After almost a year, the gate between worlds has opened again, and through it Darwin Lloyd hears the anguished screams of Teresa, the love he left behind. He returns to her world--one where quantum Threads can change or control reality and ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
But nothing is as he had left it. The Threads, though still plentiful, no longer respond the way they once had. Groups of Threaders must work together to perform even the simplest of tasks. Yet the Qabal continue to grow and create Skends to do their bidding.
With the changes, war has returned to the world, pitting the Qabal against the Threaders of SafeHaven and Forsyth. With the weakened Threads and the increase in Skends, SafeHaven is losing. Darwin's return is greeted with hatred by some, and worship by others... all for the same reason. He changed the world by turning off the Source. Darwin needs to find Teresa, and reverse what he has done before the Qabal take away everything he loves about world he has entered.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Heart of the Machine
The Earth shattered into dust. Sunlight filtered through the particulates in a burnt umber, throwing everything into a hazy shadow. Waves of light and pain and death enveloped Darwin Lloyd. His body responded by curling into a tight ball and crumpling to the floor. Skin shattered on impact, throwing shards of flesh into the still air of the classroom. The professor stood with his back to the students, droning on as if nothing was happening, the metronome tapping of his marker on the whiteboard keeping time with his words.
The lecture theater melted into the ground, green grass and trees that touched the sky sprang from the barren floor. Wind rustled through the leaves and caressed his face before the grass morphed into concrete and massive steel structures that rose around him like sentinels, replacing the lush green forest. His left arm disintegrated into dust, leaving his hand floating in the air, detached from his body. His fingers twitched and the bone reformed, ligaments growing and flexing with no effect on the hand’s movement.
A wail built deep in his lungs and he clamped down, not letting it release into the cool air. One part of his brain knew what was happening, knew the pull of another world that once again yanked at his soul, knew the icy cold touch of being torn apart atom by atom and reassembled at the other end. This time, he knew how to fight it.
He reached inside himself, following the soft glow of gold that shimmered just below his breastbone. Two gold Threads sat there, entangled into his body as though he had been born with them, though that was only true for one. The brightest of the two was shrouded in a net of fine blue Threads, protecting him—and the world—from the power it could create, from the mayhem it could release. He stroked the blue mesh, separating it only enough to let some of the power held inside to escape. Wispy gray Threads poured through the gap and he grabbed at them, forcing them into the void that threatened to whisk him to another place . . . another time.
The images trembled and shimmered, growing as gossamer as the Threads he used. His body spasmed. The last vision he had was one of darkness and pain and loss. A scream echoed through the empty spaces in between, filling them with an anguish that felt all too familiar. The flavor of it ran across his tongue and tasted of only one thing.
His head lolled to the side and his eyes snapped open, the brown fibers of the lecture hall’s filthy carpet the first thing he saw.
“ . . . seizure, call 911 . . .”
“ . . . give him some air . . .”
“ . . . all the commotion . . .”
He pushed himself into a sitting position and stared into the faces of his fellow students, seeing a mixture of concern and fear. The professor’s voice had changed from a drone to a harsh bark and the constant tapping against the whiteboard had stopped.
“What is going on here?”
Darwin ignored him, shoving away the hands that tried to help him stand. He swayed on his feet as the people around him melted into the background, getting as far away from him as they could. It was the first time since he’d started his master’s degree that any of them had paid attention to him, other than in the labs where they had been forced to work together.
He slapped his laptop shut and threw it in the bag with his textbooks, running from the class at top speed, barely slowing enough to pull the door open.
No one stood in his way or questioned him. Even the professor had stopped talking, and the silence of the room propelled him forward.
Darwin’s mind raced. There hadn’t been any trace of Thread use since he’d shut down the QPS over a year ago, and there sure as hell wasn’t anyone in this world strong enough to open a hole to the next block, never mind one to a parallel world. There simply weren’t enough Threads. His episode could only mean one thing, and a cold seeped into his bones.
A new QPS was online.
* * *
The air outside the physics building at Princeton was cool enough for a jacket, and it wicked away the slick layer of sweat covering Darwin’s exposed skin. He barely registered the change in temperature as he bolted down the path to the parking lot. Bare branches stuck their gnarled fingers into a gray sky as if searching for the sun that had abandoned them, and leaves blanketed the ground in red and yellow and brown, making the walkways slippery with their decomposition.
He left the path, running into a lot full of cars that all looked the same, not sure of where he had parked, or even if he had taken his car today. He couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus, and his brain raced from one point to the next, unable or unwilling to draw the connections between them . . .
Only the power of a running QPS could open the link between worlds. Teresa was in trouble. His mother’s DNA was the required catalyst to Teresa’s world. His dad was the—
He struggled to shut down the line of thought. It didn’t work.
When he’d come back from Teresa’s world last year, his dad had seemed okay. He’d dressed every morning and had gone into work, returning at the end of the day to whatever Darwin had cooked for dinner. That was the first change. His dad didn’t stay at work late anymore. For the first time in Darwin’s memory, his dad had become a nine-to-five employee. At first, Darwin was happy. They would talk over dinner, the conversation more often than not lingering over what had happened. His dad would inevitably steer the conversation to Darwin’s mother. As if he knew something bad had happened . . . that she had been there and Darwin had seen her.
Their conversations had slowed over the next week, and dinner turned into stressful stretches of silence neither of them could fill. Darwin left for university with an uncomfortable feeling. He’d fire up Skype every night and chat—if even for just a few minutes—about whatever came to mind. Most of the conversations were one sided. His dad had started to let his beard grow and it gave him a disheveled look that was out of character. Soon, even those brief points of contact slowed, becoming three times a week, and then only one, none of them with video. His dad said he was starting a new project at work and was too busy to talk, that there were drawings taped to his wall that were confidential and he couldn’t turn on the camera. Darwin chose to believe him.
Garth, a family friend and his dad’s second-in-command at work, got hold of Darwin a week after that. When Darwin had left for university, his dad had taken some holidays. He’d had over ten weeks banked, and it was that little only because Quantum Labs didn’t allow you to carry all your weeks over to the next fiscal year.
His dad hadn’t come back from his holidays. Garth had tried calling, and had even gone over to the house and banged on the doors and windows. There wasn’t any response. Mail had fallen out of the overstuffed mailbox and lay scattered on the porch. He’d called the maid service Darwin’s dad used only to find out they’d been let go. That was when he called Darwin.
The car drive home had been frantic. Darwin had weaved in and out of traffic, forcing any thoughts of what might have happened out of his mind. He knew things weren’t good as soon as he unlocked the front door and took a step inside.
Empty dishes of half-eaten meals lay thrown on the dining room table. Opened cans of Coke lay on the floor, the carpet soaking up whatever had leaked out. He’d moved through the chaos, closing the fridge door without realizing what he was doing. The stairs to the second floor creaked in all the regular spots when he’d stepped on them, and he stopped outside his dad’s bedroom door, his mind and body numb, his hand resting on the knob motionless.
It was strange, but when he opened the door, he didn’t even see his dad. Not at first. The image that still nestled in his brain was the picture of his mom on the dresser. Flowers had been placed in a vase beside it, and candles lay in a semi-circle just in front. The flowers, pink carnations, still looked fresh, and all but one of the candles had gone out. The last one flickered in the dim light of the room before Darwin flipped on the light.
His dad lay on the bed, dressed in a full three-piece suit, the jacket buttoned up. There was a spot of blood on his chin where he’d cut himself shaving. Darwin stood in the doorway unable to move. His mind was empty, not quite able to grasp what he was seeing. Why would his dad wear a suit to bed? Why have fresh flowers by his mother’s picture? The reason took a long time to sink into his leaden brain. He didn’t have to get closer to know that what was left on the bed wasn’t his dad. Not anymore.
The knowledge didn’t stop him from finally rushing forward, touching a hand to his dad’s cold cheek, desperately searching for a pulse under the tight cuffs of the starched shirt. He sat on the edge of the bed and fixed the mess he’d made of the suit, straightening his dad’s tie and pulling the cuff back down over his wrist. Actions of a mind gone numb. He blew out the final candle before leaving the room and closing the door behind him, calling the police from the living room. He spent the time waiting for them cleaning up, throwing out the empty cans and scraping off the dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. It didn’t dawn on him until later that maybe the police would have wanted to see the place the way he’d found it. It didn’t matter, he couldn’t leave it the way it was even if he’d wanted to. His dad wouldn’t have liked it.
He hadn’t broken down until after everyone had left. He’d been carrying bags of trash out to the cans when it had hit him. The bags fell from his loose fingers, his hands shaking until his whole body followed. He collapsed in the tall, uncut grass, curled into a tight ball, wanting to be anywhere but where he was. His heart hurt too much to contain and the tears and the rage exploded from him in agonized howls. He didn’t know how long he lay in the dark yard, the bag and its contents spewed around him. When he was done, empty and depleted, he stood to get another bag, the numbness returning to hide the pain once again.
His dad had left a note in a sealed envelope, Darwin’s name printed cleanly on the outside. The envelope had been opened by the police before they gave it to him. He’d shoved it into his back pocket unread. He knew what it would it say. How his dad couldn’t live without his mother, how the loss of the QPS, the loss of his only chance to get her back, had finally broken him. What it wouldn’t say was that it was Darwin’s fault. It didn’t matter.
The funeral was a blur. He remembered Garth had been there, as he’d been for the last week. The gathering at the house after had been totally erased from his memory. He vaguely remembered shaking hands, thinking he’d explode the next time someone said how sorry they were. The words were meaningless. Being sorry didn’t bring his dad back.
He broke down the second time after everyone had left and the silence of the house weighed him down like an anchor inexorably dragging him into the depths.