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the outer layer of the cerebrum (the cerebral cortex ), composed of folded grey matter and playing an important role in consciousness. The Anterior cingulate cortex is also involved in rational cognitive functions, such as empathy and impulse control.

After the event it was perfectly clear that we were total, class one idiots. That kind of thing is always super obvious once the universe has pointed it out and you have absolutely no way of turning things around. Remember those choose-your-own-adventure books you read as a kid? Life really, really isn't like that, even when you're skipping around parallel dimensions. You still can't go back.

So, yeah. We were in the guy's house, back when it was still a functioning building. Marv had already put this little spark of confusion into my brain and now the guy whose house we were invading was claiming that Cal was up to something. Either one of those in isolation and I wouldn't have cared, but it was all a bit much when put together.

"In situations like this," Cal said to the man, ignoring me, "you're not the one who gets to ask questions."

"Alright, OK," he said, "what else?"

"What else?" Cal let out a short laugh. "We're a long way from done. I've got a lifetime of questions up here." He tapped the side of his head. "For example, I've never met anybody like me, but I know there were others. Now they're all dead - on the entire planet, I'm the only one left."

The man, I think he said his name was Simons, shook his head. "That wasn't us. That was your government. They hated what you are, what you stand for. They knew you'd disrupt everything. The wings have been in power for too long to let go. You ever noticed how every fifty years-or-so there's conveniently a new genotype series of wing-equipped births?"

"My teacher mentioned that once," I said, feeling conspicuously young as I said it, as if I was about to be told off. "He said that no other common themes could be detected, but that wings repeated just enough to maintain a power hierarchy."

Simons nodded and smiled wryly. "Your teacher sounds like a clever man," he said. "He should be careful, saying things like that. It's no coincidence. It's part of how we keep a handle on things - they rely on us, which means we get to exert some control. And the Aviary never falls."

"What about me?" Cal said, impatient.

"You weren't planned. There was a bug in the system, and out you lot popped. This was way before I worked there. It caused some headaches upstairs."

Marv was still stood on the other side of the room, as if ready to escape at a moment's notice. "Shapeshifters are inherently better," he noted, "because they can be the best of all people. At least in terms of abilities and power. Wings wouldn't stand a chance once Cal and his brothers and sisters grew up."

"Like I said," the man said, touching the back of his hand to his jaw tenderly, "it caused some headaches."

Cal took a step towards him. "Headaches?"

The man held up a hand. "I only found out about all this when I was brought in to help track you. They didn't even tell me all of it, but I'm a researcher. It's what I do."

"You're part of it," Cal said, enormous teeth visible in his double-sized jaw.

"Reluctantly. I wish I wasn't. But there's nothing I could do to make a difference."

"You could choose not to work there," Marv said, slinging his words across the room. He shrugged. "Just an idea. But that's a choice you make every day, right? You don't have any moral high ground here, man."

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