chapter 6

The next morning when Tori went downstairs, Aprilynne was sitting at the table, dressed for work, going through email while she ate cereal. Their father wore one of his usual black suits and was speaking to someone on the phone as though it were any other day.

The news show in the kitchen proclaimed it definitely wasn’t. A reporter stood in front of a Detroit church where relief workers handed out blankets to a line of people. “Witnesses described seeing some type of small aircraft or large drone soaring over the city during the attack. Although due to the nature of EMP, no reliable footage of the aircraft survived. An estimated six hundred thousand people are without electricity in Detroit alone.”

Six hundred thousand. She couldn’t picture, had no way to visualize how many people that was.

A banner on the bottom of the screen reported that San Francisco and Denver had also been hit. Three cities. Just like Overdrake promised.

That news put their small victory last night in perspective.

Her father ended his call and grabbed a couple of English muffins from the toaster.

Tori paced over to him in nervous agitation. “Where was the military when the attacks happened?”

He ran the butter knife across a muffin. “The bulk of our forces were guarding larger cities.”

“So they couldn’t do anything,” Tori said flatly.

“They most likely kept the terrorists away from the larger cities. That’s something.”

Small comfort. “Is the government just going to sacrifice the smaller cities?”

Her father spread butter on his second muffin. “No, we’re going to find and eliminate the terrorists.” He put the English muffins on a plate, then went to the fridge. “The schools will be open today, but if you don’t feel like going, I understand.”

Tori didn’t move from the counter. “What’s Venezuela doing?”

Aprilynne took a bite of her cereal. “They’re probably going to school.”

As Tori’s father took a juice bottle from the fridge, he sent Aprilynne a scolding look.

“What?” Aprilynne asked innocently. “I’m using humor to lighten the mood. It’s a coping technique.”

“Venezuela,” her father said, “Requested permission to do military exercises off our shores in the spring. Tori thinks they may be involved with the attacks. It is a possibility.”

Aprilynne’s blue eyes widened. “Why? What is Venezuela doing now?”

He didn’t speak for a moment and Tori could tell he was debating whether to say more or not. “Venezuela has offered to send troops to support our efforts.”

Clearly, a ploy to position themselves to help Overdrake attack. Tori huffed in aggravation. “You’re not going to fall for that, are you?” She’d told him about Venezuela’s intentions before. Her father hadn’t dismissed her accusations, but he wasn’t quite convinced either.

He poured himself a glass of juice. “I’m against letting any armed foreigners near our shores. Others think we should accept all the help we can get. Canada and Great Britain have offered services that we’ve accepted. Intelligence mostly. Senator Ethington claims my suspicions will cost us more cities. It’s one of the things we’ll be discussing today.” He picked up the plate with his muffins and motioned to Aprilynne that it was time to go.

Tori watched him, wishing she could pry more information out of him and simultaneously wishing he could pry more information out of her. “Senator Ethington is working for the wrong side.” And hopefully he wouldn’t be on Capitol Hill today. But just in case he was, she added, “Don’t let him win the debate.”

Her father headed toward the garage with Aprilynne in his wake. “I never do.”

***

When Tori arrived at school, Jesse was waiting by her locker. She spoke to him in a low voice while she put her backpack away. “What have you heard about Senator Ethington?”

She could tell from Jesse’s expression that the news wasn’t good. Irritation churned in his eyes. “According to Dr. B’s contacts, Ethington claimed he was attacked by a terrorist group who also planted the guns in his car. He had a harder time explaining the guns in the front seat with him, especially since residue on his hands made it clear he’d been firing one. But the police found the tranquilizer darts in the car, so that corroborated part of his story. He’s free pending an investigation. Who knows how long that will take or how it will turn out.” 

Jesse ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “In hindsight, I shouldn’t have knocked him and his bodyguard out, but I thought if I gave them any time, they’d ditch the guns, or shut the trunk and somehow weasel their way out of a search. I didn’t want to risk letting Ethington actually keep the guns.”

Tori put her hand on Jesse’s arm, a gesture of support. “You were trying to protect people on Capitol Hill, including my family. I would have definitely knocked him out.” She added a smile. “The important thing is that security will watch him closely now. Maybe he’ll end up being arrested or resigning. At the very least, when the news catches wind of the story, he’s going to lose public support.” 

Jesse nodded but didn’t look like he felt any better.

“I’m the one that blew our cover in the first place,” she reminded him. “Did Senator Ethington destroy the bug in his phone?” 

“Yep.” 

She’d known this would happen. Still, her shoulders slumped. All that inside information—gone.

“Don’t beat yourself up.” Jesse’s eyes were warm and consoling. “You did your best. We can’t control every outcome.”

Even when he felt bad himself, he was still trying to cheer her up. Impulsively, she grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze. “I’m glad you’re on my side.”

He squeezed her hand back. “I’ll always be on your side.” He didn’t let go of her hand and seemed to want to say something else.

“What?” she asked. It felt so comfortable to hold his hand and at the same time so intimate that it was hard not to become distracted by it. The warmth of his fingers wrapped around hers, the way he was standing close–it was all quite distracting.

“I’ve been thinking about some things,” he said slowly. 

That sounded like a promising beginning of a conversation. One with all sorts of  possibilities. And possibilities were such lovely things.

He shifted his weight uncomfortably. “You know that I’ve been worried about how we’ll act during the next dragon attack.”

Oh, he wanted to talk about Slayer things. The swirl of possibilities that had just encircled her all seemed to deflate and fall limply to the ground.  She dropped his hand and turned to her locker so she didn’t have to see the lecture that was no doubt forming on his lips. “This is about the dragon eggs, isn’t it?” During that mission, she’d balked at bludgeoning a hatchling with her jackhammer and then insisted the group take an egg with them instead of breaking it into pieces.

“The dragon eggs?” Jesse asked, hedging.  He probably didn’t want to put his criticism into words. 

She spared him the effort. “You’re afraid I won’t be able to kill a dragon because I couldn’t destroy the dragon eggs.” 

He blinked at her. “Should I be worried about that?”

“No. But…I just don’t…maybe we don’t have to kill all of the dragons.”

Jesse pressed his lips together, an indication that she hadn’t reassured him. “As long as Overdrake has access to dragons, they’re a danger we can’t afford. You realize that, right?”

How could she not? The images of the lawlessness of the last two days would stay seared in her mind for years. She took her journalism book out of her locker. “Yes.”

He leaned against the door next to hers, eyes concerned. “You’re a good fighter. You and Kody finished off a group of armed criminals before Ryker and I even started with our guys. But even hesitating against a dragon could cost you your life.”

When Kiha had attacked them, Tori had a clear shot of the dragon’s heart, and she hadn’t taken it. That decision had almost been fatal. Apparently Jesse saw her inability to destroy the dragon eggs as a sign her dragon lord side was growing stronger. And maybe it was.

She pulled out a notebook and pen without speaking. 

His eyes didn’t leave her. “Tori, I need to know that when you fight, your mind is going to be in it one hundred percent.” He sighed and his voice grew softer, almost a whisper. “No distractions. None at all.”

 “I know,” she said. “My duty is to protect the country. It’s all there in my superhero contract.”

His gaze was still on her, weighing her reaction. “Promise me that the next time we fight Overdrake, you won’t hesitate to kill any of the dragons.”

She didn’t mean to hesitate with her answer, but her tongue had its own ideas. An image of Minerva flashed through Tori’s mind, her cherry red scales gleaming. That image was followed by Khan who was as sleek and black as the night sky. Both dragons were so powerful, so beautiful. And so absolutely dangerous. “I promise,” she finally said. “I’ll kill them if it’s necessary.”

Jesse let the subject drop, but she could tell by the worried dip of his eyebrows that he didn’t quite believe her promise.

She wasn’t quite sure she believed herself.


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