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CHAPTER 8

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The snow fell with increased intensity as the bottom of Sarah's boot nailed Wolf in the face on the way down from her perch on the tree limb. But unfortunately, he didn't drop the gun as they collapsed in a pile on the ground. She landed on his chest with a thump. Wolf barked loudly as air expelled from his lungs. Sarah ignored the groans that followed and scrambled away as fast as she could. In flight, he stuck his leg out and caught her ankle with the crook of his bended foot. She fell with her arms outstretched, and face smacked the forest floor, driving snow and dirt into her mouth, and smearing debris across her cheek.

"Ahhh—you bastard." Sarah grunted and snarled from the stinging pain. She wasn't cursing, not in her mind at least. She truly believed Wolf was an illegitimate son of the admiral—probably one of many, born or forged, or altered in a lab, outside of the natural confines of science. The admiral was the sole person responsible for Jake and Sarah being on the space station in the first place. He used them for his selfish purposes, and he wanted to use her again. And Wolf was his henchman.

With fire in her eyes, she kicked Wolf in the nose, but luckily for him she only caught him with the glancing side of her boot. If she'd hit him squarely, the force of the blow would have rammed his nasal cavity into his brain. Even with his increased rate of healing, he would've died.

Wolf faltered backwards, hands to his face, rolling on his side, crying out in pain.

Sarah hustled for the cover of a tree a few feet away, reached it and fell to her knees as he recovered and fired his gun, a dart embedding in the bark.

Her hand found the hilt of a dagger and unsheathed it. Within seconds, she realized he was waiting for her to emerge from behind the tree, but the question was which side?

He groaned.

Coughed.

Spat.

Based on his fits of agony, Sarah narrowed his position down to ten, maybe fifteen feet behind her. She needed a distraction, so she slipped her arms free from her coat and wadded it up into a ball. The bitter cold rushed in and penetrated her sweater, sinking into her bones and joints.

One...two...three...

Sarah held out the coat and waved it around. Another dart pelted the woolen target. He had pushed her far enough, she had to end this now. On the balls of her feet, she spun to the other side of the tree, spotted Wolf, and threw the dagger straight for his head.

He dodged her aim, the knife burying into the tree behind him, hilt vibrating. Under a veil of darkness, faintly visible at the close distance, his eyes turned to slits and his nose wrinkled, lifting his upper lip into a trademark snarl. With two giant steps Wolf leaped into the shadows, further away, as Sarah circled around away from his location. After gaining a new vantage point behind another tree, she waited in silence, leaning against the bark.

The bitter cold wrapped around Sarah's body and threatened to steal her composure. A steady breeze iced her cheeks and infiltrated her sweater, seeped into every pore. She strained to see in the darkness and did her best to spot movement. With no moonlight, there was no face, no glint of metal. There were nothing but shadowy outlines, blurs of swaying limbs, and clear, distinct sounds. She inhaled a deep breath, the air drawing over her chapped lips. She shivered, struggling to keep her body in check, but her lean muscles shook like the first wave of a seizure, her teeth chattering uncontrollably. Out of necessity, she hugged the wadded coat to her stomach, dying to put it back on, but if she moved, he'd spot her.

"How long can you hold out?" Wolf hollered. "It's getting colder outside."

Longer than he thought. He wanted her to give away her position.

"I think you broke my nose, Sarah. That wasn't nice. I didn't know you had such a nasty side."

Sarah rubbed her numb, trembling fingers over her coat and squeezed the wool. In the process, she felt the slender shaft of the dart Wolf had shot at her. She flinched at first, but then, as she gripped it in her hand, a strategy began to form. She breathed in and licked her lips for temporary relief from her chapped skin. The moisture soothed her for a few seconds before drying up in the frigid air. "If I come out willingly, do you promise not to tranquilize me?"

There was a long pause in which the only sounds were the wind whipping through the trees and the snow hitting the ground.

Wolf could be calculating her position and weighing his options. "Do you swear?" Sarah added. "I need full assurance that you won't shoot me."

"But I really wanna trank you, especially after you kicked my face in and tried to stick a knife in my eye." He huffed. "But I..." he carried out the, I, like an irritated sigh, "I won't...I promise, I mean I swear. I swear I will not shoot you with the dart gun, if...if you behave yourself. Do you promise not to try anything?"

"Yes, I promise." Sarah tugged the coat around her, put her arms through the sleeves, and buttoned it up. Then she raised her hands and stepped out from the tree. "Don't shoot."

"Toss your knives away from you."

She pulled a dagger from the sheath and flung it to the ground.

"The other one too."

She hesitated, gritted her teeth, and threw the other knife aside.

"Alright," Wolf said. "Come on...slowly."

Sarah inched toward him in a cloak of darkness, his form a vague outline among the trees. "I thought you were going to put the gun away?"

"I said, I wasn't going to shoot you. I'm not stupid."

She stopped a couple of feet from his silhouette. Patiently, she waited...

He lowered the gun.

Then she slapped her open palm down on his neck.

His eyes widened.

"Sorry," Sarah said. "Guess I told a lie."

The dart punctured his skin, depositing what she hoped was a sufficient amount of the drug. Some of the tranquilizer had soaked into her coat when she held it up for a target earlier, but she didn't know how much.

Wolf melted before her, dropped to his knees, but raised the gun. Compressed air swooshed from the barrel. "You promised," he said and collapsed at her feet.

A twinge of pain radiated from Sarah's leg. She reached with the intent to yank the dart from her thigh and hurl it away in anger, but never had the chance. She fell, crisscrossed on top of Wolf's back, her vision growing dark like the night.

A snow flake landed on her eyelash as the crowd at Times Square erupted into celebration and music blared in the background, and then she was gone, running away in her mind.

Because that was what Sarah always did. She ran away.

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