Marissa’s gaze shifted slightly, wondering if it was still too late to dive out the window and make a run for it. Maybe Melanie was bluffing and the drop wouldn’t kill her. And if she was some supernatural creature surely, she’d be fine. The hairs on her neck were standing. The room was dead silent. They were waiting for her to give her answer. Though she was focused on her escape, she was also very aware of the men’s bodies. They were prepared to shoot her at the slightest suspicious movement. She did not like her odds at all right now. Even if she could use the window, she’d probably be riddled with bullets before she could jump out.
“How about this instead,” George said, breaking the silence in the room. All eyes fell on him. “You can decide by meeting other felids.” He turned and left the room. Several of the men approached her, then nudged her in back to follow George wherever he was going.
Outside her room, the hospital corridor was empty. She expected to see nurses and such bustling about, but there was nobody around.
“It’s easier if you just do as he says,” Melanie said from behind her.
Marissa gave a nervous laugh. “I’m not exactly being offered a lot of options here.”
Something flashed across Melanie’s face. Regret? She wasn’t sure, and she didn’t understand why.
“What exactly, is a felid by the way?” She asked, seeing that everyone spoke as though she should understand.
“A shape-shifter. Big cats that take human form,” Melanie answered simply.
They came to an elevator and she was shoved roughly inside. She growled at the men, who instantly raised their weapons. George made a sound that seemed to calm them and Marissa stuck her tongue out. They grumbled under their breath but held off on the hostility inside the cramped space.
While the elevator descended, she used that moment to analyze her “captors.” Not including herself, Melanie and George, there were four men. All tall, and all dark skinned. Two were bald, and one had a flat-top afro, while the other had long dreads, pulled back securely behind him. Their clothing was like Melanie’s, black combat gear and weapons to match. A stark contrast to George’s finely tailored suit. She was still wearing the hospital gown, and a faint breeze reminded her that the back wasn’t fully covered and the cold from the floors reminded her of her bare feet. Any other day she might have been embarrassed. There wasn’t much time for that right now.
“So,” Marissa said, unable to take the silence anymore. “How does a half-breed with amnesia become useful to you?”
“You’d question your usefulness now? You don’t fear me realizing that you might be better off dead?” He asked, looking at her curiously.
Marissa shrugged. “My life’s kind of on a short string here. Dead outside, dead inside, might as well ask what you want before you get rid of me.”
George’s hearty laughed shocked her. She flinched, half-expecting to be shot.
“Your audacity is comical. No wonder my daughter was so fond of you. I might keep you after all.” He said though that did nothing to calm her nerves. He kept talking. “Despite some new additions to combat your kind, we’re missing something very crucial. See, all the guns and explosives in the world mean nothing if you can’t locate your target.” He then turned to face her. “Shifters, with their convenient sense of smell, can find humans, but unfortunately, humans have yet to figure out how to track shifters. We’ve been running on luck and hypotheticals for the most part.”
“So, you can just get any shifter to help you then,” Marissa said. She made a mental note to ask about his daughter later. “And I’m guessing this little trip is to see some you’ve snagged. So, I’m not exactly seeing my purpose.”
He was the one to shrug his shoulders this time. “I have a theory I’d like tested. But I need a half-breed.”
“You need a half-breed or you need me specifically?”
Again, he laughed. “You are a quick study I see. Yes, I need you. I was originally going to have you and your sister killed if you didn’t agree, but once I overheard you lost your memories I realized that a blank slate would guarantee no problems. No family, no friends, no ties to shifters or humans. You’re perfect for my field study. A completely unbiased subject.”
“I mean your men did point a gun at me and you threatened to kill me so I wouldn’t say completely unbiased. Humans aren’t exactly winning me over right now,” She half-joked, although what he said about felids not wanting her alive due to being only half was definitely eating at her.
The elevator dinged and then opened. The lights in the long, narrow corridor lit up one by one. She was hit with a cold blast of cool air from the air conditioning that was clearly set lower than the top level where she originally was. She rubbed her shoulders, hating it instantly.
George stepped out first. His guards shoved her out and she bit back a growl. They were getting on her last nerves.
“We’ve been working on…cleansing…your kind during the years while you were unconscious. In this time, we’ve learned that there aren’t as many shifters as we thought. Seems their need to keep their blood pure has led to the decline in their numbers. We’ve found towns that were only shifters, while others were mixed with humans and hide-away beasts. Still, as I’ve told you, the issue is we can’t find them while they can immediately find us,” George explained while walking down the hall.
While he spoke, she glanced around, noting how there were cameras everywhere. She also noticed how there were little barrels under them, eerily reminiscent of that of a gun. She wasn’t interested in finding out if that was what it was.
“We’ve tried many experiments and examined the creatures we’ve captured, hoping that perhaps there was something we could use as a tracker. So far, we’ve had no luck,” He admitted with disgust. “With your help, we should make some leeway in that department.”
He arrived at a door and after clicking some numbers of the keypad, the door in front of him opened. Two more sets of doors, all thicker than the last, opened. At the end of the last door, the guards shoved Marissa ahead and then the door behind her immediately closed.
Panicked, she banged on the hard, cold, steel of the door. “What the hell!”
Moments later, a screen she hadn’t noticed in the corner of the room lit up, and George’s cold gray eyes were looking back at her. His brooding team was also in the background. Melanie was looking at the floor.
“What is this!” She screamed.
“I told you, I needed to test a theory,” She heard a buzz and the door on the opposite side of her opened. The odor that hit her almost sent her to her knees. In the darkness, she heard faint growls. She heard another clicking sound, and to her left, a panel opened revealing a silver handgun.
“I’d suggest you take it.”
“And do what with it?!”
“Pull the trigger. It’s rather easy to use and specially designed to kill shifters.”
Suddenly she felt the floor under her start to move. She looked down and saw it was rolling her towards the open space. She kept backing up, but then it sped up.
“You’re wasting time. Just go.”
Her heart was hammering in her chest. What was waiting for her on the other side? Was this a setup? He was going to kill her after all? She couldn’t keep running against the floor for much longer. She’d have to go in. Dejectedly, she grabbed the weapon from its tray, and the floor pulled her into the dark space. The door behind her shut quietly. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the dark depths, and then everything sharpened. She wondered if it was thanks to her feline eye.
Rows of cages stretched out before her. Clawed hands wrapped around some of the metallic bars. Growls rumbled from the creatures she knew were being held captive. How far they stretched out, and how many cages, she wasn’t sure.
She took a step forward, and her bare feet splashed in a slimy mess on the floor. Looking down, she saw the murky, red pool and her eyes went wide. Marissa covered her mouth to stifle a scream, dropping the gun. She jumped back but slipped and fell. She threw her hands out under her, and when they hit the wet floor, and the stench hit her, she felt bile rise in her throat and she threw up.
The voices soon followed, and so did the snarls.
“What is it?”
“It’s not human. Doesn’t feel human.”
Her eyes went wide seeing faces crowd the bars. Glowing, slit eyes stared back at her. They were all quiet. Watching her. Curious.
“Doesn’t feel like anything at all,” the one closest to her said.
A bright light appeared from behind her on the door. Marissa looked back. George and company were on another screen. At the sight of him, the creatures growled, but she could also sense their fear.
“You have a new guest. Since you’re technically family you should try to make her feel welcomed.” The growls grew as he spoke, soon they overpowered the room. “QUIET!” He snapped.
He looked to Marissa who was still on the ground, then away. “She’s a half-bre—”
The words were barely out of his mouth before bodies slammed against the bars of the cages. Arms feebly tried to reach her. Their words scathing as they condemned her immediately.
She scrambled to her feet. Spotting the gun, she quickly snatched it off the floor. She swiveled the thing around, knowing damn well the creatures were no threat to her inside the cages.
George’s voice then echoed through the room. “I do quite like you Marissa, and I’m sure Sehjada would love to see you soon. So, I hope you do well.” Marissa looked back at him, eyes wide with fear. “See you in a week.”
The room went pitch black, and one of the many cages opened.