Hearts of the Hunted

I was naked on the city streets, but thanks to my particular skills at camouflage, no one gave me a second look—or even a first one. The Transformation takes us all differently; I've seen some people who grew horns or fangs or turned awesome colors, but while those things may be useful in their own way, they don't help with blending in. And in the Midwest, where bigotry and fear rule the day, blending in with the normals is usually a matter of life or death.

That's what makes me a perfect agent of the Underground Railroad—I can blend in anywhere. I slid down the sidewalk slowly, hugging the walls to avoid being touched or bumped as I moved invisibly through the city. I have never been able to figure out if my skin refracts light or changes colors or something else I haven't even thought of, but what I do know is that when I want to hide, no one can see me unless I move too quickly.

When I got to the fire escape on the back of the building I wanted, I let myself pick up the pace. Even when I'm moving at normal speed like this, I'm just a blur, and even if someone happened to be looking at the fire escape as I was going up, they weren't going to do anything about a little blur in their vision across the street.

Once I was on the roof, I grabbed my waterproof backpack from where it had been stashed on top of a maintenance shed, chinning myself up on the edge to reach it and scraping my elbow on the way down. I thought of how Riley would have scolded me for the way I take chances, but Riley was long gone, retired to Canada three years ago, and I'd taken up the job he'd left behind.

I hurried into my clothes and reappeared as I carried my backpack with me down the stairs and into the building.

Janelle Thomas was the wealthy young widow of some banker, and was generally assumed to be an idler who spent her days puttering about her string of apartments and condos, wasting her money and her time. My friends and I knew her as a supporter of the Underground Railroad that helped moved Transformed people and families across the border to Canada, where they would be safe.

"Camille!" she exclaimed, jumping up as I let myself in. I could pick her lock almost as fast as I could use a key, but she'd given me one anyway as a matter of courtesy. "Where have you been?"

I sighed and dropped onto the couch. "Meeting with a bait family," I grumbled.

"Oh, God! Were you followed?"

I gave her a look but declined to comment, and she blushed. "I showed up half an hour early, which was obviously way more than they were expecting, because they actually drove this little family to the meeting point and gave them one last briefing right there in the parking lot." I rolled my eyes, but it was this level of sheer stupidity that was why the Railroad hadn't been crushed already, so I owed them some gratitude.

"I'm sorry, Camille, but this is just going to happen sometimes. It's not like we can put an ad out in the newspaper." There were certain people out there who didn't care one way or the other, or who just hated violence, and they could be paid to keep an eye and an ear out for anyone trying to get away, and pass their names to us. But it was hard to find the ones who needed us, and there were plenty of people who had been Transformed but who had no intention of ever moving away from the places they'd lived their entire lives.

"I think we may need to stop operating here, or at least take a break. We got a few families out last year, and things seem to have settled," I said. There were other places to play hero. Or maybe Riley had been right, and it was time to just mind our own business and let people take care of themselves.

Janelle opened her mouth to answer, but a knock on the door distracted both of us. I glanced at her, and she shook her head slowly—not expected. Okay. I waited a few seconds, peeked through the peephole, and saw a goddess. Her hair was strawberry blonde and fell in red-gold waves just short of curly, framing clear green eyes and a pale face that glanced nervously up and down the hall.

My mouth went dry, and my stomach did a highly annoying flip as I opened the door. "Can I help you?"

"I'm, uh... I need some help with the..." she lowered her voice, "with the Railroad?"