Why are we sneaking out in the night?” Jack repeated.“I already explained,” Sam snapped. “If you don’t listen—”Taylor jumped in to say, “Because otherwise Astrid would find some way to stop him.” She mimicked Astrid’s voice, injecting it with steel and a tense, condescending tone. “Sam. I am the smartest, hottest girl in the world. So do what I tell you. Good boy. Down, boy. Down!”Sam remained silent, walking steadily just a few feet ahead.Taylor continued, “Oh, Sam, if only you could be as smart plus as totally goody-goody as I am. If only you could realize that you will never be good enough to have me, me, wonderful me, Astrid the Blond Genius.”“Sam, can I shoot her now?” Dekka asked. “Or is it too soon?”“Wait until we’re over the ridge,” Sam said. “It’ll muffle the sound.”“Sorry, Dekka,” Taylor said. “I know you don’t like talking about boy-girl things.”“Taylor,” Sam warned.“Yes, Sam?”“You might want to think about how hard it would be to walk if someone were to turn off gravity under your feet every now and then.”“I wonder who would do that?” Dekka said.Suddenly Taylor fell flat on her face.“You tripped me!” Taylor said, more shocked than angry.“Me?” Dekka spread her hands in a completely unconvincing gesture of innocence. “Hey, I’m all the way over here.”“I’m just saying: you can see where that could make a long walk just a lot longer,” Sam said.“You guys are so not fun,” Taylor grumped. She bounced instantaneously to just behind Sam. She grabbed his butt, he yelled, “Hey!” and she bounced away innocently.“To answer your question, Jack,” Sam said, “we are sneaking out at night so that everyone doesn’t know we’re gone and why. They’ll figure it out soon enough, but Edilio will have to have more of his guys on the streets if I’m not there playing the big, bad wolf. More stress for everyone.”“Oh,” Jack said.“The big, bad wolf,” Taylor said. She laughed. “So, when you play that fantasy in your head is Astrid Little Red Riding Hood or one of the Three Little Pigs?”“Dekka,” Sam said.“Hah! Too slow!

~ Michael Grant