Chapter One

July 4, 2055—Chicago

 

Brooke squeezed Donovan’s blood from the towel and dipped it in the lukewarm water again. She returned to Delaney’s suspended captive and tried to avoid eye contact with her. She suspected Donovan was somewhat confused by Brooke’s tenderness. Delaney had instructed Brooke to clean her up, but she hadn’t said do it quite so gently. If what Delaney said about Donovan was true, she was used to far worse than this, but probably hadn’t been ministered to so sympathetically by others who’d imprisoned her. But then, she’d probably never been tortured in the presence of an undercover FBI agent either.

Brooke felt Delaney move up behind her. She’d shown a different side to Brooke on their reconnaissance trip to locate Muniz. She was clearly harboring a deep love for Donovan that stood at odds with her current actions. Brooke hadn’t managed to get her to reveal what was really driving her, but the spiel about missions and money simply didn’t fit.

“We’re going to get Muniz. I need you to stay here and guard Donovan. I’ll keep you up to date by phone.”

“I think I’m old enough to be left without a babysitter.”

Donovan was deadpan, but Delaney laughed anyway. “Oh, no doubt. But I’d expect to come back to an empty hook and my prize catch long gone.” She patted Brooke on the shoulder. “Don’t listen to a word that comes out of her mouth. The best thing you can do is plug in, keep your distance, and just make sure she doesn’t escape.”

Brooke pulled at the rope holding Donovan and tested its strength. It wasn’t budging. Not without my help.“She’d have to be a damn fine escapologist to get out of these bindings.”

“You’d be surprised at the situations I’ve seen Donovan extricate herself from.” Delaney turned to leave with Simson and her fellow mercs following behind. She called back as she exited, “Seriously, Sledge. Be careful.”

Brooke snatched a quick glance at Donovan before she walked away and took her station back on the bench, as far away from her as possible without leaving the room. She needed a moment to think, and being close to Donovan wouldn’t help. She had the kind of eyes that could bore into your soul, snare your deepest thoughts, and expose them.

There was so much pressure for this operation to yield results that would put Frankie Calvin and her gang out of business. Brooke knew that freeing Donovan would compromise the whole thing, and with that would come the loss of her position in the field. Someone always had to take the fall, and she’d be the obvious choice. She’d be demoted to riding a desk and eventually be forced out of the agency in search of something more challenging than profiling killers from a distance and never getting involved where the action was, where she wanted and needed to be.

The other option was to stand by and watch Simson tear Donovan apart in search of the location of time travel tech that may or may not exist. Brooke was almost sure Delaney wouldn’t let Simson kill Donovan, but she wasn’t certain Simson was fully under Delaney’s control. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see her, Walker, and Miller rebel and take control, citing Delaney’s love for Donovan as destructive to their end game. Simson had already murdered one of her colleagues, and it was clear she wanted to destroy Donovan. Brooke figured Simson was jealous of Donovan’s hold over Delaney, but there was more to it. She was the darkness lurking in the college changing room always ready to put a beating on the football team captain. There was a sadism in her that seemed insatiable.

Brooke considered her position. FBI agents were known for doing whatever was necessary to discharge their duties “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” but where did time travelers fit into that oath? Was her responsibility to the American people of 2055 or those in 2076? If she believed Delaney and Donovan, they’d been affecting the lives of millions of people worldwide, not just Americans. Wasn’t that more important than stopping the Cagle Gang?

She thought about the money and her current six-figure salary. Delaney had promised riches beyond what she could imagine, and Brooke had to admit that a certain lifestyle was important to her. Having dragged herself away from a working-class family with no spare money beyond the essentials, she was determined never to be in that situation again. And she liked nice things, nice clothes, nice cars.

Brooke shook that train of thought out of her mind. A woman’s life was at stake here. Fuck the greater good. She couldn’t, and wouldn’t, stand back and watch Donovan be dismantled and tortured. And if she really is from 2076, maybe I can go with her…

Brooke heard the building’s shutters come down and the van engine struggle to life. By the time Delaney negotiated for transport, she had little money left, and Frankie hadn’t been particularly generous with her fleet of vehicles. They’d left with the oldest, least reliable van on her lot. Brooke wondered if it would even make it back to the silo again. She jumped down from the bench and walked to the window to make sure the van disappeared. It would be at least two and a half hours before they returned with Muniz, if all went according to Delaney’s plan. She picked up one of Simson’s knives and came back around to face Donovan.

“Feel like you missed out on the fun earlier?” Donovan nodded at her weapon.

Brooke shook her head and smiled. “No. I’m going to use it to get you out of here, not fuck you up.” She knelt down and began to saw through the thick rope encasing Donovan’s ankles.

“I could use an explanation…”

Brooke stopped for a second and looked up. Donovan’s expression was understandably quizzical, and it reminded her of the looks her older sister, Emily, would give her when she found Brooke burying “treasure” in the soil with her hands, or making a den from disused wood at the bottom of their yard. I miss you. She pulled herself from her unexpected melancholy and replied, “My name’s Brooke Jackson, and I’m an undercover FBI agent.”

Donovan laughed. “In that case, I think I would’ve liked it better if you’d have stepped up earlier…before they played like Blue Man drummers on my body.”

Brooke frowned and continued her work on the hitches Simson had secured. That crazy bitch must’ve been in the Navy to tie knots this tough.

“Before your time,” Donovan muttered quietly.

Brooke sighed as she cut through the final strand. “You could just say thank you.”

Donovan rotated her ankles, and Brooke flinched a little when they cracked.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Thank you for letting them beat the shit out of me for three hours and then releasing me.”

Brooke cut the bindings from Donovan’s cold wrists and stepped back. “You’re being a real asshole considering I’m saving your life.”

Donovan dropped her arms slowly to her side and began to clench and unclench her hands. Brooke could feel from the temperature of Donovan’s wrists and the marks around them that the ropes had been deliberately tied just a tad too tightly. Simson was a real piece of work. She wondered what Donovan might do to her if she got hold of her.

“You’re blowing your cover for me?”

Brooke ignored the suspicion in Donovan’s voice. It was understandable; this could easily be a ruse to get her to give up the PRU’s location. “Looks like it. Are you going to be okay to walk?”

Donovan nodded. “Who are you after?”

“Frankie Calvin. No matter what the law gets on her, she wriggles out of it. Uncle Sam is sick of it, so I was sent in to dismantle the gang from the inside.”

Donovan scanned the room. “Do you know where they put my stuff?”

“Sure.” Brooke left Donovan alone and came back with the luggage Delaney had retrieved from the car Donovan had totaled when the serial killer snatched Muniz. She placed the bags on the table and sat back on her bench, giving Donovan some space to consider her position.

She watched Donovan open a bag and pull out a fresh T-shirt. She peeled out of her bloodied tank, and Brooke couldn’t help but admire her physique. Donovan was in amazing shape. Brooke had always wanted bumpy, mountainous abs like that, but no matter how many hours she put in at the gym, all she got was a flat stomach and baby rips. Simson and the others had enjoyed themselves carving a Pollock abstract of blood using her skin as their canvas though, and the wounds Brooke hadn’t yet treated looked raw. Donovan was clearly uncomfortable when her cotton T-shirt came into contact with the open sores.

“We’ve got some ointment you can put on those. I didn’t get around to finishing you up. Thought you might like to get off the hook first.”

“Don’t worry about it. Tell me more about how you were bringing Frankie down by working with Delaney?”

Brooke tried to look nonchalant at Donovan’s dismissal of her injuries. Maybe it was machismo, or maybe she was just that hardened. Whatever it was, Brooke wanted to emulate it. Donovan didn’t seem scared of anything, including death. She was the kind of woman Brooke had long aspired to be. “I need evidence to show how Frankie is distributing her people to help others commit crimes. And I’d been seeing the same old things in that bar for the past nine months. I wanted a change, so I volunteered. I thought I’d be able to gather more usable intel.”

Donovan sorted her possessions into one bag, put her phone in her pocket, and left the rest on the table. She slipped her leather jacket on, and Brooke saw her wince slightly as the heavy fabric made contact with the open wounds on her torso. Brooke raised her eyebrows and tried hard to look unimpressed when really, she found Donovan’s self-control awe-inspiring.

“You don’t have to prove anything to me. I already know you’re a badass.” And I want you to teach me how to be one. Brooke felt her cheeks flush at her sudden hero-worship and tried to regain some decorum. “Letting me put some medication on your injuries wouldn’t lessen that.”

“I’ll get fixed up when I get home. Thanks for releasing me. I’ll get going.”

Brooke put her hand on Donovan’s chest to stop her from walking out. “That’s it? I can’t stay here, can I? When they get back, and you’re gone, who do you think cops for that?” Donovan looked down at Brooke’s hand, and she quickly removed it for fear of Donovan breaking all of its twenty-seven bones in one swift, undefendable move. How do I convince her to take me with her?

“What do you want me to do? Stay here and explain you had a change of heart about being a hired gun?” Donovan slung her bag over her shoulder, maneuvered around Brooke, and headed for the door.

Fuck. Don’t just let her walk away.She jogged up alongside Donovan. “Delaney was selling all kinds of crazy talk about the future, missions to save people, and money beyond our imagination. You kind of corroborated that when you didn’t balk at her wanting this PRU thing from you. What’s the deal? Are you time travelers or just crazy bastards?”

Brooke wanted it to be true. Her parents had raised her on a diet of action and sci-fi movies. Donovan personified each of the good guys in every one of those movies, but she was better than all of them because she was a woman. If time travel really was possible, Brooke was becoming more convinced she wanted in on it. Nothing was holding her in Chicago. There was nothing for her in 2055, period.

Donovan was ignoring her though, and Brooke decided not to push it until they got beyond the room where Simson had dumped Donovan’s slaughtered partner. The smell of putrefying flesh was building, and unless Donovan had lost her sense of smell from too many punches on the nose, she was sure to say something shortly.

“What the hell is that stench?”

Busted. Brooke shook her head. “You don’t want to know.”

Donovan stopped abruptly and turned to face her. “Yes, I do. Where is he?”

Brooke pointed to a room on the right farther along the corridor. “It’s probably not a pretty sight.”

“I wouldn’t expect it to be.”

Donovan entered the room and flicked on a light. Perry had been carelessly cast against the wall, and Simson hadn’t even bothered to close his eyes. One of the hollow-tipped bullets Frankie was famous for peddling had done its worst, and half his head was missing. Brooke had been the one who’d had to mop up what his skull had spilled. It was a job she never wanted to repeat.

Donovan crouched down and paused as if she were silently saying good-bye. Brooke knew soldiers didn’t like to leave their dead behind. Donovan sighed deeply as she stood and walked back toward the doorway Brooke was blocking.

“I’m sorry.”

Donovan pushed her out of the way. “Why didn’t you blow your cover for him?”

Sledge continued to walk beside her. “The small matter of a gun and four against one.”

“It wouldn’t have stopped me.”

Youdidn’t stop it either.” Brooke wanted to pull the words back before they were audible, but it was too late. Donovan had spun around and slammed her forearm across Brooke’s neck before she drew her next breath. She saw death, rage, and chaos in Donovan’s eyes, and she held up her hands in apology. Brooke couldn’t imagine what Donovan was going through, being betrayed by her best friend. She said nothing, but dropped Brooke from against the wall and stalked away again.

“Asshole.”

Way to get an invite into the future, fuckball.“I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to say. You’re obviously protecting something much bigger than one person. You were prepared to die for it. Are you crazy, or are you really from the future?” 

Donovan pushed open the workshop doors and paused as if she was taking in the sky. Maybe she’d resigned herself to dying and figured she’d never see it again.

“I have to go.” Donovan looked at the map on her phone and began to walk toward the nearest main street.

“Are you going back to the future? Is home 2076?”

“Shouldn’t you report back when you’ve been made?”

Brooke shook her head. With the Cagle operation blown, there was no future for her at the FBI. This was the kind of fuckup they simply wouldn’t tolerate. “I want to delay that shit storm as long as possible. What about your mission and the scientist?”

“What do you know about the scientist?”

Donovan turned left, and Brooke followed, feeling like the unwanted kid sister on a big girls’ play date.

“I know where that batshit crazy bitch is holding him.”

Donovan laughed, but it didn’t sound genuine.

“Yeah. So do your buddies. I’m not walking into that.”

Donovan stopped at an old truck, tried the door, and found it unlocked. Brooke watched through the passenger door window as she pulled the wiring panel away, fiddled with some wires, and kicked the beast into action. Being able to hotwire a car was a great skill, another one she hadn’t learned at the academy. Now I know how.Brooke tried to quietly open the passenger door and cringed when it groaned in protest, like it hadn’t been used in years.

“I’m not taking joyriders.”

“Just get me out of the city. I don’t want to be anywhere near Chicago when they return. If Delaney tells Frankie what’s gone down, she’ll have every hood she’s got looking for me, and the way she likes to kill people who betray her is not how I want to go.” She thought about the last informant Frankie had discovered. Death by bamboo wasn’t on her bucket list for sure.

Donovan pulled the truck out, and from the direction of travel, Brooke decided she was heading for US-41.

Brooke noticed her constantly checking the mirrors. “There’s no tail. This isn’t some stupid plan to get you to trust me and drive me out to wherever you’ve got this time travel screwdriver thing.” Donovan responded with an eyebrow raise and a wry look that signaled skepticism. “I understand you being reluctant to trust me, but I amwith the FBI. Why do you think I didn’t take part in any of the torture stuff?”

Donovan shook her head and kept her eyes on the road. She turned up the stereo loud in a blatant attempt to drown out Brooke’s questioning. Watching Miller and Walker beat Donovan before she and Delaney left to follow Muniz had been uncomfortable, but she also admired her fortitude. She never backed down no matter what they were throwing at her, although they did seem to hit an Achilles heel with Jade, the girlfriend who wasn’t a girlfriend. Or some shit like that. Even so, Donovan was prepared to die rather than give up the gadget Delaney wanted from her.

“Are you worried about Jade? I don’t think you need to be. I never heard any mention of her or Kondo before tonight. Delaney was bluffing. She has a tell. You probably knew that. I probably can’t tell you anything about her you don’t already know.”

Still, silence prevailed. Brooke hadn’t held a conversation with herself like this since elementary school with her imaginary friend. She stayed silent for a few miles, but as they approached the I-90 exit, she panicked.

“Please tell me you didn’t hide your gizmo in the William Powers State Park? That’s where Muniz is. That’s where Delaney was heading.”

Donovan didn’t respond, and Brooke was glad she didn’t take the exit. Maybe she was heading farther out to Indiana Dunes. Brooke wasn’t getting anywhere with her, and she knew there was nothing she could really do to make Donovan trust her, not in this short time. She got to thinking about what she’d do when Donovan dumped her somewhere outside of the city. Brooke had to know if all of this was real. She remembered the last tracker she had in her jeans pocket. She pulled it out, careful not to be noticed, but there was no real need. Donovan was focused on the road and clearly doing her damnedest to ignore Brooke. She dropped her hand down the side of her seat and let the tracker fall noiselessly to the ground. Now she could follow Donovan and see if she really was some time traveling world saver.

“Not happy working for the FBI?”

Donovan’s sudden question jolted her from her musing. I’m not the only one who reads people for a living then.“What makes you ask that?”

“Just a feeling.”

“Well, since you ask, I need a new challenge. And I want to make a bigger difference, you know?” It’s what I signed up for, and it just hasn’t happened.

Donovan smiled as if she’d finally found some common ground with Brooke.

“Bringing down the Cagle Gang would make a difference, wouldn’t it?”

“It would if anyone could do it. But she’s got her tentacles in so many important fish tanks, that no matter what we do, she’s protected. It’s hard to know who’s even on the right side anymore.” Brooke shrugged. “It seems that the only way to enforce the law is to break it, and then maybe we’re no better than she is.” Criminals like Frankie Calvin had all the important officials and law personnel in their back pockets. It had been the same last century, and Brooke expected it to be the same in the next. She wondered if this Pulsus organization would use its resources to bring Calvin down. She was probably small fry compared to the missions they authorized.

“Aren’t you a little young to be so jaded?”

“You talk like you’re my grandma. You’re what? Five or six years older than me?”

Donovan laughed an easy, relaxed laugh, and Brooke dared to think she might be making inroads into her confidence.

“In age, sure. But I’ve lived a few more years than that.”

“So you really are from the future? It’s such a cheesy straight out of a movie question. But I have to know I didn’t risk my life and career for someone with a delusional disorder.”

Donovan said nothing for an unbearable length of time, and Brooke wondered if she was weighing the odds of trusting her.

“I can’t answer that. But I can tell you I’m immensely grateful that you did.” Donovan slowed and pulled the truck to a stop. “Which makes it slightly harder for me to ask you to get out here.”

“You’re kidding?” Brooke didn’t move. She knew this was coming, but somehow hoped Donovan might take a chance on her. It was a ridiculous thought. She was a professional. Professionals didn’t take chances so they didn’t make mistakes.

“I’m sorry, but no, I’m not. We’ve put enough distance between you and Chicago for you to be able to get safely back to your headquarters, wherever that is.” Donovan reached into her bag, pulled out a roll of dollars, and offered it to Brooke. “This should get you where you need to go.”

Brooke shook her head. “I don’t need your money.” I want to see where this leads.She laughed quietly. “I don’t know what I expected. A big adventure, maybe.” She released her seat belt. “I’m being stupid.” She opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk, before leaning back into the car. Her tracker sat like a good sentry in the well between the seat and the doorjamb. “Good luck, Landry Donovan.” I hope to be seeing you soon.

 

Chapter Two

Somewhere between 2055 and 2076

 

Landry’s pain intensified as she moved through empty space, clinging tightly to her cosmic string. She’d forced herself to feel nothing and had been running on adrenaline since Sledge facilitated her escape from an uncertain future in Delaney’s warehouse. Out of immediate danger, the damage Simson and her cohorts had inflicted was kicking in, and she wished she’d taken Sledge up on her Florence Nightingale offer to bandage her body. Landry couldn’t see her blood because the speed of travel made it impossible to open her eyes. But she could feel it slow-stream trickling from the numerous deep knife wounds across her back, chest, and stomach. She estimated she’d lost up to two pints already and had to hope that she wouldn’t pass out before she reached 2076. The system Jenkin had invented relied on the time traveler being compos mentisenough to hold on to their cosmic string. A loss of consciousness would result in Landry falling through the time circle and into the empty space beyond it, forever lost. 

She distracted herself with thoughts of Sledge, or Brooke Jackson, FBI agent as she proclaimed to be. Given that Landry had left 2055 unimpeded, it looked like Brooke was telling the truth. Landry had been pinning her hopes on turning Brooke to free her, but she did it without prompt and at great personal and professional cost. The Cagle Gang was a big deal to law enforcement in 2055, and for another decade, they ran Chicago’s dark underbelly. Blowing the operation to save Landry would’ve cost Brooke her career. She’d look her up when she got back to Pulsus to see what became of her. Landry couldn’t help but think that if Brooke had been born two decades later, she would’ve made a great extractor.

Landry squeezed her eyes closed tighter against the almost invasive air she was speeding through and concentrated on Delaney. In truth, she still hadn’t reconciled the new, power-hungry version of her best friend. The Delaney she knew was in there somewhere. She had to be. Landry was sure she could’ve gotten through to her if not for Simson’s interjections. With her own growing feelings for Jade, Landry could empathize with Delaney and her desire to get back to Ilsa. Their mission and actions had resulted in her death, and there was no way Pulsus would authorize a costly foray back to 1942 to rescue someone they saw as insignificant. But she wasn’t insignificant to Delaney; she’d become everything. If Delaney had come to Landry and confessed the depth of her enduring desire for Ilsa, could she have helped her? Would she have helped?

Concentrating on anything other than the physical effects of the jump became impossible. Landry knew she was nearing the end of the time tunnel as nausea took hold of her. She gripped the string and prayed to whatever it was you were supposed to pray to for a swift and safe end to the journey. She wasn’t eager to speak to Jenkin or her mom, but she didwant to make sure Jade was safe from Kondo. She hoped Brooke was right and that Delaney was bluffing.

The exit of the time circle pressed against her face before the rest of her body. It felt like sticky Saran Wrap and made the final moments almost unbearable. Landry entered the jump room and gulped the conditioned air gratefully. It took a few seconds before she could open her eyes and adjust to the light. Her mom and Jenkin came into focus. She expected her mom to look concerned; she always did when she returned. But Jenkin looked worried too, and that wasunexpected. An engineer removed the PRU from her clenched hand, and Landry felt arms slip around her body to support and lead her to a regenerative pod.

“Pumpkin…”

Her mom had no more words. Another surprise. The blood loss made Landry weak, and her legs buckled beneath her. For once, she was content to accept someone else’s assistance, and she let herself be carried to the pod. A mixture of warm and cold hands touched her skin as they undressed her, and the alternating temperatures soothed her.

“We can’t put her in the chair, not with those wounds. She’ll need to be suspended.”

“Get on with it, then. Hurry.”

Landry heard the impatient fury in her mom’s voice, but she sounded far away and echoed like the ocean in an abandoned seashell. She felt gravity fall away until she was fully horizontal. Someone placed a soft cushion beneath her head to straighten her spine, and at that moment, she stiffened. “Jade.” Landry was sure she’d shouted her lover’s name, but she didn’t hear herself. Her mom appeared over her and took her hand. She appreciated its warmth, and her presence comforted her.

“What did you say, Pumpkin?” She turned her ear close to Landry’s mouth as if her previous exclamation had been nothing more than a hoarse whisper.

“Jade…Kondo.” She could manage no more, and her consciousness began to drift away into the horizon like a wispy cloud on a breezy day.

“She’s fine, honey. Relax.”

I trust you, Mom.She’d been the one to save Jade before. Maybe she’d saved her from Kondo. Landry heard the door to the pod close and the multiple voices floated away until she could hear nothing other than the steady stream of sleep gas as it snaked its way through her nose to its intended receptors. Jade.

 

Chapter Three

July 4, 2055—William W. Powers State Recreation Area, Chicago

 

Delaney slowed the van to a stop, and it cut out without her switching off the engine. “Fucking piece of shit. If this manages to make it back to the factory, I’m calling on Frankie for a replacement.”

Miller laughed. “Good luck with that. You’ve run out of credit, and she’s not known for her generosity.”

Delaney stepped onto the broken tarmac. The sun was setting, and the silo cast a dark shadow across the park. She couldn’t decide whether or not she was relieved that Kelly’s SUV was still beyond the locked gates. It would’ve been less risky to Muniz if she’d left for supplies, duct tape, or something. Her presence did give Delaney the opportunity to put an end to her career in killing. Delaney reminded herself that was supposed to be a major reason for all her recent actions. This couldn’t all be about Ilsa. Could it?

Simson handed her a cell phone. “It’s ready to call Kelly.”

She’d managed to get the number from the car rental place they’d tracked Kelly’s car to. A flash of her fake FBI credentials, and they were happy to give up all of Kelly’s details, including her current alias of Nelida Staton. “Excellent.” Delaney made the call and waited for her to answer.

“Hello?”

If she was currently engaged in torturing poor Muniz, it wasn’t reflected in her voice. Her clipped English tones were crisp and even. She had the kind of voice that was perfect for public radio, a voice you could listen to reading the dictionary.

“Diane Kelly? Or should I say, Nelida Staton? Not that it really matters what you want to call yourself, I suppose.”

There was a long pause before she responded. “Who is this?”

“That doesn’t really matter either. What doesmatter is that you’ve chosen the wrong victim this time.”

Nelida laughed. “On the contrary. I choose my playmates with extreme care. In what way is Lyman wrong for me?”

Her self-assuredness was surprising given the circumstances, but Delaney doubted she had any idea they were right outside the front door of her play cave.

“You’ve been made, Nelida. Muniz is a very important man, and we need him back.”

Ineed him. This conversation is pointless. Good-bye.”

“It’s only pointless if you’re ready to die. Are you?”

Nelida scoffed. “What are you talking about? I’ve got a very long life ahead of me, thank you, and you’re not about to change that.”

“Really? Perhaps you should look outside and give us all a wave, then. Though you’ll have to come to the door, since there are no windows in your little den.”

Simson looked shocked that Delaney had just given away the upper hand of surprise, but she knew what she was doing. Nelida was a serial killer, not a soldier. She’d have no idea how to cope in this situation. Delaney signaled for her team to follow her, and she approached the metal fencing. She motioned for Walker to cut an entrance with the bolt cutters she had hefted over her shoulder.

Finally, Nelida spoke again. “Who…who areyou?”

“We’re the people who’ll rain the fire of American hell on your English ass unless you give Muniz up right now.”

Walker pulled back the cutaway fencing, and Delaney led the way to the front door of the silo. A small camera positioned at the top of the door whirred in their direction, and Delaney waved.

“I don’t understand. How did you find me?”

Nelida sounded far less confident now. That’s more like it.“Now that’spointless. What does it matter now that we’re here? I’d ring the doorbell like a polite guest, but there doesn’t seem to be one. Perhaps you should make sure you and Muniz are far enough away so you won’t be hurt when we blast the doors open with a little C4.”

Simson took the verbal cue and forced her hands into tight latex gloves for protection. She placed her backpack on the ground and pulled out a small amount of plastic explosive. Delaney watched as she shaped it around the hinges of the heavy metal doors. She smiled as Walker and Miller took a few steps backward, perhaps frightened it might spontaneously detonate. They weren’t as tough as they made out. Landry would’ve laughed at their lack of knowledge. C4 was a particularly stable explosive to work with. Delaney grasped the thought by its throat and shook it to the ground. Let me go.

“That’s not necessary, is it?”

Nelida’s voice now sounded hurried and somewhat breathless. Her lack of composure made Delaney smile. “You’ll open the door, and we’ll discuss Muniz’s release over a cozy cuppa?”

Simson laughed and shook her head at Delaney’s attempt at an English accent. She inserted blasting caps into the molded lumps and began to unwind the detonator cord, traveling backward and around the corner of the building. Delaney motioned for Miller and Walker to follow. They complied while trying to look unconcerned and nonchalant. It didn’t work. Simson fake-dropped the electronic ignition, and they both looked like they might soil their pants. Delaney and Simson laughed, while Miller and Walker muttered expletives impossible to hear.

“Nelida? Are you coming to the door, or are we coming in?”

“I need to know who you are. Are you law enforcement or a private corporation security firm?”

“You’re concerned about your future?” You should be. You don’t have one.

“Of course. I want to know what your intentions are.”

Because you want to continue your killing career. “We have no interest in you.” I’ll even terminate you quickly.“If you cooperate now before we have to waste our valuable resources, you can walk free and stalk yourself another victim to spend the week torturing.” Delaney glanced at Simson, aware she’d just dropped a piece of information she shouldn’t rightly know. “Whatever is it you have planned, you can do it elsewhere.” 

“And how do I know I can trust your word?”

“You don’t. No more than I know I could trust yours if you say you won’t harm our asset. But we have to start somewhere, don’t we? Open the door, hand over Muniz, and walk away.”

“You’re the women I saw at Lyman’s hotel. And in the city where I snared him. Are you the one I knocked unconscious?”

“No. She doesn’t work with us.” Delaney thought of Landry hung up back at their factory. She was certain Sledge would be immune to her mind games. She’d said she had behavioral training with the army, and she seemed bright enough not to fall for any of Landry’s plays. With Muniz in hand, all Delaney would need was the location of the PRU, and everything from there should be relatively simple. She’d hoped the threat of harm to Jade would’ve been enough to get Landry to hand it over, but it wasn’t to be. Simson would have her day, or more likely, days, because Landry wouldn’t break easy. And Delaney knew now she wouldn’t be able to watch or even be in the same building. She’d nearly lost it when she saw what they’d done to Landry while she and Sledge were scoping out this place. There was no way she could stand by when Simson began to work her over and ask questions. Her feelings for Landry were strong, and they weren’t going away. Nor were her feelings for Ilsa, but it seemed the two couldn’t be reconciled. She’d made her choice. Now she had to deal with it.

“Is she law enforcement?”

Delaney sighed. The conversation had taken a hard right into Dullsville. “She’s FBI, yes. But you don’t have to worry about her, because we’re holding her captive.” It occurred to Delaney that Nelida was buying time, but she wasn’t sure why. There was no other exit from the compound. Is there something I’ve missed?

“I don’t understand how so many people know about me. I’ve been so careful—”

“You’ve got fifteen seconds to open this door, or we’re blasting it open.” The line went dead, and Delaney tossed the phone back to Simson. She addressed Miller and Walker. “Is there another way out of here? Underground tunnels?”

Miller rubbed her forehead as if to stimulate her memory.

“I remember reading something once about a network of tunnels underneath Chicago, maybe sixty or seventy miles worth. They were for shifting coal and providing air for movie theaters. Phone cables were hidden down there too. I thought it was only downtown, but it makes sense that this place was connected.”

Delaney shook her head. “And you couldn’t have dredged that little prize nugget of info up earlier?”

Miller shrugged. “Sorry, boss. I didn’t think.”

Shit.Delaney had been spoiled working with highly trained Pulsus employees. Miller and Walker were just gun whores. She could imagine what Landry would make of this fuckup, and none of it was good. God, I miss working with you. “Blow it.” Delaney positioned herself around the corner and out of the blast zone.

The explosion was minimal, and the dust was quick to clear. The four of them entered the complex with flashlights and guns raised. They found Muniz in a particularly uncomfortable position, but there was no sign of Nelida Staton. She lived to kill another day.

 

Chapter Four

Brooke watched the taillights of Donovan’s truck disappear in the hazy evening light before assessing her surroundings. A used car lot. At least Donovan hadn’t left her in the middle of BFE, andshe’d learned how to steal a car less than an hour ago. She looked around for an inconspicuous ride, something dusty and old that wouldn’t be missed for a while. She spotted an old beige Pinto with ridiculous racing stripes in the corner of the yard, conveniently parked at the front and not behind the locked metal fence. Time to put my new skill to use.

Luck wasn’t with her, and the car was locked. She bunched her jacket around her elbow and smashed it into the rear driver’s side window. Annoyingly, it neither splintered nor cracked. It always works in the fucking movies.Brooke scanned the ground for something more solid than her now-throbbing arm, settled on a palm-sized rock, and accomplished the task with her second attempt. She hooked her arm in, popped the lock, and opened the door. Recalling what Donovan had done, and thankful she’d paid attention in shop class, Brooke repeated everything carefully. It took her a little more effort than it seemed to take Donovan to break the steering lock, but the audible crack came eventually, and Brooke was ready to chase down her tracker.

Brooke’s phone indicated Donovan was heading northeast on the West Dunes Highway. The Indiana Dunes had to be her final destination. Brooke pulled out, and the Pinto fought back, unhappy it’d been disturbed from its rusty retirement spot.

“C’mon, little car. Don’t let me down.” It chugged along for twenty feet before settling into a smoother ride, and Brooke stroked the steering wheel. “That’s my girl.” She smiled at the unexpected recollection of her dad always treating their cars better than he would most people, even when all they could afford were clunkers.

Brooke thought of all the sci-fi movies she’d watched as a kid and didn’t quite believe she was on her way to finding out if fiction had finally been realized into fact. Would she be disappointed if she got to Donovan and there was no fantastical fairy dust to transport her twenty years into the future? If Donovan were already gone, it wouldn’t particularly prove anything because she could’ve arranged for someone to meet her there once she’d dumped Brooke. Whatever she was going to find, she wanted it to be something. Other than saving Donovan’s life, she had to know if she’d hit the self-destruct button on her career for a greater cause.

She noticed the tracker was no longer moving. It’d take ten minutes to catch up. Should she blaze in and demand to be part of whatever the hell this all was? Donovan probably wouldn’t appreciate that approach, and no doubt she wouldn’t take too kindly to the stalker behavior. Maybe she should watch from a safe distance and hope that Donovan might need her help again. Given Brooke had dropped a tracker in her truck, Donovan would probably suspect she was still working for Delaney and would knock her out, or worse. And while Brooke knew how to take care of herself, she was under no delusions that she could take Donovan down.

Brooke took a left into the main park. Donovan’s truck still hadn’t moved, and she wondered if she was already too late. The trail took her away from the main parking lots toward a dead end. She pulled in, uncoupled the ignition and starter wires to kill the engine, and continued on foot using her phone as a light. At the end of the road, Brooke saw the stolen truck, but there was no sign of Donovan or anyone else.

She sighed and acknowledged the rise of disappointment. Brooke saw herself looking Landry Donovan up on the FBI database while she was riding her desk waiting to be unceremoniously dismissed for abusing paper clips. She moved closer to Donovan’s abandoned vehicle and saw her bag was still inside. Shit. Was she just relieving herself in the bushes? Brooke shone her flashlight in a full circle, but there was no sound or movement. She reached in, turned the headlights on to illuminate the area more, and saw footprints in the sand that looked about the size of Donovan’s feet. Brooke followed them, but they stopped soon enough, and she walked beyond them to the edge of the trees, thinking Donovan might have jumped in there for God knows what reason.

“What the fuck?” Brooke had turned back to the headlights, and they looked…shredded. She took two steps to the side, and the truck looked fine. When she moved back though, it was weirdly distorted. She reached out tentatively, hoping her hand wouldn’t disappear or become deformed in some way. The buckled air warmed her fingertips, and as she ventured more of her arm forward, it extended up to her shoulder. She sucked in a breath, closed her eyes, and stepped through it. There was no sudden vortex, and she didn’t disintegrate.

When she opened her eyes, all she saw was the battered truck and its unblinking, unadventurous headlights glaring her down. She laughed. “No rabbit hole today, Alice.” She turned around and mapped the fragmented space to discover it was a perfect circle. A Donovan-sized circle. The air began to cool, and the strangely configured area began to fade. I’ve missed her by minutes.

When it had completely dispersed, Brooke walked back to the truck feeling vaguely vindicated. Landry Donovan wasa time traveler. Which meant so were Delaney and Simson. Their mission was real. Had they already secured Muniz? She checked her watch; Delaney had left them just under two hours ago, and if there’d been no complications, they might already be back. She’d set up audio and visual surveillance in the building opposite, so even if they were, she’d still be able to find out what had happened. It would take Brooke maybe just over an hour to get back to the factory if she broke every speed limit on the way. The SUV seemed like the obvious option, so the little Pinto would get to rest some more. She wasn’t sure it would even start again anyway.

Feeling like a pro thief, Brooke set the SUV into action. She checked the contents of Donovan’s bag, but there was nothing of note other than the roll of money she’d offered Brooke earlier. She slipped it into her pocket.I guess Donovan didn’t need it. As far as the FBI knew, she was still deep cover. As long as she reported to her handler as per the schedule, she might be able to keep up the charade. Brooke felt certain that Donovan would come back to get Muniz. He was important to her organization for some reason. While she waited, Brooke decided she should tail Delaney to make sure Muniz was safe. When Donovan returned, Brooke would be able to help her complete her mission, and maybe, just maybe, Brooke could convince Donovan to take her back to the future to start afresh.

 

Chapter Five

June 27, 2076—Pulsus Island

 

“For the love of all that’s fucking holy, will someone please tell me where Kondo is?” Landry had emerged from the regenerative pod in newly perfect condition, and her first thoughts were of Jade.

Her mom and Jenkin sat opposite her in the debriefing room looking as confused as she felt.

“What does Kondo have to do with any of this?”

Landry could see that Jenkin stopped herself from a bombardment of questions, and it was completely understandable. Landry had come back from a sixty-million-dollar mission without her team and probably more importantly for Jenkin, without Muniz. But until she knew Jade was safe, Landry couldn’t settle in for a full debrief. “I’ll explain everything, but I need to make sure Jade is okay.”

Jenkin shook her head. “What does Jade have—”

“Call her, Pumpkin. Please just make it quick.”

Landry smiled at her mom as she handed over her phone. Her smile grew wider when she saw that Jade was on her favorites contact list. Hope swelled when she also saw her mom had spoken to Jade earlier today. She’s safe.

“Landry.”

Her heart jumped at the sound of Jade’s voice. Strung up like an animal ready for the slaughterhouse, Landry had wondered if she’d ever hear her again. “Hey, sweet lady.” She didn’t ask if she was okay or if she’d noticed a big, ugly creep following her. Now wasn’t the time to worry her, not when she was on the mainland and Landry would probably be stuck here for the next few hours. All that mattered was that she was safe. She could only hope that Kondo was nowhere near her.

“When are you coming home for your hero’s welcome?”

Heroes come home victorious. I’ve come home empty-handed. “I’m hoping to be back in the city by early evening. Can you ditch training?”

“I’m in the middle of copping a double session right now so I can be free tonight. Meet you in the restaurant? I won’t be eating; you’re the only thing I’m hungry for. I’ve missed you.”

Landry wanted to wrap Jade up in her arms, but knowing she was safe would have to be enough for now. Her mom motioned for Landry to wrap the conversation up. Jenkin was pinching the bridge of her nose hard enough to crush it. She was clearly barely in control of her frustration.

“Sounds perfect. I have to go. I’ll see you soon.” Landry handed the phone back. “Thanks, Mom.”

She put it on the table and set the recording device in motion. “Tell us what happened…”

Landry recounted the sorry story, from Perry telling her of Delaney’s plan to take over Pulsus and hoping to recruit Landry, to him being murdered by Simson, her own capture, and her aided escape by an undercover FBI agent, Brooke Jackson. Jenkin made notes while her mom simply looked stunned.

“We knew something was wrong when our memories of Delaney, Perry, and Simson began to fade and muddle. It became obvious they were all dead, but we never would’ve predicted something this disastrous.”

Jenkin had taken the mission summary far better than Landry thought she might. Landry had come home to Pulsus as she’d left it, the opposite of which had been the fear playing hide-and-seek at the back of her mind. She’d wondered if Delaney had decided to go after Jenkin and her mom in 2055 and somehow failed. Landry’s chest tightened, and she struggled to breathe normally. She leaned back in her chair and massaged its arms in an effort to calm herself. What’s wrong with me?Grief. Some part of her was hoping to find Delaney at Pulsus on her return, twenty years older and full of remorse for her actions in Chicago. Instead, she was dead, and Landry didn’t know how.

She steadied herself and concentrated on thoughts of a serene rock pool to bring her back into the room. It wasn’t the kind of ridiculous woo-woo trick Landry would usually use, but the last thing she needed was Castillo signing her off active duty due to perceived psychological issues. “Are there any records? Do you know what happened?”

Jenkin shook her head. “When it became clear they were dead, our researchers began searching the archives, but they’ve yet to come up with anything. There are so many unidentified people who die every day, adequate records aren’t maintained. Over one hundred million died in the US between your mission and now. Delaney and Simson weren’t of that time period, and no one reported them missing. Tracking two Jane Does has thus far proved impossible.”

“Do you know where Kondo is?” He wasn’t holding Jade captive, but he was still part of something they needed to know more about.

“We don’t know. Two days after we sent you on the mission, he gave me his resignation letter and nothing I could say or offer him would change his—”

“Is that when you started to have déjà vu experiences of the rest of my team?” Landry found it hard to say Delaney’s name. And all she wanted to do when she thought of Simson was spit fire.

“It’s certainly when we articulated them to the board and raised it as a concern,” replied Jenkin.

“He must’ve run when his memories began to warp, and he realized Delaney’s plan hadn’t worked. He knew I was still alive, and he couldn’t risk being here when I got back.”

Jenkin moved forward in her chair and looked at Landry as if she held the key to the gates of heaven.

“What’s your concern?”

“My concern is how deep the rot goes. I was told about Kondo, but they didn’t mention anyone else. We could naively hope that’s because no one else was involved, but we have to explore the possibility that there are others.” What would I have done if I’d wanted to take over?“The plan was to gain control of the PRU, come back here, and take over the organization. Even if she intended to bring back the goons she hired in Chicago, I’m not sure four of them and Kondo would have been enough.” Landry stood and walked to the window overlooking a jump room. She thought of the missions she and Delaney had come back from. All in the past, and her memories of Delaney were already beginning to slip away. Will that make it easier when I go back to face her?

Her mom came up beside her and gently put her hand on Landry’s shoulder. “You think she organized an army before she left?”

“Maybe not an army but certainly some key players.” Landry turned back to face Jenkin. “Kondo was your personal guard. Perhaps it was their intention for him to take you hostage as soon as they emerged from the time circle. I guess with you secured, they wouldn’t need a lot of people.” Landry moved around the room as if it were happening in front of her. “They’d gain control of the jump room and seal off all communications. With you in hand, they’d call a board meeting. They wouldn’t even have to announce what was happening. Delaney would take a position on the board and the missions would be directed by her.”

“What does that mean in terms of the rot?”

Jenkin’s question brought Landry back into the moment. “We have to bring Kondo back to the island and interrogate him. We need to know who else Delaney and Simson recruited. If anyone, I expect it was mainly operatives. You don’t think anyone on the board might’ve been swayed? Has anyone else left without warning?”

Jenkin and her mom exchanged a look Landry couldn’t decipher. “This is no time to keep secrets. Right now, the three of us in this room are our only guaranteed allies.”

Jenkin nodded, as if to give permission to Landry’s mom to speak. “After the board meeting Delaney attended, Jolene Dudley seemed to think Delaney had a point that we should explore. But no, there’ve been no other resignations.”

“Good. Dudley’s the environmental psychologist, yeah?” With so many names and multiple positions of power, keeping up with the board members hadn’t seemed important before now.

“She is. And she’s the only one who might have been swayed by Delaney’s rhetoric. Jolene’s been a friend for a long time, but she only came on board once we’d managed the first successful mission, bringing Elena back to us.”

Jenkin sighed deeply, and Landry wondered if this responsibility was beginning to take its toll. She was looking older than her fifty-six years. Landry thought she would’ve taken advantage of the regen tech and rewound a few years. That Jenkin hadn’t done that reinforced Landry’s belief that Jenkin had the best intentions and wasn’t in this for her own selfish reasons. If only Delaney could’ve seen that.

“You should bring her in right now and find out. Mom, you were working on a serum that acted against the brain’s capacity to maintain silence under duress. Where are you with that?”

“A so-called truth serum? I’m afraid not. We were trying to stabilize the effects of sodium thiopental, but I stopped work on it some time ago. We wanted to concentrate on more important things…”

“Anything you want to share with me?” Landry felt the need to know everything Pulsus was developing. She wanted to be sure that being forced into a choice between Pulsus and Delaney hadn’t camouflaged a third option of leaving both of them behind to simply be with Jade.

“Advanced DNA engineering. It’s nothing new, Landry. You know I’ve been working on it for years now.”

Landry recognized the sadness in her mom’s voice. She wanted to help so many more people than she already had. Jenkin moved closer to Landry’s mom and draped her arm over her shoulder. She pulled her in as if to comfort her.

“We were hitting brick walls in terms of fixing diseases, but Elena is closer than she’s ever been. She’s almost ready for test subjects. It’s just never fast enough, is it, Elena?”

Priscilla. Landry hadn’t thought about the girls since she’d regained consciousness after the regeneration process. She hadn’t called them to check in. Would Jade have told her if Priscilla’s situation had worsened? Jesus, one thing at a time.“You’ll just have to use the old-fashioned methods then.” Sub-consciously, Landry slipped her hand beneath her T-shirt to stroke where there should be scars from her time with Simson. Thankfully, all she felt was smooth skin.

“Are you volunteering?” Jenkin asked.

“God, no. That’s not my area of expertise.” She’d never had any affection for interrogation. “I’ll leave you to isolate Dudley and find Kondo. The faster you move on this, the better. I don’t want to return to Chicago and not be sure that I can get back.”

“You’re getting ahead of us, Donovan. You know the human body is too fragile to jump again for at least three weeks, even yours.”

Landry’s mom looked serious. “And besides that, maybe it shouldn’t be you who goes back.”

“What are you talking about? Of course I have to go back. I have to finish the mission and bring Muniz back…” Landry paused. And Delaney?“What happens to Delaney and Simson?” And Jackson? I need to find out where she ended up.

“We have to convene the board, Landry. All the possibilities have to be considered. Leaving them in 2055 doesn’t appear to have made any significant ripples in the time continuum.”

Ripples?“You want me to kill them?” Fuck.

Jenkin shook her head. “Don’t jump to conclusions, Donovan. Like Elena said, we have to look at everything we know and consider everything we don’t know. Leave that to us while you recuperate for a few weeks. There’s no hurry to get back—Muniz, Delaney, Simson—they’re not going anywhere.”

Landry looked to Jenkin. “You have to promise me I’ll be the one to lead the mission.” If I have to beg, I will.

“Donovan, you know how this works. Like Elena said, the board will meet and decide the way forward…I’ll make it clear you want to go back. You’re sure you want to?”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything. I have to go back.” I need to fix this.