They carefully maneuvered me out of the car. Every movement sent pain racing around my body; if there had been anything left in my stomach, I’d have been sick again.
“James? James, are you okay? I saw on the—” A woman barged through the internal door to the garage and stopped immediately when she saw us with the mystery man, whose name was apparently James. “Were you… Were you there?” she stuttered, her eyes roaming over us.
“We’re fine.” He brushed away her concerned hand. “What was on the news? Were there videos?”
“They only had a quick special report,” she said, her relief he was back plain on her face. “There’ll be more on the regular news.”
Her eyes fell upon me, partially hidden behind the other girls. “James, what on earth happened to her? Come in, all of you. Take your shoes off at the door.” The panic was gone and a tone of command settled firmly into her voice.
“Sarah!” the woman yelled.
“Just a minute,” a muffled voice replied from somewhere upstairs.
“Now.” The tone of her voice seemed to indicate she was used to the response.
A door opened above us and someone bounded lightly down the steps. As she rounded the corner, my heart pounded and a lump of fear rose in my throat. For a fraction of a moment it overpowered the pain.
Nicole was in front of me in an instant. Mouse placed herself between the woman and me, while Briana squared off against James. I saw Mouse’s hands move to her hips, reaching for weapons that were no longer there. Everything was in the car.
Sarah, with her blond hair tied back in a messy bun, looked a lot more comfortable in jeans than she ever had wearing scrubs in the labs, and a lot more relaxed than us. Her eyes flickered over us and worry clouded her features.
“Girls…” Alarm colored his voice. “This is my daughter, Sarah. She’s been keeping an eye on you for the last couple of years.”
“But she works for the labs!” Nicole said with a curl of her lips.
“I worked at the labs,” Sarah corrected. “Dad’s contacts got me the placement. I was only there to watch in case they decided to sell you off early, before we could get you out. You took care of that little detail all by yourselves though,” she finished in an admiring tone. “What happened to you?”
“Tsunami,” James replied, as if it were a normal occurrence.
Nicole looked from Sarah to James and back again. “Why didn’t you help us before now?”
“And do what?” Sarah asked. “How would I be any help to you if I blew my cover and got myself killed?”
She had a point.
“How did you not know Mom was dead?” I asked, turning to James. My head was fuzzy. The grogginess that had stolen over me since the wave made my thoughts lag.
“I knew she was dead. I didn’t know when.”
“We don’t have time for this,” the other woman said. “We need to get her patched up and then we need to figure out what to do with all of you.”
The others weren’t totally convinced by Sarah’s explanation, but I was past caring. It was probably stupid, but James’ verification that he had Mom’s blessing was enough for me. I wanted to pass out.
Sarah herded us into the kitchen where they laid me upon a long marble counter in the middle. The woman shooed everyone but Mouse and Sarah away before hovering over me, running her hands over my limbs.
“Dislocated,” she murmured to herself, as her gentle hands brushed over my shoulder. “What’s your name?”
“Kayla ,” Mouse answered for me when I didn’t reply—my head throbbed painfully. “Michaela.”
Sarah drew a large first aid kit from below the kitchen sink, opened it and withdrew a sterile set of needles. She handed them to the woman.
Mouse eyed the needles. “Are you trained to use those?”
“I was an emergency room doctor before I met James.” The woman didn’t look up. “My knowledge may be a little out of date, but it works. We can’t settle anywhere long enough for me to find a job in that field. James finds plenty of use for my skills though.” She looked like she expected us to understand her comment, but it confused me more. I could hear a hint of sadness in her voice as she spoke about her past career.
“Okay, Michaela, I’m going to start with your shoulder. The longer we leave that, the harder it’s going to be to reset.” She filled the syringe. “This is a muscle relaxant. It’ll make this easier and less painful for you.”
Mouse took my uninjured hand and held tight. I squeezed my eyes closed, the muscles in my face protesting against the sudden movement. I tried to keep my shoulder relaxed, knowing it was supposed to hurt less, but it didn’t settle my breathing.
“Calm down.” Mouse ran her thumb back and forth over my wrist.
I couldn’t help it though. My breathing came faster and faster until the woman withdrew the needle. She slid it from my arm smoothly, taking care not to snag the tip.
The woman—who eventually told us her name was Julie—gave the muscle relaxants time to kick in. When she deemed it appropriate, Sarah and Mouse helped me to sit upright.
As they held me, Julie positioned my arm so it just hung there. She bent my elbow and rotated it, first into my stomach, then out again. It hurt, like hell, but the sharp pain subsided immediately as my shoulder popped back into place. The relief was immediate, but I was still too exhausted to move as they lowered me back onto the cool marble. I sighed when the smooth stone came into contact with my hot back.
Julie set my arm in a cast, having somehow determined I’d broken my wrist. The cast reached from my elbow to the base of my thumb. She cleaned and patched the rest of my injuries before she and Mouse helped me bathe.
“Why do you have so much equipment?” I managed to mumble. The subject had fleetingly crossed my thoughts earlier and for some reason it felt important to know.
“You aren’t the first person James has brought home in bad condition, nor the worst. There are more of you than you think and most can’t use public hospitals.”
“Why can’t they go to a hospital?”
“No documentation, for starters. No insurance. As far as the government’s concerned, you don’t exist. Those like you don’t want to take the chance that they’ll be found out, especially the ones that aren’t quite human.”
The last part caught my attention.
“Like the zombies on the news?”
“No, not at all.” She pulled my hair back from my face and tied it out of the way. “They’re exactly like you, except some of the gene manipulation left physical abnormalities such as webbed fingers or colored skin.”
“I didn’t realize there were so many others,” I said as Mouse helped me into a towel.
“There are more than you can imagine… The South Carolina lab is one of many, and the program has been running for much longer than you’ve been alive.”
I was falling asleep by the time I was finally cleaned up. Dressed in a pair of Sarah’s yoga pants and an oversized shirt—to accommodate my cast—they led me to the family room.
Julie gave me some painkillers and I fell asleep almost as soon as I sat down. They let me rest, waking me some time later so I could eat with them.