NINETY-SEVEN

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"Who's that?"

Mom turned her head to follow the discreet aim of my pointed finger. I narrowed my eyes and tried to focus my eyesight. Why was the man so blurry?

Mom's eyes were burning with darkness as she looked back at me. "He's dangerous. Don't trust him."

"Isn't he fighting on our side?" I don't know why I said that, since I couldn't even really see the person, but I had a feeling he was with us. Another rebel.

The fire burnt brightly in her eyes even when the hard expression in the lines of her face softened with a modest curving to her mouth. She placed her palm against my cheek and the comforting and familiar warmth from her hand went straight into my heart.

"Not all can be trusted," she said slowly and tenderly. As if she was telling me how much she loved me rather than giving me a warning.

I looked into her large blue eyes, traced the redness of her hair, the fine short strands of hair that curled along her hairline. I took in the character of her nose, the blush in her cheeks. She looked well. Filled with life.

I nodded in the clasp of her palm, not daring to blink. I had this aching feeling in my chest that she would disappear if I did.

"Hi."

Reluctantly, I looked away from my mom towards that voice.

A girl I had never seen before was looking at me silently. She had a pretty face. A very young face. The blonde loose curls surrounding her fawn skin and the blueness of her eyes made her look even younger than she probably was. Almost doll-like.

She was short - my height - but that's where our physical similarities ended.

She had curves. Lots of them. They were sensually arranged along her body, in just the right spots, and something about her was telling me that she was very well aware of the characteristics of her body.

But even with long dark eyelashes framing those baby blue eyes - which should have reminded me of a child and reached into my heart for my need to care for her - a chill went through my soul. The chill was only further accentuated by the sudden loss of my mom's touch against my cheek.

I whipped my head away from the blonde to where my mom had just been.

She was gone.

"No," the word whispered brokenly across my lips while acute grief and loss exploded in my heart. "Mom?"

"She's dead."

The blonde's voice was cold. Impassive. It made the coldness in my body intensify, preventing me from taking proper breaths.

"She's been dead for weeks," she continued, her voice being darker than that of a general girl, but at the same time scratching against the insides of my ears. As if it was in dissonance. Whiny. "You can't have forgotten that already, have you?"

I was still staring at the spot where my mom had been just a moment ago, when the evil doll's voice came closer and I felt her breath against my ear. My whole body tensed. It had the same reaction as if a rattle snake had snuck up next to me. The reaction was primal. Instinctive. Necessary for survival.

Her voice was slow and almost seductive as she added, "Her weak human body couldn't handle the pressure from an alien mind, remember? She was useless. A weak, useless human."

Heat was building from the center of my body and goosebumps spread across my skin. My fists tightened and a suffocating anger spread up my throat, constricting it painfully.

But instead of screaming, instead of hitting her, instead of at least shoving her away, I could do nothing. I was immobilized.

Her lips brushed against the shell of my ear, causing the acidic byproduct of nausea to fight with the anger for a spot in my constricted throat, as she added, "A weak, useless human. Just like you."

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