Chapter 16: Payback
I stared up at the twenty-some-odd-foot-tall bookcases towering above me in the library. Long ladders leaned against dusty shelves at varying levels. It was the size of a library you’d expect to find in a small city.
I meandered through the shelves, browsing different titles, curious what all they were interested in. Or maybe they’d just stocked the shelves with anything they’d come across. It almost looked like they’d bought out a closing library. The books even had Dewey Decimal numbers and a card catalog file.
A shelf in the back corner held M. C. Escher books. I thumbed through one, always amazed at how he twisted buildings and objects to create such amazing illusions. I’d drawn a few of his pictures before, but they took quite a while—so much detail.
A couple of sets of footsteps entered from the far end of the room. They grew louder and I peeked over the top of my book to find Jesse and Braden. Obviously, they weren’t here to read.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m not checking out your book.” I showed a big cheesy smile, and pointed to a book nearby called The Period Book: All the Things You Don’t Want to Ask (But Need to Know). “See? There it is.”
Jesse frowned when he saw the title. “We’re not here for a book, douche bag.” His face twisted up in a wicked smile.
Braden mirrored Jesse’s look. “This is more of an experiment.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Oh yeah? I love experiments. What are you experimenting with?”
“You,” Jesse said.
My eyes flashed wide with mock excitement. “Really? What’s the experiment?”
“You see the pictures in that book?” Braden said.
I glanced down at the M. C. Escher book with its distorted reality drawings then back to Braden and nodded, a bit overproduced.
His smile deepened. “We’re gonna see if we can twist you into one of them.”
“Oh, now that sounds like fun.” I cracked a half-smile, challenging them to try. I hadn’t trained much, but I’d seen a lot of them fight. I knew their moves and counter moves. I’d be able to take both of them if I used my powers.
There was no need to take the time to think of an old memory to drudge up anger or fear. I had plenty of present anger to use. The sickening feeling leaked from my bones like nuclear waste, mutating them into something dark. Something dangerous.
Braden and Jesse came closer. I turned the book around, my finger pointing to one of the pictures. “How about we try this one?” Then I threw it at Braden’s face.
He swatted it away, and Jesse came at me from the right. I blocked a flurry of punches aimed at my face and stomach, then swiped Jesse’s feet out from under him just in time to dodge a kick from Braden. Obviously, Braden’s arm had healed.
Jesse sprang to his feet and faked a right cross, then came back with a left hook. It caught my jaw but glanced off of it. Braden circled in behind me, kicking at my back. I swung wide and spun away from it. Jesse was waiting and caught me with a side kick. He came around like Braden, trying to flank me. One always tried to stay behind me. It made it more difficult to keep up with both of their attacks.
Then, just as Jesse threw a left cross, I ducked and felt something stab my left leg. Braden had injected me with a syringe.
“What the—” I kicked Braden in the face, taking him off his feet.
“Feeling a little weak?” Jesse said.
I lunged and threw several punches at Jesse, all easily deflected. He was right—they weren’t as powerful as they had been. “What did you inject me with?”
Braden got to his feet. “It’s a tranq like the Hunters use, but a much bigger dose. Blocks your powers almost instantly.”
Aw, crap. My punches weren’t landing as accurately as before either.
Braden blocked one of my kicks and struck my gut hard. I flew across the room and slammed into a bookcase.
Jesse caught me with a kick to the side, throwing me across the room again. I slid into another bookcase. The pain was no longer dampened by my powers. I felt every hit.
“The other Watchers are gonna—” I let out a umph as a foot smashed into my already-throbbing stomach. “…be here in a minute.”
Jesse put a knee on my stomach, then hammered my face. “They’re both in the mines. We’re the ones keeping watch right now.”
After giving myself a few hours to heal, I looked at my injuries in the mirror.
A knock came at the door. If I answered it, they’d know I’d just been in a fight. If I could hide out in my room till the supply run later, that evening, my face would probably look normal again.
“Ian?” Abby said through the door.
Crap. We were supposed to be working the gardens.
“Just a second.” My face actually didn’t look too bad, all things considered. It was unusually red in some spots, but there was no visible blood. Maybe Abby wouldn’t notice.
I headed to the door and opened it. “Sorry—”
“What happened to you?” She grimaced, cocking her head, then came close and put a hand to my cheek. Maybe I needed to get beat up more often.
“Nothing.” I looked away.
Her head tilted the other direction. “Jesse and Braden.” She gritted her teeth as her free hand balled into a fist.
“It’s okay.” I waved her off dismissively. “They got even. It’s done.”
“I can’t believe they blame you for what happened. They volunteered for the test.” She shook her head. “Why’d you let them do this to you? You could’ve used your powers. A Watcher would’ve been there in no time.”
I shrugged. “They were the only Watchers around, and they tranqed my powers.”
Her shoulder sank. “I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.”
“Really, it’s okay. I’m fine.”
“I’ll make an excuse for you so you can skip work today. Hopefully, it won’t be noticeable tonight.”
“Thanks.” The edge of my lip formed a line. I knew she was about to leave, but I was worried about her. “Hey,” I said, meeting her gaze. “So, what happened last night when you…separated?”
Abby’s eyes seemed to wilt as her gaze fell to the ground. “I don’t wanna talk about it.” She turned and left without another word.
I didn’t know a whole lot about girls, but I knew enough not to push it with something like that. It could wait. But hopefully not for long.
The next time she separated could be the last time I see her alive.