Chapter 23 (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter 24 (#litres_trial_promo)
Chapter 25 (#litres_trial_promo)
About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)
Also by Amy S. Foster (#litres_trial_promo)
About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)
CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_cdf9877c-01de-518a-b903-42284400fe67)
I hear birdsong inside the Rift.
A thousand skylarks trilling into an endless emerald prism. I wasn’t expecting music. Maybe a droning hum or a keening wail, but the symphony is a surprise. It fills my ears and spreads throughout the rest of my body like cyanide. In a matter of seconds I’m entirely at the Rift’s mercy.
The sound overtakes me and the swelling current claims whatever sense of orientation I have left. I don’t know which way is up or down. I’m tumbling through the noise, unable to fill my lungs. My body feels like it’s being squeezed by a vise, but at the same time I’m being pulled apart. And then, almost as quickly as it began, the Rift exhales in a single violent breath, and I am pushed out.
My face is in damp soil and dead leaves. I look behind me in time to see the Rift’s giant, neon green jaws snap shut. In an instant it’s gone and I’m here, wherever here is.
At least I’m not alone.
A long, thin cable runs between my pack and Levi’s. He’s splayed on the ground, too. I feel (an admittedly petty) gratitude that he didn’t manage to navigate the experience with his usual ease and grace—he’s clearly just as disoriented as I am. I unclip the tether between us and it retracts all the way back to his pack with a snap.
I don’t really want him here, but I also absolutely do. I need backup and he was the best choice. Still, he’s a pain in the ass. But when it comes down to it, he’s just about the best Citadel we’ve got in Battle Ground. To be fair, my options had been Levi or Henry, but Levi insisted and Henry didn’t put up much of a fight, which really is a motherfucker because Henry loves a good fight. Also, I know Henry. I’m comfortable with Henry. Levi is just … Levi. I stare at him hard, kind of hoping he’ll share a look of mutual amazement of what we have just done, but he only stares back, his face unmoving, giving nothing away.
Finally he says: “You okay?” With a voice so indifferent I wonder why he even bothered to ask.
“Yeah,” I say, getting up and looking around, scouting our immediate position. Levi follows my lead. We should have been doing this from the moment we emerged. We have gone through a Rift. We are in an unknown, potentially hostile land.
We have navigated our way to another version of Earth.
The thing is, this Earth looks exactly like the one we just left. And not only does it look the same, it smells the same. I study the nearest tree, an old and gnarled fir, and recognize the height, the knots and their placement. I scan the rest of the trees in our vicinity. I have a photographic memory, as does Levi, but I’m not sure I would even need it to recognize this place. I spend a lot of time in these woods.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I whisper to myself, even though I know Levi can hear. He sighs, and I know he’s figured it out, too.
“So we go through all that just to end up in the same exact spot we started from. Seriously? I think we opened the Rift right here.” He gestures with annoyance to the space between us.
I bite my lip. This is the absolute definition of anticlimactic. “It might look the same,” I warn him, “but that doesn’t mean it is the same. We have to be careful. I know it sounds crazy, but a dragon could swoop down and try to get us, or burn us or something.” I swing my arms around dramatically to try to prove what is admittedly not the most realistic point. “We can’t take anything at face value,” I try with a more serious tone.
“I’m not a total idiot, Ryn. I get it,” Levi snaps. I grit my teeth. I know I’m stating the obvious. He knows I know I’m stating the obvious. It’s just his tone. Mean. Condescending. This is another reason I didn’t want him here. We bring out the worst in each other. First, when I was a kid, and he was just my best friend’s brother, I turned into a babbling moron every time I was around him. And now, as Citadels, our interactions are generally a game of offense and defense. I feel defensive because he’s constantly swinging his dick around—metaphorically, anyway—to prove his superior skills as a Citadel. And I think he gets defensive because I’m pretty popular in the program. People like me. People respect Levi, but I don’t think there are many who actually want to hang out with him. And no one, not even someone as badass and self-reliant as Levi, wants to feel unliked.
“Come on,” I tell him, and begin to walk toward the base. Levi doesn’t follow.
“You don’t honestly think he’s here, do you? You can’t possibly think it would be so easy.”
I stop and roll my eyes, then turn so that I’m facing him. “Here’s what I know. The QOINS device uses harmonic resonance to open a Rift. It’s programmed to find the exact note of Ezra’s quantum signature. The one that only resonates to him and his specific Earth, which is where he’s headed. So it will find him. I get that this is an ‘eventually’ kind of thing, but we will end up in the same place, maybe on an Earth like this one, that’s on the way. I also get that the number of jumps we need to make to find him could be ten or a hundred, and that the chances the QOINS will lead us down the same harmonic path Ezra is taking are slim to none. But, however infinitesimal, there is a chance. So we are going to check every single Earth we jump to because the not knowing if he’s alive or dead or even okay is practically killing me. So, if you have a problem with that, you can stay here and sulk or do push-ups or whatever the hell it is that you do when you’re not getting your way, but I’m going to look for him.”
Levi narrows his eyes at me and then stretches his neck from one side to the other like he’s cracking it. “I never said I wasn’t going with you, or that it was a bad idea to investigate our surroundings. I was just trying to manage your expectations. Believe me, I know how desperate you are to see your boyfriend.”
“Don’t,” I interrupt before he can say something awful, but he keeps going anyway.
“No really, I get it. Ezra Massad. The perfect guy,” he says in a sickeningly sweet voice. “Not like us chumps who have super brains because our genes got fucked with. Ezra, the savior of all Citadels who figured out so many of ARC’s secrets.” Levi thrusts his hands out like he’s serving me a platter of something other than this total bullshit. “Your wonderful boyfriend who cured you of the Blood Lust so that you two can screw like rabbits.”
His words are teeming with bitterness and I don’t know what to say. Levi is supposed to be my partner here, my ally, but his intense dislike for Ezra has me genuinely worried. I consider my options for a moment. I could tell him that he should stop being such an ass, that he does owe Ezra a debt of gratitude. If it weren’t for Ezra we wouldn’t know the truth about the chip ARC implanted in our heads when we were children. We wouldn’t know that not only was it designed to amplify the harmonic signal of the QOINS, it was also there to kill us if we stepped one pinky toe out of line. The Citadels were told that the chip gave us our abilities, and without Ezra’s intervention we wouldn’t have found out that it was, in fact, a series of genetic modifications (not the chip) that turned us into super soldiers, and which, despite ARC’s lies, can never be undone. We can never have the “normal” life that ARC promised we could have later in life. If Ezra hadn’t helped me uncover the truth, we would have no idea that we’d been drugged and brainwashed for most of our lives. Without my “boyfriend,” we wouldn’t know what ARC had in store for the Citadels and how easy it would have been for them to use us in the most depraved ways to get whatever they wanted from any Earth of their choosing.
I want to shout all this at Levi, but I understand that in this moment there’s no point. He knows these truths already. He’s just angry, like he always is, and Ezra is a convenient place to lay blame. Or at least, I think that’s what’s going on. Levi has been acting strange ever since he wormed his way into this mission. One minute he’s eager, upbeat even. The next he’s sullen to the point of emo. Whatever is going on in his mind, he’s not being straight with me, which is fine. I don’t want anywhere near the inner workings of his thought processes, which seem to be rigged with emotional booby traps inside every conversation we have. So, I choose to say nothing. I turn back around and start walking to the base.
We move in silence. We don’t run, but we walk so swiftly that our boots merely brush the dirt beneath us. If anyone glimpsed us right now we would look like ghosts, haunting this forgotten stretch of wilderness that used to be a military base.
In short order we see a signpost. They have these scattered throughout Camp Bonneville—directions to the road and the barracks, and firing range warnings. However, the first thing I notice is that these signs aren’t in English—they’re in Japanese. All Citadels are polyglots, a word I love because it sounds like a magical spell straight out of Harry Potter. In reality, though, it just means that we are masters of many languages—a perk of our super brains. I grip my rifle a little tighter and look over at Levi.
“Kayanpu Joryoku,” he reads with a perfect accent.
“I guess things are different here after all,” I say aloud, as much to myself as to Levi.
“Yep,” he concedes.
“Could this be a Man in the High Castle Earth? Like one where the Allies lost World War II?” I wonder.
“A sign in Japanese on an American military base built in 1909? I think there’s a high probability that’s the case.”
“Right,” I say, almost to myself more than Levi. I grip my hand just a little tighter on my rifle.
“But the time line seems on par with ours just based on the tree growth. Most of the soldiers who fought in that war are probably dead. After so many generations, I doubt whoever is occupying the base is going to be much of a threat to us.”
I scratch my nose and look at the sign again. “They probably don’t even see themselves as occupiers anymore. This country belongs to them now. They’ll have gone soft.”
“As long as the war is really over,” Levi throws out.
“Look around. The forest is pristine. And listen, it’s quiet. Wars are very, very loud. I say we stash our stuff. Hide it where no one is likely to find it, but easy enough for us to access if we’re in a hurry. Then, we just knock on the door.”
Levi narrows a single eye at me. “Ballsy,” he says with a little smile.
“What are they going to do? We’re kids. So, we leave our guns here and we act, I don’t know, like we’re on drugs or, like, we have super-mega daddy issues.”
“You want to go into a Japanese military base without our weapons?” I don’t know whether Levi disagrees with me or he’s just double-checking.
“We are the weapons. The guns stay here.” It is clear from my tone that this is not a request. This is an order. Still, Levi’s eyes glint with approval.
“Roger that,” he tells me as he slowly unclips his rifle from the clip on the leather padding of his uniform. We disarm ourselves mostly (keeping a bowie knife tucked into each of our boots) and hide our backpacks in a thicket of hemlock, covering them with some fallen leaves that are still moist from recent rain.
We have a good idea about what kind of opposition we’re likely to encounter now, or at least a plausible theory, and we know this terrain. We run full speed to the entrance of the underground bunker that serves as our headquarters back home and then we just stand at the door and wait. There are cameras mounted at the corners of the door. A steady buzz electrifies the air as they both turn and point their lenses at us. I give a little smile and wave.
It doesn’t take long for them to come for us, maybe three or four minutes. The doors burst open and half a dozen Japanese soldiers emerge and surround us. They are not gentle, and they don’t bother to ask what we’re doing there. They simply take us roughly inside. The general layout of the bunker is much the same, though not as updated as our bunker back home. Probably because the people here don’t have the Roones sprucing the place up for them. So the bunker here looks haggard, full of dark and dank corridors, leading to rooms that look the same but no doubt serve entirely disparate purposes.