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The Rift Uprising

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And over.

The guy is looking not at me but down at the ground, shaking his head, muttering something to himself. I walk closer and clear my throat.

“Hi,” I say with a smile on my face. He looks up and I really see him for the first time. I catch my breath. He is gorgeous—specifically, my type of gorgeous. His skin is one shade darker than olive. His hair is tousled and brown, his eyes are azure blue. They look almost unreal, like he’s wearing contacts. I push this thought aside. Even from this distance, he doesn’t seem like a guy who would wear lenses to enhance the color of his eyes. Then I push that thought aside. How the hell would I know what kind of guy he is? Yet even as I think that, my heart begins to race and I clench my fists. ARC is monitoring my vitals through my suit. The last thing I want them to see is my attraction. It’s so embarrassing. My cheeks flush. I suck in a deep breath and center myself. I’ll be fine as long as this kid doesn’t come too close or make any sudden moves to reach for me. He looks at me and narrows his eyes. He seems more wary than scared, which is good. He should be wary. But he’s not panicking, and that is even better.

I force a grin. “Pretty crazy, right?” What a stupid thing to say. He looks at me and then at The Rift.

“Where am I?” he asks slowly.

“Washington. State.”

“Well, then, when am I?”

The question catches me off guard. He’s smart. He knows that whatever has happened to him is huge and mind bending.

I walk closer to him, my arms open, my body language showing vulnerability. “When do you think you are?”

“Please don’t come any closer,” he says politely. He tries to smile, but it’s forced. He is standing stock-still but looks as if he could bolt at any second.

“Do you think you’ve time traveled or something?” I make it sound like that could never happen in a million years, but in a way it’s not that far off from the truth.

“I don’t know—have I?” He looks down again and then back at The Rift. His gaze finally falls back to my face, but his eyebrows are raised in a way that says he knows something and there’s no point in making small talk.

I tell him what year it is and he nods.

“Same year, then,” he says hesitantly.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” I ask with genuine concern. How disorienting that trip must be. How terrifying.

“I was working in the lab at school. I heard a kind of drumming noise coming from outside. I walked toward the sound to investigate it and I saw this green light. That light,” he says, pointing to The Rift. “And then the next thing I knew, I don’t know … it sucked me inside and I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was being dragged underneath a wave and didn’t know which end was up. What is it?” His words are cautious and carefully chosen. Most people are in shock when they end up here. Maybe he is, too, but he’s holding on to his rationality pretty well.

Our eyes really lock for the first time and something passes between us. Heat maybe? Or just plain interest?

Or maybe wishful thinking. Get it together, Ryn.

“It’s a cosmic anomaly—that’s really as much as I know. Can I come a little closer? I promise I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Okay,” he says. Yet his voice is anything but casual. I walk toward him slowly. We are beside each other now.

I hear Violet’s voice in my ear. “Watch yourself, Ryn.” She’s part of my team, so that’s not surprising. But she’s also my best friend, and that means she knows exactly what’s going on in my brain right now. She’s not warning me against any kind of sudden attack by him. She knows he’s my type. She’s heard us talking. She’s worried for him.

“I’m not really trained to answer all the questions you must have. There are people here who can, though. I can take you to them,” I offer. But I don’t really want to take him anywhere. I wish we could just stay here for a while. I wish we were two normal people who met by chance, and who decided that they would like to get to know each other better. It’s a selfish thought. We are a thousand light-years away from normal and the answers he wants won’t bring him anything but pain.

It hurts me to think about that, and I start to wonder when in the past couple minutes I stopped being a Citadel and started acting like a teenage girl.

Never mind the fact that I am a teenage girl …

He looks me up and down. “What are you trained for, then?” he wonders out loud. Is he flirting with me? I’m so crap at this kind of thing, I have no idea.

“I’m like”—I fish for a word—“a guard.”

“You’re a girl,” he says flatly.

Now it’s my turn to narrow my eyes. “A girl can’t be a guard?”

“A woman can, sure—a female—but you’re a girl. How old are you?”

His words sting. He thinks I’m a child. I imagine picking him up by the collar and holding him in the air. He’d change his mind pretty damn quick about me being a little girl.

Definitely back to being a Citadel again.

“I’m seventeen,” I say, trying not to sound defensive or pouty. “How old are you?”

“Eighteen. Technically an adult. And last time I checked, you had to be an adult to be in the military, especially if you’re guarding something like that,” he says as he points to the huge shimmering green pool in the sky. “So again, where are we?”

“We’re in Washington, like I said.” I have to move things along now. They aren’t going to give me forever to get this guy to trust me.

“Yeah, but where exactly in Washington?” he asks—not in a cocky way, but in a way that says he’s not going to be distracted from getting an answer.

“Battle Ground,” I say.

He jerks his head up and takes a slight step away from me.

“I mean, this isn’t a battle ground—at least, not always …” I bite my lip. I’ve never done anything like this before—gone in alone and made first contact without my team. Boone is better at this kind of thing. Way better. “The name of the town we’re in is Battle Ground, though actually, technically, we’re at Camp Bonneville Military Base.”

“And why would a seventeen-year-old girl be in charge of a cosmic anomaly?” He cocks his head, almost daring me to answer.

“I’m not so into the tone you’re using when you say the word girl—just gonna put that out there,” I snap back, and he gives me a half smile.

“Sorry. Why would someone so young be guarding something so … I don’t know, what’s a synonym for terrifying, but, like, way, way more?”

Now it’s my turn to give a hint of a smile. “Have you ever heard of the Multiverse Theory?” I ask tentatively.

“Ryn!” Applebaum barks in my ear. “Enough. You do your job and let the experts do theirs for the intake. You have sixty seconds,” he warns.

“Yes, the Multiverse, heard of it, go on,” he says warily.

“Okay, so that thing is a portal to different versions of Earth. Some versions are similar to yours and mine and some are different?” It’s weird that I’m framing this as a question. Am I trying to be cute? I am not cute. Applebaum is yelling objections through my earpiece and it’s throwing me off. I need to take charge here. “I have a very particular skill set to deal with the ummm … more dangerous variations of other Earths.” I do not take charge with this statement. I sound ridiculous.

“A particular skill set?” he counters immediately with sarcasm. “Like Liam Neeson?”

“Well, no, but yes, I mean, that’s great. You have a movie star Liam Neeson on your version of Earth and so do we. We’re getting somewhere!” He frowns. I am screwing this up royally.

“Thirty seconds, Ryn,” Applebaum growls at me, “and I am not happy at all.”

I sigh and then I disable the audio. I don’t need the colonel’s disappointment buzzing in my ear. I take a step closer to the guy in front of me. I get so close that my mouth is just an inch away from his ear. He smells like the woods and something else, something spicy. I like it, but I do my best to ignore it.

“Look,” I whisper, “I don’t have time to walk you through this. I know you have no reason at all to trust me. But, if you just let me and my friends escort you away from here, to someplace safer, there will be a bunch of people who are far better equipped than I am to answer all your questions. Okay?”
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