“Anyway”—Alani’s voice pulled me from my childhood—“I couldn’t talk, and muscles turned into jelly, but my senses ratcheted up two hundred percent.”
“I’m surprised you remember everything,” Rick said. Yeah, I’ll need to clean up that mess. “You took forever to walk again.”
Not forever, just minutes—well, perhaps an hour, no more than an hour.
“But it’s kinda exhilarating,” Alani continued. “It’s like, if you suck down an Icee too fast while riding an elevator. My throat tickled, like throwing up an ice cube, and my ears itched and eyes got blurry, and then I tried to blink, but she stared at me, and I couldn’t, and then something warm tingled between my eyes, right here.”
“The glabella,” he said, “joins the superciliary ridges”—silence—“what?”
“Did you learn those weird words in medical school?”
“That’s a taboo subject.”
“Anyway,” Alani exhaled, “I thought she was dying.” I was. “She asked me if I would give someone starving any bread and I should’ve said yes but was afraid.”
Does she think I might have killed her? Never—well, not on purpose.
“Oh my Sha, what Shades of Het destroyed this place,” I said, slumping to the floor myself. I had only glimpsed the room a few seconds but could recall the devastation: gray walls, desks circling a platform, computers on every desk, and Nadirian corpses draped over every station, their blackish-green bodies lying in pools of their darkly dried blood.
And all their bodies flayed—Shellskins, missing.
Rick helped Alani stand, hugged her, kissed her brow. “Take your time and go slow.” My heart sank. He hugged her, kissed her. They must be lifebonds.
After Alani followed Gem through the tunnel, I entered the elevator with Rick. “No,” Rick said, holding the door open, “stay here. You look as sick as Alani.”
“I’m prepared this time,” I said, but my legs and hands still tingled. He offered his blue mask, and I took it, even though I could merely shut down my olfactory glands. When he removed his shirt and secured it for a mask, I noticed splotched bronze skin that matched dark circles beneath his sea-blue eyes. The deaths had affected him, too. He would’ve made the perfect Lifegifter—intelligent, compassionate, and strong—but I couldn’t think of him or a friendship with Alani. My brother was missing, and I needed to know if he lay butchered within the bloodbath, the massacre.