The screaming wakes me from blackness, the vacuum of non-existence. The secret door is flung open. Cloak stands in the doorway, shouting at a group of gunslingers. My brain is scrambled and I can’t make out the words. An explosion startles me fully awake. It rocks the small room, shaking clouds of dust from the ceiling and walls. My hand is in Nikko’s big hands. He’s hurriedly wrapping gauze around my wound.
Then he ties it off and says, “Something is happening up above. Some sort of attack. Stay here. You’ll be weak after the procedure.” Only then do I remember what happened. The evil light in Cloak’s eyes as he squeezed down on the device and snapped off my finger. I pull my hand away from Nikko’s and see for the first time the red-stained gauze wrapped around the space where my finger had been moments ago. It’s then, like a bad memory returning, that the pain arcs through my body again. I double over and feel like vomiting.
Nikko produces a bottle of snakebite from the valise. His face is screwed into a look of panic. “This will help,” he says. “I’ll be back when we have things under control.” Then he and Cloak run out of the room, guns drawn.
I slump back in the chair, cradling my injured hand. Tears fall down my cheeks. The pain has me light-headed. My vision is quickly receding into a narrow point of light. I lean against the table, taking deep breaths until the room stops spinning. I can feel something hardening inside me. When Nikko left me at the orphanage, I thought I would never get over it. When I had to suture my own wounds after another bullet-catching test, I thought the failure would break me. When Nikko led me down to this room and let Cloak mutilate me, I thought I would die. But now I know: I will bend, I will splinter, but I won’t break.
I’m the indestructible girl.
“Cub!” The voice seems very far away. “Cub, you need to stand.” I look up and the bullet catcher is standing over me, holding my arm, trying to drag me to my feet.
“Your face.” I reach up to touch his cheek. His face is bruised and swollen.
He grabs my hand and says calmly, “Put aside the pain, Cub. There will be time to feel it later.”
I let him pull me to my feet and we make our way up the stairs from the cellar, through the club, and onto the street. The town is in chaos. Fires rage over the rooftops on the far side of town. The pain makes it hard to focus, and it takes me a moment, but, yes, one of the fires—that has to be the factory. And the other: the pump station. Cass and Hartright managed it.
“Did you and Hartright do this?” Lobo says, staring at the fires.
“And Cass,” I say.
He turns to me. “Cass is here? You found her?”
“We found her.”
His eyes are glassy, reflecting the light of the fires raging. “Where will she be?” he says.
From across town comes the distant sound of guns. I point toward the pump station. “That way.”
I stumble down the street. I’m still dizzy, and every few seconds the pain seizes through me again, making me sick. Lobo tries to help me, but I push him away.
“I’m fine,” I growl at him. Anyway, the more I move the stronger I feel. The fire is spreading over the industrial district. With every street we cross, the noise of the guns popping grows louder and louder. Here and there, we see a gunslinger, dead in the street where they took a bullet. I steal the guns from one of the bodies and fill my empty holsters. It used to be that the weight of the guns made me feel stronger, made me feel brave. But not anymore. Living this life resigns you to the pain. A person who makes a living breaking horses gets thrown plenty. A person with a gun will use it to kill and will be killed themselves, sooner or later. That’s the truth.
We pause in an alley a few blocks from the pump station. I can feel the heat of the fires. We’re close, but I need to catch my breath. Lobo doesn’t question me; he lets me rest. He peers out into the street that, for now, is quiet. I remember what Lobo said about feeling the pain later, when there’s time. I push it down. I know that these are the last moments before the fighting, and gunfire, and killing. I settle in the moment, cherishing it. And when everything is calm in my mind, and my legs feel strong, and my breathing quiet, I tap Lobo on the shoulder and say, “Okay, let’s go.”
We dart into the alley, right as a contingent of gunslingers rounds the corner a block up the street. No sooner do they see Lobo than they draw their guns and open fire. Lobo takes a step forward to meet the bullets, discarding them on the ground like loose change. But we’re sitting ducks out here in the open, and farther up the street another posse of gunslingers draws toward us, attracted by the sounds of...