hurting

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Then the pain flared and I was overwhelmed.

Someone screamed. It was me, I think, but I don't remember consciously willing it to happen. It just did.

Clair took charge, grabbing my uninjured arm and pulling me backward, out of the firing line.

"Clair, it hurts!"

"Give me the gun, Q."

The pistol slipped easily from Clair to me. She hefted it in her right hand and swung it behind us as we rounded a corner. She blasted a couple of times at the dupe in Jamila's body but we didn't stop to see if she hit anything.

"Through here," she said, pushing me ahead of her into the kitchen. I could hear raised voices and alarms. Lights were coming on all around us. "Come on, Q."

"It hurts."

"I know, but there's nothing we can do about it now."

"Why does it go on hurting? How do I make it stop?"

"Be quiet, Q, or they'll find us."

Too late. A bullet missed Clair by millimetres, and she dragged me down behind a stainless steel bench. Bullets slammed into it in quick succession. Clair put her hands over her ears. The sound alone was painful, but it was nothing compared to the agonistic fire in my shoulder.

Then a deeper note joined in, boom-boom, and suddenly everything was quiet again.

Clair lowered her shaking hands and raised her head slowly over the edge of the bench.

"Arcady!"

He was standing naked in the doorway, holding a shotgun. Clair left the pistol on the floor next to me and stood up. He pointed the shotgun at her, then lowered it. There was still gunfire coming from elsewhere in the Farmhouse.

"Back to the hall," he said. "Safety in numbers."

Clair reached down and pulled me to my feet. I was limp with pain.

"It's okay," Clair told him when he raised the shotgun again. "She's a friend."

"She's dressed like one of them."

Of course I was. That was how I had come to be in the Farmhouse, by being one of them. The dupes' uniform was a black bodysuit with retractable hoods designed to help them sneak past the active denials systems outside.

"Q duped the dupes," Clair said in a firm voice. "She can explain for herself."

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