Go to my Home page.
Go to my main Stories page.

Unwanted Help: Prelude


Rodford Edmiston

Part One

      "Are you sure you don't want me here, Doctor?" the nurse asked, uncertainly.

      "Yes, Joyce. The patient's religion forbids anyone but the parents and the doctor from seeing the child before it is a year old, and an ultrasound counts as seeing."

      "It's all right," said Lisa, reassuringly. "This is what I want."

      The nurse frowned at this, but nodded, turned and left.

      "Well, that was a slick way of handling the situation," was Lisa's dry comment. "But you make me sound like some Third World immigrant who barely speaks English."

      "Sorry," said Dr. Robertson. "I'm not used to lying, and that seemed the most reasonable explanation for not letting her see the ultrasound."

      "I understand," sighed Lisa, "and that's not too far from some actual beliefs."

      "Well, then, if you would just slip into the dressing room and change..."

      "I'm not wearing a hospital gown," snapped Lisa, unbuttoning her blouse. "There's just the two of us in here and I'm not shy. You lock the door and I'll get naked."

      She was true to her word. By the time Robertson turned around from pushing the button, Lisa was not only bare, but on the table. Robertson gulped, sighed, and moved over to sit beside her.

      "Nearly all of my shapeshifter patients have done this," he muttered, as he brought out the gel. "I guess you're so used to taking your clothes off to change that it just doesn't mean much to you, but I'd think that since you're used to having fur when you're not wearing clothes you'd want a gown."

      Lisa said nothing, and didn't react when he began rubbing the cold gel on her slightly swollen stomach.

      "Are you sure you're only a month and a half along?" said Robertson, frowning as he turned the ultrasound machine on and brought out the transducer.


      "You look more like three months."

      He passed the transducer slowly over her abdomen, frowning again as the image formed.

      "Looks like your guess was right. I see three distinct shapes. All look feline."

      "Damn," said Lisa, softly.

      "This explains why you're so big. Three cougar cubs are larger than a single human fetus at a month and a half, not only because there're more of them but because they're developing quicker."

      "At least that means I won't be pregnant for as long," said Lisa. "Though I'll have to nurse and tend them in cougar form, at least until they're weaned."

      Dr. Robertson turned the machine off and moved it back out of the way, then handed Lisa some paper towels. As she wiped the gel off, he placed a VHS tape on the chair with her clothes.

      "That's the only copy," he assured her.

      Lisa nodded, and began dressing.

      "Will you also deliver them in cougar form?"

      "Yes. Well, now that I know for sure."

      "You look... down."

      Lisa stared at him for a moment, and Robertson began to worry that he'd offended her.

      "How would you feel if you'd been pressured all your life by people from both sides of your family to have children," she said slowly, "and you finally go ahead and do so, only you learn that they aren't human? That they might spend their entire lives as wild animals?"

      "I... don't know," said Robertson. "About the last part, I mean. About the first part, I think I can sympathize. Because I've been pressured all my life to get married and have lots of kids, because in my family one in eight turn out to be werewolves."

      "Oh," said Lisa, startled. "And that's why you haven't married?"

      "Part of it," he confirmed. "A large part."

      Lisa dressed and put the tape in her purse while Robertson made notes in her folder.

      "There, and all of it under the name of Laura Craywood."

      "Good," said Lisa, nodding.

      "Oh, by the way, how is your appetite?"

      "I feel like I'm always hungry," Lisa informed him. "Even after I just ate."

      "That's normal," Robertson said, nodding. "Are you getting enough variety in your diet?"

      "Let me put it this way," said Lisa, grinning, "Mariah was joking last night about neighbors missing pets."

      "Uh..." said Dr. Robertson, face carefully neutral.

      "Don't worry, it is a joke," said Lisa. "I have been hunting lately, but where I live there's plenty of small game, and even the occasional deer. Though they're a bit smaller than what I'm used to."

      "Oh," said Robertson. He made a mental note to call Mariah and get an independent evaluation of Lisa's diet.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Lisa woke with a start as her bedside phone chirped softly. She reached out for it... and saw a cougar's paw, only then remembering she had been sleeping in cougar form lately. She shifted back to human, managing to grab the handset on the third ring.

      "Yes?" she growled.

      "Dr. Robertson's house and office were broken into last night," said Mariah. "He's missing."

      Lisa was fully awake by now, but still unable to immediately get her mind around these facts.

      "What... do the police..."

      "Listen, that's all I know," said Mariah. "I caught the news on the TV in the student center lounge and that's what I heard."

      "Okay, okay," said Lisa, looking at the clock. She groaned; not even ten, yet. "Listen, you get to class. I'll check into this."

      "Okay, but be careful! This might be connected to you."

      "I realized that," Lisa snapped. She hung up, feeling a bit guilty about being so abrupt.

      Lisa staggered into the kitchen, had a quick snack to help raise her blood sugar, then called Robertson's office. There was no answer. She tried his answering service. That rewarded her with a recorded message to all of his patients that Dr. Robertson was temporarily unavailable, and that anyone with an emergency should call...

      The phone rang in pain as Lisa slammed the handset down. Obviously, the damage to the office was substantial if there wasn't even anyone there to answer the phones. Lisa grabbed the phone book, looked up the number of the managing agency for the medical center Dr. Robertson's office was in, and called.

      "No, ma'am, I'm sorry, the police have asked us not to give out any information on the matter," the woman Lisa's call was directed to responded.

      "But I'm supposed to get back my test results today," Lisa countered, in a nasal whine she hoped would sufficiently disguise her voice. "What if the burglars got my papers?"

      The woman was sympathetic but unyielding, though she did grudgingly acknowledge that the records had been ransacked. Lisa hung up and sighed. She was concerned about Dr. Robertson, but she was also concerned about herself and her family-in-the-making. She knew there might be another reason for this kidnapping and vandalism, but the most likely explanation was that someone had learned that he treated shapechangers. He had reassured Lisa that his notes on shapeshifter pregnancies were kept in a confidential file, but they were in plain English. While Lisa's files were under a fictitious name they might provide enough information for someone to locate her. That had Lisa worried. Very worried.

      "Well, well," Lisa mused aloud. "Looks like I'm going to have to play detective again. Just hope I don't have as much trouble this time as I did in San Francisco."

      Though if she did, she was much better equipped to handle it, now. That thought brought a smile to her face. It was not a friendly expression.

      The news - both radio and TV - speculated that Robertson might have been targeted by abortion terrorists. He didn't perform abortions, but he did promote family planning, and was known to recommend patients wanting abortions to appropriate facilities. Lisa hadn't known this. She was neutral on the concept of abortion; women in her family had so much trouble conceiving that the subject of abortions just didn't come up during her visits.

      No, she was more convinced than ever that there was something going on which involved Dr. Robertson's connections to shapechangers. She'd have to be patient, however. Just now, both the office and Robertson's home were the focus of much attention. She'd wait a few days, until the rush of interest died down, before doing anything on-site. Meanwhile, she had other trails to check.

                                    *                              *                              *

      The medical building was on a slope, so that while Dr. Robertson's office was on the ground floor at the front, it was a full story above the parking lot pavement around back. There was no fire escape, either; just a sheer brick wall. But the windows did have sills...

      Lisa, in cougar form, prowled silently around the darkened building, making sure there were no lurkers in the night's shadows. Well, none besides herself. Satisfied the area was unobserved, she shifted to her midform and took a running jump. She caught the bottom of the sill neatly, levered herself up and held there, as she examined the window. This was where the break-in had occurred. The police claimed that a ladder had been used, and the marks on the concrete sill confirmed this. The broken lock had not been replaced, but the window had been fastened shut on the inside with a couple of sheet metal screws through the frame. These yielded with a small screech. Lisa slipped headfirst inside, landing in full cat form on all fours.

      Three days after the break-in, Dr. Robertson still had not been found, and there were still no hard clues as to the identities of the culprits. Robertson might be in hiding, from whoever had done this, but that seemed unlikely. The site was still being kept off-limits for the ongoing investigation, left as it was found except for the minimal disturbance made by police investigators. Lisa nosed around carefully, watching where she stepped. There was a confusion of scents, only a few recognizable. Besides Dr. Robertson, there were four nurses, the cleaning staff, dozens of patients, the police investigators... and the intruders, somewhere among all that.

      Well, Lisa hadn't thought it would be easy. She continued prowling around the office, finally locating the safe in a corner behind a desk. It was open, and showed no signs of being forced. A professional job, then, which only confirmed Lisa's growing suspicions. The safe provided much clearer scents. She could detect only Dr. Robertson and two others. One of the strangers was female, probably the head nurse. The other was male, and smelled of fine machine oil. The kind used on safes... and guns. There was also a smell of latex, not unusual in a medical facility, but in this case probably coming from the use of rubber gloves by the thieves and the police. The latter had also been extremely careful not to contaminate the evidence, so they had left no discernible scents at the safe, but the person who opened and rifled it hadn't been so cautious. His clothing had pressed or rubbed against several parts of the safe, and transferred his scent. Now Lisa had something firm to go on.

      The safe was empty, of course. Some of the contents were scattered on the floor, but the confidential records were gone. So was the cash box, but that was to be expected if the thieves were covering their real goal. Lisa also scented the sort of plastics used in data storage disks, but saw none. Come to think of it, there was space on the desk for a computer, but nothing there. She checked and found the sort of marks that the plastic feet of a computer make. Lisa doubted that Robertson kept any of the confidential records on the computer, but couldn't fault the thieves for being thorough. Unless the police had... no, she doubted that. From what she understood of police procedure, they'd either make an image of a hard disk - which would include deleted files - or wait until later in the investigation before taking a computer somewhere to work on it.

      There was little else to learn here, and truthfully she hadn't expected to find even this much. Lisa crept back to the window, shifted to her midform, took a quick look around, and squeezed through. She hung for a moment, closing the window, the pushed off.

      Robertson's house was a different story. This time Lisa had to go in at ground level, since it was a one-floor house on flat terrain. The violated back door had been nailed shut, and rather securely. After several tentative attempts Lisa was beginning to worry that the noise of an effort strong enough to work would attract attention. Finally, though, she got the door open. In fact, it came completely off the hinges, almost crashing to the floor before Lisa frantically caught it.

      Swearing silently, Lisa stepped inside and shoved the door back in place. She was extra-careful to make sure it was wedged securely. She didn't want it falling in the next gust of wind. Then she shifted to cougar form and began searching.

      Here she had less idea of what to look for. She didn't even know if Dr. Robertson kept any of his patients' records here. But the thieves had looked, so she would, as well.

      One thing became immediately clear; the same man who had searched the safe had been in this house. Aside from Robertson, however, that was the only familiar trace she could find. There were several unfamiliar human scents, and even a trace of a female werewolf. That was weeks old, though.

      The thieves had been thorough. Every piece of furniture had been overturned with any lose pieces removed, including the refrigerator, which lay, closed, on the floor, motor humming. However, Lisa had one advantage the intruders lacked. Carefully following Robertson's scent, she found one place he had visited repeatedly where there was nothing obvious for him to visit. Curious, she prodded the wall, but found nothing unusual. Then she tried the carpet.

      Bingo! It pulled up, revealing a piece of flooring which had been cut out then carefully wedged back into place. With a bit of trouble, Lisa hooked her claws into the crack and pried the wood out. Below was a niche containing a fat accordion folder. Lisa shifted to midform, and reached in, but found retrieving the folder to be difficult. There was only room for one hand, and her finger pads didn't give enough friction for a good grip. She didn't want to risk digging her claws in and tearing the paper, so she shifted to human. This time the folder came out easily. Lisa set it aside, put the board and carpet back in place, then shifted to her midform. She started to leave, then decided to make sure and rocked her weight back and forth over the spot to seat it good. Now she could finish the rest of the house.

      As she headed for the bedroom, however, she heard something and froze. There was someone outside. They were working on a window, in the kitchen, and if she went down the hall to the back door they might see her. They would almost certainly hear the back door being opened. And unless they were blind they would see her when she stepped out.

      Lisa thought quickly. She needed hands to carry the folder, but she didn't want them to see a catwoman. Whether these were the original thieves, back for another look (perhaps even for the folder she carried, if they had "persuaded" Robertson to reveal its location) or opportunists intending to loot an empty house, that would be bad, and risk Exposure. Of course, she didn't want them to see her human face, either. She wished now that she had learned that trick for not being seen. For a moment she thought about using her new form to scare whoever was there away; the temptation of such power was strong. But, no. Instead she shifted mostly back to human, keeping just enough of the cat to distort her features, making her look eerie and unrecognizable, but not alien.

      She went to the front door and quietly unlocked it. Easing out, she saw no car on the street which hadn't been visible before, and no sign of whoever was breaking in at the rear of the house. Moving quickly but quietly, Lisa hurried across the street and into the shadows of a large tree. She still couldn't see anything strange at Robertson's house. Laying the folder down behind the trunk, she went to full cougar. She started back across the street, but stopped halfway. She could scent that same man on the wind, the one who also carried a smell of machine oil. She went on, around behind the house.

      The men were already inside by the time she got to where she could see the window, but their scents lingered. Lisa moved as close as she dared, using the air conditioner as cover, and took a good sniff. There were three of them, and she made sure she would know them if she encountered them or their sign again. Then she left. If the folder contained what she suspected, getting it safely away was more important than confronting or following those men.

                                    *                              *                              *

      "I assume 'Patient One' is you," said Lisa, dryly. "'Patient Two' and 'Patient Three' are the others he told me about. And I'm definitely 'Patient Four.'"

      Sarah LeForge wasn't in a smiling mood. Fortunately, she knew Lisa well enough to understand that no insult was meant. Sarah simply continued to page through the first folder, nodding.

      "Yeah, that's me," she acknowledged. Sarah looked at Lisa.  "Just how much of these did you read?"

      "Only enough to try and identify who each was about," said Lisa. "I don't know Two and Three, so I can't really connect their problems with the patient, anyway."

      Sarah sighed, leaned back and rubbed her eyes. She looked tired.

      "I wish I'd heard about this sooner," she said, dropping her hands limply by her sides. "We just couldn't get here in time. So I guess we owe you one for finding this stuff before the kidnappers did."

      Lisa nodded silently. That was both quite a compliment from and quite an admission of failure for a werewolf.

      The younger woman looked at Lisa again.

      "Though I gotta tell you, when we found your scent at the office and Billy's home there were some in our pack thought you did it." She gave a dry laugh. "Good thing for you some of us was willing to think you might just be trying to help."

      "Any idea of who did this?"

      "There's all kinds of folks what would want to hurt werewolves any way they could," said Sarah. "If'n one of them found out that Billy was cousin to one..."

      She shrugged.

      Lisa frowned, partly in thought and partly in irritation. Eight werewolves had arrived the night before in a battered van, and were now camping out in the woods around Lisa's house. She knew most of them, and had invited them in after Sarah mentioned that they had been on the go for over 4 days straight. Still, she didn't like having all these people on her property. Especially since they were drinking *her* water and hunting *her* game...

      Lisa shook herself, realizing her hormones were talking again. It was natural for an expectant cougar to be extra sensitive to other predators in her territory. She noticed Sarah looking at her, grinning.

      "It does get wearin', don't it?" she commented.

      Lisa groaned, then gave her friend a wry grin.

      "Thus speaks the voice of experience," she sighed. "How is your daughter doing, by the way?"

      "Fine as cat hair," said Sarah, deliberately using a saying that made an indirect reference to Lisa. "Haven't seen her since we left for the Gathering. Was hopin' to see her tonight. That doesn't look likely."

      "Todd must hate having to stay home while you go out and do werewolf stuff," said Lisa, smiling.

      "He's a good man," said Sarah. "He knows his place. And mine."

      Lisa hid her expression carefully. She didn't like how some werewolves treated their human relatives and mates, but knew better than to bring that up unless she wanted an argument... or a fight.

      "I really wish you could of followed those men, or maybe used some sort of spy radio tracker bug," Sarah continued. "You mention them all the time in your books; I cain't believe you don't have none."

      "Do you think they made Dr. Robertson talk?"

      "No. Well, not completely. When we checked his house the panel in the floor was still in place, and the rug over it. I was pretty surprised when we opened Billy's little hide-y-hole and hit was empty. Morrie almost whacked me over that one."

      That was Sarah's Alpha, the leader of the pack outside. He didn't like Lisa, but accepted her, grudgingly. Which meant he wouldn't kill her out of hand, but would wait for an excuse. It helped that several werewolves whom he knew would have protested - probably with fang and claw - if he had taken action against her without justification. Of course, this left the problem that Lisa didn't share the werewolves' definition of "justification."

      "So what do we do?" asked Lisa.

      "I have one clue," said Sarah, quietly, looking away from Lisa, out the kitchen window, towards her pack. "Billy mentioned to me in a phone call - the same time he called to check on you, find out whether I really did tell you to see him - that he had heard of a group of medical people who were studying werewolves."

      "Oh, great," muttered Lisa. "I can just imagine what happened. He asks a carefully veiled question. They make a cryptic, noncommittal reply, he asks another question. Eventually, he learns that they really are studying werewolves, and they learn that he knows about them. And he gets Shanghaied."

      "Well, we didn't find any records of him talking with anybody about this," said Sarah.

      "I bet that's what these are!" Lisa exclaimed, digging into the folder and bringing out a pair of microcassettes. "I didn't have anything to play them on and they're not labeled, but he must have thought them both important and relevant to put them in with the rest of this."

      "Where can we get a player?"

      "Radio Shack, if nowhere else," said Lisa, shrugging.

      "Let's go!"

      Lisa followed Sarah out the door, grinning at her friend's impulsiveness. However, the matter wasn't quite that quick or simple. First, Sarah went into the woods and told Morrie about the tapes. He promptly took them from Lisa, who almost snarled at him.

      "Go get the player," he ordered, looking at Sarah.

      For a moment Lisa thought the younger woman was going to protest... which would probably have meant a dominance fight, right there in Lisa's woods. Morrie didn't seem to notice. The moment was brief; then Sarah spun around and stalked off, Lisa hurrying after her. They took the Miata.

      Getting an appropriate tape player took nearly an hour. When it was handed over to Morrie he thanked Lisa for her help and turned away, obviously intending that she leave.

      Lisa ignored him, calmly seating herself on a moss-covered rock. All around her were werewolves in forms showing various degrees of lupine characteristics. Lisa had deliberately stayed fully human, just to be different. She smiled up expectantly at the Alpha of this visiting pack. Morrie looked like he was going to confront her, but Sarah sat on the ground beside Lisa. While the pack Alpha was evaluating this, two other werewolves - both friends of Lisa - also sat on the ground around the rock. Morrie thought about this for a moment, carefully deciding his course of action.

      "Thank you, Miss Dawnwind," said Morrie, finally, staring firmly at her.

      "You're quite welcome," Lisa replied, smiling sweetly.

      "All right, I tried, being diplomatic about this," said Morrie, anger in his voice, "but obviously you aren't interested in cooperating. So I'll tell you straight out. This is werewolf business, and while you have been helpful, your part is over. And don't protest that you could still be useful. I'm sure you could, but we can handle this ourselves, and none of us are pregnant. You have more than your own life to safeguard."

      Lisa glared at Sarah. Sarah looked down.

      "He asked why you were seeing Dr. Robertson," Sarah explained. She looked up at Morrie. "And I don't lie to my Alpha."

      "And you don't want my help at all," said Lisa, looking at Morrie, her tone and expression carefully neutral.

      "No. As of now, your association with us on this matter is over."

      Lisa decided that Morrie must be a lawyer in his civilian life. That carefully worded statement was symptomatic.

      "If that's your final word..." Lisa rose, stretched, and sauntered off, making a show of it. She could feel their eyes on her, carrying emotions which were a mixture of irritation, anger, resentment, lust and envy... in some cases, all those being felt by one werewolf.

      Lisa went back into her house, glad the wolfies couldn't see her smirk. This was her territory. She could have spied on them, probably without getting caught, but she had accepted an agreement to no longer work with them. She wondered how long it would take that silly woof-woof to realize she hadn't promised not to work on it by herself.

* * *

      Lisa checked herself in the mirror a final time. While the long, flowing dress she wore was a far cry from maternity clothes, it was quite comfortable. She also felt that it did a good job of disguising the fact that she was pregnant. A final check of her person and her purse, and she was ready to go.

      Mariah was at school, right now probably in that ecology class she enjoyed so much. Lisa smiled. Mariah was a good girl. Lisa had met her a few years back while doing research on carnivals for one of her books. The manager hadn't liked that; he had some crazy idea that Lisa was checking on him for "The Government." When Lisa persisted he sicced is pet heavy on Lisa. "Pet" being an appropriate term, since the man turned out to be a werewolf. There was a bit of a fight, called off by the manager when he realized that a werecougar wasn't likely to be a fed.

      Mariah had been a big help, both before and after the fight. Alert, bright, curious but circumspect. In addition to providing much information about carnival life, she had smoothed the troubled waters between Lisa and the manager. Afterwards she and Lisa corresponded. When the older woman learned the younger yearned for a college education, Lisa offered her a deal. Work for Lisa as a general assistant and gopher, and get her tuition paid for, with room and board at Lisa's home. In the three years since, Mariah had more than earned her keep. She was a natural researcher, someone who knew both how to find secrets and how to keep them. Which was why Lisa felt a pang of guilt at not letting her know about this little trip.

      Lisa was far from stupid. She knew there was a chance she was getting into something she couldn't handle. She left a message for Mariah, in an envelope, pinned to the bulletin board in the kitchen. If Mariah had to follow the instructions therein the werewolves would have much amusement at Lisa's expense. Still, that was better than being dead. Or spending the rest of her life as a lab animal.

      The Miata was ready. Lisa had made sure of that the previous evening. Unfortunately, the day was a cloudy one, threatening rain. Lisa preferred driving with the top down - especially at night, on curving country roads with the lights off - but that wasn't really an option today. She slipped into the driver's seat and started the engine. While it warmed Lisa fastened her seat belt and made a quick systems check. Satisfied all was in order, she set off. A couple of werewolves waved as she went down the driveway, unaware that she was still working on the same problem which occupied them.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Northern Kentucky has some spectacular scenery, especially in the early Fall. Despite the heavy overcast and occasional showers Lisa enjoyed the drive. In fact, if time hadn't been short she would have taken back roads instead of driving along I-71 most of the way.

      Her destination was in a fairly empty section of the country west of Covington-Newport. Though slated for eventual industrial development, currently it held just a scattering of businesses. One of them was accessible only by a private road, which was blocked by a security station where it connected with the county road. There were three armed guards at the small booth, which seemed excessive to Lisa. Several warning signs of various types were fastened to the gate and the tall, razor-wire-topped fence, but none of them gave the name of this installation. Lisa stopped, rolled the window down and gave her name. One of the guards checked a list on a clipboard, found her appointment and nodded to another, who opened the gate.

   Even after this Lisa had to drive for over half a kilometer before finally reached the single, large building which housed her goal. She followed the signs and parked in the visitor's lot, then walked the short distance to the lobby entrance. Again, she had to pass through a security checkpoint, though a less blatant one. Once the security guard at the desk was certain Lisa was supposed to be there, he allowed the receptionist to call the man Lisa was supposed to meet. Her contact arrived in the lobby a few minutes later.

      "Miss Dawnwind," said Doctor Richard Ohain, shaking her hand.

      He didn't seem pleased to see her. He didn't seem irritated, either. He might have been a little curious, but Lisa wasn't sure. The man kept his feelings quite well hidden. Dr. Ohain said nothing as he led Lisa to his office, and neither did she. Wordlessly he ushered her inside and motioned for her to sit in a chair in front of his desk. Then he sat silently for a moment, contemplating her.

      "I must confess, I'm not exactly sure why you are here," he stated, finally.

      "As I explained in my phone call, I write horror stories under the name Leslie Markhov." Lisa leaned back in the well-padded chair, hands resting easily in her lap. "Right now I'm doing background research on a science fiction horror novel. I'm trying to come up with a plausible explanation for certain types of supposedly supernatural creatures. Your work on hormone cascades and their effect on soft tissues seems like just the thing for explaining werewolves."

      "Well, that material is quite technical, and I'm not a teacher," Ohain temporized. "I'm not sure I could explain it to a layperson."

      "Oh, I have medical training," Lisa replied, dismissing his objection with a casual wave of her hand. "I'm a registered nurse and have already done some study in this area. For instance, I've read about the work you did on hormone stimulation to increase combat effectiveness."

      "That... that's classified!" gasped Ohain, turning pale. "How did you even find out about that?!"

      "It's hard to keep secrets in a free society," said Lisa, smiling. "Besides, that was written over twenty years ago. It was declassified just recently."

      "I... wasn't aware of that," said Ohain, some color coming back into his face.

      "Y'know, I thought my story concept was a bit far fetched, until I read your paper," said Lisa. "Now I'm anxious to learn more. I may even turn the story into a hard SF tale."

      Lisa let Ohain think that over, while she sat there, smiling enigmatically. She actually knew much more about Dr. Ohain and his work than was publicly available. In order to find this place, Lisa assumed that Dr. Robertson had searched them out instead of vice-versa. She had asked the same sort of questions she felt he would have asked, of the same sorts of sources. Partly through an Internet search, but mostly by working through some of her extensive list of contacts, she had located this medical research institute.

      Finding organizations which were studying various supernatural creatures had actually been surprisingly easy. Sorting out the ones worth checking was less so. These ranged from cults to scholarly sociological groups. Only five seemed to be legitimate research facilities. Only three were medical in nature. And only one was within a thousand miles of Louisville.

      A quick check provided further information. However, what was more interesting was what information was not available. The Lucinda Carruthers Memorial Research Institute listed its business as research into metabolically-caused mental disorders and their treatment. However, while the staff was listed in the official documents, learning the identity of the backers had proven difficult. Even learning just who Lucinda Carruthers was had eluded Lisa's hurried search.

      "Hmmm, yes, well I've always been interested in finding the real explanations behind myths. Since werewolves and such are almost universal in human folklore they seem like a good subject to focus on."

      "Did it ever occur to you that the real explanation for some things might be exactly what the myths claim?" Lisa asked dryly, arching the left side of her joined eyebrow.

      "Miss Dawnwind, you seem like an intelligent woman..."

      "The Army measured my IQ at one twenty-three."

      "...so I have difficulty understanding why you would hold such a view."

      "Maybe because I know more about the world than you do," said Lisa, mildly. "Or maybe because my different cultural background allows me a different view of the knowledge we share."

      "And what does that background have to say about werewolves?" asked Ohain, intending to be scornful but letting some genuine curiosity seep through.

      "My Navajo ancestors were very wary of those who changed their shape through sorcery," said Lisa, "but more tolerant of those for whom it was a natural ability. Of course, that's a major generalization. If you want, I can recommend some reading material..."

      "That won't be necessary," said Ohain, waving his hand in a gesture that not only dismissed Lisa's offer but the entire concept of finding anything useful from a culture that believed in sorcerers.

      He stared at her for a long moment, absently drumming his fingers on the chair arm.

      "Let's be open about this, shall we?" he said, sitting forward suddenly. "We both know that werewolves exist. They are real, physical creatures. This isn't some ghost tale. There are people in this world who can change their shape. I've seen it. I suspect you have, as well. I'm trying to learn what causes these changes, and develop a cure."

      "A cure?" said Lisa, startled.

      "I'm going to tell you something in confidence," said Ohain, coming to a decision. "I trust that you, as a nurse, will keep that confidence."

      "Why tell me at all, if it's something I can't write about?" asked Lisa, puzzled.

      "Because we need trained medical staff," said Ohain, firmly. "You are a nurse. You accept that werewolves exist. I hope that you will also accept the need to find a cure, and help us find one."

      "I don't accept that a cure is needed," said Lisa. "The werewolves I've known were pretty rowdy creatures, but nearly all their fighting was confined to each other. What makes you so sure they need your 'help?'"

      "Maybe this case history will convince you," said Ohain.

      He paused for a moment, as if uncertain whether he should tell her this story, then plunged ahead.

      "My employer had a son who was afflicted with this dread disease. You understand that I can't reveal his name. He tried for over a year to find someone who would study his son, and develop at least a treatment, hopefully a cure. Most researchers he contacted laughed at him. However, I had seen something similar to what he described in one of the test subjects of that study you cited. So I was at least willing to examine the boy.

      "To put it mildly, he was uncooperative," Ohain continued, leaning back, a sad expression on his face. "He let me check him over, run some tests, take some samples. However, when I stated that I wanted to study him in a controlled environment, he went wild. Started yelling that he'd had enough of doctors and being cooped up. He tried to leave. His father intervened, standing in front of the door and sternly ordering the boy to do as he was told. For a moment I thought he was going to become physically violent - he even started to transform, growing slightly more hirsute and bestial. However, his father stood his ground and the boy finally obeyed ."

      "How old was this boy?" asked Lisa.

      "Seventeen," said Ohain. "One reason for my patron's hurry was that his son had declared that after he turned eighteen he was going to leave. To go live wild, using his trust fund to buy some property in Alaska."

      "Sounds like a good plan to me," muttered Lisa.

      "You don't understand. When he changed, he was a wild thing. At first his personality change was fairly benign, but the more his father tried to help him - to control his wildness - the more rebellious he became. The condition was obviously progressive. We knew we had to take extreme measures if we wanted to protect him from his disease."

      "Disease," Lisa repeated, numbly. "Did you know that some cultures count such people as blessed by the gods?"

      "We built a small clinic in the basement of the family home," Ohain continued, ignoring her. "The boy was quite upset when he realized he would have to stay there. We actually had to tranquilize him. That's when we learned that even in human form he was quite resistant to most drugs."

      "I can't believe his Mother went along with this!"

      "She had died several years before," Ohain said, absently. "For the next few months things went reasonably well. The staff and facilities grew considerably, all of us bound to secrecy by contract. I had some success in preventing his transformations using certain hormone blockers coupled with tranquilizers. However, a few days after his eighteenth birthday the boy announced that he would no longer cooperate with our program. That he was, in fact, leaving.

      "His father threatened to have him declared legally insane to force him to stay. The boy became more and more angry, at first yelling his defiance as his father berated him, then becoming silent. That should have warned us, but we were too sure of ourselves, confident that our potion could prevent him from changing. Somehow, though, that anger allowed him to overcome his medication. He transformed, and battered down the door to his room."

      "Cell, you mean," snapped Lisa.

      "It had to be," said Ohain, defensively. "We fortunately had dart guns on hand, and used them. Even with a quadruple dose - the strongest I dared use - he still made it to the top of the stairs before collapsing.

      "We took more stringent measures after this," Ohain continued, almost speaking to himself, now, as he remembered. "The door was reinforced. Guards armed with automatic weapons were placed outside the cell at all times, the father's idea. Though he had not directly attacked anyone during his first escape attempt the boy had caused a considerable amount of damage, and two of my assistants were injured by flying objects. Over the next few days he became more and more rebellious. And each time we took additional precautions, he used that as an excuse to become even more violent!"

      "So what happened to him?" demanded Lisa, after waiting several tense seconds for Ohain to continue.

      "He finally overcame the stronger tranquilizers. He transformed, broke open the door and attacked the guards. He made no attempt to escape; he simply attacked them.

      "He fought us," continued Ohain, shaking his head. "Like a madman, a mad beast, he fought us. He killed three people, crippled two more, and injured more than twenty. He was finally shot down. It took over fifty bullets to kill him. If only he'd let us help him... but he was too far gone in his madness."

      "I'm surprised his father didn't have you arrested," snapped Lisa.

      "His father," said Ohain, slowly, "was one of those crippled. He lost an ear, an eye and part of his jaw. He recognized, afterwards, that we had done what we needed to do to protect ourselves from the monster which had replaced his son."

      "You stupid bastard," Lisa whispered. "You stupid, narrow-minded, opinionated, egotistical bastard."

      "Now, just a moment," huffed Ohain, startled. "There's no call for..."

      "Oh, there's call for that and more," said Lisa, as she rose ominously from her chair. She leaned over Ohain's desk, practically snarling at him. "You put someone in a position where he had to fight for his freedom, then blamed him when he become violent. Oh, yes. Much more. I'm going to see to it that you fall, and bring this whole sick enterprise down with you."

      She whirled and stalked out of his office. Ohain stared after her for a moment, then suddenly grabbed for his phone.

      Lisa headed straight back to the lobby. She considered hiding somewhere or sneaking around, trying to find information on Dr. Robertson, or maybe Robertson himself. Perhaps she could catch one of the scents from Robertson's house. However, she knew that she was in a potentially dangerous situation, and if she had to change she would be dealing with people who already acknowledged the existence of werewolves. They would find it very easy to accept that she was a werecougar. The risk of Exposure was already too high; she would have to deal with the current situation in human form.

      There were two extra security guards in the lobby when she reached it. They moved to block her path.

      "Don't bother," said Lisa, "I'm leaving."

      "No, you're not," said one of the men, reaching for her.

      "You can't hold me without calling the police," said Lisa, evading his grasp with almost casual ease. "And I *want* to talk to the police."

      A lie. She would do everything she could to close this place without attracting the attention of the authorities. But there was no reason to tell them that.

      "Look, lady, make this easy on yourself," said the guard, as he tried again and failed again to grab Lisa.

      "Do you want to be charged with kidnapping?" snapped Lisa, dancing around them. "Because if you hold me without calling the police that's exactly what you will be guilty of."

      "You aren't leaving here!" the guard snapped, growing more angry and irritated with each failed attempt. "Julie, get around on her other side!"

      The second guard tried, but Lisa nimbly maneuvered the two men into colliding with each other. While they were untangling, Lisa moved quickly to the door.

      "Freeze!" the guard behind the desk shouted, drawing his gun.

      "Right," sneered Lisa, pushing the door open, "you're going to shoot an unarmed woman in the back."

      To her immense surprise, he did just that. Lisa staggered forward from the hammer blow to her left shoulder, gasping in shock. This wasn't the first time she'd been shot, and she knew immediately that this wound wasn't serious, but the fact that the guard intentionally committed what he thought could very well be a capital offense required a major paradigm shift on Lisa's part.

      They're willing to kill to keep their work secret!

      Lisa stumbled through the door, and immediately ducked right, out of sight of those in the lobby. No people were visible here, but she had noted security cameras on the roof on her way in. She wasn't sure of the blind spots, but staying close to the wall should keep her out of sight. Lisa ran to the right, and around the corner, picking up speed as the wound healed. Still seeing no-one, she went a bit further and stopped. She took a careful look around. And she smiled. Let Ohain and his noble philosophies explain this!

      She was facing southwest. Lisa performed the trick the roadrunner spirit had taught her less than two months before. The world blurred around her, solid objects becoming ghostly. Lisa started running, dropping to all fours as she shifted to cougar form. Jumping the high fence at the border of the property was trivial.

                                    *                              *                              *

      The return trip took only minutes, partly because she moved in nearly a straight line, but mostly because she was moving at a speed no natural creature could even approach. Lisa was glad she had a good sense of direction. At this velocity a cat could get very lost in a very short time.

      Though she did have to slow a couple of times to get her bearings, she was never far from her intended course. Lisa bounded onto her property, slowing enough to be seen and in the process scaring a large portion of the local wildlife. Panting, Lisa shifted to human form as she trotted the last few meters to the kitchen door. She took the keys out of her purse as she climbed the steps, very glad that she now knew another trick, that of how to hide things. How much more convenient to simply have one's clothes disappear when shifting to animal form, then reappear when shifting back. Stripping was so tedious, and there was always the risk someone would find the clothes.

      Mariah was inside, heading for the door as she heard Lisa enter.

      "Thank God! I didn't read your letter until after the werewolves left, and was afraid something would happen to you while they were unavailable!"

      "They're gone?"

      "Yes," said Mariah. "They caught me as I came back for lunch - my next class isn't until 3 - and told me they had a clue leading to Clarksville."

      "Those stupid wolves!" snapped Lisa. "I've found the place! Now I need the cavalry, and they're off haring around after a red herring! And I can't wait for them to get back!"

      "I didn't hear your car..." said Mariah, frowning.

      "I had to run back," muttered Lisa. "That's another reason for speed. They have my car, and with it proof of my identity."

      "So, uh, what are you going to do?"

      "Go back on my own," sighed Lisa. "I'll just have to be extra careful. Or extra fierce."

* * *

      "What about calling in some other werewolves?" asked Mariah.

      "What other werewolves?" scowled Lisa. "I know, sometimes it seems that they're coming out of the woodwork, but that's because they move around so much. Right now, all the ones I know are out of touch."

      "Oh..." was Mariah's faint reply. "I thought you could at least find that big fellow. What's his name? Broken Tail?"

      "I know the one you mean, and he's called Bent-Tail." Lisa sighed. "He's... away."

      "Which means either that you don't know where he is, or that it's something you can't tell me." Mariah sighed in turn. "Okay, but surely you can find someone to help you? I mean, I could go..."

      "No, you couldn't," said Lisa, firmly. "No offense, but you'd just be in the way if I have to move quickly."

      "Lisa... I'm worried about you. And your, uh..."

      "Cubs," said Lisa quietly, putting a hand to her belly. "Don't you think I am, too? I'm even worried about what all this running around and shapeshifting might do to them. But there are people in trouble. Worse, one of them could tell an enemy where I live. Worse still, they might already know. So it's riskier to stay here and do nothing.

      "Which reminds me," said Lisa, suddenly, "If someone you don't know calls for me - by phone or in person - I'm out of town. Don't volunteer anything, but let them weasel out of you that my car is at the airport and no, I don't look like the person they describe. I'm in my Fifties and not very well preserved."

      "Gotcha," said Mariah, grinning. But as she stood there, looking at Lisa, the smile faded. "Listen, I'm really worried about you."

      "It's not like I'm going in blind," said Lisa. "Or unprepared. In fact, I'm going down to the arsenal right now and equip myself. And if I do get caught, you can tell the wolves when they get back, and they can rescue me."

      Lisa ignored Mariah's expression at hearing this concession and turned towards the door at the top of the basement steps. After a stunned moment, Mariah followed. First stop was the laundry, where Lisa stripped out of her expensive dress and carelessly dropped it into a basket.

      "That's for white stuff," muttered Mariah, stepping in to pull the dress out, "And this is dry-clean only, anyway."

      If Lisa heard she didn't react. Instead she pulled one of her jumpsuits off a hanger and put it on.

      "I just washed that," said Mariah, in faint protest.

      "Thank you," said Lisa, absently.

      Mariah glowered, but kept silent.

      Barefoot, Lisa walked next to an apparently blank wall in the paneled recroom. She pulled open one of the panels, revealing a shallow storage closet filled with weapons. Every item in there met at least three requirements: it was effective when used properly, it was owned legally, and there was a minimal paper trail behind it. Lisa looked longingly at several favorite firearms, including a German PzB 41 Panzerbuchse 20mm antitank rifle, but she sincerely doubted she would be encountering any opponent worth using that on. Instead, she took down a Y-shaped leather harness with 13 silvery spikes thrust through loops. The spikes were turned from stainless steel bar stock, bevelled on one end and pointed on the other. They were a giant's version of Asian shaken throwing spikes, and Lisa could hit the 10 ring of a standard silhouette target four out of five times at 25 meters. With her reflexes, her rate of "fire" was also impressive. This harness went on over her head, draping across her shoulders and left hip. Then she did her pack rat trick, and hid it on her midform.

      "That is so wild," said Mariah, enviously. "I know a dozen carnies who'd chop off an arm - not necessarily their own - to be able to do that."

      Next Lisa went into what she and Mariah called her medical room. This was a miniature clinic, complete with Army surplus surgical table. She opened a cabinet and took out her "serious" bag, which looked much like an oversized shoulder bag. This contained a surprising amount of equipment, most of it medical, the rest general survival. The straps were adjustable, and the bag could even be worn on the back as a pack. Just now it was configured purse-style. Lisa put the doubled straps over her left shoulder, the bag settling against her right hip.

      "And that should be it," Lisa mused. She turned and left, flipping the lights off behind her, to Mariah's protest at being left in the dark.

      "Why don't you wait until tonight?"

      "Because they may be preparing to come here," said Lisa. "They could already be on the way, so maybe you should get back to class soon. Take the spare cell phone with you."

      "You're sure you can't wait?" persisted Mariah. "At least get some food and a bit of rest."

      "If I wait any longer the fast running trick will wear off," said Lisa. "Anyway, though I'm hungry, I'm not tired. The White Path running doesn't really take much effort, just a bit of concentration. And being hungry will help me stay sharp."

      Seeing there was nothing she could say or do to change Lisa's mind or delay her further, Mariah settled for giving her a long, firm hug. Lisa returned it, a bit hesitantly, then set off.

                                    *                              *                              *

      The trip back was even shorter, due to Lisa now knowing the way. The experience of doing this trick was quite odd, very surreal. She didn't understand exactly how the trick worked, but knew that she didn't quite exist in the physical world while it was being used. She couldn't run through large objects, but she never hit anything small. This was good, since she moved so fast through this vague, ghostly world that she didn't even see most small things. Of course, this also meant that people along the way didn't see a cougar moving by at an estimated Mach 3.

      When she slowed - she resisted an urge to think of the action as "dropping out of Warp" - Lisa saw that the weather had worsened to the point that the heavy overcast made the area almost as dark as true night. That was good. Strangely, though, while the clouds were thick and the wind strong and gusty, there was no rain.

      Stopping just outside the fence, near where she had crossed going out, Lisa paused in the underbrush to peer carefully at the building. Cougars hunt with their eyes as much as their nose and ears, and have excellent vision. Lisa had no trouble seeing that there was much activity on the grounds. Most clearly, she saw armed patrols with dogs moving around the large open area between fence and building. With a shock, Lisa realized that she had been gone only a little over half an hour. They were still trying to find her, assuming she was somewhere on the grounds. She could even see three of the security guards trying to work a coat hanger inside her car to open the locked door. Lisa smirked as the some of the dogs caught her trail and rebounded, frantically trying to get away. The handler's cursing was clearly audible, even over the wind noise.

      Well, she couldn't cross here, not with all that activity. Lisa turned and moved along the edge of the clear zone outside the fence, keeping just inside the woods beyond. She watched for a part of the grounds not currently occupied.

      She had gone only a short way when she caught a human scent. Puzzled, she traced it to a recent trail, coming in from the woods and moving in the direction she was headed. The human was a young female, wearing unusually large shoes. There was also another scent there, one which gave Lisa pause. It was male, and a strange mixture of human and fox.

      Lisa had never heard of a fox shapeshifter, but figured such a thing was possible. And if the research center was hunting shapeshifters other than werewolves in its quest to "cure" them, she could certainly understand the owners of these scents being here. But now? More than a bit of a coincidence, but if so, they might prove helpful.

      She followed the scent, realizing that it was becoming quite fresh. Quite fresh, indeed, since within a few minutes she could see ahead, standing behind a large tree, peering towards the building, a tall young woman accompanied by a large red fox. A red fox with two tails.

      Now Lisa remembered hearing that the local Fey community had recently added a kitsune. That complicated matters, but not in a major way. While the weres and the Fey rarely associated, they often shared common goals. And Lisa could certainly understand their being here if the institute had accidentally picked up a Changeling, mistaking it for a were-creature. They were possible allies... but Lisa was not just going to walk up and introduce herself.

      She watched as the girl crouched and looked at the fox. They seemed to be communicating, though Lisa could hear nothing. The girl nodded, straightened and looked back at the fence. There was an odd shimmering, and a large zipper appeared in a section of the chain link. Lisa stared in shock. She'd heard that the Fey could do such things, and knew the trickster reputation of the kitsune, but...

      The girl's posture betrayed astonishment, then irritation. She turned around and whapped the twin-tailed fox on the head. It hung its head in apology. Lisa almost laughed out loud.

      The girl looked at the fox; the fox looked up at her... and grinned. Then they blurred. Lisa blinked and shook her head. If she hadn't known they were there, hadn't been actually watching as it happened...

      I've got to learn that trick.

      The pair moved carefully to the fence, waited a moment. Then the girl reached up and slowly pulled the zipper tab down, opening a slit in the fence. They stepped through, the girl pulled the tab back up, and they walked slowly towards the building, as the zipper vanished.

      Lisa shook her head again, this time in bemusement. She backed away a bit, moved to where she had a clear path to the fence, and took off. The tall fence was cleared in one easy bound. By this time the pair were nearly to the wall. Lisa followed, quickly but crouched low, belly to the ground. There were no guards near this part of the grounds, but if they looked in this direction they might just see her, even in this false twilight. Thinking of which, Lisa wondered of the kitsune had arranged for the weather, too.

      The weakness in Lisa's plan had been how to get back inside the building. Halfway across the lawn she could see that the girl was now standing with a humanoid figure, a young man with fox features, including two tails. While she waited impatiently, he produced something from his pocket with a flourish. He then proceeded to draw a neat rectangle on the wall. Lisa's bafflement vanished when he drew a knob for his chalk door. He opened the door, then bowed, smiled and waved his companion through. He followed as she entered, pulling the arcane portal shut behind him.

      Lisa arrived just moments later. She shifted to human form, bag still on her back, and reached for the knob, but found only chalk on brick. She frowned, concentrating. Much of magic involved being in the right frame of mind. Lisa took a deep breath, relaxed, closed her eyes and reached again, willing herself to believe. Her fingers scraped against the rough brick.

      Lisa swore, realizing she would have to do this the hard way. She'd have to let herself get caught.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Ohain met Lisa and her captors in the lobby. He looked furious, and also seemed unsure how to deal with the emotion.

      "Where have you been all this time?" he demanded.

      "Calling for help on my cell phone," Lisa replied calmly.

      "Where did you get that bag, and those clothes?" he snapped. "You didn't have them before!"

      "From my car."

      Ohain slapped her, hard.

      Lisa was stunned. Not from the force of the blow; it had been pretty pathetic. She was shocked by his unexpected violence. The guards were almost certainly hardened mercenaries, rather than mere security people, and she expected them to be rough. But Ohain...

      He further surprised her by grabbing her shoulders and shaking her.

      "Who did you call?! Who is in this with you?!"

      The guards had firm grips on Lisa's arms, so she rammed her forehead into the bridge of his nose. It was purely an impulse move. She wanted to hurt him, expected to hurt him. To her surprise, he staggered back several steps and collapsed.

      "What the Hell..." said Lisa.

      The guards were just as stunned. They were so surprised, in fact, that they didn't even increase their restraint. There were several men and women here Lisa didn't recognize. One of them - a man in a lab coat - rushed over and knelt beside Ohain. He was shoved angrily away as Ohain bounded to his feet, recovering as unexpectedly as he had collapsed. His nose was bleeding profusely, and he slung blood around as he surged towards Lisa.

      "You stupid bitch! Who are you? You're not Lisa Dawnwind! I bet you're not even a nurse! Who sent you?"

      During her Army career in the Sixties Lisa had had the unpleasant experience of working with a psychologist who felt that any display of strong emotion was a sign of mental instability. Draftees loved him. Many - through luck or being quick on the uptake - had been deferred simply by getting emotional about being drafted. Which emotion they displayed was irrelevant. If they made a public display, they were tagged by this man as neurotic or even psychotic.

      Then, one day - after Lisa had been transferred overseas, but she heard about it through the grapevine - someone gave the man too much of a hard time, and he snapped. Just like that. He had spent so much of his life rejecting strong emotions he didn't know how to handle them. Later, he denied that he was the one who overreacted, and claimed it was everyone else who had. He presented such a picture of sanity at his court martial that instead of receiving a psychological discharge for hitting a sergeant, he got a prison sentence.

      Ohain showed the same profile. Not only was he acting entirely out of proportion to the situation, his statements and questions showed a disconnection with reality. Considering everything else that was going on, what did it matter whether she was really a nurse?

      Lisa played it quiet after that, staying passive while two of the lab coats gently pulled Ohain away. She actually felt a thrill of eagerness when one of the suits told the security guards to put Lisa "on ice" until Ohain could be calmed down. Sure enough, they took her to the elevator she had passed on the way to and from Ohain's office earlier. Only instead of taking her down to a basement prison, as she had expected, they went up.

      The hallway the elevator doors opened onto reminded Lisa of several psychiatric wards she had visited. The walls and doors were in cool pastel shades, the floor tiles durable but soft enough to be easy on the feet and the ears, and the ceiling tiles of the type that soak up sound. Even the lighting seemed subdued.  One of the men left Lisa's bag at an unattended nurse's station by the elevator. Then the men escorted Lisa to one of the doors, unlocked it, opened it, and shoved her in. She stood there, listening as they locked the door and left. And she smiled.

      The room was exactly what she expected. Minimal furniture - cot, wooden ladder back chair, small wooden table. No window. The walls were solid, sturdy. A switch by the door turned off the overhead florescent lights, leaving her in almost complete darkness. Thus concealed, she shifted to her midform, closed her eyes, and opened her other senses.

      There were sounds of active people, and passive people, very muffled. Even the low hush of air blowing through the overhead vent obscured most of these distant sounds. There were also the typical scents of such a place, plus some odd ones. Those were hard to identify. The building was kept scrupulously clean, and the removal of some scents and the layering of cleaning agents over those remaining hampered her nose. Still, she thought she detected several individuals, Dr. Robertson among them. She definitely caught scent of at least two werewolves.

      Lisa moved to the door, tried her weight against it. It was solid. It occurred to her that rooms designed to hold werewolves against their will would be heavily reinforced, and she began to wonder if she would be able to get out without someone letting her out. That was a worrying thought. She should have attacked the two guards as soon as they opened the door, shoved them in here and used their keys to lock them in and then let everyone else out. Lisa mentally kicked herself. She had wanted to have as few witnesses around as possible, but may have overplayed her hand. Well, there was one way to find out.

      Lisa tried the door again, harder. It still resisted. Snarling, she threw herself at it. The door rattled slightly.

      "Okay," muttered Lisa, "I got myself into a fix here. Now how do I get out of it?"

      The situation wasn't hopeless. She had a resource that  - presumably - most of the inmates didn't. She pulled a spike from her harness, taking it in a solid two-handed grip as she eyed the door for weak points. She settled on the lock. With a grunt, she slammed the spike into the metal, just above the handle. The spike penetrated with a thunk. Several blows later Lisa had a outlined the lock with a series of perforations. She replaced the slightly blunted spike, settled herself for a moment, then kicked hard at the door. It flew open, leaving the lock in the frame.

      There were security cameras in the hallway, but none of them could see into the room. Lisa shifted back to human form and exited quickly. She had no idea what response time she could expect, but given...

      She blinked in surprise at the pair of teenagers at the nurse's station, staring in alarm at the burst-open door. Then laughed.

      "You two made better progress than I thought you would," she announced.

      The girl looked as she had when Lisa saw her outside. The kitsune, however, now looked like an Asian boy. Neither appeared be older than 17, though Lisa reminded herself that this could be far from the truth for the Fey.

      "Who are you here to rescue?" she asked, as she moved quickly to join them.

      She took possession of her bag, the others backing away a bit in confusion.

      "Uh," said the girl, rolling her eyes at her companion, not wanting to admit to anything but obviously unused to lying on the spur of the moment.      

      "Oh, we're just here visiting a sick friend," said the boy, innocently.

      "I followed you in from outside the fence," said Lisa, leaning over to feel around under the desk. "I saw the zipper, and the chalk door. I know about the Fey. I'm here after some werewolves who are being held prisoner."

      "Broderic?" exclaimed the kitsune, startled.

      "No." Lisa found the hidden set of keys, on a hook on the right side of the knee well. She pulled them out, smiling triumphantly. "Nursing schools must teach this as part of the curriculum."

      Lisa turned and walked to the cell across from hers. Finding the right key took a moment, and when she opened the door the room was empty. Lisa swore under her breath in Navajo, and went on the the next room.

      "Jackpot," muttered Lisa.

      Lying on the cot was Dr. Robertson. He was unconscious and, as Lisa quickly confirmed, drugged.

      The teenagers had followed her into the room. Lisa turned, holding out the keys.

      "Here, see who else you can find. Be careful; some of them may be violent."

      The caution was probably unnecessary; most likely all the prisoners were thoroughly tranquilized. Lisa was puzzled as to why the pediatrician had been sedated. Did Ohain think he was a werewolf, too? Then it hit her. Some sedatives had a hypnotic effect. Sedatives like scopolamine. They'd probably given Robertson something to make him talk. Lisa had stimulants in her bag, and there was likely an entire miniature pharmacy in the building somewhere, but unless she could learn what he'd been given all of it was useless.

      "Uh, Miss," said the young woman from the doorway. "I think we're ready."

      "That was quick," said Lisa, standing and moving to the door. The girl backed away to make room. Lisa looked out into the hall... and stared. "Good God..."

      There were at least eight more people there, now, all of them looking intoxicated, and many of them in various states of furriness.

      "I never dreamed..." Lisa began. She stopped, shook her head, and looked at the kitsune and the girl. "Any idea how we're going to get them out of here?"

      "Uh, no," said the boy. "We were just expecting to find Broderic, here."

      He gestured at a hazy-looking older man who seemed somehow familiar to Lisa.

      Lisa frowned as she walked through the crowd of prisoners, evaluating their conditions. She didn't know what had been given to them any more than she knew what had been given to Robertson, but he was only human. With werewolves there was a bit more leeway. Some of these men and women were almost unconscious, being held up by others. But there were three who seemed somewhat alert. Presumably that meant they had the lowest levels of drugs in their systems.

      "Okay," said Lisa, as she began pulling items out of her bag, "why don't you two see if you can barricade the elevator and the stairwell doors? That will buy us some time while I try to get some of these folks fully functional."

      "How already gimmicked all the doors," said the girl, smiling with affection at the boy. "And the cameras. They probably won't even know what we're doing for a while."

      "Well done," Lisa told the boy, presumably How. He beamed. "Still, it's a good idea to have someone listen at the stairwells. We don't want to be surprised."

      They nodded and set off, one to each end of the hall. Lisa took one woman's arm and stood for a moment, needle poised.

      "You may feel a slight sting," she said, smiling a bit.

                                    *                              *                              *

      Within minutes they had three fully active - and very angry - werewolves, ready to fight. In the meantime, there had been attempts by the captors at the elevator and both stairways. Unsuccessful efforts. Lisa posted one of the newly-awakened werewolves at each entrance, saving the boy's for last.

      "You do good work," said Lisa, as she inspected the door the boy was listening at. It was held closed by a steel wedge at the bottom, a wedge which looked like it had grown there.

      "Yeah, but I'm about tapped out, now," he announced. He looked at her for a moment. "So what do we do now? Tina and I had just planned on taking Broderic out, and I would make us unnoticeable, like I did for the two of us on the way in. But there's no way I can cover this many."

      "Trust me, getting out isn't a problem," said Lisa. "But I'd like to do it without a bloodbath, if I can."

      "Why spare them?" growled a werewolf, who was in his midform and mad as a wet wolf. "They didn't spare us!"

      "Exposure," said Lisa. "We want to leave as little physical evidence as possible. That means no bodies with claw and fang marks, if we can help it."

      "They have records of us!" the female werewolf at the elevator exclaimed. "Test results, tissue and blood samples... They said they would help us control our beast, but instead they drugged us and held us here as prisoners!"

      "Then we have to destroy the building," said Lisa. She started back to the middle of the hall, motioning for the boy to follow. "I think I have an idea."

      Encouraged by her earlier success with the stimulants, Lisa pulled her medical supplies back out and approached the werewolves who were still semiconscious.

      "I have enough to rouse two, maybe three more," she mused as she took the arm of one scrawny-looking boy. "The rest of you will have to help the others. Oh, and someone needs to make sure the main gate is open by the time I get there with my car."

                                    *                              *                              *

      "We've got cutting equipment on the way," the head of security told the suit. "Should be here in about fifteen minutes."

      "Good," said the suit, nodding. "How do you plan to deal with them?"

      "That depends on how hard they resist," the security chief replied. "If they give up when we tell them to, fine. If they attack, well, we've got enough firepower to stop a herd of elephants."

      "Dr. Morris tells me that besides the woman - who may or may not be a werewolf - you'll have two or three whose medication will be wearing off soon."

      "Not a problem. Even if they can get out of their cells, we can still handle them."

      The suit nodded, and turned to leave.

      He was stopped in his tracks by a jolt heavy enough to rock the building.

      "What the..." the suit exclaimed. He did not need another surprise right now.

      "Damn!" yelled the security chief. "Jeffries, Harris, that sounded like it came from the middle of the building! Go check!"

      They ran off... and moments later ran back even faster.

      "They broke through the ceiling!" Jeffries yelled. "They're already on the way out through the east door!"

      The security chief got on his radio, yelling orders. All security staff members were to head outside by the shortest route.

      "And shoot on sight! We can't let them escape!"

      However, werewolves can move quite fast when they have to. The security guards milled around outside the building, peering into the darkness beyond the lights beaming down from the corners.

      "Now what?"

      "I don't understand," mumbled Ohain, around the ice bag he was holding to his nose. "They just ran off. Our psychological profiles show that they should have turned on us."

      "Maybe they decided they'd had enough of you," said Lisa walking out of the main door.

      "You!" yelled Ohain. He took a couple of steps forward, then hesitated, perhaps remembering the pain from the last time he had confronted her. Or maybe seeing the anger in her eyes.

      "Gentlemen, you make too many foolish assumptions," said Lisa. "You thought the werewolves would act like wild beasts. You thought they would place vengeance over escape. You kept concentrating your forces in one or two places, leaving the rest unprotected. Well, you are now paying for your mistakes. Your testing lab is going up in smoke. And as for your electronic records..."

      Lisa threw back her head, raised her arms to the clouds above and shouted a short phrase in Navajo. A fat, blue-white bolt of lightning lanced down, striking the light and camera on a corner of the building. Sparks flew outward, showering the stunned watchers. Then everything went dark, except for the searing afterimage of that bolt. There was confusion, people shouting, some wondering frantically why the emergency lights weren't coming on, others trying to restore order. A car could be heard, speeding away in the darkness.

                                    *                              *                              *

      "Excellent work," said Morrie, smiling and nodding. "You rescued Sarah's cousin, plus several werewolves and a Changeling. You probably wiped out their records. And you left an impression that will hopefully make them hesitate before getting involved with werewolves again."

      "You didn't want me working on this problem," said Lisa, practically purring with self-satisfied smugness.

      "Oh, actually, I did," Morrie replied, his smile a bit more feral than Lisa's. "I just didn't want you working with us on this problem."

      "Now, wait a..." Lisa began.

      "I know your kind work better alone. I figured I'd give you room... and some extra incentive. I thought you'd just be our double-check, in case we missed something. I never expected you to handle the whole problem by yourself, but all's well that ends well."

      Lisa was practically snarling. She did *not* like being manipulated. Still, he had thanked her and was genuinely appreciative. She calmed herself.

      "If you don't mind," she said, with stiff dignity, "I need to talk with Dr. Robertson. I want him to make sure all this activity hasn't hurt my cubs."

      "By all means," said Morrie, generously. "By all means, indeed."

Lisa's combat chant (From a Navajo chant):

      May evil sorcery be given the wink

      May the evils of sorcery be driven off in crowds

      May evil sorcery sail off like a feather

      May evil sorcery be ground down

      May the weapons of evil sorcery, withered, aim away

      from me

This story is Copyright 2010 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Permission is given to post this to the Transformations Stories Archives. Anyone else wishing to use this material must have the author's permission. He can be reached at: stickmaker@usa.net.