Reconnaissance - 1986

“Can I help you?” He looked younger in the documentary. Then again, he also looked quite a bit smaller, at an even 5’10, Ratty wasn’t used to looking that far up to make eye contact. She was also not used to people answering the door shirtless. The wolf’s cabin sat in the middle of a clearing a few miles from the nearest road, far enough away from civilization to warrant a massive satellite dish rusting away in the front yard.

“Hi, my name is Ratty Vermington, I’m a reporter. Are you Cliff?” She asked, dipping back into her comfortable, journalistic tone for the first time since returning to earth.

“I am.” Cliff replied, seeming to resent the fact that he was known.

“I understand you work for a company called Angelcorp, do you mind if I come in?” Ol’ J-School tricks. Most polite people, especially in the era her instructors grew up in, would not say ‘no’ to such an innocent request.

“What for?” Of course, that was most people. Cliff adjusted his posture, taking up even more of the door frame.

“I was hoping, actually, to ask you a few questions for a story I’m doing on the recent success of the Angel II.” She answered. A little journalistic malpractice never hurt anyone, and it was a story, just not a story that would end up in the newspaper, and not a story about the Angel II.

Cliff sized up the possum, furrowing his brow slightly at the width of her shoulders. Ultimately though, he shrugged and stepped aside to let Ratty, closing the door behind her. 

The cabin felt much smaller on the inside. A simple construction of a trim kitchen, single seat living room, bedroom, and bathroom; the kind of place you would expect to belong to a person who spent most of their time outdoors.

“Anything to drink?” His demeanour stayed gruff.

“Just water, if that’s okay.” Ratty sat down at the only other seat: a squeaky kitchen chair, and set her notebook down on the counter.

“I’d have to boil it anyway if you want coffee or something, the filter's been busted.”

“I’m fine then.” The possum smiled, clicking her pen.

“Alright.” Cliff's firm demeanour changed as much as it could to signify disappointment, eliciting a small pang of guilt from the possum. She wondered to herself as the wolf set his kettle on to boil if maybe he had some really cool kind of tea he was eager to show off. He was clearly not the kind of person who had frequent guests.

“Mind if I take a second to get dressed?” He asked, pointing down the hall to his bedroom.

“I would feel weird if you didn’t, actually.” The possum smiled gently. 

The cottage was cute, evoking nostalgia for what was - for a bachelor of the time - pretty modern design sensibilities.

“I gotta say-” Cliff called from the other room. “I’m just an engineer, the NDA hasn’t come down yet, I would feel better if you told me what paper you’re from.” The wolf’s voice called Ratty’s eyes back to the hallway, tripping over the handle of a door she hadn’t seen before: visible only as a half-moon hole in the wooden slatting.

“I uh- I’m actually writing this on spec, so-” She stood from her seat, wincing as a symphony of creaks gave away her movement and careful to keep her tone even as she examined the hidden door. A padlock, barely visible in the darkness behind the wall.

“So you don’t have anyone waiting at the office?” Cliff gave a gruff laugh, a sudden cruelty creeping into his tone. “That’s funny. I always thought reporters were funny: showing up to a stranger’s house with nobody at home expecting them back.”

“I’m... married actually...” Cliff came out of his bedroom as she reached for the lock. She froze, her eyes jumping straight to a spot of red on the wolf’s white cotton shirt. “You have a stain-”

“Yes, I know.” Cliff advanced, towering over her once again. “You really should have taken that tea.”

“I- what?” Ratty stammered.

“Because there were drugs in the tea, and I wouldn’t have had to do this.” With that, before the possum could react, Cliff took hold of a fistful of the possum’s hair and slammed her head first, through the wood and into a reinforced steel door frame.

For the third- maybe fourth day in a row, Ratty woke up with a fistful of her hair in Cliff’s hand, kicking and spitting all the way to the centre of the room. For the third/fourth day in a row, Ratty tried and failed to rip free, a combination of too exhausted, hungry, and frankly scared to meddle in time’s domain.

“Fuck you.” She growled, wiggling just enough to bite down on the wolf’s wrist. Cliff threw her into her usual seat, activating her shock collar for the first time today as he closed the metal shackles around her wrists. She flipped him off as the last one clicked shut, shouting an indignant “Ow, fuck!” as her finger was chopped off with a pair of garden shears.

“I’m going to be leaving today, 17.” Cliff started. “My deer will be watching you for the next week.”

Ratty clenched her fist around the wound as the last of her short night’s rest drained from her eyes. A new face, for the first time in three/four days. She stood, waiting patiently behind Cliff, a similar collar around her neck. She was shorter than Ratty, with a long faded crop of bleached and dyed hair and blank eyes of a similar faded quality. 

The possum’s still developing sense for the paranormal lit up as it took on this new deer. Where some were easily classed as demons or- well actually, classing Ratty was also difficult - the best her sense could do was to label the deer: the face you see everywhere. 

She could have sworn she was college friends with someone who looked almost completely identical. She had been childhood friends with someone who looked almost completely identical. One of her professors looked almost completely identical.

“Charmed,” the possum blinked through her confusion. “I’m-” Cliff held up the collar’s remote as she went to introduce herself.

"You're going to have to give up on that name eventually, 17. It'll be easier for you.” He turned to the deer. “Isn't that right, 13?"

The deer woman kept her eyes locked on the metal shackles around her ankles as she answered: "Yes, sir. 13 is so much happier without her-" The light on her collar blinked - a warning - and 13 fell silent again.

"Good." Cliff passed the remote off to 13, starting up the stairs. "Let it out when I’m gone. Shock it if it misbehaves."

"Yes sir. Absolutely sir."

Ratty spent a good half-hour glaring at the deer, both of them listening intently for Cliff’s truck, one disappointed, the other relieved as it thrummed to life and kicked gravel against the plastic siding of his cabin.

"So, what’re you in for, Lucky?" Ratty prodded as the deer tentatively stepped forward. She stayed silent, keeping her eye on the possum. “Get it? That’s a joke. ‘Cus 13 is-”

“13 used to work at a grocery store.” She interrupted, the hard edge in her voice signifying that she would not be answering to ‘Lucky’ any time soon. “It was on the edge of homelessness.” She knelt in front of the possum, her hands shaking as she put her key into the lock around Ratty’s ankle. There were pretty decent odds on Ratty taking control of the situation, but no scenario in which Cliff left the door at the top of the stairs unlocked.

Kick, jump chair, break chair, subdue 13, and from there: liquify her bones against solid steel trying to break down a steel door with her soft, fleshy body.

There was another door, though: flimsy, protected only by the threat of violence.

“It was lonely,” 13 continued, her voice frail. “Cliff took it from the parking lot. It was special for Cliff. It was a risk. It was a break from form." Her tiny voice was only barely capable of surging with pride as she described her kidnapper.

"How flattering." Ratty rubbed some of the pain from her wrists as 13 released the last shackle. What a fucking production. All that effort to keep her tied up for what, 45 minutes? Fucking ridiculous.

“13 gave up very early, Cliff says this is why 13 survived...” The deer paused for a moment as she backed away, mulling over her next words. “13 would never get away with acting like you do." Her voice was suddenly quiet, suddenly seeming very trampled on by the fact of Ratty’s continued survival.

“Don’t feel bad. I’m not that easy to get rid of." Weird thing to try and comfort someone over. She held out her hand, showing 13 the slowly growing stump of her middle finger. The deer took Ratty’s hands in her own and watched the pink stub re-liquify and suck up the dried blood caked into her furry palm. “So, okay. Grocery store...” Ratty put herself back on track. “That doesn’t answer like, why you’re here.”

“13… doesn’t understand.” The deer stared “Cliff likes having 13. That’s it.”

“What about Angelcorp? Does that sound familiar to you?” Cliff had actually never confirmed that he had ever even heard of Angelcorp, but the kind of company that may or may not have kidnapped her younger self in 40 years didn’t seem like the kind of company that would hold a record like Cliff’s to much scrutiny. 

“I shouldn’t tell you.”

“Ah, ‘course not.” Ratty stared at the deer for a moment, then stood, kicking back the chair and crossing to the flimsy mystery door.

“Wait, what are you doing? Stop.” 13 commanded, now suddenly panicking with even a shred of power in her hands.

“Not gonna do that. Sit tight and I’ll grab you on my way out.” She pushed the handle to one side, raising an edge just wide enough to jimmy a knife into. 

Cliff’s workbench would have something. Ratty dove into the wheeled chests of drawers stored underneath: scalpels - some of them clearly used - hammers, nails, power drills, screws, each caked with a variable amount of dried blood. 

Oh god, yeah. Okay. The possum had a morose moment of mirth as she took stock of the first thing to cross her mind: a mental catalogue of places in Toronto she could get tested for AIDS.

She followed that thought to its logical conclusion. Roughly 400,000 cases at the start of 1990, 17 kidnappings. She gave it roughly a 1 in 20,000 chance, more than enough motivation to tear out the drawers and dump their contents into the sink. A relatively clean screwdriver jimmied open a few overhead cupboards before finding a container of bleach.

“17. Stop it right now.” 13 commanded again.

“I’m-” Ratty started, incredulous as she dumped the container into the basin. “I’m cleaning his tools. This is a good thing.”

“17 should not be doing anything without sir’s permission.”

“Aw fuck, you’re right.” The possum glared as she dropped the half full container into the sink, throwing bleach-water everywhere. Fine, that was fine. If she had AIDS she could just rewind her body to a point in time where it didn’t have AIDS. WHATEVER!

Instead of cleaning, she took her screwdriver and jammed it into the soft wood around the mystery door’s handle. The shield popped off easily, giving way to a complicated little mechanism.

Actually, fuck this.

Ratty dropped the screwdriver, took a step back, picked up the chair, and stopped in her tracks as her collar beeped.

“17.” The deer was suddenly firm. “Come back here and kneel.”

Ratty stared at the deer for a second, trying to figure out if she was serious, scoffed, and brought the leg of the chair down on the doorknob. “There we f-AUGH.” She jumped as her collar zapped a now incredibly sore spot on her neck. Annoyed, she turned on the deer.

“Good, now-” 13 started, cut off by her own stunned silence as the remote was snatched from her hand. She stood in the middle of that sentence, shell-shocked at the sudden loss of power. “Wh- uh- hey, hold on.”

“Nope.” Ratty tossed the remote into her bleach-swamp and jammed her screwdriver into the now completely exposed lock mechanism. It gave easily, opening onto Cliff’s office like a present.

13 stood, staring between the sink and the office before ultimately deciding on the sink.

Which, sidebar, like as much as 13 sucks, it is pretty metal to dive into a sink full of knives and bleach.

The scratched case of a modern-for-the-time Angel Portable Plus sat in the centre of a weave of cables, each wired through a piece of proprietary technology Ratty suspected would have been unrecognizable to most people who weren't from 40 years in the future. Each off-white box was branded with the same logo:

So, good. Angelcorp was real, Cliff worked for them, he also kidnapped people. Excellent mystery.

Ratty circled the desk and booted up Cliff’s computer. One by one the satellite machines followed suit, thrumming to life, clicking lights on various surge protectors on as they went. 

Ratty explored through the desktop, moving straight to the ‘Project_Archangel’ folder. It started simple: black and white drawings of circuit diagrams, scans of patent documents, a few photos of 13 in a green polo. From there the slide-show evolved into diagrams of limbs, overlaid more circuit diagrams, then photos with circuit diagrams, then, without warning: 001_leg.gif. The low resolution gore of a carefully dissected thigh, separated into what could only be called its component pieces. This too was overlaid with a circuit diagram, each string of flesh labelled with a four digit id number.

001_leg2.gif: the same with a calf from the same body, a few with the additional tag of 'bring to Eden'. It continued like this through each limb, each with its own detail shots and associated circuit diagrams, all the way up to 012. For whatever reason, 013 only had one lightly bloodied closeup on her wrist.

“Oh! That’s me.”

Ratty jumped out of her skin as a bloody bleach burned hunk of scar tissue popped into her field of view holding a wet plastic remote.

“That’s not… good.” Ratty said

“It was our first date!” 13 replied.

“That might actually make it worse.” The deer blinked at Ratty, offended as she pressed her lips against the scar in a reflexive move of comfort.

“What are these for?”

“I don’t know.” she made no effort to hide her disinterest. She then shook some water out of the remote, and knocked Ratty the fuck out.

13 was the best available friend for those two weeks. She was clearly not cut out for hurting other people, and so chose to ignore the times where Ratty said ‘Ratty’, and chose to ignore when she returned to Cliff’s office. It got intense only when Ratty asked 13 what her real name was, even then it was clearly an agonizing push against what they thought to be right.

“Like this.” The deer commanded just about every night after ‘dinner’, showing Ratty exactly how Cliff liked her to sit. So, that would basically ruin kneeling for the possum for the rest of time.

The nights where 13 left her alone Ratty attacked her collar with whatever she could find. The best she could really do was pull on it and drain the battery. Sitting in the opposite corner of the room was just about as alone as 13 could leave her, and she was curious enough to look over her shoulder when she heard something.

She wasn’t bad. She was just someone who had spent too much of her life in a cold basement. Her history came in short bursts: the guitar she used to play, a jargon ladened story about computer science, all with the passion of someone who was incredibly talented, all - unfortunately - in the context of doing these things for Cliff.

But Lucky was good.

‘Salvageable’, if that was a word a good person could use for a living creature.


Two weeks in. Heavy, careless footsteps thudding on the basement ceiling. 13 took her position at the bottom of the stairs, shuddering with excitement each time the floorboard at the top of the stairs creaked. Ratty stayed in her corner, draining her collar as much as she could. Cliff would come down and leave the door open, then Ratty would slip past him, come back with Sett and kill the motherfucker.

An hour before the door opened. Cliff stopped at the bottom of the stairs, lazily scratching 13 like one would a pitied, least-favourite dog.

“Where’s 17?” He asked.

“Sir, it's- I asked it to present but-”

“Where?” His affection snapped suddenly, cold again. 13 stood, took several clean steps back, and pointed into Ratty’s corner. The possum looked up, chewing on the screwdriver.

“Hey Cliff.” She waved, picking her teeth. The wolf charged, picking Ratty up by the collar and tossing her through the room. She hit the opposite wall, emptying her lungs. “Good to s-” she croaked, stopping as she was thrown again. “Okay.”

The next impact rattled the dividing wall, the vibrations slowly creaking the door to Cliff’s office open. Cliff glared at the void, then at Ratty, then back at the door, all to the backdrop of building rage. He threw her to the cement floor with a crack, freezing her body for a half-second as her bones shot out to grab each other.

“You…” he turned on 13. “I gave you a MONTH!” a month? “A MONTH TO BREAK IT, AND INSTEAD, YOU LET IT INTO MY OFFICE-” He snatched the remote from the deer, slamming her head against the chipboard top of his work surface. “AND-”

“I'm so sorry sir. It-”

“DON’T INTERRUPT ME.” Ratty groaned as she struggled to bring her head upright, staring at the deer with a vaguely annoyed emptiness. Blood. Gray walls of concrete turned maroon as her eyes filled and unfilled with blood.

“Sir- so sorry sir. It’s just- It cares about me. It'll follow orders if it sees you're going to hurt me.”

“Fuck off. Kill me yourself or get over it.”

Cliff blinked, pulled a still-wet knife from his worktop, and handed it to 13. A fat hunting knife: wide and silver, the kind you would use to skin a deer, ridged maroon stone, the kind you would use to skin a deer.

“Kill it.” There was no give in his voice. "I let you have something. You need to kill it."

Ratty sat up slowly, pushing herself off with her tail like an ancient lift.

“Go on then, Lucky.” she got up to her knees, momentarily distracted as Cliff cocked a shotgun over 13’s shoulder. “Give it your best shot.” The deer’s eyes began to water as she picked up the knife, ridged maroon stone, the kind you would use to skin her. The grip looked massive against her chipped bare hooves.

Ratty stared only at Cliff as the deer charged, quietly imagining all the ways she could kill him. She was distracted - only momentarily - as 13 pushed the blade into her heart.

Ridged maroon stone, the kind you would use to skin a deer.

The concrete walls tinted red.

She pulled the axe from Ratty’s chest, missing her second stab as the possum blocked her hand and drove a claw into her wrist. She yelped and fell, dropping her knife perfectly into Ratty’s hand.

And Cliff began to panic. He raised his shotgun, pointing it square at the Possum’s heart. Blood rose in her throat as she tangled her fingers through the thread that connected her home, as she saw every piece of torn flesh in her chest pull itself back into alignment.

Walls tinted red.

Ridged maroon stone, the kind you would use to skin a deer.

Ratty lunged for the gun, told by her eyes before her body that Cliff had shot instinctively for her hand. He was entirely too slow, slow enough that - if she wanted to - the possum could have watched the shot bounce off of the concrete. “FUCK YOU.” She raged, jamming her shoulder into Cliff’s chest and stabbing the knife into his side as he was pinned against the bench.

He let off another shot in Ratty’s ear, shattering her eardrum and flinching the possum for the first time since he had come home. Ratty pushed the knife deeper as she turned, catching the hot tip of the gun in the crook of her elbow and falling just right to drag it out of Cliff’s hands.

They turned at the same time. Cliff went for his remote, Ratty for the gun.

And as his finger fell on the kill button, her collar gave a weak triplet of beeps as if to say: should have gone for the gun.

And in the silence that followed it was 13 who spoke up first. Quiet, sobbing, broken: “we can’t go back. It’s safe here.”

“...We can’t go back…” As her jaw, only mortal, hung from its socket.

“...It’s safe here…” As she struggled to move.

“...We can’t go back…” As Ratty’s eyes stood locked on her target’s,

And then a moment of silence as 13 seemed to run out of energy.

"Collar.” The possum’s voice shook, so small in the silence. “Take it off. Now." She demanded

"Fuck you." The wolf replied. The air cracked into even pieces as Ratty unloaded the left barrel into Cliff's shoulder.

"Your shit doesn't grow back.” Louder, sterner. “Collar. Now."

Cliff held up his remote slowly, his arm shaking with the effort of making it very clear which button he was pressing. With a click, the collar fell away. "Happy?" He asked. 

"Say my name." She lifted the gun to his face, putting his eyes at the end of each barrel squarely in her sights.

"17. Let's talk about-"

"Wrong fucking answer."

Several things happened at once:

Ratty's finger came down on the right trigger. The right hammer came down on the right primer, and ignited the gunpowder in the right shell. The right shell then propelled its particulate into the wrong target as 13 - in a sudden burst of energy - threw herself in front of the barrel.

She fell on top of him, knocking him out on the cement floor with the final crack of the night.

Ratty took a half-step back, staring through the hole in the centre of 13’s chest. Without thinking, she ran.


For whatever reason it seemed like an unlikely night for rain. Too cold, or warm, or something. 

She ran, the soaked blanket from Cliff’s couch clinging to her torso as she sprinted blindly into the night. Gravel tore at her soles, she felt nothing. She would come back for 13. If she was fast enough, the deer could survive. Time-stepping seemed to come and go under its own rules, it was down to her legs to give up. 

And they did. She stopped, and fell, and curled herself shut on the sharp stone.

"Detective! That's her." Sett. Sett was here. The possum struggled to lift her head, saw her wife in a similarly drenched black knit cloak. Sett. Sett was here.

“My name is detective Eva Vermington, don’t move..” The other figure spoke, illuminating the possum with her torch.


Small city.

"Ms. Vermington, that's- that’s her. That's my wife." Sett fell to their knees at the possum’s side, gold threads diving immediately into the hole in her stump wrist.

"I’m okay. I promise, I’m okay. There's- you need to go back-" Ratty blinked rain from her eyes, struggling to focus on Sett as her head spun. Sure enough, just over the little goat’s shoulder, framed in the long, curly black hair she had only seen in old pictures. “Is that my mom?” Odd to see her staring down a gun 12 years before she would be born.

“It’s not your fault. It’s okay. Next time, okay?”

“You have to go- there’s this deer…” 

13 was gone by the time Eva reached the cabin, so was Cliff. All that was left of them was a pair of wet tire tracks.

Ratty stared at the blood splatter in the basement for what felt like hours. This would not go to waste. This could not go to waste. She bit her lip, pushing past Detective Vermington into Cliff’s office and taking his laptop before she could call the real cops.

Sett followed shortly after, unnerved enough by the possum’s stoicism to follow her to the nearest bus-stop in the rain. She spent the next several weeks, months, years, whatever, awake, plagued with the knowledge that Cliff Matheson was still out there.

It was like this every time she got a new lead: furniture had to be shoved out of the way to make room for the mess of red string and paper. 

Ratty stood as centrepiece to this fire hazard, her feet firmly planted in the only two gaps in the paper. She stood, shaking, her bloodshot eyes drawn into slits with the effort trying to put this together. 

'Eden' was Dir. Eden Ross, head of Angelcorp's advanced robotics team. 

13 hasn't turned up dead yet. 

Cliff had last been seen leaving Angelcorp's Scientific Interests Compound a few hours before his picture hit every TV news station in the country. 

She couldn’t actually bring herself to visit any of the addresses she had turned up, but she also couldn't bring herself to stop trying.

Sett sat a few feet away, nervously tugging at the edge of their nightgown. They brought a wooden stool in from the kitchen, too exhausted to tip a couch the right way up. They had gotten used to Ratty’s rabid focus. It was worrying to see her like this after everything they had been through together, but it made sense: John was gone, Cliff was still out there somewhere.

"Ratty." The sun had started to ride when they spoke up, knocking the possum out of her manic haze like a baseball to the chin.

"You- you scared me. Why aren't you in bed?" She failed to stifle a scowl as she went back to work.

"I’m waiting for you." Sett said. The little goat was out for blood, but they needed rest before anyone was going to tear the heart out of Cliff Matheson. It was jarring to see Ratty like this. there was no chance in hell she would hurt Sett, but she was liable to hurt herself.

She was already hurting herself.

“Busy.” She brushed them off.

“No, Ratty.” Sett said, now firm. Ratty flinched as the goat slipped their fingers into hers.

“If you want the bed to yourself so you don't have to touch anyone I understand. I'm not taking that personally. It’s been days. You-"

“I'm fine.” Ratty cut them off, pulling her hand away to dive into some other pile of papers. Sett took a half-step back, a mix of anger at the situation and fear of what another missed night of sleep would do to the ache rising like cold fire in the pair’s chests.

“Haven't you been through enough?” They pleaded. 

“I don’t want to talk about it.” She glared over her shoulder, the venom locking in her throat as she came to understand just how hard Sett was struggling to hold back tears.

"It's like he's hovering over you, isn't it? You feel like-” They finally let out a single sob. “Like this is all just a happy dream, and any second now you're going to wake up.” They were weeping openly at this point, nearly struggling not to pull threads of yarn from the hem of their sweater. “Your stupid brain makes you actually want to, because you think you deserve it, because of all the things he made you do.” That last one was less about Cliff.

Ratty fell forward, wrapping her arms around her wife as some useless document crumpled and stained under the weight of her paw.

“We— I felt that way every day, Ratty. I know exactly what you’re going through.” Sett managed between sobs. They shuddered in the possum’s arms as they felt their cheeks go damp against the stale smelling fabric. 

It took a moment before Ratty apologized; a simple “I’m sorry” that broke her voice to let out.

"I know Ratty."

"I'm sorry for scaring you."

"I know." Sett said, "We're going to get him. I swear to you we're going to make him hurt twice as bad as he hurt you, but there's no reason to make any more pain." Ratty’s facade cracked, giving way to a single, suppressed choke. She took a deep, hitching breath of the smaller woman, and let go of her wife, leaving one hand in theirs and letting them guide her back to their bedroom.