Chapter Eight: Trini

Long after I heard Quinn’s door close, I sat on my bed, knees hugged to my chest in the dark room.

My lips still burned.

Nothing had ever felt like that, had sent a flame of desire through my body with just a kiss.


No one had made me want like that, had made me hungry.

When he broke away, I’d almost begged him to continue.

But he would only be here for a few days, then gone.

Quinn had been very clear.

And I’d be left alone, hurting and broken.

I couldn’t do it.

I touched my lips again, almost able to still taste him, feel his tongue tangled with mine.

I couldn’t do it. I’d never survive.

The building creaked and I shook myself.

If I was smart, I’d get ready for bed instead of staring blankly out into the darkness.

Morning would come before I was ready, and if Russar had decided to clean and restock, he really meant it.

He’d want every surface scrubbed and decontaminated before we reopened.

Sure, it needed to be done, but for every hour it took us, he’d push even harder.

“We’re losing money!” he’d call out as we pushed as fast as we could to finish the job.

Maybe being busy would be a good thing.

Maybe I would notice less when Quinn left.

I scoffed, stretched, and reached for the covers.

Then the world exploded.

The window crashed in, covering the bed with tiny pieces of plexi, at the same moment that my door burst open.

I shrieked, scrabbling back towards the headboard.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

But the three bulky forms stayed silent, their obsidian armor shifting and flowing in the shadows, strong arms ending in long, taloned gauntlets, black masks covering their faces completely.

One reached towards me and I flinched away from those sharp claws as they raked through the shoulder of my dress, cutting it to ribbons.

“No!” I screamed, grabbing the small vase of flowers from next to my bed and hurling it with all my strength.

The attacker dodged easily, but it bought me a moment.

Unfortunately, I’d need longer than a moment to get out of this.

Another black-suited goon reached for me from the other side of the bed and I swung towards him with the zuhair statuette, crashing it over his head.

He didn’t even stumble.

My breath caught in my chest, ears ringing as I tried to think.

I’d run out of things to throw, out of places to hide, out of places to go.

There was nothing to save me.

Then the door crashed open again, and Quinn was there.

“Careful!” I shouted, but he was already moving, flowing like quicksilver.

He grabbed the nearest attacker and threw him over the bed to smash against the wall. Before that one hit the floor, he spun and struck a blow to the chin of the second, so hard I could hear the snap of the man’s neck as his head rocketed back.

The third grabbed me, dragging me towards the broken window as I struggled and kicked.

“Let her go,” Quinn snarled.

The masked intruder and I both froze.

That low growl wasn’t completely a human voice.

I recovered faster, attempting to push away from my kidnapper, still caught in his grip.

Quinn vaulted over the bed, feet catching square in the chest of the man who held me.

As he stumbled back, Quinn tore me from his arms and kicked his chest again, harder this time.

The third man fell through the window, to crash on the pavement below.

“Are you all right?” Quinn demanded, ignoring the damage to the room around us, the two bodies on the floor.

“Trini, I need you to answer me.” There’d been no fear on his face when he fought.

It was there now, in his eyes as he searched my expression for any clues to my state of mind.

“I’m fine,” I finally croaked.

“Are you certain?” he pressed, fingers suddenly gentle as he touched the torn top of my dress. “They didn’t hurt you, didn’t do anything?”

“They didn’t have a chance, you were here so fast,” I breathed.

“Good.” He held me to him tightly, and for a brief moment I had the strangest notion he was smelling my hair, breathing in my scent. The tension flowed out of him slowly, then he stepped back.

“Grab your things, I don’t think it’s safe here.”

Then he stopped, head tilted as if hearing something I couldn’t.

“Who else do you think is coming?” I challenged him, balking at the thought of leaving my room, my home.

“I don’t know, and I don’t want to be here to find out.”

Steel laced his words, and I realized he was right.

“I need to change,” I said awkwardly, suddenly horribly aware of how much of my chest was showing through the torn dress.

Quinn nodded, turning his back stiffly as I quickly tore off the ruined dress and pulled on pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and boots.

“All right, you can turn back now.”

He nodded in approval of my choice of clothing. “What else do you want to take?”

“There’s not much left,” I explained.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, and before I could ask where he was going, he’d returned, his bag slung over one shoulder.

Walking over to the broken window, he looked down. “It won’t be a lot of fun, but just close your eyes and hold on tight.”

“Wait a minute, what?” I gasped. “We can’t go out the window. Besides, we need to check on Russar. One of those guys came up the stairs. What if he tried to stop them?”

Quinn’s shoulders slumped as he turned away from the window. “I’m going to regret this. Come on.”

As we approached the stairs, I heard the noise, too.

A soft, wet gasping sound.

“What is that…Oh, no!” I exclaimed, pushing my way past Quinn to hurry down the rest of the stairs.

Russar’s body sprawled a third of the way up, each step slick with blood from the wound across his belly.

I knelt next to him, trying to remember an ancient first aid vid my uncles had insisted we all watch back at the tank farm.

“Do I press?” I asked Quinn. “Do you have something that would stop the bleeding? I don’t know what to do!”

He rubbed his eyes, then pulled out a spare shirt from his bag. “It will help a little,” he said, tearing it into strips. “I don’t usually carry a med kit. It’s not really useful.”

“We’ve got to take him someplace, got to get him help.” I couldn’t remember the name of the young medtech Russar had called last year when I’d dropped a full tray on my foot. Terro, Torre, something like that.

“Get me to Doctor Jaylan,” Russar whispered, almost too soft to hear.

“I don’t know anyone named that,” I sobbed. “Can I call Paulo, would he know?”

Russar shook his head slowly. “Don’t involve him. Get to the Fourth Quarter, ask anyone for the healer. They’ll know.”

“Please,” I looked up to Quinn, his face impassive. “Please help me. Help him.”

He sighed, handed me his bag, and more carefully than I imagined possible, lifted Russar’s massive form into his arms.

“Lead on, let’s go find this healer.”

As we slipped out the back door of the Merry Stormcloud, Quinn paused in the doorway. “Is everything in this city lit up like a battlefield?” he asked.

I looked at him sharply. “I… don’t know. I’ve never seen one.”

“If there are back ways, I think it would be a good idea. Those guys probably had trackers on them. Their handler will know when they’ve failed the mission.” He glanced down at Russar, lying limp in his arms.

I couldn’t see him breathing, but had to believe he was.

“Another wave will be on our trail, soon.”

“Right.” I hugged the bags to my chest, forced my breathing to slow, and thought about the best way to the Fourth Quarter. Not the fastest, but what might be the darkest.

“This way.”

“I guess we can consider this an extension of your tour,” I muttered as we headed into another back street. The residential zones tended to be quieter, darker.

After the first few moments, I stopped looking back to check that Quinn was following me. He’d stayed a constant three paces behind me, carrying Russar’s body as if the big man weighed nothing.

“The First Quarter is the Carnival, the Boulevard and the adjacent streets. All the places that people who come to Rondi want to visit, all the best restaurants and galleries.”

I paused, holding my breath as a laughing trio of women crossed in front of us, moving on towards the lights, then resumed.

They hadn’t seen us, hadn’t noticed anything other than their own good time.

It wasn’t that long ago that Risti and I had been out on an evening just like that.

This was nothing like it. What hadn’t we seen then?

“The Second Quarter is for the people who create the things that are sold in the shops. Craftsmen, artisans. Not the famous virtuosos who attract a crowd just to watch them create works of beauty, but solid professionals, nonetheless.”

I couldn’t even hear Quinn, just had to trust he was still there.

Trust he still held Russar.

Trust that Russar breathed, could be saved by whoever this mysterious Jaylan was.

“The Third Quarter is where people who work in the cheaper shops live, the ones who repair the cleaning bots, service the replicators, all the details of life that no one seems to remember, but the city wouldn’t run without them.”

The darkness here, so far from the First Quarter, was heavier, almost tangible. No sounds of the constant party of Rondi, but something else touched the air. Something threatening.

“What’s the Fourth Quarter,” Quinn asked.

“Everything else,” I answered. “Everything that can’t be classified, the people that no one wants to deal with, but even Mada can’t find a way to purge the quarter forever.”

“Finally,” Quinn breathed, “something a little less wholesome. I was beginning to worry.”

“What?” I stopped, shocked enough to finally turn back to stare at him, but then someone stepped out of the shadows.

“You’re new around here, friend.”

I bit my lip, hunching over the bags I still clung to.

But the man wasn’t talking to me.

“Is that a problem?” Quinn asked flatly.

“I don’t know, could be,” the first man said.

The darkness shifted, as more men stepped out, surrounding us.

These weren’t like the men who had attacked me in my room.

Most were tall, but even in the dim light, I could see their clothes were torn, ragged. No armor. No masks.

It didn’t make them any less terrifying.

“Please,” I said, interrupting whatever testosterone-fueled nightmare was about to start. “We’re looking for a man. Doctor Jaylan. He’s going to help us.”

“Really?” the first man looked at me, startled. “That old man doesn’t do anyone any good, not without reason. Especially not someone bleeding as much is your friend there.”

“Still,” Quinn said. “He asked that we take him to this Jaylan. So here we are.”

One of the other men stepped closer to Quinn’s side, close enough to get a look at who he was carrying.

“Hey,” he called out. “It’s the Rough Man!” His nostrils flared at the sight of the bloodsoaked makeshift bandages across Russar’s gut. “Venac, this guy knifed the Rough Man!”

Even in the darkness, I could see Quinn roll his eyes. “Of course, and now I’m hauling him around to take him to the doctor. Because that’s how it always works when you stab someone,” he snapped.

“Are you the one that did this?” the first man demanded angrily.

“No, I’m the one who’s been carrying him for an hour through your damn city. Do you know where this doctor is or not? Because honestly, I don’t think he’s going to last much longer.”

I stepped between the two men. “Russar is my friend,” I begged. “Don’t let him die while you fight.”

Finally, the leader backed down. “Come on, you’re almost there.”

We ducked through back alleys, turning and twisting so quickly I was sure they were trying to make sure we wouldn’t be able to find our way back.

“If you’re lucky, the old man will be in shape to help.”

The man stopped in front of a rusted door and banged his fist on it. “Open up, old man, are you high or deaf? You’ve got a patient.”

I waited, ears pricked for every sound, until I heard a shuffling step. Finally, the slide and click of metal as locks were released, one by one down the length of the door.

“What you want now, you hooligans?”

When the man stepped closer, I bit back a cry of horror.

Tall, almost as tall as Quinn but thin to the point of being spindly, the old man swung his head from side to side as if trying to determine who had disturbed him.

A shock of wiry gray hair haloed his face, but his eyes were what caught my attention.

Or rather, the lack of them.

Twin black plexi lenses curved around the eye sockets from the brow to the cheekbones.

“What do you want, Missy,” he snapped. “Come to talk? Or just stare and point?”

“Are you Jaylan?” I blurted. “Dr. Jaylan? Russar said that you could help.”

“That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while, how’s the kid doing?”

“Not particularly well,” Quinn said, and stepped closer.

As the doctor leaned over to peer at the very still form, blue lights flashed across the plexi lenses.

“Well, you’d better bring him in.” He straightened up. “Can’t examine him properly out here.” Jaylan turned to reenter the building.

“Been a long time since you worked on a fighter, Doc. Still got the touch?” One of the men called out, and for a moment, I thought I saw Quinn stiffen.

“We’ll see,” was the only answer.

“What do we get out of it?” the leader of the gang asked. “We guided them here, and you get a client out of it, right? So what do we get?”

Jaylan’s voice came from deep inside the building. “Two rounds of stitching up.”

“Five,” the man shouted back.

“Three, and count yourself lucky.”

That seemed to suffice because, with a quick nod, the gang faded back into the darkness.

“In we go,” Quinn said, and followed the doctor into the building. I scurried after him, not wanting to be left outside.

This wasn’t my Rondi City. Of course, I’d known that it wasn’t all a never-ending party. Lots of people worked hard to make sure the glitter stayed bright.

But here in the Fourth Quarter, there was nothing of the magic, nothing that tied it to what I knew or understood.

Throat tight, my own breathing too loud in my ears, I kept Quinn’s broad back in my sights. Sporadic lights made a path through the building, one vast room stretching into the darkness.

It smelled sour, stale.

Finally, we reached a section that was more brightly lit than its surroundings. Racks of equipment surrounded three counters and a pair of permasteel tables.

“Put the boy here,” Jaylan ordered, pointing to one of the tables.

Quinn carefully lowered the body and stepped back.

I couldn’t take it anymore. Russar was so still, I couldn’t see his chest move at all. And there was so much blood…

“Did he die?” I whispered. “Did I take too long to get us here?”

Quinn came to my side and pulled me into his chest. “I promise I didn’t carry a body all that way. He’s still alive.” Quinn paused. “Barely.”

Jaylan was already poking and prodding at the wound, my clumsy bandages torn off, cast aside on the floor. “This is deep, nasty. He’s lost a lot of blood.” The lenses flashed blue again as he studied the injury. “It’ll take more than just a transfusion or two to get him back on his feet.”

The old man straightened up. “I’m going to be burning through supplies on this. What will it get me?”

“Name your price,” Quinn answered. “As long as you can take credit chips.”

The man laughed. “Do I look like I have a bank account? No, what favor can you do for me? What can you trade?”

Quinn’s arm tightened around me, and Jaylan laughed. “Get your hackles down, boy. She’s far too young for me.”

Quinn studied the doctor. “You fix him up, get him good as new, I can introduce you to someone who can fix your eyes.”

“There’s nothing left to fix, boy.” Jaylan curled his lip, baring yellow-stained teeth. “That bitch, Mada, burned them out. I’ve got the interface routed directly to what’s left of the nerves.”

“Still, I know someone who can give you new organic eyes,” Quinn shrugged. “If you can do her a favor in turn, she might even keep your display overlays.”

“Impossible,” Jaylan snapped. “To rebuild organic eyes, to rebuild the nerves, they’d have to—”

He broke off as Quinn squeezed my shoulder and stepped into the light, letting it fall clearly on him.

The lenses flashed blue again for a long moment.

“Well,” Jaylan said, “if someone can do that, maybe they can fix something like me.”

“You’d have to travel out of the sector,” Quinn said. “She’s not coming here.” “I’ll have somebody come by to water the houseplants,” Jaylan answered distractedly, completely focused now on Russar. “The two of you, shut up and get out of my way. I’ve got work to do.”

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