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Staked: Chapter Thirteen

After arguing back and forth, Pietra and Sardra decided that it was more dangerous for me to have an obvious weapon on me than it was for me to go relatively unarmed. “Kieran will be expected to be carrying a weapon,” Pietra told me, “so if you can’t get away from danger, stay close to him. Hopefully nothing will happen at all.”

I was, however, given two lengths of cord. One with oblong knobs at either side. My stomach turned when I recognized it. A garrote. “Try to stand on something to get a little height on them, before you use it,” Sarda said matter-of-factly.

I decided I didn’t want to ask for more tips and focused on the other cord. A short loop with a decorative bauble that turned out to be a small but potent can of an eye-blinding spray.

“Don’t worry, there’ll be pockets,” Sardra promised. “We’re used to carrying quite a lot in these outfits when we need to.”

“What do you usually do with these things?” I asked.

“Normally, I’d be happy to tell you,” Sardra said, winking, “but for this you’re supposed to know as little as possible, remember?”

Sardra, I learned, knew more about disguises than I would have expected.

At this point I probably should have known better than to put anything past her––or Pietra, for that matter––but I was still surprised.

She took me to a room I hadn’t seen before, one that was small but lined with more outfits than looked like they could possibly fit. A small vanity table had been shoved into a gap between the closet rods on the far end of the room, with two chairs shoved as close to it as they could manage. She pulled these out, pushed one of the chairs out of the way, and sat on the other, looking politely away as she waited for me to dress down. She handed me different undergarments––we’d taken my measurements the previous night––and chuckled when I’d stared wide-eyed at the corset.

“Really,” she said. “You’re going to a cartel party, and that’s what bothers you about all this?”

“It looks like a torture device,” I pointed out. It seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to get upset about, to be honest.

“A lot depends on how you lace it,” she said. “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”

It seemed she did, for while it was still a bit uncomfortably tight and my entire torso felt a bit stiff, I found I could still move around just fine.

The dress was in a similar vein––fancier than anything I’d worn in my life, but not as impossible to move around in as I would have feared. Sardra discussed the considerations when picking up outfits as she straightened hems and made sure there wasn’t any loose fabric I could trip over.

If the dress didn’t fit me, she added, it was fine––it might even add to the disguise, since it implied Kieran had just shoved me into the thing without bothering to get it adjusted––but ill-fitting was one thing, and awkward was another.

“Tell me you know how to run in heels,” she pleaded.

“I can pull it off,” I said uneasily. “Probably. Do you have any that aren’t too high?”

Eventually, we compromised with the understanding that if all else failed, I could pull them off and try using the heel as an improvised weapon.

Sardra might have been joking about that, but it was honestly a little difficult to tell.

Once the dress was on, it was time to move to the finer details. Sardra caked makeup onto my face, blending it partway down my neck and putting highlights around my face.

I thought about how much I missed the others. Oleg hadn’t been much for application, but he would have had plenty of advice to offer and light-hearted observations that might have done a bit to settle my spirits.

Dalla and Shaymarie were probably the closest to experts on this sort of thing that I knew, and I suspected they would have had a great deal of fun dolling me up, like they all had the last time, when I’d had my night with Kieran.

Cambrie might’ve been pretty quiet about it, but at least I was already comfortable with her.

Sardra just muttered to herself as she worked, quiet enough that I could hardly hear her. It wasn’t until she was finished––and I could hardly feel my face under all that makeup––that she sat back, looking me over.

“It won’t be what you’re used to, but you definitely look different,” she said. “I’m getting you a hat with a wig underneath; put it all together, and you’ll look like you’re a blonde woman who’s insecure about how her face looks and is trying to hide it. Different enough that I doubt anyone will put together who you are, no matter who you’re with.”

“Thanks,” I said, turning to the mirror to look myself over. I looked like an entirely different person. The makeup wasn’t subtle at all, and a bit out of fashion; my skin looked just a bit too light, and the contouring at the edges was on the conspicuous side. The overall effect was pretty, but a bit overbearing.

Paired with the dress…yeah, I didn’t think anyone was going to recognize me any time soon. This was less revealing than what I’d worn under my cloak when I’d visited Kieran in the Uppers, but it was still far more exposure than I was used to.

While I examined myself in the mirror, Sardra retrieved a hat with a wig attached and started pulling at my hair, using any number of pins and bottles of hair product to keep it out of the way as she settled the monstrosity on top of my head.

“Do people actually wear things like this?” I wondered aloud as she fiddled with the hairs on the back of my neck.

She met my eyes in the mirror and shrugged. “It might be a bit overdone, but I don’t think it’ll be the most ridiculous thing you see out there. Just try to play up to it, and you’ll be fine.”

Great.

I really wasn’t too sure about this, but I doubted it would be too hard a role for me to play up to.

I wasn’t sure whether it was my imagination or not, but it didn’t feel as though the influence of the Blue had completely gone away.

At the very least, I could remember what I’d felt before, that desperate emptiness with the edge of burning desire, so strongly I could taste it on my tongue whenever I thought about it.

Something twisted in the pit of my stomach as I remembered it, whispering to me that playing with Kieran wasn’t so bad.

I tried to ignore the feeling; it was easiest to put thoughts like that one down to the Blue, and try to ignore them the best that I could.

“Emergency commlink,” she said, as I was examining myself in the mirror. I turned, and she’d put it in my hand. “Best place to hide it’s in your cleavage––hopefully no one will go looking there, and it’d be suspicious for you to have your own if you’re Kieren’s doll.Message us if things get rough.”

“Okay,” I said. The piece seemed to be made mostly out of plastic, rather than metal––probably a precaution against detectors. I pushed it in between the prominent tops of my breasts, which the corset was doing wonders for.

“Oh, and last touch,” she said. “These won’t be perfect, but they were the best pattern we could get on short notice. They should last for at least six hours, but be sure to take them out after that––I’m not sure how well the sealant on the edges of the paint will hold up.”

She’d handed me a small case––two little cylinders with screw-on tops, connected by a thin strip of plastic.

“Contacts?”

“Colored,” she said. “I modeled them on what I’ve seen in a few of the Blue patients, the ones who weren’t too far gone.”

I hadn’t had contacts since I was a teenager––I’d had the standard surgery to correct my vision as soon as the shape of my corneas had settled. I winced a bit as I put the contacts in.

“Need any eye drops?” Sardra asked.

I shook my head.

“Good. Wouldn’t want to smear your makeup too much, after all––though I suppose it might only add to the look.” She shook her head. “Anyway, what do you think? This should get you in without too much trouble.”

I turned my head from side to side, looking myself over. Sure enough, I didn’t look much like me anymore. When I leaned in, I saw a jagged-looking edge to my iris, with little tendrils of blue snaking in towards my pupil from the bright-blue ring around the edge.

“Is this really what it looks like?” I asked, morbidly fascinated.

I saw the reflection of Sardra’s shrug in the mirror. “You might get a chance to find out tonight,” she said.

I bit my lip. I wasn’t looking forward to that. “Do you think I’ll be able to help them?”

Sardra shrugged. “You know the plan. But whether it works out or not will depend a lot on chance. But as much as I hate to say it, a lot of those women aren’t going anywhere. And if we can wipe everything out at once, if we just wait a little longer…”

She sighed. “Take the opportunities you can safely take. Trust your instincts, and make sure you can get yourself out in one piece. The rest of it will figure itself out, one way or another.”

I nodded. It was the same advice Pietra and the others had been giving me ever since I’d said I would go with Kieran. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was because they knew exactly how inexperienced I was.

“Sorry,” I said suddenly. “If I’d known more, if I’d prepared better…”

“No,” she said firmly. “Pietra had her reasons for keeping you out of things, and I certainly never would have expected something like this to happen. Right now, you’re perfectly placed to get aboard that ship when none of the rest of us can do anything. If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t know half the things we do.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “I promise––you’re plenty good enough for this. Just keep track of your luck, and don’t waste it on risks.”

“I’ll try,” I said, and stood, examining myself and pulling a few careful faces in the mirror. “You’re amazing, you know that? This should work great.” I smirked a little. “I can’t wait to see the look on Kieran’s face.” 


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