As she ran at the creature, Angelina realized she had miscalculated.
She had charged at the creature before considering what she could do, or how she was going to help Chelsea. At the rate she was going, all she was going to do was ram directly into them.
She realized she needed to stop before her body remembered how. She lost her balance and swayed forward, falling directly onto Chelsea and the monster. The three of them crashed onto the cobblestones in a heap.
The creature pushed them to the side, and Angelina’s tailbone collided painfully with a protruding cobblestone as she hit the ground. It loomed over them, twisting backward, contorting its head backward and upside down at an unnatural angle.
It snapped its small, featureless mouth at them in a display that would have been comical if everything else about the creature had been less terrifying.
“You bitch,” it said.
“You’re the bitch,” Angelina said.
Beside her, Chelsea gave her a small, incredulous head shake.
“What?” said Angelina. “It attacked us. It is a bitch.”
Belfry fluttered above them, biting and scratching the creature’s shoulders. The creature lifted a hand to swat at him.
Angelina tried to slide out from under the creature, but a long, thin arm reached out to press her chest, pinning her to the ground so the cobblestones dug into her back. Stone scraped the back of her head as she turned to face Chelsea. Chelsea was pinned down too.
There were voices approaching from somewhere behind them; Angelina couldn’t make out what they were saying, but she thought they were speaking English.
Were some more monsters arriving to ambush them? That was just what they needed.
Was there one thing in this place that wasn’t going to try to eat them?
The creature twisted its head around just in time for something to collide with it with a sickening crack. It fell to one side, and Angelina could see the source of one of the voices.
“Ow, ow, crap, ow!”
A girl about Angelina’s age with blonde hair and a light dusting of freckles across her pale face stood, standing on one foot and massaging her ankle.
“Hi,” said Angelina.
“Hey!” The girl’s eyes lit up with recognition as they fell on Chelsea. “Chelsea! You’re okay!”
“Jen?” said Chelsea.
A woman with axes strapped to her back sauntered out of the shadows, stopping a few feet behind the girl and crossing her arms. She was thin, with a slight gauntness to her otherwise attractive features that would have made Angelina suspect she’d been trapped in this place for a long time if not for everything else about her appearance. Her hair was sleek, pulled up out of her face in a neat bun, and her crisp button up and slacks were pristine and unwrinkled. She even wore a subtle layer of makeup that Angelina couldn’t imagine anyone taking the time to apply in a place like this.
“That was actually impressive, Jen,” said the woman. “Maybe you’re not as hopeless as I thought you were.”
“Um, thanks?” said the girl. Jen, apparently.
Chelsea pulled herself to her feet, then reached out a hand to Angelina and helped her up. The creature lay prone beside them.
“So I take it these are the friends you were looking for?” said the woman.
“Well, I know one of them,” said Jen, “but I have no clue who the other one is.”
“I’m Angelina. Hi!”
“Hi,” said Jen. “I can’t tell you how nice it is to see another friendly face in this place!”
“I hope I’m not one of those friendly faces you’re referring to,” said the woman with the axes. “I’m certainly not friendly. Not to you, anyway.”
“Compared to that freaky dude I just kicked, you are,” said Jen. “Madam Grumpy-Pants over here is Mrs. Sharma, by the way.”
Mrs. Sharma frowned.
“Never call me Madam Grumpy-Pants again.”
“You do look kind of grumpy,” said Angelina.
“And you look like you crawled out of a ditch,” said Mrs. Sharma.
She turned her frown on Angelina, and Angelina had a sudden urge to sink back into the shadowy alley behind her. Mrs. Sharma had one of those disapproving frowns that she was used to seeing from teachers.
“My friend’s been through a lot today. I’m sure all of us have.” Chelsea stepped forward and extended a hand. “I’m Chelsea. It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Sharma.”
Mrs. Sharma’s frown softened a bit, and she accepted the handshake.
“It’s nice to see at least one of you knows some manners.”
Belfry fluttered up to perch on Chelsea’s shoulder.
“Hello, signora, my name is Belfry!”
“Ah, you must be the one I’ve been seeing fluttering around. You’re Project Pteropus, aren’t you?”
Belfry cocked his head, confused.
“He doesn’t speak English,” Angelina said. “Just Italian. And his name is Belfry, not Project whatever.”
“Pteropus. It’s interesting to see him in person,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I wonder how he was able to survive the accident. He seems to have remained remarkably stable since then, too. And he’s… cuter than I expected.”
She reached out to stroke Belfry’s head, and he let out a happy chirp and leaned into her hand.
“Aw!” said Jen. “I have no clue what he is, but he sure is cute!”
“If they hadn’t ended up vaporizing themselves along with an entire town, I’d say the Italian team was far more competent than the idiots I was forced to work with,” said Mrs. Sharma.
Angelina felt herself bristle.
“Don’t talk about it so casually. A thousand people died, you know.”
“Yes, and you’re not going to bring them back by being rude.”
“I’m not being rude. You’re being rude!”
“I’m so confused right now,” said Jen.
“Okay, I’m sure we’re all pretty scared and confused right now,” said Chelsea. “Let’s not take it out on each other.”
The lying on the ground creature stirred, letting out a groan. Mrs. Sharma turned on her heel, motioning for everyone to follow.
“We should leave before it wakes up. I don’t want to have to deal with a Dave right now.”
“A Dave?” said Jen.
“That ‘freaky dude’, as you so articulately put it, is a Dave fabrication. A poorly made and unstable piece of biotechnology. They’re not dangerous in their partially mutated state, but they are really annoying. They kind of remind me of some other people I’ve met today.”
She turned around to glance between Jen and Angelina. Angelina stuck out her tongue, prompting Mrs. Sharma to turn back around with a scoff.
“Well?” said Mrs. Sharma. “Are you three just going to stand there and waste time? Follow me.”