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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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Lachlan sat beside Sam on the floor, leaning against a wall. Sam hadn’t wanted to stop for a rest, but when Lachlan’s leg pain had become unbearable, he’d sat down and refused to move, hoping Sam wouldn’t want to continue alone. To Lachlan’s satisfaction, Sam had sat down beside him, claiming his legs were starting to ache too.

Sam had taken a pen and small notepad from his pocket and begun writing.

“The first step in the solution of a problem,” said Sam, “is to identify the problem.”

“That’s easy. We’re stuck here,” said Lachlan. “Boom. Done. Step one, check.”

Sam gave him that infuriating smirk.

“Not so fast,” he said. “We still don’t know where ‘here’ is.”

“Maybe that’s the problem then. That we don’t know where we are.”

Sam squinted and frowned at him, no doubt trying to find fault with what he was saying. After a moment of silence, he spoke.

“We can think of that as a kind of sub-problem. A question we need to find an answer to before we solve the larger problem.”

He wrote something on the notepad, a slow, deliberate, but completely illegible scrawl.

“Okay. We have a sub-problem,” said Lachlan. “Sub-step one, check?”

“Sure,” said Sam.

“And I’m assuming there’s a step two you’re going to tell me about.”

“Yes. Step two is to conduct research.”

“And how are we meant to do that?” said Lachlan. “Type ‘infinite building populated by murder rectangles’ into Google? Check the Wikipedia page for ‘where the fuck are we’? I’d suggest picking up a book, but apparently books stole your woman and kicked your mum in the face or something.”

“There aren’t any books here,” said Sam, as though Lachlan had made a serious suggestion.

“You know I was being sarcastic and witty, right?” said Lachlan.

“I knew you were being sarcastic. You were in no way being witty,” said Sam. “Anyway, clearly, in our case, we can’t conduct research in the traditional sense. However, we can consider all the information we have about our predicament.”

Sam handed Lachlan the notepad.

“You write,” he said.

“What’s the magic word?” said Lachlan.

“Just write,” said Sam. “I focus better when I’m not trying to write and talk at the same time.”

“Excuse me, Lachlan,” Lachlan mimicked an American accent. “Can you please take notes for me, bro? Thanks, buddy. You’re a pal.”

“That’s not how I sound,” said Sam.

“That’s exactly how you sound.” Lachlan looked down at the notepad in his hand. “Is the reason you want me to write that your handwriting is shit? Because this looks like a three-year-old wrote it.”

“Messy handwriting is a sign of high intelligence,” said Sam.

“Of course it is,” said Lachlan. “Anything specific you’d like me to write down?”

“Anything about what brought us here, or what we’ve experienced while we’ve been here,” said Sam. “Is there anything you can think of?”

“Well, we know I was sent here on purpose, and you ended up here by accident,” said Lachlan, “but we had similar experiences just before ending up here. Big machines, loud noises, green fog.”

Lachlan waited for Sam to respond. Instead, he was silent, turning his head away in the direction of the wall to their left.

“Hello? Earth to Samurai?” Lachlan waved a hand in front of Sam’s face. “We were trying to solve a problem.”

“Do you hear that?” said Sam. “It sounds like voices.”



Sarah watched the color drain from Naomi’s face as she finally realized the situation she was in. Naomi took two steps backward into the wall away from 199.

You dumb idiot! If you’d gotten the IDLD when I told you, this wouldn’t be happening!

“Oh, 254!” said 112. “Catch!”

112 flung the inter-dimensional ladder device into the air, and 254 waited before lunging for it. Sarah’s heart leapt into her throat as it flew through the air. The IDLD was a delicate piece of technology. Just seven inches long by two inches wide, the little device could tear a hole in a specific time and place in reality and pull its user through. She wasn’t smart enough to know how it worked–she’d been designed for charm and ruthlessness, not for intelligence–but she knew nothing good could come of it being damaged.

She knew her sisters wouldn’t break the IDLD on purpose–that would prevent them from using it for themselves–but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t damage it by accident.

Laughing, 254 caught the IDLD with one hand moments before it hit the ground, and Sarah let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

“Oops,” said 254. “It’d be a shame if this thing broke.”

112 advanced on Sarah. Sarah kicked out, and felt 112’s toothy hand wrap around her foot, digging into the skin that her shoe didn’t cover. 112 pulled, and Sarah’s head thumped against the wall as her balance gave way and she slid onto the floor.

She kicked again, this time aiming for 112’s unsteady ankles. 112’s serpentine legs wavered, and she tumbled backward onto the floor.

Sarah sat up and scooted backward against the wall, using it to help push herself back into a standing position.

She looked over at Naomi, who was pinned to the wall, struggling as 199 held onto her arms.

Sarah kicked 199 in middle of her back. 199 didn’t feel pain, but the kick served its purpose, startling 199 enough she release Naomi’s arms.

Naomi shoved 199. 199 stumbled backward a couple feet, then regained her footing and started toward Naomi again. Naomi dodged her and headed toward Sarah.

Naomi reached into her pocket and produced a set of keys. Without a word to Sarah, she began stabbing a car key into the duct tape, trying to tear Sarah’s arms free.

Ironic. She restrained me to protect herself, and now her life depends on setting me free.

112’s head snapped up at an inhuman angle as she noticed what Naomi was doing.

“Hey! Stop her!”

254 rushed forward, shoving Naomi aside with her free hand.

Sarah looked down at her arms. Some tape still held, but Naomi had managed to sever enough of it. Sarah pulled her arms apart, then began using her teeth to tear at the tape covering her hands.

If I can just get this off, I’ll be able to use my abilities.

254 lunged at Sarah, aiming for the weak point just below her chest and missing. She felt a dull, painless thud as 254’s fist collided with the center of her chest.

“You missed.” She drove her fist into 254’s weak point. “I didn’t.”

254 gasped and doubled over, dropping the IDLD. Naomi and 199 lunged for it, grabbing it at the same time. They engaged in a brief tug-of-war, then 199 struck Naomi in the face. Clutching her cheek, Naomi released the device.

Sarah resumed tearing at the tape on her hands with her teeth. She pulled off a large patch of tape, freeing up her fingers, and spit the tape onto the floor.

112’s legs twisted unnaturally as she pulled herself off the floor and took a swaying step toward Sarah. Sarah concentrated, focusing her energy into her right hand. She thrust her hand out, releasing the energy, and swept her hand sideways, knocking 112 back to the ground.

Sarah reached for 199, wrapping the energy around her and pulling her in. 199 flew toward her, still clutching the IDLD.

Sarah grabbed the IDLD with one hand, and struck 199 just below the chest with the other. Gasping, 199 let go of the device and collapsed onto her knees.

Sarah reached out again, this time using her ability to pull Naomi toward her. Naomi cried out, struggling as Sarah wrapped her arms around her.

“Hey! What are you doing? Let go of me!”

“Relax,” said Sarah. “I’m saving your life.”

Sarah pressed the button to open the portal to Charlotte. The IDLD peeped, and the green LED on top of the device lit up.

“Brace yourself,” she said. “This is about to be real uncomfortable.”

She pressed the button again.



Sam covered his ears as the sound ripped through the room. Even at half the volume it had been before, it was loud enough to be painful.

When the tearing sound subsided, he felt a little weaker than before, and his hands trembled just slightly. He tucked them under his legs so Lachlan wouldn’t see.

When Lachlan turned to look at him, he knew they were both thinking the same thing.

“That was… that was it,” said Sam. “The sound the machine made right before I ended up here.”

“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “That’s the sound I heard too.”

Sam took a deep breath, waiting for some of his strength to return before he spoke again.

“It could be the sound of a gateway or a portal opening,” he said.

“Let’s go find it, then.” Lachlan climbed to his feet. “It could be our way home.”

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“Welcome,” said Sarah, “to the Pit.”

Naomi looked around her. She wasn’t sure how she had expected a space between realities to look, but it hadn’t been anything like the empty room they stood in now. Fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed above in a drop ceiling, casting a sickly blue-white pallor on the yellowed walls and carpet.

“This is the space between realities?”

“Yeah,” said Sarah.

“Why does it look like a building that hasn’t been renovated since the eighties?”

“I’m not sure, to be honest,” said Sarah. “I’ve wondered that too. My guess is a building was pulled in here somehow and got corrupted on the way down.”

“Why corrupted?” said Naomi. “It’s kind of creepy, but it looks like a normal shitty room to me.”

“The building doesn’t have an exit as far as I’ve found. There are multiple floors but no stairs,” said Sarah. “All the rooms seem to be the same size and shape, with the same four doors and gross carpet, like one room was copied over again and–“

Sarah stopped, a nervous look crossing her face.

“What is it?” said Naomi.

“I didn’t think they’d find me. Not right away. They must have already been nearby when the portal opened.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We should go,” said Sarah. “We need to go.”

“Go? What do you mean we need to go? We just got here.”

“There’s a device on the inside pocket of my coat,” said Sarah. “It looks like a–what do you call it?–a little remote control. I need you to grab on tight to me and press the button labeled ‘CLT’. If the little light turns green, press it again.”


“It’ll lift us back into our reality.”

“What?” said Naomi. “No. You said this is where Chelsea and Lachlan are. I thought you were going to help me rescue them.”

“I am,” said Sarah. “Just not yet.”

“Not yet? What the hell? When, then?”

“Soon. Soon, I promise. I took you here to prove I was telling the truth about the portal, but we can’t stay here,” said Sarah. “There are things that live in here. Dangerous things. I can hear them coming closer.”

“That means those things are in here with my friends,” said Naomi. “I’m not leaving until I find them.”

There were voices and footsteps coming from somewhere beyond the wall to their right.

“Do you hear that?” said Sarah.

“Hear what?” said Naomi. “The people talking?”

“Those aren’t people,” said Sarah. “Trust me. Just get the device. Please.”

The footsteps grew louder.

“You haven’t given me a single reason to trust you,” said Naomi.

The footsteps were in the room next to them now. Naomi could see the shadow of someone’s legs under the door. Sarah’s expression was neutral, but her eyes betrayed fear.

“Naomi, I don’t like to beg, but I’m begging you now,” said Sarah. “Please, please get the device and press the button.”

“But I don’t want to leave until I find my friends,” said Naomi.

“Oh, my God, you idiot,” said Sarah. “Listen to what I’m saying! You’re not gonna find them if you’re dead. Get the device and press the button!”

The doorknob turned, and the door creaked open.

“Naomi, get the device now.”

The woman who stepped through the door was identical to Sarah.

She wore a stained, featureless white jumpsuit covered with the number ‘199’ printed on the right shoulder, and her dark hair was wild and un-brushed. Her eyes widened when she saw Sarah.

“Could it be?”

Her expression shifted to the one Naomi had seen on Sarah in the elevator, a smirk with an unsettling darkness behind it. She turned back into the doorway.

“Sisters? Look who decided to join us.”

Her voice was nearly identical to Sarah’s, but without the Georgia accent.

The woman moved out of the way, and another identical woman stepped through, this one with ‘254’ printed on her jumpsuit shoulder. Her expression mirrored the first woman’s–wide, surprised eyes followed by that dangerous humorless smirk.

“112,” said the second woman. “Look who decided to stop by and grace us with her presence.”

A third woman with ‘112’ on her shoulder emerged from behind the other two. She had a strange wobbly gait, her legs moving like a pair of snakes forced to hold up a humanoid body. She wasn’t entirely identical to the others; she was longer-limbed and a couple inches taller, her jumpsuit tight around her shoulders and too short at her wrists and ankles. What stood out most to Naomi, though, was her hands. The skin looked rough and scaly, and small, sharp bony growths protruded from all her fingers except the middle ones.

“Is it really you, 131?” said 112.

Her voice was smooth, but it had a harsh, unnatural quality, with a faint echo in it that didn’t belong.

“112,” said Sarah. “It’s been a while.”

Her voice was even, but her eyes were terrified.

“Too long,” said 112.

“Not long enough,” said Sarah.

The three women prowled forward toward Sarah and Naomi. Naomi took a step back toward the room’s corner.

“Naomi,” said Sarah. “Now would be a great time for you to get the device and get us out of here.”

“Get the device and get us out of here,” said 254. “That is a very interesting sentence, don’t you agree, sisters?”

“Very interesting,” said 199.

The three women stepped forward again, almost in unison.

“Damn it, Naomi! Now!”

“We’ve been in this hellhole for so long,” said 112. “Constantly hunted, constantly running, barely surviving. You think we’re going to let you leave now? After what you did to us?”

“Naomi!” said Sarah. “Get the device, you dumb idiot!”

Naomi hesitated. These three women were undeniably creepy, but so was Sarah. There was no way to know what the device was or how dangerous it was.

“Now where did you say this device was?” 112 stalked forward toward Sarah. “Your inside coat pocket?”

“Now, Naomi! Hurry!”

Naomi took an unsure step toward Sarah, but 112 got to her first. Sarah tried to back away, but 112 grabbed her neck with one hand, pushing her against the wall and holding her there. She searched the inside of Sarah’s coat with her free hand until she found the small rectangular device.

When she let go, there were pinprick cuts in Sarah’s neck from the bony growths in 112’s hand. A few trickles of blood made their way down to Sarah’s shirt and settled into her white collar.

So she can bleed after all.

Naomi realized with a chill how similar the stain on Sarah’s shirt looked to the stains on the three women’s white jumpsuits.

Are they covered in blood?

“Give it back,” said Sarah.

112 dangled the device in front of Sarah’s face.

“Give what back? This?” said 112. “Your one ticket out of here? Your only hope for survival?”

“I had to do what I had to do. I couldn’t let you hurt her,” said Sarah. “It wasn’t personal.”

“It wasn’t personal,” said 254. “It wasn’t personal because we’re not real people, and that made it okay.”

“You’re not real people! None of us are!”

“What you did may not have been personal” said 254, “but what we’re going to do to you will be extremely personal.”

Naomi inched backward away from the strange women, but the movement caught 199’s eyes. She felt a jolt of fear as 199 seemed to notice her for the first time.

“What’s this?” 199 stepped toward her. “Who’s your little friend, 131?”

“I’m…” Naomi tried to swallow her nerves. “I’m Naomi. And I’m not her friend.”

112 swiveled her head around to look at Naomi, her neck bending unnaturally. She spoke in the same creepily perky voice Sarah had used earlier, but her voice’s unearthly cadence made her even creepier. She sounded like a hostile space alien impersonating a customer service representative.

“That’s lucky for you, Naomi,” said 112. “Because any friend of 131’s is an enemy of ours.”

254 turned to face Naomi.

“Are you the one who put all this tape on her arms?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Naomi. “Yeah, yes, that was me.”

112’s face broke into a grin too wide for her face, and Naomi realized her teeth were pointed.

“Well, then, Naomi,” said 112. “We should be thanking you. You made things so much easier for us.”

“You’re, um… you’re welcome?”

“Oh, she’s too sweet,” said 254. “We should do something nice to repay her. Don’t you think, sisters?”

Sarah struggled against the tape around her arms, trying to bend her elbows.

“Yeah,” said 199. “Something nice, to say thank you.”

“That’s, um, that’s okay,” said Naomi. “You don’t have to.”

“No, no,” said 112. “We insist.”

Sarah had managed to lift her hands to her face and was attempting to bite at the tape.

“What do you think we should do for her?” said 254.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said 199. “Throw a party? Buy a cake with her name on it? Would you like that, Naomi?”

“I, um…”

112 laughed, and the sound was even more alien than her speech.

“Sister,” she said. “There are no cakes in the Pit. You know that.”

“Then I guess there’s only one way we can thank her.” 199 smiled at her sisters. “And I think we all know what it is.”

The sisters stepped closer, closing in on Sarah and Naomi.

112 gave Naomi another shark-like grin.

“We make her death quick and merciful.”

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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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WELCOME 2 the ~*fishbowl*~!! :DDDD
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Indicerandom stuffs!! >> has anyone talked 2 lachlan naomi or chelsea?______________________________________________________________________________
2 luglio 2009 02:11
xXangelina_luvs_tgt_4evaXx (amministratore)

hi every1! so i’m posting bc im rly confused about what’s happening right now and im kinda worried. i havent heard from lachlan/guitargod, naomi/SuperGirl, or chelsea/c/rocknrollsweetheart in over a day. they haven’t come online and their not answering their messages so i’m starting to get a little worried. something weird happened a few days ago, and i want to make sure they r safe.

SweetDan i know u go to university with naomi have u seen her?
░ t ░ h ░ e ░ g ░ o ░ l ░ d ░ f ░ i ░ s ░ h ░ t ░ e ░ c ░ h ░ n ░ i ░ q ░ u ░ e ░
~~baby i’ve loved u since we were FRIES~
~ur the only FISH 4 me xP~

♡ { TGT #1 FAN } ♡

:p i love jessica thompson :p
^^ TGT FoReVeR ^^

“if i did have an evil twin she wouldnt like pancakes thats for sure!”~chelsea xD

☆ angelina ☆
last.fm | myspace

2 luglio 2009 02:50
SweetDan (barracuda)

Hi, Angelina! Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from Lachlan, Naomi, or Chelsea in the past few days. I do go to the same university as Naomi, but I’m afraid I don’t typically see her on campus, and I’ve not seen her at all since school let out.

Hope everything’s alright! 🙂
If anyone needs me, I’ll be playing guitar for my cats!
Sweet Dan and the Leaf Man band profile — Give us a listen 🙂

2 luglio 2009 03:12
JessicaThompson (BAND MEMBERZ)

hi, angelina. please delete this topic and refrain from making anymore public posts about this. thanks.



Angelina felt her face grow hot as she read Jessica’s message. She considered her English to be pretty good, but the message not being in her native language made it hard to figure out Jessica’s tone. What made it worse was there was no way to ask whether Jessica was angry, not when she had explicitly told her not to make any more public posts about the subject.

She could message Jessica on MySpace–she’d done it before asking for drumming tips–but the last thing she wanted was to come off as weird or needy to the person she looked up to more than anything.

I didn’t even mention Falcon! she thought. I was subtle! I just want to know if my friends are okay!

She had a feeling Naomi, Lachlan, and Chelsea were meeting up in group chat rooms, messaging with Jessica, Melanie, and Dominic and getting to the bottom of the mystery without her.

She was used to being out of the loop. She loved The Goldfish Technique more than anything on earth, but Lachlan never sent her the videos he took when the band played new songs live, and he and Naomi sometimes even lied to her, telling her that the band wasn’t recording a new album when they were or that a rare demo track didn’t exist when it did.

Once, after she’d begged him and spammed his instant messages for hours, Lachlan had sent her a horrible quality snippet of an unreleased song, claiming it was the only version that existed. Days later, she’d mentioned it to Chelsea, who sent over the full high-quality version right away–the version Lachlan had sent Chelsea and Naomi.

‘Fuck. I should’ve known she’d send it to you,’ was all he’d said when she’d asked him about it.

It figured they’d leave her out of this too.

She glanced at the time on her laptop. Almost 3:30 in the morning. That explained why she was so tired. She’d gotten used to staying up late, waiting for Chelsea to get home from work so they could video chat, but she usually started having trouble keeping her eyes open around two or so. They’d gotten into a routine; she’d call Chelsea around midnight, and they’d talk until she got so tired Chelsea started insisting she get some sleep and apologizing for keeping her up, even though she’d be happy to talk all night if she could.

Now, Chelsea had missed two nights in a row. Unlike Lachlan and Naomi, Chelsea had never left her out before. At least not until now.

Her computer dinged, and her heart leaped when she saw the box pop up indicating one of her contacts had signed into instant messenger.

Falcon. He’d added her to his contacts after he’d talked to her on Naomi’s account.

She liked him; he hadn’t seemed annoyed with her, and he’d been nice to her without humoring her or being condescending.

Maybe he would tell her what was going on.

Messaggeria Istantanea
03:29 2 luglio 2009

Il mio stato:
Angelina (Online)
Nessun nuovo messaggio di posta elettronica

Falcon <59falcon> — Conversazione

Angelina: hiiiiiiii!
Falcon: Hi.
Angelina: what’s uppp
Falcon: Not much. I’m laying low in Chelsea’s flat. How are you?
Angelina: ur in chelsea flat??? lucky i bet she has the coolest house
Angelina: shes awesome ^__^
Angelina: i’m fine i guess
Angelina: can i ask u somethings?
Falcon: Of course.
Angelina: one do u know if jessica is angry at me
Falcon: Why would she be?
Angelina: i kinda made a post on the fishbowl forum asking about naomi and chelsea and lachlan and if anyone had talked to them
Angelina: do NOT worry bc i did not mention u or anything at all but she was like no angelina delete that
Falcon: I can’t imagine Jess would be angry about that. She was just being cautious.
Angelina: ok can u ask her tho????
Falcon: I’ll ask, but I’m sure she’s not.
Angelina: also that brings me to the second thing i wanted to ask u
Falcon: What is it?
Angelina: do YOU know where are naomi lachlan and c??
Falcon: Chelsea didn’t come home from work. Naomi went to go look for her about an hour ago. I haven’t seen them since.
Angelina: oh
Angelina: so they might not be ok
Angelina: falconnnnn????
Angelina: r u there????????
Angelina: hellooooo?
Falcon: Sorry. Melanie’s messaging me.
Angelina: omg what did she say??
Falcon: This is bad.
Angelina: what is bad???
Angelina: falcon what is it???????
Falcon: Melanie thinks the woman who took Chelsea is with Naomi now.
Angelina: took chelsea?????
Angelina: took chelsea to where
Angelina: falcon what do you mean took chelsea
Angelina: and shes now with naomi?????
Angelina: falcon pls answer me whats going on??????



Naomi struggled and thrashed, but the pressure on her chest only grew with every desperate kick. She tried to gasp in a breath, but only a tiny trickle of air found its way into her lungs. She squeaked as she exhaled, a sound like the last bit of air escaping a balloon.

There was movement somewhere in her field of vision, followed by a crash, and the weight lifted from her body. For a moment, she thought she’d somehow broken herself free from Sarah’s power.

Then, she saw Sarah slumped in the corner of the elevator and Jen standing over her, looking wide-eyed and startled.

“What happened?” said Naomi.

“I…” said Jen. “I think I kicked her.”

“You think?”

“I… I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s going on.” Jen began speaking so quickly Naomi almost couldn’t understand her. “She was doing something to you, and it didn’t make sense and, I don’t know, I’ve been taking taekwando since I was six and I guess it finally paid off because I–Sorry. Sorry. I’m rambling. Not the time, Jen. Not the time.”

“It’s… it’s okay.”

Naomi looked down at Sarah. She wasn’t moving, but she didn’t look as though she’d been kicked in the head. There was no blood, no nascent bruises. No outward signs of injury whatsoever.

What has she said? That she was a ‘piece of biotechnology’? Maybe she didn’t get bruises, or even have blood.

Jen took a deep breath and spoke again, sounding as though speaking at a normal speed took Herculean effort. “She’ll… she’ll probably wake up soon. We need to leave.”

Naomi stared down at Sarah’s prone body. Her first instinct was to slam her fist on the ‘door open’ button, run out of the elevator, and never set foot in a Clyde Packaging Solutions building again.

She remained where she was.

“We should, um,” said Jen. “We should probably go.”

“No,” said Naomi.

Jen turned her startled expression in Naomi’s direction.


“No. No, you’re welcome to leave,” said Naomi. “I would if I were in your position. But this woman did something to my best friend. If Chelsea’s still…”

Naomi trailed off. She didn’t want to say ‘alive’, because that would mean considering the alternative.

“Still… okay?”

Naomi nodded. ‘Okay’ worked.

“Still okay. If she’s still okay, this woman might be the only person who knows where she is.”

Jen stared at Naomi for a second, then spoke.

“There’s a storage closet by the copier and I think it has duct tape and stuff. We can use it to tape up her hands so she can’t use her… I don’t know what to call it. Powers? I don’t want to call it ‘powers’. That sounds like we’re in a video game or–.”

“We?” interrupted Naomi.

“Yeah.” Jen reached over and pressed the ‘door open’ button. “I don’t know if this lady’s got anything to do with what happened to Sam, but if she does, that can’t be good. Besides, there’s safety in numbers. I’ll stay with you in case I need to kick her again!”

Naomi had been assuming Jen’s boyfriend’s disappearance had been mundane and unrelated, but maybe that wasn’t the case. Jen had said her boyfriend knew Chelsea, and Sarah had said she’d ‘disposed of’ two people.

Disposed of.

Thinking of the words left a cold, sick feeling in the pit of Naomi’s stomach. She didn’t want to dwell too much on what Sarah had meant.

Jen lifted under Sarah’s arms, dragging her out of the elevator and toward a large set of doors in the frosted glass. Naomi picked up her phone and followed. The battery had been knocked from the phone when Sarah had dropped it, so Naomi snapped it back into place.

Poor Melanie, thought Naomi. She probably assumed the worst when the phone cut out.

Jen let go of Sarah with one arm to swipe her key card. The card reader beeped and lit up with a green light. Naomi held the door open as Jen hauled Sarah through. Fluorescent lights buzzed automatically to life as the door opened.

Naomi could see the copier and supply closet ahead of them as they rounded the corner, past rows of long gray tables with a pair of computer monitors and a swivel desk chair placed every couple feet.

The back of the closet was lined with metal shelves of office supplies, leaving just enough space for the three of them. Jen gave Sarah a final shove into the closet and Naomi shut and locked the door.

Jen rifled through a plastic box for a moment before producing a roll of duct tape. She handed it to Naomi, and Naomi began taping Sarah’s hands together. She used the rest of the roll, coating all of Sarah’s hands and wrapping the tape around her arms up to her elbows.

“Is that good?” said Jen. “Or do you need more tape?”

“I’d like to tape her legs too,” said Naomi. “Just to be safe.”

“Good thinking.” Jen tossed her a roll of yellow vinyl tape. “I don’t see any more duct tape, but I did find this.”

Naomi set to work winding the tape around Sarah’s legs. She didn’t use as much as she had of the duct tape–just enough to make sure Sarah wouldn’t try to go anywhere.

Sarah’s eyes opened just as Naomi tore the last of the tape from the roll. Her confused expression hardened into anger as she realized she couldn’t move her hands. Even with Sarah’s arms and legs immobilized, Naomi felt a jolt of anxiety as the other woman looked up at her.

“What the hell?” said Sarah.

Naomi tried to swallow her nerves.

“What the hell?” Naomi repeated. “You attacked us. You attacked my best friend and… and took her away somewhere. You were probably planning on killing us just a second ago.”

“Damn it. This wasn’t supposed to happen. You could have told me where he is. He’s not even a goddamn person. I mean, neither am I.” Sarah’s voice broke a little. “Damn it! This is so stupid!”

Sarah seemed more unhinged now than she had in the elevator. Not that she’d seemed particularly stable then, but she had been confident, in control. Now there was a desperation behind her anger, a flicker of something lost and frightened in her eyes that would have made Naomi feel sympathetic toward her in virtually any other situation.

In this situation, however, she didn’t feel a shred of pity.

“Where is she?” Naomi glared down at Sarah, trying to keep her voice firm and even. “Where is Chelsea?”

Sarah made a sound that was either a laugh or a sob.

“It doesn’t even matter! Damn it, it doesn’t matter! She’s gone and she’s not coming back! Who cares? I failed!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t give a shit about whatever personal crisis you’re apparently having. Where the fuck is my best friend?”

“And my boyfriend!” said Jen.

“Your boyfriend,” said Sarah. “I’m guessing this was a long distance relationship?”

“No?” said Jen.

“No?” Sarah tilted her head. “Your boyfriend’s not a smug-looking Australian guy? Alternative-looking type? Black fingernails and stupid tight pants?”

“No. He’s a… smug-looking American guy? Definitely no nail polish or tight pants, but that’s a hot mental image–Sorry. Be quiet, Jen.”

Naomi’s nausea grew larger as she processed what Sarah had said. Smug-looking Australian guy with black nail polish and tight pants.

“Lachlan,” Naomi said. “You have Lachlan too.”

“Lachlan, that was him. Yeah. Although I wouldn’t say I have him. It’s more like I got him, you know? Well, I got him got. I got someone else to get him.”

“I’m confused,” said Jen.

“What are you talking about?” said Naomi. “What does that mean?”

“It means he’s no one’s problem anymore. Neither is your little friend Chelsea. We put them somewhere, and they’re not coming back.” Sarah let out another laugh-sob. “Doesn’t matter. Hell, I’ll probably be joining them soon. Can’t even do my damn job right.”

“Where did you put them?”

Sarah giggled, a humorless laugh that made Naomi’s skin crawl.

“In a pit.”

“What does that mean?” Naomi felt herself losing her composure and realized she was shouting. “What the fuck are you talking about? Where are they?”

Sarah stared up at her, silent.

“Answer me! Fucking make sense!”

“Okay.” Sarah’s voice was suddenly calm again.

“Okay? Just like that?” said Jen.

“Just like that,” said Sarah. “I don’t know where your boyfriend is. But I’ll tell poor Naomi here how to find her friends.”

Naomi looked down at Sarah, who smiled back up at her. Her was expression now pleasant and benign, which made her seem even creepier after her breakdown just a moment ago.

Obviously, it would be stupid to trust her. But what else was there to go on?

Besides, she was completely restrained. Letting her talk couldn’t possibly hurt.

“Go ahead,” said Naomi. “I’m listening.”

Previous | Next


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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“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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Previous | Next

Content Warning: Forced drugging, kidnapping, needles


Chelsea heard footsteps behind her and jumped, whipping her head around.

“Whoa, sorry,” said Sam. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Sorry,” said Chelsea. “I’m a little jumpy today.”

“What are you doing eating in here? Hiding from the other interns?” Sam chuckled. “I don’t blame you. Most of those guys are imbeciles.”

Chelsea shrugged. She was hiding from the other interns but not for the reason Sam thought she was. She’d been fielding questions about the bruises on her neck all day, and she was getting tired of having to explain what had happened to her again and again, editing out the stranger parts of the story.

“I usually eat in here too. If Jen doesn’t drag me to the cafe, that is.” Sam sat down in a chair beside her. “Whoa! What happened to your neck?”

“Oh, um…” Chelsea suppressed a sigh. “Someone broke into my friend’s house yesterday while I was there and attacked me.”

“Oh, wow,” said Sam. “Oh my god, that’s– Are you okay?”

“I’m a little shaken up,” she said, “but I’m fine. Mostly I’m just glad no one was seriously hurt.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Sam. “That’s scary. Was it a robbery, or…?”

“Yeah,” Chelsea lied. “Most likely.”

Sam pulled the ring of magnets off his wrist and began fidgeting with them, and Chelsea took it as an opportunity to change the subject.

“Those magnets look cool,” she said.

“These?” He looked down at the magnets, then looked at her and smiled. “Yeah, aren’t they awesome? I’d let you hold them, but they’re high powered and very dangerous.”

“Oh, wow. Really?” She smiled back at him. Her distraction had worked.

“They’re called neodymium magnets. They’re the strongest magnets in the world, so they’re highly illegal in the United States. I actually had to import mine from Japan…”

Chelsea was fairly certain most of what he was saying wasn’t true, but she feigned interest as he continued to tell her about his magnets.

“…more than three times the magnetic strength of solar sunspots.” Sam leaned forward in his chair. “Well, I actually just came down here to grab some coffee. I hate to leave you to eat alone, but I should probably get back to work. Sorry about what happened to you and your friend.”

“Thanks. It was nice talking to you, Sam. I’ll see you later.”

Sam got up and headed for the coffee machines. Chelsea resumed eating her sandwich as the latte machine burbled behind her. After a minute, she saw Sam make his way up the stairs with a steaming mug, his magnets hanging in a ring around the handle. When he reached the top of the stairs, he turned around and raised his free hand in a wave, then disappeared down a hallway.

She stopped eating and looked around, suddenly aware of how quiet the building was. Everyone was either working in their labs and offices or taking their lunch breaks, leaving the engineering building atrium almost completely empty. The only sound came from one of the frosted glass conference rooms on the other side of the atrium, where some kind of meeting or luncheon was taking place.

She packed her half-eaten sandwich into her lunchbox, picked up her purse, and headed up the stairs, deciding to look for a break room to eat lunch in. The quiet, empty space and high glass ceiling were making her feel uneasy.

She rounded a corner into a hallway, nearly bumping into a woman in a lab coat who was standing in the way.

“Oh, sorry!” Chelsea said, trying not to sound as startled as she felt. “Excuse me.”

The woman didn’t move or respond, so Chelsea tapped her shoulder.

“Excuse me, do you mind if I just slide past y–“

The woman turned around, and Chelsea stopped cold.

“Hey, red.”

Chelsea could feel her heart pounding in her head.

“Help!” she shouted. “Someone, please, hel–“

The woman extended a hand, and Chelsea slammed into the wall.

Chelsea tried to move, but it felt as though something was pressing down on her, holding her arms and legs immobile against the wall.

“Let me go,” she said.

“There is literally no reason for me to do that,” said the woman.

The woman reached for Chelsea, pulling her from the wall and wrapping an arm around her neck.

“I know better than to try mind-choking you now,” she said. “I guess I’ll try the old-fashioned way.”



“Welcome to Chaz’s Chicken Hut,” said Lachlan. “What can we get started for you?”

“Lachlan. You need to cluck when you greet the customers.” His manager Kathy looked up from a clipboard and frowned. “We’ve been over this. It’s about good customer experience.”

“Excuse me.” Lachlan turned to the teenage boy on the other side of the counter. “I’m just curious, but if I clucked at you right now, would that improve your customer experience?”

“Uh, not really,” said the boy. “I just want chicken nuggets.”

“The customer is always right,” said Lachlan.

“That’s not what that means and you know it.” Kathy stood up and walked up to the counter beside Lachlan. “Go ahead. This young man is waiting.”

“Nah,” said Lachlan.

“Can I just order?” said the teenage boy.

“Cluck, cluck! Welcome to Chaz’s Chicken Hut!” Kathy stuck her elbows out, imitating chicken wings. “Now you try.”

Lachlan sighed. “Cluck, cluck.”

“You need to do the arms.”

“I’m not doing the arms,” said Lachlan. “I draw the line at doing the arms.”

The boy turned away from the counter. “Um, I’ll just go to Red Rooster.”

“Red Rooster’s not open this late,” Kathy called after him.

The boy ignored her and continued out the door.

Lachlan turned away from the register and headed toward the back door.

“Well, we don’t have any customers now,” he said. “I’m taking my break.”

He closed the door before Kathy had the chance to say anything.

He let out a heavy sigh and leaned on the wall behind him. It was a cool night, and he could feel the cold bricks through the back of his shirt. He usually liked to wear a T-shirt under his ridiculous uniform so he could pull it off as soon as his shift was finished, but he’d been in a hurry tonight. He was almost glad he hadn’t worn another shirt now; the cold on his back was refreshing after standing over a hot fryer for a few hours.

The night was quiet except for the occasional sound of a passing car, and a soft rustling behind the skip bin–probably a cat or possum looking for a quick meal.

He pulled his iPod out of his pocket, put in his earbuds, and selected a song by The Goldfish Technique.

I’ll go back in after five songs, he thought. If I feel like it.

He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall.

‘Hey, hey won’t you leave me alone? I’m better off when I’m on my own,’ he sang along. ‘You’re just a silly boy, silly boy. You treat me like I’m just a toy.’

He was so lost in his music, he didn’t hear the men approach until they were right in front of him.

It was too dark for Lachlan to make out their features. He could only see their silhouettes in the streetlight’s dim glow. The man in the center was thin, and not much taller than Lachlan. The men standing on either side were large in two different ways–one was built like a rugby player, the other looked more like a sumo wrestler.

The thin man reached over and pulled Lachlan’s earbuds from his ear.

“What you listening to, mate?”

“Look, I don’t have any money,” said Lachlan. “I don’t have my wallet with me. I’d rather you not have my iPod, but if you’re going to stab me or something, go ahead. Take it.”

In the darkness, Lachlan could just barely make out the sneers that stretched across the men’s faces.

“Money?” said the fat man. “We don’t want your money, chicken boy.”

“Then what do you want?” Lachlan felt a cold weight in his chest. “My… my mobile?”

The thin man pulled something small and cylindrical from his pocket. The man stepped forward, and jammed the object into Lachlan’s neck.

“Ow, fuck! I–” Lachlan’s anger gave way to horror as he realized what had happened. “What… what did you do to me?”

He tried to reach for the door handle beside him, but his arms felt like they were made of lead. When his legs buckled under him, he felt as though he was falling in slow motion. He tried to shout for help, but only a weak, strangled whimper escaped his lips.

The already dim streetlight seemed to darken even more as a thick, staticky fog began to dance across his vision.

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“That’s kinda the idea,” said the dark-haired woman. “You really shouldn’t’ve gotten in my way.”

Chelsea tried to inhale, but her lungs refused to expand. It felt as though an invisible force was wrapped around her neck and torso, squeezing tighter each time she attempted to breathe in. The dark-haired woman squeezed her thumb and forefinger together, and the weight on Chelsea’s chest and stomach seemed to grow heavier. Her loud and frantic gasping faded to a feeble squeak.

Chelsea shut her eyes and stopped struggling, trying to remain as still as possible. The weight on her chest eased a little.

“Oi! She heard Lachlan’s shout over the computer speakers. “Oi, you, with the telekinesis!”

“Damn it! Are you serious?” said the woman. “Another witness I have to deal with.”

“I think you’ll want to listen to me,” he said.

Whatever Lachlan was trying to do, he was distracting the woman enough that her grip on Chelsea was loosening just slightly.

“Oh, really? Why?” The woman sounded almost amused. “You’re not stalling me to save your friend, are you? Don’t bother. It’s too late for either of you.”

“Uh, no, I’m not stalling you,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I have an extremely compelling and legitimate reason for not choking her to death.”

Lachlan, Chelsea thought, Thank you for whatever this is you’re trying to do, but please, please sound more believable.

“Somehow, I’m not convinced you do,” said the woman.

“No, no, really, I do,” he said. “She’s, uh, more valuable to you alive.”

“Oh?” said the woman. “Then please, by all means, tell me why that is.”

“Well, it’s because…” began Lachlan.

“Talk fast; it only takes about three minutes without oxygen before the brain starts to die.”

“It’s because Falcon has an accomplice,” he said. “Falcon has an accomplice, and Chelsea is the only person who knows his whereabouts. If you kill her, you’ll never be able to find him.”

Chelsea heard the woman walk across the room, and the force compressing her body lessened. For a moment, she thought Lachlan’s bluff had actually worked. Then she heard the woman speak.

“Nice try.”

There was a loud crash. Chelsea half-opened one eye for a moment to see Naomi’s computer monitor lying on the floor, the screen shattered. She saw the woman begin to turn in her direction and quickly shut her eye.

“Time to dispose of the problems,” said the woman. “Ladies first, I guess.”

Chelsea tried to stay still as she heard the woman approach her. She squinted her eyes open just enough to see the blurry outline moving toward her.

She waited until the woman was just in front of her, then kicked as hard as she could.

The woman stumbled backward, and Chelsea felt the weight on her chest lift. She dropped to the ground, trying to land on her feet, but one of her ankles turned, and she fell sideways onto the carpet.

Why did I decide to wear heels today? she thought.

Still gasping for breath, she used the wall to steady herself as she climbed to her feet. Holding onto the wall for balance, she kicked off her shoes.

A few feet away, the woman was also trying to right herself.

“You–” She gasped. “You… bitch… winded… me.”

“Serves–serves… you… right…” Chelsea wheezed.

“You know–” The woman stood up straighter. “You can inconvenience me all you want, but it’s not gonna do any good.”

“Why… are you doing this?” Chelsea felt a rush of vertigo and gripped the wall tighter.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

The woman extended her hand. The broken coffee table’s metal frame flew across the room, and Chelsea covered her face with her arms. She heard a crash, and her first thought was that the woman had missed her.

When she opened her eyes, she saw the table frame’s legs were embedded in the wall, and the woman was pinned behind it.

Chelsea turned to see Falcon, still slumped over but with his eyes open, extending a hand.

The woman tried to push the table frame off her, but to no avail. The legs were stuck firmly in the wall, and the table’s X-shaped base was positioned to trap her arms in place.

“Oh, c’mon!” said the woman, sounding surprisingly unhurt for someone who’d just had a table flung at her. “Seriously?!”

Chelsea took a deep breath and let go of the wall. She walked over to Falcon and knelt beside him.

‘Are you okay?’ she signed.

He nodded, and extended a hand. She looked around, expecting a piece of furniture to hurtle across the room, then realized he was asking her to help him up.

She stumbled a little as she helped him to his feet, but managed to keep her footing. She stepped toward the door to the foyer and motioned for Falcon to follow.

“Hey!” said the woman. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To call the police,” said Chelsea. “You’d better hope you find a way out from behind that table before they get here.”

“Oh no! I’m real scared!” The woman laughed. “You’re gonna have to do better than that. I can throw a cop across the room with my mind!”

Chelsea ignored her and continued walking toward the door.

“I’ll get you soon,” said the woman, “and the police won’t help you any where you’re going!”


Instant Messenger
11:34 PM 1 July, 2009

My Status:
Dominic (Online)
No new e-mail messages

Falcon <59falcon> — Conversation

Dominic: you’re online!!!
Falcon: Hi, Dom.
Dominic: are you alright??
Falcon: The good news is I found Naomi, and I’m still in one piece and relatively unhurt.
Dominic: relatively?
Dominic: i don’t like the sound of that
Dominic: what’s the bad news
Dominic: falcon???
Falcon: They know where I am.
Dominic: fuck
Dominic: oh no
Dominic: how do you know
Falcon: Someone came after me at Naomi’s flat.
Dominic: holy fuck are you both alright
Falcon: Naomi’s fine, she wasn’t there. Chelsea was there, though, and she got caught up in it.
Dominic: oh no
Falcon: The girl they sent tried to kill both of us, but I was able to trap her.
Falcon: Chelsea wanted to leave to call the police, for all the good that would do, so we left her in the house.
Falcon: The cops said she was gone when they got there.
Dominic: is there somewhere else you can go? you can’t stay there now
Falcon: I know. Naomi and I are staying with Chelsea.
Dominic: i feel like a complete fuckhead
Dominic: i send you to the other side of the world and it doesnt even make a difference
Dominic: and now naomi and chelsea are caught up in things
Falcon: No. It’s not your fault. I wouldn’t have gone if I’d thought it was a bad idea.
Dominic: falcon i’m so sorry
Falcon: There was something else too.
Dominic: what is it
Falcon: The girl who attacked me wasn’t real.
Falcon: She was like me.



Chelsea and Naomi lay on Chelsea’s bedroom floor, each of them wrapped in a blanket from Chelsea’s closet.

Chelsea had insisted Naomi take the bed because she was the guest, but Naomi had been equally insistent Chelsea take the bed because it was hers. After arguing for almost 20 minutes Chelsea had considered suggesting they share the bed, but she’d decided against it. Naomi knew she liked girls, so she didn’t want to make things awkward or give the wrong impression.

Instead of anyone getting the bed, they’d ended up side by side on the floor, half sitting half lying on pillows they’d propped up against the bed.

Chelsea had brought in potato chips and cookies from the kitchen before closing and locking the door, then opened her laptop on the floor in front of them and started playing a movie. She’d chosen some superhero movie from ten years ago; it wasn’t her thing, but she knew Naomi liked it.

“We don’t have to watch this, you know,” said Naomi. “We can watch something you like.”

“No thanks,” said Chelsea. “I want to watch this.”

“You don’t have to watch one of my dumb movies just to be nice,” said Naomi. “Why don’t we watch one of your old horror movies?”

“Really, it’s fine. I like this,” said Chelsea. “Besides, after today I’m not really in the mood for something scary.”

“That’s a good point,” said Naomi, “but are you sure you wouldn’t rather watch something else? I’d be okay with watching anything you want.”

“Come on.” Chelsea smiled and nudged her friend. “Let’s not have a repeat of the bed debate. We’re watching this. I’m insisting on it.”

“Well, if you’re forcing me, I guess I can watch one of my favorite movies.” Naomi crossed her arms and pretended to look serious.

The laptop dinged, and an incoming video call from Angelina popped up, automatically pausing the movie.

“Really?” said Naomi. “Isn’t it the middle of the night for her? What does she want?”

“Oops! We usually talk right when I get home from work. She’s probably wondering where I am, especially given what just happened.”

Chelsea started to reach for the laptop, but Naomi put her hand on her arm.

“You’re not about to answer that, are you?”

“I was,” said Chelsea. “Why?”

She felt a small pang of disappointment. She wouldn’t have talked to Angelina for long with Naomi there, but she did look forward to their nightly talks.

“I don’t want to be rude. I really don’t but…” Naomi paused, looking a bit embarrassed. “But I was hoping tonight could be just us hanging out. My parents never let me have sleepovers, and I wanted tonight to be… I don’t know. Sorry. I know that’s stupid, given everything that’s just happened.”

“I don’t think it’s stupid.” Chelsea reached for her laptop again and typed a message. “I’ll tell Angelina I’m fine and that I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”

“Thanks, C. Sorry. I know this is dumb.”

“It’s not dumb.” Chelsea un-paused the movie, then leaned back onto her pillow. “But it is all the more reason to watch one of your favorite movies. Not to mention, all the more reason you should get to have the bed instead of the floor.”

Naomi groaned. “Please, do not bring up the bed thing again. If you get us started on that again, we’ll be arguing about it all night.”

“Alright, alright.” Chelsea pushed off her blanket and stood up. “I’ll let it go.”

“Where are you going?” said Naomi.

Chelsea walked to her nightstand and opened a drawer.

“To get some nail polish.”


“You said you’d never had a sleepover before.” Chelsea began pulling out the darkest colors–the ones she knew Naomi would favor. “I figured we should have a real sleepover. Do normal sleepover things to get our minds off everything that happened today. You know, paint each others’ nails, play 20 questions, talk about boys.”

“Talking about boys? I wouldn’t think that would really appeal to you,” said Naomi.

“No, but you can talk about boys and I can listen.” Chelsea walked back to Naomi and set the nail polish bottles down on her blanket. “Here, pick a color. I’ll paint yours first, then you can do mine.”



The hotel room was even more depressing at night than it had been during the day. There was no overhead light, so the only light came from the cylindrical floor lamp beside the desk, which was emitting a faint but irritating buzz. The walls were painted bright orange and green, but in the dim light and with the thin grimy layer coating them, they just made the room feel even sadder.

The desk where Sarah sat wasn’t so much a desk as it was a large legless slab affixed to the wall. Its surface was a hard, shiny, white plastic dotted with some mysterious substance that stuck to her papers whenever she tried to move them.

The dismal room was appropriate, she thought. Today had been a complete failure. Not only had the resource escaped, there were two witnesses she needed to deal with.

The pretty redhead–Chelsea Brown, Sarah had learned from her online research–wouldn’t be difficult to eliminate, but the boy on the webcam proved more troublesome; he lived in Brisbane, Australia according to his Facebook profile.

Sarah wasn’t prepared to tell the Clydes she had failed, but the portal was the only way she could get to Australia without their help, and it would still leave her almost a full day’s drive from Brisbane without a car or a driver. With that much inconvenience, it wouldn’t be worth the danger.

She knew what the Clydes would tell her if she asked them.

‘You’re a valuable resource, kiddo,’ said Mr. Clyde’s voice in her mind, ‘but the fact is, you’re expendable, as much as we’d hate to lose you.’

The Clydes didn’t have to know about any of this.

Ruling out the portal left her only one option. She plugged her headset into her laptop and made a call.

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