2: The Dolls

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      "That went well," a dry voice cut through the silence.

      If the girl had gone unconscious, it had only been for a few seconds because she could hear the conversation of those standing over her.

"Oh shut up," said the stranger.

"You could have tried catching her," the first voice added.

"Who is she?" asked another.

"Don't know," said the stranger.

"What's the matter with her?" It was the voice of the guard. "Does she need her legs replaced?"

"No, she walked here just fine."

"Is that really blood on her arm? Can we be sure it isn't the fake stuff?" asked someone else. There was a lot of shuffling and rustling as the boys drew closer.

"It's real, now come here," said the stranger. "Lift behind her knees, let's take her into the office."

The girl was picked up by two persons and carried a ways before being laid on something soft and lumpy. There was an echoing shut of a door and the clamor of male voices faded. The girl's eyelids, the only barrier between her sanity and this disturbing dream she was living, remained closed. What had she seen? It wasn't normal and yet she couldn't remember what normal was. In this place it meant having stitches on your face and metal in your body.

The girl sensed someone approaching on her left.

"Where did you find her?" asked a low and authoritative voice.

"Third floor, above the Marble Hall," said the stranger a little behind the girl's head.

"You left your post," said a cautious third voice.

"I had to." The stranger was moving across the room. "She was running around in plain sight."

"Were you seen?" asked the voice of authority.



"We just moved Base, too," moaned a fourth voice from somewhere by the girl's feet. This one was more alert and slightly higher.

"I didn't say they followed us, just that they may have seen us."

"We'll know soon enough if we have to move again," said the voice of authority. "Protos will come scratching at our door."

"I'm not worried about the protos," said the stranger. "Listen, this girl says she hasn't met anyone else here until now, not even the Monstress." Several others expressed doubt but he continued. "If it's not true, why would the M have left her alone out there?"

"Right," said a fifth voice that was strong and sharp. "The M certainly wouldn't."

"If the M finds out there's another bleeder here..." began the cautious voice.

"Then who knows what she'd do," the voice of authority finished. "Best to keep this as secret as possible while we think of a way to investigate."

"If we were seen," the stranger said, now behind the girl's head again, "Bittersweet will know about this in no time at all."

The voice of authority became agitated. "Nothing we can do about that," he said. "Is everyone here? Where's Pop?"

"Here. I'm listening."

That made a total of six male voices surrounding the girl in the office. Six people with metal knobs in their shoulder sockets. Six faces with lines of stitches going down their cheeks. All on the other side of the girl's eyelids. 

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