They’re going to know what you did.
Nicky was usually more up front in his cautions, but the simple fear that someone would discover his secrets set Pike’s teeth on edge.
“No,” he whispered in reply.
Look at them, moron. They can see it in your eyes, plain as day. You’re giving yourself away. See how they looked away from you? They know!
He moved on beyond the trio of Collies who once more stared at him. He shoved his paws deeper into the pockets of his hoodie, pulling the garment down lower on his emaciated frame. With luck they just think I’m homeless or some such, he thought.
Homeless? They know. One of them saw it. You’re gonna have to deal with them.
“Shut up,” Pike hissed. He opened the flask and took a deep drink, letting the fiery liquor within burn a trail down his throat.
That shit won’t make me go away, dumbass! I’m telling you, they know. The short one on the left. Did you see how she looked at you? Like you were scum. She knows what you just did. She’s gonna tell.
Pike walked on, passing through the security barrier and into the grassland. No one ever stopped you when you were leaving. At most they would caution you about suspected activity in the Badlands. It was only when you came back that you had to be questioned. In his youth, Pike had walked casually into and out of the grassland without ever being confronted.
That was before the rats had come. Four years ago, when they had rigged explosives on the seven members of the touring company and sent them back into the mainland to be human bombs, everything had changed.
“See, Nicky? We’re out,” Pike said with a smile. He lit a cigarette as the grass parted before him. He moved through it as if he was born to it.
They don’t stop you on the way out, Nicky reminded him.
“And if you ain’t ever coming back, who cares?”
Behind them, the day was shattered with the first explosion. The Bell Tower, looming so high over the Maltine Academy, had its base shattered like glass before a wrecking ball. With a creak of tortured stone, it listed to the side and then crashed down onto Hanford Hall with the force of a dozen bombs.
Seconds later, all the doors to Lady Serenity’s Hospital blew outward on the front of a blast wave. Balls of fire spat from the openings, an urban dragon that collapsed in upon itself in a rush of horrible sound.
The Police Station.
The Newspaper office.
The giant chain department store.
The support beams for the enormous Passion Street bridge.
The sounds echoed for the next twenty minutes as, one after another, massive explosions rocked the city. The death tolls would be in the millions.
Wish we’d have got those fucking Collies.
“They won’t even remember seeing us,” Pike said. “Besides, we won’t be on-planet much longer.”
Told you to trust them.
“You know what, goat?” demanded a voice. Pike turned and smiled as he saw the first of the rats. More of them followed and they spoke in turn, but he could not tell the difference between them.
“I know they won’t be coming back after you for a while. They have more important things to deal with now.”
Damn right they do.
“Good to hear. You’ll be wanting transport off world now.”
“Yeah. I can’t hang out here.”
“We have arranged for you to be transported elsewhere. May we count on your continued assistance?”
“You bet. These Folk have been nothing but assholes to me.”
“Excellent,” said a rat. They escorted him further into the grasslands, and behind them explosions continued to vibrate the ground.