"Part 0" has intro. Two worlds merge and their races have to coexist; the job market fluctuates and some breeds get left behind. Decades after the dimensional tear, people are content to live out their lives as if this were the norm. Some are less content, however, to simply accept this New World.
Tony Price was one of the curious types who had taken one of those slips of paper with a date and location on it, with the intent to show up at one of the meetings. An investigative journalist for the Boulder City Times, he’d gotten approved to write an article about the Underground only so that he could justify spending time down there sating his own curiosity. Perhaps the best part of his job was being able to do interesting things and label it as investigative journalism. So long as he actually produced an article, his boss would see it as work instead of what it usually was: Tony wasting time chasing leads to sate his own curiosity.
Tony was an ogre, standing at a muscle-bound six foot ten, with grayish-green skin and pale yellow eyes that sat just below a mane of wiry black hair. Unlike both of his parents, his weight was pure muscle. While most of his kin maintained their strength even through engorging themselves with all the food they could find, Tony was blessed not to have the horrifyingly round shape that the rest of his family members donned with such pride.
Journalism, as his parents had told him, was really not his calling, but he was the type to always look for a challenge. When he was growing up, he had excelled at sports, a few different methods of martial arts (before kindly being asked to leave because he was making everyone else look bad), and had been offered a number of scholarships by the end of high school for varying colleges under the pretense that he’d play sports for them: any sports, they didn’t care, so long as he was on the team.
The ogre rejected every one of the schools, and instead applied for something that would pose to be more of a challenge for him: writing. He was never the brightest kid in class, but always the strongest, and was tired of everything coming so easily to him all the time. After being turned down for a number of different universities, Tony finally got into a community college. With no small amount of effort, he passed all of his classes, scared the Editor in Chief of Boulder City Times into give him a job, and has been writing for them ever since. Most days, the Editor doesn’t regret his “decision” to hire the man, though there have been instances of trouble.
This would likely be one of those instances, and Tony knew it as soon as he’d pulled that little tab off of the piece of paper. This gathering would be a challenge, something that nobody had written about, and if anyone had then nobody had cared. He didn’t really know what to expect to find at this meeting, but one way or another it was going to get published. In truth, he expected to find something so utterly ridiculous that he’d be able to write an article to shut down this operation once and for all, but there was a shred of hope that it would be, well, more than it seemed.
10:00AM on Wednesdays were when the little papers said that they met, and Tony stood before a warehouse building in the manufacturing district of the city. All around were tall fences and long warehouses, dark clouds of smoke overhead blocking out the sun, and the overwhelming smell of burning rubber. Tony’s waves and waves of long, curly black hair were tied back into three knots on the back of his head to keep them off of his face. He’d learned years ago that shaving his beard was pointless, but he did manage to keep it short enough to tame into a small knot on his chin. Aside from his naturally brutish look, the ogre wore a tight white t-shirt and bluejeans. He may have been a professional, but that didn’t stop him from doing his best not to look the part.
His assistant, a blond little elf woman by the name of Lina, pointed at the door with a pale slender finger. “This is the location, 1432 Wayside. It looks…not good,” she said, tilting her head. “Are you sure about this?”
The man chuckled, a sort of roar in his chest that shook up his throat and into a laugh. “Of course not. If I was sure, I wouldn’t need to be here.”
She rolled her bright green eyes and straightened her formal brown skirt. “I really hope it’s nicer on the inside. I think I overdressed.”
Lina was wearing a three-piece suit, with a skirt instead of slacks, and even had a short light green tie on. Her long blond hair was tied back into a tight ponytail, with but a few stray strands that couldn’t be tamed sticking out around her long pointed ears. She wore thin metal-framed glasses that made her look like a sexy librarian, and Tony was finding it hard not to look at her instead of where they were going as they walked toward the building.
The gravel path that led them toward the building ended at a large metal door that looked like it was designed for trucks to go through. Tony hit the door as gently as he could manage with his fist a few times to knock, which made such a loud noise that he could hear the echo of it inside the building from where he stood. Lina cleared her throat, and he looked to her. Standing a few feet away from him, she was pointing at a piece of paper stuck to the door. The paper had big black letters on it that said PLEASE DO NOT KNOCK – USE SIDE DOOR. Tony gave an exaggerated shrug, and his assistant sighed with a bit of a smile. He wasn’t always the quickest to figure things out, which was part of why he’d hired her in the first place.
The two walked around the side of the building and found a normal-sized door, there. Well, normal for most people. Lina opened it for him, and Tony had to crouch a bit to get through it, turning sideways a little so his shoulders didn’t rub up against the walls. Inside, he found arrows on the ground made out of red tape leading to the back of the building. Lina stayed close behind him as they followed the directions. The arrows led them to a door, but before he opened it, he felt her tiny hand grip around his wrist. Tony looked to her quizzically, and could see she was actually really nervous about this.
“D…did you bring any weapons or anything? I mean, just in case?”
Tony put a big hand on top of her head and rubbed it, messing up her entire hair in a failed attempt at a gesture of comforting. “Silly Lina. I am a weapon,” he said with a flat-toothed grin before opening the door.
As the ogre and elf walked through the door, half-expecting to find crazed cultists in black robes chanting to some made-up god to free them from their imagined captivity, they were greeted by the familiar smell of coffee. Lina’s tiny hands gripped tight to a binder filled with papers, holding it to her chest as though she intended to hide behind it if things got ugly. There was no doubt in the ogre’s mind that she would use the thing as a weapon if it came down to it.
Tony entered the room and took in the faces: about two dozen human-looking folks standing around sipping on small Styrofoam cups and chatting among themselves. Near the back of the room that was much smaller than the one they’d come from but still looked to have initially been intended as some form of storage, wood pallets were stacked on top of each other to form a stage that stood about three feet off the ground. Atop the makeshift stage was a fold-out gray plastic table with papers of different colors piled into neat stacks across it. A woman approached the stage, climbed atop, and touched each of the stacks, before picking a pastel-green shaded sheet of paper.
There were about thirty chairs spread in front of the stage, all made of the same pale-gray shade of plastic that the fold-out tables were. Nobody was sitting in any of them, yet. It was clear that the group had mainly attracted humans, or at least people who looked human enough. Tony saw a dwarf in the corner, talking with a woman, and there was a goblin at the table where the coffee and some pastries were set out, greeting people with a disgustingly wide grin. Nobody even seemed to notice the two walk through the door, so Tony took it upon himself to get some coffee. He wasn’t really a fan of the stuff, but maybe it would help him stay awake through what looked like it might prove to be a very boring event.
The goblin was just saying goodbye to a young man when the ogre walked up to his table. The little creature smiled up at him with a welcoming wave. “New faces!” it said, its voice an unsettling hiss. “I’m Roger, would you like a treat?”
Tony looked at the snacks on the table and reached to grab one. A tiny hand slapped his giant one from somewhere to his left, and he saw Lina glaring at him disapprovingly. “Darling, you’re supposed to be watching your weight, remember,” she said, raising a brow.
The ogre’s features scrunched as he looked at her confused. “What the hell are you talking about?” he asked, and reached out again to get one of the danishes that was staring at him just waiting to be inhaled like the naughty little sugar bit that it was.
She slapped his hand again, then laughed nervously, grabbing his gigantic ogre paw between her two tiny hands, as if that was enough to stop him. “Oh, you’re so funny. Remember what the doctor said, though, too many sweets and you won’t stay on your feet,” she said in a sing-song kind of voice that he’d never heard her put on before.
The goblin pitched in. “Oh, a diabetic, I’m so sorry to hear that. In that case, maybe you should pass on these. I’ll try to remember that for next time, though, and bring some food without sugar in it.”
“Oh, it’s no problem, really,” Lina replied with another laugh. She leaned her head against Tony’s muscular arm, and for just a moment he was certain that this was some sort of horrible nightmare. Not that Lina wasn’t an attractive woman, but any woman who got between him and food lost all of her appeal. “My husband just likes to think that he is super man, isn’t that right, honey?”
“Uh,” he started, not having the creative initiative to know how to fit into this conversation anymore. “Yeah, what she said.”
Lina tapped his arm, as if to say, ‘good boy, keep up the good work’, then chimed again, “Shall we take our seats?”
Tony shook his head. “You go ahead, I’m going to get some coffee first. No sugar, though,” he added with a grin. Lina’s grip tightened and she looked at him with wide eyes, begging him to just come with her and sit down without actually saying so. The ogre wasn’t about to just let her pull him into hiding, though. What the hell kind of things was he supposed to find out with his ass planted in a chair the whole time? She realized that he wasn’t going to give on this, and smiled her fake smile again with a nod and hurried off to find a seat.
“Trouble in paradise?” the goblin asked in a hushed voice, and Tony chuckled.
“Anything worth having is worth fighting with, right?” he chuckled in reply.
“Right you are,” the goblin said, oblivious to the change the ogre had made to the cliche.
Tony grabbed one of the Styrofoam cups and set to making his coffee, talking to the little man as he did. “So, Roger, was it? When is this whole thing supposed to kick off?”
“Well, it was supposed to start a few minutes ago, but the leaders of the meeting have been delayed. I’m sure they’ll let us know why when they get here. Cream?”
“No thanks. Does that kind of thing happen often?”
“Almost never. This is only the second time I’ve seen one of these meetings delayed, and the first time was only because the building we were supposed to be meeting in sort of collapsed.”
“Collapsed? How does that even happen?”
The thing lowered its voice a little, “There are a lot of powerful people who don’t want us meeting like this. I’ll let you figure out how it collapsed.”
Tony raised his brow and his coffee cup at the same time, hiding the smile he couldn’t keep from his lips behind the steaming styrofoam cup. Much to his surprise, the coffee was delicious. It had a sort of vanilla flavor to it, he thought. When he lowered the cup, he’d managed to get his smile under control. “I’m a little new to all these…conspiracy things. I just saw the flier and thought it seemed interesting. Who exactly is against these meetings?”
“CCI, of course. They’re threatened by the knowledge that spreads in this place, and the numbers we’ve started to grow.”
Tony wasn’t going to even address that their numbers seemed to amount to less than most high school football teams, “Why would CCI want you shut down?”
“You’re about to find out.”
The goblin nodded toward the stage, and Tony looked to see that two men were standing there, now, over the table with the papers on it. One was tall with long black hair that reached past his shoulders, and the other was a much shorter fellow. Beneath the table, Tony could see that the shorter man had the legs of a goat. He assumed that, under his baseball cap and mess of bright red hair, there would be a pair of horns as well. Satyrs weren’t exactly uncommon, though he hadn’t expected to see one here. The satyr shuffled papers on the table while the taller man stared directly at the ogre. His eyes were a piercing blue, and Tony immediately associated the color with the lights on his computer. Not that he thought the guy was a robot or anything (although that wasn’t entirely out of the question), but the eyes seemed to actually glow in the room. He wore a long dark grey trench-coat and tight black clothes beneath it. Other than his eyes, he looked like he could be perfectly human.
“Who are those guys?” Tony asked, noticing as he spoke that his own voice had gotten quieter. The tall man was still staring directly at him.
“The satyr is George. He’s the speaker for the meetings. The other one is Israel. He’s sort of the brains behind the whole operation.”
“Is he human?”
“I’m pretty sure he is,” said the goblin, but even Tony couldn’t miss the doubt in the creature’s voice.
The ogre looked back to the smiling creature, and managed a smile of his own. “Well, I guess I better find my seat. Thanks for the coffee,” he said, raising the cup as if toasting with the air.
Roger waved at him excitedly, but seemed to have diverted most of his attention to the stage. It was eerie: when a goblin was focused, they seemed almost hypnotized. The creature’s beedy eyes were fixated on the front of the room, and even when he looked away for a moment, it was as if there were an invisible string constantly tugging his attention back up there. Tony made his way to where Lina had sat down, and noticed as soon as he got there that she was chewing her fingers. When he took the seat next to her, she slapped her hands down into her lap, hoping he wouldn’t notice. “That guy,” she said quietly, “He’s been staring at you since he walked in the room.”
“Yeah, I know. He’s probably jealous to see someone taller than him in here. I hope he’s intimidated,” he joked.
Lina slapped his arm, and not in a playful manner. “We should go. He’s making me uncomfortable.”
“Relax, Lina. What’s he going to do, throw hot coffee in your face?”
“I don’t know. I just-”
Before she could finish, the satyr on stage spoke up over the hum of voices in the room. His voice was nasally, but surprisingly loud for his size. “Excuse me, everyone, I apologize for the wait, but we’re ready to start now, so I’d appreciate it if you could all get to your seats.”
The people scattered about the room made their way to their seats, closing out their conversations, and within a few moments the room was organized into the fold-up chairs in front of the pallet-stage. “Thank you so much for your patience. Alright,” he said, glancing over his thick black-rimmed glasses at the paper in his hands. “First order of business. I want to be completely honest with you about the reason for our delay. A contact at the Boulder City Times, a trusted friend and member of our inner circle, contacted me just as I was leaving to come here today. To make a long story short, we’ve received confirmation that there is in fact an escaped creation from CCI living illegally within our city.”
Hushed whispers broke out within the crowd, people turning to address their seated neighbors about the subject, even though nobody in the room probably knew what they were talking about. The satyr raised a hand to quiet them down, and raised his voice as he continued speaking. It didn’t take long for people to listen instead of talk. “We’re still gathering information on the identity of this person. As you can imagine, CCI hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with that information. However, we suspect that it has been released here intentionally, and that it has a mission, though we don’t know what that is. It’s confirmed that the subject appears to be a human female, in her mid-20s, and has been hiding somewhere in the city for the past 3 years.”
Whispers broke out again, but the satyr yelled to speak over them, and again the voices quieted. “As you can imagine, the last thing we need is for panic to break out. We just want to keep you all informed, because honesty and openness are what we thrive on here, unlike the truth-sucking joy-thieves at CCI.”
Tony lipped the words ‘truth-sucking joy-thieves’, just to see if it was as fun to say as he imagined it would have to be in order to justify ever using those words together. It was a little, but not really. It took everything in him not to shake his head. This was rather ridiculous, and he was beginning to regret ever coming. Beside him, Lina was writing notes as fast as she could, her eyes fixed on the satyr yet her hand working quickly as though it had its own thought processes. The tall man stood ominously just behind the satyr, like some sort of body guard, but at least he wasn’t staring at Tony anymore. He seemed to be scanning the room, but didn’t make any move aside from crossing his arms at one point.
“If any of you have reason to suspect that you have encountered this thing before, it is imperative that you not treat it any differently, continue behaving as you have so it doesn’t suspect that you know something, and bring it to my attention or the attention of one of the inner circle. We will investigate thoroughly, but we don’t want anyone to get hurt because someone overreacted to this situation.” He cleared his throat, moving the paper he had been looking at to the back of the stack in his hands.
“Second order of business. The white cat that has been pooping inside the warehouse has been given a home, thanks to Andy and his-”
Lina’s hand suddenly shot into the air, and her once-timid voice penetrated the satyr’s speech. “Question,” she demanded, irritation evident in her voice. The woman could fake her way through any conversation unless she was irritated.
The satyr stared for a moment, and then smiled. “Oh, I see we have some new faces. Questions are reserved for the end of the meeting. If you can hold them until then, I’d love to address any concerns you have.”
“I can’t hold them until the end,” she replied, continuing with little regard for manners. The tall man’s eyes were on Tony again, and the ogre shifted uncomfortably in his seat (mostly because the chairs were really not suited for a giant muscular butt to sit in for too long). “What evidence do you have to support your claim that CCI is releasing experiments into the city.”
The satyr looked at the tall man, who took his eyes off of Tony long enough to give the small man a shake of his head before fixing on the ogre again. The satyr shuffled back to his first page. “I’m not at liberty to discuss exactly what it is that we’ve been shown, since it could compromise my contact’s privacy. But it’s no secret that CCI does plenty of human testing and modifications, and have been known in the past to attempt to create-”
“I didn’t ask what you were claiming they were doing. I asked what evidence you have to support your claims. If you have proof to back up this story, there’s no reason you shouldn’t make that information public. It would shatter CCI as a company, so you really have nothing to lose.”
“The truth is always buried behind walls of lies.”
“But you said your contact works for the Boulder City Times. If you could get this person to publish an article with this information in it, there’s no way to cover that up. Once something is printed and people see it, then the truth will be out there. Anything CCI does afterwards will just be obvious fumbling excuses, but ultimately it would achieve your goals.”
“I’m sorry, who exactly are you?” the satyr asked, now peering over his black rims at the woman with new scrutiny.
Lina ignored the question. Tony was glad, for a change, that it wasn’t him that was under her scope. “If there’s a potentially dangerous experiment running rampant in the streets and you have the power to bring that to light, then by not taking action you are just as guilty as the powers who put that card into play. You are to blame for anything that happens from today forward, if you choose not to come forth with this information. Do you really want that kind of blood on your hands?”
The tall man stepped forward, and the satyr seemed to realize that his turn to speak was well over. Though the man responded to Lina, he kept his eyes fixed on the ogre. Racist, probably, was the only thing that Tony could reason. He hadn’t done anything but drink a little coffee since he got here. The man spoke, his deep voice booming effortlessly through the room. “It’s not an experiment, it’s a weapon. It’s not a human that was modified, it’s a creation, an abomination. Bringing the story to light would only discredit the person who wrote the article, and you know it, just as I know that whatever evidence I give you you’ll find some way to say it’s not true. Without enough to put CCI under for good, this contact would only be sacrificing their job if they wrote that article now.”
“Then why even bring it up?” Lina asked. She clearly wasn’t as put off by him anymore as Tony was, and apparently all of her nervousness had been replaced with a feminine fury that he had no intentions of getting in the way of. “Why not at least show evidence to the people here, so that we can determine for ourselves what we think is true instead of forcing your interpretations of the situation down our throats?”
The man was silent, and Tony buried his face in his gigantic green hands. When the one called Israel finally spoke again, it was far more calm than before. “What did you expect to find here, elf?”
“A righteous act of underground movement intent on saving the city from itself, as advertised, or a rough bunch of hooligans hell-bent on anarchy.”
“You’ll find neither of those here.”
“You think?” she said sarcastically, clearly still irritated, then stood up and started walking out. Her heels clicked and clacked loudly on the floor as she headed toward the door. Someone in the crowd of people shouted, “She’s blind just like the rest of them.”
Tony sighed and stood, knowing he couldn’t leave Lina out there by herself. She may have had a little kick to her words when she was angry, but the girl had nothing in terms of self-defense, and who knew what kind of weirdos were hanging around this place. Murmurs emerged from the crowd as he followed her to the door, and just as he reached it the tall man’s voice rang out again.
“Tell your assistant that I’d be more than willing to let her publish the story, if she’s willing to risk her job for it.”
The ogre looked over his shoulder, but the dark man had turned around, and the satyr had taken his post again. The hoofed man spoke up to the room as Tony walked through the door, and the last words he heard were, “-so, the cat has a home, now-“.
Lina had gotten outside far quicker than he thought her little legs could carry her. She was out the front door before he had even made it out of the meeting room. When he caught up to her, she was leaning against the large warehouse door with the sign on it that Tony had knocked on earlier. Her one arm clutched around the binder, holding it tight to her chest, and in her other hand between two slim pale fingers was pressed a long, thin cigarette. The elf exhaled a cloud of smoke bigger than her head, and it lingered in the humid afternoon air.
“Well,” he said to her, “That was exciting.”
“Sorry,” she said quietly, “I just don’t understand how people can be so dumb and follow anything someone says just because they use words like ‘contact’ and ‘reason to believe’. It’s stupid. Those poor people in there are just following blindly the lies of some dumb group that is probably leeching their money on donations to fund private projects that have nothing to do with what everyone thinks they’re funding.”
“That would make one hell of a story,” he mused, reaching out for the cigarette. She handed it to him, probably assuming he’d want a drag. Neither of them smoked, but they were both known to do so whenever Lina got really upset. Tony didn’t really get that mad, but her stress always got him on edge, and smokes took the edge off. Instead, he threw it on the ground, stepping it out with his shoe. “They might be right, though,” he said, knowing he’d likely regret playing devil’s advocate with Lina.
She scoffed, shaking her head and looking up to the sky. Her bright green eyes lit up as the sun hit them. “Why did we even come here?”
“Two parts insatiable curiosity, one part hope, I guess,” he shrugged.
The woman giggled. “That was almost poetic, but I think you missed the point. I mean, you don’t even write political crap like this. You write opinion articles on sports and movies and events like that.”
“I was hoping for a challenge. You know me. I take it you don’t like serious?”
Her button nose scrunched a little in thought, as she seemed to search for words somewhere up there in the clouds. “I don’t like questioning my reality. Even when it’s stuff like this, so far-fetched that you just know someone is reaching and would have done better as a novelist. It still makes me wonder…there’s too much we don’t know. What if it’s true?”
“You wanna come back next week?”
She scoffed and pushed off the wall, seeming to force her eyes off of the peacefulness of the sky. “Why would I want to do that?”
“To find out the truth, obviously,” he said, starting to walk back down the long stretch of gravel to where she’d parked her car.
Lina followed, just a few steps behind. “I don’t think we’ll learn anything here. We’re just going to find more questions, but these people don’t want to give us answers, even if they had them. I just…I just wish I knew the truth. I hate thinking about it so much.”
“I wish I knew, too,” he said, not really sure if she was saying she was interested in the topic or wasn’t. To Tony, Lina was a giant mystery. Predictable in some cases, but her mind was clearly a lot more complicated than his was.
The two got back to Lina’s car. She always drove, because it wasn’t exactly cheap to find a car that an ogre could fit behind the wheel of comfortably. There were all sorts of modifications that had to be made for his size, and those alone usually cost more than the car itself did. Yet another reason why he’d hired an assistant. When the two were seated comfortably inside, Lina started the car, then sat there for a second. She turned her head to face Tony, and said, “Let’s promise to just stick to the normal stuff, okay? This kind of crap really messes with my head and gets me thinking, and I really would just like things to be simple, alright?”
He hesitated, not sure if he should ask what she meant, or just go with it. He decided on the latter, though, since it seemed like the safest bet. “Sure, I guess this was a waste of time, anyway.”
“Yeah,” she said, but she sounded disappointed as she put the car in reverse and pulled away from the building.