I just want to give a quick shout-out to everyone who's reviewed my story. You all rock, and I'm very grateful for your feedback. Thanks again, now on with the story!

6 - The Centre Of The Cyclone

A few minutes after Convosa and Erica left, the door into the lab from the warehouse burst open, and Zach, Helen, Alicia and Rik ran in.

"Okay, we have to get William and get out of here fast!"

"Yeah, looks like maybe knocking the wall down wasn't such a great idea after all."

Alicia groaned. "Oh no! This place looks huge, how are we going to find him?!"

The room they were standing in had several long, metal, operating tables, and trolleys. A glass screen ran along one wall showing a room full of computers, and there were doors. Everywhere.

"I always hated science…" Rik muttered.

"Okay, um, this place is kinda freaky, like from a horror movie, I don't think we should split up." Whispered Helen.

"Agreed." Said Zach edging up close to the rest of the group. "It's like the scene where mutated zombies are about to burst out of the floor and the heroes don't know it and then they all get melted and eaten!"

"What horror movie did you watch? I was talking about the one where the evil scientist creates this disease and –"

"It turns people into zombies?"

"No. There weren't any zombies in it."

"What kind of horror movie has no zombies?"

"Um, dweebs, we need to find leader-boy before it goes like the-one-where-the-ceiling-collapses-and-everyone-dies."

"…I haven't seen that one…" mused Zach thoughtfully.


"I think I'm going to be sick." gulped Helen, pulling open the door and shuddering at the insides of what turned out to be a cupboard. There were shelves from floor to ceiling stacked with jars. Inside the jars were...parts...

"I feel so bad about letting William go off on his own..." Alicia sighed, folding her arms and rubbing them together. "This place is so awful."

"I don't even think I want to know what was going on in here." added Zach. "Look, I'm, uh, pretty squeamish, how about I see if there's anything useful on the computer system? I'm a pretty good hacker, the best in the computer club at my school."

"Computer club. Hah." Rik snorted contemptuously, but his laugh was weak, and he swallowed, composing his features.

"Good idea, maybe we can find out what exactly has been going on here." said Helen, her voice muffled from inside another cupboard.

"Look, I...I feel pretty bad too about what's happened." said Rik suddenly, shutting his eyes, "I mean, hell, I can't stand the little mop-head, but this place is just sick."

Helen blinked. Where had that come from?

"Don't worry." She gingerly patted Rik on the shoulder. "We'll find him. He'll be okay." She hoped no-one noticed the worry in her voice.

"Helen's right," said Zach from the room filled with computers where he was rapidly typing, "We'll find him. Besides, he was the one with all the experience, right? The only thing I don't understand is, if he had all the experience, how come he didn't avoid the security cameras. I mean, I know that me and Alicia saw a few and avoided them, but if we check the film," he brought up a surveillance screen from several hours ago, "he doesn't even seem to know they're there."

"Ummm..." Alicia stared at her feet sheepishly.

Zach paused, and looked over at her steadily.

"Yes, Alicia?"

"...That might have been because he wouldn't have... known what they are." She twisted her tail round nervously in her again?" asked Rik, shutting the door to the store-room he'd been examining.

"William...well...he's only been here in Opidan for a month or so. Technically, he's an alien too."

"What?!" Zach spun round in his chair.

"Keep hacking, computer nerd!" snapped Rik.

"Yeah, I'm sure Alicia can explain while you type." said Helen pointedly, giving the other girl a cool look, before resuming the exploration of the lab.

"Okay, so maybe I should have told you guys...Munroe warned me beforehand cause I'm psychic and I'd find out immediately anyway, and then she made me promise not to mention it, but I think I should." she sighed and looked down at the floor.

"Oh, you think?!" muttered Zach.

"Well she made me promise!"

"Look, just tell us what's going on, Alicia." Helen pleaded, "We need to know."

"Okay, it's like this: William grew up in some place called Erland, I think it was a medieval world, but I don't know, Munroe wasn't specific. He just sort of...appeared during that really big freak storm last month. No background, no government files, no birth certificate, no family, nothing. He doesn't know how he got here and neither does anyone else. He was already training to be a knight or something, so was pretty experienced in combat, and when Munroe picked him up, she just continued his training, only teaching him martial arts and stuff as well. In exchange for being made an official Opidan citizen and not being sent to the insane asylum, he was made leader of the team."

"...you mean our leader's just a psycho who got amnesia or something?!" exclaimed Rik, shoving an operating trolley to the side.

"He's not a psycho!" snapped Alicia, lifting her hand and halting the trolley's progress "Well, not much of one anyway, I checked! He is genuinely what he claims to be."

Or he believes he is, anyway. She added, silently.

"Dude. That's pretty freaky." said Zach, his fingers a blur across the keyboard.

"Now do you see why I feel so bad about him being captured?! I mean, it's my fault, I knew what was going on with him, and I let him wander off on his own. It'll be my fault if he's... if he's..." her voice caught and she gulped, unable to complete the sentence.

"Guys! Guys!" yelled Helen from somewhere. "I think I found someone!"

The team rushed towards the sound of Helen's voice. Several doors down, she was bent over the door of a large metal cage, tugging at the padlock.

"It's okay, we'll get you out of here!"

The girl curled up in the corner of the cage stared at Helen, her dark eyes huge in her pale face. She was small and slender, with delicate, elfin features - a pointed chin and high, graceful cheek bones. Thick dark hair spilled over her shoulders and the thin blanket she had wrapped round her.

Rik burst through the door first, causing the girl to jump and cower away. He took one look at the terrified expression on her face, and his eyes hardened.

"Dammit! What the hell has been going on here?" he asked. Then, without waiting for an answer he ripped the padlock apart and yanked the door open. Helen gasped and he looked at her and shrugged.

"Stuff like this pisses me off."

"Come on," Helen crept into the cage and offered the girl her hand, "You're free, it's going to be okay."

The girl stared at her for a few moments more, then swallowed and opened her mouth.

"You...save...me?" she said slowly, as if speaking for the first time.

"Yes. We're here to help you."

The girl hesitated, then took her hand and stood up shakily, holding the blanket round herself.

Thank you.

Helen gasped at the tiny whisper which brushed against her thoughts. The girl clapped her hands to her mouth.

"I am sorry. I am not used to... communicating without...without mind-speak. I am still learning how. I have to...show...teach? Yes, teach. I have to teach myself how to. It is difficult. I have never had to..." Her voice trailed off and tears filled her eyes. She suddenly flung her arms around Helen and hugged her tightly.

"Thank you thank you thank you I was so afraid! I thought I would be locked away forever, and that no-one would ever find me!"

"Whoa." Zach blinked as he walked into the room. "Who is this...?"

The girl released Helen and took a deep breath.

"I am..." she paused, "You cannot pronounce my name properly in your...mouth-speak. I was named after the middle depths: the sun and star-light which dapples the surface, the whispers of the currents, the power of the tides, the coldness of the deep, the strength of the rocks. It has no sound, only feelings." She thought for a moment.

"I suppose you may call me...Oanna...It is not true to my birth name, but it will be the closest you can comprehend."

"You're a...a..." Alicia's mouth fell open, "You're a mermaid!"

Oanna likewise looked shocked.

"You can mind-speak?! I did not think that any surface dwellers could!"

"Well, I'm not… originally from around here, but you...you..."

"Hey! Wait just one minute here!" Rik held up his hands, "This is a little too much to suddenly have shoved in your face. Okay, I have powers, these other dudes have powers, Alicia's an alien, Leader-boy's some sort of knight-in-training kung-fu master from another dimension (we hope), there seems to be secret underground places under every street corner, and this chick is a real life mermaid? No, you must all be, like, tripping or something. I mean, for starters, don't mermaids have big fish tails?"

Oanna stared at him, and then gathered her hair back, revealing a pair of large, pointed, grey-tinged fins where her ears should have been.

"I do have a tail. I used to not look like this. Convosa made me into what I am now - a half-breed." Her voice fell to a low whisper "...an abomination."

"I ...I can change between forms. But Convosa would not allow me to change forms. It was his way of controlling me. One of his ways..."

Helen, her face filled with compassion, was about to speak, when suddenly the building groaned from up above, and the room began to tremble faintly.

"Oh no, dude! This place will collapse any second! Let's get out of here!" cried Zach, his eyes panicked.

Oanna shook her head firmly.

"We must first free your friend! We cannot leave him to die here!"

"William's alive?!"

"Yes - he was taken into the testing chamber. I know where it is, I have been in it often enough. Follow me!" She ran out of the room, her hair flying behind her. The team exchanged a relieved look, and then sped after.

"It is through here!" Oanna pushed open a sturdy, reinforced metal door to reveal a wide room in the centre of which was an enormous cylindrical tank, filled with green liquid and -

"William!" exclaimed Alicia, bolting over.

He hung there, suspended and floating, unconscious, wires and probes covering his skin. There was a heart rate monitor and brain wave pattern machine hooked into the tank, and they issued soft, regular beeps. The room had the feel of an intensive care room in a hospital.

Rik stared at it for a few seconds, then his face hardened, like when he had first seen Oanna.

"Okay, I am gettin' really sick of all this twisted crap that's been going on! When we find the sick piece of slime that did all this I'm gonna..." he clenched his hands into fists then snarled and slammed his right fist into the tank. The reinforced glass shattered into thousands of pieces, the green liquid spilled out onto the shiny, red floor, and William fell forward out of the tank. Zach stepped forward and caught him, then lay him down on a patch of floor clear of glass fragments.

"William? William?!"

He pulled off William's oxygen mask and several of the probes covering his friend's wrists, arms and torso.

"William? Wake up! It's us, the team! Wake up!"

He cradled him in his arms, shaking him gently.

"Wake up! Wake up, William!"

William's face twitched slightly, and he slowly opened his eyes.

"What...where...where am I?"

"Oh, thank goodness!" gasped Helen, letting out a relieved breath.

"The knock-out drugs must be wearing off. How are you feeling, honey? You okay?" Alicia leaned over Zach's shoulder and gazed at William, concern in her eyes.

William squinted at her, trying to focus.

"I...I..." suddenly he gasped and started struggling, arching away from Zach's touch.

"My back!" he gritted his teeth, letting out a whimper and rolling his eyes back into his head. He rolled over and landed on his hands and knees, curling into a small, tight ball of pain.

Helen stared at him in horror, her hands over her mouth.

"Oh my gosh..."

His back was mottled red and white where the skin was taut and shiny. Huge growths, hard and swollen, bulged from underneath, straining against the layers of skin.

Alicia reached out with her hand, but William let out a guttural moan and flinched away from her.

"Don't touch me!"

Zach looked around helplessly, and noticed the look on Oanna's face. An icy fury shone from her eyes.

"He has been changed. Like I have been changed. Because of Convosa! Because of this!" She marched over to a panel built into the front of the ruined tank, pulled off the protective cover, dug her hands inside and pulled out a shard of strange looking crystal. It gave off pulsing waves of light and energy, which filled the room, swimming round and rebounding thickly off the walls.

"Woah. What is it? It's so beautiful!" Zach's voice was diluted by the thick waves of light being secreted from the gleaming stone.

Oanna gazed at Zach, her face composed and still.

"It was given to Convosa. It is some sort of pure energy source. He was investigating its powers, was told to record its effect on living tissue. So Convosa created this tank, in which the crystal's energies were focused and concentrated on a tiny area. Then he began to expose his lab specimens to it. The crystal killed them all; they could not withstand its power. Only your friend and I have been inside that tank and lived. And it has changed us."

"What the hell are those things in his back?!" demanded Rik, looking repulsed, "It's like cancer or something!"

"I do not know." Oanna's voice rang through the room, mixing with the crystal's power, mingling with it. "It has affected your friend differently from myself. But we cannot allow this power to fall into the wrong hands."

She looked up, "The building will soon collapse. We must leave." she turned and flung the crystal to the other side of the room.

"We must leave and leave it here, where it can be buried and never again used for this wickedness."

There was a pause, as the team regarded the mermaid, who stood stiff and cold with fury.

"Well," drawled Rik, "You heard the mer-chick. Let's get out of this dump." He sighed and pulled William upright, avoiding touching his back, and reluctantly began to lead him towards the door. Letting out small whimpers of pain like a wounded animal, William staggered dizzily along, leaning on the bigger boy for support. Alicia and Helen both ran after them. Zach turned to Oanna who was still staring over at the crystal. He tentively touched her shoulder, and she jumped. As she turned around, he saw her composure crumble and frightened tears fill her eyes.

"Come on, Oanna, you're coming with us. It'll be okay, you'll see. Munroe can probably do something about Will's back. But you can't stay here, the building will collapse."

"What is the point? I am a monster, a hybrid. An outcast both from my people and yours. I will never fit in."

Zach suddenly laughed, and she stared at him in puzzlement.

"Maybe you should join us," he joked, "Those seem to be our entry requirements. We already have an alien and a knight. But seriously, you can't stay here and give up, or else you'll have let Convosa win!"

She hesitated, then set her jaw.

"I will never let him control me again!"

"Then let's go!" Zach grabbed her hand and they both turned and ran after the rest of the team.

Convosa hurried through the escape tunnel, his breath raggedly escaping his lungs and his heart thumping in his ears, almost drowning out the creaking and groaning of the buildings beginning to fall apart above his head. Behind him he could hear Erica gasping as she tried to keep up. Suddenly, a ladder appeared, and Convosa almost sobbed in relief. He frantically climbed up, pushing open the grate above and crawling out onto the wasteland just behind the warehouse.

Turning round he saw Erica's pale worried face below him, and an idea came to him. The girl hadn't wanted to leave the specimens, that was weakness on her part. She was not ruthless, she would feel guilt. She might even go to the police and tell them of his illegal experimentation! Or if not, she would wish to share in the success of his research. She would want to share the fame and esteem of his findings! She would take away his glory; try to make it her own! He suddenly knew what he had to do. It made so much sense. It was logical. He had always been logical. Always able to think coolly and clearly. It was his gift.

"Hand me up the research, girl!"

"Help me up!"

"Give me the research!"

Erica hesitated, then handed him up his briefcase.

"Excellent!" he snatched it off her and laid it carefully down beside him.

"Sir! Give me your hand!"

Convosa turned to his assistant with a strange smile on his face.

"Oh, I don't think so. It's not logical." he stood up, and reached over to the grate.

"No! Sir! No! What are you doing?!" Erica screamed. Convosa threw back his head and laughed.

"Goodbye, Miss Everett!" with that, he slammed the grate shut and picked up the briefcase. It was time he got out of here, laid low for a while, he would survive, he was logical.

Erica stared up at the closed grate in horror. How could her mentor, the man she admired so much, do this to her? The...the...the despicable pig! She would survive, if only to hunt him down and kill him!

She had to stay alive, she couldn't die, she had to think. The lab. She had to run back to the lab and escape another way. Turning she bolted back down the tunnel, fear giving her feet wings. She arrived there, bursting through the door to find the tank smashed. So the boy had escaped. Good luck to him. If he escaped, she could too. Suddenly a glimmer in the corner of the room caught her eye. The crystal! She had forgotten to pack it! It was the main part of Convosa's research - without it he was nothing.

A crazed, hysterical laugh burst out of her. She lurched over and snatched it up. Convosa would never have it again. It was hers now. She could harness its power - she knew she could. She learned more than Convosa had ever given her credit for. She could use it to kill him. She couldn't wait to see his face - murdered by the assistant he abandoned for dead and by the crystal he had so treasured. It was worth surviving for. With the crystal, she could do anything! Anything in the world! She knew she could!

She turned to run out the lab, to escape with the precious crystal, but the ceiling suddenly groaned and gave way. She opened her mouth to scream in defiance and fear, as the rubble thundered down, burying her and the crystal and the entire lab, as if they had never been.