He was a little fly on the wall who did not know how to follow directions.
His job was to wait on the outskirts of town and wait until he saw her. Then he'd tell her the terms and walk back to Coates. That was all Bug had to do, but he ended up following her throughout the town. Bug began trailing her when she was knocking on the doors of seemingly random houses in an attempt to ask where her boyfriend was. Bug had a hard time believing he was stalking the same person who three months ago had her hands clawed around his neck in an effort to strangle him.
He had actually sat only a few feet away from her on the rocky ledge. She'd been too distracted to hear his thoughts, but he certainly heard her hours worth of apologies and grew bored. Bug considered revealing himself and giving her the little speech Diana told him to, but there was no denying Victoria Evans scared the living daylight out of him. Even like this. Because Bug was pretty sure the chick was bipolar or something, her mood turned on a dime.
The coin turned when he stalked her to the town church. Unsure of what sparked the sudden change of attitude, Bug stayed on the opposite side of the church. He watched her propose a counterstrike against Coates, and that's when Bug began to worry.
What was more important, the food or the plan?
What was more important to Bug? That was an easy answer. He wasn't too keen on starving to death, and in all honesty he didn't even like Victoria. Whatever she got coming her way was fine with him. Instead of informing her of the rendezvous, Bug left the church and walked back to Coates Academy.
If he followed directions, Victoria would have never went through with her ill-conceived plan. Bug was unaware that she had to intentions of recovering the stolen food, and she was under the belief that it was not Diana who had Michael. If he had told Victoria what she had to do, show the picture printed out from a Coates printer in his pocket, then she would have reluctantly cooperated instead of stocking up on explosives.
On his way out of town, he noticed Taylor bouncing her way across the street. Moments later she was gone.
Bug walked back to school.
The FAYZ was a very strange place, Howard Bassem knew this very well. His best friend was reduced to a drunken living rock and they were all trapped like rats under the dome surrounding the entire town and the land beyond. He had talked to coyotes and they talked back, for crying out loud. Howard was no stranger to strange places, but he was fairly surprised to find himself stuck against a wall in his own home with Victoria Evans pinning him there with a rather unattractive snarl on her face.
"If I didn't know any better I'd say you were forcing yourself on me." Howard deadpanned.
Victoria slammed his head into the wall and Howard decided to cut back on the jokes. "I swear if you're a part of this I will make you lose your own sanity."
That was one of the rumors that had circled its way around town the past few months, she could make a person go insane. Howard wasn't sure if he believed it or not, and while it was total bull she decided to play with the possibility of the misconception ringing true and scare him into accepting her demands.
"A part of what? Aren't you supposed to be everyone's righteous food-savior?" He had been foolish enough to let Orc stay behind, because apparently Sammy boy wasn't done with his meeting and Orc felt some need to stay. He still wasn't over the Bette thing. Howard cursed himself, he needed someone to throw this girl out the door right about now.
"This is your f-cking fault, Howard! Anything happens to him and I'm holding you personally responsible!"
Great, was she hallucinating or something? Her anger outbursts spewed spit on his face and he wriggled one hand free to wipe it away. He knew better than to expect an apology. "What are you talking about? And how the hell do you figure it's my fault?" He asked, agitated that he was wasting his time.
"'Cause you started all this in the first place by drugging me, that's how I figure!"
Howard wished he had a time machine so he could leave Perdido Beach the day before the FAYZ. Or at the very least the day she brought up and steer clear of her for the rest of eternity. And although people didn't give him credit for it, Howard was very perceptive. It did not take him long to piece together the events that unfolded inside the church and figure out loverboy was missing. Soon after that he figured out who had him. At least who she thought did. Which meant Howard was very screwed with no way to weasel out. This was a problem he helped create, and Victoria would slit his throat if he tried to run.
"What? Plant Wonder got himself in some sappy situation and can't fight his way out of a paper bag?"
Of the two people in the room, only one thought that was funny. The other stormed off to the safe where Howard kept his products. He was surprised to see her twist the lock to the correct numbers on the first try. She didn't even have to do that safe-cracking move he'd seen on the same spy movie a million times. It occurred to him that she had seen him open that safe on one occasion, and she observed and saved the numbers he dialed.
Howard wondered if it was possible for her to forget anything. He wondered if her inability to forget added with what she'd seen would drive him mad, too. "Hey, what do you think you're doing?"
Tori poured the entire contents into her bag, "Cleaning you out, low-life scum. Where's the weapons?"
"Like hell I'm telling you." Howard finally grew a spine.
He recently dipped his feet to test the waters of selling makeshift weapons. Younger kids weren't smart enough to make their own, and Howard supplied a need for those who were poor shots with guns. Victoria was an excellent marksmadwoman, and he needed to make a living.
She found them eventually.
"Come on, you have your own stuff." He pleaded. She stole all the fireworks Sammy surely would have deemed illegal. He wasn't sure why he stockpiled those, but it seemed like a smart move at the time. She was leaving him with nothing. "Why do you need a slingshot, anyway?"
"None of your damn business." She said as she zipped the heavy backpack up. Sneaking a peak he noticed rope covering all the other supplies, lots and lots of rope. He did not ask her what it was for. The pack must have been extremely heavy for her to carry. "I like being prepared."
"For World War Three?" He scoffed.
Victoria smirked, it was an unhealthy smile that creeped Howard out. "Sure. World War Three."
She was about to leave when they both heard a crashing lamp hit the floor and someone, a girl judging by her voice, muttered curses. Tori instinctively pulled the pistol from her holster, and suddenly Howard was glad she decided to intrude his house at this very time. She seemed to have that type of bad luck, he was just happy she'd shoot whoever decided to sneak up on him.
However, that was not the case. Not shooting the intruder, Victoria lowered her weapon and raised an eyebrow. "Taylor?"
"Hey! I've been looking all over for you, idiot!" The Gossip Queen shouted. Taylor must have bounced in the house and landed on top of the nightstand, knocking over the meager lamp. Howard knew the bulb had died weeks ago, but he still acted annoyed. This was his house, after all, and he didn't like two girls he found more annoying and troublesome for him than attractive invading it.
"Me?" Victoria flinched, the news surprised her. She wasn't the type of person to accept being the center of attention well. She didn't like it, and she'd never gotten used to it. So the notion of people looking for her to talk to her was surprising. "Why me?"
"Because your friend is spilling the dirty little secret to anyone who'll listen. Sam and Astrid, mostly. So we better get moving." Taylor grinned, a completely different version of the one Victoria had worn minutes ago. It was more of a smile that showed she held all the cards. She wanted in on the action and Tori had no other choice but to let her tag along.
"We? There is no 'we', Taylor. This is not a game. There are zero do-overs. No restart button for an easy exit." An emotionless slab replaced Victoria's face. She'd given this speech before, no doubt. Howard wondered who she gave it to.
"It's been nice playing catch-up with you, Tori, it really was. But please get the hell out of my house before you break it," he said curtly.
She scowled at him, but thankfully the two girls left out the back door. Their problem was not Howard's. Deciding to comb the town to restock his inventory, he put the strange encounter in the back of his mind and resolved to never think of it again.
She had to be joking.
Still hoping to devise a plan to ditch Taylor, the girls walked through abandoned backyards on their way to the main road. Without asking her to, Taylor did what she was known for: gossiping. Within a few minutes Victoria knew Amy had sought out Sam and Astrid after the chaos in the church died down and the crowd dispersed. Apparently they were still arguing whether to go after her or not. Taylor wasn't completely sure, but she thought from the sound of the conversation that Sam and Dekka were on her side. Victoria felt relief flood through her, if their power––not their powers, the power they held politically––weren't enough to hold off a search party, nothing was.
Tori was actually going through with this.
It was insane.
And she loved it. Loved the weight bearing down on her shoulders, the heaviness of the gasoline and fireworks. It was a little late for a New Years' celebration, but the FAYZ sky was going to have an exquisite show tonight. The grin on her face refused to be dampened by the cold facts. Highly likely that she might not come out of this. Highly likely Michael might already be dead and she, destined to find his lifeless body, would not be able to leave from sheer shock.
Not knowing, though, that was what twisted the evil knife in her heart. It was killing her. The not knowing. Always had. She couldn't stand it. Being here, not knowing if he was OK. Not knowing if he was bleeding out, begging someone to put a bullet between his eyes for the reason he could not endure another second...
Victoria had to know. And if there was any chance, any chance at all of ending this whole fiasco, she needed to take the shot.
And killing Drake in the process wouldn't be too bad, either. A bullet with his name on it was in her back pocket. Contemplating Taylor's reaction if she showed her the engraved messenger of death, she laughed darkly.
Taylor asked, "What's so funny?"
"Me." Victoria answered simply. They left the trees behind and pavement lay under their sneakers. Tori walked on the double yellow line while Taylor bounced ahead every so often. Silent for the longest time, Victoria finally asked why Taylor was tagging along with her.
"What? Can't two roomies hang out together?" Taylor bounced back. They walked side by side now.
Ah, yes. The wonderful days of being Taylor's roommate. Perhaps the single positive outcome of the FAYZ was switching roommate for boyfriend.You sound like a pathetic hormonal teenager. A.K.A Taylor. "No, I'm serious. Bounce home, this is gonna go south real fast. I've got distractions ready but I'm sort of an outlaw where I'm headed and not the celebrated kind. I'm Bonnie and they're gonna gun me down if they get the chance."
Taylor's response was accompanied by a flip of the hair, "To rescue Clyde, duh. You need to admit, if anyone needs a break it's you. And no one lets me in on their plans, anyway. I want to do something. This town is boring with a capital 'B'."
"I thought the capital 'B' belonged to Breeze."
"That girl is letting her speed get to her head. Did you know Dekka has a crush on her but Brianna loves Jack? Computer Jack, of all people!" Taylor said, and the familiar spark from spreading the entertainment news lit her eyes.
"No, I didn't." She lied.
They went on like this for the duration of the trip, Taylor spewing nonsensical garbage and Victoria putting up an effort to care. It was nice, really. Letting her mind wander to what other people were dealing with. Made her problems seem a little less overpowering.
They did not find the body of James, the boy Michael had killed. Not even a trace of blood. It'd all been cleaned up. Victoria made a beeline for the woods a mile and a half from Coates. Taylor did not question her motives, she just followed her. Feeling a need to explain, she said, "Guards have been patrolling recently. Don't wanna get caught before the party starts."
"Should I just bounce in and out of rooms and look for Michael?" Taylor suggested.
"No, anyone could be walking the halls. And I doubt you want to test if you can bounce faster than a bullet today."
"Then what are we gonna do?"
"Give 'em a show, Taylor. Give them a show."
They marched on.
"You're an asshole."
Those were the words he woke up to. That and a slap across the face. Shards of glass had left ugly cuts in the skin, and some pieces were still stuck. If he could have found his voice he'd have screamed from the pain. It only lasted a little while, but it made his head spin and he felt the need to throw up.
Only a single lamp in the corner lighted the room. Windows covered by boards of plywood blocked sunlight. He wasn't sure of how much time passed since being knocked out. His head was killing him, and he was concerned he had a concussion. He'd had one a few years ago. Good thing the room might have been a void in outer space, when his friends visited him they thought it'd be hilarious to shine a flashlight in his eyes and clash pots and pans near his ears.
He remembered the difficulty keeping his coordination a few weeks after the fact. It seemed Michael would not have to deal with his balance, he was tied to a chair. The ropes might not hold Orc of Computer Jack, but they did a mighty fine job of keeping him in place. If his knife was still on him he might have been able to cut his way free, but it was missing. The dim lighting showed him it was on the familiar looking desk drawer.
Benno's desk drawer. The kid he shared a dorm with a million years ago. Benno was long gone. Turned fifteen and left the horrid FAYZ. So it couldn't be Benno calling him an asshole, could it? No. Michael might have a concussion, but he still held on to enough common sense to know who was very pissed off at him.
"This isn't my kind of thing, ya' know. Tying up and all that. I appreciate the effort, but I'm kinda in a relationship and I hope to God someone kills me if I get that kinky."
"Shut up." Diana said. He tried to think of another clever reply and came up short.
Fairly unwise to use all his strength in coherent insults and retorts, but it made him feel better. And if she was going to kill him, Michael figured he was at least entitled to a last laugh of sorts. Only now was it all coming together. Bug spying on him and Tori and walking in on them. It hadn't been Drake sending the tool after them, it was Diana. Smart, manipulative Diana who was going to repair the damaged mind of a beaten and heartless king. Michael was the bait. Diana would have Tori fix Caine and he'd lead some second attempt to take over Perdido Beach. The Thanksgiving Day Battle and all the lives lost meant nothing if Caine ended up as dictator.
And the only person who knew this was tethered to a chair with some minor head injuries f-cking up his thinking. "Ugh, goddamn headache. They had to whack me with that bat three times?"
"Consider yourself struck out." Diana smiled. She wore the regular Coates blazer and skirt all the girls used to wear here. He wondered if most kids had any other clothes. A glance down revealed red splatters staining his white shirt.
He supposed he should feel guilty.
He supposed the blood should be freaking him out, that he should be filled with regret and remorse.
"Suppose it's all bullsh-t," Michael muttered under his breath. Even though he just woke up, he felt incredibly tried. He knew better than to give in to sleep. If his head injuries were bad, he might not wake up. One thing was clear to him. He had to get out of here somehow. Worse, that impossible feat was only the beginning in what he had to do. He had to stagger back to town. Warn Sam. About Caine.
"What?" She asked.
He shook his head in a hopeless attempt to shake the pain away. "Nothing," he spat. Blood dripped down his mouth. Just how bad, exactly, were his injuries? And how the hell was he going to escape this chair, let alone Coates Academy?
"Kinda reminds you of when you were a cripple and couldn't save your girlfriend, doesn't it?" Gently kicking his restrained leg, it was more of a tap that he had to remind himself he felt, she brought up the skeleton in his own closet. "Does that still haunt you, Mike? That you were stuck in a room like this one, knowing she was going through hell, knowing that she loved you enough to still stand back up and keep you alive?"
She broke him more than any blow to the head could have. And she wasn't even done.
In those hands that had manipulated people like clay for a living was a letter. He'd only seen her handwriting a few times, when she wrote lists of things for him to get from Ralph's when she was too busy or too tired to go herself. He didn't see the piece of paper until Diana switched the lights on, nearly blinding him.
Michael wasn't sure if she was aiming to break his mind or heart, but in the end she managed to tear both into pathetic imitations of their former selves.