James turned and looked back at the person that had posed the question: Karl Dexter.  "Yes, you could say that."

"Why ever would you be tired?" Karl continued.  "We just started less than an hour ago."

"You started less than an hour ago," James said, indicating the rest of Beta Squad: Scott Spencer, Wil Huggins, and Marie Darnay.  "I started almost nine hours ago."  James turned back around as Karl started smiling, remembering the reason behind his being where he was right now, instead of being in his bed.

When Alpha Squad had returned from duty at four in the morning, fifty-three minutes before, Sean informed them that Tyler was quite ill and wouldn't be able to go on duty.  Rather than shorting the squad a leader, Sean had asked if Cop, Clayton, or James would mind pulling a double shift and substituting for Tyler.  James, always willing to please, had instantly volunteered.  He joined the other members of Beta in the "Albatross," as they had dubbed the Beta van, and they had left.

Now, I'm not so sure that volunteering was such a good idea.

"Quit complaining," Karl suggested, snickering.

Now, I'm positive that volunteering wasn't a good idea.

"Good idea!" Karl exclaimed.  "Come on, Tyler, let's go!"

Karl grinned as he and Tyler headed for the rec room.  Tyler had just suggested that they head there and perform a "Sherlock Holmes" role-play that would involve Karl as Dr. Watson.  It sounded like fun.

When they arrived at the rec room, Karl donned one of the bodysuits while Tyler punched in the preloaded program and they entered.  When the doors shut seamlessly behind them and melded into the background, Karl could believe that they were actually in 19th-century London.  He and Tyler trudged along Baker Street through the evening fog, which was thick and soupy.  The clammy chill in the air seemed to cut like a knife into his bones.  Karl grinned as they headed for Holmes' fictional-made-real residence.  When they entered, Tyler sat in a large easy chair.  Karl paced around the room, examining the shelves of books that were lining Holmes' room. 

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.  "Come!" Tyler called.  The door opened and a nervous man entered, playing with his hat.  "Hello again, Mr. Wayne!  How are you?"

"F-fine," Wayne stammered.  Karl peered more closely.  This "Mr. Wayne" bore an uncanny resemblance to Jay.  He glanced over at Tyler.  Tyler was trying to keep himself from laughing.  "Have you any more information on the case?"

"I do, in fact," Tyler said as he rose.  "But first, please sit, Mr. Wayne."  Wayne sat.  "I've been thoroughly investigating your case and have come across some very intriguing similarities.  Upon comparing these similarities, I've discovered that you killed your partners!" Tyler exclaimed melodramatically as he pointed his finger at the quivering Wayne.

"What do you mean?"

"I've found out your secret, Wayne," Tyler continued as he paced.  Then suddenly, viciously, he turned on Wayne.  "What did you do to them?"

"What did you do to them?" Scott asked again.

The man turned to Scott.  "Don't worry yourself over it," he said, smiling very unconvincingly.

But it was hard to be comforted when someone had captured you and two of your teammates, your friends, tied you up, and then did something unknown to both of your friends, knocking them out.  Upon a second look, it seemed as if they were dead, although after a while Scott could discern that their chests were rising and falling slightly.  "You put them in suspended animation.  You drugged them."

The man gazed at Scott.  He was very large, almost as big as Scott himself; he was approximately six feet four inches tall and well over two hundred fifty pounds, most of it seeming to be muscle.  His dark face cracked another smile.  "Perhaps.  You'll be able to find out for yourself soon enough," he said as he adjusted a dial.

"I'm looking forward to it."

"Good.  The reaction will start soon enough.  I'm surprised that you're still conscious.  I had expected the reaction to take place before now, even in someone with a frame as large as yours.  But, you'll start soon enough."

"You'll start soon enough."

James nodded.  If his friend, Tyler, was in this club, then it would probably be fun.  And besides, there's a lot of big kids in it, and we'll prob'ly do lots of fun stuff.

The next day, Sean Matts banged his gavel on his desk.  The eight children and teenagers all sat down wherever they could find room on the playground equipment.  James noticed that almost everyone was older than he was.  He recognized only Sean, Ryan, and Tyler (of course).  He had never seen the other four before, but they were all older than him, much older.  Like, maybe even three or four years.

"I call this second meeting of the Wolf Club to order," Sean announced.  James knew that Sean was the oldest one: he could drive!  That meant that he was almost sixteen.  "Now that our club is growing, we will need to have a good place to have meetings.  Does anybody have any ideas?"  Sean turned to look at him.  "How about you, Jimmy?"

"It's James," James said stubbornly.

"All right, then.  James."


There was silence for a few more seconds until James' voice finally came out of the darkness.  "What?"

"Are you all right?"

"Not really.  What happened?  Where are you?"

"Right over here."

"Oh, that's a lot of help."

"Well, anyway, we--"

"I remember now," James said, abruptly stopping him.  "Never mind."

Karl shrugged to himself and tried to reconstruct in his own mind what had happened.  For some reason, the last thing he could recall after leaving the base was leaving the van with James to check on . . . something suspicious.  He couldn't remember exactly what.  But then a scrawny little guy had confronted them after they had moved out of sight of the rest of the squad.  Karl had slowly moved toward him when the little guy had pulled a gun.  Karl had felt a burst of pain.  The next thing he knew, he had awakened in this dark room.

". . . in this dark room?" Scott asked as he switched on the lights.

Tyler shielded his eyes from the sudden glare.  He was still in bed.  "Who invited you up?" he asked in a hoarse voice.

"Sean wanted me to see how you were doing."

"Not good."


Tyler nodded.  "I think so.  I thought I'd missed it when it came around last month."

Scott shrugged.  "You were out of the country."

Tyler smiled wanly.  "No kidding."  Then his brow furrowed.

"What?" Scott asked.

"Sometimes I wish Sean could just shut up," he said, gesturing toward a bowl of something sitting on his bedside table.

Scott looked and winced when he recognized his aunt's chicken soup.  "He told your mom, huh?"

Tyler rolled his eyes and slumped backward.  "Yes," he said with a distinct note of dread in his voice.  "Sean told her almost as soon as he found out."

"That bad, huh?" Scott asked.


Scott flinched involuntarily.  "Sorry to hear that."

"Hear that?"


"I heard something, or someone," James said.

Karl strained, listening.  "I don't hear anything."

"Well, come on, then.  No point in waiting around here."  James led the way around the corner of a building, which would shield them from the view of the members of the squad that had stayed in the van.  Suddenly a small, scrawny man appeared in front of them, seemingly out of nowhere.  He had a pistol in his hand.  He aimed, first at Karl.  "Move!" James exclaimed as he jumped out of the way.  A stream of energy appeared from the muzzle of the gun.  It struck Karl in the chest and forcefully tossed him backward about ten feet.

James whipped out his rifle and fired it.  It struck the pistol and knocked it back behind a nearby barrel.  James charged and the man dove behind the barrel.  Cautiously, James edged around the nine-foot-tall barrel.  He panned his rifle around and prepared to fire.  He was taken aback when he saw that there was a squat, muscular man standing there.  The man took advantage of the surprise and kicked James' rifle from his hands.  James dove aside.  As he did so, he eyed an open cellar door nearby and surmised that the scrawny man must have jumped through there.

His attention was brought back to the dilemma at hand as the burly man he was facing started attacking him again.  James tried to block the punch, but it was as if he hadn't tried at all; the force of the blow tossed James against the nearby building.  He slumped painfully to the ground.  Fighting against the pain, he stood to confront the diminutive, five-foot-tall man.

The squat man smiled.  "Well, you're tougher than ya look."

James smiled.  When the man charged toward him, James ducked and put all of his strength into a massive uppercut.  The man's head jerked upward slightly; he didn't seem to notice it otherwise.  James was stunned.  Then he saw a fist coming toward him at an alarming rate of speed.  He felt, rather than heard, a crunch as he hurtled backward through the air.

". . . through the air and swish!  Three points!  We win."

"Wow.  That's really neat!"

"Yeah, well, you know," Karl said in a fake self-deprecating way.

The blonde woman across from him gazed upon him with admiration.  "And you're so modest, too."

Karl smiled.

Then the waiter stepped up.  "May I take your order?"

Karl looked up and then looked at Amber.  "What would you like?"

"Whatever you want."

Karl smiled.  He gave the waiter the order and then turned his attention back to Amber . . . only she was no longer there.  Instead, sitting across the table from him was . . . Spawn.  "Spawn?" Karl said, flabbergasted.

The fictional comic book character nodded.  "I don't like what you ordered."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't like pizza.  At all.  Call the waiter back and order something else."

"How are you going to eat it?" Karl asked.

"Easy," Spawn said.  "Like this."  He lifted up his mask.  Underneath was . . . Superman.

"Hold it, this is too strange," Karl said.  "Superman?"


"You're a comic book character, too."

"Are you sure?" Superman asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I'm kind of surprised to see you, too, whoever you are.  Maybe you're the comic book character," Superman said reasonably.

"I hadn't thought of that.  Anyway, do you like pizza?"

"No, not really.  I'll eat it if I have to.  But I'd rather have spaghetti."

"I don't believe this," Karl said as he beckoned the waiter to return.  The waiter didn't even spare Karl's distinguished table guest a second glance.  "We'd like spaghetti instead.  Please."

"Very well."

Karl turned back . . . and saw the lovely Amber again.  "Why did you change your mind?" she asked.

"You were just Superman," Karl said.

Amber frowned.  "You're not making any sense."

"You're not making any sense."

"I believe I'm making absolute sense," Marie said indignantly.

"Well, what do you mean?"

"I mean just what I have said; they aren't there any longer," Marie repeated.

"As in, they are gone," Wil clarified, slowly enunciating each syllable.

Scott glared at him.  "There's no need to be patronizing, Wil."

"There's always a need."  Wil shrugged.  "What should we do?"

"Well," Scott began, "one of us should probably go see what the problem is."

"What if that one disappears, as well?" Marie asked.

"Well, uh, then the other two should probably go back to base and get some help.  Or something like that," Scott suggested.

Wil rolled his eyes as he leaned back and crossed his arms.  "So who goes?"


"Who goes and looks for James and Karl?" Wil asked, enunciating again.

Scott didn't even notice the patronizing tone that Wil had.  "I'll go."  He grabbed a stun rifle and headed out the door.  He went to the alley that James and Karl had gone.  Cautiously, he crept deeper and deeper into it.  He walked past a barrel that looked to be about seven feet tall; it was one of the biggest barrels that Scott had even seen.

As he walked past it, he noticed a door ajar in the building to his left.  He went toward it.  Suddenly, he heard a noise behind him.  He spun around and was confronted with a tall, powerful man who all but blended in with the night outside.  He saw a flash of white teeth, but Scott didn't even have a chance to fire before a large fist came swinging his direction.

"Klofgh retty mu."

"Tahe dyudi todo meth?"

"Doend wuri yurself overr it."


"Yu puut themm in suspent animation."

"Perhaps.  You'll be able to find out for yourslef suun enufj."

"Ahm lukin frwrud guu jit."

"Guut.  Dhe rheavtm flle oog budeds . . . ."

James' eyes snapped open.  He cautiously looked around the room that he was in.  On his left side was Karl, strapped into a chair.  Scott was similarly bound on his right.  James himself was also strapped into a chair.  Directly in front of him was a person clad totally in white, an outfit that clung tightly to his body.  But something about the color caught James' attention.  It didn't seem to be the color of a cloth, but a clean, pure, undiluted white, one that a clothing manufacturer could never make.  "Who are you?" James asked hoarsely.

The figure turned around.  He was totally featureless, aside from his white-on-white eyes.  He walked toward James.  He adjusted a control above James' head and suddenly darkness encroached on James' vision.  He slid back into unconsciousness.

Karl ran hard, panting.  He knew something was after him, but he couldn't tell anything about it other than the fact that it was very, very dangerous.  He looked behind him quickly.

Suddenly, as Karl's head was turned, he ran into an unyielding object and fell to the ground roughly.  He looked up.  It was a brick wall.  Karl saw it as his way out, a way to put something between himself and the unqualifiable danger just behind him.  He craned his neck to see how high it was.  He looked up.

And up.

And up.

The wall was infinitely high, or was as far as Karl could see, which was effectively the same thing.  And he noticed that the alley he had been running through had been getting progressively narrower to the point where now he couldn't even completely stretch his arms to both sides.

Karl turned, feeling all hope flood from him.  When he saw an infinitely tall, infinitely wide, infinitely black sheet of nothingness appear at the mouth of the alley coming toward him, he screamed.  "Help!  Help!" he screamed over and over.

The wall of nothing crept ever nearer.


Sean turned toward Scott.  "Yes, Scott?"

"We've been captured."

"By who?" Sean asked patiently.

"I don't know who it is, but . . . ."

"Then don't bother me!" Sean shouted.  He forcefully pushed Scott out of his office and slammed the door.

Scott looked around.  Rather than being in the communications room, like he should have been, he was in someone's apartment, on the floor above.  He could smell a hint of perfume and he could see several other feminine touches in the room, which meant that it was one of the three women that had joined the group over the past month.

It suddenly became quiet in the room.  Scott hadn't realized that there had been a constant background noise until it went away.  He realized it had been the sound of a shower.  He didn't think that anyone, much less one of the women, would appreciate him being in one of their rooms uninvited.  So Scott decided to leave.  He turned the doorknob, pushed it open, and stepped through.  He turned and faced the door as he shut it quietly.

Suddenly, Scott heard a woman scream.  He spun and saw Leah standing there, a towel wrapped around her.

"What are you doing in here?" she asked, outraged.

"I don't know how I got in here," Scott said.

"Do you expect me to believe that?" Leah screamed.

"I-I'm sorry," Scott stuttered as he tried to back out.  He stepped into someone else.  He turned and saw Ryan, Clayton, Cop, and Wil standing there.

"What seems to be the problem, Leah?" Clayton asked.

Pointing, Leah said, "Scott barged in here, right after I had gotten out of the shower!"

"Oh, really, Scott?" Ryan said.  

What's Ryan doing here? Scott asked himself.  Isn't he in Colorado?

Clayton was grinding one fist into the palm of the other hand.

"I was just in Sean's office looking for help!" Scott said desperately.

"You expect us to believe that?" Wil asked.

"Why aren't you on duty?" Cop asked.  His facemask was off as it hadn't been ever since Leah had first come from New York.

"Yeah," the other three chimed in.

"Yeah," Leah said, stepping around him, now fully clothed.  "Why aren't you on duty?"

"I am," Scott said.  "James, Karl, and I have been captured.  We need help."

"Yeah, you need help, all right," Leah said.  "Mental help.  For coming into my bathroom like that."

"What do you want us to do to him?" Clayton asked.

"Oh, I don't know," Leah said.  "Beat him up, I suppose."

Scott started running.

"Sraynj.  Itz ownlji bin twentee minuts.  I shouldn't be losing anyone yet.  It's too soon.  Well, that's what these subjectss arr fjor, I suppode.  To dissern watt duh limms ir . . . ."

James opened his eyes.  He was sitting in the Central High School auditorium.  He looked down at himself.  He was wearing a black robe over jeans and a T-shirt.  On his head was a mortarboard.  Suddenly, he wasn't disoriented anymore.  He was graduating. 

On cue, he stood with the rest of his classmates as they filed toward the podium to receive their diplomas.  He picked out his fellow former Wolf Club teammates' names as they were called: Geoff Armour, Karl Dexter, Dane Endress, and Tyler Spencer.  Several minutes later, his name was finally called.  He strode up to the principal, Mr. Damron, accepted his handshake and diploma.  He then followed the line off of the stage and returned to his seat.

James looked at the diploma.  It read:  "This is to certify that James Washburn, having completed the course of study prescribed by the Board of Education is hereby declared a graduate of Kewanee (Central) High School and is entitled to this Diploma.  In Witness thereof, we have hereunto affixed our names at Kewanee, Illinois."  Under that was the date and several signatures from now-unimportant people.

At eighteen and a half and after so much effort, James had finally graduated.

"Help!" Karl screamed, now getting hoarse.  "Help."

The black wall of nothing loomed ever nearer.

Scott looked straight ahead.  He could hear the pounding footsteps as his supposed friends came chasing after him.  He rounded a corner in the corridor and looked back, for he no longer heard the footsteps. He looked forward again, just long enough to see the wall before he slammed into it.  He looked at it, surprised, from his new, seated position on the floor.

Well, I guess there's no going forward.  He turned.  He still didn't hear their footsteps.  But that didn't prove anything.  What is that?  Scott squinted.  At the end of the corridor was a black wall.  It went through the walls of the various rooms as if they weren't there.  And it seemed as if it were moving toward him.  A thought occurred to Scott.  What if they were eaten by that wall of . . . nothing?

That was a frightening thought.  And an all-too-logical one.

"Help!" Scott screamed, although he knew no one could hear him.  "Help!"

And the wall moved ever nearer.

James walked proudly from the auditorium.  As he stepped through the door, he found himself in a darkened alley.  He looked around, alarmed.  Three muscular thugs with hoods covering their faces surrounded him.

"I don't have any money on me," James said.

"We don't want your money," one said.

"Naw, not your money."


James looked at the three, bewildered.  "Then what do you want?"

"We want your diploma."

"Yeah, your diploma."


"This is nuts," James said.

"No, it isn't nuts," the first one said, removing his hood.  Underneath was the visage of Mike Belsky.

"Naw, not nuts," said the second, doing the same, revealing the familiar face of Awe.

"Hunh-uh," the third said, flipping back his hood.  Underneath was not a "he" at all; it was Michele Jones, a.k.a. Raven.

"What do you want my diploma for?" James asked.

"It's essential for a plot to conquer the earth!" Belsky said melodramatically, laughing evilly.

"Yeah, the earth," Awe said, laughing nervously.

"Uh-huh," Raven said, laughing mildly.

"This is totally absurd," James said.  "First of all," he said, tossing the diploma to Belsky, "no one would steal a diploma to conquer the earth.  Secondly, I stepped through a doorway and instantly ended up here.  Thirdly, I graduated six years ago.  And finally, I shouldn't be here at all.  I must be dreaming, because I know that I'm actually in a room somewhere, trapped with Karl and Scott."

Karl pulled two chisels from his pockets.  He decided that he wasn't going down into that wall of nothing without a fight.  He started scaling the brick wall as the wall of blackness continued its inexorable move toward him.

Scott saw that the wall of black was now only a few yards from him.  He looked around frantically.  His eyes alighted on a stun pistol discarded carelessly on the floor.  It was absurd to think that anyone in the base would just leave weaponry lying around on the floor.  Of course, that fit just nicely with everything else that had occurred in the past few minutes.

Scott grabbed the pistol, turned it to its highest intensity, and started shooting at the wall.  Behind him, the wall of nothing continued its inexorable move toward him.

James' eyes snapped open.  He was back in the room that he remembered seeing before.  The featureless white creature was no longer here; in his place was a tall, powerful-looking, black man.  He was hunched over a console, his back toward James. 

James had learned a lesson from the last time he had been awake.  He had also deduced that he, Karl, and Scott had all been drugged; for what reason, he couldn't guess. Silently, he tried to work his hands free of the bonds that they were encased in.  He might have been able to if his mind wasn't still feeling so sluggish.  Instead of trying to free himself, he started tugging upward on the bonds.  It seemed as if they were starting to give, although that might have just been his imagination.  If only Scott were awake . . . .

Scott's eyes suddenly snapped open.  He looked around, disoriented.  He saw James.  With a glare, James told him to be quiet.  Then he indicated that Scott should try to break the bonds that held him.  Scott nodded and closed his eyes.

At first, the only indication that he was doing anything was his bulging muscles as he tried to free his arms and legs.  Then, he gritted his teeth.  His face started turning red with the effort and sweat started popping out all along his forehead moments after that.  The veins in his forehead bulged and pulsed rapidly.

Then James looked at the bonds.  They were obviously giving.  Suddenly, both of the hand restraints flew off, giving Scott a chance to get better leverage for his foot restraints.

Their captor spun around.  "What are you doing?" he asked as he came over to them.

Scott broke his feet free.  He grabbed one of the restraints and chucked it upside the man's head.  Their captor flew backward and crashed against the console, sending several beakers and needles tumbling to the floor.  Scott advanced on the groggy man and smacked him across the face with the restraint.  The man slumped into unconsciousness.

Scott turned his attention back to James.  He pressed the appropriate contacts on the console in front of him and the restraints slid back into their proper slots on the arms and legs of the chair.

James stood and stretched carefully.  Everything seemed to be in proper working order.  "What about Karl?" he asked as he went over to the big man and tied his hands and feet behind his back.

Scott touched the proper buttons that would free Karl, but he remained unconscious.  Then he and James stepped over to him and peered at him intently.  "Karl?" Scott said.

Karl's eyes snapped open suddenly.  "Where am I?"

"You're okay," James said in a low, calm voice.

Scott nodded in affirmation.

"No.  Not 'how am I doing'?  Where am I?" Karl asked impatiently, looking back and forth frantically.  "I've been having some really weird dreams."

"Good question," Scott said.  "James, you wanna field this one?"

"I would assume that we're near where we were captured," James reasoned.  "Although I have no way to prove that."  He narrowed his eyes and glanced at Scott.  "By the way, Scott, what are you doing here?"

"I came after you after we lost track of you."


"Then I got captured by this dude," Scott said, jerking a thumb behind them.


There was suddenly a rustling sound coming from behind the three.  They turned.  The large man was struggling, trying to get out of his bonds.  He rolled over, his tied limbs facing the Checkwolf members.  Then, astoundingly, it was as if his arms were phasing through the heavy-duty rope.  He was loose.

"Watch it, this guy's strong," Scott said, dropping into a fighting stance.

"I know," James said, doing likewise.

"You don't know the half of it," the man rumbled.  Suddenly, his skin seemed to ripple.  As they watched, the tall man's body seemed to change.  He definitely shrank a few inches, but a more noticeable change was that his muscles bulked up rapidly, in seconds; it seemed almost as if his body had become more dense.  "Come take me on now," he beckoned.

"Do we wanna try?" Karl asked.

The man advanced on them.  He took a swing at Scott.

Scott easily ducked aside.  "There's one advantage.  He's slowed down."  Scott brought his fist toward the man's gut . . . and somehow missed.  Scott dropped to his knees with the force of his blow, then realized how he had missed.  A hole had appeared in the man's midsection where Scott's fist had tried to connect.  "Oh, man," Scott said, a shiver running up his spine just before a massive fist collided with his head, sending him sprawling.

James leapt into the air and kicked the man directly in the middle of the back, hard.  He then spun and kicked him in the head, hard.  Finally he dropped to the ground and kicked his legs out from underneath him. 

He fell to the ground, hard.  "Very good," he said, seemingly in pain, a grimace on his face.

Even as James was felling the freakish brute, Karl had darted around behind him.  As the man reached for James, Karl pressed his advantage; while he was still down, Karl kicked him in the head.  The man turned to look at Karl and Karl again kicked him in the head.  As the man tried to stand, Karl once more dealt him a powerful kick to the jaw.  He toppled over once more.  Karl suddenly noticed that it seemed as if the man were getting smaller, less bulky.   As a test, he grabbed the near-unconscious man by the shirtfront and punched him in the face. 

"He's gotten a lot lighter, I think," Karl said.  By way of demonstration, Karl lifted him off the floor with one hand.  As Scott looked on with a surprised expression on his face, Karl heaved the man against a nearby wall.  As soon as he contacted the wall, he changed dramatically once more, into a figure totally in white, featureless and unconscious.  Karl felt for a pulse.  "He's out cold."

"It's a wonder he's not dead," Scott said.  "Would you like to kick him in the head a few more times?"

"Hey!" Karl said defensively, standing.  "I was pressing our advantage!  Besides, he was about to beat the tar out of us.  And he could obviously take it."

Scott bent over and pointed at the top of his head.  "Here, kick me in the head a few times, too."

"Stop it," James said quietly but authoritatively.  Scott and Karl stopped bickering.  "Good job, Karl," James said, nodding as he stepped over to the white figure.

The only exit in the room, a wooden door, flew off of its hinges suddenly and crashed loudly to the floor.  Wil, Marie, Clayton, Leah, and Brent all barged into the room, weapons drawn.

"Wow.  The cavalry," Scott said.  "Right on time, guys."

"Aw, man," Wil complained.  "Don't we get to bust any heads?"

"Just this guy," James said, pointing to the featureless, sexless figure lying at his feet.

"Keep him sedated," James advised the police doctor.  

The doctor nodded.

James turned to Jay, who was standing nearby.  "So, what's the deal?  What exactly happened?  Who is this guy, or, this thing?" 

"Well, we found out that he originally hails from New York, though he hasn't been there for more than a decade," Jay began, as they turned and headed out of the station.  "So we contacted Rabbit and asked him to get us some information.  He did, what little there is.  Evidently this guy's name is Deceiver.  Which is actually a pretty good name for him, since he's apparently what the sci-fi hacks would call a 'shapeshifter'.  In other words, he has the ability to control the molecules of his body and change himself into whatever he wants, you name it."

"Yeah, we saw some evidence of that."

Jay nodded.  "Scott told me about punching through the guy.  Weird stuff."

"How did he get like that?" James asked.

Jay shrugged.  "No idea.  Rabbit didn't know, either."

"Very weird," James agreed.  "What did he do to us, do you think?"

"He apparently used some kind of experimental hallucinogenic poison on you."

"Well, that would explain the weird dreams.  But why?  What was he after?"

"We don't know for sure.  It depends on whether the intent was to kill you or just to use you as lab rats."  Jay shrugged.  "There was no personal motive.  He's a mercenary."

"Lab rats?" James echoed.  "So he concocted that potion on his own?"

"Yeah, we think so."

"It didn't work very well."

"No, it didn't work like he expected it to, apparently.  I think his general intent was to see how much you could take.  It almost worked on Karl and Scott.  I guess they managed to fight it off somehow."

Deceiver became conscious, filtering the sedative out of its body.  So they know what I am, or think they do.  It smiled to itself.  It didn't really go in for revenge.  Instead, it respected that it had been bested and knew that it would have to do better in a future encounter.  I don't understand why they tried to sedate me, though.  They seem more intelligent than that. 

Deceiver watched as the police doctor regarded it thoughtfully, clearly baffled as to what Deceiver truly was.  Someone then entered that wanted his time.  The doctor turned.

Deceiver smiled to itself once more.  It thought it amusing that what it was about to do would have enthralled the doctor, had he been paying attention.  It began to disintegrate.  Its skin was the first thing to go, followed by its internal organs, tissues, and so on, until its skeleton was the last thing remaining.  Then that, too, disappeared.  All of this took slightly less than ten seconds.  Deceiver, now reduced to a cloud of invisible gas, left its cell.