning to face the front, I gave the two country teachers, Mr. Giblo and Ms. Veroski, a small smile, before I looked out the single window, witnessing a school materialize out of the veil created by the vehicle. I sighed, not at all liking the fact that another stop would only prolong the time to our destination… After all, I doubted that the Caranthian and Karochian governments wouldn't haul us out of school to take us to another one…

Upon the urging of the teachers, everyone undocked, stretching their limbs and talking to others that they were beginning to befriend. As I exited, the first step, built high by design, and in my mind a structural flaw, mostly because of safety issues for the height challenged… Such as myself… Not that I considered myself a midget by any means, but hitting six feet would definitely be a dream I wouldn't see unless from the back of a horse…

The wind buffeted the short-sleeved gray trench coat I wore, revealing blue jeans that matched the shade of blue of my eyes. A v-cut maroon shirt modestly covered my womanhood. The skin visible was well tanned, and extinguished a necklace where a leather piece dangled, highlighting the silver of a piece of metal forming the simple shape of a fish. A silver chain hung below this, the ring it held safely hidden under my shirt.

It was my favorite necklace… Why? Because I like fish, I like to fish, but more importantly, what it symbolized… Of course, it was for that very reason that I could easily get into trouble wearing it. Luckily, for me, most people nowadays no longer remember… Those who do are the kind of people I knew existed out there, but have never seen that kind of evil manifested anywhere other than stories… Because of this, and a few other things, my advisors strongly told me not to take the necklace with me… I couldn't. It was so much a part of me as I was of it that it would be like the removal of my thumbs in its absence…

I didn't even note Mr. Giblo and Ms. Veroski's absence until they reappeared, each pushing a food tray chucked to the brim with lunch bags. I chided myself for not paying better attention, while a fellow student whined, "Why are we stopping at a school for lunch? Why can't we get some real food?" Good question, I thought.

"Who knows," another one answered… I be afraid that I do…I thought, not at all liking that the privacy of this trip was more because of secrecy than because they didn't want the media hounding us every step of the way…

The few minutes of fresh air and country sunshine didn't last as long as I would have wanted before we were herded back on the bus. The teachers handed out the lunch bags by name to each of the students, before they carted the empty food trays back inside and retreated to their own seats, reassuring the crowd that time was of the essence, and the need to be punctual stressed until everyone groaned in agony… Obviously some of them had a little sore butts…

I took to my pizza with thoughtful poise, removing the sausage lumps with minor annoyance before the remaining bit of cheese, bread, and tomato sauce disappeared down my gullet. Not long after the meal was finished did I return to gazing mutely out the rear window once more…

*~*~*

The tubular walkway between Biodome Zeta and the Turbinor sector of the city of Delmera was flooded with busy people. Shoulder to shoulder, mostly men and some women walked with the determined pace of timely predestination. It was one of the busiest quarters of life on Celestia. A shipment of supplies had just come from the moon colony's Mom and Pop countries, Caranthia and Karoche, respectively. Minorly self-sufficient, Celestia was largely dependent on Mom and Pop for its survival. If it wasn't for the fact that the colony obtained valuable minerals from its sister moon Loquarra, its people would be fastly running themselves into debt. As it was, they could barely keep themselves above the water...

Of course, that was only a minor concern to the colonists. Most lived here because of the political breathing room the colony provided. As it was, breathing even on Celestia was only possible by craning one's back just to let your nose break the liquid surface of control that was present even here. Which was always hard to forget considering that sharkies were present in every single resting bloop along the walkway. They're padded armor and large baraks, a variant of baton, were just as quiet and menacing as their informal namesakes, and just as deadly.

One lanky youth made the mistake of dashing into the one I stood in without watching where he was going, crashing with a thump right into the officer. Instantly the barak slammed right between the youth's shoulder blades, knocking him to the ground. "That's what you get for not watching where your going, kid! Show some respect next time!" Growled the sharkie, as I helped the lad to his feet.

He groaned a meek, "Yes, sir," before dashing back out again, trying to hold back the tears as he disappeared into the crowd.

The sharkie watched me for a moment as I wiped off the dust from my vivid violet skirt, bracelets tinkling, before saying under his breath, "Plucky lass..."

Passerby's rushed by, though anger and fear formed the backbone of their flight. Sensing the change in the crowd's mood, the sharkie turned away, staring down any possible challengers with one hand resting on the butt of a nine millimeter.

Rarely was the time when force was necessary in order to keep the peace, and for a moment in time, I thought it was on the brink of occuring. Yet as quickly as the crowd's anger was stirred, it died, though there remained a crisp edginess throughout as the report of the occurings was shared.

"There you are," announced a familiar, and very much relieved, voice.

I turned, and gave a welcoming smile to the narrow jawed, blonde haired young man. "Falden! What are you doing all the way out here?"

"We've been trying to page you all day, and since you didn't answer, we decided to try to..." Answered Falden, his blue eyes twinkling.

"Rescue me? Yeah. Just try it, buster, and see how far you get," I warned, jokingly of course.

"It was Doc's hair-brained idea... I told him you'd wring me out, but he wouldn't have none of it... You know how he is..." He went on, leaning up against the translucent bloop walls, easily ignoring the sharkie as if he never existed.

"Of course... In speaking of Doc, how is he?" I asked, gently grabbing Falden's hand and leading him into the bustling crowd. It was code of course, which was meant to inquire of the seriousness of the issue, but I still had a hard time asking such things remotely near sharkies and their ever present ears.

"Meh, the meds are making him a little loopy, which is why he's been trying to get a hold of you. Says that two crazies is just what he needs to keep him happy," he corresponded, which told me that Doc found something exciting enough to set his heart monitor beeping... And whatever that is, he wants me and a fellow agent in on it. The prospect made my skin tingle with excitement.

"And I take it the other crazy is you?"

"You know it, Buttercup..."

"I'll deck the lights out of you, Falden Northrup!"

"Easy, easy, Makani. You know I was only joking..."

"That's only because you're crazy," I reminded him.

"See? You understand me already," he reminded me back, a wide grin spreading from ear to ear.

Shaking my head, I turned the corner. Falden stepped ahead of me, promptly unlocking the door with his key card, before holding it open for me. Without a word I stepped inside, heading towards the elevators that were just a few steps away. Once again, Falden pushed the button that initiated the metallic doors to open. Together, we stepped inside.

"You don't have to do that you know," I stated.

"Sorry. I'm a creature of habit," he explained.

"Creature? Yes. Habit? I be not sure of..."

"Your vote of confidence is very reassuring," was his sarcastic reply.

"I be glad you agree."

Ding! The doors opened to reveal the busy spread of fellow Lunar Organization agents. Half were at computers, working at one thing or another, others were busy tramping back and forth, delivering briefs to agents, and other necessary paperwork to the appropriate files. Falden and I gave the activity a wide berth, following the circular walls until we reached Doc's office on the far side.

Knocking, we were ushered in with a word of command. Presenting ourselves, we placed our palms to our chest, fingers pointing downward, then bowing at the waist. It was a gesture reserved solely for Lunar Organization members. It showed respect among the members, though a more simpler version, and its higher ranks. In all cases, the meaning behind the bow was, 'I respect you, though I guard my heart from you.' As such, it served the implication that we were not there to serve that one man, or each other, but the people as a whole, and thus, the backbone of our commitment.

"Makani. Falden. Pleasure. Please, have a seat," Began Zetro, informally known as 'Doc', mostly because of his need of round-the-clock nurses who doted on him because of his heart. Now he wasn't a thin man, and certainly his age of eighty plus years, though he claimed sixty, did nothing to help him, but that did nothing to stop him from furtively working to ensure the success of the Intelligence Branch. "Now, we have just fretted out the answer to a most vital question. It seems that the construction of Project Revival does play a part in the Entity's Agenda. How, obviously, is yet to be solved. Mom and Pop have designated a time very soon, two months minimum, for the project's public debut. As such, we need as many spies as possible to infiltrate the facility. Unfortunately, we were unable to send more experienced agents to join as a part of the faculty before hand. That leaves us only to send those who fit the requirements for the program..."

"Forgive me, Doc, but I don't see how two green agents such as ourselves would be wise..." I began, despite the fact that I didn't want to point out this flaw if only to get the assignment.

"Let me finish, Makani. The program involves volunteers from ages fifteen to twenty-one that have to meet the standards of both physical and mental prowess. Since you are the most experienced under these standards, we can only send two agents under good conciousness. This unpropitious event has caused great regret in the training of our new recruits. I'll see to it that this won't happen again... I digress... Makani. Falden. The two of you need to pack for two weeks as soon as this meeting is adjourned. Further instructions will be given to you 0800 hours. See you than and take care."

Dismissed, the first thing we did outside Doc's office was beam at each other.

"Looks like the Disastrously Duo is on their way!" Crowed Falden.

"No joke," I answered, equally elated as we headed to the elevators...

*~*~*

I didn't realize I had dozed off until a hand gently shook my shoulder. Blinking away sleep from my eyes, I stretched, looking up to Mr. Giblo with a quiet, questioning refrain. With the light blue sleeves rolled to mid forearm, a darker blue wool vest to enhance the blue in his eyes, he looked far more relaxed now than he ever did in the front of our class room, ranting about the merits of philosophy to his students.

"Need a hand?" He inquired, extending his to help me up. I grabbed it, initiating lift as he helped me to my feet.

"Only if you can sew it to my forehead to prevent me from breaking my nose as I fall from lack of sleep," I retorted, trying a hint of a smile despite my stomach doing flips on the inside. Mr. Giblo laughed, as I found he often would at my quick and often oddball retorts.

"Ya, know… that always can be arranged…" He answered in return, as I grabbed my overnight bag filled with various CD's of the artists I loved.

"Well that would be really nice of you. Than it would give everyone else a viable reason to give me weird looks…" I answered, shuffling my feet sleepily as he led the way down the aisle.

Chuckling, he replied, "Well even Dachinni was a little weird, but look at how brilliant he was!…" I rolled my eyes as he ranted on about one of the ancient philosophers… This being a particular verse that was very familiar to me.

Exiting the vehicle, I joined the cluster of other students as we mingled outside the stone-cut structure that, now upon viewing it for the first time, reminded me of a castle, turrets and all.

"Nice… No one told me the bus was a time machine as well…" I voiced, though not entirely out of negative opinions of the idea…Yet my opinion sounded those of many, some more pathetic than others.

"Let's go, everybody!" Shouted Mr. Giblo, leading the pack of teenagers, through the castle gates, followed by Ms. Veroski, a woman who had the ability to be buddy-buddy with anyone… I didn't like her. She was constantly being polite, constantly trying to befriend me, constantly, constantly, constantly. She was annoying. So I ignored her as we were led into the little stone town buried behind a rocky fortress wall.

When the doors shut behind me, I stiffened, something inside telling me that this was a trap… Yet still no sign of mad scientists running rampant… Granted, I knew better. Government secrets are best kept half in light, and half in shadows… Forcing myself to relax, I studied the architectural structures as we were led down the main street. Most of the tallest buildings lay in the center of the fortress, these around two to three stories. The shortest lay nearest the walls, which were only a story in comparison to the twice as high walls.

I took a mental note of this, knowing the significance as any with half a brain… Which is less than what I would expect even from the two of our countries' finest students.

Mr. Giblo led us into one of the smaller buildings along the farthest wall, near the right corner. The structure itself was ridiculously small, and it made me quirk a brow at the thought of every one finding room to breathe, let alone room to sit…

From the back of the crowd inquired, "Hey, how are we going to fit in that small thing?" I turned to look at the speaker, who, by the obvious attire of ripped jeans and tee, combined with his dark hair and flashing eyes, gave me the distinct impression that he was defiant.

Mr. Giblo laughed, opening the door to reveal a wide staircase and motioned us to step down. Interesting… Our destination came three flights of stairs later. We entered into a hallway, lit by a row of fluorescent lights, with doors lining up on either side. From what I could see, each door was labeled with different subjects as well as numbers, such as Cell Research, Brain Development, Animal Studies… Carefully I remembered each labeling, storing it away in my photographic memory until later use…

"Here we are… Please step inside, children," Mr. Giblo said, gesturing for us to enter.

The same kid with the tattered jeans spoke up, "What's that suppose to mean, theoretical study? What's going on?"

Calmly, Mr. Giblo replied, "Please, just go inside and you'll get your explanation."

Interesting, I thought, running my hand over the letters as we entered the room. Kids eased themselves into seats throughout. Myself? I chose a seat farthest away from the hustle and bustle. Preferring the peace of solitude, and taking full advantage of the ability to see and hear everything occurring all around me.

The room itself was nothing of ornate bearing, nothing depicting anything other than practical use. How often could be doubted on, for the presence of cob webs filmed the corners of the ceiling. Despite that, the room was well lit, bearing a projector in the center of the ceiling like some sci-fi lamp, which pointed directly to a podium. That in and of itself was just a pillar of wood, from where I sat pine, perhaps ash, but it was hard to tell from such a distance. Nothing rested on the podium's slanted top.

There was nothing fancy about the desks, either. All commodities within the room were built by practical minds for practical use. Nothing described remotely of the billions of dollars that went into this project… Of course, this was only the first room I've seen so far… There easily could be fancy equipment in any of the others… I took a mental note to check them out as soon as I could… and not get caught…

"Please take a seat and pay attention. We have five minutes until your first lessons here start," informed Ms. Veroski, as she cast her eyes about the class, giving a small apologetic smile as the class groaned. I didn't join them, for I was mighty interested in what sort of dogma they were trying to force down our throats…

I picked up the piece of paper laying prostrate on the desk, my face set in nonchalant curiosity… Before falling into complete surprise. There were notes written on the sheet, which wasn't the cause of my astonishment. What caused me to gasp in surprise was the fact that my name was already on the piece of paper… Unnerving would be an understatement, and apparently I wasn't the only one who thought so… Casting my eyes around the class, they, too, seemed to have gotten the same random, yet extremely accurate results… Everyone that is, except a set of twins who simply switched papers before sitting down in their chosen seats.

Perturbed, I skimmed over the notes, finding that whatever was going to be discussed I already knew… Great… I didn't order a side dish of boredom… Would have been better if… At that point I found I was really tempted to withdraw my CD player, just to drown out the mute points of governments and our problems… I still held onto the personal belief that if we all went back to country life like our ancestors had been, we would all be fine. Granted, I would miss my CD player… But if getting rid of that meant world harmony… I suppose… On a side thought, I slipped on one of the earpieces, figuring that while technology was around, I should take full advantage of it. I turned the volume on low, so if boredom did strike, like I predicted it would, at least then I had something to fall back on…

It was about then that a door, one that I had noted to be on left hand corner of the wall our desks faced, opened, revealing a gentleman, that, if it wasn't for his handsome features, I would have considered him one of the mad scientists I had been suspecting. Pity he was at least twenty years my senior, because there are very few men who I would put in the delicious category. With his shoulder blade long hair held back in a ponytail, round glasses that he made look rather stylish, and the typical lab coat you would expect of a scientist, I couldn't help but give him the once over… Yeah… Pity…

"Welcome to our establishment, class." Oh great… A kill joy… "If need be, you may call me a professor, but I answer more readily to Gene." Jean as in I can wear you, or Gene as in genetics… "I will be debriefing you on why it was you were selected for this project, what it is that we hope to accomplish, and what we want you to do." Finally! Before that, we do want you to come through this door, as your name appears on the screen in the upper corner of the room here." Can I just go unconscious now and save myself the misery. "When your name appears, please get up, take your notes with you, you'll still be able to follow along, since there will be speakers." And here I lay my head across the desk… waiting for something interesting to catch my attention. "At this point… Yeah you there, miss…"

It is here that I raise my head back up, intrigue obvious on my façade.

"Loqua. What is it that we'll do in there?"

"As a part of your examination, we'll need to do a blood screening to make sure you will be able to pass the requirements needed to continue…" I was about to open my own mouth to protest, but Loqua had beaten me to the catch. "Let me finish," he interrupted, "I recognize you already had blood drawn before but not all the facilities have all the information we needed, on top of that you are also undergoing physical changes regardless, so we need to continue to check, and make sure nothing is changed… Now with that having been said…" You are such a flippin' liar… A yummy liar, but a liar nonetheless. name appears on the wall… "Let us begin…As you all know, we have found that there seems to be a difficulty with trying to find out a good balance between technology and the environment…" Yay! Evil boredom speech of doom! With a finger, I turned up the volume just an ant's tush, allowing the ability to let my mind wander just that much easier.

For the time being, I let my eyes enjoy the man candy, while I paid especially close attention to the students who entered and exited the room. The majority of them held the same symptoms; slight dizziness, and a medical wrap just below the elbow… So… either they are taking so much blood that it makes us light-headed, or they are putting something in us that does so…Odd that they don't use the easily visible vein at the elbow… Interesting… Interesting indeed…

Two hours had passed; this I noted only by the number of times I needed to replay my CD, and the lecture was still going. Granted, the second part was a little more interesting than the first, but not by much. However, what did intrigue me was that throughout the lecture, the podium retracted and extended from the floor to accommodate for videos or slides. So much for being practical…

"Well class, we covered the situation and what we've attempted to do so far. I think a break is in order, and when I get back, we'll start to cover the second section of this lecture. Your notes will be coming shortly."

I was the last to be listed, and when I saw my name, my stomach leapt for my throat, begging to just let me let it run away. Deciding I still needed my stomach, I swallowed, deftly removing the ear piece from my ear, before standing and making my way towards the front. I noted that one kid, a tall lanky fellow with glasses, hadn't been called. Instantly my guard was up. There seemed to have been no logical order to the names listed, but I couldn't help but wonder why he hadn't been… A spy? I thought, noting that his physique would definitely not place him under that category… Perhaps to purposefully to throw me off? Could've been…

I made sure I memorized his face as I passed, taking a mental picture of his own puzzlement, before I walked up to the door, making sure that not even a smidgen of uncertainty was visible before stepping through.

Gene waited on the other side, a charming smile set that did not at all play well with the turmoil of my moods. With a slight bow, he gestured me forward. Hesitantly, I did so, following the dimly lit corridor, letting all but our footsteps control the silence between us.

We entered a room not at all much better off in visibility. A chair sat at the farthest visible reaches, a curtain ending anything else that may at all be present within the room. Gene himself strode forward, accurately using his body to hide the seam in the curtain that I just now noticed. He turned, laying his hand on the back of the chair, indicating that I was to sit there… Trying to hide my hesitation, I stepped forward, calculating each step to be slow, as I let my eyes roam the room in an attempt at innocent curiosity.

"Don't worry, Miss Vivera. The procedure will be over and done before you know it…" Apparently I need to work on my acting, I thought, pulling on the façade of surprise that he had hit the hammer on the nail. I eased myself into the seat, careful not to disturb the monitor and headphones that were attached to it. Once settled, Gene set to work placing the strap to my left arm. I stiffened, feeling that it was attached to the chair, and not at all liking the memory that I had associated with it.

Gene disappeared behind the curtain. Curious, I twisted, using my free arm I pulled back the curtain just a tad. From there, I watched as Gene started the machine, which I could tell from the hum of electricity. Two assistants were at work, one toying with a computer, and another somewhere more directly behind me.

"So, this one's a wolf, right?" Inquired the assistant at the computer.

"Makes sense. Got the serum ready?" Replied Gene.

"Already putting it in," said the other one directly behind me… A gasp quickly followed. Gene, wanting to know what the issue may be, easily saw what the assistant saw… that I was peeking in on their little procedure.

"Miss Vivera, I can understand your curiosity, but I must insist that these menial tasks are quite boring…" Gene instisted, obviously the only one well trained enough to maintain conversational poise. The assistants set back to work, doing little things that would be considered quite boring…

"Naw, actually I find this all quite interesting," I returned, giving a small smile at the thought that that would be an unsuspecting answer from me.

Gene took it all in stride; however, which really ruined my fun time. "Well I'm glad that you are, and I must encourage such an opinion when your opportunity to learn more is greater… Unfortunately, there isn't much more I can tell you until that time."

"Oh, okay," I said, sounding a bit disappointed as I let the curtain fall back into place. Inside, I was whirling… 'Don't ever put yourself in any harmful situation unless you have, too, Vivera…' 'But my name is…' 'I'm teaching you how to respond to this one… Now… We want you to come back whole… Got it?'… … I be sure he wouldn't want me to do this… But I see no other option in getting out of it… Without getting caught…

Experimentally, I tested the strap, quickly coming to find out that there was some sort of catch… That's when the vibrations started. It caught me so off guard that I jerked, immediately sending pain up my forearm as the flesh ripped. Still, I felt the grip of the strap slacken, and thus, completely removed my bleeding arm from it's imprisonment. I studied the self-inflicted injury, making sure that I wasn't in any dire status. Insured that I was fine, I tried inspecting the machine to see how it worked…

I heard the curtain rustle after the machine had finished its job. Quickly I jabbed my arm back in, thankful that the needles had retracted otherwise this would have been very painful.

"Still find this…" He began, easily undoing the strap from my arm, "…interesting…" He inspected the bleeding mess with mild concern. He grabbed my arm, adjusting his glasses as he inspected the wound. "How did this happen?" He inquired, glancing at me.

"The vibrations caught me by surprise, and I jerked, and that's what happened…" I explained, thankful that it was the truth.

"Odd… It didn't hurt at all?"

"Only as much as a needle would…" I said, playing dumb.

"I see…" He said, setting to work to bind and clean up the injury, before handing me a pastry, which I promptly refused.

"I be not a little kid to which you have to reward for being good for the doctor," I informed, pushing myself out of the chair. Gene set the pastry back down, and led me back into the classroom. By the time we entered into proper lighting, the blood was just beginning to soak through the bandage. Even so, I decided to ignore the pain as I situated myself back in my chair, despite everyone else standing and chatting amongst themselves.

"Is there anyone that still hasn't gone through?" Gene asked the class. The young lad I noted before approached Gene, which I thought was odd, because if he really was a spy… Doesn't mean he's on their side…Curious, but satisfied, I watched as Gene took him through the door, and to his proffered doom.

Shortly thereafter, he returned, munching thoughtfully on his pastry. It is then that he looked in my direction, a look of puzzlement on his face, catching me off guard… As a preamble, I sent him a glare, simply stating, 'I'll be watching you…' He, in turn, gave me a confused look, etched with concern as his brows narrowed.

"Is anyone else still needing to go through the testing?" Gene called out. "If you've taken the test, sit down and put your arm on the desk." Everyone did so, even I, though I hesitated. Gene walked down each aisle, inspecting each arm, taking note that everyone held the required bandage. Satisfied, he returned to his podium, and continued lecturing.

"So, we've covered what is going on with our ecosystem and how, despite our best efforts, there have been animals that have been going extinct. Many of the different methods that we have tried to go after just have not been effective, so what we plan on doing is to send out a group of animals into the wild, gather what information we can on their lifestyles, behaviors, and most importantly, their difficulties, and have them report back to us."

"Now hang on just one second, teach," piped one of the boys from the back. His tee and cargo pants only added to his laid back, almost disrespectful nature as he reclined in his desk. "Where do we get pulled into this for?"

"If you won't interrupt," Gene chastised, "you'd find out. This lesson that you're going through today and tomorrow will explain in more detail. Now, as I was saying, we intend on training said groups of animals for the purpose of finding out the lifestyles of each of the most affected groups." From there, Gene covered different kinds of animals, their behaviors and lifestyles… Knowing all, if not most of this, I returned to the joys of music… couple of hours yada yada yada

"Now then, class, the hour has grown late. You came here after lunch, and now that it is close to most of your dinner times, our staff has prepared dinners to your liking. I and your other teachers, Ms. Veroski and Mr. Giblo, will escort you to our cafeteria."

No one needed further encouragement. On a dime everyone stood, stretching our stiff limbs as they gathered by the door where Gene, Mr. Giblo, and Ms. Veroski stood. I stood a little slower than the others, observation being my main priority than food. Of course, that could be out of sheer caution of that one lad…

As such, I meandered from the back of the crowd, following, listening, and overall observing. The teens piled through the rotational door, and for a brief moment, I had a strong childish desire to run in circles through the door. However, I wasn't here to play, I was here to observe. As such, I wove my way through the crowd, who, for some reason, stared at the freshly cooked plates set on tables of various shapes. Without hesitation, I set forth to a table I would have most preferred, a square table in the farthest corner nearest a pair of doors. I didn't need to look to know that our teachers were watching me in mute surprise, but whatever further observation that they could have conducted was distracted by the masses of teens following my example. Upon closing in on the table, something dawned on me, I don't want to be trapped in a corner. As such, I transferred my attentions immediately to a round table I just happened to be by. It is here that I noted my name plate.

I don't like this angle, I thought, casting a glance behind me to locate the pair of doors, which my back was facing. As such I shifted, taking the seat that allowed me to visually see the majority of the cafeteria. Granted, it put my original table directly to my back, but that was a minor sacrifice to my overall preferences. Casting a quick glance all around to make sure no one was looking, I switched food plates and name plates, just so any issue wouldn't arise…

I was able to sit in my seat with no indication of anyone noticing. Even so, it was shortly thereafter that a girl with brown hair reaching just below the shoulders stepped up…

"Excuse me," she stated.

Turning around, "Yes?"

"I wanted to sit there…"

"Umm… Okay… Sorry, this is my nameplate right here… I be sure yours is around here somewhere…"

"But I want that one," she snipped.

"I don't know what to tell you." With that, I turned around, promptly ignoring her as I picked at my food.

She was about to say something else, but was promptly silenced as Gene looked her way, saying, "Everyone! Can I have your attention for just one moment? While the staff here has volunteered to help serve you, any mess you make beyond what little is needed or any misbehavior will result in you being detained and possibly withheld from the program we are trying to introduce you to."

That immediately shut her up and sat her down. Go figure, it was the seat I was suppose to sit in…I took a glance at her nameplate… Rania?… Alrighty… You're also on my list of people to watch… but that's just because I don't like you…

I picked at my food, not at all craving the heavy steak, and only just barely nibbling on the French fries, which is a rarity for me, because I love French fries, but I did eat all of the entire slice of fresh pineapple like it was candy. While all the other girls seemed to dig right into their meals… Even Rania seemed to enjoy her salmon…

It was then that I heard the commotion going on behind me. Curious, I turned and watched the show as one kid, a football player I would guess by his build and ego, and his smaller crony were throwing food at these thinner guys who looked more like the type of people you would see in band or special computer classes.

One particular bad throw shot past it's intended target and hit Rania straight on the back… Good throw if you ask me, I thought, trying hard to hide my smile and failing miserably. Rania instantly stood. If looks could kill, I'd be in a thousand pieces and buried in the floor boards by now when she saw my smile. Even so, she had no time to react otherwise, because these sturdy gentlemen, who had been serving everyone their drinks, came to the table and were stiffly standing nearby.

"Pick that mess up right now, boys…" One said sternly…

"Now… You've got an appointment to go to…" the other added…

The boys just gaped, appalled at how serious Gene was with his warning. Before they set to work at picking up their mess. As soon as every last bit of food was cleared, they were grabbed by their upper arms, and jerked away through the revolving doors…

Rania promptly got back in her seat…

"So… I guess there's no need to ask for everyone's names…" Started a black haired, brown eyed lass named Andryn, who's very complexion seemed unmarred by a single zit. She was the type of girl I instantly would have labeled a slut and ignored, but too many times my gut feeling was correct on it's judgment of others. As such, I remained quiet, being polite as I bit off another end of a fry smothered in ketchup. " So we might as well play twenty questions…" Looking in my direction, "So, Viv, can I call you Viv?"

The question caught me off guard, as I hadn't expected to be the first to be spoken to… Nor was the automatic use of such familiarity. I didn't much care for that, but nor did I think that building a wall a league away seem the best idea either… Quirking my brow, I shook my head…

"Sorry," she said with a smile, "I don't know if that's suppose to mean, 'No I may not,' or 'No I may'."

I couldn't help but grin. "No you may," I confirmed.

"Good," another smile.

A girl named Taray did not hesitate to join in on the game, "Andryn, that's how you pronounce your name right?"

"An-der-in, actually. Common mistake, but that's okay. Rania, it's your turn."

Rania hesitated, still a little sour from the events previous. In a second, she put up a smile that only had me putting up my guard, "Vivera, what is your GPA?"

Great… And here I thought that would be stupid to remember… "Well… it varied from time to time…"

"Just tell us," Rania said, her eyes glittering at the thought she had her prey cornered.

"Four point O… ish"

"Well isn't that interesting?" smiled Rania… You really want a permanent position on my list, don't cha?

"Rania," Began the blond girl, her name listed as Alenth, and her green eyes soft, "what is it that you aspire to be?"

Good question… A lot can be gained playing this game, I leaned forward, paying close attention to everything being said.

"I aspire to be a leader… Haven't quite decided if it'll be political or not, but I believe I'm gifted in taking initiative and doing what is right…" And I pray that the world would end first before that day ever comes…

The last to add her question was the girl I recognized from earlier, Loqua. Her light brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her blue eyes deep and quiet… Reminding me of the ocean. "Rania, you said you wanted to be a leader, is there any particular reason other than what you've told us, that you want to be one?"

Rania smiled, clearly enjoying the attention she was receiving, "Well mother always said I should be a lawyer with my talking skills, but I thought I should use my abilities to tell truths, instead of lies…" Many more questions were asked, most directed to Rania, which made her happy, and only a few to me. I figured it was to make me feel involved, but since I did not offer any questions of my own, they must have sensed that talking wasn't quite my thing.

By then, plates were being emptied, and despite even a girl's desire not to eat a lot to keep their waistlines thin, the ladies I accompanied each mentioned there second meal preference. Oysters for Loqua, more fish for Andryn, chicken for Taray, venison for Alenth, and lamb for Rania…

Right on time, the servers wheeled in plates of food to each student… always delivering what they were craving… As our server set the fresh meals to our table, Loqua asked of him, "Excuse me, how did you know what it was that we were going to want to eat?" He simply smiled, chuckling, but said nothing to answer the question.

Gene, having overheard the question, walked up to our table, where he gave the answer that Loqua was waiting for, "We do our research." It was then that he noticed that my food was hardly touched, so when he came my way, he inquired, "Is not the steak satisfactory?"

"Actually it's marvelously cooked. My compliments to the chef, but it's just too heavy for my palette right now… Would you happen to have chicken salad with honey mustard? And if you can some cucumbers, too? Please and thank you."

"…Why of course," he replied, pulling one of the servers aside on his way back to the wall were all the staff remained when not performing some task or another. The server nodded, and wheeled his cart laden with the used plates, my steak sitting on top like some wounded soldier…

Shortly thereafter, the server delivered my requested meal. Thanking him genuinely, for I feared I would go to bed hungry that night, he nodded, hefting a stiff and unusual smile before continuing with his task. Gene always happens to be right there when he's needed… He seemed caught off guard that I did not want my meal… And the usually friendly server treated me oddly… Something's amiss… And I don't like not knowing what…

Once the clatter of silverware hushed it's tinkling, signaling everyone having been done with their meal, Gene stepped forward to address his students. "Well, now that all of you are fed, I would like to inform you all that it will soon be lights out for this establishment. Please remain seated as we go ahead and get you to your rooms. We are passing around now your last plate, a dinner mint if you will, as well as your room key. We do not tolerate any sort of misbehavior as many of our staff is trying to rest for the next morning. Please take your mint and key card and follow us."

While he was speaking, the servers set plates down, some with mints the size of a silver dollar, some without, but all had the required key cards. I noted that those who did not receive a mint were in the process of declining… This kind of predictability is unheard of… How is it they know us so well when we haven't even been here a day? A question that I must discover the answer to.

Grabbing my mint, silently refusing to play their little game, I stuffed the mint in my pocket, and then fingered my key card as I watched Gene head to the double doors that I had situated to be in the corner of my vision. Carefully I piled every bit of trash onto my plate, before deftly turning towards the door, leaving the girls behind.

This time I chose to mingle in the middle of the crowd so that way I may pick up the opinions that the other's expressed. Most just continued on conversations they had at their tables. Others were still discussing what merits this 'establishment' had for their future. Despite all this, all fell quiet once Gene stopped at the base of a wing labeled 'lodging'.

"I would like to point out, just like in the cafeteria, we do not expect any sort of misbehavior. If you think the boys who broke our rule got off easy, you'd be close. If we catch anyone leaving their rooms and going to another person's for any reason other than strictly visiting, we will take all of the appropriate measures including legal action against the individuals." Gene's voice held so casually, like before, that it would be hard to distinguish the threat within it... Thankfully, there had been an example in the cafeteria, because there was an overwhelming sense of understanding coming from the teens all around me. With this warning in mind, the sixty flooded the hallway, finding their rooms with the help of the number that was scribed on them.

Looking to mine, I started to smile... Room 101... But that quickly turned upside down as I saw Rania disappear into room 102... And that one lad unlocking room 103... "Seriously, does everyone always have to ruin my fun? I've got you right next door, and Ms. Grumpy Gills on the other... Is there anyone willing to trade?!"

That's when he turned and gave me a, 'Now what's that suppose to mean,' look. I, in return, roll my eyes in a manner that said, 'Do I have to explain everything,' before I swiped my card, and disappeared into the confines of my room. Upon opening the door, I noticed that there wasn't any mechanical lock whatsoever... It was just a smooth piece of metal matching that of the metal attached to the door frame... Magnetic? Most interesting indeed.

No special decorations adorned the room. The wooden chest of drawers was the only smidgen of color. Even the bed was adorned with white fluffy blankets. Unimpressed with decor, I quickly scoped out the bathroom, which was simple as well. The only thing that caught my attention was a towel, a washcloth, and two sets of clothes. Curious, I took the initiative to investigate what it was that I would be wearing. At first, I was quite impressed. Every time I moved the cloth, red sparked out like wild fire. The long sleeves bore bluish gray stripes around the upper to mid forearm. Even the skirt, which went down to the ankle, had the same red sheen and strip pattern. It was a cute outfit... But not practical if something goes hay-wire... The second pair was just a red pair of short shorts and a loose tee. Biting my lip I turned, just now noticing the round air vent that kept the circulation in my room. I stared at it for a moment, finding the fact that the vent was surrounded by a black rectangle...

Walking up to it, I peered at it closely... It was odd. One would expect that it would be plastic, but by the looks of it, it could very well be just a part of the wall... But that's exactly what they would want people to believe... Trying not to narrow my eyes in the strong suspicion that I felt, I turned away and walked out of the room.

Just about everyone else was in the hallway. Some wore their uniforms, other's carried them out, and only a small group didn't reveal their uniforms at all, since they left them in their rooms. The men wore jumpsuits that had short, but stiff collars. The ladies had shirts and skirts, or pants of various styles. Everything was modestly designed, yet stylish, according to the preference of their wearers.

As I exited my room, I heard the lad before my vision took note of him. I turned to look, taking care not to forget to pay attention to everyone else in the wing. "Yeah... Though it doesn't look quite like that," I heard him say to his taller companion, who's uniform was a golden color, being darker nearest his collar.

I leaned up against my door, simply holding my uniform as I waited for some figure for me to question. In the meantime I busied myself with the conversations of others drifting and interchanging as they moved up and down the hall.

He came relatively quickly.

Gene was quickly surrounded by teens as they asked him questions about the uniforms. He was more than readily able to answer their questions, "Those will be your official attire for tomorrow. They were all designed for each of you keeping your interests and so on in mind. Please put them back away and wear them for tomorrow. Just as a reminder for all of you, I don't know what your rules at home are, but here it's lights out at nine pm for all of the facility. At the least you must be in your room and stay there by that point, but there shouldn't be any need to be out to get anything. We also ask you to keep your noise level down. You may stay up past nine if you choose, and that is why a lamp is provided for you, but you will be up and ready by ten am tomorrow or you'll miss breakfast. If you have anyone you know that is going to be staying up along with you, than you may visit them, keeping in mind that you should be up early. Just knock on their door and they'll let you in. That is all I have to say on the matter." Gene began to turn to leave.

Seeing my opportunity, I followed at a fast clip to keep up with his longer strides. He must have heard me, because he stopped, and turned part way. "Yes, Miss Vivera?"

"I be sure that you and your employees have gone out of their way to keep us happy. I'd like to inform you; however, that I don't prefer the skirt... and I hate to be a bother, but I would like it changed..."

"I see..." He said, using one of his charming smiles. "Now if you would mind I can see what can be done. Any preference in mind, Miss Vivera?"

"Pants. Cargo pants if you can... If you please, sir," I replied.

"Please... Call me Gene."

"...Gene... Would you happen to need a size?"

"That won't be necessary... Anything else?"

"No, thank you."

With that, we parted ways. Down to the last detail... I wonder if...

On my way down the hall, I casually watched as big-yellow-guy and the lad conversed. They seemed to be heading into his room... It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up... Even though I itched to walk faster, I kept the same steady pace, hoping they wouldn't be in any rush to get in the room. The lad wasn't, a blessing I thanked for as I reached over, and plucked his key card from his back left pocket. Without hesitation, I went into my room, bearing my uniform in arm. With nothing else better to do, I went into my bathroom, and took a long hot shower. Once fully rinsed, I turned the nob to cold, and enjoyed the refreshing sensation for a minute before getting out of the shower.

Retrieving my towel, I set to work drying off. It was then that I noticed the underwear they had left for me... Nice... Since when did I become a slut... ... Cute though... I thought, though, despite my usual preferences, I stuck to putting back on my old stuff.

I was braiding my hair as I slipped back out the door, and it was there that I nearly jumped out of my skin. The big-yellow-guy stood in front of me, his casual manner as threatening as a mouse within the confinements of its den. Breathing slowly through my nose, I forced myself to calm down. After all, there was hardly anyone nearby except for the two teachers at either end of the wing.

"So, what would you think of your suit?" He inquired, being rather blunt and straightforward.

It threw me off my guard for a second; however, I felt no reason to be particularly cautious, so I kept it that way. "I like it actually, but I be not here to impress anyone, so I requested it to be changed."

"Why don't you like it?"

"Because I don't like being too girly."

"What's wrong with that, you are a girl."

"Because skirts are for ladies and ladies don't kick boys butts... which is what I do."

"Oh." For a long time, there was an awkward pause as he sorted through this little tid bit. Probably trying to figure out whether or not he should keep pressing my buttons. "Any idea why they are like this?"

"I have an inkling, but not much more than that. Why?" If we're going to play twenty questions I'll get something out of you...

"Because it's bugging Lyce, too. I don't know why, cuz they're cool."

Interesting...

"What's your deal with Lyce?"

"Who?"

"The guy you keep giving weird looks to..."

"Oh... Personal reasons..." That's were I felt myself immediately erect a wall before things really got complicated... Why do I?...

"Why? That doesn't make sense..."

"Are girls suppose to make sense?"

"Yeah."

"Guess you have to learn the hard way, then..." With that, I started walking down the hall, my feet feeling the itch to go for a jog. I kept telling myself I wasn't running away from a fight. That I just needed to get away before I started giving away too much... This is definitely not my kind of job... I should have stuck with the CD department... Though that is interesting about Lyce... What kind of name is that anyway?... Reminds me of the parasite...

A beep sounded from a speaker in the hallway. Turning on the ball of my foot, I head back to my room, by now the hallway long since devoid of life. Making my way, I swiped the card back to my room, before preparing for bed in the bathroom. Near the time I finished, another beep resounded, followed by the lights dimming. Finishing, I pulled out my CD player, listening to my random tunes as I plugged away at the hidden buttons set underneath. Finishing, I put the player away, checking the time to be near ten on the simple two-handed clock, before sliding the bag over my shoulder so the strap would cradle my hip.

With everything set, I opened the door, checking to see if the teachers still loomed on either end of the wing. With no one in sight, I moved out into the hall and, pulling out the stolen card key, I set my ear to the door, listening for any sound coming from within the chamber. Satisfied at the silence, I swiped the card and opened the door just a hair. Again, I listened for anything, any clue that would tell me whether or not you were alerted to my presence.

Finding all satisfactory silent, I enter, stepping lightly as I scanned your room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Except the fact that Lyce lay, not with his head to the headboard, but with his head at the foot of the bed. Odd... Anyway, now to make sure this to be true... Taking my bag, I hooked it on the ventilation shaft, playing with it some until it covered one corner of the black square. Once in place, I began fingering through various articles that were on that side, using the cover to go relatively unnoticed... Say if my suspicions were correct... Opening the chest of drawers revealed nothing, not even once the drawers were completely removed. Quietly I set them back in order and set to work elsewhere.

Moving the bag to the farthest corner was a bit tricky. Being the height challenged lass, I couldn't stretch far enough to hook the strap. Biting my lip, I look at Lyce, who was out like a light... Carefully I stood on the bed, taking care not to get my feet too close for Lyce to feel. From there I was able to set my bag accordingly.

I was just about ready to get off the bed when my foot caught on something. Swinging my arms to help secure my wavering balance... I fell. I braced my arms, spreading them wide to keep from hitting Lyce, my foot doing likewise. I hovered over his prostrate form, surprise, and quavering fear keeping me in place... Yet he did nothing more than shift his head... Sighing, I started to move, before I noted one stray water drop fall from my dangling braid. Like one of those slow motion nature films, it dropped easing from hair to flesh in less than a second, but it felt like an eternity.

It was then that he completely shifted, his hand racing upward till the thumb and fingers curled around my palm. It was a simple touch, and one that lacked complete consciousness, but altogether made me blush, which did not lighten my mood. With a jerk, I got off the bed, for a moment all caution suspended. With a job needing to be finished, I distracted my frustrations by finish checking for anything that would give me any indication that he may be a spy... Yet still nothing... Apparently he possessed nothing of personal worth other than what he had been given.

Unfolding his uniform, I couldn't help but raise both my brows in surprise. Out of all of the uniforms I have seen so far, none had near the same style as mine... Yet here one was. It was a shade of dark red near the neck and shoulders, lightening into an attractive scarlet that was just a few shades lighter. Blue stripes marked the chest and legs, where they gradually lightened the higher up they went on the leg. I swallowed, trying not to imagine it being worn by him, before carefully mimicking the fold lines until it sat just the way it was left. With nothing left to investigate, I completely removed my bag, being extra careful this time.

I took a second by the door, double checking to make sure everything was set in place, before opening it. Once the door was open did I hear the steady tromp of feet going down the hall. Instantly I shut the door, using my imagination to come up with random words to describe my lack of fortune.

After a couple more minutes, I cracked the door. Complete silence. Cracking it further, I slowly peered down one way, and then the other... Empty. Breathing a sigh of relief, I left... Before immediately going back in. Can't believe I almost forgot to give him his card key back!... Oh you're out of it, Viv girl... I hesitated as I fingered his pants, taking a minute to replay the picpocketing scene before sticking the card in his back left pocket and finally leaving the room completely.

I set my alarm for five o'clock the following morning on my player... That leaves me with about six hours of sleep... I thought, looking at the clock which pronounced 11:15 with it's ominous black arms... That's cutting it short... but the earlier the better... Without further ado, I slipped my player underneath my pillow, put my headphones in place, pushed play, and let the melodycarry me to dreamland.

*~*~*

The room smelled of dust and disuse, yet all was in well order. Setting my duffel bag down disturbed dust bunnies long since comfortable on the floor. They rose and danced in the golden beams of sunlight, like little miniscule fairies. Sighing, I tried not to think of this additional chore before I could sleep.

"Sorry about the room, Vivera. I hadn't expected two people who would deal with a decrepit old woman such as myself," apologized Sivana Lowski, my landlord and experienced ranch woman.

It took me a moment to remember that my name was Vivera before I responded. "There's no need to apologize, Mrs. Lowski. You didn't know..." I acknowledged, turning to the small old woman. She was shorter than I, her back bent after years of hard labor on the ranch. Her face was wrinkled with age, and her silver gray hair plaited into a braid, yet most distinct was her blue eyes which were as sharp as sapphires and just as beautiful. Through them, I could tell that a very vivid mind still churned despite her age.

Falden, I mean, Tono walked down the hall, a pleasant grin on his face, "Well, Mrs. Lowski, I am ready."

"Did you find everything alright?" Mrs. Lowski asked.

"Perfectly. You have a lovely place here, Mrs. Lowski."

"Why thank you, young man. My husband built it himself before he proposed. Of course, it was a more simple thing than, and he built additions as the family grew. The true beauty isn't the house, though. If you'll please follow me, I'll show you what I mean." The short old woman led us back up the hallway, down the stairs, through the dining room, passed the parlor, and out onto the wooden deck.

The time was about nine-thirty, and the sun was beginning to set on Caranthian soil. Pumpkin oranges and cherry reds dominated the scene, bathing the flora with fruitful light, staining all that it touched with the evening juices. Rolling hills of acres upon acres of pasture land. Shadows blotted out the color, only to embolden color's grasp. I gasped, caught off guard by the sheer beauty.

"I thought you would enjoy that, child," crooned Mrs. Lowski, never taking her eyes off the sunset. "Come, I'll show you to your duties..."

*~*~*

My alarm buzzed that morning... That's the most annoying thing on the planet, I thought, longing to turn it off for a moon, but knowing if I was to set out my observation post, the earlier I started, the better. With a groan, I pushed myself upright, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes as I let my brain adjust to the advancement of wakefulness.

It was still dark in my room, so I turned on the lamp next to my bed. I blinked at the sudden change of light before slowly easing myself out of the white covers and into the bathroom. Once there, I unrolled the ace bandage slowly, wincing only slightly as it tugged just a fraction at the soft scab. Inspecting the injury carefully, noting only the healthy color of healing and not the yellow of infection. After a moment I was dressed in the same outfit I wore the day before, refusing, despite my want to wear clean clothes on a clean bod, to wear a skirt amidst so many young men...

Fit and ready, I gathered my player and placed it within my bag. Opening my door, I believe I hid my alarm very well as I found Gene to be waiting calmy there. "I figured you'd be up bright and early... though I would much prefer you wore your uniform today like everyone else..."

"I can't wait till my pants are ready, Gene?" I inquired, hiding my annoyance with musical politeness.

"You would set a far better example to your classmates if you wore your uniform, Miss Vivera..."

"I see..." I said, tasting the bitterness of being told what to do, but would not let the sour taste affect the expression on my face. Turning, I shut the door, not at all caring that it would have very much appeared rude, while I set to work on changing into my uniform in the confines of the bathroom, finding that I couldn't roll the sleeve up to prevent it any bleeding through the uniform. Finished, I brushed my hands mutely on the fabric of my skirt... Feeling decidedly feminine, and not at all liking the vulnerability that came with it. I looked down at the langerie that had been left, and I smiled lightly at that small victory. There is no way on this planet that I'll wear that... And they can't make me...

Feeling much better at that cheering thought, once more I opened the door, looking away as Gene smiled the way he always does... "Now," he began, "the blood test results did not come out clearly yesterday, so I'm afraid we must take another first thing this morning..." He looked to the blood soaking through the uniform on my arm, his smile shrinking to show his concern, but mentioned nothing of it.

"You've got to be joking... That chair has left me with plenty more than nightmares for at least a few days... Why so soon? Can't that wait till I get some blood recouped?" I asked, trying to sound reasonable when my my mind was waving red flags all over this.

Gene was, surprisingly, quiet for some time, his eyes closed as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. After giving it some thought, he answered with just the slightest hints of a sigh, which I couldn't decide if it was more out of frustration, sincerity, or play acting. "Sorry, Miss Vivera, but there is a schedule I have to keep, and as much as you are right, we really should press on if I am to avoid rebuke on both your and my part."

With a sigh myself, I nodded, "Then let us get this thing over with... I do hunger something fierce..."

Gene chuckled at this as he led me back down the hallway, through the cafeteria, and back down the other hallway until I was, once more, back in the dimly lit room with the chair. Long time no see, my friend... But not long enough... I stepped up to the chair, more confident this time, but the pain still flashing briefly in my mind. "So how does this thing work?" I asked, leaning forward to inspect the strap on the chair closely.

"You are a curious one," observed Gene from behind me.

"Yeah... My parents always encouraged that of me," I ventured to say over my shoulder.

"Is that so? You have heard of the saying, 'Curiousity killed the cat,'?"

"Yep, but most people forget the last bit, 'And satisfaction brought it back.'"

Gene laughed then, a sound that was light and cheery, and one that surprised me thoroughly. Looking away from my study subject, I quirked Gene a questioning brow. "What's so funny?"

"Now I know why Mr. Giblo speaks so highly of you. You are a lady of exceptional wit, though I will point out that sometimes it is best you keep your comments to yourself..." He explained, gesturing that I sit down. With some reluctance I complied.

"And be something other than myself? What's the point of living if you can't be who you are?"

"Very true, Miss Vivera. Very true, indeed," said he, as he strapped my right arm down. I stiffened, allowing the action because it'll only support the fear-impression I was aiming for.

"At least now you'll know what to expect," he mildly comforted.

"Doesn't make the experience any less pleasant..." I responded, gluing my eyes on the strap like it was the devil.

"Oh you'll be fine. In fact, I'll be sitting right over there to make sure all goes well."

Crackerjacks! I thought, trying hard to keep a straight face. Now there is no way I can get out of this one...

Shortly thereafter, the strap began vibrating. I jumped, an action that had Gene calmly reassuring, "Don't worry. The machine is just trying to find the vein with the least amount of pain. It'll be over before you'll know it."

Biting my lip, I left no room for response as I tried to be as calm as possible. Seeing the blood bleed through the sleeve on my left arm did not help build any constitution. I closed my eyes, my knuckles turning white as I gripped the arms of the chair as the wave of vibrations ceased.

"Are you alright?" Gene asked, obviously quite close, but I refused to open my eyes as I forced myself to breathe slowly, taking deep, punctuating breaths. Nor did I answer as I tried to calm myself. I felt his hands begin to work the strap off. As soon as I felt the pressure release, I vaulted out of the chair, gripping and curling the arm to help stop the bleeding.

"Here, Miss Vivera. I'll take care of that," he offered, holding out his hand so that I may give him my arm.

"I'll be fine. Thanks anyway."

"Really, Miss Vivera. This'll help prevent infection..."

"From my experience, oxygen exposed wounds do much better..."

"Our research has shown nothing of the sort, but it's your choice."

"Then I choose to refuse."

"So be it. Though I will point out that your uniform will be hindering that... On top of the fact that it needs to be washed. I'll have your shirt ready for you. For now, I will escort you to the cafeteria."

Nodding, I followed Gene back to the cafeteria, where I was lead back to my seat... The nameplate having been moved to it's original place. On top of that, a dish was already set and piled to the brim with french toast, scrambled eggs, and hash browns. "Mmmm... I can definitely go for this..." I said to myself, not at all hesitating to slide my plate back to my seat of preference as I grabbed the fork to eat my breakfast. Despite my overall eagerness for my meal, I ate slowly, being the type to enjoy my food rather than inhale it. Especially when I took my time simply watching the few others who were up by this time, also enjoying their meals.

By the time eight-thirty rolled around, my meal had been long gone, the servers having removed my plate. I had pulled out a small sketchbook that I had kept in my bag, and was sketching certain people I was observing, when Lyce walked through the door. Like the majority of the kids, he was led by Gene into the cafeteria; however, for him, I couldn't help but openly stare. I had to admit, he was decidely attractive in that crimson and navy jumpsuit... Jerking my head away, I got to work on a new sketch, furiously letting my hand make it's defined streaks of graphite. No distractions. Absolutely no distractions! You must focus on your mission... And no, your mission does not cover finding a husband! Remember, you are here for the moon's liberation from its mother country. You are not here for personal gain. You work for the Lunar Organization. You do what they want. Period. End of story.

It was only once my sketch was done that I stepped back to view the finished project... Myjaw dropped, instantly recognizing the lean face, tall frame, and stripped suit of the lad named Lyce. He was poised in such a way that only defined his features other than obliterate them... In horror, I shoved the sketchbook back in the pack and absolutely refused to look in Lyce's general direction.

It was around nine when the big-yellow-guy entered, being one of the few who was escorted by one of the regular staff members. We happened to catch each other's eye. He waved, and I just quirked a brow, while I idly chatted with Loqua and Alenth. It wouldn't be long thereafter, I would assume after the big fella ate, that he walked up to our table and sat in the chair right next to mine, which happened to be Rania's.

"Hi," he said, sounding as comfortable as if we've known each other for years.

"...Hi..." I responded, not at all quite sure what to make of the guy.

"So... I never did catch your name from before," he suggested, his blue eyes very much on the patient side.

"Umm... Vivera... Why?" I asked, watching Taray take her seat across from me.

"Because I like to know the name of everyone I meet. That and you seem to have something for Lyce and since he's one of my best buddies, I'd thought it be a good idea so I can get to know you..."

"Wait... What?" I inquired, taken by surprise that he noticed... And trying to prevent the blood from rushing up to my cheeks.

"Yeah. Because you keep giving him weird looks, so I thought you were trying to get to know him, and thought I should get to know you too..."

"Umm... Okay... You're weird. You know that?"

"Uhh... Why do you say that?"

"Because I have no interest in Lyce whatsoever." Yeah. You keep telling yourself that and it might come true.

"Well that's not the impression that I got... but okay..." He said while he stood up to leave.

"Well you thought wrong..." Easy, Viv... Still gotta convince yourself, remember? "By the way, what is your name?"

He hesitated, obviously caught off guard. "Well... Arlie," he said, sounding very disappointed as he walked away.

For a moment I felt bad for treating him so poorly, but I felt the stares of Alenth, Loqua and Taray, and all such thoughts immediately vanished.

"Wasn't that a little rude, Viv? He was only trying to be nice..." Began Alenth.

"Not to mention was he cute..." Added Taray...

"Well... Just a little..." I admitted...

"Then why did you do it?" Inquired Alenth.

"Because I don't like guys..." I answered.

"Wait, you're lesbian?" Inquired Taray as she leaned forward.

The face I made could only be described as complete and utter disgust and repulsion at the very thought. "Ugh... No..."

"But you said you don't like guys," she continued.

"Only because I be not interested in any relationship right now..."

"Really?" Ventured quiet Loqua.

"This is the most perfect opportunity to meet cute guys from both countries..." added Taray, giving me just a hint of a weird look.

In response I just shrugged, before packing my stuff away to signal that I do not wish to talk about it anymore.

Eventually the clock struck ten, and only seventy-five percent of the students were up and eating. Gene stepped forward, while the rest of the staff went to go fetch the late-risers. "If I could have everyone's attention please! Now that all of you have had your fill, those of you who woke up on time anyway, we need to head to the classroom for the final part of your lesson. Please follow me."

I stood up casually, keeping my eyes on everyone else except that one particular young man as we arrived at the classroom. Everyone was whispering to each other, and from what I picked up, it was still about their uniforms. Eventually, we were joined by the late-risers. I smiled when I noted Rania in this group, before making myself comfortable. Most were complaining about being hungry, even Rania was whining that she didn't get anything to eat. Tough luck. Early bird catches the worm.

"Thank you students for being patient. I recognize that much of the first lesson was about things that you were more or less aware of, but now you get to hear about why you're here." Gene began. I remained alert, but my thoughts were clicking things together at an alarming rate... I didn't like what I believe he was going to say... But it made complete sense to what I had heard, and why this was a high priority mission. I took a mental note that there was not any notes made, which I figured meant that they didn't want any physical evidence to their operation.

"Now that you have learned a general idea of what it is that we're about, I have news for you all. You all remember what I said about how we would send out a group of trained animals into the wild and have them report back to us right?"

Without hesitation, I inquired in a casual, but loud enough voice to be plainly heard by all, "And they are we, isn't that correct?" At first, Gene didn't answer, as if he himself was trying to figure out how to word his reply correctly. To clarify, I added, "You're making us be the animals, aren't you?"

As one, the entire class jaws dropped, some turning in their chairs to gape at me, and others at Gene. One of Gene's hands fiddled with his watch, as he answered with utmost certainty, "Yes," before drawing his hands behind his back and out of sight. Interesting... Hi-tech watch, eh there Gene-poo?

In an instant the entire class erupted in noise. Some from the racket they made as the stood from their chairs, others from yelling at Gene, and only a few others added nothing to the commotion at all. They just sat there staring at their scab-pricked arms, a mixture of emotions on their faces. I noted that Rania was one of these.

Myself? I simply sat, nodding my head as if the pieces were all coming into place. Lunar Org is gonna find this mighty interesting indeed, thought I, as I noted the reactions of my fellows, cataloging it for later use.

A minute hadn't even clicked by when suddenly the room was stormed with sixty strong men. White stripes banded their arms and legs of their navy blue suits, like those of the uniforms that the young male teens now wore. I noted that not all had the same number of bands. I quirked a brow, wondering if that was some sort of ranking system. In the meantime, everyone froze stone solid, unsure of what, and how they should react now that the odds have been changed.

Unlike everyone else, I was out of my chair in an instant, hands pressed to my desk top in an effort not to strike up a fighting pose and provoke the situation into further chaos. However, the way my jaw clenched and unclenched, and the way my steely blue gaze seemed to say to each man as I glared at them, 'You touch me, and I'll slap you so silly, you won't recognize your mamma,' was just enough to tell anyone I was ticked.

"Children, please. You do not give me enough time to explain. If you do not calm down and give me ample opportunity to explain then anyone who tries to fight is going to be detained until you cool down and are willing to listen to reason!" Gene rationalized, as he raised his right hand to shoulder height, palm facing skyward.

Many students exchanged glances between the mute aggressors, and Gene, before sitting down. Only a few others remained standing, myself included, as we glared at Gene with as much vehemence as we could muster. Eventually, some of them sat down slowly, among the last of these was Arlie and myself.

Once the class situated themselves into an order of Gene's satisfaction, he waved to the men. They, in turn, filed out until only half of their original number remained. They stood at ease, yet their poise belied readiness... Just in case...

"Now then. As I was saying, we were going to train animals to try to get them to be intelligent enough to report to us. However, every attempt that we've held so far has failed. What we have managed to do so far is develop the technology that would allow you to turn into a select endangered animal and back at will. So in a way, you would be animals, but we would know better." Yeah right. I'll believe that one the next time the sun stops. "You will still be treated quite well, better than some of us actually, and all that we ask of you is to do what we have failed to do.

"When we ran our last blood testing, we went ahead and verified what type of endangered animal you all would be best suited to. We also had to test your immune system and prepare it for the changes. The one prick that many of you have noticed is for the blood sample test that we needed. The one on your right hand side was for the injection. The one prick on the left was for any inoculations you would need to prepare yourself for your new role."

Instantly I was back on my feet, once more pressing my hands to my table to keep myself from throwing anything at him. "You did what?!"

"We tried to give your bodies the antibodies that you would need to fight off diseases that you wouldn't normally be susceptable to..."

It was then that I noticed a presence of one of the guards directly at my back. Taking a quick glance, I noted his crossed arms and strict frown on his face. Warning me not to do anything foolish...

Rolling my eyes, I looked back to Gene. "State the obvious, Gene. I meant you did all of this without our permission? What are we, lab rats you can do whatever with at will?"

Gene's face contorted just slightly as he replied, "Not at all. Allow me to explain instead of interrupting me."

I felt the guard's hand grab me by the shoulder, where he began applying pressure to push me down. I shrugged him off, gave him a glare, before sitting myself down.

Satisfied, he continued, "All that I have left to inform you is that each of you has a tutor that will teach you everything that you will need to know. Specific details and lifestyles and everything that we have noticed about the lives you're about to be taking. Now we realized that you have been forced into this scenario. You don't have to participate; you will still be cared for. Keep in mind, though, that if you co-operate, you will be cared for well. If you do not wish to take part, then you will only get a little freedom until you change your mind. Now then, if you will, when your name is called by one of the guards, please go to them. Some of you will be paired up as well, some of you will be alone." Finished Gene, waving his hand to the men along the wall.

As one trained being, the guards snapped to attention. Each man called out a name, or set of names, and at each calling, some stood and followed reluctantly, while others were by far more excited at the future prospects. I leaned back in my chair, arms crossed, my thoughts cycling like boiling water. Anger boiling upwards, where it cooled to the air of reason, sank, heated with my own opinions of the heart, before rising once more. I can't believe the arrogance of just dramatically changing someone's life like that! They've gotta be off their rocker... But... Then again... This could be used to our advantage. There are plenty of people here that are just as royally ticked off as I... It wouldn't be hard to round up some followers... Even so... That is so messed up...

The first thirty men have called and left with their charges. The other thirty have come in, calling out for their charges. Once more, I was the last one called... Unfortunately, it was combined with a certain someone's...

"Lycian and Vivera," crowed a voice behind me. Turning I noted the same fella from before who had stood behind me during Gene and I's little dispute. He gave a little crude smile as I stepped away from the desk. In response, I just smirked, daring him to just try me...

The one deemed Lycian, formerly referred to as Lyce, approached. I noted he seemed to be puzzling over something, and with only the slightest hints of his shoulders shrugging, he appeared to think about it no more. With nothing further to occupy my mind, I reverted back to Gene's 'explanation'. I was dissatisfied with his answer, but with no opportunity to pull him aside, and being very much aware that I would be pushing my luck if I tried, I decided that the best, and safest solution would be just to wait out the storm and pick up anything that may or may not be useful, in the meantime.

Our escort motioned us to follow with just a flick of his wrist. Deep in thought, I only did as was requested, or would have done if it hadn't been that that fellow, Lycian, bowed slightly, moving only the lower forearm to wave me foreward.

Somewhere, deep inside, I was impressed.

As quickly as it came, I squashed that little sparkle before it became apparent on my facade. I raised both brows skyward, refusing to move at all at his invitation.

"Ladies first..." He said, his voice deep despite his lanky frame. The low notes tickling my ears...

Crossing my arms, I interjected, "Why is it do you think I be waiting?"

That caught him by surprise. I watched as the insult was being digested. Obviously he found it distasteful, as the look on his face told me, but made no attempt to exchange any of his own. He simply remained puzzled, shrugged, and then walked through the door.

Once more I was impressed, and once more I squashed any feelings before they took root. Remember your mission, I told myself as I walked down the hall as I took note of any little detail we passed going down the hallway. It was only then that I realized I was falling a bit behind. Taking up my pace, I finally caught to the men as we reached the stairwell. At this point, Lycian was just holding the door open for himself. Without so much as taking notice of him... or at least trying not to, I rushed passed him, accelerating down the stairs till I was a comfortable distance behind our escort. At which point did I slow down.

I felt, more than heard, Lycian's presence. Stiffening, I broadened my path till my arm was touching the farthest wall, shifting just so that way my peripheral vision might keep him within view. It was only by the time we exited the stairwell that I relaxed, noting that, while Lycian was too close for comfort, that he wasn't trying any funny business.

I distracted myself by noticing the various labels on the doors that we passed. All had 'Animal Studies' on their front, but each door was individualized by its own specific animal critter. Our escort stopped at one particular door with 'Dire Wolves' situated on the brass plate. At least they picked a cool animal, I thought, trying to make light on the particularly gloomy situation...

I took a quick look around while our escort grasped the door knob. It was then that I took note of two things. First, and most important, was that the door set directly across from ours had no label. The second, and one I considered as an afterthought, that Lycian also noted this, but said nothing of it. I gave him a look that easily revealed my distaste as I turned to our escort, who was holding the door open and ready for us.

"What's that door for?" I questioned, pointing directly to the door to make it clear exactly which one I was referring to.

"I don't know. It's got nothing to do with me..." He responded, sounding as interested as an old dog to a new cat.

"Well you're no fun," I stated, following our escorts gesture to step inside.

Upon doing so, the very first thing I noted was that room was painted, with a light blue ceiling and green walls. Second thing was that it was large, easily holding two typical bedrooms within it's walls. With only a few cozy looking chairs scattered about, all pointing to the left wall, the room had no further reason to look any smaller. The addition of two doors, one in each corner on the farthest wall, took away the impression of a box-like prison. From the ceiling was, of course, six light fixtures, but also a projector facing the left wall. Clearly a classroom... Not to mention the round vent; however, this particular vent didn't have the black surrounding it like all the others.

I turned when I heard the door hum behind me. Just out of curiousity, I walked up to the door and tested the handle... It was locked. "Jerk!" I shouted, as I pumped the handle.

From behind, I heard Lycian mutter, "Great... Just great."

Turning, I told him, "Remind me to rip him a new one when we see that jerkface again..."

"I don't think you'll forget it, sounds like," he replied.

Cocking both brows, "So he does speak... And here I thought you were a mute..."

"Of course I speak, but when you act like you dislike me then why bother?"

Ignoring his comment, I then meander across the room, my hands pumping the cushion on one of the chairs. "Nice," I commented, pleased with the comfortability of the chair. Making my way to the nearest door, which happened to be the one on the right. Opening it I commented... "You've got to be kidding me... This is totally not cool..." Not even bothering to shut the door, I go and open the door. It swung halfway, where it halted by the aid of the doorstop to prevent any damage to the wall itself... Well it's a good thing there's two bedrooms, I suppose... I thought, as I walked further into the bedroom.

Peculiar... And that was exactly what it was. These rooms are actually painted... Was my first thought. Second thought; Light blue ceiling, green walls? Was some color blind newb in charge of this? I unslung my bag, but held it hovering off my shoulder as I paused at... the bed... At least I think it's a bed... I thought, as I approached the giant whicker basket like furniture. With my free hand, I picked up the covers as if inspecting some diseased creature buried beneath. Yet there was nothing but more blankets. Curious, I kept lifting layer after layer, and eventually came to an actual cushion that perfectly fit the round basket frame. Seriously, they're making me wonder about their sanity... To actually make humans animals is crazy... but this... This is just pushing it...

Tossed in with the basket bed was a chest of drawers, lamp set upon a lamp stand all of the same make. A new piece of furniture, a desk, was situated up against the corner of the room, which I now realized was built at an 'L' shape. Another vent could be spotted in the left corner of the farthest wall, directly above my bed. It was then that I noticed another door. The door was tucked neatly a few steps beyond the room entrance.

Curious, as always, I open the door to discover the bathroom. It was relatively spacious, always giving the impression of comfortability. The throne was in the nearest corner, my right, with the sink set to the left, and a full body mirror on the wall next to the sinks, and not in immediate view because of the bathroom door. Going further, I noted that the sink was oddly set against a half wall and on further inspection, another vent placed above it, and as I turned through the walkway I saw why... It left a large tub, complete with a raindrop shower head, in complete view... Luckily there is a curtain... I checked the doors, for there was one directly across from mine, for locks... Because there are no locks...

I opened the other door, confirming my worst fears... His room... This is going to be interesting...

Not bothering to shut that door, I checked the sink cupboards, finding the usual toiletries that are necessary. Even some of the female products that a lady like I would need... "What's this?" I picked up one box, not at all familiar with it size and immediately regretted it. "Gross!!!" I threw the box of male products back under the sink and immediately and vacated the bathroom and into my own room. I think I be getting a headache...

With nothing further in the room, I started for the door, easing my bag back over my shoulder as I stopped, realizing that I had gotten Lycian's attention on my plight.

"Are you alright?" He asked, complete sincerity and worry written in his demeanor.

Without further ado, I replied. "My room. No touchy. You even touch the handle and I'll burn your hands with whatever I can find..."

His confusion was apparent. Shaking his head, he turned and walked off. A little defensive, aren't we? I bet I know why... Oh shut up... You don't know what you're thinking, Viv girl.

"... ... Oh, and don't try any funny business. I can come up with mean and nasty things if I have to..." I exited my room, shutting the door behind me in the process. Taking a look around... "Now... for self-entertainment..."

Pulling up a chair, I dragged it over to where the vent was. Kneeling on the fabric, I sat there a moment... Just thinking... Then reaching up, I took a finger nail and began scratching around the area. Not to my surprise, but was to me glee, the white began to peel away, revealing a clear black cover underneath.

I could hear the knob click as it unlocked. Spinning, I sat in the chair, waiting for only a second before the door opened and in walked one of the guards. Except on his legs were two bands in addition to his five on his arm. "Enjoying your accomodations?" He inquired, crossing his arms as he blocked the door from either of us even thinking about escaping... Which is kind of hard to consider when the road block is sixish feet tall and built like a tank.

Standing, I responded, "Could be better... Got any cards so that Lycian and I could have some quality bonding time?"

From the corner of my eye, I could see Lycian give me a look. A look I could easily describe as him saying, 'What?! What planet are you from?' I so badly wanted to smile, but somehow I managed to lock the impulse just behind my teeth.

The guard cast a glance to Lycian, which I be sure he read his expression as easily as I could. He, I noticed, hid his emotions real well behind a stone solid facade. "That can always be arranged. Just be sure you two behave unless you wish to pay for any damages to property that is not yours..." Spinning on his heel, he turned and left, leaving behind a click to announce that we were, once more, locked in our room.

Lycian took a seat in the chair nearest the door. I, in turn, took a seat at the table, set my headphones in place, and jammed out.

It wasn't long before the guard returned. Standing, I only made a few steps forward before he tossed the deck of cards, on top of two others in my direction. Catching them, I thanked him and smiled, he left without a response, if you could call a locked door no response that is. I sat back down in my chair, turned off my player, and called to Lycian. "Wanna play?"

He sighed, not at all sounding to excited about the prospect. However, he took the seat to my right without complaint. "Have any game preference?"

"Not... really..." He looked confused.

"Know how to play King's in the Corner?"

"What?"

"I take that as a no... Here, let me show you..." With that, I proceed to lay down the rules of the game, answering any of his questions as they came up.

"I'm so gonna lose..." Yet, despite that, he picked up his hand and proceeded to play anyway.

After three straight wins for myself, Lycian finally claimed a game of his own. "Well," he began, "that's interesting... So this is what you call bonding?"

"Actually, I personally see it as pulling some strings, but this is a start... Since it looks like we have no choice but to associate with each other... That is... if you prefer human contact... I don't care either way..."

"Well this is definitely better than nothing," he admitted.

"Good," I yawn, "Because I be tiring... I think this is a good start so if you'll excuse me..." At this, I stand up, but instead of making my way to my room, I claimed one of the comfortable chairs, set my head phones in place, leaned back, and slowly fell asleep.