It starts in Chiswick, London, in 1982, when Donna Noble disappears.
It starts at MIT, in 1984, when Tony and Isabella Stark go missing.
It starts in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1986, when Lindsey McDonald vanishes.
It starts in Portland, Oregon, in 1995, when Nick Burkhardt isn’t in his bed the next morning.
It starts in Massachusetts, and in Wales, in 1996, when Grant Ward and Ianto Jones don’t come home.
It starts in Beacon Hills, California, in 2008, when Stiles Stilinski fails to appear at the McCall house for his sleepover with Scott.
It starts in a facility belonging to the Time Agency, in 5167, when more than four hundred new children are abducted through time for experimentation.
We’re separated into bunks, eight to a room, beds squeezed in so tight we can barely move around. Tony and I are lucky: they let us stay together. The other children are terrified, and for good reason; there’s nothing familiar about this place, and no one bothered to explain anything. The door shuts behind us with the clunk of a deadbolt (or five) and the hiss of a pressurized seal.
“Where are we?” the redheaded girl snaps. She has a coarse English accent, and I can’t narrow it down more than that. “Who are you people?”
“Oh, god, my dad’s going to have a heart attack,” the skinny kid with the shaved head whispers. He’s trembling, breath coming faster and shorter, and there’s sweat running down his face. He sways a bit, like he’s going to pass out. I know the signs of a panic attack, can tell a few others do as well, and if this kid gets hysterical he might drag half of us along for the ride.
“Sit down,” one of the boys says. He’s got dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes, and a different British accent than the redhead. He keeps talking to the panicking boy, who’s obligingly collapsed onto a bed, soothing voice guiding him through the attack. I leave them to it, instead trying to remember everything that happened after the group of men surrounded my brother and I.
We’d been on our way back to our private apartment after a late night in the lab. None of our experiments were dangerous to warrant a kidnapping, which left family connections or an unknown reason. I did not like unknown reasons. They’d managed to knock us out before transporting us, and I don’t remember a blow, so either injection or tasering.
...It was really depressing how much I knew about kidnapping methods.
We’d woken up in a large white room with at least forty other kids, including the six others currently with us. Doctors (or lab technicians) scanned us, then sent us to this room. No identifying features, no logos or keycards we could swipe. The entire thing was disturbingly competent. And confident. These weren’t people who were scared to get caught.
I watch Tony and two of the other boys―and there’s six boys to two girls, who came up with that ratio? Why not separate us by gender, or have an even split?―prowl around the room, looking for escape routes or access panels. It’s clear that none of them like to be trapped, but I have a sinking feeling that Tony and I are the only ones with practical experience being kidnapped.
“Who are you people?” the girl yells again. I would be more annoyed with her if I couldn’t see the fear lurking just behind the attitude.
“I’m Bella,” I say, just to give them a starting point. “That’s my brother Tony.” He gives a distracted wave from the other side of the room, still looking for something to hack. “What’s your name?”
The girl gives me a suspicious look, probably because I didn’t give her my last name or any real information, but answers anyway. “Donna.”
“I’m Ianto,” the British boy offers.
“Stiles,” the boy next to him says. That gains a few odd looks, but no comment.
“My name’s Nick,” the other blue-eyed, black-haired boy says. He’s the only one who hasn’t spoken or moved since we were all shoved in here.
“Grant,” the boy next to Tony says. He has the same coloring as my brother, but that’s where the similarities end.
“Lindsey,” the last boy growls with a southern accent, shaking shaggy hair out of his steel-blue eyes and daring us to make fun of him for his name. No one does.
“Okay,” I say. “Raise your hand if you’ve had any experience with kidnapping and hostage situations.” I’m not surprised when Tony’s is the only hand that joins mine in the air, and it’s clear the others weren’t expecting the question.
“You’re kidding, right?” Stiles asks. He looks desperate for someone to tell him this is just a dream.
“Guess we should have been more thorough with the introductions,” Tony mutters. “Isabella and Tony Stark.”
“Don’t call me Isabella,” I say quickly, giving my brother a dirty look. “Just the short version, please. Anthony.”
“You’re the Starks?” Stiles squeaks. Everyone except the Brits are looking at us with new perspective. “Why are you so young?”
That gets everyone staring. “We’re fourteen,” Tony snaps. We neither of us like to be called children, but there was something off about the wording of Stiles’ question.
“But you―” He breaks off in confusion, and looks around for help. “Doesn’t anyone else remember them being older?”
“How old do you remember us being?” I ask warily.
“25,” Nick says, at the same time Grants offers, “26.”
We stare at each other.
“What’s the year?” Tony asks slowly.
Donna snorts. “1982, obviously.”
I groan and fall onto a bed. This is not good.
“It’s 1996,” Ianto argues, Grant nodding along.
Nick shakes his head. “1995,” he corrects.
“Last thing I remember it was 1986,” Lindsey drawls.
Tony rolls his eyes and offers, “1984.”
We all look at Stiles. He looks back, wide-eyed and pale. “I’m from 2008!”
“This is your fault,” I tell Tony. He looks affronted.
“How is this my fault?”
“Well, I’m not stupid enough to play around with time travel!”
“Oh, and you think I am?”
We stop at Donna’s shout.
“Can we focus on the guys who dragged us here instead of who might have messed up one of their mad scientist experiments?”
I lay back down on the bed. “Someone kidnapped us through time. Jarvis and Aunt Peggy are going to go postal.”
Tony snorts and pokes at the wall again. “Okay, ground rules: no one talks about someone else’s personal future. Especially Stiles.”
“Hey,” he protests, but it’s half-hearted. Apparently he’s enough of a geek to understand the repercussions of breaking time.
“I don’t know any of you people,” Grant says. “Except for you two,” he adds with a glance in my direction.
“Yeah, no one tell us our own future,” I clarify. “That would be bad.”
“I’m from the earliest time, right?” Donna asks. “So I shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”
“Spoilers,” Ianto mutters. Donna glares at him. It appears to be her default expression.
“Why are we all from different times, though?” she continues. “Obviously it’s an age thing, but why not just take a bunch of teenagers from the same time period?”
“So no one can track them?” Stiles offers. “Assuming there are people who can track that sort of thing, you’d want to keep the abductions spread out and seemingly unconnected, so no one knows who the target is or when the next kid will be taken. No way to prepare.”
He blushes under Donna’s intense look. “My dad’s the Sheriff.”
“Pretty ballsy,” I say, frowning. “Sheriff of a small town will raise just as much a fuss over his missing kid as the country will raise over the Stark twins going missing. Anyone else high profile?”
“Do you mean high profile in the public’s eyes or someone who’s going to make a fuss?” Donna asks. “Because my mum will definitely make a fuss.”
“My aunt will, too,” Nick murmurs. “We’re the only family left after my parents died last year.”
I wince, along with the others. Ianto keeps the conversation moving. “My family might go to the police, but they’re not really...people don’t really pay attention to them.”
Lindsey snorts bitterly. “Full house where I’m from. No one’s going to miss me.”
“My brother might miss me,” Grant says darkly. “I’m one of his favorite targets.”
“So everyone has trauma,” Tony says absently. I wince, even though I know he probably didn’t mean to be quite so blunt. “And age is a factor. Any other correlations?”
The lights shut off.
There’s a moment of pure chaos when everyone scrambles to process this new development, before I manage to make myself heard.
“Quiet!” Everyone does. “It’s likely just their way of saying go to sleep. Does everyone have a bed?”
“We can just pick empty ones for now,” Donna offers. “If we don’t like them in the morning we can switch.”
“Works for me,” Stiles mutters. The others move around, trying to find empty beds without bumping into each other, and I crawl under the covers I’d been laying on. Everything about this is different from my previous kidnapping experiences, and I don’t know if I’m comforted or not. On the one hand, I like the company and the room isn’t bare. On the other hand, our kidnappers apparently have their routine down pat, and having doctors check us over doesn’t bode well.
I close my eyes, listen to the sounds of seven other kids breathing, and hope I don’t dream.
I never remember much about the actual experiments. I don’t think any of us do. Maybe the pain from our changing bodies caused our brains to blackout in self-defense. Maybe the brainwashing refined from the Winter Soldier program meant we would never recall what happened during the process. Maybe we all pretend we forgot, and our nightmares are the only proof we’re lying.
All I can remember clearly is being taken from that room the next morning. We were herded into a lab with twelve other kids, strapped down and closed into glass coffins. I was across from my brother, and I’ve never seen Tony so scared. He always tries to pretend he’s okay for me, even when he’s seconds from breaking.
The needles came first, lining up with our arms and major arteries. Later, we found out the formula was a combination of the supersoldier serum that created Captain America and Extremis, among other things. The scientists named it the Fyre serum, and rightly (if unimaginatively) so. We felt like we were being burned alive, from the inside out.
The charges came second, using the needles as conductors. That’s about the point everyone’s memory stops. We watched the security footage later, and I’m honestly not surprised we forgot. The experiment seemed designed to make us lose consciousness, so the programming could begin with as little resistance as possible.
Project Rebirth used Vita Radiation to stabilize and seal the serum’s effects on Steve Rogers. The Phoenix Initiative used Artron energy for a little extra kick.
Not everyone survived. I know there were hundreds of children taken before us, and of the hundreds of children taken with us, only nine percent survived the experiments. Then they began training us. Teaching us how to blend in, how to identify targets and exits and enemies. Teaching us how to fight, how to kill, how to turn ourselves into the ultimate weapon. Teaching us math and science and languages and politics and history and―
Their goal was to create the most deadly assassins in history―and enable those assassins to change history.
Like their parent organization, the Initiative forgot to learn from history instead.
I don’t know how long the programming held, or what exactly triggered the breakdown. I don’t think I’m supposed to know; there’s a block in my mind, in all of our minds, around that time. It feels like we created it ourselves, but I can’t remember why. I do remember the bond the eight of us formed to each other instead of to the Initiative. We were (are) the best. We couldn’t allow for anything less. We couldn’t trust the other operatives, but those fledgling relationships we’d created that first night lay the foundation for what happened next.
Every weapon can be used against you. If you design a weapon to be the best, to get past every defense and to be unbeatable, then your enemies don’t stand a chance. Problem is, neither do you―especially if you designed that weapon to think for itself and then pissed it off.
We helped each other break the hold the Initiative had on us. We bolstered each other psychically and forged a permanent connection, and when the last remnants of the brainwashing faded away, we struck.
That bond helped us fight as one unit. We razed the Initiative to the ground, killed any operatives that fought us, destroyed the research and experiments that created us. Then, just for good measure, we tore apart the rest of the Time Agency and handed the scraps over to the Shadow Proclamation.
We were thorough. No trace of the Phoenix Initiative remained―except for us. The Fyrebirds, they called us, a true testament of what we’d survived. Eight Fyrebirds stood among the smouldering embers of the Agency with one thought in our mind.
What are we supposed to do now?
It ends in Chiswick, London, in 1982, when Donna Noble reappears.
It ends at MIT, in 1984, when Tony and Isabella Stark are found.
It ends in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1986, when Lindsey McDonald wanders in from the fields.
It ends in Portland, Oregon, in 1995, when Nick Burkhardt finishes his ‘morning run’ in time for breakfast.
It ends in Massachusetts, and in Wales, in 1996, when Grant Ward and Ianto Jones come home.
It ends in Beacon Hills, California, in 2008, when Stiles Stilinski stumbles out of the woods and into his father’s arms.
It ends on Earth, in their proper times, when eight Fyrebirds return from hell―and no one else knows.
(It doesn’t, really. It never will.)