WARNING: This story may cause insanity in its readers. For those in whom this is not a concern, read on.....


"In deathless sleep, the Old Ones dream and lie in wait for the time when they shall rise again, for when the stars come right, they shall awaken from their aeon-old slumber. Then shall they return to hold dominion over our world once more, bringing woe and destruction onto mankind."

--Nox Arcana, Necronomicon


"Just relax, Quinn," said Dr. Shar, "you won't feel a thing."

"Shouldn't I like be sudafed or something?"

"Of course not. This is a very delicate procedure, and won't hurt a bit."


"Oh, sorry. Hmmm.... you seem to have worms."

Sandi suddenly appeared above Quinn, looking down. "You have worms? That is, like, so gross."

"But... no one is suppose to know! I mean, no I don't have worms!"

Sandi glared down at her. "How could you lie to me, your best friend, and President of Lawndale's Fashion Club?"

"I don't have worms!" She gasped as Dr. Shar's gloved hand pulled out several writhing worms from an incision in her abdomen. "Those aren't mine! Those aren't mine!" She quickly closed a hospital gown over the incision, holding it shut. "Those aren't mine!"

"Gross, Quinn!" shouted a shocked Sandi.

Then Quinn saw an old, scraggly hippie friend of her mom's, dressed in a creepy black trench coat. At least he HAD been a friend until he tried to kill her, shortly before they moved to Lawndale. He looked at her, his eyes wild and disgusted as the day he tried to kill her, and pulled out the shotgun he had used then. "I've got to go!" she shouted. She got herself up and took off running as Sandi and Dr. Shar looked at her in fear and disgust. Not again! Not again!

She ran through the hospital, the same one she had spent so much time at in Highland, trying to keep the incision closed, but felt a few worms falling out from time to time anyway. She ran, hoping to stay ahead of the armed maniac. She stopped at a crossroad of open doctors' offices, trying to decide which way to run.

Then she noticed that every single person was reading Val magazine. On the cover was a picture of her. With her deformities. She saw the caption Teen Mutant Exposed! A dark look into the secret life of Quinn Morgendorffer, sister to the Anti-Teen. "No," she said. She shook her head as she noticed many were casting surreptitious glances, whispering among themselves. "No."

"There you are, you freak!"

Quinn took off blindly, without bothering to look at the man trying to kill her. She looked desperately for some escape, but she saw no exits. She was in an abyss of never-ending hallways with an armed maniac after her. He'd tried to kill her before and had almost succeeded. She'd only survived because she had surprised him. He wouldn't let her do that again. Aren't there any police or something!?

She stopped by a fire alarm and pulled the lever. The lights all went red, a siren blared, and emergency water sprinklers went off making her gown wet and the worms in her belly writhe excitedly, trying to get out. She took off running again as she saw the shadow of her pursuer at the end of the hall.

She opened an emergency stairway to see stairs going both up and down, barely visible in the dim red light. Up or down? she thought. She decided down was easier and rapidly descended the stairs, worms still falling from her. Only a couple of stories down and she heard the door she'd entered burst open and she knew the guy was still chasing her, tracking her by the worms that fell out of her. She began leaping down the stairs, but his footsteps got louder and louder, rapidly gaining.

Then the stairwell ended by a door with a pulsing dim red light. She struggled with the door, and just as she was about to scream in frustration, it opened into a dark basement. Even though it was dark, Quinn could see perfectly well. She shut the door and ran to the other side, past several containers. The smell of earth and water excited her somehow, but she kept running until she came to a cavern with a pool in it. She heard the door burst open behind her and she waded in, finally swimming underwater.

Quinn waited, underwater, breathing easily, staring up unblinking. A flashlight beam eventually lightened the dirty brown water covered with algae. It would likely hide her from him, though he might still shoot into the water. He was obsessed enough to do it, too.

Then the beam of the flashlight, which Quinn now saw was attached to the shotgun, aimed down into the water. He moved it around slowly. After awhile, the shotgun was no longer pointed at her at all, but further out. And Quinn struck.

Bursting out of the pool of water with shocking speed, She knocked his arm aside before he got off more than one shot. It went wide. Several worms, now gigantic tentacles, shot out of Her incision, wrapping around the human that dared to treat Her as prey. He would've screamed his terror and despair, but Her tentacles were wrapped as tightly around his throat as they were his arms and legs. She felt great pleasure in the squeezing that was crushing the life out of him.

Quinn suddenly realized she was awake in her bed, covered in sweat, making a haunting, inhuman noise in her throat. She stopped her alien keening, and began gasping in sudden terror. She looked down in her dark room and confirmed what she already knew: her deformities were back. She could see everything as if bathed in a bright light.

She had a prehensile tail growing out of the base of her spine that was nearly 3' long. There was a row of "feelers" that looked like fine hairs about an inch long that grew along her spine from her skull on down to the tip of her tail. They were able to pick up the most minute details for her: electrical currents, scents, air motion. They felt rubbery, not hair-like, to her hand. Her toes and fingers had grown by at least two inches and her formerly well-manicured nails were sharpened bone. Each foot had an extra big toe and each hand had an extra thumb. She felt the bony ridges around her knees and elbows, and a thickness through her entire body.

Her canines were longer now, too, visible even when she kept her mouth shut, and her tongue had grown in several inches and could pick up impressions from the air. Her ears had elongated into pointed ridges and she heard footsteps coming to her room. Her nose, turned up and sunken into her face, could smell that it was her mom. Her eyes could barely make out her mom's outline through the doorway, and when her door opened she could clearly see her mother's heat pattern, along with a slight electric glow that only certain instruments could pick up, and another glow that no human instrument had yet been able to detect.

Helen turned the light on and gasped as she saw Quinn breathing hard in bed, in her full change. Quinn's eyes remained opened, yet she couldn't see them, for her third eyelids were back, opaque and impenetrable, though she knew Quinn could see through them more clearly than any human.

"Oh, Quinn," said Helen, tears about to fall. "Not again."



That morning, Quinn was almost back to normal. The key word being "almost." It took several minutes to hours, but she was able to "pull" the mutations "in" so that they weren't visible, though it was tiring to do so. The pills prescribed by Dr. Malak in Highland helped. But she still had stubs where her new thumbs and big toes had been, about 2" of a tail, and her pupils were shaped like hourglasses in the light. When dilated in dim light, they looked like diamonds.

She ate some fried eggs listlessly at the breakfast table, her mom talking to Eric on the phone. She glanced at Daria who was already dressed for school. Her brow furrowed and then she shuddered as she saw Quinn's third eyelids blink over her eyes momentarily.

"I'm sorry, Quinn," said Daria, looking away.

"Like you were the one to put uranium in the water," said Quinn with quiet bitterness. "At least all that happened to you was some health and eye problems, and maybe a hyperbrain. Me, I'm a FREAK!"

Daria shook her head. "I thought... I thought you were cured."

"All the pills do is slow my metabolism down and help me keep control. It doesn't fix my DNA."

"Your body is building up a tolerance?"

"I guess." She shook her head. "You know, I thought I could finally be NORMAL. Pretend all that mess with the uranium and stuff didn't happen. Now it looks like Sandi and the whole school are going to know." Her voice lowered. "I just hope this doesn't make the news, and that Mom's psycho friend doesn't find out."

Daria gulped. He had attacked her, too. When she opened the door for him, back in Highland, she had seen something was very wrong. She tried shutting the door, but he was faster and stronger. She tried to run but he had knocked her down, slapping her glasses off. On the floor, unable to see clearly, she'd heard him muttering incoherently, about trying to see if the "abomination" was inside her, and that "it" had to die.

And then Quinn and Helen had walked in, returning from the hospital where Quinn was finally getting some hopeful treatments, and he attacked Quinn, screaming. He had his hands locked around Quinn's throat, choking the life out of her, chanting for her to die, when her mom knocked him out with a skillet to the back of his head.

He was tested for drugs and only trace amounts of pot were found. He was committed for observation and a battery of tests were run on him. Helen knew schizophrenia was common in his family. Then he had somehow managed to walk out dressed as a janitor and gotten away before the alarm sounded. The Morgendorffers were frightened, especially with all the phone calls that ended with a click, but after 3 months it was decided he was probably with some cult in Mexico again.

And then Quinn, the new medicines working so well that she radiated joy, walked (something that had taken her years to learn to do in a way that didn't disturb others watching her) into the kitchen and the window was shot out. Amazingly, Quinn had fallen to the floor just before the maniac had fired. Ducking low she ran back out as Mom's psycho friend fired again. He'd hurt himself as he knocked the glass out of the window and crawled through it, but he kept on coming.

Quinn did what she always did when she wanted to escape attention: she ran to the bathroom. Unfortunately, this didn't seem to stop him. He wasn't insane enough to waste ammo, and he picked the ridiculously easy bathroom lock while she cried for help through a window that was too small to crawl through. She felt the change come back over her slowly. But as the door open, Quinn ran at it, and pushed his gun away as it went off again. He tried to push her off and kicked at her, but she didn't relent. She even clawed his face with sharpened nails enough to leave permanent scars. One eye of his was soon useless from the blood running into it.

Then he managed to pull the shotgun from her grasp and jump back. Then he shot her and Quinn screamed as she felt penetration in her abs. She turned to run and another blast took her in the back, knocking her down. Then he jumped on her prone form and put the shotgun to the back of her head. But her tail, now fully extended, instantly wrapped around his wrist and yanked hard. The next shot went low into a nearby wall instead. Then to his shock, Quinn turned, her spine as supple as a cat's, and rammed a hardened, jagged elbow into his throat before taking his shotgun from him and throwing it. Just as the shotgun left her hands, his own grabbed her wrists.

He learned then that Quinn was double jointed and easily twisted out of his grasp while her tail grabbed his shirt and yanked him backward. Quinn bit his neck then and he screamed.

And then Quinn heard someone running in and knew it was her mom. She quickly took her fangs out of his mangled, bleeding neck. He allowed himself to be tossed off her by her tail.

That time he was incarcerated for attempted murder. Thanks to Helen's connections, she was able to get him sent to prison much faster than would normally happen. He ranted that Quinn was an abomination that had to be destroyed and was now kept on heavy medication, barely able to do more than drool, let alone appeal. This suited Helen just fine. Helen knew he was still locked away, but Quinn didn't want to hear about her old life and Helen didn't tell her anything except that he would never bother her again. She prayed it was true.

Dr. Malak, of the Hoffman Institute, who'd contracted an office in Highland to work with Quinn and also waived all medical fees, oversaw the medical treatments and therapy Quinn undertook, starting from shortly after she had been born.

He was very excited, even more than he was over the genetic samples which intrigued him beyond mania, by how she recovered from the shotgun blasts. For Quinn, already his life's work, showed true regeneration from the shotgun blasts. Not only did the wounds close themselves much the way a skinned knee would do, but even the telltale signs that she had been shot vanished. What was interesting was that the last traces of her wounding vanished on the same day in which any and all genetic samples taken from her became worthless:

The day of the new moon: New Moon Phenomenon, or NMP.

Even Dr. Malak was spooked by that. For not only would the samples become normal human and useless for his more experimental tests, but even the KNOWLEDGE would be vanished. All recorded data shifted with it. The memory of his studies grew vague, dreamlike, and even he couldn't recall what happened. He called in friends with better memories, and they were just as affected. But they all refused to believe that the New Moon had anything to do with it. That wasn't the realm of science.

Science be damned, this was magic. Dr. Malak told no one this, but he was convinced he was tapping into something that could potentially revolutionize humanity, opening the pathway to cures to nearly every disease. Possibly, he hoped, even leading to a singularity which would change humanity, just as writing and oral tradition had once revolutionized mankind.

There had been news reports of uranium contamination in Highland by a government reactor, but the story had been suppressed. It was almost impossible to find now, except in one of the earliest issues of Project Censored. The reactor and other government agencies spent so much money stonewalling that Helen wondered if the taxpayers would've forked over less just to pay out-of-court settlements. While several had been damaged, only Quinn had been turned into.... well, a freak of nature. "The contamination" (the facility was never named) was officially blamed for Quinn's deformities.

Dr. Malak himself, who'd studied many of the others exposed to the mutagens, including Daria Morgendorffer, didn't believe the uranium was the reason. But he couldn't say what was.

Still, the plant had been quietly shut down, and the Hoffman Institute was footing the bill for all expenses, even paying out $1,000 a month just for the rights to conduct free medical tests and therapy for Quinn. Helen wasn't entirely satisfied, but she knew this was probably better than she had any right to hope for.

The reason that the Hoffman Institute indulged Dr. Malak's obsession with the Morgendorffer subject is that her DNA did not have just two molecules joined by hydrogen bonds composed of 23 chromosomes each like most people, but had another genome of unknown origin. Labeled TPA for Teroic Pseudonucleic Acid, it gave her another 23 chromosomes never seen or reproduced elsewhere. These were the chromosomes that somehow didn't survive NMP if separated from Quinn's body. No, they didn't survive REALITY itself.

And when Quinn hit puberty and her pituitary became dominant, she somehow gained a limited ability to manipulate her physical state, sometimes to the point of suppressing her TPA blueprints until she could pass for human.

Experiments in between moons, while closely and constantly observing her, showed that mandrake root was able to increase her control and even suppress what most others who studied Quinn dismissed as "junk DNA." The few who heard the Hoffman Institute's term "TPA" often acted with anger, contempt, and perhaps anxiety. It seemed most of those few to closely examine Quinn found her genetic structure so abnormal, and the NMP to be so spooky, that most scientists wanted to pretend that Quinn didn't even exist. But they'd never admit they were scared. They just pretended any data gathered were a mildly interesting anomaly and learned to tune her existence out entirely. Scientists are rarely scientific.

Luckily for them, the Hoffman Institute seemed willing to not share its own studies with the rest of the scientific community. At least not until it could be commercially exploited. The drug they developed also seemed to decrease Quinn's mutations and even allowed her to slowly adapt her body into a more normal form, as if she had never been born with the TPA. Continual usage locked her in her form and Quinn knew a miracle as amazing as someone paralyzed from the waist down suddenly able to walk, determined to run.

Too bad that they couldn't figure out WHY it worked, but all the data collected kept getting corrupted in the NMP.

But after the attack on their home, and the interest of reporters who were curious about the event, Helen sold the home and moved. While Helen regularly emailed Dr. Malak to apprise him of Quinn's continued progress, and to thank him for turning her into a normal teenager (though an exasperating one), she didn't bring her in for exams anymore, except once a year. He quietly managed to get the drugs to her and Quinn took them. None of them said why, it was just done in silence. Quinn, long tormented as a freak in Highland, was only too happy to move where she could start anew. She seemed so happy out here, but now....

"You staying home today?" asked Daria

"Duh," said Quinn, giving Daria a dirty look.

Daria sighed. "You know, I had almost completely forgotten about... that."

Quinn's lips trembled. "Yeah, me too."

"Quinn," said Helen off the phone, "Dr. Malak is driving out here. He says he should be here around lunchtime. You'll stay here until then, and I'll stay home with you. Okay, sweetie?"

"Okay," said a dispirited Quinn. "Do you mind if I go to my room now?" When Helen nodded, she got up and went upstairs.

In her room she sat at her computer. Maybe I'll have to interact with everyone on-line, she thought morosely, just so people don't see what a freak I am. She wondered why this had happened. It had been so long and everything went so well. Remembering the NMP, she called up a site that told what phase the moon was in. She was not surprised to find it was New Moon. She wondered, But why THIS New Moon?

Blinking, she thought of astrology. She didn't know enough, most of what she picked up being Val and Waif offering clothes and makeup to go with your sign. But since astrology involved the heavens, and the moon was a part of it, maybe the stars were, too. She wondered why Dr. Malak had never thought of that before. Or if he had and just never told her. She'd have to ask.

She googled up some astrological sites and found some gave free information. But they only gave a little and then you had to pay for them to tell you more about how to achieve romantic and/or financial success. And the free stuff probably included free spyware, too.

But she came across one site, The Astral Church, that claimed to give free, lengthy, accurate readings. Unlike the others, it wasn't obsessed with money and love, but rather with "biorhythms." Interested, she began filling out the information on her birth. She had to get the photo album that had a copy of her birth certificate to find all the information it wanted. She was uncomfortable answering some of the questions, but she didn't see how it could hurt anything. Probably just market research, she told herself as she finally hit SEND. It promised to send her a complete report later.

Feeling tired all of a sudden, she went to lie down until Dr. Malak showed up.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in New Mexico, the program run by the Astral Church did what it was supposed to do. Taking the information, it judged that this information was important enough to forward to its creators. A few minutes later, a man in military garb blinked at the email he got from their Astral Church program. Clicking, he read the results. He swallowed.

Then he began a search for all information about a Quinn Morgendorffer, who was a likely Tainted. It was believed several Tainted had likely escaped their scrutiny at birth due to problems with funding, technology, and general incompetence and reflexive denial when the subjects appeared. After an entire freak show was found to be among the Tainted, it was taken for granted that several more existed out there, both alone and in groups. They had been showing up since that mistake in 1947. Using Nazi scientists gathered from Operation Paperclip, American scientists succeeded at a top-secret project at which the Nazis had previously failed. Which turned out to be most unfortunate.

Over the next few hours, despite some calls and some cutting-edge programs available to them, he didn't find as much as he would've liked on her. But he found enough. More so, he found that the Hoffman Institute had their own files, but he couldn't tell what they were. That meant most of their data was on another computer separated from the net. And despite their pretending to be a flaky new age outfit that did weird seminars, it was known by those in the know that they were a business and think tank that hired the best and brightest--and most unusual--scientists with open minds in hopes of exploiting the next cutting edge revolutions in science in about every field. And they felt Quinn Morgendorffer was pay dirt, and may have been foolishly hiding her from government scrutiny.

A little over an hour later, he gathered all his notes and printouts and went to report the Astral Church program had located another one.

By lunch, Blue Section sent out operatives to Lawndale and to the Hoffman Institute. He didn't know what they found, but before he went to have his supper, he saw a dossier of the Morgendorffer girl with CANCEL stamped on it. That meant Red Section would likely hit Lawndale in the next few hours with some cover story about a chemical spill that would then have to be suppressed in the media. That's what happened the last 2 times the Astral Church program had found a Tainted, it was confirmed by Blue Section, and Red Section was sent in.

And when he showed up tomorrow morning, Quinn Morgendorffer would be on the dissection tables in the labs of Green Section a few floors down from him, and her entire family disappeared, and likely dead. Green Section would have little less than a month to find what they needed before her corpse dissolved into neurotoxic sludge (which he heard often smelled like cherries).

Trembling, he put the unpleasantness out of his mind so it wouldn't mess with his digestion. There was nothing to be done for it. Whenever he asked himself, How can we do these things?, he always answered himself back with, How can we NOT do them? It was regrettable, but it was in the interest of all humanity that this dirty work be done.



Quinn was flying over a black ocean, deep at night. She could see perfectly, even the hideous forms from unseen depths swimming beneath the detestable pounding of the waves to shore. She looked up to see alien stars. And amorphous forms swimming in the deeps of space, careless of air or gravity or pressure, even hostile to such components of the physical universe.

And They were linked to Her.

"What are you?" she asked.

[We/I/You/Us Are]
[to Infect This Uni/MultiVerse]
[and Render it Hospitable for We/I/You/Us]

It was a song. Not like any music she had ever heard, nor sensed with any human sense. It was ineffable in its beauty and in its intoxicating terror that was a part of Her. "What?" She asked, "I don't understand [exactly]."

[Sever This Reality]
[Taint the Essence]
[Consume/Taint it, Steal/Transform into We/I/You/Us]
[Meat Make We/I/You/Us Strong]

Between Quinn's eyes, a new eye opened, one connected with an unused part of Her mind. With it, She could "see" what was meant. The Light She had seen around people and places that no human instrument had ever recorded was...Essence. Essence made up the Reality around Her human form. It protected the New Gods, the spirits of Form, from the Elder Gods, the Chaos Before Form. Form was a Cancer that was eating away at the Nothingness which was Their/Her natural domain.

The New Gods inspired mortals to worship them, for from that worship they harvested Essence, which they could then use to stop the Elder Gods. Humanity was cattle.

Mars and Venus and [X0X] were 3 other worlds once inhabitable in this solar system. The Elder Gods destroyed them all, one of those worlds now the asteroid belt. All that was left was Earth. Once Earth was vanquished, its Essence would be brought into the realm of the Elder Gods forever, its Time restored, its Reality/Time/Space Formless Again, having Never Been. Or it Would Be Tainted, Form and Essence gone, perfect chaos forever.

"We're cattle rustlers?" she asked, her human side trying to understand.

[Yes/No. We/You/I/Us]
[Taint Essence, Steal Form, Destroy Gods of This World, Feed]
[Confused] [Stop Thinking Like Human/Quinn/Exo-Personality]
[Exo-Personality is Cocoon for We/You/I/Us]
[And Weapon Against Form]
[Your Exo-Personality is Essence. Your Taint is Taint. Power Over Form and Chaos. Use Weapon Against Form]

Quinn's Third Eye saw the other worlds mentioned. Venus was the most beautiful blue and green world She had ever seen, breathtaking, and outdoing any image of Earth from space. Mars was mostly blue and white, and again, a world of utter beauty. The other world was one of endless caverns that was naturally heated from the inside. All Undone by the Elder Gods. Only Earth remained.

Quinn felt a tear slide down Her face at the beauty already destroyed. No one to ever know, no one to ever love it, all Undone!, She mourned.

[Human/Exo-Personality/Quinn] [Not You]
[You Are We/You/I/Us]
[Earth Energy/Essence for Enemies]
[Must Taint/Destroy]

Quinn looked down at Earth. She saw horrid atrocities that repulsed her, cruelties inflicted by humans on each other and on all other life forms. But she also saw something else: Her mom and dad singing "All you need is love, sweet love..." And they believed it! They loved HER, whereas most like Her were tormented, abandoned, even killed. They loved Her.

[Love?] [Quinn/Exopersonality/Human] [Not You/We/I/Us] [Taint Love/Mom/Dad/Earth] [*Now*]

"But I care."

[Quinn/Exopersonality/Human Cares--Will Die/Taint With Earth] [Not You/We/I/Us]

Quinn saw her mom painting as a hippie, before She were born. She was trying to do something similar... to Taint... what? War, Hatred, Poverty. With what? She focused: Beauty.

"Beauty is Taint? Can we use that?"

[Taint Beauty/Beauty is Taint to Us/Taint Mom/Destroy Mom/Earth]

A strange, keening voice spoke to her then in English. "Quinn"

She turned. There were others like Her around. "You are new here, like the other, yes?"

Quinn nodded, feeling both attracted and repelled by these monstrosities that were part-human, part-Something Else, in Her mind with Her. "What other?" she asked.

"A boy, also in your vicinity. We are coming to help you. Don't let anyone know about you. There's a war with the humans being waged, and some humans know about it. They're dangerous, too."

"What war? I'm not part of any war! What's going on?"

"You are 17?" One asked.

Quinn nodded.

"I thought so. Most grow their new genomes then. You've had one to go with your pair of human DNA. Now you have 2. The new one allows you to come Here when You dream. To Commune with Us. And with The Taint. Don't worry about your human side. Now your genome is evenly matched and will soon rewrite your human side completely. Understanding is so much easier then. It helps if you eat the Essence. Then you can Taint."


"The light only we see is the light of dreams, of ESSENCE, which can be used for magick, which is siphoned by godlike entities. Now we siphon it. By learning the way the stars and moon work, we learn to be artists with it, to change the very nature of reality. Enough of us working together can even create cankers through which to bring the Taint to the Formed reality. We can even make things appear by just thinking about them, or pull things we find in dreams out to the Manifest World."

"Eww, why would we want to do that? A lot of things in dreams are icky. I'd just rather have the money to buy things."

"You are 17. You are new to the next step of the Change. It will become clear soon enough."

"What's all this for, anyway?"


[No More] [Questions]

[Human/Quinn is the Enemy] [Your Cocoon, Eat/Taint] [Exo-Personality/Quinn]

[You/I/We/Us NOT Quinn.]

She realized then that they wanted Her to die. Well, not ALL of Her. Just Her human side. And this promised relief. Once this side died, then there would be no more grief, no more need for love or beauty, just hope for the inevitable future/past as the very fabric of creation was cracked and warped, changing all of Time/Space. Earth was all that was left, and it, too, was about to fall. And then all the worlds would be reborn...as Something Else, something more pleasing to the Elder Gods.

"What's beautiful to you?" asked Quinn.


She knew despair then. She cried for all the beauty already destroyed, and the rest of the beauty She herself would help to destroy.

She woke up in Her human bed with an awful sense of doom hanging over all that she knew. Which is the virus?, she wondered with true pain, my human side, or my Tainted side? It saddened her that she did not know.

There was a knock at her door. She shook the grogginess off and said, "Come in."

Her mom opened the door. "I was getting worried, Quinn! I knocked 3 times!"

"Sorry," she mumbled.

"Dr. Malak's here. He wants to talk to you first, before examining you."

"Okay, I'll be right down."

She checked her email and saw that she had a report from the Astral Church. It was long and tedious to read, though it repeated over and over that this was a good day to stay home and avoid any company. "Like, duh," she said to herself. She decided she'd read the rest of it later.

She washed up and was glad to see that everything but her pupils were back to normal. But she could FEEL something within her, something that she instinctively knew would change everything, but she didn't know how.

As she came down the stairs, she heard Dr. Malak say, "There's my favorite client!" He liked to use client because he thought it put his test subjects in a better frame of mind than being called a patient. Or a lab rat, she suddenly thought resentfully.

"Hey," said Quinn, walking to the couch.

As she sat down, he asked her about all that happened. She told him as best she could, including a little about the nightmare that preceded it. She didn't tell him about the dream she'd just had. Then she asked, "Can you tell me if anything other than the moon seems to affect my, um, TPA?"

"I don't know," he said.

He's lying! Quinn wasn't sure how she knew, but the light around him did change to somehow look discordant. She got angry, but said nothing. Instead, she asked, "Can you check my DNA again?"

"I've got the equipment already set up for it. But if you don't mind my asking, why?"

"I think I might have 2-pairs of that TPA thing in addition to the DNA."


Quinn shrugged.

Dr. Malak repeated, "Why?"

"Tell me why the moon matters."

"I don't know."

"Then I don't know why I asked." She crossed her arms.

Dr. Malak sighed. "I've been studying astrology and the occult for a few years, just to see if I could catch some clue or inspiration in, um, what you are. I have to say that most of what I've found hasn't been that helpful. But there MAY be some kind of 'flow' that can be measured by the stars. As far as I know, this 'Flow' may actually CAUSE the movement of the stars, as our cosmos just flows with it."

"You mean essence?"

"Excuse me?"

"The light I can always see that no instrument could record. I think it's the light that makes up people and places. It's hard to say. All life forms have it. All rocks have it, but it's different. There's an overall light that is radiated by an entire environment, by a pack, by a culture. Cities have them, and I can tell a lot about a place by how the light looks. I can tell if there's been violence in a home recently, if it's been burglarized, or if someone has been violent or been a victim of it recently. All through that light they give off."

"And you think this is, um, 'essence'?"

"I don't know. I'm asking you."

Dr. Malak stared for a minute, lost in thought. Then he cleared his throat nervously, and said, "Quinn, I'd like to run something past you. I'm not saying it's true, it's just a thought. It's not even to be seen as probable. Just a random thought."

"Okay," said Quinn. By Dr. Malak's light, he really was nervous and hesitant. But if he continued, he was going to be honest, though he was also unsure of what he was talking about. "Please, go on."

"Have you heard of the Chupacabras down in Mexico?" When Quinn blinked, unsure, he added, "The goatsucker."

Quinn nodded her head. "You think it's made up of the same genes as I have?"

"Maybe," he said, "if it's real. It may even be completely made up of TPA. Thing is, there have been things killing animals for a long time. Something is always blamed, based on society's explanation of such things. In America, it's even thought UFO's are going around doing it. But there's always something doing it, and the truth is, we don't know what. The favored animals by far seem to be horses, sheep, and cattle. These are the animals most often given in sacrifice to the gods."

"Ewww!" shouted Quinn. "I thought only, like, devil worshippers did that or something."

"This is about all religions. And a director at a zoo in Mexico City has made a public comment that the attacks on animals there by what was believed to be the Chupacabras were done as if by a single instrument. It appeared the animals had been sacrificed as per instructions of an old rite described in a Biblical text called Leviticus."

Quinn shuddered. "That disturbs me, and I'm not sure why."

"In all these cases, the entity in question seemed attracted to the blood, and all would've been recognized by our distant ancestors. It's possible that these things, even what we call UFOs today, were the old gods and spirits that still required the blood to feed. Since they weren't being fed anymore, these spirits or gods or daimons.... well, they took to just taking it where they could. They often gathered at certain sites which would be visited by disaster. I don't know if they cause these disasters, or if they're just drawn to them. They seem to exist outside of time, at least as we understand it." Dr. Malak looked embarrassed to be talking about this, but his light also revealed relief at finally being able to discuss it with someone who might understand.

"I thought those were like demons or something."

"And vampires, and grey aliens, and other things. Many are men in black. These days they can be seen in black cars. Centuries ago, they were seen on black steeds. And there are places on this world in which the boundary between the worlds are thin for some reason. Maybe wormholes or leylines or who knows what. They were often haunted by a powerful spirit, often called a god. The word 'panic' comes from the god Pan, that is still believed to chase people off a certain mountain in the Mediterranean. Though many today believe it's the Devil."

"Maybe it is."

"Maybe it is, and maybe it's not. It seems that if these spirits get enough worshippers, then they get more powerful. They make themselves out to be gods. And they are traditionally very possessive of their worshippers. Even when they grudgingly share, they demand their own due. Plenty of texts warn about gods that are vampiric, that try to enslave humanity. Some modern persons, like astral traveler James Monroe or even Aleister Crowley, have warned that all the gods are liars and care nothing for humanity beyond what they can somehow harvest through worship."

"You mean what I call essence?"

"Probably. If there's any truth to this at all."

"And they compete for this essence, not liking to work together?"

"They don't seem to," replied Dr. Malak. "It seems belief and rites were important, and many of these spirits found that the more people they could get to worship them, the more powerful they became. And the more hostile they became to other spirits."

"Why would they care about other spirits?"

"Well, it's curious, with the Chupacabras. It started out as a little, local thing. But when the killings got picked up on the news circuit, the Chupacabras spread to everywhere people had heard about it, leaving dead animals in its wake."

"So the more attention they get, the more they grow in power and scope?"

Dr. Malak nodded. "And there's a book by Charles Fort that says that there seems to be an invisible power or principality or whatever that was trying to stop people from talking about the strange things, or even knowing of them. It wasn't done to protect us. It was so that it could keep exclusive exploitation rights to us."

Quinn shuddered as she recalled her Dream. "Um, is there any way to fight back?"

"Cold iron seems to help," said Dr. Malak. "It is often used as protection against all kinds of evil spirits. What's interesting is a few people have said they stopped their own abductions by UFOs by carrying it."

"Why would metal work against a non-physical being?"

Dr. Malak smiled. "That's what I asked, and I think I might've figured it out. It's what you have to understand in order to understand my answer to your original question."

"Okay," said Quinn.

"Supposed to be that iron was first discovered as having fallen out of the sky. It was more than one element, having power over all others. Later, it was made into weapons and armor, often using fire which was another important force, and so represented humanity's mastery over the unknowable forces, darkness, and evil around them. In other words, the metal is a SYMBOL of conquering the unknown, and so when wielded by someone who truly believed in it, or even by those immersed in such a culture, it had a real effect. That is, it's not the metal, it's the belief."

"It's the essence that does it? The same essence that is hungered for by the gods?"

"I would think so. What's odd is that phases of the moon, the stars, and the like also make a difference, whether it's crafting a sword to overcome darkness or chanting a spell. Even our major religions still use solar and lunar events in their rituals."

"So it can use natural essence along with the essence directed through ritual!"



"Whatever," said Dr. Malak. "But think if humanity were to learn to harvest this..essence... for itself! We'd have free energy without pollution, able to heal the sick and dying with a touch, possibly become a race of immortals!"

Quinn blinked at that. "You think I'm immortal, don't you?"

"Not exactly," said Dr. Malak. "But you did survive those two shotgun blasts. You're close. I think you're somehow becoming aware of this energy, this essence, that is the power that is harvested by these other entities, for good and bad. You are the next step in human evolution."

"And what if I'm not?" asked Quinn.

"Well I'm still not sure what you are, but you are something beyond humanity's ability to yet understand." He shook his head. "I wish I could get you interested in science. I bet YOU wouldn't be cursed with New Moon Phenomenon like we are!"

"Maybe," said Quinn lightly. She wondered if there would be time. The Other Realm that just communed with her didn't seem to think Earth had much time at all. It also seemed that Quinn wasn't as much an evolved entity as a bioengineered weapon.

"But there's something that's troubling me about all this," Dr. Malak replied. "These entities that live off of what you call essence should be suffering. So many people don't believe in the gods the way they used to. There are more people, and plenty do follow odd rituals of appeasement and of seeking favor. But still...." He pursed his lips.

"What?" asked Quinn.

"These entities are quasi-real. They're paradoxical, both there and not-there. We can calculate their speed OR their position, but not both. And now it's turning out our very cosmos is becoming that way."

"You mean tainted?" asked Quinn fearfully.

"Tainted?" Dr. Malak sounded surprised at the word. "No, I was wondering if there's a new energy that's changing everything, material and physical, and you're one of the first humans. Because subatomic particles are looking to be exactly like these entities of essence..."

"The creation of everything!"
Quinn couldn't help but interrupt.

"Um, yes. Yes, that would be your essence. But of course people assume that we're just discovering this to be true. But I'm starting to think that it's JUST BECOME TRUE, not that we're only now discovering it."

There was silence before Quinn asked, "Hey, what did you mean by 'one of the first'?"

Dr. Malak swallowed. "You're not the only one, Quinn."

"What!? How long have you known of others!?"

He shook his head. "I came across a few others after you. Some of them disappear. I think they go into hiding, but maybe some people hunt them down. I don't know. But there's one more here in Lawndale. The Institute arranged for their family to move here after we were able to help their son with the same medication that we've used to help you. And strangely enough, HE had an episode last night, too. I've already talked to his family, and they're willing to meet you. I haven't told them who you are, respecting your privacy as I must respect theirs, and of anyone else so affected with TPA."

"Who is it?" asked Helen, shocked. She had been sitting quietly in a corner, tuning most of this conversation out as it didn't make sense. It reminded her too much of her LSD trips in the past.

"You can meet them at the clinic I have ready for the both of you. Or you can wait and come along later yourselves, alone."

"We'll meet them," said Helen. "Now who is it?"

"The boy is just a few months older than Quinn, but until the meds worked on him, he was homeschooled by his very protective parents. His name is Ted DeWitt-Clinton." Then he cleared his throat. "Now that I answered your question, Quinn, what about mine?"

"Oh," she said evasively, "it was just a weird dream I had."

"Tell me about it."

"I'll tell you later."

"I'll hold you to it," sighed Dr. Malak.

They left 5 minutes before the first operatives from Blue Section showed up at the Morgendorffer residence.



Dr. Malak introduced Grant and Ted to Helen and Quinn. Helen recognized Grant Clinton upon seeing him. He and his wife had accosted her over Daria giving their son chewing gum, among other things that she couldn't recall very well. Luckily, he didn't seem to remember her.

"Ok, if I can get some blood samples...."

While Dr. Malak took samples, Grant asked Helen, "Um... we barely handled it well... how did YOU handle it?"

Helen blinked a moment. "Honestly, I thought it was the uranium. Just Quinn got hit really strong. I was amazed she remained alive at all."

Grant shook his head. "We... had some weird experiences. We--that is, Leslie and I--met at a commune run by a group calling themselves the Aquarians. It was... pretty weird there. We were supposed to undo capitalism and war and things like that. Our guide, Starcaster, could do some weird stuff. Maybe it's like the LSD warping our memories, but it was like sorcery. And we had some bad trips, kept being in a locked room that was almost completely black, while these aliens, supposedly from the Pleiades, kept sticking us with things. Even doing... well, to avoid graphic detail, messing with our genetic material."

Helen frowned and looked down. "I had an experience like that, too. But I was told that it's a common LSD trip. There was an experiment where people were hypnotized and asked to describe being taken aboard a flying saucer. They often described what many abductees did."

"Maybe we're all being abducted, and only a few ever find out."

Helen shuddered. "The UFO abductee phenomenon has many parallels with those taken by Satanists or even weirder things."

"Maybe we're all being abducted by something."

"I don't think so," said Helen testily. "It's just the paranoia of a bad trip."

"You had a trip. So did Leslie and I. Look at our children."

"Only Quinn!" I hope.

"Others among the Aquarians had children like Ted. Some gave their kids up for adoption. Others killed them. Some parents were found killed, their kids missing, though nobody suspects a toddler of having done it."

Helen looked at him wide-eyed. "They're just children," she whispered harshly, "it's not their fault!"

"But why the tests? And who's conducting them?"

"I'm sure that there are no tests! It's a bad trip, that is all it is."

"Some of these abductees tested as pregnant and then the baby was just completely GONE in later tests."

"Miscarriages are very common, I'm sure..."

"The tests showed that they had never been pregnant in the first place. These are tests conducted by the same doctors who confirmed pregnancy before."

Helen took a breath and chose to drop the subject. Things were scary enough without pausing to consider if she had touched something REAL in those paranoid moments... and been violated by that nightmare in turn.

Quinn and Ted seemed to get along a lot better. Ted had allowed his entire range of mutations to stand out. He looked a lot like Quinn, only he didn't have any feelers along his spine, nor did he have a tail. He did have two antenna on his head that looked like a caricature of some Martian, and eyes that had multiple facets to them. Quinn found it like looking into ridged lenses. He also had fledgling wings, though they didn't look as if they could support his weight in the air.

When Quinn saw him, she felt her own mutations come out, and she let them. For some reason, she wanted him to see her. She thought his mutations looked wickedly cool on him, rather than freakish, and she didn't want to appear boringly mundane next to him. She also found him a lot more attractive than any of the boys she had dated before. "So when did you start taking the pills?"

Ted glanced at her. "About a year ago. Just before I came here to get away from certain crackpots that thought I was evil incarnate."

"Me, too," she responded lightly. "Did the Institute help you?"

"Not until much later." He shrugged. "My parents thought all that hippie stuff dabbled in demonic forces or something and tried to keep me separate from that and the world at large. They hoped this separation would help make me 'normal' or something."

"Um..." Quinn wasn't sure how to ask this next question. "Have you had any weird... dreams lately?"

Ted looked at her more intently now. "Yes," he said, after a pause. "Showing me images even more intense than a Goya painting...."

"Goya painting, what's that?"

"He painted scenes of blood and destruction."

"Oh, yeah," said Quinn softly.

"They said there was another here. I admit, I'm surprised it's you. I was thinking it would be like Andrea."

"Do you wish it was?"

"Huh? Oh, I'm just amazed that there are others. I guess that means the others in our dreams are real, too."

Quinn frowned, suddenly afraid. "Yes, I guess it does."

"And they're coming here." He spoke even more softly, adding, "I don't think they'll like our families."

Quinn looked over at Helen and Grant, who apparently had just stopped speaking to each other. She looked back to Ted and shook her head slightly in agreement. "Not sure what to do about that, either."

"Maybe we should find out what they want before they meet our families."

"What's that?" asked Dr. Malak, back.

"We're just wondering what you'll find is all," said Ted.

Dr. Malak frowned, but didn't press the issue. Then his cell phone rang. "Excuse me," he said, going out the door.

"Now where did he go?" asked Helen, "this is too important to be working with other jobs!"

Grant shook his head. Frankly, he didn't trust the Institute, though he was grateful for what help they had provided so far.

"Did your parents have a hard time with you?" asked Ted softly to Quinn.

"Yeah," said Quinn. To Helen and Grant, they both seemed to be whispering nonsense syllables, but they heard each other clearly.

"There were others like us, abused. I guess they'd appreciate what's coming. What about you?"

Quinn looked at him. "I don't know. You?"

"I don't know, either. I feel like I'm trapped between two worlds, and I don't know which one is mine. Maybe neither one is."

"Yeah," agreed Quinn. "Did you see the other worlds, the ones in our solar system?"

What does it mean?"

"I don't know," said Quinn, "but I don't like that they'd all be destroyed, sparing none."

"Have you pulled anything out of your dream yet?"

"What?" asked Quinn a little more sharply in surprise, "No! Have you?"

Ted nodded once, but didn't say anything, before being interrupted by his dad.

"What are you two talking about?"

"Just about what it's like to be a freak," replied Ted, a little sullenly.

The door came open, Dr. Malak came back in, and Ted and Quinn both frowned. His light was discordant. "What's wrong?" they both asked at the same time.

"Nothing," he said, and they both knew he was lying. "Um, Mrs. Morgendorffer, have you contacted anyone else about Quinn's special needs?"

Helen shook her head, her eyes asking why he was asking.

"Seems some people with a lot of clout are asking my boss questions about your daughter."

Grant's voice rose, sounding a little angry. "Will they be able to find out about Ted?"

Dr. Malak considered for a moment. "My records are encrypted, including with my own special shorthand. They can be broken, but it will take some time. If these people are allowed access to all my work, and it sounded as though they will be, then they'll likely know about him in the next few hours. Assuming they start immediately at decryption using a human, since I don't think any computer has the ability to decipher my shorthand."

Grant hissed. "Thank you, Mrs. Morgendorffer!"

"I haven't talked to anyone!" said Helen. "Have you, Quinn?"

Quinn shook her head. "No, I've been hiding!"

"I don't get it," said Dr. Malak darkly. "But Mr. Nakami has found these people most disturbing. He told me to expect company soon." He looked at all of them. "Do we proceed with the tests, or not?"

Grant and Helen looked to each other and then Helen looked back, "Proceed."

"Wait," said Grant. He made a call to Leslie, and then he said, "I'm sorry, Ted is going to have to come with me now."

"No, Dad, I want to know what's going on. We need to know this."

"Your mother doesn't like it. She doesn't want you involved in this."

"I already am involved."

"We're going home. Now." Against Ted's continued protestations, the father and son left Dr. Malak with Helen and Quinn.

Helen then made some calls from her cell phone to Jake and a few others, in the case any violations of their civil rights should occur. Meanwhile, Quinn was taken for some x-rays. She closed her normal eyelids against the harsh light of the X-ray machine at work.

Then Quinn felt SOMETHING. She wasn't sure what, but she knew it was important. "Can we take a break?" she asked. "I feel... like we should take a break."

Dr. Malak blinked. "Okay, if that's what you want. Would you like a soda?"

"Yes, please," replied Quinn.

Helen and Quinn were out in the hallway of the rented medical office building while Dr. Malak went to get a soda for her.

"What's going on, Quinn? You know something, don't you?"

Before Quinn could reply, they both heard a crash. It sounded as if Dr. Malak fell onto something heavy without crying out.

Quinn and Helen barely had time to process this when three men, all dressed in black and wearing shades, came around the corner, marching side by side. Quinn saw that unlike everyone else, none of these men displayed any light of Essence. She felt an instinctual terror and knew she had to run. "Mom," she said weakly, before Helen fell unconscious. All three men reached into a side pocket and pulled what looked to be flashlights out. Quinn's terror overcame her then and she ran, faster than she believed possible.

It was much like her nightmare in the hospital, only she found a stairwell very quickly, and there was only one way to go: up. She couldn't get to the door outside unless she ran past them. She ran up the three stories and burst out the door just as she heard them enter the stairwell. On the sunny roof, she felt trapped. Her mutations were exposed for all the world to see, and she didn't even see a fire escape. Deep inside herself, she felt Them approaching and knew she had to escape.

Remembering how she had pulled her mutations in, she tried something else: To grow wings similar to what Ted had on his back, only bigger. To her surprise, she felt her back give way, and as much as she hated doing it, she took her shirt off to accommodate the wings.

Just as she heard the doorknob turn, she leaped off the building, and released a high-pitched keening as she fell, and then a keen of elation as she began gliding. She nearly bumped into four shocked people that looked to be technicians of some kind but managed to get enough elevation to go over their ducking heads. She felt her tail slap the glasses off of one of the men who looked to still be in college.

"Out of the way, geek!" she shouted as she glided several more meters and landed by an alley. She took off into the alley, calling her wings back in so she could put her shirt on at least. She thought that those men she'd nearly crashed into were the only ones to get a good close-up look at her topless and she wanted to keep it that way. She hoped they would think she was like Mothman from that horror movie based on a true story or something and not recognize her as Vice President of the Fashion Club. Maybe she was pursued by monsters of some kind, maybe she was a monster herself, and maybe she'd just flown with her own wings for the first time in her life, but part of her still cared about such things.

She didn't see the emotionless faces of the lightless three men staring down from the rooftop at her sudden departure. Nor did she know that the men on the ground who had ducked out from under her were from Blue Section and she didn't see them get back up and run into the clinic.

Inside, they found only an unconscious Helen Morgendorffer and Dr. Malak. They had not seen the three men in black that had pursued Quinn, they did not find anyone else in the building, and they didn't know what had happened to Dr. Malak and Helen Morgendoffer. One called in a request for more support, and to report that Quinn Morgendoffer was confirmed as Tainted.



Red Section was strictly black ops. Almost no one even admitted to their existence, even at their base. To do so was to invite their attention. Plenty of Red Section had been recruited from crime families and from the more ruthless agents of various governments. One such unit was led by a man in the field simply known as "The Captain." He didn't even know who his admin was, he was simply called Sir. He was sometimes referred to as "the old man," or even "big daddy," but never to his face.

This was to be The Captain's first time to lead a mission to extract a Tainted. His predecessor had been killed in the last operation, along with nearly half his men. He and the others used to replace the fallen were experienced warriors, agents, and campaigners, but they had been assured they had never gone up against one of the Tainted. He was being given one final briefing by Sir before he caught his jet.

Sir was indeed an old man, but one still possessed of vigor and grim purpose. This was a man who would order mass murder and not think twice about it. The Captain both respected and feared that, not being so different himself.

Sir stared at him a full minute, searching for any weakness or uncertainty. Neither could be tolerated for the mission to come. Not if their team was to succeed. Not if their team was even expected to survive. Finally, he nodded and said, "Captain, it's about time you were told what's really going on."

The Captain remained alert, saying nothing. Sir approved of this and continued. "After the defeat of Nazi Germany, we found that some of their scientists were working with a cult known as the Thule Society that was using astrology and occultism mixed with fringe science to dominate the masses. Part of the reason for the death camps, in fact, was to raise energy for this, and other occult projects."

The Captain blinked at this, but continued to stand alert, saying nothing.

"They didn't succeed, and we got many of them via Operation Paperclip. But we succeeded where they failed. You see, we incorporated accurate occult rituals, while the Nazis altered theirs to match a favored mythos featuring underground realms and Aryan supermen." He took a breath and finally added, "Feel free to ask questions. You need to understand what you're up against and why this war against the Tainted is so important."

The Captain swallowed, not ready to ask questions yet. But he knew to ask nothing would be to appear to have a slow mind, and he'd rather retain Sir's confidence. "What did you do with your success then, Sir."

Sir leaned back, and it was apparent he was reaching back to days he hadn't thought about in detail for quite awhile. "We first attempted to use it to allow for the peaceful passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which abolished the Constitution and birthed the American Empire. We were so successful that in addition to the passage of the bill, the small-town conservatives ceased to be isolationists and hungered for global adventure on a scale that made Mr. Roosevelt's liberals spin.

"Not only that, but through our occult focus, the Pentagon, we became the world's policeman, and hardly anyone would even dare question its actions or judgments without being denounced as a traitor. By 1960, anyone who tried to restore power to the Congress was vilified, not by liberals but by conservatives. About that time we had American troops all over the world with no real resistance to speak of. Project PsyOp was a stunning success beyond our wildest hopes and aspirations."

The Captain blinked. He knew this was something big, but he had no idea of the scope of it. "When did something go wrong?"

Sir smiled grimly. "The very first time we used it, in July, 1947. I suppose you heard of the UFO nonsense in Roswell, New Mexico? Well it wasn't a flying saucer from another world. It was... for want of a better phrase...pure information downloaded from another dimension. Don't ask me what I mean, all I can say is that it spoke to us in our dreams.

"With it we were able to make the devices once used by Green Section before they were destroyed or sealed off. But we had to use only the most fit and stable, for it was... again, for want of a better word, Negative Psychic Energy. It seemed to draw forth the life force of anything around it and then corrupt it, creating a canker for want of a better word. Back then, in the late 40s, someone dubbed this other reality as Alien-X, as it's alien to our senses, understanding, and completely unknowable to us. Worse, once the Taint is strong enough in an area, we can't undo it."

"But you had to have someone use it."

Sir nodded, and frowned. "Our psi-pilots, which shaped the dreams of the masses, developed the ability to communicate with each other in dreams, too. They were just as affected as the physical universe. Something they didn't tell us right away. Not until they suggested we begin Operation Nephilium."

"Operation Nephilium?"

"The DNA was broken down and rebuilt, much like the physical universe seemed to be. And then where the psi-pilots worked, there was an increasing... canker. Reality shifted, and it seemed to feed off of interaction with people. We eventually had to seal it off to keep it from growing anymore. But as it warped reality, it warped the genetic structure of humanity, which allowed for some unusual mental and physical attributes that were deemed worth exploiting in the event of war."


Sir nodded. "We weren't sure about it, but then it came to light that the Russians and Chinese were engaged in a similar projects, and we had orders from on high to move ahead ourselves. But we noticed some things over the decades that weren't comforting. Sometimes, one of the Tainted, in any country, would find themselves in disfavor, and the other Tainted helped them in the other countries. Then we noticed that plenty of Tainted were showing up where none were supposed to."

"I'm sorry, I'm not following you."

"People not part of Project Nephilium were giving birth to Tainted. Our own supersoldiers struggled to hide them and then to have them accepted. But by then there were too many reports of abductions and genetic experiments by unknown entities going on from confused civilians. Many said it was aliens, other said it was fairies or monsters or something else.

"Thing is, no one knew WHAT it was, it's just their mind would make a desperate attempt to fit the unknowable into a frame of reference that worked for them. In the United States, these tended to be little grey aliens. Sometimes even blond men. But whatever country, these abductions took place in what paranormalists call 'window areas,' and could be predicted astrologically. What really complicated matters is that not everyone who had this experience had really been affected by it. The Canker or Taint had to be powerful enough, or it was just a nightmare with no physical effects. Even so, we believe such quasi-abductions served as reconnaissance."

"Quasi-abductions? Sir, I don't..."

"In dreams! The Taint allows them to operate in a quasi-real world! And just as we were using Project PsyOp to manipulate the dreams of the masses, Alien-X was also using the very same technology we had to conduct its own campaigns! Even worse, those BORN Tainted, like this Quinn Morgendoffer you're going to extract, go through at least two puberties. By now, Quinn has likely entered her 2nd Change, and she will possess abilities like you have never encountered before.

"Then we found that the more successful abductions coincided with time our own Nephilium soldiers were off base. We surmise they somehow helped the Alien-X entities through, into our reality, to Taint humans outside our Project and our control."

The Captain was stunned. "Why?"

"No one knew. But it became increasingly clear that the Tainted felt no loyalty to the human race. They saw themselves as superior. And maybe they are. To put it bluntly, they saw taking orders from a mere human about the way we'd see taking orders from a spider monkey. And then we realized that the information download wasn't a gift, but a virus, a Trojan horse to allow themselves into this reality. By creating these supersoldiers, who had no real concept of national identity or patriotism to country, we were stocking an army that saw us ALL as the enemy. In a word, we were helping them prepare for an invasion from Alien-X."

The Captain blinked at this, feeling his stomach twist. "What about Russia and China?"

"It was the Ruskies that first realized that. They tried to destroy their own supersoldiers, but the others knew and rebelled, mostly escaping into the Siberian wilderness. More than a few humans were killed in the exodus, particularly in Novosibirsk where the supersoldiers were being kept. And then the Chinese, and our own, versions began helping them. We eventually moved to wipe them out, too. Between 1984-1991, we conducted a massive campaign to wipe out every member of Operation Nephilium, and the Russians and Chinese helped with the understanding that these soldiers were members of an army intent on invading Earth from...elsewhere."

"We didn't get all of them, did we?"

"No. Plenty remain uncounted for, though they are given a 90% likelihood of being dead. Then there were those born Tainted that we had nothing to do with. In '93, we had to actually call in tanks because a cult was purposefully breeding them and creating a small army of the bastards. We managed to wipe them out, or we think we did. In '96 we found two survivors of Operation Nephilium that we thought dead as members of a freak show consisting of over a score of members. All Tainted, created without our knowledge of their existence. And they were spreading the Taint wherever they went."


"This Quinn Morgendorffer is another one that escaped scrutiny. The plant that was dumping uranium in the water spent so much time trying to dodge blame and responsibility, that all reports of mutations were lost to us thanks to the paper shredders. But one of those mutations wasn't a uranium-one, but a Tainted: Quinn Morgendoffer. The bastards at the Hoffman Institute have been studying her for years. They've had the same problems we've had, but they've actually managed to make a medication that can suppress the Taint. At least until they enter their second puberty. They've also injected the Taint into various animals, studying them."

"I assume you've had them destroyed. The animals."

Sir frowned. "Not exactly. The animals have been taken for study. The head honchos at the Institute are under close watch now, and they know it. Since they've had some success where we've failed, we're hoping that debriefing them and studying their findings will help us find the way to undo the Taint and close all portals between our world and Alien-X. You see, once the Taint affects Reality, we're not sure how to destroy it. The best we can do in most cases is buy up the land and seal it off."

"Sir," asked The Captain, "what IS known about the.. entities... of Alien-X?"

"We're not sure WHAT these denizens from Alien-X are. They tend to break down sanity, inspire schizophrenia, and ultimately break down reality. They are... like alien gods of some kind."

"You mean like in those Lovecraft stories?"

Sir shocked The Captain by nodding. "Many knew about it and wrote about it in code. Lovecraft went too far and mentioned the Necronomicon by name. That's why he died so suddenly when he was only 47, but that's another matter. His literary executor, August Derleth, was persuaded to insert a note in every edition claiming that the Necronomicon doesn't exist. We've had tremendous success in trivializing it further ourselves."

"Including in using Project PsyOp."

Sir made an unpleasant face. "We were doing the dirty bastard's work for them! Just as we were manipulating the masses, they were manipulating us!"

The Captain then asked, "How is the war effort going now?"

Sir surprised him with, "Unknown. You see, the Tainted are out there, growing and Tainting areas, preparing for nothing less than invasion by entities that care nothing for human notions of countries or patriotism. It is likely to be a war of eradication against all of us. But only if we're lucky."

The Captain had heard enough. More than enough. Time to get to the important part. "How do we kill them?"

"Their vulnerabilities, especially after they've entered the Second Change, are few. Fire works, which is why all your men will have plenty of incendiary grenades and access to flamethrowers. The bullets used are all forged with fire from cold iron. Nothing else seems to work. But even then, it takes a lot to kill them. They tend to regenerate extraordinarily fast, and they often grow extra vital organs that replace damaged ones."

"Any other options?"

"If all else fails, should Red Section report failure to extract, then we'll trigger a nuclear explosion."

"Do you think they'd report failure knowing that?"

"They don't know that's what will happen. They think that we'll be sending in reinforcements."

"Oh." He swallowed, as he'd be real close to Ground Zero. "That's a lot of tax payers that will get killed, too."

"There's a lot more to replace them," he said. "What, you think scared people will stop paying taxes? If anything, they'll pay more once we tell them it was a terrorist attack. Understand, that even without Operation PsyOp being active, people are pretty stupid. And entirely expendable. Any important people will have already been taken from the area. Read up on your Machiavelli, if you have doubts about what I say."

The Captain nodded his head slowly, making a mental note to get out if the operation went south. "That sounds like a plan. Not a nice one, but as you say, this is war."

"And war is hell." Then Sir frowned and looked distinctly uncomfortable. "One more thing."


"We have, at times, run into... these things... that appear to be Men in Black. But they're not human. They don't seem to care about us, or even those of us that impersonate them, in the slightest. They seem to be as dedicated to wiping out the Tainted as we are. If they feel it serves to help them in their mission, they will kill our people, too. We have no idea who they are, who they work for, or why they do what they do. But in this case, the enemy of my enemy is NOT my friend. Should anyone encounter them, they are to be left strictly alone, if possible, but attacked with extreme prejudice should they attempt to steal away the Tainted from you."

"Why not let them do the kill for us?"

"Because when they kill, the body turns to neurotoxic sludge immediately, which makes it useless for our studies. These MIBs don't like us studying them, either. We've had operatives and scientists.... meet unpleasant ends or vanish altogether, and at least some did so at the hands of these MIBs."

"Can they be killed?"

"About the same way as the others."

He shook his head. "We may be at war now, but if I may ask, why did this nightmare get started in the first place?"

"We were at war with the Communists."

"Not really."

"Close enough." He shrugged. "Who would pay our salaries if we didn't have some emergency to fight?"

"So we just generate more emergencies to justify our existence?"

"As much as I'd like to discuss philosophy with you, there's Tainted to be extracted so that we can find the key to close the cankers to Alien-X."

"Yes, Sir, my men are on it." He left thinking, I wonder who the greater threat to humanity is: Alien-X, or you? As an experienced field commander, he hid his last, treasonous thought well. Besides, he knew he was disturbed and just looking for someone's butt to kick. Someone that wasn't an alien monster from beyond. Just focus on the war. And don't be scared. My predecessor was killed because he panicked, but I won't do the same. Just how bad can one little girl be?



Quinn went home. She had a bad feeling about doing that, but she didn't know where else to go. She got plenty of guarded stares, but few people came close, and those that did, walked by quickly with their face averted. A police cruiser passed her once, seemed to slow slightly, and kept going. At least they don't think I'm a high school student, she thought wryly. She figured they didn't know WHAT she was, and they were happier not knowing.

She walked casually enough, as she always did, but her mutations hung out for all to see. As a disguise, she clipped her hair up and put it under a cap and wore shades. She wore cargo pants under Daria's Mark Twain nightshirt. The only visible clothes that were hers were her shoes. This made her hurry as she knew her fellow Fashion Club members would recognize them. They looked at everything guys did, plus shoes.

When she got to her house, she saw that it had been broken into. There was nothing visible to the naked eye, but the telltale signs of discordant lights that didn't belong were there to her senses. But there was no one there now.

She let herself in and went to the phone book. She tried to look up Ted DeWitt-Clinton's number, but found it was unlisted. Information was just as helpful. Sighing, she went up to her room. To her added discomfort, the signs of trespass were strongest here, including on her computer. She could tell just by looking that it had been in operation until only a few minutes ago. That made her very, very nervous. She wondered when her mom would wake up and come home.

She felt very tired and spread herself out on her bed, noting that Daria should be home in less than an hour. She hoped that the intruders did not come back. She hoped the weird men in black didn't show up, either. She knew it wasn't them as they wouldn't have left any traces for her to find. Contemplating this, she did not feel herself fall asleep.

She found herself under a bright light, surrounded by deep shadows. She felt others like herself nearby, and THEM again, watching her. An old man, but one who radiated vitality and strength, lurched forward on tentacles. "You have seen The Enemy?"

Quinn blinked. Then she knew they were talking about the 3 men in black. "Yeah, they were pretty scary."

He nodded. "But you escaped. That is good."

"My mom was there, but she passed out. So did Dr. Malak." When the guy showed no response, she added, "I'm worried about her."

"Who?" he asked.

"My mom!"

He shook his head. "Your human bearer has served her purpose. You must forget about her."

"She's dead!?"

"Not yet. But as far as you're concerned, she might as well be. You must. The humans will never accept you. Not even your own mother. Especially when she finds what it is we will do to her species. We are your family now. But you must wake up, for the Enemy can sneak up on you while you rest."

"Who ARE they!?"

"Not who, but what. Constructs of the Enemy, of the Usurpers. They appear wherever your timeline could cease to be. They used to be relentless, but now we have Tainted too much and they are overburdened. That they come after you means you are a particular threat to this continuum. This is good, but they must not be allowed to destroy you."

"Threaten this continuum? How?"

The thing shrugged. "We will find out. And we will make sure you live up to that potential. You must wake up now and be on your guard until we arrive later tonight."

"But I'm so TIRED!"

"Have you fed off Essence? No, I see you have not. Whenever you use your Gifts, or even hide yourself from the vulgar masses, you need to replenish yourself. Listen closely, you'll hear a soft whine or buzz just below what you can normally hear. You will feel it like a soft electrical charge."

Quinn did, and felt her feelers along her back wiggle excitedly. "I feel it," she said, desire blooming within her.

"Now just pull it in. It will naturally flow through and around you, becoming more solid around you. Then breathe out the impurities."

Quinn did so, and lost herself in the ecstasy of it. The man smiled at her pleasure in Tainting the world, and knew that given time she would embrace them fully. As they all did. It was just a matter of time, though that was a luxury Quinn did not have if the Enemy was already after her.

Quinn woke up suddenly and wondered why she was lying on the floor. Then she wondered where the carpet went. Then she realized she was lying on the ceiling.

As the shock of this realization coursed through her, she dropped, turning and landing gracefully on her feet. She felt alive as she never had before.

The her eyes widened in fear as she heard a pounding at the door. But she smiled an instant later as she realized it was Ted! She hurried down and opened the door. "Hey, Ted!" She smiled at him seductively.

To her disappointment, he looked normal, though she could see his True Form superimposed translucently over his visible frame. She'd hoped to see his head antennae waving excitedly instead. He said, "Hide yourself and come on! I don't think it's safe here."

Shrugging, Quinn concentrated, and found that reverting to her Quinn Morgendorffer appearance was ridiculously easy. "Let me go change," she said.

"No, come on. I think we should go. Now."

Quinn almost refused, but saw he was sincere. Remembering her fear of the weird men in black, she decided to go with him. She saw an old, yellow car outside. It was a ratty thing she would hate to be caught in. But she decided to let it slide. But as she got in, she saw a sword in the back seat.

"So what's with the sword?" she asked.

"I found it in my dream," he said, as he started the car. Driving away, he added, "I grabbed it and when I woke up, I was still holding it."

Quinn blinked, wondering what the implications were of that. She suddenly wondered if she could be hurt through her dreams and shivered. Had that guy shot me in my nightmare last night, would I have really been shot?

They drove to Pizza King and went in and ordered a pizza. Ted snuck the sheathed sword in under a trench coat, laying the trench coat with the sword in it beside him. While they ate, he told her that he had also learned how to "take in Essence to recharge" himself, just before he came here. He had fallen asleep in his dad's car and was told he was needed to protect her from The Enemy, whatever that was. Their dream allies would meet them in body that night at Pizza King.

"They said that those people who attacked you almost never show up in a public place. But if everyone suddenly falls asleep around us, we need to get out as fast as possible."

"Did they give you that sword?" she asked, wondering why they didn't give him an Uzi.

"No, I found it. Some human used it against an Old One and wounded it badly. It's made of cold iron and charged with spells of some kind. I took it because I know sword fighting and worked with it. They told me to keep it, but know it could hurt me if it were used against me. Later, they also told me it could be used against The Enemy."

Then Daria and Jane came in, and came right up to them. They both appeared distinctly uncomfortable.

Daria blandly asked her, "Quinn, do you know why the house is so cold?"

Because I ate the Essence, she thought. Instead, she said, "No." Then she frowned as she saw something in Daria and Jane both. She stopped as she saw them both frown at her scrutiny.

"I'd say she was offended at what we're wearing," said Jane, "but have you noticed the nightshirt Princess Grace is wearing?"

Curious at what she saw, she looked again. There it was, a little INVERSED Essence. Not Taint, exactly, but it was like "corrupted Essence." She'd never seen that before. Was it caused by their being in her home after she... Tainted it? Ate it? Or was this Inversion something else? She reached out mentally to it and both girls gasped. Quinn quickly pulled back as she felt them react to her intrusion.

"So cold...." muttered Daria. "Quinn, what did you do?" She looked at her with fear.

Jane frowned, also shivering. "You're saying it was her?"

"Let's go," said Daria, already walking away.

"Where?" asked Jane, following.

"Your house." They left.

Quinn shook her head. "I was hoping to ask them about Mom. I hope she's okay."

Ted frowned, reminded of the 3 men that had menaced Quinn. "What did you do to Daria and her friend?"

"I saw... Something in them. Something like us. It was very small. I don't know if it's because they were in the house so soon after I took it's Essence into me, or...."

"What?" Ted remembered that he had always thought there was something similar about Quinn and Daria, but he never could put his finger on it.

"Something else."

Then the 3 Jays appeared, each saying hi, and staring coldly at Ted.

Quinn smiled thinly at them. "Look, um, we'll talk later, okay?"

All 3 frowned. One asked, "Is this guy bothering you? You're not acting like yourself. And that shirt...."

Quinn's features changed, her full form coming out. Her voice vibrated as she said, "Leave Now."

She knew they were fast on the field, but she'd never seen them move so fast to run out to the door. She quickly put herself back to normal.

Ted laughed. "That was great. But probably not a good idea." He laughed again, and Quinn laughed with him.

Then Quinn noticed she hadn't seen that Inversion within them. She looked around her. She knew the Fashion Club would likely be at Stacey's now, so she wasn't worried about them showing up. But she studied everyone else. There was Kevin Thompson. No Inversion. Mack and Jodie just came in, no Inversion. Others she didn't know so well, no Inversion.

Wait. One. The weird one everyone called Burn Out Girl. Jennifer something. She had it, too. And she was by herself, eating a pizza, reading a book. "Excuse me," said Quinn distractedly, as she got up and went over to her. She walked slowly over to her, while Ted looked quizzically after Quinn.

Jennifer looked up annoyed at Quinn, but also a little surprised that Quinn would come up to her, and dressed that way, too. "What?" she asked, somewhat belligerently, somewhat curiously.

"Have you been at my house recently?" asked Quinn, as she reached mentally to explore her Inversion.

"Why would I... would I...." Jennifer suddenly didn't feel well. She looked up and somehow KNEW Quinn was doing... whatever. She grabbed her Ultra Cola and threw it at Quinn, drenching her. Quinn didn't react in the slightest, which really scared her. She got up and ran, Quinn slowly following behind her, her shirt dripping wet, trying to understand why Jennifer had an Inversion.

As Jennifer ran out, Andrea came in, yelling at Jennifer to watch where she's going. Then turning to see Quinn, she blinked at her appearance, and asked, "What do you want?"

"To know if you've been in my house," said Quinn simply. Like Burnout Girl, she also had that Inverness within her.

"Why would I...." Andrea suddenly didn't feel well. Looking up, she KNEW it was Quinn. Snarling in surprised, angry fear, she threw a punch at her face. Without even blinking, Quinn quickly brought her hand up and caught it, holding Andrea's fist in a vice-like grip. This startled her, but she wasn't frightened until she saw the look in Quinn's eyes. Not of snobbish superiority, or anything anyone would expect. Just simple curiosity, like a child looking at a bug under a magnifying glass. And were her pupils really shaped like an hourglass?

Then Andrea swallowed as she thought she saw a pair of third eyelids blink. She tore her fist away from Quinn's grip and ran back outside, and swore to lay off the mushrooms as she continued to run, feeling ill. Flashback, she told herself, I'm having a paranoid flashback! No more shrooms!

Back in Pizza King, Ted lightly grabbed Quinn's arm. "Quinn," he asked her softly, "what are you doing?" He was now standing beside her at the door.

Speaking softly, she told him, "A few people have this... this THING inside them. I want to know why. It means something, but I don't know what. But it's important." Then she looked around. Everyone was staring at her. She smiled and went back to her table, followed closely by Ted. She could hear some of them speculating that she was on drugs or something, but there was a common feeling in the room: uncertain fear. She didn't even hear any speculations on what she was doing here with Ted.

Quinn decided to lay off before she pushed the managers to kick her out. Her being Quinn, and the two girls being unpopular, was probably the only reason she hadn't been kicked out yet. But she knew they were thinking about it.

After awhile, things got back to normal, but no one bothered Quinn. Quinn and Ted talked about what life was like growing up as the sun set outside, and kept on talking until the old man in Quinn's dream, now in a wheelchair with his legs completely covered by a blanket, was escorted into Pizza King with 2 men and 2 women. Quinn saw that the last of twilight was fading, and that they all were like her and Ted. They radiated an Inverseness instead of Essence, one so strong it was unmistakable.

"I hope this isn't a mistake," said Quinn softly.

"This is a public place, Quinn, what could happen?" responded Ted just as softly, making sure he could get to his sword quickly. Is THAT what Quinn and I will become?

Meanwhile, at Casa Lane, Mystik Spiral cut band practice to help with Daria and Jane who were sweating, convulsing, and... something. Daria grabbed Trent and suddenly felt weaker, and then he, too, felt ill. Jesse experienced the same thing at the hands of Jane. Soon Max and Nick joined them on the front room floor, convulsing, sweating, and changing. Casa Lane grew very, very cold and several house plants around the house withered to ash as a communal keening went up.

Jennifer was breathing hard in her own bed. Even though she had turned her light out, and the sun was almost completely set, she could see perfectly well. But she didn't know why she felt so cold when she was sweating so profusely.

Andrea was in her own room, feeling a thickening of her skeleton. She Felt a... a life force of sorts around her, and felt such force flow into her as she changed. Had she looked outside, she would see that all the grass and trees in sight were withering away. But she would've just assumed it was part of this intense flashback she thought she was experiencing.

To stop the mushroom flashback, she was listening to Bella Morte, telling herself silently, It's just a trip. Ride with it. The Vitamin B-3 Niacin formula will kick in any minute now. Just go with it and let the fear flow away. She concentrated on not screaming when she felt an exoskeleton form around her nails and her teeth elongate and grow thicker, larger... especially her canines. She just concentrated on the music.

As Silent as the rain fall
He whispers in the wind
Caressing softly weary words, his kiss
This your Autumn come with eyes
Pale as the night
To enfold the storm

To dance
Within the frost
To carry dreams of life away to dust
To call
Your name out loud
To carry fear away cast down the shroud
To die

She decided the light was too harsh and she turned it off. She could see perfectly well. Then she felt the third eyelids cover her own eyes and she could STILL see. She fell in a heap, sweating profusely, struggling not to cry out in fear lest one of her kin see that she was freaking out and decide to put her back in rehab. She barely heard the music anymore as she struggled not to scream.

And when the years have passed away
When memories have gone
And darkness is your day
Your dreams of Autumn carry you to days of youth and life

And sorrow falls before the drifts of faded scarlet skies
When Autumn called your name
Only the silence calls your name

And all across Lawndale at that moment, on every radio and TV station, the Emergency Broadcast System went into effect, warning people to stay home, and prepare an overnight case in the event they should need to be evacuated.



My fear is fading
I can't speak it
Or else you will dig my grave
We fear them finding
Always winding
Take my hand now
Be alive

You see I cannot be forsaken
Because I'm not the only one
We walk amongst you
Feeding, raping
Must we hide from everyone?

The jukebox just randomly put on Forsaken by Disturbed as the Tainted came in. Was it coincidence, or an omen? They were trying to convince Quinn and Ted to come away with them, but both young people were a little spooked by them. It was hard to say what it was, but every once in awhile, the blanket over the old man's legs would shift oddly that made Quinn nervous.

Then a middle-aged guy that made pizzas in the kitchen of Pizza King, called out loudly, "Everybody, can I have your attention, please!" Everyone looked at him curiously, as he had never done this before. "There seems to have been an accident of some kind. There were no details, except that it's a chemical spill. It might be wise if you go home. I'm going to shut down, though you can stay here if you rather. If you leave, please don't try crossing any roadblocks!"

The Tainted old man in the wheelchair softly told the others, so that only the Tainted could hear, "It's not a chemical spill. It's us. We need to get out of here now. Put the babes in my van." This was all said so softly and casually, which only made it more ominous to Quinn and Ted. A man and woman got behind both of them and the two got a distinct sense that their cooperation was optional. The man who had spoken up about the accident looked at them suspiciously, but said nothing. Quinn and Ted left with their escorts.

Outside, everything seemed normal, except for the sirens. They saw no emergency vehicles, but they heard them. Quinn looked up at the stars coming out for a moment, wondering how long those stars would shine down on this planet, until she was gently pushed further towards a van.

Quinn gasped as the old man opened the door to the driver's side, for he threw his blanket in the seat and stood up on a mass of tentacles. He then jumped into the van. The man that had been behind Quinn had walked up to the wheelchair and folded it, putting it into a prepared space by the side door. She had never seen anything like that. She stole a quick glance at Ted to see that he, too, was mesmerized by the grotesqueness of what they had just seen.

Then the man who had arranged the wheelchair opened the side door and motioned Ted and Quinn in. After they got in, he shut the door on them. Out the windows, she saw the others get on 4 sleek, yellow Yamaha motorcycles with black stripes that made Quinn think of yellow jackets. They started up and left just before the old man, the old thing, pulled out and followed behind them.

It was barely 2 minutes when they saw a roadblock swarming with what appeared to be black-armored soldiers around it and stopping cars. There were 3 cars stopped, but they had just allowed one to pass. What struck Quinn as particularly ominous is that she couldn't see anything of them. From head to toe, even their faces, even their eyes, were all covered in something black. They all strapped a variety of weapons, from long guns to side arms, and they all looked wrong somehow.

The van slowed, still several meters away from needing to stop, and 4 of the motorcycles continued forward. Quinn frowned tensely as she saw a half-dozen soldiers walk up behind the 3rd car and motion for the motorcycles to stop. They did. And one handed him something. "What was that?" she asked.

The old, tentacled man rasped, "Nightmare grenade. It's a black crystal that finds all that human fear and blasts it in their mind, the moment it's activated by the touch of Essence. Watch this, it's very, very effective."

The soldier took it. Nothing happened. "Well?" asked Ted.

"The glove, see. Their uniforms are made of a fabric that prevents Essence from flowing freely from their bodies. Which is inconvenient, but... ah!" There was a loud retort. Quinn and Ted both gasped as they saw another of the motorcycle riders had blown a hole into the soldier holding the rock from a very large hand gun, one so large she didn't know how he had hidden it. The man chuckled, "Armor-piercing rounds."

While the old man reversed the van, the soldiers quickly gathered against the motorcycles, which rode in separate directions off-road. The van was ignored as the soldiers began shooting. They only got off a few shots, and only one rider fell, when they all began screaming. Some of them fell, others ran, and others just stood there shrieking. The car at the front suddenly accelerated and ran a soldier down. No one shot at it as it drove forward frantically. The middle-aged couple in the next car both got out, running and shrieking. There appeared to be only a driver in the third car, and he seemed to just fall into a fetal position, out of the sight of everyone else.

Then Quinn and Ted transformed. Quinn's feelers waved excitedly, and Ted's antennae did the same. They both gasped at the pleasure of it. "What's... this?" asked Ted.

The old man, who now seemed more vital, like in their dreams, calmly said, "Fear releases the Essence from the mortal mind. There'd be even more if they weren't wearing that fabric. Go ahead and enjoy it, kids. You'll need it, and every time we devour Essence of this world, it is replaced by Taint. Do enough of it, and a portal can...."

Unexpectedly, the side door jerked open, and Ted and Quinn saw 2 of the 3 men-in-black staring coldly in. She jumped back into Ted's lap as both reached in towards her. Suddenly, the old man was between them, and then he leaped on one, locking it within his tentacles. They both fell to the road.

The other didn't pause, but continued reaching for Quinn. Only to get Ted's sword in its throat. It pulled back and rubbed its throat with both hands. The other man in black dropped from the top of the van onto the old man and yanked his head back and stuck something to his head. An unearthly shriek rose up and then he was melting into a purplish goo that smelled oddly like cherries to Quinn.

Ted slashed him with his sword. He turned, an obvious cut in him but no blood, and Ted slashed him again. Jumping out of the van, he thrust and pulled his blade out. The man evaporated into black mist.

Then Ted was grabbed from behind by the one he had stabbed in the throat, who now seemed fully healed. The other got up with the device. He slashed, but missed.

Just as the one with the device began to shoot forward, Quinn leaped out at him and grabbed both arms. She found he was incredibly strong and would've swung her over if she hadn't also wrapped her legs and tail around him.

Ted sidestepped slightly and swung the sword so that it faced behind him and pulled it back. The man holding him also evaporated into black mist.

Quinn took a bite with her canines of the man trying to swing her off, but nearly puked from the taste. The man fell then, trying to roll her off. After a moment, he succeeded, and she was slung several meters with her breath knocked out of her.

The Essence was still flowing into her, and she quickly felt all her bruises heal over. In those few moments, she saw Ted leap over and slash him. It wasn't deep, but the man evaporated into black mist anyway.

"You okay?" asked Ted, running up to her.

"I'm fine," she replied. "What happened to the old man?"

They went up and just saw the purple goo. Then, through their horror, they saw both tires were completely flat. The van was no longer useable. Quinn frowned as she saw that the weapon the one man in black dropped was not to be seen.

They jumped at the sounds of explosions. Turning, they saw 6 black helicopters with bright lights focus on the motorcycle riders, of which there were now 3. A large vehicle that looked as if it could hold several soldiers, and all black, was also pulling up to the roadblock from the other direction.

"Let's go," said Ted, getting his trench coat, sheathing his sword and putting it on. Then grabbing Quinn's wrist he started to pull her back into Lawndale. She went willingly with him. They both resumed their human appearance and raced to the nearest alley. They ducked in and skidded to a halt when they saw 4 soldiers there, two of them wounded and being supported by the others. The soldiers stopped in shock as they saw the two teens.

One of the wounded looked directly at Quinn and frowned. Sounding slightly delirious, he asked, "But if that's Quinn, then who was the Tainted that tore us a part?"

The two who were less battered dropped their wounded and leveled their sidearms on Ted and Quinn. The two had barely moved before both guns went off, and Ted was thrown off Quinn. She ducked as another gunshot went off, and she sensed a high-velocity round pass just an inch above her. She heard one of the wounded saying there was "more than one Tainted, I repeat, more than one Tainted."

She got to one foot and knee and saw one soldier pull a grenade, and put his finger around the pin and stop. The other one was pulling a gun from the side holster of the wounded man next to him. She snarled and leaped forward, her True Form coming out, and with a surprising burst of speed tackled the man as he began pulling the gun to bear on her. He fell and she ripped his throat out. Unlike the man in black, he tasted DELICIOUS. She Felt the Essence flow into her, as well, and it was sweeter still.

"Forgive me for my sins," she heard the other soldier whisper, and knew he had pulled the pin. She leaped at him, and he instinctively threw the grenade at her. She twisted aside and slapped the grenade with her tail, and it flew like a baseball hit by a bat. But she couldn't restrain a surprised momentary shriek all the same when it blew, and a blast of heat assaulted her. The bright light cast sharp shadows through the alley.

"Just die, you freaks!" The man yelled at her. She could see him perfectly in the dim alley again and knew she had the advantage. She could see his pupils still trying to readjust themselves back to the darkness from the sudden explosion of heat and light that had briefly illuminated the alley. He pulled a knife. She leaped at him, her tail wrapping around the wrist with the knife and jerking it back as she tore out his throat. The blood and Essence were very nice. But she only took a moment before she got up and dispatched the wounded. She thought nothing about what she did, only that she was now concerned with Survival. She found that thoughts of good, evil, and mercy took a back seat to that one concept.

Only after the immediate threat was over did she go to see Ted. He was gasping, but he would live. If he didn't get shot again. It still looked bad, though. Then inspiration hit and she breathed over him, willing the Essence to flow out of her into him. His eyes cleared, and he looked much better.

"Thanks," he said.

She smiled at him. She found his survival was also paramount to her. He got up, still hurt, but much better. Resuming their human form, they went to the other end of the alley. She saw a vehicle approaching from meters away and she said, "The other way!" They ran to the other end and ran out, heading into Lawndale. They only got two blocks when several vehicles manned by those soldiers in black, pulled around a corner, and turned their direction. They both fled into the next nearest alley. They were halfway across when the vehicle stopped at the mouth and shone a spotlight on them.

A loudspeaker spoke up loudly, "Quinn Morgendorffer, put down your hostage and surrender. We only want to help you. But you have to trust us. Put the hostage down now."

They didn't stop, and they heard a door open. Quinn felt burning pain in her leg as a gun was shot at them both, but she didn't stop. She saw vehicles on both sides of her on the other end, soldiers already getting out. Two helicopters were also flying over head, and their spotlights shone down on them.

Seeing there was nowhere to run, Quinn looked about desperately. Time to find a place for her last stand. "Through that window," she said to Ted, who was also taking in their suddenly grim odds. He nodded and resumed his True Form. So did she. Then they leaped through the glass window, which exploded into shards, just as several guns began firing.

Landing inside, Quinn saw she was in a Chinese Restaurant of some kind. Isn't this the Good Times place? she wondered. She never came here as she heard it was a hangout for geeks and weirdos, but now decided it was perhaps the most appropriate place for them to make their last stand.

And then out of the shadows, a man in black formed, the one that had only barely been wounded by the van before vanishing. It grabbed Quinn and slammed her against the wall with a strength that outdid her own many times over. One arm pulled away, but then she saw the arm fall and evaporate as Ted's sword cut it off. There was no blood.

The man released her, and turned toward Ted. His arm slowly began to reform.

"Go," said Ted, "I'll catch up!"

Quinn jumped the man from behind. Even with one hand, he managed to grab a hold of her before she got a good grip and sling her towards Ted. Ted ducked, rolling under Quinn, and brought the sword up and thrust into its chest cavity. The entire man evaporated into black mist again.

Hearing running combat boots getting very close, they both were running towards the back of the restaurant. Fire exploded behind them and they knew the restaurant was on fire, and would likely consume the building soon. Backing away, Quinn suddenly vanished into a wormhole.

And then Everything changed.

The energies of the wormhole filled Quinn's being like Essence, and transformed it. She thought she vaguely heard someone shouting he had always known "that twit would drive us crazy!" And then it was gone. She was in an abyssal gulf that was, for want of a better term, a mix of gelatin, ocean, and the cold space between the stars. It shone as a dim violet to her eyes. Somehow, there was an odd music, if it could be called that as it was heard with nonhuman senses, that filled this watery void.

She felt the caress of tentacles surround her. A "voice" spoke to her, "This is My beloved daughter, with whom I am well-pleased. You have given the Earth to Me!"

Others approached. She heard then something like speech but unexplainable.










Quinn blinked at this. It was all alien, and yet somehow familiar. She wondered if They were somehow related to these "Usurpers" that they kept going on about having "stolen" the cosmos from Them.

She wondered where Ted was. She saw no portal back, but she was able to see into the restaurant where she had been. She saw Ted badly burned, barely alive. Frowning, she... REACHED... back in, and Felt both Taint and Essence reach forth by her will, forming a protective, healing cocoon around Ted. She began healing both his human side and his Tainted side.


"And we'll never have existed, too, right?"


The Good Times Chinese Restaurant began to warp in shape. A light came from within it, bright and hot, but one which was healing Ted, and causing the soldiers to run away in panic, as their sanity collapsed. She harvested what Essence she could from them and the surrounding area and used it fuel her design.


From the night around the restaurant, several aerial sacks, invisible to the human eye but pulsing with Hunger for Essence to her own eyes, spread forth a sinister collection of vibrating ganglia, singing a song only she and the Old Ones could hear. They fell upon soldiers, and drained their Essence directly into Cthulhu.

Hastur touched her and suddenly several wriggling shapes pulsed forward around a collection of soldiers near the edge of town, narrowing into ominous tentacles. The touch drove soldiers mad, ripped through their uniforms, and the tentacles drank greedily.

[MINE!] shouted mighty Cthulhu.

[MINE!] retorted Hastur. The others began to crowd toward Quinn.

As the Old Ones began bickering, Quinn explored how this wormhole had changed her. She felt both her human and Tainted sides bridging the gap. And deep within her, she felt another Change.

As she Changed, she saw a few soldiers still barely sane, babbling into a radio phone that "Quinn Morgendorffer can open cankers to Alien-X at will." Then she saw an approaching jet. A missile was launched, and she knew this would somehow change everything, too.




They were still cheering when the missile released its deadly load. And Quinn's own grasping form grabbed at it, even as the other Old Ones grasped at it to Taint it and blast open the portal for a more direct invasion. But Quinn felt it pass through HER, as she was the literal portal now, and she had her own ideas.


The Old Ones screamed, as Quinn directed the nuclear blast through Herself at mighty Cthulhu, terrible Azathoth, leering Hastur, and the others. They tried to fight back, but she got Them where They were vulnerable. As They withered, she fed upon their Taint the same way she fed upon Essence.

And became a God: Quinnthulhu.

The other Old Ones, approaching, paused, considering this new development.

Then She was surrounded by angelic and demonic entities, and knew these were minions of the Usurpers. They fought as badly as the Old Ones. Converting her Essence, still being fed into her by the probing digits formed on Earth before Quinn destroyed their creators, she converted it to Taint and blasted the annoying spirits away.

The Usurpers came, and She blasted Them, too. She felt Their power flow into Her, just as the Old Ones had done. Quinnthulhu was not only a New God, She was a Hybrid Usurper-Old One.

The few Usurpers and Old Ones left fled into the Void away from Her Terrible Might. And Quinnthulhu forgot Them as They no longer mattered to Her.

She reached into Earth, Her's now by right of combat, and caused Ted to ascend with Her. Then She reached into the predatory sacks given birth by Cthulhu and transformed them into beautiful, glowing butterflies. She saw this was good and smiled. She called forth a rainbow, but one with blacklight edges. She was amazed at how simple it all was. All She had to do was Imagine it to Create it. Both Essence and Taint were Her Paint to make anything She wanted. The new rainbow would now be Her sign to the Earth that they would all be blessed by both sides, neither side at combat with the other anymore.

She saw Daria and Jane and so many others with a touch of Inversion. She now saw that they had all been touched as She herself had been, but the connection hadn't been strong enough for it to take in the Material Realm. This caused it to be suppressed. But when the mortal Quinn touched it with both Taint and Essence combined, it began to retroactively take into this realm, transforming them into creatures similar to what Quinn had been born as. She saw there were so many others out there, and as Quinnthulhu integrated with the current continuum, they all began to mutate.

Then She looked at Earth from a wider perspective. She saw many things that She had never imagined as a human. Animals and plants had a surprising sentience, and communicated with each other through a variety of means: some with noises and expressions, others with scents and a few even used a telepathy of sorts. She was amazed at how cocky most flowers were, making Sandi Griffin look downright humble in comparison. The trees were slow and ponderous. And deep within the Earth, miles underground, were crystalline entities that communicated with flashes of light to each other. It would all seem random to a human, and the crystalline entities had no concept of organic life themselves.

Then She saw that time itself was much more fluid, and She could reshape it all if She desired. She made a mental note to bring back the other planets, once She was a little more used to Her new position as God of this realm.

Then She saw into other realities, her consciousness expanding to include more and more worlds... She was surprised that in another reality, Her brainy sister came back after World War 3 in the future of that Earth as a messiah, after falling off a cliff ... and in another, Jane was God, and related to a magical crone named Baba [Grandmother] Yaga. Coincidence? What does it mean? She knew She'd figure it out as Her consciousness continued to grow beyond mortal measures.

She came to see that All Now Existed because She imagined it into being. Like the gods of old, She projected Her image onto countless worlds, cultivating receptive minds to know and love Her divinity as She began to assimilate these higher realities, each one a matryoshka doll that encompassed the one before it. And now Quinnthulhu encompassed them all in Her own....Q Continuum was the word She invented to describe it, being beyond mortal measure.

And then She reached into worlds in which all that She knew was just fiction, somehow spawning their reality, just as others spawned their reality. She began to assimilate it, driving away both Usurpers and Old Ones wherever She could, assimilating entire worlds.

Then She found some who thought of her, even if they didn't know she was real... such personages as Professor, Scissors, and Hey....and through Hey, Dervish. Yes, the one known as Dervish was working on some silly kender fic, though She liked the Arborea plane she described, a continuum of joy, love, and beauty. She would make such a place for Her followers, She might even make the new planets that way!

But that was for a little later. For now, She reached into Dervish's mind and changed it. After all, mortal concerns are insignificant compared to the concerns of a Goddess. And then Dervish saw that all that had happened to Her since Her nightmare as the mortal Quinn. Dervish had a different ending in mind, but Quinnthulhu easily changed it with a hint of Her almighty will. Dervish wasn't even aware of it, having thought she had chosen this ending from the very beginning.

Quinnthulhu smiled. Then thoughtfully, with a tentacle scratching at Her face, She decided that She would use this Dervish before moving on to assimilate even Higher Worlds. She would offer those blessed with Her sacred verses, a choice that would affect those who saw them for all eternity. She frowned as Dervish resisted, but the psychic battle was over before it had even really begun.

Don't cross Me, Dervish, or I'll imagine you right out of existence! Don't think I can do it? Lots of folk disappear without a trace, and more than a few are those who have declared themselves My enemies. Makes a body think, don't it?

Oh, Right. I see that you're being a good girl now. Ahem.

Greetings, everyone, from the Q-Continuum! Never mind that last comment to Dervish. Just because I'm a God now, and have devoured your gods and demons and Old Ones and made their power mine, doesn't mean I'm no longer a nice person.

Listen to Me in your heart, and answer My call. For I am Quinnthulhu, of the Q-continuum, and I love you. And not as in "love you in My soup" kind of love, or "let's have sex and then forget about you" kind of love, but in "I want you to be beautiful and spread beauty" kind of love. Join My popular priesthood that wears my Holy Butterfly symbol over their heart while looking good as they chant, "Ia, Ia! Quinnthulhu! The Butterfly with a Thousand Fashions!"

What is the Q-Continuum? It is Me, the realm of all beauty and love and popularity. I am found in butterflies and rainbows, in the coral reefs and majestic mountains, and anywhere there is beauty. When you become beautiful, you also will become part of Me, the Q-continuum.

Life is worth living because of the beauty found in the world and the love that draws twin hearts together. Create a bulwark against evil by nurturing what is beautiful, encourage beauty wherever you find it, and let your beautiful glow brighten and enliven the lives of those around you.

Keep your own body as comely as possible and as attractively displayed as the situations warrant. Let hairstyle and clothing best suit your personal appearance, striving to stir and delight others who look upon you. Moreover, hide not away, but always seek to present yourself to those around you in a pleasing variety of garbs and activities so as to move them with love and desire.

Love none more than yourself save Quinnthulhu, and lose yourself in the beauty of the Q-Continuum, allowing a pittance of Her radiance to shine from you, Her loyal worshipper. Imagine yourself radiant. You could be, especially as you join with Me in my Q-continuum in beauty and fulfilled desire forever.

What will YOU do with the Call of Quinnthulhu? An Eternity of beauty and pleasure await those who embrace Me, while the Void is filled with Hungry Usurpers and Old Ones, slobbering greedily for the morsels of lost souls to come within reach of their questing maws.

I know you will make the right choice. I hope so, for I truly love all of you. Please come and be with Me in joyous love and beauty Forever!

And the mighty, beautiful, popular Quinnthulhu moved on to worlds in which all of us are merely figments of someone else's imagination. And in my mind, I can still hear the worshippers of Quinnthulhu singing in their beautiful grottoes:

Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling
Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?
Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming?
Is this burning an eternal flame?

I believe it's meant to be, darling
I watch when you are sleeping, you belong to me
Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming
Or is this burning an eternal flame?

Say my name, sun shines through the rain
A whole life so lonely, and then you come and ease the pain
I don't want to lose this feeling...


Author's Final, Gibbering Thoughts:

If you retain any sanity after reading that, you might wonder about some of the inspirations. In addition to the Cthulhu mythos (which Wikipedia can clue you in on if you're unfamiliar with it), there were some other works I found inspirational. In particular is Nightworld and All the Rage by F. Paul Wilson. The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. The Alternity roleplaying system, particularly for the conspiracy-oriented Darkmatter campaign. (The Hoffman Institute does really exist and did at one time advertise for scientists who were particularly "open-minded.")

Should I have gotten any of the science wrong, then I remind you that scifi and the like are made for scientists the way romances and porn are made for those in fulfilling relationships.

The personages Professor, Scissors, and Hey are fellow Daria fans that originally thought of this idea and then had Hey convince me to create the story for them. The "other realities" where Daria or Jane became divine are references to other fanfics, both by The Angst Guy, IIRC. The Good Times Chinese Restaurant was featured in the Daria ep, Depth Takes a Holiday, in which it's revealed that a wormhole connects it to a land of archetypes. "St. Patrick's Day" said he feared talking to Quinn would drive him crazy, too.

For those not clear on exactly what the Old Ones were trying to do, then it was to corrupt our star system, rob it of its Usurper Essence and replace it with their own Essence (known as Taint from our PoV, though technically, they'd see Essence as Taint). Essentially, if the Elder Gods can steal the Essence, Taint it to themselves, they can steal away the entire solar system and reshape it into another verse. Humanity will never have existed in the first place, because Earth's past will be erased and rewritten, along with it's present and future. It will all be lost (again) to the Elder Gods, who take it back from the Usurpers (the current gods and spirits and such, and those they fashioned to create extra essence for them to milk and use).

IOW, humanity won't be humanity anymore, but another species that puts out essence for the Elder Gods instead. And much like the samples taken from Quinn that vanished from Reality because of the New Moon Phenomenon, Earth as we know it will simply cease to exist at all, replaced by Something Else...something pleasing to the Elder Gods. Humanity will then become Essence cows to the Elder Gods instead of the Usurpers, or it will all be beautiful discordant chaos (at least to our senses). In any case, our reality breaks away and no longer exists...having never existed in the first place.

I know, it's hard for linear-thinking mortals to grasp. But that's why you're a cow instead of a god. Moving on now.

For those of you angry at the thought of Cthulhu, and other GOOs (Great Old Ones), getting destroyed within mere minutes of first meeting Quinn...go refresh yourselves and your faith by visiting your nearest Campus Crusade for Cthulhu. (I dare you to google it! Go on!)

The last song by Quinn's faithful is from the Bangles, called Eternal Flame. And as for Nox Arcana, it is a symphonic piece of electronic music. I listened to their CD Necronomicon a lot while making this fic

As to the loved ones of those driven insane by reading my fic, I offer my sincere condolences. And for those who retained their sanity after reading this fic, I've just got a question for you to consider: If you WERE insane, would you know it?

Thanks to all who helped me with this fic. As usual, to Liz, who has wandered the grey, in between spaces so long this all sounds normal to her, and in particular to The Angst Guy, who made it possible for this fic to drive you all mad. All hail the Angst Lord. Or answer to Quinnthulhu.