“Do you think he knows we’re both here?” Doug asked Ferris, who sniffed, but then responded,

“Probably, I’m not sure how he knew we were here at all, so it’s best to assume he knows everything and be careful.”

Rebecca opened her eyes again. She sighed, and then unfolded her legs. “That sounds like… Karver Zinc, he’s with JARGON and we spoke a few times. I think he was monitoring my testing, because he would sometimes give me updates on them, despite me not wanting to have any of the testing done or care about the results really. I think…” She tried to recall something, then added, “he’s a water dragon, was involved in the studies along with you, because his father is in charge of JARGON I think. But he is very loyal to JARGON. This would explain why he’s here,” she told them, looking apologetic.

“Well, we might as well go talk to him, but he’s not taking you anywhere with him,” Ferris told her, and they all got out of the car.

Zoey was not sure that leaving the car was the safest thing to do but she did not want to be the only one left in the car either. They started to approach the stage, as it was still lit up, but they did so cautiously, waiting for an ambush. The ground underfoot crunched with gravel and Zoey wished it would be a little quieter, as she felt she wouldn’t hear anyone coming at this rate.

To her surprise, when he showed himself he did not jump out like she was expecting, instead behaving in a way Ms. Kistle would probably approve of and wandered across the stage towards them, pausing a few feet away, looking calmly down at them. It seemed as if he had practiced that entrance, but Ferris looked underwhelmed and Doug looked angry.

“I was glad you decided to come somewhere where there aren’t cameras, this way we can have a nice little chat,” he told them, working his jaw as if he was angry but continuing to smile despite that, “I am Karver Zinc, and I work for JARGON, which you are all familiar with I am sure.” They still watched him warily. “You certainly are chatty today. Oh well, I’ll make my case known. I’m here to retrieve Rebecca, so she can resume her testing. She really is an invaluable subject, and we were very close to actually trying out the change on her.”

Rebecca took a step back, and Zoey had to agree that she already didn’t like this guy.

“How about no?” offered Doug, and the menacing smile on Karver’s face did not change.

“You don’t understand what you are doing. See, this is a chance to make her better, to have her become an artificial dragon,” Karver told them, as if they had never been through that situation before or even heard of it.

Ferris rolled his shoulders and then looked up at him, unimpressed, “I’m sorry, I must have missed it, or maybe it happened during the time in which you held her against her will: When did you ask her if she wanted to undergo testing and become an ‘artificial dragon?’” he asked bitterly.

“Don’t act so high and mighty, you know we didn’t do that,” Karver told him as if it wasn’t a big deal, “this is too big of a decision for her to make, but it’s one that will make her better than she is now, she’ll be better than regular humans could even dream of being.”

Ferris continued to look unimpressed, even rolling his eyes once, but then Karver continued.

“If she survives this test, she’ll be worthy of dating me, which is something I’ve been planning for a while too,” he added, as if this was the perfect plan.

Rebecca shot him a glare of her own, and Zoey wondered how he was ignoring her obvious distaste for him.

Zoey thought that Ferris would be angry at that declaration but he just looked for a moment like he was having trouble not laughing. Then his expression darkened again, “what about if the conversion is a failure?” he asked, “you know as well as I do most of the kids that went through this didn’t survive.”

“Of course I do, I am the only one out of all my siblings that survived,” Karver told him, matter of fact. He paused, without grief, “they simply weren’t strong enough, they weren’t worthy, and that’s the only problem. That’s why we’re doing these tests, to try and see if we can predict who will take to the conversion or … not.”

“You do realize, that if you are willing to risk her dying, and back it up by saying it means she isn’t worthy, you don’t actually care for her whatsoever, right?” Ferris told him, as if he was confused by Karver’s train of thought, which might be true. When you looked at it from that perspective, it didn’t make much sense for him to be claiming he liked her but would easily risk her life over this.

“I obviously care for her more because I am willing to give her this opportunity to become something better than a human,” Karver told him, and Ferris literally turned his back to him.

“It’s like talking to a wall, this guy is not listening to a thing I’m saying,” he told them, as if Karver couldn’t hear them.

This did make Karver’s smile falter for a second, but he worked his jaw again and sealed it back into place, but it was fragile like a line of chalk. “You must be Ferris. Your file said you were a rather rude child,” he told him.

Ferris whipped back around, smiling as if he’d just gotten great news, “you have access to my file, and obviously my reputation precedes me, you should make sure to add an update, like ‘continues to be a sass-master’,” he told him in possibly legitimate cheer. He looked at Doug for a reaction, but he seemed too focused on how dangerous this guy could be, despite Ferris being very calm about the whole ordeal.

Rebecca let out a small laugh at that, which displeased Karver once again, “Listen, we already have a lack of female dragons that stayed after the study, because we didn’t involve enough female participants in the beginning of the study,” he tried to explain.

Doug shot him a strange look, then mused, “You act like it was just some unfortunate oversight on your part, but you literally just took whichever children you could and paid off their parents. Any lack of a diversity you had is because you didn’t get enough female participants, or you just knew absolutely nothing about women’s health in regards to adding dragon DNA, which I’m willing to bet it’s that one. The ‘research’ was shoddy to begin with, just poking kids full of serum and seeing what would happen. Did you, or did you not, do all your preliminary testing on males?” he shot back.

Karver wavered, becoming angry, “You should not question our knowledge when you are a living testament to what it can achieve, but yes, we did have an unfortunate beginning when we tried using the same serum on the female subjects… after we realized more were dying than usual, we made the switch, of course,” he reported, as if that fixed the problem completely, “hence why you have so few female dragons in your little group of friends.”

Doug just continued to look disgusted with him, not sure if he could respond to the lack of care taken with other people’s lives.

“This would not be the problem with Rebecca however as we would definitely give her the other version of the serum,” Karver told them with pride.

“That’s it? That’s as much as you’ve learned? You just said yourself that that serum was figured out when we were kids at the beginning of the studies! You’re still injecting the same serums, using the same machines, and still having the same mortality rates we had, which was abysmal!” Ferris shouted angrily, letting his emotionless mask slide.

Karver had obviously had enough, and lunged at him in that moment, changing into a steel-blue dragon.

Zoey hadn’t seen a whole lot of changing, but had also never seen someone manage to fit in an eye roll before changing, but she did with Ferris, backing away with Rebecca as Doug charged forward. A powerful wave of water appeared, arching and slamming into Ferris, bowling him over. Doug changed immediately after that, sending a tree slamming into Karver, before racing forward and sending a few swipes at him with his front claws. They battled back and forth, large boulders being sent flying as well by Ferris, who had recovered from the water and was now doing his best to dodge it.

Karver took to the sky and began slamming currents of water down onto both of them. Ferris had been levitating a rock aloft to aim at him, but the water itself blocked his vision and gave the spectators an idea of how hard it was flowing as it began to wear away at the boulder. Ferris sent up another boulder from the ground, this time to block the water somewhat as he ducked to one side. Water seemed to cut him off from every angle as he ducked around, and Doug ended up slamming himself into Karver in order to distract him. Their claws flew at one another, and Doug managed to bring Karver back down to the ground a bit where Ferris pummelled him with a few more rocks. Karver wrenched free and took a few steps back, growling at them and glaring.

“You think you know what’s best but you don’t have any of the data! You were just subjects you were never researchers!” Karver told them angrily, digging his claws into the soil.

“They don’t have to know the data, they lived it,” interjected Rebecca, looking fairly calm but still the angriest Zoey had ever seen her. “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to be put under the testing, and I don’t want to date you, so you should respect that and leave!”

Karver rolled her eyes at this, patronizingly, “It’s like I keep saying, you don’t understand. It will be fine,” he replied, not sounding any less awful. She was shaking with anger at this point, and glanced to the side at a rock sitting on the ground beside her as if she wanted to hurl that at him too.

Zoey was starting to agree with Ferris that talking to this guy was fairly pointless as he only seemed to like to hear himself speak, but as she went to tell Rebecca that, Ferris spoke up.

“Do you remember the moment when you stopped being a subject and started being just an experiment itself?” He asked Karver, “we all do, because that was when they took us away from our parents and started injecting us with serums and electrocuting us and irradiating us or whichever thing they tried that day. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, and even to our untrained eyes, we could tell they barely had any idea of what they were doing. You saw how excited they were when the experiments took and we lived. That wasn’t because they had finally figured something out, or because they didn’t have another child to bury, it was because they had something not fully human to toy with.”

Everyone was silent for a moment, but then Karver smiled, “I understand that some people didn’t understand the things we did or why we did them,” he replied plainly. Ferris just looked livid at him, as if he was astonished that someone could be so close minded. “I don’t really remember any of that anyway, forgive, forget, and move past things,” he added with the flick of his hand.

“Kids died, and were tortured, tested, and militarized. You cannot tell me that this organization was beneficial in any way,” Doug told him sharply, vines twisting up from the ground in an almost threatening way.

Karver leapt at Doug suddenly, but Ferris realized this and slammed into him from the side, knocking him to the ground with a thud.

“Don’t try that again,” Ferris warned.

Karver stood quickly, taking a lunge at Ferris, jaws spread. Vines looped around his mouth and then tightened quickly, snapping his mouth shut.

“Don’t be rude. You’ve said your piece and she’s told you she’s not interested. The polite thing would be to leave without trying to bite anyone,” Doug snarled. Karver lashed his tail in response and they all stared each other down.

“If I had his file, I would add ‘does not play nicely with others’,” Ferris told Doug, referring to Karver.

“What about, ‘doesn’t listen well to instructions?’” Zoey added, which earned a terrifying grin from Ferris. She turned to Rebecca after that, whispering, “I hope I get used to the scary dragon teeth… when they smile it’s still pretty unsettling.”

Rebecca tried not to laugh, which seemed to upset Karver even more, seeing as how he was no longer the centre of attention, or the one controlling the situation. He decided to take back their attention by slamming both of the other dragons with water, then slashing the vines that latched his mouth shut. Doug recovered from the attack quickly, charging back at Karver and adding a few swipes to try and get his attention away from Ferris.

Just then, they heard someone call out, and they froze. Oscar landed nearby, taking the surprised Karver by the scruff of the neck and slamming him backwards into the ground.

“First of all you need to calm down,” he told him, not agitated in the slightest, “second, props for Rebecca for sending me a text, you’re golden.” He gave Rebecca an awkward clawed thumbs up, before turning his head to one side, yellow scales shimmering as he asked, “now what’s your problem?”

Karver looked at Oscar for a moment, taking in this unpredicted newcomer as Ferris stood back up, mud beginning to cake to his side where their fight had mixed up the ground.

“You’re the freak anomaly, aren’t you?” Karver sneered, but began to look nervous.

Rebecca and the others tensed, and Zoey guessed this was something pretty bad to call Oscar. He merely smiled, remaining calm.

“Yup! Most people call me Oscar though,” he winked, changing back into a human, as if he wasn’t scared enough of Karver to remain in dragon form. Zoey thought this was either a bold move or he was trying to end the fight, perhaps both.

“I hardly think I’ll take up that hobby. Where are the other unnaturals? Aren’t they friends with you guys as well?” Karver asked, glancing around. Ferris and Doug switched back too, taking Oscar’s lead.

“We keep in touch, should I tell Sinley you want him to come visit? Or did you want me to call Vikki?” offered Oscar, pulling out his cell phone and pretending to search through the contacts.

Karver looked uncomfortable but torn, as if he didn’t want to lose his standing and respect. An idea seemed to occur to him, and he shook his head, telling Oscar, “No need. We don’t need any wild cards in our midst. You’re quite enough. Frankly, I’m going to retire now from this, looks as if I have some reading to do on you guys. But, I will be back, so don’t get your hopes up,” he began to fly away, and blew a kiss to Rebecca as he rose, who pretended not to see it. Oscar however, jumped and pretended to grab it, holding it close to his chest and fluttering his eyes at the now steaming water dragon. As he left, Doug visibly relaxed.

“Thank you for coming, Oscar…,” he began, but Oscar put his hand up.

“It’s not a problem, although he might turn into one. I’d suggest we take this meeting over to Skyler’s place,” he told them, then quickly looked down at the ground, “after Ferris cleans up here a little bit,” he added.

There were giant clawed footprints pressed into the muddy ground, and they all moved off of the churned up area while Ferris used his powers to shift the mud back into something passable as normal, even adding a small layer of the crunchy gravel for good measure.

They headed back to the car and promised to meet Oscar at Skyler’s in a few minutes. Rebecca was murmuring apologies to anyone in earshot, and Ferris was repeatedly telling her that this wasn’t her fault. None of this was her fault. Zoey was mulling over a bit of Karver’s exchange with Oscar, and wondered why he had scared him off so easily. She figured it would be best to ask that question later, as she had no reason to distrust Oscar.

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