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Time Raiders: The Seduction

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“If you’re correct, the future of the world may depend on us getting this right.”

Athena knew that. She’d already bet her reputation and her career on that fact. And as soon as they tried to use the crown, she might very well be betting her life on it.

He made no further argument for the time being, but she got the feeling she hadn’t heard the last of it. After a moment he asked, “Where are we on the project?”

“Close, but we’re missing something in the algorithms, and my brain waves aren’t being exactly duplicated. We’re within a few microns of the right amplitude variations, but we’re not quite there.”

“Have you sent anything back in time yet?”

She jolted. “Good Lord, no. We don’t want to chance breaking the crown by using it incorrectly.”

“Seems to me that at some point you’ll just have to jump off the cliff and give it a go.”

Humph. Military thinking. “That might work when you’ve got a hundred more tanks to blow up where the last one came from. But we’ve got one crown. One shot at getting this technology right.”

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You might very well discover that last missing bit if you just use it.”

“Too risky.”

He gave her a long, hard look, then said tightly, “That’s not your call anymore, Dr. Carswell.”

She opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again. A surge of resentment warred with a wave of desperation in her gut. She’d known she was selling Project Anasazi’s soul to the devil. She just hadn’t expected to be confronted by the consequences so soon. She’d hoped to have a couple more weeks before Uncle Sam swooped in and took over. And she definitely hadn’t been counting on this force of nature landing in her lap.

Grafton startled her by saying, “Tell me more about you. The report didn’t say much about your talents beyond the fact that you’ve shown a knack for using the crown.”

She shrugged, embarrassed. “My particular skills seem specially suited to it.”

“You have the ability to astral project, is that right?”

She squirmed, abruptly aware of how perceptively that sapphire gaze was drilling into her. “Well, yes.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“It’s akin to dreaming, but a great deal more vivid. I project my awareness to someplace other than my own body and experience it with exquisite sensory accuracy—as if I’m actually there.” Thankfully, he made no editorial comments on how whacky that sounded. She continued reluctantly. “With the crown’s help, I can project an image of myself to another location so that people there can see me.”

His eyes definitely widened at her assertion, but she pressed on doggedly. “I’ve recently mastered sending an image of another person to a specific site. When we perfect the computer program and can boost the signal more, I should be able to send not only the image, but the physical person. Eventually, we hope to parlay that into sending people into different times entirely.”

He responded, “That’s…incredible.”

“I know it sounds crazy. But it’s true,” she blurted. “Every bit of it. You can see for yourself. We’ve got an astral projection experiment scheduled for tomorrow.”

“I’ll be there.”

At least he was suspending judgment on her sanity—or lack of it—for now. Silence fell between them. Eventually, he murmured, “So. You’re unique, as well, then.”

His voice was a caress across the back of her neck, intimate, sensual. Surely he was only talking about her psychic ability. But something in his tone hinted at a deeper meaning.

“I highly doubt that.” Damn. Did she have to sound so breathless? “I’m sure there are other psychics in the world who can do what I do. Probably better, in fact.”

“Maybe. But none of them are here and involved in this project. What effect does the crown have on other types of psychic abilities?”

She blinked. That was actually an insightful question. “We have a telekinetic gal on staff. Using the crown she can zip stuff all over the room, but has had no luck sending an object out of her direct line of sight. Apparently, her skill is tied to seeing where she’s sending the object. We’ve pretty much given up trying to further develop her relationship to the crown.”

Grafton looked surprised. “Are you saying the device is sentient?”

Another insightful question. Athena frowned. “I’m not quite sure how to answer that. You’d have to try the headgear on yourself to know what I mean. Whether it’s some other part of my own awareness that’s being enhanced, or whether there’s actual intelligence—artificial or organic—within the artifact itself, I couldn’t say. But I’m definitely

not…alone…when I use the crown.”

“I’d like to try it.”

Alarm shot through her. Maybe it was fear that the crown would like the new boss too much, or maybe fry his brain. Or maybe she just felt proprietary toward it. Either way, she wasn’t comfortable with the idea of him using it. She answered quickly, “Most people who put it on experience a blinding headache for several days thereafter. The crown seems to have an affinity for certain brains.”

“Have you determined what it is about those brains that it likes?”

“Everyone it has not bothered has been strongly psychic.” She added with a certain satisfaction, “And everyone it has liked so far is female.”

Grafton’s gaze narrowed. “Are you jacking me around, or are you serious?”

She allowed herself a small smile. “Oh, I’m serious, all right. The crown likes women.”

He grinned. “Can’t say as I blame the thing. I like ‘em, too.”

A shiver rippled down her spine, leaving her body tingling with…something. Oh, good grief. She didn’t go for all that ridiculous boy-girl foolishness. She’d sworn off dating by the time she graduated from college, throwing herself into her research almost to the exclusion of all else. And as a result, her life was calm. Peaceful. Serene. Just the way she liked it. Severely lacking in annoying, overconfident males who oozed testosterone and sex appeal. At least until now.

He asked casually, “When will you be ready to try sending something somewhere? It looked to me like you’ve got all the equipment set up—the quartz booth to contain whatever you send, the computers, the amplifiers.”

She resisted an urge to wince. She’d known it would come to this eventually. Just not yet. She answered reluctantly, “We still have to figure out where we’re going wrong in the programming.”

He said briskly, “I think we should go for it. The numbers I looked at seemed more like minor tweaks than actual errors.”

“It’s your career on the line.”

He laughed, sharply and without humor. “Like I still have a career. I’ve been shunted off to a kooky research project in the middle of nowhere with zilch for funding and run by some crazy civilian chick who claims she can time travel. I’d say my career has effectively tanked, wouldn’t you?”

Damn. She’d been hoping the guy at least had a sense of self-preservation she could use to rein him in. Curious, she asked, “What did you do to get stuck with this assignment?”

He threw her a withering look. “Office politics gone bad. I tried to do the right thing, and took the moral high ground. I came out on the losing end.”

“Nothing like being a small, replaceable cog—with a conscience, no less—in a very big machine, eh? That’s why I could never have joined the military. I would’ve gone crazy or gotten court-martialed, or both.”

He made no reply to that.

She said quietly, “As tempting as it is to rush to the end result on this project, I think caution is the best course. We’re close. Let’s not blow it now.”

He bit out. “I’ll take your opinion under advisement, Dr. Carswell.”

She actually felt her teeth gnashing.
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