Quiet. It had been so long; I’d almost forgotten what it felt like. Sitting cross-legged on the cot, the effects of whatever they’d used to knock me out slipping from my system, I scanned the room. To my right was a small window. Thick iron bars peeked through wooden boards secured to the wall. I felt nothing coming through the opening, which told me something unseen was cutting me off from the world outside.  I discarded it as an escape route.

I eyed the door to my left. Metal of some sort. Except for the small, closed off slat at eye level, it looked like a part of the wall. No handles. No hinges. Just a solid barrier between me and the other side. 

My gaze shifted to the wall in front of me, where I studied the long grooves etched there. An effort had been made to cover them, but the outline remained under stark white paint. Claw marks. Probably a shifter. It would have died stuck in one form. Sad.

I’d heard of rooms designed to hold my kind. A place they were being studied and experimented on. I’d thought it was a rumor. I stood corrected. I knew when the time came, I would fight. Until then, I would take advantage of the foreign stillness in my brain and rest. 

Stretching out on the cot, I closed my eyes. I had no recollection of my capture. I searched my memory, but there was nothing. Just me eating breakfast in the small café near my hotel. I clearly remembered the plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. The smell of hot coffee wafting from the white mug. Past that, my memory was blank. One minute I had been preparing to enjoy breakfast and the next I was waking up a captive in a specially designed cell. 

A beam of light and the familiar buzz in my brain tore me from the cot. My hands glowed from the sudden rush of power through my body. A sting in my neck. Then darkness. 

I was slow to waken. My vision in and out as it adjusted to the surrounding reality. He was sitting in a chair next to the cot, watching me as I pushed myself up to a sitting position. 

“Interesting,” he said. 

My hands slipped to the raised bump on my neck. My eyes finally focused; they swept down the man. He was dressed in a white lab coat. Underneath he wore jeans and black boots, both faded and dirty. His hair was buzzed short, but I could see the gray streaking through it. 

“Amanda,” he paused and studied me. “It is Amanda, isn’t it?”

When I didn’t answer he sighed. A deep, tired sigh I often heard my sister give to my two-year-old niece. 

The thought of them stung. It had been a while since I’d allowed myself to remember them. Calculating in my head, I realized Jess would be almost twelve now, closer to a grown woman than a child. For a moment, my heart ached for them. The easy laughter of my sister, Lyla, who enjoyed telling my embarrassing stories. Jess’s pudgy little arms circling my neck as she said, “I wuv you, Aunt Manda.” The old wound cracked open.

“It’s fine. I know that’s your name. We’ve been tracking you for a while now.”

I studied his friendly smile. It looked so genuine. Welcoming. Warm. Except it wasn’t. Because genuinely nice people didn’t drug, kidnap, and lock people up. Again, my eyes raked over the claw marks on the wall. 

“What do you want?” 

His smile faded at my insolence. He shook his head, a low tsk tsk breathing from his lips. “I had hoped this would be a smoother transition. Shame, really. We want what everyone wants. A cure. To turn things back to normal.”

The laugh was involuntary, but I didn’t stifle it. Even when anger flashed in his eyes long enough to be seen but quickly replaced with the doctor mask. Or scientist, most likely. An objective observer. 

“I don’t know who “we” is,” I said once the chuckles subsided, using air quotes to emphasize we. “But we are just fine with how things are.” My eyes shot to the claw marks on the wall and he followed my gaze. “We definitely don’t need people locking us up and watching us die,” I guessed.

Unaffected, he turned to me. “Unfortunate accident in the early days. We were not aware those kind…”

“Shifters,” I snapped. 

“Shifters,” he corrected himself. “We were not aware shifters had to change to survive. Precautions are now taken to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

“You know what would ensure it wouldn’t happen? Not locking them up,” I spat. Anger bubbled in the pit of my stomach. 

“Sometimes you must sacrifice one to save many,” he said with an infuriating shrug. Then moved on before I could comment. “And your kind, what are they called?” 

Until that moment, I’d openly expressed my disdain for the term used for my kind. I’d found it childish and lacking in imagination. But now, faced with his condescension, I puffed up with pride when I answered, “An energizer.”

As always, a little pink bunny banging a drum flashed in my mind, but I pushed it away. It was what we were called. In that moment, I said it with honor. 

“Energizers and shifters. There are more, too, aren’t there? Ones who can walk through walls. Ones who can swim underwater without assistance. And the dark ones. Those gone mad. Evil some would say. So much pain and suffering. And yet, you do not think that is abnormal?”

There were more. So many more. Ones that were probably still unknown to me. And the dark ones he spoke of. The thought of them sent a shiver down my spine. Even in the barrier induced silence, I could still imagine hearing them in my mind and feeling their energy oozing around me. I’d honed that skill, the ability to track them. To kill them. My entire existence was for that purpose now. Revenge, some would say. I called it justice. Regardless, I was good at it. 

I could have said all of that to him. I could have pleaded my case. But I didn’t. Instead, I simply said, “Pain and suffering was around long before we changed. And if you manage what you say you’re trying to do, it will be around long after. Nothing will stop that. We are human, after all.”

He grinned. “But are you really?”

I blinked. “What? Human? Yes, I’m human.”

“There is a theory…”

My eyes rolled as I cut him off. “That we’re aliens come to take over the world? Heard it. And no. I’m still the same woman that used to ride bikes in the summer and swim in the creek as a child. Same woman who studied hard and earned valedictorian. The same woman who graduated with honors from law school. I’ve seen pictures from right after I was born. I’m human. Maybe with a little extra but human, nonetheless.”

“But what if the cause is a parasite? Maybe it’s feeding on you and you don’t even know it?”

At that, I shrugged. It wasn’t a theory I had considered or heard before, but if it were true, it still wouldn’t change anything. While those things existed, I would, too. 

“Are you saying, if the theory is true and we could get rid of the parasite, you wouldn’t take it?”

Tired now, I slid back down on my cot, pulled the thin, scratchy blanket to my chin and closed my eyes. “I’m saying, I’m done now. Do whatever you need to do, but I’m done talking.”

Minutes ticked by as the silence grew heavier, along with his presence. I fought the urge to peek at his expression. I heard the chair leg scrape across the floor, and I prepared myself for the sting of the dart. I wasn’t disappointed. The rush of power, a sharp pain in my leg and then darkness. 

When I awoke, groggy, a headache gnawing at the base of my neck, I was alone again. Unlike before, I was no longer content in the silence.  I wished for the humming to return and, with it, my strength. I was exposed here. At a disadvantage. They were feelings I didn’t like. Feelings now foreign to me. 

Kicking the blanket from my legs, I stood up, stretched and walked toward the small window. Moving back and forth along the wall to peer through the slats, all I saw were stars and the moonlit outlines of trees. No help in my present situation. 

Retreating to my cot, I pretzeled my legs in front of me and waited. I’d calculated the delay between the opening of the slot and the dart’s effects to just a few seconds. Not nearly enough to charge to full power. But if I was able to take out the dart shooter and keep anyone else away, it might work. I only needed, at the most, a few minutes. Or to avoid the dart. That might work, too. 

Scenarios played out until I finally accepted whatever was going to happen would happen. It is what it is, as my mother used to say. The thought of my mother punched me in the chest, and I was pulled into a slideshow of memories. Memories I had long ago buried or couldn’t break through the constant hum in my brain. Either way, they flashed back to me. 

Her smile and the way she stroked my hair when I was sick. The last Thanksgiving. The last Christmas. Her cuddling Jess in the old rocking chair that had been passed down three generations. The way she and my father would hold hands walking down the street. My father. His boisterous laugh as he chased me with a water hose. The feel of being encased in his protective arms. Memory after memory rolled into each other as locked away tears leaked down my cheeks. 

The slow hum ripped me back to reality. My hands clenched the blanket, as I actively pulled in everything coming through. The rush of power ignited in my hands. That’s when I felt it. Faint, but still horrifyingly recognizable. Then the sharp sting of the dart just as I screamed “No!”

As I clawed my way back to consciousness, I heard the screams first. Muted high-pitched wails of terror and pain that crawled inside me and clenched my insides.

I vaulted from the cot to the middle of the room and faced the door. The pumping of my heart mixed in my ears with the horrors outside. My muscles clenched in preparation. My arms out to my side, I turned to him. He was pressed up against the back wall, his eyes wide as they studied the closed door.

“Open it,” I ordered. “Unless you want to die like them, open the damn door!”

He reached a trembling hand in his lab coat and pulled out a small remote. Pressing the button, the door slid up. Like a tidal wave, the energy slammed into and through me with a rush of pain. 

Now I could sense them. So close. Energy crackled at my fingertips as I moved forward, pushing it all into my arms until they burned. I scanned left to right as I stepped through the door, realizing the screams had stopped. On each side, more cell doors lined the dimly lit hallway. What was coming was more than I could handle on my own. I knew it. Sensing my presence, they were moving fast.

Closing my eyes, I stretched out my arms. I felt the metal presence of the doors and wrapped energy around them, through them. With one quick motion, I yanked my arms down to my side and the doors exploded from the walls. 

Cautiously, through the dust, they emerged. I watched, looking for any who could help. A man stepped through and his body began to tremor. I watched in anticipation, only to see him turn into a butterfly and flutter away. Another sprinted across the hallway and through the wall before I could stop her. One more flashed from the doors and past me, so fast I barely registered her existence. 

Then I heard it, the sharp crackle of energy meeting skin. Cautiously, I made my way to the opening and peeked inside. My heart sank. He was young. So very young. Not even a teen yet. 

And, even worse, terrified of the power coursing through his veins. I knew that look, the way he kept staring at his hands as if they would bite him. It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do. I would need his help. 


The boy’s head snapped up and his arms shot out in front of him. I sidestepped the blast of energy.  It slammed into the opposite wall and disintegrated stone into ash. Peering through the hole to the outside world, I shrugged. At least we had an escape route now. 

“Hey!” I turned my attention back to the boy, dropping my hands to my side and pushing the energy to my fingertips. 

His eyes widened as I stepped in front of him. “You’re a…you’re,” he stuttered, lowering his arms.

“Look, kid. I’d love to chat, but there are some things coming we need to take care of first. And I need your help.”

“Me?” He backed up against the wall. “I don’t know.”

“Kid!” I screamed, sensing their presence enter the hallway. It was too late. Whatever happened next was out of my hands. 

Reigniting the energy into my hands, I heard the crackle as I stepped backward and turned to face them. There were four of them, all coming at a dead run. The human suits hadn’t yet adhered to the sticky tar-like substance underneath. I watched in disgust as the bodies slipped and slid across their true selves. 

Snapping my hands out, I bore down and pushed everything to my palms. I’d never taken on so many. Fear nipped at the back of my throat, tightening as they moved in. Wait for it, experience whispered against the panic. A few more seconds. 

My hands shot out and with them all the energy I had stored. All four flew backward as I stepped forward. Drawing everything in around me, I unleashed again, concentrating the jet stream on the closest one. 

It screamed as I brought my full power down on it, pushing through it and around it, until it started to glow. It jerked, pulsated, expanded and then, with a satisfying pop, exploded. 

There was no time to celebrate. Two advanced on me at once. Retreating, I tried to put more distance between us. They were too fast. 

Again, I planted my feet and pulled in all the energy I could hold, the stress on my bones and muscles already making itself known. Releasing it all in a wide arc, the two flew back and bounced off the wall. They would be dazed but not hurt. Diluting the blast wouldn’t be enough. 

From behind them the third sprinted headlong toward me, a grating screech coming from what was once a nurse’s mouth.  I backpedaled, trying to give myself more time to recharge. But it was too late. The small charge I released only rocked its body back before its full weight crashed into me. 

We both tumbled to the floor as I sent a round of small charges into it, already feeling the black goo covering my skin where our bodies connected. It sunk into my pours and the strangled scream of pain ripped from my throat as the skin started to separate from the flesh underneath. 

Grappling, pushing, punching, releasing all the energy I could pull in over and over, its half-adhered face grinned at me, black goo dripping from its sagging mouth onto my cheek. 

Then it stopped, its head snapping up seconds before a blast of energy slammed into its chest. With a screech, it tumbled backwards; the energy wrapping around it.  I rolled over and looked up. He was at the edge of the opening, his hair whipping from his head, his eyes a bright yellow from the energy absorbing into his body and out of his hands. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the other two rise. Their focus veered to the boy. Crawling to my knees, I buried the pain and staggered upright. He faltered as they moved toward him. I saw his stance change and his focus pull from the one that had attacked me. 

“No! Stay on that one! Stay on that one until it’s dead!” I screamed. Stepping away from the boy, I put myself in between him and the other two. Visions of my family swirled in my brain as I took a deep breath and pulled. 

I stalked toward them. Releasing, pulling, releasing, pulling—each blast stalling their advance. Behind me, a distinctive pop told me the other was no longer a threat. The boy moved beside me. Together our arms raised in unison and the blasts dropped both to their knees. Glowing, then the pop as they exploded. 

Dropping my arms, I took a moment to catch my breath, scanning the area for more. Satisfied we were alone, I turned to the boy. He was standing stone still, staring at their remnants, tears freely streaming down his face. 

“Thank you,” I mumbled. 

He turned. Scanning my body, he wiped the tears from his cheeks. “You’re bleeding.” 

I looked down. Blood trickled down my arms and I noticed the sharp sting underneath my skin. “I’ll be okay.”

“We should go,” he said. 

“You go. I need to take care of something. Do you have someplace to go?”

Fresh tears welled as he shook his head. 

“Then wait outside. You can come with me.”

He let out a breath, looked toward the opening. “You promise?” 

“Yes. Now, go.”

I waited for him to walk through the opening before turning toward my cell. 

When I walked through the door, he was still cowering in the corner behind the bed. And for a second, I second guessed myself. Until my gaze settled on the claw marks. My hands sizzled as I moved toward him. 

“Please don’t,” he begged, pushing himself against the wall. “I’ll disappear. You’ll never hear from me again.”

I knelt down in front of him. “I’ve seen that movie before.”

“You said if I let you out, I would live!” he cried. 

“No. I said if you didn’t want to die like your colleagues, then you should let me out. This. This will be quick,” I paused, studying his face. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice one to save many.”

His eyes widened at his own words. I didn’t give him a chance to speak. Grabbing his head on both sides, I let the energy shoot through. His body crumpled to the ground instantly. 

Rising, I turned and faltered at the sight of the boy standing in the doorway, his eyes wide, his mouth trembling. For just a second, guilt crept in. I discarded it. 

“Why did you do that?” he asked, his eyes darting from the body to me. 

He took a step back as I stepped forward, energy crackled at his fingertips. 

I sighed. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“You didn’t have to kill him. He was nice to me.” He paused and looked at his feet. “You shouldn’t have killed him.”

Tired now, the effects of the battle settled in my bones. I needed to rest. I needed to heal. “Maybe not,” I said as I stepped into the hallway and turned away from him. “But I did. And now he can’t do this again.” Walking toward the opening, I glanced over my shoulder. “Are you coming?”

With one last glance into the room, he turned. “I won’t kill people,” he said defiantly. 

I paused, staring out through the opening. “Good,” I said and then stepped outside. A few feet into the dense forest, I felt his presence behind me.  And we walked.