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Jen shot up into the air after the creature holding onto Lachlan. She had to save him. She couldn’t let that thing carry him away, especially not after she’d treated him and Sam so badly.

She flew upward as quickly as she could, thrusting her arms straight above her head like a cartoon superhero hoping it would make her more aerodynamic. Something caught on her shoulders scratched against her cheeks, and she fought the urge to brush it off.

She caught up to the creature and instinct took over as she rammed her shoulder into it from behind. With a shriek, it released Lachlan, sending him plummeting back down toward the forest hundreds of feet below. A moment later, the creature fell down after him.

Jen let herself drop down toward Lachlan, trying her best not to think about how nauseatingly, terrifyingly high up she was. She caught him telekinetically about 50 feet above the canopy and slowed their descent, drifting downward to where Sam sat on a tree branch staring up at them with wide eyes.

She set Lachlan on a tree limb, then sat down beside him. She could see him trembling, his knuckles white as he clutched the branch.

“Are you okay?” she said.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I’m just peachy. There’s nothing I love more than being whisked into the sky by… by flying nightmare monsters…”

His voice cracked as he trailed off, turning his face away from her and Sam.

“Lachlan, are you okay?” she asked again.

When he turned to face her again, his face was red and streaked with tears.

“Yeah. Yeah, I… must’ve gotten something in my eyes when I was up there.”

“Do you want a hug?”

“Oh, yes, a hug from the recent ex girlfriend of the guy who just confessed his feelings for me. That sounds like just what the doctor ordered right now.”

Okay,” she said.

She guessed she deserved that sarcasm.

He wiped his eyes and shook his head as though he was trying to shake away the crying spell.

“I’m alright, really.” He sniffled. “I just… might have developed a lifelong case of intense acrophobia in the past few minutes. Your concern is… noted and appreciated, though.”

She nodded. She wasn’t sure how to respond.

“If it makes you feel any better,” said Sam, “I changed after I developed my abilities. I have more control now. I’m better able to regulate emotional expressions. I guess what I’m saying is if it weren’t for that, I’d be crying now too. I don’t know if that makes things better or worse.”

“Better,” said Lachlan. “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” said Sam.

The two boys’ eyes met, sharing a long look. Jen averted her eyes, feeling her own tears starting to well up.

“Jen,” said Sam.

Jen looked up. Lachlan and Sam were both staring at her.

“What?” she said. “What’s wrong?”

“You’ve got something…. growing out of you,” said Sam.

A jolt of horror surged through her as she threw a frantic glance down at her body, thrashing around to examine her arms and legs and nearly falling from the branch.

She had what? What could be growing out of her? An alien parasite?

“What?!” she shrieked. “What’s growing out of me? Get it off!”

She felt Lachlan’s arms steady her from behind, preventing her from falling.

“Wow, Samurai, couldn’t you have said that in a more alarming way? I don’t think you terrified her nearly enough,” he said.

She was almost–almost–relieved when she saw what Sam was referring to, if only because it wasn’t an alien parasite. Prickly, golden spines erupted from her skin, starting at her shoulders and running down the front of her torso in two lines, ending at her hips. They were about three inches long, in fractal-like clusters that reminded her of pine needles, tearing and snagging at the fabric of her shirt.

After everything she’d had to deal with, she had freaking spines now.

The tears that had been threatening to fall a few seconds ago finally came.

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