It had happened so often in science-fiction novels and movies that it had become cliche, but those countless writers and directors had been right; Earth had become a barren wasteland, empty of all but the most rugged of all lifeforms and humans.

Humans completely isolated themselves. Now they live in huge cities - sprawling hives made of metal and concrete with a dome covering all, protecting the city from the elements and the dangerous rays of the sun. No animals lived there; they all either died out or lived Outside, in the desert. Insects are still common though, a pest that humans have yet to destroy. Instead of meats, humans lived off of plants growing in large greenhouses, feeding off unnatural sunlight provided from lamps and misted daily with precious water.

Waste has become a crime. No one is ever obeise, or even chubby by threat of being fined or even arrested. Most everything has become electric or running on rechargeable batteries. Cars and trucks have become next to nonexistant, people use bicycles or walk to get to their destinations. If you have to reach someplace at the other end of the city, you would take the tram; an electric cart that could carry over twenty people at once and at high speeds. There were protests against such a wasteful machine, so by now they've probably shut it down and recycled the metal for more efficient usage.

You know what? Mother nature is a strange lady sometimes. It seems she's trying to bring back the animals she had lost in the forms of humans.

The HB virus is reasonably new. My parents could still remember the first outbreak. At first the virus would only affect children, twisting their bodies to resemble animals, though still recognizably human. Not long after, though, it started affecting adults. No one knows how the virus came about, or even how you get affected. Sometimes a whole family can be affected, while other times only a single child. There is nothing you can do to protect yourself, no way to prevent it, and no cure.

The government issued a new law in an attempt to make sure the virus never spread any more than could be prevented; whenever someone is affected, they are to be thrown out of the city walls forever. A radical measure, but people were afraid, and when people are afraid they would do anything to assuage that fear.

I never knew anyone who'd came down with the virus. Sometimes at school I would hear about someone who became a Half-Beast, but never knew any of them personally.

Half-Beast. That is what everyone calls those afflicted with the HB virus. Half-Human, Half-animal.

It was a huge shock when I woke up one morning to silvery-white hair and pale, pale skin. Not much, but it was enough to prove I had HB. I was a Half-Beast.

Everything after that became a blur. I can barely remember the (needless) court proceedings, the medical examination and withdrawl of some of my blood for study, or even saying goodbye to my parents. I don't even think they'd let me say goobye - too much of a risk of further infection.

The next thing I can remember clearly after that frightful morning is that I was Outside.

Everyone is required to go Outside at least once in their lives, and I can still remember the voyage as a five year-old into the dangerous area. It was a school trip; we were to collect soil samples to test and compare to the nutrient-rich soil in the city. I could remember my awe as I looked ahead, how it seemed that Outside went on forever, how the sky was so very, very high, and felt a real, natural breeze ruffle my then-brown hair. I had no problems imagining how the ancients could beleive the Earth was actually flat.

However, then there were security guards to protect us from any threat, and even as five year-olds we were armed with tazer (with strict orders *not* to use them on each other!). Now, I was alone and had nothing to protect me but the clothes on my back.

Protection from what? Half-Beasts are what we were told. Half-Beasts who'd forgotten all humanity and reverted to nothing more than savage predators, thirsting for flesh like a dehydrating man would thirst for water.

I took one last look at the solid wall of the city. There was only a faint seam of the doorway, if I didn't know what to look for I would never have noticed it. Briefly, I wondered if I would stay here, would they let me back in? That was foolishness. If I wasn't gone by nightfall, I would be shot and my Half-Beastial violent tendencies would no longer be a threat to those in the city.

Everyone knew that once you became a Half-Beast you loose your human thoughts and emotions, becoming as tempermental and animalistic as an ordinary beast. Even though it was merely my hair and skin tone that had changed, I was still a threat.

Turning away from the wall, I looked once more Outside-ward. I felt that same feeling of being tiny that I did when I was five. Outside was what I was destined for, it seemed then. Besides, if I stayed around the city, I was definately going to be killed; whereas if I went out, I might -just might- have a chance at a longer life.

My decision made, I walked forward.

-

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot...

That was the mantra in my head. Everything else, the pain, the hunger, the thirst, it was all a slow counterpoint to that mental beat.

Left foot, right foot...

I had probably been walking for three days, I couldn't be sure. During the days the sun beat mercilessly down upon me, forcing me to discard my quickly sweat-soaked and too-heavy shirt. That proved to be a mistake, as the sun wasted no time in burning my unprotected skin an angry red. My feet were used to walking, but the relentless pace in which I walked forward made them soon throb in pain. The nights I rested, though they were also far too cold, and once again I had cursed my stupidity in throwing away my shirt. It would have provided some protection against the cold, at least.

When sunlight came, I once again started to walk. I didn't know where I was going, or what I was looking for. Perhaps another Half-Beast? Or some sort of shelter. I didn't know. Water, though, would have been the best thing for me. I would have gladly killed (waste!) in order to have just one sip of water.

It was on my third day that I saw another Half-Beast.

I was watching my feet move forward, kicking up sand as they shuffled under me. It was probably some sort of sixth-sense perhaps, that made me look up. What I saw I couldn't at first make out through the hazy waves rising off the blistering-hot sands, then I couldn't believe what my eyes saw.

What I saw was a Half-Beast laying upon the sands, apparently asleep. Or dead. I couldn't tell.

Moving towards it at a slightly faster pace, I attempted to call out to it but only a small squeak emitted from my throat. That gave me a shiver of fear, was I no longer able to talk? No, that can't be! I cleared my throat again, nearing the still-prone Half-Beast. This time when I called out, I managed a strangled-sounding "Hey...!"

I tried again, this time it was louder. "Hey!"

The form shifted, and I felt a surge of gratitude that the Half-Beast was indeed still alive. The creature raised it's head, and I could only hope it was looking at me. Then I stopped dead in my tracks, a thought entered my heat-befuddled mind. What if this Half-Beast was territorial, like those wolves I've read about? What if it wouldn't appreciate another Half-Beast in its territory, and attack?

Before I could think of a way to escape or defend myself, the Half-Beast turned and... disappeared.

I blinked. Surely the sun was playing tricks on my mind. A mirage, that was all it was.

My pitiful strength suddenly seemed to leave me, and I collapsed to the fine sands below. Kneeling, my head bent low, I think I would have cried if my body had the water to supply the tears. As it was, my eyes squeezed shut, and I sobbed.

I was still crying tearlessly when I felt a cool hand at the back of my head, tilting my head back and pressing something metal to my mouth. Something wet slipped past my partially-opened mouth, and immediately my dry mouth swallowed. Water! My hands raised up as if to guide the flask to a more giving position, but fell again to my side when whoever was holding it seemed to sense my desire and tipped the flask just a bit more.

Swallowing mouthful after mouthful of water, I was starting to feel slightly sick. The flask moved away even though I reached blindly out for it. Pouting like a petulant child, I opened my eyes and glared at my savior. Then fell back with a startled... ok, I admit, a frightened yelp.

He was most definately a Half-Beast. His entire skin was covered with greenish scales, with red scales taking their place at his throat and across his chest and belly. His shoulder-length hair was a more jade green shade than the rest of him, and his overlarge eyes had pupils so big they seemed to dominate the almost-as-dark irises. He was crouched upon digigrate legs with feet looking more like they belonged on a dinosaur than a human. Behind him, a thick, lizardlike tail swished the sand behind him. I could see filmy fins along the outside of his arms, legs, and at the tip of his tail, even the outside of his ears were finned. His clothing was spartain; a pair of pants so ripped and shredded that they barely covered what was important. In one hand he held the small metal flask.

He grinned at me, baring a mouthful of needlelike teeth. "There now, you're fine." I was startled to hear a Scottish accent coming from his throat. Had I really walked that far...? "Ye nearly scared the death out of me there, wakin' me from my nap. Well," and here he chuckled. "At least I know the sun hasn't baked your eyes yet, eh?"

He turned his head and called out behind him, "Don't be worried, he's alright."

Turning back to me, the Half-Beast said, "Come on, can ye walk? You're just a short walk away from the Hive. You're lucky, usually if we find a new one we've gotta walk nearly all day to get here!"

"H-hive?" I questioned, now that my throat wasn't so raw I could talk much easier, though my voice still sounded grated-sounded.

He nodded. "It's where a bunch of us live. Half-Beasts who were thrown out of our homes." He looked at me and winced. "Tha's a nasty sunburn there. We don't have anything to help you, but at least you should get out of the sun for a nice, long time."

I nodded consent. I didn't really think there was much of a choice in the matter.

The other Half-Beast stood, lightly grabbing my arm and helping me to my feet. He had no qualms about letting me lean on him as I walked, for some reason I couldn't walk under my own power.

It wasn't long until I saw another Half-Beast. We'd taken a few slow, shuffling steps and I suddenly saw feet in my field of view. Those feet had a faint hoof-like look to them, and my eyes moved up those feet to darkly tanned legs, filthy pants torn at the knee, a thin waist and torso, then finally to another male face. This one had narrow eyes, sharp features, and goatlike horns just behind his temples. Whereas the scaled one looked about my age, this one had to be a few years older.

"You need any help there, Xander?" The new boy asked. Xander, who I took to be the scaled boy next to me, nodded.

"Yeah," He said. "This guy's exhausted. Just get his other side and we'll drag him in if we have to."

My other arm was loped around the other guy's shoulder, and my arm briefly brushed past sharp points running down his spine. My sunburn stung with the contact, but I could tolerate it.

Together, the two Half-Beasts semi-carried me across the desert sands. As we walked-dragged-shuffled our way across the burning sands, Xander kept up steady conversation.

"My name's Alexander, though I prefer if you call me Xander. Easier, ne? The guy on your far side there is Jeremy. He's safe, an all right sort, you know? What's your name, stranger?"

"Vincent," I mumbled, feeling more than a little dizzy, and slightly sick from all the water I'd drank. "Vicent Murr."

"Well, Vincent, Vincent Murr, welcome to the home of the sick, the deranged, and the indescribable."

Jeremy groaned and shook his head, careful of his horns. "Xander, you're going to give him the wrong idea before he even gets there. Don't listen to him Vin, he's just bitter."

Xander snorted. "I can be bitter if I want to be, who're you to say I can't?"

They continued this banter for a while. I was awed, other than the fact that they were covered in grime and noticably skinnier than most people back at the city, they could have been any other two friends walking along the streets. No wildness or unreasonable hostility -or any hostility for that matter- at all.

We got to a certain point and the still-unnamed second Half-Beast ducked under my arm and crouched on the ground. He brushed some sand away until he found what he was looking for, and soon he pulled a sand-textured tarp from over a hole in the ground.

Xander helped me down the dark pit, telling me to watch my step, and the sudden change from blinding sunlight to almost darkness blinded me momentarily and I leaned against a slightly-damp-feeling wall, which felt too smooth to be natural.

The light was blocked twice more as the others followed me down the hole, and then, as Jeremy pulled the tarp back over the entrance, there was no light at all.

"Dammit, where's the switch?" Xander gripped, the echoes making it hard to tell where he was.

"It's over here, Xander." Jeremy replied. "By the ladder-"

"Oh wait, here it is."

"Ow! Hey, that's attached to my head, you know!"

"Oh. Sorry..."

Long sigh. "Never mind, I found it."

A sharp clicking sound, and we were suddenly flooded with light. Well, not really. The light came from dingy, auburn lamps strung along the top of the tunnel-like space. The walls seemed to be made of some sort of brick, and built into an almost circle-shape. I was standing on a flat concrete platform that ran along both sides of the tunnel, and at the very bottom was a thin line of moisture, so dirty and clogged with filth that I winced at the thought of the waste. The air, however, though it held a sharp scent I really didn't like, was cool and felt good against my burned skin.

"C'mon and follow us," Jeremy said, starting to walk down the tunnel, his hooflike feet making thudding sounds on the hard cement. Xander took one of my arms and gently forced me to follow. "We'll get you someplace to rest up and something to eat, alright?"

The 'alright' seemed to be added there out of suddenly-remembered manners. His whole attitude almost screamed 'You're going to do this because I want you to'.

As if sensing my thoughts, Xander whispered into my ear, "Don't mind him, he was an only child before he came here. Rich family too, always got his way, the rich prick."

Jeremy turned and gave Xander an evil glare. "I heard that, fish-boy."

Xander grinned toothily and gave Jeremy a sarcastic salute. "Just making sure the new guy knows what to expect from everyone."

"Well, in that case," Jeremy said, once again continuing his walk. "Vincent, you should know that Vincent spends all of his time slacking off and sleeping when he should be looking for food or water. He can never be serious at even the most dire moments, and it likely to chew your foot off in your sleep."

"Hey, I didn't even realise I was doing it and the girl woke up after the first bite!" Xander snapped. Then he grinned. "But about the first thing... I'm a reptile, us cold-blooded monsters gotta conserve our energy!"

Jeremy snorted, turning right when the tunnel forked. "Your blood is as red as mine, and you know it."

"I didn't say anything about the *color*," Xander returned. "Only the temperature."

Jeremy sighed and continued walking, not saying anything more.

Xander gave me a wink before taking one hand and scratching off an imaginary tally mark in the air. Xander-1, Jeremy-0.

Eventually, we came to a large pipe that jutted out of the side of the tunnel, moss and lichens growing from the lip to the muck below. Jeremy clambered inside of it, and I reeled back when I caught a sniff of the pipe. Horrible, decaying smell, and they expected me to walk in it?

"C'mon, man," Xander said, giving me a small nudge. "I know it smells right awful, but I promise you when we get to the other side you wont smell a thing. And there's a nice place to rest there, too. Wouldn't it be nice to take a nice long nap?"

He generally seemed concerned for me, and Jeremy was patiently waiting up on the pipe, though he was too tall and had to stoop over. I sighed, deciding that I had gone this far, why not all the way? With Xander's and Jeremy's help, I managed to climb up into the tunnel, winceing at the wet sounds my feet made on the gunk that covered the bottom. I wondered how a tunnel under a desert could be humid enough to create muck...

They led me through the pipe, all of us stooping over in various degrees. I noticed as we walked that yes, the scent was going away. Either that, or I was getting used to the stink. It also didn't take me long to realize that the air was getting warmer, and my ears could catch the sounds of talking, and footsteps.

We took a turn, and jumped down when the pipe suddenly cut off. This tunnel was no different than the one we'd just left, though it had a different... *feel* to it. More... lived it. I got the distinct impression this tunnel had seen more *life*.

Going down that tunnel a short ways, and then turning, we came upon a place wholly different from everyplace else I'd been. It was another long stretch of concrete and muck and damp, but this had holes knocked out at regular intervals, and spaces dug out to create separate small rooms, with cloths of varying degrees of length and cleanlyness covering the doorways for privacy.

"I'll take you to my little den," Xander said. "Every sleeping area has two beds, and I don't have anyone else to share the room with. Besides, I think you'll feel easier sharing a room with someone you know, at least a little, aye?" I nodded as he chuckled, thankful for his thoughtfulness. I haven't seen any other Half-Beasts, and was a little wary of meeting anyone new.

We passed seemingly identical room after identical room until Xander stopped in front of one, pulling the cloth aside to reveal the room inside.

"We don't have our own lights," Xander apologized when I looked inside to the dark room. "If we need light for whatever reason then we gotta keep the cover up."

Jeremy sighed and looked at a nonexistant watch before catching himself and instead looking down the tunnel in a random direction. "I'm going to go take off, I got things to do and if you are just going to go to sleep then I've got nothing to do here."

"You mean Aises is waiting for you?" Xander leered.

It had to be my tiredness playing tricks on my mind, the oh-so-cool and confident Jeremy couldn't actually be *blushing* bright enough to be seen in the low light. "Yeah, Aises is waiting for me..." He muttered.

"Well, I'm not going to keep you from your lovey, so go on. I don't mind you leaving."

"Whatever," Jeremy sighed. He turned and purposely strode down the tunnel, disappearing around the corner.

Xander watched him, smirking slightly. With a chuckle, he gently pushed me into the room.

"You're bed's on the right," He said. I stuck out my hand and found the edge of a thin mattress. Sinking slowly onto the thin, springy bed, I sighed with relief and layed down.

"I'll get you something to eat, just hold on a bit, alright." Xander said, remaining outside.

"Alright," I said, though I felt ready to sleep at the slightest chance. "Hey, Xander?"

"Yeah?" He asked, sticking his head into the room.

I coudn't remember why I'd said that last bit, and a couple answered danced around my head before I came up with something satisfactory. Nothing good seemed forthcoming, so I just sighed and said, "Thanks."

Xander grinned, but it wasn't one of his playful or teasing grins. It was a normal, grin, as if he sensed what I was trying to say even before I myself knew.

"No problem. I'll be right back." And with that, he was gone.

I sighed, burrowing down into the bare mattress, wincing only a little as my burn chafed on the rought surface. My burn was still in the 'numb' phase, though, so it didn't hurt nearly as much as it would later.

Even though out of politeness I tried to remain awake, I quickly found myself sleeping into uncontiousness. I fought to stay awake, thinking of where I was, what I was doing here, and why all these Half-Beasts were even alive. Though these questions were pressing, I soon fell into a deep, exhausted sleep...

-

Authors note; I wrote this story for an english assignment. As such, I may or may not continue. It all depends on what kind of response I get from this. If I get five or more reviews, this shall go on... Come on, tell your friends. You *do* want to know what happens next, eh? Eh? ::nudge nudge, wink wink::