“That’s kinda the idea,” said the dark-haired woman. “You really shouldn’t’ve gotten in my way.”
Chelsea tried to inhale, but her lungs refused to expand. It felt as though an invisible force was wrapped around her neck and torso, squeezing tighter each time she attempted to breathe in. The dark-haired woman squeezed her thumb and forefinger together, and the weight on Chelsea’s chest and stomach seemed to grow heavier. Her loud and frantic gasping faded to a feeble squeak.
Chelsea shut her eyes and stopped struggling, trying to remain as still as possible. The weight on her chest eased a little.
“Oi!“ She heard Lachlan’s shout over the computer speakers. “Oi, you, with the telekinesis!”
“Damn it! Are you serious?” said the woman. “Another witness I have to deal with.”
“I think you’ll want to listen to me,” he said.
Whatever Lachlan was trying to do, he was distracting the woman enough that her grip on Chelsea was loosening just slightly.
“Oh, really? Why?” The woman sounded almost amused. “You’re not stalling me to save your friend, are you? Don’t bother. It’s too late for either of you.”
“Uh, no, I’m not stalling you,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I have an extremely compelling and legitimate reason for not choking her to death.”
Lachlan, Chelsea thought, Thank you for whatever this is you’re trying to do, but please, please sound more believable.
“Somehow, I’m not convinced you do,” said the woman.
“No, no, really, I do,” he said. “She’s, uh, more valuable to you alive.”
“Oh?” said the woman. “Then please, by all means, tell me why that is.”
“Well, it’s because…” began Lachlan.
“Talk fast; it only takes about three minutes without oxygen before the brain starts to die.”
“It’s because Falcon has an accomplice,” he said. “Falcon has an accomplice, and Chelsea is the only person who knows his whereabouts. If you kill her, you’ll never be able to find him.”
Chelsea heard the woman walk across the room, and the force compressing her body lessened. For a moment, she thought Lachlan’s bluff had actually worked. Then she heard the woman speak.
There was a loud crash. Chelsea half-opened one eye for a moment to see Naomi’s computer monitor lying on the floor, the screen shattered. She saw the woman begin to turn in her direction and quickly shut her eye.
“Time to dispose of the problems,” said the woman. “Ladies first, I guess.”
Chelsea tried to stay still as she heard the woman approach her. She squinted her eyes open just enough to see the blurry outline moving toward her.
She waited until the woman was just in front of her, then kicked as hard as she could.
The woman stumbled backward, and Chelsea felt the weight on her chest lift. She dropped to the ground, trying to land on her feet, but one of her ankles turned, and she fell sideways onto the carpet.
Why did I decide to wear heels today? she thought.
Still gasping for breath, she used the wall to steady herself as she climbed to her feet. Holding onto the wall for balance, she kicked off her shoes.
A few feet away, the woman was also trying to right herself.
“You–” She gasped. “You… bitch… winded… me.”
“Serves–serves… you… right…” Chelsea wheezed.
“You know–” The woman stood up straighter. “You can inconvenience me all you want, but it’s not gonna do any good.”
“Why… are you doing this?” Chelsea felt a rush of vertigo and gripped the wall tighter.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
The woman extended her hand. The broken coffee table’s metal frame flew across the room, and Chelsea covered her face with her arms. She heard a crash, and her first thought was that the woman had missed her.
When she opened her eyes, she saw the table frame’s legs were embedded in the wall, and the woman was pinned behind it.
Chelsea turned to see Falcon, still slumped over but with his eyes open, extending a hand.
The woman tried to push the table frame off her, but to no avail. The legs were stuck firmly in the wall, and the table’s X-shaped base was positioned to trap her arms in place.
“Oh, c’mon!” said the woman, sounding surprisingly unhurt for someone who’d just had a table flung at her. “Seriously?!”
Chelsea took a deep breath and let go of the wall. She walked over to Falcon and knelt beside him.
‘Are you okay?’ she signed.
He nodded, and extended a hand. She looked around, expecting a piece of furniture to hurtle across the room, then realized he was asking her to help him up.
She stumbled a little as she helped him to his feet, but managed to keep her footing. She stepped toward the door to the foyer and motioned for Falcon to follow.
“Hey!” said the woman. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To call the police,” said Chelsea. “You’d better hope you find a way out from behind that table before they get here.”
“Oh no! I’m real scared!” The woman laughed. “You’re gonna have to do better than that. I can throw a cop across the room with my mind!”
Chelsea ignored her and continued walking toward the door.
“I’ll get you soon,” said the woman, “and the police won’t help you any where you’re going!”
11:34 PM 1 July, 2009
No new e-mail messages
Falcon <59falcon> — Conversation
Dominic: you’re online!!!
Falcon: Hi, Dom.
Dominic: are you alright??
Falcon: The good news is I found Naomi, and I’m still in one piece and relatively unhurt.
Dominic: i don’t like the sound of that
Dominic: what’s the bad news
Falcon: They know where I am.
Dominic: oh no
Dominic: how do you know
Falcon: Someone came after me at Naomi’s flat.
Dominic: holy fuck are you both alright
Falcon: Naomi’s fine, she wasn’t there. Chelsea was there, though, and she got caught up in it.
Dominic: oh no
Falcon: The girl they sent tried to kill both of us, but I was able to trap her.
Falcon: Chelsea wanted to leave to call the police, for all the good that would do, so we left her in the house.
Falcon: The cops said she was gone when they got there.
Dominic: is there somewhere else you can go? you can’t stay there now
Falcon: I know. Naomi and I are staying with Chelsea.
Dominic: i feel like a complete fuckhead
Dominic: i send you to the other side of the world and it doesnt even make a difference
Dominic: and now naomi and chelsea are caught up in things
Falcon: No. It’s not your fault. I wouldn’t have gone if I’d thought it was a bad idea.
Dominic: falcon i’m so sorry
Falcon: There was something else too.
Dominic: what is it
Falcon: The girl who attacked me wasn’t real.
Falcon: She was like me.
Chelsea and Naomi lay on Chelsea’s bedroom floor, each of them wrapped in a blanket from Chelsea’s closet.
Chelsea had insisted Naomi take the bed because she was the guest, but Naomi had been equally insistent Chelsea take the bed because it was hers. After arguing for almost 20 minutes Chelsea had considered suggesting they share the bed, but she’d decided against it. Naomi knew she liked girls, so she didn’t want to make things awkward or give the wrong impression.
Instead of anyone getting the bed, they’d ended up side by side on the floor, half sitting half lying on pillows they’d propped up against the bed.
Chelsea had brought in potato chips and cookies from the kitchen before closing and locking the door, then opened her laptop on the floor in front of them and started playing a movie. She’d chosen some superhero movie from ten years ago; it wasn’t her thing, but she knew Naomi liked it.
“We don’t have to watch this, you know,” said Naomi. “We can watch something you like.”
“No thanks,” said Chelsea. “I want to watch this.”
“You don’t have to watch one of my dumb movies just to be nice,” said Naomi. “Why don’t we watch one of your old horror movies?”
“Really, it’s fine. I like this,” said Chelsea. “Besides, after today I’m not really in the mood for something scary.”
“That’s a good point,” said Naomi, “but are you sure you wouldn’t rather watch something else? I’d be okay with watching anything you want.”
“Come on.” Chelsea smiled and nudged her friend. “Let’s not have a repeat of the bed debate. We’re watching this. I’m insisting on it.”
“Well, if you’re forcing me, I guess I can watch one of my favorite movies.” Naomi crossed her arms and pretended to look serious.
The laptop dinged, and an incoming video call from Angelina popped up, automatically pausing the movie.
“Really?” said Naomi. “Isn’t it the middle of the night for her? What does she want?”
“Oops! We usually talk right when I get home from work. She’s probably wondering where I am, especially given what just happened.”
Chelsea started to reach for the laptop, but Naomi put her hand on her arm.
“You’re not about to answer that, are you?”
“I was,” said Chelsea. “Why?”
She felt a small pang of disappointment. She wouldn’t have talked to Angelina for long with Naomi there, but she did look forward to their nightly talks.
“I don’t want to be rude. I really don’t but…” Naomi paused, looking a bit embarrassed. “But I was hoping tonight could be just us hanging out. My parents never let me have sleepovers, and I wanted tonight to be… I don’t know. Sorry. I know that’s stupid, given everything that’s just happened.”
“I don’t think it’s stupid.” Chelsea reached for her laptop again and typed a message. “I’ll tell Angelina I’m fine and that I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”
“Thanks, C. Sorry. I know this is dumb.”
“It’s not dumb.” Chelsea un-paused the movie, then leaned back onto her pillow. “But it is all the more reason to watch one of your favorite movies. Not to mention, all the more reason you should get to have the bed instead of the floor.”
Naomi groaned. “Please, do not bring up the bed thing again. If you get us started on that again, we’ll be arguing about it all night.”
“Alright, alright.” Chelsea pushed off her blanket and stood up. “I’ll let it go.”
“Where are you going?” said Naomi.
Chelsea walked to her nightstand and opened a drawer.
“To get some nail polish.”
“You said you’d never had a sleepover before.” Chelsea began pulling out the darkest colors–the ones she knew Naomi would favor. “I figured we should have a real sleepover. Do normal sleepover things to get our minds off everything that happened today. You know, paint each others’ nails, play 20 questions, talk about boys.”
“Talking about boys? I wouldn’t think that would really appeal to you,” said Naomi.
“No, but you can talk about boys and I can listen.” Chelsea walked back to Naomi and set the nail polish bottles down on her blanket. “Here, pick a color. I’ll paint yours first, then you can do mine.”
The hotel room was even more depressing at night than it had been during the day. There was no overhead light, so the only light came from the cylindrical floor lamp beside the desk, which was emitting a faint but irritating buzz. The walls were painted bright orange and green, but in the dim light and with the thin grimy layer coating them, they just made the room feel even sadder.
The desk where Sarah sat wasn’t so much a desk as it was a large legless slab affixed to the wall. Its surface was a hard, shiny, white plastic dotted with some mysterious substance that stuck to her papers whenever she tried to move them.
The dismal room was appropriate, she thought. Today had been a complete failure. Not only had the resource escaped, there were two witnesses she needed to deal with.
The pretty redhead–Chelsea Brown, Sarah had learned from her online research–wouldn’t be difficult to eliminate, but the boy on the webcam proved more troublesome; he lived in Brisbane, Australia according to his Facebook profile.
Sarah wasn’t prepared to tell the Clydes she had failed, but the portal was the only way she could get to Australia without their help, and it would still leave her almost a full day’s drive from Brisbane without a car or a driver. With that much inconvenience, it wouldn’t be worth the danger.
She knew what the Clydes would tell her if she asked them.
‘You’re a valuable resource, kiddo,’ said Mr. Clyde’s voice in her mind, ‘but the fact is, you’re expendable, as much as we’d hate to lose you.’
The Clydes didn’t have to know about any of this.
Ruling out the portal left her only one option. She plugged her headset into her laptop and made a call.