Emma opened her eyes slowly. Her whole body felt like it was on fire. She looked down. She appeared to be lying under a blanket. The blanket wasn’t ablaze. That was a good sign. She groaned.
“Hey,” came a voice, “you’re awake!”
Anna’s face hove into view. Behind her, the shadowy shape of her wings loomed.
“Anna?” Emma tried to sit herself up but Anna reached out and gently but firmly pushed her back down.
“Careful there,” she said, biting her lip, “you haven’t got anything on underneath that blanket.”
“What?” Emma’s eyes widened. Then she remembered her confrontation with Amadeus. Maybe setting herself entirely on fire might have been a bit excessive. It had been impressive though.
“Relax,” Anna said, “I was the one that found you like this and I covered you up before anyone else could see.”
“Right,” Emma nodded, “are you…”
“Still your girlfriend?” Anna grinned impishly, “Absolutely.”
“No, no,” Emma grunted, though she couldn’t help a momentary smirk, “are you alright. You’ve got… you’ve got.”
“Wings?” Anna nodded, “Awesome right?”
Emma sighed and shook her head. She looked past Anna up at the ceiling. She almost felt her eyes fill with tears.
“No,” she said, “not awesome. You… you don’t understand. You don’t understand what being… being this… is like.”
“Do you?” Anna put her head to one side, “Because the way I see it you’ve been living life as an entirely normal human for as long as I’ve known you.”
“I don’t have freaking wings,” Emma replied, “I can hide it. You can’t. Look at Francis and Lee. Worse, look at Lydia. You’re going to have to get used to getting pushed around and insulted and treated like rubbish. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. This is all my fault.”
Anna frowned and kneed Emma in the side.
“Ow!” Emma cried.
“Stop moping,” Anna said, “it’s not your fault. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. As for the wings… I could get used to them. I don’t care what people at school say. We can work through this. Just do it step by step.”
Reaching down Anna grasped Emma’s chin and lifted her face up.
“Right,” Emma nodded, “step by step.”
Leaning in, Anna kissed her. It lasted for a good thirty seconds.
Behind Anna there was a clanging sound. Standing up Anna looked behind her. She frowned. Then a bundle of fabrics sailed through the air and Anna caught it deftly. She dropped it next to Emma.
“Clothes,” she said.
“I can’t get dressed here!” Emma’s eyes widened, “There’s loads of people.”
“I don’t know,” Anna shrugged, “shimmy somewhere?”
Emma sighed. Giving her a thumbs up Anna turned away and walked over to where the prone form of Rachel lay. Francis, Adelaide and two black suited men stood around her, observing her. In the distance more of the Department of Extra-Normal Relations’ operatives swarmed around, writing things on clipboards and taking down security cameras. At the doors of the shopping centre, a bedraggled Price was heroically fending off hordes of police officers, journalists and shop owners, waving his identification and telling them that this was strictly government business and they would be allowed in at some later date.
“Thanks for finding those clothes,” Anna nodded to Adelaide.
“Is…” Anna looked down at Rachel, “Is it okay…? It’s not moving.”
“She. Is she okay. We don’t know… Man,” Francis shook his head grimly, “she didn’t even want to fight. We did this to her.”
Bending down he tapped Rachel’s head. It was hardly recognisable, its impact with the floor knocking off so many fragments of metal that there were no discernible features save for the little red eyes which had ceased to glow.
“We don’t know one-hundred-percent how Rachel works,” one of the black suited operatives folded his arms, “it could be she’s experiencing some sort of coma. We’ll get her into our facility and see if our techies can patch her up and get her working again.”
All eyes turned to Rachel. Her voice had been incredibly faint, but she had spoken. A weak, flickering glow shone in her eyes.
“You’re awake!” Francis grinned enthusiastically.
“Do not,” Rachel paused, she seemed to flicker out of consciousness for a second. She spoke in jumps and starts, “do not take me. To. The. Facility. I do not want to. Go. To the facility.”
“But we can help you,” said the operative, “we can fix you. You’re not in a good state.”
“I,” Rachel’s head wobbled slightly, as though she were shaking it, “do not want to go there again. I was tormented there. I was tortured there. I was locked away.”
Francis and Adelaide looked up at the operative, who sighed deeply.
“We didn’t understand you,” he shook his head, “how you worked, whether or not you were safe. When you first awakened you were really angry. You wrecked the lab. You hurt some of our best people.”
There was a pause. Francis looked down at Rachel, his face suddenly tinged with fear. Her eyes flickered and her head shook and juddered wildly.
“I…” she said, “I do not remember this. I do not remember this. I do not want to hurt anyone. Please. Francis…”
“It’s alright,” Francis reached down and patted Rachel’s head awkwardly, “it’s alright. It’s okay. You didn’t want to hurt anyone. You just wanted to help, and we want to help you.”
“Am,” Rachel’s voice had begun to fade, “am I human?”
“Yes,” Francis nodded hurriedly, “you are the most human person I have ever met.”
“Thank you,” Rachel said. Then her eyes blanked out. Francis kept on patting her head for a few seconds. While he cradled her there Adelaide turned to the Department operative, her face stony.
“Alright,” she said, “I don’t care what she did in the past. I don’t care what messed up stuff you did in the past, but here’s what you’re going to do now. By now, I mean right now. You are going to take Rachel back to your lab, you’re going to not only fix her but to transfer her brain or whatever is sloshing around in that tin can into a new body. This body will not be a gigantic metallic monstrosity and it will absolutely not have a skull for a face. Got that?”
The operative met her eyes and tried to maintain her gaze. He blinked and fidgeted with his fingers and looked back down at Rachel.
“Got it,” he murmured.