Lee spun, fear sinking its claws into her as she squinted through the blinding light. Instinct drove her into a protective crouch, the chasm between her people and the Topsiders growing that much wider as the reality of her situation struck home.
Here, she was a stranger.
Here, she was a threat.
And when they saw her face...
Everywhere her eyes darted loomed a figure silhouetted by harsh flashlights, dark shapes clutched in extended arms. Guns. There were guns trained on her. Lucas must have come to the same realization because he jerked around and screamed, "Run!" before tackling the closest officer, drawing attention away from his panicking friend.
Her legs were springs released by a hairpin trigger. Lee launched into motion, bowling past two stunned officers and diving into the underbrush. There was no finesse to her movement. No skilled footfalls or flashy moves. This was the terrified scramble of prey fleeing a predator, and Lee made it a reasonable distance before a set of arms wrapped around her waist, dragging her to the ground.
Earth and sky traded places in a painful slap, the taste of soil and fallen leaves exploding against her senses when her head bounced off the ground. Blackness crept into her periphery. Buzzing filled her skull.
"Freeze! Get —" The officer grunted in pain when Lee's boot blindly connected with his stomach just below his protective vest, practically doubling him over. Another blow caught him in the knee, eliciting a proper cry of pain when the joint bent oddly.
Scrambling on hands and knees, Lee righted herself, mud and twigs sticking to her like wet plaster, and, picked a direction. Her lungs wheezed with the exertion, air like acid in her windpipe.
"I said freeze, you son of a bitch!"
Something whizzed by her shoulder, grazing her hoodie like an angry hornet. Another nicked the tip of her ear, but Lee heard and felt nothing. It was like the gunfire was stuck on a loop in her head, echoing until it became a cacophonous static blending with the churning of her lungs.
Pain lanced across the stitches in her scalp, the healing wound catching fire like someone trying to wedge their finger into the puckered seam. The world dimmed without Lee realizing, fuzzing out everything but the razor's edge of feral instinct and the pounding of her head. Noise built inside her like she was a shaken soda bottle, opening a door never before felt or seen. From afar, Lee could feel her body reacting to the outside stimuli and was helpless to stop it, along for the ride as beast and woman traded places.
A hand grabbed her shoulder, fingers fisting the fabric and throwing her to the ground. She was supposed to land vulnerable. Instead, she rolled into an attack. The noise swirling around her grew...or was that the roar ripping from her throat? Or perhaps the scream of the officer staggering away with a broken arm.
Metal on metal, it made her spine itch and curl into a hunch.
Lee ground her teeth, hands pressed against her ears. He needed to be quiet. Quiet goddamnit! Quiet meant safety, and she wouldn't be safe until he stopped making noise. But he was still screaming and reaching for his radio to bring more danger and noisemakers. Lee couldn't have that, so she grabbed him by the face and spun him around, throwing him like he had done to her. Never mind the splintering bone. Never mind the skin opening, painting the leaves in crimson. There was silence at last, and that was all that mattered.
Panting, Lee slipped into a crouch, her world vibrating with alien colors and sensations. Noise from afar. More danger, lights cutting like knives through the dark. She was running again, hunting for a place to hide. Iron filled her lungs. Where was the smell coming from? No time to find out. The park wasn't safe. There were monsters in the underbrush. They would follow her Underground. They would hurt her people.
Instinct was both cruel and punishing, driving Lee into an unfamiliar city. People passed in blurs. She drove through them like they were nothing but trees in a flesh and steel jungle, leaping cars and ripping down alleyways. There was only one place she could go.
Across town, Georgia swung into her car, head flopping back once the door clicked shut. She and Alex had been combing through MIT records, and her eyes were starting to feel the strain.
"Like being back on desk duty," she muttered, massaging her eyes with her thumb and forefinger. Reaching for her freshly refilled coffee thermos, Georgia sipped her nightly brew, content on letting her car warm up. Out of habit, she flipped on the police scanner attached to her dashboard, listening half-heartedly to the chatter as she scanned the channels until a frantic call made her stop.
"135 to dispatch, we have an officer down! I repeat, 65 is down. Need rescue here yesterday! Suspect still at large!"
"Jesus Christ! It looks like a bear attacked him!" someone, probably another officer at the scene, shouted in the background.
"What in the fresh fuck?" Georgia muttered between sips, turning up the volume.
"Confirmed, 135. Rescue in route to your location," the dispatcher calmly stated over the speaker. "Do you have a description?"
"Suspect fled the scene wearing a maroon hoodie, dark jeans, black or blue scarf, and dark shoes. Considered armed and dangerous."
"Well shit," Georgia harrumphed. "Must be a busy night in Central —" She almost hit the roof of her car, spilling her coffee in the process, when someone slid across the hood, metal squealing in its wake. The figure continued their dead run, not slowing in the slightest, when Georgia all but ripped open her door, swearing at the top of her lungs.
"Yeah, you better keep running, you — what the fuck did you do to my car!?" Mouth agape, she stared in dumbfounded disbelief at five long claw marks raked across the hood of her blue Chevy. "Is fucking Sabertooth running around the city?!"
Whipping back around, she caught a glimpse of a maroon hoodie and black pants as the figure darted into the alley, climbing the fire escape like a seasoned gymnast, barely touching the rails.
"Oh, fuck no. No way." Georgia ran across the road for a better look. It was hard to tell where the figure was going, shadows and the steel of the fire escape distorting their position, until it stopped on the eighth floor and frantically started beating at a window. Alex's window...
Sprinting back to her car, Georgia snatched her radio and dialed into the correct channel. "Dispatch, this is Georgia Battle, do you copy?"
"Get off this channel," came a growled reply from the other line. "This is for active personnel only."
"Shut the fuck up, Teddy. I've got a visual on your APB. Heading south on West 75th street. Just climbed a fire escape. Looks to be heading into the adjacent apartment building."
"Stay put, Battle. You're not in blue anymore. You wait for us. We're on our way."
"Bullshit you are, you prick," Georgia spat after dropping the radio. She wasn't about to wait.
YOU ARE READING
Journalist Alexandra Bailey never believed she'd become another tragic statistic ripe for the front pages. Abducted off the street. Beaten bloody. Left for dead in the unforgiving winter. The article wrote itself. And her crime? Not even she knew, b...