"Get me out of here." I say it softly at first and then louder. "Cord, please, my procedure isn't until morning. I just want to breathe fresh air tonight."

"Yes, Ma Lady," he mimics a Messenger.

"Sorry, but I'm kind of freaking out. I need a walk." I stand and wait for him to follow.

"I don't blame you." He signs us out and escorts me through the lobby and the glass doors. The evening chill hits us and I soak in it.

When we've cleared the parking lot at the edge of a faded plastic playground I whisper, "I want to see Bud one more time."

"Fuch, I don't know if that's a good idea." He hasn't used my nickname before. Kids are on the swings and their giggling goes up and down with them.

"Please. It may be my last night on earth." I give him the saddest face I can find.

He glances back at the hospital. "It's too dangerous, for you and for Bud."

I lean into him and drape my arms around his shoulder. It's a move I've seen Mom do when she wants Dad to go outside his comfort zone.

He blinks a lot and then looks down. "Okay, but I'll sign you back in for shower time so we can't be linked. Curfew is in thirty minutes, but they don't seem to care if I come and go."

"You're so special," I tease. I feel giddy with the sneakiness of our plan as I wait for him to come back out. The broken moon hangs in dusky light, and makes me ache for Mom. She says the moon is looking out for us, no matter what. Suddenly I'm crying at my fifty-fifty odds, but I wipe the tears away.

Anger takes over. Why haven't I heard from Mom and Dad yet? From what Burnish told me, I was supposed to clear them just by announcing my donation. What if tomorrow morning I still haven't seen them? How will I face the needles alone?

We walk in a roundabout way, meandering through town so no one can see our intended path. Frustration wells up. "What kind of God would behead and then leave us to save each other with such crappy odds?" I complain.

"Not my god," Cord says.

"What do you mean your god? You have your own god?"

"I think she's all around us. She's beautiful, all knowing and all loving. She would never do that." He looks up at the moon.

"She?" I cross my arms and walk fast so he has to keep up with me.

"Have you seen a Forever?" He skips to catch up.

"Of course." Darn things are always fluttering around, reminding us of death.

"Well, they say the Forevers are what we become when we die. But I like to think of it more as a metaphor for proof of an afterlife. We can't fly in this dimension but they can."

"So you think your God is separate from the beheading God we worship? And that Forevers aren't really what we become? And, your God is a she?"

"Yes, and I know She's here." Our walking speeds up with the conversation as we reach the turn off to the hideout. Moonlight shares our path through the tall grasses.

"Okay, you can believe what you want, but then who is this god that beheads us?"

"My family thinks it's a much larger species. One of the reasons we couldn't let Grandma die is she started the research to defend ourselves from these giants, to heal from the beheadings."

"How on earth can you play defense with something that large, even if you think it's another being and not actually God?"

"Many tribes have developed ways to adapt: we Arnica have healing blood, Larkspur have poison and your tribe has that repellant odor to protect you."

"True."

"But not every species has protective measures, or even the ability to heal quickly from a beheading. So my family has been involved in some secret research for years."

More secrets? "If that could work it would be amazing."

"We think it will. We've found a way to regrow a beheaded victim in one season. That's why Grandma is alive, because she demanded that we try the procedure on her should she ever be so unlucky."

Talk about a healer taking their work home, but I don't say that. Instead I nod in sympathy. "So how does it work?"

"I'll explain later. Now we have to be quiet." Cord shushes me as we step up to the lip of the covered hole. He gives a call that sounds like one of the night insects on too much caffeine.

In response, the ceiling opens and the rope ladder lowers. He goes first and I follow, carefully choosing each swaying step. Once we're in, the brightness of the warm room fills us. Both the grandmother and Bud must be sleeping because they're lumps are covered in blankets in the soil beds, but I can tell the boy has grown by the size of his snoozing form. I look for Cord's mom but instead of her sunny face, I see the man the girls gossiped about. He looks like I caught him this time, instead of me snooping in his lab.

"Mr. Schneider?" I look at Cord. "What's he doing here?"

The science teacher grins at Cord. "Good, you brought her." They share a look that makes me feel left out of an inside joke.

"As promised," Cord says. His voice is colder than usual. "I hope you have the exchange we agreed on."

"Right here." Mr. Schneider holds up a syringe. I didn't think I'd have to see any needles till morning.

"Let's just get this over with." Cord rakes a hand through blond locks and rolls his eyes. He looks intense.

"What the hell is going on here?" I ask, but no one answers me. Instead they go into whisper mode and I'm left staring at the sleeping refugees. Something strange is poking out of Grandma's blanket where her head isn't supposed to be. Instead of the flat beheaded stump I saw last time, there's a horrific hand shooting out of the covers at an odd angle.

My God, something is terribly wrong.


A/N: What on earth has Fuchsia gotten herself into now?

Dedicated to ScarlettAcosta  , a gifted writer I am privileged to know. Please do yourself a favor and run over to Essential, her witty and poignant Sci-Fi story. The format alone is profound and will keep you guessing while Shaeya's smart voice will have you laughing out loud.

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