I’m in Deep–Interlude 25.2

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Mona lingered in the venue as the rest of the crowd trickled out. Only a few people were left now; a teenage boy in skinny jeans with messy, dark blond hair was following the annoyed yet patient bass player around, and a few people were lined up at a folding table in the back buying CDs and T-shirts. Mona thought about buying a CD for Emily–the band had been surprisingly good–but decided against it. She didn’t want to risk getting in trouble if Mr. Clyde saw the CD, and it could be hard to predict what kinds of things he’d get mad about sometimes.

The space had felt small when it had been packed with a crowd, but it felt larger now that only a few people were there. There was no seating or even a bar area; just a small stage and an open area for people to stand. Mona had chaperoned Emily at a few concerts, and there had almost always been some kind of seating, even if no one really used it.

The singer/guitarist walked past Mona, heading for the back of the venue, then stopped, giving her a second look.

“Are you here alone?” said the woman. Melanie Graham.

She was blonde, with messy hair, a lot of bad tattoos, and shiny garish pink lipstick that had smudged while she was performing. On the stage, she’d seemed brash and confident, but now, she seemed almost shy despite her garish clothing, hair, and makeup–her speaking voice was far softer than her singing voice, and her shoulders were drawn inward as though she was trying to hide.

“Yes,” said Mona. “You have lipstick on your face.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Melanie.

She stuck her tongue out, licking under her lower lip and smudging the lipstick further.

Mona frowned. What an odd woman. She was clearly a hardworking, disciplined person–otherwise, how could she become so talented at her instrument? But hardworking, disciplined people weren’t supposed to lick lipstick off their own faces.

Melanie seemed to notice the frown and drew her shoulders further inward. At least she had the good sense to be embarrassed about licking lipstick off her own face.

“How are you getting home?” said Melanie. “Are you headed to the train station?”

“No, I’m… not exactly sure. Someone’s supposed to be picking me up, but I don’t know where or when he’s going to be here. He might be picking me up at the park.”

“Hm.” Melanie’s face knit with concern. “That’s nearly ten minutes from here. It’s really late. I’ll walk with you if you want.”

“That’s… really very kind of you, but you don’t have to.”

“I want to. If I let you go by yourself, and then I heard on the news tomorrow something awful happened, I’d feel like shit.” She turned to call to the bassist. “Dom! You’re coming too!”

The bassist excused himself from the kid who was pestering him and headed toward them.

“Thank fuck. I thought that Lachlan kid would never leave,” he said. “Where am I coming? What’s going on?”

“We’re walking–” Melanie stopped and looked at Mona. “Sorry, what’s your name?”

Mona paused for a minute, not sure if she should give her real name or not.

“Sarah,” she lied.

“Sarah. Cool. I’m Mel and this is Dom,” said Melanie. “Dom, we’re walking Sarah here back to the park.”

“Alright,” said Dominic. “Hi, Sarah.”

“Hi,” said Mona. “Are you sure you have time to walk with me? Aren’t you busy doing… well, I don’t exactly know what bands do after they perform. But I assume you have to do something.”

“We can spare twenty minutes,” said Melanie. “We’ll just tell Jess and Falcon where we’re going.”

Mona followed Melanie’s gaze to the merch table at the back of the room. The drummer and the Stanley fabrication sat together conversing in sign language while a young woman with dyed black hair sold T-shirts and CDs to the last few stragglers.

So Falcon was what the fabrication was calling himself?

She almost hadn’t recognized him. He’d bleached his hair blond and wore a hideous, brightly-colored floral shirt. His expression was animated as he spoke with the drummer, far from the blank-faced Stanley fabs she’d encountered before.

She noticed Melanie and Dominic giving her a strange look and realized she was staring.

“Sorry,” said Mona. “Your friend kind of reminds me of someone.”

They both looked at her as though expecting her to elaborate.

“She spent a lot of time in a bad situation. Where she was treated like she was less than human. When I first met her, she seemed so blank and robotic. Then, when I showed her the smallest kindness, it was like a wall crumbled and all these hidden depths came pouring out. For some reason, I feel like your friend is the same way.”

Dominic gave Mona a long look.

“And what makes you think Falcon’s like that?”

Oh no. Had she said too much?

“Just a hunch,” she lied. “Something in his eyes, I guess.”

Something in his eyes? Ugh, it was such a cheesy thing to say.

It seemed to appease Dominic though.

“You’re pretty perceptive,” he said.

Mona nodded.

“My friend has better taste in shirts, though,” she said.

“I like his shirts,” said Melanie.

Mona almost said something like ‘you would like them’, but decided against it. Melanie might have been tacky, but she was kind enough to care about a stranger’s safety, and that was worth something.

“Let’s go,” said Dominic. “I want to get back before the pizza gets here.”

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You’re Not the Only One – Interlude 7

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Everything was hot and blinding white. It was overwhelming, so dazzling 59 hardly noticed the hot, gritty ground as it scraped his skin.

Was it always like this out here? How did people see?

For a frightening moment, 59 wondered if his eyes weren’t designed for the outside world. Then, his vision began to adjust, faint outlines fading into view.

He’d lost track of how long he’d been in the back of that truck, in near complete darkness. His eyes just needed time to adapt.

He could make out his surroundings now, though his vision was cluttered with black splotches that danced each time he moved his eyes. The ground was pale yellow with patches of rusty red, unevenly covered in something fine and granular. He remembered the things sticking out of the ground from one of 98’s books; they were plants–scratchy looking ones dotted with tiny, yellow blossoms.

Perched on one of the branches was a small, gray bird.

59 stepped toward it. It fluttered away, disappearing into the branches of another, larger plant.

Until now, his world had been made of sharp angles and straight lines, everything locked into boxes and cages. But the outside world–the real world–was so vast and complex, so bright and open. Plants branched from the ground with wild abandon, continuing as far as he could see. The sky was bright blue, filled with wisps of gray and white, and it went on and on forever so impossibly high above him.

He took a step, then another. There were no walls here. No cages or chambers. Nothing but endless space.

For the first time in his life, he ran.


A pulsating sensation thumped inside his head as he lay on the strange, gritty ground. His skin was red, his throat burned, and most perplexingly of all, water dripped down his face and arms even though the landscape around him was so dry.

He tried to push himself to his feet, but a wave of dizziness racked his body, and his arms slid out from beneath him.

Something was very wrong.

The ground under him vibrated, and something large moved in front of the impossibly bright light in the sky, casting a shadow over him and showering him with grains of debris. He couldn’t quite lift himself enough to see what was in front of him.

Two strange looking people–a man and a woman–leaned over him, concern etched into their faces. They were young–much younger than Mr. Gibson, and maybe even younger than the guard who’d helped him escape.

The man was strikingly attractive–possibly the most attractive person 59 had ever seen, though he hadn’t seen many people. The man had the darkest hair 59 had ever seen, so black it was nearly blue and long enough to nearly obscure his blue-gray eyes. He wore a metal bar through his lower lip, and his skin was decorated, covered in intricate pictures of flowers, fish, dragons.

The woman was tan and blonde, with fluffy, voluminous hair, a metal ring in her septum, and thick, dark paint smeared around her eyes. Her skin was decorated too, but her images weren’t as artful or intricate as the man’s. They looked more like an afterthought, like things she’d scrawled onto herself on a whim.

They were speaking to him–probably asking if he was okay, if he was reading their lips correctly.

The man slid an arm around 59, helping him to his feet. He could see the shadow’s source now–a large vehicle. It looked like a van, but it was unlike any of the few vans he’d seen at the data center. It was far more worn out, with chips of rust and paint flaking off the sides, and it was plastered with dozens of stickers.

A petite woman emerged from the van. Like the man, her hair was so black it tinted blue where the sun hit it, but while his skin was pale, hers was a tawny brown.

She extended a hand to 59. He took her hand, and she tugged him a bit abruptly into the van with one arm.

Icy air blasted from vents on the van’s ceiling, sending a wave of relief cascading over his body. The black-haired woman grabbed 59 by his upper arms, steering him toward the back of the van and into a bench seat with a cover that was so cracked, pieces of padding were spilling out in several places.

The woman turned to her two companions, moving her hands rapidly. The man moved his hands in response, then crouched down, opening a blue and white plastic box with the name ‘Coleman’ embossed on the side.

Their hand signals were far more complex and fluid than anything 59 had developed with his brothers, but what they were doing was unmistakable.

They were talking with their hands!

They moved their lips as they conversed, but 59 was too tired to try to read their lips. The blonde woman leaned over to fish through an over-sized handbag patterned with some kind of logo, retrieved a notepad and pen, and wrote something on the paper. She handed it to 59.

What’s your name?

His name?

He wasn’t sure what to write in response. 59 was his designation, but it wasn’t exactly a name. Still, he felt he had to write something.

He looked around at the inside of the van, as though he’d find an answer in the wild assortment of posters tacked to the upholstery. They were like nothing he’d seen before, emblazoned with words and graphics that didn’t make much sense to him.

A familiar word caught his eye in the sea of loud red and black, on a poster featuring a white and gold object with a wide body and long, thin neck, with six strings running from its top to its bottom.

White Falcon 1957, said the poster.

Falcon wrote down his name, and passed the notepad to the woman.

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Sarah had said traveling back through the portal would be ‘real uncomfortable’.

That turned out to be an incredible understatement.

An ear-splitting sound tore the room in half, and Naomi’s body shuddered so violently she felt it in each molecule. The vibration intensified, and she began to lose her fixed shape, feeling as though if she moved even a little, she would liquefy into a pool on the floor.

The sound grew more powerful, and she was pulled inward, siphoned into a single point in her body and spit out backwards in the wrong order.

As the shuddering died down, she began to feel her body again. A stinging cheek pressed against cold metal, impending bruises on wrists, hipbones digging into a hard floor.

She tested her fingers first, folding them to make sure they still moved as they were supposed to.

She tried to roll over onto her back, and found herself weighed down. Sarah was lying on top of her.

“Hey! Get off! What’s your problem?”

She shoved Sarah off her and stood up. She steadied herself against the chamber wall as a wave of dizziness washed over her.

“Hey, no need to shove. We’ve gotta be touching or the portal won’t take both of us.”

Jen was standing next to the chamber, one hand pressed to the glass, the other holding Naomi’s phone to her ear. She was speaking, but Naomi couldn’t make out what she was saying.

Sarah pulled herself to her feet and opened the door.

“After you,” she said.

Naomi left the chamber and Sarah followed.

“Yeah, they’re back!” Jen was saying. “They look like they got a little hurt… no, no, not seriously hurt, but they’ve got some cuts and scrapes. Here, I’ll give you to Naomi.”

Jen handed Naomi’s phone back to her, and Melanie’s worried voice carried over the line before Naomi had a chance to speak.

“Naomi, oh, my God, what happened to you? Jen said you disappeared, and you were gone for five minutes at least. We were so fucking scared. Are you alright? Jen said you were hurt.”

“I’m fine,” said Naomi, feeling far from fine. “I think I have a couple bruises, but nothing serious.”

“What happened?”

“After Jen activated the machine, we ended up in this weird place,” said Naomi. “Sarah said it was the Pit she was talking about.”

“Are you alright? What happened?”

“We were attacked,” said Naomi.

“Attacked? What? Fuck. Oh, my God. By who?”

“I don’t know,” said Naomi. “There were three women who looked just like Sarah, and they attacked us almost as soon as we got there. I don’t know who they were or what they wanted, but I’m assuming Sarah does.”

She pressed the speakerphone button.

“I do. Those were my sisters,” said Sarah. “I don’t know how much Fab st59 has told you.”

Melanie’s voice became steely.

“Don’t call him that. His name is Falcon.”

“It is not,” said Sarah. “That’s a stupid name. I’m not gonna go around calling myself Ostrich or Chickadee. If I call him anything like a real name, it’s gonna be Stanley.”

“Chickadee’s kind of a cute name, actually,” said Jen.

“Stanley’s not his name either,” said Melanie.

“I mean, no,” said Sarah. “It’s not, no more than Sarah is my name. But it makes more sense than Falcon.”

Melanie’s tone lost some of its sharp edge.

“Haven’t you ever thought about choosing a real name for yourself?”

Sarah snorted.

“Why is that funny?”

“You’re cute,” said Sarah. “You’re… what’s the word? Anthro-something. Anthropomorphic?”

“I’m anthropomorphic? What?”

“No, not that. I’m not thinking of the right word,” said Sarah. “It’s like when CPSI used to have these big machines that would roll around and clean the floors in the evening. People used to give them names, tell them they were doing a good job, stuff like that. That’s what you’re doing, but with me and st59. What’s the word for that?”

“Anthropomorphizing?” offered Naomi.

“Yeah! That’s it,” said Sarah. “Imaging we have human qualities just ’cause we look like people.”

“I’m not anthropomorphizing,” said Melanie. “I knew Falcon for over a year. He is a person. And so are you, Sarah.”

“I’m not,” said Sarah. “You were born, I was designed. You probably have hopes and dreams or whatever. My only purpose is to serve CPSI.”

“You must have hopes and dreams too,” said Melanie. “Isn’t there something you want? Something that doesn’t involve serving that utter shit show of a company?”

“I guess,” said Sarah. “Technically. But it doesn’t count.”

“What is it, then? What do you want?”

“Power, I guess,” said Sarah. “Fortune, power, someone beneath me I can exploit.”

Naomi turned to stare at her. Based on her experience with Sarah so far, she wasn’t exactly surprised, but it was still alarming to hear her say that so bluntly and casually.

“Fuck. Jesus. Alright, then,” said Melanie.

“It’s probably why Mr. Clyde and I get along so well. He’s kinda the same way and I think he sees some of himself in me or something,” said Sarah. “He anthropomorphizes me too sometimes, I think.”

Naomi thought there was a wistful note in Sarah’s voice as she continued.

“With him, it’s real though. With me, it was just a design flaw in the Sarah models. It’s why the rest of my sisters were disposed of.”

“I’m sorry,” said Melanie.

“Don’t be,” said Sarah. “They were tools that were discarded when they were no longer needed. I’m not st59. I never felt any false sense of loyalty to them.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“The so-called bond between the Stanley model fabs was just another design flaw,” said Sarah. “What you’ve gotta understand is we don’t feel friendship or loyalty. Not the way you do.”

“That’s not true,” came Dominic’s voice from the phone. “He is our friend.”

“You must feel loyalty,” said Melanie. “You’re loyal to the people you work for, right? Loyal to the Clydes?

“I guess. The Clydes, and there was someone else once, too. None of it was real, though. I can feel something like loyalty, but it’s not genuine,” said Sarah. “Us fabs, we’re like… hollowed out people, made for specific purposes. Our emotions are hollowed out too.”

Melanie paused again.

“Do you have any other wishes? Something other than power? Something that doesn’t involve hurting anyone else?”

Sarah shrugged.

“Not really.”

“Nothing at all?”

“I guess…” She paused. “I guess I’d like to be a real person.”



“Are you sure it came from this direction?” said Sam.

“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “It definitely came from this way.”

“Based on how loud the sound was, we should be getting close,” said Sam. “Assuming you’re right, of course.”

“I’m always right,” said Lachlan.

Lachlan started to reach for the door in front of them.

“Wait,” said Sam.

“What is it?”

“There are voices coming from behind that door,” said Sam. “We don’t know what could be in there.”

Lachlan pressed his ear to the door. He did hear soft voices on the other side.

“Maybe it’s that girl you were looking for,” said Lachlan. “Or maybe the sound we heard was someone else getting transported here.”

“Maybe,” said Sam. “Or it could be more creatures. The one we ran into before could talk.”

Lachlan held his ear to the door. He couldn’t hear what the voices were saying, but they sounded normal enough.

“They sound human to me,” said Lachlan.

He knocked on the door.

“Knock knock! Hello, potential murder rectangles. We humbly request entry into what is almost certainly another crummy room identical to the one in which we are currently standing.”

“Stop it!” said Sam. “Anything could be in there–“

The door opened, and a woman peeked through.

She looked to be in her mid or late twenties, with tan skin and dark brown hair. She didn’t look like she’d just been pulled into this place; if her tattered, stained jumpsuit and matted hair were anything to go by, she’d been stranded for a long time.

Something about her face was very familiar, but Lachlan couldn’t place it.

“By all means,” she said. “Please come in.”

She turned back, addressing someone else in the room they couldn’t see.

“Sisters, come look at what I found.”

“What is it?” responded someone in the room.

The woman’s face spread into a grin as she turned back to Lachlan and Sam.

“A consolation prize.”

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“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.”

“Then explain.”

Sarah paused, staring up at Naomi and Jen.

“I’m trying to.”

“Try harder.”

“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.”

Jen nodded.

“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.”

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Previous | Next


Lachlan’s legs had almost fully recovered, but without one of his shoes keeping up with Sam’s pace still wasn’t easy. His left leg, the one without a shoe, was beginning to ache as he walked.

“Do you think you could slow down for the man who saved your life?” he said. “Where are we even going?”

“I’m figuring it out. I’m trying to get a feel for the layout of this place so I can deduce where the exits might be, but it’s massive so it’s going to take time. Unless I’m dreaming, in which case we’ll just wander around until I wake up.”

“Is that course of action up for discussion? Because I know for a fact that I’m not a figment of your imagination, and my non-imaginary leg is fucking killing me.”

“Didn’t you say something earlier about how you might be a brain in a jar?” said Sam. “How do you know your leg isn’t imaginary?”

“Fuck,” said Lachlan. “Touché. You’re smarter than you look.”

“And you’re just as smart as you look. Which is to say not at all.”

Lachlan frowned. This guy was such a fuckhead.

“I saved your life. If you’re not going to stop and let me rest my leg, at least have the decency to stop insulting me.”

“If you took your other shoe off, your leg probably wouldn’t hurt anymore.”

“Nah,” said Lachlan.

He knew Sam was probably right, but now that he had suggested it, Lachlan definitely wasn’t going to take off the shoe.

“Imbecile,” said Sam.

“Fuckwit,” said Lachlan.

He winced as a sharp pain shot through his leg. For a moment, he considered stopping on his own and letting Sam continue onward, but he decided against it. As annoying as Sam was, Lachlan didn’t want to risk running into another monster alone.

“So how certain are you you’re dreaming right now? And how does that certainty affect the chances of us stopping for a break any time soon?”

“I’m about 65 percent certain right now, and the percentage goes down the more I think about it.”

Lachlan knew Sam wanted him to ask why, so he didn’t ask.

“Okay. Fair enough,” he said.

Sam frowned.

“My dreams usually aren’t this, I don’t know, bizarre. They usually take place at school or home or something. I’ve definitely never dreamed about a… thing like that,” Sam continued. “And when I figure out I’m dreaming, I can control things and change the people around me. I’ve been trying to make you disappear for the past twenty minutes or so, but you’re still here.”

“Oh,” said Lachlan. “Isn’t that sweet of you?”

“And when I lose my glasses in dreams, I’ve always been able to see anyway. I can barely see anything now.”

“You say you’re 65 percent certain you’re dreaming. A strangely specific number, by the way,” said Lachlan. “I’m curious. What does the other 35 percent of you think is happening? Don’t tell me you’re finally seeing the merit in my brilliant mad-scientist-jar-brain theory.”

“Hardly. I’m maybe a billionth of a percent certain of that, and that’s if I’m being generous.”

“Okay. And what mind-stoppingly genius theories make up the remaining 34 and nine hundred ninety-nine million nine hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine billionths of your certainty?”

“I do have one theory,” said Sam. “It’s a bit far-fetched, and frankly I’m not sure you’d understand it.”

“And frankly, I’m not sure you’re not a massive fuckhead,” said Lachlan. “But do tell. Let’s hear it.”

“Have any of your books taught you anything about inter-dimensional travel?” Sam sneered as he said the word ‘books’.

What a weird guy, thought Lachlan. Sam seemed to feel about books the way Lachlan felt about stuff like reality TV, or tabloid magazines, or that store at the mall that sold nothing but cheap neon boob tubes. But those things were all deserving of scorn–vapid, mindless diversions intended for the lowest common denominator. Sure, some books were like that too, like that vampire romance series Angelina loved so much. But books in general were intellectual, educational. They were fucking books.

“Traveling to other dimensions?” said Lachlan. “You look like someone who enjoys Star Wars a little too much, but isn’t that a bit sci-fi? Emphasis on the fi?”

Sam’s eyebrows twitched in a way Lachlan had figured out was because he was trying to roll his eyes but squinting too much to do so.

Sam chuckled irritatingly.

“Traveling to other dimensions?” Sam repeated, making an atrocious attempt at imitating Lachlan’s accent. “Clearly, your books have failed you.”

“And you’re about to tell me why in the smuggest way possible.”

“Don’t feel bad. It’s a common misconception among the less intellectually gifted,” said Sam. “Other dimensions aren’t actual locations. I’ll try to keep my explanation simple for you, but some of it might go over your head. You see, our universe contains four known dimensions: length, width, height, and time.”

“There we go. Smuggest way possible.”

“Humans can move freely throughout space, but in the fourth dimension of time, we’re locked in continuous motion in a single direction.”

“For the record, I already knew time was the fourth dimension.”

“Sure you did. Anyway, that was the simple part of the explanation. I don’t suppose you’re familiar with the multiverse hypothesis.”

“You mean the theory proposing that multiple parallel universes exist? As in, the thing anyone who’s ever consumed any sci-fi media whatsoever has heard of?”

“Actually, there are a number of speculative theories that comprise the multiverse hypothesis, and several of them don’t involve the idea of so-called parallel universes at all. However–“

“There is no way that you have a girlfriend,” said Lachlan. “I refuse to believe an actual human female is romantically involved with the person who just uttered that sentence.”

However, the concept of parallel universes is relevant to what I’m about to say. Travel in the fifth dimension can be thought of as moving sideways through time rather than just forward. Time squared. It involves jumping between branches of the multiverse to parallel universes. “

“So I take it your theory is that we’ve somehow hopped over to a parallel universe populated by murder rectangles?”

“That’s one of my theories.”

“And the other one is…?”

“That we’ve traveled upwards in time.”

“Upwards? How the motherfuck does one travel upwards in time?”

“That’s difficult to explain without getting into advanced mathematical concepts,” said Sam.

“So you don’t know,” said Lachlan.

“That possibility is unlikely for several reasons. It’s impossible to say what the laws of physics would be in an upwards universe, but I can’t imagine it would be at all habitable for humans,” said Sam. “In terms of likelihood, I’d place it slightly above your brain-jar theory.”

“So it’s incredibly likely, then?”

Sam ignored him and continued.

“There is, of course, the slim possibility that we’ve simply been transported a vast distance to some distant planet and encountered extraterrestrial life.”

“And we just so happened to end up on a planet with the correct temperature, atmospheric pressure, and oxygen concentration to sustain human life?”

“We were sent here to the same location by two different machines. Our destination was almost definitely not random,” said Sam. “And I did say it was a slim possibility.”

Lachlan felt as though he should have more of an emotional reaction to the idea that he was in some distant galaxy or plane of existence, light years or universes away from his home, his family, his city, but he didn’t feel much of anything. Maybe his indifference was a lingering side effect from whatever he’d been dosed with, he thought, or maybe the idea of such a vast distance was too much for him to process right away. Maybe he just wasn’t fully convinced he wasn’t still hallucinating from the drugs.

“So we’re either on another planet or in another universe?”

He was talking to himself as much as Sam, wondering if saying the words out loud would make them feel more real. It didn’t.

“Assuming I’m not dreaming,” said Sam. “It would explain how we started on two completely different continents and ended up here. Any geographical distance is negligible compared to the distance between planets or universes.”

“Alright, Mr. Science. That’s great. Fantastic,” said Lachlan. “Any theories about how to get back home?”



Sarah advanced toward Naomi, positioning herself so Naomi had no choice but to back into the elevator.

Sarah winced as she flicked the fingers of her right hand, and Naomi felt her phone rip from her hand and fall to the floor.

She could still hear Melanie’s voice on the other line. She couldn’t make out any words, but she could hear her tone crescendo from worry to panic.

“Oops.” Sarah stepped into the elevator and picked up the phone. “That was clumsy of you.”

Up to this point, Sarah’s expression had been light, almost playful. Now she wore a smirk, but there was no trace of humor in her face. Every muscle was tensed, coiled like a snake preparing to bite. She put the phone to her ear.

“Hello! This is Sarah!”

Her voice had an artificial perkiness that reminded Naomi of a customer service representative. Excessively chipper people kind of creeped her out anyway, and Sarah’s dark, dangerous expression made her voice all the more unsettling.

“Sorry, you have a weird accent. You want me to what?” said Sarah. “Oh! Let them go? I’m sorry, Melanie, but I’m afraid that’s just not possible.”

“I have no idea what’s going on,” said Jen.

Melanie was shouting on the other line.

“No, no. I completely understand. I’m totally with you on that. I wanted to do this with minimal casualties. I did. I’m only after the defective resource. I didn’t want to get rid of your little buddies, but they keep getting in the way.”

Sarah pressed the ‘close door’ button, and the elevator slid shut.

“He is defective though. He doesn’t work how they designed him.” Sarah pointed to the phone, shook her head, and rolled her eyes. “I don’t know why you’re getting so upset. He’s not a real person. He’s a thing, like me.”

“What’s going on?” Jen whispered to Naomi.

“Here’s the thing, honey,” Sarah said into the phone. “I’ve already disposed of two very real people, and I have two more of them right here … That’s right. Two! I’ll let you figure out who the second one is.”

A dangerous edge crept into Sarah’s false cheer. Her voice was a cyanide pill now, dropped into a can of cherry soda to disguise the taste. She laughed, and it was a hard, angry sound devoid of humor.

“All for a broken tool. That’s all he is, you know. So I’m gonna give you one chance to tell me where he is.”

Naomi couldn’t hear most of Melanie’s response, but she made out several very colorful words.

“Okay. That’s too bad for you. That means I have to get the answer out of poor Naomi here.”

A chill ran through Naomi’s body as Sarah turned to her with that menacing, humorless smirk.

“Ooh! I have an idea.”

Sarah pressed a button on the phone and Melanie’s voice came from the speaker.

“Don’t you dare fucking hurt her! Leave her alone, I fucking swear! Don’t fucking touch her!”

“I was gonna just hang up on you, but if I let you listen in while I extract the information, one of you is bound to crack.” Sarah held the phone out. “Say ‘hi’, Naomi!”

Naomi stepped backward, hitting the elevator’s metal wall. Sarah took a step closer to her.

“Naomi, honey, listen.” Her voice was gentle in an almost mocking way. “That guy calling himself Falcon? He’s not a person at all.”

“Yes, he is! He’s more of a person than any of you fucking monsters!”

Sarah chuckled and shook her head.

“I never said I was a person either. I’m an advanced work of biotechnology, same as him. Only difference is I work the way I’m supposed to. And I’m prettier.” Sarah adopted her mock-gentle voice again. “So Naomi, do you really want to suffer for a piece of technology? Do you want more people to end up getting hurt? Or do you want to tell me where he is and make this easier on everyone?”

Sarah reached out, brushing a loose strand of hair out of Naomi’s face. Naomi shrunk back against the wall.

“Don’t–don’t touch me.”

“Naomi, what is she doing to you? Get your fucking hands off her!”

“Relax. I’m not gonna hurt her. Yet.” Sarah grinned at Naomi. “Because I’m a nice piece of biotechnology, I’m giving you a chance to tell me what I wanna hear before I break every single bone in your body. Where is he, Naomi?”

Naomi shook her head. “I don’t know.”

Sarah reached her arm out, and Naomi felt an invisible pressure weighing on her neck and chest.

“Naomi, come on. You don’t wanna do this to yourself. Not for a piece of technology. Where is he? Tell me the truth.”

“I…” Naomi gasped in a breath. “I don’t know.”

Sarah swept her arm to the left, flinging Naomi against the elevator wall. Naomi tried not to cry out as the elevator handrail slammed into her side.

“Don’t you lie to me.” Every trace of false gentleness vanished from Sarah’s voice. “Where is he?”

Naomi tried to breathe in, but the weight on her chest was growing by the second, blocking the air from her lungs.

“Well? Aren’t you gonna answer?” Another dangerous smirk appeared on Sarah’s face. “What’s the matter? You can’t talk?”

Naomi managed a faint whimper.

“Now,” said Sarah. “Which bone should I break first? What do you think, Melanie? Collar bone or knees?”

A faint sniffling sound was coming from the phone, and it took Naomi a moment to realize it was Melanie. It was a little unnerving to hear one of her heroes cry.

“Naomi, I’m so, so sorry.”

“Are you crying?” said Sarah. “I’ll give you ten seconds to answer and then I’m just gonna break her collar bone and her knees. One… two… three…”

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Previous | Next


“There’s someone else here looking for Chelsea too,” said Naomi.


Melanie sounded hesitant as she responded, drawing out the word’s first syllable. The hesitation made Naomi suddenly more nervous.

“There’s–There’s no harm in helping her look. Right?”

There might be,” said Melanie. “In helping either of them. Or maybe both.”

Naomi looked at the two women standing in front of her. Neither looked dangerous.

“Oh, uh… oh,” she said. “Why?”

“I don’t want you to panic, alright? They’re probably harmless. But someone attacked Falcon and Chelsea, and whoever it is, they’re not gonna stop ’til they find him. Just be careful, alright, babe?”

Naomi felt a chill run through her.

“Oh, um, okay.”

“I’m gonna tell you a code, alright? If anything feels sus about either of those people–if anything seems off–I want you to tell me ‘My mobile’s about to die’. And if you feel like you’re in danger, I want you to tell me ‘Mel, the connection’s breaking up’ in those exact words. Can you do that for me?”

“Okay. I will,” said Naomi. “Um, what will you do if I do?”

“I’ll be honest. I’m not sure there’s a lot I can do. But if you don’t, I’ll at least know you’re safe.”

Underneath the queasy feeling in her stomach, Naomi felt a tiny thrill of excitement. She was on the phone with Melanie Graham. The Melanie Graham was actually worrying about her.

A flush of embarrassment quashed her brief excitement. This was no time to be a childish fan-girl. Her life could be in danger and her best friend was missing.

“It won’t cost you any money to stay on the phone, will it?” said Naomi.

Oh, no, don’t worry about that. We have an international calling plan for booking tours.”

“Okay, good.”

“Can I ask who’s on the other line?” said the woman in the lab coat.

“Oh, just, uh.” Naomi paused, trying to think of how to explain. “It’s a long story. She’s helping me look for Chelsea, kind of. Her name is Melanie.”

The woman leaned forward, closer to the phone. “Hi, Melanie!”

“Hi!” said Melanie.

“So that was Melanie,” said the woman. “Can I ask what your names are?”

Jen introduced herself, and Naomi followed suit.

“It’s nice to meet you, Jen. Naomi.” The woman straightened her lab coat and smiled at them. “I’m Sarah.”


Sarah led them across a small gravel courtyard with four stone benches forming a diamond shape in the center.

“Are you sure you saw them both in the IT building?” said Jen. “I know it’s where Chelsea works, but Sam never goes over here. Maybe we should check the engineering building instead.”

“I already checked,” said Sarah. “They weren’t in there.”

“It’s real big, though. Maybe we could check again?”

“Maybe.” Sarah shrugged. “We’d probably be wasting our time, though. This is the last place I saw them.”

“Looks like Falcon’s logged into messenger,” said Melanie. “I’m gonna ask him to describe the person who attacked him.”

“Okay,” said Naomi.

“What did your friend say?” said Jen.

“Just…” Naomi thought about it for a second. “Just that she thinks the engineering building might be worth a second look.”

“I guess we can check if we don’t find them here,” said Sarah.

“He’s replying now,” said Melanie. “He says… long dark hair, brown eyes, slightly above average height. Sound like either of the people you’re with?”

Naomi’s pulse sped up a little as she looked at Sarah.

“Yes.” She paused. “My mobile’s about to die.”

“Okay, alright. It doesn’t have to mean anything. Heaps of people fit that description. But just to be safe, try to find a way out without sounding too suspicious.”

“But what about–“

“We’ll do everything we can for Chelsea. But don’t put yourself in danger too. And try and get the other person out of there too if you can.”

“Okay, but–“

“Naomi. Babe. Trust me, alright? These aren’t people you want to fuck around with.

And they have my best friend.

Naomi felt a lump growing in her throat.

“I know you’re worried, but you won’t do Chelsea any favors being reckless. We’ll do everything we can to find her, alright? But right now your life could be in danger. Please, get out of there as soon as you have the chance, and I promise we’ll figure this out.”

“Something wrong?” Sarah turned around, her smile wide and her voice chipper.

Naomi took a deep breath, hoping her nerves didn’t show on her face.

“No. Nothing’s wrong.”

“You mean other than your missing friend, right?”

Sarah grinned again. Her expression sent a chill through Naomi’s body. Who grinned while they said something like that?

“Um, right. Yeah. Other than that. Obviously.”

“And my missing boyfriend,” said Jen.

Shut up, Naomi wanted to tell her. Your boyfriend probably forgot his stuff and got another ride home. Chelsea could be in danger.

Sarah swiped her badge at the IT building’s entrance and held the door for Naomi and Jen.

“After you.”

The building was dark for a few seconds, then a sensor noticed their presence and fluorescent lights buzzed on overhead, illuminating the hallway. On one side of the hall was a wall painted with a “modern” blue pentagon and hexagon pattern, with some of the larger hexagons containing words like “innovate” and “teamwork”. On the other side, a frosted glass floor to ceiling window gave them a blurry view into a room that was completely dark save for a dim red light that could have come from an exit sign.

“It doesn’t look like anyone’s in here,” said Jen.

“Not on this floor,” said Sarah. “We can still try the second.”

“She works on the first,” Naomi lied. “She’s probably not here.”

The fewer places they searched the better, Naomi decided. As much as she wanted to find Chelsea, she could end up putting her in even more danger if Sarah found her too.

“Are you sure?” said Jen. “The first floor is all tech support. I’m pretty sure she works on the second.”

Naomi suppressed an exasperated sigh.

“Come on,” said Sarah. “It can’t hurt to check.”

Naomi thought about protesting, but couldn’t think of a way to do so that wouldn’t make Sarah suspicious if she was the woman who had attacked Chelsea and Falcon.

Sarah led them down the hall, stopped in front of an elevator, and pressed a button. She turned to them and smiled.

“So do y’all live around here?”

The lump in Naomi’s throat grew larger. It could have been innocent small talk, or Sarah could have been fishing for information–trying to figure out where she lived or where Falcon was hiding.

“Kinda,” said Jen. “I live in Fort Mill, so it’s not too far from here. I have to get on 77 though, so trying to get here is like, urgh.

“Really?” said Sarah. “What’s wrong with 77?”

She sounded so normal, so casual, but something was off about her words. Anyone living in Charlotte should have known how bad rush hour traffic was on 77, especially if they worked in this area.

“I can’t really hear, but it sounds like she’s making small talk. Don’t answer any questions, or lie if you have to. Better safe than sorry.”

“It’s like, super super busy.” said Jen. “Plus, I have to pick up Sam every morning, so it ends up taking forever to get here.”

“Does Chelsea ever carpool with you guys?” said Sarah.

“Nope,” said Jen. “I think she lives in one of those apartment complexes just down the street.”

Oh, my God, thought Naomi. Please, please, shut up.

The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. Jen stepped in and held the door.

“So she doesn’t live too close to you, huh, Naomi?”

Sarah turned to Naomi, giving her a wink.

Naomi’s heart jolted in her chest.

She knows I know.

Trying to keep her voice even, she spoke into the phone.

“Mel, the connection’s breaking up.”

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Previous | Next


Jen checked her phone again, but there were no new messages. It had been over two hours since she was supposed to give Sam a ride home, and there was still no sign of him.

She hadn’t been worried at first–it was so like Sam to get caught up in his work and lose track of time–but when she’d gone looking for him in the engineering building, she’d found his laptop, bag, and uneaten lunch abandoned at a desk.

She stood up from the bench where she sat, watching the last few tired-eyed business people heading to the parking deck after an evening at the office. Sam wasn’t among them.

One girl crossing the bridge from the main building caught Jen’s eye because she didn’t look like an employee. She had long, straight black hair, and wore jeans and a baggy black T-shirt that somehow managed to look sleek and put-together. She held a cell phone to her ear as she walked, pausing periodically and looking around as though she wasn’t sure where she was going.

As the girl came closer, Jen got a better look at her face. She had sharp, clean-cut features and rings in her lip and left eyebrow. Her face would have been a little intimidating had her expression not been so lost and worried.

“I’m at her work now and no one’s seen her.” Her voice was soft and nervous as she spoke into the phone. “No, I know… No, no, it’s not your fault… I’m sorry. I’m just really worried.”

“Excuse me,” said Jen as the girl came within earshot. “Are you looking for someone?”

The girl stopped walking. She mumbled an apology into the phone, then turned to Jen and spoke.

“Yeah. Why?”

“I’m looking for someone too. My boyfriend. I was supposed to give him a ride home, but I can’t find him anywhere.”

“Are you sure he didn’t get a ride with someone else?”

“I don’t think so. I went looking for him and found his stuff still here,” said Jen. “Who are you looking for?”

“My friend Chelsea. She was supposed to be home over an hour ago, and she hasn’t called or anything.”

“Chelsea,” said Jen. “Is she like, really pretty with super red hair and a goldfish tattoo?”

“Yeah! Yeah, that’s her.” The girl put her phone to her ear and spoke. “I just met someone who knows her… Okay, I’ll ask.” She covered the speaker with her hand and turned to Jen. “Do you know where she is?”

“Sorry, I don’t. The last time I saw her was this morning,” said Jen. “Maybe we can look together?”

The girl was quiet for a moment, considering the offer. Then she spoke into her phone.

“This girl can’t find her boyfriend. She says she wants us to look together for both of them.” Her voice was tentative, as though she was asking permission. “No, I don’t know if the boyfriend has anything to do with Chelsea … I hope not too … Okay, sure. One second.”

The girl turned to Jen. “The person I’m talking to wants me to put her on speaker so she can ask you some questions.”

Jen had a few questions of her own–who was on the phone, for one, and why did they want to talk to her? Not to mention, what did this have to do with Sam?–but her response was only one word.


The girl pressed a button on her phone, and a woman’s voice came from the speaker. The woman on the other line had a soft voice and a thick Australian accent, and those two things combined with the muffled speakerphone made her difficult to understand.

“Hello? Hi … you hear me? … I’m Melanie.”

“Um, hi, Melanie. I’m Jen. It’s nice to… meet you?”

“… you too ... hope you don’t mind if I ask a few questions.”

“No, I don’t mind. What did you want to ask?”

“… your boyfriend know Chelsea?”

“Yeah, he does. We both do. She’s super sweet.”

“Are they friends?”

“Kind of?” said Jen. “They’re more like… associates, really, but other than me, she’s probably the person he’s friendliest with here. He doesn’t really like most people. I’m trying to get him to be more social but he says–“

The black-haired girl cleared her throat, and Jen looked up to see an annoyed expression that was just as intimidating as she’d expected.

“Sorry. A lot of people say I talk too much. Boyfriend included.”

“Oh, no … fine, babe. And you should never let any boy tell you … talk too much.” said Melanie. “Naomi, could you … me off speaker, please?”

The girl–Naomi–obliged, pressing a button on her phone and putting it back against her ear.

“Okay,” she said into the phone. “You’re right, we shouldn’t drag anyone else into this.”

“Drag anyone else into what?” said Jen.

Naomi covered her phone speaker. “Don’t worry about it. And thanks for the offer, but I’ll look on my own.”

“Okay, well… good luck.”

“Uh, thanks. Good luck finding your boyfriend. I hope he’s okay,” said Naomi. “I really do.”

A woman passing them on the way to the parking deck stopped and turned to them.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Are you looking for someone?”

“Yeah,” said Naomi.

“Two someones,” said Jen. “My boyfriend and her friend.”

“Boyfriend?” The woman paused for a moment, raising an eyebrow, then continued. “Maybe I can help you look. I’ve lost someone too. I’m trying to find my friend Chelsea. I haven’t seen her since lunch.”

Naomi perked up. “Chelsea Brown?”

“That’s her.” The woman nodded. “Are you looking for her too?”

“Yeah,” said Naomi. She spoke into her phone again. “There’s someone else here looking for Chelsea too … There’s–There’s no harm in helping her look. Right?”

Jen could hear Melanie responding, but couldn’t make out the words. Naomi knit her brow and frowned as she looked at Sarah, then at Jen.

“Oh, uh… oh. Why?”

Melanie said something else Jen couldn’t make out.

“Oh, um, okay,” she said.

Melanie gave another unintelligible reply.

“Okay. I will,” said Naomi. “Um, what will you do if I do? … It won’t cost you any money to stay on the phone, will it? … Okay, good.”

“Can I ask who’s on the other line?” said the woman.

“Oh, just, uh.” Naomi paused. “It’s a long story. She’s helping me look for Chelsea, kind of. Her name is Melanie.”

“Hi, Melanie!” the woman said in the direction of the phone.

Jen heard a faint “hi!” from Naomi’s phone speaker.

“So that was Melanie. Can I ask what your names are?”

Jen and Naomi introduced themselves.

“It’s nice to meet you, Jen. Naomi.” The woman straightened her lab coat and smiled at them. “I’m Sarah.”

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Naomi leaned forward in her office chair. “Are you sure she was talking about the same Dominic?”

Yeah. Can we be sure it’s our Dominic?” Angelina yawned. “Sorry. It’s time for bed here.

Naomi wasn’t sure, but she thought it was past midnight in Italy. Angelina sounded much less peppy than usual and her sleepiness seemed to be making her accent more pronounced. Her webcam image was dark and grainy, and the light from her screen cast an odd glow over her face.

“No, I’m not sure.” Chelsea crossed her legs and rested an elbow on the arm of the chair she’d pulled up to the computer. “But it is weird. She said he was in Australia.”

Lachlan turned around from where he stood shirtless, brushing his teeth a few feet away from his webcam.

“Issa big countryesscuse me, he said with his mouth full of toothpaste. He leaned into a doorway, presumably one leading to a bathroom, and spit. “It’s not like there’s only one guy called Dominic here.”

“If it was just the name Dominic I’d chalk it up to coincidence but there was more,” said Chelsea. “She said his last name was Davis, which seems like it could be a mishearing of Davies.”

“Still, they’re both common names,” said Lachlan.

Angelina yawned again. “I think we need more informations.

“Information,” said Lachlan. “Not ‘informations’.”

“Sorry,” said Angelina. “I knew that. English is harder when I’m sleepy. I do more mistakes.”

Lachlan leaned forward, using his webcam image as a mirror as he ran a comb through his dirty blonde hair, which was sticking up in all directions. “So run along to bed and leave the grown-ups to talk.

Angelina made a face with her tongue stuck out. “I’m older than you.”

Lachlan rolled his eyes. “And clearly, you have the maturity to prove it.

“Be nice, Lachlan,” said Chelsea.

“Nah.” Lachlan turned away from the camera to rifle through one of his dresser drawers. “So assuming this guy was actually talking about the Dominic Davies, bassist extraordinaire and general legend, do you think this could have anything to do with our falconine friend?”

“Falconine?” Angelina rubbed her eyes. “I don’t know that word.”

“I’m not telling you what it means.” Lachlan selected a black band t-shirt and pulled it over his head.

“It just means falcon-like,” said Chelsea. “He’s talking about Falcon.”

“Thanks, C,” said Angelina. “Where is he, anyway?”

Naomi turned the webcam over to the couch where Falcon was fast asleep, tortilla chip bag still in his lap.

“He’s all jet-lagged out, it looks like,” she said.

“It might have something to do with Falcon, actually,” said Chelsea. “Mr. Clyde said someone in Brisbane, possibly Dominic, stole something from the company and brought it to the airport.”

“And Dominic’s friend just flew in from here to Naomi’s sleepy little neck of the woods,” Lachlan said. “I think I see where you’re going with this.”

“I wouldn’t call it sleepy,” said Chelsea. “Smaller than Brisbane or Toronto, maybe but it’s a big enough city.”

“Naomi’s lively and bustling neck of the woods, then,” said Lachlan. “I was under the impression that the point of this conversation was whether Naomi’s harboring a criminal, not the size of Naomi’s city of residence.”

Naomi glanced at Falcon again. He shifted in his sleep, sending a few chips falling onto the floor. Seeing him lying there snoring softly, it was hard to imagine him stealing from a multi-billion dollar business.

“You think Falcon’s a thief?” Naomi said. “And you think Dominic could be complicit?”

“I don’t know,” said Chelsea. “For all I know, this is all just one big coincidence. But this whole situation is just weird.”

“Falcon can’t be a thief,” said Angelina. “He’s super nice.”

“One can be nice and still be a thief.” Lachlan picked up a piece of toast that was lying on his desk and took a bite. “But I agree he doesn’t seem like the thieving kind. Nor does Dominic for that matter.”

“Yeah, Dominic’s too cute to be a thief,” said Angelina.

Naomi tried to suppress her eye-roll, and Lachlan didn’t bother suppressing his.

“Even putting Angelina’s impeccable logic aside, I’ve hung out with Dominic many times. He’s a great guy. I can’t see him being involved in embezzlement, or whatever this is.”

“Not embezzlement,” Naomi said. “They don’t work for the company and it doesn’t sound like it was money they stole.”

“Whatever,” Lachlan rolled his eyes again. “Close enough.”

“It’s worth mentioning the barista had some pretty damning stuff to say about the Clydes,” said Chelsea.

Lachlan took another bite of toast. “Damning stuff such as…?”

“They mistreat their employees,” said Chelsea, “and she even said she suspected they were involved in a murder. They may not be the victims here.”

“Falcon did say he was scared for his life,” Naomi said.

“Dominic and Falcon could be trying to stop these people from doing something corrupt or illegal,” said Lachlan.

“Exactly,” said Chelsea.

“It still doesn’t make sense, though,” Naomi said. “Why would Dominic and Falcon be involved at all?”

“I have a lot of questions too,” said Chelsea. “I can’t imagine we’ll get any answers unless we talk to Dominic or Falcon.”

“It’s only about 8 in the morning here, so Dominic is probably not awake yet but you could go ahead and send him a message now if you felt like it,” said Lachlan. “Speaking of which, this has been fascinating but I have to make like a falcon and fly away. It’s almost time for work in Lachlan-land.”

Lachlan disconnected from the video call.

“I should probably leave too,” said Angelina. “I’m so sleepy. Let me know what you find out?”

“Of course,” said Chelsea. “Good night, Angelina.”

“Good night, C. Good night, Naomi.” Angelina disconnected from the call.

Chelsea and Naomi looked over at Falcon sleeping on the couch, then looked at each other.

“Want to get started on that message to Dominic?” Chelsea said.



Dominic wasn’t sure how long he’d been awake. He had tried pacing around the room a few times throughout the night in an effort to calm his nerves but it had only made him feel worse. Now, he sat on the stained couch with his laptop on the coffee table in front of him, watching and waiting for a message.

He tapped the touch pad to make sure the monitor didn’t go to sleep, then got up and made his way to the kitchen. He opened the fridge and reached for a beer, then stopped as he noticed the light streaming in from behind the curtains. He glanced at the clock on the oven–7:55 AM. He shut the fridge and began brewing a pot of coffee.

“Mate, you look like utter shit.”

Dominic jumped, splashing a bit of water onto the floor. He turned to see Melanie standing in the kitchen doorway. Her blonde hair stuck up from her head at different angles and she had dark smudges beneath her eyes from yesterday’s mascara.

“Yeah.” Dominic poured the water into the coffee maker and pressed the button. It made a loud whining sound, then began to burble noisily as coffee dripped into the pot.

“You’re up early.” Melanie pulled a chair back from the kitchen table and took a seat, resting her feet on the table.

“I’m up late.” Dominic sat down beside her and rested his head in his hands. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Yeah, I didn’t sleep much either.” Melanie leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “Then I heard you crashing around in the kitchen and figured I might as well get up.”

“Crashing? I was just making coffee.”

“Making coffee real loudly.” Melanie stretched her arms over her head and yawned.

“Sorry.” Dominic tried to stifle his own yawn. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Any word from him?” said Melanie.

“Not yet,” said Dominic. “I’ve been watching the computer all night. He should be there by now.”

“I don’t know what you thought was gonna happen, Dom. You send him off to the other side of the fucking world, give him the name of some rando, and expect him to contact you right away?”

“You’re still mad at me.”

“Of course I’m still mad at you.” She opened her eyes and frowned at him. “What in fuck’s name were you thinking?”

“I didn’t have a choice, Mel. You know that.”

“No, I don’t know that. You didn’t bother discussing it with us. You just went ahead and made your rash decision without even talking to me or Jessica.”

“I didn’t have time to talk it out. They would’ve killed him, Mel. I had to protect him.”

Dominic felt someone flick the back of his head hard. “Ow! Fuck.”

He hadn’t even noticed Jessica coming in behind them. She had dark circles under her eyes and her shaggy, chin-length black hair was even shaggier than usual. She poured herself coffee, then sat across from them at the table. Melanie took her legs off the table and moved over a seat so they could all see each other.

“You’re still mad too, then,” Dominic signed.

“Yes. Obviously,” signed Jessica.

“Like I was telling Mel,” he signed, “I didn’t have a choice. I had to do something fast. I couldn’t let anything happen to him.”

“You didn’t have a fucking choice? Why was it your choice to make?” signed Melanie. “What about us? We should have all talked about this together and decided what to do.”

“What about him?” signed Jessica. “You–both of you–keep talking about him like he can’t make his own decisions. He’s not a child.

“You’re right,” signed Melanie. “I’m sorry. But my point still stands. Dom, you had no right to make that choice for him.”

“I didn’t make the choice for him. He wanted to go.”

“Did he? Did you actually ask him if he wanted to go?” signed Jessica.“Or did you just shove him in a car, take him to the airport, and tell him which plane to get on?”

“I was protecting him,” signed Dominic. “He never said he didn’t want to go.”

“It wasn’t your job to protect him,” signed Jessica. “Of course he didn’t say he didn’t want to go. He was scared and confused, he adores you, and he’s used to obeying orders without question. Did you even consider that?”

From the other room, the computer dinged. Dominic and Melanie jumped out of their chairs.

“What?” signed Jessica.

“Dominic just got a message,” signed Melanie.

Jessica jumped up and followed them into the living room. They sat on the sofa with Jessica in the middle, and Dominic and Melanie leaning in to see the screen.

Mail Center
Unread Messages (2)

From: Naomi Wada (Block User | Add to Friends)
To: Dominic Davies
Date: Tue 30/6/2009
Subject: Your friend

Hi Dominic,

I hope you are doing well. This is Naomi Wada. I assume you can guess why I’m writing you. I am really sorry to bother you so early in the morning but I didn’t know what else to do and I was hoping you could clear up a few things.

Falcon told me you said I could help him but I’m not entirely sure what he needs help with or why he’s here. We have a bit of a communication barrier, but based on what he’s told me I’m a bit concerned he may be in danger. I’d like to help your friend if I can, but I’m kind of at a loss here, so I’d appreciate it if you could provide some clarity.

Thank you,



From: fBXcbS4lp9@temp.io
To: Dominic Davies
CC: Melanie Graham; Jessica Thompson
Date: Tue 30/6/2009
Subject: I’m okay

It’s me. Just letting you know I’ve landed safely. Thanks for everything. Write back soon.



It was early enough in the night that there was still a faint purple glow on the horizon but the town of Palmer was already dark. Other than the airstrip, the only light came from a few scattered windows and porch lamps.

The darkness did nothing to ease the oppressive June heat. The air weighed down on Billy and Lily Clyde as they left the hangar and made their way home. A fish-scented sea breeze ruffled their clothes but provided little relief from the temperature.

“It’s good to be home.” Billy sighed and threw his shoulders back.

“It smells like shit and dead shrimp,” said Lily.

They walked the rest of the way to the mansion in silence. Lily climbed the steps to the porch and stopped to wait for Billy near the front door.

“Are you coming in?”

“I’m going to stop by the office and check on Sarah.”

Lily looked at the row of houses beyond the airstrip. Most of them were dark but a small yellow house had one illuminated window. “Looks like the light in her office is still on. Do you think she found anything?”

“I certainly hope so,” Billy turned toward the yellow house. “You go on in. I’ll let you know what I find.”


When Billy opened the door to Sarah’s office, she was so focused on her computer she didn’t notice him coming in. He knocked on the inside of the open door and she looked up.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t even see you, sir.”

“That’s quite alright, dear.” Billy took a seat across from her at her desk. “I’ve told you you don’t have to work this late. Not anymore.”

“Yes, sir.” She turned away from her computer screens to look at him. “And I appreciate the thought. I really do. I’ve tried to relax, like you said I was allowed to do but it feels wrong. I wasn’t made for that.”

“I know, kiddo.” Billy nodded. “It’s part of what makes you so valuable to us.”

“About my being valuable–” Sarah began.

Billy sighed. He knew where this conversation was going.

“Sarah, I know what you’re going to say and I’m afraid it’s just not possible.”

Her face fell. “Sir, with all due respect, I can probably do the work of ten of your normal employees. I’m not asking for much, not even minimum wage. But don’t I deserve some compensation for everything I do?”

“It’s not about what you deserve. It’s more complicated than that.” Billy sighed again. “Listen, kiddo, running a business is complicated. There’s a lot of red tape involved. Lily and I are still working on figuring a way to compensate you for all your work, but it’s still out of the picture for the time being.”

“Someday, though?”

Billy nodded. “Someday.”


They were silent for a moment and Billy took pause as an opportunity to switch to a less difficult subject.

“So have you found anything?”

“Maybe,” said Sarah, turning one of her monitors in his direction. “I’ve looked at the flights leaving Brisbane Airport that correspond with the time Mr. Gibson saw the resource.”


“There were two flights to Melbourne, which I think we can safely rule out, given the resource originally came from there. There were also two to Sydney, one to Hobart, one to Perth, and one to Hervey Bay.”

“What about international flights?” said Billy.

“You think he could have left Australia?”

“I wouldn’t rule it out. This Dominic fellow could have given the resource his passport or something. It could be anywhere.”

“Let’s see.” Sarah scrolled down on one of her monitors. “There was one to Denpasar, one to Port Moresby, one to Vancouver, one to Charlotte, and two to LA.”

Billy frowned. “So it could be any of nine different places.”

“Yes, but I was able to narrow it down.”

“Really? How so? And more importantly, what was it narrowed down to?”

“I created a temporary email and messaged Dominic Davies impersonating the resource.” She smirked. “He wrote back almost right away. Too easy.”

“Well, don’t keep an old man in suspense. What did he say?”

“For one thing, the resource is calling himself Falcon now for some reason,” she said, “but more importantly, Dominic mentioned the resource was with someone named ‘Naomi Wada’.”

“Who?” said Billy.

“I’m getting to that,” said Sarah. “An online search for just the name ‘Naomi Wada’ turned up way too many people to be useful, but an online search for ‘Naomi Wada’ and ‘The Goldfish Technique’ only turned up one.”

“The Goldfish Technique, huh? I assume this is the rock band and not the sales technique.”

“You assume correctly,” said Sarah. “I found a Naomi Wada who talks about the band on her MySpace page. And guess where she lives?”

“Where?” said Billy.

“Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Billy nodded. “One of our nine possibilities. Good work, kiddo.”

“Thank you, sir.” Sarah smiled.

“So,” said Billy, “how would you feel about a little business trip?”

“I’d love that.”

“I’ll have Lily fly you to Charlotte tomorrow,” said Billy. “It’s a shame we didn’t figure this out sooner; I just flew in from there, you know.”

“I’m sorry, sir.” Sarah’s smile faltered a little.

“Oh, don’t be sorry, dear. You’ve done great work on this,” said Billy. “Hey, tell you what. You take care of this unpleasant little situation for us, and I’ll see about paying you a real wage.”

Sarah’s smile grew wider. “You really mean that?”

“Of course I do. It wouldn’t be much, of course–“

“That’s fine. I don’t need much. Oh, thank you, sir!”

Billy chuckled. “Don’t thank me yet, now. You still need to destroy the resource first.”

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