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"Pio, Pio, Pio," by DoctorMermaid. A one-shot focusing on Dr. Martinez's backstory.

Chapter One[]

David found her sitting on the floor in the living room, surrounded by crumpled tissues and crying her eyes out.

"Val! What happened? I thought your plane didn't get in until—"

"I came early." She looked up and held out her hand to him. "I'm done. As soon as they had what they wanted, they locked me out."

He sat next to her and waited.

"There are dark things going on there, David. I was so naïve, I played right into their hands . . ."

"I'm just glad you're out," he said. He immediately held up his hands. "I'm not going to say I told you so. I'm just . . . this has weighed on you. Now it's over."

"It's not over," she said. "They're using my eggs in the project."

He went very still. "The avian hybrid project?"

She nodded through her tears.

"But this is . . . what do they plan to do with it?"

"Save the world. Or destroy it. The people in charge of that project are insane, David. And they made it clear I was snooping. I was trying to be ethical, and they hated it. They've got a viable embryo in there and it's mine."

"Okay," he said. "Okay. This is a lot to process."

"And I can't do anything." She laid her head on the ottoman next to the tissue box. "I can't go to the police or the media or they'll slam me with lawsuits, or . . . David, I think . . . I think they kill people. Anyone who gets too close has to die."

"Then forget it," he urged her. "Just pretend it never happened."

"You know I can't do that."

"You've always had this complex about having to do great things. Well, right now we have to be small, and quiet. If we're talking about our survival here—"

"We're talking about everyone's survival," she said.

"Come here." He drew her into his arms and they both sat there, leaning against the ottoman, in the middle of the quiet house. She finally let herself relax into him. "Maybe it's time to settle down and forget all this stuff about saving the world. Maybe the world doesn't need to be saved."

"Maybe," she said.

She entered the café nervously looking around. She didn't have to look for long, because an older man started up from his table and waved her over cheerfully.

"Valencia," he said, welcoming her. "Please call me Nino. I've been following your work for a long time, and I want to talk to you about a project of mine."

She sat down slowly and hung her purse from the back of the chair. She took the time to study Nino Pierpont. She'd heard of him in the vague way people hear of eccentric billionaires, but had never known what he looked like. He turned out to be a distinguished-looking man with a snowy white, trimmed beard and a matching white suit.

The waiter approached, nodding and smiling at the sight of Pierpont. "Will you have your usual, sir?"

"I will. And pack up a few boxes of these rolls for me." Pierpont held up one of the rolls from the basket and chuckled. "Not good for the waistline, but I can't seem to get enough of them. Six dozen or so should be good."

The waiter turned towards Valencia. "And for the lady?"

"I'll just have a water," she said.

"Oh, please, try whatever you want," Pierpont said. "They make a really excellent house salad."

She smiled tightly. "I'll have the salad."

The waiter whisked off, leaving them alone again.

"So what is this project, exactly?" she asked. "Is it related to . . . environmental work? You said you heard of me through Michael Papa . . ."

"Yes, yes, that's right," said Pierpont. He stopped tearing his napkin into decorative curlicues and leaned forward, templing his fingers on the table. "He told me you had done some work with Itexicon."

"Well, that part of my life is over now," she said. "I'd rather not talk about it."

His eyes were very serious now. "I know. I wouldn't have asked you, otherwise. I've had some dealings with them myself."

"Mr. Pierpont—"


"Mr. Pierpont, with all due respect, get to the point. I've had a long day, and I'm pretty sure my cat is running wild around the house. What is this project for?"

He leaned backward, stretching his arms behind his head. "I am designing an island where I can live to survive the apocalypse."

She stared at him and then half-laughed and shook her head. "Well, that's not what I was expecting."

"I'm an old man and I have a very large amount of money," he said. "I'd like to create something that'll last. One of my friends builds giant, incredibly expensive clocks and buries them miles underground. An interesting idea, but I'd rather preserve the species of the world."

"That's nice, but I don't really see how I can help."

"You're a renowned research scientist! I've read your work on avian genetics, and I'm not even interested in genetics. You've been prolific in environmental work. And you're familiar with Itex."

The last sentence dropped a pall over the scene. The restaurant no longer seemed so cozy and welcoming.

"What exactly does Itex have to do with this?" she asked quietly.

"Have you heard of the Apocalypticas?"

She nodded. That name had become all too familiar over the past year. A splinter group that seemed to orbit everything. If the Itex higher-ups were obsessed with the end of the world, then the Apocalypticas ate, slept and breathed it.

"They're developing something they call the Finisher. It began as a strain of avian flu. I've tried to expose them, but Itex shields them from investigation. Our one advantage is that they're not ready to unleash it yet. We must use this time to prepare." He took her hand. "Will you help me, Valencia?"

She left that day with four boxes full of fresh-baked rolls. A gift from Pierpont. He was right - they were delicious.

"Valencia. Val!"

She woke gasping, to the feel of David's hand on her shoulder. It took her a moment to realize where she was. In her bed, with the sheets tangled around her. According to the alarm clock, the one source of light in the dark room, it was just past one in the morning.

"It was just a nightmare," she breathed, holding tighter to him. She moved one hand over her rounded stomach, feeling the movement within. "I think I woke Ella up too. Poor girl."

"You were screaming," David said. "You wouldn't stop. Was it the lab again?"

She buried her face momentarily in her pillow. She could still see it in her mind's eye, far too sharp and bright.

"Yes," she said. "And the baby crying. My baby. And this time I could see him reaching for me, but I still couldn't get to him."

He shifted in bed. His breath was warm and sweet. "It was just a dream."

"No," she said. "It's real. The experiment began three years ago. It wasn't just an experiment, it was my child. I have a child out there somewhere, and I don't know where he is or what they're doing to him . . . I don't even know if it's a him or a her."

"Maybe Pierpont could find something," he said.

She shook her head. "Nobody can get that deep into Itex. They're too well-guarded."

"You've been having these dreams for years now. There must be something we can do."

"I can't think of anything," she said, and held tighter to him. "Just keep waking me up."

"Los pollitos dicen pío, pío, pío, cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frío."

The funeral was closed casket. Ella, age four, hugged her doll the whole way through. David's sister Cita held her some of the time. Now they were home, and Cita was playing with her in the other room, teaching her a song. Their voices echoed through the door.

"La gallina busca el maíz y el trigo . . ."

Valencia was still numb. Her mind was numb. Her body was numb. Her soul was numb.

He'd been only ten miles from home.

He drove on that road all the time.

Her last memory of his face would be from identifying him in the morgue.

They gave he his suitcase from the back of the car. It was then that she began to suspect something was wrong. He'd always been so neat, and the suitcase was a mess, dirty clothes jumbled together, a stray sleeve hanging out of the zipper. His briefcase was missing entirely, with all the papers in it. The police just stared at her when she asked about it.

The mail was in a pile on the table. No one had thought to go through it. She scooped them up and let a bill fall back onto the table, trying to distract herself with the mindless task.

When she saw David's name scrawled over a return address, she dropped the rest of the envelopes everywhere. Letters and magazines spilled across the floor like pieces of a piñata.

The postmark was from the day of the accident.

She tore it open as quickly as she could and held the letter up with shaking hands. A photograph emerged behind it but she was focused on the letter, the handwriting. It was his handwriting, scribbled unevenly across a page from a hotel notepad.


I tried to look. You were right. They know I was there. 

This is big. The baby is alive and they're making more like her constantly. It's evil. You have no—here there was a smudge, and a scribbled out section.

If we make it out of this, I'll explain everything. This is all I can send right now. I'll try to slip it into the mail when they're not watching.

I love you both. I'm so sorry. – D.

She flipped to the photograph, catching her breath, but there was nothing remarkable about it. No fantastic proof. No new discovery. Just a photograph. A woman, her face partially cropped out of the photo, held a fat blond baby in her lap.

"Les da la comida y les presta abrigo," Ella sang in the other room, high and off-pitch.

She knew, somehow, that this wasn't her baby. It didn't look anything like Ella. The photo was of a family caught up all this—like her family, but not her family.

"Bajo de sus alas, acurrucaditos . . ."

Valencia crumpled the photo in both hands, put her head down and sobbed.

"I won't be able to continue with the project."

They were at their coffee place again. Valencia sat stiffly, holding her purse in her lap.

"My dear," said Pierpont, looking befuddled in his usual distinguished way, "your input has been invaluable. We simply can't go on without you."

She laughed bitterly. "Well, you'll have to. My husband is dead because of my input."

"Of course." He grounded his mug and took her hand in both of his own. "Valencia, I must say again, I am so deeply sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Just let me start over, without all this. I'm taking my daughter to Arizona. My husband's sister lives there and I've already been offered a job at a veterinary practice."

"But your work. So many people need you."

"My daughter needs me," Valencia said. "My priority is being a mom. David wanted a normal life. Instead I dragged him into something big and evil and unstoppable, and it killed him."

"I understand," Pierpont said. "But if you ever change your mind, just give me a call."

She stood up and offered him her hand. They shook silently, and with that she walked out of the café and into the sunlight. She surveyed the city around her. Itex might have locations right here. But she was done digging. Ella needed her.

But one day things would change.

Her oldest daughter would be six years old by now. Maybe she had friends, even in that hellhole they had her in. Maybe she'd met that blond baby from the picture.

She'd be strong. Amazing. A miracle of design.

And one day Valencia would see her again.

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