The van jolted along a rough, uneven back road, jostling Naomi with every unpredictable bump and bounce. The midnight sandwiches were starting to wear off, and the combination of hunger, fatigue, and stress was bringing on some serious acid churn in her stomach, while the movement of the van, combined with the lack of any external visual reference points, was conjuring up some pretty intense car sickness.
Naomi held her stomach and mumbled, “Are we—ooouurgh—almost there?”
Innis didn’t reply.
“I think I’m gonna—oof—puke…”
“He can’t say anything, kiddo,” said Sky, still reclining with her eyes closed. “They’re gonna be watching him pretty close right now. We don’t want him to give away that he’s got other people in the vehicle.”
Naomi heard a click from the front of the van, and the radio turned on, playing some generic classic rock.
“That’s the signal. Start counting,” advised Sky. “Thirty seconds.”
Taking a deep breath, Naomi tried to will away her stomach’s protestations and concentrate on the countdown. She’d feel better once she was out in the fresh air, hopefully. Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight.
She was at thirteen when they reached the edge of the security field; a strange, fuzzy sensation crept over her. Twelve, she thought, eleven, ten… Why am I counting? Who is this woman? What am I doing in the back of a van? I’m not supposed to be here. I shouldn’t be here! She felt the van pick up speed.
The woman beside her opened her eyes, squeezed Naomi’s hand, and said, “Think you can you get us out of here?”
Naomi looked around, but there was no escape. All of the doors were blocked with boxes. They were trapped! “I… I can’t get out! There’s no way! We have to get out… Get out!”
The music playing over the radio suddenly shut off. What did that mean? Was the driver trying to tell her something? Who was the driver?
The woman beside Naomi sat up, took a deep breath, and gripped Naomi’s face. “Look, we can get out of here. Somehow. You have to get us out! You can do something! Quick!”
Who is this woman? thought Naomi. What is she talking about? I’ve got to get away! She grabbed the woman’s wrists and tried to shove her away, but the woman was too strong, her grip too tight. Naomi’s breathing sped up, her heart racing. She gritted her teeth, closed her eyes,
and found herself floating timelessly in a sea of black-tinged purple, with Sky trailing ephemerally behind her.
Griffin Hamels tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable, but he just couldn’t seem to fall asleep. It wasn’t the bed’s fault; the mattress was decent enough. He hadn’t been drinking caffeine, or eating much sugar. He’d been getting plenty of exercise—in fact, he worked out constantly. There wasn’t much else to do while he was stuck here in the middle of nowhere, and lifting weights or running on a treadmill were things he could do even while he was on-duty, activities that didn’t interfere with the mental focus he needed to track the location and movement of every person and most of the animals within a two-kilometre radius of his workplace.
The problem, Griff realized, was the sunlight. Even with all of the blinds pulled down, too much light was coming into the room. Morning started so early this time of year. During the winter and spring, he’d been coming off shift while it was still dark out, and he’d had no problems falling asleep then. It had to be the sunlight.
Maybe later, once he’d woken up, he’d ask for a heavier set of blinds, or see if he could move to a room in the basement for the rest of the summer. There were tons of rooms down there, and he was pretty sure most of them were empty. Getting permission shouldn’t be a problem; his bosses were pretty accommodating. Other than the boredom, they’d given him nothing to complain about with this job, especially considering the amount he was being paid. Six months he’d been here, and he’d already paid off his student loans and started saving towards a down payment on the condo he hoped to own one day.
Yep, things were going pretty well, all things considered. Now if only he could fall asleep…
He’d tried counting sheep, but it hadn’t helped. Maybe it was because he’d spent most of his night counting birds. He’d sensed an unusually high number of those passing back and forth over the complex for the last several hours. They’d been crows, mostly; he’d seen them through the windows. Those things always seemed to be looking straight at you, like they were watching you, and not just to see if you’d throw them any food.
Lying back and staring at the ceiling, Griff cast his senses out, feeling the movements of the complex’s residents. A few people were walking the halls, while others were stirring on their flat, hard beds in the basement rooms below, awakening to much greater solitude and boredom than even Griff himself had to deal with. Unlike them, at least he was here voluntarily—though every now and then, he even wondered about that.
There were half a dozen sentries outside, watching for intruders. The person up in the tree out front was probably spying on the three strangers who were driving along the dirt road. Just some teenagers exploring off the beaten path, most likely. They wouldn’t even know they’d passed this place; one of the twins would have the security field up already.
Griff’s eyelids drooped, and his chin bobbed down onto his chest. Ah, here it came. Sleep. Wonderful, glorious, slee—
His eyes shot open. That was odd. Hadn’t there been three people in that vehicle a moment ago? Suddenly he could only sense one.
He shook his head to clear away the cobwebs, sat up, and grabbed a pair of wrinkled jeans off the floor. Either he’d been dreaming, or… Well, better safe than sorry.
He set off down the hallway at a jog.