It hadn’t taken the two of them long to catch her and now she was sitting, tied to a tree. She was simply and comfortably restrained and had been long enough to have her breath back and for her heart to have stopped pounding. The big solid one, old enough to be her father knelt down on one knee beside her and ruffled her hair affectionately, the lights under his skin twinkling in a green dance. “So why did you run, little one?”
“The first titre didn’t take,” she sounded scared, “They say that if that happens then either there’s nothing left of you after Conversion or you die. I don’t want to lose myself and I don’t want to die.”
“Very sensible,” his voice was soothing and full of approval, “But you know you have to take the second titre, don’t you?” She nodded. “Take it now and you can still be home to night for that Conversion party your family and friends will have planned for you. You realise,” and his voice got sterner, “That if I have to make you drink it, then things could go wrong and it could wind up in your lungs?
“So you’ll drink?”
“Yes.” He pulled open the sealed container and held the lip tilted to her mouth so she could drain the contents.
“Good girl,” was the approving comment she heard as her head began to swim and she passed out.
She woke in a bed, one arm attached to a drip and her eyes assaulted by bright light. A female doctor, a curve of blue lights under the skin along each cheek bone and a datafeed line showing up each arm hovered by her bed. “Ah, you’re awake.” The Converted woman smiled, “How are you feeling?”
The girl in the bed looked at her free hand, looking the same as it always had, then answered, “Weak, tired, hungry. How did I get here from the forest?”
“You’ve just woken from throwing off the last Conversion titre we gave you,” said the doctor, “And we just wanted to check on you before you have the next one. It’s been some time since the forest, I’m afraid. You’ve just recovered from the effects of throwing off the fifth titre.”
She realised that weeks must have passed and with a growing sense of dread said, “Conversion isn’t going to work on me, is it? They’re not expecting me to come home any more, are they?”
“You have an idiosyncratic immune system, yes, and we have gained some useful information on the way it works that we believe can be used to assist others in making the Conversion transition. We believe we can circumvent your immune system now and I really cannot speculate on the expectations of your family.” The doctor smiled and pressed a control button to raise the top of the bed. When her patient was reclining rather than lying she opened the sealed container of conversion titre and handed it the girl. “Drink this please.” The girl downed the contents and had time to put the container on the bedside table beside her before the disorientation appeared in her eyes and she passed out.
She woke again to the sound of murmuring voices. She took stock without opening her eyes. There was nothing stuck in her arms, it didn’t feel a hospital bed and she didn’t seem to be wearing anything. The voices she could hear didn’t sound professional, it sounded like a card game. She opened her eyes cautiously. She was in a sort of barracks, on a bunk built into a wall and covered in a gray sheet. In the middle of the room, illuminated by sunlight, a motley group in uniforms were indeed playing cards. She pulled her hands out from under the sheet and looked at them: blue, green and violet lights under her skin traced patterns across the backs of her hands and up her arms while on the undersides of her forearms she could see two datafeed lines.
One of the card players catching her small movements said something to his companions, put down his cards, stood then walked over to couch beside her bunk. “Awake at last are you? I’m your sergeant, you can call me Sergeant Reith.” She looked puzzled at the blonde ponytail that lay on his shoulder. She didn’t think sergeants had ponytails. “You’re in the army now,” he said, apparently mistaking the reason for her bewilderment, “It took the eighth level titre to Convert you, they’ve decided that means you’ve got what’s needed to be a phage hunter. They tell me your name is Clove.”
She smiled in recognition, both at the name and her fears. “Yes,” she said happily, “Yes it is.”