When Carol awoke for the second time in the dim alcove, she went through the same process as before: the initial confusion, the wash of pain, and the sharp realization that she was in serious danger. This time she went through it all in mere moments. She had no idea how much time had passed since her first waking. It could have been minutes or hours. The men were nowhere in sight, though her range of vision was severely limited. Her face was still on fire from Joe’s punch, and she could still feel the sting of the needle from whatever they had injected her with, so it probably hadn’t been too long. But then, any amount of time was too long to be in this situation. She let out a growl of frustration, the most she could muster.

As weak as her call was, it must have had at least some power because it finally caused Steve to stir. She could hear him groan as he woke, could see him going through the same mental calculations that she had now gone through twice over as their situation sank in. And just as she had done, when it came time to check his surroundings he looked over at her in disbelief. “C…Carol?” he muttered in confusion, “Carol what…?” Whatever he had been about to say was preempted by a wince of pain.

“Steve,” she said. She stopped there, she wanted to say more, that they would be alright, that they would escape, but she couldn’t find the words. She had no idea what to say to someone in this situation. But it didn’t really matter what she said.  Steve was in more pain than she thought.

He began to thrash his head from side to side, as if he was trying to shake off something crawling on his face, but there was nothing there. He threw his head back and began to scream, his eyes wide with fear, his whole body jerking and flailing against the stone wall behind him and the chains that held him. She watched in horror as he flung his chest out as far as it could go, again and again, trying to get away, and then, to her shock, she saw it expand rapidly, doubling in size, the impression of his ribs becoming clear under his taut skin, his muscles bulging. She gasped as his left arm suddenly grew twice as long. Before, he had been hanging from the chains at a full arm’s length, now that arm was bent nearly in two at the elbow, all sinew, muscle and bone, the skin ripped to tatters. He had not stopped screaming, and she realized slowly that she had joined him.

Steve’s transformation continued as she watched, transfixed. She saw the muscles on his legs bulge and begin snapping off of his bones, whipping around as they contracted, beating the ground at his feet. His other arm fared better, at least not rupturing, but enlarging to the point of snapping his shackle and dropping him to his knees. Then his jaw dropped, literally from his face as his scream continued. Whatever was happening to him seemed to pause for a moment. It might just have been what she was perceiving in her own fear, but it was only a moment. And then he exploded.

Carol wasn’t sure how long she continued screaming, how long she would continue, chained to the wall, her body covered in the cast off remains of the person she had known. The thing that had been a person. She wasn’t sure how long she would have left to scream.


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