American Chimera – 26.1

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The interrogator held still when she ran into the back of the line of males. She opened her eyes, glanced to the final door, and melted against the steel rails leading down into the dry depths of the Nevada dungeon. Dani followed her closely, and a smattering of three males after.

“What next?” Dani asked. Her voice wavered, the usual tender chipper tones hidden beneath a veneer of fear.

The interrogator swallowed. “There’s a trap door. It opens into the warden’s office of what used to be a prison.”

“Used to be?”

“There’s not enough prisoners left to spend the money keeping them close to one of these labs. You can’t just make people disappear without questions anymore, so there’s not really a point.” She pointed. “I need someone to open that door.”

Dani squinted her eyes and stared at the male at the head of the line. It reached up and, after fumbling with the latch, at last knocked it out of the way and pushed the trap door out of the way. The two males below it hefted the first one up and out of the hole, then the rest clambered up in effort to scramble out of the facility.

Sunlight flooded in through the door, baking the shaft that was usually lit by single bulbs in cages spaced throughout the stairwell. The interrogator pulled herself up from where she had melted and, eyes closed once more, made her way to the ladder at the end of the stairs.

“You know, I still don’t understand how they got Dr. Worthington down here,” the interrogator said. “No way she walked in, that’s for sure.”

She pulled herself out from the shaft and blinked to adjust to the sunlight beaming in through the warden’s window. The males had dispersed from the small room, their noises and screeches of delight echoing down the hall. The interrogator shied as the trailing males screamed like their companions and delightfully plunged into the adventure of escaping the facility.

She leaned against a wooden desk – old, decrepit, abandoned for decades – to hold herself up. She reached one hand out, felt for a wall, and eventually discovered the door. With the male chimeras gone, she cracked open her eyes and motioned for Dani to follow her. “Come on. It’s a straight shot to the nearest exit, but it’s better for us to make our way to the kitchen.”

The interrogator held her gun pointed down, turned to the left, and ran for the door. No guards or police stood at the metal detector or inspection station where generations of wardens had once entered the prison for their shifts. She hustled through open doors, the mechanisms no longer connected to electricity, all hanging as still and pristine as the day the prison had shut down. A gunshot rang out. The sound of a stream of gunfire rattled the windows.

She crouched as she passed a window. “The males have escaped. That’s why they’re shooting.”

Dani curled up. “What about mom, though? Wouldn’t she have gotten out first?”

“Her stairwell exits in a trapdoor at what used to be the kitchens, which is where we’re headed. That exit should be closer to the vans, and she should be able to maintain cover if she’s clever about it.”

“What if she ain’t clever about it?”

“I can’t help that now.”

They hurried through the jail, through hallways with windows the size of fists and past rec rooms with bars on glass-free openings. Dust from years of storms and accumulated grime coated the halls and gritted beneath their feet and claws. At last the interrogator pushed the swinging door to the kitchen, revealing the dust-ridden tables. Despite the dirty tables, the floor was sparkling clean, almost as if to hide the common foot traffic in and out of the east-end trap door.

“Look,” Dani said. The interrogator turned her head just long enough to see Dani pointing to a place on the table where a person had written in the dust with a finger. “You reckon it’s Mom?”

The interrogator released her held breath. “You would know her handwriting better than I.” She stifled a laugh to a meager chuckle. “Still, I don’t know who else would have wasted the time to write ‘Fuck the Yanks.”’

Dani crept closer. “Really?”

The interrogator ignored the question as she crept up to the barred window. She bobbed her head left and right, then squinted in the face of the bright sunlight outside. She winced at the males playing in the sand and ineffective gunfire, but focused on the line of cars nearby. “I see the van I gave her the keys for. I can’t tell if she’s inside or not.”

“I know how to find out,” Dani said. She reared up on her hind four legs and spied out the window with the human companion. She squinted her compound eyes and hummed gently. “Which one’s the van Mom’s s’posed to be in?”

“That one. Third from the left. Number 13.”

Outside, a couple male chimeras changed direction. The clawed up the sides of the vans, peeked inside, then climbed to the top where the guards tried to shoot at them. When Dani stopped humming and caught her breath, the spiders hopped from the top of the vans and back to the ground.

“She’s there,” Dani said between breaths. “At least, someone’s inside the car. I ordered the males to get on top of the van with people inside.”

The interrogator swallowed. “Is this bond telepathic or something?”

“I thought it was supposed to be pheromones, but I don’t know. Maybe it was the humming.”

“Well, as long as you’re right about their message, I’ll take it.” The interrogator took out her gun. “Send the males to the other corner of the facility, then we’ll make a run for the van.”

“Won’t you be in danger?”

“Better to get shot now than face legal punishment later. Give your orders, then signal me when it’s time.

Dani focused on the males she could see, hummed a different tone, and released the order with a few heaving breaths. “Alright. Let’s go.”

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