A Tempest Novel
By Julie Cross
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2014 Julie Cross
All rights reserved.
I stood in front of the cell staring at ... well ... staring at me. The caged, unshaven, animal version of me. The way he looked, not at me but through me, brought on the sudden self-awareness that I probably hadn't survived the bleeding brain or whatever the hell happened to me when I jumped into the future. My eyes dropped to my arms as I lifted a hand toward my face. Transparent. I was transparent.
A magnetic force seemed to pulse in the space between the two versions of myself, pulling us together. Footsteps echoed from behind me and I jumped out of the way as Senator Healy stalked right up to the cell, opening the door and somehow cutting off whatever force had been dragging me forward. The other me stood up slowly, shakily, bruises marring his face and legs.
"Senator Healy!" I tried to croak, not hearing a sound outside my own mind.
"Come on, son. Let's get you out of here," Healy said, his voice gentle, barely above a whisper. It reminded me of the way he had spoken to me while I had hung my head over a sink after watching Mason get blown to pieces. Even just thinking about what happened still made me feel nauseous.
The other me shuffled closer, leaning heavily on Healy for support as if his legs weren't used to walking. The urge to somehow unzip him and crawl inside so I could be seen and heard intensified. I had to find a way! Somehow I just knew that I was dying. And then the old warehouse dissolved and pain shot through every inch of my body.
"He can't breathe! We've got to do something!"
A truck sat on my chest and every ounce of energy I had was devoted to shoving it away. Air. I needed air. Nothing would enter. Nothing would exit.
"His lungs are full of fluid! Open him up!" someone shouted.
And I felt the stab to my chest, skin splitting open and my ribs cracking. I had to get out of here. People aren't supposed to feel these things.
"Pulse is fading and then coming again ... I can't get it steady," a woman's voice spoke right next to my ear.
"He's jumping," someone said.
Silence followed for a full five seconds, then I heard Dad's voice in my other ear, sounding more terrified than I've ever heard him in my life. "Jackson, just stay here ... please."
But I couldn't. There was no way to control it.
"Are you all right, son?" Healy said to the other me, hand clutching his shoulder.
The other me had sunk to his knees with a loud crack as his kneecaps made contact with the hard floor. He clutched his chest, a look of panic in his eyes, and then raised his shirt. A faint line appeared slowly down the center of his chest, blood trickling from the wound.
Which one of us is dying? I thought it was me. He's not in the future. How can he feel what is happening to me?
A gunshot rang from right behind me, breaking my concentration. Healy fell to the ground, blood oozing from his head. Eyes wide open.
"What the ..." the other me said, staring at Healy's body. Then he looked up, right at me. Or through me.
"Who ... who are you?" he stuttered, still on his knees, attempting to stand.
Was he talking to me? No, he was talking to whoever had just shot Healy. But for some reason I couldn't make my body turn around to see who it was. I needed to breathe air. To feel my heart beat again.
"I'm the only one with enough guts to do this," the deep voice boomed from behind me.
Chief Marshall. I didn't have to look.
"Do what?" the other me said, his eyes wide.
Using all my willpower, I forced my body to start to move. The gun fired again. Not just once, but three times. I heard myself scream inside my head ... heard the other me's scream cut off as he slumped to the ground.
Thump ... thump ... thump.
My heart gave three quick beats as I finally turned, just in time to see Chief Marshall vanish.
"He's waking up."
"Jackson? Can you hear me?"
I found my hands and brought them to my face, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. The room came into focus — white walls, a few gray cabinets, a table beside the bed. The bed had metal rails and white sheets that covered my legs. It looked a lot like a hospital room in 2009. Maybe this wasn't the future after all?
Dad and Courtney stood at the foot of the bed, watching like they'd been staring at me for weeks and I had finally moved.
"Chief Marshall," I managed to say, looking at Dad. "He killed me." I took a breath, slowly letting the scene fall into place in my head so I could articulate it. "The other me. He killed the other me. And Healy. He killed Healy."
My heart raced, causing a searing pain to rip through my chest like it was being split open all over again. "Healy told me before ... he said that he had someone doing his time-travel changes for him, someone doing the alterations like putting Holly and Adam in the CIA! He did that, Dad. But he said it's not Thomas. It's Marshall! I know it is. He vanished right in front of me. He can time-travel!"
Dad's eyes widened, but not because of what I'd just revealed but because of the loud beeping on the monitor beside me. "Jackson, I need you to calm down. Breathe ... focus on the present for the moment and then we'll figure out what you saw or think you saw."
"I know I saw it ..." The pain in my chest increased, shutting me up. I relaxed back into the pillow, closing my eyes briefly, breathing as slowly and deeply as possible without aggravating my pain. After a couple minutes, the monitor stopped beeping and Dad let out a sigh of relief.
"Good, very good."
I opened my eyes again. "Where are we? Did we make it back?"
Dad shook his head and patted my foot over the covers. "It's still the same place. Same year."
My heart sped up as I touched the back of my head, feeling a large bandage behind my ear. Then I remembered my dream, or was it a half-jump? My fingers fumbled around, moving toward my chest. I drew in a deep breath and felt the tightness of stitched skin pulling apart. There was another bandage horizontally placed between my sternum and left armpit.
"I'm not dead?" I looked up at Dad and Courtney, who were both standing still as statues. "Obviously, I'm not dead ... I just ... I thought I was."
Before they could respond, a man with light brown hair and a striking resemblance to Thomas walked into the room, followed by a red-haired woman. I remembered her welcoming us here with Dad, just before my almost death.
The man held up his hands as if in surrender. "I know, we look alike, but don't worry, my name isn't Thomas and I'm not a clone either."
Courtney laughed and my eyes bounced to her and then back to Dad, who seemed at ease, not worried at all about these strangers.
I sighed with relief.
"I'm Grayson and this is Lonnie." He nodded toward the redheaded woman "You met her five days ago."
"Five days." I could hardly wrap my head around the idea that I'd lost that much time. More details about how we'd ended up here hit me all at once. I tried to sit up too quickly and was instantly knocked back down as pain shot through my head and chest. "Holly ... Emily ... Mason ... are they —"
"They're all fine," Dad said.
"Except for the being-stuck-here part," Courtney added.
After holding a stethoscope to my chest briefly, Grayson held up a giant syringe with a long needle. "Pain medication. I wanted you to wake up first and see how your heart and lungs were functioning."
He plunged the needle into my IV. "You're going to experience some drowsiness in about five minutes. Luckily, you guys got trapped on an island with a doctor who's practiced medicine in two different centuries. I used a combination of new technology and old-school methods to relieve the pressure in your skull and stop the bleeding as well as saving your collapsed lung."
"Wow ... so I was pretty messed up?"
No one said a word for several long seconds but I could see it all over their faces. I really had almost died.
Dad gripped the rail at the foot of the bed with both hands and looked me in the eye. "Grayson says you'll be good as new in a few days."
The pain in my head and chest reached an almost unbearable level and I tuned out until Grayson, Dad, and Lonnie left the room to get supplies and talk about me behind my back.
Courtney walked closer and sat beside me on the bed. "I really, really hate you for scaring me like that. And Dad, he's been in hell for the past five days."
I moved my hand closer to Courtney's and squeezed her fingers tight. "I'm sorry."
Tears spilled from her eyes but she started laughing at the same time, wiping her cheeks quickly. "God, this is so weird. I still can't get over how old you are and how old I'm not. And this thing with Holly. She's not saying much but we all heard you. Loud and clear."
The fogginess of the drugs started to set in, but not enough that I didn't feel a sudden sense of alarm. What had I said to Holly?
I love you.
I looked down at my hand, now covering my sister's. "I thought ... I thought it was you," I lied.
Courtney's eyes widened. "Seriously? You were saying good-bye?"
A knot formed in the pit of my stomach. "Yeah, something like that."
I wasn't quite swept under by the pain meds yet, but I closed my eyes anyway, pretending until it really happened so we could end this conversation.
* * *
When I woke from my drug-induced sleep, Courtney was gone and Holly sat in a chair beside my bed, knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped tight around her legs. Her eyes were focused on the monitor to my right, but she blinked rapidly and yawned.
I didn't speak at first because my mind was so groggy I had to remind myself which Holly this was. What had we done together? How did she feel about me?
It came back in an instant. Agent Holly. The one who saw her best friend Adam lying dead on the floor in a puddle of blood. The one who thought I'd killed him. The Holly who wrote that terrible letter about herself, about the hopelessness of her life now and how survival — self-preservation — was the only reason she had to get up in the morning.
The ache of these revelations hit me like a punch in the stomach.
"Hey," she said, noticing I had woken up.
"Hey." I suddenly felt very insecure about the state of my personal hygiene and the fact that I had tubes and wires coming out of way too many body parts. "Where is everybody else?"
"It's the middle of the night." Holly yawned. "We've been taking turns watching the heart monitors, switching the bags of fluids. Stuff like that."
My eyes carefully avoided hers. "Well, that answers my question about whether or not you've decided to continue working for Eyewall."
"Nobody's enemies here. What's the point?" Holly sighed and gave me a tight smile. "This is awkward, isn't it?"
I finally looked at her and knew in an instant that I was going to lie, just like I had with Courtney. Not because I smelled bad and looked like hell but because I couldn't imagine being in Holly's position: having someone tell you that another version of you was in love with this person you sort of hate. A person who held you at gunpoint and dragged you into the future.
Everything that had happened since I left August of 2009 trying to save the other version of Holly had created a hell on Earth for this version of Holly. She had had no choice about any aspect of her life from the point that Adam had first asked her to help with a CIA mission. This time around, I was determined to make damn sure she got to choose who she fell in love with, if anyone at all. From now on, Holly would be in full control over the course of her life.
Eyewall had her boxed in with no way out and I wasn't about to do the same thing to her. Not after getting her trapped here. I still couldn't believe, after all my efforts to keep Holly safe, she'd ended up working for 2009 Eyewall, a division of the CIA that seemed determined to take down my own division, Tempest. And Eyewall hadn't exactly been a pleasant work environment for Holly. I hated to think about being the reason she was stuck here, but at the same time, I couldn't forget what had happened when I "held her hostage" before the jump to the future. Her own people, her own division, had been poised to write her off without a second thought.
"I know what you think," I said to Holly, making a quick decision.
Her eyebrows lifted as if to ask if I also had mind-reading abilities in addition to time-travel powers. "What I think is ... that you know me a little better than I know you. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. How would you feel?"
"I don't know." I rubbed my face with my hands. "About what I said, Courtney filled me in and honestly, I thought it was her. You have to realize, I hadn't seen my sister in years, and then she's here and I'm dying."
"So you were trying to tell Courtney you loved her before you died?" Holly clarified.
My eyes froze on hers, unwavering as I forced my pupils to stay normalsized. "Yes."
"But you did know me, things I don't have any memory of because of time travel, right?" She looked so focused, so incredibly on-task that it occurred to me for the first time that Holly probably made a fantastic CIA agent. A lot better than I would have if I didn't have superpowers.
Now for the cover story.
"Adam," I said, forcing calm. "Adam was my best friend. We were working together on time-travel stuff. He was also your friend, so obviously I knew you then, too."
"But you didn't know I was an agent, did you?" she asked, drilling me as if I were a hundred percent healthy and not at all in danger of heart failure or whatever.
"That kinda shocked me," I admitted, because it lined up perfectly with my cover story. "Which I'm sure you noticed."
I could tell she was deep in thought, reviewing those memories, but after a few seconds she nodded. "Yeah, I noticed."
The back of my throat felt like sandpaper and I coughed a few times before asking Holly if there was water or anything to drink. She jumped from her chair and opened a cabinet, pulling out this flat, round water bottle. When she unscrewed the cap, a rubber straw popped out.
"Weird." I looked it over carefully before taking several big gulps. It hurt like hell, but I was too thirsty to care. "What's it like out there, anyway?"
Holly took the bottle from my hands and set it on the table before sitting down next to me again. "It's so odd, seriously. There are a few cabins and some tents, and a building with all this weird-ass technology and supplies. It's like they want us to stay alive but also not be all that comfortable. Mason thinks they're watching us constantly. Most of the area isn't all that future-like considering the year."
"If we're being watched, why don't they just kill us?" I asked, regretting my choice of words immediately. "Sorry, that wasn't the positive thinking I had been trying to display."
Holly laughed. "Believe me, that was the first thought to go through my head. But I think Mason could be right. We're in some kind of guinea-pig maze. Like a social experiment or something."
"How many people are here?"
"Mason, Courtney, Emily, your dad, me," Holly rattled off. "Grayson, Lonnie, Sasha, and Blake."
Holly rolled her eyes. "Yeah, it's just like summer camp."
"I've met Lonnie and Grayson. I have no idea who Sasha is," I said. "Blake? Why does that name sound familiar?"
"The guy with the ponytail," she said, reminding me that I'd already met him. "He's our age. They've been here awhile, you know?"
"Almost two years," Holly said.
Our eyes met again and we sat in silence, letting the gravity of two years sink in slowly. If there was a way out of here, they would have found it by now.
But did it even really matter to me how long we were stuck here? I had Courtney, Dad, and Holly with me. Three people I loved more than anything else.
Could I secretly be happy in this place?
I had a feeling if I brought this up with anyone else, I'd be in need of more medical attention. Or maybe they'd excuse it and label the behavior as one of the weird things that happens to people after they almost die. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Timestorm by Julie Cross. Copyright © 2014 Julie Cross. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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