TUESDAY OCTOBER 6, 2005

11:05 GMT-3

VICKI CHURCH

THE MERIDIAN CINEMA | MERIDIA FALLS

Steph stands at the end of my bed, frowning, arms crossed just like mum used to do when James and I had been arguing — having “twin-fits,” as she used to call them. I squeeze my mum’s amber pendant; I’d give anything to see her again.

“I knew that would be too much for you.” Steph’s frown disappears as she shakes her head and sits next to me. She gently touches my arm. “I’m sorry I made you do it.”

I sit up as she plumps the pillows behind me. “You didn’t make me do anything. I wanted to do it — had to. We needed that information from Ellie Horton.” The image of her inside the padded cell is burnt into my mind. “Poor girl.”

“I know.” Steph nods and runs her fingers through her hair. “This whole place feels wrong.” She looks around my bedroom, her eyes open wide like she’s hunting for spiders in all the corners. “Whatever is happening, Meridia Falls appears to be ground zero.”

I lean back into my pillows, resting my hands on my larger-than-this-morning baby bump. “And we thought it was just a good place to keep this quiet from Dad.”

Steph half-smiles. “Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, your coming with me to Meridia Falls, after all. Maybe we should have told your father about the baby.”

“I couldn’t have even if I wanted to,” I say, glancing at my phone on the bedside table.  “He’s not answering any of his phones.”

“Same for all my contacts. It’s like everything has gone into lockdown after the breakout at the Archanter.” She pauses and sighs. “Still, I thought your father would have been—”

My phone suddenly rings, interrupting her in mid-sentence. I grab it from the bedside table and flip it open. Dad’s name flashes on the screen. I turn it around to show her. “Speak of the devil.”

“Good morning, Dad — or is it afternoon?” I pull the phone away from my ear. Steph mouths “afternoon.”

“There’s too much going on here to even know what time of day it is,” he says. His stern tone immediately signals there’s no space in the conversation for jokes about time-zones. “Several extremely dangerous prisoners escaped from the Archanter. I’m going to send Six over there to collect you. I don’t want you near Mr. Collins until the all the prisoners have been captured.”

My heart rate shoots up. “Dad! I don’t want to leave — I can’t leave. I need to help Logan.”

Steph touches my arm. “What’s wrong?”

I shake my head. “Dad, I’m putting you on speaker. Steph is with me.”

“His sigh crackles through the speaker. “Don’t try to talk me out of this, Stephanie. Certain prisoners from the Archanter will be looking for Mr. Collins. They will want his Affinity blood, and I don’t want Victoria getting caught in the crossfire.”

Certain prisoners?” Steph’s eyes open wide, and she takes several short breaths.

“Yes! We know for sure that Scarlett escaped. I don’t know how she did it; the cleanup team hasn’t even gained entry to the Archanter yet. But you know all about her. She will want to form a connection with Mr. Collins, an Affinity connection. We can’t let that happen — even if it means removing Mr. Collins… permanently.”

Steph shakes her head. “We don’t need to overreact. It will take a long time for any of them to track Logan down.”

There’s a pause from Dad. “We’ve had several sightings of Scarlett — the latest in Paris. Believe me, she is searching for Mr. Collins. It’s only a matter of time until she finds him.”

Paris. The word zings around in my mind. I turn my wrist over and rub my thumb over the Catena mark that Maz left —  a blood promise linking us to a Steph’s friend Angela, in Paris. My throat tightens, forcing me to ignore any wild desire to break the blood promise.

“Are you okay?” Steph whispers.

I cough and nod. “Dad, I don’t want to leave.” I pause and take a deep breath. “Dad, I’m not leaving.”

He sighs again. “You sound more like your mother every day. It was that kind of reckless attitude that…” He stops before he drags up painful memories.

“Don’t worry, Henry. I will protect her.” Steph’s eyes focus on my stomach. “We can always use a Traverse to get away if anything happens.”

“Make sure you do.” He pauses as another muffled voice comes through the phone speaker. “I’m just putting you on hold for a second.”

I exhale, not realizing I was holding my breath. It’s not often I stand up to Dad, and when I do, it seems to drain every ounce of energy inside me.

“Where are you right now?” he asks, his voice sounding louder than before.

“We’re in the second apartment at the cinema, in my bedroom… Why?”

He pauses again. “Is there anyone else there with you?”

“No, Dad. What’s with all the questions?”

A sudden noise from outside the bedroom door makes me jump. Footsteps.

Steph jumps up from the bed as the door opens. A black-suited man steps into the room. His blond hair almost disappears into his pale skin, making him look completely bald. A woman in a long white lab coat follows him in.

“Six!” Steph says, directing the anger in her voice at the phone in my lap. “You sent Six to get Victoria.”

“The place is secure,” Six says, also speaking to the phone. He suddenly flings his arms out, chanting under his breath as blue radiance fills his eyes.

My arms and legs lock together like I’m bound by an invisible rope. “I can’t move.” Steph tries to stand, but she is bound by Six’s magic too. “Dad! I’m not leaving. You can’t make me!”

“Don’t worry Victoria. You can stay there with Stephanie… I just need a sample of your blood… so I can make sure the baby is okay.”

My heart pounds against my chest, unhindered by the magical restraints holding me in place. “You… know.”

Dad chuckles. “I’ve known all the time, Victoria. Don’t worry. The doctor is just going to make a quick scan of the baby and then take a sample of your blood.”

“Henry! Don’t you think this is a little extreme for a blood sample?” Steph asks. “Why didn’t you just tell us you knew about the baby?”

“I did… once before. Let’s just say, things got a little heated, so I decided to take an alternative route to maintain the welfare of my grandchild.”

Before! My mind races back through the last few days — weeks. “Dad, you never mentioned…” Then it hits me. “You erased my… our memories!” I turn to Steph as she realizes the exact same thing.

The doctor places a gray plastic case on the bed. She opens it and takes out what looks like a large plastic pen; it’s connected to a small monitor in the case. It looks like a mobile version of the ultrasound unit from the hospital. She half-smiles as she lifts my top, exposing my stomach and my baby bump. “Just relax. I’m just taking a scan.” She squirts some cold gel onto my skin. Even though I can’t move, the chill still sends goosebumps over my skin as she moves the probe across my stomach. She concentrates on the monitor in the case, narrowing her eyes. “Looks to be around sixteen weeks, Mr. Church.”

“That’s a dramatic change from the last scan,” Dad says.

Last scan!

The doctor wipes my stomach with a small towel and then pulls my top back down. She swaps the ultrasound probe for a needle from the case. “Don’t worry, I’ve not hurt you yet doing this.”

“How many times have you done this before?” Steph asks, anger raging in her voice.

The doctor slides the needle into a vein in my arm, then she connects a small bottle. I watch it fill with blood. “Several times now,” she says, pulling out the needle. Focusing on the bottle for a second, she carefully places it and the needle back in the case. “I’m all done here, Mr. Church.”

“Good,” Dad says, still there on the other end of my phone, seemingly treating this like a normal business meeting.

The doctor places a small glass cube on the bed next to my leg. It shimmers like ice. “I’ve activated the Dorsum Cube,” she says.

“I’m sorry to keep doing this to you Victoria,” Dad says. “But it’s the only way I can protect… our future.”

The doctor leans forward and ends the call on my phone. Snapping it shut, she places it back on the bedside table, then follows Six out of my bedroom, closing the door behind her.

“I still can’t move,” I say, my eyes focused on the glass cube as it seems to get shrink in size. “What the hell is a Dorsum Cube?”

“I don’t know,” Steph says, as she too stares the cube. “It must reset, or rewind—”

“—maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, your coming with me to Meridia Falls, after all. Maybe we should have told you father about the baby.”

“I couldn’t even if I wanted to,” I say, glancing at my phone on the bedside table.  “He’s not answering any of his phones.”

“Same for all my contacts. It’s like everything has gone into lockdown after the breakout at the Archanter.” She pauses and sighs. “Still, I thought your father would have been in contact.”

“Well, I’m glad that he hasn’t,” I say, stroking my hands across my stomach. “I don’t want to explain the baby to him anytime soon.” I flinch; my skin feels cold under my top.

“What’s wrong?” Steph asks, leaning forward.

I shake my head. “Nothing. I just got a cold chill. I’m okay.”

Steph half-smiles and checks her watch. “You rest here for a while. The others will be back soon.”

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