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   Chapter 20 NO.20

Damsel[ed] Rescue Required (3 of the Damsel[ed] Series) By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 13034

Updated: 2018-04-24 06:51


A solo mission with Jaylin is about as appealing as a lunch bag full of spiders. Not because I hate her, not because she's even particularly bad at missions. She's done this kidnap-rescue-kidnap shtick far longer than I can guess at, and she's probably better at being a supervillain than I am at being a superhero, what with her guardians, idols. But when she puts herself in charge, I swear I'd rather drive a pen through my eardrums than listen to her order this, order that, are you listening, Hev? You couldn't do this without me, you hear!

And I think the most bothering part, the part that eats at me deeper than her snippy insults or barked commands, is that she's right.

"So, I mean, yeah, it'll be a real simple operation, as long as you don't do somethin' stupid, but who am I kidding, you're always doing something stupid.." haven't moved since Angelos left. Frozen, with the cats roving around my knees and fists. White fur clumps to my hoodie and to my dark tactical paints. Jaylin's creasing the pages of the notebook she stole from me, the crinkly yellow full of plans she daydreamed during class. Scrawled in letters bunching up and over themselves in the type of pen that smears. It's hard to focus on what she says. Hard to keep my breathing slow and even, because my lungs feel heavy, like they're filling up with sand. Poison's being hurt. Tortured. "...Those Syn guys, Hev, they train like they're fighting off the apocalypse. The ones you see, yeah? They're the little wiry ones picked off the streets. The others are big, hands as big as your face."

"Let's just get this over with, " I mutter against Larry's bell-collar, the sound a jangle against my knee cap as the Siamese winds circles around my thighs.

Jaylin whips her head up from her pages. Squints at me, eyes narrowed into angry little squints. Holds my line of sight until I squirm my hands into Larry's fur, and she shrugs. "Fine, mi numbero dos. Let's run in guns-a-blazing and heap us up some tragedy, ay?"

Despite the circumstances, I smile in a way that doesn't entirely hurt. "That's kind of my modem operendus, if you haven't noticed."

She returns my smile with a snort, rummaging through shopping bags she hasn't unpacked. I peek over her shoulder. Hairpins, short blade, rope coil. All of it somehow scrounged from the mall. It makes me blink once, twice, a visceral reminder that this pink-glitter puff of a girl is a supervillain, and a good one. Her fingers turn over the blade, breaks her fingerpad on the edge. A single bead of blood bubbles up over the cut. "He'll be fine, " she says.

I'm supposed to say yeah, nod a little, plaster on a brave face. But the words won't come. What words stumbling in my head don't reflect that, not at all. "No, " I say, the sound a huff. "It isn't that easy."

Jaylin lifts her head. Eyebrow raised, lip pulled halfway up, like in another life, she would laugh. If this wasn't so tragic. If we weren't offering ourselves up to suicide to save a suffering kid. That half-smile is so strange, so wrong, that it snaps me back from this precipice I've been teetering toward. Chin up, shoulders back, head high. Not a pessimist. I'm supposed to be Galaxy.

I try to become this person I've created. Suck in a sharp breath. Force a brave smile. Clasp her hand in mine, turning over her fingers so I can feel her nails, cool ovals, against my skin. I stare at her milky homes, willing the boy to fade. I'm willing myself it isn't Katris I'm saving, just some hostage. A shadow instead of blue eyes and a pretty smile. Just another person who needs saving in a world gone to hell.

"Lead the way." Her hand is small and warm in mine, but all I feel around me is cold, like I'm standing on a cliff looking over the artic edge of the world.

***

She can't lead as much as point in the general direction of Katris's prison while I brace her over my shoul

blood spurting from a flattened nose. Jaylin beelines through the crowd, waving her blade. I shake the stars from my eyes just as I'm flung into the banister, hit it hard with a 'crack.' The pain is jarring. I slump, hitting the floor on my knees. And then the women pile atop me, a mass of fists and feet, vying for flesh. The smell of a dozen bodies, sweat and perfume, a mountain of breath, gliding in and huffing out. I squirm and struggle, bruised and beaten. With my back to the floor, I wriggle my escape form a caging hold, throwing weight off me with the flex of a super-strong chest. Kicking and punching, I snag a woman right in the jaw, toss her off me with the extension of my shoulder blades. Make a link of light through the crush of bodies. I squirm through them, crawling on broken ribs like shattered glass beneath my skin.

Katris's screams become whimpers. I shake the fingers clamped around my ankle and bolt up the next flight of steps. Farther down this level, they lead to an open door and to low, orange light.

I heave my weight against the door frame and step inside to the reek of decay, the floor sopped in blood, clumps to marred together in clots of flesh. I'm paralyzed, staring at the boy knelt over a plastic bucket. A battery. A pair of coiled jumper cables. His white bob of hair gone brown at the roots, the darkness slowly spreading. "My powers, " he mumbles through a quiet cry.

A woman standing over him, dark hair hiding her face. Runs down her shoulders, back. Foot balanced on the edge of the bucket. Combat boot, plastic tread.

"Where does she live?" Never looks up. Stares down at the crying boy, voice even and low.

Jaylin, knelt in front of me, her quivering fist pressed to her heart. "Fifty floors up, " she whispers, "Crown Springs complex home. Apartment 5018."

Angelos. Juniper, Storm, Gats. Their apartment. My heart plunges into my stomach. This is the information Katris was willing to die for. The information that leaves Jaylin in a trembling whisper. Katris makes a yelp, lifts his head. His blindfold is crooked, weighted with blood. His hair gone a honey-brown, this streaked umber color. Like mud soaked in bands of sunlight.

The woman glances over to me. "Nebula?" Her black eyes widen. "You live?"

There's a boy, gasping and shuddering in pain. Angel's address. A woman asking for my dead mother, my knuckles cracked, bloody and more than certainly broken. And all that pain wells up. Poor Katris. Poor Angel. My poor mom.

With one hiss of breath, I've flewn across the room and punched her smack across the throat.

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