Carthage’s hair prickled all over his head. It made his scalp feel itchy, but Carthage could not raise his hands. He couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Could only stare.
And the orange glow stared right back at him.
It was a stalemate.
Whoever blinked first was the loser.
Carthage would have held his heart in between his hands to keep it quiet and still. But his heart pounded inside his ears. Pounding. Pounding. Unrelenting pounding.
It almost made him want to throw up.
He curled his hands into fists. Smooth-coated plastic pressed against his right palm, startling him, but he didn’t dare look away. He wanted to explore it with his hands to figure out its shape, but he didn’t dare move.
The orange glow did not blink.
It did not look away.
I’m breathing too loud. My heart’s beating too loud. That thing can hear me. I’m sure of it. It can hear every breath I breathe. No matter how still I am, it knows that I’m here. And it can see me. It knows exactly where I am. Forget Inspector Jerunge. I need to get out of here.
Carthage’s phone rang.
He startled hard, accidentally throwing his phone onto the passenger side floor.
The orange glow seemed to brighten with interest.
The phone kept ringing, loud and obnoxiously insistent.
Carthage broke eye contact with the orange glow and quickly leaned over to grab his phone. It had somehow buried itself under a couple of plastic bags.
It was still ringing.
He fumbled through the plastic bags, trying to find the phone, trying to silence it. The bags rustled unreasonably loud and the phone kept ringing.
Carthage shoved them out of the way, only to discover that his phone was just out of reach. He sat up to unbuckle his seatbelt.
Something heavy landed on the hood of his car.
He looked up in a panic.
The orange glow looked through his windshield and met his gaze.
Your heart will glow!!
Sarah’s fiery bracelets sparked and flared as she considered the t-shirt’s glittered words.
Your heart will glow?
With what? Fire?
Sarah checked the back of the shirt just in case the answer was there. But no. It wasn’t. She frowned and put it down with its other-sized duplicates on the table. She pulled her flames back into her wrists. Her skin glowed for a moment before fading out to its normal color and temperature.
She laid her hand on her chest. It didn’t seem to be warmer than normal.
Whatever was deemed normal for an XQ, anyway.
Maybe her heart didn’t glow. Or maybe it did only when she transformed. Just like the rest of herself.
Of course that was the case. But…
Her smile fell. Why was that the case? How did they change her body so drastically? What was in those shots they gave her? Those terrible, pain-filled shots?
Could Carthage ever undo what he had done to her?
Would he even want to?
But he had spoken of her as something to buy and sell and borrow, as something valuable. Some thing valuable. He didn’t see her as a some one, even though he was her father.
It was an awful, revolting thought. Sarah wanted to write it all down, crumple it into the most crumpled ball, set it on fire, and mail him the ashes. That way he would know exactly what she thought about his lack of true fatherly feeling.
It was just too bad she didn’t know his address.
And she couldn’t mail it to his attention at The Institute.
The Institute was dead and gone.
Nothing lived there now.
No thing and no one.