Author’s Note: I missed this last week! Sorry about that. I mean, I doubt anyone actually noticed, but it’s important to have a routine.
“No,” Doc tells me. We’re in the little museum, and he’s looking over an ugly-looking wound in Fish’s side. “I don’t know anything about that.”
“Aren’t you a spy?” Mouse asks him. “What else are you doing here?”
“Trying to help you boys. Not that you’re making it easy on me.” Doc glares at Fish. “I thought I’d told you boys about fights.”
Fish, leaning back in the chair, gives a weak grin. “You should see the other guy …”
“Dude, Mole is twice your size,” I say.
For an answer, he holds up his fingers. Even as I’m watching, they light up with a strange kind of energy.
“Not much, right?” He grins. “But it was more than Mole had.”
“You’re playing with fire,” I say. “If Wolfe finds out…”
“She hasn’t found out about anyone yet,” Fish says. “Destro told everyone what happened last year. No one’s talking.”
“The local anesthetic should be working now. I’m going to have to cut into this to get the point out,” Doc says, reaching for a scalpel. “Remain as still as you can.” He cuts a straight line from Fish’s rib to halfway down his stomach, then another line in the other direction. An ‘x.’ With gloved hands, he pulls the flesh back to expose curled-around worm-like things—intestines, I’m guessing.
Fish is holding the arms of the sides of the chair, his eyes wide. “It’s really weird to see that and not feel anything,” he says.
“Try not to talk.” Doc picks up a probe and forceps.
“Why didn’t you help the boys last year?” Mouse asks.
“And who says I didn’t help the boys?” Doc says, poking around. The forceps grab onto something, and he pulls out a glinting piece of metal. He drops it into the dish on the side.
“Hang on. Did they say you’re a spy?” Fish asks.
“I do not spy,” Doc says, folding the skin back into place. “I help.” He looks at the wound contemplatively, then grabs a small tool on the side—some sort of small iron, with a power cord running off the end—and presses it to the wound. There’s a sizzling noise.
“Ai!” Fish almost recoils, but Doc’s hand is firm on his shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“The painkiller is working well; you’re not feeling anything. This is faster than stitching, and will heal more quickly.” Doc lifts the iron, and there’s a sizeable burn where the wound was—but it’s closed. “Extreme heat seals the wound and kills bacteria, preventing infection.” and grabs a padded dressing from his bag, strapping it over the space with a large bandage. “There. The burn will heal, but don’t put any strain on it or the wound may reopen.”
“Right.” Fish nods. “But the spy thing …”
“Put your shirt back on, and wear this under it.” Doc hands him a necklace.
“It’s a good luck charm,” I say. “Just do it.”
Fish slips back into his turtleneck. Mouse and I wait for him to leave before I ask, “Can you think why anyone would attack the girls’ camp?”
“Yes.” Doc frowns as he clears his tools. “Many reasons. But as to who … most would have no reason to be so … clandestine.”
“What about me?” I ask. “They say it might be connected with a Pittsburgh attack.… That would be me. Can you think of any reason why anyone would be interested in me?”
“Not apart from being a Nephil. You may have been a target of opportunity for someone seeking to acquire Nephilim.” Doc taps his forceps against the table contemplatively. “But that makes things stranger. An open assault on a DEVAS facility is astonishingly public. No secrecy’s involved. Yet if the girl’s camp was attacked, it must have been very subtle for DEVAS not to take further action. Why be so secretive with one attack and so open with the other?”
“Maybe it was different groups,” Mouse suggests.
“That makes it more concerning,” says Doc.
“Could they be trying to free us?” I ask.
He looks at me, and I can see how old, how really old, this man is.
“Child,” he says, “men don’t free creatures like us. We only ever switch masters.”
“I said I don’t want to see your pervy mumbo-jumbo doctor,” Dolphin says.
There’s the noise of the cafeteria all around us. Maybe that’s why Wolfe doesn’t bother putting bugs in this place. We’d have been arrested twenty times over if there were.
“I’ve worked with con men before,” Mouse says. “This guy’s different. Up to something, probably, but different.”
“He’s not a con man; he’s a teacher. You can’t trust him,” Ball Buster says, chewing on bacon. “Hell, we can’t trust Coach, apparently, and she’s one of the few I would have told about this.”
“What: you think you’re dying, but you don’t think you’re dying enough to trust the adult Nephilim on campus?” I ask.
“Nephil. Singular term.” Mouse reminds me.
“Alleged adult Nephil,” Ball Buster says. “I still say that guy’s taking you for a ride. Why would some super-powered guy be taking a job as a substitute teacher?”
“That amulet he gave Square sure has been legit,” Sue points out. “Man hasn’t collapsed once on our runs. Square just keeps stopping to help us. Ain’t getting those stomach aches the rest of guys is either. There’s something to all that mumbo-jumbo.”
“I think it’s just the exercise.” Ball Buster takes a sip of orange juice. “And anyway, he wouldn’t get the stomach aches, right? It’s us types with the superpowers who get them. Square’s just normal.”
Normal. Great. Normal again. Giant hole in my chest, can crush a bowling ball with one hand, but still I’m normal. Just great.
At least you’re not dying, Chad.
“Can you ask him for some spare necklaces, Square?” Mouse asks.
I look at him. “Why didn’t you ask for one while you were there?”
“I don’t want him to know I have one,” Mouse says. “That way, if this is some sort of trap, he won’t be able to identify those of us with awakened powers.”
“Hell, get one for me too.” Sue nudges me with his elbow. “If the guy turns out to be full of it, fuck do I care? This shit is getting old. Can’t keep falling apart on night runs.”
“You guys haven’t seen anything all the times you’ve been out.” Dolphin rolls his eyes. “Sounds like I’ll have to come out too.”
A laugh. “Yeah, we could really use your help … perving, man,” says Ball Buster.
“My dad had me trained in all sorts of military strategies,” Dolphin says. “I mean, yeah, I ignored them, but he still made sure I had the best tutors to ignore. Do we have any ocean maps to figure out where we’d want to go?”
Not sure why, but I feel annoyed at Dolphin suddenly deciding to get all competent. “The library has some encyclopedias,” I say, getting up. “We could check there after school.”
“Hey,” I say to Val. We’re walking down the snowy path together—bumped into each other outside the cafeteria and I offered to walk her to class. “You said that the woman’s camp was flooded, right?”
I hope the question doesn’t seem too suspicious. It probably doesn’t help that it’s hard to look her in the eye right now. We had another supply drop, and now the girls have had all their polos replaced with turtlenecks like ours, which in some ways is better and in other ways is … really distracting. Faith, Val’s roommate, is … well, the girl looks like she’d have back pain.
“Yeah,” she says. “In the middle of the night, the sirens started blaring, and I stepped out of bed into like two feet of water. It wasn’t gushing water or anything, but it rose pretty quickly. Guess in a cave, the water’s only got so many places to go. Why?”
“You ever hear anything about what happened? How it started?”
Her blue eyes study my face. “I think the reservoir burst. Or at least, that was one of the rumors. Some girls said that a stream broke through the wall. Others that the ceiling collapsed—maybe we were under a lake or something. I dunno. Again, why?”
“It just seems weird.” Not terribly clever, but true. “Like, wouldn’t they have some sort of safeguards?”
“I guess. Maybe those broke too. Some of the other girls might know. Want me to ask?”
“Yes…. No. Wait.” It might arouse suspicions if someone starts asking. Then I reframe that thought. If one of the girls starts asking questions about the disaster that almost killed them, no-one would think it weird in any way because of course they’d be curious.“Yes. Would you mind?”
Her cheeks dimple “Gotta admire a man who knows what he wants.”
“I …” I’m really not sure how to respond to that.
“Sure, I can ask,” she says, stopping outside the door to math class. “But,” she grins, “you need to pay me back. Film Club. Tonight. I’d better see you.”
“I’ll be there,” I say, as calmly as possible.
“Okay, so it’d take us 200 miles to reach Atka Island,” I say. We’re all in the library, bending over the atlas. I meant to pester Doc, but he’s not in right now. “Anyone got any idea how hard that would be?”
Ball Buster shrugs. Sue shrugs. Mouse shrugs. Dolphin just looks sheepish.
“The best tutors, huh?” I say to Dolphin.
“I thought my old man was full of it,” Dolphin explains. “I never thought any of this stuff was actually going to be useful.”
“Once we get there, it’s not so bad,” Ball Buster says. “Kiska and Akka are pretty short hops. And they’re uninhabited.”
“Officially,” I say. “So’s Attu, officially.”
“Point,” he says. “But why would they have a whole string of stations? They’re pretty bad at keeping this place supplied.”
“Didn’t have any trouble getting the parkas to the girls,” says Mouse.
“And the turtlenecks,” says Dolphin with a pervy smirk.
“The other islands could be support facilities—labs, bases, hospitals….” I shrug. “Maybe other camps. Who knows?”
“Don’t make no difference anyway,” Sue says, pointing at the map. “Say we get to this island: cool. Say there’s nobody there: cool. Ain’t gonna matter shit, because I don’t care what kind of boat we got, that helicopter gonna be faster.”
“Not if there’s a blizzard,” Ball Buster says. “Like before.”
“You think we gonna make it boating in a blizzard?” Sue scoffs. “Shit. Even if we do that? Say we go island to island to island. We finally get to this motherr right here …” He squints. “Unalaska. That inhabited, right?”
“Right,” I say.
“Still ain’t no way off that island ‘cept by plane. Even if Were-Wolfe don’t got her chopper in the air, she gotta have a radio that she can call a whole mess of choppers all over this area.” He waves his hand in a circle around the Aleutian Islands. “Probably people in Unalaska too.”
“So you got a better idea?” Ball Buster says.
“Shit, man. I didn’t say that.” Sue sits back, folding his arms. “Just sayin’. Y’ feel me? I mean, we don’t even got a way off this rock yet.” He looks at the rest of us. “We need to talk to that fence on base that the Eskimo chick mentioned.”
Mouse nods. “We’d definitely need someone to tell us how to get through all the mines around the island.”
“If we want to get onto the base, we’re gonna need passes,” I say. “They only give those to kids with better grades than most of us.”
“Going to need something too, to get the smuggler interested.” Sue rubs his fingers together. “Make it worth his time to take us off.”
That’ll be tricky. Something occurs to me. “I found this ring, ages ago,” I say, digging it out of my pocket. “Just before the girls arrived, when we were down by the sea.” There’s the red cross on the pearl background. “Might be worth something.” I toss it to Sue.
Sue looks at it skeptically. “Dunno, man. Need a lot more than that to fund an escape plan.”
True. But it’s a start. “Gives us something to work towards anyway. See you guys later,” I say, standing.
“Where are you going?” Ball Buster asks.
I try to look innocent. “Film Club.”
“You serious?” He shakes his head. “That girl’s playing you, man. Girls never ask guys out: guys do the asking out. Nobody romances a guy.”
“Some guys do,” I say. “Anyway, it’s a club. It’s not a date.”
“Girls romance guys all the time. Like at galas and stuff,” Dolphin says. “Rich guys have women falling over themselves to get in their pants.”
“Because they’re out to get something,” says Ball Buster. “Like here. If she was actually in love, she’d want Square to pursue her, ‘cause that’s how she’s read it works in every romance novel ever.”
“Real talk right there.” Sue points at Ball Buster. “Girl gotta look pretty; guy gotta get shit done.”
“I’m so glad we’ve moved from racism to sexism,” I say.
“I’m black. I can say it,” Sue says, smiling.
“That’s really not how that works,” I say. “Listen to you two being all the experts on ladies. Shouldn’t we ask Mouse?”
“No, keep going, I want to hear the rest of this,” Mouse says, leaning back.
“The guy romances; it’s something he does. The girl gets romanced. Never see a girl bringing flowers or whatever,” says Ball Buster. “The wife never plans the anniversary, either. It’s her treat. She doesn’t need to do a damn thing.”
“I mean, so long as we’re being all stereotypical about this,” I say, “she needs to cook, clean, pay bills, and look after the kids.”
“Plus be a successful professional woman,” Dolphin adds. “These days anyway.”
“Not to be asked out, she doesn’t,” Ball Buster says. “The girl can just sit there and look pretty, and we’re the ones who need to work up the nerve and say ‘hey, do you think I’m worth your time?’”
I sigh. “It’s not about looking pretty…”
“No! It’s actually not allowed to be looking pretty. A guy needs to love a girl … ‘for who she really is’ whatever the fuck that means.” Bally waves his hand angrily.
“Damn straight.” Sue points. “What kinda girl know anyway about ‘who she really is?’”
“What kinda guy does?” I ask, before I realize that doesn’t really help my case.
Ball-Buster gives a grin, but it doesn’t look happy. “If the looks are involved, that makes him somehow a dick. Even if the girl’s been prettying herself up and displaying an eyeful of the things we’re not allowed to care about.”
“Who says we’re not allowed to care about it?” Dolphin says. “Damn, I love it when a girl shows off for me. That’s how you know they want it. Though I guess they might not want it from you, Porky.”
“Wouldn’t it kind of suck if all girls could do was hope they get asked out?” I ask.
“You got asked out,” Mouse points out.
“Right. Because she’s up to something,” Ball Buster says.
“It’s not a date,” I say. “Look, why are you guys making a big thing out of this?”
“It’s weird, okay?” Ball Buster says, with a stab of bitterness. “Guys don’t get loved for who they are. Never.”
“Jeez,” Dolphin says. “Issues much?”
“Like you said yourself,” Ball-Buster grimaces. “No-one wants a porky.” He starts flipping through the atlas at random. “Whatever. Screw you, Square. Go to Film Club.”
The arcade is a lot emptier than it was last Thursday. Destro is killing it on Dance, Dance Revolution. For such a short pudgy kid, he knows how to handle himself. But apart from that, the floor’s nearly bare. I wonder what’s going on and then remember: Icepick vs. Big Bear. Everyone’s probably out watching that. I head up to the balcony and then to one of the doors on the side.
I’m not sure what I expected from Film Club. More members, at least. There’s two other girls and one other guy there, all sitting as far apart from each other as possible.
“Ha!” Val says, smiling from across the room as she sees me enter. “Gotcha!” She strides across the room in three confident steps and stops just ahead of me. “Hey, you.”
“Um,” I say. The buttons on her polo are … stop looking stop looking stop stop STOP Chad eyes up you pig she’s just a quick dresser. “Yeah. Hey. I thought I’d … yeah.” I look down. “Films, right?”
“You ready?” she says, holding up the case. It has an image of an ominous-looking Japanese woman with long black gloves. “Audition isn’t exactly light fare.”
“I’m … uh … I’m game. Anything … anything I can …” I swallow. “Anything I can do to help set up?”
“Just have a seat. I’m getting the projector set up right now.” She looks over her shoulder as she’s headed back to the podium. “Hope you like scary movies!”
Audition probably is a scary movie, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you much about it, because I can barely absorb what’s going on in front of my eyes. All my senses are rooted on my right arm and the warmth of the blonde practically pressed into it.
“Why do I do this to myself!?” she whimpers, digging her face into my shoulder. “Why? I know I’m bad with horror movies!”
“Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay,” I say, trying to pat her on the back. It’s a bit tricky, since I can’t actually move the arm closest to her, as she’s squashed into it. Eventually, I give up and just shift my arm out from under her long enough to wrap it around her. “It’s okay,” I repeat.
Val just gives a gulping sort of sound and hangs onto me.
My arm feels curiously warm and cold and light and heavy.
I’m holding her.
I’m holding her.
I mean, it’s an odd angle, the chairs are cold steel digging into my back, and my arm feels bent at an angle that’s going to make it fall asleep before too long. But all of those things are background details because I’m holding her holy shit.
It’s weird. I’ve done this before with Jess. We’d cuddle on the couch and stuff. I guess … then it felt … kinda obligatory. Like we were a boyfriend and a girlfriend: cuddling was the thing to do.
But this … heck. I feel like a tank. I feel like a big, strong tank that this girl knows is going to keep her safe from the guy crawling out of the bag on the screen. Or the woman making him crawl out of the bag? I think I missed the plot of this movie.
It doesn’t really matter.
“Hey … Val,” I say. Movie’s done. Everyone’s cleared out. It’s just me and Val left in the film room (I said I’d stay and help put away the chairs. Which is what I’m doing.)
Val smiles at me. I smile back.
“Yeah?” she says.
My skin’s tingling. Every nerve’s stretched tight; my whole insides feel like they’re being pulled upwards. There’s a lot of saliva in my mouth. “Got a …” I swallow. “A question for you.”
Her smile broadens. “Yeah?”
No. No, it’s too stupid. And presumptive. She needed people at the club, she was scared, she’s probably just a quick dresser. Stop thinking everything is about sex Chad
So, instead I look around. “… Did you lose members or something? There were a lot more people here last week.”
Her face changes. “Uh …” She sighs. “I don’t know. Guess they didn’t like Gone Girl last week as much as I’d hoped.”
“Oh. Huh.” I put the last chair on the pile with almost bizarre care. I’m trying not to seem nervous, not to let on that adrenaline is pumping electricity through my brain. “Well … well, I had a good time. Thanks, and … thanks.” I turn to leave.
I get a few steps before Val speaks. “Oh, no. You can’t be serious.”
I turn. She’s staring at me from the podium. “Seriously? After all that? With the movie and the holding and the …” She gestures angrily at her shirt. “You’re just going to leave?”
My brain churns. No. Stop, Chad. It’s not that: she doesn’t mean that. “It’s late, and the movie’s over. So I thought … I mean … did you … um … want something …?”
“You are seriously dense.” She stomps her foot. “How do guys miss this stuff? Can’t you take a hint?”
Hint? I turn slowly. This almost feels like the fighting arena. “You mean, like … you want to …” I don’t have anything to complete that sentence. Go to a movie? Go to dinner/the cafeteria? Go for a walk? Minigolf? Ice cream? “Sometime?” I finish, lamely.
“Well not now.” Val draws herself up, folding her arms. “Apparently, you weren’t interested enough to notice. Or you didn’t care enough, maybe. Maybe you were just too scared. Either way, no! Not anymore!”
“… Oh,” I say.
It’s all I can really think of. My chest feels like it’s been slammed with a 10-pound sledgehammer. “Well … okay, then.” Blood is swelling my face. I feel like an idiot, and I want nothing more than to be out of here. “Well. Goodbye, then.” I push through the door, just holding myself back from running.
The door bangs open behind me. “You’re not supposed to leave!” she says, running out after. “That’s not how this.… You don’t just … walk away from something like that!”
“Don’t I?” of course you do Chad you moron how can you even ask such a … “I mean … you said no, right?”
“Well, yeah! But you’re supposed to …” She seems to be struggling with the concept. “You know … get mad! Argue! Prove me wrong or fight to hang on to …” She huffs and puts her hands on her hips. “It’s supposed to make you more interested!”
Seriously, I give up. “It is?”
She looks away, clearly embarrassed. “Well, it … in the movies. That’s how it works,” she mutters.
“How? How is that …?” This isn’t cool. I wanted to be all cool about this, but it’s just confusing and … “Is this like a game or something? Like a mind game or … like the buttons? Was that what was up with that?”
“What am I supposed to do to get your attention?” Val’s head snaps back around, her blue eyes fiery. “That’s all boys care about! You need to work them a little …”
“What? Work them? Who likes that? Did they have any boys at all where you came from?”
Val gives a huff and looks down. “This is not how it’s supposed to go at all,” she says. “They said …”Her voice trails off.
I don’t get this. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But neither does she, I think. And that makes me feel a bit better.
“Look,” I say. “I’m just … I’m really confused right now, and I don’t know what to say, so …” Just say, it, Chad. “Look, you’re really pretty. I realize that’s not … the important thing, but you are.”
Her eyes grow large, and she takes a small step back. Her mouth’s slightly open. She’s staring right at me.
Is it really that big a deal? It can’t be the first time someone’s told her that.
“… And we’ve talked a lot and … well … I guess I did notice you paying attention to me. I just …” I gesture, helplessly.
I should have more reasons. I should have better reasons. I feel like there are more reasons, actually. Just that I can’t grab them right now, with my brain roaring and every cell of me on fire. This is insane. Why am I so bad at this?
“Okay,” she says, the essence of calm.
“Okay?” Those are really blue eyes she has. “What’s okay?”
“Okay, I’ll go out with you,” she says.
I try to think back. “Was that my point?”
“Wasn’t it?” she says. A frown creases her forehead.
“I … maybe?” I hadn’t really gotten that far.
Val groans with frustration. “You are really bad at this,” she says, hands running up through her golden hair.
I feel a little stab of something. “So are you,” I say.
“That’s not my fault.” She sounds a bit like a whining child. It’s adorable. “You’re not acting like.… Look. I’m not sure how to do this. With the … camp and the whole … neff thing.” She looks back, straight at me. “But I figure some things are pretty much the same.” She smiles. “Right?”
“Right.” I smile back.
“So … you want to … give it a try?”