WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 5, 2005

18:43 GMT-3

VICKI CHURCH

THE MERIDIAN CINEMA | MERIDIA FALLS

I jump forward, shocked out of my sleep. My ears are ringing, and my heart is racing like I’ve been running — fast. “What was that? An explosion?!”

Marilyn is already at the middle window looking for the source of the disturbance. “Nothing on the street,” she says, pressing her face to the glass. “There’s no one about.” She spins around, her eyes open wide. “I suppose it could have been a car or…” She pauses mid-sentence, her mouth dropping open. “Shit!” She darts through the open living room door and into the hallway. “There’s smoke pouring in under the apartment door… There’s a fire on the balcony! At the top of the restaurant staircase!”

“A fire?!” My arms instinctively wrap around my stomach as the unmistakable choking smell of smoke drifts into the living room. I quickly get off the sofa and run into the kitchen. Penny had a fire extinguisher in the cupboard under the sink. I grab it and run after Marilyn.

“Victoria! Get over here now!” she screams.

Shielding my mouth from the smoke, I grab the fire extinguisher and run out of the apartment. An intense blast of heat blows against my face as I run down the corridor to the balcony.

“It’s Logan and Stephanie,” Marilyn shouts as she smothers huge flames with a dust sheet. “Logan’s back is on fire.”

I run over to her with the fire extinguisher

“I’ve got this under control,” she says, coughing. She points at the flaming staircase banister. “You deal with that before it spreads to the restaurant.”

For a second, I can’t move. My eyes won’t look away from Logan — flames are still licking out from under the sheet. Steph’s arm reaches out from under him. They’re not moving. Are they—

“Victoria!” Marilyn shouts, snapping my mind back into focus. I quickly spray foam over the dancing flames as they try to escape down the banister and onto the staircase. “Are they okay?” I ask, my voice shaking as I glance over my shoulder at the smoldering dust sheet.

Marilyn’s eyes open wide as she peels the sheet back. Her hand shoots to her mouth at the sight of the charred skin exposed through the back of Logan’s burnt jacket. Shaking, she kneels, pressing her finger to his neck. “He’s still alive… but he’s in a bad way… We need to get him to a hospital.”

“No doctors…” Steph’s weak voice groans as she crawls out from under Logan. Turning onto her front, she gasps for breath, blood pouring from a cut on her forehead. “Victoria… get my phone… call Angela… she will tell you what to…” Her voice fades as she passes out.

I rummage in her pocket for her phone and input her passcode. Four, eight, zero, two. Luckily, her contact list only has one “Angela.” I press dial, glancing over at Marilyn as she tries to peel off Logan’s burnt clothes.

The call suddenly connects, making me jump. “Hi Stephy. I didn’t think you’d be calling until the check-in later. I think everything went according to our plan.”

“It’s… not Stephanie.” I pause a second, unsure what to say. “Something has happened to her.”

Silence follows my stuttered statement.

“Who is this?” Angela asks, a stern edge creeping into her voice.

“Victoria… Victoria Church.”

Angela exhales, like she’s been holding her breath for minutes. “What happened to Stephy?”

“I don’t know,” I say, glancing at her unconscious body next to me. “She’s just got back from Italy and Texas.” I suddenly stop, aware of how absurd that may sound to someone unaware of our gifts.

“Yes, I know. She took Mr. Collins to see his father in—” Her voice cuts out as she takes a large intake of breath. “Something has happened at the Prison in Texas… A gas explosion or something.  It’s all over the—”

The phone goes silent again.

“Are you still there?” I ask, my heart rate shooting up.

“Yes, sorry.”

I look over at Logan… at his injuries. “There was certainly some kind of explosion. Logan and Stephanie looked to have made it back here, but Logan’s back was on fire. He’s got horrific burns…”

“Is Stephy injured?”

“She’s got a bad cut to her head, but no burns,” I say, checking her pulse. “It looks like Logan took the full force of whatever it was. Stephanie told me to call you, before she passed out.” I take out a tissue and press it to the cut on her forehead.”

“Do you have any first aid supplies?”

I stare at the tissue as it quickly turns red. “Only the basics, nothing that can deal Logan’s burns.” I cough as the smoke swirls around the balcony. “

“Is there anyone with you?” Angela asks. “Anyone that knows about us… someone you can trust?”

I glance at Marilyn as she wafts at the smoke with the dust sheet. “Yes!”

“Right, I’m opening a Traverse to the cinema. Where are you exactly in the building?”

“At the top of the main staircase.” Before I finish speaking, the bright thin light of a Traverse appears right where I’m looking. It shoots from the scorched floor, forming the familiar doorway.

The Traverse opens, but no one comes through.

I press the phone back to my ear. “I can’t come through to you,” Angela says. “I’m working on something… secret. And you definitely can’t come through to me — not in your condition.” I almost drop the phone. She knows about my baby. “Send your friend through. I have some special bandages that will help accelerate the healing of their injuries.”

Marilyn is hunched over Logan. She hasn’t noticed the Traverse. I tap her on her shoulder, and she jumps at my touch. I point at the soft glowing light coming through the Traverse. “Can you go through and collect some medical supplies from…” I wave the phone. “From Angela, Stephanie’s friend?”

Marilyn stands, tears leaving trails down her cheeks. She slowly walks to the Traverse, traumatized by what’s happened to Logan. My own traumatic memories surface in my mind… that terrible morning at school, when I found out… I shut my eyes tight, willing them away.

My phone rings. The familiar ringtone plays in Penny’s apartment, ridding my mind of the unwanted memory. I focus through the smoke at the open apartment door. I can’t leave Logan and Steph. Whoever it is, they can leave a message. I turn back the Traverse, but it’s gone — and so is Marilyn. I hope she gets back soon.

Logan groans and coughs. I kneel to check his pulse. Surprisingly, it’s strong and steady. Marilyn removed most of the burnt clothes, leaving his blistered and burnt skin exposed. Poor Logan.

I move across to Steph and check her pulse too. It’s the same — strong and steady. I guess their M-Chromosomes are already at work.

My phone rings again.  Someone wants to get hold of me really badly. Probably Dad. I glance at the top of the staircase. Still no sign of the Traverse.

I quickly run back to the apartment and grab my phone from the coffee table — just as it stops ringing. I was right, it was Dad. Two messages. Coughing, I open each of the three windows to let the smoke out. It smells cold outside, but the air is fresh. It feels good as it cleanses my lungs.

I’d better call Dad back.

“Victoria!”

Marilyn’s back.

I stash the phone in my pocket and run back to Logan and Steph. Marilyn stands framed in the soft glow from the closing Traverse. She spins around. “We need to get them into bed and wrap these bandages around their wounds.” She shakes a plastic box. “They’re impregnated with some magic thing.”

“We need help to move them though,” I say, as I put another tissue over the cut on Steph’s forehead

“I’m on it.” Maz pulls out her phone. She gives me the medical box and presses the phone to her ear. “Steve! Can you get here now? We’ve had an incident.” She pulls the phone away from her ear. “No. I’m okay. It’s Logan and Stephanie… They’re hurt…” She pauses and glances at Logan. “Can you bring some of your spare clothes?”

She snaps her phone shut. “He’ll be here in ten minutes.”

I glance at the top of the staircase, where the Traverse closed. “Where did you go, Marilyn?”

“Paris,” she says, rubbing at her wrist. “And call me Maz. I guess we’re friends now.”

“Well then, I guess you can call me Vicki.”

Maz half-smiles. “Vicki, we need to—

My phone rings again, cutting her off mid-sentence. It’s Dad, again.

Maz grabs my arm, her eyes open wide with panic. “Angela made me swear not to tell anyone about her and where she was.” She glances at my phone, then shows me a red thumbprint on the inside of her wrist — a Catena.

My heart beats fast in my chest. I slowly nod and hold out my arm, turning my wrist to face her. She gently presses her thumb to my skin, leaving the same red thumbprint mark — a blood promise.

Holding my breath, I wait for the stinging pain to pass. As it fades, I press the call button and hold the phone to my ear.

“Victoria. Thank goodness. I tried calling twice,” Dad says, gasping for breath. “Something’s gone wrong in Texas… Patrick Collins was executed this afternoon.”

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