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PART THREE: THE TRAVELER

CHAPTER 8

Dom stepped back from the door, and the traveler swirled in, her cloak flowing theatrically around her. He retreated, and the hallway table bumped against the back of his knees, reminding him—once again—that he was in the front entry of his apartment. He wasn’t used to this space, not because he didn’t come and go from here, which he did on a daily basis, but because this way—this door—wasn’t how he traveled. 

That door was in another room, where there wasn’t a fucking end table that constantly got in the way. Which, yes, was yet another reminder that he had crossed the threshold of the bathroom in the suite at the Hôtel Napoleon and moved himself to his own apartment. Through the front door. Not the door in the library, which was— 

He was distracted, which was very rude of him as a host. He did, after all, have a guest in his home. Shoving aside the whirlwind of thoughts about how he had managed to go from there to here—here being his front entry with this table—he focused instead on the woman standing in his foyer. 

She wasn’t the first woman to visit his apartment. Let’s be clear there. Dom had had his share of female visitors during the time he occupied this apartment. Some stayed longer than others. Some were reluctant to go. Once he had wandered off for six months—relatively speaking—until the woman had gotten the hint that he really wasn't interested in her. Some he was sorry to see go, and reminders of their presence lingered for awhile. A forgotten scarf. A scrawled note left on the mantel. A half-empty bottle of perfume that had accidentally been left in the medicine cabinet. Or the half-finished sketch—

“Do you have any Scotch?” the traveler asked. 

“Excuse me?” Dom roused himself from his mental stupor. Subjectively, he would argue that his thinking wasn’t fogged and disjointed, but objectively—if such a point of reference were possible in an entirely subjective universe—he totally appeared to be out of it. Not that anyone would blame him, though they should. He was a better professional than this. Most of the time . . . 

The traveler put back her hood, and Dom got his first good look at her. She was an inch or two shorter, and he was of decidedly average height, which made it easier for him to vanish in certain circumstances. She had black hair that curled if you didn’t keep a close eye on it, and right now it was delightfully disheveled in a way that made him think of penthouse getaways and staying in bed until dusk. Her eyes were too dark to be blue and too purple to be black, and when she turned her head, he caught sight of circular rings on her neck. They were faint against her skin, like the way old scars fade after decades and decades, but she wasn’t that old. She couldn’t be. 

Unless . . . 

“Yeah,” Dom murmured, getting his shit together. “I think I have some.” He gestured toward the hall that led to the rest of the apartment. “Would you care to—I mean, you’re already in, so, um, why don’t you make yourself—” 

She was staring at the painting on the wall behind him. “Is that—?” 

He felt a flush rise in his cheeks. “It’s a copy,” he muttered quickly as he headed for the kitchen. He ducked around the corner, getting out of her line of sight. The bottle was on the counter, which made him pause for a second. Had he left it out on the counter this morning? Had he forgotten to put it away? 

Of course you forgot, he thought. The days have been running together. Look at this. You’re actually drinking this bottle, knowing full well you can’t get another like it. Not here. Not in this time. And yet . . . 

There was no point in being furious with himself. Not now. Not when he had an unexpected guest in his house. Beat yourself up about this later, he thought. Right now you need to deal with this woman. 

He put the glasses on the counter and was fumbling in the pocket of his jacket for something else when the traveler came into the kitchen behind him. “I’m rather fond of Rembrandt’s work,” she was saying, “and that is not—” 

She stopped abruptly. He had turned around. He was holding the bottle of Scotch in one hand and the pistol he had taken from the beetle man in the other. She eyed him cooly for a moment, and then jutted her chin at the bottle in his hand. “What’s that?” 

Dom barely looked at the bottle. “GlenLootcherbrae,” he said. “It’s, uh, quite old.” 

“How old?” she asked. 

“Literally or relatively?” 

She favored him with a tiny smile. “It depends if you are trying to impress me.” 

“In that case”—Dom did the math in his head—“about ninety-five years old.”

She took the bottle from him and edged closer to the counter where the glasses sat. He backed up, giving him some space (though there wasn’t much in this kitchen, frankly), in case she tried to grab the gun. She pulled the cork and carefully sniffed at the aroma wafting out of the bottle. Dom knew what it smelled like. He had lived with that smell for five years when he had been staying at the manor house on the hill near the stream from which the distillery had taken its name. It reminded him of the highlands, of the rains, and of old ghosts—all of which were indelibly linked in his head to Scotland. 

She poured a measure into a glass and put the bottle down. Turning and putting her back to the counter, she regarded him with her indigo eyes. “What about that?” she asked, indicating the gun in his hand. 

“I—uh—” Dom laughed. “I have no idea, actually.” He held it tighter in his hand. “I know how to use it, though,” he said. 

She nodded, as if that was self-evident, but there was also something dismissive in her acknowledgment. Like she knew he wasn’t going to shoot her. Or that the weapon was empty. Or that there was someone standing behind him with an even bigger gun pointed at the back of his head. 

He knew the last wasn’t possible. All that was behind him was the refrigerator, which had a tendency to hum when agitated. It was humming now. Or maybe that was him . . . 

“It’s a Cencarrion PDR,” she said. “Model 5, in fact.” Oblivious to his stare, she raised her glass to her lips and took a sip of the Scotch. He saw the faint mark of one of the ring-shaped scars on the underside of her jaw. She smiled as the whisky slid down her throat, and Dom suddenly felt very foolish for holding a gun on this woman, even though he knew that such a thought was foolish in itself. She’s dangerous, crowed that part of his brain that always expected the worst. You have no idea what she’s capable of doing to you. 

A peevish trickle of annoyance percolated through his head. What about me? He argued back. I’m the one with the gun! 

Which doesn’t exist in this time period, his brain argued. And yet she knows what it is. Ask her about it. Go ahead. Ask her!

“So, uh, you know about this gun, do you?” He cringed at the sound of his voice. 

She raised an eyebrow. In other circumstances—say, a high class bar, like Le Bivouac, in fact—such an inclination would have left men tongue-tied. Here, in Dom’s kitchen—he with a gun from the future, and she drinking his Scotch, which had been bottled around 1863, thank you very much—the expression was rich in nuance and subtext. Are we really doing this? Her eyebrow asked. Are we really going to dance around what we both know?

“Right,” Dom said. He put the gun on the counter and picked up the bottle. He poured himself a strong measure and offered to refresh her glass. She smiled demurely and let him. “So when was this gun manufactured?” 

“It depends on what year this is,” she said. 

“1958.” 

She pretended the math was hard, but the way her gaze didn’t flinch from his face gave her away. “A very enthusiastic young man will invent the prototype for this weapon in about forty years,” she said. “But it won’t go into production until the beginning of the next millennium.” 

“Wow,” Dom said. “The next millennium.” 

She did the thing with her eyebrow again. “You been there?” she asked. 

He shook his head. “Too far,” he said. 

“How so?” 

“It’s complicated,” he tried. 

She put her glass down on the counter and leaned forward, looking him square in the eye. “Everything is complicated,” she said. “And it’s only going to get more complicated, so you might as well tell me what is undoubtedly a fascinating story." 

He returned her cool stare, some of his panache coming back. "You first," he said.  

*

CHAPTER 9

“All right,” the traveler said. “My name is Elzebet Crescendo Montifaire, and I was born in Liège, shortly after Napoleon was sent into exile. During my childhood, the area where I grew up went from being under French control to being part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands to being part of Belgium. Shortly before my twenty-second birthday, I died the first time.”

“The first time,” Dom echoed.

“Yes,” Elzebet said. “It’s an occupational hazard.”

“Is it?” Dom reached for the bottle of GlenLootcherbrae. There was only a few fingers left in the bottle, and he had a suspicion the scotch would be gone by the end of the evening. He filled his glass halfway and, grudgingly, poured some more into Elzebet’s glass. She nodded absently, acknowledging his courtesy.

“The organization I work for has a very . . . unusual remit,” she said.

“Time travel,” Dom said.

She hesitated for a second. “Yes,” she said. “Time travel.”

“And what sort of time travel do you do for this organization?”

“I—I can’t tell you that.”

He sipped from his glass. “You’re a tease,” he said.

Her eyebrows went up. “Excuse me?”

Dom went to the refrigerator where he found a hunk of bread that wasn’t too stale, along with a slab of cheese that wasn’t too moldy. “I’ve know girls like you,” he said as he put the cheese and bread on the counter. “You lead men on with hints of wild stories, but you never reveal anything specific. It’s like a burlesque show where no one takes their top off.” He rummaged around for a cutting board and a sharp knife. Watching her out of the corner of his eye as he sliced the bread and cheese, he wondered if she was more annoyed by his dismissive tone or his vulgar wording.

To his surprise, the traveler grabbed a seam of her cloak that ran along her left shoulder and pulled it apart with a pop-pop-pop of snaps coming undone. She shrugged the vermilion drape off with a practiced shrug and quickly folded it into a neat triangle. She put it on the counter, and then did the same thing with the top edge of her sleek top. The fabric, which was too finely woven to have been done on any loom that currently existed, parted, though this time, it did so with a tearing noise. The flap of fabric hung loosely across her breasts, and it was lighter on the inside than the outside. She had exposed the base of her neck and her left collarbone, and Dom eyed her bare skin, as well as the rest of her still-clothed torso. Her top tucked into dark pants that appeared to be made of a similar material, and they were gathered into boots that went up to mid-calf. Her pants had more pockets than expected and her belt was shiny and hard, like it was the cured skin of a very old lizard. Dinosaur, even. If such a thing were possible.

She put her hands on her hips, waiting for him to finish his examination of her body and clothing. “I’m not a tease,” she said very precisely when his gaze roamed back up. “I just don’t put out to strangers.”

Dom’s gaze lingered on the patch of bare skin she was showing. There were more circular marks across her collarbone. They were too irregular to be a tattoo, but they were also regular enough that they couldn’t be accidental. He felt like only part of a puzzle had been revealed, and his fingers itched to uncover more of the mystery. Very resolutely, he returned his attention to the cutting board and his knife. “You don’t trust me,” he said.

“I don’t know you,” she replied.

“You knew where to find me.”

She cocked her head to the side. “Who says I was looking for you?”

Dom gestured toward the hallway and the front door. “You were waiting for me. And the last I saw of you was . . .” He trailed off, realizing he might be saying more than he should.

“Was what?” she asked. She looked at the gun on the counter. “You were there when I slipped through, weren’t you?” She nodded before he could reply. “Of course you were. Where else would you have gotten that?” She turned her attention to him. “But how did you get here before me?”

“Why were you coming here?” Dom asked.

“Why wouldn’t I?” she replied. “It’s the safe house.”

“The what?”

She looked around the tiny kitchen. “This is the apartment the Office—my organization—keeps as a sanctuary. It’s always here—always available to us, should we need it.”

“You’ve got the wrong address,” Dom said. “I’ve owned this apartment since . . .” He trailed off, not waiting to say the date out loud.

“Since when?” She wasn’t going to let him off so easy.

“Since 1904,” Dom admitted.

“And have you been here the whole time?” she asked. “All . . . what? How many years has it been?”

“Fifty-four,” Dom mumbled.

She cocked an eyebrow. “You don’t look a day over twenty-seven,” she said.

“That’s the scotch talking,” Dom said, thinking that he most certainly did not look like he was in his late twenties.

“Perhaps,” she admitted. She stared at him as she took a sip from her glass, and Dom felt himself being sucked into the dark embrace of her eyes.

If cornered, he would estimate her age to be somewhere in the mid-thirties, but that guess didn’t take into account the intelligence in her gaze or the ferocity of her focus. Napoleon had gone into exile in 1815, and Dom recalled the shuffling of borders and national identities in the Low Countries had taken place in the next twenty years or so. Which, if we were to assign a literal count of the years between then and now, would make Elzebet well over a hundred years go. But we count time differently, don’t we? Dom thought.

She put her glass down on the counter and touched the tip of her tongue to the corner of her mouth. “Let me prove it,” she said.

“Prove what?”

“That this is an OTP safe house.”

Dom caught the acronym slip, but he didn’t say anything. He could ask later. Right now, he would chalk it up to the scotch loosening her tongue.

Elzebet went over to the pantry beyond the refrigerator. She slid back the bamboo partition and surveyed the sorry state of the shelves. There were some dry goods, as well as a few pans and mugs. The sad display screamed “wastrel and barfly,” but Dom had given up trying to keep the shelves stocked. He wasn’t here all that often, frankly—with the glaring exception of the the last four months—and lately, he didn’t like being here. The door in the library weighed on him, almost as if he could hear it chuckling at him. You can’t open me, it whispered. You can’t go anywhere but here. If he wandered around the few rooms of the apartment—avoiding the library as much as he could—he would, invariably, end up in the kitchen. Standing at the counter, pouring out a bottle of whisky, one glass at a time. Trying to silence the whispers.

It never worked, and he had, unfortunately, decimated his precious supply of old scotch.

Elzebet moved some mugs around, clearing a shelf. She pressed her fingers against the back wall, and Dom frowned at the pattern she made. With a sudden flash of insight, he saw the marks on Elzebet’s throat and collarbone as fingerprints. But they were too round, he thought. They couldn’t be human . . .

He heard a distinct click, and part of the inner wall of the pantry moved. There was a secret panel! Dom stared in disbelief as Elzebet opened the panel and reached her arm into a hidden space. She found something and drew out a dusty bottle. It had a faded label and the top was sealed with red sealing wax. “Ah, there we go,” Elzebet said. She closed the panel, and the seams were so flush with the wall, Dom couldn’t tell where it was. He tried to remember the way she had pressed her fingers against the back of the shelf. Could he duplicate that if needed?

Elzebet brushed off the dusty label and offered him the dusty bottle. “That’s—” Dom peered more closely at the label. Much of the writing had faded, but he was still able to make out “New Providence” and “1681.”

“It’s not quite as old as the GlenLootcherbrae,” Elzebet said. “But it might still be good.”

“When . . . ?”

She shrugged. “I don’t remember exactly. Some weekend in ’84, I think. It all runs together after awhile.” She put the bottle down on the counter with a clunk, and proceeded to make little sandwiches of cheese and bread.

“Eighteen eighty-four?” Dom asked.

Elzebet shook her head. “Nineteen eighty-four. You know, the year Orwell talked about.”

“Ah,” Dom said. He eyed the bottle.”Is it like the book?” he asked.

“Is what?”

“The year. 1984. Is it like the book?”

Elzebet shook her head. “No. But later . . . “ She trailed off, and for a moment, her face was a blank mask. It was as if a steel door had closed, hiding everything away. Dom could almost hear the heavy bolt slamming shut.

He picked up the knife and attacked the wax seal on the bottle of rum. “Well, it doesn’t matter how it got here, I suppose,” he said. “That it is here at all is the point you wanted to make.” He scraped the wax off, revealing the cork, and he pried it out with the knife. The bottle made a noise as the cork came free, and they both hesitated, as if they expected something to come flying out. Cautiously, Dom sniffed the open bottle, and didn’t find the aroma offensive. He finished off the dregs of scotch in his glass and poured a measure of the rum. It was dark and syrupy, and the heavy smell of molasses filled the room. He took a tiny sip and found the rum to be as thick as it appeared, and much too sweet for his liking.

“How is it?” Elzebet asked. He offered her his glass, and she took it. She made a face when she tasted the rum “You know,” she said, putting the glass on the counter, “I don’t think it was much better at the time.”

A breezy laugh bubbled its way out of Dom’s chest. She joined him, and for a moment, they forgot about time travel and beetle men and advanced personal defense rifles from the early twentieth-century. Then, Elzebet’s face grew serious. “That Rembrandt in the hall,” she said.

Dom signed and shook his head. “What of it?”

“Where did you get it?”

“From the artist.”

“From Rembrandt?”

Dom nodded.

“You knew him?”

Dom lifted his shoulders slightly. “Off and on. He wasn’t the easiest man to hang out with.”

“You’re familiar with his work, then.”

“I am.”

Elzebet hesitated. “Do you remember him painting any seascapes?”

“Seascapes?”

“Yes. Boats. Water. Usually a storm, because, you know, the Dutch.”

“Sure,” Dom said. “The Dutch saw a lot of weather.” He shook his head. “I don’t recall him painting any.”

“There’s one hanging in a museum in Boston.”

Dom frowned. “Which museum?”

“The Isabella Stewart Gardner,” Elze said. “Have you been there?”

“Ah, yes,” Dom said. “I have. I remember that painting now. Men in a boat.” He smiled. “They are in a storm.”

“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Elze said. “Jesus is calming the weather so the boat doesn’t dump its passengers into the rough sea.”

“That’s a good trick.”

“Here’s another: that painting isn’t the only seascape he did.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

Dom searched her face for some sign that she was toying with him. She met his gaze, daring him to doubt her. Daring him to play. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll bite. So he painted another seascape. Why do I care?’

“Don’t you want to see it?”

“Of course I’d like to see it. What’s the catch?”

“Well. In order to see it, we’re . . . we’re going to have to steal it.”

“Of course we are,” Dom said.

*

CHAPTER 10

Later, after they had finished off the bottle of GlenLootcherbrae and made a significant dent in the rum, Dom sprawled on his bed and tried to marshall his thoughts about Elze’s proposal. Elze, he thought, staring at the lambent light of Paris that peeked around the edges of the curtains in his bedroom. They had graduated to familiar names hours ago, along with casual touches as they traded the bottle back and forth. They had bumped into each other when they had moved from the kitchen to the hall, and then again when they retired to the library. They fell against one another like old friends, married by their shared intimacy of the time wave, but they also keep each other at arm’s length for the same reason.

He didn’t trust her, even though he was drawn to her; and he could tell she was struggling with the same confusion. No, he thought, turning over on his bed and boxing his pillow, she wasn’t confused. She knows what she is doing. He eyed the door of his room. It was closed. Not that a flimsy wooden panel would keep her out of his room.

The simple fact was that she could have planted that bottle in his kitchen last week. Hell, an industrious carpenter could have built the secret compartment in a few hours. All that she would have needed was for him to be absent for an afternoon, and the work could have been done. Yes, the rum was probably authentic—it certainly tasted like it was—but when she plucked it off a shelf in New Providence and when she put it in the compartment were relative events.

He had, on more than one occasion, set up a reveal just like this. It’s easy to do when you aren’t bound by the forward linearity of time.

Which meant the bottle of rum was a trust exercise. Was he willing to believe her?

Dom punched his pillow a few more times. It wasn’t the shape he wanted. The room was too warm. The light coming into the room was too bright. His legs were tangled in the blankets. Everything was wrong. Nothing was right.

He was the only time traveler. That’s the way it had been for, well, centuries. He was the only one. That was what he had been told. That was his curse. He was the only one. Doomed to wander the wave. Never finding his place. Never settling down. Time had no hold on him. He could shift forward or backward—well, until recently, that is—and because he could, he would never be able to rest.

And now, here was Elze, telling him she worked for an organization that policed the wave. She was younger than him, but she was also older. She had seen the twenty-first century! He had never gone that far. The wave fought him too much. The farthest he had gone was late in the 1960s. The underground art scene in New York City had been such a siren song, and he had fought against the strange tsunami of the wave to reach that era. Every moment he spent in that time had been agony—his flesh had been so old—but he had done it. The tiny picture by Andy Warhol in the library was proof enough.

Elze had, of course, seen it for what it was. When she had spotted the picture, nestled among a shelf of Germanic occult philosophy from the seventeenth-century, she had given him such a scorching look that he had almost walked across the library and pressed her up against the shelf.

She’s a thief, Dom thought. And yes, the thought aroused him, because, after all, wasn’t he one as well?

Dom tried—and failed—to fall sleep. The alcohol bubbling in his blood certainly contributed to his restlessness, but the persistent burbling noise of his thoughts played an equal, but likely larger, part in his insomnia.

It was going to be a long night.

Elze, on the other hand, didn’t even pretend to sleep. She knew Azure Eleven—the designation given to her current body by DTRD—had been genetically modified to recharge and recalibrate itself during times of introspection and meditation. She might think she was sleeping, but the illusion of slumber was merely a learned behavior tied to her consciousness.

There was a lot she didn’t understand about relativistic temporal processes—she was a field agent after all. She left the complicated theoretical physics and temporal mechanics to the theorists back at Perpetuum-3. She preferred to stick to the part of the job where she got to hit people and look good in evening gowns. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t aware of closed-loop complications that could arise in the time wave. The gun Dom had, for instance. As she had told him, it was a Cencarrion Personal Defence Rifle—a Model 5, in fact. And yes, it hadn’t gone into production until 2003. A year later, all of the security forces sworn to the Twins were carrying them. What had Dom said? The last time he had seen her. Not more than a few hours prior, according to his relative perception of the wave.

Elze knew she had come through a door, and some of the armored agents had been close enough they had managed to slip through the portal with her. I must have really pissed them off, she thought. Their armor protected them from the pressure of the wave, but they weren’t auto-correcting. If they came through with her, they’d have no way of their own to get back to their own time. And if their armor was breached while the temporal harmonics were still echoing, they’d turn to dust—their atoms shaking apart.

Yet, this gun had stayed. He anchored it, she thought. But did he know what he had done? She shook her head, confused by Dom. He was a charming rogue, and he clearly knew something about time travel and the wave, but in as many ways, he was absolutely clueless. Where did he get his training? She thought. Who made his resonator? His power source?

Speaking of which . . . Elze pushed up the sleeve of her OTP-issued weavesuit. A broad bracer was wrapped around her forearm, as tight as a second skin. She stroked it to life, and tapped through a variety of icon-driven menus. She frowned as she read her power summary. Her reserves were at twenty-three percent. She needed to find a stash of crystals. Soon.

And then she had to figure out how—and when—she was going to get involved in an altercation with the Twins that would force her to retreat through time. Paris, she thought. A restaurant called Le Bivouac. She made note of the date. That’s where I have to end up, otherwise none of this happens.

She wasn’t a scientist. She was a field agent. These were simple facts. She was in a loop of her own making. At some point, she had to close it. She wasn’t sure how she was going to do it. All she knew was that she would.

Time travel was like that. You were a slave to things you hadn’t even done yet.

She took the nearly empty bottle of rum and the Cencarrion PDR out onto the narrow balcony off the dining room. Dom had found some blankets and an extra pillow, indicating she could sleep on the couch in the tiny sitting room. She left them piled on the sofa. All she needed was the night air. It had been awhile since she had been to Paris. She wanted to listen to the city awhile.

And while she listened, her hands methodically stripped the PDR down to parts and put it back together. This body remembered its training. She still couldn’t believe DTRD—Perpetuum-3’s Division of Temporal Restructuring and Divination—had captured one of Castor’s lieutenants. Somehow they had managed to wipe it before its destruct sequence could fire, leaving nothing more than an empty husk. A body with no mind. The perfect vessel to which a Returning field agent could be decanted.

She had told Dom that she had been nearly twenty-two the first time she had died. During her first Returning—when she had been brought forward to Perpetuum-3 and trained to be a field agent—her designation had been Cerulean Six. This body was Azure Eleven, the sixth one she had been poured into since she had come out of her mother’s belly. Dying always sucked, but Returning was worse. She stared out at the lights shining along the Eiffel Tower. She lifted the bottle of rum and sloshed some of the sickly sweet liquor into her mouth. The breeze brushed the tears from her cheeks, whisking them away in the night. Shhhh. No one saw them, it whispered to her.

Weston had been a mediocre handler, and he definitely wasn’t rated for field work. But he had come along anyway, and when the mission had gone sideways, he hadn’t fallen apart. For all the grief she gave him, she had liked him. Because she had died and had been Returned, Central Authority of the Office of Temporal Perpetuation wouldn’t tell her if he had made it. And they certainly weren’t going to tell him that she had come back. He didn’t have the clearance to know.

There was a deep gulf within her, a fathomless expanse lit by flashes of anger. When she allowed herself to look inward and stare at those flickering lights, she saw the source of these fires. The OTP itself. But they saved you, a voice always protested. They gave you a gift, more incredible than life itself. How can you hate those who gave you everything?

Because it wasn’t asked for, was the answer she never quite dared to articulate. The answer was there, deep in that dark gulf. They never asked if she wanted their gift. They never told her the price. A price she paid, over and over again. Every time she died, she had to leave everything behind. They called it a “return,” but it was more like reincarnation. Born again, her prior existence filed away. Never to be touched again.

But she remembered. She remembered all of it. And she knew some of them did too . . .

Elzebet sat on the balcony of Dominion Eldritch Sebastian’s Parisian apartment and embraced dark thoughts. She considered how she was going to get revenge on those who had taken her humanity from her.

But first, she had to deal with the Twins.

*

CHAPTER 11

“There is a practical matter to consider,” Dom confessed over breakfast the following morning. He and Elze were sitting outside the corner cafe, sipping cafe au lait and fighting over the croissants. “I have a matter of an unfortunate debt to address tonight.”

Elze was watching a trio of pigeons scurry about for crumbs. Her cloak was loosely arranged around her shoulders, hiding most of her uniform. Her hair was pulled back into a loose mass at the back of her head, and the morning sun was suffusing her face with warmth. She looked like a bohemian radical. You would expect there to be a vintage motorcycle parked at the curb, some well-oiled machine left over from the war, but like all things with Elze—as Dom was realizing—what you expected to see and what was actually there were two different things entirely.

“What sort of debt?” she asked.

“The foolish kind.”

“How much?”

Dom named the amount and Elze’s mouth moved a little and her shoulders lifted. “That doesn’t seem like much,” she said.

“It isn’t, relatively speaking. But I don’t have the same access to ready cash that I usually do.”

“And how do you normally gather ready cash?”

Dom gave her a smile that showed his teeth. “I usually do something illegal—or, at least, highly suspect—in some other time and place,” he said. Even as vague as he was, he found it refreshing to be so candid about how he usually sourced his walking around money.

“And why aren’t you doing that now?” she asked.

“Because I’m stuck.”

“Excuse me?”

Dom gestured at the street around them. “I’m stuck here. I can’t make the doors work.”

Elze frowned. “Why not? Has your . . . Are you out of reagents?”

“What? Reagents?” It was Dom’s turn to frown. “I don’t use—how do you—”

“It doesn’t matter,” Elze said quickly. She snatched up the last croissant and bit into it.

Dom watched her eat. There was a wolfish quality to her. The way her jaws clenched. The way her eyes kept moving. Her shoulders inched forward. She’s ready for battle, he thought. He picked up his coffee cup and sipped its contents slowly. He was feeling a tightness in his gut—a sure sign of a dread panic that was getting ready to uncoil in his belly—but compared to Elze, he was a languid sloth, unmoored from any and all concerns.

“Anyway, we should go do whatever it is you want to do after breakfast,” he said. “I’d rather not be around today. Leave myself some room to maneuver if I need it later.”

She eyed him as she finished her pastry, and Dom wondered what she was thinking. Had she ever looped back and narrowly missed meeting herself? Once, because he had been curious and before he understood the danger, he had tried to see how many times he could visit the same hour without bumping into himself. He had done it in a bazaar in Istanbul—midday, in fact—where it had been easy to avoid himself, especially when he got used to the rhythm of the market. Still, it had been a stressful experiment, and for the following week (relatively speaking), he had been so worn out that he had done very little other than lie on a beach in Mallorca and pretend to be a dead fish.

Remaining in one place for an extended period of time was always a good strategy. It keep that span of time relatively untouched, so to speak. He could return later to that week and do other things, as long as he avoided the place where he had been static. He knew he would have to attend that meeting with the Weasel—it was one of those fixed points that he would have to ride the wave through eventually—but he could take the long route, so to speak. Along the way, he might have the opportunity to pick up some loose change, enough to address the outstanding debt.

Elze’s arrival was unexpected, but fortuitous. If she could open the door to another spot on the wave, that might solve his immediate problem. If he could figure out his other problem while they were traveling together, all the better.

Elze’s chair scraped on the pavement as she pushed it back from the tiny table. Dom watched her stand, her cloak settling around her in a fluid motion. Something about his expression caused her to frown and snap her fingers at him. “Stop gawking,” she said.

“I wasn’t,” he protested.

“You were. You do it with every woman.”

“What? That’s ridiculous.”

She nodded toward the cafe, and Dom glanced over his shoulder. The lithe waitress who had been serving them was approaching. She smiled at Dom, reacting to the way he was looking at her. “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“We’re fine,” Elze said. She gestured toward Dom. “He’ll be paying.”

“Hmm?” Dom ended his mono-syllabic noise on a querulous note. “What? Oh, yes.” As he fumbled for his billfold, he pretended not to see Elze roll her eyes. He hadn’t been gawking. He didn’t gawk. That was rude. He merely made eye contact and—

“Now,” Elze snapped.

Dom looked up from his billfold. Elze wasn’t there. He looked around wildly and spotted a flash of her cloak as she dashed between two cars in the road. Where was she going? he thought. He pressed several bills into the hands of the waitress, and ignoring her sounds of surprise about how much he had given her, he lurched toward the street.

A car honked loudly, and he waved his hand, urging the driver to move along. As soon as the vehicle trundled past, the annoyed face of the driver etched in the window, Dom hustled behind the car. He darted ahead of the vehicle coming the other way, and was nearly clipped by its fender as he reached the other side of the street. He didn’t look behind him. He had to keep watch for Elze. As colorful as her cloak was in comparison to the dull browns, grays, and blacks of early fall Parisian outerwear, she kept disappearing from view.

That color! He stopped suddenly. He had seen her out of the corner of his eye. There. Across the street.

She was standing at the curb, the press of pedestrians passing behind her. Her cowl was covering most of her head, and he couldn’t see her hair. Dom stared at the woman. It wasn’t Elze, yet . . . She was staring at him as if she knew him. And the cloak—it was the same, or nearly the same.

The woman raised a gloved hand and pressed a finger to her lips. She then held up her hand, fingers extended. Four, Dom counted, two, four. She paused and ran through the sequence again. Then she pointed in the direction he had been going. Dom looked, caught sight of a vermilion cloak as it turned into an alley, and when he looked back to the other side of the street again, the second woman was gone.

Four-two-four, he thought as he hurried toward the alley where Elze had gone. I have to remember that number.

Was the woman across the street someone who worked for the same agency as Elze? Or was it someone he hadn’t met yet, but who—relatively speaking—knew him. And what was she trying to tell him? He shivered slightly, unsettled by the idea that he had been given a secret by someone from the future. He didn’t understand her message now, and he might not for a long time. But when the time was right, he would, and that thought frightened him slightly.


She had seen a familiar face. She was not the only agent of the OTP, and even though agents changed physical appearance often, there was a lot of cross-wave travel. They were trained to not acknowledge one another, on the not insignificant chance that they were not in parallel, relatively speaking. But the man watching them from the other side of the road had been staring at her. He was standing there, legs spread, arms behind his back, looking at the tables outside the cafe with such an intensity that it was impossible not to notice him.

And when she did, he bolted.

Elze knew he was a lure, but she chased after him anyway.

He hurried along the street, dodging pedestrians in a way that precluded contact. She wasn’t as graceful. She shoved people when they didn’t move out of her way. Regardless, he pulled ahead of her, and for a moment, she thought she had lost him, but then she spotted the narrow alley. She stopped in front of it, breathing heavily. The alley was too narrow for cars, and it made a turn to the right about fifty meters ahead of her.

Elze looked back, making sure Dom was following her. Come on, she fumed, urging the lumbering dilettante to keep up. She caught sight of Dom standing on the curb, looking in the wrong direction. What is he doing? she thought.

Her bracer squeezed her arm, a biofeedback alert from her OTP equipment. A crest was forming nearby. Someone was manipulating the time wave. Cursing Dom for all sorts of things he wasn’t truly responsible for, she darted into the alley. If she could catch this wave, she wouldn’t have to summon her own.

Shortly after the turn, the alley deadened in a small courtyard which was shared by several homes. The yard was empty, nothing but dusty cobblestones. There was no sign of the man she had been chasing.

Elze pushed up her weavesuit sleeve. Her bracer showed a series of signal orbits. There had been a crest, but it was falling already, shattering into thousands of divergent possibilities. Most of them would collapse completely in a few seconds. She didn’t have much time. Her fingers flew across the display of her bracer, calling subroutines that would set hooks in the signals. Which one? Which one was he riding?

Her bracer squeezed, signaling that it had succeeded. She read the display. Two! She had hooked two possibilities. She queried her power levels, and got confirmation that she had enough to ride either wave. But which one?

Dom lumbered up, gasping for breath. He started to say something, but she grabbed his coat and pulled him toward the courtyard. “There’s no time to idle chatter,” she snapped. “We have to go now.”

She locked one of the signals, and the bracer indicated the correct door. It was the brown door on the left. There were brass numbers attached to the wall beside it. She paid them no mind. She couldn’t change her mind now. This is the one, she thought. She confirmed her choice on her bracer, and she felt the familiar warmth of the wave reach out to her. She reached for the door knob.

Dom was dawdling. He was pointing at the other door. The one she hadn’t picked. “That’s four-two—” he started, but then she grabbed his arm and pulled him along with her as she opened the door and stepped through.

She felt like she was falling for a second, and then everything exploded inside her and came back together instantaneously. The light hurt and she blinked heavily. The sky was clear, and a hot sun was pelting them with its rays. She was standing on . . .

Sand.

She and Dom were standing in the middle of a desert. Behind them, with a whispering sound like sand trickling backwards through an hourglass, the outline of a door faded into nothingness.

“—Four,” Dom finished.

“What?” Elze said.

“Four-two-four,” Dom said.

“What?” Elze said again. She was confused. How had they ended up here?

“That was the number on the other door,” Dom said.

Elze whirled on him. “What are you talking about?” she demanded.

“You picked the wrong door,” he said. “You were supposed to pick four-two-four.”

“How—how do you know which door I was supposed to pick?”

Dom made a show of looking around, as if there was anything to see other than sand, sand, and more sand. “Well . . .” he started.

“Oooh, never mind,” Elze snapped. She pointed at a feature that stood out against the stark uniformity of their surroundings. “He went that way,” she said.

There were footprints in the sand. She had caught the right wave. “Someone was watching us,” she said. “And he’s here too.”

Dom frowned at the footprints. They started right where they were standing and they were an easy track to follow. They went down from the dune they were standing on, up another dune, and then disappeared over the crest.

“He doesn’t have much of a head start,” Elze said. “We can catch him.” She started off, not waiting for Dom. He would follow her. Where else would he go? There was nothing but sand as far as they could see. The tracks were their only guide.

She picked up speed as she came down the dune, and then struggled a bit as the heavy sand fought her on the climb. When she reached the top of the next dune, there was a film of sweat on her face. Her cloak felt like it trying to tangle her limbs, and she wanted to toss it aside. She kept it though, knowing that she would need it when the sun went down. It was going to get cold at night.

She came to an abrupt halt. When Dom finally caught up with her, she was still standing there, staring at the body lying at the base of the second dune.

“Well, that’s unexpected,” Dom said.

The tracks they were following turned into divots and sliding marks in the sand. The man had stumbled, tripped, and then tumbled head-over-heels down the dune. During his unfortunate descent, he had landed badly, and based on the awkward arrangement of his limbs, his neck had snapped.

CONTINUE TO PART FOUR :: RETURN