Strong arms scoop me off the ground. Chaos plays at all my senses, slowly consuming each until my ears ring with noise and my eyes fill with light from the hot sun. I look up to Gage and close my eyes again. My body jerks in his arms as he runs. "Ben," I mutter, unsure about anything other than the fact that he's gone.
"He's fine," Gage huffs.
I don't press. Blood pumps heavily through my head and makes the pain against my brain even worse. My neck stings and warm blood drips onto my back. I force myself to open my eyes again and look to the facility merely yards from where Gage stands, engulfed in flames. The light burns my eyes and I close them again. Smoke fills my lungs.
Metal clinks beneath Gage's feet and he practically drops me onto the familiar ship floor. Another figure kneels next to me and I turn to see Henry. He looks over my body. "Where are the others?"
Gage runs out of the ship before he can respond. I look around the small space. Quinn stares back at me. I close my eyes again. "What just happened?"
She ignores me. "Start the ship."
Henry moves away from me. I moan in my effort to sit up and Quinn's foot quickly holds me down. "Stay there, Amber." I moan again. Everything hurts.
More feet join us. The ship starts beneath me as Gage pins Xavier down in a seat. The boy fights his friend. "What's going on," he begs, as terrified as I am.
Somebody's missing. "Where's Ben?" I try again to sit up but Gage holds me down. I can't fight him. "Where's Ben?" I repeat, unable to do much else. My legs begin to sting wildly and I know they're burnt. My breaths grow heavier when nobody responds. "You said he was fine."
"I am," my partner reassures me from the doorway. His presence does little to relax me. He kneels by my side. "It's all right, Amber."
He holds five trackers above me, all bloody from their recent removal. I can't take my eyes off the sight. "What's happening?"
The ship lifts off the ground. Henry turns to address the rest of us. "Cover your faces."
Ben leaves from my side as the ship enters a cloud of smoke. Gage slaps his hand against my nose and mouth to prevent me from breathing. I gasp for breath nonetheless and his suffocating hold on me only intensifies.
Ben walks to the open doorway and drops all the trackers down into the destroyed facility. He turns back and motions for Henry to take us out.
Smoke hits my eyes and they water. The clear sky is soon beneath us again and the smoke in the ship dissipates out of the hatch. Ben closes it the second he can and Gage finally lets go of me. I gasp for the clean air and look around, wild with rage. "What's going on!"
Xavier stands to join my protest but Gage sits him back down. "Just calm down, both of you." He looks to Henry. "Now would be a great time to blow it up."
I look back to the burning facility through the window. Henry pulls out a controller I know all too well. They plunged a missile into the facility, and the burning is only the start. I've seen too many camps destroyed this way, and the thought of it happening to that horrible place only excites me. Henry clicks the button and an explosion far greater than the last blows the once massive building to bits. It's meant to kill any survivors of the first blast. I watch in awe as we leave nothing behind but flames and destruction.
I look to Ben. "What's happening?"
Ben smiles at me and lowers to pull my head into his lap. I wince and look to my blistering legs. He looks at them with me. "We can fix them," he reassures me.
My eyes water and I look up to him in an attempt to distract myself it doesn't work and a pained whimper leaves my lips. Ben sighs. "Quinn, get me a sedative."
My eyes widen and I shake my head. "No." He reaches to grab the needle. "I don't need it, Ben." The thought of not getting answers kills me. "Ben, no."
He slides the needle in my arm anyway. "I'm sorry."
My eyes close under their own weight. "No you're not."
He laughs sweetly. "No, not really."
I wake up but keep my eyes closed, too comfortable to move. Memories of recent events flood back and my comfort disappears in an instant. My legs sting under their own weight and I wince. I try to pull them back but that makes the pain worse. Ben carefully pushes them back down. I barely fight his grip and it tightens which makes my blisters more unbearable. "Stop," he begs, truly pained.
I relax as much as possible and stare at my partner. "Are you you again?"
"Always was," he reassures me.
I look around the ship, empty except for us. "Where is everybody."
I wish I could join them. "Where are we?"
"The Ruins. We're headed for the others," he reassures me. He smiles. "We didn't fail."
I smile back. "We never do." The fact doesn't bring any sense to how.
Ben willfully explains when I ask him. "Henry stole the missile and took your ship at the mansion and highjacked our transfer to the facility. Gage hooked up some holograms and made it look like we were caught in the explosion."
"So why can't I use my legs?" We both look to the horrible blisters that come up to both of my knees. I bite my lip to keep from showing my pain.
Ben sighs. "We had to get close enough to the explosion to convince anybody watching that we were actually hit and we ended up too close." He looks away, obviously shameful. "But we'll fix them," he reassures me. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. So you and Quinn were just acting?"
He nods. "Henry said to trick them into thinking we were 'cured.' He and Oliver were in contact while Oliver was with us on the aircraft. Gage and Oliver came up with the plan and then got Henry on board to conduct it all. Quinn and I knew everything that would happen before it did."
"And so they think we're dead?"
Ben nods. "A group of rebels recently succeeded in raiding the mansion for weapons. With us busy and all there was nobody to track them down. They're believed to be stationed near the facility so we flew the missile from there and framed them."
"And what about the others?"
"You mean Phoenix and company?" I nod. "They were taken out of the facility when we ran away as a reward for staying. Nobody was caught in the crossfire."
I nod. "So we're free?"
"Technically we're dead."
I laugh. "It sure feels like it." My eyes wander back to my legs. "My god that's ugly."
He turns to the mark as well. "You're beautiful."
I set my head on the hard floor beneath me and let Ben's lips land on top of mine. The door starts to open and we quickly separate. Henry walks in. He smiles at the sight of my open eyes. "How are they holding up?"
We all look back to the mess of my legs. "Not great," I admit.
The others follow us in. Quinn smiles down on me. "Hey, Amber."
I smile back at her. Xavier closes the hatch and sits heavily on the closest seat he can find. Grief weighs him down and my own joy disappears when I remember Kaya's death. Xavier avoids my eyes and I don't say a word, unsure what I can say to take away his heartache. Likely nothing will.
Henry starts the ship and the ground leaves from beneath us. We all participate in simple conversation, dancing around the sensitive subjects such as Kaya and Ben and Quinn's time in the mansion. Ben rubs some ointment from the ship on my legs though the pain only resides for seconds before returning. He rests my head in his lap and doesn't stop talking to try and make me forget about the pain. He nearly does.
The Raider village is soon in sight and Henry doesn't take caution to avoid being seen. He flies the ship into the center of town. People scatter out of the way and more come in, armed to fight. Henry throws a gun over his shoulder and opens the hatch. "I'll be back."
We watch as we walks right through town into the only open door and leaves with our four friends. He threatens three men with his weapon before the five of them climb back aboard and Gage assumes the seat as pilot. "That could have gone horribly wrong."
"But it didn't," Henry argues. He throws his gun to the side to embrace Oliver and the two hug for longer than comfortable. Gwen closes the hatch and we lift off the ground. She's next to embrace Henry and a squeal of joy even escapes her lips. He laughs.
We fly off into the ruins. Bullets hit our ship, fired by several angry Raiders, though it's too late. We're out of their range in seconds.
Oliver looks over my legs. He frowns. "How did that happen?"
I look over them as well. "Your plan sucked," I joke.
He shrugs. "Most of them do." He kneels down to examine them and frowns. "Well the bad news is they're going to be ugly forever," he starts.
I glare at him. "Is there good news?"
He motions to the crowded ship. "All of us have battle scars."
He's right. Gwen's cheek still hosts a horrible scar. Ben's ear never healed completely. Xavier's eyes still sag with tiredness and grief. Griffin's whole arm is missing.
Cleo plops into Xavier's lap and attempts to cheer him up. She pries a small laugh out of him and that alone makes my heart flutter with hope. I look to Gage. "Where are we headed?"
Gage turns to Ben. "You didn't tell her?"
"Tell me what?"
"You know that other country we've been working to save?" Ben starts. I nod. "We're headed there."
My eyes widen. "Why?"
Oliver shrugs. "We're the start of a rebellion. It needs to take root somewhere."
"We're the best rebels out there," Ben points out. "Don't tell me you want to stop fighting."
But I do. I was sick of fighting ever since they made me the tracker in our partnership. I've never liked the fighting, no matter how much training they gave me. Fighting was the only thing I saw leaving in my future. A future of comfort doesn't sound possible in a life of rebelling, though I guess that's the cost of being me.
I was designed to fight, and that's what I'll do. If not for myself, for the security of all my predecessors. I should have known a bright future for them is only obtainable with the sacrifice of my own. I knew this already. I simply failed to acknowledge the truth.
Comfort is the price of Defiance.
And with that we reach the end! Thanks for reading this was fun and I'll see you all soon maybe... (tbh I don't even have a plan to start planning the next book in the series so sorry about that!) Anyway, thanks for reading while it lasted I love you all! :)