She had been sixteen when she was "recruited". She'd been living on the street for a couple of months, long enough to be wary of the dark places and the dark things that lived in those places. She'd seen things; things that nobody ever talks about except in hushed tones with a wary look over the shoulder, huddled around the safety of a fire.
She'd been careless once and found herself in one of the dark places, way too late at night. Scared, she did the thing you're not supposed to do, and she ran, trying to find light, and she knew a split second before she felt something bite into the flesh on her leg that it was a bad idea. There was a flash of white, then red, then pain, and blackness.
She came to in a small room, on a cot. She moved to sit up but her hands were tied down to the frame, and she heard a voice: "Stay where you are". A bright light came on above her, blinding.
"What is your name?" The voice was harsh, angry.
"Your full name, girl!"
"Quinn! Morgana Quinn. Jane, middle name. Where am I?"
Something was shoved in her face. Coppery scent, something underneath it, like meat just starting to turn bad. She tried to turn her face away, but strong hands came out of nowhere and held her steady.
"No reaction," said a different voice. "Looks like maybe it worked."
"Yeah, for now anyway." Another voice, a woman. "Let her go, Dusty."
The hands that had so tightly clamped the sides of her head let go, and the thing in her face was pulled away. The harsh light was snapped off, and as her eyes adjusted, she saw a couple of shapes that looked vaguely human.
"Sorry... Morgana, is it? Sorry Morgana," said the woman's voice. "We had to be sure you weren't infected." The shape became clearer: a woman, probably in her late 30's, hair a bit unkempt and graying around the edges. Warm hands untied her from the cot.
"Infected?" Morgana sat up, saw that her jeans were cut away from her right leg, and most of her calf was bandaged.
"It's hard to explain, but we'll get to that. First, how do you feel?"
"A little dizzy. And my leg hurts. It kinda burns."
"That's the medicine we gave you. It means it's working."
There was a snort from behind her, and she turned to look. There stood a tall man, huge, with long dark hair and a bushy beard. His voice was deep and rough, like her Grandfather's voice before he had died, dry and frail from years of smoking.
"Medicine, yeah. Honey, she jacked you up with enough silver to plate a teacup."
Morgana's head whirled. "Silver? I don't understand..." and everthing started spinning and went white, then dark.
When she woke up again, her head was pounding with the worst headache she could remember, and she was thirsty. She sat up slowly, saw a bottle of water on the table, grabbed it and started gulping down water greedily. She drank half the bottle before it came back up again and she vomited all over herself.
"Easy there girl. Small sips." The dry, crackly voice she remembered came closer, handed her a towel. "You've been out for a while."
Morgana sipped the water this time, and began to feel better. "Headache," she said, and felt like her throat had been scrubbed out with a brillo pad.
"Aye, the headache comes with it. It'll go away in a bit, just keep sipping the water, and I'll see if we can't get you some chicken soup."
"Thanks." Morgana paused. "You're Dusty, right?"
"That's a right quick mind you got there young miss." He sat down in the chair across from her. "Dusty Macready, at your service. Foul language, bad temper, a glass o' whisky and a fine cigar, that's where you'll find me."
His voice was softer now than she rememebred, warm and friendly. Morgana shivered. "What happened? What is this place?"
Dusty let out a sigh and seemed to sink in the chair. "What happened was one of them beasties took a bite out of your leg before we could kill it. You were real lucky, most of the ones we find are already dead. The rest of 'em wish they were.
"As for this place, well, it's about as near to home as you can get when your life puts you in a strange land with vile creatures that need to be exterminated."
"Now Dusty, that's not entirely true," The woman was standing leaning against the doorframe. "We need to study them and find out what they are and where they come from." She walked over to Morgana. "Feeling better now?"
"Yes. The headache is going away."
"That's good. I'm Patricia, by the way. Nice to meet you."
"Are you a doctor?"
Dusty snorted again. Patricia flipped him off. "Yes, but not like you think. I'm... I was a medical examiner."
"Doctor for dead people," said Dusty. "Hey, at least they don't complain. Much." Patricia threw an empty water bottle at his head which he easily ducked, and came back with a big grin.
"So what is it that bit me?"
Patricia and Dusty looked at each other; Dusty shrugged. Patricia said "It's easier if you just come see" and stood up.
Morgana followed Patricia into a larger room that looked like an industrial basement somewhere, pipes and valves leading off into the distance and overhead into darkness. "This used to be a chemical manufacturing plant until about five years ago," said Patricia, her words echoing metallically in the cavernous space. "Then there was some sort of scandal involving large bribes and illegal disposal of chemicals, and the place was shut down while they sorted it all out. Comes in handy since all of the stock is still here."
They paused before a steel door, and Patricia punched some numbers on a keypad. "This is the lab, or it used to be. They must have been doing some serious black-ops stuff here, because there is equipment here that I've never even seen before. And that's where Steve-o comes in."
Patricia opened the door into a dimly-lit laboratory area crammed full of expensive looking equipment. A slightly balding middle-aged man was looking into a box with a plastic window with his hands in some sort of isolation gloves; inside the box was an animal like Morgan had never seen, like a cross between a small dog and a large salamander with black skin and what looked like wings.
Steve-o didn't look away from what he was doing, but said "I'd shake your hand, but I'm kinda busy right at the moment."
Morgana stared at the creature in the box. "What... is that... thing?"
"Ah, that is the question, isn't it? Eloquently put. Succinct, even." Steve-o pulled his hands from the isolation box and turned to the three of them. "As far as I can tell, that "thing" is something that shouldn't exist, couldn't possibly exist. And yet, there it is." He walked over to a computer screen that showed a graph with a bunch of spikes on it, overlaid with some other graphs of different colors. "The DNA sequences are all screwy. I thought it might be somebody with some mad gene-splicing skills, but when I overlay other DNA spectra on it, it's got some inexplicable spikes."
The three of them stared blankly at Steve-o.
"What that means is that this is something entirely new. It's not spliced from other species, it's engineered from the ground up. And I don't think anybody that we know is capable of that level of engineering."
Patricia was the first to speak. "So where do they come from?"
Steve-o sighed. "I don't know. They can't exist. But they do. And what's worse, is they have a virus that looks a lot like rabies, but it's a whole lot spikier." He took off his glasses. "And they're loose out there."
Just then, something on Dusty's belt beeped. He looked at it.
"Folks, We have a problem."