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Authors: Julie Cross

Vortex

BOOK: Vortex
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.

TO MY HUSBAND, NICK, WHO HAS ENDURED THE ENTIRE PUBLICATION RIDE WITH ME. I LOVE YOU.
THANK YOU FOR MAKING ME A STRONGER, BETTER PERSON.

 

CONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

 

Prologue

Tempest Agent Training Diary

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

 

Stay Tuned

Acknowledgments

Also by Julie Cross

About the Author

Copyright

 

PROLOGUE

MARCH 15, 2009

The only things that gave me the strength to pull myself off that grassy spot and
walk farther from Holly were the images that flashed through my mind—Holly, sitting
in that orientation, hiding the book in her lap with her name carefully written inside,
her hair twirling around the pencil she was using to take notes. I had sat three rows
behind her that day … today … and watched her the whole two hours. And even though
she hadn’t once looked back at me, I figured she must have known I was staring because
she rolled her eyes at me outside the building, just before I got in my car. There
was something both affectionate and challenging in that look she had given me.

Now, repeating that day, I felt so much relief knowing I wouldn’t be in that room
with her, allowing her life to collide with mine in such a dangerous way. I just had
to keep playing those memories over and over, removing myself from the picture in
my head, and I knew I’d get through this. I’d live without her as long as I could
imagine her life without me. More importantly, her life would be better without me.

The moment I walked into Dad’s place, my arm in a sling and a whole lot of crap to
explain, it was a little easier to temporarily set my thoughts of Holly aside … for
now.

MARCH 15, 2009, 6:00
P.M.

Dad took one look at my injured shoulder as I leaned my good arm against the door
frame of his home office and strode quickly across the room. “What the hell happened
to you, Jackson?”

“I got shot.” I let out a breath, prepping for his reaction. “In August of this year …
by Raymond … one of the Enemies of Time. He’s dead now … well, he was dead in August …
which hasn’t happened yet … so, I guess I’m not sure…”

He froze in his spot, eyes widening. I reached in my pocket and removed the memory
card that August 2009 Dad had given me, and offered it to him. “This is yours … sort
of.”

He completely ignored the memory card and moved closer, resting his hands on my face,
looking me over carefully. “Are you okay? Tell me you’re okay.”

And this was the moment when I knew for sure that I could trust any and all versions
of my dad.

“Physically, I’m fine.” I tugged his hands from my face and placed the memory card
in his open palm. “But we have a lot to talk about and we might need Chief Marshall
and Dr. Melvin.”

He nodded, still half in shock, probably wondering how I knew Chief Marshall, then
pointed to a chair for me to sit down in. I waited patiently while he zipped through
notes on his computer. I couldn’t read any of his code, but I had guessed what he
might have read by the time I heard him draw in a breath and rub his hands over his
face.

“I’m sorry about Eileen,” I said finally.

He closed his eyes for a moment and then turned in his chair to face me. “We aren’t
going to tell anyone about Holly or this Adam Silverman kid … not Chief Marshall or
Dr. Melvin. No one.”

“Good,” I said immediately, glad we were on the same page.

“I have a plan for keeping tabs on them.” He stared over my shoulder at the wall,
lost in thought. “A reliable source that will make sure everything stays under the
radar. But you have to promise me you won’t look up their emails or Facebook or anything
that’s traceable. Understood?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat, feeling the finality in my answer. “Understood.”

“And there’s no way I’d ever let you join Tempest,” he stated flatly, as though he’d
read my mind. “I’m not sure what my other self was thinking … maybe he took a blow
to the head before agreeing to this, but it’s not happening.”

Didn’t he understand why I’d made the choices I’d made? “I have to. I’m not going
back to my old life. I can’t. I know about Jenni Stewart. I met her in 2007 … in that
other universe or whatever. She was only my age and Chief Marshall let her join the
CIA.”

My knee bounced up and down, anticipating his argument. It felt like a clock was ticking
inside my chest. If I didn’t dive in, headfirst, to something totally new, I would
find myself running into that camp counselor orientation, apologizing to Mr. Wellborn
for being late and undoing the one unselfish thing I’d managed to do in my life.

Dad’s expression faltered, showing early signs of defeat. “You do realize that I’ve
devoted eighteen years of my life to preventing this very thing from happening.”

“I know.”

“I didn’t raise you for this.” His eyebrows knitted together. “What I mean is … you’ve
had it pretty easy … you’ve never had to worry about anything … never had to defend
yourself. You aren’t ready for this. Maybe we could just—”

“Then I’ll get ready,” I said firmly, standing up from my chair. I reached for the
phone on the desk before Dad could stop me. “Should I call Chief Marshall, or are
you going to?”

“Fine.” He snatched the receiver from my hand and slammed it back into the cradle.
“Do you even know his number?” he asked as he dialed from his own cell phone.

I gave him half a smile. “Uh … no.”

MARCH 15, 2009, 9:00
P.M.

“If I do the half-jump, I’ll still be in this room, but I’ll also be somewhere else …
wherever I jump to,” I attempted to explain to Dr. Melvin and Chief Marshall. Their
faces both reflected skepticism, like maybe I had just imagined this whole element
of time travel. “I can prove it. Give me something to go look up or a question that
I can only answer if I’ve managed to look into the past.”

“So, you’re totally here in this year, right now?” Dad asked. “You’re not sitting
in a vegetative state somewhere else in addition to being in this room?”

It was freakin’ confusing. I knew that, but I couldn’t help getting frustrated trying
to explain these weird phenomenons for the millionth time. I plopped down on the living
room couch, letting out an exhausted sigh. “I’m not half-here. I’m all the way here.
I did a full jump from a different timeline to get here.”

“And how can you be sure of this?” Chief Marshall asked.

“I feel different in a half-jump. Sensations are dulled, like hot and cold or pain.”
As if to emphasize my point, my shoulder started throbbing from beneath the sling.
I rubbed it a little with my free hand, which only made it hurt more. “A half-jump
is like a shadow of the timeline I’m currently in. That’s why nothing changes in my
present or home base.”

The explanation was stolen from 007 Adam, but I figured it might make me sound like
I knew what I was talking about.

“And you view the timelines like worlds running parallel to each other?” Dr. Melvin
asked. “Just for clarification … to you a full jump is when you travel to a different,
parallel, world, not a time jump within the same world?”

“Right … and I know for sure there’s multiple timelines because I went back to 2007 …
not in a half-jump, I was all the way there, feeling the pain and the cold and all
that,” I rattled off. “Then I returned to my original timeline and it was 2009 and
those versions of you guys didn’t remember anything that happened in the 2007 I had
just returned from.”

My head was already spinning and I had a feeling we were just getting started.

“Perhaps we should get a look at this skill … have him show us the half-jump,” Dr.
Melvin said. “Though, I don’t want to physically put him in jeopardy, with the gunshot
wound and all.”

Chief Marshall, leaning back against the living room mantel, held up his hands. This
was almost like our conversation in 2007, when he knocked me out with the poisonous
rag and dragged me to that secret headquarters. “The boy will do no time-traveling
unless we order it, understood?”

Dr. Melvin and I both reluctantly nodded.

“I think your excitement, Dr. Melvin, is a bit premature.” Marshall folded his arms
across his chest, staring me down from his six-and-a-half-foot stature. “He may have
gained a few new tricks but he’s not mature enough to deal with the repercussions
of his actions. So, you say it was Raymond who shot you?”

“Yes,” I said through my teeth. This version of Marshall wasn’t any better than the
other two I had met.

“And Raymond is … as you described … a short redheaded man … a little stocky, blue
eyes, spiky hair … a shoe print may or may not be permanently etched on his face?”
Marshall asked as if this were a police interrogation with an idiot suspect.

Maybe Dad was right. Maybe I didn’t need this. My mind drifted to Holly, driving home
in her old beat-up Honda … then I imagined Adam there with her. I pictured them laughing
together, joking about the spoiled kids they’d have to supervise all summer.

I looked up at Marshall and forced the anger from my tone. “Yes, that’s Raymond, and
he’s dead. Dad killed him. But the first time I met him was in October of 2009 and
he shot—” I froze for a second, watching Dad shake his head ever so slightly at me,
keeping me from mentioning Holly. “He tried to shoot me and … and didn’t succeed,
but then I was stuck in 2007 and who knows what I screwed up with that full jump to
the alternate universe or whatever? If I had known some agent stuff, maybe that wouldn’t
have happened. Don’t you want me to have some method of defense? For everyone’s sake.”

“We aren’t a normal division of the CIA,” Marshall explained. “Whatever preconceived
notions you may have developed from television or spy movies need to be dissolved
immediately. Our first priority isn’t the U.S. government or even the American people …
it’s humanity in general … more specifically, preserving the natural, ethical state
of humanity. Tempest spends at least two years training new agents and drilling this
into their heads. We can’t let you jump in on their game and tell them all you were
created in a lab using the genetics of a cloned woman … We can’t tell them you can
time-travel or that the Tempus gene hidden in your physical makeup has allowed you
to learn Farsi in a day and memorize step-by-step pictures of self-defense. We can’t
tell them that, if we want them to continue trusting their leaders … such as myself
and your father.”

“How many agents-in-training are we talking about?” I asked, only because I was curious.
The whole division seemed so ambiguous to me. I could hardly wrap my head around the
concept.

“Those details are on a need-to-know basis,” Marshall said. “Are you understanding
what I’m trying to tell you, son?”

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