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Cordelia Lynn Holmes


"Amelia you absolute mot-" Lynn leaned into the wall beside her and emptied her insides onto the ground. She had been in the bathroom one moment and then not the next. Her body was still reeling as though she'd just stepped off a roller coaster, and she had the tense, knife-point jitters of adrenaline. Lynn stood for a moment, staring at the superheated acid that was quietly eroding at the brick wall she stood next to. "Oh, fuck me, can we get some dramamol or whatever before we do this again. Fuck. Motherfuck."

Lynn stood for a moment, reeling less and less with every breath. For a passing second, she considered that right now, with her back to Amelia, entirely unaware of her surroundings, would be the opportune moment for the other girl to do something. If I was right all along, and she narc'ed early - you don't know where you are, this could just be to -

"That's fucking stupid," Lynn muttered, barely audible, rubbing at her mouth. This was near the spot. Lynn had smoked in this alley before, she thought. She padded at her pants for cigarettes, but there were none. Christ I thought the day couldn't get worse after hugging that anorexia doc. She needed a cigarette. Throwing up reminded her of - Lynn grimaced and forced that thought down. Lynn shook her head clear and turned to look at Amelia. She gave the girl a nod and walked over, going to stick her hands in her hoodie poc -

Oh.

Lynn cursed again under her breath and walked out of the alley, instinctively glancing for cameras to her right, and - she paused, and had to arch her entire head around to check to the left. The left socket itched furiously, and Lynn wanted to tear the bandage off and scratch it until it calmed down, but she knew that was a terrible idea. For one - ew - and two, she got enough stares as it was. Lynn huffed and kept walking along, for once not bothering a great deal with subterfuge. Lynn had lived most of her time on the Promise - especially those early days - fully expecting to last no more than a few more days at most. Now, she thought, it was really true. If there were terrorists openly attacking the Promise, it was do or die. Either the next batch of jihad jumpfucks gets us, or - Lynn missed a step, remembering the look on the kid's face, screaming, he was screaming, the gun had fused to his hand it was so hot, it - or martial law finds a reason to give us tattoos and necklaces. Then the third. The long shot. All in on a shitty hand.

Lynn tried to think of the words to put together. She turned to look at the area and found it empty. Lynn normally tried to arrive early by design, find a seat with a back to the wall, look around, mark exits - but this was supremely different. The whole point of this was that they would be busy here while she was taking care of things. Lynn just sighed. The air shimmered as she did so. Lynn found a concrete table and sat on it, for once not cognizant of her legs swinging aimlessly a foot off the ground. Her mind was trying to put together the words, the strategy, the plan. Lynn had known all too well how much dumber she was than Keaton, but there had to have been something. A clever turn of phrase, something she could get through. Lynn didn't see any other way. She has to have figured it out too, if I have. We all die if we stay here. They shook us down without lawyers on the first fucking week, do they think it'll be better now? Keaton could plan it. Eli, distractions, knew some of the security guys. Lynn had meant to ask her about that. It was weird - real weird - she was buddy buddy with Annie Oakley over in the ICU. Eh. Questions that would go unanswered.

Amelia could move them around. Natalie, well, they'd have to tell her it was a field trip or something, but Lynn reasonably believed that she was the only person Lynn had ever met who could, feasibly, pull someone's spine out of their ass, which was a valuable skillset anywhere. Then - then Archie. That was the stutter-step. Can they get him to the pods without him flipping? That was the sick twisted part, the little Che part of her whispered. They need Archie in case things go south. Archie's a great big distraction and every one of them knows it. Maybe he takes Natalie with him too, she stays, wouldn't you like -

Lynn closed her eye and rubbed at her forehead. Something inside her felt so fragile. Her hair glimmered white, soft and radiant, but she did not notice. Why the fuck did he hold me? Why did she come after me? I just - fuck. This isn't gonna get any easier. They have to understand. Lynn couldn't think of a lie Keaton wouldn't see through. Fuck, for that matter she couldn't think of a lie any of them wouldn't see through. That Chinese motherfucker should've aimed an inch to the right. She pulled out her phone, looking at the messages. One from Eli. She started to answer, then stopped. What was she supposed to say? (Lynn also wondered who the fuck narc'd on her. It wasn't Anderson, that she felt intuitively, but somebody did, and if there was a spare moment in this whole process to rectify that, she intended to) There were none from anyone else. None.

Lynn stared off ahead, thinking. She hadn't put much thought into her own next steps, for that matter. Everything since she'd woken had just been a frantic scatter from one movement to the next. Not lying there, though - he didn't interrupt once, he didn't care, he got it, he got how it didn't make sense, how - to - Lynn was trying to think, there were still the kids, someone had to pay, someone had to burn, she didn't know, if she'd only been fucking smarter, she could've found something more tangible than the hint of a hint, than numbers on a doll's leg, than - if she could just get them towards the docking bay, maybe she could slip away. If they all went they didn't stand a chance, they didn't - they were going to have to kill whoever they found, and Lynn wouldn't think twice about Gennedy, she'd already burned a child alive, hadn't she, but the others, could Eli, could - was she still spinning from the teleportation, she felt light-headed, and -

Lynn blinked. Her heart was racing. She reached for a cigarette but there wasn't one. Fucking nurses. She rubbed at her forehead again. Then something occurred to her. "Hey, uh, Amelia," Lynn said, the words feeling clunky leaving her mouth. "You got a smoke?"

She had barely asked before they came. As had been the case all day (not all day, things were quiet for a minute, when you were just still, and you got to pretend), her thoughts hit her half a dozen at a time. Eli looked worse for the wear. Nobody was really badly hurt, but she looked - well, like Lynn felt, though that sort of acknowledgement would never have surfaced to Lynn's conscious mind. Lynn thought after this they would - she blinked, and pushed the thought aside, the nausea worsening for a moment. Natalie. Natalie looked. Natalie looked good. Lynn felt another wrinkle, something that tugged at her from a different angle and in a different way. You know for how fucking awkward that candleshop thing was she was at least trying. The same desperate thought, the one that always came up to the surface, reared up again. She can't - she can't keep him safe, you know, she - And then it flickered and changed, like a candle flame. Archie was there. She'd lied to him in the hospital. Lynn had not - she wasn't supposed to have seen any of them again. She wasn't - this was so much harder than she had thought, and she was not sure why. In the back of her mind, there was the sound of ice clinking against a glass, and the creak of warehouse doors, the old familiar twinge of pain in her knee, some days when the weather changed, when she took stairs too quickly.

Lynn ignored it. Just - just for a minute or two. For a minute she managed to tell herself burning a kid alive meant she could still be a good person. There was still a way. That Archie and Eli and Keaton and Natalie and Amelia, they were all good people, and that - it didn't - there was a way for someone to make it out. There was a way. Just for a minute.

If her thoughts were dancing like firelight, this motherfucker just stepped up and pissed out the fire. Lynn didn't stand up and bristle, but her hair flickered to a sunset orange. Two things were very wrong with this picture. The first was this - wait, Lynn thought - he'd been at the bonfire, right? When she was trashed, she thought there was the faintest sense of an impression of this guy - he -

Lynn glanced over at Amelia and back to the others of the group to make sure she was not, well, hallucinating again. This motherfucker was wearing a leotard. Like they were in the fucking X-men. The part of her mind that had carved a toothbrush shiv an hour and a half ago noticed a bulge in his satchel and Lynn, out of old hypervigilant habit, locked it away for later, trying to decide what it could be, but she was momentarily transfixed by the scene. He had on a Rolex, which Lynn felt obligated to relieve him of at some point. He had on a leotard. He was wearing a leather jacket. Lots of black. And a leotard. The absolute, utter panic Lynn had felt seeing the group approach was just too baffled to speak. He was wearing a leotard. There had been a school shooting that week. He was wearing a leotard. Lynn was missing an eye and this motherfucker wanted another round at the pommel horse.

"Okay, what - " Lynn paused again, trying desperately to make sense of literally anything on this station, because with this, this final point, it had all come crumbling down. She looked from one to the others. "Did - " Lynn was trying desperately hard not to say any shit that might, you know, cross any lines, in terms of sensitivity or whatever. "Sorry, Cara must've fucked up the text - I said, hey guys, let's meet up, not, hey guys, let's cope with the school shooting by getting a fucking spec ops ballerina instructor to show us a good time, classic Cara." Lynn looked at Archie for a moment (two, three, if we're being honest) and tried to puzzle anything from his face. Anything. Were they hazing this guy?

Or maybe it was - oh.

Lynn pulled her cell phone up into her sleeve and took a deep breath before murmuring, "Cara."

"...yes, Lynn?"

"...am I, like, allowed to make fun of this guy?"


Cara did not answer.

"Fucking washing machine," Lynn muttered, turning her phone off for good. She looked back up. There was a hint of - of something on Archie's face. A little hurt, maybe. Don't you get it? Don't you fucking get it, Anderson? Do you think - don't you think - I would've...it wasn't...fucking Amelia, she had to fuck this all up. A little more time, I wanted - but this is already really hard, okay, and what if I - what if I turn out - I killed a kid, I -

The candlelight thoughts flickered again. Once the bewilderment at Nic had passed (it came in waves), the more sobering thought had occurred to Lynn. For all her jitters and jumpiness, this was far more chilling. She stood up, glancing around. "Before I ask who and what the fuck is - " she stopped, just bewildered. " - okay, I have questions that I don't think God himself could answer about new guy, but - " she scanned again, the fear gripping her a bit more tightly. Did one of them say something? Cara. Fuck. Fuck that bitch. "Where's Keaton? Have any of you heard from her? Recently?" Lynn had not seen her since the hospital, or even had any contact beyond the text. Her mind started to race again. We were just texting, but - if they got her, if they figured out - Lynn kept her voice steady, remembering the situation with the body in the woods. They couldn't have that. Not now. "Is she coming?" Lynn realized she hadn't - when was the last time she'd spoken to her? It had been a while, before the docking bay, they'd -

Lynn took a deep breath. She was probably fine. She was probably fine.

Lynn rubbed at her eyes. The left one still itched. If they realized something was up, or something had happened to her, Lynn felt that nervous knot in her gut spiral down into an abyss. Why wasn't she here?

She needed a distraction. Anything. Just for a minute. She couldn't look at Archie or Natalie. She gave Eli a smile, feeling guilty for not texting back for perhaps the first time in her tenure at the Promise. Then back to -

"I - is that like a religious thing?"
soraya (and mr. hops)


Soraya knew she was far away from home when she felt the snow.

It startled her. She scrambled up and looked around, panicking, panicking - worried that -

He was right there. Her backpack, too. She grabbed him tight and took a minute to breathe, snowflakes fluttering down into her hair.

I'm okay, So.

I know. I was worried you weren't.

Soraya grabbed her backpack and threw it over her shoulders, clinching the straps down extra super duper tight. She crouched down low, holding Mr. Hops in front of her with both arms. She was grateful she had on her jacket. It was cold. It was snowing. It didn't snow back home.

This isn't right, is it?

It's not.

Should I be scared?

Mr. Hops didn't answer. There were many things that Soraya was scared of - dogs, loud noises, people with certain kinds of faces that just seemed suspicious - and Mr. Hops told her to not be afraid of those things. They were silly. But there were some things that Mr. Hops would get quiet about, and Soraya knew those were the things she had to be real scared of. Sometimes, she asked, if there really were monsters in the closet, or she'd ask Mr. Hops if he saw some of the things she saw in her dreams. Mr. Hops would always get quiet, and she'd hold him twice as tight. This was bad. She was hiding, she thought. In the house. She had found all the good hiding spots already, but if you kept hunting, you never knew when you'd find another good one. She was going to surprise her parents - they'd been so stressed, she could tell, with everything going on, and when they thought she was asleep she'd sneak out and listen to them. They talked about "the economy" and "in the streets" and "don't know what we're going to do" and "not that, let's just go to bed" and then she'd scramble back and hide in the bed (and she wore socks, so if they checked her feet, they'd be warm).

But now there was snow. Her feet would never get warm.

Soraya knew what her first instinct was. She didn't even have to ask Mr. Hops. Sometimes, she just talked to Mr. Hops. Maybe she knew deep down she was really just talking to herself - she knew that when her parents looked at her "talking" to him, and gave her a sad sigh, one that reminded Soraya her eleventh birthday had been a few months ago, and she was supposed to be Grown Up now, and Grown Up and Mr. Hops were two things that were impossible to put together. But sometimes Mr. Hops flickered with that light, and Mr. Hops told her things she never would've known on her own.

The first instinct was easy, though. She hid. Soraya didn't know where she was or if anyone else was here. Maybe somebody took her in the middle of the night and now she had to get away. She ducked inside a building and looked around for a moment, creeping across the floor to a window. She stayed tuckered down in the shadows, where she could see out but nobody could see in. Those were the good hiding spots. The other good ones were the ones that were so obvious nobody even thought to look. There was a train, she could see. There were tall, tall buildings. Could we take the train, Mr. Hops? There could be a conductor or someone who could help us.

If there's a conductor, wouldn't he be making noise?

Soraya hesitated. He was right. He was always right. There should be a whistle, or steam, or anything. Like in Harry Potter. She liked those. They got a little scary sometimes.

Then someone shouted.

Soraya grabbed Mr. Hops tight. She - she didn't like shouting. Not at all. Her heart thundered in her chest, but she forced herself to be smart. If we do something dumb they'll find us, won't they?

Mr. Hops was silent for a moment. Yes. They will.

Can we trust them?

...I don't know.

Soraya stayed and listened. Someone was asking where people were. Maybe they were lost too? It could be a trick, Soraya thought. It was cold outside, and dry in here. Soraya had resolved to try to move upstairs and try to hide herself even better, but then she heard movement from up above.

How many are there? She asked, her fingers digging into Mr. Hops.

...three. That I can tell.

Soraya was scared. Three? She could maybe run from one, but three was a lot. There was snow. They'd be able to find her in the snow. She one time made tracks all over the place with her dad when they went skiing. But if she moved around a lot in here, the person upstairs would hear her, too. Mr. Hops, can we go away? I'm really scared.

He said nothing. Sometimes he did that when he wanted her to figure things out. Maybe - maybe they weren't bad guys. Soraya wanted to believe that, she really did, but there was no way to know for sure without risking getting caught. And it was a lot better to just not be noticed. A lot better. Soraya chewed on her fingers for a moment, trying to think. She had to be smart. They sounded like grown-ups. Yes, she could hear others, now. The one upstairs was shouting too. A girl's voice. Other girl's voices. That was good. Girls were nicer. One girl sounded strange, like a cowboy. Soraya had grown up speaking English, too, but the cowgirl took a minute for her to understand.

Mr. Hops, Soraya asked, and she was whispering to him even in her head. I need to know who they are.

Mr. Hops, she could almost hear him sigh, and there was just a little feeling of fatigue in Soraya, as if she'd done a few homework problems. There was a smiling girl - the cowgirl. A coin. What does that mean? Hush. Sorry. There was a boy with a guitar. Trains. There was a little wooden queen piece on a checkerboard, like the kind her dad had in his office he tried to teach her buts she'd gotten bored.

Soraya frowned. Mr. Hops was always right but sometimes she couldn't understand what he meant. Like right now - she was so scared she couldn't try to figure out what any of that was supposed to be. If she really had to, she could talk him into making them both go away, but if they hadn't seen her yet, she didn't need to. Not - not yet. But she could. If she heard the checkerboard lady come down the stairs, or maybe if the cowgirl had a gun. Those were scary - and very loud. Soraya wished she could know if they were good guys or bad guys or not. They weren't monsters, at least. Mr. Hops would've known if they were. She wondered when the lady upstairs was going to come down. Probably soon. Soraya glanced around for a better spot to hide. They were all talking loud. She tiptoed quiet as could be across the floor. It was some kind of lobby. Hmm. There weren't a lot of good places to hide in a lobby. She found a cluster of sitting chairs and made herself small behind one of them. There were a few near each other, so if she had to, she could slip behind another one if somebody got close. And they couldn't see her unless they came in and sat down, and they couldn't see her from the stairwell. Unless, Soraya thought, feeling her stomack drop down to her knees, They have Mr. Hops too, and their Mr. Hops tell them something.

She stroked her rabbit nervously, one arm tight around his chest and the other on the chair as she peeked beside it ever so barely. They don't, she told herself. And if they do, mine's better.

She just had to be quiet. That was okay. That was what she was good at.
May get a post up tomorrow
x
x
Will hopefully crank out a sheet sometime this weekend, dependent upon how busy I am.
Interested
Cordelia

Lynn lay next to Archie for as long as she would let herself. Why did he have to stay? Why? Why couldn't you make this any easier?

Lynn leaned back, unable to keep her mind from what it always did. There was always another corner. There was always an angle. The girl was jumpy. The girls who weren't didn't last particularly long in parahuman juvy.

Juvy. Christ, if those bitches could see me now. I'll bet anything any one of them could eat Paw Patrol upstairs alive and -

Lynn's eye opened. If Archie was paying attention, he would have felt her heartbeat triple in the span of a few seconds. Che was gone, for the moment, at the edge of her perception, right where the drugs were keeping all the pain, but they were wearing thin. Lynn let her mind race for just a moment, picking pieces apart and putting them back together.

Then she waited.

The waiting was the hardest part. Every few seconds, she would feel herself start to slip, and have to cement the cracks in her resolve over again. You have not done everything you've fucking done to pussy out now. They can get off. They have a chance. They need a window. Lynn closed her eye and focused, trying to think as far ahead as she could. Damn you, Denim. Why couldn't I have been half as smart.

Lynn feigned slumber, which was easy enough to fake, given that she dozed off for real. She woke when Archie was untangling himself to use the restroom, and Lynn forced the stupor to pass from the drugs. A second. Do you have to do this? He - he would come back, and lay down, and -

Lynn punched the call nurse button. The nurse came in smiling.

"Hey, ma'am," Lynn said, hoarse and croaking. "I have...it's...I'm sorry, I shouldn't have called."

"No - what's wrong?"

"I just, um." Lynn turned away. The bandages over her face made it a lot easier. "It's...it's silly."

"Tell me. Do you need more pillows?"

"No, it's just - I know I've been here a few days, and, um, I could really use a toothbrush."

"A toothbrush? Of course, but - "

The nurse looked around the room for a moment, noting Archie's absence. She gave Lynn a quiet smirk. "Just a moment, sweetheart." The nurse disappeared and returned, a cellophane-wrapped toothbrush in hand. It was pink.

"Thank you," Lynn said with a smile. "I - " she paused again.

"Yes?"

"There's footage, isn't there?" Lynn asked. She let her head sway.

"...you don't need to watch that right now."

"I just..." Lynn shifted, making sure her tattooed arm was beneath the sheets. "I'm worried my parents might, they..."

The nurse came over and gave Lynn a kiss on the forehead, pulling her in an embrace. It was all the opportunity she needed, really. She felt something she'd never felt before - the same iron twist in her gut that she'd felt lying to Anderson. Damn this, fuck all of this, I have to do this, stop being a pussy about it. Christ, you are not going soft now. Lynn put a hand on the back of her head, holding her for just a moment more.

The nurse pulled away and brushed a strand of Lynn's hair out her face. "Just get some sleep, okay? I'll hold him up in the hall if you need a moment to brush your teeth."

Lynn gave her a smile.

The nurse returned to the hallway, short her ID card and a hair clip.

"See, Clarita, you do it smooth, so they don't notice, not until you're in the clear," Lynn murmured, pulling the tube from her arm and blinking a few good times. "Now you try. That guy's got a rolex. Rolex. Hey, the fuck happened to Fish?" Lynn shook her arm, unsure if it would make the drugs wear off faster but it at least felt like it would. She grabbed the notepad from the bedside table and the pen. Archie would be back quick.

Her heart thudded in her head again.

Just one more lie, Lynn told herself. Then you don't have to bother them anymore.

Or she could tell the truth. Half of it.

Anderson,

I'm going to see my dealer. Go to the picnic table by the woods down past that coffeeshop we
Lynn felt the twist again. He brought flowers. went to last time you busted me out.

It curled tighter.

See you guys soon.

Then Lynn hobbled barefoot to the door and slipped into the hallway.

---

The supply closet took the card, but the clothes cabinet took the clip.

Lynn held the toothbrush in-between her teeth, stripping and staring at the racks. The sanitized air was cold on her bare skin, but she couldn't help but look for a moment.

The smallest scrubs still dwarfed her.

"Thmfck?" Lynn spoke around the brush, shaking her head and tying the strings around her waist an extra time, rolling up the cuffs. Where'd my hoodie go?

---

There was a stairwell Lynn stumbled into, her senses recovering quickly. She felt her hair warm around her, more intensely, the light on the concrete walls dancing to meet her. How much food had they pumped in her the last few days? Enough? Lynn ran through the steps in her mind again. She might make it work.

She found what she needed. There was a concrete corner.
Scrape. Scrape.

"Cell block e," Lynn mused. "How proud you'd be."

---

Radvi's room was unoccupied. There were dying children and he was a vegetable if ever there was one.

"Don't worry, fuckface," Lynn said. "I'm gonna do your job for you." Lynn leaned in close and put the shiv to his head. His hair had grown out. Lynn sliced a bit off, and then cut off a piece of her gown. She pricked his arm - perhaps a touch more forcefully than was strictly necessary - and dabbed it in the blood. Lynn grabbed the notepad beside his table and scrawled two messages. The first was simple - RADVI WAS RIGHT. MASS KILLER ON PROMISE. KIDS IN HOLDING. STAFF DOES NOTHING. MUST HELP. She wrote the day's date on it.

Lynn paused. No, that wouldn't work. They wouldn't give a shit, the cops would only care about -

Ah.

Lynn thought for a moment, two, heart pounding and sweat running down her brow. Anderson would be back any second now, she had to just do it.

THEY'RE GOING TO CRASH THE STATION INTO THE EARTH. SEND HELP IMMEDIATELY. DON'T STOP ESCAPE PODS.

She paused for a moment. The iron coiled again around her gut.

TELL THEM I'M SORRY. TELL -

"Stupid," Lynn said, picking up the pen. "Stupid."

Lynn folded the note and tucked it into the scrubs pockets. She jotted again.

"Cell block e," she muttered. "How ashamed you'd be."

WE ARE ALL DEAD. RIGHT ABOUT ARIANNA. GETTING ELI/others off SHIP. THEN GOING FOR KIDS. HELP ME OR YOU'RE NEXT. -LYNN FUCKING HOLMES."

Lynn folded the note and tucked it under the cop's body. She paused for a moment, checking the sheets. Fresh. She had a day before they switched them. Or was it twelve hours? Eh. Long enough.

"Wakey wakey," Lynn said, turning and walking out.

--

Lynn walked down the hallways quickly and with purpose. One of the few times she had felt blessed with the body she was given was now - even with flickering hair, a five foot girl is easily lost in the crowd of a hospital in times like these. She fumbled to avoid being impressed into service with moving a stretcher down the hall and kept moving back towards the stairwell, doing her best to project as many inconspicuous vibes as she -

"Lynn Holmes?" a voice asked.

"Oh, fuck me," Lynn whispered, turning back around.

The doctor stood there, pamphlets in hand. "I heard you were - "

"I was on my way to the cafeteria."

There was a moment of silence and Lynn felt her hand tighten in her pocket. Christ if this is how I get -

The doctor embraced her in a hug, patting the side of her head where her eye was missing. Ow. "I'm so, so proud, Lynn, we've really gotten you so far, and - "

---

Lynn stepped out of the hospital and took one beautiful second to breathe in deeply.

"Cara, where is Isaiah Marlon's dorm?"

"I must inquire as to the nature of this visit."

"I need to see if he's alive."

"He is."

Well, what was another lie. "Do I need your permission to get a survival fuck out of somebody? You don't see me stopping you from doing your thing every time somebody hits control alt del-"

"West Wing, third floor, room seventeen."

"Thanks."

The thanks surprised even her. Lynn didn't dwell on it.

--

Two knocks.

The door was opened a crack, and Isaiah fumbled with the lock for a moment.

"Christ, I thought you were dead - Jesus, you look dead."

"You know what to say to a woman."

Isaiah looked her over for a second. "Hey, why are you in scru - "

Lynn lunged forward, slamming the door behind her. She felt Isaiah's power hit her as soon as she did. Nullifier. The fire went out of her hair suddenly the pain of the left side of her face was all she could feel. That, and pissed off.

Lynn turned and pressed the shiv to his gut.

"Oh,"

"You're a terrible fucking weed dealer."

"Please, I - I don't - "

"Money. Weed. Now."

"Are you serious? I - "

Lynn pressed. To her credit, gently.

"Okay, okay, under the - "

"Bitch, you think I'm getting it?"

Isaiah fumbled, handing it to her.

"Oxy too. And the pills. Whatever you got."

"That's al-"

Lynn stared with force disproportionate to her height.

He returned.

"Good. You should probably tell Cara or somebody about this."

Isaiah stared at her in disbelief. "I was gonna cut you in, you know, but -"

"But you're a dipshit. No hard feelings. Oh, yeah, give me your clothes."

"The ones I'm wearing?"

"I meant - " Lynn smirked. "Actually, yeah, that's kind of funny."

"Fuck you."

"Christ, you're a poor sport. Give me the smallest shit you have."

Lynn turned and closed the door behind her, passing back down the hall as quick as she could.

As she walked, she slipped the note in the bag with the weed, and slipped the painkillers in her back pocket with the cash. A few hundred. Might be a few palms left to grease.

Then Lynn left.

--

"We're closed."

"No you're not."

Lynn smacked the cash down on the counter, eyes wide. For a second, she let herself feel like a little kid again, like she had before she'd made the candle dance, two nights before Christmas.

The clerk sighed and rang her up.

--

"FUCK!" Lynn whispered to herself. The faded [i]CAMP MOON LAKE[i] t-shirt was too big on her, so she had knotted it at the waist, and the jeans were cuffed up once or twice. She would've kicked a trash can if she had one ounce less of restraint. She gnawed on the back of her hand, thinking. Her brand new sneakers fit snug and cozy, and the leather jacket, although also too big, was comforting. It was nice to have something slightly tougher on her. A little more time. A few more hours. They have those guns. I just need a little more time.

"Cara," Lynn murmured.

"Yes?"

"They have arts and crafts shit here?"

"...please specify."

"Like, pots."

"Kitchenware?"

"No, I mean, like, pottery."

"...you're an artist?"

"Yeah."

"You're an artist looking to enroll in arts classes."

"Yes." Lynn couldn't resist. "As a student, not a teacher. But I'm probably qualified." beat. "I'm, like, real passionate and shit."

"...there is a ceramics course, yes."

"They, like, open?"

"...I suspect my answer is irrelevant to your next course of action."

"Christ. Where at?"

"The art wing, first floor, third room on the right. I trust you will use the kiln responsibly."

"The fuck is a kiln?"

Lynn leaned back against a post, thinking. Bulletproof vests had that shit in them. If she could, like, duct tape some in there, it might stop those tasers. She only needed it to work once or twice. Or maybe duct tape? She could bind the whole thing in duct tape and that might stop it. These Gennedy-sucking fucks probably had something stronger. Lynn was not about to believe for a moment this had nothing to do with whatever powers that be. They keep getting Anderson mad. They keep letting things like this happen. There's some angle. I don't know what.

Didn't matter. "Focus," she thought, hand on the bag in her pocket. Dogs would smell that easy. Surely they had as much security on stuff coming back as they did going out. Lynn squinted. The inside of her eye socket was itching like crazy, and she could not figure out why.

Payback for killing a kid.

You're not a bad thing.


The docks were crawling with security. "You stupid bitch," Lynn said, turning idly and walking back away from the cafeteria area. Things were on high alert, and why wouldn't they be. They were probably still cleaning up brains from - you better have my back

"Fuck," Lynn hissed, turning back and walking away for a moment. She ducked behind a secluded corner near a bathroom and stood still, chewing on her hand. There was no way to get the bag anywhere near anything that would get shipped back. It was a hail mary if Lynn had ever thrown one, but there wasn't anything else. Her worthless fucking case manager never wrote back on that email, and they were probably checking them now, anyway. If the others were doing what they were supposed to, they'd be hopefully trying to break through here and leave soon anyway.

She could give it to one of them. No. Don't be a coward now.

Lynn took another breath. She had to find a way to get this shit in some kind of cargo. Christ, if she'd only asked more questions at Vaquero. Keaton could piece this together. Or Amelia could just warp her over. Eli - well, that'd be a fucking cakewalk. Boat Farmer probably, like, ran moonshine or something.

"Jesus Christ," Lynn sighed. "Even Spoons would be helpful right now. We'd have to, like, hold hands after, but she'd. Fuck. Fuck." Lynn leaned back against the wall, her desperation only matched by her anger. "I did not just fucking hug that bullshit doctor to get stuck here. Think. Think."

And think fast. They can't find you. Gennedy or the others. Either one stops you.
Lynn and Archie


When Lynn woke up, there were names swimming in her head, threatening to pour out the weeping eye socket that was packed with gauze and bandages.

Gennedy. Radvi. Arianna. Che. Che. Che.

One swam out to the forefront.

Lynn blinked her eye open and turned, breathing shallow and gasping on the respirator. Her throat - her throat was sore. Like someone had made her swallow sandpaper. Feeding tube, Lynn thought for a moment, lifting the arm that was bound by an IV to enough rolling fluids to keep her hydrated until the end of her life.

“Wrrtrr,” Lynn choked, gasping. She coughed and coughed, turning. Ash splattered out onto the bedsheets. Get it together you fucking bitch, Lynn wanted to scream. You’re not dead yet. You have a few more hours. Lynn looked at the room around her. One thing she had learned in prison, growing up, anywhere - any few moments you could take to gain some kind of knowledge about your surroundings was invaluable. She looked at the room, blinking, bleary. My eye, she thought. I got my eye -

The kid. Burning. Burning. The gun melting through his -

Lynn closed her eye and leaned back into the pillow, trying to keep her breathing steady. Christ. For a beautiful moment she’d - she’d almost forgotten, and -

She opened her eye again, staring up at the ceiling. “Cara,” Lynn whispered, hoarse as a dead man.

“Yes, Lynn?

“Water. A nurse. And….” Lynn closed her eye, gripping the side of the hospital bed to force some kind of stability into her bones. They’re shooting me full of something, Lynn thought, her thoughts swimming. All of them swam up and rippled out across the front of her mind. All but one.

“Anderson. Please...call Anderson and tell him to come here.”

“No need. He is in this room with you. He will return from physical therapy shortly.”

Lynn giggled. She giggled until her throat, raw from the feeding tube, coughed and hacked again. “That was funny, Cara.”

“...I’m sending for a nurse immediately.”

There was a bit of a bustling sound against the door, as if someone was fumbling around outside rather than simply turning the door handle. Eventually whomever was on the other side managed to get a grip. Archie, clad in a shoulder sling that seemed to stiffen and brace the shoulder, stumbled through the doorway muttering a string of shoot, dangit, and hell’s and shut it gingerly behind him.

He just about jumped out of his skin when he turned around and saw Lynn sitting up in her bed. The noise he made, halfway between a squeak and a yell, was almost pitiful if not funny considering the source was a five foot nothing girl… but Archie was not a brave man inherently. Not like she was.

“Lynn…!” he said, eventually regaining his composure. “You’ve been-” he trailed off, his mind racing somewhat. Between all of the things that had happened over the past several days and the last time he had seen Lynn, it… probably wouldn’t be a good idea to mention that she had gone in and out of consciousness more than a few times. Or that she had seemed to be in pain when she was. Or that she had said names of people that he didn’t know. People she had never mentioned to him. So in an act that was strangely emotionally intelligent for a man that habitually grabbed the hands of living suns and super strong girlfriends, he didn’t. At least not in that moment. “I- I’m glad you’re up. Are you, y’know, feeling okay?”

Lynn stared at Archie with one eye that flickered between light blue and soft red and sunshine yellow the sort of way she had never looked at anyone. You were always a stupid girl, Lynn thought, You thought he was like Che. “Back from the dead,” she said, coughing again. A nurse entered with a cup of water and some instructions and medical terms Lynn didn’t listen to. As long as she had a pulse and food in her stomach, she would live. Lynn sipped on the water slowly as she left, then put the cup on the table. “For a little while.” Lynn looked over at Archie, just looking for a moment. This will not get easier the longer you wait, she wanted to say, and she felt like the corner of the room, the visiting chair to her left that was gone to her sight - she felt like Che was sitting there, mocking her between sips of whiskey. “How are you?” she asked quietly, drinking more water. His hand is bandaged. He won’t get any closer to you. He knows better.

Archie shrugged, or at least tried too, moving only the unrestrained shoulder upwards. “It’s my first time taking a bullet. At least, when I’m not covered in scales.” he explained. He sighed but grinned for her benefit. “It felt weird. All that stopping power. Been hit all sorts of times, big brother used to beat the hell out of me when we were kids, but I didn’t even feel the bullet. One moment I’m getting ready to say hello to a bunch of new kids and the next I’m bleeding out on the floor.”

He laid on the floor staring straight ahead for what felt like a while but couldn't have been more than a few seconds. He saw people jerk and fall, some managing to hobble up or move. Some didn't. Amidst the chaos he saw Lynn get shot twice in the chest, the force of the bullets just about taking her off her feet. One landed home on Amelia's upper body, where her neck connected to her shoulder. She fell, and he couldn't see the damage and if it was fatal or not. His eyes flashed to Eli just in time to see a round enter and exit her left calf.

Archie shook for a moment, suddenly violently uncomfortable with the memory. “I, uh… I watched people die. Watched you and other friends get shot and- and apparently when I turned I-”

He felt his stomach flip, and he took several brisk steps towards Lynn’s side of the room where the sink was and released whatever he had eaten for lunch. He had killed people. He had killed people and he didn’t even remember their faces. People that had lives and families just like him that he had snuffed out just like that. Yeah, they were bad people who hurt other people. Who hurt him- but he couldn’t shake the idea that he was like them because he had killed them. He had almost killed Keaton and Eli and that Nic kid, too.

Archie reached up and turned on the sink when he was finished to run his stomach contents down the drain. He rinsed out his mouth too, but since that day… There was a muffled scream that was instantly choked as the power of Archie's jaws forced his teeth through skin and bone vice grip. Like being caught in a giant bear trap that rent flesh and shattered bone. He remembered the feeling of his jaws sliding shut.

“I can’t get the taste of blood out of my mouth.” he said, half to himself and half to Lynn. That thick, metallic taste seemed to hide in some hidden crevice. Faint but omnipresent and lingering like some hidden putrid scent.

Lynn watched and said nothing. He’ll have the Salamandra dreams now, she thought bitterly. If she had ever believed in Santa Claus, she would have felt like she was telling him the truth of it all now. There’s no magic under the tree. Just lights that go out when the timer’s done ticking. Even with one arm in a sarcophagus of a sling, his muscles tensed and flexed as he gripped onto the side of the sink. He was tall, and broad, but he looked younger and more scared than someone a third his size. Lynn didn’t know what to say. She realized, like she always did, too fucking slow. She wasn’t smart like Keaton. She couldn’t put it together in time. Not then, not ever. She should have told Archie this on the first day. “You need to get out of here, Anderson.” Lynn said, quietly, watching him. “Don’t go back to your room, don’t get your shit, don’t - “ she stopped, coughing again, placating her throat with another sip of water. “Don’t pass go. Just leave. This - the - “ Lynn felt her arm rattle as if she was slamming Salamandra’s head into the wall all over again - “it doesn’t go away. You just…” Lynn leaned back into the bed for a minute. “I mean it. I know I’m - just go. Get to the pods and - something, okay. This isn’t where you should be.” Lynn had not noticed her voice wavering. The morphine, the part of her that had stared Anderson down and wondered what he’d done to get put in those restraints on the first day told her. But the rest knew better. Archie was just Clarita and Megan a few years older, a few inches taller. “Please. Because - “ she stopped, turning away for a moment. She couldn’t gather her thoughts. Whatever they’d given her made them keep slipping away.

“That’s not really an option,” Archie stated. “Aint got no family or friends to go back to. Ma’s gone, Pa’s dead. Brother’s in jail. The night or two before I came here I woke up with my illegal step dad pointing a shotgun at my face, ass naked in the dead of night, caged and surrounded by a town that had tried to kill me.” That probably would kill him if he went back, he mused. “Lotta people come up here and have the worst separation anxiety cases recorded in human history. ‘Cause you leave everything you’ve ever known behind, y’know? Cara checks in on you every day to make sure you’re not curling in on yourself like-” like a naked man in the woods peppered with birdshot and burnt by torches. He breathed, hard and heavy.

Lynn bristled, listening to him. She hadn’t known. It twisted her even more, knowing - you never should have been here. You’re not a bad person. In a cage. He was a kid. It made her angry, angrier knowing there was nothing she could do. Someone should have kept you safe.

“...but coming up here was easy. Had nothing left. All I’d do is go home and die. Only difference is it’d be alone in the woods as opposed to not alone in the woods.”

He managed to pull himself together enough to push away from the sink and grab a chair, which he pulled up so he could sit next to Lynn’s bed. “You always talk about knowin’ things,” he began. “First day I thought you were gonna bite my head off just for sitting at the same table.” He almost did bite her head off. It turned his stomach again knowing that he would have. “But I don’t know much about you. You’re always acting like someone’s gonna slink out from behind and-”

He remembered how she acted when they found the body. No cops. How angry she got when Natalie had called them. How she had acted when they were interrogated after they were released. How she had jumped and burned him when he took her hand. How she was talking now, as if she knew shit that he didn’t. It bothered him to no end- because he had just physically and metaphorically spilled his guts to her and yet here she was telling him to do this, that, and whatever from some unknown position of authority. Archie was tired of not knowing Lynn. He was tired of calling her his friend when he knew she didn’t for a moment feel the same way about him. Normally he wouldn’t ask, or press. He’d be sweet, dumb, good kid little Archie. But not right now. Right now he deserved some answers.

“Who’s Che?”

Something inside Lynn went cold, cold like she’d never felt even on the floor of the cafeteria, and Lynn couldn’t look away. Ice cubes clinked in a whiskey tumblr, somewhere far away. This was it. This was pulling the oversized hoodie off her and showing how rail-thin and hollow her body was to the whole world. Who’s Che? “How - who…”

“Kept sayin’ it in your sleep. It and few others.”

Lynn leaned back into the pillow. Her first instinct was her oldest one, the safest one, to tell Archie to fuck off, to stop listening, to mind his business, that - but it passed. The bed beeped and the next dose of whatever liquid ecstasy they were pumping Lynn full of coursed into her, and the girl’s body temperature was low enough to keep it more or less chemically intact.

And somewhere in the fuzz Lynn had a crooked grin. It didn’t matter. She could tell Anderson anything. There were only hours left, now. The question was whether it would be Arianna or Gennedy or a handful of terrorists. Or maybe a nurse slips too much of this drug, and there’s one less headache for all of us. She’d always thought so - since the day she’d come onto the Promise, since the day she’d entered juvy, since the day she played lookout that first time - but she knew it now. There were only hours left. “Okay,” Lynn murmured. “It’s a long story.” Lynn was quiet for a few moments. It was impossible to answer. Who is Che? It was like asking how the sun rose and fell. You could say, “it just does”. You could break down the orbit of the earth. You could tell a myth. They’d all be true. Che just was. He was every ticking rule of the universe that kept things in line. He was more superhuman than she ever was. All true.

“When I was eight years old my hair was down to my waist because every time they tried to cut it the scissors would melt.” Lynn said. Her skin felt far away from her body, now, and there was some warm cloud that was filtering through all the memories and making them almost giggly. Lynn turned and stared at Archie and the warm cloud pushed away the knowledge that she was more wretched to look at now than she ever had been. She didn’t care. “I never knew my folks. I - isn’t it funny? You talk about your brother beating you and I’m jealous.” Lynn giggled, then blinked. She didn’t like this. She didn’t want the drugs. She fumbled at the needle in her arm but it wouldn’t move, her fingers wouldn’t grip. “I wish I hadn’t...I wish you hadn’t gotten put in that cage,” Lynn said. It was just juvy, really. The same as hers. Just different. They’d made Lynn get naked too, small and bone-thin and hosed down, her almost-bald hair sticking to her skull. “That wasn’t…” Lynn blinked, and the rush was starting to simmer. “I think I killed people when I was ten, Anderson. I threw a bottle. And they had me throw it because things burn better when I…” Lynn blinked again. She closed her eye and forced her thoughts into line, some kind of iron vise tightening around them. She opened it again softly, speaking slow. This was the only thing she thought she’d said that really mattered, aside from theories with Keaton, and even then nothing she’d said had helped. Always too slow, Che chided. “When...I mean, I don’t have to tell you. It sounds like your family was fucked. I didn’t really have any. I was in foster care from the minute they pulled me out. I - a lot, you know, are. Paras. When the first thing your mom sees is blue hair they…” Lynn drifted. “Anyway. Not a lot of homes kept me. Because I was a shit kid. Breaking stuff. I couldn’t...things burned and I couldn’t help it. I burned a house down, one time, on Christmas. They had candles, and I wanted to play and they…” Lynn fumbled with the needle, but it wouldn’t move. “You know my first name, Cordelia, it...it’s Shakespeare or some shit. It’s supposed to be the good little sister. I fucked that up, didn’t I?”

“I...when I was ten, I met Che. I grew up in a shit city, and in the shit part of that city, and...I dunno. Anderson I...there wasn’t anybody. Like even the other fuck-ups, at least, they weren’t para fuck-ups. And the only other para fuck-ups I knew…” she paused. “They go away. Here, or...I dunno. Here there’s always someone watching and listening. But when your school doesn’t have enough money to keep the lights on, it’s like...they can’t keep track. There’s not enough money. We never really knew. I guess now, they got caught up in gangs, or some fucker sold them off to a billionaire who likes their paras pint-sized. I don’t know.” Lynn breathed again, the world still fuzzy around the edges. “I keep...I keep dodging the question. Che’s not his real name, he...he called himself that. ‘Cause he led all of us. Like Che in the...the one in the books and stuff. He - he saw me on the street one day. And he asked me to do him a favor. I just had to keep an eye out. For just a minute. And…he was, he was the first one who saw me on the street and didn’t look away. So I said sure. And then there was another. And another. And it’s not, like, who the fuck else was there? I was in a different house every eight months because the microwave burned through the wall or I had a nightmare and singed the sheets, you know? And I was a shit kid on top of that, I stole and I - I fought kids. I was always little, and they - you have to show them you’re not a bitch, or... “ Lynn blinked again, unaware her head was swaying as she spoke. You’re making a fool of yourself, she heard, faintly, through the drugs, but that slipped away. “Anyway. He...he took me under his wing. I did things for him. I was happy to. I was good at something, now. And occasionally I’d have a foster parent who would keep an eye on me, but never for long. I got shuffled around. There were others, too. The names, I - Clarita. Megan. They were like my little sisters. I took care of them, you know. I was only eleven or twelve, but I could fight.” she sipped at the water, holding it to her chest, staring at the wall. “I fought, like adults. There was a warehouse, and I’d go, and they’d put down bets, and - and I always won, because no one thought I could. And you know what’s funny is Che always won those bets but we never had any money, figure that the fuck out.” Lynn paused for a moment, eyes flickering red, but it passed.

Despite himself Archie managed to snort a bit. “If I uh…” he said. “If I didn’t know you any better I wouldn’t have thought you can hit nearly as hard as you can.” This one had stood up to the lizard. He always had to remind himself of that- the two tiniest people he had met were probably some of the strongest in the world.

He scooted up a bit closer to the table and, as gently as he could, put his hand on her arm. Archie wasn’t sure what he was doing- in fairness though he rarely was. He just remembered a day many, many years ago when his adoptive father put a hand on his shoulder after lowering his actual father into the ground and it just felt… nice. He ran the pad of his thumb along her bicep but didn’t meet her gaze, more focused on the catheter in her hand. “Sorry I- continue.”

“If I didn’t know you, I’d be surprised by your weight class too,” Lynn said. When Archie put his hand on her Lynn tensed, but took a breath and kept going, nodding. “I...I don’t know. It was a gang, I mean, but that’s not...people don’t get it. It’s like these were the only people that gave a fuck. The teachers just looked at you and you knew that they didn’t give a shit. You were the two or three kids every year they got to write off, because of course a few kids are gonna fail. And slowly the foster homes get in worse and worse parts of town, and sooner or later I don’t know anybody who ever really gets out. I don’t know anybody older than nineteen or twenty. I wound up in - this guy named Gary, he was my last foster parent. This guy was a piece of shit.” Lynn started chuckling again, wheezing. Cara had told her a funny joke about Gary a while back. “Heh. Sorry. I just remembered something funny. He - he tried to do things. And...he got burned.” Her tone had melted back to serious before she knew it had. “I...I freaked out. I went to Che. And he said that was fine.” she paused for a moment. “Because we had that, over him, you know. Like blackmail. And he - he couldn’t do anything about it. And I thought that wasn’t right. But I said...I said okay. So from then I was with Che all the time. I didn’t have to check back in or anything. And that just became everything. I stole stuff or broke into cars. We jumped people. I kept doing the fights. I helped Che expand. See, the other gangs didn’t have any paras, because that brought the feds down on you. But we were small enough to get by. There was always just one more, one more thing, you know. One more wallet. One more deal. One more fight. But like, he told me, I was always keeping us safe. I was doing the right thing. I was keeping clothes on Clarita and Megan. Like if we could just get a little more we could fix it all. And every time it was a little bit more. A little more...I don’t know how to…” Lynn paused again, shaking. The drugs were swirling in her head. “I wanted him to be proud, Archie, I wanted to be good at something. I wanted...I wanted him to want me...no other guy ever wanted to touch me…he just always knew what to do, or to say, and he could make anything sound like a good idea. And it was, it...” she drifted off again, quiet for a few moments, before she found herself. “Eventually, I...I get to be fifteen or so. And Clarita and Megan, they’re like, they’re like the kid sisters I always wanted, but they’re not really kids any more. I taught them how to tie their shoes and walked them home from school when they still went and everything, you know. And I’m walking back from something one day, and it’s late, way too fucking late, but I haven’t been to school in a month at this point, and Clarita - she’s, she’s Che’s sister - she and Megan are waiting on the sidewalk. And they’re, like, waiting. Not just dicking around.”

Lynn stopped again, steadying her breath. “I...he’d put them out there, to...to.” She couldn’t finish the sentence. “His own fucking sister. I went right to him. I said what the fuck was the point, of, of picking pockets and mugging people and everything if this is what we were doing? It was the only time I ever said anything back to him. Everything else I just said okay, because I thought he knew, but - and I could see in his eyes he was angry, he was so fucking angry, but he said okay. And I believed it was, because I wanted it to be. Because who the fuck else was there.”

Lynn shifted her weight and pulled up the hospital gown, just an inch or two. Her legs were bare, short and pale, and the vicious scar on her knee stood out clearly. “So about a week later, Che says there’s a job we gotta do. Just the two of us. Down at the warehouse. Is it a fight? I ask. No, he says, just roughing up some guys. Nothing I hadn’t done a thousand times before. We go. I go in first, like we always did when we were breaking in somewhere, because I could take the hits, you know, and I go in, and there’s like three dead guys in there. Rival gangs, I don’t remember which, and they’re all burned. Burned bad. They’re dead. And I go to say, ‘What happened?’ and there’s a gunshot. And…” Lynn laughed again, as bitter and empty as a laugh could be. “And my first thought was, they’re behind us, they got somebody behind us. And I tell Che to shoot them. But there’s nobody else.” She paused for a minute, breathing. “And that’s not the kicker. The kicker is he stands there for a second until we hear the sirens. And then he goes. They take me away and the whole time I can’t - I can’t make sense of it. I didn’t get it. There was just some puzzle piece I was missing, you know? Because I was fucking stupid. And so I’m in holding, and I’m talking with the public defender, and the whole time I’m thinking if I could just talk to him we could sort this out, something didn’t make sense. But it made sense. Sooner or later I was gonna say no. Sooner or later I was going to realize I had more firepower in my left hand than he had in the whole gang. And sooner or later I was going to put those together, and he put it together before I did.”

Lynn emptied her water cup but held it closer to her, shaking. “So we go to trial, and I keep thinking, surely - surely one of them will say something. How could I have done that, you know? There’s - there’s no way. And there was a slew of other stuff, arson and shit, anything in the area they could throw, because nobody wanted to think about paras running around uncontrolled. And…” Lynn stopped again, her whole frame shaking. “Not one of them did. They all got up, they’d been busted for some dumb shit a week after, and they all flipped. All of them swore I’d done all of it. My guy, he even proved, like, I would’ve had to be in two places at the same time for half of it, but….but they all swore. They all swore to God. I couldn’t look Che in the eyes. I still thought there was something I did wrong. I just had to sit there and listen.” Lynn stared ahead for a minute. “I taught her how to tie her shoes, Anderson. She told those people I put her out there.” she took another deep breath. “Then juvy. Then...then here.”

She drained what was left of the cup and put it back down. “I don’t know shit,” Lynn said again. “I just know one thing. If you put anybody in that position they do what they do.” She turned and looked at Archie. “I thought you were running some game on me, you know. The first time, in the hospital. But I was wrong. I was really wrong. You’re the kind of person who throws up after what just happened. Not the kind of person who burned a house down when he was ten.” Lynn stared at him. Maybe this is it, she thought, swimming to stay coherent through the drug-induced stupor. Maybe you never get to any of those fucking kids but you can get to him. Let one decent fucking person get out of here. Christ if you’re even real let me just have one thing. “Anderson you brought me flowers. No one….” she breathed again, trying to make the words say what she needed them to, but they wouldn’t, they never did. “Each time,” she said, shaking. “Each time you - each time some shit goes wrong we’re both there, have you noticed. And I stayed away from you because I burned you, and I didn’t mean to, I just…” she closed her eye again and focused. “Anderson we’re not gonna both keep getting lucky, okay? And you don’t need to spend the rest of your life throwing up in the sink. You’re a good person, you’re not...I…” she paused, and it was the moment, the Che thing, it all could’ve been a lie, some morphine-made fever dream, but this was it. She reached over and grabbed Archie’s hand and leaned in close, close so that Cara couldn’t hear, she prayed, she dared, and whispered, “I killed Salamandra, Che. When she said she was going to - to rape you. She begged me not to. But I did. And then she blew up and those people died. Because of me. And in the cafeteria. I...I lit one of them on fire, after he shot me.” her fingers were numb but she dug them into him with all the strength she could muster, but she knew it wasn’t enough, it never was. “It was a kid. He burned to death, Archie. I killed him. You can still get out, and I - I - I know back home, there’s no fucking home, but you’re not a bad person yet and that’s what this place will make you. People like me and people like you can’t...you’re always gonna get burned. And I don’t want to burn you. And I think sooner or later something worse than that is gonna happen. And I…” she pulled away and leaned into the pillow, shaking. “I hope it’s me. I know what I am. I hope it’s not Eli or Keaton or Amelia. I hope it’s not Natalie. I hope you don’t know that’s what we’re all like deep down. But somebody will. You’re the kind of guy who walks through the door first. And we always get shot, Anderson. Always. Please get off the station. Just find somewhere. Anywhere else. I know - I know back home is shit but you…” she closed her eye, trying to breathe. She was out of breath.

“Lynn.” Archie said, effectively cutting her off with a firm but incredibly gentle tone. She was feeling the drugs they were giving her and he knew it, but he hoped beyond hope that she would understand him- or at least would remember. Maybe what he did next was stupid, given what had happened last time. Given what she had told him. Given that it would very well blow up in his face a validate every one of her fears for him- but he slid his hand from her arm to under the small of her back and hugged her as best he could with one arm.

Lynn didn’t have hair like normal girls, and she didn’t smell like perfume or shampoo. She smelt like ozone, and smoke, and cinders. She smelt like some of the nicer memories that he had as a child- in the woods with friends and acquaintances getting blasted out of his mind and throwing up on the beach. He rested his head in the crook of her neck and waited to speak- to feel the heat that her whole body emanated from every pore. It was subtle, but a comfort that was unlike any other person that he had ever met. She was unlike anyone he had ever met. He felt her go stiff as a board, but he didn’t pull away. He held her there, close and intimate until he felt the weight of her arms settle on his back.

“Bad things happen.” he mumbled into her neck. “But you aren’t a bad thing. I’m so glad that I met you.”

It was a simple sentence, but it carried weight to it that many didn’t. To give someone that gift of just being right there. To say what was happening. You’re a great friend. You mean a lot to me. You make me happy.

He pulled away, but kept his hand on her shoulder. He believed her now. At least, more so than he did before. If Lynn thought that they needed to get off this ship then, well, she was probably a lot better at sniffing out a shit situation than he would ever be. She was smarter than him, and more experienced, and he knew it. “I know you don’t trust easy. But… if we get off this station and go… somewhere, if I walk through those doors first… you better have my back. Every step. You hear me?”

He breathed and met her eyes. Well, eye. “Thank you. For saving my life.”

Something in her twisted, around and around and around, and Lynn could not begin to tell where the knot began or where it ended. Her heartstrings and her gut and her ribs were all bound tight, so tight she couldn’t breathe. She had let herself, for just a moment, hug him. Just relax in it. It was all she wanted. Then it was gone. You aren’t a bad thing. I can’t, she wanted to whisper. Nobody can, Archie. Lynn couldn’t look him in the eyes and tell him that. He’s too dumb to know, she thought. I’m just another Che. “Anderson,” she said. “If you get the chance to go you take it. I…”

Lynn paused. She closed her eye. She tried to pull back that feeling, of the hug, when she was a good person for a few heartbeats that drummed against each other. If I was beautiful, Archie, would...could it…? “Okay,” she said softly. I will burn for this before everything else. “Can you get the others? Are they - “ she hadn’t considered they weren’t alright. The drugs, she wanted to blame, but she knew the truth of it. Ice cubes clinked. “I...we should all meet up. Keaton will know. Where we talked about throwing flour on the floor.” Lynn could not meet his gaze. Just one more lie and it’s over, she thought. It’s better to lie to Anderson now than...than he gets in a situation where he has to be like me. If they met there, they’d wait a few minutes. Of course Lynn would be late. Keaton might suspect something. She was early, normally, but maybe she’d be lucky. Maybe Keaton would need a minute to piece it together. Maybe Eli or Amelia says not to worry. But sooner or later Keaton figures it out. Lynn’s not coming. If Lynn could come to the conclusion she had - that things were fucked, fucked now and fucked until they were all dead - they had to get off. And she’d know Lynn couldn’t go. Not when there were dolls left in the woods. And - Lynn prayed - she’d run the math on that, and realize it was smarter to -

Through the drugs, Lynn forced everything soft and swimming to turn to iron. Hold it together, she wanted to scream. Just a few more minutes. You won’t fuck him over. You won’t let that happen. But if you all have to stay together you will. You burned him before. Just like the kid you murdered.

Archie nodded. “I’ll gather the troops,” he said, but instead of jumping up to his feet and running off to start their mission, scooched a bit closer to the bed. “I’ll send the text. In a while.”

Archie leaned forwards and hugged Lynn again. She was doped up, and probably wouldn’t remember it, but he wanted to show her. To show her that he trusted her, and that he trusted that she wouldn’t burn him. For now they- or at least she, would rest. “We’ll go together in a while.”

Lynn’s heart sunk into her stomach, but it raced at the same time. The part of her that played with candles at Christmas lifted an arm up around Archie. This was not too much to ask for. Even if she lied. I begged you to fucking listen, Anderson. She turned, feeling his warmth against her. She was not used to feeling someone else’s warmth. I burned you, she wanted to say. [/i]I killed a kid.[/i] But the other part of her wanted to grip tighter. Somewhere in the delirium of the painkillers, a part of her wondered if he would tell a soul if she twisted his face to hers and pressed her lips against his. I would’ve kept you safe. Are my lips warm as the rest of me, Anderson? And for a half-blurry second her hand started to, but she stopped. The cold knot in her stomach pulled her back. Che would be proud, wouldn’t he? Lying to the boy one minute and kissing him the next? Lynn pulled back, blood thundering in her head. I’ll fuck it up, Anderson. I’ll fuck it up. Why can’t you just fucking go. Just one thing. The others swam into her mind. Amelia and Eli and Keaton. She hoped they’d made it. She hoped they got off the Promise. Some people could make it out.

It was just that Lynn was never going to be one of them.

---

Some time passed, and eventually everyone’s phone dinged- the same group chat that had been used on Homecoming night.

Archie Anderson: Hey, Lynn and I need everyone to meet up. Where Keaton said they should spill flour on the floor. Ask Keaton if you don't know where that is and don't see any of us on the way.”

Cordelia Lynn Holmes


Lynn's arm itched. She looked down and there was something in the crook of her right arm. Something. She tried to focus her eyes on it, but her eyes were not cooperating. She blinked. Did she? Did she blink? Something wasn't right with her vision. She was forgetting something. She was cold.

"You always were almost adorable." Lynn frowned. She'd heard that voice. The clinking of ice in a glass. Lynn looked up from her arm, eyes tracing over the orange jumpsuit pants that hung baggy and loose from her legs, though none of the other girls had ever once been fooled into thinking Lynn was a half pound heavier than she was. That sweatshirt had never fooled anyone either. It was just a hoodie to tell the world how rich and tall she wasn't. The jumpsuit told the jury what decision to make, if that silver collar hadn't. On seventeen counts of arson, eight of petty vandalism, three of petty theft -

Lynn was in a living room. There was a couch littered with cigarette burn marks opposite her. She must have been in the easy chair, then, the one that had more quarters than a pinball machine in its cracks. They fought over who got to sit there. Lynn lost intentionally. To her left was the window, barred over, broken through.

Lynn looked across the room and saw a man sitting there. A girl lay sprawled across his lap, strung out to oblivion. He had one hand cradling her neck, idly toying with her hair, and the other swirling the whiskey in his glass. To their right, a fireplace crackled and stirred, even though Lynn knew there was no fireplace supposed to be there. No fireplace in a meth house, Lynn thought. She felt like she was swimming. She felt like she was looking through stained glass, watching rain drizzle down. But there was no water. Only the clinking of ice cubes in glass. Something was wrong. It was too empty. There was always a junkie or two hanging around, some debtor or would be disciple girl to their resident prophet. But it was so empty. She was cold.

The man had olive skin, the wisps of an unformed beard and mustache clinging to his face. His cheeks were pudgier than she remembered, but she was thinking that was more that she'd remembered wrong, than that he'd changed. His eyes were dark and seemed to soak in the firelight without turning warm. Lynn went to pull herself up more in her seat but her arm caught. She turned back and saw there was a handcuff around the side of the easy chair to the crook of her arm. Some distant back part of her head started to hurt. That wasn't how the chair's arm was, Lynn thought. There was nowhere for it to hook in, this isn't right, who's that girl, why is there -

"Lynn." Che said, voice smooth as the whiskey swirling in his hands.

"Fuck off." Lynn muttered, looking around, fidgeting. There was nothing to grab, in a house full of needles there was nothing she could get in her hand. She had to - Lynn stopped for a moment, mind whirring. She had to do something, didn't she? But she couldn't remember what. Was it Che? There was someone else. There was a gunfight, and -

"You're safe."

Lynn turned and looked back at him. The woman in his arms was stirring, just barely. Lynn had seen that before, you know, the ones who might need naloxone, who might pull through. "Who's she?" Lynn said. You never answered their questions. You just deflected. Found something else.

"You know."

Lynn stared at the woman. Tattoos. She was familiar. She'd seen her, yes, at the -

"Drink?" Che asked.

Lynn was looking around. "Where's Clarita? Megan? What did you - "

"Lynn," Che said again, and Lynn felt her voice flicker out her like the flames in the pit. The left side of the room was dark, only lit by the fire. Her eye wasn't working right. "Just relax a minute. You know where you are."

"Shut the fuck up."

"Home."

"This isn't right."

"Was it ever?" Che asked, sipping. No matter how much he drank, it always stayed steady. That's not right either, Lynn thought, feverishly. Clarita poured, I never got to, I would've set it on fire, but she's not here, and - "You're dying."

"Nothing can kill me," Lynn said, but the lie felt weak even to her. She was, suddenly, she knew, just as she knew this house was not as she remembered it. She was shivering beneath her jumpsuit, and she felt clammy. The left side of the room kept growing darker. In the fireplace, the logs had burned to white ash. "I don't - let me out of this chair."

Che smiled. "I taught you how to pick locks."

"You taught me to fuck off and die. Give me the key."

Che shook his head. "Doesn't work that way. Don't you want a drink?"

Lynn stared at him. "I'm sick of these fucking games."

"Because you always lose?" Che grinned, cocking his head to a side as he looked her over, and Lynn could only think of the clothes melting off her, how bare and bone thin she was. Not like those other girls. Not like - there was a blank space in Lynn's brain. I should know, she's so strong, she - the first day, she had a collar, a...a necklace, I...and she - she broke my shoulder, she -

Fuck this.Lynn screamed with anger, trying to reach out to the fire, to make it roar up to life, but the flames stayed put. There was a second in-between her willing the fire to life and when it should have happened that she remembered something happening, she remembered reaching out to a flame, farther than she'd reached before - it had been the cafeteria, there were bullets, and -

Lynn looked back at Che. There were bullet holes all against the wall behind him. The woman coughed and murmured something incoherent. He ignored her. He always did. "Drink, Lynn."

Lynn looked down at the cafeteria mug in her hand. Water, boiling, boiling. There hadn't been a mug there before. She was cold. "What the fuck is this, Che?"

"I'm here to help. I can unlock that thing."

"Then do it."

"Not yet."

Lynn stared at him with all the doubt she could muster, but there was some part of her that almost believed it. That was Che's trick. He could tell the devil, I'm so sorry, Mister Scratch, I need my soul back for just one hour, I promise, there's a con job, and I can get us twice as much, I just need a little upfront, trust me - and he could've made it work. He grinned, sipping at the whiskey. From the left, she could hear the glass breaking, and a few bottles rolled into the room. There was the sound of a car screeching and taking off down the street outside. Lynn could only hear - the left side of the room was untouched by the firelight. "Yeah?" Lynn asked, almost wanting it to be true. On the one hand, the prison uniform scratched just as bad as it had that day - that last day she'd seen him, sitting in the courtroom, collar to her neck, shaking, livid - but a part quiet down murmured that there had been no one that had pretended to have the answers since then, either. What was better? That was the question Lynn had wondered about staring at the bunk above her in juvy all those nights. Is it better to have a liar who pretends to give a fuck, or no one at all?

"Yeah," Che said. "I'm gonna get you off the Promise."

All at once. Lynn felt a sudden surge and snap in her gut, like she'd been stopped halfway down the drop of a rollercoaster. The woman in Che's lap coughed and begged for someone to stop, that she didn't want to fight. Lynn looked down at the cafeteria mug, remembering, and something warm started trickling down Lynn's face. "No," Lynn murmured. "You weren't fucking with me, I'm - "

"Half your brains are on the cafeteria floor." Che sipped at his whiskey. She'd forgotten how it sounded, the ice, how many times she'd heard it sitting in that room. "I want to help you Lynn. You need the help, you know. This - " Che gestured with the whiskey glass, fingers twirling the woman's hair, "Is every last little ounce of that parahuman blood of yours keeping you up on the ropes. It's all here in your skull trying to keep a few neurons firing."

She looked over at her arm, handcuffed to the chair.

"Your temperature's eighty nine degrees right now. And you just lost your right hand to frostbite."

The firelight flickered more. When she looked back at Che he was wearing a suit, black and silky and smooth as a raven's feathers. He'd never once owned a suit in his life, no matter how much he'd bickered about needing just one more drop off or a few more pockets picked before they'd have made it. Lynn tore more copper wiring off exposed generators than she could remember to finance that dream, the idea that if Che was successful, he'd pull them all up with him. He's fucking lying, be smart for once in your stupid life and stop listening, Lynn wanted to snap at herself. But the other part of her felt cold. "You fucked me over," Lynn whispered.

"We've all made mistakes," Che said. Somehow, that sounded right, even though the snapping part protested. We all make mistakes but we don't fucking do what we did, it said, but it was quieter, and colder. He gave her a crooked smile. "You don't get anything back at all if you don't let me help."

"I'd rather put a bullet in your - " Lynn stopped. The fever was getting worse. The room was getting hotter.

"Remember?" Che whispered.

Lynn touched a hand up to the side of her head. It was wet. She felt where half her skull should be. There was no more hair on her head. "No," she murmured. She turned and looked at the fireplace, which had crackled back to life. The white logs were thinner, now. They were too thin to be fireplace logs, and white.

"I..."

"You did."

"I didn't know."

"You were happy to do it. What'd you say? Something about the Great Wall?"

"Che, he - Che how was I - "

He held up a hand and Lynn stopped talking. She was little again. But he was listening to her, and that meant something. The protesting part was farther and farther away. He leaned forward, and the woman slipped off his lap onto the floor. She shivered, choking on her spit. Her head looked nearly as fucked as Lynn's. Bruised, beaten in. Her clothes had been melted off. "Lynn, you don't have much time left."

Lynn said nothing, staring forward.

"Even if one of them manages to keep you alive. You have a matter of hours. If none of them sits with you in the hospital - which they won't - they'll pull the blanket off and let it happen. Another tally mark for the terrorists. You know what's coming."

Lynn looked down at the handcuff around the crook of her arm, her head feeling swollen and heavy. She was so cold.

At his feet, Salamandra croaked for mercy and Che put a perfectly-shined shoe to her throat and silenced the noise. Lynn turned to the fire to look away, and the bones of the Chinese boy roasted brighter as she did. The gun melted, it melted onto his shoe and he couldn't - "Christ, Che, I don't -"

"Do I seem better now? Now that your hands got a little dirty?"

"I never - I never fucking - your own sister, Che, your own fucking - "

Lynn's voice trailed off. The bottles from the window rolled further into the room. The geometry of the room was melting and running, but Che hadn't noticed. The firelight burned brighter as the bottles rolled in, oozing out kerosene onto the floor. Her nose hurt, across the bridge. "I know."

There was quiet for a minute. The heat was starting to get oppressive, now, sucking the air out her lungs. She could feel the heat against her but it didn't make her feel any less cold. The handcuff was in her arm, going into one of her veins. Lynn lifted the mug to her lips and stopped before she took a sip. There were cracks down the ceramic. Che watched her curiously.

"You're still alive somewhere, aren't you?"

He shrugged. "Could ask you the same thing."

"You're in my head."

"Never left."

Lynn closed her eyes for a moment. She didn't know if him being a hallucination made what he said more or less true. Are you gonna ignore yourself, Lynn? He only knows what you do. That means what he says is what you're thinking.

The walls started to melt on the right side, but Lynn couldn't see anything on the left at all. She tried to keep her eyes from Salamandra's body or the one in the fireplace or the bottles on the floor and that left nowhere to look but right at Che. "Do you know how many people were in the house? When you made me throw the bottle?"

"Made you?" Che asked, kicking Salamandra over to face her. Lynn steeled herself, even as she felt her head swaying. Her toes didn't hurt any more, and she looked down and saw the black rot of frostbite creeping up to her ankles. Don't be a bitch now. Don't die like a little bitch. "Do you think you get off the Promise without another Salamandra?"

Lynn stayed quiet, feeling the mug in her hand and the sweat that was coursing down her skin. She shivered, her breath misting. The room was so hot. "No," she said, softly. "I have to do it again, don't I?" Somewhere outside, she could hear more gunshots, she could hear screaming in a language she couldn't understand. A woman screamed. There wasn't any pressure on the left side of her skull any more.

"How many more?"

"I don't know, Che."

He leaned forward, and suddenly the floor was melting down and they were being pulled closer, no matter how hard she dug her frozen feet into the bed to stop it. "What if this happens, Lynn? What if you find the kids, and they're all around, Gennedy and the others? What if the woman in the woods comes? What if you have to let them go back into their little cells, or you can - " he sipped at the whiskey. "You can stop all that for them. It's not hard. You know how easy it is now."

He kicked Salamandra and she rolled over closer, through the kerosone and across the firelit floor that was running like watercolor right to the base of Lynn's chair. "Shut the fuck up, Che, I - " But it was like everything he said, it snaked in and coiled around and never, ever, went out. What if, Lynn thought, and she was in a little prison room with Clarita right in front of her, looking up at her with a bloody lip, and there was gunfire outside. You already killed one kid, Lynn, someone said. What's a few more? It's already too late.

Che leaned back. The ice in his drink was still cold. "We didn't want to wind up here, you know. You and me."

"I'm not here," Lynn said. "There's not a fucking we."

"You can go." He gestured to the oozing, utter black of the left side of the room.

Lynn leaned back, closing her eyes. Her eye. Christ, her eye, it was gone, that was why -

"Do you think when you wake up you can ignore it? What happens? Are you just gonna die? That's it. That's all it boils down to. You would rather live and light thirteen year olds on fire than do the right thing and kill you-"

"Shut up," Lynn whispered.

"Four people. Ash." he snapped his fingers. "Because you wanted to feel strong and stand over Salamandra with her skull caved in. And a kid. How old was he? Thirteen? Twelve? You saw the rifle shaking in his hands, didn't you? The terror in his eyes behind that ski mask? You did all that. Not Gary and his wandering hands, not me, not any one of the bitches in juvy. Just you, Lynn."

Lynn stared, her brain running like the room around her. I burned Gary's hand, he tried - I burned someone's hand, recently, the mall, I burned him, I didn't mean to, I shouldn't have, I didn't -

"I meant it when I said I wanted to help, Lynn. You always fought harder than anybody else. It's what made you so useful. Like Smokin' Joe. Tougher every round. Every ring of the bell. Are you smokin' yet, Lynn? It's the fifteenth round. There's no time left." Che stood up off the chair and stepped across the floor, gliding across the ground that melted and ran like molten wax. Lynn could smell, for a brief minute, a dizzying rush of smells - Christmas pine needles, dumplings steaming and sizzling, iron and salt, gunpowder, sweat. Everything was starting to tilt, now. Che alone stood still, like some kind of anchor in all the dimensions of space, as the bottles rolled into the fireplace with the sounds of police sirens and a gavel slamming and the feeling of glass in her face, in her nose, blood running down her throat as she tried to breathe. Everything was cold as the fire spread across the room. Lynn couldn't tell the boundaries between her senses any longer. They fumed and flickered like a fire catching on to deadwood. Salamandra's body went next, and Lynn saw there were four more bodies turned to ash inside the fireplace as she went, ripped up shreds of a Chinese menu. And a Chinese boy, dressed like a toy soldier, crackling, burning. Then Clarita, and Megan, and Eli, and Keaton, and Amelia, and Natalie, and him -

"Stop it, stop it, Che, I don't - "

"It doesn't fucking stop," Che snapped. He was right next to her chair, standing over her, and she was small, small as she ever was, and Lynn tried to shove him away but her hand slipped into the black of the suit and kept going and going and going as the other hand stayed bound to the chair. She pulled back and her hand was gone was like her eye. At least it wasn't cold anymore. Che leaned over her as the rest of the room ran into the fireplace and then the fire started running back, crawling up the walls and across the floor. It flickered in Che's eyes and in the whiskey glass as he poured it into Lynn's little ceramic mug, ice clinking as he filled it to the top. "That's the thing. It never stops. The first time you sat on a street corner and looked for cops when I made a deal. It never stopped after that. Not once."

There was nowhere else to look but him. "You should've just killed me," Lynn finally said.

Che smiled, something wide as his whole face, his teeth now straight and shining. "Maybe. You were never gonna get out, Lynn. That's what nobody told you. None of the guidance counselors or prison therapists or kids on the Promise. You were never gonna catch up. They were nice. They smiled. They ate lunch with you. But none of them were gonna say you were a fuck up from the day your mother left you at the hospital when her baby's eyes changed color."

Lynn stared at him.

"You were never going to get out. Not out of that neighborhood. Not out of juvy. Not out of here. You may as well have stepped into a casket instead of that fucking rocket ship. Even if you get to a pod. Even if you get through the atmosphere. Even if you land." He shook his head, smiling wider and wider and wider. There was no way to tell where the dark of the suit stopped and where the dark from her left eye started aside from when the fire flickered between them. "I'm in your split open skull." The only thing steady was the whiskey in her mug. Her hand was back. It was holding it. The other was still cuffed down by the IV tube. "You killed a kid, Lynn."

Lynn said nothing.

"You burned him alive. He died screaming with metal in his face and molten steel boiling through his feet."

Lynn turned away.

"I never did that. I tried to hustle you all, sure. I even hurt you. I won't lie. But I never fucking lit a kid on fire." Che sipped at his whiskey, still just as full after filling her glass. "Do you think it hurts for long, Lynn?"

"Shut the fuck up," Lynn whispered, the mug shaking in her hands, but the whiskey never spilled.

"This is my help, Lynn. The only thing I can give you."

"You're in my head. This is - this isn't - it's a Salamandra dream, I've had a - "

"You've had nineteen."

The fire grew and grew.

"Salamandra let you hesitate, you know. And that kid. And all the others. But Arianna won't. Gennedy won't. Do you want my advice?"

"How did I live?" Lynn asked. You deflect. You don't let them control the conversation. But it didn't matter, because Che was always the conversation. He could play the game better than she ever could.

"Think."

Lynn closed her eye, the sweltering heat thudding against her, digging its claws in and pulling at her. She was so cold. "Someone got me out," she murmured. "Not Keaton, or Eli, they couldn't have..." she paused, thinking more. "The lizard. He would've killed me." she paused, feeling the whiskey in her glass, wanting so badly to take a sip, to feel something cold, she knew it would make it all stop melting and all hold still. "Spoons would've...gone crazy, I..." It clicked. "Amelia."

"Why?"

Lynn paused. She felt the fire start to creep in the hole in her head, and she could feel it slither down her throat. She was still cold. Why would Amelia have gotten her out instead of saving herself? "She's afraid." Lynn stared. "Afraid of me."

"It never stops."

Lynn tried to breathe but there was no air. She could still speak, which she didn't understand. Cold. "Does Keaton know? Eli? That I...killed..."

"Who? Any of them? Not yet. Maybe Keaton suspects. But Keaton will put it together. The kid. Salamandra."

"How, I - "

Che hushed her with a look, the way he always could, and nodded.

"Gennedy could've given her a tip."

"No, no, she wouldn't - "

"You haven't been caught yet. Did you really think you were that clever? You're fucking failing every class."

The cold got deeper. You stupid girl. You stupid bitch. Lynn lowered her head. "Eli?"

Che looked down at her. "She pities you. She heard what you sputtered out at the party. If she remembered half of it, Keaton knows the rest."

Lynn stared at her glass. What did I tell her? "It never stops."

Che shook his head, and the rest of the room melted away. It was just fire, and Che. "It never stops."

"What was your advice?"

Che smiled at her, and pulled back the jacket he was wearing. His .45 was tucked into his waist. Lynn felt the pain in her knee as fresh as the day she'd gotten the scar. The pistol made her shake and clench. Her knee. Christ, her knee. "Don't turn your back to any of them this time."

Lynn thought he was going to slide the jacket back over, but she realized it was an invitation. Lynn reached out with the arm that was cuffed to the chair, seeing that her right knee was oozing blood through her jumpsuit as she did. She wrapped her hand around the pistol. It and the whiskey. The only cold things in the room. She pulled it out from his waist, uncomfortable with how close it brought her to him, again, and pulled back into her chair. It was cold steel, and there were leather straps binding her to it, and electrodes against her skin. There was talking somewhere out the window. A voice she recognized. A man. She couldn't place it. The sound of something crashing.

"If you wake up," Che said softly, "You'll try and break them out, won't you?"

Lynn nodded, barely. She was shivering.

"And then what? Do you take them home? Do you get them back home? Do you have a plan to get them home?"

Lynn looked away. Her plan was always just...she...

"You never wanted to get them out did you, Lynn? Not really."

Lynn felt sick. It wasn't true. She didn't want it to be true. It just sounded so right.

"You just wanted to feel like a good person before somebody with better aim than me put a bullet in you."

There was nothing for Lynn to say. There was just fire and Che and cold. He always was right. She never could outsmart him.

"What's your plan now, firestarter? If you're unlucky enough to wake up."

"I - " Lynn said, feeling something trickling down the left side of her skull. "I...get the others, out...out the way. On the pods."

"There's something useful you've done, at least."

"Then I - I go. And..." For a moment the room seemed almost steady. The handcuff on her arm slipped away, but Lynn didn't notice. "..and we see how good their aim is."

Che smiled. "Better than me, for sure. Don't feel bad. Maybe you'll do it. You always did pull something out in the fifteenth. If not, hell's warm enough for you." His eyes flickered as the fire started dancing across him, too. He clinked his glass against her mug.

"Have a drink?"
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