The Campus

Chapter One

Bubbling lights, water logged voices, and searing pain. The surgery that changed Tia's life was nothing but a dark and watery blur in her memory. Swirling dreams depicted glimpses of a lab, tinted green and warped like looking at it through the depths of a very murky lake. Hissing snakes seemed to breathe with her, their hollow echos louder than the muffled voices.

Tia woke, the anti-septic smell of a hospital crowding her senses. She coughed, the sound shot through her head like a bullet. Blinking blearily, she flinched back. She was right next to the ceiling! The florescent lights burned across her vision in strips of pain.

Why did they put me so close to the ceiling? Why am I IN a hospital to begin with? She tried to remember what she had been doing last, but her brain felt as sluggish as a sloth swimming in molasses. It was hard to remember anything.

Had there been an accident? Her mind tried to move through her memories, but as she tried, her eyes drooped. Dropping the attempt, she opened her eyes. Again she was almost against the ceiling. Her breathing was unusually loud. She shifted her shoulders and found that they had gone numb.

Weird, she thought, if I've been laying here a while, you'd think that my legs or my ass would be numb, not my shoulders. She struggled to sit up a little, to look around the room. Her heart raced as she seemed to jump around the room, instantly close to whatever she was looking at. Tia closed her eyes and forced herself to calm down. Opening her eyes again, she held up one hand, wires were sticking into her arm in several spots. One was an IV, the spot around the needle itched a little. She looked at her arm. It seemed twenty times bigger than it should be. Closing her eyes again, she internally examined her arm. It didn't feel like it was any bigger than it should have been. She looked again and blinked a couple of times. It was the weirdest sensation. Like her eyes had become camera lenses with a ridiculously advanced zoom. As she blinked at her arm, her vision seemed to zoom out until her arm was normal size again.

The anti-septic smell was still crowding her nose, giving Tia the onset of a fierce headache. She focused her attention on her nose, blocking out most of the smell of anti-septic. As she did this, other scents came to her attention. Someone was brewing coffee, and nearby, there was a bouquet of flowers that needed watering. Wait, she thought, they need watering? How the hell do I know that? Another part of her shrugged; They just smelled thirsty. There were more scents that she couldn't quite figure out in the room. All bathed in the harsh hospital soap smell. She concentrated, trying to sort them out.

Old spice... Rose oil...Candle wax and wood polish...Paper, ink and Red Bull.

They belonged to people, she thought. She thought about the scents and who they might belong to. The Old spice could be any male between the ages 18 and 92. She focused harder. There was another smell there, very faint. A kind of coppery smell, with a dull tang. Something stirred in her mind at the smell. Old blood, she realized. That must be the doctor or surgeon.

The rose oil scent had the same dull tang as the Doctor's. Tia figured a nurse or female doctor. Most likely somewhere in their forty's.

Candle wax and wood polish... that one baffled Tia, but it brought to mind a memory of someone. Tia tried to keep a hold on the slippery memory. It seemed like the kind of thing that Jeremy... She couldn't remember his last name. Jeremy had been the School Treasurer. He always held himself as though he really did have the proverbial stick up his... Anyway, he was always flustering about some type of form or another. She focused on the scent again. There was a light undertone to the stick-up-the-ass-ness... Shecouldn't put a word to it. More like a feeling. A feel of confidence and authority. She thought of Jeremy again. What would he have been like if he'd actually had any authority? She shuddered. He'd have been insufferable.

A clacking sound started up. Tia listened, it sounded like footsteps. Yes, it sounded just like those annoying preppy girls, wearing stilettos all year round. That was just the noise those murderous shoes always made on the tile hallways of...of...Something Senior High.

As a mild panic began to set in, she didn't know why she didn't freak out more. Her eyes drifted to the IV in her arm. Maybe because of drugs? The thought slipped away from her, while the nurse finally appeared in the door. For how loud the sound of her heels were, it took her forever to get to the door.

There was a waft of old blood and rose oil. Tia studied the woman. She might have been right about the age, but it was rather hard to tell. Her face had the frozen look of a woman who had tried to fight the years a little too hard. Her smile felt falsely warm, like the image of a fireplace.

"Ah," she said cheerfully. "Good to see you're awake." but she had been surprised to see that she had been awake. I don't know how I know this. It's like looking at an animal and knowing that it's wild. The nurse fussed and puttered about, doing nurse things. She checked Tia's temperature and pulse, and noted the amount of liquid that was dripping into her IV.

Looking at the IV, Tia was glad she had been unconscious when it had been put in. She hated needles. Even now, looking at the tube sticking out of her arm, she suppressed a shudder. She didn't even know how long she had been out and the arm was still sore.

The nurse; she hadn't remembered to look at her name tag when she'd had a chance, was messing with something behind her. Tia assumed it was some piece of equipment and didn't pay too much attention to it. The nurse then bustled herself out, leaving a trailing scent of unease in her wake. She could clearly hear the Nurse's clacking heels all the way down the hall. They paused, and Tia heard a knock.

She now realized that the knock was not next door, but almost twenty feet away from her. Trying to ignore the panicky awe that she felt at this realization, and focused on her hearing.

The door opened. And their voices, though far away could be heard as if they were trying to speak quietly at the other side of the room.

"Violet? What's the matter?" a rich male voice asked.

"It's one of the patients." Violet explained. She sounded nervous now, though she couldn't smell the unease anymore.

"What? Is one of them rejecting the process? Which one?"

"It's Patient number 88572, and she hasn't rejected the process. She's awake."

"What?" The voice sounded intrigued now. "She's awake? Number 88572, that's the feline-avian mix, right?"

Tia scowled. I'm a Scottish, Irish, Brazilian, American mutt; thank you very much.

"Yes, sir. But she doesn't seem to have noticed the changes yet."

Tia heard a door close, and the voices were gone. She laid her head back on her pillow and thought about what she'd heard.

Changes? Process? What was that about? There was one part of the conversation that was needling at her brain. Feline-Avian mix. It sounded like they were talking about a breed of dog, but that wasn't quite right. I just took a world Bio class last quarter, hadn't I? Why was it taking so long to remember? Feline was cat. I'd known that before. Why had that been so far back in my memories? Avian...avian.

Suddenly it clicked. Avian was bird. They were talking about a cat-bird mix!

They had been talking about her.

Slowly, with shaking hands, Tia inspected herself. Patting and feeling if anything was different. Am I lighter? At first she had acquitted it to being on IV for who knows how long. But it wasn't just that. She was seriously lighter. She felt her face, her nose, eyes and lips. They were the same. Ish.

Haven't I been seeing and smelling things differently? And hearing things. She reached for her ears. Sliding her hands to the side of her head from her eyes, she expected to feel the skin and cartilage of her ears. She found only smooth skin and a light dusting of hair. Panic flooded her veins. She could hear her heartbeat on the monitor beside her speed up.

Wait, I'm in a hospital, if my heart-rate gets too crazy, they'll come to figure out why. She closed her eyes and clamped down on the panic. When her heart beat returned to normal. Or, really, as it had been before.

Had my heart always beat that fast? She searched along her whole skull until she found her ears. They were long, delicate pointed things on top of her head. They had what felt like a fine amount of fur, and longer tufts of it at the tips. She was curious to find that the hoop earrings she last remembered wearing were hanging near the tips of them. Keeping her breathing steady she inspected the rest of her. Her torso was the same, she was relieved to find, if a bit scarred. Her legs, she had to bend forward to feel them, were a little bit longer than they should have been. As she leaned forward more to reach her ankles, she felt the small tug of wired on her back.

No, back wasn't right. It didn't feel like the tug of wires on my back or spine. They were too far out to be my back. She put her hands to her face before turning around, and found that her nails were longer than they were supposed to be. They were sharp, too, she found, as she accidentally scratched her cheek. Blood showed on the tips of a few of her claws, er, nails. Before she knew what she was doing she licked her claws delicately, not scratching her tongue. When Tia realized what she had done, she looked at her hands in horror.

A minute passed before she remembered what she had been bracing herself for before the bloody episode. Taking a deep breath, she turned her head as far as it would go to see what was behind her. If she hadn't had a secret dread in her stomach, she would have screamed. Two great fleshy limbs stretched out behind her, their feathers just starting to come in, blood welled around each protruding spine that would, in a matter of days, be a long glossy feather. Now, though, they looked like big flesh colored pin cushions.

"Aahhhhhh!" the scream leaped from her throat before she could stop it. She scrambled away from the fleshy things, and felt the sharp pain of wires and tubes being pulled out of her. Footsteps thundered towards her, but she didn't care. She wanted to get away from the things.

"Good lord!" She heard someone say, and she smelled the stronger versions of the scents from earlier. Then she felt a sharp stab in her arm. Distracted from her gruesome wings, she looked at the dart stuck in her arm.

"Wha-?" She muttered, then fell over as darkness washed over her mind.

When she woke up, the nurse, Violet, was standing over her.

Chalk that one up to the "Worst thing to wake up to" list. It was like a demented Barbie standing over her. There was a faint crease between her eyebrows that Tia was sure went with the unease that she still smelt rolling off of the woman like overly ripe garlic.

"Good evening." Violet said cheerfully. She must have that expression programmed into her. She could welcome Darth Maal just as cheerfully. "The doctor will be in shortly to, uh, explain things."

Tia nodded. She didn't feel like talking to these people. Not until she started getting some answers.

When Nurse Violet left, Tia went back to her self examination. Well, I'm lighter, I have strange cat-like ears and, for lack of a better word, wings. As she glanced back at them again, she found that the feathers were less spindly now. They looked more like the down that young birds have. They weren't as gruesome, now that they looked less like pin cushions and more like wings. She wished she had a mirror. Her hair felt grimey. What she wouldn't give for a hot shower right now.

She heard two sets of footsteps approaching. She could now gauge how far someone really was by her abnormally good hearing. She definitely couldn't do that before.

She watched the door, waiting for them to come through it. If coming into the room with her expectantly waiting for them was disconcerting, they didn't show it. But Tia could smell it on them. What she had first thought of as an acrid displeasing smell started to smell better and better to her. What's wrong with me?

"Good evening." the doctor said, straightening his clean white lab coat. He had reddish brown hair that looked prematurely salt and peppered with gray and silver strands. He was clean shaven, but Tia could see the faint shadow of the beard that wanted to grow. His slim glasses sat well on his narrow face. Though he looked very put together for a doctor, Tia couldn't shake the thought that he looked rather like a weasel. His nose was long and twitched seemingly unconsciously. His eyes shifted from her to the Nurse to the instruments hooked up to her via various tubes and wires.

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeasle.

Tia, breaking the awkward silence between the three of them, spoke.

"I heard that you were going to explain some things to me."

The unease and nerves that she had smelled on him began to radiate from him so strongly that she could almost taste the sour smell on her tongue.

"Yes, well." He shifted uncomfortably. "They did give me instructions on what to do if such an instance were to arise. I hadn't had to do this before now."

Tia watched him warily. What had he been told to do? Why would he be uncomfortable to do it? If it were merely drugging her like before he shouldn't be nearly so uncomfortable.

Then she smelled it. It was nearly masked under the reek of his nerves. But there, coming from Nurse Violet, was the faint smell of gun oil and a metallic tang.

Determinedly, she fixed her gaze on the doctor, but kept Nurse Violet in her peripheral vision.

The instant she moved...

The doctor was still stuttering out an explanation. Tia could practically smell the manure as he spoke and paid him no attention.

"Which is why, I'm sorry to say, that we must take such a drastic measure."

Was he still blathering on?

There was the movement she had been waiting for. Nurse Violet's arm swung up, at a speed that Tia was sure she had considered fast. But with the adrenaline pumping in her veins and her heart rate up, it looked like she was moving through crystal clear water. Tia leaped from the bed, wires yanking out of her skin. She ignored the pain and kept going, even when she heard the soft "Phhft" as a bullet; or maybe a dart, she didn't look back to check, imbedded itself in her blankets. Bleeding slightly, she skidded on the tiled floor. Apparently her toe nails were just as claw-like as her fingernails and didn't have much hold on the slick tiles. She regained her balance and sped out the door. She heard Doctor What's-his-face shouting something, and the thunder of large, heavily clad feet racing toward her. She darted away from the noise. Not knowing exactly why she was running.

A sarcastic voice inside her mentioned that it was just kinda the thing to do when people were trying to kill you.

Why do they want to kill me? Her mind raced as fast as her legs, fighting what she was now sure was a drug that suppressed her memories. I'd been a normal college student, on the verge of joining the productive society. Going for a bachelors degree in...in... Chemistry and Business. That was it. There had been a car accident. Not a very serious one, but one that had kept me in the hospital for a few weeks. Broken ribs, concussion, and a fractured leg. The Doctor had said that it wasn't very serious. That they'd have to do a minor surgery on my leg and ribs to fix things up. They had me sign those papers when I came into the E.R. While I'd been too out of it to really read them. They looked official and boring. Did I get myself into this?

Thundering footsteps were still following her. She darted past doors, some of which were open. When she paused at a split in the hall, she glanced in a few of them. More machines beeped, connected to a...a...thing.

It was in a glass tank. Greenish liquid filled it, and two tubes went into the thing's nostrils to give it air. It's skin wasn't right. What looked like scales seemed to be popping up all over it in patches. Something was growing out of it's lower spine.

It used to be a person. Tia looked horrified. She gaped at the thing in the tank just long enough to have the security guards pounce on her. She struggled, and nearly broke out of their grip. Why so many guards? She wiggled and kicked. Catching one in the chest, he flew backwards and into the wall.

Tia was too busy with the other eleven guards to notice.

A gun shot drew all of their attention.

Nurse Violet was standing next to the Doctor, Tia could now see that his name tag read Dr. Blood, Paranormal Studies.

Dr. Blood? Seriously? Tia almost smiled, but some well muscled ape was cutting off her air supply. She wiggled and made some sort of gurgling sound until his arm loosened. When she could breathe, she looked at the gun in Nurse Violet's hand. Well, that's two bullets down. I hope.

Doctor Blood, Tia mentally rolled her eyes at the name again, stepped forward.

"Now that we have your attention, we hope you will cooperate."

"Cooperate in your killing me?"

He took another step forward, a syringe in his hand. The sight of it brought on a fresh wave of struggles until the ape with his arm around her neck started to cut off air again. This time in her struggles, it was enough for at least one guard to have each one of her limbs. They gave her wings a wide berth, as she didn't seem to be using them yet. She watched, as Dr. Blood approached. He seemed to walk extra slowly as she began to hyperventilate. She couldn't say why that syringe full of liquid gave her such a feeling of dread and fear, but panic kept creeping up her spine. When she felt the needle press on her forcefully outstretched arm, the panic leaped from her throat in a defiant, screeching yowl. The plunger pushed the liquid into her veins and her racing heart sped the drug through her system. Her eyes dilated, making the fluorescent hall lights painfully bright. Familiar darkness drifted at the corners of her brain, then flooded in, carrying her away into unconsciousness.

When Tia's eyes fluttered open, the overwhelming hospital sounds and smells were absent. Bemused, she looked around. She couldn't quite tell what to make of the room. It was either a very cramped apartment or a spacious dorm room.

The bed she was laying on was comfortable, the blanket and sheets in a deep, comforting blue. The walls were painted plainly in an interesting turquoise. The furniture in the room was average, mostly made of maple, or something that resembled it. There was a bedside table, a chest of drawers and a hanging closet. A small kitchenette took up the far corner and opposite it were two doors. One she saw a bathroom through, the other was closed and she presumed opened to a hall of some sort.

In the center of the remaining area, stood a mirrored booth. For the first time, Tia saw her full appearance. Sometime in her sleep, her wing's feathers had grown from their fuzzy down to the elegant long adult feathers. Her wings were glossy brown, speckled black and white near the tops of them. She stared in awe at them. They were beautiful, she had to admit. Though she missed the smooth line her back used to be. Turning to get a better look at the new additions to her body, she noticed something else. A long furry appendage was attached to her lower back. It twitched and moved as different thoughts and emotions played themselves across her mind. She had a tail. The furry thing swished around agitatedly, brushing against her wings.

Well, I suppose I should have expected it, if I took the time to think. Claws, Ears, Wings; why not a tail? When she moved away from the mirror booth, it sank down into the floor. Tia stared at it again, What in the world was this place? As the floor became completely visible again, Tia went over to stamp the floor. Solid as stone. Wary of the place where the mirror booth had been, Tia got dressed after rifling through the chest of drawers and the closet. What she found were things that could have almost mirrored what she owned herself. Save one detail. Somewhere on each and every article of clothing was stitched a large blue "C" with the number 184. As she dressed, she made a distressing discovery. Not only was the blue C and number stitched onto everything she could possibly wear, it was also tattooed onto her left forearm. When she poked at the ink in her skin, it stung a little, almost completely healed. How long was I out?

Voices were heard outside her door. After brushing a hand through her thick brown curls, she ventured out. The scene before her almost made her retreat back into her room.

Coward, she thought at herself, and made her legs walk forward into the hall. There were other...beings out here. All had the same types of clothes that she did, all with the same emblem on them. Identical except for the numbers, which changed from person to person. Tia glanced back at her door, to find that it read "184" same as her clothes. Only it also read "Tia, Feline-avian".

Feeling a little unnerved, she followed the crowd and tried not to notice the stares she was getting. What could only be called cat-calls were heard behind her.

"Hey, Kitty! Where ya goin'?" As she glanced to either side of her, there were more than one other Cat type person around her. Feeling less singled out, she flowed along with the crowd down the hall and down a set of stairs. Three floors down, they came out to a lobby of sorts. If lobbies were usually crammed with chairs and small tables with what looked like a bar at the far end, then this was definitely a lobby. Smells of food drew her over to the bar, there was a normal human manning the bar. She didn't know why she assumed this instead of possible subtler changes, but he just smelled human. Uncertainly, she sidled up to the bar, looking for the source of the yummy smells.

"Hey, there." the man said boisterously. "the name's Sam. What can I get'cha?"

"Um, Tia." She said as she tucked a strand of hair behind where her ear used to be. It fell back again, as there no longer was anything to hold it back. Suddenly she felt very awkward in her skin. Like a very itchy sunburn that just wouldn't go away.

Sam smiled understandably, "It's odd for the first week or so, then you get used to it."

"Oh." Tia said, still mildly freaking out about the hair. "thanks. Um, what do you have?"

Sam grinned "Well, seeing as it's the third Monday of the month, the moon is at a quart wane and it's a quarter till one; I've got Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and any soda imaginable. What'll it be?"

What did the phase of the moon and the day of the week have to do with anything? Tia selected the Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. Moving down the bar so that other people could make their selection, she found the array of sodas that Sam had mentioned. Choosing a root beer from the wide selection, she turned to face most high-school teen's dreaded fear: Finding a place to sit. Spying a vacant table, she snagged it before having to deal with the awkward "May I sit here"s.

"Um, May I sit here?" Tia looked up and nearly jumped back. The girl who'd asked was like the person she'd seen in the tank. Only her skin was scaled all over and her hair was a wispy blonde. Her eyes were the oddest combination of baby blue and reptilian yellow. Her pupils were the slitted reptilian style with the yellow right around them.

"Uh, sure." Tia stuttered, not sure how to react. The girl plunked herself down in the chair next to Tia's without a qualm and began chattering away.

"Newbie, right?" Tia nodded. "Oh, I remember being the new kid on campus. So nerve wracking. Of course, then I had to deal with the other reptiles. Get my standing, you know?"

Tia just looked baffled.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself. How rude. I'm Casandra, but you can call me Cassie."

"Tia." she said, still a little dazed and comforted by the friendliness this girl seemed to exude.

"Awesome name. I suppose no one has challenged you yet. Well, they won't till after a Class or two. The buzz around Campus is that you're the first dub ever! How exciting!"

"Uh," Tia spoke up for the first time unprompted. "Dub? What's that? And where are we? What is this place? Why am I here?"

Cassie gaped at her. "You mean no one's explained anything yet? Nothing?"

Tia shook her head. Cassie frowned. "Well, that's weird. They should have been there when you woke up to explain stuff. Huh."

Tia shrugged. "No one was there when I woke up. Just a mirror booth thing. That disappeared into the ground as soon as I stepped back from it."

Cassie leaned forward. "Really? No one? But there was the mirror, so they must have expected you to wake up soon." She paused, looking thoughtful. "Well, I'll explain a little then. We're at the Campus. Where that is, no one has any idea. If we were told where we are, the more local ones might try to escape."

Tia looked at her strangely. "Escape? Why would someone want to escape?"

Cassie looked at her pityingly, "Because this place is a training ground. The only reason we splices exist is to fight. We live to fight. For blood, for vengeance, for country, it doesn't matter. We want to fight. To prove how strong we are. It's one of the primal instincts the scientists unlocked."

Tia pondered something. "Cassie, do you remember anything from before the Campus?"

She shook her head. "Not a thing. Casandra might not even be my real name. But it sounded right when they told me."

Tia decided not to say that she remembered some things. Not a lot maybe, but it was more than anyone else here remembered.

"Do you remember where you were right before the Campus? Anything?"

Cassie's brow furrowed. "Well, I've had dreams. Of green water, and muffled voices. But that's it."

Tia opened her mouth to explain, when pain exploded behind her eyes. Crackling violent pain. Clutching her head until it went away, Tia looked around for the cause, and found nothing.

"Something wrong?" Cassie asked, the honest concern in her blue and yellow slit pupil eyes was comforting. Tia looked down at her hardly touched sandwich. Taking a bite, she looked around. More, what had Cassie called them? Splices? More splices had joined them in the lobby. All were talking and eating, looking for all the world like a very weird college cafeteria. As she chewed contemplatively over her sandwich, she thought over what Cassie had said and thought back to when she was in the hospital, scratched herself on her own claws and licked the blood off of them.

I should have been disgusted, but I wasn't. Was this part of the fighting instinct?

As she was wondering, a whistle sounded throughout the lobby. Everyone immediately stood up and started filing toward the giant gray doors. Tia followed them, wondering what would happen next. As she observed all the people wandering with her, she muttered under her breath.

"Baa baa, go through the doors little sheep."

Cassie, who had stuck by her side through this, heard and smiled. They entered a large in-door field. The ceiling was painted to look like a bright blue sky filled with fluffy clouds. It seemed overly cheerful to Tia, like a stormy scene might suit better. The field, or more accurately, the stadium looked old. Tia wondered if it weren't a real stadium somewhere. The ground was covered with large squares, each bearing the name of one of the people present.

Finding her own square, Tia looked around as the others filed in directly to their squares.

Some squares were left empty. Looking at the empty squares sent a shiver down Tia's spine. The ground beneath her foot fell away. Tia yelped as she tried to scramble onto firmer ground. Her wings were awkward, a weight she wasn't used to quite yet. A monitor rose from the ground, shedding dirt and grass as it went. When it reached eye level, the screen blinked on.

Number 88572, also known as Tia Brown. This is your first day of training.

It wasn't a question. Tia felt oddly indignant, as if she should tell the monitor off. She brushed the thought away with a sheepish smile.

Stretch out your limbs.

Again, it wasn't a question, or even a request. Tia did as it said, slowly. Something rose behind her, but before she could turn to see what it was, she heard a small snick as metal latched into metal. She put her fingers around her neck to see what had been placed there, but a shock radiated from it.

Do not touch the necklace. It is only a precaution until you have finished the tutorial of your training. Spread your limbs.

Tia spread her arms and legs. A shock came from the necklace. She yelped again.

Spread all of your limbs.

Grumbling, and wanting to rub at her neck, Tia spread her limbs, and after some practice, spread her wings and tail as well.

Good. Your first item of training is control.

The monitor took Tia through a series of exercises, balancing one one foot, working her tail, flapping her wings. Tia tried to take this in stride, but felt very silly when the monitor had her hold out her hands to retract and show her claw-like nails.

A whistle sounded from somewhere, and the monitor scrolled one last message before darkening and sinking into the ground once more.

That will conclude your training for today. Do not meddle with the necklace.

Tia frowned at the monitor. Her neck was very sore by now from various shocks. Gingerly, she reached up to rub a finger over the slightly burned skin. She was interested to find that the necklace felt like an ordinary chain necklace that seemed to be all one piece. That such a simple thing could bring an electric shock was a wonder to her. She followed the crowd out of the field. Since there seemed to be nothing else to do, Tia decided to explore.

She looked around the lobby and found two doors on either side of the room. One was painted a forbidding black, the other a bright cheerful yellow. Curiously drawn to the black door, Tia headed for it. When she was about five feet away, the necklace began to shock her continuously until she backed away from the door. She could almost smell where the necklace had burned her skin. Wiping the unwanted tears away, she staggered away from it.

"Black door got you too?" Tia spun around to face Cassie, bright and friendly as ever. The expression looked odd in her reptilian eyes.

Tia stroked her burnt neck and nodded.

"That happens." Cassie said with a sage nod. "Everyone runs into the Black Door's pull at least once. What are you going to do for the rest of the day?"

Feeling sheepish, Tia muttered something about getting her bearings. Cassie smacked herself in the forehead.

"Of course! No one's shown you around yet! Here, I'll give you a quick tour. Since we're here, we might as well stop by Greeny's."

Tia was confused, but said nothing as Cassie dragged her through the bright green door she hadn't noticed yet. It was right next to the stairwell and had two potted trees on either side of it. Cassie pulled open the door and the distinct smell of disinfectant and bandages wafted through to them. Tia started to panic, until she saw that the walls and floor were done in shades and patterns of green instead of the stark white of the hospital. Passing through the door, Tia found herself in a sort of hospital. Cots lined the sides of the room while a kind looking nurse manned a counter.

"Hello, dears. What can I do for you?" she had a lilting voice. Tia couldn't decide if it were because of an accent or not.

"I was just showing Tia around. No one's explained anything to her yet."

A line furrowed the Nurse's brow. "No one's explained? How odd."

Cassie waved good bye and swept Tia out. Since Cassie had grabbed hold of Tia's hand to lead her about, Tia now noticed that Cassie walked with a slight sway to her steps. As if she were slithering through the air. They passed through an orange door, opposite yet another black door. In here was what looked like a non-brand Wall-Martâ„¢. Several Aisles stretched out before them. In the forefront of the room, there were a couple things that looked like ATM's. Cassie walked with Tia over to them.

"These, are your best friend, for now at least. I'll be showing your real best friend in a moment. These are the Credit counters. You get credits for doing well in Training, as well as a weekly allowance-type-thing." Cassie giggled. "There's the scanner. Just put your tattoo under it and it'll tell you how many credits you have. The weekly allowance is one hundred and fifty credits."

Tia looked at her left arm, then at Cassie. After an encouraging nod, Tia stuck her arm under the beam of red light. There was a spot behind it so that she didn't have to have her arm at an angle. A small 'beep' told her that her tattoo had scanned. She looked at the screen.

Number 88572, Tia Brown.

Number of Credits: 160.

Then the screen blinked back to the first screen, a picture of oranges in a bowl.

Cassie grinned. "A hundred and sixty? Wow, you must have done pretty well in Training today."

Tia shrugged, and had to smile when Cassie grabbed her arm again and bounded toward a yellow door. Out of the corner of her eye, Tia also saw a purple door off to her right, and heard the slight throb of music from the other side.

Once through the yellow door, Cassie and Tia were standing in another dorm. This one was done in shades of yellow. It was definitely cheerful, Tia decided. She mentioned this to Cassie. She laughed.

"Yeah, the other guys are always wondering why I got put in Blue Dorm instead of here." She giggled. "But Yellow dormers have a habit of being skittish." Going through a red door to yet another dorm. This one was done in strong reds and accented with the slightest hints of pink.

Cassie leaned close and whispered into her cat's ears. "Be careful about Red Dormers. They tend to be a bit more aggressive."

Slinking through the purple door Tia had seen moments before, a broad grin spread across her face. This room was done in a deep dark purple that was almost black. Bright violet accented the counters and trim. Dance music pounded through the air. Cassie said something, but her voice was lost in the music.

She felt Cassie's hand on her arm, pulling her toward the counter at the end of the room.

Standing close, she shouted into Tia's ear. "This is the Purple Place. Over here is the drinks counter. You have to scan your tattoo if you want something. It'll take the cost off of your credits. Go ahead, try it."

Tia walked up, and scanned her tattoo. The screen blinked to her name, and how many credits she had, then to a selection of drinks. She chose a sweet fruity drink, and saw the credits subtracted from her total. A whirr sounded, and her drink rose up through a gap in the counter. Tia sipped and swayed to the music. Waved to Cassie when she slipped off through the crowd.

When her drink was done and the alcohol was buzzing pleasantly in her brain, she set out to the dance floor. There was already a crowd of people. Some flowed in and out of the room going either into the Red Dorm or the Orange Palace. She could see the name of the place over the door.

Letting herself get into the rhythm, Tia started to dance. She'd always been a good dancer. Letting the tune and the beat dictate the gyrations, the twirls, and the flourishes. It was in the middle of a flourish that she noticed that someone was trying to dance next to her, but were staying at a distance. She turned to face him, still dancing.

"What's wrong?" She shouted over the music and chatter.

He gave her wings a meaningful glance. She glanced back, and realized that her wings were dancing to the music too, half opening on the twirls and snapping back closed otherwise. She blushed, and suddenly felt crowded. Making her way to the Orange door, she could sense the eyes on her as she left.

It only took her a few minutes to get to her room, almost panicking when she couldn't remember what her room number was, until she remembered that it was tattooed on her arm. Closing the door after her, she flopped down onto her bed. Fingering the slim chain around her neck, she thought over the events of the day.

This place was going to take some getting used to.