“Your friends,” said Sarah, “are in a pit.”
Naomi felt a rush of anger and frustration.
“You already said that. Saying it a second time doesn’t make it make sense.”
Sarah let out a heavy sigh.
“I’m going to explain if you let me.”
Sarah paused, staring up at Naomi and Jen.
“I’m trying to.”
“It’s difficult to explain,” said Sarah. “There’s a lot of science involved that I don’t understand.”
“Science? What the hell are you talking about? How is there science involved? Just tell me where they are.”
“Here’s the thing,” said Sarah. “They’re not in this reality. Not exactly.”
Not in this reality? Naomi felt her frustration grow. Nothing Sarah was saying made any sense.
Jen had already started rambling before Naomi could formulate a response.
“They’re not in this reality? Sam and I just started watching this show like that where this guy wakes up in another reality with elves and he has to–“
Naomi shot her a look, and she stopped talking.
“I can guarantee it’s not like the show you’re watching,” said Sarah. “You definitely won’t find any elves there. I’ve only been there a few times, and I don’t go back if I can help it. It’s an awful place.”
“What is an awful place?”
“That’s not a simple question to answer,” said Sarah. “The way I understand it is it’s a space between realities.”
A space between realities? What was she talking about?
“I wanted a real answer, not a fucking science fiction story,” said Naomi. “Tell me where they are, and give me the real answer, or the annoying blonde girl kicks you again.”
“Hey,” said Jen.
Naomi felt a little bad for insulting Jen–she hadn’t meant to say it, it had just slipped out in her frustration–but she shrugged off her guilt. She had more important matters to deal with now.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Sarah. “They’re in a space between realities. I don’t know anything other than that.”
“You called it a pit,” said Jen. “What did you mean by that?”
Naomi shot her a look. Why was she asking questions? Was she actually taking Sarah’s incomprehensible bullshit seriously?
“Let me see if I can figure out how to explain it,” said Sarah. “So there are these other realities above and below this one, right? Or something like that. I’m just a dumb clone, so I don’t really get it, but that’s the gist of it. Hell, y’all might understand it better than I do.”
“Clyde Packaging Solutions, Inc. has these portals. They’re like… holes punched in the floor of our reality or dimension or whatever.”
“I think I see where you’re going here,” said Jen.
“Are you seriously entertaining this idea?” said Naomi.
“The thing is,” said Sarah, “stuff from this reality wasn’t meant to fall into that one, so when it falls through the hole, it doesn’t fall all the way.”
“What happens to it?” said Jen.
“Nothing,” said Naomi. “Because none of what she’s saying makes sense, and if she doesn’t tell me where my friends actually are soon I’m about to kick her in the head.”
“I am telling you!” said Sarah. “You won’t listen! I threw Chelsea into a hole in reality, and I arranged for Lachlan’s kidnappers to do the same to him!”
A flicker of the lost, desperate look from before had returned to her eyes, making her look almost sincere. Of course, after everything she’d done, that meant next to nothing.
“Look, if you don’t believe me, that’s fine. I can prove it. If you cut my legs loose, I can lead you to the portal. It’s right here on the Charlotte campus.”
“Oh,” said Naomi. “Cut your legs loose. That sounds like a great idea. Why don’t we just cut your arms loose too? Why don’t we just tie ourselves up and hop into the trunk of your car? Do you think we’re idiots? You were trying to kill us five minutes ago.”
“You can keep the tape on my arms.” Sarah adopted the same false-gentle tone as before. “Naomi. Honey. You want to get your friends back, don’t you?”
“Don’t call me honey. And don’t use that creepy voice.”
“I know you don’t believe me,” said Sarah. “Hell, I wouldn’t either if I were you. But right now I’m the only lead you have.”
She was right, as much as Naomi hated to admit it. There was no reason to trust her and everything she was saying was ridiculous, but right now she seemed to be the only hope of finding Chelsea and Lachlan.
Besides, the more she thought about it, the less impossible it seemed. According to Chelsea, Sarah had destroyed most of Naomi’s living room without touching anything. Was the idea of a ‘pit’ between realities really that far-fetched?
“Fine,” said Naomi. “But if I even think you’re about to try anything, I’m telling Buffy the Biotechnology Slayer here to kick you ten times as hard as she did in the elevator.”
‘Police are searching for a young man believed to have been kidnapped from his place of employment last night. Family and police say they are concerned for the welfare of 18-year-old Lachlan Newton, and urge anyone with information to contact the Queensland Police Service. He was described as being of Caucasian appearance, about 175 centimetres tall, with dark blond hair, and of medium build…”
Jessica watched the closed captions appear under a picture taken from Lachlan’s MySpace or Facebook page of him holding a guitar and scowling at the camera. The picture switched to a blonde woman in a fast food uniform being interviewed.
‘He went out for a break, and the next thing I knew, the van was speeding off and he was gone. My God, it could have just as easily been me if I’d stepped outside instead of him. It could have been me!‘
Dominic sat on the other end of the sofa, not taking his eyes from the screen. Some of his mop of unwashed black hair fell into his eyes, and he didn’t push it out of the way. There were dark bags under his eyes, and an unkempt blond scruff had begun to cover his chin.
He looked harrowed and worn, and while she wasn’t exactly sympathetic, she could hardly blame him.
The picture switched again, this time to a middle-aged woman with unruly, dark blonde hair, her eyes wet from tears.
‘It’s every mum’s worst nightmare…’
Dominic reached for the remote, switched off the television and buried his head in his hands.
Out of the corner of her eye, Jessica saw something light up on the end table beside her. She turned to see Melanie’s phone vibrating with an incoming call and picked it up. The number was American.
She reached out her leg and nudged Dominic with her foot. When he turned to her, she flipped the phone open and handed it to him.
‘Naomi,’ she fingerspelled.
He sat up straighter, putting the phone to his ear so quickly he nearly slammed it into the side of his face.
Jessica got up, walked to Melanie’s bedroom door, and knocked. A moment later, she felt the vibration of something heavy thrown against the door.
Dominic turned and shouted something, and Melanie opened the door.
Melanie looked almost as worn as Dominic, her blonde hair a wild tangle, her eyes red, and her face streaked with tears and days-old mascara.
‘Sorry,’ she signed. ‘I thought you were Dom.’
‘He’s on the phone with Naomi now,’ signed Jessica.
Melanie’s eyes opened wider. She brushed past Jessica, rushing across the room to the couch, grabbing her phone from Dominic, and pressing the ‘speaker’ button.
Jessica made her way to the couch and sat down beside him, not quite looking at him.
He didn’t blame her for not looking at him, just like he hadn’t blamed Melanie for screaming at him earlier.
Two people. Because of him at least two people were missing, and two more were in immediate danger. Because of him Lachlan’s mother was crying on the news. All because he’d sent Falcon to America without thinking it through.
“Call her back,” said Melanie without meeting his eyes.
He’d hung up the phone so Naomi wouldn’t end up paying a huge amount of money for an international call, so he called her back and pressed the speaker button again. The phone rang a few times with the strange North American ringing cadence, then Naomi picked up.
Melanie, who had sat down on the coffee table, began translating the conversation for Jessica.
“Hi again, Dominic.”
Naomi’s voice was soft and scared. He felt another pang of guilt.
“Hi, Naomi,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” she said.
He didn’t respond. He knew that wasn’t true.
“I wanted to let you guys know what’s going on.”
“I want to make sure I heard you properly on the phone just now, before I hung up. You said this Sarah woman who attacked you suddenly agreed to help you?”
“Yeah,” said Naomi. “I… I know it’s suspicious, but–“
“Suspicious? Me?” said a woman’s voice in the background. Sarah.
She had a Southern American accent, which surprised him.
“Shut up,” said Naomi. “Sorry. I know it’s suspicious, but I’m worried about Chelsea and Lachlan, and if she’s the one who took them, she’ll know where they are.”
“What did she tell you?” said Dominic.
“A lot of weird things that didn’t really make sense. She talked about a place between realities?”
“A place between realities,” Dominic repeated.
It sounded strange, like something out of a movie, but after everything Falcon had told him Dominic didn’t find it as unbelievable as he once would have.
After all, his boyfriend was a piece of biotechnology developed by a company that made bubble wrapping. Who was he to call anything far-fetched?
“Sorry, I… I know it sounds crazy,” said Naomi. “I mean… I don’t think it’s true, but after everything that’s happened these past few days, I don’t feel like I can rule anything out.”
“I know the feeling,” he said.
“She says Chelsea and Lachlan were thrown into these portals or something. I didn’t believe her, so she said she’d take us to the portal in the Charlotte headquarters.”
Concern etched into Jessica’s face as Melanie finished translating.
‘She’s taking them to the portal Chelsea disappeared into?’ she signed. ‘That’s a horrible idea.’
“Jess says letting her lead you straight to the portal Chelsea disappeared into is a horrible idea,” said Melanie.
“I… I know,” said Naomi, “but we have her arms completely duct taped together. I don’t think she can use her power. If she could, I think she would have by now.”
‘I still don’t like it,’ signed Jessica, and Melanie translated.
“I know. I’m sorry. I don’t like it either. She’s obviously up to something–“
“Me? Up to something?” interrupted Sarah. “What would give you that idea?”
“Would you shut up?” said Naomi. “With the way she went from trying to kill us to claiming she wanted to help in less than five minutes, she’s obviously up to something. I just don’t know what else to do. Chelsea’s missing, and apparently Lachlan is too.”
“So is my boyfriend,” said a third voice on the phone, faster and higher-pitched than Naomi or Sarah’s. “But we don’t know if that’s related or not–“
“Jen, I’m sorry,” said Naomi. “But can you please just not right now?”
“Sorry! Shutting up.”
“We’re in the engineering building now,” said Naomi. “She says it’s nearby. We’re walking down a hall and–“
“What is it?” said Dominic. “What’s wrong?”
“That’s Chelsea’s purse on the floor. There’s a lunchbox too.”
“Didn’t I tell you?” said Sarah. “It’s just through this door with all the danger signs. You won’t have access, so you’ll need my key card. It’s clipped to my pants.”
There was a faint beep on the other line as someone swiped the card.
“You’ll need to swipe it again at the end of this hallway.“
“That’s a lot of danger signs on the walls,” said Jen.
“That’s ’cause there’s a lot of danger,” said Sarah.
‘I don’t like this,’ Jessica signed again.
“Jess still doesn’t like this,” said Melanie. “I don’t know that I do either.”
“Me neither,” said Naomi, “but I feel like I don’t have another choice.”
There was another beep of a key card lock opening.
“Holy crap,” said Jen. “Is that the portal?”
“Close, but not exactly,” said Sarah. “It’s the machine that opens the hole in our reality’s floor.”
“Okay,” said Naomi. “Now what?”
“Naomi, you hand my key card to the blonde girl and step through that see-through door with me. Blonde girl, you stay out here by those controls and do exactly what I tell you.”
“Okay,” said Jen.
“You might as well hand her your phone too,” said Sarah. “It’s not gonna work in the Pit.”
“Okay,” said Naomi. “Here you go.”
“Hi!” said Jen, her voice louder now that she was speaking into the phone. “I’m Jen, and I’m super confused about everything that’s happening right now.”
“Uh, hi,” said Dominic. “I’m Dom.”
‘Tell her to tell us everything that’s happening,’ signed Jessica.
“Jess wants you to tell us everything that’s happening,” translated Melanie.
“Okay,” said Jen. “Who’s Jess?”
“She’s our friend. She’s deaf and uses sign language, so Melanie is translating everything for her.”
“Oh, okay! Tell her I said ‘hi!”
Melanie did so, and Jessica signed ‘hi’ back.
“She says ‘hi’ back,” said Dominic.
“Aw, yay!” said Jen. “So Naomi and Sarah are stepping into the chamber thingy now. And you probably can’t hear her anymore, but Sarah’s giving some instructions. Hold on.”
There was a pause, followed by soft beeps.
“I just pushed a bunch of buttons and stuff in a certain order and–“
A tearing sound came through the phone distorted, too loud for the speakers to handle. Then there was silence.
“What was that?” said Dominic. “Hello? What was that sound? What’s going on?”
“They… they disappeared,” said Jen.
“What do you mean ‘disappeared’?” said Dominic. “What happened?”
“They just disappeared. There was that noise, and the chamber filled up with this fog stuff,” said Jen. “When it cleared, they were gone.”