Chapter Eight

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I could already start to feel my fingers begin to burn from the substance that laced the grass, lining the blades like a second skin. Again, I wiped my palms along my stomach, trying to get as much of it off. "Come on, Jonas," Cassian repeated, and it seemed like his words were on replay in my mind. "Get up."

I glanced down at where my foot was bent, feeling like my lungs were beginning to shrivel up into dust. It wasn't bent unnaturally—I hadn't broken it or anything, that I knew for a fact. There wasn't enough pain for it to be broken. I couldn't help but stare at my stupid limb, though, or at the stupid baseball bat that lied just beyond me, obscured in the tall grass. Who leaves a baseball bat in the middle of the yard, anyway? Kids with dumb dreams to become dumb baseball players, who've already probably been eaten by alien mutant devil dogs, and—

Wait. Wait. I lunged forward, grabbing ahold of the baseball bat. It was a short one, definitely kid-sized, but it would do. Digging the wide end into the ground, I used it to leverage myself into a standing position, leaning my weight onto it. "Okay, I think—"

Cassie didn't even wait for me to finish my sentence, or even fully grasp my footing. He grabbed ahold of my free wrist and pulled, trying to get me to move faster than I could. But he wasn't heading for the street. No, he was heading for the house of his friend, for the back porch. I tried to put on the breaks, ask him what he was thinking, when I heard a voice. "Are you sure it's this way, Eliria?"

"Human magnetic pulls interfere with my devices, so I'm not completely positive. But the span of our barrier isn't that wide."

"Yes," came a man's voice, "but I'd rather not spend the whole time running in circles. The more time we waste, the more potential subjects are eliminated."

Cassian ducked behind the white porch, behind the array of flowers, pulling me down with him. The porch was raised off the ground by several feet. I fell to my knees and crawled as far back underneath the deck as I could, hoping to disappear into the purple shadows. There was mostly just tilled dirt underneath the porch, hard from years of being shielded by rainwater, but a few blades of grass poked up. I scanned Cassian's hands, but no trace of silvery substance coated his skin. Thank God. "That's why we shouldn't have released them so early," sighed a woman.

"Gods of Light, what is this—" the rustling sound grew louder until there was a deafening crack in the air, loud enough to make me jerk. It almost sounded like a bone breaking. "Earth and its foliage. I will never understand it."

I ducked a little so I could see through the stems of flowers, trying to see where the aliens stood. The bush that Cassian and I were just peering through had been hacked to the ground, leaving a gaping hole in the shrubbery wall that separated the yard from the street. Though it ruined the aesthetic, I saw the hole for what it was. An easy doorway for me and Cassie. Now we just had to be able to get to it.

"And hey, I didn't mean to press the release button. Who puts the mutt's release button right next to the auto-pilot landing, anyway?"

There was a low sigh, one that felt like it shuttered through my bones. "Stop talking, all of you," the man said—I couldn't refer to him as my father. If I did, I'd shut down, and I couldn't afford to shut down. Not with Cassie. Not again. "Eliria, I think your device is malfunctioning. This yard has already been sprayed with our pesticides."

"Hmm...well, see here, it says—"

She stopped talking abruptly, and then there was silence. A long stretch of silence. So long that I wondered if they vanished into thin air. But as I ducked my head a little further, I saw that they had all stopped in the middle of the grass, in a small semi-circle.

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