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       Lost Girl, p.14

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “I’ll stay, Peter,” Slightly said. He pushed his glasses up his nose and turned to give Wendy a tentative smile. “She should stay with someone she knows.”

  “Okay.” Peter’s frown turned into a smile. “Wendy, you’re in good hands.”

  The four of them left without much fanfare. Wendy began to worry as soon as the door was closed. She paced. She bit her nails.

  Slightly rubbed the back of his head.

  “Are they going to be all right?” Wendy asked.

  “Of course. Peter’s the best at this. Hey, why don’t I show you the control room to help take your mind off what they’re doing?”

  Slightly didn’t take her up to the loft, but instead, led her to the main control room. This one didn’t have a crafted wood door. A heavy metal door with a key card scanner barred their way.

  Slightly swiped his card and then motioned her in, over to the bank of computers. They sat down and, after a few quick strokes on the keyboard, a map of the city appeared on a big central screen. “We have antennae on the roof, and they can tap into all of the major cell towers. We’re tracking the dead zones created by the shadows. For some reason, shadows mess with the radio waves. The more shadows in an area, the larger the dead zone.”

  She watched the screen. A certain colored area lit up yellow and disappeared. A few seconds later, it reappeared, only in a different shape. Was this a dead zone?

  “Tink scans and follows the dead zone. For instance, normal dead zones are usually in valleys—or they’re at least stationary. But a dead zone caused by a shadow moves. We monitor the signal strength, zero in on the mobile ones, and then we switch to the mobile unit.”

  “That’s the box thingy she uses.” Wendy felt like she was catching on.

  “Yeah, it’s portable—also not as accurate.” Slightly rolled his chair over to the cabinet and pulled a key out of his pocket to unlock the door. He pulled out the smaller portable device.

  Something bothered her. She was still missing a key piece of information. “So why can’t everyone see the shadows like I can?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe you’ve got a special gift?”

  “What about Tink?”

  “Tink can’t see them without her special goggles either. She’s special, but in her own right.”

  “What about all of you? How come you all…” she trailed off.

  Slightly looked a bit embarrassed. “Well, we’re a bit different. D.U.S.T. changed us—D.U.S.T. was a program run by Neverland.”

  “Neverland. Peter said that’s where the shadows are from.”

  He nodded. “They took us as kids and gave us PX-1, some experimental drug. As we aged, we mutated. Sort of freaky, but this is who we are.

  “And is Neverland still experimenting on kids?” She scratched at her neck again as an unsettled feeling overcame her. Her mouth went dry and she found it difficult to slow her breathing, which had picked up unexpectedly. Why was she scared?

  “I don’t think so, but I couldn’t say for certain. I know Neverland creates nightmares, and unleashes them to do the corporation’s bidding. Soon, they’ll do it for the highest bidder.

  “Why doesn’t the government stop them?”

  Slightly laughed and eyed her. “How can you stop what you don’t believe exists? Especially if you can’t see it. There was only one man that knew how to fight Neverland—Mr. Barrie. He created Neverland Corporation. But when his shareholders forced him out, he saw it coming and went with Plan B: Neverwood.”

  “What about Neverland? Don’t they know you’re here?”

  “No, we’re hidden and well protected.” He grinned and started to click away at the screen. He pushed off in his rollaway chair and stopped before another monitor.

  “Here are the schematics for the school. We control all of the security, including holograms that hide our location from the Red Skulls.” Various boxes and colors lit up the screen indicating every defense system in the school. And there were plenty.

  “Our system is based on hiding and misdirection,” he said. “If a morphling makes its way here…then BAM!” He pointed to a red switch on a panel and made an explosion motion with his hands. “I turn this place into a giant disco ball of light that will make the shadows scatter.” He pointed his finger in the air and did a sixties dancing pose. “Except no music.”

  “What about the Red Skulls?” That name…it made her neck prickle. Differently than it did when she’d seen them at the school that night. Not just because they were dangerous. Something else.

  “Well, if they get through my traps, then the boys will take care of them. And nobody wants to mess with the lost boys.”

  “I guess I’m not following. How can a handful of teen boys—even if they do have special powers—take on a heavily armed militia?”

  “We are getting stronger, and our numbers are growing too. Jax is fantastic at training in hand to hand combat. He’s the best. He’s taken each of the boys and really trained them to use their abilities.”

  Wendy was uncomfortable at the obvious idol status Slightly bestowed on Jax. “Do you trust him?”

  “Of course,” Slightly asked, clearly offended. “He’s one of us, he’s a lost boy.”

  If only she could say she trusted Jax. She wanted to, she really did.

  Something beeped on the computer screen, and Slightly groaned. “Oh, this doesn’t look good. They’re on their way back and heading here fast.” Slightly hit a button, and an alarm sounded throughout the school.

  Wendy watched the map as a fast blue dot darted toward their location. It wasn’t using roads. “How is it possible that—”

  She looked up and the room was abandoned.

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chaos ensued as lost boys started pouring out of their rooms and classes, heading to the main hall. Wendy ran out to find Slightly, but he had already disappeared.

  Unsure what to do, she jogged down the stairs and stayed back on the steps to watch the main door. It seemed the lost boys really were a trained mini-army, because they had gathered in groups at each of the main exits.

  She felt helpless and small in such a crisis situation. Did she even have anything to offer? What should she do? One of the lost boys, Fox, started to glow yellow and his motions became faster, as if he was bouncing out of his skin. Another boy’s eyes became black as night; she heard Fox call him Onyx.

  Wendy shivered in fear, not wanting to discover what Onyx’s special ability could be.

  Slightly appeared behind her. His phone buzzed and he answered it, listening for a few seconds. Then he motioned for the boys closest to the tunnel to run down and open it. Echoes of feet came rushing back and a disheveled Tink and Peter rushed in, carrying a body between them. When they shuffled him, his head fell forward.

  Ditto.

  “Get him to the medic room!” Slightly shouted.

  A blur of motion, and Fox was at Tink’s side, helping shoulder Ditto’s weight. Wendy barely saw him move. Onyx came to help and relieved Peter. Both boys followed Slightly down the hall.

  Tink leaned against the wall and slid down, her legs collapsing under her. Her hands shook and she covered her eyes.

  Peter turned and kicked the door. When that didn’t satisfy him, he kicked it again. And again.

  “Where’s Jax?” Wendy asked, feeling a surge of panic.

  “He stayed behind to lead them away from us.” Peter turned. A bloody, red scratch ran the length of his face.

  “What happened, Peter?” Onyx asked.

  “It was a morphling,” Peter answered. “They gathered and attacked another innocent. We didn’t get there in time.” He stormed past the boys. More questions and concerns flew at him, but he jogged upstairs and ignored them all.

  The door opened again and an angry Jax stepped through. He glared at the surrounding kids and barked at them, “It’s fine. We weren’t followed.” He stomped upstairs after Peter.

  It looked like Jax was going to have a few choice words w
ith his fearless leader.

  Wendy went over to Tink, who had finally gotten up, her small body trembling. “Are you okay?”

  Tink wiped her nose on her sleeve and nodded. “Yeah, it’s just those things are scary, and it got ahold of Ditto before we even knew it was there. Peter was able to wrench him away. It wasn’t a very strong one. But still.”

  “Is Ditto going to be okay?” Wendy asked.

  “Yeah, yeah. Just a scratch, so the venom wasn’t a high dose, but he’ll have nightmares for a few days.” She looked worried. “I uh, need to get back to work.” Tink brushed past her and headed upstairs.

  Tootles came up to Wendy and slid his hand into hers. She looked down at the small boy and felt her heart swell. He was scared. He kept flickering in and out of sight, and he was using her hand to ground himself.

  Finally, something she could do. “Tootles, are you hungry?” His small head bobbed up and down. “Good, so am I. Show me where a starving girl can get some food around here.”

  Tootles led Wendy to the main dining hall, where a buffet dinner was set up. She picked up her dinner roll, cut it down the center, and turned it into a talking bread puppet. His squeals of laughter lifted the tension in the dining room. More and more boys brought their plates over to sit by Wendy and join in the fun. For the next hour she told stories and jokes, trying to make the young boy laugh.

  Fox had quite the talent for storytelling too. And the kid with black eyes, Onyx, did amazing impersonations.

  Her hand went to Tootle’s back and rubbed it fondly. He leaned over and put his head on her arm. He was so young to be here without family.

  After they’d eaten, Tootles tugged on her arm and led her from the dining hall to see his room. Toy trains decorated the walls and the floor—probably the reason behind his name. When it was time for bed, he pleaded with Wendy to tuck him in and say prayers. She wondered whether he had a mother out there somewhere.

  Tears filled her eyes as she thought of her own family and bedtime routine. After listening to a long story, Tootles fell asleep. Wendy let herself out of his room.

  She wandered past the recovery room and peeked in to see Ditto sitting up in bed. Slightly and Tink were both talking to him. He kept shaking his head and trying to get up.

  “We’re fine. I’m fine. Stop being a nanny goat!” Ditto flung the blanket off the bed. He appeared to be recovering fine, so she headed back to her room but stopped when she came to the office. She heard raised voices—Peter and Jax arguing about something.

  It wasn’t her place to interfere, so she hastened toward her room. But then she heard Jax say her name.

  She went back and pressed her ear to the door.

  “Send her back to where she came from! She’s no use here, and she doesn’t need to be learning our secrets.”

  “Back to the streets?” Peter’s voice rose in protest. “After you suggested she come here?”

  “I was wrong. I admit it. But I suggested the refuge, not Neverwood.”

  “Give me your reasoning, Jax. I need to know why.”

  “I have a bad feeling about it. That’s all”

  “Is this one of your intuitions again?” Peter asked. “Because those hunches have saved our hide plenty of times with the Red Skulls.”

  Silence followed. Wendy held her breath.

  “Jax, I can’t ask her to leave. You know that.”

  “That’s because you have feelings for her.” Jax’s voice rose again. “You’re not thinking like a true leader.”

  “And you are? Sending a girl out unprepared when the shadows seem to be following her around. No, she’s safer here.”

  “Safer for who? Not us. I tell you this girl will be our undoing,” Jax snarled. “Maybe she’ll just choose to leave on her own.”

  Wendy pulled back from the door at the sound of footsteps, but she wasn’t fast enough. The door opened and she faced Jax’s dark angry eyes. He closed the door so Peter didn’t see her.

  “Spying?” He raised an eyebrow.

  That night, she lay in bed wide awake for hours. When she finally fell asleep, it was to be plagued by dreams…of shadow monsters, and a building burning, and drowning.

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  The next morning Jax knocked and demanded in a gruff voice for her to get to the gym for more training. She waited for more accusations to fly at her, but he didn’t even stay to talk.

  This time she was prepared to walk into darkness, smart enough not to announce her position. A ball of light flew in her direction and she dodged it, grinning at her accomplishment. Except that she remembered she’d had no other plan of attack.

  “Hard to attack when you leave your weapon behind,” Jax growled as he sprung up behind her. He hit a button on his brace and the gym lights came up. He picked up her abandoned light brace from the bench.

  “What’s the point? I can’t use it,” Wendy argued.

  Clearly irritated, Jax shoved the brace back into her hand. “Maybe it’s because you don’t believe you can do it.”

  “Yesterday you said that I couldn’t use it because I’m not like you. Has that changed?”

  “Maybe, do you believe yet?”

  She sighed and snapped it back on her arm. “What does this light ball do to the shadows?”

  “It makes the morphlings lose their shape if they haven’t shifted into anything more solid. If they’re hit with a strong enough blast, they’ll dissipate instantly. They can re-form, but it gives us time to get away.”

  “Is light the only weapon against them?”

  “In their pre-morph shape. After that it’s all physical, but they’re not your only problem.”

  “What can you do?” She eyed Jax.

  “Excuse me?” He looked irritated by her question.

  “Um,” she faltered, “it seems everyone can do something…what’s your gift?”

  His eyes grew dark and he cracked his knuckles. “Believe me, you don’t want to know.”

  “I do, actually,” she pressed.

  It seemed to make him even angrier, but then he shook his head and dropped his gaze. “I used my gift once and people—too many—died. I’ve promised myself I’d never lose control of it again. So don’t ask.”

  There was heaviness in the air. Was it guilt?

  “Why don’t you want me here?” she pressed, changing the subject.

  He seemed startled. “Because it’s not safe.”

  “For who?”

  “For us,” he said.

  Wendy looked around the gym, “That seems pretty cryptic and doesn’t give me a reason to leave. What aren’t you telling me?”

  “Plenty. I know your kind.”

  “No you don’t.” Wendy answered.

  “I know you better than you know yourself,” he grinned.

  “That sounds pretty stalkerish.” She stepped away from him, giving him room.

  “The Red Skulls will find you—eventually—and you will lead them right to Neverwood’s doorstep.” Jax seemed adamant.

  “I’d never do that.”

  “You would, given the right motivation,” Jax said firmly.

  “Nothing would make me betray Neverwood,” her voice filled with false bravado.

  He stared her down. “Hook is ruthless. He’s worse than the morphlings or the Red Skulls. He just has to find your weak spot and then,” he picked up an air-filled ball, “apply enough pressure and—”

  POP!

  Wendy jumped.

  “We’re all dead or worse…back at Neverland.”

  He gave her his back, which made Wendy angry. How dare he accuse her of betraying them when she just got here.

  “Test me,” she demanded.

  “What?” He turned surprised.

  “You heard me.” She brought her fists up into a fighting stance. “Do your worst. Try and make me talk.”

  He actually laughed. “If you actually went toe to toe with me, you’d be running for the hills.” He paused in thought. “Maybe I should sho
w you what you’re up against. Give you a taste of how ruthless the Red Skulls are.”

  Wendy gulped and wanted to withdraw her earlier challenge.

  Jax lunged at her. She screamed when he slammed her body against the wall, his hand wrapping around her throat. She stilled, her back pressed against the cool wall. “The Red Skulls only understand one thing—violence.”

  Wendy clawed at her throat, pulling at Jax’s thumbs, trying to loosen his grip, but he was relentless. She was stunned by his sudden switch to aggression.

  “Stop!” she gasped. “Please stop!”

  He whispered against her ear. “Tell me where the lost boys are, Wendy. Lead me to the one called Peter.”

  He wasn’t applying as much pressure on her throat as she’d thought. It was just enough to scare her—her own struggles against him were what was cutting off her windpipe. That thought steadied her.

  “Never.” She stopped fighting and relaxed. She stared into Jax’s eyes with a resolved calm. His eyes bored into hers, and she saw a hint of underlying panic at her lack of response.

  “Try, Wendy. The Red Skulls are pirates; they will not take it easy. Fight.”

  She shook her head.

  “Hook will come. He will kill everything you hold dear, everyone you love. Even your family.”

  An image of her mom, dad and brother flashed in her mind. The thought of their deaths frightened her enough that she froze, her body going limp.

  Jax took her fear for acceptance, his hands loosened around her neck, and he stepped back with a look of shock. He ran his hands through his hair as he studied her.

  “You have to fight, Wendy. It’s easy in a controlled environment, where you know it’s a test, but can you really handle conflict in the heat of the moment?”

  She was feeling a bit braver and rubbed her throat. “Of course. I can handle most surprises.”

  She moved away but was caught off guard when Jax spun back and pinned her to the wall with his body. She squeaked in surprise, but all sound was cut off when his warm lips pressed against hers, forceful. Their lips ground against each other in pain, and his hand found her lower back, pulling her toward him.

 
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