“Sarah!” Michael shouted. He was scrambling, trying to get his arms and legs to work, trying to get to her. She was on her side. “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,” he mumbled as he held her gently by the shoulders, scanned her bloody chest as if there were any chance he might know how to save her. “Sarah,” he said again.

She looked up at him. “I love you,” she whispered. “Every word. I meant it.”

Michael started to tremble.

And then Helga was there. She swooped down as if from the sky and tore him away from Sarah, picking him up as if he were no heavier than a bag of groceries.

“Take him!” she yelled. “Walter, take him and get him out of here!”

“What?” Michael said, dazed. “What’re you—”

“Get him out of here or it’ll never work!” Helga bellowed. “I only have one shot at this. Bryson, you too. All of you. Out!”

Walter ran over, grabbed Michael by the arm, started pulling him away. Michael tried to fight him off, but the man was too strong. Michael felt a darkness passing over him, blocking out the light. He saw shadows on the edges of his vision. A painful fist closed over his heart and squeezed without mercy. Bryson was nearby, looking around, dumbfounded, the blood drained from his face.

“Sarah!” Michael yelled, unable to do anything else. This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be. “Weber!” he screamed, throwing all his fury into the name. “Weber!”

But she wasn’t there—just Agent Scott. The man stood in the same place as before, the gun still in his hand but now at his side. His face had gone white, but his eyes were cold. He turned them toward Michael.

“You should have listened to Agent Weber,” he said. “You should have listened! May this girl’s death teach you a lesson!”

“I’ll kill you, you…”

Walter dragged him out of the room and into the hall, Bryson following, stunned into silence. Gabby was there, too.

“Give her a chance, boy,” Walter whispered to him. “She knows things you don’t.”

Michael didn’t care that Scott had pulled the trigger. Agent Weber had just killed his best friend.

The last thing he saw was Helga, hunched over Sarah’s lifeless body.

CHAPTER 9

UP IN THE NIGHT

1

How could the world continue to turn? It was the question Michael couldn’t stop asking himself over the next few hours. Their car sped along the freeway, the other two following just as before. It was silent except for the hum of the engine and the bumps of the road under them. Gabby sat in the middle up front, between Amy and Walter, who was driving as if he were on a family vacation instead of fleeing the scene of a murder. Michael had insisted Gabby sit up there, refusing to allow her to take Sarah’s place in the back. It was wrong. Everything in the world was wrong.

Michael’s heart ached more than he could bear. He sat with his head against the seat behind him, eyes closed so that no one would talk to him. The countless questions he had would have to be worked through later. They demanded answers and filled him with hate and anger. Had Gabby been forced to trick them, or was she a part of the scheme? And why had Helga acted so strange?

He pushed the questions away for now.

Sarah had told him she loved him. Him, a Tangent.

She was his best friend.

And he’d seen her die twice now. Well, much more often than that while gaming, but that day on the Path, in the caves, with the lava, had felt so real.

This was real.

Sarah was dead.

Dead.

Shot and killed by a man who was supposed to work for the good guys. A group the world was supposed to trust. Though, really, it was Weber who’d caused all this. The woman who’d made him drag Sarah into the chaos of Kaine and his Mortality Doctrine in the first place.

Sarah was dead.

Eyes closed or open, all he saw was her. Hands bloody, clasped against her chest. The look on her face. Shock. Betrayal. A childlike sadness. What he’d seen in her eyes, more than anything else, was this: Michael, I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die.

Twice she’d said she loved him. Had the first time really been only that morning? He knew she’d meant it. It was the love of pure friendship, something that one day might’ve blossomed into something greater, eternal, powerful. He loved her back. He loved her so much.

Michael shook silently as tears squeezed their way past his closed eyelids and trickled down his face.

2

And so it went for hours. Michael was in shock—too numb to be angry and hurting too much to speak. He had no idea what was next.

So he just followed, blindly, for hours.

They drove.

Arrived at an airport. They were ushered through a private entrance.

Went to a small hangar, to a plane.

There was another man, another woman. As faceless to him as the rest. He followed his friends up a set of stairs into the plane. Sat down. Buckled in.

The plane exited the hangar and at some point took off. Michael leaned against a window, his cheeks still wet, his eyes burning. He watched as the ground slipped away below, endless trees and hills and buildings and streets shrinking. And soon after, darkness swallowed the world.

They flew for several hours, in a roundabout route, to get to Washington, D.C. Helga explained that it was time to regroup and that they were taking the opportunity to hide, in the air. She tried to talk to Michael several times, but he pretended to be asleep.

At some point, in a welcome escape from the pain, Michael actually did fall asleep, fleeing into an even deeper darkness, where no dreams waited.

3

It was Helga who woke him up. She was sitting next to him when he opened his eyes. It took a moment, but the pain came crashing back in.

They’d landed, and Michael looked around, saw that they were the only ones still on the plane.

“Michael,” Helga said, her voice soft and gentle. “I haven’t wanted to disturb you, but—”

Michael stood up and moved past Helga. He still wasn’t ready to talk. He walked down the aisle, toward the door. It was open, and he descended the stairs.

“There’s always hope,” Helga shouted to him. “Remember that, Michael. There’s always hope.”

He ignored her, walking blindly into the mist enveloping the tarmac.

4

Helga let him go, which really surprised him. As stubborn as he was, she’d always been a lot more stubborn.

***

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