“Obcasa. The Cosmo Prison is in Obcasa, and Christy’s there right now,” I say.
Right after I arrived in Vale, Alex had called an emergency meeting in Town Hall. He, Suchet, Alisha, Ramya, Nidhi, and I are seated there now, contemplating what to do.
“What about the Obcasa gang? Do you know if they’ll help us?” Alex asks.
I shake my head. “I don’t know, sorry. Jack’s the one there -- I haven’t been able to have any connection with him.”
“So, basically, we have two options,” Alisha suggests. “We can send everyone we’ve got right now, while Christy’s right where we want her to be. Or we can send someone over to ask the Obcasa gang to come and help us so we can regroup and launch a more organized attack.”
“I like the sound of that second plan better,” Suchet says.
I glower at him, still angry from our previous confrontation. “That’s just because you don’t want to risk your own neck, which you would have to do if there’s an immediate Zerg rush.”
“No,” Suchet insists. “I just thought that plan would be more effective -- that it would save more lives!”
“Calm down, both of you,” Ramya interjects, putting a hand on Suchet’s shoulder. “We don’t have time to argue like this. Every second we waste is another chance for Christy to hurt our friends in Obcasa.”
Suchet takes several deep breaths. “Okay. Truce, Leo.”
“Just don’t talk to me and it’ll all be fine,” I grumble, still fuming.
“Let’s vote,” Nidhi suggests. “All in favor of Plan A?”
I’m the only one to raise my hand.
When Plan B is called, all the other hands shoot up. Grimacing, I sigh in defeat.
“Plan B it is, then,” Ramya says ebulliently. “Who’s going to be our ambassador?”
Everybody looks at me out of the corners of their eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I deadpan. “You all want me to go.”
“It’s okay if you don’t want to--” Alex stammers.
“No. I do want to... and the rest of you guys do as well, so it’s a win-win situation, right?” I snap back.
I’m met with blank stares and speechless mouths.
Pushing back my chair with a bang, I rise out of my seat, carefully masking my expression. “I’m going, then, if there’s anything else.”
The tension in the room is almost tactile, but no one speaks.
“Screw you all,” I mutter as I stride out of Town Hall. “I’m out of here.”
I’ve just reached the bottom of the hill when I hear a high pitched scream from behind me.
I whirl around just in time to see something careen into Courtney. It bursts into a million sunbeams, inundating Courtney in a supernatural flame.
Then, as quickly as it came, the anomalous fire dies out and Courtney’s attacker rockets down the side of the hill.
I sprint up the hill and rush over to my fallen friend. “Oh, my God. Courtney.” Her clothes are literally steaming.
Courtney stirs slightly. “Sophie...” Her voice is barely louder than an exhale.
“What happened?” I yelp, falling to my knees beside her. “Hold still, I’ve got to get you medical attention.”
“It was Christy,” Courtney mumbles. “No doctor can help me. There are none left here anyways.”
“But there’s got to be some way we can heal you! I can’t just give up!” I drape her arms over my shoulders and try to lift her. I’m not strong enough, but I keep straining and struggling.
Courtney touches my arm lightly. “Stop, Sophie. Don’t waste your energy.”
“No, it’s okay, I can--”
“No one can help me now,” she says. “You’ll just tire yourself out.”
Reluctantly, I lower her back to the ground. “Wait here. I’m going back to Obcasa to get the others--”
Courtney grabs my hand. “No, please... don’t leave. I don’t want to die alone.”
“It’s not too late! If I can get help, you’ll be fine!”
She shakes her head. “I’ll be gone before you even get to Obcasa.”
I’m torn between my choices. If I don’t get help, her death will be certain -- but if I do go back to the city, Courtney might die alone. And I can’t let that happen, no matter what she’s done in the past. No one deserves to die that way.
“Please,” Courtney whispers again, reaching out to me. “Don’t leave.”
I make up my mind.
Kneeling down next to her, I whisper back, “It’s okay, Courtney. I’m right here, and I’m staying.”
Courtney smiles slightly. “Thank you.”
And then I lose it. Tears flow freely down my cheeks and I start to choke up. All I can think is, Courtney’s going to die and I can’t do anything about it. I can’t help her. I’m useless.
“Don’t cry, Sophie,” Courtney murmurs.
Those words drag me back to the past, to that awful day of Dean’s funeral, when I spitefully commanded Courtney not to cry -- when I blamed her for Dean’s death. When I told her that she was a monster, and that I never wanted to see her again.
How could I have treated her so badly? Courtney saved my life that day. And in return, I was horrible to her. Now, she’s the one dying.
“Are you okay?” Courtney whispers. “Please don’t cry. Everything will be okay.”
Some part of me recognizes the irony of the situation: she’s the one suffering, and she’s telling me that everything will be okay.
I don’t want Courtney to get worried about me, so I lie, trying to quell the feeling of despair rising inside me. “I-- I’m okay.”
My voice comes out in a hoarse, strangled croak. I swallow, fighting back the lump in my throat. “I’m okay,” I say again, more firmly this time.
We’re both silent for a moment. All I can hear is Courtney’s ragged, labored breathing.
Then a new expression crosses her face. “Sophie, can we make a deal?”
“Anything,” I respond.
“When I-- when I go to the other side of the stars, can you take care of Jack for me and make sure he stays safe? I’ll take care of Dean for you... up there.” She gestures vaguely at the sky above us.
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep Jack safe.” Tears well up in my eyes again. “Tell Dean I said hi, will you?”
“I’ll do that,” Courtney responds.
Another moment of silence passes.
“I love Jack, you know,” Courtney murmurs, her voice barely audible; I can almost see her begin to fade. “But I never told him, and now, I’ll never be able to.”
Her grip on my arm slackens. “And do me one last favor, will you, Sophie?”
“Tell him for me," she whispers. “Tell him how I feel -- that I love him.”
I nod, my gut twisting. “I will, Courtney. I will.”
Courtney’s lips curl into a smile and she relaxes, her breaths slowing.
I don’t want to watch another friend die. So, when Courtney closes her eyes, I close mine as well.
When I open them again, Courtney is on the other side of the stars.