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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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Not Enough–Interlude 22

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They were studying his DNA?

Sam felt a queasy horror building in his chest.

They’d been studying his DNA this whole time?

He’d interviewed for so many internships before getting this one. He was smart–he knew that–but it had felt like every single interviewer had underestimated him. In most interviews, he’d answered every technical question correctly, and still been challenged like he didn’t know what he was talking about. There had been times he’d given answers to hypothetical engineering problems that he knew would work, and the interviewer dismissed him, asking pointedly why he’d decided to use a particular kind of cable or size of electrical wire, then talking over him so he couldn’t justify a choice that should have been obvious.

The non-technical parts of the interviews–the ones that should have been easier–had been even worse. A lot of interviewers had wanted him to be outgoing and assertive. They’d talked a lot about breaking stereotypes in the engineering field and promoting diversity, all while wanting to pigeonhole him into a personality type that didn’t fit.

The CPSI interview was the only one he’d walked away feeling good about. He’d thought he’d finally found a workplace that would value his intelligence and not expect him to be something he wasn’t.

And it had all been a sham.

Worse than that, he was being studied without his knowledge like some kind of specimen.

“Why are they studying us?” he said.

Before his trip through time, he would have had trouble keeping his voice even. Now, the even, steady tone came easily.

“I assume Sam and Jen are familiar with the special type of plastic CPSI uses in their packaging, but for Lachlan and Angelina’s benefit, there’s a special type of genetically engineered microorganism that produces it,” said Mrs. Sharma. “CPSI saved so much money from switching to the new plastic that it got Mr. Clyde thinking about how biotechnology could increase his profits even more.”

“Going from creating microorganisms to creating people?” said Lachlan. “Ethics aside, that’s a leap and a half.”

Mrs. Sharma nodded. “No one ever accused the Clydes of being rational or reasonable.”

“Please don’t tell me they used our DNA to create the fabrications,” Sam said.

The sick feeling grew inside him at the idea of sentient life being created from his DNA just so it could be imprisoned and abused in the name of making some greedy CEO even richer.

“No,” said Mrs. Sharma. “The fabs weren’t based on anyone’s DNA.”

That was a small relief at least, but not enough to ease the weight in his chest.

“What are they using it for, then?” said Sam.

Mrs. Sharma frowned.

“That’s one thing I was never able to figure out.”

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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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“I died?” said Lachlan. “What do you mean I died?”

Lachlan had resumed his walk beside Sam and the back of the group, although he was looking back over his shoulder a lot more now.

Sam was still missing his singlet, but he had his jacket on again. Much to Mrs. Sharma’s impatience, Sam had turned away from the group without a word soon after regaining consciousness. He’d entered a nearby shop and returned moments later with the jacket over his arm, shrugging and saying “My neodymium magnets were in the pocket. They’re extremely rare and valuable.”

Lachlan had almost pointed out that he’d seen those magnets in toy shops before, but he’d stopped himself. Sam had just saved his life after all.

“I mean just what I said,” said Sam. “I watched you die, and then something really weird happened to me.”

Lachlan frowned. After all the weirdness he’d seen in this place, he wasn’t ready to discount what Sam was saying, even if it didn’t make a lot of sense.

“What do you mean something weird happened to you? And how exactly did that lead to my miraculous resurrection?”

“It wasn’t a miraculous resurrection,” said Sam. “Let me finish explaining. Do you remember your theory from earlier about me?”

Sam didn’t look at Lachlan as he spoke, instead, staring ahead of them over everyone else’s heads as though he was staring miles into the distance. He looked lost, but at the same time, he carried himself with so much more composure than before. His expression was distant, but his posture was confident as he strode forward, never glancing down.

“That something very weird is going on with you?”


“And I’m guessing whatever happened to you has proven my little hunch?”

“At this point, it’s not even a theory or a hunch. Something really weird happened to me.”

Lachlan tried not to let his concern show on his face.

“Something besides the obvious newfound powers of flight and swordsmanship, I’m assuming.”

“Yeah,” said Sam.

“And are you going to tell me what that something is?”

“It was…” Sam paused, closing his eyes. “It was hard to explain. You were lying there, covered in your own blood, and Mrs. Sharma said you were dead, but I had this overwhelming sense that I could save you. It was like my instincts took over and I started walking. I don’t understand it, but I traveled through time.”

“So what? You have the power to manipulate time now?”

“I don’t think I was manipulating it. I was just moving through it, as easily as we’re walking down this road right now.” Sam frowned. “Well, almost as easily. It felt really weird.”

“What did it feel like?”

“Kinda like falling backwards, but you never hit the ground.”

“Ah,” was all Lachlan could think to say.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Sam. “I don’t know how it could have happened. I was defying so many laws of physics. How could I have survived outside of time? There was no air movement, no heat… How could my body systems have functioned? Maybe you were onto something with that mad-scientist brain-in-a-jar theory. It’s the only way any of this adds up.”

“If you want my opinion, there are three possibilities,” said Lachlan. “The first is that our mad scientist friend has decided to really live up to his title.”

“What are the other two?”

“Well, one possibility is that there was some sort of shield or temporal barrier protecting you,” said Lachlan.

“Interesting. I wonder how something like that would even work,” said Sam. “What’s your third option?”

“That you changed,” said Lachlan. “That something transformed you on a fundamental level.”

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Lachlan pushed himself to his feet with shaking hands, his head still buzzing with adrenaline and panic. He leaned against the shop window behind him and waited to catch his breath.

He’d been chased and grabbed by a few monsters since he’d been put in this place, but this time had been the most terrifying. His arms had been completely pinned to his sides this time, leaving him feeling paralyzed in a way that reminded him of when he’d been drugged.

The creature lay unconscious a few meters away. Sam lay near it, the sword he’d been holding on the ground beside him. Mrs. Sharma knelt beside him, feeling his pulse on his wrist. Jen stood nearby, her face knit with concern as she looked down at her boyfriend.

“Is… is…” Lachlan paused for a moment, trying to stop his voice from shaking. “Is he alright?”

“His pulse and breathing pattern are normal. I don’t see any sign of head injury.” She shook Sam lightly. “Sam. Sam, can you hear me?”

When he didn’t respond, she grasped the muscle between Sam’s neck and shoulder, twisting. He opened his eyes, squinting up at her.

“Ow,” he said. “What was that for?”

“I was testing your response to a painful stimulus. And you responded. Congratulations,” she said. “Anyway, you’re awake now. Get up.”

“Get… up?” said Sam.

“Yes, get up. There’s no time to coddle you. You don’t appear to have any serious injuries, and if you want to keep it that way, we need to move before the Dave fabrication wakes up.”

“Seriously?” said Jen.

“As eager as I am to get away from that thing,” said Lachlan, “I can’t help but notice your bedside manner could use a bit of work.”

“Damn it, Lachlan, I’m a biologist, not a doctor,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Sam, get up. If you can’t get up, one of the Stanley fabrications can carry you.”

“Nah, I’m… I’m good.” Sam pulled himself shakily into a sitting position with his good hand. “I think.”

Lachlan stepped forward, offering Sam a hand. Sam took it, and Lachlan pulled him to his feet, then turned to Mrs. Sharma.

“You know, that’s really no way to treat the king among peasants who just saved my life.”

His voice still felt shaky, but he tried to sound as normal as he could.

Mrs. Sharma rolled her eyes.

“If you’ll recall, I also had a hand in saving your life.”

“Yes, but you didn’t do it whilst flying and dual wielding swords.”

“I don’t see how that’s relevant. We need to move before the Dave fabrication wakes up, or we need to take care of it permanently.”

“Take care of it permanently?” said Angelina. “You mean kill it?”

“No, I mean build a rocket ship and launch it to Saturn.” Mrs. Sharma sighed. “Obviously I mean kill it. What else would I mean?”

“I was just asking.” Angelina pouted.

“Even if we kill it, it’s only a matter of time before Zogzhesh wakes up and finds us. Or before the Sarah fabrications come back. Or before we run into some new danger. We have to keep moving.”

“But–” said Lachlan.

“But nothing. This is exactly why I was against leaving my house.”

“You mean why you were willing to leave an innocent woman stranded in this place?” said Mahender.

“I’m not going to argue with you about this–“

“Hey!” interrupted Angelina. “Is anyone going to bring up how whatever-his-name-is was flying a minute ago? And where he got those swords? And where his shirt went? Why are we not going to take a second to talk about that?”

“I hate to agree with Angelina,” said Lachlan, “but I do feel that all of her points warrant some addressing.”

“Believe it or not, I agree with you both,” said Mrs. Sharma, “but this isn’t the time or place to talk about it. We’ll keep moving now and talk about your friend later.”

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