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Authors: Julie Cross

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BOOK: Vortex
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“I can’t take it back now that I’ve told you,” I said.

She glanced quickly at Dad and then back at me. “I can’t … I’m sorry. I just can’t.”

“You’ll be fine. Seriously, how hard can it be?” I said, wishing I hadn’t picked this
moment to spring it on her after all.

She shook her head again and I thought there were tears in her eyes, but with all
the smoke, it was hard to be sure of the cause.

The helicopter lifted up and made a sharp right turn. Flames were still rising despite
the emergency personnel now on site. I hoped they would be able to stop it before
it spread to the surrounding trees. Looking at this destruction and remembering how
the hotel at the beach had also been nearly demolished made my stomach tie in knots.

The future that Emily had shown me, that horrible version of New York, didn’t seem
so impossible anymore. But who really caused it? Did it happen before the perfect
future that Thomas had shown me? Or maybe they were in completely different timelines,
and if so, I had no idea which one I was living in.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

JUNE 9, 2009, 7:00
A.M.

The many questions surrounding last night’s mission weighed on my mind all through
the morning’s training. Even Stewart showing up at the Advanced Defense group’s target
practice in a very tight red dress couldn’t distract me from finding answers. Apparently
she’d had some kind of training mission in a local town, but wouldn’t tell any of
us what exactly she’d had to do that required this particular attire. Of course, Freeman
had no problem letting Stewart barge in on our training time and possibly show up
most of these guys. Except me. I could beat Stewart in accuracy with target shooting.
But sometimes just the sound of the gun brought back the memory of Holly falling to
the floor, blood seeping through her robe, and I wondered if I would actually be able
to kill anything that wasn’t cardboard. Luckily, no one knew I had these kinds of
doubts.

Stewart found a new cardboard cutout behind a tree and set it up on my side of the
field, while Freeman ran through a skills test that I had already mastered with some
of the other agents in my group. “Give me your gun, Junior.”

I almost didn’t loan her my weapon, but then I got an idea and handed it over. She
aimed for her fake person, knocking a hole right through its forehead.

“Nice shot.” I stood beside her, keeping my eyes on the side of her face. “Too bad
you didn’t get here about twenty minutes ago … Freeman was telling us about Eyewall—”

She laughed. “Nice try, Junior.
My
specialty studies organized opposing forces, not yours. Your little robot Advanced
Defense buddies couldn’t process that information if their lives depended on it.”

I took note of the fact that she only said my group members couldn’t handle it, but
left me out of that accusation. I wondered if it was intentional or not. Did she think
I was more skilled than the others in my group?

“So you know what Thomas was talking about?” I pressed, having nothing to lose at
this point.

“It’s possible.”

“Is it another name for the EOTs? Or another CIA organization?”

She glanced at me, raising her eyebrows. “Give it up, Junior. You know the rules …
Don’t go digging for shit you’re not supposed to know.”

“Tomorrow,” Freeman said, gathering everyone together, “we’re going to practice this
again, but with a few altered variables. All of you need to be prepared for changes
in a mission’s plan that happen on the spot. I’m sure everyone’s looked over the reports
from Heidelberg … Many unexpected changes occurred and we had to think on our feet.”

“Yeah … what was up with that?” Agent Miller asked. “All of us were here sitting around
doing nothing.”

“We should have been there,” someone else said. “Both teams could have been wiped
out if it weren’t for that fire.”

Freeman’s eyes bounced among all of us. Even Stewart lowered my gun and turned her
attention to Freeman. “I don’t think the chief expected—”

“Why were there so many of them?” a trainee named Agent Prescott interrupted. “We’ve
never had more than four time travelers present at any attack … There were nine of
them last night.”

So I wasn’t the only one with questions on my mind after yesterday.

“True…” Freeman’s face stayed completely impassive, but I could almost see his struggle
to find a response … probably to figure out a lie to tell us.

“How do we know fifty of them aren’t going to show up at the next mission?” Agent
Miller asked. “We don’t even have fifty agents in our division.”

Freeman let out a sigh and leaned the bundle of cardboard people he’d been carrying
against a tree. “Look … this group covers Advanced Defense and
only
Advanced Defense. Other than basic information all agents are given, I can’t go into
specifics about the mission unless you want to review guns or hand-to-hand combat
from last night—”

“What about that bomb? No one got a picture of it?” Agent Prescott asked.

None of us had ever bombarded Freeman like this and I knew there must have been a
lot of fear and curiosity flowing through the entire division. It wasn’t just me.

“Taking a photograph for you to study wasn’t exactly a priority,” Stewart snapped.

“Tell that to the Futuristic Technology guys,” Agent Miller said, glaring in her direction.
“That gas yesterday was weird enough. I’d like to know what we’re up against, numbers
and weapons, and I don’t give a damn what you are or aren’t supposed to tell us.”

Whoa.

“That’s enough, Agent Miller,” a voice boomed.

Marshall. Of course. He always found a way to sneak up on us at the worst possible
time.

“Freeman, take your entire crew to classroom six and wait for me there,” Marshall
said.

Freeman tensed up and then shook his head at all of us. “Let’s go. Stow your weapons
out of sight, please.”

Stewart dropped my gun into my palm. “What did I tell you? I knew this would happen.”

“Hey, I asked you, not Freeman … and you can’t tell me you weren’t wondering the same
thing about the EOT numbers last night.” I paused, studying her face carefully. “Or
do you know the answer to that, too? Is that part of Covert Ops?”

“No.” She turned her back to me. “That would be Lily Kendrick’s field of expertise,
and I can guarantee she’ll be a little easier to manipulate than me … Maybe try kissing
her.”

Yeah, because that won’t make our partnership awkward
.

*   *   *

“Nice dress, Stewart,” Agent Parker said as we all filed into underground classroom
six. “I’ll let you interrogate me if you promise to wear that.”

Kendrick breezed past me, taking in the Parker/Stewart moment.

“Brace yourself,” I whispered to her.

Kendrick didn’t look at me. She just stepped around the scene in the doorway and picked
a seat all the way across the room. The way she slammed her notebook onto the desk,
I could only assume she was pissed at me. But why?

I started to walk over and sit beside her, but Chief Marshall stormed into the room,
breaking up Parker and Stewart’s soon-to-be brawl. Dad, Freeman, and Dr. Melvin trailed
behind Marshall. All fourteen of us dove into our seats, not wanting to add fuel to
whatever fire we had started this morning.

“Since it’s obvious all of you feel the need to gossip like a bunch of fifteen-year-old
girls,” Marshall said, “I’m going to address everyone at once, with the correct information.”

Dad stood in a far corner of the front of the room, leaning against the wall. He glanced
at me for a second and then looked away.

“Our division is under serious attack,” Marshall said. “All training exercises are
ceased at this time … indefinitely. The information we received during last night’s
mission confirmed what we’ve feared for some time now. The Enemies of Time have grown
substantially in numbers—”

“But isn’t that what you’ve been preparing for?” someone asked from behind me. “That’s
why you’ve taken on so many new recruits in the past two years.”

Marshall nodded. “Yes, but this is far worse than we ever anticipated. And now they’ve
built a present-day army, another CIA division, with the sole purpose of finding us
and wiping us out, one by one.”

My stomach turned over and over, but curiosity won and I had to ask more questions.
“Wait, can this group … I mean … are they—”

“Time travelers?” Marshall finished, and I nodded. “No, and from what we have gathered,
Eyewall has no knowledge of the existence of time travel.”

“Eyewall?” Mason and I said at the exact same time. He continued before I could. “But …
didn’t Thomas say something about a direct order from Eyewall? That was a time-travel
mission.”

“That’s right, Agent Sterling,” Marshall said. “Eyewall also exists many, many years
from now. They’re responsible for creating products such as the memory gas we used
on all of you. The organization today has no knowledge of these future developments.
In fact, we have reason to believe they might be working under the assumption that
Tempest supports unethical medical and scientific developments.”

“Why would they assume that?” Kendrick asked.

“In this year, it’s a lot more difficult to convince a group of agents to kill another
group of agents out of nobility when the ideas for the future are so foreign and far-fetched …
and time travel is both a physical risk to the individual and a risk to humanity.
Having someone fighting their battles right now makes the EOTs’ job much easier.”

“So what’s our plan?” Agent Miller asked. “Offense or defense?”

“Both,” Marshall said immediately. “Senator Healy’s ball in New York next week is
an international event, raising money for cancer research and other medical advancements.
Scientists and politicians from around the world will be present at the event. We
believe Eyewall will be there and they’ll be expecting a few of us to show.”

New York? Did he just say New York?

“All of you will be leaving tomorrow and will spend the week conducting searches throughout
the Plaza and attempting to identify any and all of these Eyewall agents.” Marshall
sat down on the desk in front of us and I could hardly listen to him, my heart was
pounding so loud.
I can’t go back there.
“Even though this isn’t how we usually do things … even though you’ve been told otherwise,
it’s important that we take out these agents before they get to us. If we don’t kill
them first, we’ll be chased forever … all of us.”

Silence fell over the entire room. The dive-in-with-both-feet attitude that most of
us usually had was gone today. We had never been told to kill anyone … Yeah, out of
self-defense, like in a fight or something, but really all we’d ever been taught was
defense against EOTs, and that always involved anti-time-travel drugs. We had to interrogate
them later for information and we needed them alive. This plan left me feeling more
conflicted than ever.

And I did
not
want to go to New York.

“Do you need a few agents to stay back here and keep watch?” I said suddenly. “I’ll
volunteer.”

Marshall glared at me. “If I needed that, Agent Meyer, I would have asked for it.
You will go with your team to New York. Agent Freeman will work with the substitute
chief to lead the mission.”

“Agent Freeman? What about Agent Meyer? What about you?” Mason asked.

Marshall looked over at Dad and then back at us. “Agent Meyer and I will be conducting
a separate mission and won’t be traveling to New York.”

What?

“We have a substitute chief?” Stewart asked.

“Who?” someone else asked.

“Yes, we have a back-up leader and you will find out who when you get to New York,”
Marshall said.

The second Marshall dismissed us to pack our bags, I headed straight for Dad. We had
to get out of this. He had to let me go on whatever mission he was going on or at
least find a way to go to New York with me.

Unfortunately, Marshall jumped right in my path. “You wanted to be a big boy and play
secret agent, so that’s what you’re going to do. Dad can’t follow you everywhere.”

I glanced at Dad, his face revealing more anger than I’d ever seen before. Marshall
was testing us … both of us. He was testing our commitment to Tempest and also punishing
us for running off by ourselves so many times. I let most of my fury out in one long
breath, knowing I was risking more than just my own punishment. He’d take it out on
Dad. “I was just going to ask where we’d be staying.”

“At your home, I presumed,” Marshall said, looking bored with the question.

“I’d rather not, sir, if that’s okay.”

“Fine. We own an apartment down the hall from Agent Kendrick’s,” Marshall said, surprising
me. “You can stay there for the week.”

Marshall waved Kendrick over and told her about the housing plan, then his eyes narrowed
at her. “I understand you were given a task by your partner that you did not complete.
Is this true?”

Her eyes dropped to the floor. “Yes.”

“You’ve earned twelve hours of stitching up cadavers in the morgue,” he snapped. “Dr.
Melvin will supervise.”

The color completely drained from Kendrick’s face and I felt like the biggest ass
in the world. Kendrick kept her eyes on the floor and mumbled, “Yes, sir.”

The second Marshall had walked away from us, I tugged on Kendrick’s sleeve. “You have
an apartment in New York? You live there?”

“Yeah.”

“Where? Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Because you never asked.” She sighed and looked away from me. “East Village … that’s
where I live.”

“East Village?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m a med student at NYU … obviously you knew that.”

Yeah, I did. And now she had to sew up dead people, all because Dad gave me that little
piece of information. I shut up then to avoid making her even more pissed off at me.
As I walked out the door, I heard Dad say, “Jackson?”

BOOK: Vortex
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