Crystal swallowed, and she felt her heartbeat double in speed, “Where am I?”
“We can't tell you that. I'm sorry.” the apex said.
“Do you have a name I can call you?” Crystal asked, keeping her face neutral and a little frustrated. Inside, she was furious and...scared.
“You can call me Gerald. It pains me to meet you again in such circumstances.” the apex said.
“Again? I don't believe I've met you before.” Crystal said.
“Of course you don't. We wiped your memory for any time before you were ten years old.” Gerald said, looking uncomfortable.
“What?! But...I remember...I remember my parents being avian.” Crystal fell silent, and thought back to when she was younger than ten years. She couldn't really pin down a definite event that happened at that time. She had avian parents, and she remembered them...didn't she? Her mind, scrambling for an answer, could only find one: Gerald was lying.
“Let's move on, please.” Gerald said, shifting in his seat.
“What would you like to move on to?” Crystal kept her voice steady.
“First and foremost, how did you come to acquire those wings?” Gerald asked.
“I...ahm...I don't really know. It wasn't very well explained.” Crystal said, her wings fluttering a little behind her. She put her hands in her lap, and tried to cross her legs, which immediately failed.
“Did someone give them to you, or did this happen on its own?” Gerald asked.
“S-Something gave them to me. It was a sort of snakelike metal tentacle...” Crystal trailed off, wary as to whether Gerald was believing her or not. Gerald's face betrayed no emotion beyond mild interest. Crystal didn't know why she was spilling everything to this apex, but something about them. Something that reminded Crystal of her father. She hadn't the foggiest idea of why, since they were different species, but the fact remained.
“It stabbed me in the shoulder blades, and ten minutes later, I grew wings.” Crystal said, summing the whole thing up.
“Really? Were you experiencing any pain?”
“Yes...A lot. The wings were growing underneath my skin, and they had to come out some way.” Crystal said.
“I see. Genetics of you and your...partner suggest that your wings would be developing while you were still unborn, so to speak. When they didn't appear, we thought that it might occur during puberty. Obviously, we were mistaken.” Gerald said.
“I don't think that the wings were naturally occurring. Reggie said that it was just a fast-acting mutagen that they put into my shoulder blades.” Crystal said. The events of her great adventure were still fresh in her mind.
“We've had Cobalt only under occasional observation. Since you're closer to him, can you recount a time when he felt any pain in his shoulders or back?” Gerald asked.
“He's dead.” Crystal said in a dull voice.
“Oh...I hadn't heard yet...I'm so sorry.” Gerald said, looking positively wounded. He must have had quite a close relationship with Cobalt, to look so devastated.
“Did you know him?” Crystal asked.
“I did. Very well, for the first fifteen years of his life.” Gerald said, trailing off.
“The first...wait a minute. What's going on? We weren't born?” Crystal asked.
“No, not technically. You were created...artificially, because...Avian and swans don't have sexual relations...very often...if ever.” Gerald said, fiddling with his pen.
“B-But m-my parents were both Avian!” Crystal felt as if the very ground underneath her was crumbling away. Her most basic, accepted truths were being swept away like dust in front of a broom.
“They were...Let's turn this around. This is turning into an interrogation of me, and not you, which is what we are both here for.” Gerald said.
“Mmm-hmm.” Crystal said shakily. Her sweaty hands twisted each other nervously in her lap, and she made a conscious effort to stop.
“Secondly, why were you trying to track down Doctor Able?”
“Because I found a paper in...I guess a kind of keepsake of Cobalt's. It said that he had been provided with a backup clone, courtesy of Doctor Grace Able. I went to my friend about it.”
“The Protectorate officer.” Gerald inferred.
“Yeah, and he said that Grace was a wanted fugitive for a massive counterfeiting scam, and that she had fled to this planet to escape the authorities.” Crystal finished.
“But she was immune to that, as long as she was no longer in the system.” Gerald said.
“Right, but we found another charge against her: illegal cloning, which had been proved by the document I had found. So we went after her, and Kevin was questioning her when, um...”
“When we came in. I see. Your friends are waiting in holding cells, but we can't let them out of here.” Gerald said, looking unhappy to deliver the news.
“Why not?” Crystal asked. She already knew, but she just wanted to hear Gerald admit it.
“Because, well, they know too much. If we had let them question Dr. Able, then we would have lost one of our best geneticists. Now that we've silenced you and your two friends, we really can't let them go.”
“Well, what's going to become of them?! I dragged them into this! It's my fault, so why go after them?!” Crystal shouted, leaning forwards. They didn't deserve it, but maybe she did, for taking them into something that was extremely dangerous...and for her own personal gain, too.
“We can't let them out, or else they'll have physical proof that we kidnapped them, and the political mess will be nightmarish. Not to mention that we'll all be executed for allowing someone to escape.” Gerald said, his face going blank and his voice likewise.
“This is beyond cruel. Can't you wipe their memories like you did with me?” Crystal said.
“Well...a child's mind is malleable, and can recover easily. With adults, though, it's a messy business. They'll permanently have a blank space in their minds that they will always be aware of, and might investigate. We can't use the hangover cover on these two because Protectorate officers are sworn to be sober. There's really no easy way out of this.” Gerald said.
“What's the 'Hangover cover'?” Crystal asked.
“Exactly what it sounds like.”
“So...what, are we just going to stay here? Are you going to kill us all?” Crystal asked, slumping back in her chair. Her wings were a little loose in their restraints, but it didn't help her.
“I would vouch for simply keeping you here, but Grace...she's always had a mean streak. She's going to use you three for tests, and there isn't anything I can do about it, even as senior researcher. I would have to be overseer to override a majority vote in this lab. Then, of course, there's the great Big Ape, who can do whatever he wants.” Gerald muttered.
“Grace meaning Dr. Able?” Crystal said.
“Yes, of course.” Gerald quickly corrected himself.
“I don't think you're much of an interrogator.” Crystal said, smiling.
“I was always too kind, and kind of a pushover. It was only my skill in my profession that got me this far.” Gerald admitted.
“Be more assertive. You'll get much farther that way.” Crystal said. If only he had, then maybe he could have been high enough rank to override Able's request to use us for tests...
“That's enough. You will be escorted back to your cell.” Gerald stood up suddenly, gathering writing materials and pushing his chair back. He exited the room silently, the almost invisible door shutting behind him.
Crystal waited. Then the doors opened, revealing two guards that looked much like those she had seen on the desert planet in her first adventure(Fanbound #17).
“We will release your wrists, and you will place them on top of your head, keeping them in sight at all times.” said one. The other apex stepped forwards and slid a keycard over a small laser scanner in the arm of Crystal's chair. Immediately, the two manacles popped open, and Crystal placed her hands on her head. Her mind was racing furiously for an answer to her situation, but none came. She knew she wouldn't be able to stage an escape. Not with guards threatened with death if they failed guarding her.
“Next, keeping your hands where they are, slowly stand up and step away from the chair.” said the apex. The silent one with the keycard repeated the maneuver, and the ankle cuffs sprang open. Crystal obeyed the directions, and slowly stood up.
Or, she tried to. Her wings got in the way, being bound to the chair, and she fell backwards, hitting the ground at an awkward ankle. The breath rushed out of her lungs. “Ow. Can you get that band off my wings?”