Yikes! Last week, we were left hiding in the football stadium wearing nothing but a paper gown an watching mysterious loner dude ™ go Stabby Mcstabberton! I’m glad to have (most) of y’all around in a fight, cos the vote was clearly to play good Samaritan and B. run to the middle of the field and try to save the mysterious hooded person

Chapter 05: Ooh, Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying

Oh…my…God did he just stab a dude?!? You take deep breaths, trying hard to calm yourself—you don’t want to be found passed out in the bushes in a paper gown, and Cain is still out there! Oh god—Cain! Did he see me?

Focus. In. Out. You have to hurry. Checking over your shoulder one last time, you grab a rock and scurry out onto the grassy field. You breathe as slowly as possible so any stray CO2 probes don’t register you and bend over the figure on the ground. He’s moaning softly, and it looks like blood is oozing from the gut wound. Great – how are you going to do this without leaving behind trace evidence? You rip off the bottom of your gown and wrap it around your hand in a makeshift glove, then gingerly push the hood back to see who’s dying.

“Tiny!” you cry, definitely too loudly.

“Mmpphggrrr…chance formmgppphghh…” he moans. His eyes focus on you for just a second, then look off into the distance again.

“Oh crap, oh crap,” you mutter, scrabbling frantically to stuff Tiny’s hoodie into the wound. It’s not working—his breathing is getting slower and raspier. “Stay with me, please stay with me. Tiny, LOOK at me.”

He does, and you start. Did his eyes just glow? Surely it was a trick of the moonlight. Before you can decide, he retches and is still. Completely and totally still—you’ve never seen anything like it. Oh GOD. And you know for sure he’s really gone. You look at his eyes again, and this time you’re certain—there’s nothing human about the way the pupils have constricted, completely disappearing. You pull your hand back from Tiny’s stomach and look at the blood-soaked paper. It’s dark red and sticky, but something’s not quite right. You flash back on the time you bashed your chin when your stupid bathroom door opened too fast and you remember how it smelled, faintly coppery. This smells…burnt. And not like toast… like…

“Shit!” you leap back and sprint away toward the bushes. Because the faint odor lingering in the air over Tiny’s body is the same stench you’ve smelled dozens of times in Machine Maintenance class—the smell of melting plastic and overheated wires.

“I was hoping to tell you about this in a different way, but you were early.”

For what seems like the millionth time tonight you jump. Cain is standing behind you, black eyes glittering in the moonlight. And it’s definitely the moonlight, not creepy robot eyes like Tiny’s. You realize how you must look, your paper gown now several inches shorter and with great damp patches from the grass threatening its structural integrity.

“Cain! What’s going on?”

“I can’t explain here. Tiny’s microprocessor is still live, and thanks to your heroics has you on film. Wait here while I retrieve it, and we’ll go someplace safe.”

“But, but… He looked HUMAN! And I talked to him at lunch and he was trying to overthr—”

“Not. Here.” Cain ground out. “Wait.”

Too shaken, confused and nearly naked to argue, you just stand there in the bushes. The really poky bushes; now you wish you paid more attention in the botany classes. You’re covered in scratches.

Cain is kneeling next to Tiny’s…what, corpse? shell? and rips out the left eye. Even though you know it’s just machine parts, you’re still totally squicked out.

“Come with me,” Cain says, then strides of toward the abandoned field house.

You don’t really have a choice, since you have no idea how you’ll get back in the dormitory now, covered in sweat, mud and robot gore, so you hurry after him. He pushes aside some fallen boards and exposes a tunnel that goes deep under the field and heads down.

“The machines’ sensors have a hard time underground in the raw earth,” Cain explains. “There’s so much life—insects, invertebrates, vermin, plants—that our presence is somewhat masked. It’s not foolproof, but fewer than ten or so people can hide from the smaller transient probes.”

You just nod. What the hell is going on? You’ve reached a smallish chamber, and Cain fumbles in a crate. “By the way,” Cain says over his shoulder. “That Tiny guy…That’s why we need to get to Chance. Look, there’s more, and we’ll talk when we get deeper into safety. Let me get you something to put on,” he says, pulling out a fresh, crisp paper gown, identical to the one you’re wearing, minus the rips and stains. Suddenly, you realize you’re standing mostly naked, without even a lip-gloss, in a really deep hole in the ground with a guy who just stabbed someone in cold…something. A hole in the ground like they used to use for graves. And he wants you to follow him deeper. You can hear murmuring now, like several people are congregating farther down the tunnel. One voice rises above the others, one distinct voice. A gossipy, flaky voice. Sev! She’s shrieking, and you can’t tell if she’s laughing or crying.

Great. This is either some silly party, or Sev’s been kidnapped by eyeball-plucking, stabby maniacs!

Do you:

A.  Follow Cain down the tunnel to find out what’s going on? Was Tiny saying something about Chance, or was he saying “something chance for something something”?

B.  Snatch the paper gown and run for your life, for help, for your bed … anything that’s not underground?

C.  Push past Cain to go rescue Sev?

D.  Run back to the dorms and check out Tiny’s room. Did he mean that wasn’t the real Tiny, and the real Tiny’s happily scribbling song lyrics in his room? Or something worse?

Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.