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Lucy was bleeding all over the ringleader, Ned. Her mouth was
moving, but all that came out was blood and spittle. There wasn’t
enough air left in her lungs to cough. She looked up at Charlotte,
made eye contact, and died.
Ned’s glutei maximi were cut so deep he couldn’t control his
hip joints, but he was still kicking at Chrysanthemum’s pump
with his forelegs and pushing himself closer with what was left
of his arms. Charlotte rolled Lucy’s body off of Ned, then used
Catamount’s sword to cut his hamstrings.
“Jayzen! Contact your womb-atorium and get a recovery team
up here. Tell them to bring a portable placenta pump. And tell
them it’s an emergency.”
She crouched down next to Ned and pulled a strap from the
collection she had tucked behind her belt.
“What are you doing?” Ned said.
“I’m going to put tourniquets on your arms.”
“Leave me alone!” He started jerking his shoulders and flail-
ing his right elbow joint.
Charlotte held her sword in front of his face. “If you don’t
settle down, I’ll keep cutting muscles and tendons until you do.”
He stopped. She cinched up his arms with the tourniquets,
then pulled him away from the placenta jars.
R. H. Watson
“The womb-atorium people are on their way,” Jayzen said.
“Now call the police and tell them they can come in. Tell them
to bring ambulance teams for three trauma cases, two with
severed limbs. An S.O. officer, Samantha Villanueva, was trying
to contact Lucy. Try her first.”
“Because if the mansion doors give the police a hard time
about entering, her unit will be able to blow them off their
hinges. Make sure you tell her it’s OK to do so.
“After you call the police, do as Lucy said: put that fellow’s
hands and his foot in the ice cream cooler, and also this one’s
forearm. It’s over there.” She pointed to where Ned and Lucy
had had their sword fight.
The womb-atorium team rushed in through the double doors
at the back of the ballroom. They stared gap mouthed at the
broken and dead bodies spread around the floor.
“Quick,” Charlotte said, “Over here.” She waved and pointed
at Chrysanthemum’s jar. Its display was flagging emphatic warn-
ings. “Where’s your portable pump?”
“They’re both out for maintenance,” the matron’s aid leading
the team said. “Wait, these are them.” She reached Chrysan-
themum’s pump and switched it off. “This is bad, it’s been
pumping amniotic fluid onto the floor, not back into the jar. The
placenta is dying.”
“Then you have to put it in a womb, right?” Charlotte said.
“Yes, of course.” The aid spoke to another girl on her team.
“Take it to the Womb Room, as fast as you can. Let them know
you’re on your way and to start preparing a womb. Go.” The girl
picked up the jar, turned, and ran.
The team had one casket with them. “Put her in it,” Charlotte
pointed at Chrysanthemum’s body. “That’s her placenta you just
sent to a womb. How many more caskets do you have?”
“Good, you’ll need three more. Next load her.” She pointed at
Lucy’s body. “These two bodies and that placenta over there,”
she pointed at Lucy’s placenta jar, “ship them to the Laughing
Cherub as fast as you can, and make arrangements to transfer the
injured placenta to the Cherub as soon as possible.”
“We’re not authorized―”
“Jayzen,” Charlotte said.
“Do what she says,” Jayzen said.
“I want them on their way, or at least out of this room, before
the police arrive to arrest everyone and bog everything down
with paperwork. Once that’s accomplished, you’ll find two dead
bodyguards in the gallery out those doors.” She pointed at the
doors at the other end of the ballroom. “Pack them in the other
two caskets. I don’t know where they go. They work for Maxton
Verbeek, so you better do a good job.”
“And those two?” The matron’s aid pointed at the Noreens.
“They’re Twin Security’s problem.”
There was a distant boom from somewhere beyond the double
doors Charlotte and Jayzen had originally entered through.
“Sounds like the police. Hurry up.”
Charlotte looked around. That should do it.
Four weeks later, Lucy touched the stitches that held together the
cut across the bridge of her nose. “Ouch!” She was standing in
front of a mirror in Burning Desire’s locker room. She had
pealed the bandage back to look at the stitches. Both her eyes
were black and blue with a bruise that spread from her nose,
across the top of her cheeks, and up into her eye sockets.
“That’s too superficial for a womb stay,” Dita Hwang, the
club nurse, had said when she examined Lucy after her game in
Saturday’s match. She had snapped on her rubber gloves and dug
out her suture kit. “Do you want a local anesthetic?”
“No,” Lucy had said. A minute later she regretted her de-
cision, but not as much as Dita did.
“Stop whining,” Dita had said as she stitched up Lucy’s nose.
R. H. Watson
Samantha had confiscated Lucy’s swords as evidence. They
were the swords she had been given at the Academy on her sev-
enteenth birthday. They had been balanced just for her; the hilts
fit her hands and no one else’s. She had had the symbol of the
Northern Guide Star etched into their blade collars. Now they
were gone. The court would hold them for fifteen years along
with the other evidence in the Blood Boys Case.
She wanted to blame the loaner swords for losing her game,
but it was a lie. She didn’t trust herself any more. She shouldn’t
have been playing. The Auspicious Day charger had made a
quick flick at the side of her head and surprised her with a longer
reach than she had expected. Lucy jerked back and only received
a nick across her nose, but she lost her balance and fell against
the Goddess Temira, causing a foul. Play was stopped, and she
had to watch the charger, the one who had nicked her nose, stand
in the sweet spot and lop off Temira’s head.
I’m your center, with a fucking bloody nose, and you’re dead.
Back on the sideline Lucy had wiped the blood off her long-
sword, slipped it into its scabbard, and then thrown it against the
retaining wall. Bimini had actually gotten mad at her.
Serendipity had taken the field for the third game and won,
putting Burning Desire in the championship.
In the mirror, Lucy saw the reflection of Fausta walking be-
hind her. “Hey, Fausta, you got stitched up once. How long does
it take these fucking things to heal?”
“Forever,” Fausta said. “Didn’t you ever get sewn up when
you were a kid?”
I’m not going there. Not now that I have to be a real big sister,
instead of the one from hell.
The day after Lucy was reborn, thirteen days after the incident in
the Verbeek Mansion, she took a car from Pete’s Tattoo to the
The jail was almost as cheery as a womb-atorium. The visita-
tion lounge was filled with comfortable chairs and sofas ar-
ranged around low tables. Lucy was shown to an armchair sitting
across a table from another armchair. A guard brought in Zack.
He didn’t seem as reserved as when he had shown up at the club.
“You’re all better.” He sat in the other chair.
“That’s the way rebirth works.”
“They’re worried I’m going to kill myself. They took my belt
and my shoe laces. They watch me eat so I don’t steal the knife
“Are you going to kill yourself?”
“If I was like you I couldn’t. If I tried, they’d stick me in one
of those wombs, whether I wanted them to or not.”
“You’re not like me,” Lucy said. “I don’t want to die.”
“You didn’t have to fight Grizzly, you could have run away.” He
started tapping his foot. “When you did fight, you could have killed
him, but you didn’t. Instead, he almost killed you, for good.”
“I don’t remember. We never remember the last minute or two
before we die.”
“You said you weren’t a killer,” Zack said. “I am.”
“No, you are not.”
“Yes I am. I killed Dad. You would have broken his arms and
legs and then called the police, but you weren’t there. You ran
away.” His foot stopped. “How come you ran away and left us,
but you didn’t run away from Grizzly?”
“It wasn’t the same. I wasn’t the same.”
“I know. You really are Lucy Star. You’re not my sister,
“She’s not gone. I want her to come back, it’s just . . . I
can’t trust her.”
Zack laughed. “You’re crazier than me.”
“I guess I am. Zack, you are my brother.”
“No I’m not. I’m Debbie’s brother. If I’m going to be yours, I
need a new name, just like you. I want to be Ace.”
R. H. Watson
“That sounds kind of cornball.”
“So says Lucy Star.”
“I was ten years old when I made up my name. I guess it shows.”
Lucy could see Zack’s jaw muscles bulging and relaxing. He
was nervous. “Are you serious about this?” she said.
She leaned forward. “Does Ace want to kill himself?”
She glanced at the guard, then spoke quietly. “You’re going to
have to impersonate Zack for a while.”
“I can do that.”
“That’s the only kind there is.”
Lucy stood up. “Can we hug?” she said to the guard. He
nodded. She stepped around the table. Zack stood up, and she
wrapped her arms around him and pulled him tight. She
stretched up on her tip-toes and kissed his cheek. “This isn’t
going to be easy. You’re either going to be in prison or an in-
stitution for a long time.”
“I can do it.”
“We can do it,” Lucy said. “I have to go and meet with
your advocate, but I’ll be back in a couple of days. See you
then, Ace Star.”
“See you,” Ace said.
Earlier that day, Lucy took a public car to Burning Desire to
meet with Coach Kai.
“Welcome back,” Coach Kai said. “Please, sit.”
“Thanks.” Lucy sat in the familiar, old chair in front of Coach
“It must have been difficult,” Coach Kai said. “I’m sorry you
had to go through that, but we’re all impressed with how you
“I wanted to save my brother since the police couldn’t. That’s all.”
“How is he?”
“I’m going to the jail to visit him this afternoon, and then I’m
meeting with his advocate.”
“Don’t worry about your commitment to the club. We’ll give
you the time you need.”
“Thanks,” Lucy said. “The police took my swords.”
“Bimini has some you can use for now. The League is com-
missioning a new set. They’re planning a ceremony after the end
of the season to present them to you, and to honor your bravery
“Honor? Ned killed kids for honor. He believed Gunda’s
blood battle mystique. He wanted to be a warrior and die with
honor. He despised us because we didn’t. And guess what? He’s
right. We’re just a bunch of girls playing a game until we age-out
and finally have to grow up. Honor is bullshit. I’ll keep the new
swords in my locker.”
“The League won’t like that.”
“I’m not required to carry a sword off the field, just
strongly encouraged. I read my contract, even when I was
fourteen. One Ned is enough. I don’t want to ‘strongly en-
courage’ any more. Can we talk about something else? We lost
Saturday’s match, right?”
Coach Kai picked up a pencil, tapped her desk top a couple
of times, and set it down. She frowned. “Yes, we lost. Winning
would have put us in the championship. If we had won, I was
going to save you until then, but now our only chance is to win
the last match of the season, in two weeks. I’d like you to be
ready to play.”
“Got it. When’s my appointment at Pete’s?”
“As quickly as you can get there.”
They both stood. “I’m glad to have you back.” Coach Kai held
out her hand, and Lucy shook it. “And we’re all hoping for the
best for Chrissy.”
R. H. Watson
“Thanks,” Lucy said, then stopped halfway to the door. “Your
bio doesn’t make a big deal of it, but you used to be in the army.
Were you with the military rebirth program?”
“I can’t discuss that.”
“Do you know anything, things you can’t discuss, that could
have helped her?”
“I’m sorry,” Coach Kai said.
Lucy nodded. “I’ll be here at eight tomorrow.”
Seedy looking on the outside; spotless on the inside. Pete’s Tat-
too was always the same.
“Hey, Second Pete.”
Todd had a client in his chair. The client started wiggling.
“Settle down, kid,” Todd said.
“Lucy! Hey, Lucy,” the client said. “It’s me, Neil.”
“Oh, crap,” Lucy said.
Neil sat up. “Look, I’m getting rid of my fox. I got it because
of that fucker, Grizzly. I don’t want to look at it any more.” He
twisted around to show her his shoulder. The fox was being ob-
literated by her portrait. She was smiling, and looking down and
to the side. Her signature was underneath, the way she signed it
for fans: with a five pointed star replacing the ‘t’ in ‘Star.’
“That’s my face from that fucking poster!”
“I tried to talk him out of it,” Todd said.
“I thought the League got those off the street.”
“Not before I bought one,” Neil said.
Lucy turned to Second Pete. “This is all your fault. You cursed
me when you bet on my outie. You said, ‘this time was going to
be different.’ No shit. It nearly got me and that kid killed.” She
pointed at Neil.
“I’m sorry,” Second Pete said, “but, I can’t curse.”
Lucy tightened her grip on her scabbard, but it wasn’t there.
She wasn’t carrying a sword. All she did was dig her fingers into
her palm. “He was here when you called my outie,” she said.
“Do you remember? Todd was tattooing his back.”
“Oh sweetie, I forgot about that. Come here.” Second Pete
held out his arms. Lucy bent down. He hugged her as best he
could from his chair. “I won’t make any bets on you, ever
She felt the weird hairs on his shoulder tickle her nose. “You
can bet, as long as you bet things will be better.”
“That’s a deal. Now, let’s see what you’ve got.”
Lucy straightened up, lifted her shirt, and quickly wiped her
eyes with her sleeve. Second Pete took a close look at her umbil-
ical stub. “I say outie again, but this time, a much better outie.”
“It better be,” Lucy said.
She went out the front entrance of the club. It was deep autumn,
and the evenings were cold. The first hit of chilly air usually
cleared her head, but this evening it made her cut nose and
bruised eye sockets ache. She walked to Alice’s Tea Shop.
At the counter, Mr. Fredrick nodded toward the back table.
Lucy looked and saw Maxton.
“He’s been waiting for you.”
Mr. Fredrick shrugged.
Lucy tapped the counter. “Cook up a demitasse of his infu-
Lucy walked over to Maxton’s table and sat across from him.
“Hello,” she said. “Guess who’s not who they seem to be?”
“It’s a pleasure to see you again,” Maxton said. He pointed at
her nose and raised his eyebrows.
“I screwed up in my last game. The nurse wants it to heal the
old fashioned way.”
“It looks painful.”
R. H. Watson
“It feels a lot more painful than it looks.” She folded her arms
and studied him. “Where have you been?”
“I’ve had to temporarily take over management of some Ver-
beek interests. As you know, it’s impossible to completely walk
away from your family.”
“Do you want my sympathy?”
“Some understanding, perhaps.”
“Sorry, I don’t understand you people at all.” Lucy spilled
sugar onto the table from the shaker, then drew a five pointed
star in it, messed it up, and drew a smiley face. She brushed the
sugar off the table into her hand, unfolded a napkin from the dis-
penser, and brushed the sugar from her hand onto the napkin.
She folded it up, tight. “The news calls them, ‘the Blood Boys
Club.’ What really happened?”
“The police are still investigating.”
“But they’re not going to find anything more, are they? Ned
conned Madam Verbeek and tricked Jayzen. With Jayzen’s signa-
ture, he had access to the mansion, use of its facilities, and best
of all, anything he did fell under the Verbeek ‘no peeking al-
lowed’ blanket of protection. Ned is a sociopathic mastermind
with a death wish. Case closed.”
“That’s where the evidence points.”
“He wasn’t smart enough to pull it off.”
“He was convincing and dedicated. Often, that is enough.”
“Enough to be manipulated,” Lucy said. “Was Jayzen as inno-
cent as he claims?”
“He’s a naïve, self-centered boy, but thanks to you, he may fi-
nally be growing up.”
“I’m not sure growing up as a Verbeek is a good thing.”
“He was innocent, but none of us are ever as innocent as we
claim. Except you.”
“Fuck you,” Lucy said. “Who was pulling Ned’s strings?”
Maxton shrugged his shoulders.
“Was it you?”
“How would you know if I’m telling the truth?”
Mr. Fredrick brought over the demitasse of Maxton’s infusion;
Lucy picked it up. “I tried your tea once before. It tasted like
blood.” She took a sip, held it in her mouth for several seconds,
then swallowed. “It still does. Whose is it?”
“Not mine. It was from a long time ago.”
“Do you know I can taste the difference between people’s bloods?
It’s one of the perks of getting the occasional splatter in my mouth.
You wouldn’t believe how much money I make on bar bets.”
Maxton took a penknife out of his pocket, opened the blade
and poked his thumb with the tip. “Hold out your tongue.”
“What’s the wager?”
“The truth, as far as it goes.”
“As far as it goes?”
“Take it or leave it.”
Lucy tipped her head back and extended her tongue.
“How much do you need?” Maxton said.
“Jutht a few dropths.”
Maxton squeezed four drops of his blood onto her tongue,
then one more.
Lucy closed her mouth and considered the flavor. She moved
her tongue around to mix in some saliva, then stuck out her
tongue and used the napkin with the sugar folded into it to dab
the blood off. “You weren’t lying. It’s not your blood in the tea.
Who was pulling Ned’s strings?”
“It wasn’t me and it wasn’t Jayzen.”
“But you know who it was?”
“Is that the family business you were managing?”
“Yes, it won’t happen again.”
“And that’s as far as the truth goes?”
Lucy turned around and waived to get Mr. Fredrick’s atten-
tion. She opened her mouth and made a wiping motion with her
R. H. Watson
hand. Mr. Fredrick brought over a glass of pallet cleanser. She
used it, dropped the sugar napkin into the glass, and handed it
back. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll have a cup of tea, please―reg-
ular tea. I’ve had enough of myself for a while. And put it in a
take-away cup. I won’t be staying.” She turned back to Maxton.
“She’s fine. You girls always emerge from your wombs in per-
“Not always,” Lucy said.
“Ah, yes. I heard about your friend. You have my sympathy.”
Lucy stood up. “I’ve got to go. I need to spend time with real
“Francine has adopted you as her role model,” Maxton said.
“I hope you tried to talk her out of it.”
“She’s too headstrong to be talked out of anything she has set
her mind to, just like her role model.”
“Goodbye, Maxton,” Lucy said.
“Be seeing you,” Maxton said.
Lucy picked up her tea at the counter. The little bell above the
door jingled, once. On the sidewalk, she sent a request for a
peddle cab. She was meeting Charlotte for dinner and didn’t
want to be late.
Lucy drifted awake. She was wrapped in the soft terrycloth
towel. Her eyes began to focus on the familiar Recovery Ward.
Memories collected and condensed. “Chrissy!”
She fumbled with the latch for the recovery bed until the side
fell open. The bed was raised to standing height. She rolled onto
her belly, slipped off, pulled the towel around her, and tried to
walk. Her head swam; she held herself up with a hand on the bed.
Esther, the day shift matron, came in. “What are you doing?”
She rushed over and wrapped her arm around Lucy’s back.
“Take me to the Memory Vault,” Lucy said. “I’ve got to check
“It’s not there,” Esther said.
Lucy grabbed two handfuls of her smock. “What about Chrissy?”
“They’re both in a womb.”
“For how long?”
“So far, eight days, nineteen hours.”
“But she just had her throat cut.”
“Lucy, please sit on the bed. You need to calm down.”
Esther lowered the bed so Lucy could sit, then raised it until
she was at eye level.
“Chrissy seems to be healing, but it’s taking longer than usual.
Her placenta nearly died when that crazy man damaged its
pump. We stored her in a refrigerated casket for three days to
give her placenta time to heal itself. It was making progress, but
after seventy-two hours we had to rejoin them. We’d used up all
of Chrissy’s safety margin.”
“Do you know when she’ll be out?”
Esther shook her head. “Her placenta has been severely comprom-
ised. We don’t know how long it will take, or if it can succeed.”
“I want to see her womb,” Lucy said.
“When you’ve recovered enough to be discharged.” Esther
handed her a glass of rebirth formula. “Drink up.” Lucy took a
sip. “Drink it all.” Lucy took another swallow.
“Your friend, Charlotte, is in the waiting room. Would you
like to see her?”
The glass was empty when Charlotte came in. “I want to see
Chrissy’s womb, now,” Lucy said to her.
“It’s a long walk,” Ester said. “She should rest and give her
body time to absorb the formula.”
“Come on.” Charlotte helped her off the bed.
“You girls can be so stubborn,” Esther said. She took a robe
and slippers from a closet. “Put these on.”
They shuffled to the Womb Room. Charlotte helped steady
Lucy. Esther brought them to a womb near the far end.
R. H. Watson
Lucy shrugged out of Charlotte’s grip and rested her hands on
the womb. She leaned against it and pressed her cheek to its
corse flesh. “I put her here.”
Charlotte held Lucy’s shoulders and rested her cheek on top of
“What happened?” Lucy said. “The last thing I remember is
waiting for Ned to attack.”
“He attacked, and you took away his arms, but not before he
mortally wounded you. He tried to kick apart Chrissy’s pump,
you took away his legs. Then you died.”
“Could I have killed him?”
“You’re not a killer.”
“But if I had killed him, Chrissy’s placenta would have been
safe, and she would have been reborn by now?”
Charlotte squeezed her shoulders.
“I should have. I didn’t want to kill anyone, not even him. I
thought I could do it. What an arrogant bitch. And this is the result.”
Lucy pushed herself away from Chrysanthemum’s womb, for-
cing Charlotte to step back. “I’ve got to get out of here.” Char-
lotte tried to put her arm around Lucy, but she shrugged it off. “I
can walk on my own.”
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?