An old blue minivan sat on the shoulder of a stretch of highway west of Victoria, its engine off and its right-turn signal flashing to ensure that oncoming motorists would notice its presence as they approached through the early-morning fog. Traffic was thin along this route at 5:15 AM, the westbound lanes largely barren, though there were always some people heading east, commuting from the rural Sooke area into Victoria.
Ian Innis sat in the minivan’s driver seat, cell phone to his ear, though he wasn’t actually in the middle of a call. “It’ll probably be another 10 or 15 minutes,” he was saying. “We have to make sure their guy is not only off-shift, but in bed and sleeping, or none of this is going to work.”
“It’s getting really uncomfortable back here,” complained Naomi, huddled in the rear of the van. The bench seats had been taken out, and there were cardboard boxes stacked up all around her, blocking the windows. The boxes were full of packing peanuts and foam, Innis had assured her—great protection in case they crashed, she was sure.
“You think this is uncomfortable?” said Naomi’s back-of-the-van companion. Innis had introduced her simply as “Sky” when she’d arrived at his house. The woman was lying on her back, staring at the van’s ceiling with her hands clasped behind her head. Her long, dark hair haloed her face, and her open denim jacket spread out under her arms like wings. Her knees were pulled up, revealing tattered holes in her jeans. “At least we’ve got freedom of movement—no seat belts, eh? I hate those things. So restrictive.” She winked at Naomi.
“How can you be so casual?” Naomi asked. “Aren’t you nervous? A few hours ago you were asleep, then you get woken up and told to be my personal bodyguard, and then when you arrive you find out you’re not doing guard duty at all, you’re going on some kind of secret mission, instead. Doesn’t that throw you off even a little?”
Sky shrugged. “Life’s a ride. It’s easier if you lean into the corners.” She reached up and scratched the bare skin of her knee, then closed her eyes and began breathing deeply and evenly.
Asleep? No way, thought Naomi. No one can fall asleep that easily… But Naomi wished she could. She’d managed to sneak in an maybe an hour after sending Emily off to deliver Mrs. Leighton home and make sure that Naomi’s parents awoke in the same blissfully uncaring state they’d been put to sleep in. Emily had gotten the easy end of the deal, Naomi was realizing more and more. But Naomi had no one to blame for that but herself.
She tried to find a crack between some of the boxes so she could see outside and relieve some of her growing claustrophobia. They’d been waiting for an hour already, just sitting here and doing nothing while Innis pretended to talk on his cell phone so that people looking in from outside wouldn’t realize there were other people in the van with him. The idea was to make Innis look, to the casual passerby, like someone in the middle of moving house. It wasn’t much of a ploy, as far as Naomi was concerned, but it didn’t have to be. The casual passersby weren’t the people they were really trying to fool; the kidnappers’ sentries—who were hiding somewhere in the nearby woods, Innis had informed them—were the ones they had to mislead, and the more those sentries believed they had Innis’s little spy game figured out and wrote him off as incompetent, the better off the plan actually was.
It seemed like a good enough plan on paper, Naomi figured, as long as Innis’s information about this place and its unique defenses was correct. No point questioning him on that, of course. Naomi had pressed him for some idea of his sources earlier, out of a growing sense of basic curiosity, but he’d simply smirked and said, “A little birdie tells me things.” He was infuriating, this man, but ultimately it didn’t matter. Naomi wasn’t here to learn his secrets: she was here to rescue Candace.
Innis’s description of this place’s defenses had sounded both fantastic and ridiculous, like something out of a movie—and not a particularly well written movie, at that. There were apparently three specials who worked together to keep the kidnappers’ home base safe from prying eyes. One was a sentry. (Innis called him “The Sentry”.) His ability allowed him to sense people’s presence at a distance, so he could warn the others of incoming intruders, no matter how stealthy they thought they were being. Of course, he was just one man, and like anyone else, he needed sleep. There were other, “normal” sentries in place while he was sleeping, and these were the people Innis claimed they were being watched by even now. According to whatever source of information Innis had, The Sentry stayed on watch during the evenings and overnight, until dawn—that meant about 5 AM at this time of year—with a bit of overlap at the beginning and end of his “shifts” to allow the other guards to get in place. Innis wasn’t sure how many of those there were, but he’d warned them to plan for at least five or six, in addition to whatever muscle was hanging out inside the base itself.
The muscle wasn’t the challenge, though. The big trick was getting past the other two specials. These were some very unique siblings, Innis said, identical twins with identical special powers, able to perform large-scale camouflage on more than merely a physical or visual level. It wasn’t just that they could render an entire building functionally invisible; they also projected some kind of mental block, so that anyone coming into their sphere of influence from the outside would simply decide to move along and leave the area by the most convenient route. Innis described it as a feeling of “Oh well, nothing to see here,” which seemed vague, but apparently his memories of having experienced it in the past were somewhat fuzzy—one of the effects of the ability, most likely.
The twins alternated 12-hour shifts, hiding the base whenever they were informed that someone was approaching, and leaving it hidden each time for about five minutes after the intruders were gone. Innis said his best guess for why they didn’t keep it hidden longer was that the effect probably took a lot of energy for the twins to maintain. Whatever the reason, a five-minute buffer on the illusion was a convenient enough length of time for Naomi’s purposes.
“All right, that’s probably been long enough,” said Innis from the front seat. “I’ll give you a 30-second warning on when to skip, Naomi. You’ll get a little foggy as we enter the camo field, but remember: you have to skip before we leave its area of influence, so that you’ll both reappear within that same area once I’m gone and the field has been taken down. Once you’re inside, if they try to put the field back up again it won’t affect you, but if you miss your spot—”
“I know,” said Naomi. “You’ve already explained it. I’m ready.”
Innis started the engine and pulled onto the highway, aiming for an exit 500 metres ahead. “Good luck, Naomi. Sky, remember: it’s your job to take care of her.” Naomi heard him clap his cell phone shut.
Sky grinned without opening her eyes. “Yeah, boss. I’m on top of it.” She peeked over at Naomi again and snuck another wink.
Naomi cleared her mind, trying to find some of Sky’s calmness. The light through the van windows darkened as they passed under the trees. Naomi gripped one of Sky’s hands so the woman would be drawn along with her when she skipped. Nothing to do now but await Innis’s signal…