"...non-stop action and danger at every turn..."
Help me! Rayen! Get me out of here before –
Gabby’s screaming voice woke me fast, like getting hit in the face with ice water. I sat up in bed, panting and clutching the sheets. My heart was trying to beat a hole in my chest.
Just a nightmare. But it felt real. Sounded terrifying.
I looked around the dark room as my eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light offered by the first hint of dawn. It peeked through the horizontal window coverings.
Blinds. Someone had called the coverings blinds. A strange term that didn’t ping any memory.
Surely I’d had some type of window shield in my life.
I thought on it, willing to take any memory of my past that my mind would offer, no matter how insignificant. Nope. Still stuck with a big gaping void when it came to anything about me, my family or the place I must have called home before yesterday when I came awake tumbling in the desert. All I knew at the moment was this isolated school in a land called Albuquerque.
It was home, for now.
Sparse furnishings took shape around my room. A wall lamp hung over a small table next to my narrow bed. Across the room, a spotless wooden desk had a stiff chair and matching lamp. Two metal doors the color of an early morning fog.
I closed my eyes, thinking of what stood on the other side of those doors. One opened to a bathroom with shelves and drawers for clothes. All my storage space was empty. I had no clothes or personal things of my own, only what had been given to me yesterday.
The second door led to a hallway with other rooms. More female students sleeping in this area. Boys had their own section. Did any of the others feel as confused and alone as I did?
I rubbed the heels of my hands over my eyes, blinking them open. My scrambled thoughts began to separate and focus with details of what I did know. I was still at the Byzantine Institute of Excellence, a school full of a mix of unusual and brilliant teens. I still didn’t know who I was beyond the name Rayen–which was suspect at best. I’d gotten that information from a ghost–and that I was seventeen, another nugget from my grumpy specter.
Basically, I still had no memory beyond when I woke up in the desert yesterday with a sentient beast chasing me.
Help me. Pleeaase, help me.
I jerked as Gabby’s frantic voice swept through my mind again, but it had been a far away sound this time. Her words repeated softly like a lost echo in a deep canyon.
Was I only remembering the nightmare?
Where was Gabby?
Now, I remember. The women’s center in the school clinic.
Gabby was supposed to be doing something basic. Tests of some kind. I hadn’t been sent there yet so I had no idea what could be going on. My other friend, Tony, had told me not to worry, but Tony didn’t have the ability to hear voices in his head.
Not that I had that gift. Gabby was the one who could hear thoughts, but I’d heard hers when I touched her. In fact, most of the times I’d heard her in my mind had been accidental.
Not like this, where we weren’t even in the same room.
Could she be projecting? I rolled my eyes at nothing more than looking for a reason to find her so I wouldn’t be alone.
When we first met yesterday, Gabby had avoided contact with anyone, and wouldn’t admit she could hear thoughts, but all of that changed in the matter of a few hours in a strange world.
A lot of things changed in one day.
I couldn’t shake the sound of her voice I’d heard so clearly. The idea of her being threatened bothered me.
Gabby and Tony were my only friends in this place.
I’d known them for just a short time, but we now shared a huge secret. We depended on each other. I didn’t want to lose either one.
They were also the only two people who knew the truth about me, at least what little I’d discovered since waking up in a desert. Maybe my nightmare about Gabby was nothing more than a reaction to the bizarre time travel we’d experienced yesterday.
Somebody, help me.
This time, I was wide-awake and Gabby’s voice had sounded real.
I couldn’t rest any longer, not until I knew she was safe. Tony would probably laugh at me, but I didn’t care. Gabby might only be having a nightmare and somehow I was hearing her cries. I wanted to see for myself that she was okay.
Climbing out of bed, I hissed at the cold floor beneath my feet. I’d slept in a short-sleeved shirt and underwear. My pants–jeans–were here somewhere. Turning on the lamp seemed like a good idea until the light blinded me. Shielding my eyes, I made my way to the bathroom and flipped on another light.
The reflection in the mirror taunted me.
I didn’t know that girl with the long, black hair mussed from sleeping, or eyes a light blue-green color I’d seen on no others yesterday. While we were eating dinner in the school cafeteria last night, Tony had asked me if I wore aqua contacts.
He’d had to explain what a contact was.
A thin eye covering that corrected vision, but some students wore them to change their eye color. Why would they do that?
When he realized I wasn’t wearing contacts, he shook his head and said, “Tell anyone who asks that you’re wearing contacts or they’re gonna know you’re not from this world. I’ve never seen natural eyes that color.”
The mirror promised that these were my aqua eyes, my narrow nose and my mouth, but still, I didn’t know that girl.
How could someone forget her own face?
Maybe my brain would yield its secrets today. I finished up in the bathroom and found my jeans. I was becoming familiar with the odd terms for things like clothes. Good thing I was a quick study since everything from speech to paper books to the location of this school had tested me yesterday. At least now I knew why my surroundings felt both familiar and strange.
I wasn’t from this time.
I didn’t belong to anyone in this world. I’d learned yesterday that I hadn’t been born yet.
And the world I was born into had eventually been destroyed.
That meant any family I might have was gone. I didn’t even know who they were to mourn them.
A wave of sadness pushed me off center. I missed ... something, but I couldn’t say what.
I’d found out yesterday that my people were C’raydonians, and they’d existed over a hundred years into the future. None from this era. The head of this Byzantine Institute thought I was a Native American, someone from a local tribe I’d never heard of before or met. If I focused too hard on what little I had learned about myself yesterday, it would cripple me.
I had to just let it go for now and stick with living in the moment.
First thing, I needed to find Gabby. Make sure she’s safe, then track down Tony. Once the three of us were together again, we could travel through the computer to the Sphere. The computer was a time portal to an artificial planet in the future that we’d discovered by accident. Children were imprisoned on that planet. They called it the Sphere.
Activating the portal had required all three of us and I wanted to go back.
No, I had to go back. I’d made a commitment to Callan.
Callan’s strong face formed in my mind’s eye and the pressure on my chest lifted. I smiled and a new feeling circled through me. One filled with warmth. In spite of all the worries crowding in to beat me down, being with Callan had the ability to lift my spirits. He was a healing light that I desperately wanted to see again.
I touched my lips and replayed his kiss for the hundredth time. I didn’t even know if that was my first kiss, but it felt like what should be a first time. There was no way I’d have forgotten experiencing something that spectacular.
Rayen! They want to … STR … V.
I jumped at the ragged cry in my head. She called me by name. That was … chilling. So real this time that bumps pebbled across my skin at the way Gabby’s voice shook with fear. I tried to reach out to her mind-to-mind. Gabby?
I put on the jeans, then shoved my feet into socks, sliding the metal ankle cuff over the sock to keep it from chafing my skin. The security device gave me a vicious electric shock if I tried to get past the front gates of this school, but it hadn’t functioned in the Sphere. I shook my head and finished tying the strings on my sneakers, then eased from the room.
No alarm went off.
Two young girls stood talking at the end of the hall. Taking a deep breath, I headed out, moving as quickly as I could without running.
Once out of the sleeping areas, I navigated a series of halls and reached the office for the women’s center of the clinic. I tapped on a small window.
A short woman twice my age dressed in loose blue pants and a matching shirt sat at a desk with a computer in front of her.
She slid the window open. “Can I help you?”
“I’d like to talk to Gabby Lin for a moment.”
The woman typed on her keyboard, read something, then her face turned sharp and serious before she wiped that look away and smiled at me. “I’m sorry, but Miss Lin is indisposed right now and isn’t scheduled to be released until tomorrow. Come back then.”
My skin tingled with worry.
She was hiding something. I had nothing to base that on, but I knew. Just a feeling. With no argument to offer the woman that wouldn’t sound as if I were making trouble, I murmured, “Thank you,” and backed away.
Why can’t you hear me, Rayen? Gabby pleaded in my mind.
I do hear you, Gabby. I listened for her. She didn’t respond, which meant she couldn’t hear me. I had powers, but clearly not the ability for communicating mind-to-mind. Gabby had that exceptional gift and was learning how to use it. Evidently, telepathy wouldn’t help her escape her situation.
I knew who could find out what was going on with Gabby.
Turning to leave, I caught sight of a familiar shape moving through a cluster of students. A boy who reminded me of someone I’d encountered yesterday in the Sphere, but everyone there was from over a hundred years in the future.
That boy couldn’t be Phen, could he?
I also caught a whiff of a nasty smell. It belonged to the deadly, sentient beast that had chased me in the desert yesterday.
Worming my way through groups of students starting to congregate in the halls, I kept the boy in view. If that was Phen, we had to find out what he was doing here, and it could only mean trouble since Phen was a TecKnati scout, enemy of the MystiKs.
The boy I followed looked to be an older teen, which fit, because Phen was probably close to twenty. He managed to stay several steps ahead of me before he disappeared around a corner.
I rushed forward and stopped when I saw him thirty feet away, paused next to a door that led outside. I looked around to see if anyone was close to me.
Not this early. Most students were heading to the cafeteria.
When I looked back at the boy, he pulled a small creature out of his pocket. A rat that jumped from his hand and changed shape in mid-fall on its way to the floor. The animal was now a tall black dog with a thick, muscular build and wide jaws. Its coat was black marked with brown highlights.
And it stank like the sentient beast.
My heart skipped a beat as I realized that dog was the beast that had hunted me yesterday. The boy had control of it. He looked over his shoulder, meeting my gaze and smiling in recognition.
It was Phen. Had the TecKnati leader from the future sent him here? Traveled back to this time? From what Callan had told me, the TecKnatis had developed time travel, but only to the past.
I started forward, but Phen and the creature ran out the door. They’d disappeared by the time I reached it and looked outside.
I’d deal with Phen as soon as Gabby was safe.
Working my way back through the halls, I passed a few students meandering around. School didn’t officially start for another hour. When I reached the double door entrance to the boys’ sleeping area, I paused at the “No Female Students Allowed Past This Point” sign.
What would be the penalty for getting caught in the wrong place?
Would my ankle cuff set off an alarm or try to electrocute me if I entered this area?
“Who you looking for?” a squeaky male voice asked.
I turned to look down at a boy who was two or three years younger than me. He had freckles, bright red hair and a crooked front tooth.
I smiled at him, hoping he didn’t report me. “Tony.”
“What’s his last name?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s he look like?”
I searched for the right words to describe Tony so I didn’t sound strange. “He’s my height, kind of strong looking and has short black hair.”
The boy thought on that and asked, “Is he a senior?”
He gave me a look that questioned my intelligence. Great. What did senior mean at this school? Something dawned on me that might be helpful. I remembered Tony telling a teacher that his name started with an S. “Tony’s last name is S something.”
“Like Smith or Stevens?”
How would I know? I lifted my shoulders. “All I know is he’s from a place called Jersey.” One more thing hit me. “He’s in some Top Ten contest.”
He snapped his fingers. “That’s gotta be Tony Scolerio. He’s sick on computers.”
I searched my mind for the word “sick” and recalled Gabby explaining that it meant good. “Yes! That’s him.” I let out a gust of relief. “Do you know where he is?”
He gave me a head nod for that.
I asked, “Where? I need to get to him right away.”
His red eyebrows lifted high and his eyes rounded in horror. “If you get caught in our dorm, you’ll get suspended. Maybe worse.”
Suspended? Did that mean I’d end up hung in the air? I didn’t have time to figure out a new term. “Tony and I have a friend who is, uh, not doing well. It’s very important. If I get in trouble, then I do.”
“Really?” He stared at me, his surprise telling me he didn’t believe me. “We’re all competing here. No one sticks his neck out for someone else. Why take that risk?”
“My friends are worth any risk.”
“You’re not like the other girls here,” he mumbled with a touch of awe I didn’t understand.
I tried to decide if that was good or bad, but this was taking too long so I ignored it and pressed on. “Please tell me if you know where Tony’s room is. I’m in a hurry.”
He looked around then back at me and whispered, “It’ll be faster if I show you, but if you get caught anywhere in the boys’ dorm, I don’t know anything about it. Got it?”
I swallowed my excitement. “Got it. I promise not to tell anyone you helped me.”
Pulling one of the doors open, he led the way down a beige hall that mimicked the one in the girls’ dorm. I held my breath as I followed, hoping my ankle cuff didn’t set off any alarms. When everything remained silent, I let out that breath and hurried to keep up with my guide. He turned a corner at the end of the hall. I was right behind him and barely missed getting hit by a door that opened as we scooted past.
After another two turns, he stopped at the first door on his right and pointed. “That’s Tony’s room. Don’t get caught.”
He’d already backed away and took off, disappearing around the corner.
I knocked on the door and heard, “What?”
“It’s me, Rayen.” I kept my voice low.
I heard grumbling noises, then he called out, “Come in.”
Turning the knob, I pushed the door open and closed it just as quickly behind me.
Tony’s room was a lot like mine except his bed was neat where I’d left mine in an unmade pile. He sat at his small desk, tapping quickly on a computer that was much newer looking than the one we had used to time travel.
No one from this time would believe us if we told them about yesterday, but the portal to the other world really had been through the monitor of an abused computer that folded up. A laptop.
Tony flicked a look my way just long enough to scowl at me and kept typing as he asked, “What the ‘ell you doin’ over in the boys’ dorm? Want to get thrown outta this place?”
“Gabby’s in trouble.”
Tony’s fingers flew over the keys, tapping rapidly. His eyes never moved from the screen. “What kinda trouble?”
“In the clinic.”
The snarly, impatient Tony was back. The one I first met yesterday, before our little trip had taken the edge off his attitude. Traveling to another time with deadly flowering vines and unusual-looking kids trying to kill us would do that, I guess. The children stuck in that place—the Sphere—were called MystiKs and I was anxious to see their leader Callan again.
Tony was showing no signs of budging.
He’d proven he could be compassionate and loyal when things got tough, but this was the other side of him–belligerent, hardheaded and sarcastic–none of which I was in the mood for with Gabby in danger and Phen running around the school.
Tony’s foul mood would be nothing compared to mine if he didn’t start paying attention so we could get moving. I tried for easy by sticking with the most important issue at this moment, which was getting him to realize Gabby was in trouble.
“I woke up with Gabby screaming for help in my mind.”
“Oh, man, are you kidding me?” He leaned forward, paused then tapped keys harder. “I don’t have time for your woo-woo stuff right now, Xena. You had a nightmare. That’s all.”
There were times he called me that weird Xena name when it sounded friendly.
This wasn’t one of them.
I walked toward his desk where I watched little animated caricatures on his monitor attack each other. Buildings were blowing up. He was grinding my patience to a fine dust that would evaporate any minute.
What was so special about pretend fighting? “I thought it was a nightmare, too, Tony, but not any more. I’m telling you I hear her in my head and she’s scared of something.” When he continued to ignore me, I gave up on patience. “What are you doing?”
“I’m just about to win a game against the champion–”
“A game? Gabby’s in trouble and you’re ignoring me for a game?”
He muttered, “Not just any game.”
Rayen! Please help me! Gabby shouted in my mind.
My heart raced at her terror. “Listen to me, Tony.”
“Not. Now.” He was hunched over the computer, intent on that ridiculous game.
Gabby’s voice shouted, Raayeeen!
Energy swam through me in a rush and heated my hands. I slapped a hand down on top of Tony’s fingers. His keyboard glowed red. White light burst from the monitor then it blanked out.
Tony swung around, his face wearing shock for a second then he shoved up out of his chair, yelling, “Do you realize what you just did? I’m gonna kill you!”
Tony’s chair flew backwards when he jumped up, but he ignored it. His hands fisted and his brown eyes glittered with rage.
I took a step back to give him space. I wasn’t afraid of Tony. We both knew what I was capable of, especially if I drew on that strange power inside me.
Besides, Tony wouldn’t hit me.
He had a personal code he followed that included not harming a female, but he was vibrating with the need to crush something right now and I didn’t want anyone to come running at the sound of furniture breaking.
“Are you out of your freakin’ mind?” Tony roared at me, hands balled into fists.
I didn’t think so, but with no idea who I was, that might be open for debate. “I’m trying to tell you about Gabby.”
“I’ve been at that game for over two hours. Two! Hours! I was six points from ripping the Dragon Goddess to pieces for the first time and you screwed it.”
How could he be so angry? “What’s so important about a stupid game when your friend is in danger?”
He closed his eyes and drew a hard breath. His jaw clenched and unclenched, then he opened eyes that still promised retribution. “This is not about a game. There’s an online trading post where players offer prizes like electronics, jewelry, whatever. You put your prize up against theirs then you play a game to see who wins and who has to forfeit.”
“What did you lose?”
“A half hour of electronic diagnostics, which I don’t care jack about. You just cost me a win I had to have.”
“What were you playing for?”
Disappointment washed through his gaze then it vanished as if he’d ordered his face to hide any emotions. “A 1968 Captain America comic book. It was for my little brother’s birthday next month.”
I had no idea what a comic book was or who Captain America was, but it didn’t take much to figure out that I’d just ruined something that meant a great deal to Tony.
“I’m sorry, Tony.” That sounded lame and useless, but it was honest and all I could offer. “I’m just worried about Gabby and I don’t know how to get to her. I went to the clinic and they wouldn’t let me see her. I keep hearing her voice in my head, screaming for me to come help her before they do something. She’d probably be in your head, too, if she knew how to reach you.”
He scrubbed his hands over his face, still pumped up and angry, but he pulled himself together and asked, “What exactly is goin’ on with Gabby?”
“I don’t know.”
“You screw up my game and that’s all you got?”
“No.” Wasn’t what I told him enough? Now I was fuming. “She keeps saying she wants out before they do something, but I never hear what it is. Gabby says things like ‘They want to’ then her voice trails off. The last time her voice came back, she said ‘STR’ and ‘V’. What do those letters stand for?”
“How should I know? That’s women's center stuff.” He stomped around for a moment, then picked up his chair and sat back down at his computer, grumbling. “This better power on again.” The minute the monitor came to life, he grew quiet and started typing.
Now that he was calm, I moved to watch over his shoulder. His fingers flew lightning fast over keys for a few seconds, then he paused to read text that meant nothing to me. He kept that up, typing and reading, for several minutes until he frowned at the monitor. “What the ‘ell?”
I leaned down but couldn’t decipher anything. “What does it say?”
“That’s just it. I’ve hacked into the patient records, but I got stopped cold at one area where I can’t get past the firewalls.” He swung around to look at me. “What did you say those letters were?”
“STR and V.”
“STR-V is the name of the patient files I can’t access.”
I straightened up and crossed my arms. “Now do you believe me?”
Tony scanned his monitor again then pushed his chair back and stood, nibbling on his thumbnail as he thought. He leaned over and tapped the keys again, scrolled down the page and grumbled. When he straightened and turned to me, he said “They have a level of security on that one area that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
“Why would they do that if it was just some basic test?”
“Makes no sense. This whole deal is too weird a coincidence even for you and Psycho Babe.” He stared off at nothing, eyebrows dropping low over his narrowed gaze. “I might be able to get into their system from inside the clinic.”
“I told you, I already tried to see Gabby and they wouldn’t let me in.”
Tony found that amusing. “That’s because you asked.”
“How do you plan to get inside?”
He cracked his knuckles. “By using the ‘ask for forgiveness instead of permission’ rule.”
Tony pulled a gray hooded jacket over his head. It had a black scorpion image sewn on the chest that matched the design inked on his neck. He scooped his dark brown backpack off his bed, slid his arms into the straps and started for the door. “Let’s go.”
I didn’t move.
He did a double take. “Thought you wanted to help Gabby.”
“I do, but if I get caught in this area and you’re seen with me, they may suspend you, too.” I envisioned both of us hung from the ceiling like dead game. So I know about hanging animals from a hunt?
“We won’t get caught. No one on the staff is coming here today.”
Mr. I Know Everything was back in full force. “How can you be so sure?”
“It’s a teacher’s PPA day.”
Shaking his head, he turned back. “I forget that you don’t know this stuff. Every six weeks the teachers have a Preparation, Planning and Assessment day to catch up on their work. We’re supposed to spend our time studying or working on whatever we’ve been assigned.”
That meant I should be helping a girl named Hannah work on the special Top Ten computer project for Mr. Suarez’s class. I had originally been assigned to Tony, but Mr. Suarez changed up the partners yesterday and Tony was no happier about his new one than when he’d been stuck with me.
I wasn’t thrilled about Hannah since she barely tolerated my being in her presence. But with no memory, Gabby in trouble and Callan waiting for me to return, school was low on my worry list right now.
Speaking of concerns, why hadn’t Tony mentioned this PPA yesterday while the three of us were still together? We might have gone back to the Sphere right away. “It would have been nice to know about this teacher’s day off last night. Why didn’t you tell me and remind Gabby before we split up?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he snapped with a sarcastic edge. “Maybe because it wasn’t the first thing on my mind after getting sucked into a time-travel portal in a computer, meeting a bunch of crazy teens with graffiti skin and fightin’ everything from freakin’ plants to croggle monsters in that screwed up world.”
He had a point.
Tony added, “What really sucked was coming back to find out I got stuck with the Browns’ kid as my Top Ten Project partner.”
The Browns had built this school, and Nicholas, or Nick as he’d told me to call him, was their only child. “Have you talked to Nick? Maybe that won’t be as bad as you think.”
“Are you kidding me? I need to go to MIT now. Nick doesn’t. His parents can send him anywhere. I need the full ride and if I go a year early I can–” He stopped, sadness invading his eyes before he looked away then back.
“Get your little brother?” I finished.
He swallowed. “Right. The sooner I get into a top college and land a decent job, the sooner I can pull Vinny out of foster care.”
I held up my hands to pacify him. “I’m not here to argue about Nick. If you think you can find Gabby, you lead. The minute we find her and get her out of wherever they have her, the sooner we can head back to the Sphere.”
Tony didn’t say anything to that, but he tensed up, which bothered me more than his usual posturing.
I waited for him to snap at me again.
He just shook his head at some silent thought, walked out the door and took off in the opposite direction from the way I’d come. He led us to another hallway that ended at a locked door with an illuminated security panel on the right. The 12-button keyboard mounted shoulder high had a message warning all but service personnel to stay out.
I kept my voice soft. “Where does this go?”
“While I was searching the clinic’s electronic files on Gabby, I found the staff access codes to their behind-the-scenes work locations and a schematic of the clinic. This door goes to a hall that connects with the clinic. Like a service hallway.” He raised his fingers to press buttons and looked over at me. “No one comes to our dorms on teacher’s day off, but the clinic is always staffed. We might run into someone on the other side of this door.”
“Can’t be any worse than facing a carnivorous plant with teeth the size of my fingers.” I went for levity in reminding Tony about getting attacked in the Sphere yesterday, but he didn’t find it funny.
In fact, he looked away quickly. Like a guilty reaction.
What could he possibly feel guilty about?
He punched in a series of numbers. The text on the panel showed “Access approved,” and the door lock made a click sound. Tony entered with me at his heels. We shuffled quietly along a shadowy hall. A row of tiny white lights ran low along the floor. This corridor had no doors.
At the first corner, Tony slowed and peeked around to the left then waved me to follow him into another barely lit hallway.
I had the feeling that few came this way without a specific reason.
Four doors down, he stopped at a room with two huge glass windows, one on each side of the metal-and-glass door. Lights blinked and glowed on walls of equipment inside.
But there was no security panel next to the door.
Tony tried the doorknob. Locked.
He breathed out a labored sigh and kept his voice low. “This is the power and electronic control center for the clinic. I need to get in here to access the internal computer systems. We’ll have to find a key.”
He didn’t sound enthusiastic. I asked, “How difficult will that be?”
Tony shook his head. “The minute we enter the populated areas of the clinic, we run the chance of getting caught. I could get us in here if I had something to pick the lock with.”
“Explain picking a lock.” I had a feeling it was a simple process, but I didn’t recognize the terms or meanings.
Tony’s face cramped like he was going to snap at me for asking a stupid question, but he explained, “The inside of a lock has pins that a key lifts to allow the plug to turn. The more pins, the more secure, in theory. Lock picks are metal sticks you use to move those pins just like a key would.”
That didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but it gave me an idea. “Do you know what the inside of a lock looks like?”
I’d helped Callan heal an injury because he’d known what the inside of a body looked like when I hadn’t, or couldn’t recall if I’d known at one time. I had no clue where my super power came from, how to call it up–or how to control it sometimes–but if I could find it this time, I had something in mind that might work.
I told Tony, “Put your hand on the door knob.”
He arched an eyebrow. “What’ve you got in mind, Xena?”
“I know you don’t understand Gabby’s mental communication gifts or my powers, but you’ve seen me use my power. Put your hand on the knob and give my idea a chance.”
That got me an I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this groan, but he curled his fingers around the doorknob.
I placed my hand over his and said, “Envision the parts in the lock and show a little faith while you’re at it.”
Tony growled something about crazy women.
Nothing happened. I felt no push of energy coming up through my center.
“What’s happening, Xena?”
“I don’t know. It isn’t working. When I did this yesterday, my power just seemed to show up.” I pulled my hand back. “This is so frustrating. What use is that kind of power if you can’t find it when you need it?”
“Take it easy, Xena. Think what caused it to work the last time you tried this.”
“Callan needed my help to heal a child who was dying.”
Tony’s eyebrows cinched together. He was showing a rare moment of tolerance and seemed to be trying to help. “Back in my room, you used your power on my computer to kill the game, right?”
Did he have to bring that up again? “Yes, but that wasn’t intentional.”
“How’d you do it then?”
How had I tapped my power then? I saw where he was going with his questions and searched my mind for what happened right before I slapped my hand down on his keyboard. “Gabby had just yelled in my head. I was worried about her and angry that you were ignoring me. I just wanted you to stop playing that game.”
“You stopped it all right.”
“I said it was an accident.” Tony just couldn’t let one little mistake go.
He raised his free hand. “Whatever. Back to the problem before we get caught.” He looked around then returned to me. “Think. You were worried and angry. Aren’t you at least worried about Gabby right now?”
“Of course I am.”
He made a snorting sound. “Don’t look like it to me. If we don’t get in this room, we might as well go back to the dorms.”
No. Something bad was going to happen to Gabby and soon. If not already.
I put my hand back on Tony’s.
He tried to pull away from the doorknob. “Forget this. I’m outta here.”
I clamped my fingers hard, holding his in place. “No! We can’t walk away.”
“Gabby’s resourceful. She’ll figure a way out.”
I dropped my voice to a threatening level. “If she could she wouldn’t be screaming in my head. She needs us.” I tightened my grip on his hand.
All at once, my arm heated and the power flowed to my fingers.
He hissed and tried to pull back. “Whoa, Xena, I was only trying to get you worked up to do something, but your freakin’ hand’s hot.”
He’d been tricking me? I told him, “That’s the power. Use it.”
“Are you nuts? How am I supposed to use that?”
I should have fed him to that monstrous croggle when I had the chance. I forced my answer past clenched teeth. “Think about the lock, Tony. See the pins or whatever parts moving in your mind. Once you see them, make them move until it unlocks.”
“I don’t think–”
“Stop talking, Jersey, and start doing. Close your eyes and see the inside of that lock or I’m going to keep my hand here until your arm burns to a crisp and falls off.” Empty threat.
I had burned a gigantic croggle from the inside out, but I wouldn’t harm Tony.
He must have believed me though, because he slammed his eyes shut. His neck muscles tensed and flexed ... then I heard a click. And another click. His face relaxed as he concentrated. Three more metallic noises and the doorknob turned freely.
I released his hand and Tony opened his eyes, slowly swinging a wide-eyed expression at me. “That was crazy. Freakin’ crazy. Man, I wonder if you could do that with a computer and–”
“Find Gabby first. Talk later.” Something had been bugging me since seeing the Browns yesterday that now had me wondering if there was a relation between that and why they had Gabby in the clinic. I told Tony, “When you get in the files see what it says about my blood. When I first got here, I heard Dr. Maxwell saying some thing about markers in my blood and the Browns got excited, but by the time we met yesterday Mr. Brown and Dr. Maxwell were ready to boot me.”
“We don’t have all day, Xena.” Grumbling the whole way, Tony entered the dark room, but didn’t turn on any lights. There were enough scattered lights glowing on the equipment to allow us to move around safely.
I left him alone as he studied panel after panel. He stopped in front of one and put his backpack down. Next, he pulled out his phone and a thin white cord. He connected the cord between his phone and a machine. This machine had a screen similar to a larger one in the cafeteria that flashed with information on classes and events.
If I thought Tony had typed fast with all his fingers on a computer keyboard, that was nothing compared to the way his thumbs tapped the screen of his phone.
Tony paused, reading. “Says your blood test was corrupted and they have you listed to schedule for a new test depending on your meeting with Takoda.”
I’d worry about that when the time came. “Okay. What about Gabby?” The air was chilly in here. I rubbed my arms, looking around, feeling as out of place as I had everywhere else since opening my eyes yesterday. What could they be doing to Gabby in this clinic? Why hadn’t I heard her again in my mind?
“I found her,” Tony announced softly. He leaned in reading intently.
Moving close, I studied a screen that listed names with last one first. Lin, Gabby, was the third name down. “Great. How do we get to her?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s been flagged for pre-op. They’re getting ready to do some kind of surgery on her.” He turned to me with the first real worry showing in his face. “I found out what STR-V stands for. I think they’re going to sterilize Gabby.”
Reader review: "I loved reading this second book, Time Return. There was tons of action in the Sphere and outside of the Sphere, and watching the characters face so much that pushed them all to the physical and emotional limit was a great ride. Time Return certainly delivered what I was looking for-action, intrigue, and a lot of fun. Thank you Micah Caida for another book that I will be rereading a lot!” ~Emily Gifford,