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Lachlan jerked awake as something dropped onto his face, fear jolting through him at the feeling of the hard surface beneath him.

He’d woken up a few times in the night, each with the same split second of panic as he thought he’d woken up in the back of the van again.

He opened his eyes, picking up the small, spherical object that had fallen on him. When he realized it was a grape, his fear gave way to annoyance.

He looked up, and sure enough, Angelina was there on one of the barstools, suppressing a laugh. Sam sat beside her, preparing to drop another grape.


“And just what do you think you’re doing?” said Lachlan.

Angelina released the laugh she’d been suppressing and burst into hysterical giggles.

“Seeing how many grapes we can drop on you before you wake up,” said Sam. “The answer is nine, by the way.”

Lachlan pushed himself into a seated position with his elbows. A few grapes rolled off him onto the floor.

“And why, exactly, are you doing this?”

“To satisfy my scientific curiosity,” said Sam, “and because it’s funny.”

Lachlan gave the two of them his best surly frown.

“Excuse me if I don’t see the humor in it,” he said.

Sam and Angelina must have picked up on something in his expression, because their amused expressions disappeared.

“Okay, okay.” Sam held up his hands. “We’ll stop.”

Angelina slid out of her stool, plunking herself onto the floor and leaning back on her hands.

“Why are you so mad about grapes?” she said.

The question could have been confrontational or accusatory, but Angelina’s tone and expression seemed genuinely curious.

Normally, Lachlan would have brushed off a question like that with a brusque retort–he wasn’t one to talk about how he was feeling, especially when he was annoyed–but there was something about the combination of being exhausted and lying on the floor that made him feel more open than usual.

Something about lying on a floor always made him feel a strange camaraderie with whoever was around him.

“I’m not mad, exactly. And it’s not about the grapes.”

“What’s it about, then?” said Angelina.

“The last time I woke up on a hard surface, I was paralyzed in the back of a murder van.”

“Huh?” said Angelina.

“It’s how I got here,” he said. “I was kidnapped by CPSI. I was drugged, and when I woke up, I was on the floor of a van so sus it probably had the words ‘free candy’ spray-painted on the side. When I woke up on the hard floor just now, I had a moment where I thought I was back in the van again.”

Sam climbed out of his stool to sit beside them on the floor.

“And I’m guessing us dropping grapes on you didn’t help,” he said.

“No,” said Lachlan.

“Sorry,” said Angelina. “I should have thought.”

“You didn’t know,” said Lachlan. “I mean, as a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t drop grapes on people, but you didn’t know.”

“No,” said Angelina. “I should have thought, because I know how you feel. It was really scary for me right before I came here too. This creature–one of the sisters–attacked me; it cornered me inside this big pipe and grabbed me, and there was nothing I could do. And now I’m just on full alert all the time. Every time I see something move on the edge of my eyes, or if I see a house that’s about the same size and shape she was, I get so scared for a second.”

“Yeah,” said Lachlan, because he wasn’t sure what else to say.

Angelina had described the feeling so accurately that he couldn’t think of anything else to add on.

“I think it might be the worst feeling in the world,” said Angelina. “When something really, really bad is happening, and you can’t do anything about it.”

“Yeah, probably,” said Lachlan. “Mortal danger, big whoop. But mortal danger where you’re powerless to fight or defend yourself?”

“Bad,” said Angelina.

“I wasn’t going to put it quite so succinctly, but yeah. Bad is an apt enough descriptor.”

“I know what you mean too,” said Sam. “Right after I met Lachlan, one of those Dave things grabbed me, and my life was just… completely out of my hands. Nothing else that’s happened to me has really been comparable to that. Not even getting my fingers eaten off, or watching Lachlan die, or anything. I’m an engineer. I like to think every problem has a solution. But having my life in danger and not seeing a way out was… yeah.”

“Yeah,” said Lachlan.

“Yeah,” echoed Angelina.

“I’ve been on full alert too, like you said,” said Sam. “It’s a natural human response to being in danger. It’s millions of years old.”

“If an early hominid got attacked by a cave bear, he’d spend the rest of his life avoiding anything cave-bear shaped,” added Lachlan.

“I wish cave bears were the only thing we had to deal with,” said Angelina.

“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “The Paleolithic era. Those were the good old days.”

“Yep,” said Sam. “The good old days.”

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Angelina stirred awake, hungry, disoriented, and sore from sleeping on the floor. She kind of had to use the bathroom, but she didn’t feel like dealing with the makeshift outhouse situation Mrs. Sharma had constructed behind the house. She’d used it once in the middle of the night, and it had been a little scary.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep, but almost everyone else was still sleeping. Only Sam was awake, sitting on a stool in the kitchen, playing with the little magnets he carried around.

“Hey,” he whispered. “Finally, someone else is up.”

“Hi,” she said. “How did you sleep?”

“Bad,” he said. “You?”

“Bad. Horrible. Terrible.”

She slid into the stool beside him, stepping carefully over a sleeping Lachlan and placing her backpack in her lap.

“Yeah,” he said.

Her stomach rumbled, and she remembered how hungry she was. She reached into her bag’s front pocket and pulled out some of the wine grapes from the Sentiero Angelica. She popped a handful into her mouth, trying not to gag at the bitter taste.

“Do I want to know what you’re eating?” said Sam.

“Some really disgusting grapes I found.” She reached in and pulled out another handful. “Want some?”

“Why would I want them if they’re disgusting?” said Sam.

She shrugged.

“Maybe you’re really hungry. I am. Why do you think I’m eating disgusting grapes?”

Sam put down his magnets and reached into a tote bag that was hanging off the back of his chair. He reached first with his right hand, then reconsidered, twisting around to reach in with his left hand and pulling out two bags of potato chips.

“I have something slightly better than disgusting grapes,” he said. “I present to you… stale chips.”

He dropped one of the bags in front of her, and she tore it open, stuffing a handful into her mouth. Sam hadn’t been kidding about the chips being stale, but they got the bitter grape taste out of her mouth and sated some of her hunger.

She picked up a few of the grapes she’d offered to Sam and dropped them one by one onto Lachlan. Most of them rolled off him, but a few of them came to rest on his chest. He still didn’t wake up.

Sam looked down at Lachlan with an amused smile, picking up another grape and dropping it onto him.

“Someone’s a heavy sleeper,” he said.

Angelina stifled a laugh.

She wiped the chip grease from her hands onto her nightgown, then unwrapped the scarf she’d borrowed from Chelsea from her head and checked her reflection in the well-polished countertop, looking at her hair, which was twisted along the side of her head and secured into two tiny buns in the back.

The counter wasn’t a perfect mirror, but from what she could tell, her hair hadn’t suffered too badly despite the lack of her usual hair products. Mrs. Sharma had a sizeable stash of hair stuff, but none of it was really intended for Angelina’s hair type. She’d tried to replicate her usual routine as best as she could, but she was nervous about what would happen if she let her hair down. She decided she’d be better off leaving it up.

She rolled the scarf into a ball and tossing it towards where Chelsea was sleeping. It unballed and fell straight down onto Lachlan’s face. He made a grumbling sound, but didn’t wake up.

“Dang it,” she said. “I wanted her to wake up and have the scarf just be there. And then she’d be like ‘oh, cool, my scarf!'”

Sam put down his magnets. got out of his chair and picked up the scarf.

“You were aiming for Chelsea, right?” He tied the scarf into a knot and tossed it. It landed an inch from Chelsea’s head. “Bullseye.”

“Nice throw,” she said.

“Thanks,” he said. “I really didn’t think I was gonna make that throw. I don’t exactly have the best aim, especially with my left hand. At least, I didn’t used to. Not until… you know.”


“If you’re gonna throw something like a scarf or cloth, it helps to tie it in a knot, though. It reduces the surface area and makes it more aerodynamic.”

“That’s what I was trying to do when I rolled it up into a ball. It came undone though,” she said. “Should I write down your good aim?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, for the experiment.”

“I didn’t think we were still doing that,” said Sam, “since Mrs. Sharma explained everything.”

“She didn’t really explain everything, though,” said Angelina. “We know there’s something weird with our DNA, but we don’t know what exactly. Or why this is happening to us. Or why you and Mrs. Sharma have powers and me and Jen don’t really.”

“Hm. That’s a good point.” Sam picked up another grape, dropping it onto Lachlan. “I guess we’ll have to bring that up once our friend here is awake.”

Angelina dropped another grape.

“I wonder how many of these we can drop on him before that happens.”

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The journey back to Mrs. Sharma’s house had been much less eventful than the journey to Nancy’s plane.

Everyone lay on Mrs. Sharma’s living room floor wrapped in scratchy blankets except Nancy, Mahender, Falcon, and Mrs. Sharma. Nancy reclined on the couch with her dog curled up on her legs, Mrs. Sharma was in her bedroom, and Mahender and Falcon had gone outside with their strange brothers.

None of their biological clocks were really in sync with each other, but when they’d arrived at the house, Mrs. Sharma had proclaimed it bedtime, and no one had argued.

Angelina had said the next opening back to their home reality would happen in about nine hours. Assuming she was right, Naomi guessed there wasn’t much to do but rest.

There was something strangely enjoyable about laying on a floor with a bunch of people. It made her feel a little closer to everyone there, even the people she didn’t really know, like Sam and Jen.

She hadn’t been allowed to go to sleepovers in high school, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if she had been; she hadn’t gotten a lot of invitations. She hadn’t exactly been the most popular girl in school.

She was on her second ever sleepover, and while her first had been much more enjoyable than this one, she was beginning to see the appeal.

Naomi lay under one third of a king sized blanket. The other two thirds were occupied by Chelsea and Angelina.

Angelina hadn’t changed out of the dirty nightgown she’d been wearing, but she’d wrapped her hair neatly in Chelsea’s scarf. She lay with her earbuds in and eyes closed, listening to something. Naomi could hear the tinny sound of the song’s beat through the earbuds, but couldn’t tell what it was.

Mrs. Sharma entered the room.

“I’m going to bed. I expect all of you children to be quiet.” She turned to Nancy, her stern tone disappearing as she addressed an older adult. “Good night, ma’am.”

“Good night,” said Nancy.”

Mrs. Sharma’s eyes fell on Angelina, who hadn’t seemed to have noticed her.

“Angelina,” said Mrs. Sharma.

Angelina didn’t respond. Chelsea nudged her gently, and Angelina opened her eyes, removed an earbud, and propped herself up on her elbows.

“Eh?” said Angelina.

She sounded like she’d already been asleep.

“Remove both your earbuds, please,” said Mrs. Sharma.

Angelina sighed, pulling the other earbud out.

“Let me guess, you’re one of those adults who’s all ‘those mp3 players will rot your brain’,” said Angelina.

“No,” said Mrs. Sharma. “In your case, I doubt there’s much there left to rot. But no. That’s ridiculous. All those things do is play music. How could music rot your brain?”

“That’s… a surprisingly cool point of view,” said Angelina.

“No,” said Mrs. Sharma. “It’s the correct point of view. Being cool has nothing to do with it.”

“It can be correct and surprisingly cool at the same time,” said Lachlan from where he lay under the bar, sharing a double blanket with Sam.

“Music enriches your brain,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I always encourage my children to listen to it as much as possible.”

“It’s true,” said Lachlan. “I listen to music all the time, and I’m basically the smartest man on earth.”

Mrs. Sharma let out a quiet scoff.

“What kind of music do you like?” said Naomi.

She wasn’t sure why she’d asked. Mostly, she’d been curious. Mrs. Sharma was a bit strange, and Naomi had trouble picturing what she’d enjoy listening to.

“Do you know The Goldfish Technique?” said Angelina.

Naomi fought the urge to roll her eyes. No, of course Mrs. Sharma didn’t know The Goldfish Technique. Hardly anyone knew The Goldfish Technique. Naomi had almost stopped mentioning them as her favorite band because people would say things like ‘if they’re so good, why hasn’t anyone heard of them?’ or accuse her of making up a fake band for hipster cred or something.

“I do. They’re very good, actually.”

Wait. What?

Naomi felt herself fill with that rare excitement that came from hearing someone from outside of the internet talk about her favorite band.

“But how?” she responded.

She could hear her voice overlap with Lachlan, Chelsea, and Angelina as they all reacted simultaneously. Angelina bolted upright into a seated position and squealed something in Italian, Lachlan said “No fucking way,” and Chelsea just gasped.

“That’s quite an overreaction,” said Mrs. Sharma.

“How did you hear about them? Was it when you lived in Australia? I thought that was years ago! I–” Naomi caught herself and cleared her throat. “Sorry. It’s just a little surprising. They’re not very well known.”

“A little surprising?” Angelina leaned forward under the blanket, bouncing up and down. “A little surprising?! We just met someone who likes the greatest band in the whole wide world, and you’re saying it’s just a little surprising? How did you hear of them? How did you find them? What’s your favorite song? Isn’t Jessica just the coolest?”

“I regret saying I like them now.” Mrs. Sharma sighed. “No, Naomi, to answer your question, I didn’t hear about them when I lived in Australia. That was about fifteen years ago. The band members were children then.”

“Then how?” said Angelina.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t find them on my own,” said Mrs. Sharma. “The answer to that question has to do with CPSI.”

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Keep Me–Interlude 24

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Nancy cracked the door of the plane to peer out, and a medium-sized brown and white dog pushed its way through, opening the door and hopping down to the ground. It barked as it spotted them, the hair on its back prickling upward as it eyed the Brothers uncertainly.

Nancy looked equally uncertain when she saw them.

“Would you all mind standing back?” Mahender said to the brothers.

He knew what Nancy had been through, and what his brothers reminded her of, so he was always careful when he visited her with them.

The Brothers backed up, except for Falcon, who stood glancing uncertainly between Nancy and Mahender. Mahender nodded at him, and he stepped forward with the humans of the group. The dog trotted forward to greet the group, heading toward Sam and Lachlan. The two boys bent down to pet the dog.

“Aw!” said Jen. “Puppy!”

She crouched down to pet it too. Its tail swung wildly back and forth at all the attention.

Mahender had seen the dog a few times, usually from a distance. Once, it had even saved him from a particularly large sister. Usually, though, it gave him and his brothers a wide berth. He couldn’t exactly blame it.

He knew from his many conversations with her that Nancy loved dogs. She’d had pet dogs all her life, and it was one of the things she missed most about home. He wasn’t sure how the two had found each other, but he was glad.

“Mahender.” Nancy’s eyes widened as she took in the large group. “And Sam, and Lachlan, and… sorry, I can’t remember your name.”

Mona Aunty frowned.

“It’s Mona, ma’am.”

“Mona, right, of course,” said Nancy, “and… a lot of new faces too.”

Jen, Angelina, Naomi, and Chelsea introduced themselves. Falcon waved.

“Do you mind if one of my brothers comes forward with the group? This is Falcon. He’s deaf and needs a translator.”

“Of course,” said Nancy. “That’s fine.”

st63, the Brother with a skirt of tentacles stepped forward. The dog tucked its tail and made its way back to the plane, turning around to eye st63 suspiciously.

“It’s nice to meet you,” signed Falcon.

“Hello again,” said Lachlan.

“I’m always happy to have visitors,” said Nancy. “But to what do I owe this large crowd? I didn’t know this many people were stuck here.”

“Most of them got here fairly recently,” said Mona Aunty. “We’re here because one of these kids thinks she knows how to get home.”

Nancy stared at them for a few seconds. Then, she finally spoke.


“Yes, home. There aren’t any guarantees, of course. But she’s explained her reasoning to me, and the logic seems solid. This is the first time I’ve come across anything resembling a real chance at getting out of here, so I think we should take it.”

“Can I ask how we get home?”

“All we have to do is stand in a specific place at a specific time,” said Angelina. “If we all scrunch together, the hole that opens in reality should take us home.”

Nancy looked beyond the group at the Brothers standing there.

“And will… everyone here be going?”

Mahender looked back at the creatures he’d come to think of as his Brothers. He’d been so excited at the prospect of going home, of seeing his mum again, that the thought hadn’t even occurred to him.

“Our home is here,” said st98.

Mahender noticed Falcon fidgeting uneasily with his sleeve.

It seemed like Mahender wasn’t the only person who was conflicted.

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Angelina, Sam, and Jen spoke almost all at once.

“So do you remember Lachlan dying?” said Angelina.

“This place is changing our DNA?” said Sam. “Is that dangerous?”

“Why don’t me and Angelina have cool powers?” said Jen. “Why do only you and Sam get them?”

Mrs. Sharma sighed.

“I don’t have the answers to all your questions. I can’t even be completely sure what I’m telling you about is the reason we’ve all changed,” she said. “But what else could it be?”

“Is there like, a test for this weird DNA thingy?” said Jen.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Sharma. “There is ‘like, a test for this weird DNA thingy,’ as you so articulately phrased it. You and Sam are CPSI employees, correct?”

“Yuppers,” said Jen.

“Okay.” said Mrs. Sharma, “and did you both receive a blood test after your interview?”

“Yeah…” said Sam. “I thought that was pretty weird.”

“I thought so too,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I found a lot of things weird about my interview, like how I was being interviewed by the CEO himself. Or how he got strangely excited when I mentioned I was from Jaipur. He wasn’t familiar with the city; he didn’t even know how to pronounce it. But he kept asking questions. He kept asking me about the Jal Mahal, saying he wanted to visit it. Asking if I saw it a lot as a child, trying to figure out how close to it I lived. I didn’t understand it at the time.”

“What’s the Jal Mahal?” said Jen.

“A palace,” said Lachlan.

He hadn’t actually heard of it, but based on its name, he could still answer the question confidently and look smart.

“Yes, but what kind of palace?” said Mrs. Sharma.

Oh. He hadn’t expected follow-up questions.

“A… palatial one?” he said.

So much for looking smart.

“I’ll give you a hint since you clearly need it. ‘Jal’ means water.”

“A palace in the water?” said Sam.

“How did they get the palace into the water?” said Angelina.

“I’m not dignifying that with an answer,” said Mrs. Sharma. “but it’s not in just any water. A manmade lake.”

“Ohhhh,” said Jen.

“Yeah,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Oh.”

“So Mr. Clyde is specifically looking for employees with this altered DNA?” said Sam.

“It seems that way,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Especially when you look at the major CPSI offices around the world. Charlotte, Danjiangkou, Borgo San Severino. They all correspond to the hotspots.”

“But why would he do that?” said Angelina.

“So we can be studied.” There was a flash of bitterness in Mrs. Sharma’s eyes. “I didn’t realize I’d signed up as a lab rat until it was too late. At least I was lucky enough to be one of the lab rats who knew what was going on. I guess that’s more than I can say for both of you.”

Sam and Jen exchanged a look, eyes wide.

“They’re studying our DNA?” said Sam. “Why would a packaging company want to study people’s DNA?”

“It’s not a packaging company,” muttered Jen.

“What?” said Sam.

“That’s what Mr. Clyde said, remember?” said Jen. “When I asked my question about the future of the packaging industry in that meeting. He said it wasn’t a packaging company. It’s a company about people.”

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“Our DNA was altered?” said Sam.

“Is there an echo in here? Yes, our DNA was altered,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Well, four of the five of us.”

“Whose wasn’t?” said Jen.

“Isn’t it obvious?” said Mrs. Sharma.

“No,” said Angelina.

Mrs. Sharma shot her a look. “Who here hasn’t displayed any new and unusual symptoms or abilities?”

“Me,” said Lachlan.

He didn’t know whether to be relieved that some mysterious force hadn’t warped his DNA, or disappointed he didn’t get to have cool powers.

“You,” said Mrs. Sharma.

“He died and came back to life,” said Jen. “How is that not unusual?”

“I didn’t actually die and come back to life,” said Lachlan. “I died, and Super Sam here reversed time to bring me back.”

“You’re both wrong,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Lachlan didn’t die and come back to life, and no one reversed time.”

“It’s not even possible to reverse time,” said Angelina.

“Debatable,” said Sam, “but yeah, that’s not what I did. I just moved backwards through it. That’s not the same thing.”

“I’m so confused,” said Jen. “If Lachlan didn’t come back to life, and time didn’t get reversed, how is he alive?”

“We’re getting off topic,” said Mrs. Sharma. “We weren’t discussing Lachlan. I was explaining what happened to the four of us.”

“What did happen to the four of us?” said Sam.

“I’ll try to explain so you can call keep up, but I won’t make any promises,” said Mrs. Sharma. “There have always been weak points in our reality–“

“The Bermuda Triangle!” Jen interrupted.

Mrs. Sharma frowned at her.

“Sorry,” said Jen. “It was something Sarah was saying before. Something about time and space and ripping a hole in reality’s floor.”

Mrs. Sharma nodded, her expression softening when she heard Sarah’s name.

“Ripping a hole in reality’s floor,” Mrs. Sharma repeated. “I like that metaphor. 131 always had a knack for making complex concepts seem simple. And yes, the Bermuda Triangle is an example of a major hotspot for naturally-occurring weak points.”

“No way,” said Sam. “The Bermuda Triangle is a myth.”

“Looks like you’re myth-taken about that,” said Jen.

Angelina laughed.

“Bad puns aside, you really were mistaken,” said Mrs. Sharma. “The Bermuda Triangle is no myth. It’s one of the largest hubs of unstable reality in the world. But there are many smaller, less active ones too. There’s some correlation between with unstable air masses in the atmosphere, and with altered weather patterns caused by large manmade bodies of water, but I’m not a meteorologist so I don’t know enough to explain further.”

“Not that this isn’t fascinating,” said Lachlan, “but what does this have to do with us?”

“It has nothing to do with you,” said Mrs. Sharma. “We’ve been over that. But it has a lot to do with your friends here. When I started working for CPSI, I was given access to a map of these hotspots, and one in particular stood out to me.”

“Which one?” said Jen.

“If you give me a second, I’ll tell you. Jaipur. The city where I grew up. At first, I thought it was a coincidence, but obviously, I zoomed in out of curiosity, and found the center of the hotspot just a street over from my childhood home. I didn’t understand the implications of it at the time.”

“Let me get this straight,” said Sam. “Whatever’s happening to us has to do with these hotspots?”

“Exactly,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Maybe you’re not as hopeless as I thought.”

“Wow,” said Lachlan. “Glowing praise.”

“You said something about manmade bodies of water,” said Sam. “My parents lived off Lake Wylie when I was a baby.”

“Interesting,” said Mrs. Sharma. “The Lake Wylie hotspot is a major one.”

“I’m from Fort Mill,” said Jen. “That’s not far from there.”

“The Borgo San Severino hotspot is a major one as well,” said Mrs. Sharma. “It was even before the disaster.”

“So what does this have to do with our DNA?” said Jen.

“Prolonged exposure to these hotspots causes certain changes to some people’s DNA, but these changes don’t seem to affect functional DNA. At least, not in our home reality.”

“But I’m guessing here is a different story,” said Sam.

“You’re guessing correctly,” said Mrs. Sharma.

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“Your little experiment is a waste of time,” said Mrs. Sharma.

Sam opened his mouth to reply, but Mrs. Sharma spoke before he could get a word out.

“Let me finish. It’s a waste of time because I can give you way more information about what’s happening to you than you’d be able to figure out on your own.”

“Then why did you say it like you were insulting us?” said Angelina.

Mrs. Sharma shrugged. “Because I don’t like you.”

“Huh. Fair enough,” said Lachlan. “As long as you’re willing to share that wealth of information with us.”

“I am, though I’m not sure three out of four of you would be able to understand it, and the one who might be intellectually capable probably wouldn’t put in the effort.”

“I’m the intellectually capable one, right?” said Sam.

Mrs. Sharma scoffed.

“So… me then?” said Lachlan.

Mrs. Sharma scoffed again.

“This is why I can’t stand working with men. They always assume they’re the smartest people in the room, even if the women have just as much to offer. Of course, in this case, all four of you have equally little to offer, but what I’m saying still applies.”

“We didn’t mean–” Sam started.

“No,” Mrs. Sharma cut him off. “The intellectually capable one is Angelina, as surprising as that sounds.”

Angelina paused for a moment to process what Mrs. Sharma had said.


“Her?” said Lachlan.

“I’ll be honest, at first, I judged her the least intelligent of your little band of idiots, but–“

“Hey!” Angelina interjected.

But,” Mrs. Sharma continued, “not only was she able to give a crude yet accurate description of how this place works, she’s also the only one of you four who can speak more than one language fluently. Angelina, I’m guessing you weren’t raised bilingual; correct me if I’m wrong.”

“No,” said Angelina. “I learned English so I could talk to my exchange student friend.”

“So you taught yourself?”

“Kind of. She taught me a lot of it. And I learned some from the internet.”

“Hm. Surprisingly impressive.”

Angelina paused again, unsure how to reply, but Mrs. Sharma spoke again before Angelina had the chance.

“Don’t think I’m complimenting you. Just because I’ve reconsidered your intelligence doesn’t mean I think highly of you now. In fact, I may think less of you.”

“Less? Why?”

“At first, I thought you lacked potential. Now, I think you have potential that you’re not living up to. That’s so much worse.”

“You just met me today,” said Angelina. “How do you know what kind of potential I’m living up to?”

“I have a pretty good idea.”

Angelina started to respond, and felt Jen place a hand on her arm.

“It’s not worth it,” whispered Jen.

Angelina thought about protesting, but decided Jen was right. She’d tried to argue with judgmental people before, and the results were usually the same every time.

“If you’re done being mean to us,” said Angelina, “can you tell us the information about what’s happening to us?”

“I’m not being mean, but fine,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I was going to wait until later, but I might as well tell you now. It might be a little hard for you to understand, so if you have trouble keeping up with what I’m saying, then just try harder.”

“That’s not how that works,” said Sam.

Mrs. Sharma ignored him, continuing.

“I’m not sure where to start explaining. Let’s see. You four know what DNA is, right?”

“Of course we know what DNA is,” said Sam.

“Good, because I wouldn’t have explained it if you didn’t. Basically, your DNA–our DNA–was altered before we were born.”

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“There’s one question I think we should be asking,” said Lachlan. “Are Sam’s newfound superpowers a permanent fixture? If you wanted to, could you fly or time travel right now?”

“They’re not superpowers,” said Sam, “and I don’t think so. I don’t think it works like that.”

“Try it,” said Angelina.

Sam frowned as though in concentration for a few seconds, then shook his head.

“Nope,” he said.

“So what brought them on in the first place?” said Lachlan.

Sam shrugged. “How should I know?”

“Was it the danger that activated them?” said Angelina.

“No idea,” said Sam. “Angelina, do you still have our notebook? We should be writing some of these questions down.”

“Okay, but my handwriting is really bad,” said Angelina.

Angelina rifled around in her backpack for a minute before finding the notebook, then pulled it out, opened it, and begin scribbling notes.

The notebook was just a touch more worn out for having been in her backpack, smudged with glittery purple ink and something that looked like chocolate.

“What did you do to that notebook?” said Lachlan.

“I don’t mind,” said Sam. “It’s already got blood all over it, so a few sparkles is nothing.”

“Good point,” said Lachlan. “Remind me to buy you a new notebook when we get out of here.”

“Let’s stay focused,” said Sam. “We’re trying to narrow down our observation. So what have we observed about all of us?”

Angelina readied her pen again.

experiment notes & stuff:


1. why did Sam get superpowers?

2. a. what made the powers activate? was it the danger?

what have we observed about all of us?


remembers Lachlan dying 😦

doesn’t seem to have any other powers or anything like that


remembers Lachlan dying probably the most clearly out of all of us


weird time travel

super cool sword skills!

improved reflexes/faster running/more coordinated now than before

vry fast healing

Angelina (ME!!)

remembers Lachlan dying

fell through reality layers? or something????

-no powers that i know of but that weird snake guy said something about me being able to time travel and that me and mrs. sharma r alike somehow??

Mrs. Sharma

really mean T_T Lachlan & Sam say this is not a scientific observation 😦

rly good at fighting/axes/knives

-she got away from the snake guy and apparently me and her are the only ones who were able to do that??

-we don’t know if she remembers Lachlan dying or not and she’d prob get mad if we asked


does not remember dying

NO powers 😡

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“Excuse me,” said Jen. “I couldn’t help but overhear.”

She slowed her stride long enough for Lachlan, Sam, and Angelina to catch up.

“So you were eavesdropping,” said Lachlan.

“We were talking right near her. It’s not eavesdropping if we’re talking near her,” said Angelina. “It’s not like she can just shut her ears down.”

“I don’t remember asking for your input,” said Lachlan.

“You didn’t,” said Angelina. “I gave it anyway.”

“I really didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” said Jen, “but I remember too.”

“I take it this is about my untimely demise,” said Lachlan.

“Yeah,” said Jen. “I didn’t remember at first, but then I heard what Angelina said. You know how sometimes you wake up from a dream, and you know you were dreaming, but you don’t remember it until something happens later that day to jog your memory?”

“Yeah,” said Angelina.

“Like the other day, I had a dream I was in this candy factory, and there were these lollipops that were the most delicious lollipops in the world, but if you ate them twice, you would die, and I didn’t remember until–“

“Is there a point to this little rant of yours?” said Lachlan.

“Oh, um,” said Jen. “Sorry. I was rambling again, wasn’t I?”

“You were fine,” said Angelina. “Lachlan’s just a big jerk.”

“He really is,” said Sam.

“The biggest,” said Lachlan. “It’s part of my charm.”

“Anyway, when I heard what Angelina said, it was like the memory, like, reactivated itself or something. It’s super vague, though.” Jen’s expression grew more serious. “I remember the feelings more than anything. Being really horrified and scared. It was like when you have a nightmare, and then you wake up and you’re jumpy for the rest of the day, even though you don’t really remember it.”

“Interesting,” said Lachlan. “I guess our little experiment has two more test subjects.”

“What experiment?” said Angelina.

“Should we be worried that you just called us your test subjects?” said Jen.

“Yes,” said Lachlan. “Extremely.”

“Nah, don’t listen to him,” said Sam. “It’s kinda this informal experiment we’ve been doing since we noticed my hand healed unnaturally fast. Our hypothesis was that there was a positive correlation between my exposure to this place, and my improved healing, coordination, and reflexes. Given recent events, it seems like our experiment’s gonna need rework.”

“Come on, Samurai,” said Lachlan. “You can’t rework a hypothesis mid-experiment. What kind of a scientist are you?”

“Whatever,” said Sam. “We’ll need a whole new experiment then. Our original observation was that I healed from a traumatic finger amputation in a matter of hours, and that I’ve seen a vast, rapid improvement in my coordination and reflexes.”

“How would you even sum up your new observation?” said Angelina. “You were flying with swords and apparently walking through time, Lachlan died but he’s not dead, and I don’t even know how to describe what happened to me.”

“Can you try to describe it?” said Sam.

“I fell through realities. I don’t know how else to put it.”

“Did it feel like falling backwards?” said Sam.

“Yeah! Yeah, it did, actually,” said Angelina.

“I felt that too,” said Sam.

“That’s all fine and dandy,” said Lachlan, “but we need to narrow down our observation. What do all your experiences have in common?”

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Angelina walked just behind Jen and Chelsea in silence, trying to make sense of the strange memories that had appeared in her head after Lachlan’s friend had fought the monster.

The memories were faint and fading quickly, like a dream she’d just woken up from, but the image of Lachlan’s blood-soaked body was still clear in her mind.

She remembered moving on instinct, turning an impossible direction, and leaving this thin layer of reality for a split second. She’d seen Lachlan’s friend–Sam, she thought his name was–and locked eyes with him for an instant. Then she’d stumbled, tearing through realities like an incandescent meteor plummeting through the atmosphere.

Then, she’d been back where she’d started, standing with the group like nothing had happened.

And Sam had flown down from the sky holding swords.

It kind of wasn’t fair. Why did he get to be the one to hold cool swords and fight monsters?

She turned to look at him walking beside Lachlan. Their eyes met, and she quickly jerked her head back around.

“You remember it too, don’t you?” he said.

She turned around again.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Remember what?” said Lachlan.

“She was there at the beginning of it,” said Sam. “I saw her for a second, and then she disappeared.”

Angelina slowed her pace, falling back to walk beside him and Lachlan.

“You were dead,” she said to Lachlan.

“So I’ve been informed.”

“Do you remember it too?” she said.

“No,” said Lachlan. “All I remember is Samurai here finally living up to his name.”

“Lachlan had a theory that this place was changing me,” said Sam. “I was thinking about it while I was walking through time–“

“While you were walking through what?” said Angelina.

“He was walking through time,” said Lachlan. “Try to keep up.”

“Okay,” she said. “So you were walking through time. As in the concept of time, I guess. Then what?”

“I was thinking about Mrs. Sharma. She can carry those fire axes around like they don’t weigh anything. And when she was fighting that thing and she jumped, it was like she was defying gravity,” said Sam. “She must have been stuck here for months at least. This place changed her. It gave her abilities.”

“Abilities?” said Angelina. “You mean like special powers?”

“No,” said Sam. “‘Special powers’ sounds so juvenile and unscientific. Like it’s just magic or something. There has to be a logical explanation for what’s happening to us.”

“A logical explanation like what?” said Angelina.

“That’s what we’re trying figure out,” said Sam. “Have you noticed anything different since you came to this place? Sharper reflexes, advanced healing? Anything like that?”

“Nothing like that,” said Angelina.

“Hm,” said Sam. “I wonder if anyone else remembers what happened?”

“C doesn’t,” said Angelina. “I already asked. Naomi doesn’t either. She seemed mad that I was asking. I think she didn’t believe me.”

“Interesting,” said Sam.

“So the question is ‘why us’?” said Angelina. “If this place changes people, why isn’t it changing any of the others?”

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