Prologue:

Standing there in the moonlight, drenched to the elbows in the blood of her enemies, uniform torn, hair wild, teeth bared, eyes vacant of anything but impersonal aggression and not a little distrust.

I knew from a file I'd once seen that they called her Mirabelle, and the first time I saw her, I thought I was about to become yet another casualty statistic.

"Lie still civilian," she hissed at me, kneeling at my side.

I shivered a little, and instantly regretted it as my broken rib tried to weave itself through my flesh like a bone tapestry needle. Excruciating pain shot through my chest, and I tried hard not to reflexively gasp. Everything hurt so much. For a moment it hurt enough that I forgot the grisly spectre kneeling beside me. I wondered if this was what dying felt like. I didn't want to die. I had so much left to do- so much research... and I still hadn't visited my tropical island. It was a promise I'd made to myself when I was little, and growing older had only reinforced the desire for peace in the salt-ridden sunshine... I'd promised Caspian...

A cool hand touched my face, and suddenly all I could see was her gaunt visage, her cheekbones sharp enough that for a moment I had a ridiculous image of her ruining pillows with slices every time she went to bed.

I didn't laugh though. One didn't laugh at Mirabelle, and besides, I was in too much pain to really contemplate it.

"Ahhhh, so you're one of ours, are you?" she muttered, staring into my eyes as though they were peep holes into my psyche. "I suppose I should save you then. They tell me that I should save ours." She grimaced ghoulishly before saying in a strange, flat voice, "It's Bad PR to not save ours."

I didn't reply. My hand was broken, so the signs would likely be garbled anyway. The likelihood of her understanding the sign language was even lower, so I decided to stick to a weak smile and flick of my eyes to show that I understood her.

Mirabelle looked at me in the same curious fashion that a cat might look at a television.

"You're quiet. Why are you quiet? Only little mice are quiet," Mirabelle mused, stroking my face almost absently. "The only sounds little mice make is skitter skitter skitter... Unless you squeeze them." She smiled again, licking her lips. I had little doubt that she was talking from experience.

Moving slowly, I tilted my head back, allowing her to see the scarring.

"Oooh poor mousey, kitty stole your voice. Not your tongue though, she let you keep that. Mean, nasty kitty. What else did bad kitty do?" she asked in a sing-song. She moved her hand from my face and then traced down to my torso. "Oooh, bad, bad kitty. Broken rib, two more cracked, broken wrist, though your hand's intact... bruises bumps and grazes here, mousey is lucky Mira's here."

It was about this point that I began to wonder if this day could possibly get any more bizarre.

I was lying on the crushed remains of Julie's desk, surrounded by dead bodies and shattered lab equipment. My once pristinely white lab was covered in reddish brown spatters and fragments of glass, timber and concrete.

I had an almost definitely insane, violent woman standing over me assessing my injuries.

And now she was making some sort of macabre rhyme about them.

Mirabelle suddenly froze.

A moment later, I heard footsteps.

"Oooh, can't get caught Mousey," Mirabelle whispered to me. "Mira doesn't want to get caught. They'll lock her up and put pins and needles in Mira and fogs in her head. But I likes you quiet Mousey. You seems like a nice people." She cocked her head and then suddenly said in a mechanical voice, "Nice people deserve nice things." She parroted the same way any child might parrot something that her parents consistently told her. This was not improving my confidence in her mental stability. Shaking her head, she muttered rebelliously, "Mira tries to be nice, but nasty people don't want Mira to be nice. Can't be nice by being nasty- broken logic that is."

She paused, listening, as an indistinct exclamation suddenly heralded the footsteps becoming louder, faster. It took me a moment to realise that they were fading off into the distance. I felt myself scowl.

Coward.

As though she'd heard me, Mirabelle giggled like a schoolgirl, gently flicking my nose with one blood-stained finger.

"Don't worry Mousey. No one is going to interrupt us. Now, where was I?" She looked up at the ceiling, as though the flecks of blood symbolised some message.

Suddenly, her head snapped around, and she was looking me in the eyes again, biting her lip hard enough that I was worried she'd start bleeding.

"Little Mousey needs to be all better again, so Mousey can keep being nice. Mira likes Mousey being nice." She cocked her head like a bird. "But one good turn deserves another... Mousey, if Mira helps, will you help Mira? Will you tell them that silly old Mira has run to far far away?"

I had absolutely no idea what she meant. Maybe her 'help' would involve putting me out of my misery. Maybe she meant she'd call triple zero, and get me an ambulance.

I had nothing to lose, so carefully, I looked her in her bloodshot, wild eyes and nodded.

Mirabelle's smile was as enigmatic and serene as a Buddha's.

Placing her hand squarely on my sternum, she leaned down and kissed my cheek.

"Thank you Mousey."

The pain that I suddenly felt was like sheet lightning- more intense than anything I'd ever felt before. I screamed soundlessly, and then everything went black.