• "Rogers!" the voice that called over the chattering of her coworkers was booming, startling Emerson into dropping the manila folder that was in her hands. Animals of many kinds and a variety of flora peered up at her from where the pictures had slid out. "Darn it, Rogers!"

    Emerson dropped to her knees and immediately began shuffling her photographs back into the folder, feeling heat creeping up her neck from the sympathetic gazes her coworkers were giving her. A few even knelt down to help her retrieve the photos that had fell longer than arms-length from her. "Thank you," she mumbled, accepting the photos from helpful hands. When she finally had all of her unorganized photos collected, she stood and twisted to face her boss.

    "Rogers, I have a project for you!" barked Mr. Ricks, grabbing her arm to lead her to his office. Emerson stumbled along, trying to keep up with his quick pace as they rushed past others through the long halls. Employees were quick to remove themselves from Mr. Rick's path, knowing that if he turned his attention to them, he would shout out thinly concealed insults about their persons. Nobody wanted to deal with an irate Mr. Ricks.

    "S-sir," Emerson said, panting slightly from jogging with him. She was not fit enough to run around like this. "I a-already have a p-project -"

    "Drop it!" Mr. Ricks snapped. He leveled a glare at her, bushy eyebrows pushing together to make one black caterpillar. "Carters will take over whatever it is! You're the only one I trust enough to work on this new one!"

    Emerson felt flattered. Mr. Ricks wasn't known to give out many compliments to his employees. Emerson had been working at Nature's Gift magazine company for almost five years, and she had never received any praise or kind words from Mr. Ricks. He typically just grunted approvingly at her whenever she turned in her photos, and snarled at her whenever she turned in something he didn't like. It had been quite a few complicated years for her due to dealing with her boss.

    "Sir, you fired Carter last week," Emerson said timidly in response. When an irritated grumble escaped through his thin lips, she winced. "But I can set it up so Kenny can take it over."

    "You do that!" Mr. Ricks growled. Finally, they had arrived at his office. Emerson could feel herself sweating under her sweater and tights, and her feet were aching in the boots she wore. The weather outside was chilly and caused breath to mist visibly, but inside the company building, heaters left the crowded offices and halls stuffy. She knew she should have dressed lightly with a sweater, but the after affects of her cold from last week were still effecting her.

    "What's the new project, sir?" Emerson asked once the loud chatter from outside was muted by his closed door. Mr. Ricks seated himself at his large desk, pushing a large stack of pinned papers off onto the floor. They landed with a thump.

    "The upcoming volume is going to be the big one we've been needing," Mr. Ricks said, rubbing his hands together excitedly. He tossed some papers and folders to the side of his messy desk, exclaiming in delight once he found what he was looking for. With a toothy grin, he handed it to Emerson. "Rumors about the hybrids creating exotic wildlife. Not only will you be photographing the hybrids and their environment, you'll be getting close ups of their new plants." Mr. Ricks pulled at his untamed goatee, red nose sniffling noisily as he hummed. "With this volume, we're depending on your pictures. We already got the information about them sent to us, all we need are your photos. People will be wanting to see the evidence rather than reading about it." Here, he paused and gave her a warning glare. "You better bust your behind to get me my photos, Rogers! One stumble and you're gone!"

    Emerson felt herself freeze from his words. Gone? She had been working at this company for years and he wanted to fire her if she messed up once? She had put too much effort into this job just to leave! What else would she do? She loved this job and couldn't see herself doing anything other than taking photographs.

    She would just have to work hard. "Y-yes, sir," she nodded, pushing her worry away to be replaced with the nervous excitement of a new project. "Where will I be going? Ireland? Russia?" Those two countries held the most population of hybrids in the world - even more than America, where the hybrids had first appeared - and the idea of traveling that far left her jittery. She had seen pictures of Ireland - it was such a gorgeous land! And the hybrids there were very attractive, too. With Russia, she didn't know very much about the place, but Kelly had told her that it was quite a lovely place to visit. She had even explained that the hybrids were practically worshiped there!

    "Dante Forest," Mr. Ricks said. Emerson felt her heart slowly roll down into her stomach. Dante Forest? The forest that had its very own large society of hybrids? "It's cheap, quick and a lot more easy to get to. That's where they have the new exotics."

    Okay, she could do this! It wasn't as though Dante Forest was scary. Sure, there were wild animals scattered around the place, but the hybrids usually kept visitors protected. "So when do I meet the hybrids?"

    "You'll be going by foot," Mr. Ricks told her, clasping his hands together on his desk. "You'll have to camp out for a few nights until you get there. Once there, you'll hand them this," he passed over a blue binder, "and they'll be adding your photos to the sheets. You'll have two months to get what I need from them. I haven't been informed about where you'll be staying, but I'm sure they'll have it figured out by the time you get there."

    So, not only would she have to spend a few nights in a tent surrounded by darkness and wild animals, but she would also have to wait until she arrived until she found out where she would be sleeping? What if they left her outside? Or what if they all lived in run-down huts? Or worse - what if they kept her in a cage?

    No! She was being ridiculous! All the hybrid societies around the world were noted to be normal. They weren't savages! In fact, she had heard that many acted more civil than many humans. Whatever they decided to do with her, she knew that they would do their best to help.

    Hybrids were neutral to humans, if not teetering a bit over to the kind side. They helped wherever and whenever they could, they often went out of their way to talk with and welcome humans, and most of them acted like protectors to any humans that lived near them. Many humans assumed this was because the hybrids were stronger than normal humans and wanted to repay them back for allowing them to live near humans, but Emerson believed that it was just how hybrids were. They had never shown any violent behavior towards humans, so there wasn't any reason for her to worry.

    "I'm counting on you, Rogers," Mr. Ricks said, pulling Emerson from her thoughts. She gave him a small, shaky smile and nodded. "Now get your behind out of my office and go pack! I expect you back here in two months - April thirtieth is the deadline!"

    "Y-yes, sir!" Emerson said hurriedly. She turned and rushed out of the office, holding the blue binder and her folders to her chest. Other employees were staring at her, probably wondering at her happy face, but she did her best to ignore them.

    Since she was a young girl and had met a teenage squirrel hybrid, Emerson had found herself fascinated by the species. Half human and half animal - there was nothing more interesting than that! Many theorized that hybrids came from a whacked experiment gone wrong. Others believed that God had made hybrids to show that humans aren't that different from animals. Emerson was one that was in-between - she didn't care how hybrids came to be on the Earth. All she cared about was how incredible they were.