Freeze Time email@example.com 1 Chapter 1 Our car skids to a stop at the police barricade. Ross rolls down the window. "Agent Carson Ross." He holds his badge out to the square faced cop standing guard. "I have a spinner with me." The cop peers past Ross to stare at me with that familiar mix of curiosity and distrust. I pick at a ragged edge on my thumbnail. I hate dealing with people who haven't met a spinner before. They don't look at me and think: oh, there's a sixteen year old girl, they looked at me and think: ooh, there's a n escaped circus animal. The dangerous kind . That aren't necessarily fully trained. The cop hands Ross's badge back. "Chief's waiting for you." Ross guns the motor and speeds to the open space in front of City Hall. I press one hand against the glove box to steady myself. Today is the Friday before Labor Day weekend , but this street should still be packed . There should be people juggling briefcases and cu ps of coffee , cell phones chirping , and exotic scents wafting from colorfully painted food carts . Inst ead , an unnatural emptiness screams danger , the warning underlined by the police cars barricading both ends of the block. Behind them kn ot s of uniformed men and women huddle , tension emanating from them like a bad smell. The sole person standing on the str eet i s Portland's C hief of Police . "Ross." Chief's thin lips part in a sigh of relief . " Thank God you're here ." He bends lower, eyes skipping past me and into the back seat. "You only brought one?" "Alex and I were close by when we got the call ," Ross say s. "If I'd gone back to the Center it would have taken twenty minutes. Traffic is nuts out there."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 2 Chief checks his watch. A nerve in his jaw twitches. "How long do we have?" Ross asks. "Fifteen minutes." Ross climbs from the car. "Who's here from the bomb squad?" Chief shouts a few words in the direction of the huddled officers. I step into the cool fall air, pretending the word bomb doesn't faze me. Up close, I can see sweat darkening the fabric under Chief's arms. My already clenching stomach tightens. Chief wants another spinner here because if two of us work together, we can combine our skills and hold the freeze longer. Now it's all going to be up to me. "That's McDennon," Chief says, nodding towards a man striding up the sidewalk. " It's his first freeze." McDennon marches up to Chief and salutes. With his brutal crew cut and spotless uniform, he looks like a character from those Halo video games the other Center kids play, except for the bag he carries Ã black, lumpy, and with the words BOMB SQUAD etched across it in white letters. My mouth fills with spit and I swallow, hard. "Let's get to it," Ross says. I stretch out my arm, exposing the three inch wide metal bracelet clasped tight against my left wrist. It looks like those bands Wond er Woman wears in the old cartoons, except mine is called a leash , it's stamped with the Center's logo, and I'm required to wear it whenever I leave the building . Ross pulls a key from his pocket an d twists it in the band's lock. The knot in my stomach loo sens . Leashes emit a low level electro magnetic current that, when pressed against a pulse point, blocks the ability to link with
Freeze Time email@example.com 3 time. The instant it falls away , I relax a little. It's like inhaling a mouthful of fresh air after being cooped up in a stuff y building. "You better hurry," Chief says, taking the leash from Ross. He glances at his watch again. It's a sporty thing and even from four feet away I can read the time: 1:47. "According to the guy who called it in," Chief says, "we're down to 13 minu tes before the bomb blows." My stomach twists back into a pretzel. If I can't hold the freeze long enough for McDennon to find the bomb and figure out how to dismantle it, then City Hall is toast. T here isn't time for another spinner to get here and try ag ain . "Don't worry," Ross says. "Alex has never failed a mission yet." Chief doesn't look comforted, but Ross's faith goes a long way to restoring my confidence. I roll the tension from my shoulders and hold out my hands. Ross grasps my right one and McDen non slides a damp palm around my left. I breathe slowly, the way Ross told me to do when I feel anxious. "You ready?" Ross asks me. I look into his eyes. They're blue, with flecks of darker color in them, like waves in a picture I once saw of the ocean. I take a breath. Release it. And then I freeze time. Everything stops. Sound disappears. The bright September air grows pe rfectly still. People turn to statues. A clutch of fall leaves, caught in a passing gust of wind, hovers a few inches above the pavement. In the sky over City Hall, a flag hangs in a half furled wave. Nothing Ã not a person, insect, machine, or object Ã moves anywhere in the world.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 4 Nothing, that is, except me and the two peopl e whose skin I touch. McDen non's hand twitches in mine. He's gawking at all the strangeness: a squirrel suspended mid jump between two trees, tail bristled by a breeze that no longer exists; the fact that our shadows don't follow us since we can't block a n unmoving ray of light; the impossible, absolute silence. My breathing steadies, its calm no longer forced. The frozen quiet laps me like a warm bath. It's not just lack of noise, it's the absence of sound. Pure. Undisturbed. For the first time since I g ot out of the car, my body fully relaxes. This is my element. A freeze is the one place where I am the one in control. I let go of the two men's hands. "Let's head in," I say. McDennon doesn't move. Instead, he bends to pick up one of the floating leaves and rips it into pieces. When he opens his hand, the shreds flutter to the ground like confetti. "We need to get going," Ross says. "Alex can only hold time for about half an hour when she's dragging along two other people ." McDennon straightens, dustin g the leaf scraps off his palms. "The briefing notes said a camera caught a suspect leaving the building at the west entrance. We'll start there." Inside, City Hall radia tes abandonment. The building i s designed with an open lobby that soars all the way to a skylight three stories above. To the left and right, stairs lead to the upper levels. There are no people. The cops must have gotten them all out when the bomber called. We cross the open space and head down a hall to the right.
Freeze Time email@example.com 5 Everyone must have le ft the building quickly. Doors hang ajar on either side of the hall. I catch a glimpse of jackets drooping on the backs of chairs, coffee cups forsaken on window ledges, pens dropped on top of half finished notes. Every desk we pass holds a lit computer sc reen and for a second I wish we weren't walking by quite so quickly. I am always curious to see how Norms spend their days. The west entrance lies at the bend of a stairway leading down into the basement. It's a heavy door with glass on the upper half and a sign saying Exit Only . A security camera hangs over the top molding, its green light shining dully through the still air. I stop on the landing, facing the door. Ross waves a hand in my direction . "It's your show." I nod. McDennon switches his attention from the door to me . The two men are standing a few steps below me, which means they are both looking up . I smooth a stray strand of hair into my ponytail. "How long ago did the suspect leave?" I ask Ross. He glances at his watch. The hands, of c ourse, haven't moved since the freeze. He flicks its metal casing. "The camera caught him at 12:25. It was almost 1:50 when you froze, so we need to rewind a bit less than an hour and a half." I close my eyes. In my mind, I see time as strands woven in t he air. Usually the strands slide by freely. During a freeze, they hang still, like fiber stretched across a loom. Mentally, I tighten my grip and pull the strands toward me. Time shifts backward, a gently rocking current that flows through my body. I pull harder, gathering moment um so the minutes rush by fast enough so the hour and a half will pass quickly, but not so fast
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 6 that we can't see what's happening. The rewind settles into a smooth rhythm. I open my eyes. Shadows flicker along the stairwell, light fading and brightening to match the rapidly altering pattern of sun and clouds outside the window. The air is filled with a whispering hum, a combination of all the background noises so easily ignored in real time: distant voices, the drone of a heater, t he faint buzz of electricity. To me it sounds like vague white noise. Ross describes the sound as an over large mosquito lodged in his brain. He says it's doubly irritating since everyday noises like a sneeze or a clap get unrecognizably distorted when hea rd speeded up and backwards. McDennon pulls on his ear. Ross watches the closed door, tapping on the handrail with one finger. I sit down and write my name in the dust on the edge of the step. It's my own little ritual, a temporary signature on the scene I 've created. A maintenance guy zooms up from the basement and flits past us. He's lugging a bucket and mop, his image as insubstantial as the rewound sounds are hushed. McDennon lurches out of the way. "Don't worry." Ross slaps the wall next to him. "All you can touch is what was here at the moment of the freeze. That guy's like a memory. We can't affect the past at all. All we can do is rewind it and see what happened." McDennon rubs a hand through his crew cut. I let more time slip past. The strands move through me more sluggishly than usual. A time headache has already woken up in my temple and I'm extra aware of the draining sensation from dragging along the two Norms. Probably stress from the bomb threat. Despite the comfort of the freeze, the tightnes s in my stomach won't completely go away.
Freeze Time email@example.com 7 "How are things at the Sick this week?" Ross asks. McDennon tugs his ear again. "I beg your pardon?" "He's talking to me," I say. I point to my shirt . It' s part of the uniform I always wear when I go out on a mission : khaki pants and a maroon collared shirt embroidered with the words Crime Investigation Center , Northwest Division . "The C I C," I tell him. "Pronounced phonetically it's Sick." "I see." McDennon doesn't sound like he does. "And are things good th ere?" I consider telling him that when the highlight of your week is rewinding violent crimes it's generally not considered a sign of a happy home. I refrain. My life isn't this man's business. "Stop!" Ross calls. I pull on the mental strands to halt the f low of the rewind. Superimposed over the closed west door, a shadow door stands open, revealing the dim figure of a man backing into the building. "Is that him?" Ross asks. McDennon st udies the man carefully. He' s young, I'd guess early twenties. A white guy, average height, wearing jeans and a dark windbreaker zipped up to his chin. "The description matches," McDennon says. "Can we follow him?" "Absolutely." Ross pats my shoulder. "Good job, Alex. That was fast." The compliment sends a flush across my ch eeks. I raise my chin and start reeling events more slowly. The man continues his backward walk into the building. When he heads up the stairs, we follow him.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 8 Rewound images of people fill the hallway. Voices well up, the sounds subdued, and the images gh ostly. McDennon stares in fascination as Ross walks right through a group of school children on a tour. We pass a man in a suit yakking unintelligibly on his cell phone, and a woman waving manicured hands as she babbles instructions to a younger man joggin g backward at her side. Our suspect shuffles among the shadow people, hands stuffed in his pockets, actively avoiding eye contact. No one pays him any attention. I speed the pace of the rewind, the beat of our footsteps keeping pace with my growing excitem ent. This is the part of investigations I love most: my own carefully controlled rewind, the emerging certainty we are on the right track. We trail the suspect up another flight of stairs and down an empty hall. Recessed lights illuminate beige walls, thei r blankness broken up by framed black and white photographs of city landmarks: children playing in the Salmon Street fountain, cherry trees blooming beside the river, the Portlandia statue holding her trident. The doors here are all closed. The suspect st ops at a large blue recycling bin. The bin's lid pops up into his hand and he reaches out over the yawning interior. A backpack, black and limp, rises up to him. He slides it onto one shoulder, lowers the lid, and then glances around before scuttling to a door marked Conference Room 3 . Once there, he reverses into the room, pauses at the threshold to check if a nyone is in the hall, then pulling the door shut very slowly. Ross waits until the memory of the door closes before opening the real door. I nearly s tep on his heel in my eagerness to follow him inside. The room is dark. It's an interior windowless room, the only light bleeding through an opaque glass panel beside the door. Any light from the hall stops where the
Freeze Time email@example.com 9 door had blocked it when I froze time. I squint, and the shadows resolve themselves into a long table surrounded by chairs. "There he is." Ross lunges over to the right of the conference table and drops to his knees. McDennon and I scramble to join him. My vision has adjusted to the murky lig ht and I can make out the suspect sprawled on his back with his head under one of the chairs. Frowning with concentration, he pulls a strip of duct tape off the bottom of the chair and returns it to the roll in his other hand. McDennon's indrawn breath his ses near my ear. "Bingo," Ross whispers. I wedge my head under the chair beside Ross to get a better view. A brick shaped object is stuck to the underside of the seat, mummified with a crisscross of tape. Ross reaches out a hand and fingers the bomb. I s hiver. Even in this inert form, the bomb oozes threat. "I wouldn't touch that," McDennon says. I can't see his face from my position under the chair, but his voice trills with alarm. "No?" Ross winks at me. "What about this?" With a quick tug, he pulls t he rest of the tape away, letting the bomb drop to the floor with a loud clunk. McDennon leaps to his feet, tripping over my legs in his rush to get away. "Mr. Ross!" I say, smothering a laugh. Ross shoots me a grin, and then says to McDennon, in a perfec tly serious voice: "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 10 Ross stands to help McDennon back to his feet. I remain on the floor until I can control the giggles tickling my throat. Our suspect's wraithlike shape hovers next to me, carefully taping the sh adow bomb in reverse. When I manage to rub the smile off my face, I stop the rewind. Frozen silence settles around us as I crawl out from under the chair. Ross picks up the bomb and holds it out to McDennon. The explosives expert approaches it warily. Rel eased from the tape, the bomb emerges as a mess of wires around a square of something that reminds me of modeling clay. "It's perfectly safe," Ross says. "The bomb's got an electrical trigger so there's no way it can go off. Electrical impulses freeze jus t like everything else. None of it works." Ross sticks a finger under one of the wires and wiggled it. "Even if it did explode, it wouldn't hurt us. Time would melt and we'd go back to where we were when Alex froze, standing next to Chief, and all in one p iece." McDennon lifts the bomb from Ross's hand with admirable resolution. He probably heard all this in training; it's jus t the reality of it that rattled him. "Let's take this somewhere there's better light," he says. "I need to figure out how to disman tle it." The three of us trek out into the hall. Even the muted brightness of frozen light seems glaring after the dark conference room. Ross opens a door across the hallway to reveal a small office, furnished with a desk, a couple of file cabinets and a visitor's chair. A dark skinned bald man sits behind the d esk, fingers raised in the act of typing. The sun streaming through the window makes him appear particularly insubstantial. Dust motes hang like glitter inside his chest.
Freeze Time email@example.com 11 McDennon places his bomb squad bag on an empty space on the desk. "How much time do I have?" he asks me. I focus my attention inward. The current of time is pulling harder now. It's still manageable, but I know from experience the pressure will grow. "Ten minutes?" I say. "I can hold it for twenty if you need it." "McDennon, you have eight minutes." Ross's voice is firm. The bomb expert turns to his work without comment. He must be used to working under deadlines. "I can hold it longer than that," I say to Ross, softly, so I don't distract McDennon. "If Mr. McDenno n doesn't figure this out now, they'll only have thirteen minutes in real time." "You worry about your job," Ross says, "a nd let McDennon worry about his ." "Agent Ross!" McDennon's voice is sharp. Ross and I both turn. McDennon is bent over the explosive with a pair of tweezers. Clenched between the metal prongs is a folded sheet of paper. Ross takes the note . When he reads it his expression turns calculating , the way it always gets when he uncovers a particularly important piece of evidence. I crane forwa rd, trying to glimpse the words, but before I can see anything Ross folds it back up. "Thanks," he says to McDennon. "Carry on. Alex, come with me." A smile twitches the corners of my lips as I follow him out of the room. Ross is hands down the best agent on the squad. For one thing, he's like a TV show version of a hip dad Ã the kind that plays soccer with you after school and asks sensitive questions about your friends. But the best part, at least to me, is that unlike any agent I've ever
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 12 heard of, Ross always shares the details of a case. Not just shares them, he asks my opinion. As soon as we are out in the hall I speak up. "What does it say ?" In answer, Ross hands me the note . The words are typed in small black font: Some crimes aren't meant to be sol ved. S. My mouth falls open. "S? Does that mean Sykes set the bomb?" "That's what I'm thinking," Ross says. I lean against the wall. Sykes is the name the press has given to the city's most notorious criminal and the police department's Achilles heel. Ten years in and no one has a clue about who the man is or how he manages his operation. Or if he's even a man. Sykes is blamed for the theft of at least $50 million. He steals from banks, high end jewelry stores, elegant homes, and flourishing businesses. He leaves no clues and he always manages to time the thefts so no one discovers them for at least three days Ã too late for a spinner to rewind the crime. Although there are a few wackos who call Sykes Robin Hood Ã even spreading rumors that he gives all thi s riches to charity Ã m ost of the city is furious about the police's failure to catch Sykes. Ross is fanatical about him . Before he was an agent, Ross was a regular police detective. He and his partner, Salvador Rodriguez , were the main investigators on th e Sykes case. One day , when Ross was out with a nasty flu, Sal called him up to say there had been a breakthrough in the case. He'd gotten some new information and now had three likely suspects he wanted to interview . Ross asked him to wait, but Sal was too impatient so he followed up on the leads by himself. The next day, a
Freeze Time email@example.com 13 Friday, Sal disappeared. On Tuesday, his body was found fl oating in the Willamette River. Ross was devastated. He swore he'd catch Sykes and make h im pay. Chief sent him on leave for a few months . W hen he came back , Chief said the case had become too personal for Ross and that it would be better for someone else to handle it. Ross was transferred to the Time Department. He's supposed to have let the case go , but he still works it on his own time. H e and I have spent many hours in the ca r talking through the evidence. Since Sal's death, the police have blame d five other murders on Sykes Ã all probable witnesses to one of his crimes. It's Ross's dream t o be the one to crack the ca se and mine to help him do it. If Sykes did plant the bomb at City Hall, being here first could be a big break . The throbbing in my head ratchets up to match the spike in my pulse. " Why would Sykes want to bomb city hall ?" I as k Ross. Ross frowns at the ground as if there might be answers in the linoleum's abstract swirls. " Did you notice the schedule outside the room where the bomb was planted? There was supposed to be a meeting today to set the Center's budget for the next b iennium. I'm guessing this his way of telling the Center to back off ." I shake my head. " Too risky. Chief wo uld have been in that meeting. And the mayor . If he killed them the city would go after him with even more gusto, not less. " "I don't think he planned to actually hurt anyone ," Ross says . " Chief said the person who called it in claimed to be the one behind it. I think the bomb was just meant to show how vulnerable everyone is . "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 14 I rub my temple, sorting through the options raised by this new information. "We got a good look at the guy who placed the bomb, if the cops can identify him quicklyÃ‰" "Exactly," Ross says. "He could be our link, a way to find out Sykes's identity ." "Don't you think Sykes is too smart for that? He's good at avoiding rewinds. I bet this bomber guy hasn't seen or talked to him in days ." "Then we need to figure out a way to force the two of them to make contact again ." We stare at each other. Ross's plan isn't surefire but it's t he best chance we've ever had. I wonder if my eyes are shining as brightly as his. It's my life's ambition to unravel a case that really makes a difference in the world. To have that case also fulfill Ross's dreams makes it so perfect I can barely stand to think about it. "Agent Ross." McDennon's voice trumpets . Ross and I sprint down the hall . The bomb expert is standing in the middle of the small office , face spl it with a Cheshire cat grin. Wires and bits of plastic are strewn all over the desk. "I got it," McDennon says. He wipes his brow against the shoulder of his shirt. I rub my head , too. Time is pulling at me hard now, a current with definite intentions of dragging me downstream. McDennon starts packing things back into his bomb squad bag. A tiny screwdriver. A magnifying glass. "There's no need for that," Ross says. "Let it go, Alex." I release my hold on time with relief. The scene around us blurs. Ross t old me once that the melt made him momentarily dizzy, like missing a step off a curb. For me, the sensation is more violent. Scenes from the freeze swing crazily through my head: the
Freeze Time email@example.com 15 suspect placing tape, manicured nails waving in a crowded hall, the janit or's bouncing mop. I try to relax the way we're trained, to let time wash through me, but it still feels like the seconds are being forcibly ripped through my chest. The world steadies. I am standing on the steps in front of City Hall staring into Ross's ocean blue eyes. He blinks and lets go of my hand. Chief starts. "You're back?" McDennon drops his neatly packed bomb bag. The leaves he'd shredded during the freeze, once again intact, float past his feet on their draft of wind. The squirrel completes it s journey to the neighboring tree. The flag on the rooftop flutters. Chief looks up at the building. "Did you find it?" "Yes, sir," McDennon answers, scrambling to recover his bag, "and I know how to dismantle it." "Quick then," Chief says. "Go." McDennon races back up the stairs. Chief turns to Ross and hands over my leash. "How long were you inside?" Chief asks him. "I'd guess thirty, thirty five minutes." Ross refastens the leash to my arm. I wish he'd been less prompt. M y head is still swimming from r eleasing the freeze and adding the leash's hum makes me queasy. Ross walks over to stand next to Chief. Neither man speaks. Chief keeps glancing at his watch, then back up at City Hall. The cops waiting down the street mutter together, the sound echoing th e buzz in my head. I want to go over and stand with them, just in
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 16 case, but the effort is beyond me. Instead, I sit on the steps and lay my head on my knees. Time headaches usually fade after a few minutes. "All clear, Chief." McDennon bursts through the front door, arms raised as if he's just won a championship race. When he waves pieces of the bomb, cheers break out from the waiting police. Chief rushes to shake his hand . He's smiling so widely I can see the silver on his back teeth. I stand up and instantly regret it. I've never felt a time headache this bad before. My head feels like someone is squeezing the back of my eyeballs. "Agent Ross." Chief is back, one arm draped over McDennon's shoulders. "You did all right today, you andÃ‰" He no ds over at me, my name clearly gone from his memory. The other cops flood around them. They're laughing and shoving each other, all eager to congratulate the new heroes. McDennon takes Chief aside and slips him an evidence bag holding the note from Sykes. Ross joins them, three heads bowed in a murmured conference. I slump back down onto the step, grateful for once to be ignored. If this were the time someone finally thanked me it seems likely I'd puke all over their shoes. The steps grow crowded. Nervous sweat taints the air with bitter perfume. People yell, cell phones jangle. The nois es bounce around my head like a mistuned orchestra. And it isn't just the noise, it's the light, too. Everything around me seems too bright, the edges so sharp they hurt. I put a hand up to shade my eyes and touch clammy skin. Nausea, feverÃ‰ realization thrusts me back to my feet. It's normal for me to get a headache from freezing. This is different.
Freeze Time email@example.com 17 "Mr. Ross!" I must have shouted. Heads turn, confusion interrupting their celebration. I don't care. Panic is drowning me in a way time never does. Ross hurries over. "What is it? I clutch his proffered hand. "I'm sick." "A headache?" "No! I'm sick, Mr. Ross. Time sick." Ross's face crumples. "Come on." He wr aps an arm around my shoulder. "Let's get you out of here." "Where are you going?" Chief calls. "I need you for the press conference. It's set up for three o'clock." "I'll be there, " Ross calls over his shoulder . "Don't worry," he murmurs as he shepherds me to his car . "It's going to be OK." I stumble along beside him. I know Ross is lying. Things are not going to be OK. Time, that invisible essence I control with a twist of my mind, always takes its revenge. Once a spinner gets sick, the end is inevitabl e. A few months, a year at most, and thenÃ‰ Sixteen is young, but not unheard of. No spinner lives past twenty.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 18 Chapter 2 I went on my first mission with Carson Ross six months ago. I'd worked as a fully qualified spinner since I was thirteen and been t hrough three different agents already, enough to learn that since rewinds make most people uncomfortable, the cops assigned as agents aren't always the city's finest. My first agent, Amanda Spruce, worked vice, so we unwound a lot of prostitution cases. In between she'd tell me stories about her teenage daughters Ã their clothes, soccer clubs, boyfriends, and parties. She'd laugh about the time her eldest got caught skinny dipping with her boyfriend in a city reservoir or when the youngest was found with a joint. Later, we'd round up another drug addicted hooker and rewind her day before arresting her along with her pimp and any of the johns we managed to ID. Ms. Spruce called them whores and shoved them so hard against the side of the police car she once br oke a girl's tooth. Tito Marquez was a beat cop in a neighborhood known for gang violence. He drank gallons of coffee and spent a lot of time intimidating witnesses before we got around to the rewinds. I'd sit in his car wishing I could speed time up inst ead of slow it down. The only upside was that w e did work some interesting cases Ã i t was with him I first tasted the grim pleasure of uncovering a murderer. The last guy was the worst. Jonas Saul was about fifty, with graying hair and a gut he had to wed ge under the steering wheel in order to drive. He called me honey and tried to put his arm around me during rewinds. Frozen time doesn't count, he'd tell me, then laugh his disgusting smoker's hack as if this phrase might be considered original. Or funny.
Freeze Time email@example.com 19 That first mission with Ross involved a dead baby. The probable verdict was that the death was natural; SIDS, they called it Ã Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Ã but the cops thought something might be off so they brought in Ross to check it out. I was not su pposed to be there. Calvin had been Ross's first spinner, but he'd gotten sick a couple months before, and Ross had been reassigned to the oldest Ã and theoretically most experienced Ã spinner at the Center, nineteen year old Jack. In his typically loud fa shion, Jack had been annoying everyone all week , crowing about how he'd won the agent lottery. That morning, though, Jack got caught making out with another spinner in the second floor bathroom Ã a cardinal, if frequent, Center transgression. They were bot h tossed in solitary and I got pulled for Jack's mission. Ross and I drove out through an unseasonably hot spring afternoon that even the air conditioning in his car couldn't tame. Ross asked me lots of questions, which at the time I found disconcerting: w hat did I like about the Center? What jobs did I do there? Did I think Dr. Barnard, the Center's Director, treated us fairly? None of my other agents wanted to know anything about me except my name. I answered him hesitantly while surreptitiously studying his profile. I pegged him at late thirties, still fit, with gray peppering his dark blond hair. He gestured with his hands a lot and the laugh lines around his eyes crinkled when he squinted into the sun. As we moved east and the city's hustle shrank down to streets of tired houses, Ross's conversation slowed. By the time we reached our goal, Ross was frowning with a focused concentration I admired. The house we stopped at had a falling down fence enclosing a lawn whose only green spots were dandelions. Th e heat outside the car descended like a flaming hand pressing the back of my neck. Ross rapped on the door.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 20 No one answered . He had just raised his hand to knock a third time, when the door cracked open to the width allowed by a chain lock. In the shaft of darkness, the woman looked insubstantial, as if she'd already been rewound. She wore a thin bathrobe without a tie and her feet were bare. Misery wafted from her, mingling with the scents of spoiled milk and unwashed skin. "Mrs. Montgomery?" Ross asked. The woman's face remained so blank she might have been the one who died. "I'm Agent Carson Ross." He showed her his badge. "And this is t ime spinner Alexandra Manning. We're here to look into the death of Rosalind Montgomery. We have a time search warrant." The woman stared vaguely at the paper in Ross's hand. No spark showed even the faintest hint of comprehension. Ross stuffed the papers back in his pocket. When he spoke again his voice was gentle. "May we come in?" The door closed. I thought Mrs. Montgomery had dismissed us, but a moment later I heard the slide of the lock and the door swung open. I had to force myself to follow Ross inside. Mrs. Montgomery was already shuffling over to a forlorn sofa. She must have been there a while. An ope n pizza box displayed congealed pieces of barely eaten pie while a television flashed images through a muted screen. Somewhere nearby a diaper pail needed emptying. Ross cleared his throat. "Can you show me where Rosalind died?" Mrs. Montgomery pointed vag uely towards a closed door. Ross thanked her. I tripped over a stroller in my eagerness to get away from the unresponsive woman.
Freeze Time email@example.com 21 The bedroom was worse. For one thing, it turned out to be the home of the overflowing diaper pail. The cloud of ammonia scented air that hit us when we entered the room made me gag . Ross put a hand up to his nose. "Give me your arm," he said. "What?" "Freeze time, quick, so we can lessen the smell." I held out my arm and he un locked my leash. As soon as the metal left my skin I t ouched two fingers to Ross's bare wrist and stopped time. Ross grabbed the door, waving the wood back and forth to make enough breeze to disperse the stench laden molecules. It didn't erase the smell, but at least my eyes quit watering. I blinked, taking i n a blanket strewn mattress on the floor, a sagging dresser, and a blind that didn't close all the way. Only the far corner showed signs of care. Here, the wall was painted a soft yellow. On the floor, a makeshift changing station made of a stack of towels rested next to a pile of neatly folded baby clothes. Above that, someone had taped up three photographs . The first showed an infant squinting under a stretchy pink and blue hat. The second was a studio portrait of a startled looking child with a flowered band around her bald head. The last was a snapshot of a laughing woman holding the baby tight against her chest. The girl's fat cheeks were split by a gummy smile, one little hand wrapped around a strand of her mother's hair. The mother was a barely recogn izable version of Mrs. Montgomery. "Let's get this over with," Ross said. I nodded, grabbing time so hard the rewind spins backwards with a force that made me sway.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 22 "How far back do I need to go?" I asked. "A neighbor called it in this morning. I gather t he child died sometime the day before. We'll have to go back at least twenty four h ours Ã will that be a problem for you?" "No, sir," I said. The phantom police backed in first, quickly followed by a guy from the morgue, who replaced a tiny body into a co il of blankets in the center of the bed. Rosalind's rosebud mouth hung open, relaxed far beyond the temporary release of sleep. I kept the rewind moving at a fast clip. Police wandered in and out, poking in drawers and un taking pictures. Their rewound voi ces kept up an incomprehensible hum, punctuated by ugly squawks from their radios. Mrs. Montgomery never appeared. Presumably she'd already taken up residence on her sofa. Light leached away from the afternoon until last night's darkness settled an overlay of gloom. The fetid air around us retained its real time heat. Sweat tickled the edges of my hairline. Rosalind lay alone in her blankets, unmoving and definitely dead. I spun the rewind harder. Light returned. I pulled faster still, racing a growi ng tiredness as we moved farther back. The sun brightened, receded. In the rosy light of dawn, Mrs. Montgomery staggered backwards into the room. She moved like a barely animate china doll, as if any fast movement might shatter her. My grip on time slippe d. The image stuttered to a halt. "Is this as far as you can rewind?" Ross asked. "I understand. This is much farther than I expected." "No." I pressed my lips together, barely giving my words enough room to slip out. "I can go further . It's just..."
Freeze Time email@example.com 23 Mrs . Montgomery's body strained with a barely suppressed scream. The idea of seeing her turn around and face the dead baby terrified me. Ross put an arm around my shoulder. "Hey, it's OK." I stiffened beneath his touch. He let me go. "You don't have to wa tch," Ross said. "Close your eyes. I'll tell you what to do." I escaped in to the darkness of my closed lids and concentrated on the strands flowing through me. I eased them out, fast or slow, depending on what Ross asked. Only when I heard his soft oh of comprehension did I peek. The shadowy form of Mrs. Montgomery slept, her bo dy rising and falling in rhythmic exhaustion. A thin bedspread covered most of her body. I t must have been a cool night because her exposed arm was dotted with goose bumps. Next to her, baby Rosalind lay packed into a carefully constructed nest of pillows and blankets. Mrs. Montgomery's outstretched arm curved around the soft pile, the unconscious gesture of a mother protecting her young. Except the arm was not protecting. Its weight had pushed the heap of blankets forward, so that the edges of the nest cav ed over, press ing down onto the form beneath and covering Rosalind's head with smothering comfort. As I watched, one chubby hand waved, the tiny fingers unable to coordinate an assault on the warm excess. I slammed my eyes shut again, wishing I hadn't igno red Ross's directions. Time scraped through my mind like fingernails. Ross let out a long sigh. "You can let it go now." I released my hold, suffering the swirling dizziness before opening my eyes. The pungent urine smell exploded in my nostrils. A time h eadache pounded inside my skull.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 24 "Come on," Ross said. Mrs. Montgomery still perched on her sofa, staring at the soundless TV. The flashing images cast strange lights on her skin, now red, now green. In my head, I heard Ross telling her the baby's death wa s her fault, saw the words falling on her like hammers. I wondered if it were possible for someone to dissolve. Mrs. Montgomery already seemed so frail, the weight of this news would surely crush her into multi colored dust. "We're done, ma'am," Ross said. I he ld my breath. Despite the heat, my body shivered . "The initial assessment was right ," he said . " Your baby died of SIDS. It was nobody's fault. I'm so sorry." An earthquake could have rocked the building and not stunned me as much as Ross's words. Not because I'd never heard a cop shade the truth before, but because I'd never seen one do it to protect someone like this: a poor, unimportant woman with nothing to offer in return. Mrs. Montgomery raised her head. Her mouth worked, as if she barely remembered how to speak. "Are you sure?" she asked. "I'm positive." Ross gestured toward me. "We both saw the rewind." Her eyes went wide. Whole worlds could be lost in the blackness of those pupils. I wondered what she knew. Or suspected. What she was willing to forget. "Thank you," she said.
Freeze Time email@example.com 25 Ross ushered me out to the car and drove to a fast food restaurant. He ordered three hamburgers, fries, and two chocolate milksh akes. I hoped he'd eat quickly. I wanted to put as much distance between me and that rewind as possible. We parked under a tree. Ross adjusted a vent on the dash so cold air blasted over me. "I'm always famished after a rewind," he said, handing me a burge r. "Aren't you?" The unexpected reward filled my hand. I'd never heard of an agent buying a spinner lunch before. Ross slid his seat backwards and settled in to eat. "Won't the Center wonder where we are?" I asked, worried Ross's generosity would get us in to trouble. Ross shrugged. "They don't know how long the mission lasted." He noticed my untasted food. "Unless you want to go back?" "No, sir." I unwrapped the burger and took a bite. Ketchup squirted onto my tongue, the tangy flavor a perfect counterpoint to the chewy meat. I realized I was starving. "You were good back there," Ross said. "Your rewind was really clear, even after almost thirty six hours. How long can you go?" "I rewound two and a half days once," I said, my words muffled by the food stuffe d in my cheek. Ross whistled appreciatively. Spurre d by the praise I added: "And I've held time for over two hours." "Impressive," Ross said. "I might have to keep you around. Think you can handle homicide?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 26 I swallowed the entire lump of burger in one pai nful gulp. Carson Ross wanted me as his spinner? I wiped the ketchup from my lips. "I've seen worse, sir," I said, though I wasn't sure it was true. "Don't call me sir ," Ross said. "If we're going to be partners there's no need to be so formal." Partners. The word sounded like a promise. The idea that this generous, kind man wanted to work with me was the best present I'd ever gotten . Happiness made me brave. "Why did you do it?" I asked. "Why did you lie to Mrs. Montgomery?" Ross handed me one of the milkshakes and unwrapped his second burger. "Let me ask you a question. Why do you do rewinds?" "Because I have to." "Fair enough. Does the job ever make you feel good?" "Sometimes." I considered the question. "I rewound a case for Agent Marquez once that proved the guy the police had arrested was innocent. The real culprit had framed him. That felt pretty good." "It felt good because the truth lead to justice. Truth isn't always that straightforward, though. In Mrs. Montgomery's case, the truth would have destroyed an already devastated woman, and for what? The truth wouldn't bring back baby Rosalind. The truth would only have made things worse." I swirled some chocolate shake around my mouth. It tasted sweet, and deliciously cool . " What will you write in your report ?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 27 " That the baby died of SIDS." Ross turned towards me. " What do you think about letting what happened in that rewind being our secret, known to nobody in the world but us two." I smiled at him so widely I probably looked like a demented jack o lantern. "I'd like that," I said and took another bite of burger to staunch the ridiculous grin. Outside my window, a group of teenaged girls slumped their way across the pavement. It was so hot the heat blurs their ankles . It was the first time I'd se en a group of Norms my age and not wished I was one of them . I nstead, I savored my meal , protected by the shelter of shade and air conditioning. I'd never thought about things like justice or truth. Rewinds were just what spinner s did. At best, they were a break from the tedium of life in the Sick . At worstÃ‰ well, from the stories I'd heard, even Jonas Saul wasn't the worst that could happen to someone. " Gifts like yours shouldn't be wasted," Ross said. "Your ability to freeze time can make a huge differenc e in people's lives." Thoughts sprouted in my brain like shoots after a spring shower, fragile and teeming with possibility. For a s long as I could remember, people had told me that my abilities made me different. Ross was the first person to say they made me special.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 28 Chapter 3 " I shouldn't have let you hold the freeze for so long," Ross says as we pull away from City Hall. "Not with you bringing two people with you." " Freezing doesn't cause the sickness . " I'm automatically reciting words I've heard all my life . "When it's your time it just happens . " I lower the visor on the windshield to block out the sun's glare. I'm trying really hard not to cry. After spinners get sick, staff pull us off time work until our chronotin levels stabilize . Some spinner's time skills are so weakened by the sickness they never go back at all . My hand closes around the door handle. The idea of not going on another mission with Ross, of spending the rest of my life doing mindless chores inside the Sick , makes me want to throw myself from the moving car and just end it all now. Ross and I drive through the city without speaking . Polished buildings give way to aging apartments and funky cafÂŽs as we near the Center. I massage my churn ing stomach. Ross turns the police radio 's chatter down low and chooses a roundabout route so I have time to calm down. Usually, after a mission, Ross takes me out for a meal. We hash over our latest case or speculate on Sykes's identity. The best days are when we talk about time work and how vital rewinds are to successful police investigations. He says no one likes to acknowledge how much our work helps because most people are uncomfortable having their public safety rely on a bunch of institutionalized o rphans. Guilt, he says, is a great silencer. With the press conference a mere hour away, the only stop Ross makes is at a mini mart to buy me a soda. Caffeine helps relieve time headaches. I watch him paying the clerk through the store window and consider all the ways my life is basically over.
Freeze Time email@example.com 29 It's not just missions. The kids who get sick, they're not pariahs, exactly, but other spinners tend to start avoiding them. I know, I've done it. It's like if you've already cut someone off then you won't miss them when they die. The scene in front of me blurs. Of course I've always known this day would come, but I didn't think I had to worry about it for at least a year. My best friend, KJ, is eighteen and he's never gotten sick. KJ. My stomach flips and I have to clench my teeth to keep from throwing up all over Ross's squad car. KJ has been down ever since Calvin, his former roommate, got sick. KJ's such a good guy he doesn't ignore Calvin, instead he hovers over him, carrying his lunch tray and bringing him book s. Whenever KJ talks about him, his shoulders slump , like the world is too heavy for him to bear. How will he stand it if I tell him I'm dying, too ? "Are you sure this is time sickness?" Ross asks a minute later, as we ease back into traffic. "Maybe it's just nerves. The bomb, all those people." I take a long swallow of soda , forcing the carbonated bubbles to push down the acid rising to meet them . " I don't think so," I say . We stop at a light. In the car next to us, a little boy sits in a booster seat, sucking his thumb with the enthusiasm usually reserved for lollipops. The boy stares at me. He's a normal boy, with a mom in the front seat, and a sis ter beside him. A normal boy with a normal life. I doubt he has any idea how lucky he is. " You kids are so special ." Ross slams a hand against the steering wheel. " Letting you die young is a complete waste . And the way they keep you cooped up in that Sick . "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 30 I shrug. I've never had a real home. The ability to freeze time comes from a rare gene mutation that makes the body produce an enzyme called chronotin. All babies have their blood tested for it at birth. I assume my parents cried when the nurses took away their newborn. I often wonder if they were also relieved to rid themselves of a mutant. Not that they had a choice. By law all spinners grow up in a Children's Home then move to a Center when their time sk ills emerge . Lots of us die in infancy and even the healthiest of us are unstable without medication. Violent. Paranoid. Who would want to raise a child like that? Ross is still talking: "The hardest part about being an agent is seeing how tough it is on you kids. It's been especially hard since I started working with you." The light changes. Ross pulls away from the little family. "You're a really great kid, Alex. Not just a good spinner Ã which you are, the best, most spinners don't really care about the work Ã but a good person. And right when we're this close to catching Sykes." He slams the steering wheel again. " You've been such a help on this case . You deserve to see it through." "Thanks," I mumble. Any other day, Ross's speech would have lit me up like a torch. Ross, though always kind, has never said he cared about me so explicitly. Today his words just sink into the pain wrapping my body. They are a gift I can never open. Not when I can count the weeks I have left. Not when I might never see hi m again. "Look, Alex." Ross clears his throat. "What if there was a way I could help you? Keep you from getting another attack of the sickness?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 31 "How?" I look out the window. "Everyone gets sick." "I've been emailing with a scientist," Ross says, "a rese archer in Germany named Dr. Kroger. He's been developing a new medicine for treating time sickness. In his trials he's been able to postpone a second bout for a year Ã some times even longer." A year . The word hovers in the air between us, a flame of hope in a world gone dark. I keep staring out the window . I know about fires. People can get burned. "Will Dr. Barnard prescribe it?" I ask. "He can't." We turn a corner. The Center rises up at the end of the block. The building sits on a small hill, raising it a full ten feet above street level. A low wall and a narrow strip of scrubby plantings discourages passersby from getting too close. Arched windows set at even intervals along the ground floor offer the blank stare of opaque glass, effectively blocking any glimpse into the rooms beyond. Small black cameras tucked in the eaves give evidence of the constant surveillance around the building. All the windows are barred. Ross slows the car. "This new treatment hasn't been approved yet by the FDA, but I've b een thinking of asking Dr. Kroger if he'll let you be part of his clinical trial. The problem is, i f he agrees, you'll have to take it without Dr. Barnard's knowledge. In fact, you can't even tell him you got sick today, or he'll start monitoring you so cl osely he'll figure out you changed your meds." I drink the last of my soda.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 32 "If I don't tell Dr. Barnard," I say, "he won't increase my Aclisote dosage and my chronotin levels will really go nuts." "If there's too much Aclisote in your system the new medicine won't work." I roll the soda can between my hands, hope and caution battling it out inside my head. Dr. Barnard is an international expert on Aclisote. He has decades of experience keeping chro notin levels in check. What if these untested meds just bring on a second attack sooner? Or have some horrible side effect? "Won't Dr. Barnard notice anyway?" I ask. "Nurse Amy checks our blood every month whether we're sick or not." "True." Ross pulls th e car into one of the reserved parking spots in front of the Center and cuts the engine. "When is your next blood test scheduled for?" "Two weeks. Dr. Barnard just raised my Aclisote dosage, too." "He did?" Ross frowns. "What was your last chronotin read ing?" I shake my head, afraid if I talk my voice will crack. I have no idea what my chronotin reading was but I know that if I got sick so close to an increase, my chronotin must have totally spiked. "Don't worry about your next test," Ross says. "I can d eal with it. The question is whether you're willing to try the new medicine." " I don't know, Mr. Ross." I squeeze the empty so da can so hard the sides crush together. "It sounds risky." Ross runs a finger along the steering wheel. " Dr. Kroger is a well respected guy, and the early results he's getting have been amazing. I'm sure FDA approval is only a matter of time. The problem is you don't have
Freeze Time email@example.com 33 time." He twists in his seat so he's faci ng me. " I know there's some risk, but sometimes a chance is all you ever get. After that , life is what you make of it ." I study the crumpled metal in my hand, the edges sharp beneath my palm. "It's not your risk, though, is it?" Ross's face softens, his expression close to pleading. "It's absolutely my risk," he says. "I don't want you to die." I can't stop the tears that fall. The wet salt blurs everything: Ross, the car, the street outside. Ross rummages in the console for a tissue. I hear something ba nging behind me and it takes me a second to realize that Charlie, one of the Center's front desk guards, is knocking on the window of Ross's car. Beside him is Jeff, the bearded guy who stands outside the Center almost every day to protest the fact the gov ernment wastes money supporting the "spinner freaks". I keep my head down as Ross unrolls the window. "You guys get locked out?" Charlie asks. "Sorry. Dr. Barnard said I could run out for some coffee. Slow day." Ross climbs from the car, distracting Charli e and Jeff with chatter about last night's football game while I mop my face with a tissue . When I get out of the car, Jeff retreats down the sidewalk . The caffeine from the soda has finally kicked in and bright things don't hurt my eyes anymore. I barely notice. All I can think about is Ross's new medicine. Charlie waves his key card across the sensor that lets us in to the cramped Center lobby. I inhale in the familiar scents of burnt coffee and bleach, letting my vision adjust to the dim light. A framed black and white photograph hanging near the entrance shows
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 34 what the Center looked like a hundre d years ago when it was a newly built hotel. Back then, the lobby was an elegant space, open and airy, with sofas scattered among potted palms. Since then the l obby has been chopped up into offices. Brick replaced the glass windows, choking out any source of natural light. The front door bristles with electronic locks and security cameras. Only a pair of curving stairs leading to the second floor hints at the spa ce's former glory, and even these potentially graceful lines are ruined by the guard station plunked down at their base. Ross walks me over to the glassed in station. Charlie goes inside and slides open the window partition, letting loose a waft of air tin ged with the stink of unwashed socks. Charlie spreads out a page of the logbook. Ross signs me in while I hold out my arm for Charlie to unlock the leash. Its release lightens my lingering headache. "I'll see you soon?" Ross asks , turning over the leash k ey to Charlie . I know he's really asking what I've decided, but he can't say anything more explicit in front of an audience . "Mr. Ross, IÃ‰" My stomach gives another lurch. Four months ago, when Calvin got sick for the second time, KJ and I visited him in the clinic. He looked awful. Sweat dotted his entire head, slick diamonds nestled in the roots of his kinky hair. KJ and I sat together, watching him sleep, when suddenly, Calvin's eyes popped open. Did they get you, too ? KJ leaned forward and Calvin grabb ed his shirt front. Don't let them hurt me, he begged. They want to send me to the Central Office. I won't go with them . I won't! Amy came running and Yolly, the Center's manager and resident den mother, bustled us out of the room. Don't worry , Yolly soothed, it's just the chronotin talking. The real Calvin will be
Freeze Time email@example.com 35 back once he's stabilizes . He isn't , though. Calvin's body is healthy, but his mind lives in wild conspiracy theories and a deep conviction that someone is trying to hurt him. He isn 't the first spinner to go crazy at the end, just the first one I knew well. Did the studies Ross read track quality of life or just quantity? What if I live longer but I also lose my mind? Is it worth it to live a few more years if I have to spend them al l locked in the Sick ? The main office door swings open, and Dr. Jeffrey Barnard steps ou t into the lobby. The man may have a brilliant mind , but everything else about the Center's director sags, from his poorly fitted lab coat, to the skin drooping under his chin. Even his hair seems to be sliding away from him, leaving a few gray strands in the back and bare forehead up front. I tilt my head down, aware of my red rimmed eyes and puffy nose. A lock of hair has gotten loose from my ponytail and I let it da ngle over my face. "Agent Ross, Alexandra." Barnard nods his bald head in our direction. "How did your mission go?" "Very successfully," Ross says. "We found the bomb and the team was able to deactivate it before it could go off. We got a pretty good look at the perp, too. Shouldn't be too hard to track him down." I pretend to be interested in the rotating pictures from the security feeds inside Charlie's station: a grainy image of the Center's front steps, a group of Youngers reciting lessons in a classroo m, an older spinner mopping an empty hallway. The common room looks crowded and I make a mental note to avoid it.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 36 "Good." Barnard sounds no more impressed by Ross's answer than if he'd said we'd prevented a fender bender. Instead, he asks Ross when he'll b e receiving a copy of his last report. Ross isn't known for stellar paperwork. I touch the spot on my forehead that shields my headache. Dr. Barnard turns abruptly in my direction. "How are you feeling these days, Alex andra ?" Ross stops talking. Barnard peers at me over his wire rimmed glasses. The lobby suddenly seems very crowded. Three pairs of eyes fix on me: Charlie's gaze mildly curious, Barnard's clinical, Ross's anxious. A warm flush creeps along the side of my neck. Who do I trust? Barnard the di sinterested scientist? Or Ross and the possibility of a longer life? My heart rate jumps, no doubt sending heightened levels of chronotin gushing through my veins. I take a breath. "I'm fine," I say. Ross rewards me with a massive grin. The pain in my head fades to a dull pulse. Dr. Barnard frowns. "No worse headaches than usual? Any nausea?" I scuff the worn tiles under my feet. "No," I lie. "It was a rough day," Ross says. "We ended up cutting it a little close. Things were pretty tense in there for a while." "I see." Barnard sounds thoughtful, perhaps wondering why the gruesome murder I'd rewound a few months ago hadn't fazed me when a plastic box had. I keep my attention glued to the floor. One of Barnard's shoelaces has come untied. Ross's leather o xford's gleam. "If you need to rest," Barnard says, "you can spend the afternoon in your room."
Freeze Time email@example.com 37 "That's OK," I mutter . If my days are numbered, the last place I want to spend them is shut up alone in my room. "I signed up to work with KJ in the garden." "I f that's what you prefer." He turns to Ross. "We have a free office, why don't you write up your report here." "I won't be able to do that." Ross backs away. "I'm supposed to meet the police chief for a press conference." "Make sure you get us a copy of both reports when they're complete," Barnard calls. Ross says something vague. Behind Barnard's back, he winks at me. Charlie buzzes the door open and Ross strolls outside. Sunshine picks up lighter threads in his hair, making them glint like strands of g old. At the threshold, he turns and waves to me. I watch him leave, holding our secret inside my chest, a tendril of hope to protect me from the shadows that descend as the front door's locks click back into place.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 38 Chapter 4 The Center's courtyard isn 't a great place for a garden. Shade covers most of the area, leaving only a small plot with enough sun to grow anything besides rhododendrons. All of us have to take shifts working in it, though, part of the do gooder Society for Spinner Rights's theory t hat we'd be happier eating locally sourced organic food. Which we'll never know since we've never harvest ed more than two meals' worth of greens. Cool air washes my face as I step outside, bringing with it the scent of freshly turned earth. KJ is pulling up some weeds that invaded the space between the beds. The steady work must have warmed him, because he's ditched his sweatshirt, leaving his long brown arms bare. I watch him for a few minutes. Everything about him: the focused concentration, gang ly limbs, dark brows, and jutting nose, already seem tinged with the nostalgia of loss. "Hey," I call. KJ settles on his heels, smiling. "You're back early." KJ's full name is Kaleel Jabar, which means his birth parents must have been of Arab descent. One of the Society's first initiatives, back in the 1960's, was a campaign to replace randomly generated first names for spinners with ethnically appropriate first and last. Like all the Society's efforts, this one is kind of a joke, since none of us are rais ed with any kind of cultural identity. KJ dropped Kaleel when he was still a Younger after another kid started calling him Kaleel the Heel . KJ is over six feet tall now, out of reach of most teasing, but the nickname stuck. I cross towards him. KJ shoves h is over long bangs away from his eyes with his wrist, the closest he has to a non muddy appendage.
Freeze Time email@example.com 39 "How'd it go?" he asks. I grimace. "Not great." "What? No fast food treats with Ross?" "No." The abruptness of my answer wipes the cheer from his face. "Wh at happened?" he asks. I move closer and my expression must give something away because he adds: "Are you OK?" "It's justÃ‰" that I'm dying . I can't do it. And I certainly can't tell him about Ross's offer of a new drug. KJ is a worrier. I don't think I can handle his fears on top of my own. I plunk myself down on a patch of grass near the beds. At this point in the afternoon, the sun has abandoned all but a small corner of the courtyard. In the spot where I sit, the air carries a definite chill. "I'm just tired," I say. "We ended up getting called in to a bomb scare at City Hall. There were like thirty cops there and all of them were freaking out." "A bomb? You're kidding. How come you always get the glory jobs?" Coming from anyone else, the words would have made me feel guilty. Not KJ. He's the only spinner in the Center who isn't jealous that I work with Ross. KJ's agent is in the traffic division so most ly he unwinds car accidents. He says the missions are usually dull and occasionally gruesome and he sees no reason to spend more energy on them than he has to. I pluck half heartedly at a dandelion making inroads on some nearby lettuce. "What'd you do tod ay?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 40 " Barnard's computer had a glitch so I spent all morning cleaning off the virus. It was actually really cool." A dreamy expression creeps over KJ's face. Despite my own worries, I can't help smiling. KJ is fascinated by computers, the same way that I 'm drawn to solving crimes. He sees computers as puzzles Ã untangle the code and the whole thing comes apart. I never know what he's talking about but I love that he's passionate about something. Most of the kids here waste all thei r time on video games an d TV . I throw my handful of dandelions at him. "You're such a dork." KJ laughs and picks up a rake. "Hey, come on, dork is the new cool." I flop onto my back and stare upwards. The walls surrounding the courtyard hide most of the sky, leaving only a sma ll rectangle of blue overhead. The more I study it, the more the walls seem to be leaning, as if they're closing in around me. "If you weren't a spinner," I ask, "what would you want to be?" "Lots of things." KJ rakes the scattered weeds into a pile. "Com puter programmer, obviously. Or maybe a scientist." "Yeah," I say, "you can run the experiments they do on the sick spinners at the Central Office. Then we can find out why no one ever comes back from there. " "Not medical science, I want to be a marine bi ologist. I've always wanted to see the ocean." He leans against the rake. "I could freeze time and get really close to great white sharks. Or see what it looks like underwater when a wave crashes into a reef." "I said imagine if you weren't a spinner."
Freeze Time email@example.com 41 "I' d rather stay a spinner and be able to do whatever I wanted." "If you were a spinner, Norms would think you were too much of a freak to let you join their cool expedition. Plus you'd die before you learned enough to be useful." "Aren't you Miss Cheerful to day." KJ bends to scoop up the pile of weeds. "What would you want to be?" A cloud drifts over the edge of the Center's walls. I study it, trying to force the bit of fluff into some kind of shape, but all I can see is a blob. I turn KJ's question around in my mind to the one I really want to ask: what would you do with your life, if you knew you only had a few months left to live? An ache fills me , the longing as unshaped as the blobby cloud. "I'd want to be someone important," I say. "Someone who makes a d ifference." "That's funny." KJ carries the weeds over to the composter. "Shannon and I were just talking about that last night. About how we all need to feel useful. She says that's why she likes working with the Youngers." Something about the way he says her name, just a shade too casually, catches my attention. I lift my head. "Shannon?" "Yeah." KJ is still messing with the compost so I can't see his face. "You're always reading those old case files Ross gives you, so Shannon and I have been hanging out a lot lately." I wriggle my shoulders. The grass itches my back, each blade an individual irritant. Shannon is my roommate. If she wasn't a spinner, she'd be a cheerleader, all pep and bounce, with a deep desire to indulge in volunteer work. I sit up.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 42 "You and Shannon, huh?" I'm trying really hard to make my voice sound light. "Anything I should know about?" "Maybe." KJ finally turns around. There's a flush tinting the sides of his neck. My heart sinks. "Would it bother you?" he asks. I force myself to picture it: KJ and Shannon, together. My best friend distracted by someone else in what might be the last few months of my life. The acid remnants of nausea rise up to scrape the back of my throat. When I swallow, my mouth tastes bitter. "Why would it bot her me?" I stand and pick up KJ's abandoned rake, scraping it across a mound of dirt. "It's not like I'm your girlfriend or anything." The quiet that greets my words feels heavy enough to muffle the rasp of my unproductive raking. I focus my attention on m y task, bending the thin tines under the force of my stroke. KJ and I arrived at the Center the same summer. At ten, I was the youngest kid there and so shy I barely made eye contact with anyone. He was twelve , super scrawny, and suffering from a bad case of acne. The teacher at the time, Mr. Thomas, paired us up for a class project, and we started sitting together at meals. By fall we were insepar able. Two years later, things changed. I overheard another girl sighing about how cute he was, and after that I couldn't stop noticing the adorable way his hair curled over his ears . Then KJ started getting tongu e tied in the middle of the simplest convers ation and it no longer seemed casual when our shoulders touched. When we finally kissed I felt like I'd entered a three dimensional world after living in two dimensions all my life. The Center looked brighter, food tasted sweeter. Every song on
Freeze Time email@example.com 43 the radio w as about us. I swapped shifts and rearranged my schedule so we could spend every possible minute together. KJ broke it off after two months. He said I was clingy. The six months that followed were the worst ones of my life. I slunk around the Center trying to avoid him, unable to talk to anyone without thinking how dull they were compared to my lost friend. Shannon did her best to make me feel better, but she had recently broken up with Aidan and listening to her inane theories about healing chakras was wor se than being alone. The only way I could sleep was to practice freezing during the day for so long that I'd be exhausted by the time it was lights out. Eventually, KJ and I started spending time together again, easing through the awkwardness until we rega ined our friendship . It's made me appreciate the time we spend together way more than I used to. I n the long run I decided it was a good thing we dated once, it got that whole weird element of a boy/girl friendship out of the way . Once it a while, though, one of us trips over the memory . "I'm sorry," I say to KJ, now, "that sounded snotty. You should do whatever makes you happy." "Yeah." KJ wipes some of the dirt off his hands. "It's not like we have a lot of time to try new things, right?" I pull harder on the rake. A splinter flakes off the wooden handle, shooting beneath my skin with a sharp stab. I yelp. KJ is beside me in seconds. He takes my hand and opens it inside his own. The jagged tip of the splinter sticks out from my skin and KJ rubs at it, tr ying to tease the splinter out with his thumb. I breathe in the smell of him Ã dirt and sweat and crushed dandelions Ã and the secrets I'm keeping from him rush so close to the tip of my tongue I have to bite it to stop
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 44 myself from screaming them out loud . I know if I tell him about getting sick he won't hook up with Shannon, and I also know that keeping him away from her is a selfish reason for fessing up. A sigh works its way from deep in my gut, a long rasp of air that only expands the ache inside me. K J looks up. "Are you OK? Lately y ou seem really, I don't know, distracted a lot of the time ." "I'm fine," I say, automatically. KJ frowns. "I just have a lot to think about." I search my brain for an excuse that doesn't involve death or untested drugs. "Ross thinks Sykes is the one behind the bomb in City Hall . If he is we have a good chance of tracking him down through the suspect we saw planting it. Ross really thinks we might catch him this time." KJ pinches my palm, trying to grasp the end of the splinter. "Don't you think you're getting kind of obsessed with this Sykes thing?" "I told you, I want to make a difference. This is a way I can do that." "I get that, but what about, I don't now, just hanging out with your friends." "We do hang out. " "And you're distracted." I rub my temple. This conversation is making me tired. Given my current problems, KJ's grumbling feels trite. "It's like you said, " I tell him, " we don't have a lot of time. KJ makes another unsuccessful swipe at my splinter. " Aren't you worried that if you and Ross get close to Sykes, he'll come after you like he did to Sal?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 45 "Ross is careful," I say. "Whenever he makes inquiries he always pretends they're about some other case. Besides, I live locked up in the Sick. What safe r place could there be?" KJ looks like he wants to keep arguing. I slip my hand free. He'll never get the splinter out. He's too afraid to hurt me to really dig in and yank. "I'm going to go find Yolly," I say. "See if she has some tweezers." "Are you co ming back?" " I'm really tired . Dr. Barnard said I could go up to my room . I might do that." I walk back into the Center with KJ 's disappointment burning a hole between my shoulder blades. I close the door . Ten minutes ago, the idea of being alone sounded awful, right now it feels like a reprieve. At least then I won't have to lie.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 46 Chapter 5 Yolly pounces on me before I've taken three steps down the hallway. "There you are!" she cries. "I've been looking for you everywhere. The press conference ab out the bombing is on TV. Barnard gave permission for us all to watch it together!" My stomach sinks all the way to my toes. The idea of sitting in a room with the other spinners pretending nothing is wrong sounds about as appealing as spending a month sc rubbing toilets. "That's OK," I say . "I already know what happened." "Don't be silly. It will be fun to see Mr. Ross on TV." We're supposed to call Yolly Ms. Yolanda, but only Dr. Barnard uses her full name. She's a wide, comfortable looking woman with smo oth dark skin and short hair curled into an immobile cap around her face. She's always reminding us how lucky we are to be living in a Center run by the famous Dr. Barnard. You 're getting the best care in the world here , she says. Jack calls her Jolly Yolly behind her back because she always talks in an aren't we having fun voice. I try a new angle. "I'm such a mess." I wiggle my grass stained fingers in her direction. "I need to wash up." "Be quick, then, so you don't miss any of it." Yolly beams at m e. "It's going to be on in less than ten minutes!"
Freeze Time email@example.com 47 I try to dig up another reason to refuse her invitation. Nothing comes to me. Besides, I am a little curious to hear what Chief will say, so I nod and trudge off to the nearest bathroom. The common room i s much less cozy than the name implies. It's a big, shabby space on the ground floor with blinds covering the windows so outsiders can't see in. Fluorescent lights hum over linoleum floors and an assortment of mismatched furniture. A book case stretches ac ross one wall, mostly well thumbed paperbacks Ã romance and thrillers are popular Ã mingling with pristine good for you classics, courtesy of ever hopeful Yolly. A shelf on the opposite wall holds a haphazard stack of puzzles, board games, and some neglect ed art supplies. Besides the TV, there's also a table holding three computers with lots of games but no internet access. Jack claims they don't want us in contact with people outside the Center. Yolly says it's not in the budget. Despite Yolly's enthusiasm , only six of the ten qualified spinners are in the room. Jack sits at the computer table, avoiding everyone under a pair of headphones. Aidan and Raul are playing the card game War. Calvin reads a book in the armchair farthest from the TV. Yuki is lying o n a sofa reading an out of date gossip magazine while simultaneously tracking the dubious hilarity of a TV sitcom. She must have been on a mission today, too, because she's sipping from a giant mug of weak Center coffee . Shannon snuggles on the second sofa with four Youngers, all of whom beam pleasure at being allowed into the Ã”Real Spinner's' common room. She's reading the m a story about a lost princess, managing to animate each character with a unique voice , so that her audience listens with rapt attentio n . When Shannon isn't on a mission or doing her main Center job as Amy's nursing assistant, she tutors groups of Youngers in reading
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 48 and math. I suspect half the kids fail their tests on purpose in order to spend time with her. My Center job is training th e Youngers on time skills. None of them show s nearly as much interest in spending extra time with me. Shannon sees me come in and waves me over. I shake my head and slink across the room to curl into one of the armchairs facing the TV. "Look who's here," Aidan calls when he catches sight of me. "Our very own celebrity. Think I could get your autograph later?" Raul chuckles, which he does every time Aidan says anything even vaguely resembling a joke. I ignore both of them. Shannon finishes her story just as KJ walks into the room. He tips his chin to acknowledge me , but heads over in her direction. Shannon smiles. She slides over to make room and KJ wedges himself in between her and one of the Youngers. I hunch down in my seat and pick at my splinter. I fo rgot to ask Yolly for tweezers. "All right, everyone." Yolly bustles in and starts hunting around for the TV remote. "We've got a special show to watch." The music on the sitcom grows to a crescendo. The on screen couple kiss, prompting the studio audience into a canned awww . The credits start rolling as Yolly switches the channel. "Coming up next," a smooth voice announces, "a shocking bomb scare evacuates downtown Portland." The camera pans over images of harried people being ushered out of City Hall. "W as this a random act of violence? Or something more sinister? Stay tuned for a special press conference, coming up live right here on News Six." The channel's logo fills the screen and the scene cuts to commercial.
Freeze Time email@example.com 49 "It wasn't a real bomb ," Calvin announc es. "It was all faked to raise the profile of the agents. They're in the middle of salary negotiations, you know." Nobody pays him any attention. "Jack," Yolly calls over a jingle advertising low cost car insurance, "turn that thing off and come join us." I expect Jack to ignore her, or mouth off and tell her how he doesn't give a rip whether or not City Hall blows up. Instead, he snaps his headphones off with atypical obedience. "Wouldn't want to miss the city's celebration of its amazing spinners." He bo unds over and drags an armchair so close to mine I am doused in the cedar y scent of his body wash Ã a grooming item he must have purchased himself as it is not supplied by the Center's minimal hygiene budget . Shortly after Ross dropped Jack for me, Jack s uffered his first bout of time sickness. It was really mild, and he hasn't had a second one, but he's also only been on one mission since it happened. His Center job is working in Barnard's office. I guess Barnard likes him because Jack gets more day passe s than anyone else and, I suspect, more allowance . He's always bragging about this hoodlum Norm friend of his, Javier, who supposedly taught him to drive a car and showed him how to sneak into movie theatres without paying. Given Jack's loose relationship with the truth, I have my doubts. "So tell me, Alex." Jack hold his fist under my chin, imitating an overeager reporter . "Think the mayor will mention you? Give credit where credit is due?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 50 "Now, Jack." Yolly pushes Yuki's feet off the sofa so she can sit next to her. Two of the Youngers immediately abandon Shannon and curl up against Yolly's wide hips. I notice neither Shannon nor KJ make any effort to reclaim the extra space. "You know Dr. Barnard thinks spinners should keep a low profile," Yolly says. " The rest of Portland is still getting used to you." "Yeah." Jack's voice drips sarcasm. "Forty years unwinding crimes in this city and people still think we're dangerous monsters. Good strategy." "Steve got publicity after his rewind nailed that bartende r for selling drugs," Shannon says, referring to her last boyfriend. "Remember what happened to him? Piles of hate mail and then those protestersÃ‰" She doesn't need to say more. We all remember. After the bartender got arrested, protestors chanted angry s logans on our steps day and night for weeks. They screamed at passing cars and carried signs that said things like: Lock Up the Freaks, Time Spinner s = Tax Suckers, No More CIC for the Sick . The cops only dragged them away when they started breaking things . Meanwhile, we all stumbled around so sleep deprived it was like living in a home for the undead. Steve got sick in the middle of the protest week. He died last spring. "Half the city still thinks Steve faked the evidence." Shannon's voice wobbles. KJ puts a consoling hand on her shoulder. "Sykes is the one who framed that bartender," Calvin says. "He was using the bar to launder money and needed a scapegoat." Jack interrupts. "A spinner puts away one popular scumbag two years ago and that makes it OK t o get no credit when we stop a bomber from blowing up City Hall?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 51 Jack always rants about how spinners don't get enough respect, which KJ thinks is funny given how little Jack has ever cared about timework. Whenever Jack starts up, KJ always winks at me behind his back. Without thinking, I glance across the room. KJ isn't paying attention. He's still consoling Shannon, head bent to catch something she's telling him. I look away. "I know it seems unfair," Yolly says. "Freezing time feels normal to you but it's unnerving for other people. It makes them uncomfortable to think there are things happening they don't know about." "Like this, you mean?" Jack leans forward and smiles directly at Yolly, a wolfish grin that shows too many teeth. A few seconds later, the freeze monitor catches up with him and starts beeping. Everyone looks up at the narrow screen bolted to the wall over the TV. The words Jack Whit ing scroll across it in red letters . Yolly starts. All spinners have tracker chips implanted in the back of our necks. They link to the monitors so staff can tell when we freeze time. The links run through cell towers so staff can also track our location. For our own security, Yolly always reminds us. "Jack," Yolly says, "you know it's against the rules to fr eeze time outside of training ." "Why? Does it make you uncomfortable, Yolly? Wonder what I've been doing?" Yolly's cell phone rings Ã always a disconcerting event since she set it to meow like a cat. She pulls it from her pocket.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 52 "Hello? Yes, I'll check." She puts her hand over the mouthpiece. "Did he take any of you with him?" She looks at me, since I'm the one sitting closest to Jack. I shake my head. "He froze alone," Yolly says into the phone. "OK, I'll tell him." She hangs up. The freeze monitor stop s beeping. There are two panels that control the monitor, one in Barnard's office and one in the guard station. The monitor only gets shut off after someone clears the freeze and punches in a code. "Dr. Barnard let you off with a warning," Yolly says. "I h ope you appreciate the leniency." Jack shrugs. I'm surprised Barnard gave him a break. Last year, Jack got locked in solitary for a week after beating up Raul during frozen time. Raul was fine afterwards, of course. Staff only found out because he squealed . "Why'd you mess with Yolly?" I lower my voice so only Jack can hear me. "She's OK." "Yeah, if you're five," Jack says. "Why do you care? She's just a Norm. And besides," he lifts one hand and places it on my thigh, "how do you know it was Yolly I was mes sing with?" I slap his hand away. "Give it up, Jack." Most of the girls at the Center have had some kind of fling with Jack. Shannon say s he looks exactly like Tom Cruise in Risky Business . I don't see the attraction. For me, cuteness is totally erased by acting like a jerk.
Freeze Time email@example.com 53 "Your loss." Jack's eyes slide from my face and down over my chest. I turn away and faced pointedly towards the TV. "Shhh," Yolly calls. "The mayor's on." The mayor stands at a podium surrounded by microphones, her image fl ickering under multiple camera flashes. Behind her, Ross, McDennon, and the police chief stand shoulder to shoulder. The mayor adjusts her glasses and starts reading from a prepared statement, laying out the basics of the operation to the members of the pr ess. The common room starts buzzing with sounds of inattention. Yolly might have trapped everyone in front of the TV, but she can't force them to listen. "Ã‰crisis was averted thanks to these brave men," the mayor sums up. "They all risked their lives toda y and I, for one, can't thank them enough." More lights flash as the mayor turns and shakes hands, first with Chief, then Ross, and finally with McDennon. When she's was done, she invites Chief to the microphone and opens the floor to questions. "Do you ha ve a suspect?" someone asks. "We do," Chief says. I perk up. I hadn't expected the police to ID our guy so soon. "The suspect has been identified as Jason Torino, age twenty four." A blurry photograph of the man I saw in the rewind flashes up on the scree n. His body is turned away from the camera, face scrunched in an expression of fierce concentration. The photo must have been taken from one of the security cameras at City Hall because he's wearing the same dark windbreaker I saw him in earlier.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 54 "Anyone who has information about this man's whereabouts," Chief says, "is asked to call 9 1 1 . Please remember he may be dangerous." "So young, " Yolly sighs . "What can happen to someone to make them want to do something like that?" "I can think of a few reasons ," Jack says . Yolly waves dismissively. "You don't mean that." Calvin clears his throat. "Statistically, most terrorists are under the age of twenty five. They tend to come from troubled homes, often suffering some form of abuse in childhood Ã " "Give it a rest, Calvin," Aidan interrupts. Raul gives him a fist bump. Across the room, Shannon says something to KJ that makes him laugh, a rich happy sound that floats across the overcrowded room. I pick at some dirt under my fingernail and try to remember the la st time KJ laughed like that at something I said. I can't. In the courtyard KJ complained I was distracted. Am I really so caught up in catching Sykes that I'm not that fun to hang out with anymore? A chubby reporter, holding an oversized spiral notebook , raises his hand . " The room where the bomb was found was scheduled for a meeting to discuss the Crime Investigation Center's budget. Are the police investigating this as an anti spinner hate crime?" A lull empties the common room of sound as everyone in i t turns to hear Chief's answer. My stomach, still not completely recovered, clenches. Ross and I didn't think of this possibility. Maybe Sykes wasn't targeting a politician. Maybe his real target is us.
Freeze Time email@example.com 55 Chief puts on the blank expression that must be a re quirement for any public service job. "It's too early to tell what the bomber's motivations were," he says. "That's a lame political answer," Jack sneers. "Jack," Yolly says, "we need to show respect towards our city officers ." "It doesn't matter if he answers or not," Calvin says. " Now that the reporter asked the questions, everyone will assume it's true and then somehow the bombing will be our fault." On screen, the reporter is pushing his point. "A recent survey showed that seventy nine percent of t he population believes spinners are mentally unstable. We've all heard the reports of spinners behaving erratically, even violently, especially at the end of their lives. Given the overwhelming unpopularity of spinners among most Americans, doesn't the loc ation of the bomb imply someone is making a political statement?" "Instances of spinners with mental illnesses are vastly over reported," Chief says. "Spinners can do some unusual things, but at the end of the day they're just regular kids." The chubby rep orter looks unconvinced. He raises his hand to ask another question. Chief ignores him, pointing instead to the woman sitting next to him, a young reporter dressed in a tight fitting red suit. "I have a question for Agent Ross," the woman says , her smile s o wide she could be posing for a toothpaste commercial. Chief grimaces, but he steps aside so Ross can join him at the microphone. The camera zooms in on Ross's face. "How stressful was the rewind when you found the bomb?" the reporter asks.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 56 Ross leans against the podium, the essence of relaxed nonchalance. "Not very," he says. "I trusted my team. I had a good spinner with me and Chief assigned Mike McDennon from the bomb squad. Mike has an excellent reputation and he certainly proved his wor th today." "There you go, Alex," Jack says. "You're a good spinner . Doesn't that make you proud?" "She should be proud," Yolly says. "We all know how hard the work is." "Calling her a good spinner makes it sound like she's his dog." Aidan and Raul snort wi th laughter. I glare at them . If I was a dog I'd go over and bite them . Across the room, Shannon is holding KJ's hand, whispering as she traces his palm with one finger. She took up tarot card readings a few months ago. I suppose now she's moved on to palm s. The reporter asks Ross what the rewind was like and Ross launches into a long description. I curl back into my chair, wishing I'd chosen a seat closer to the door so I could more easily escape. It's not like anyone will miss me. I peek over at KJ again . His dark head is bent close to Shannon's blond one, face lit with something I'm sure has nothing to do with a newfound belief in the occult. Jack leans over and whispers in my ear. "Looks like endless love isn't so endless after all." I snap back uprigh t. "KJ's not my boyfriend." "I wasn't talking about you." Jack twists his fingers together, making the knuckles crack in a quick line of pops. "Didn't Shannon swear she'd miss Steve forever? Or was that the guy before him?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 57 "Shannon enjoys being in love," I say, not quite managing to keep the snide out of my voice. "Unlike you. All you care about it solving crimes with your," Jack raises both hands to make air quotes, "wonderful agent." "Ross is a wonderful agent. He actually values my time skills." "Ross only values you because you hero worship him." My cheeks burn . I wish I had the guts to freeze time and slug him, but I'm pretty sure Barnard wouldn't offer me the same slack he'd just shown Jack. "What's the matter?" I taunt, instead. "Still pissed Ross d ropped you for me?" "I'm not pissed about that." Jack snorts. "I work with people much more important than Ross." My anger fades. Jack doesn't work with important people. All he does is file and run errands for Barnard. Jack leans towards me. "You're so big on investigating that robber guy. Maybe you should be looking a little closer to home. Ever wonder what the great Dr. B. is really up to?" I wonder if Jack is losing it. It happens sometimes. Jack is nineteen and it's been over five months since he fir st got sick. He's surely due for a second attack any day. Lots of people lose it at the end. The sickness is an axe falling in slow motion and I'm just beginning to understand exactly how terrifying it is to be standing under it . "Jack," I start, unsure wh at I want to say, when a voice on the TV grabs my attention. "Can you address the rumor that the bomber has already contacted the police?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 58 My head swivels back to the screen. Ross has returned to the background, leaving Chief alone before the pressing cr owd. Cameras are flashing like strobes. Chief sq uints against the media's glare . "I beg your pardon?" The reporter who asked the question straightens his shoulders. He's tall, with hair that sticks up around his head as if he's only just gotten out of bed. "There's a report that Jason Torino said someone paid him to plant the bomb and that he's willing to talk if he gets immunity." Chief clears his throat. "I have no knowledge of the suspect contacting the police." "I got this information from a solid source," the reporter says. Chief's lips settle into a tigh t line. The reporter presses on: "Assuming the rumor is true, can you sha re the city's stance on negotiating with terrorists?" "No comment," Chief says. Questions explode from the press gallery. Hands wave, cameras click. Chief leans into the bank of microphones and thanks everyone for coming, promising to let them know as soon as they have more information. His expression holds thunder. "Maybe," Aidan calls out, "Whoever leaked the rumor did it just to piss Chief off. The guy looks like he's about to have a stroke." Raul laughs. Calvin starts rambling about some theory involvi ng leaks and department heads. Jack leaves the seat next to mine and asks Aidan to deal him in for a new card game. I sit alone, staring at the flickering TV. Just before the scene cut off, I'd
Freeze Time email@example.com 59 caught a glimpse of Ross. His expression was calculating, like a cat trying to figure out which way a cornered mouse might run. My heart does a little flip . Of course! If Jason Torino plans to talk to the cops, Sykes will have to contact him . I brush a finger across the splinter still stuck in my palm, my nerves rele asing a shivery flush that races across my skin. The trap is set, now all we have to do was wait.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 60 Chapter 6 I dream I am sitting in the office where McDennon dismantled the bomb. The man on the other side of the desk is no longer translucent , though he still shimmers a little bit . He's looking from me to a file open on his desk. This is very unusual , he's saying, but it seems your parents have tracked you down . They worked so hard to find you that we've decided to let you go live with him . A do or behind me opens . I rise to my feet, as light as if I'm filled with helium . Two people stand in front of me. They are middle aged and soft around the middle. The woman is crying . They wrap me in an embrace and my body seems to float even higher . Daughter , the man says, his voice choked with emotion . He sounds familiar. I lift my head and am washed in a joy so inte nse I can barely keep standing. The man holding me is not an anonymous middle aged man. My father is Carson Ross. The 6:30 morning alarm jolts m e awake. My dream shatters , f ragments of happy fiction sink ing down to weight my stomach as yesterday's grim realities take its place . "You up?" Shannon asks. My roommate is standing in front of the window twisting her long hair into a tidy braid, already dressed in her mission uniform along with the pink smock she wears when she's assisting Amy. Under her breath, she's humming a familiar pop tune. I can't remember the title b ut I know the chorus includes a line about being amazing, just the way you are . I mutter something incoherent without getting out of bed . " It's a gorgeous day out there, " she says. "Look at all those people heading out to enjoy it."
Freeze Time email@example.com 61 She cranks open our wi ndow the three inches the security bars allow. T raffic noises drift up from the street, along with the smell of car exhaust. "It's Labor Day weekend," I tell her. "All those happy people are setting off for the accidents KJ will be rewinding this afternoon . " Shannon shoots me a sharp look. "That's pretty grim." I shrug. "I just don't see why you're so chipper about the weather, it's not like you'll get to go outside and enjoy it." Shannon's eyes narrow . "Is something bothering you?" she asks. "No." The word comes out particularly curt ly . Shannon bends to smooth a minute wrinkle from her bedspread , carefully not making eye contact . The weight in my stomach shifts uncomfortably. I feel like I just stepped on a kitten. Shannon vanishes into our tiny half b ath. I turn on my side. Our dorm rooms are compact squares with one window, two beds, and a couple of dressers. Shannon's side is spotless, mine littered with copies of Ross's old ca se files and a criminology text book I found a while back in the donated bo ok bin. I stare at the wall across from me. The photo of Steve that Shannon used to have pinned over her bed has vanished, replaced with a line of drawings from the Youngers. Three of them are bunches of flowers with the words I love you scrawled in sloppy markers. Julio, one of the night guards, starts the secondary wake up call, banging his nightstick against each dorm door as he unlocks it. Outside, fog presses against the
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 62 window, bringing with it a heavy scent of damp. I burrow deeper in my blankets, st opping time with a mental flick before Julio reaches our door. Spinners are known to freeze time as an instinctual response to nightmares, so staff turn the monitors off at night , not turning them back on until our dorm rooms are unlocked. Stillness settl es around me, slipping through the cracks of my closed lids. I make an effort to relax. Besides high chronotin levels, the only other trigger I know of for an attack is stress. Which is a pretty useless warning since stress is inevitable once the clock sta rts ticking. I practice steady breathing. I can't actually fall back to sleep without losing control of the freeze, but maybe a few minutes of peace will settle my nerves . The roiling mass that is my stomach refuses to be soothed. Tiny things, like the f aint bleach smell from my sheets and the headache lurking in the back of my skull, grow larger in the vacuum. I imagine I can feel my chronotin levels rising, the cells duplicating, unchecked by the calming influence of Aclisote. I only have a few months left to live . The words clang through my head, knocking away any lingering wisps of sl eep. I sit up. The vastness of the unmoving world stretches out endlessly . I am completely alone and today the thought is chilling rather than freeing. Will death be like this? A solitary soul moving through a world that neither knows nor cares about its existence? I let time go, shifting instantly back to my earlier prone position. Julio's stick smacks the door with a sharp crack. Shannon emerges from the bathroom wiping her face with a towel. I grab my robe and head down the hall to the showers. How much of a risk am I taking by not reporting my il lness? I ponder the question, standing under the spray so long the timer clicks the water off before I remember to wash my hair.
Freeze Time email@example.com 63 A cacophony of clattering spoons and raised voices envelopes me as I make my way down to the cafeteria for breakfast. I scan t he room, stopping when I find KJ. He's sitting at a table with Calvin , who is talking vehemently about something, his hands waving as he makes his point. KJ nods as if whatever Calvin spouts makes perfect sense. When he sees me watching them, KJ's mouth li fts in a smile. "There you are, sleepy head," Shannon chirps at me from her spot at the meds table set up just inside the door. " Feeling better? I was thinking I'd have to go back up and roust you." For a split second I consider confessing that I'd felt si ck yesterday and asking her to run a surreptitious blood test. I squash the impulse. Shannon follows the rules. If the results come back high she's sure to report me to Barnard. Shannon selects a pre measured dose of Aclisote from the meds basket. I watch her initi al the log book next to my name and try to decide the merits of faking a cold so that I'll get sent up to the clinic. If I get a high chronotin result from a routine test would they still pull me from timework? Or just raise my dosage? "Here you go ," Shannon says, peeling the plastic seal off the vial with a practiced hand. "That's not mine," I say. "I don't take that much." Shannon checks the label. "Yes, it is." I squint at the tiny writing on the tube she holds out. Alexandra Ma n n ing, 5 cc's , twice daily . Five cc's? Yesterday, I'd been taking four and a half. My cheeks warm, relief at getting a higher dosage mingling with guilt, as if somehow Barnard had caught me lying.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 64 "Why did Dr. Barnard change it? " I ask. " He just raised my dose after my blood test two weeks ago." "I don't know," Shannon says. "Though between us two, I bet Amy copied the dosage wrong and no one noticed until now ." She leans over the table and lowers her voice. " She's totally distracted these days. I think she has a new boy friend." My first smile of the day spreads across my face. This must be the reason I got sick yesterday. Amy, our cute, scatterbrained nurse, messed up Barnard's prescription. I toss the medicine down like a cowboy shooting whiskey. The chemical sweet flavor tastes reassuringly familiar. I remember the pointed questions Barnard asked me in the lobby yesterday. That must have been why he'd been so curious, he must have just figur ed out the error and been worried about the possible effects. I turn my smile on Shannon, determined to make up for my earlier surliness. "I'm thinking Amy isn't the only one who might have a new boyfriend." Shannon's face turns bright pink and she seems suddenly intensely interested in straightening the log book. "I don't know. Maybe." She glances up at me. "Would it bug you?" "Of course not," I say, wishing people would stop asking. "He's like my brother." Shannon grins. I chuck the empty vial into the trash, and skip over to the breakfast counter. Oatmeal has never looked so appealing. I dig the ladle in and serve myself a healthy dollop. All that worry, when the only problem wasÃ‰.the oatmeal slops into my bowl. The probl em was I'd gotten sick. Whatever the reason, I'd suffered a bout of time
Freeze Time email@example.com 65 sickness. Sure, it was mild, but the first ones usually are. And then first bouts are inevitably followed by second ones, then thirds. Most people don't get four. The oatmeal quivers . I spoon on brown sugar. Ross said if my Aclisote dosage was too high, the new medicine wouldn't work. Is five cc's high? How much is someone like Calvin getting? "You gonna leave any of that for me?" Jack is standing beside me, pointing at the mound of sugar I've heaped into my bowl. "Sorry." I put the spoon down. Jack snatches it up and piles twice the amount of sugar I just used onto his own oatmeal. "Hey, Jack?" I ask. "How much Aclisote do you take?" "I don't know." He adds a generous scoop of raisi ns. "Six cc's, I think, why?" "Just curious." I pour a cup of coffee and follow Jack over to the table where KJ and Calvin are sitting. It's dawning on me how little I know about Aclisote and chronotin, a knowledge gap that suddenly seems glaring. All I re ally know is that chronotin rises as you age and that high levels are bad. Nothing about exact numbers. "Yuck," KJ says as I set my tray down across from him. "Are you eating that?" I look down at the mountain of sugar in my bowl, gray oatmeal barely visib le along the edges. "I guess I wasn't paying attention," I say.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 66 "I'll take the extra," Jack says, scraping off a generous spoonful of sugar and dumping it in his coffee. "The one upside of a short life: there's absolutely no reason to eat healthy." "A mac robiotic diet might extend even our lives," Calvin says. "There was an interesting article about it in Science magazine. Maybe I should write to the Society for Spinner Rights and ask them to push for it." "Please don't," Jack says, digging into his sweets smothered oatmeal. Calvin launches into a theory about how the Center is purposely feeding us inferior food Ã something to do with farm subsidies and using up the nation's excess corn production. I pick up my spoon. If Ross is going to change my meds, he 's going to need to know what my chronotin levels are. Maybe next time I see him we could stop at a drug store and he could get something to take a blood sample. I swirl the spoon through the thick oats. No, that's not going to work. Even he gets my blood, how would he test it? The only chronotin analyzers are here in the Center. "Hey, Alex." KJ nudges my foot under the table. "You still signed up for laundry this afternoon?" "What?" I blink at him . "I think so, why?" "Jack and Aidan and I all have the aft ernoon off so I reserved the gym. You can join us between loads." "OK." I take a bite of oatmeal . Even with the scoop Jack syphoned off, my breakfast tastes so sweet it hurts my teeth. I put the spoon down. "Do you think there's a chart somewhere ," I ask t he table at large , " that shows what your Aclisote should be based on your chronotin levels?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 67 Jack raises an eyebrow. "That's a random question." KJ shifts his gaze to something past my shoulder. His face opens into a smile. "Here's someone I bet can answer it, though." "Answer what?" Shannon sweeps around the table to claim the empty chair beside KJ. He scoots over to make room and I repeat my question. Shannon shakes her head. "Not that I've ever seen." "What's a normal chronotin reading?" I ask her. She nibbles on the dry toast she chose for breakfast. "There isn't really a normal. Everyone has their own range." KJ pushes away his bowl and turns to me . "Why are you suddenly so interested in chronotin?" "Barnard just raised my Aclisote dosage to 5 cc's. I was wondering if that related to a specific chronotin reading. I mean, if there were a way to predict when you're likely to be sick, wouldn't you want to know?" "I wouldn't," Jack says. "Sounds totally m orbid." Shannon picks up her tea. "There's no magic number ," she says . " Dr. Barnard just watches for changes in our levels and adjusts our meds to keep the increases gradual. I don't think even he knows the trigger for sickness ." "Well, what's a high re ading?" I push. "Like, what's Calvin's?" "I can't tell you that." Shannon wipes her lips with a napkin. "It's private."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 68 "You're not worried are you?" KJ asks me. "You're still six teen. You should be fine for ages." "Yeah," Jack says. "We all know who the l ikely candidates are in this group, don't we?" He raises his coffee cup to toast KJ and Calvin, who, along with Jack himself, are the oldest kids at the Center. A leaden silence falls over the table. Jack gulps his coffee. KJ stares down at his tray. Shann on reaches over to pat his hand. I stir my oatmeal. All that sugar has turned it an unappetizing shade of brown. Shannon checks at her watch and gives a little gasp. "I've got to run," she says , jumping from the table . "My agent is picking me up at 8:00 ." "Anything fun?" I ask, in an effort to lighten the mood. Shannon rolls her eyes. "When are missions ever fun? They just mean I'm stuck spending hours with Agent Sourface. She always flinches whenever I get near her. You'd think I smell or something." I swallow my oatmeal over a lump of guilt. I forget sometimes how lucky I am. Shannon told me once that she'd give up a year's allowance to work with Ross. She says her agent reminds her of a squashed toad Ã warty with sticky hands. She never speaks a word t o her on the drive to or from a mission. KJ says his agent makes him sit in the back seat. The cafeteria is starting to empty out as kids move on to their various assignments . Jack wanders off to snag some toast. KJ excuses himself to walk Calvin to the l ibrary . I pick up my coffee. How am I going to find out my chronotin readings? I cup
Freeze Time email@example.com 69 my hands around the warm mug, picturing my last test, the narrow exam room, its gleaming surfaces and lingering smell of disinfectant. Amy had been complaining about being hauled in for an extra shift. She'd taken my blood, added something to the sample, and then shooed me out before she put it through the chronotin analyzer. I sip my drink , only realizing after I swallow that I'd forgotten to add milk. I put it down. What I need is to get hold of my medical chart. I bus my dishes and join the stragglers leaving the cafeteria. Yuki calls out a greeting which I fail to answer until she's already walked away. All I can think about is the locked filing cabinet in the Clin ic's main office and the puzzle of how I can possibly access the contents. *** Living in a Center doesn't leave a lot of free time to brood. Spinners not being particularly popular with taxpayers, the Center keeps the cost of running the place low by makin g the twenty five kids who live here do most of the work. Just like a real home, Yolly always says. We take turns cleaning the common room, prepping meals, emptying trash, and scrubbing bathrooms. Once we're fully qualified spinners we get assigned bigger jobs, too, like Shannon working with Amy in the clinic, or KJ's job as general handyman and computer wiz. Because I can hold freezes really well, my job is to help the Youngers practice their skills. Mostly I help with Class A, the beginner's group. It's a n OK job, made better by the fact that I love the room itself. Tall windows let in light dappled by the trees outside. The windowpanes are so thick they muffle most of the traffic noise, and the Center is built high enough off the ground that passersby can 't see in. When the trees are
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 70 in bloom the room reminds me of a giant tree house. This time of year, with the leaves blazing into fall colors, it feels like sitting in a nest surrounded by flames. Julie, the class teacher, taps her watch when I walk in. Cl ass is already in session. Julie is a young woman, with curly red hair and so many freckles her face appears tan all year long. She always dresses as if she's about to head out on one of the treks she takes on her days off Ã jeans, sturdy shoes, and bright bandanas. The kids like her because it's easy to get her off topic. She'll give up multiplication tables in a flash if they ask about her latest fishing trip. Today looks ripe for a distraction. The eight students are spread out across four tables, and a ll of them are yawning with boredom. " How many spinners are there in the US?" Julie asks the class. "115," the kids chorus in a monotone. I pick up the list Julie left me on a clipboard by the door. As usual, I'll be taking kids aside so they can practice freezing and rewinding time. My day grows a little bit drearier when I see Maria Gonzales's name at the top of the list. Maria hates timework. "That's right," Julie says, "or about .0007% of the nation's population under age twenty. How many spin ner babies are born each year?" Jenny raises her hand. "Miss Julie, is it true spinners used to be called witches?" A ripple of interest passes over the slumping students. Even Julie perks up. Who doesn't think witches sound more fun than birth rates? "We ll," Julie only hesitates for a second. "Back in the 1700's, before Aclisote was developed, spinners were pretty unstable. They tended towards severe paranoia and some even became violent."
Freeze Time email@example.com 71 "Did they send them to the Central Office?" Emilio asks. Julie smi les. "There was no Central Office back then. Freezing time was considered black magic not a genetic condition. There are lots of old stories about spinners spying on people or even making things disappear." Emilio leans forward. "How'd they do that?" "The y didn't really," Julie says. "Changing things during frozen time isn't possible. They're just stories, like the ones about really old people being spinners. The real thing people fear about spinners is that they can sneak around and find out secrets ." Jul ie talks more about the old days when spinners were chained up, or killed as soon as their powers were un covered. The Youngers listen with rapt attention. Jenny's bottom lip trembles a little when Julie tells a story about spinners getting burned at the st ake, which Julie must notice, because she switches over to talk about Aclisote and how its developme nt has made life so much better . I grip my clipboard. Listening to her is making me question my decision not to tell Barnard I got sick . Aclisote has been w orking for three hundred years. What if the new medicine makes me go crazy like Calvin or, worse, turns me into some kind of rabid monster? The edges of the clipboard bites into my palm. I loosen my hold and beckon to Maria Gonzales. She pretends not to se e me. Emilio's hand shoots up again. "Have spinners always worked with police agents?" "Not always," Julie says. "At first Aclisote made spinners kind of, um, slow. They couldn't really function very well. It's only been since the 1950's that the dosages w ere
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 72 refined enough that spinners could control their skills and still live relatively normal lives ." Maria finally acknowledges my waving and stands up from her table. Julie launches into a description of the first case ever solved by a rewind. I usher Mar ia into the time room, a glassed in space at the back of the class, empty except for a couple chairs and a small cabinet. Tariq, the student sitting closest to the door, slides the lock once we enter. The Center is really strict about controlling where we can freeze time. Yolly says the staff don't want the kids to dig through Teacher Julie's desk to find answers for tests. Jack said they do it because they don't trust us to run around unsupervised, w hich, frankly, in Jack's case, makes some sense. I might not feel it if he hit me while I was frozen, but that doesn't mean I want him to have the opportunity. "Hey, Maria." I rub my ear, trying to clear the images Julie's now muffled voice brought me: hatred, insanity, death. "Want to try a freeze?" "No." Mar ia is a round cheeked eleven year old with the attitude of a teenage thug. "Let's just say we did and you let me out of here. It's not like anyone would know." "Come on," I say, doing my best to keep hold of my limited patience, "the longer you can hold a freeze, the better assignments you'll get as a spinner. Besides, freezes can be fun." "Not locked in the practice room they're not." I bring out my final piece of leverage. "I'll let you eat the chocolate bar." Maria gives a huge sigh and takes my hand as if she's doing me a favor. A slight stutter tells me she's stopped time, an internal blip like an extra heartbeat. On the other
Freeze Time email@example.com 73 side of the glass, Julie stands with one arm raised, in the act of pointing at one of the seven remaining students frozen in th eir chairs. "Good job," I say. "That was really smooth." Time hums through our linked hands like a very low electric current. As long as we touch our powers mingle, a minimal drain on me, but a real support for the spinner holding the freeze. I slide my hand free. T here's a momentary blur and then t ime spring s forward. I re take Maria's hand. "Try again. Close your eyes and p icture time in your head. Can you feel it? Focus on the currents flowing around you . Now imagine pulling them taut." The world freezes again. "That's it. Now you hold it alone." I let go. Time wavers for an instant, before Maria catches it and pulls it tight. "There," I say, "you did it." Despite herself, Maria looks pleased. I mentally push against her hold. It's her freeze so I can't break it, but I can gauge the strength. The flow of time hangs around us like a sheet of gauze, fragile but unmoving. I open the cabinet and take out the chocolate bar the kids have been eating in frozen time all week. "Here." Maria rips open the wrapper and takes a bite. I watch her eating. In the frozen silence her chewing sounds loud. I touch my ear again. If I plug it, I can her the loud thump of my pulse . I think about chronotin, a slow poison taking a second of my life wit h every beat of my heart. I drop my hand. "Do you want to try a rewind? It's more exciting than just sitting here."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 74 "How about we go out there." Maria gestures at the frozen world outside the glass. "That's more exciting than just sitting here too." "We can't," I say, "the door isÃ‰" The words drift off my tongue. A flash of brilliance just hit me and I suddenly know a way to get the information I want about my chronotin levels . I rock on my heels. I'll be breaking every rule in the book, but, if it works , I don't see how I can get caught. I give Maria a huge smile. "Let time go," I say. "We're done." Maria is so taken aback by my sudden capitulation she forgets to finish the chocolate bar. She releases time immediately, whirling us back to our pre freeze , chocolate less positions. Vault ing from her chair, she starts banging on the glass so Tariq will let her out, presumably worried I might change my mind. The classroom noises surge when the door opens: voices, shuffling feet, and the scratch of a pencil. The freeze monitor, however, remains quiet. Monitors are blocked in the practice room since it's one of the few places we ' re supposed to use our power. I wrap my arms around my body, hugging myself to keep from jumping up and down with impatience. Emilio s huffles from his seat to take Maria's place. The instant the door closes again I freeze time. Peace settles around me and I relax into it. Ten year old Emilio's body is easy to pick up and move out of my way. Tariq falls over when I shove the door open. H e hasn't had time to lock it. I pause to settle him more comfortably on the floor. Even if he won't remember it later, it seems mean to leave him collapsed over a chair.
Freeze Time email@example.com 75 Walking through the Center is eerie. I've never wandered around here in a freeze befo re. The rooms have a dream like quality, familiar and also strange. My footsteps send out a lonely echo as I walk up the stairs. The clinic takes up half of the second floor. Beige wallpaper stamped with pale sailboats covers the walls. There's a waiting area with a couple of padded chairs, separated by a half wall from Amy's office. Closed doors mark two sick rooms, a half bath, and an exam room. The air smells like disinfectant. Amy must not have come on duty yet because the whole place is empty. The fi ling cabinet I've come to search stand behind Amy's desk . It's beige with four neatly labelled drawers. I skip the administrative one on top and reach for the one labeled Records . It's locked. The headache lurking in my skull since yesterday pulses. I mas sage the taut muscles in the back of my neck, sending them calming thoughts. They don't listen. I find the key is in the second place I try, casually tossed in the top right hand drawer of Amy's desk between a tin of mints and a crumpled tissue. I unlock t he drawer with sweaty palms. The folder labeled Manning, Alexandra is stuffed near the middle. My file isn't particularly thick. I plop on the ground so I can spread the pages across my lap. The information I want pops out immediately, scribbled on a stac k of papers clipped to the left hand side of the file. One column shows the date, the next my chronotin reading, then the tester's initials (primarily Amy's), followed by another notation showing my Aclisote dosage, this time initialed by Dr. Barnard. I fo cus on the last few entries:
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 76 6/23 172 AS 4 cc JB 7/21 171 AS 4 cc JB 8/18 172 AS 4.5 cc J B 9/2 5 cc J B I frown. M y chronotin levels have not spiked. In fact, with all the Aclisote I'm taking now, my levels are probably even lower than they were when they tested me two weeks ago. So why did Dr. Barnard raise my Aclisote not once, but twice? I rub my neck again. Is 172 s ome kind of warning thres hold? Or a re there other signs of imminent time sickness besides chronotin readings? I wipe my palms against the front of my sweatshirt and dig into the file. The pages on the right side hold records of my physicals since I got to the Center, notations of height, weight, blood pressure, a time I'd taken antibiotics for strep throat. There is no mention at all of time sickness. I flip the chronotin chart back a few pages. Amy's initials are replaced by her predecessor, Jessica's, and then someone called TR w hose face I can't remember. When I first came to the Center, my chronotin level was 126. Over the years, my readings have crept steadily upwards, interspersed with occasional crashes when Dr. Barnard raised my Aclisote prescription. Not surprising. Not hel pful. The cabinet drawer creaks as I reach in and yank out more files. KJ's readings for the last year range between 163 and 165, Shannon's 148 to152 , Aidan's 158 to 160 . Their aclisote levels seem to line up more closely to their age and weight than their readings, which backs up Shannon's statement that everyone has their own version of normal. I open Jack's file. Before he got sick, his levels climbed to 162. Barnard raised his aclisote to six cc's and his chronotin dropped down to 155. It's been slowly climbing ever since.
Freeze Time email@example.com 77 His last test put him back up at 159. Is 162 his critical number? The point where he'll get sick again? I look for a file from someone who died but they've all been cleared out of the cabinet. The last file I pull is Calvin's. He's get ting eight cc's of Aclisot e. His last chronotin reading was 150. I flip back to a year ago, then move through the sheets so I can read his report chronologically. Before he got sick, Calvin's levels hovered between 169 and 171. I turn the pages. I know he got his first attack in January because it was only a few days after KJ's eighteenth birthday. 11/8 171 AS 5 cc JB 12/7 171 AS 5 cc JB 1/5 170 AS 5 cc JB 1/10 171 JB 7cc JB (subject admitted) 1/12 140 JB 6 cc JB (subject released) My finger hovers over the words subject admitted . Calvin's chronotin readings hadn't changed so what triggered the attack? I dig through the sheets on the right hand side of the file. Calvin's admittance paperwork is a jumble of acronyms and numbers, the o nly one I can decipher being that he had a fever of 103. I flip the pages forward and back, searching for any kind of additional notations, without finding anything. If Barnard keeps more detailed case notes, he doesn't store them here. I turn back to the sheets tracking Calvin's chronotin levels . In February, they started to rise again but his dosage remained the same until May , the month of his second attack, when his chronotin was b ack up near 165 and his Aclisote dosage increased to
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 78 eight cc's . Why did Barnard wait so long to raise it? Why did he reduce it in the first place? I lean back against the metal cabinet. Files litter the floor around me, reams of information adding very little to my knowledge. I pitch Calvin's file in among the others with so much force the pages spring loose from the clasp. Paper scatters everywhere, numbers and sheet s hopelessly tangled. I pick up a random piece of paper and crumple it. More than anything, I wish KJ was with me so we could think through everything togethe r. Things always seem clearer when I talk to KJ. Pain twinges inside my temple. I need to let time go. I fish out my file one more time and read the numbers out loud, committing them to memory. At least that information will be helpful. If I can get them t o Ross. The sheet in my hand rips as the chart slides off my lap. How long will it be before Ross needs me for another mission? Our missions are based on crimes, events completely out of both our control. Time squirms in my grasp, seemingly as impatient fo r release as I am. I let it go. One swirling instant of dizziness and I am back in the freeze room listening to an untoppled Tariq click the lock on the door. Emilio is watching me expectantly. I rub my temple with one hand and hold out the other to the li ttle boy. "Want to eat some chocolate?" I ask. *** I'm taking a break after my fifth Younger when Dr. Barnard pokes his head into the classroom. "Excuse me, Julie," he says. "I need to claim Alexandra."
Freeze Time email@example.com 79 The sound of my name makes me flinch . I'm convinced Barnard somehow knows about my illicit trip to the clinic. I trail him from the classroom , moving as slowly as I dare . Except for his soft spot for Jack, the Center's director is never lenient about infractions. Barnard speaks without preamble. "Mr. Ros s just called to ask for you to come on a mission. It seems the police found a body." I lift my head. "Great," I say. Barnard raises one eyebrow. I slap a hand over my mouth. "I mean, a body, that's awful." I wipe my hand over my blushing cheeks, pausing to rub the spot where a time headache still flickers. Barnard catches the gesture. "You're not worn out from yesterday's mission, are you?" "Of course not." I drop my hand. The opportunity to spend the day with Ross is worth a pounding headache. "Good. Mr . Ross w as very insistent that you be assigned to this case." I straighten my shoulders, doing my best to look like the qualified professional I am. "Who died?" "A woman found the body this morning." Barnard smooths down one of his remaining hairs, the gesture somehow implying distaste. "It's Jason Torino, the bomber you saw yesterday. It seems he was murdered."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 80 Chapter 7 My delight about going out on a mission overcomes even the dull buzz of the leash. Ross seems similarly hyped up, tapping his foot while Charlie goes through the process of signing me out and handing over the leash's key to Ross . When the Center doors locks behind us, Ross jumps the stairs thre e at a time in his rush to reach the waiting car. I scramble after him, barely getting my seatbelt clicked before he guns the engine. "I think this is it, partner," he says, zooming around a truck with enough acceleration to pin me against my seat. "The c ase that will change everything." Adrenaline shoots through me, though whether it's from Ross's driving or the upcoming case , it's hard to say . " Sykes killed Jason Torino, didn't he ?" I ask. "That's what we're going to find out. It makes sense, though, doesn't it? Jason was going to talk t o the cops and so Sykes had to shut him up." We drive around a corner so fast, Ross's tires squeal. "Did the police get a chance to talk to Jason before he died?" I ask. Ross shakes his head. "Th at reporter got hold of a bum rumor. Jason never contacted the police. If he had, we could have protected him." "But that meansÃ‰" It's kind of hard to breathe. The seatbelt, which has locked, is squeezing my chest. I wrap one hand around it. "That means th e reporter basically caused his death." " The reporter was just doing his job ," Ross says. " It's Sykes who acted. He's the one who bears the blame ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 81 "I guess." I shift in my seat . I'm feeling kind of guilty that I'd felt so elated last night about a tra p th at turned out to be fatal. Ross barely slows the car before running a red light. "You feeling better today?" he asks. "Yeah," I say, though this isn't strictly true. The headache from my earlier freeze still hasn't faded. "Actually, Dr. Barnard raised m y Aclisote." I tell Ross everything I discovered since we last talked, including my illicit trip to the clinic. "A ll of which makes the sickness even more confusing ," I conclude. "It's seems like it's not just triggered by high chronotin . Jack got sick an d his level never rose above 162. Calvin's level dropped to 150 after his first attack and he still suffered a second. " "Thos e are questions for Dr. Barnard. " Ross points to a notepad tucked in the well between the seats. "You should write down your read ings before you forget them. And I have to say, I'm impressed with your initiative. Freezing in the practice room was a clever trick." I smile into the pad as I scribble down the numbers I' ve memorized . It's a struggle to write them legibly in the moving c ar. " Have you heard anything from Dr. Kroger ?" I ask. " He shipped me the medicine last night ," Ross says. "I'm just finalizing my plan to get it into the Center." The pen slips from my finger s. Everything is moving so fast. The worries that plagued me this morning about side effects and quality of life crawl back up to nibbl e on
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 82 the edges of my excitement. B e fore I can frame my concerns , Ross cuts the wheel, skidding to a stop in the parking lot of a squat one story buildin g. The lot is empty except for three cop cars. Ross springs out onto the pavement . I wobble after him , my legs welcoming the solid ground. A big red and white sign announces the place as Franz Meats. Blinds cover the store windows and a note saying Closed for Labor Day Weekend is taped to the glass. Ross ducks under a strip of yellow police tape and opens the door. Jason Torino's body lies on the floor ten feet from the entrance, face down in a pool of congealed blood. Nausea rises in back of my throat. A s much as we'd talked about Jason's death, I'd managed to avoid thinking about his actual body. He seems even younger than he did in the rewind, his body slight and vulnerable splayed out on the cold floor. One arm is flung up over his head, the other lies twisted awkwardly beneath him. At the side of his neck a deep gash shows the source of all the blood. The edges of the slash curl back like a pair of obscenely pursed lips. "Agent Ross." An officer separates himself from the cluster of uniforms on the other side of the room. Ross moves toward them. I follow, stepping as far around the fallen body as the space allows. The police start a round of greetings. I tune them out, scanning the stor e so I don't have to look at Jason Torino. Closed freezer doors line one wall, their metal fronts gleaming in the overhead lights. On the opposite side, racks offer various meat related products: barbecue sauce, seasonings, and grill tongs. In between, a l ine of glass display cases divides the public and vendor sections of the store. Even though the cases are
Freeze Time email@example.com 83 empty and wiped clean, the room still carries a lingering aroma of raw meat mixed with the peppery scent of salami. The smell makes my stomach heave . "How long since he died?" Ross asks. "The woman who runs the shop found the body about two hours ago," says one of the cops. He's a beefy man with a very close crew cut and a nose that's been broken at least once. He leans back on his heels while he talk s, arms crossed, chewing loudly on a piece of gum. "It was totally by chance she came in today. She and her husband were planning to go away for the long weekend. They locked up the store around 8:00 last night. It would have been a perfect crime Ã no one should have been here for three days, way too long for a rewind, except the woman came back this morning. Said she left some sandwich meat they planned to bring in the freezer." Ross catches my eye over the cop's shoulder, confirming what I already know: t he planned set up is textbook Sykes. "So," Ross says aloud, "time of death was somewhere between 8:00 last night and 9:00 this morning." "Your rewind will pin it down," the cop says, "but I'm guessing it was last night." He nods towards Jason, his squashe d nose wrinkling with distaste. "The body's not real fresh." I dare another peak at Jason. The cop's right. Rigor mortis stiffens the corpse's limbs. The blood that didn't escape through his throat has settled, turning his hands an unnatural shade of blue. Near his head, a couple of flies hover like tiny helicopters. I turn my attention back to Ross. "Is the shop owner a suspect?" he asks.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 84 The cop shrugs. "She sounded pretty shook up when she called. We've got a guy checking her out, though." "OK. We'll get to work then." Within seconds I am unleashed and resting two fingers on Ross's bare arm . Movement stops. Sound ceases. The flies hang motionless over the blood. Ross rubs his hands together. "Let's start the rewind." Even through the freeze, the stomach turning raw meat smell saturates the air particles. The unnatural quiet hangs around me like a heavy blanket, an almost physical presence draping itself over me and weighing me down. I must be more tired from my poor night's sleep than I realized. Time al ways fights against me when I freeze it, but the feeling today is more pronounced. Even my thoughts move slowly, as if they have to push themselves through a barrier to reach my consciousness. I pull on the time strands. They shift sluggishly. I pull hard er. Undecipherable buzzing noises float through the air. Shadowy doubles of the cops around us move with quick little jerks. I watch an echo of myself get re leashed, hover for a split second, then hurry backwards out the door with Ross. The cops pace the room for a bit, mouths moving in muted gibberish as they probe around the crime scene. Pretty soon they start leaving in small clumps. A short haired female cop, her partner, and civilian woman reverse their way inside. The cop un drapes a police blanket f rom the woman's shoulders, talks to her a while, then backs away with her partner and leaves the woman alone. The woman proceeds to crouch against the floor of the store, crying a weird high pitched sobbing, before lurching upright to stumble back first to the phone. She gestures
Freeze Time email@example.com 85 frantically as she speaks into it. After a few seconds of this, she replaces the receiver, runs backward away from the phone, and then opens her mouth in a long scream. Finally, she, too, toddles out the door. Shadows flee along th e checkered tile floor as darkness descends on the unmoving shop. Faint car noises pass outside. The large refrigerators hum. The sense of heaviness seeps deeper into my bones. I speed up the rewind, impatient to get to the murder. The hands of the clock o ver the counter spin backward. 6:00 am, midnight, 10:00 pm. I wish there was a place for me to sit down. The slipping minutes seem to be leaking from my brain, the seconds taunting me, struggling to free themselves from my control. A headache bursts into my skull with the force of an explosion. Panic dries my mouth. I brace myself against the edge of the display case, the truth too obvious to ignore. I've done rewinds two days in a row before. I've done them after a worse night of sleep than I got last nig ht. This headache is different. This tiredness is different. Something is going wrong. "Mr. RossÃ‰" I say. I must have missed something important when I was looking at those charts. A critical bit of information that shows when an attack is imminent. The b lood around Jason Torino starts to move. "Alex! Slow it down." Ross leans forward. Blood seeps up toward Jason's body, scarlet rivers returning to their source I struggle to control the time strands even as they pull away. Jason starts twitching. I concent rate. Hard. If I can just hold on a little bit longer, Sykes will show up. I clench the strands with all my strength. Even if we don't follow the killer at least we'll see who he is. If I can just hold on.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 86 Blood flows out, then back in, as the rewind wavers from my control. Jason's shadowy double writhes. Something inside me rips. The shadow image of Jason disappears. Ross gasps. Time pours from me in a rushing torrent. The scene around me breaks up. Images rush into a tangled soup: the crying woman, the cops, the wings of the fly. "No!" I try desperately to pull the rewind back. I can't fail now. We have to see the killer. Sykes is so close. Pain floods the emptiness left behind by the rush of time. I moan, bent double by the blast. Ross turns toward me. His mouth moves but I am way too far gone to understand. My fingers scrabble for purchase on the glass case. Air moves against my cheek. The squat cop moves toward me, blinking anxiously. Time is moving again. The rewind is over. "I couldn't hold it ." I feel like a husk of a person, a shell empty of any spark of life. "I messed up." Ross catches me before I fall. "Alex?" I've been an idiot. I should have told Dr. Barnard I'd gotten sick as soon as I went back. He would have done something, prevented this from happening again so soon. "What's wrong?" the cop asks. I open my mouth to say I'm sorry even as the world goes black.
Freeze Time email@example.com 87 Chapter 8 The light seems unnecessarily bright. White sheets, white walls, a shining metal tray. I close my eyes. Thirst swells my tongue. Water , I say, except the words come out as a moan. Faces fade in and out of my vision: Amy, Ross, and Chief. I'm not sure which are real. Someone calls my name. KJ? It sounds like he's crying. My head pounds. When the darkness returns it feels like mercy. The next time I wake it's night. Stiff sheets stretch against my chest. Cool air brushes my cheek, smelling like rubbing alcoh ol. An IV pulls against my arm. Moonlight leaking through a slatted window outlines the furniture filling the room: bed, sink, cabinet, and an empty chair. On the wall hangs a poster of some painting with melting clocks. It's all familiar. I am in the clin ic. A weight settles on my chest, sinking slowly down and filling my stomach. I've never heard of anyone suffering two bouts of time sickness in two days. Usually kids have months between episodes. At this rate, the third one might hit me tomorrow. Or toni ght. Self pity closes my throat. Only the lucky few survive to face a fourth. You knew it was coming , I tell myself. You always knew . The self lecture doesn't help. Tears drip past my temples into my hair. Footsteps pad outside the room. I close my eyes, not wanting anyone to see me crying. The door opens with a soft whoosh. Someone moves close to my bed. Amy, I figure, or maybe Yolly. I hold still, keeping my breath slow and even. I'm not ready to face the world yet. A gentle tug on my arm tells me my vis itor is changing the bag on my IV. I wait while she fumbles with it, wondering why she doesn't turn on the light. The few other
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 88 times I've been here I don't remember the staff being that considerate. Maybe the standards go up when the patient is terminal. The fiddling sto ps. I turn my head infinitesimally and slide one eye open a fraction. Through the haze of my lashes I see a bulky figure shuffling through the bottles of medicine in the cabinet next to my bed. Another head pokes around the door. "Is she still asleep?" Even in the half light I recognized Amy's outline. The figure beside me starts. "Like a baby." Surprise pops my eyes all the way open. I know that voice and it isn't Yolly's. It's Ross. Ross slides his hand from the cabinet, neatly pocketi ng something before turning toward the woman in the doorway. "I thought you were keeping watch out front?" "Julio just passed the door a few minutes ago. He won't be back for at least half an hour." She comes to stand close to Ross, her face lifted toward his and paying no attention at all to me. "Besides," she says, "why do you care if the night guards see you here? Agents are allowed in the Sick any time." "Barnard already gave me a report on Alex's condition." Ross shrugs. "I wouldn't want him to think I don't trust him. And it's not that I don't, it's justÃ‰ Alex and I make a good team. I want to be sure the kid's going to be OK." Ross's concern warms me like a hot bar of sunshine. I am just about to tell him I'm awake, when he adds:
Freeze Time email@example.com 89 "Besides, we would n't want Julio to see this." There's a rustling sound and the squeak of a soft soled shoe sliding across the linoleum floor. Amy giggles. I slam my eyes shut. To my infinite horror, I recognize the wet slurping sound of people kissing. Shock keeps my eye s sealed. When Shannon said Amy had a boyfriend it never crossed my mind the man Ross. I'd always pictured Ross with an elegant lawyer or a brilliant professor . Not someone like Amy. I mean, sure, she's cute, but all she ever talks about are the clubs she and her friends hang out in after work. Half the time I show up at the clinic she's text messaging people on her phone instead of working. I wonder if I am sicker than I think. Maybe this whole scene is a hallucination. "Carson!" The admonition breaks on another giggle. More rustling. I crack open one eye. The writhing shape reminds me of an oversized hunchback, the chest too large and head deformed. I close my eyes again and wait, hating myself for witnessing this scene. "I'm so glad it 's you here taking care of Alex, " Ross says. More kissing, some indistinguishable murmurs. "She's a good spinner, you know. She can hold time much longer than the others." Smooch, rustle. "I have a case coming up I could really use her on, too. A Sykes case." "Can't you take someone else?" Amy asks . "I'm sure all the spinners would be proud to work with you ." "Alex is special." Mortification destroys any pleasure at this compliment. I concentrate on breathing, making each intake of air deep and even.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 90 "I wish I could help," Amy sighs. More kisses. "Actually." An idea dawns in Ross's voice. "You could help me." "I could?" "You know how Dr. Barnard never releases patients after a bout of freezing sickness unless their chronotin levels drop below 150? Well, Alex's chronotin levels are naturally high. Dropping them that low might take weeks. And waiting will have a real impact on my work." "So how can I help?" Amy sounds eager. "Fake the test results for me." Silence greets this suggestion. Heavy, kiss less si lence. I second Amy's astonishment. Monitoring chronotin is a cornerstone of Center routine; the essential foundation for a spinner's life and health. "It's no big deal," Ross says. "When you draws Alex's blood tomorrow, pretend to run the sample but inst ead just write in that she dropped to, say, 167, and then the next day write in 148." Ross sounds disturbingly cavalier about my health. Then I remember our conversation in his car, when Ross told me Barnard couldn't test my blood anymore if he changes my meds. Is that what he was doing when he ransacked the cabinet ? I take a mental survey of my insides without detecting anything different. Ross said he'd done a lot of research. Surely he wouldn't suggest skipping the tests if he thought it was risky. I op en my eyes again. Amy stands stiffly in Ross's embrace, her head craned back so she can see his face. "What if I get caught?" Amy asks.
Freeze Time email@example.com 91 This is her first question? I clench my fists beneath the sheets . Shouldn't she be worrying more about me getting sick? "How could you get caught?" Ross bends his head to nuzzle Amy's neck. His words grow muffled. "You toss the samples after you test them, right? So if for some reason anyone else re tests her blood they'll just think the first result was faulty." My thought s must have winged their way through the room telepathically, because Amy asks: "Isn't it dangerous for her?" "Of course not!" Ross's indignation relaxes my gripped hands. "Dr. Barnard already increased her Aclisote dosage," he says. "Waiting for her ch ronotin to drop is just a formality." Amy leans her head against Ross's chest. "I'm not on shift tomorrow," she says, but even to me the protest sounds half hearted. Ross kisses her. I close my eyes. "A smart girl like you will figure something out." The re's more rustling. I hear Ross whispering and then his words turn into the suck and slurp of kisses . Amy gives a little moan. "If it will really help youÃ‰" she says. "You'll be my heroine. My invisible partner in crime." Ross gives a throaty chuckle. "In solving crime, I mean. When I catch Sykes, you'll know it was partly because of you." Amy moans again. I lie still, pretending to be asleep and trying not to listen. Finally, Ross says:
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 92 "I better go. Wouldn't want to get you in trouble when Julio comes ba ck for a check." "You'll stop by later?" Amy says. "I'll call." A few minutes later I open my eyes to an empty room. Shadowy shapes lurk in the dark, the outlines of furniture turned vague by the night. I stare up at the ceiling and listen to the clinic's night sounds. Something mechanical beeps at steady intervals, a radio plays classical music in the distance, a car sputters outside the window like an old man's cough. Memories from my last rewind play against the gloom : the seeping and receding blood, Jason's disappearing body, and the door that never opened to reveal the killer. I twist onto one side, then the other, my positions limited by the dangling IV line. I feel tired and dirty, soiled by my unintended voyeurism, my failed rewind, and Ã though I hate to admit it Ã by my confused thoughts about Ross. Ross. The m an who just made a midnight visit to secure my ability to work again, even after the disaster of my last attempt. The professional agent who is risking his career to extend my life. The guy who will stoop to seducing Amy to get what he wants. *** When I w ake up the sun is shining. Yolly stands near my bed, twisting the little rod that opens up the blinds. When she sees I am awake, she smiles. "Back among the living, I see." I think the comment in bad taste, given my current situation. I push myself up int o a sitting position. Someone has dressed me in pajamas. I'm guessing Shannon picked
Freeze Time email@example.com 93 them out, since they're royal blue, a color she claims is flattering on me . My IV is gone, too , which I take as a sign of recovery. I am also starving. "What time is it?" "You really ought to ask what day it is." Yolly whips a plastic thermometer from her pocket and pops it in my mouth. The multicolored kittens decorating her smock smile encouragingly. "You've been in here for two days ," she tells me . " We've all been terr ibly worried." "TwoÃ‰" The thermometer clatters against my teeth and Yolly makes a zipping motion across her lips with one hand. I wait impatiently until the probe beeps and she takes it out. "Two days? What's today?" "Monday." Yolly squints at the thermom eter. This close I can smell the sweet vanilla scent of her hand cream. The well known , everyday perfume raises a lump in my throat. "Looks good," Yolly says. "Amazing really. When you came in you were as sick as I've seen anyone." She picks up my chart f rom a rolling supply table and makes a note. "And to answer your original question, it's almost noon." Noon. I've been out for over forty eight hours. Except for last night. I cringe as the images crowd into my head. Ross and Amy. All that heavy breathing. As if my uncomfortable recollections conjured her, Amy sticks her head in the door. She wears street clothes, jeans and a green cardigan with big square pockets.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 94 "Hi, " she says, giving Yolly the kind of smile little kids offer when you take their picture , lips stretched with no emotion behind them. Yolly's eyebrows rise. "Didn't you just get off shift?" "Yes." Amy blushes. "IÃ‰ uhÃ‰ just wanted to check on Alex. CarÃ‰Mr. Ross said he was worried andÃ‰" "Alex is doing really well." "That's great," Amy says wit hout enthusiasm. She hovers in the doorway, one foot in the door and one outside. "Well, since I'm here, I guess I'll run her blood test. Mr. Ross said he'd be by later to find out her results." Yolly looks at her sharply. I remember Ross asking Amy to fak e the results of my chronotin test. I twist a strand of hair around my finger. It feels greasy. If Ross has changed my meds then one unexpected results will expose the truth. Is this what I want? I brush my hair back. Ross has gone to such lengths to help me. I owe it to both of us to at least try . "That's a great idea ." I dredge up a reasonable sounding lie. "When Shannon does the blood draws it always pinches." Amy looks relieved. She moves into the room and rummages around the cabinet for a sealed needle pack. "You hungry?" Yolly asks me. Adding, when I nod: "I'll see what I can dig up from the cafeteria." Amy takes my arm and pats the vein in the inner curve of my elbow with a damp swab. The sharp smell of alcohol invades my nostrils.
Freeze Time email@example.com 95 "There are quite a few people who will be h appy to hear you're on the mend. " Amy slides the needle under my skin with a familiar prick. "Your friend KJ has been here every day. I practically had to shove him out the door yesterday to get him to leave." The thought of seeing KJ, and not having to hide the fact I got sick, eases some of my worry. I promise myself I'll tell him everything. There's no more time for secret. Amy pulls the needle free and caps the blood vial with a practiced hand. "That should d o it." She heads off to, presumably, throw away my blood and fake the results, just as Yolly returns with a tray bearing soup, toast, a carton of orange juice, and, my favorite, a bowl of chocolate pudding. There's a small metal tabletop attached to an ar m beside the bed and she swings it around until it rests in front of me. The scent of chicken soup and chocolate waft toward me and my stomach grumbles appreciatively. Yolly watches me slurping up my soup. "Ho w do you feel?" she asks, with genuine concern . "Great." As I say it, I realize it's true. My headache is gone. The food is restoring my energy and I actually feel more clear headed than I have in ages. I guess keeping secrets takes a physical toll. "I'm still kind of weak," I say, "but other than th at I'm pretty normal." Yolly smiles an d says she has some work to do in the clinic office and to call her when I'm done with my lunch. I inhale the toast and pick up my pudding. The chocolate slides over my tongue like a sweet cloud. I lick the spoon, thin king about Ross and what our next mission might bring. Maybe he used another spinner to rewind the scene at the butcher shop again, or found some other lead that we can follow together when I get out.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 96 A whisper of worry interrupts my dreamy visions. What i f the sickness has interfered with my time skills ? The chocolate coating my mouth turns slimy. If I can't hold freezes anymore then all these risks for Ross's medicine have no point. Sweat dampens my palms . What if I freeze right now? Just to see if it st ill works? When the monitor goes off, I can claim I fell asleep. I set down the half eaten pudding and lean back into my pillows. If I have lost my skills I'd rather know now rather than after I mess up another mission. I dry my palms against the sheets , snatch at time , and pull it up short. For a split second I think it hasn't worked. Usually freezing causes a slight jolt somewhere deep in my midsection. I've always thought of it as time trying to get away from me. This transition slides by seamlessly; on e instant the world moves, the next it doesn't. Taking a deep breath, I grab hold of the time strands and start to rewind. Shadowy images slide past me with the fluidity of a boat riding a gentle current. I watch my own ghostly arms regurgitate food onto m y tray, then wait for Yolly to back into the room, mutter gibberish at me, and remove my meal before I bring the rewind to a halt. Easy. Smooth. I smile my relief at the still room. Nothing about the rewind feels strange Ã no difficulty pulling time backwa rds, no struggle to keep the invisible force under control . In fact, I feel extra strong, like I could hold this freeze for hours. I dump the remaining pudding out of my bowl and smear it across my tray. Dipping my fingers in it, I write my name in triumph ant brown letters. I can freeze just fine . At least for a while, everything is going to be OK.
Freeze Time email@example.com 97 I flop back into my pillows and let time move forward again. It's another seamless transition, without even a hint of dizziness. Melts always goes more smoothly when there is less to put back. The freeze monitor in the clinic's main room beeps. "Alex?" Yolly's voice drifts in from behind the closed door. "What's going on?" "Nothing," I call back. "I guess I dozed off." "I thought you were feeling better?" Yolly 's cell phone meows. "I'm just tired." I sit up and reach for my pudding. I hear Yolly telling someone that I fell asleep. The monitor goes quiet. "Was it a bad dream?" she asks. I don't answer. "Alex?" I still don't answer. I can't. What I am seeing is simply not possible. Frozen time isn't real. Nothing that happens within it lasts. I close my eyes. Open them again. Chocolate remains smeared across my tray. I look inside the bowl. All the pudding is gone .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 98 Chapter 9 "Alex?" Yolly's head pops around the edge of my door. The letters on the tray scream my name like a confession. I turn the bowl over, as if somehow this might make the pudding magically reappear. It doesn't. "I'm fine," I say. "I guess calling your recovery amazing was a bit premature." Yolly gathers up the remains of my meal, clucking her tongue at the chocolate mess on my tray. "Sorry," I mumble. She wipes up the smeared pudding. "KJ said he wanted to see you as soon as you woke up, shall I tell him to come up?" I ope n my mouth to say yes, then hesitate. Yolly stacks the empty soup bowl into the equally empty pudding bowl. Even more than seeing KJ I need to know what happened to my time skills. To do that, I need to freeze again and the only way I can get away with it is if Yolly thinks I'm asleep. I stretch my mouth into a yawn. " I think I need a nap first Ã can you ask him to come in an hour?" Yolly pats my arm and heads out with my dirty dishes. I wait until I hear her close the outer door of the clinic, then force m yself to watch the clock tick for five minutes before I reach out. The shafts of noonday sun streaming through the blinds turn dull as everything stops . I climbed out of bed. Cold tiles meet my bare feet. I release time. The sunshine brightens and I remain standing a foot from the bed. "Oh my god," I whisper. The possibilities flooding my brain make me giddy. I can affect things that happen in frozen time .
Freeze Time email@example.com 99 The freeze monitor in the clinic 's office starts beeping. I plunk down on the edge of my bed. If som eone calls in a crime, we can get there while it's still in progress. McDennon could have dismantled the bomb while time was still frozen. We could follow a suspect home through a rewind and then be there instantly to arrest him . The enormity of the possi bilities makes my head spin. My days may be numbered, but, oh, the things I can accomplish in the meantime! I hop back onto my feet. Amy said Ross will be here this afternoon. I picture his face, the amazement lighting his features when I show him what I c an do. I laugh out loud with sheer pleasure, then laugh again when I imagine telling KJ. He was worried about me while I was sick and here I am, not only healthy, but improved. With a reckless tug, I stop time again. Why wait? The monitor is still beeping . It's not like I can set it off twice. I zip out of the room, not bothering to look for real clothes. The clinic office is empty, the clock on the wall stuck at 12:34. Lunch will just be ending. I race out into the hall. Yolly's stout body blocks the top of the main stairway. Her head is turned over her shoulder Ã it looks like she's talking to someone coming up the stairs behind her. Afraid I might jostle her if I squeeze past, I skip over to the smaller emergency stairs halfway down the hall. By the time I reach the basement I'm panting. I don't care. The harder I crash later the more convincing my tired act will be for Yolly. The smell of deep fry floats in the air outside the cafeteria's open doorway. The Center kids are scattered around the room, some still eating, most clearing their trays or on their feet heading off to their afternoon assignments. I edge my way among them, looking for KJ, before remembering that Yolly said it was Monday. Monday's are the day KJ and I clean up the kitchen. I turn on my heel and trip over a Younger's backpack ,
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 100 sending the purple nylon sack skittering across the floor. I take three more steps before I realize I can't just leave it there Ã when I melt the thing's going to look like it teleported. I retrieve the bag a nd set it back where it came from. Or more or less where it came from. Hopefully no one was actually looking at it at the moment I froze. The Center kitchen is a large industrial space with rubber mats underfoot and burnished metal everywhere else. KJ is way in the back, pointing a pull down sprayer at a stack of dirty plates. Steam hovers around him in a vaporous cloud. I check the whole room, even opening the walk in refrigerator, to make sure the place is empty. Once I'm positive no one can see us, I wr ap my hand around his bare wrist and start time. "Hey, there, buddy." KJ jumps, splashing us both with hot water. "Alex! Oh my god, you scared me." I wipe my face, laughing. After the quiet freeze, the clatter from the cafeteria sounds extra loud Ã rumblin g voices, scraping chairs, the faint beep from the monitor. "Surprised to see me?" I ask. "Completely." He turns the sprayer off and gathers me into a hug. His own time skills surge between us at his touch, further strengthening my hold on time. It feels effortless, like I could hold time for hours, even in my weakened state. "I can't believe you're walking around ," he says . " The last time I saw you, you looked awful." "Gee, thanks." "You know what I mean." He steps back, his arms still clasping around m y elbows.
Freeze Time email@example.com 101 "Are you really better?" "Better than better." I'm grinning so widely my cheeks hurt . "Check this out." With our arms still touching, I freeze time again. The transition is as easy as it has been all afternoon. Silence returns. KJ's fingers dig into my skin. "Are you nuts?" he says. "What are you doing?" "It's OK." I pry his fingers loose. "Yolly thinks I'm dream freezing. Look." I walk all the way across the kitchen, beckoning him to follow me. "Are you sure you're feeling alright ?" KJ asks, as he follows in my wake. "You seemÃ‰" He waves a hand, the gesture taking in my unwashed hair and wrinkled pajamas. I laugh. "Crazy? No, I promise I'm not crazy." I take his hand. "You ready?" Real time moves forward. The buzz of noise return s. I wait just long enough for KJ to realize what happened, and then grab the flow up tight again. KJ's face turns so white I'm afraid he might faint. He stares down at our clasped hands, then back at the spot by the sink where we were standing when I froz e time. "How did you do that?" "Isn't it great?" I dance around him, unable to contain the bubbly feeling rippling through my insides. "Things I move in frozen time stay that way. Think how great this will be on missions." KJ keeps staring around the moti onless kitchen . He looks like one small tap might knock him over. I make an effort to contain my jubilation. "It's not just missions," I say, remembering his complaint about my obsession. "We can do lots of things. Fun things."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 102 I start time again, grabbing it back almost immediately, but this time without touching him. Skirting his frozen body, I pick up a squirt bottle of ketchup and write Alex is amazing in huge goopy letters on the counter top closest to him. Then I take his hand and once again release a nd re freeze time. KJ starts. I point to the scrawled message. "Tada!" "Alex Ã‘ " His voice holds warning. The bubbles inside me deflate a tiny bit . "Don't you see how cool this? " I say. " The last time I was in the Younger's class, I figured out how to freeze time without getting caught. Next time I'm there I'll sneak out and take a dorm key from the security office. We could get out of our rooms at night , maybe even out of the building ." "Alex!" KJ's voice is sharp. "What?" "How did this happen?" KJ sou nds strangled, like the idea of my new skill is more than he can swallow. I cross my arms. "I don't know." The image of Ross digging through my bedside cupboard in the middle of the night flashes into my head. I put it aside. KJ is freaked out enough, he doesn't need to know I changed my meds . "I just woke up and was like this." "You can't tell anyone." KJ moves away from me. He picks up rag and starts wiping away my ketchup art. "I have to tell Ross," I say. "Otherwise I can't use it."
Freeze Time email@example.com 103 "If anyone knows what you can do, they won't just stop you from using it, they'll stop you from everything." "What do you mean, everything?" The excited bubbles are definitely gone now, replaced by a prickling sensation that's crawling up the back of my scalp. "Like leash me? All the time?" "Well, leash you, of course," KJ says, as if this was totally obvious. "They'll send you to the Central Office. They'll want to study you, make you do tests, take blood samples, who knows what else. " He erases the last of my message. "They'll test all of us, trying to figure out how this happened. It will be like the old days you read about where spinners were experimented on." KJ tosses the rag into the sink. "The Norms are scared of us already ," h e says . " Our only saving grace is that nothing we do in a freeze sticks. Think how much they'd fear us if it did." All the plans building within me since the pudding vanished evaporate into KJ's warning. I imagine a sterile room lined with beds full of sp inners, wires sprouting from their heads, and machines beeping. "So you thinkÃ‰you think I can't even tell Mr. Ross?" " Definitely don't tell Ross. He might like you, but he's still an agent. If he didn't turn you in he'd lose his job." Dread settles over me. The brilliant plans I'd made for my future sink beneath its weight. I am suddenly very aware of how little I've eaten in the past few days. Time, which seemed so easy to hold a minute ago, now pulls on my control. "But I have to tell him. When we go o n a missionÃ‰" "Alex." KJ puts a hand on my shoulder. "You can't go on missions like this."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 104 I prop myself against a countertop, fighting the urge to collapse onto the sticky floor. Without timework my new skills make me nothing but a freak, different even a mong the outcasts. I'll have to lie to Ross and say I don't want to work with him anymore. I'll have to lie to everyone. The other spinners. Barnard. Yolly. Yolly! "Oh, no." Panic pulls me upright. "What?" I slide out from under KJ's arm. "Yolly was comin g to check on me when I left." I try and figure out how much real time passed in the few seconds I let it roll forward. I melted and froze three times? Four? "Go," KJ says , "I'll come up as soon as you melt time." "No." Thoughts whirl through my head, mak ing it hard to focus. "I'll have to pretend to be asleep. Yolly said she'd come get you in an hour." KJ opens his mouth, then closes it without speaking. The rebuke hits me anyway. The colossal stupidity of the risk I've taken hangs between us. I ran arou nd like a child showing off a new toy with no thought to the consequences of my tricks. Consequences that won't just affect me, but all spinners. I totter back to the stairwell and up the two flights to the clinic. None of the elation that buoyed me on th e way down remains to cover my exhaustion. Only the fear of trying to explain to Yolly where I'd gone keeps me moving. If she enters the room and found it empty, what can I say? The main stairs are only a few yards from the clinic door
Freeze Time email@example.com 105 Ã she'd have seen me if I left. I picture the sick room, the scattered sheets and minimal furniture. No excuse I can think up seems even faintly plausible. Opening the door to the hallway feels like pushing a lead weight. I stick my head around it. The hallway outside the cli nic is empty. So is the main stairwell. Yolly has already entered the clinic's main room. My throat tightens . For once I wish the Center raised us with some kind of religion Ã then at least I'd have someone to pray to. I tip toe over to the clinic and open the door . Relief weakens my knees. The door to my room is closed. Yolly hovers halfway to it, head titled to one side as she talks into her cell phone. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see her. I slide past her, careful not to ruffle any part of h er body. I realize I'm shaking , fear and the unexpected reprieve both taking their toll. Maybe I can fall asleep for real before Yolly reaches me. It certainly won't take any effort to pretend I'm exhausted. I open the door and step inside. My heart stops beating. Next to the bed, attention fixed on the empty sheets, stands Carson Ross.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 106 Chapter 10 I sink down onto the cold tile floor. Part of me wants to run back out and ask KJ what to do, but I don't think I can bear to add to his disappointment in me. I try to think of some place to hide. Side table, sink, storage cabinet. The space under the bed is so exposed Ross would have seen me the instant he walked into the room. Time whispers inside my head, pushing for release. Regardless of how healthy I feel, two days in bed still means less energy. Choice dribbles away. I am going to have to face the consequences of what I've done. Dragging myself to my feet, I prop my body against the wall near the door, clinging to a vague hope that I might convince Ross I was standing there when he opened it. With a feeling of imminent doom, I release time. "Ã‰she alright, Mr. Ross?" Yolly's voice floats in from the main room. "Mr. Ross." I try to make my whisper sound jolly. "Over here." Ross spins around so fast it's as if I'd smacked him. I force my lips into a smile. "Boo." Ross's mouth falls open. I think he's going to shout, but instead he motions wordlessly , pointing urgently towards the bed. "Everything's fine, Yolly," he says. It takes me a second before I understand: Ross is going to cover for me! I dive for my tousled sheets. Ross opens the door a crack, placing his body so he blocks Yolly's view of the room inside. I scramble to lie flat, pulling the blanket s up to my throat. "Just l ike you thought ," Ross says in a hushed voice, " she's sound asleep ." I snap my eyes shut. "I thought you said she was acting perky?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 107 "She was when she first woke up," Yolly says. "But then she fell asleep again as soon as she ate." The door makes a soft sw oosh as Ross opens it all the way. I lie still, breathing as evenly as my hammering heart allows. "She's still doing really well." Yolly's feet pad close to the bed. "Her fever is gone and she managed to eat her entire lunch." She straightens the covers on my bed. Her hand lingers as she smoothed them across my chest. "Poor thing. It's so hard to watch them at the end." Yolly's voice breaks and I almost open my eyes in surprise . I realize I've never heard any of the staff talk about us dying. For the fir st time I think about it from her perspective. Yolly spends most of her days here with us and then she has to watch us die off one by one. Pity momentarily lightens my fear. When she moves her hand away, I have to force myself not to reach out to bring it back. "It's such a waste," Ross says. I hear the scrape of the visitor's chair as he pulls it over next to the bed. "Mind if I stay a while?" "You really care for this one, don't you, Mr. Ross?" He must nod, because she adds: "Sure, you can stay. Just do n't wake her up." Ross assures her he won't. Yolly's soft soled shoes pad from the room. The door shuts. I lie still, waiting. "You can open your eyes now." I push myself up against my pillows. Ross sits close beside the bed, elbows on his knees so he can lean even closer. My fingers twist together under the sheets, twining themselves into a knot so tight my knuckles crack .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 108 "Thanks for not telling Yolly I was out of bed , " I say. "You really feel OK?" "Pretty good. I'm still tired." Ross's eyes narrow. "So tell me how you ended up over by the door?" My heart starts pounding again. K J's warning plays in my head: Ross is an agent. He'll lose his job if he doesn't turn you in . "I heard you coming and got up. " I lick my lips. " To show you how healthy I am." "That's not true. You weren't there when I came in. I checked." "No, I was there." I shake my head hard enough to knock my pillow onto the floor. I sit up straighter, pushing myself as far from Ross as the bed allows. "Where else could I have been? You j ust didn't see me." My voice has risen to a squeak that practically screams I'm lying . I clench my hands together even more tightly. "Alex." Ross leans back in his chair. My heart pulses in my throat, the beat pounding out my panic: he knows, he knows, he knows . "Remember how we talked about getting you on some different meds?" Ross asks. My fingers feel like they're about to snap. I know what's coming next. He'll tell me it's too late now for him to help me and that what I can do is dangerous. He'll say how badly he feels about turning me in. He might talk about duty, mine or his. It doesn't matter. The result will be the same. A chi ll circles my wrist, as if the leash is already pressing against my flesh.
Freeze Time email@example.com 109 Ross clears his throat. "While you were sick, I found a way to get them to you. I wish we'd had time to talk about it first. Dr. Kroger warned me there might be some side effects. " He waits. Realization slowly penetrates my brain. "The new meds." I stare into Ross's sea blue eyes. They meet mine steadily. "The ones that are supposed to extend my life. They're the reasonÃ‰" KJ's warning not to tell anyone plays once more in my head, along with the vision of spinners being experimented on at the Central Office. I shove the images aside. KJ doesn't understand how much Ross is willing to risk in order to help me. I untwist my fingers and press them flat against the mattress. "The reaso n that the things I moved during the freeze stayed that way after I melted time." Ross nods. His eyes are bright. "Tell me what happened." "Not a lot. I wanted to see if I could still freeze so I tried it. When I melted time the food I'd eaten was still g one. So then I froze and melted a few times to see what would happen. I went out into the hall andÃ‰" I decide to omit any mention of KJ. Just in case I do get in trouble I don't want him implicated . "I walked around." "Did you change anything anyone would notice?" I shake my head. "I got scared that if someone knew what I could do I'd get leashed." "You're absolutely right." Ross stands up and starts pacing the room with quick strides. "This has to be our secret. You can't let anyone know about your new abilities.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 110 None of your friends, none of the staff or doctors. No one." He wheels back to my bedside, leaning his elbows on the visitor cha ir so his face is level with mine. "You understand how important this is? It's not just about getting leashed. Power like this scares people. If Dr. Barnard finds out what you can do he'll lock you up. He'll put you back on Aclisote, too, and at the rate y ou were going, you wouldn't last long." I nod. After KJ's warning I don't need to be told twice. "I won't tell anyone," I say, internally amending my statement with anyone else . I'm not worried. I know KJ will keep my secret. Ross seems to sense my slig ht reservation. He frowns at me. "You're not the only one at risk here. I could go to jail for changing your meds." I bite my lip. So many people are at risk so I can take these drugs. Ross. My fellow spinners, who could turn into test subjects. I picture KJ's long body laid out on a surgeon's table while doctors cut into his brain. My teeth clench, salting my tongue with a thin trickle of blood. Is taking these drugs a selfish choice? Even Ross doesn't know how much more life they might buy me. Is it fair to ask everyone to risk so much for what might turn out to be very little gain? I wipe my lip with the back of my hand. I'm not being selfish, I'm volunteering for a private research project. If this new medicine can keep me alive it will help others aft er me. "I won't tell anyone," I tell Ross again, this time with all the conviction I can muster. "I promise."
Freeze Time email@example.com 111 "That's my girl." Ross's eyes crinkle at the edges when he smiles. "You rest for a few days. I'm hoping by next week you'll be in good enough sha pe to go out on mission." "Are you sure that's safe?" I ask. "I mean, I've thought about it, and I think my new skills can really help our work, but how can I use them without anyone noticing?" "We'll figure something out," Ross assures me. "If we have t o , I'll set it up so we're alone when you freeze." Memories of our last mission flood my mind. I drop my eyes to my hands. The blood from my lip has left a red smear near my thumb. I rub it. "Mr. Ross, last timeÃ‰the Torino murder. I couldn't hold it. I'm so, so sorry." "It's ok," he says. "I got what I needed. In fact, we made an arrest yesterday." My head jolts upright. "You arrested Sykes?" "No, no, someone else, one of his associates. It's a guy named Karl Wagner . I do have a lead on Sykes, though. When you're better, I'll take you out so we can follow it up. With your new skills we're going to make a pretty unbeatable team ." Ross smiles at me again, face shining with the exact image of pride I'd imagined when I first woke up. All the fears brough t on by my conversation with KJ fade beneath its warmth. "I put two weeks' worth of filled dosages in your box." He gestures to the cabinet beside me. "And I'll bring in more as you need them. Before you take a dose, check the label. The bottles I swappe d have a typo, your last name is spelled M A N I N G with one Ã”n'. If it's not the right bottle, don't take it."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 112 I nod. "How did you know what dosage to give me?" " Amy told me, " he says , " oh, which reminds me, make sure she's the one who tests your blood , OK? That way I can keep track. " Heat floods my cheeks at the mention of Amy. I bend down to pick up my fallen pillow so Ross can't see my face. It is a relief to know that he's tracking my chronotin levels, though. They must have talked again after that mi dnight meeting to clarify what she was supposed to do with my blood. " And one other thing." Ross says . "No freezing time , e ven when you're alone. This is way too important to play with." "Don't worry, Mr. Ross," I say, returning my pillow to its rightful spot. "I won't let you down." "Good girl. I knew I could count on you." The last of my worries drift off my shoulders and evaporate into the air. I settle back down in bed, succumbing at last to my exhaustion. I don't have to think anymore. Ross i s here. Ross will take care of everything. *** Yolly lets KJ into my room while I'm eating an early dinner: macaroni and cheese, a salad of iceberg lettuce drenched with a bright orange dressing, garlic bread, and a frosted brownie. Between emotional up heaval and two days on an IV I'm shaky with hunger, so I'm inhaling the mediocre menu with monster bites. "Yolly doesn't suspect anything?" KJ asks as soon as she leaves us.
Freeze Time email@example.com 113 I gulp down a hunk of lettuce . My meeting with Ross reassured me so much that I forgot about the panicked state I'd left KJ in. I stop shoveling food long enough to reassure him that all is well. KJ sinks into the visitor's chair with a relieved sigh. "That's great." He watches me attack the mac and cheese. "Did Yolly tell you I was here while you were sick?" "Yeah," I say. I pop a piece of garlic bread into my mouth, savoring the rich butter as it melts over my tongue. "It must not have been real fun. I was pretty out of it." "It was awful," KJ says. "For a while I thought you woul dn't make it." I stop chewing. About a year ago, a baby bird found its way into the courtyard and KJ nursed it back to health. He adored that ball of fluff. Every time KJ came near, the bird would squawk and dance, clacking its little beak to demand its m eal of worms or garden spiders, and KJ would laugh and laugh. Then one day a raccoon or a cat or something must have gotten into the courtyard. I was the one that found the pile of feathers. When I told KJ, his face crumpled, like I'd knocked all the air f rom his body. It's the same expression he's wearing now. I fiddle with my fork, trying to think of something to say that will lighten the heaviness filling the room. "And here I am." I smile. "Perfectly healthy again." KJ shakes his head. "Except you're n ot. Things are different now." My smile fades. "They don't have to be." "They are different. We've both always avoided talking about the fact t hat one day we'll get sick. That we're going to die. We can't do that now."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 114 Silence wraps the sick room, muting even the faint hum of traffic on the street below. The loudest sound is the ticking of the clock on the wall. KJ places his hand on my sheet covered leg. "When I was sitting here with you, a lot of things became clear to me. Remember when you asked me the other day what I would do if I wasn't a spinner?" I nod. "I figured out my answer," KJ says. "If I was a Norm I'd want to grow up and have a family. I'd want a wife and children and the chance to spend the next sixty years seeing the people I love every day." I push the last piece of macaroni around my plates. This is why I didn't want KJ to know I was sick. I didn't want him to feel sorry for me. I didn't want to see him looking this sad. "We're not Norms," I whisper . "Spinners can't have children. We can't have any of those things." "We can have some of them," KJ says. His hand moves on my leg, stroking my knee with hesitant fingers. "You've always said missions matter to you more than anything else, but now that tha t's over, we can spend more time together. At least for the few months we have left." His gently moving hand hypnotizes me. I picture his tanned arms working in the courtyard, the way his nose wrinkles when he laughs, the full lips that define his mouth, a nd for the first time in years I let myself imagine touching them. My stomach turns over. I shove the images away. KJ thinks I'm dying and he wantsÃ‰what? To comfort me? To
Freeze Time email@example.com 115 offer me what he couldn't all those years ago, because now he knows there's a deadli ne? I tighten my grip on my fork. "Ross said I may live a lot longer than a few months. He said I can keep working, too, even with my new powers." KJ's hand stills. His lips moves a few times without making a sound. "Ross was here ? And you told him?" "Ye s." I trace a pattern in the puddle of orange dressing with my fork. I feel like I'm betraying one of them, but I'm not sure which one. "Ross was in the room when I got back. He basically saw me reappear." KJ's breath hisses past his teeth. I plunge on be fore he can interrupt. "He's not going to tell anyone." "Why not?" "Because he cares about me. He wouldn't want me to get in trouble." KJ's hand is back in his lap. He looks mad now , his brows so low they cast his eyes into shadow. "If he cares so much, isn't he worried about the fact that your freezing abilities changed?" "HeÃ‰" I catch myself. I'd promised Ross I wouldn't tell anyone about the new meds, and the way KJ looks right now I'm not sure I trust him to keep the secret. I struggle to come up with an alternate explanation. "He said it was nothing to worry about," I lie. "That this was a normal side effect."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 116 KJ's eyes narrow. "A normal side effect? Then how come we've never heard of it? And if it's so normal, why keep quiet?" I pick at a stray pi ece of lettuce with my fork. The thin green leaf skitters around in the gloppy dressing, refusing to be impaled. "It's normal, but really rare. You know how Barnard freaks out about everything. It's better not to mention it." "Maybe someone should be frea king out," KJ says. "Did Barnard say anything about your chronotin levels?" "I don't know," I admit. "Ross asked Amy to fake them so I'd get out sooner." The room gets very quiet again. I raise my head from the striped pattern I've drawn on my plate. KJ i s staring at me with pure horror. "Ross is faking your chronotin results ?" My eyes fly to the door, afraid someone might have heard him. "Just for Barnard," I say. "She's telling Ross the real levels. He'll know when it's safe for me to go on another mission." "Are you insane? Ross isn't a doctor. " I abandon the lettuce. "Sykes is out there and we have a chance to catch him." "Sykes." KJ slumps back in his chair. "Really? You're dying and all you care about is catching Sykes?" "Catching Sykes matters. It's important." I shove a piece of brownie into my mouth before I add what I really mean: catching Sykes makes me important. It makes me matter.
Freeze Time email@example.com 117 "What if you get sick again? " KJ asks. "What if this weird change is because your chronotin levels are totally out of whack? Barnard won't know to adjust for it." The brownie dissolves into clods of dirt on my tongue. KJ must sense his advantage, because he leans forward again, stret ching his hand towards me. "Forget about Sykes, Alex. Forget about work. This is your life we're talking about. Look at me. Is that really how you want to spend what little time you have left?" KJ's hand hovers inches from my own. He's so close to me I ca n smell the laundry soap in his shirt. My heart starts beating very fast. If I walk away from Ross I walk away from his new meds and the chance to live a longer life. And what exactly is KJ offering me? When we were a couple all those years ago he thought I was clingy. A nd a nyaway, he likes Shannon now . D oesn't he? The questions clutter my brain, making my head hurt worse than any time headache. "I wish I'd never told you any of this." Frustration puts more anger into my words than I meant. KJ sits back, cradling his rejected hand. His face is as red as if I'd slapped it. "I'm just trying to help." "You're not." "So you choose catching Sykes over me?" Over you as a friend or as a boyfriend ? The words are on the tip of my tongue; I swallow them when I he ar a sound at the door. "Are you done with your dinner?" Yolly asks, bustling over to pick up my tray. KJ stands to get out of her way. He moves stiffly, like someone injured. I can tell he's trying to keep his face neutral in front of Yolly, but as he t urns away I see the edge
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 118 of his mouth tremble. A yawning hole opens up in my chest. All I wanted was for everything to stay the same, and instead I've made things worse. Our conversation plays back in my head. Maybe if everything hadn't come at me so sudde nly, if I'd had time to thinkÃ‰ Yolly bustles around me, straightening my pillows, fussing with my tray. "I almost forgot your medicine," she says brightly. Unlocking the cabinet, she picks up one of the mislabeled dosages and hands it to me. KJ backs awa y. I gulp down the meds , eager for Yolly to leaves so we can continue our conversation in private. "I'll let you rest," KJ says. The liquid in my mouth prevents me from asking him to wait. I swallow, too quickly, choking as the chemicals slides down my thr oat. Yolly pats my back. By the time I've stopped coughing the door has closed and KJ is gone.
Freeze Time email@example.com 119 Chapter 11 I sleep badly that night and wake to the sound of people talking in the main room of the clinic. Amy's voice, sharp with anxiety, mingles with Julio's. Somebody groans. The squeak of a wheelchair confirms my fear: another spinner is sick. The clinic has two patients now. Sleepiness vanishes. I lie without moving , straining to make sense of the quick patter of words. "Did you check his pulse?" "Ge t me an IV." "Watch his head." His. One of the boys, then. My brain instantly calls up Jack's list of most likely candidates: Jack, Calvin, KJ. I sit bolt upright. Don't let it be KJ. The patient in the hallway moans again. Jack, I bargain. Couldn't it be Jack? At nineteen he is by far the oldest spinner. That would be fair. Not that time sickness is ever fair. The door next to mine shuts, muffling the voices. If it's KJÃ‰My mind is incapable of finishing the thought. Please, I beg the sterile room, don't l et it be KJ. Please. The tiles feel slick under my feet when I slide out of bed. I tip toe noiselessly from my room and open the door beside mine. Bright overhead light reveals the scene: Julio lifting an inert body onto the bed. Amy setting up an IV bag. I stick my head farther into the room just as Julio steps back to expose the patient. It's Calvin. My hand grips the door frame. I must make a noise because Amy whirls around. "Alex! What are you doing here? Go back to your room."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 120 I can't let go of th e door. Calvin's face is damp with sweat, his body so limp that my relief the victim isn't KJ has completely soured. My legs start shaking. I point towards the bed. "Is he going to be all right?" Amy presses her lips together. "Go back to you room," she r epeats, though this time she says the words gently. "We'll know more later." I lie in bed until early morning sun squeezes light through the blinds, sending stripes across the foot of my bed . I trace the pattern with my eyes while listening to the faint n oises coming from the room next door. Amy comes in my room around 7:00 . Her smock looks rumpled, her mouth tight around the edges. "You're awake," she says. I sit up. "How is he?" Amy sighs. "He's stable, for now." I nod. This is Calvin's third attack. We both know his chances of recovery are slim. " I'll bring breakfast in a bit," she says. "Right now you need to take your meds." Amy unlocks the cupboard and pulls out a fresh dose. The misspelled letters of my name stare out at me accusingly. Next door, Ca lvin lies dying, while I am being offered the possibility of more time. Amy hands me the vial. I want to refuse it , to insist Amy give it instead to Calvin, but I know I can't. Doing that would only get Ross fired or worse. I accept the bottle and pour t he liquid down my throat. I'm a test subject, I remind myself, taking my
Freeze Time email@example.com 121 own risks to support private research that might help others later on. Through the walls, I hear Calvin moan. I crumple the empty vial in my hand. "Don't worry about breakfast," I tell Amy. "I'm not hungry." *** Dr. Barnard releases me from the clinic the next afternoon. I shower and put on a pair of jeans and a long sleeve T shirt I've washed so many times the Nike swoosh across the front has turned gray. Comfort clothes. The common room is quiet when I make my way down stairs . Someone turned the TV to a nature show but the sound is down low and no one seems to be watching it. Aidan, Yuki , and Raul are sitting around a Scrabble board. All of them look up when I walk in, returnin g to their game after the barest acknowledgement. It's unclear whose turn it is. Raul idly shuffles the tiles on his tray. Yuki stares around the room with a blank look in her eyes. When I was a Younger, I remember that kids dying seemed sort of distant. A ll it meant was a different face handing out meds, or a change in the dishwashing schedule. That's not true anymore. Now it isn't the older kids who are dying. It's us. I know that look in Yuki's eyes. Every one of us has it at one time or other. It's the question that haunts us all: Who's next? Him? Her? Me? I skirt the game playing trio and walk over to where KJ is sitting with Shannon. He's chosen the seat Calvin preferred; the novel Calvin wa s last reading rests in his lap. The Hidden History of the JFK Assassination . I wonder how far into it Calvin got. KJ strokes the picture on the front as if it's a small animal.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 122 "Hey," I say. They turn their faces towards me. Both of them have circles un der their eyes. KJ's shirt looks like he slept in it. Shannon's usually tidy braid is fuzzy with loose hair. "How are you doing?" I ask KJ. He offers me a tight smile . "I should be asking you that." I shrug. "Barnard let me out, so I must be reasonably O K." KJ doesn't answer. His uns poken disapproval hangs between us. I twist a strand of my shower wet hair around one finger. Compared to their rumpled state, my clean, soap scented presence seems somehow disrespectful of our missing friend. "Any news about Calvin?" I ask. "His fever is still really high," Shannon says. She's wearing the nurse's smock I saw her in when she brought me lunch earlier in the day. In the last two days, she's practically taken up residence in the clinic, moving between my room an d Calvin's to bring us food, hand out meds, and take temperatures. At least, that's what she was doing for me. Her duties with Calvin were probably more clinical. KJ sighs. Shannon reaches over to take his hand. "Dr. Barnard is with him now," she tells him. "He's doing everything that can be done ." The finger wrapping my hair twitches, yanking painfully against my scalp. Barnard is not doing everything that could be done . My standing here is proof of it. I shift my weight from one foot to the other , soli difying the only slim chance I can think of. "I'm going to head up to my room," I say. "Read for a while."
Freeze Time email@example.com 123 KJ nods. No one else says anything to me as I leave the room. I hurry down the hall , not towards the dorms, but to the main stairs. The floor is wet from a recent mopping and the burning stink of bleach encourages my brisk pace . Dr. Barnard's office is off the lobby. I wave at Charlie behind his glass window before knocking on the door. "He's out," Jack yells through the wood. "That's alright," I say back, mainly for Charlie's benefit, "The message I have is for you." I open the door, closing it behind me with a snap. Jack is sitting on the floor, surrounded by stacks of medical magazines. He looks to be in process of sorting them, though at the moment, the process seems to include him lounging against the bookcase flipping through yesterday's sports section. "What's the message?" he asks me. "There is none," I say, crossing the room to Barnard's desk. "I need to use th e phone." Jack raises one eyebrow. "I assume you have permission for that?" "The same permission you have to do that," I say, nodding at the paper in his hand. "Yes, but I'm me and you're you. Miss Goody Two Shoes doesn't break rules." Jack tosses the pape r aside. "Who are you calling?" " My agent ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 124 Jack looks disappointed. I pick up the phone and dial the number listed on the Agent Contact Sheet pinned up beside Barnard's desk. It only rings twice before he answers. "Carson Ross." "Mr. Ross. Hi. It's Alex." "Alex?" He sounds surprised. "Everything OK?" "Yes." I glance at Jack, who is openly listening to my conversation. I wish I could kick him out but there's no reason I can think of that won't make Charlie suspicious. "I was released from the clinic t oday." "I heard. I'm so pleased. It even sounds like your chronotin levels are low enough that you can resume timework." " Are they? " I ask, momentarily distracted. I rub some dust off the phone's base, framing my words with care. "You know that Calvin's s ick now? Well, he's really fond of German food, and I was wondering if maybe you could get him some. Like that stuff you got me the other day." Silence. Across the room, Jack watches me with a puzzled expression. I squeeze the phone closer to my ear. "Alex ," Ross says, "that stuff I got for you, I only have so much." A lump forms in my throat. I turn around so I'm facing the window. "Couldn't we share it?" "It won't work. He's too far gone and they're monitoring him way too closely. I'm sorry."
Freeze Time email@example.com 125 The lump in my throat feels more like a spike. I knew it was a long shot, but the completeness of my failure still stings. I say something I hope sounds understanding. Ross apologizes again, telling me that he'll see me soon before hanging up. I stand with the phone pressed against my ear, staring out the window. It's raining . One of the gutters in the Center's roof must be clogged because there's a steady drip splattering against the glass. "Since when does Calvin like German food?" Jack asks. The gushing water tu rns the view outside into a blur. All I can see clearly are the bars that keep us locked into our small, short lives. I turn around and replace the phone. "I just thought it would be nice to do something for him before he, you know." Jack tips his head to one side. "And that's what that call was about?" "Of course," I say, then add, hoping to distract him. "Remember the other day, when you said Dr. Barnard was up to something? What did you mean?" Jack cracks his knuckles one by one, the pops a counterpoint to the pattering rain. "Let's just say our Dr. B. likes his reputation as the world's chronotin expert, but resents that he's forced to do his work for a poorly funded public institution." My heart does a little flip. Is this the explanation for the conf using Aclisote dosages I'd seen in Calvin's file? I take a step towards him. "Do you mean he's experimenting on us?" Jack bursts out laughing. "You should see your face. Would you really be that shocked if he was?" I back up, cheeks flushing. I should have known Jack was just messing with me.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 126 "Forget it. I've gotta go. Dr. Barnard will be back soon." "Hey, don't be mad," Jack says, making no effort to stifle his amusement. "I was trying to give you a genuine tip." "I bet." I realize everyone deals with fear and grief their own way, but I have no sympathy for Jack's version of it. The door slams behind me as I stomp my way out. Jack's laughter chases me across the lobby and all the way back up the stairs to my room. *** Calvin dies later that night. Yolly sets up the usual shrine in the common room: an eight by ten photograph framed in a black and surrounded by four tall white candles. Shannon adds a handful of flowers from the courtyard stuffed into a glass she's decorated with beads that spell out Calvin's name. The photograph is an old one. Calvin looks about sixteen, un paranoid, with chubby cheeks and longer hair. He's smiling crookedly, as if caught in the middle of telling a joke. At dinner, Yolly says a few words about what a great spinner he'd been and how we'll all miss him. Only Shannon cries. *** The week drags on. KJ and I exchange stilted conversation when we meet at meal times. Onc e I see him in the courtyard from an upstairs window and almost head down to talk to him before I realize Shannon is with him. They're sitting in the grass, not working. KJ has his head bent and Shannon rubs his shoulders, clearly doing her best to comfort him. An ugly cramp forms in my stomach. Shannon spent a lot of time at Calvin's bedside at the end and I'm sure KJ appreciates hearing about his friend's final hours, but
Freeze Time email@example.com 127 I spent more time with Calvin when he was alive than Shannon did. I should be the one sitting with KJ to share his sorrow. I go upstairs and lie down on my bed , replaying our conversation in the clinic over and over again in my head . I want to rewind the whole afternoon, tell him about my new skill less abruptly, and ask him what he meant when he said he wanted to spend more time with me . Except rewinds don't work that way. All you can do is watch an unchanging past, listening to words that no longer make any sense. And anyway, from the looks of it, all he meant was for us to hang out as friends . He and Shannon are practically inseparable these days. Which, I tell my self, is probably just as well. I fell for him once and it turned out so badly. I'm not sure I'm willing to risk that much pain again. It's not until Sunday that Yolly gives me the news I've been hoping for all week: I am cleared for timework and Ross is on his way over. We have a mission. Ross is waiting for me in the lobby. I'm so glad to see him that if Charlie weren't hovering in the guard station I would have given him a hug. Instead I offer him a blazing smile, which he answers with equal enthusiasm. He clicks on my leash, signs out the key , and we head outside. It's a cool afternoon, the sun hiding under a swath of gray. I skip down the steps to the squad car parke d on the curb. "What's today's mission?" I ask. "Actually, we have two," Ross says, opening the door for me. I climb in the car. The interior smells like stale French fries, the radio makes unintelligible squawks, and my left leg is wedged under the lap t op attached to
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 128 dashboard. I welcome the awkward space like an old friend. Ross gets in on the driver's side and asks me to hold out my arm. "It's silly they make you wear this thing all the time ," he says, unlocking the leash and tossing it over his shoul der into the back seat. The maddening buzz vanishes as soon as the metal band leaves my skin. I touch my wrist. The band has been on for so short a time there isn't even a mark there yet from the pressure. Ross laughs at what must be the stunned expressio n on my face. "Just don't freeze while we're driving," he says. "The car will stop, but thanks to momentum, you won't." He starts the engine with a rumble that resonates deep in the center of my chest. A second later the car leaps from the curb. I watch the Center grow smaller in the side mirror as we drive away. When we turn the corner, it disappears completely, taking with it the heaviness I've been living under for the past week. I unroll the window. A breeze blows past me, sending the loose st rands from my pony tail dancing against my cheeks. "Where to first?" I ask. "Remember that lead I told you about?" Ross says. "I think we're about to prove that one of the guys Sal visited is Sykes." "What?" I jerk forward so abruptly the seatbelt locks. Before he disappeared, Sal visited three people: a business man with ties to known drug dealers, a male bartender suspected of money laundering, and an often arrested female political activist who claimed that wealth should be shared by the masses . Ross had shadowed the investigations that
Freeze Time email@example.com 129 followed, but no shred of evidence was ever found to link any of them with either Sykes's thefts or Sal's death. I loosen the strap smashing my chest. "I thought all the suspects had solid alibis." " They did until your rewind at the butcher shop ." Ross grins at me. "Now I have some new information that makes them less bullet proof." Ross makes one of his trademark squealing turns onto the Steel Bridge and heads towards the East side of the city. I dig my fingers in to the soft seats, both to keep from lurching sideways and to stop from bouncing ar ound like an excited three year old. The man Ross arrested for Torino's murder, Karl Wagner , must have spilled his guts. "Tell," I demand. We weave through traffic while Ro ss fills me in. Torino's murder was the first case where we could pin down the timing for Sykes's crime to a narrow window. Ross looked up Sal's three suspects to find out what they were doing the night. The drug dealing business man had finally been arres ted and he spent that night in jail. The political activist was hosting an all night rally in Los Angeles Ã an event which was live streamed on the internet. "And I don't care who you are," Ross says, "those are pretty unbreakable alibis. But Matt Thompso n, our sketchy bartender, claims he spent most of the night at his bar Ã in a back office, near an emergency exit, where he worked alone. Not only that, but Matt has ties to Karl Wagner . Karl's been on the payroll for Matt's bar off and on for the past thr ee years." I clap my hands together.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 130 "So that's where we're going?" "Yep. I'm going to need you and your very special skills so we can figure out for sure if we're onto the right guy." I admire my leash less wrist. Ross needs me. This case needs me. Choo sing to take the new medicine was worth the risks. "It's great that Chief is letting you take the lead on this one." "He isn't," Ross says. "Technically, we only have one mission: the rewind of an armed robbery. We'll head there next." A vague unease form s in my stomach. I look at Ross. He's focused on the traffic outside, frowning as he swerves around a slow moving truck. "Won't they notice if we're late to the rewind?" I ask. "It's OK. Matt's bar is on the way. We can always claim traffic was bad if we'r e a little late." I press my fore head against the window and watch the city flashing past me: car lot, taco restaurant, furniture store. People fill the cars and sidewalks around us, vulnerable people who fear the threat Sykes brings into their midst. A th reat I am in the position to release them from. I straighten up. Ross is right. This work is important. What's wrong with a small lie if it leads to justice? Ross pulls the car over on a side street a not far from the river. It's a light industrial part of town, full of warehouses and showrooms filled with things like marble countertops and plumbing supplies . The building in front of us has blank windowless walls. On the opposite side of the street, two large semis are backed into loading docks. "Where's the bar?" I ask.
Freeze Time email@example.com 131 "A couple blocks away." Ross cranes his neck to peer up and down the street. There's no one in sight. "I thought we'd freeze here where no one will see us disappear." "So we're not going to talk to him?" Ross shakes his head. "To day we're just searching for evidence." I put my hand on his wrist. Ross checks once more that no one can see us, then nods. I reach for the time strands and pull the world to a standstill. We climb from the car . My stomach is in knots again, with exciteme nt now more than worry. My eagerness makes Ross's usual brisk stride feel like a snail's crawl. We wind our way through frozen cars as we cross MLK Boulevard, then up another block and a half. Ross stops. On our left is a four story brick apartment buildin g. There are two street level tenants: a second hand clothing store and a bar called Tom's. "This is it?" I ask. Ross nods. I stare up at the faÂade. The bricks show signs of wear and the trim on the upper windows cries out for a fresh coat of paint. The bar itself has tinted windows, the interior further obscured by neon twisted into beer logos. The enthusiasm boiling inside me reduces to a slow simmer. This building looks way more like someplace I might have visited on a vice mission than the luxury digs of a millionaire thief. "Are you sure? It's soÃ‰plain." "What better cover? Plus a cash business like a bar is a great way to wash stolen money." Ross jiggles the door handle. It's locked. I lean against the window, cupping my hands around my face to peer inside. A forest of wood meets my searching eyes. The
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 132 chairs have all been flipped up on the tables, presumably to more easily clean the floors. My excitement cools further. "They're closed." Ross winks at me. "Let me show you a little unof ficial police tool." He digs in his pocket and pulls out something I think at first is an army knife until he flips the thing open and shows me a pair of thin metal sticks. I step back in surprise. "You're going to pick the lock?" "Someone will notice if we break a window." I touch my stomach. The knot is so tight it actually hurts. Ross slips on thin gloves, handing a second pair to me, then drops to his knees in front of the door. Automatically, I look to see if anyone is watching. A woman hovers about a block away, arms sunk in her coat pockets, eyes blindly fixed somewhere over my shoulder. I yank on the end of my ponytail. "Isn't this illegal? We won't be able to use the evidence if we find any." "All we're doing today is seeing if my hunch is right. If it is, I can get a warrant and come back officially." Ross beckons me closer. "Now come down here and watch. This is a trick I think you'll find useful." I kneel on the hard concrete and watch while Ross sticks a metal rods into the key slot. He moves c onfidently, all the while describing what he's doing in careful detail : a tension wrench to slightly turn the lock, a pick to feel for the pins, and then wiggling the pick until each tumbler raises enough make the shear line on the pins align.
Freeze Time email@example.com 133 I think how much Jack would enjoy this lesson. The thought makes me smile until KJ's face supplants Jack's. KJ would not think this was a fun lark. KJ would most definitely disapprove. I focus my attention back on Ross. In less than a minute, the door is open. Shadows cloak the bar's interior. The air carries the bitter stench of spilled beer. When we cross the room, I can feel a slight suck on my shoes from the sticky floor. I guess I was wrong about the chairs. Ross relocks the door then heads straight for the back, skirting the polished bar to enter a short hallway. To our left is a small kitchen, to the right are three closed doors labeled: Guys, Dames, and Office. Another door at the end announces the emergency exit. Ross tries the knob on the office, then us es his picks again to open it. I stand beside him. Even though time is frozen I can't help checking over my shoulder while he works. Ever since I thought of him, KJ's frowning face has been hovering in the corner of my brain. Go away, I tell his image, Syk es is the real thief, it's only fair to use his own tactics against him . Imaginary KJ looks about as understanding as he did the day I told him Ross was faking my chronotin readings. The office door swings open . Unlike the run down bar, Matt's office is al most antiseptically clean. The desk is made of dark wood, its surface bare except for a large computer screen, a cup full of matching silver pens, and a neat stack of files in a wire basket. Nearby are a bookcase and a row of wooden filing cabinets. The wa lls are pa inted a bright white that gleams under the pale shaft streaming from a skylight . There's something creepy about this pristine room, like we've stepped into one of those tombs that rain curses on its excavators.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 134 "First thing we've got to do," Ro ss says, "is get this guy's passwords so we can check his computer files. Why don't you start a rewind." He walks around the desk until he's facing the computer monitor. I run a finger along the outer edge of the door frame. Like the floors in the main roo m, the paint feels sticky. "Are you sure a rewind will work? What if the change in my freezes affects the rewinds, too?" "It will be fine, don't worry. Even you can't change the past." I push away thoughts of KJ, curses, and mummies and take a few steps to wards Ross. "How far back do I need to go?" "Just one day. I talked to a waitress who works here. Matt does the books on Saturdays so he'll be checking account balances then ." Time slides back smoothly once I get the rewind started. I pull quickly at firs t, whipping us through Sunday morning and into the backward murmurs from Saturday night. Strains of disjointed music drift in from the bar, along with unintelligible voices, and the clatter of dishes in the kitchen. The clock on the wall shows a little aft er 9:00 pm when the door behind me opens and a man backs in. I slow the rewind. "Is that Matt Thompson?" I ask. Ross nods. Dim, rewound light further brightens the space. The memory of Matt sits down at the desk. I study him hungrily. I realize I've built Sykes up into a dashing figure, a movie version of a worthy adversary. If this man turns out to be him, he's disappointingly normal looking. Mid forties, shorter than Ross Ã maybe a couple inches
Freeze Time email@example.com 135 under six feet Ã with brown hair clipped over his ears. His face is clean shaven. He's thin and wears skinny jeans, cowboy boots, and a black T shirt with a stylized image of an electric guitar printed on the front. The only thing that makes him look rich is a heavy gold watch. Matt settles in to work, intermittently tapping the keyboard and shuffling papers. A couple of times he picks up his phone and engages in a garbled conversation. Ross gestures at me to speed things up. Uncounted minutes slip by as the clock winds back to 7:30, 7:00. "Stop!" Ross c alls. I grab the strands up tight. Ross takes a pen out of the cup on Matt's desk and pulls a mostly blank sheet of paper from the recycle bin. "OK," he says, "start again, but really slowly." I move to stand beside him and let the seconds seep past me. Ro ss's eyes are glued to Matt's fingers as they move over the keyboard. The screen in front of him is pale blue and shows a white sign in box filled with a string of black dots. "Four," Ross says, jotting the number down as one of the dots disappears. "No," I correct him. "It's a dollar sign, look at his pinky." "Good catch. OK, so it's: $ U O ! V R E P M 1" Matt lifts his hands and shakes the computer mouse. The screen goes black. Ross squints down at the sheet in his hand. A second later , he lifts his head with a smile. "Impervious," he says. I accelerate the rewind again. Matt leaves the room for a while, then comes back. I speed up and slow down on Ross's command, twice cranking time to a crawl so Ross
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 136 can copy down more passwords. A h eadache worms its way into my brain, gentler than the throbbing pain that announces the sickness, but still uncomfortable. "Mr. Ross?" I say. "If we're going to have to do a second rewind after thisÃ‰" "Is it getting hard?" he asks, capping the pen. "Thank s for warning me. We have enough for now, you can let it go for a bit." I release the strands, half expecting the dizzy swing that would return us to Ross's parked car. Instead, we sink into dimness when the rewound light in the office winks out. Ross laug hs. I feel him brush past me and then the room lights up as he hits the wall switch. "Now for the good part," he says. He's radiates so much energy it makes the small room feel even smaller. My own heart rate speeds up in response. "What can I do?" I ask . Ross spins slowly, taking in the tidy space. "Computer, file cabinets, thatÃ‰" he points to a door I hadn't noticed before tucked in a corner behind the desk, "probably has office supplies. How about you start with the paper files, and I'll tackle the com puter." I face the line of cabinets. They squat against the bright wall, their thin handles reminding me of the angry set of KJ's mouth. "This doesn't feel weird to you?" I ask Ross. "What if this guy turns out not to be Sykes? We will have dug through all his personal stuff." "It's not like he'll ever know." Ross beckons me closer . I don't move. The cabinets look pissed. "Come on," he says, "think about why we're here."
Freeze Time email@example.com 137 I give myself a mental shake. Sykes, we're here to catch Sykes. I cross the room. The cabinets are, of course, locked. Ross places the picks in my hands, covering my gloved fingers with his own as he moves them through the steps to unlock the drawers. I'm surprised at how easy it is. A few wiggles with the metal sticks and Matt Thompsons's files are mine. Ross tells me to look for bank statements, appointment books, or anything that might link Matt to one of the Sykes robberies. I shuffle through folders. Liquor receipts. Employee pay stubs. Ross is tapping away on computer, occasionally pr inting a page or two on a softly humming printer set on top of the bookcase. The scream of a siren makes its way into the office. My hands tighten on the folder I'm holding. The siren grows louder. I stare out into the dark hall. I don't realize I'm holdin g my breath until the noise starts to fade. "We should go," I tell Ross. "It's 2:45. We've already been here for fifteen minutes of real time." "Almost," Ross says, "I think I'm on to something." I flip through more files, a process that goes slowly sinc e my gloves make it hard to separate the pages. Finally, I reach the last one. It's wedged in the back and labeled Floor Plans . I open it and, when I see what it is, nearly drop it. "Mr. Ross?" Paper rustles under my fingers as I turn through the pages. "I think I found something." He must hear the shock in my voice because he's beside me in seconds. I show him the top sheet. It's a hand drawn floor plan of a bank lobby. Beneath that is another
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 138 drawing showing the layout of a Cartier store, then some pages from a magazine shoot of a house Sykes robbed last summer. "It's him," I whisper . "Matt Thompson is Sykes." Ross touches the photo like it's a precious relic. "Sure looks like it." He turns over another page to reveal a photo of the art mu seum. Sykes stole a Matisse from their storage room two years ago. Every nerve in my body lights up. I feel like I've just drunk ten cups of coffee. My stomach is jumping and my lips can't stop smiling. "We found Sykes!" I throw my arms in the air, wiggl ing my whole body in a crazy happy dance next to the filing cabinet. " We did ," I shout . " You and me." Ross laughs. "We sure did." He salutes me with a high five, slapping my open palm with enough force to make it tingle. His eyes are shining. "We're unbea table together, Alex. The perfect partnership." My giddy smile falters. Unbeatable for how long? When the sickness comes back... I bend to pick of up a piece of paper that slid to the floor. I don't want to ruin this moment with maudlin thoughts of the fu ture. "Why would be keep these?" I ask "I don't know," Ross says. "Souvenirs, maybe? This is the guy who chose Impervious as his password." "Is this enough for you to make an arrest?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 139 "It will certainly help," Ross says. "There's another thing I was read ing in an email thatÃ‰ " His body stiffens. I don't have to ask why because I've heard it too. Someone just opened the bar's front door.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 140 Chapter 12 "Quick," Ross hisses, "freeze." I rip the gloves from my hands, reaching for his arm at the same instant I s natch up the time strands. The paper I just picked up flutters to the ground as time slams to a halt. "Let's go," I say. Ross turns towards the computer screen. "Wait," he says. "I need that email." "You can't read email in frozen time." "I know that." He crosses to the desk. "But I think the information in it is crucial to our investigation. I just need five more minutes." I slide my gloves back on. The thin leather makes my hands feel sweaty. "Whoever is outside will be here in two." Ross shakes the useless mouse. He's staring at the computer like he might be able to will it into giving up its secrets. I twist my fingers together to push the gloves more firmly over my hands. The new freeze is making my headache worse. "Alex." Ross looks at me, his exp ression pleading . "Do you think you could stall him?" "Stall Sykes?" Jason Torino's limp body flashes before my eyes, followed by the imagined corpse of Sal floating in the green waters of the Willamette. I shudder. " IÃ‰ I'm not a good liar. What if he sus pects something?" "I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important. Just try. If it doesn't work, freeze time and we'll get out of here. I promise."
Freeze Time email@example.com 141 Everything in my gut tells me to run. Our being here is completely illegal. Ross will lose his job if he gets caught. I'll probably get pulled from time work. Any evidence we found about Sykes will be instantly disallowed. On the other handÃ‰I press my fingers together, stretching out the taut muscles. We've come so far. Who knows if we'll get this chance again? As I know all too well, life is short. "OK," I say, "help me think of a way to distract him." Five minutes later I'm outside, sheltered behind a car a few feet from Tom's Bar. I've swapped my CIC top for a green Oregon Ducks sweatshirt I borrowed from the se cond hand store next to the bar, along with a clip board I found on a shelf in the back room. Matt is standing at the bar's entrance. He's holding a cup of coffee in one hand and is leaning into the door, which he's pushed open about six inches. A set of k eys dangles from his fingers. I check my surroundings one more time, making careful note of the windows on both sides of the street. As far as I can tell, no one is watching. I straighten the clipboard and take a deep breath. Time moves forward. The keys i n Matt's hand jingle. I stand up. "Mr. Thompson?" Matt turns around. " Hi ." I smile, hoping he doesn't notice my knees are trembling. "I'm Jane Maxwell, a student at Grant High School. Could I have a few minutes of your time?" Matt hesitates . Except for the solidity of his body, he looks exactly like he did in the rewind. Sam e tidy hair and tight jeans. Today, he's swapped the T shirt for a leather jacket, beneath which I can see the collar of a plaid button down shirt. "I'm actually kind of busy," he says, pushing the door open wider .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 142 "Wait!" I scramble over the sidewalk to reach him . "Please? I'll be quick." Matt frowns . "What's this about?" "I was hoping you'd agree to a short interview. I'm taking a journalism class and we're writing a piece about revital izing inner Southeast neighborhoods. As a business owner, your opinions would be really helpful." The speech rolls off my tongue so fast it's nearly unintelligible. It also sounds completely rehearsed. I clutch the clipboard against my chest. Even a normal girl would feel nervous approaching a stranger on the street, wouldn't she? "Sounds interesting." Matt takes a step inside. "B ut like I said, I'm busy. Maybe some other day." My heartbeat ratchets up a notch. There's no way Ross has had time to read more than a few sentences. "That would work." I push myself forward, catching the door before it can close against me. "Could we schedule a time now? See, my project is due in two weeks a nd I'm already kind of behind. " I can tell he wants to say no. He's jingli ng his keys and focusing over my head, like he can see the mound of work waiting for him. I channel Shannon and open my eyes really wide, going for an earnest, innocent look. "Alright," he sighs . "Let me check my calendar." He moves further inside . For a moment I'm afraid his calendar is in his office, but he only goes as far as the bar , setting down his coffee and taking a cell phone from his pocket.
Freeze Time email@example.com 143 "I really appreciate this," I say , tripping over the door step in my rush t o follow him. Matt starts offering times and I make a pretense of consulting a blank sheet of paper on my clip board to check my own Ã”schedule'. I stretch out our negotiation as long as I dare without annoying him, then sneak a glance at the clock over the bar. How is it possible only two minutes have passed? It's like my skills have morphed again from freezing time to just cranking it down to glacial. Matt puts away his phone and picks up his belongings. "Well, Jane, I guess I'll see you on Wednesday." He gives me a you can go now look which I pretend not to recognize. Instead I turn my head in an ostentatious study of the room around us. "This is a really cool bar," I gush. "Thanks." He waits for me to leave. I turn towards the door and realize I've made a tactical error. Panic flutters my chest. Matt can reach his office in about two seconds. I, however, have to leave the bar, then find somewhere to hide before I can freeze time. By then he will have his offic e door open and Ross will be exposed. My chest squeezes so hard it hurts. Would he just lose his job? Or can cops be arrested for breaking and entering? I search the bar for anything I can use to lure Matt away from the hall. Besides the stacked chairs th ere's not much here. A wall of liquor lined up on shelves behind the bar. Two video poker games wedged in a corner. The un lit neon cluttering the windows. Matt flicks on a light in the back hallway. The flash reflects against something on the wall at the far end of the bar. It's something in a frame, glassed in. I lunge towards it. "Mr. Thompson?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 144 "What?" He's definitely annoyed now. I scurry across the room, trying to think of anything I know about art that I can use to express my fascination with this d iscovered treasure. "It's your picture. Can you tell me something about it? It's soÃ‰" I reach the wall. The object is not a work of art. It's a framed certificate from the fire marshal. My death grip on the clip board digs the wood into my palm. I catch a distant humming sound . The engine of a passing car? Or the whir of illicit printing? I turn around. Matt's eyes are narrowed. "I think it's time for you to leave," he says. I walk slowly, circling the chairs in the longest route I can manage to reach th e door. Matt keeps watching me. His suspicion worries me less than the fact I don't know how to protect Ross. As soon as I reach the front door Matt will head into his office. My stomach twists in to a thousand knots. Through the neon crusted windows I can see that the street, so conveniently empty when I entered the bar, now hosts a line of cars, all stopped dead while they wait out the light on the corner. The woman in the car closest to the bar is only a few feet away . She'll see me if I freeze time right outside the door . Matt clears his throat. If the bar weren't blocking the lower half of his body I would probably be able to see his foot tapping. I trudge another step towards to the door, trying not to think about Ross losing his police license. My toe drags across the floor and the nasty beer slime c atches the tip of my sneaker. I'm just starting to right myself when an idea explodes fully formed into my brain. Quick as thought, I lean towards my off balance foot. "Oops," I say, and l et myself crumple , stopping time the instant I hit the ground .
Freeze Time email@example.com 145 The concrete floor is hard and cold and smelly . A wad of long abandoned gum lies by my cheek, its surface mashed so flat it's barely distinguishable from the dark floor. Moving my body as little as possible, I scout my surroundings. Matt is completely blocked by the tall bar. I can't see the cars from this angle at all. I scramble to my feet and head to the office . Both my knees hurt from my fall and e verything about me feels sticky. I want to go ba ck to the Center, climb into the shower, and scrub myself clean. Matt 's body takes up half the hallway. I press myself against the wall in order to slide past without touching him. The office door opens under my hand , revealing Ross standing at the copy m achine, caught in the act of lifting a small stack of freshly printed sheets. I wrap my hand around his bare wrist, releasing the time strands for the instant it takes to bring him into a new freeze with me. "We have to go," I say, even before he's registe red my presence. "Alex!" He holds up the papers in his hand and gives me a brilliant smile . "I found it." I pull on his arm. Even in frozen time, the knowledge that Matt is standing inches from the spot where my body isn't makes my knees quiver. "Tell me l ater. Let's go ." Ross waves the sheets at me , making the crisp paper snap loudly in the quiet room . "I have it, Alex," he says. " I have him."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 146 I tamp down my panic enough to focus on the man standing in front of me. His smile carries enough wattage to light the room. It's not happiness oozing out of him so much as it is triumph. My hand slips from his arm. "You found more evidence Matt Thompson is Sykes?" "Better than that." His blue eyes shine in the frozen room, like chips of life within the flatness of a painting. "Sykes has a partner. I found the name of the man who killed Sal."
Freeze Time email@example.com 147 Chapter 13 "A partner?" I echo. "I thought Sykes worked alone." "So did I." Ross shoves the printed sheets into his pocket. "This changes everything . Sykes's isn't the one we have to worry about. It's the other guy who Ã‰" He stops talking and looks at me . He has an odd expression on his face , like what I imagine someone wearing if they held a winning lottery ticket, stunned and only half believing. He s hakes his head. " Let's get out of here," he says. "We can talk in the car ." Five minutes later, Ross and I are zooming towards our Ã”real' mission . I've said my hasty good byes to Matt and recovered my CIC shirt , and Ross has my leash set on the console be tween us so I can snap it back on as soon as we near our destination . Ross also handed me one of those caffeine packed energy drinks. It tastes like the grape flavored cough medicine Yolly pours down our throats when we get the sniffles , but I chug some an yway. " So w ho' s Sykes's partner?" I ask. "A guy named Austin Shea. " We turn onto the highway. Ross flicks his flashers on and the cars in front of us melt out of our way. "It makes sense when you think about it," he adds. "One guy with vision, another to carry out the deed ." I unroll the window, leaning my face into the rushing air. Its wildness fills the space left by my receding fear. We did it . We found Sykes. " W hich one is Matt?" I ask. "The visionary or the actor?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 148 " Matt's the brains, but Shea is the power behind the throne. He's the one we have to stop." My hair is tangling into a hopeless mess. I push the wind whipped strands out of my eyes , thinking hard. " There's enough evidence in that room to link Matt with Sykes. With a search warran tÃ‰." " No. " Ross shakes his head. " What we have might be enough to ID Sykes but it's not enough to get Shea. And Shea's dangerous . If we arrest Matt before we deal with him , they could both slip through our fingers. " Ross swerves around a car dawdling in th e fast lane. " Y ou and I are going to have to go out on another mission. Soon. Stopping Shea has to be the priority ." I smile into the wind. Another mission means another day like this one: Ross and I working as partners to solve the biggest case in city history. Everything I ever dreamed ab out suddenly feels within reach. Even Ross's medicine is working, I'm certain of it. I feel perfectly healthy . Strong. Maybe I can not only succeed professionally, but bring new hope to all spi nners by proving this new drug extends our lives . The rushing wind fills my ears with a roaring that sounds like applause. The car careens to the right as we exit the freeway. Ross blasts his siren so we can blow through a red light. I toss back the last o f the energy drink. Revolting flavor aside, it has made my headache fade enough that I'm not dreading another rewind . I drop the bottle on the floor and snap my leash back on just as Ross pulls in behind two other police cars parked in front of a 7 Eleven .
Freeze Time email@example.com 149 "Sorry we're late," Ross says , stepping out onto the asphalt . "I thought it would be faster to take surface streets. Big mistake." *** Yolly tracks me down the next day in the cafeteria where KJ, Shannon, Yuki, and I are eating lunch to tell me that Barnard has approv ed a day pass for me . "It's today, for you and the friend of your choice," she says. "Mr. Ross requested it, because you've worked so hard lately." My mouth drops open. "A pass? Really?" Yolly beams at me. Shannon lets out a squeal. "I' m so jealous. I haven't been out for like three months." "That's Ã”cause last time we were half an hour late getting back," Yuki reminds her. I notice she is tactfully not mentioning that they were late because the two of them were talking with some boys in a coffee shop. "I assume you' re taking KJ, " Shannon says , "and not your very favorite roommate." I look over at the boy in question . Ever since I got home yesterday, I've been looking for an opportunity to talk to him . My buoyant mood has made me forgivin g and I'm eager to heal the awkwardness between us. This pass is the perfect chance. " What do you think ?" I ask KJ . He's focused on his fruit salad, trying to impale a lone grape lost in a sea of melon chunks, and for a split second I fear he's going to refuse , but instead he raises his head and says:
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 150 " Sure ." A huge grin erupts over my face. The edges of KJ's mouth twitch upwards. "All right," Yolly says, "I'll let Charlie know. You'll be excused at 12:30 and have exactly two hours ." "You don't care that she's going out with your boyfriend ?" Yuki asks Shannon, after Yolly shuffles off. Her voice is light, teasing, but I feel the color rise in my cheeks. Shannon tosses her head. " Those two? " She laughs. " Alex just told me the other day he's like her brother ." KJ drops his eyes, and goes back to picking at his salad with great concentration. Shannon leans her head on his shoulder. "Will you bring me back a present?" "Guess it depends where Alex wants to go," he mumbles around a mouthful of fruit. Shannon spends the rest of our half hour lunch telling us all the places we should shop. I half listen. KJ and I usually spend our time just walking around. I love feeling like one anonymous person among thousands cramming the streets. Shannon rolls her ey es when I tell her this. She claims the pass is wasted on me, though she seems consoled when I promise to help KJ find her a gift . At 12:15 , people start trickling out of the cafeteria, heading to their afternoon activities. Five minutes later , KJ are the only ones left. I wipe my fingers with a paper napkin, cleaning both sides of each digit with studious attention. I can't remember ever being in the cafeteria when everyone has left, or if I have I never noticed how cavernous it is . KJ stab s his fork repea tedly into a stray piece of melon . I watch him, trying to think
Freeze Time email@example.com 151 of something appropriately casual Ã or maybe witty? Nothing comes to mind. Over our heads , the wall clock ticks softly as the second hand makes it s way around the dial. KJ clears his throat. "We should go," he says. "Yes," I say, standing so quickly my thigh collides with the edge of the table. We busy ourselves scraping our plates into the compost before head ing for the stairs. KJ takes th em two at a time , leaving me to scramble to keep up. Charlie fill in the sign out book and attaches our leashes. I find the routine comforting . I'm still panting a little Ã both because of our brisk stair climb and because my chest feels like it's wrapped in a strait jacket. Maybe I should have taken Shannon after all . It would make the day a lot more relaxing. Outside, it's a typical Portland afternoon, wet without actually raining. The skies are gra y and the air smells like damp concrete. Jeff the proteste r stands on the steps holding a placard read ing: My times are in Your hand (Psalms 31:15) . When he sees the Center door open, he lowers h is sign like a shield. Charlie wanders over to chat with him while KJ an d I walk past . We turn the corner, jackets covering our leashed wrists , and blend into the rest of the Monday afternoon crowd. Silence builds between us, tangible as the moisture seeping into our clothes . My expectations fo r our afternoon, so high when Yolly offered the passes , sink to match the dreary weather . I've ruined our friendship. KJ wil l n ever forgive me for my obsession with Sykes . He only said he'd come with me because he would never be rude to a dying girl in front of her friends . He'd rather be back in the Center with Shannon.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 152 I'm so sunk in my own head I don't even notice KJ has s topped in front of me until I hit my forehead against his chest. "I have to tell you this, " he says. I step back and face him . His lips are pursed, eyes darting everywhere except at me. I slip my hands in my pockets, tightening my fingers into fists. This is it. The point where he tells me he never wants to hang out with me again. "I'm sorry about the other day," KJ says. "You were right, it's your choice what you do with your life. If you want to track down Sykes, that's OK. I just want us to be frie nds again . " The gray afternoon grows brighter. KJ is finally meeting my eyes. His are dark, as familiar to me as my own, but the expression filling them is brand new. There's pain there, and regret . For an instant, I imagine reaching out, placing my bare f ingers against his neck, the two of us escaping into a freeze, that time that doesn't really exist. KJ holds out his hand. "Friends?" he asks. I brush hair off my damp forehead, forcing the fantasy back down where it belongs , into the land of lost opportu nities and impossible dreams. "Friends," I agree , taking his hand . KJ tightens his fingers, then playfully twists my arm until he's pulled it behind my back. "Then, as your friend, I demand that we go to Powell's Bookstore. "
Freeze Time email@example.com 153 The unexpected move shakes u p the tension between us, which I realize is probably why he's doing it. I force myself to match his carefree tone, squirming from his grasp in a lighthearted tussle. "OK, OK, you win," I say, as we start down the sidewalk again. "But why Powell's?" "I thi nk we need to do some research." My sneakers catch on a crack in the pavement . I know KJ well enough to guess what he's after: he wants to look up information about ti me sickness. My heart starts pumping much faster than our walk deserves. KJ frowns at me . "Come on, Alex, don't you want to know?" "I do. I'm justÃ‰" I adjust the leash through my jacket's sleeve. "Scared. It's like Jack said , if you knew a fortune teller could tell you when you're going to die, would you want to know?" KJ shakes his head. "It's not like that at all. This is a disease. The more we know, the better steps we can take to protect ourselves. Like, if we only did short freezes would we live longer than if we held long ones? Or maybe we should be freezing all the time, that the sickness hits when we're not using our skills and all that time energy gets bottled up inside somehow." His speech is so classic KJ Ã the scientific thinker searching for a strategy to make the situation better Ã that I have to smile. "You'd think Dr. Barnard would already know this stuff." "He might not care. I mean, yeah, he monitors our chronotin levels to keep us alive , but what difference does it make to him if we die a couple month's early?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 154 I wrap a strand of my hair around my finger. KJ is asking good questions, but m y current state of health is complicated by the medication Ross is giving me Ã the one I promised him I wouldn't talk about. I cast a sidelong look at KJ. The sight of him loping along beside me fills me with a happiness that's almost as potent as my delight in catching Sykes. I don't want to lose him again. He was so upset that I'm letting Ross manipulate my blood tests, he'd might give up on me completely if I tell him about the meds . I push the secret aside, and instead tell K J the things I can share with him. In a rush, I pour out everything I can remember about my investigations into the clinic files: Calvin's strange chronotin readings, the varying "normal" ranges each of us seems to have, even the hints Jack shared that Dr. Barnard might be using us for his own research. By the time we reach Powell's, KJ's forehead is laced with frown lines. I, however, am feeling lighter than I have in days. Powell's bright warmth welcomes us as we escape the outdoor chill. The usual eclec tic mix of people wander the aisles, eyes slightly glazed as they scan the twelve foot shelves stuffed with books. The air carries the must of ink and old paper mixed with the scent of coffee drifting from the in store cafÂŽ. KJ marches off through the col or coded rooms: past the new arrivals Green Room and up the stairs into Purple, home to the medical books. I follow him as he moves down an aisle to stop squarely in front of the section with books about spinners. I scan the row to our left and right. The health section isn't as popular as fiction, and at the moment there's no one here. I still lower my voice. "What are we looking for?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 155 "Chronotin levels," KJ says, handing me a particularly dense looking medical textbook. "What's normal, what isn't, and any mention of rare mutations." I flip over the volume in my hands. It's a hardback, dark green, with the title printed in gold. Translational Research Methods for Chronotin: A Focus on Early Phase Clinical Studies . KJ slides another book from the shelf. It's thinner than mine, though with an equally unappealing title: Chronotin Levels in Adolescence. We both sit on the floor and start reading. Time crawls by, the min utes piling up with the books stacked around us. So does my frustration. We share everything we can find, but between our lack of scientific training and the density of the texts, we're not getting much. At one forty five, I toss Aclisote: A Treatise on Chronotin Suppression onto the floor and roll my shoulders. "Anything new?" KJ asks . I shake my head. "Just more of the same. Higher chronotin levels Ã which they're saying is anything that averages over 170 Ã equates with earlier death rates, as well as erratic behavior and more intense bouts of time sickness." "This one says the oppos ite." KJ holds up the book in his hands. "These guys did a study that showed a correlation between time sickness and deeply suppressed levels of chronotin." "What's a suppressed level?" I ask. "Under 150." I kick at one of the abandoned medical texts, send ing the heavy tome skittering across the floor.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 156 "Calvin's levels were both too high and too low," I say . "So which one triggered his illness? Did Barnard mean for Calvin's chronotin levels to drop so dramatically when he raised his Aclisote ? Or did he set it up on purpose as some kind of test?" "Maybe once you get sick the way you react to Aclisote isn't predictable. I read in a science journal once about atÃ‰ " " Shhh," I say, holding up my hand. There's a muffled announcement just winding down from an overhead speaker. Ã‰ please come to the customer service desk in the gold room. You have a message. "What?" KJ asks. "I think they said my name." KJ tips his head, but the intercom has stopped squawking . "Couldn't be," he says. " No one knows where we are." I touch the back of my neck, brushing my fingers across the tiny lump that marks the tracker. " The Sick does ," I say. "Something important mus t have come up." I'm on my feet , books tumbling from my lap . The only reason I can think that the Center would call me is that Ross needs me on a mission. The mission. "I'll just go check," I say. KJ opens his mouth but I scurry away before he manages a q uestion. The peace between us still feels tenuous; I don't want to mess it up by mentioning missions unless I have to .
Freeze Time email@example.com 157 Customer service turns out to be a desk tucked at the end of a wall of books. The man sitting at it ha s greasy hair and an intricate dr agon tattoo that snakes up his arm and under the sleeve of his black T shirt. "Hi." I pull on my pony tail . "I'm Alexandra Manning. Did you page me ?" The man peers up at me from under his bangs, eyes wary. "Are you a spinner?" he asks. I jump . "What?" "T he guy said he was calling from the CIC. " Tattoo guy's mouth twists. "They don't let spinners just run around freely do they?" I'm tempted to tell him spinners wander the city all the time but my irritation is diluted by fear he'll make a scene. I wrap my hand around the leash on my left wrist and squeeze. The rain jacket covering it feels like flimsy coverage . "No," I say. "IÃ‰work there. Volunteer. It's a school project." The man leans forward. "Really? Isn't it creepy?" "Not really. " I don't smi le . "What's the message?" The man rummages through some papers scattered on his desk and hands me a hot pink sticky note with a phone number scrawled on it. I don't recognize it, which isn't surprising. I don't know anyone's phone number. "Did the caller s ay who he was?" I ask. Tattoo man shrugs. " He just said it was important." He nods at a phone set on the edge of the counter. " You can use that if you need to ." I dial quickly.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 158 "Crime Investigation Center," a voice answers. I nearly drop the phone. "Jack?" "Hey, Alex. You got my message." "What's going on?" I turn my body away from tattoo man and lower my voice. "Does Ross need me?" "Ross? No, Barnard does. His computer crashed and he wants KJ back at the Sick ASAP ." " Right now? But we have leave fo r another forty five minutes." "KJ has to go back now. You have to run an errand for Dr. B." "By myself?" I glance over my shoulder. Tattoo guy is tapping something into a lap top on the desk but by the slow ways his fingers are moving I'm pretty sure he's mostly listening to my conversation . I stretch the phone as far as I can and wrap my hand around the mouthpiece. "We're not allowed," I whisper. "You are when the good doctor tells you to. He sends me out on errands by myself all the time. " " He what ? " I say, forgetting to keep my voice down. Tattoo guy gives up his pretense. He props his chin in his hands, head swiveled in my direction. I scowl at him. "Hey," Jack says, "I don't make the rules, I just follow them." "No you don't," I snap into the rece iver. Jack laughs. " True , " he says . "B ut you do, and if you come back without doing his errand , Dr. B will be pissed. "
Freeze Time email@example.com 159 Tattoo guy's eyes narrow . I try and think what my side of the conversation sounds like Ã have I said anything that would make him suspect I'm a spinner? " What does he want me to do ?" I ask Jack. "A guy named James Sidell called to say he has a plaque ready for tonight's agent meeting. It's for Ross for that bomb scare thing you guys rewound the other day. Dr. B didn't know anyone had order ed it and he doesn't have time to pick it up, so he wants you to go get it . " My hand tightens around the phone. This whole set up sounds strange, so strange it makes me wonder if something else is going on . Maybe Ross gave me this pass as a cover so we cou ld go out on a nother secret mission together ! He could have called in the plaque order himself so we'd have a place to meet . "Hello?" Jack's voice jolts me back to my surroundings . "You still there?" " Yeah, s orry. " I grab a pen from the counter. " Where do I go?" I scribble the address on the bottom of the sticky note and slip it in my pocket . I've just hung up when KJ emerges from a nearby aisle. " So you really did have a message ?" he asks. Tattoo Guy looks expectant. I drag KJ away from the counter before repeating my conversation with Jack , though without my suspicion that it's all a cover. It will be better if KJ goes back without suspecting anything. KJ's eyebrows climb his forehead as I talk, rising until they vanish under his floppy bang s . "Dr. B wants us to separate?" he asks. "Jack says Dr. B sends him out alone all the time." "Are you sure he's not just messing with you?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 160 "I don't know." I pull on my ponytail, replay ing the phone call in my head. I can't really remember the subtleties of Jack's tone. I'd been so distracted , first by Tattoo G uy and then by my brain wave, that I'd mostly been thinking about how quickly I could hang up. "He sounded serious," I decide. "I mean, serious for Jack." KJ doesn't look reassured. " Something about this feels off," he says. "Maybe I should go with you," I shake my head. I can hardly bring KJ along if it turns out to be a mission Ã not when I promised Ross I wouldn't tell anyone about my new skills. " I'll be fine," I say. "Besides, Jack said Dr. B's freaking out. Go do your magic on his computer and maybe he'll give you another pass. We'll need it if we want to do more research." KJ argues with me all the way through the store. I finally get rid of him by reminding him he has to buy Shannon a present . We part ways in the orange room Ã me heading out to the street, KJ scanning the store for something he can bring back . I feel bad about not telling him what I suspect, but the glimmer of guilt is buried under my excitement at the possibility of getting c loser to Sykes. The weather has deteriorated from damp to drizzly . Even though my walk is only a few blocks, by the time I find the right address my jeans are so wet they stick to my legs . My goal turns out to be a squat one story building , marooned on a corner between a self pay parking lot and a warehouse offering doggy day care. Dust colored stucco coats the outside walls. To my surprise, it really is a trophy shop. The sign over the door reads
Freeze Time email@example.com 161 Just Rewards and d ecals plastered on the lar ge windows advertise sports trophies and garish plaques. Behind them, blinds cover all but the top few inches of glass. Muffled barks from the neighboring business mingle with the hum of passing cars. I twist the d oorknob and push the door open. Stuffy ai r, dim as the blinded windows promised, greets me when I step inside. Display tables fill the main part of the room , showcasing the store's wares : athletic figures waving baseball bats, round medallions like wanna be Olympic medals, and framed monstrositie s with room for full paragraphs of accolades. I suspect business isn't going well. All the merchandise needs a good dusting. "Hello?" I call. A woman flipping through a magazine at the front counter raises her head with a nervous start. "Can I help you?" she asks. " I'm looking for Ã‰" I check the note, " Mr. Sidell ." The woman's face pales. She's middle aged, no make up, with graying hair hanging loose just past her shoulders. Her skin has the papery texture of heavy smokers and even in the half light I can see circles beneath her eyes. "You're Alexandra Manning?" "Yeah." I take a step clos er , doubt gnawing at the edges of my excitement . "Is Mr. Ross here ?" "Who?" The woman is watching me like I'm one of dogs from next door and she's trying to decide if I'll bite . I crumple the note in my pocket. I guess I was wrong. Barnard really did send me on an errand .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 162 " You have a trophy for me, " I say. The woman lets loose a flemmy cough before dragging herself to her feet. " Back here ," she says, pushing open a door behind her. "Mr. Sidell is waiting for you ." The space behind the door is even darker than the poorly lit showroom . I squint into it, a trickle of unease replacing my earlier eagerness . This whole set up is starting to feel really weird. I wish I'd let KJ come with me Ã then I'd be walking in there with a six foot ally instead of jus t this tired looking spinner hater. I shrug off my regrets and follow the woman into a workshop lined with tables and workbenches. One table is heaped with a stack of unfinished plaques, a nother holds a pile of soccer trophies, half packed int o a tipped ov er cardboard box. The o verhead lights buzz loudly in the deserted room . The woman gestures toward a door at the back corner . " He's in his office." She doesn't offer to walk with me and cringes backwards when I pass her . I stomp my way across jumbled spac e, hoping against hope that Mr. Sidell isn't as narrow minded as his staff. I can't believe Dr. B cut shor t my fleeting hours of freedom with an errand as unpleasant as this one. I reach the office and knock so hard the door rattles in its frame. "Come i n." The room is small, made even smaller by a large wooden desk, its surface crowded with stacks of paper and random trophies, most of them broken. Two men are crammed in with the furniture: one sitting behind the desk and the other in a chair directly
Freeze Time email@example.com 163 to my left. The guy next to me is wearing a black track suit and has very short hair. I can't see his face because he's bent over an expensive looking cell phone , jabbing at the screen with a thick thumb . The man at the desk is balding, overweight, and wears a wrinkled button down shirt. He looks as downtrodden as the woman in the storefront, with unwashed hair and heavy jowls. "Mr. Sidell?" I ask the man at the desk . He nods. "You're Alexandra." My uneasiness grows from a trickle to a steady flow . What difference does it make what my name is ? I'm just the gopher Dr. Barnard sent to pick up a plaque. I wipe my hand on my pant leg , a useless effort given they're both equally wet . "You have a plaque for me ?" I say. Mr. Sidell's eyes move from the strings o f my hair to the small puddle I'm dripping onto his floor . His face wears a curious expression, a mix between eagerness and anxiety that seems wildly inappropriate for our transaction. My skin prickles. "I have a few questions for you." Sidell points to a chair. I rub my arms. Th e office is unheated and manages to feel both stuffy and cold. My wet jacket does nothing to add any warmth . "I don't really have time," I say. "I have to get back." Footsteps sound behind me. I spin around in time to see a big guy ducking his head as he enters the room. He's young, clean shaven, and wears a tight shirt that shows off the many hours he must spend working out. He also reeks of cologne. Gym Guy gives me a quick appraisal, then shuts the door and leans against it. M y heart flutters up to my
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 164 throat and starts beating very fast. In the moment he raised his arm to close the door I got a clear view of a gun holstered under one of Gym Guy's well muscled arm s . I turn back to Mr. Sidell. "If the plaque isn't ready, I coul d come back later." Even as I say the words, I realize how idiotic I sound. It' s pretty clear by now that whoever tricked Barnard into sending me here was motivated by something that had nothing to do with plaques . Gym Guy 's arrival seems to have bolster ed Sidell's confidence. He straightens in his chair. "You work with Carson Ross." It's a statement, not a question. My uneasiness is now completely drowned under a tidal wave of anxiety. My brain whips through a thousand scenarios where this question might make sense , none of them reassuring . Gym Guy's presence looms behind me. Sidell links his fingers and places them on the desk. "I'd like you to tell me about a job you two did together." "A mission I went on with Mr. Ross?" I cross my arms. I'm hoping this makes me look confident, though my real intention is to keep my body from shaking. "I'm not sure why you're asking me this." "Because the police arrested the wrong man." My fingers clench . I run my mind back over the missions Ross and I ha ve been on in the last few months. There must have been dozens, half of which ended in someone's arrest. I lick my lips.
Freeze Time email@example.com 165 "I don't have anything to do with the arrest side of things. All I do is rewind the event. If you have a question about an arrest you n eed to talk to the cops." Sidell leans his forearms on the desk. There are drops of sweat collecting in the creases above his collar. I try not to stare at them. "I have talked to the cops," he says. "And Officer Cannon here agrees that what was written up with Carson Ross's report has some errors." Sidell gestures to the man sitting beside me. I've almost forgotten there was a third person in the room. I turn my head with a sense of foreboding . The man has lifted his head and even then at first I don't rec ognize him . Then the word "officer" clicks in and I realize he's the cop with the painful crew cut and squashed nose I saw at the butcher shop. The breath catches in my throat. This means the arrest that Sidell thinks is unfair is of Karl Wagner . The man w ho works for Sykes. Heat climbs up my cheeks. The stink of Gym Guy's cologne seems to be getting stronger. I'm intensely aware of how crowded this room is, and how very much smaller I am than any of the men inside it. If I screamed would anyone hear me? I picture the sparsely filled parking lot with its mask of howling of dogs and hope gutters out. No one is coming to rescue me. Sidell is watching me intently. "According to Officer Cannon, you said some interesting things when you came out of the freeze. Something about not being able to hold time, about being sorry. In fact, you told Agent Ross you messed up."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 166 A bead of sweat slides along my rib cage. The only windows in the room are set high up above Sidell's desk. Both are small, like those in a basemen t. They're also barred and opaque wi th grime. I lick my lips again. My tongue feels dry. "I don't have to tell you anything." "Look." Sidell sounds strained. "I'm just trying to find out the truth here." "Why?" The cold from the unheated room seeps into my bones. I wrap my arms more tightly around my chest. "What does Jason Torino's murder have to do with you?" Sidell's shoulders slump. The eyes that meet mine turn pleading. "Karl Wagner is my son." I open my mouth and find no words . I've never met a relati ve of someone we've arrested. I only see the crimes, grizzly acts committed by isolated humans. They are criminals, not someone's family, not someone who might be loved. "He's my son," Sidell repeats. "And you and Ross framed him." "We didn't," I croak. "Mr. Ross saw him enter in the room." "He can't have." Sidell leans forward. " Karl was home with me all that night. Carson Ross lied. You have to help me. You're the only one who can." Memory floods my brain: Jason's body flickering on the ground, b lood seeping back into the wound, the jolt as the unraveling slipped. What if Sidell is telling the truth ? What if Karl Wagner is innocent? Ross could only have caught the briefest glimpse of the killer. I shake my head, denying Sidell's words as much as my ability to help. "I can't." I make an effort to keep my voice steady. "I don't remember. I got sick that night. You have to ask Mr. Ross." "Agent Ross is not the type to say he made a mistake on a high profile case."
Freeze Time email@example.com 167 Sidell 's hands a re lying on the table Ã they are old m an hand, the skin mottled, the knuckles thick. I wonder how many times those fingers touched his son's hair. How many tears they wiped away. How many skinned knees they comforted. Then I remember Jason and the gaping w ound flapping in his neck. "It has to be you ," Sidell is saying . "You have to tell the police that you never saw Karl in the rewind . Please, I'm begging you. Tell them Ross isn't credible. Tell them he lied." I tear my gaze away from the pleading fingers. This man is a father . These could all be lies to protect his son . I don't know him. I do know Ross. Ross would never frame an innocent man. "I can't," I say again. "I'm sorry." Sidell lowers his head. To my horror, I see tears leaking into the lines arou nd his eyes. "Jim, " says Officer Cannon , getting up from his chair and pu tting an arm around Mr. Sidell. "It's OK, buddy. Calm down. We got a backup plan, remember?" He cocks a head toward the door. "We tried your way. We tried reasoning with her. Now w e've got Buck here for Plan B."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 168 Chapter 14 Gym Guy shifts against the door. Even the way he moves sounds muscle bound. Another bead of sweat slides along my ribcage, its path as cold as the rain matting my hair. Officer Cannon comes around to perch on t he edge of the desk. "I think you can tell that my friend here is pretty upset. Your type doesn't have families. I warned him you might not understand how a father would feel in this situation." He smiles at me Ã a thin lipped grimace offering no more war mth than the unheated room. "We'll try this the nice way one more time. Tell us everything you remember about that night." I can no longer stop my body from shaking. Mr. Sidell may be doing this because he's Karl's father, but I'm convinced these other me n were hired by Sykes, a man who has his own reasons for keeping Karl off the witness stand. The fact one of them is a cop doesn't surprise me, Ross has always speculated that Sykes has inside help. "I already told you ," I say, doing my best to keep my voice level . " I don't remember much. I got sick." "But you saw the murderer?" I swallow. "I passed out." "So how could Ross have seen him?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 169 A flare of anger overshadows the fear rattling my body. These men are nothing but thugs Ã the kind of people it is my job to put in jail. I won't let them use me to discredit the only man who has ever stood up for me. I square my shoulders. "I said I passed out, not Mr. Ross." Cannon's eyes narrow and I grab on to the tiny hesitation. Surely these men are bluffing. No one here is actually going to hurt me. I take a step back. Gym Guy Ã Buck's Ã hand lands on my shoulder like a sack of lead. The weight bows my knees. "This will all go much easier for you," Cannon says, "if you tell us the truth." Buck's hand tightens hard enough to make me aware of how little padding protects my clavicle. I twist out from under his meaty paw. "You're wasting your time ," I say . " Even if I contradicted Mr. Ross no one will believe me. If you haven't noticed, spinner s aren't very popular with most people." Cannon's cold smile widens. " Some people are not as fond of Mr. Ross as you seem to be. They would be happy to champion anyone who discredited him . You have nothing to be afraid of. Mr. Ross can't hurt you if you're under our protection." " Mr. Ross would never hurt me," I say . "It's your boss who's the killer." A bubble of silence expands into the room. Sidell shoots a nervous look at Cannon who has lost his false cheer . I push my advantage , giddy in the knowledge th at my guess was right . "He thinks he's safe, doesn't he? " I taunt . " Why don't you tell him that Ross and I are on to him. I expect it will only be a matter of days before Sykes gets arrested. Maybe if you turn on him before then you can get a plea deal. "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 170 Sidell's eyes go wide. Buck's hand crashes back onto my shoulder. For the first time , he speaks, his voice low and gravelly: "I told you questioning her was a stupid idea. All she's good for is as a warning to tell Ross to back o ff ." The flicker of bravado that has carried me through the last few minutes snuffs out. I claw at Buck's fingers, trying to pry them off of me. He shifts his grip almost casually, wrapping his free arm across my chest to pin me against him . The gun bites into my shoulder blade. I kick at his shins. H e's holding me so close the blow lacks force. Officer Cannon lifts his palms in a well I tried gesture. "I guess she's all yours , then ," he says to Buck . " Make sure you leave her body somewhere Ross will find it. Eventually." The room spins. Dimly, I hear Sidell protesting, something about someone knowing I'm at his shop. "Well, he's hardly likely to tell anyone that, is he?" Cannon snaps. I hear the door swing open and Buck starts pulling me away. "No!" I scr eam. "Let me go. Help!" The shock of Cannon's hand across my cheek stops my words . I close my mouth and taste blood. Sidell drops his face into his hands. "Please," I beg him. "D on't let them do this. I told you what I know. How can hurting me help your son?" Sidell shoulders start shaking, but any sympathy I had for him is long gone. Buck drags me from the room. My wet s hoes scrabble uselessly against the concrete floor . I reach out for time and the leash yanks the power away from me with a jolt tha t hurts
Freeze Time email@example.com 171 almost as much as Cannon's slap. I scream again. Buck shakes me so hard my ear slams against my own shoulder . "Shut up," he growls. He hauls me out into the workroom. I 'm breathing in jagged gasps, unable to fill my lungs. Cannon and Sidell edge p ast us, heading towards an exit in the back of the room. The woman who let me in is nowhere in sight. Buck pulls a tarp from a shelf with one hand and drops it on the ground. I thrash , kicking at every piece of him I can reach . My legs feel weak, their th rusts without impact. The air shimmers with the electric sparks of my terror. I find skin and sink my nails into it . Buck swears and adjusts his grip. His fingers grab the leash, smashing the hard edges against my bone . I moan . Buck rips my sleeve back , ex posing th e band. The metal gleams in the overhead light, its CIC logo a dark etching in its center. "What's that?" he demands. Tears clog my throat. What had Cannon said? Make sure you leave her body somewhere Ross will find it . Eventually . Buck is going to kill me. He's going to wrap me up and dump me somewhere so far away no one will find me until it is way too late. "I said, what's that?" Buck repeats, shaking me to make his point. "A leash, " I sob . My vision blurs , blending the blue pl astic into the dusty floor. Is this the last thing I'll ever see? I try to call up images of the people I care about: KJ, Ross, even Yolly, but all I can picture is Buck's gun . Buck slaps me again. "What's it do?" I blink. The world snaps back into focus: Buck doesn't know what a leash is.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 172 "It's how they tr ack us ," I say . Buck's eyes narrow. "I thought you had implants?" "Those only track our freezes. " I sniffle. " That's why we wear these when we leave the Center." Buck's gaze move s from my arm to my face, searching for truth. Tears wet my cheeks. Snot leaks from my nose. " They won't find you this time." Buck's grip tightens again around my arm. He yanks me toward the workbench, searching one handed through drawers of tools until his fingers close on a pair of wire cutters. The unsparing light gleams against the sharp blade. New fears pile on top of the mountain already threatening to overwhelm me . I don't have to pretend that I think this is a really bad idea. Buck slams my arm on the workbench, holding it steady while he forces the wire cutter under the leash. I scream. The jaws of the cutter close around the band . It doesn't break . Buck swears again. He twists the blade to try another angle , and when he does the s harp tip gouges my wrist. Pain sears my skin like a brand. My screams dissolve into sobs . Crimson wells up from the gash, splattering onto the bench and floor. Buck works the cutter, each press of his hand making the cut in my arm vomit up another gush of blood . It feels like he's slicing me over and over and over. Dots careen across my vision. I clutch at the workbench with my free hand. The leash's band bends upwards. Release comes suddenly. Buck's arm flies up from the abrupt lack of resistance, nearly stabbing himse lf in the mouth . He snatches up the battered leash and tosses it onto the workbench. "It's into the river with you," he mutters to the twisted remains.
Freeze Time email@example.com 173 Cla rity slices through the fog in my head as the leash's buzz recedes. For a moment we bo th stand there , panting. "Come on." Buck, still holding my arm, drags me towards the tarp. I force myself to ignore the ache in my arm and just breathe. Once. Twice. Buck shoves me to the ground and reaches for his gun. I wait only until I am absolutely su re Buck isn't touching me before reaching and freezing time. Silence Ã perfect, absolute silence Ã descends. I'm shaking so violently I can't stand up so I scoot myself away. Buck remains bent over the tarp, one hand frozen over the clasp that will releas e the gun. Even from here I can smell the mix of mold and paint thinner emanating from the tarp. I use the wall to pull myself onto to my feet. When I melt time it will seem to Buck as if I've vanished into thin air. I picture his shout of surprise, the others coming back, their confusion and anger . Their first call will be to Sykes which means that within minutes of real time Sykes will know what I've done, and know the kind of power I control . What will someone like Sykes do next? Will he tell someone? Or will he try even harder to get rid of me? Fear gives me the strength to keep moving . I have to get back to the Center. The Center, with its loc ke d doors and 24 hour security is the one place that can keep out Sykes. I wipe my nose on the back of my hand. My whole body feels tender: my jaw aching from Buck's slap , my muscles strained from my struggles to free myself , a nd my armÃ‰ I look down . The g ash across my wrist is about an inch long and deep enough that it probably needs stitches. Fresh blood trickles steadily down my arm , leaving red dro ps on the concrete floor.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 174 I strip off my jacket and rip off the torn arm to make an improvised bandage be fore stagger ing for the exit. Rain hangs in the air outside. I dash through it , dodging the scattering of frozen people. I'm holding onto time so tightly it feels like I'm gripping strands of steel. The image of Buck and his gun keeps popping into my head and every time it does I wobble so badly that I nearly crash into an unmoving pedestrian . The third time this happens I move onto the street. Stal led cars are less likely to be e ffected by a bump than stationary people. The stone walls of the Center rise i nto view a block before I reach them. I run faster. My foot is on the first step before I realize I can't just melt time and appear at the Sick's front door. Too many potential witnesses crowd the streets, not to mention the Center's video surveillance. I scan my surroundings , settling on a dumpster filled alley a half block away. I search the narrow space to make s ure it isn't already occupied, then crouch down, out of sight , and let time go. Returning sound blasts my ears: squealing breaks, a rattling bicycle, chattering voices . After gripping the time strands so tightly for so long, t he release makes me woozy and I have to grab the dumpster to keep from falling over . A woman gasps when I step out onto the sidewalk. The wi ndow behind her reflects something out of a zombie movie. Strips of mangled windbreaker hang from my arm. My hair sticks to my face and neck in sopping strands. B lood stripes my left hand and splatters my shirt with red. I turn away and race towards the s afety of the Sick. I'm terrified Buck will somehow appear before I can reach the Center. Jeff the protestor waves his sign when he sees me, then drops it when he notices my blood smeared clothes.
Freeze Time email@example.com 175 "Are you all right?" he asks. I ignore him, leap ing up the wide steps to the front door to ring the bell. The door camera's red eye blinks over my head. Eternal seconds pass before an electronic buzz tells me someone has punched the code to open the door. Charlie's mouth goes slack when I stumble inside. "What happened to you?" he asks. The freeze monitor starts beeping. I push the door shut behind me. When I hear the click of the lock resetting itself my knees give way and I sag against the wood. " They tried to kill me , " I pant . " Call Mr. Ross. I need toÃ‰" "Alex !" Yolly's voice echoes across the tiled foyer. " What's going on? KJ got back ten minutes ago babbling about the server being broken . " She stops when she sees me. "Oh my god ." "It was a trap." Relief at being back in the Center returns the s hivers that rattled me in the workshop . "The guy who called Dr. Barnard about a trophy. It was a set up Ã they didn't have anything for us to pick up . The men there took me to a back room and theyÃ‰" A lump rises up in the back of my throat. I swallow, the image of Buck once again reducing me into a quivering mess . Yolly comes over and wraps an arm around me. I turn my head and bury my face in her shoulder. " Slow down," Yolly says, patting my back . " What trophy are you talking about ?" "Jack gave me the mess age ," I say . " When he called Powell's ." Yolly tilts my head up so she can see my face. There's a frown creasing the space between her brows .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 176 " The one KJ said you got at Powell's ?" " Yes! " The relentless beep of the freeze monitor is making my head hurt. I can't figure out why Yolly is looking so confused . I try explaining more clearly : "Jack called and said Dr. Barnard needed KJ to fix his computer and that I was supposed to go pick up some plaque." " Alex. " Yolly places her palm against my forehead. " Dr. Barnard doesn't send spinners off on errands by themselves." " I know. But Jack saidÃ‰ " Jack's face dances before me. Was KJ right? Was this Jack's idea of a joke? I cradle my swaddled arm against my chest. No, the message was real, the people at the store were expecting me. I suddenly remember Jack telling me that he worked with people who were more important than Ross. He couldn't mean Sykes. Could he? "Jack, " I say, and, as if my words had conjured him, Jack himself descends the staircase. " Dr. Bar nard wants to know who set off the monitor." He catches sight of me and halts, one foot hovering off the last step . " What happened to you ?" Rage like I've never felt fills my face with heat. I clench my fists. "The men at the trophy shop," I said. "The pl ace you sent me." Jack's gaze flicks to Yolly. "I didn'tÃ‰" he says. " I never sent you anywhere ." His denial hits me like a slap. I lunge toward him, wanting to scratch the composure off his lying face. Yolly grabs my arm to restrain me. When her h and clo ses on my bound wrist, I scream.
Freeze Time email@example.com 177 " What is it ?" Yolly looks down at my arm. My home made bandage has unraveled , exposing my bare wrist. Yolly's head jerks towards the guard station, where my name must be scrolling across the monitor's small screen. "Where's your leash?" she demands . "I told you." Tears of pain well up in my eyes. "The guy tried to kill me. He cut the leash off so you couldn't trace me." "Leashes don't have a trace." Yolly turns back to me. Her face has gone soft , the frown replaced by an expression of deep sadness. With one hand she reaches out and smooths a strand of wet hair off my cheek. "Alex, if you're not feeling well, you need to tell someone. You can't just run off in the city and Ã what is it ?" Tears are pouring f reely down my cheeks and I'm pretty sure from the wooziness threatening my ability to stand up that I'm turning something way past pale. "My arm," I moan. Yolly unwraps the remains of my jacket . The final layer sticks to my skin and I whimper when she rip s it free. Yolly draws a sharp breath. Dried blood smears the skin on my forearm, framing the raw mouth of the incision. My wooziness takes a turn for the worse. " Oh, honey ," Yolly says . "Charlie, call Amy. Tell her I'm bringing Alex in and she'll need a room. And turn off that wretched monitor. " She slips an arm around my shoulders, hooking her hand under my armpit. "Come on . Can you walk ?" Jack hurries forward to take my other arm.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 178 "Alex, I'm so sorry ," he murmurs into my ear , so only I can hear . " Dr. B told me to keep the errand secret . I'd never have passed the message if I thought you'd get hurt ." If I felt even slightly less shaky I would have punch ed him. "Leave me alone ," I hiss . Jack drops my arm as Yolly helps me to the elevator. He stands ther e as the door closes, body hunched over as if the blow I wanted to deliver had actually landed in his gut. The elevator creaks upward. Fear, pain, anger, and confusion battle for dominance inside me. I lean against Yolly's warm bulk , trying to think . My advantage, as always, is time. It's only been minutes since the men attacked me. Plenty of time to track them down in a rewind. "Damn sicknessÃ‰" Yolly mutters, "stupidÃ‰ should have knownÃ‰ so unpredictable." Sickness? Yolly thinks I'm sick? I open my mout h to protest but I'm so tired the effort doesn't seem worth it. The door opens and I let her half carry me down the hall to the clinic. Amy meets us just inside the door. "What's going on?" she asks Yolly holds up my arm. "She'll need stitches," she says, enunciating the words in a way that makes it seem they carry extra meaning. Amy shakes her head. "Put her in the exam room. I'll go make up a shot of lidocaine ." Dry paper crackles as Yolly helps me up onto the exam room's padded bench.
Freeze Time email@example.com 179 " Lie down." she says. I collapse onto the thin foam. My head hurts, the inevitable headache claiming its due as the adrenaline leaves my system . Yolly dampens a cotton swab and starts wiping the dried blood from my arm. "E veryone has a hard time after a bout of sickness ," Yolly says. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. You can always come talk to me if you're feeling depressed." I nod . I don't get why she keeps talking about the sickness , but I'm glad she isn't threatening to get me in trouble for freezing time . "You have to call the Ross," I say. Yolly sighs. "Alex." Amy walks in with a tray loaded with the supplies she needs to stich me up. She sets it down and pulls on a pair of rubber gloves. I keep my face firmly turned toward Yolly so I don't have to watch. "I can lead him back to the trophy shop." The smell of iodine fills the small room. I try not to flinch while Amy cleans my wound. " I'll rewind it for him and he can identify the men who attacked me ." "Not now, Alex," Yolly says. "My arm's not that bad. I can still go on a mission." Yolly shakes her head. I swallow my frustration. "Then send someone else," I say. "KJ will go." The outer door to the clinic slams open and a voice roars from the waiting room: "Where is she?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 180 Amy winces . I'm glad she hasn't started stitching yet. Yolly squeezes behind Amy to get out of the exam room. "Dr. Barnard?" "Is Alex here?" He's still yelling. I'm surprised he sounds so upset. He's certainly unemotional about us dying. "Yes," I hear Yolly say . " I'm afraid she slashed her wrist . Amy will keep her here for a while, until we're sure she's not going to hurt herself again." Hurt myself? A sharp jab tells me Amy has injected the numbing agent . Is that what they think? That I cut my arm myself ? " Stop wiggling ," Amy says. The door to the exam room slams open as Dr. Barnard bursts through it. The straggly hairs around his bald head stand out like an attacking dog's ruff. "What happened?" "Jack called me with a message ," I explain , for what feels like the twentieth tim e . " He said someone called you about a Ã‰" Barnard makes an impatient noise and suddenly his distraught state takes on a different meaning. The blood drains from my face, making my cheeks prickle . What if Jack was telling the truth ? What if the message he g ave me really did come from Barnard ? "They beat me up," I say. I choose my words carefully . Did Barnard send me to the trophy store on what he thought was a legitimate errand? Or did he know that Sykes 's men would be waiting for me?
Freeze Time email@example.com 181 The safe feeling that has comforted me since I heard the front door lock evaporates. My eyes flick around the tiny room. Amy hold s my arm in a firm grip. Barnard's body blocks the door. Even without a leash t here is no way out. Yolly's head bobs behind Barnard 's . She speaking softly, but I can still hear every word. "The sickness must be causing hallucinations ," she murmurs . " Alex claims she got paged at the bookstore but KJ admits he didn't hear anything and he wasn't there when she talked on the phone . When did you last adjust her dosage?" Dr. Barnard isn't listening. He moves so close to me that Amy has to stop stitching. "How did you get away?" he asks me. My mouth goes dry. "They said they were going to kill me. He cut my leash off. IÃ‰ IÃ‰" "What. Did. You. Do." A new t error stalls my tongue . I'm sure Dr. Barnard knows I can change things in frozen time. Did Buck call him? OrÃ‰m y mind wheels through possibilities. The tracker. That's how they knew I was at Powell's. Barnard could have watched the monitor, following m y progress all the way to the trophy store. The tracker would have winked out when I froze time and reappeared a half block from the Center. My mouth opens without making any sounds. Barnard stands so close to me I can smell the bitter scent of old coffee on his breath . "I ran away," I manage. The words come out in a whisper. Barnard's lips press together so tightly they almost draw his sagging chin taut.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 182 "Amy," he snaps. "Go and get a syringe. I need to test this girl's blood right now."
Freeze Time email@example.com 183 Chapter 15 I w atch, helpless, as Amy scurries over to a supply cabinet. Yolly is staring at Barnard, confusion stamped across her features. None of us say anything. The tiny exam room is so crowded with bodies it feels like there isn't enough air for us all. When Amy tu rns around, her face is pale. I remember Ross telling her they could never trace he r faked test results and wonder if that's true. Amy must be wondering the same thing. Her hands shake so much she can't rip open the packaging holding the needle. Barnard e xtracts the syringe himself. He swabs my arm above the half stitched gash and plunges the needle into the vein at my elbow. Blood, dark and rich, fills the tube of the syringe with my secret. My mouth goes dry. Once the test is complete, whatever Ross is g iving me will be exposed. Barnard will grill ever yone to find out how I got it , and t he way Amy looks now I can't imagine her standing up to Barnard for longer than it takes her to draw breath. Ross will be ruined. And IÃ‰ Barnard slips the needle from my skin and presses a cotton ball over the prick in one smooth motion. "Yolanda." Yolly starts . "Take her arm ," he says, " and don't let go of her. I don't want her freezing time alone." "Freezing time? What differenceÃ‰?" "Just do it." Yolly wraps one hand a round the bare skin of my un hurt arm.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 184 Barnard points to Amy. " I'm sending Charlie up with a leash. I want her leashed, in a room, with the door locked. She's to stay there until I say she can be released. Is that clear?" The two women nod dumbly. Barnard walks away, carrying with him the bloody evidence that will guarantee my imprisonment for the rest of my short life. Amy's face has gone dead white. She keeps shooting glances at Yolly while stitching up my arm. I know the two women want to talk but won't as long as I'm there. I don't mind. The quiet gives me space to think. Shannon has described the blood tests to me before. She says you have to pour the sample into a vial and add a few drops of a separating solution. Then you swirl it for ten minutes until the chemical reaction finishes. After that you smear some on a slide and run it through the chronotin analyzer, a buzzing little metal box that looks like a miniature copy machine. Ten minutes. I check the clock. 2:46. Say it takes Dr. Barnard thirty seconds to get to the lab room and maybe ten seconds more to mix up the solution. T en minutes of swirling and he'll be putting the sample in the analyzer no later than 2:57 . That gives me until 2:56 to figure out a way to stop him. Amy's fingers move methodically through her task. Prick, pull, snip. My skin slides together into a neat seam. I try not to fidget. 2:49. Yolly's han d squeezes my other arm. Not only will I have to get away from her, I'll have to cover up the fact that I've frozen time. The impossibility of my task makes my head hurt worse than the stitches. 2:52. "That should do it." Amy pulls off her gloves and rubs a ha nd over her forehead, which is damp with sweat. Yolly touches her shoulder.
Freeze Time email@example.com 185 " You feeling OK?" she asks. "You look kind of pale." Amy mumbles something about Barnard yelling at her and starts picking up the bits of bloody cotton and thread. I look at th e clock again. A plan is forming in my head, but unless these two start moving faster I'm going to run out of time . "I'll do that," Yolly says to Amy , "you go get the room ready ." Amy trails from the room. "You don't have to hold my arm," I tell Yolly as soon as Amy leaves . She casts me an uncomfortable look. "Dr. Barnard was very explicit," she says. One handed she dumps the leavings Amy collected into the trash. Her movements are awkward and painfully slow . The clock counts down another minute. My knee starts jiggling. I could try to wrench my arm from Yolly's grasp. Is it worth it? She's pretty strong and if it doesn't work my violent action will make her distrust me. Yolly tosses the last of the garbage and lets out a long sigh. " Let's go set you up in a room ." I slide off the exam bed. Yolly keeps a firm grip on my arm as we leave. 2:54. The main clinic door opens. Charlie is here with the leash. This is it. Game time. " Will you let Amy take me in the ro om by herself ?" It takes all I have not to scream the words. Yolly hesitates. "Please," I say. "It's just that last time I was sick I was her e with you, Yolly, and going back in together will make it feel like it's happening all over again. Like the wors t days of my life are being endlessly rewound ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 186 I'm babbling. Even to myself the words make no sense. Yolly 's face , however, crumples. She blinks very hard and strokes my arm with her free hand. "Of course, dear. I understand." She calls for Amy. Charlie walks towards us, looking nervous. I lower my head, doing my best to look meek and harmless. Amy's h and replaces Yolly's. She takes the leash from Charlie and reaches for my unhurt wrist, but I've already started walking, pulling her with me as I s tep into the cheerless sick room. The door closes behind us. No one locks it . "Let go of me," I say, keeping my voice barely over a murmur. Amy shakes her head and reaches for my wrist again. I raise it over my head. "If you don't, Barnard is going to find out you faked my blood tests." My gasps. "What do you mean?" she says. There's a clock over her head. 2:55. One more minute. "Let go of my arm," I say, "for five seconds and I'll cover for you ." Her grip loosens, but not enough. "How?" she asks I shake m y head. The clock is ticking relentlessly forward. "It doesn't matter, but it has to be now." I pull against her hand. Her fingers tighten. "I can't." "You can." I stare into her eyes, forcing my will into her. I could freeze time and take her with me, but then what? She has no reason to keep my secret . I play my last card.
Freeze Time email@example.com 187 "It's what Mr. Ross would want you to do if he were here ." Amy's mouth wobbles. " Carson ?" " Close your eyes, let go of me, and count to five. Right now ." Amy's eyelids flutter. Her finger s loosen . I pull my arm free and yank time to a halt. The world stops. Amy stands before me , eyes closed, looking scared . I memorize my position, checking the set of my feet , the angle of my head, and move away Ã carefully Ã so I don't bump her. The sickroom door opens at my touch. I pull it wide inching around Yolly and Charlie who are standing just outside . When I gain the waiting room I check the clock again. 2:56 . Adrenaline makes me run when I don't nee d to. I charge back to the empty exam room and grab up the materials I need Ã a clean syringe , a rubber tie, and a handful of cotton balls Ã then race to where Dr. Barnard stands in his narrow lab. The green light of the chronotin analyzer send s ou t a weak beam. My heart squeezes painfully until I see that Barnard is still holding the tube with my blood. His other hand is stretched towards the counter, fingers inches from an eye dropper. I've made it with seconds to spare . Th e fragments of my plan flutter around my brain like bits of paper caught in a windstorm . I grab at the scattered pieces, forcing them together as I race through the Center's silent halls. Already, I can feel time pulling at me; my injuries aren't going to allow me much time to hold on. I find KJ in the third place I try. He' s in a storage room putting away a box of computer supplies. Snatchi ng up his frozen hands, I melt and refreeze time as fast as I can manage the commands.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 188 " Alex !" KJ's body jerks . "You can't just appear likeÃ‰" His eyes blink. The box he's holding slides from his fingers , landing on the floor with an unfortunate cracking sound. He puts a hand on my shoulder. "What happened to you?" he asks. I tell my story quickly, trying to gloss over the worst parts. KJ looks sick when I finish . "Alex, IÃ‰" He moves as if to pull me into a hug and I step back automatically. KJ shove s his hands in his jeans pockets. "How badly did they hurt you?" "Nothing permanent." I hold up my arm to show the small bandage Amy taped over the wound . "This is the worst of it." KJ shakes his head, clearly still trying to fit my story into his brain. "And now you think Dr. Barnard has ties with Sykes ?" " Yes. I don't know. Maybe . But I'm sure he suspect s what I can do ." " Then why did you freeze again ? This is only going to make things worse." I study the floor. "I didn't tell you the full story before. There's a reason Ross is faking my blood test s . He's giving me an experimental medicine. It's supposed to let me live longer, and this new skill is a sid e effect . If Barnard runs a test he'll figure it out." "You let Ross give you drugs ?" KJ speaks with ominous calm. I nod . "Then letting Barnard run the test is the best thing for you," KJ says . "He'll take you off Ross's drug and put you back to normal."
Freeze Time email@example.com 189 M y head snaps up. KJ wears a look of grim determination. A beat of panic rises in the back in my throat. " This new medicine might be the only reason I'm alive right now," I say. "Plus if some other drug shows up in my system Barnard will run a bunch of tests Ã h e'll make me freeze time and figure out I can change things. You said it yourself. They'll send me to the Central Office . I can't just appear places. It's too much. They won't let anyone have this kind of power." We stare at each other for a long time. I know KJ so well I can see the struggle beneath his skin: desire to get me back on Aclisote , fear of the consequences if my secret is discovered, a nger that I'd lied to him . Finally he let s out a long sigh. "You'll help me?" I ask . "On one condition." "What?" "You get your blood tested." "KJ, I told you, I can't. If they test my blood, they'llÃ‰" He shakes his head. "Shannon can run the test ." Shannon. Of all the people he could have c hosen to involve, Shannon is probably at the bottom of my list. I bit e my lip, trying to think up another option. The image of Dr. Barnard holding the vial of my tainted blood leaves me with little choice. "OK," I say . "She can test it. But don't tell her that my skills changed." KJ uncrosses his arms. "What do you need?" Relief buoys my spirits. KJ is back on my side. I allow myself to believe my plan might work.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 190 "Your blood." I hold up the stuff I took from the clinic. "I need your bl ood." "To swap out your sample?" I nod . " It's a temporary fix," KJ warns . "He can draw more." "It buys me time." I grimace . "It always comes down to time, doesn't it?" KJ gives a wry smile. He' s already rolling up his sleeve. Drawing blood turns out to be harder than it looks when the clinic staff do it. Even after I've tied off KJ's arm to make the blood vessels pop up, the actual injection part takes a while. Skin is tougher than it appears. By the ti me I'm done, KJ's face has turned slightly g reen. "You might want to practice that if you're going to make a habit of it." "Sorry," I mutter. I cap the filled syringe while KJ unties his arm . "We have another problem." I dab his arm with a cotton ball, then stick it and the rubber tie into my pock et. "I need to block the grid somehow so Barnard doesn't know I stopped time." "You've already triggered the system . It will go off in a few seconds ." KJ scratches his chin. "I suppose we could unplug the server ." He must notice my blank look because he adds: " If we unplug the server that the monitor runs on , the whole system will reset , which should clear your freeze from its memory . It happens sometimes when the power goes out. You'll have to melt time long enough for the monitor to recognize the power was cut and then freeze again as soon as we plug it back in ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 191 " Is there any way to disable my tracker so that I'm not on the system?" "Not unless we cut it out of your neck." I touch the barely discernable bump just below my hairline. "They'd probably not ice that, wouldn't they." The server lives in a n electrical closet that' s locked with a key card . KJ and I run through the options, settling on one that will use the least fragments of real time. We go down to Charlie's guard station to retrieve the key ca rd then hurry to the closet, blessedly located in a little used side hall. I take KJ's hand. " Remember ," he says, " you have to be fast or the monitor will register your freeze." With the image of Barnard's swirling vial floating in the forefront of my brain, I drop hold of time. KJ swipes the card. We snatch the door open and I refreeze. It's not easy. Time drags at me, a powerful force straining for freedom. I clench my teeth and force it under my control. The closet i s dark, lit by only a few small lights on the monitor control panel. KJ crawls around on the floor, patt ing wires and cords as he traces the right one to the power outlet. One hard tug and it's unplugged. I prop the door open and move closer so I can put my hand against the back of his neck. When I do I feel his own time skills rise to meet mine, stabilizing my control. "Ready?" I ask. KJ nods . Time runs forward . The lights on the mainframe wink out. KJ thrusts th e plug back into the wall . Freeze time.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 192 The two of us sink back on our heels. For a while we just si t there. My hand lingers on the back of his neck. It seems hard to believe it was only a few h ours ago I imagined doing this so we could freeze together, p icturing those moments as some kind of illicit romance. This stark reali ty is both less and more than I imagined Ã less in that there isn't an inch of romance in this cramped closet and more because sit t ing here makes me realize that my bond with KJ is muc h deeper than a few stolen kisses. He might not be my boyfriend but he's still my rock . I know he will always be there for me . My headache gives an insistent throb . "We better get moving," I say. I lift my hand, missing his warmth as soon as I've stopped touching his skin. We return the card key to the guard station. Charlie is sitting where we left him, completely engrossed in his cell phone . Dr. Barnard hasn't moved much either , only shifted the eye dropper from the counter to rest on the lip of the via l . I pour KJ's blood into a fresh tube and ad d a few drops of the settling solution. I swirl it slowly, checking the original vial to try and match the blood wash up the sides of the glass. "We should be timing this," KJ says . I autom atically check the clock. 2:56 . That isn't going to work. "Count," I say . KJ starts countin g in a steady cadence. I swirl the vial until he reaches three hundred . Five minutes , half way there . Very carefully I slid e the vial with my blood out of Barn ard's inert fingers and replace it with the tube of KJ's. KJ takes t he vial with my blood and caps it with a stopper.
Freeze Time email@example.com 193 " Can you ge t back in five minutes?" I ask. KJ nods. Without pausing his count , he pulls the medica l trash from my pocket and wraps it around t he tube of my blood . "I'll get rid of this," he says between numbers , then takes off down the hall at a run. I pic k up his count and head back to the clinic, easing past Matron to get back to the sick room. I'm so tired it's hard to keep the numbers straight. Amy is right where I left her, eyes squeezed shut. I fit my arm back into the curve of her fingers, making sur e not to touch them, and realign my feet and body as close to my former posture as I can remember. At six hundred I release time , tensed for the scream of the monitor. Amy opens her eyes. "You're still here," she says. The monitor remains quiet . I let out a shaky breath . "Of course I am." " I thought you were Ã‰?" Amy's mouth hangs open, suspended just like her sentence. " Thought I was what ? Going to run away?" I shrug. "How could I? I just wanted a few seconds to think before you put the leash on. It makes my head so fuzzy ." Amy closes her mouth. Her hand wraps around my arm again. She lifts the leash, hesitates. " So will you cover for me ?" she whispers I rub my temple . " You don't have to worry ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 194 Amy gives herself a little shake, either dismiss ing her fears or reclaiming her role as the responsible person in the room . She snaps the leash on my wrist and leads me to the bed. "You'd better lie down ," she says . " You lost a bit of blood. Those sti t ches might hurt once the l idocain e wears off." I climb into bed without protest and stare up at the ceiling . The stress of the past hour, combined with the strain of holding time so long, has left me exhausted. Amy heads for the door. I hear it shut and then the snap as the lock clicks. My head aches, th e pain worsened by the buzzing of the leash's interference . So many things could still go wrong: the betraying beep of the re awakened monitor exposing my freeze, KJ not making it back to the storage room and so appearing from nowhere in some random hall, Barnard figuring out he's been tricked. The murmur of Yolly and Amy's voices drifts through the locked door Ã soft, worried sounds unintelligible from where I lie . T he clock on the wall sends a thin red hand to mark the pas sage of every second. Time moves forw ard, out of my control. I close my eyes and wait . *** Barnard turns up in my room a half hour later . He's calmer now , though apparently too worked up to sit . Instead, he paces around my room, spinning the watch on his wrist as he walks . "Tell me , again, what happened today." I tell my story the way I had before: Jack calling me up with a message, the wo man sending me to the back room, the men threatening me. I add that they wanted me
Freeze Time email@example.com 195 to testify against the evidence of my rewind . I don't mention R oss or Sykes . Instead, I keep the focus on Sidell's role as Karl Wagner 's father. When I finish, Barnard stops pacing and rests his hands on the metal bedrail at the foot of my bed. His eyes are bright inside his droopy face. "And, tell me again how you g ot away?" I meet Barnard's gaze with all the innocence I can muster . The half hour has given me time to think up a faintly possible cover story. "I managed to grab up one of the trophies and I hit the big guy with it and ran. The other two had left and I figured Buck wouldn't chase me once I hit the street." Barnard studies my thin frame . If he's act ually met Buck he must know I'm lying. I hurry to change the topic. " Mr. Ross will want to know what happened. Have you called him ?" Barnard releases the bedra il and walks to the window. "You have to admit your story is pretty far fetched, Alex andra ." I swallow. " It's the truth." Barnard lifts a slat and peers out the windo w into the depthless gra y of lowering clouds. I wonder what he's thinking. He's had time to run my blood test at least twice. Does the fact I'm not being dragged to the Central Office mean my secret is safe? Or is he even now plotting how to turn me over to Sykes? " Yolly thinks your wounds are self inflicted ," Barnard says . " That the sickness is making you hallucinate ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 196 I pick at the bandage covering my wrist . Does Barnard really believe I'm sick or is he using Yolly's fears as a convenient cover story? If Barnard really does have ties with Sykes, i t won't take long before he hears a bout my disappearance in front of Buck. And if he doesn't , there's still Sykes himself. My probing fingers catch the edge of one of my stitches, sending a dart of pain along my arm . I don't see Sykes as a man who takes defeat easily. If he wants to stop Ro ss from pursuing our investigation , one unexplained escape isn't going to slow him down . He'll either come back for me and do it right or change his tactic and instead go straight for Ross . I smooth the bandage against my arm , wishing the motion could just as easily smooth away the fear clamping my chest . If I want protection from Sykes then he needs to go to jail and right now I'm the only one who can make sure that happen s . "How long until I'm cleared for time work?" I ask. "Time work?" Barnard drops the slat and turns back towards my bed. "Oh, you won't be doing any more time work. Not if you're so unstable you'd consider suicide." I bolt upright. Barnard moves across the room. "We'll just keep an eye on you here for a while. Maybe run a few tests." "No!" Barnard pulls out his keys . I scramble to get out of bed. "You can't do that. " My hands fumble with the sheets which tangle around my legs. "I can still go on missions . Ask Mr. Ross." "Carson Ross is not a medic al expert for the CIC, " Barnard says , not even bothering to turn around . The lock clicks . I manage to tear the sheets away, half falling out of bed.
Freeze Time email@example.com 197 "Wait! " I say. " You don't understand." Before the door even opens all the way, Barnard sl ips through it and yanks it shut. " I'm not sick !" I wrench the handle just as the lock falls back into place. " Come on ." I bang against the unresponsive wood. " I didn't try and hurt myself. I feel fine . You saw my chronotin levels. " Footsteps retreat on the other side of the door. I press my ear against the crack and catch the click as the outer door to the clinic closes. Tears swell the back of my nose. Sykes is out there, a dark menace with the power to destroy everything I care about. I crumple on the fl oor and let the tears fall. A ll my planning, all my lies and desperate tricks, have landed me here : leashed and alone in a locked room.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 198 Chapter 1 6 Time grows unruly. I look up at the clock and see only five minutes have crawled past , and then the next i n stant a n entire hour is gone . I pace the room, tracing Barnard's steps around the bed to search the street for signs of Sykes's men , then looping back to try the door, which is locked. Always locked. I finger the rough hole. The same key works on both sid es, but even if I had one, the unmoving knob would offer me no protection. Not if Barnard is the only thing standing between me and Sykes . The clock reads 5:30 when I finally hear voices in the clinic lobby. My body tenses until I recognize them. Yolly. And KJ. I'm standing inches from the door when it swings open. "KJ!" I hurl myself at him. KJ returns the hug, his arms tight against my back. "He 's insistent , you r friend," Yolly says, pretending to frown at us . " He can only stay for five minutes. Dr. B arnard didn't explicitly say no visitors, but I'm not sure he'd approve." "Thanks, Yolly," I say, blinking back tears . "I really appreciate it." Yolly dabs at the corner of her eye, trying to make it look like she's fishing out an eyelash. "I'll go ru stle up some dinner for you ," she says as she backs out of the room. I press my face into KJ's chest, taking in the earthy scent that is so uniquely hi s. The s olidity of him calms me and I wish I could stand here forever. "I'm so glad you're here," I say . " I have to get a message to Ross. I needÃ‰" KJ makes an odd gulping sound. I realize he hasn't moved since he entered the room. I loosen my hold on him and take my first good look at his face . His jaw is taut ,
Freeze Time email@example.com 199 eyes wide, like he's trying really hard n ot to cry . The comfort I'd felt in his arms evaporates. "What happened ?" I ask. "Shannon tested your blood." I move away from him. "What? How?" "That sample Barnard took. We snuck it down to the lab an hour ago. Alex, your chronotin, it's high." He's hold ing his hands at his sides, fingers clenched into fists . "How high? " My voice squeaks . " Like over 175?" "Higher." He swallows. "It's 317." "317?" I back away from him , stopping only when I hit the hard edge of the bed. " That's impossible. Nobody tests anywhere near that high." "We ran it twice." My knees give way. I collapse against the bed. "How?" I say, though I'm not even sure what I'm asking. How is that possible? How can I still be alive? KJ comes over and sits next to me. " You have to get back on Aclisote. Now. It's a miracle yo u haven't gotten another attack ." "Will Shannon tell Barnard?" I ask. "I told her I had to talk to you first. But she's worried about you, too." I shake my head.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 200 " This can't be right . Ever s ince I started Ross's medicine I've felt completely healthy. Normal. Better than normal." " It's all in your head, Alex." KJ puts his arm around my shoulder. "You wanted to believe the medicine was working so it did . And e ven if you do feel OK, Jack says ho w you feel i s no way to predict an attack. H e said he felt fine the day before his." I stiffen . "You talked to Jack ? He's the one that sent me to the trophy store." "I know. He told meÃ‰" KJ rubs his forehead. "I'm not telling you this right . Let me start a t the beginning. "Af ter you melted time, I went to find Jack. I wanted to hit him like you'd been hit, but he wouldn't fight me. He just stood there and swore that he thought the errand was legit ." "And you believe him?" "I do. " KJ twis t s on the bed so he's facing me. " He looked completely un Jack like Ã no bravado, just scared . He told me he's pretty sure Sykes pays Barnard to do favors for him . He thinks Barnard covers up Sykes's crimes. Nothing huge , just stuff like stalling an investig ation or making sure only weak spinners get sent to do rewinds on Sykes cases. S ometimes Barnard sends Jack out on his own to deliver messages to this mailbox over at some rent a box place Ã he'll sneak him out through the parking garage so there's no reco rd of him leaving. That's why Jack never gets in trouble when he breaks rules. The two of them have an understanding. " "An understanding that it's OK to work for murderers." " A really rich murderer."
Freeze Time email@example.com 201 I rub a t a blood stain on my shirt . No one has bothered to bring me clean clothes. "So it's true then. Dr. Barnard was willing to let Sykes kill me." KJ puts his hand on my knee , squeezing until I look up at him. "I don't know what Barnard knew ," he says . " Maybe he thought they were just going to rough you up. But w hatever he's doing is not as important as what's going on with you . " KJ's eyes bore into mine . Fear lurks in those dark depths , fear for me, for himself. I can feel my body tensing in response . " Sykes may or may not hurt you, " he says, " sky high chronotin will. Let's deal with the immediate threat first. Get back on Aclisote. Bring your chronotin levels back down to normal ." Normal. I'm on my feet, pacing again . What is normal ? The leash buzzes in my brain. Am I more at risk from Barnard or Sykes? The new drugs or the old? From someone else hurting me or my own body losing its fight with time? I reach the door and by habit test the knob. It doesn't budge. " How w ould I even do it? " I ask KJ. " The medicine is all premeasured and stocked in the cabi net." "Amy. Tell her the truth and ask her to swap it out. This way you'll free her, too. She could lose her job over this." Another person I'm putting at risk. I cross the room again, lifting the blinds to stare out at the darkening street. Do the bars pr otecting the glass keep out threats or just keep me trapped? " If I stop taking Ross's medicine , we won't be able to catch Sykes. "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 202 "If Ross knows who Sykes is he 'll figure out a way to arrest him ." "Not soon enough. " KJ's face appears over my shoulder, reflected in the window . "Forget Sykes ," he says . " Think about yourself." Th e last t ime he said those words to me, he'd put himself in the equation . Look at me, he'd said. Is that really how you want to spend what little time you have left? If I could go back in time I'd answer differently, but that kind of rewind isn't possible , even with my new skills . Time is not a soft flexible thing . It' s a harsh master that marches relentlessly forward. I've made decisions I can't take back, found out thing s I can't forget. I shake my head. " Thinking about myself is what created this mess. Now I have to do what I can to make things better ." KJ is standing so close to me I can feel heat radiating from his chest. I would only have to lean back a few inches to rest against him . I keep my spine stiff. " I have to do this, KJ. Just one more mission and then I promise I'll give it up. " KJ's reflection shakes its head . The image is h azy, as insubstantial as a rewind. "AlexÃ‰" "Please, KJ. Ask Jack to call Ross Ã he can use Barnard's phone." The outer door to the clinic opens. KJ and I spring apart . I paste on a smile to match his expression of forced cheer . "Dinner's here," Yolly announces , pushing open my roo m door with her hip . KJ hurries over to help her with the tray. I go to the bed and busy myself raising the arm of the bedside table .
Freeze Time email@example.com 203 "Y ou'd better leave now , KJ," Yolly says . " Alex needs her rest. I'm sure she'll be back with the rest of you soon." KJ mov es slowly , lingering at the door to gaze back at me. Please , I mouth, and , very slowly , he nods his head . Yolly fusses with my tray: setting out a glass of water, unwrapping the plastic cutlery. I notice she hasn't included a knife. When it's ready , I cli mb dutifully back into bed. In two minutes they are both gone . I pick up my fork . It's chicken tonight. Yolly gave me drumstick s to compensate for my knife less state, along with a blob of mashed potatoes, and a scattered pile of peas. I spear a bite of dinner and put it in into my mouth, forcing myself to chew and swallow. Whatever is coming I'm going to need my strength. *** At 7:30, I am lying in bed feeling as clean as refreshed as a sp onge bath, clean sweats , and a restless nap can make me. I'm star ing at a book I'm not reading when I hear the clinic door open again. Footsteps patter across the linoleum at a clip that slow moving Yolly could n ever match. I jump out of bed, book tight in my hand, ready to hurl the meagre weapon at whoever is rattling the door knob. "Alex ? " My clenched hand loosens. "Mr. Ross!" "How's my best partner doing ?" His smile lights up the room . I climb back into bed, smoothing the blankets across my knees . " You came ! Did Jack call you ? "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 204 Ross nods . The visitor's chair scrapes across the floor as he pulls it close to the bed. " He did n't say much, though. Just that someone attacked you and that Barnard locked you in the clinic." All the fears and questions that have been bubbling in my brain come pouring out. I tell him everything Ã the trophy shop, Barnard's attempt to test my blood , my suspicions that he works with Sykes, the crazy high chronotin reading . Ross sits on the edge of the chair. He murmurs good girl when I describe how I refused to tu rn on him in the trophy shop and flinches when I describe Buck . The only time he frowns is when I tell him about the blood test KJ ran that revealed my chronotin levels . When I stop talking, he drops his face in his hands . " Alex, I am so sorry." A flush of guilt prickles my skin . I'd been so eager to unburden myself I didn't consider how all this would sound to him . Ross risked everything to get me the new drugs, and I just blurted out that they were killing me. I reach for the water pitcher Yolly left by my bed , pouring out a glass of water so I don't have to look at the slumped curve of his shoulders . "It' s not your fault, " I say . "I knew the risks." "You're wrong. " Ross's voice is tight with emotion. " All of this is my fault. The fact those monsters tri ed to kill you, the crazy chronotin levels . " He raises his head. " But I can fix this. I promise I will make you safe." " I know you will. " I sip some water . " As soon as we can arrest Sykes and Shea .. . "
Freeze Time email@example.com 205 "No." Ross slams a fist onto the chair's arm . " That won't be enough. There's still Dr. Barnard. If he knows what you can do, he' s never going to let you out of this room. There's only one way to make this right. You have to leave the Center." The glass in my hand slips , splattering water down the front of my sweat shirt. " What?" Ross takes the cup from me and sets in on the table. He leans towards me. His eyes burn into mine so intensely it's hard for me to look at him. " It was stupid of me to have you take a new medication without tracking your chronot in more closely . Leaving here not only gets you away from Barnard but it will also let you get proper medical care. I've been corresponding with Dr. Kroger ever since you started on his meds, and he's eager to take you on as an official patient. We'll find a way to tweak the dosage, or get you back on Aclisote if that's the best decision, either way we can get you the treatment you need so you can live." The walls, so recently closing in arou nd me, suddenly feel expansive Ã their bare white no longer screa ming emptiness but instead offering a blank canvas waiting to be filled in. " How could we do it?" I gasp. The edges of Ross's eyes crinkle as he smiles. " They think you're suicidal, right? All we have to do is get you out of the building in a way that make s it look like you escaped. Then we cut out your tracker and throw it in the river. It won't be the first drowning where no one finds the body . Meanwhile , I'll find you an apartment , someplace far out of town. You lay low for a bit ,
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 206 get new clothes, maybe change your hair . I' ll get you some ID. Y ou could enroll in a school, live a normal life for as long as you have left. " The possibilities Ross paints with his words are more than I can take in. I pull my legs up, hugging them against my chest . The hard lump of my knees digging in to my ribs feels like the only real thing in this room. Maybe Yolly is right. Maybe I am hallucinating. " I'm still a teenager, " I say. "N o one would rent me an apartment." " I'll rent it ," Ross says . " I'll tel l them you're my daughter." I squeeze my eyes shut, then open them again. Ross is still there, sitting a foot away from me, the gentle smile still crinkling the corners of his eyes. "You'd do that for me?" "Of course I would. I owe it to you after all this. We could even still work together . If you want to ." If I want to? Technicolor images explode in my head: the two of us running around the city like secret super hero vigilantes, laughing over a meal at a restaurant, Sykes jailed, Ross receiving a med al from the police chief, while I watch from the shadows, a hat artfully tipped to shield my face. A blot splats down to mar the perfection of my dreams. It's KJ's face, his mouth open in horror as Barnard tells him that I'm gone. That I committed suicide . I dab at the wet spot on my chest. KJ will face his own time sickness before too long. How can I accept a way out when he's still doomed to die? When all of them are? "What about my friends?" I ask Ross. "Can I at least tell KJ that I'm going to be OK?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 207 "Let's figure out the details first. The priority right now is keeping you safe and that means getting you out of the Center, at least until Sykes is out of the picture ." A tear slides down my cheek. I turn my head towards the windows , not wanting Ros s to see me wipe it away . The windows' blinds are draw n again, but I can see the darkness between their narrow slats. My tears retreat. Who hides out there in the sheltering night? What plots are being laid while I wait here in this locked room? I hug my leg s more tightly. Ross is right. Leaving KJ may be hard, but s taying here is not an option. I turn back to him and release my knees. " I'll go. And I'll help you catch Sykes." Ross dips his head, o nce, in mute approval of my decision . " I'll find an apart ment and get you out of here for good tomorrow ," he says. " First, though, we have to deal with Shea. You won't be safe out there if he's free. There's an agents' meeting starting downstairs in fifteen minutes . It should be over around 10:00. You up for a m ission tonight? " I point at the door, using the arm encircled by the leash. "How do I get out?" " Not a problem. " Ross digs in his pocket and pulls out the lock pick. " A set of your very own ," he says . " Think you can learn to unlock that door in the next three hours ? " I nod. Ross takes my arm and works his magic on the leash. Clarity fills my head as the awful buzzing drops away.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 208 "I'll make sure to leave the building at exactly 10:30 ," Ross says . " You get out of your room just befo re then and hide somewhere where you can see the front door. At the point when I am just outside , but the door hasn't shut yet, freeze time." "I'll trip the monitors." " It will be after lights out, the monitors will be off . Even if someone is watching, by the time they come to check on you, you'll be back here , sound asleep , and firmly leashed . " I nod again. Ross presses the pick into my hand. The edge is sharp, the metal warm from Ross's to uch. I close my hand around it. This is my future: comfort and pai n and the promise of escape.
Freeze Time email@example.com 209 Chapter 17 It takes me an hour until I can consistently manage the door lock. The following two hours last forever. Every time I check the clock it seems like the hands have moved backward. Twice I go into a panic thinking that I've somehow frozen time by accident. At 9:30, Yolly comes to check on me, carrying clean clothes for the morning. I lie in bed with the leash unlatched around my arm. She's gone by 9:40. At 10:20, I dress and kneel down one last time to unlo ck the door . At 10:25 I open it and creep downstairs. The Center's halls are deserted. I float ghost like thro ugh the passages until I reach the main staircase. Ross stands in the lobby , under a clock reading 10:28. He seems in no hurry to leave, entertain ing Charlie a long winded story that makes them both laugh. I hid e behind a pillar and chew my thumb nail . Finally, Ross saunters t owards the exit. Charlie presses the code that unlocks the front door and Ross steps out into the night. Th e instant the dark ness swallows him, I free ze time. Released from my impatient crouch , I hurry down the stairs . Charlie's hand hovers over the keypad, the remains of a smile curving the edges of his lips. I run past him through the ha lf closed front door . Cool air greets me. It 's a clear night, though it must be windy because the street t rees are all leaning to one side , their leaves hovering around them like large brown snowflakes . Ross stands just outside the door, one hand on the outer knob , his head turned toward the shadowy corners of the front entrance, presumably searching for me. He wears jeans, the nice kind that don't show up in donation boxes. He's zipped a leather jacket over them and added a scarf and gloves to balance the co ld. Over one shoulder he carries a messenger bag.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 210 I reach out and touch the bare skin on his wrist . Time barely pulses forward before I pull it to a stop again . "Alex." Ross smiles at me . "It's amazing. Even when I'm expecting it." For a moment I let myself relax into the pleasu re of his presence, then I straighten my shoulders and tuck a stray hair behind my ear. "Where are we going?" I ask. Ross bends down to wedge a wad of paper under the door. He releases the handle slowly, making sure the heavy wood doesn't shift positions before letting go completely. " We're heading up into the west hills. " He straightens. " We'll have to bike there, think you can manage it?" "I've never ridden a bike." "I figured," Ross says. "I stashed a tandem one around the corner. We'll ride together." I smile . "You think of everything." Ross tilts his head, considering me. "You actually don't need to come. If the bike ride will tire you too much, you can always wait here holding time until I get back." My smile fades . Under the shadows of the Center's awning, it's hard to make out his expressions. "I thought we were a team," I say, unable to hide the hurt in my voice. "Of course we are." Ross puts a hand on my shoulder. "It's just that it might be a long night and I know you're tired . We'll be in big trouble if you lose control of time while we're out there."
Freeze Time email@example.com 211 "I'm fine," I say. "I've had plenty of time to rest since this afternoon. I won't let you down." Ross gives my shoulder a quick squeeze before letting go. I follow him down the concrete st eps. I've rarely been outside the Center at night. The streetlights bathe us in mustard colored light, washing the scene of color . Fallen leaves crunch under my feet. I scurry to catch up with Ross so I can walk by his side. Balancing on the bike turns ou t to be easy with Ross steadying it from up front. Within a few blocks I feel reasonably stable. W ind whips my hair and cuts through my clothes as we ride . The only jacket in my room was a thin CIC raincoat that doesn't provide much protection . It would ha ve bee n cold except we quickly head up hill and the steady pump on the pedals makes me sweaty by the time Ross pulls over to stop. I lean on the handlebar, panting. We're in a residential area a few miles west of downtown. Unlike most of the city grid, th e street s here curve in lazy bends . There are no sidewalks, but there are lots of basketball hoops and pla s tic swings dangling from tree limbs. " Hop off ," Ross says . I climb from the bike, which h e wheels over to lean against a tree . Away from the city lights, the moon shines clear silver, illuminating the house before us. It sits on a weed free lawn, edged with b eds of carefully selected plants . There's a neat brick path leading from the drivewa y up to a lighted front porch, and , o n o ne side, a hug e oak tree towers like a sentinel. It' s the kind of house I used to dream of when I was little. A perfect house. A home. I picture Ross and I living in a place like this after I leave the Center. He'd come in and I'd be doing homework behind one of those c urtained windows, my chores done, ready to tell him about my day.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 212 "You ready?" Ross asks. His voice is clipped . I'm reminded that we're on a mission Ã one of the missions Ã one that will stop Sykes . I shake myself from my reverie as we head to the side of the house. Ross opens a locked door with a few efficient twists of his picks. We step into a utility room with a cherry red washer/dryer stacked on the right . The smell of laundry detergent hangs in the air. High on one wall , the lights of a burglar alarm shine uselessly. " Let's split up ," Ross said. " I'll take the upstairs, you stay down here. We want to find the same stuff we did before Ã anything that ties Shea to either the robberies or Matt Thompson ." He reaches in his satchel and hands me a pair of gloves. "I almost forgot. You should wear these." Ross strides out of the room. I listen to the thump of his shoes until they fade away. I kind of wish I'd taken his suggestion and stayed behind. The search of Matt's office felt invasive but this midnight trip makes me feel like I'm in a horror movie. The burglar alarm's unblinking light glares at me through the darkness and the c l osed cupboards hint at grisly secrets Ã their knobs poised to start turning on their own. I slide the gloves on my fingers. It' s silly to be afraid in a freeze. Ross only left me alone so I don't have to hold time very long. I move out of the utility room into an open kitchen. St ainless steel appliances gleam in the moonlight. A dirty bowl lies on the marble countertop near the si nk. Someone must be home and I'm grateful Ross is the one who may stumble across people tucked in their beds. It's creepy enough to search through someone' s house with out having their frozen bodies watching me. I pass a
Freeze Time email@example.com 213 formal dining room, through an entr ance hall, and into a room with an oak desk and tall bookcases. My fingers tingle as they wrap around the lock pick I stuck in my jacket pocket . If we're going to find evidence, this seems the most likely place . I glide across the room. The leather desk c hair creaks as I settle in to it . There's a thin folder resting in front of me . I flip it open , and gasp . In my hand is a half sheet, torn from a lined notebook, with the words Friday, October 2 , 5:25 pm written across it in a sloppy scrawl. Beneath that is an address and the words v ault and brown sack on bottom shelf . I drop the note and pick up the only other item in the folder. This one is larger, folded in quarters, that, when opened, reveal s a map of what is clearly a bank. Fireworks explode in my brain. Not only do we have evidence, we have the time and place of the next robbery! We could be on the spot and catch Sykes and Shea in the act. I spring from the chair and race back into the entrance hall, mounting the carpeted steps two at a time. "Ross?" I call, but so softly my words melt into the surrounding silence. I turn on the spot, trying to choose among the line of closed doors, when a slight rustling sound shows me where to go. I skip forward and push the door open. Moonlight spills through an open curtain, illuminating a bed resting in a carved wood frame. A man lies within it, eyes closed, his mouth hanging slightly open. There's an empty wine glass on his bedside table, next to a photo of a smi ling woman holding a small child. Ross is standing beside the bed . I am about to announce myself , when something about Ross's stance stops me. He's staring at the man, his face blazing with a triumph that looks more hungry than celebratory. It's somehow intensely personal and I hesitate ,
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 214 torn between sharing my find and withdrawing to give him privacy. Before I can decide, Ross moves . He slings the messenger bag over his head and pulls something from it, then turns back towards Shea. My heart stut ters . Ross i s holding a knife.
Freeze Time email@example.com 215 Chapter 18 My body stiffens . It feels like something hard just slammed into my chest. I can't breathe. I try to call Ross's name and all that comes out i s a choked burble. The knife glints in the moonlight. It' s a long blad e, the top edge serrated with jagged cuts. Ross raises his hand. Surely he's going to set the blade on the bedside table. A warning. A threat. Ross 's hand swoops down and slashes a cross the man's neck. I scream . Ross whir ls around. "Alex!" His eyes burn t hrough the dark . "You're supposed to be downstairs." My breath comes so fast it makes me dizzy . A small drip of blood leaks from the gash in the man's neck, the first hint of the deluge time will eventually release . Ross moves toward me, the knif e gripped in his hand. I back away. " What did you do ?" I whisper . " I had to ." Ross is approaching me like I'm a wild animal that might bolt. I take another step and hit a wall . " You could never be safe as long as he was alive ," Ross says . " Neither of us could." I can't tear my eyes away from the frozen lump on the bed. He's a big man. There will be a lot of blood. "You killed him." " That's Austin Shea . He killed lots of people. He killed Sal. He deserve s to die."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 216 " We were going to arrest him . " I flatten myself against the wall Ã its solidity the only thing keeping me upright . " I even found evidence downstairs. Blueprints of their next crime. " Ross gives a sharp laugh. " I never said we would arrest him. I said we'd take care of him. Austin Shea is too well protected to go to jail." "ButÃ‰ you killed him." The bald fact seems insurmountable . That and the idea that Ross Ã brave, honorable Ross Ã stands before me brandishing a knife. I rub my eyes . I want to wipe away the images in front of me, but as soon as I close my lids I see Ross's hand plunging towards its victim, his face lit with that terrible triumph. I look up. "You used me ." Ross frowns. "Isn't this what you want ed? The ability to make things right when the system fails . Using your skills to make the world a better place." "This isn't better ." I point towards the bed with its doomed burden . "I never wanted this ." Ross and I stare at each other. He's still frowning . A headache pulses in my temple , the first twinge of time resisting my control. The pain sets off a string of associations: the sickness, Aclisote, whispers in the dark. I touch my brow. " You've been planning this for weeks , " I say, "longer. It's why you changed my meds, isn't it? You knew what would happen." Ross grips the knife more tightly. " I s aved your life by taking you off Aclisote . You should be grateful." "Grateful?" I push myself away from the wall. " Your drugs sent my chronotin levels sk y high. I'll probably die sooner thanks to you ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 217 A flicker crosses Ross's face, a small spasm as if I'd said something amusing. "Drugs? What drugs?" "The ones you've been giving me!" I'm yelling now, the words tearing from me like chunks of my own flesh. Ross bares his teeth Ã the expression more snarl than grin. " Don't you get it yet? " he says. " High chronotin is normal for spinners. It's suppressing it with Aclisote that makes you sick ." My body turns liquid. I slide down to the floor, crumpling on to th e thick carpet. Drugs didn't change my skills . It's me. Me, unfettered by any medicine. No wonder freezes feel easier now, the melts more smooth. Spinners are supposed to have high chronotin levels. We're supposed to be able to change things in frozen time . And AclisoteÃ‰I look up at Ross. "Dr. Barnard is killing us? " From my slumped position he looks very tall, like an adult would to a very small child. "You kne w this ," I say , " and you never did anything ?" "Oh , for G od's sake." Ross's eyes slide away from mine . "W hat was I supposed to do? Take on some crusade to save the spinners? It's not like people in power don't know . They'd have lots of ways to prove me wrong. At least I saved you ." "ButÃ‰" I touch the aching spot on my temple, forcing my tho ughts into order. " You didn't save me because you cared about me, you saved me so I could do this for you." I wave my hand around the darkened room. " We did this," Ross says. "Just like we always said we would . That's our dream, remember? Stop Sykes and g et justice for Sal ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 218 I force myself back onto my feet. " You did this," I say , "not me . And I'm going to tell everyone the truth. I'm going to tell Chief that you're a murderer." Ross 's face darkens. His mouth draws into a tight line and his nostrils flar e. I shrink back , abruptly aware that this man is dangerous, and that I have just made him very, very angry. Ross's hand snakes out and he grabs me , his fingers digging into the soft skin of my upper arm . "You will tell no one ." T he words sound like they're chipped from ice. Ross's hand rakes the length of my arm, his fingers dra gging along the bone. He rips my glove s off and presses the handle of the knife into my right palm , forcing my fist to close around it . The wood is smooth, the blade below it wet with blood . "I was never here." He's standing so close I can smell the bitter tang of his sweat. The scent makes me gag. Ross yanks me towards the bedroom 's door . "You ," he says, wrapping my free hand around the knob, " are everywhere ." He shoves me d eeper into the room, ripping the knife away as I fall back. "If you do anything to betray meÃ‰" His eyes bore into mine. "Ã‰anything, I'll say you've been acting strangely, tell the police to fingerprint you. It will be a familiar tale of another spinner gone mad with time sickness and attacking random strangers ." Ross stands before me, his body blocking the door with its incriminating knob. Little imperf ections I never noticed reveal themse lves: a stray hair sprouting from one nostril, a wrinkle twisting a bitter line through his upper lip. "Someone will find him," I say . "The police will come. They'll rewind the whole thingÃ‰"
Freeze Time email@example.com 219 "No one will find Austin for days. His wife and son are out of town until Monday." R oss gives a little smirk. I remember my own words to him earlier this evening. You think of everything . My stomach twists . "Even if they do rewind the scene, " Ross adds , " what do you think will show up? This is frozen time . It didn't happen. They'll see his throat slit , b ut they won't see who did it. There are a few people who might figure out how it happened and they are the ones who will know absolutely that a spinner was involved. " Dots fleck my vision. I am trapped in a maz e with no exits. Everywhere I turn, Ross throws up a wall . I look down my hands. A smear of blood from the knife mars my palm. In the half light, the bloo d appears black. " W hat happens now ?" I ask. " It's your choice . " Ross shrugs. " Stick with our original plan and you can live a long life. I'll spring you tomorrow and set you up in a place of your own. We can solve more crimes Ã do some good with your skills. Or you can refuse and stay at the Center. Given the trouble you've caused , I'd guess Barnard will increase your Aclisote right away . If you're lucky you'll live a week . " My headache pulses. I want to scream at him, hit him, scratch the complacent expression off his face. Even more than that, I want to cry. Not because I know he ha s me trapped. Not because a man is dead because of me. I want to cry because I've lost the one person I'd thought could be a father . Ross crosses the room and picks up the messenger bag. Pulling out a pl astic sack, he carefully wraps the murder weapon and pl ac es it inside. When he walks out I follow him. What choice do I have? If I melt time, my tracker will place me at the scene of the
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 220 crime. I could run, but I don't know how to ride the bike by myself, plus we're so far from downtown I'm not sure I can find m y way back before I lose control . Ross w ould get there before me and then all he would have to do i s wait until I inevitably let time go to secure his alibi. We ride back without speaking . It's mostly downhill so this time the wind is chilling. I clench th e handlebars, not bothering to pedal. Ross stops along the way to drop our gloves into a sewer. I catch a faint splash as they hit water, four small bits of plastic swallowed up in a n underground river of trash. By the time we reach the Center I'm shiverin g with cold and shock . Ross stashes the bike, using a cloth to wipe away our prints. I drag my feet up the Center's front steps . The door stands half open, just like we left it. Charlie's hand hovers over the controls at the front desk, lips smiling over R oss's jokes . Nothing has changed, y et everything i s different. "I'll come see you tomorrow afternoon ," Ross calls to me from his spot behind the front door. " We'll set our escape plan then ." I keep walking. My footsteps echo through the hallways, reverberations no one will ever hear. Without conscious thought, I head to the only consolation I kno w. KJ's door opened with a twist of my picks . He 's asleep , knees half bent, face t urned toward the wall. I climb over his inert form and coil myself into the curve of his body. At this instant Austin Shea is alive. Frozen, but alive. He is still a husband. A father. I closed my eyes and inhale the night 's dark air . It fills my body, weighing it down and slowing the shudders. When I a m nothing but a heavy shadow, I let time go.
Freeze Time email@example.com 221 A breeze finishes its journey through the window. The thrum of the highway resumes . KJ 's sleeping form twitches . And in that perfect house, far away across the city, Austin Shea's stilled heart begins to pump. I picture the blood pouring through his slashed veins, red soaking his sheets, his body arching in a final spasm . I wonder if he feels pain. Tears burn against my eyelids. I keep them back. I do not deserve the relief of crying. Carson Ross may have slit A ustin Shea 's throat, but I kno w that I am the one responsible for his death.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 222 Chapter 19 KJ wakes with a start. He starts pushing me away , then stops and put s a tentative hand on my shoulder. "Alex?" His voice is muffled with sleep. My body is still shaking. I curl into a ball, pulling my knees close against my chest. "What' s wrong?" he whispers . I can't answer. KJ's hand brushes my arm. "You're cold." He tugs his blanket s out from under me and drapes them over both of us. I duck my head, burying mysel f inside his shelter. It smells musky and intimate Ã‘ safe. K J wraps his arms around me and holds me close. We lie like that for a long time, my back against his chest, his legs curled against mine. I try to focus all my attention on the warmth radiating from his body. It doesn't work. Images of Ross and Shea keep crashing into my head, ripping away any pockets of peace . Eve ntually, the blanket tent fills wi th my recycled breath and turns claus trophobic. I raise my head into the night. KJ stroke s the hair back from my forehead. His hand moves gently, as if I m ight break if he presses too hard. I stare at the wa ll in front of me. Pencil scratches mark the surface, some faded, some fresh. KJ fre ezes time so we can talk without anyone hearing us . "What happened?" he asks . I tell him everything: how Ross and I found Sykes and learned about the existence of Shea , about Ross's plans to move me out of the Center tomorrow , and about tonight's
Freeze Time email@example.com 223 mission a nd the perfect house high up in the hills. KJ's hand never stops stroking my hair. I touch my fingers against the wall. He's written my name there, Alex , over and over in his neat writing. I rub at the pencil marks, trying to erase the letters. I tell him about t he gash along Shea's neck. KJ's hand pauses, its weight suddenly heavy against my head . "He's dead?" he asks. I nod. "I killed him." "No, Alex." KJ pulls me close. "It wasn't you, it was Ross. This isn't your fault." I shrug. "There's more. Acl isote is not a miracle drug that keeps us alive, it's a poison that makes us sick. Spinners are supposed to have high chronotin levels, we're supposed to be able to change things in frozen time. Ross figured it out. He's been giving me is a placebo all thi s time so he can use my skills ." KJ turns away from me, rolling onto his back so he's facing the ceiling. " Are you saying that the Sick ," he stammers, "Dr. BarnardÃ‰?" "They're killing us off . It's like you said, no one can let us have this much power. It's too dangerous." Even for frozen time, the room feels very quiet. I stare at the wall. The dampness from my clothes is seeping into the sheets . I want to move to somewhere dry but there's nowhere to go. It's a long time before KJ speaks. " So a ll those old stories are true," he says, "the ones about spinners appearing places and about them being adults ." The bed creaks as he shifts his weight . " Do you think they all know ? Amy, the teachers , Yolly?" "I don't know," I say . "Probably not."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 224 KJ shifts back on his side. "We'll have to leave, " he says to the back of my head. We. I blink at the wall . The letters are smudged but I can still read them . " Do you mean the two of us ?" I ask . "Or all the spinners?" "Thirty people are too many to take at once. We'll have to figure out a place to hide first , and then come back for them ." He pauses. "I mean, if you want us to go together." I turn around . KJ's face lies inches from mine. Familiar and un familiar. The pers on I kno w best in all the world and the only one I kno w will never let me down. I've been so afraid o f things changing between us, I nearly destroyed our friendship. And now everything ha s changed anyway. "I'm a mess," I say . "Everything I do turns into a disaster." KJ touches my cheek. "You're not a mess. You're the bravest person I know." "I'm not ." "You don't have to do all this alone . I'll be with you. Whatever happens next, w e'll face it together ." I let the world shrin k until there is nothing in it but the two of us. The sweetness in KJ's face eases my fears, his lips block out the past and fill up the future. I taste his tongue . It' s warm and rich, like new grass growing in the spring. Like life and the chance to live it. We kiss for a long time. With each caress, the burdens I carry grow a little bit more bearable .
Freeze Time email@example.com 225 KJ strokes the curve of my nose. I trace the line of his cheekbone , letting my fingers drift over the roughness of his cheeks. KJ sighs. "Do you know how long I've wanted to do this?" he whispers . I touch his lips. KJ slides his teeth over my finger, nibbling with exquisite gentleness . My world grows a little wider, steadied by his comfort of his presence . "What about Shannon?" I ask. KJ l ets go of my finger . "Yeah , that ." He studies my chin . " I was stupid . I was mad at you and she was soÃ‰" he shakes his head. "I'll tell her it's over in the morning." A flare of guilt momentarily dims my pleasure and, as if the sensation opened a door, othe r worries crowd in. I wriggle out of KJ's embrace and sit up. "How are we going to survive out there?" I ask . "We have nowhere to live. We don't have ID's or money ." KJ moves to sit beside me. "If we stay here w e won't survive at all," he says . His hand slid es around to the back of my neck, fingers s kimming the tiny bump that lives beneath my skin. "We' ll have to cut our trackers out, " he says. I no d. The idea doesn't sound so scary anymore. "What about everyone else? " I ask. " If we can't take them, at least we should tell them. They can stop taking Aclisote."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 226 "That only works until the next blood test. Besides, it's better if Barnard doesn't suspect t hat we know Aclisote is bad . Makes it more likely he'll buy the idea we really did jump in the river. " Out of nowhere, Calvin' s face pops into my head. It' s a picture of the cheerful, un paranoid, Calvin that used to rag on KJ about his fascination with computers , the one who loved history books and once told me that he wished he had time to learn to play the guitar . I gnaw on one of my thumbnail s . The agonized moans I'd heard through the clinic walls come back to me . My jaw tightens. All the deaths, all the suffering, and it's all because the norms don't trust us with the skills we were born with. I bite down on my thumb so hard I pierce the skin . The metallic taste of blood fills my mouth . "At least you stop taking Aclisote," I tell KJ. "I have a blood test first thing tomorrow morning. I won't take any after that." " Ross said he'd come by in the afternoon to tell me how I can escape ." I spit a shred of thumbnail onto the floor. " Think you can convince Yolly to let you visit again after he leaves ? Whatever he comes up with should work for us both." KJ takes my hand in his . "You know you 're going t o have to convince Ross you want to leave with him. Are you sure you're up for that?" "I can do it," I say, though my stomach twists when I think about facing Ross again. KJ leans over and kisses me. "I'm sorry," he says. "For what?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 227 " Sorry t hat Ross isn't who you thought he was. I know how much he meant to you." " Yeah, well ." I look down at our clasped hands, at my bitten thumb sheltered in his palm. "Trusting him wasn't my biggest mistake." "No?" KJ's voice is soft. "What was?" In answer, I sink my fingers into his hair and bring his face to mine. KJ pull s me close, both of us sliding back down on the bed. Time passes. I no longer notice the sheets are wet. "I should get back ," I say. " You can't hold t his freeze all night . " "You 're right," KJ mumbles into my neck . Despite our best intentions, it's another half hour before I make my way to the empty bed waiting for me in clinic. *** I wake before dawn, my mind already buzzing with all the worries that KJ's caresses temporarily mu ted . Rain patters against the clinic's windows . I watch the dull light slowly change the room from dark to pale gray. Where will we sleep tonight? What will we eat? My stomach rumbles. Objectively, it's been hours and hours since I last ate, but given tha t my insides feel like they're dro w ning in bile I don't have much desire to eat. I yank the covers off and resume the pacing I started the day before , looping uselessly from locked door to b arred window. The leash, reattached to my wrist, makes my head fuz zy. How many people will the Center send after us? What will Ross do when he figures out I've betrayed him?
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 228 The questions circle around in my head , as pointless as my repetitive walk. By 9:00 am I'm ready to start tearing the sheets into strips just for t he sake of something else to do. When I hear noises in the outer clinic room, I race to my door and stand there, bouncing on the tips of my toes. Maybe I can convince Yolly to give me some kind of sedative. Then I could sleep a few hours, kill half the day so I can fast forward to the part where Ross gets here. Multiple voices fill the space outside the door. I put my hand on the knob, waiting for it to turn . "Over here," someone says. "Watch the feet." The commotion sounds ominously familiar. My hand clenches on the metal knob. There's a squeaking sound, the shuffle of padding shoes. The blood drains from my face. "Yolly?" I bang on the door. The people outside pass me by and head to the room beside min e. They're moving fast, talking about IV drips and fresh sheets. A ball forms in my stomach, heavy as lead. "Who's out there?" I yell. "Amy? What's going on?" A door shuts. The voices grow muffled. "Hello?" I beg. No one answers. I run to the other side of the room and press my ear against the wall that separates the two rooms. It doesn't help. All I can hear are murmurs and the vague rustle of people moving.
Freeze Time email@example.com 229 I rest my cheek against cool plaster. Please, let it beÃ‰but no name comes to mind. Who could I possibly wish this on? Not now. Not when we're so close. I shut my eyes and call up the faces of my fellow spinners the last time I was in the common room. Did Shannon look drained? Jack menti on a particularly bad headache? I roll my head against the wa ll, knowing predictions are useless, that symptoms mean nothing. The sickness doesn't give warnings. The door to my room opens. I spring towards it , then stop abruptly when I see who it is. " Shannon !" I edge away from her. Shannon's eyes are edged with r ed, her hair fuzzy where it slipped from her braid. "What are you doing here?" I ask. "Yolly sent me to tell you. She knew you'd want to know right away. Shannon reaches her arms towards me. I put a hand up to stop her. I don't want comfort, I want facts . "Who is it?" Shannon makes a choking sound. " Dr. Barnard says it happened really fast," she says. " He said he c ollapsed during his blood test." Goosebumps erupt along my skin. My hands feels like they're encased in ice. " Who collapsed ?" " Oh, Alex . " Shannon's eyes fill with tears. " It's KJ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 230 Chapter 20 "No," I say , the word more denial than doubt. Shannon reaches to hug me again, and again I step away. " Is it bad ?" I ask. Her lip trembles. She nods . I clench my hands s o tightly the nails cut my pal m. I should have woken KJ as soon as I got back and refrozen time while the front door was still open . We could have left right then, before Barnard had the chance to poison him . I picture him lyi ng in the hospital bed, imagine the IV dripping Aclisote int o his veins. "Is he..." I start. T he only clear idea in my head i s that I have to get KJ out of the Center. "Do you think he can walk?" "Walk?" Fresh tears well up and trickle down Shannon's cheek . "He can't even sit up. I just came from his room. He looksÃ‰" she pauses , clearly struggling to find a word terrible enough to describe how KJ looks , "like someone drained all the life from his body. He's pale and quiet and so, so still." The center of my chest feels like someone reached in and gripped all the muscles into a wad . "I have to go to him , " I say . "You can't . " Shannon spreads her arms block the door . " You're not supposed to leave your room. Yolly said she'll come see you as soon as she can. And Alex Ã don't be mad at me Ã but aft er I saw KJ, I told Yolly about yo ur chronotin levels ." Horror freezes me to the spot. "You told Yolly?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 231 "I couldn't let you get sick, too! Don't worry," she adds , placing her hand on mine , "it will be OK. Dr. Barnard says he'll change your chronotin righ t away ." "Dr. Barnard." I repeat the words like an automaton. Shannon gives my hand a gentle stroke. "Yes. Dr. Barnard will make sure you're all right." The walls of the room seem to be closing in around me. It doesn't matter how sick KJ i s. I have to get us both out of here right now. I duck around Shannon and shove open the door, ignoring her oh of surprise. My heart thuds like it wants to outrun my body and get to KJ first. It's two steps to reach the second sick room. I nearly yank the door from its h inges in my rush to rip it open . KJ lies on his back with the sheets pulled up to his chin . I'm at his side with no memory of crossing the room. "KJ?" Dried spit forms an uneven line on his lips. The hair I'd run my hands through just a few hours ago flops on the pillow. An IV drips fluid into his arm from a plastic bag mounted over his bed. My vision blurs . How much Aclisote has Barnard given him to mak e him that sick, that fast? Footsteps patter behind me . "I'm so sorry. " Despite the short distance, Shannon is panting . "I tried to stop her." I raise my head, my panic lifting enough to register the other occupant s of the room . Yolly stands on the far sid e of the bed , her face tight with anxiety. The night guard,
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 232 Julio , is in one corner folding up a portable wheel chair. On my side of the bed, inches from me, stands Dr. Barnard. "That's all right. " Barnard slides neatly behind Shannon and close s the door. "We were just coming to get her." Yolly clasps her hands against her chest. "We heard about your chronotin levels," she says . "We're so worried about you." My cheeks prickle as all the blood rushes from my face. How could I have been so stupid to rush in h ere without a plan? Now I'm wedged in a corner between the bed and the wall, wearing a leash, surrounded by people who think I'm sick. I put a hand on KJ's shoulder. Even though the sheets, I can tell he's burning with fever. " There's nothing wrong with me ," I say. Yolly sighs. "I can take a blood sample now, if you'd like , " she tells Barnard. "No. " Barnard settles himself against the door. My grip on KJ tightens. " If they're as high as Shannon reports," Barnard says , " I have to take Alexandra to the Central Office." My insides turn liquid . "What ?" "You may not realize it, but you're a very sick girl." Barnard pushes his glasses higher on his nose. No one else in the room moves. Yolly is blinking a lot, the way little kids do when they're trying not to cry. "I feel fine," I say. Barnard shakes his head. "We can't keep you here in this condition . You might hurt yourself again ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 233 The metal rails around KJ's bed are digging into my spine. Th e pain is the only thing in this room that feels real. Yolly and Shannon are looking at me with a mixture of pity and fear. Barnard's eyes are cold. "You know that's not true, " I tell him. Barnard's eyes slid e away from mine and any do ubt I might have had disappears . He knows exactly what I'm capable of doing . I n desperation, I reach out for time . The leash blocks me like a locked door . I turn to Yolly. "Can't we wait until KJ wakes up? I'll go back to my room . You can keep me leashed. I justÃ‰" My voice cr a cks . "I just want to make sure he's OK." Yolly gives an audible sniff. "Surely you can put it off one day," she says to Barnard . "No," he snaps . "It's too risky." "Risky for whom?" My voice is rising . Yolly lowers her chin. Shannon slips around the bed and to stand beside her , blond head rest ing against Yolly's dark one. Julio is busy pretending the wheel chair needs his focused attention. Barnard heads in my direction Ã a droopy, nightmare shape coming to destroy me. A burst of sheer hat red blasts through me . This is the man who decides our fates and his decision for me is clear . He knows what I can do and he has no intention of letting me live past tonight . At the Central Office no one will ask any awkward questions. I wait until he's a lmost reached me, then dive for the door. Barnard moves just as quickly . When my hand closes on the knob, he slams me against it.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 234 "Let me go!" I scream . His secrets are my only remaining weapons. I hurl them at him, each small burst of knowledge a thrust I hope will find a home. "You're killing me . You're killing all of us!" Barnard pushes me into the door so hard the wood smashes my face, cutting off my words. I squirm beneath the pressure. One flailing arm catches at his jacket and I dig my fingers thro ugh the rough cotton, ripping, tearing . "Give me something to restrain her," Barnard barks . " Don't hurt her ," Yolly moans. "It's not her fault. She's sick." I hear someone rummaging in a cupboard. Barnard is leaning his shoulder into my ribs so hard I can only breathe in shallow gasps. "Here, " Julio says from behind me. Barnard gives a grunt of acknowledgement. The two work together to pull my arms behind my back. Only when I am secure d does Barnard lift his wei ght from me . I slump forward, inhaling gulps of air . My nose feels like it 's listing sideways. Barnard keeps a tight grip on my arm. "I'll drive her out there now ." I try to pull away. Barnard grips me harder . Think , I scream at myself . " Yolanda , " Barnard says, "keep an eye on KJ. When Amy gets in, tell her to test his blood twice a day. If his chronotin levels go above 125, raise his dosage." "125?!" I shriek . Barnard, his ea r inches from my mouth, cringes . " Please ." I bend my knees, pulling down on the monster holding me, trying to keep him from taking me away . "You'll kill him." Shannon puts a hand over her mouth. Tears are pouring down her cheeks. "Don't worry," she tells me. "I'll take care of him."
Freeze Time email@example.com 235 Barnard yanks me to my feet , his fingers pinching the thin skin of my upper arm. "You don't know what you're talking about ," he mutters through clenched teeth. " Liar! " I writhe under his grip. "Aclisote is dangerous ," I shout at Yolly and Shannon . " We should have high chronotin levels." Barnard opens the door . Julio takes my other arm and together they start to drag me outside. I twist frantically , gripping the door frame in my bound hands . "Please, " I beg Yolly, " listen to me. We're not meant to have chronotin readin gs that low . Suppressing it that far will kill him ." "That' s enough !" Barnard pulls so hard I fear my arms might pop from the sockets. " Don't listen to her , Yolanda . You can see what the chronotin is doing to her. She's getting irrational." "No!" I'm sobb ing now, fighting Barnard's grip like a person possessed. "Alex." Yolly reaches towards me even though she is too f ar away to touch me. I increase my struggles. If only I can make her understand, Yolly will help me. Yolly will Ã‰ "Do you want me to give her a sedative, doctor?" I slump in my captor s ' arms as hope leaks away . The lies about spinner madness have been around for too long. They're so ingrained that no one will believe me. Barnard adjusts his grip. "No," he says . "I can manage."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 236 Barnard and Julio pro pel me toward the door. I stop struggling. Fighting them is useless so I might as well save my strength . We are ha lfway down the hall when I hear the pad of Yolly's soft soled shoes running after us. "Wait," she said. "Let her have this. It's raining out there." Barnard waits while Yolly wraps a raincoat around my shou lders. The cheap nylon flutters like a cape over my bound hands. I keep my head low ered. The small kindness offers no relief to my despair. Barnard has parked on the street. Charlie buzzes us out the front door and h e and Julio watch the two of us leave . News of my transfer will be all over the Center within the hour. Outside, the so ft rain has turned into torrents . Barnard splashes down the Center's steps, drag ging me with him. Water drenches my hair almost immediately. The cold drops seep down t he neck of my clothes and soak the mesh of my sneakers. My thoughts focus in the rush of cold , zeroing in on a single point: the leash. I have to find a way to overcome the leash. Barnard clicks his key fob to unlock a dark blue sedan . He opens the door and maneuvers me into the front passenger seat. My clasped hands make sitting awkward. I pe rch at the edge, back arched, mind concentrating on the blocked flow of time . It taunts me from the other side of the leash's block, a river of free dom completely out of my reach. Barnard leans over me, trying to wrap a seatbelt aroun d my body. The wet jac ket slips from my shoulders and tangles in the belt's buckle.
Freeze Time email@example.com 237 "Damn it," Barnard mumbles. He slams the door and walks around to the driver's side. Rain pounds the car's metal roof. I try reach ing for the door handle, but my bound hands make the stretch too awkward . Barnard slid es into the s eat beside me. "Here." He shoves th e jacket into my lap and clicks the buckle into place. The soggy nylon feels slimy against my skin. My fingers are growing numb from lack of circulation. Barnard considers me. "Lean forward." I shrink away from him. What now? Will he inject me with Aclisote right here ? "Come on." Barnard pushes my shoulder so hard my cheek collides wi th the glove box. Barnard pulls my bound hands toward himself. "Can't have you jumping out at the first stoplight." My cheek stings. I rest it against the smooth plastic while he unwraps the cords around my wrists . The returning blood makes my fingers sting . Barnard reties the cor d arou nd my left arm , just below my stitches, fastening the other end to the car's gear shift . I pull on the cord. My motion is limited to about a four inch distance from the shifter , and the cord is strong enough that there i s no way to break free. "There ," Barnard says . "Now you're not going anywhere." He turns from me and starts the car. It' s a newer model , the kind whose engine hums so quietly I can barely hear it beneath the drumming of the rain. The car slides out into the street . I lean my head agai nst the seat, feeling the abandoned raincoat ooze water onto my lap. I pick up the pile of wet nylon, intending to toss it on the floor, when I something heavy scrapes my leg . I glance at Barnard. He' s concentrating on making a
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 238 left hand turn. As casually as possible I wad the raincoat up in my lap, burying both my hands in it s folds as if I'm cold. We wind our way towards the freeway. The going is slow; every light seems to turn red . I wriggle my free hand through the wet nyl on until I find the weighted pocket . My fingers move with stealthy slowness inching their way until they reach the small lump . A grim smile thins my lips. The raincoat Yolly brought me is the same one I wore last night. The one where I left my lock pick. I pu ll my prize out and finger the thin bits of metal . The sheltering nylon rustles. Barnard looks down . I hold still, watching the regular pass of the windshield wipers. We dri ve for a while in silence. When I move ag ain, the rustling sounds lou d in the muffl ed space. I need a distraction. "Any one of us could do it without the Aclisote, couldn't we?" I transfer the pick to my left hand, which is awkward, but the leash is on my right to avoid the stitches. "Do what?" Barnard asks with false naivetÂŽ. "Change t hings in frozen time." His hands clench the steering wheel. "That's not possible." "If it's not possible then why am I leashed?" "To keep you safe," Barnard says . "With your chronotin so high, freezing might make you sick. Clearly, it's already causing h allucinations." I take out the tension wrench and run it against the flat face of the leash. Without looking it's hard to tell exactly where the lock is. "I am not hallucinating ," I say . " You've been giving me Aclisote my whole life on purpose to prevent this very thing from happening."
Freeze Time email@example.com 239 The windshield wipers smear rain acros s the windshield . Barnard frowns out into the blurry world. The wrench slots into the key hole . "You would do the sa me," Barnard says, "if you were in my position." My fingers twitch, nearly jerking the wrench free . His admission surprises me les s than his tone. He sounds defensive. Barnard gives me sidelong glance. "Think about it," he says, "the world can't have a bun ch of spinners running around changing things whenever they want." " Why not ?" I twist the wrench to the right like Ross taught me: just hard enough to tighten the pins without pushing them so far the mechanism locks up . I bend my right hand down to hold i t in place and reach for the pick . The awkward motion makes my palm cramp. "It's a matter of balance ." Barnard seems to have warmed to his topic. I wonder how often he gets to talk so openly. There can't be too many people who kno w. " For a society, free r oaming spinners would cause total chaos . You could be anywhere, doing anything and the rest of us would never know. We'd never feel safe." "So you have to kill us?" Barnard has the grace to flinch. "It's for the good of society." "Why not just do it wh en w e're tested, then?" I jam the pick too sharply and feel the soft give of a pin falling . I slide it out and try again. "Why let us grow up at all?" I ask. "Killing babies is monstrous." "And killing teenagers isn't ?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 240 " Most of you would have died anyway." Barnard turns the car onto the freeway . It's mid morning and traffic is light . " Aclisote isn't all bad, " he says, " when it was first discovered everyone saw it as a blessing. No one is sure if the strain is mental or physical but before Aclisote , hardly any spinners survived their childhood . Time really does kill." Barnard gives a little chuckle . I feed the pick back into the lock, making tiny wiggling motions to try and set the invisible pins . Something clicks. I shift the wrench a hair farther to the right and feel around for the next one. "I know it sounds harsh from your perspective," Barnard continues , "but all in all it 's not a bad compromise. You're guaranteed life for at least fifteen years. You're taken care of, kept sane, you do good wor k Ã it's more than a lot of people get." His words make me so angry I have to stop messing with the lock. "So all you Norms ," I say, " sit around being self righteous while we're drugged and locked up?" "Oh no," Barnard protests , "most people have no idea. That's the gift we give them. They get to enjoy their happy, safe, peaceful lives, unsettled by either excess crime or out of control spinners. Only Center directors and a handful of politicians know the truth. We're the ones who bear the burden. The ones who know. It's hardest on us." The car hums along in the center lane. I check the speedometer. Sixty eight miles per hour. I concentrate on the lock, making tiny motions with the pick. Another pin falls into place. Another. The leash falls open . The faint buzz in my brain fades. I swallow . I know this i s a desperate plan, a terrible plan, dep endent on so many variables it' s more likel y to fail than to succeed. It' s a plan that might kill me. It' s the only chance I have .
Freeze Time email@example.com 241 I lift my unleashed arm out from under the raincoat. "Alexandra?" Barnard has noticed my silence . He turns his head and sees my reaching hand. The car swerves as he jerks away from me. " What are you doing?" he asks. It's now or never. I wrap my fingers around his wrist. Barnard 's cheeks pale. I say the command ou t loud. I want him to know. "Freeze time." Barnard's eyes widen as the world stops . All of it. The falling rain , the speeding traffic, Barnard's fancy car . All of it except us, our bodies, still moving sixty eight miles pe r hour as we fly towards the immobile dashboard . The airbags do not deploy . I see Barnard's body careen forward, the steering wheel plunging into the soft curve above his belt. An instant later m y head hit s the glove box with enough force to stun me. Pain explodes through my brain, physical impact combining with the whiplash jolt of time ripping away from me. The car leaps ahead. I h ear myself scream as we swerve wildly acr oss the highway. Barnard grabs the steering whee l. T he car skids sideways. Brakes scr eech . A c ement divider rears up, filling the windshield with a wall of solid concrete.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 242 Chapter 21 A siren wails. Red lights burn the backs of my eyelids. Words, urgent and me aningless, attack my ears. The smell of bur nt rubber and wet pavement soak s the air. When I take a breath, stabbing pain shoots through my side . Someone pulls up my eyelid and I wince under a bright light. My mouth tastes like metal. I close my eyes again. "Responsive." A brisk voice. Female. "Nothing obvious broken. They'll nee d to suture the forehead." She places something soft against my head, holding it in place with a few bands of medical tape. "Can we move her?" A younger voice, male, with a slight southern twang. "Yeah, bring a gurney." "What about him?" "Unconscious. Sen d Riker over." Someone places a brace aro und my neck. Strong hands reach under my shoulders to li ft me from the car. They stop when they realize my left arm is attached to the gear shift . "What's that?" S o uthern B oy asks . I feel a pull as he yanks on the cord . "There's a Crime Investigation Center jacket on the floor ," the woman says . Her voice carries the rolling consonants of a native Spanish speaker. " She must be a spinner. I didn't know they tied them down." " What do we do?" Southern Boy sounds nervous.
Freeze Time email@example.com 243 I force my eyes open. A face bends over mine. A woman, about thirty, w ith tanned skin and thick, pulled back hair. "You awake?" Her hands move professionally over my body. "What hurts?" Everything, I think . I hold up my bound wrist . " This cord ." She takes hold of my forearm. My wrist is raw and the bandage covering my stitches ha s come off. The rope must have ripped it from my arm when we crashed. The woman calls to someone over her shoulder. A quick snip and I'm free. I try to climb out of the car. It' s awkward moving in the enclosed space, made smaller still by the floppy air bags the real time crash released. "Not yet. " The woman pushes me back, her hands gentle but firm. She wears a blue uniform with Portland EMT woven on her chest. Beneath that, a nametag read s Theresa Gonzales . "We'll take you on the gurney, " she says, " OK? You might have internal injuries." "I have to go," I say . "Not yet, chica , y ou'r e still in shock." She slide s one arm under my back . "You gonna hel p me here?" she call s over her shoulder. A man in a matching blue uniform moves forward with a tentative step. S outhern B oy. He isn't as young as I'd thought, maybe late twenties. Dirty blond hair cut short and skin as raw as if he shaved over pimples with a rusty blade. He hesitates a minute, then grabs hold of my legs. As soon as he deposits me on the gurney he steps away.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 244 I turn my h ead as best I can in the neck brace. Barnard's car i s totaled. Glass from t he shattered windshield sparkles in the afternoon sun. It looks like a gem heist gone bad, leaving diamonds an inch thick on the car's seats, and more spilling across the pavement. The front hood ben ds upward . Steam billows from under the crumpled metal. A line of traffic already piles up behind us. On the far side of the car, two more EMT's lean over Barnard, who seems to be out cold. A flicker of hope flutters i nside me. My ridicul ous plan has worked. I am out of the car, alive and un leashed. Theresa pulls a blanket over me and pushes the gurney toward the waiting ambulance. "What's your name, chica ?" "AÃ‰Amanda. Jones. Amanda Jones." I touch my side . It feels bruised. I take a few more breaths. There' s definitely something not right. "What's wrong with me?" I ask. " You're going to be fine, Amanda, " Theresa says . The gurney r olls into the ambulance with hardly a jolt. Southern Boy is already inside, grabbing straps to secure me. Th eresa takes a seat by my head. "Who should we call?" she asks "Call?" The adrenaline coursing my body spikes . If the Center staff me e t me at the hospital all of this will be for nothing. I should freez e time now, get out. I struggle to push away Southern Boy's hand s. The ambulance's engine roars as the van rolls out. Too late. I sag back onto the gurney. "Nobody ," I say . " There's nobody to call." "You're a spinner, righ t?" Theresa touches the br uised marks on my wrist. She has very smo oth skin and eyes th at crinkle when she smiles .
Freeze Time email@example.com 245 "I know you're all orphans, but whatever Center you work for cares about you, too." The absurdity of her statement makes my stomach convulse. I swallow hard, trying to keep the anger from my face. "I live at the Salem CIC," I say. They've probably already called in Barnard's license plates, but maybe I can buy myself a little time with misdirection. " We're up here to help on a case ." Theresa nods to Sou thern Boy who picks up a walkie talkie and passes on my information. I keep watching Theresa. I have to remind myself that she doesn't know spinners are poisoned, that not everyone i s part of the conspiracy. The thought only helps a little . Ther esa leans f orward and reach e s for a n eedle. Taking my arm, she pats at my inner elbow. I yank it away. "What's that for ?" I demand. " Just a saline drip. The doctors like to have it going before you get in so they can easily administer whatever medicine you need." "No ." I cradle my arm, holding it away from her. Theresa holds up her hands in an Ã”I surrender' gesture. I curl my arms closer to my chest. "Where are we going?" "The closest hospital is City General," she says . "We should be there in five minutes." I nod. C ity General i s good Ã no more than five miles from the Center. I stare at the ceiling, trying to do a mental survey of my injuries. I tense and relax the muscles in my arms and legs. Besides my sore side , all there seem s to be i s the bandage fastened
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 246 aroun d my forehead. Theresa had said something about sutures. It's p robably from the first crash, the one without the airbags. I lie still, trying to be grateful the pain isn't worse. Our ride i s b rief. The ambulance doors bang op en almost before the van stops . Southern Boy hops down and he and Theresa maneuver my gurney out in seconds. A doctor waits outside. Theresa starts spouting things about contusions, shock, BP, and other acronyms I can't follow. I switch my attention to the figures hurrying in the backgr ound. I see Julio almost at once. My lie about Salem fooled no one. They must have called the Sick as soon as someone reported the crash. Julio is making his way toward the ambulance at a rapid clip. In his hand he holds a leash. "Doctor," he calls . T he man leaning over me hesitates , half turning at the call. Julio jogs closer. I don't have a choice. There i s no waiting for an opportune moment, no careful covering of my tracks. I reach out and stop time. The freeze mutes the crowd. I un do the strap s hold ing me on the gurney and si t up. Very gingerly, I take the brace from around my neck and twist my head back and forth. Stiff, but not bad. Walking doesn't go as well . My knees wobble, my head spins , and I'm dizzy to the point of nausea. I balance myself ag ainst the gurney. All I want is to curl up in a ball and go to sleep, but I know that isn't an option. If I sleep, time will start again , and the y will catch me. And every second of real time that passes means another drop of Aclisote into KJ's veins. Thin king of KJ propel s me forward . I fix an image of him firmly in my mind Ã a happy one of the two of us talking in the courtyard Ã and head away from the chaotic
Freeze Time email@example.com 247 hospital entrance, out toward the street. I walk three blocks before I find someone on a bicycle , and then strain to drag the guy onto the sidewalk. I feel badly about stealing his bike. The poor guy will be riding down the street one minute and then sitting on the ground, bikeless, the next. It can't be helped. I don't have the time nor the strength to walk five miles. The ride to the Center feels endless. One trip on the back of a tandem bike isn't enough training to ride well. I fall ov er eight times before I master a semblance of balance and still walk the bike down hills because I don't trust the brakes. Raindrops hang in the air, plastering themselves against me as I pass through them. Only panic keeps me going . If I take too long I'll lose control of time. I'm shivering by the time I reach the Center . The tall stone building looks blu rred through the haze of rain, like the setting of a dream. Or a nightmare. I drop the bike and drag myself up to the front do or. Locked, of course. I melt time and ri ng the bell. "Alex?" Charlie 's voice crackles through the intercom. "What are you doing o ut there?" I turn my face up to the camera that monitors the front door. "Dr. Barnard was driving me to the Central Office," I say , too tired to make up a lie . I lean against the door. "We got in an accident. Let me in." The door buzzes and I half fall ins ide when it opens. Charlie i s already out of his chair, a phone pressed against his ear. I freeze time before he gets any closer, and then take off my shoe and use it to prop open the door. Despite the urgency biting at my heels, I can only stumble my way to the clinic. KJ , I keep repeating in my head. I have to save KJ . The door opens under my touch. His
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 248 room is empty, except for KJ who is lying in the same position I left him in. H e look s worse than I remember . Sweat dampens his forehead . His mouth has go ne slack . I place my hand against the skin of his exposed arm, the one linked to the snaking tube of an IV . Melt time. Freeze time. KJ doesn't move. I rip off the tape holding the IV in place and press down on the insertion point the way I've seen Amy do before pulling out the needle. No response. I seek for the reassurance of his pulse. It' s faint, the soft flutter of a wounded moth. "KJ." I shake him. Nothing. I slap his cheek, lightly, and then harder. "Come on, KJ, wake up. We have to go." Not even a moan . I shove my arms under his torso, trying to drag his six foot frame upright with arms no stronger than blades of grass. Something wet slid es out from under the bandage around my head. I don't have to touch it to know I' m bleeding. Tears of frustration spill onto my cheeks. I clim b up onto KJ's bed and wrap mys elf around him. Exhaustion pulls at me like a second layer of gravity. I kno w I can't hold time much longer. Failure taunts me from every corner. I've tried so hard, risked so much, and it all ends here , helpl ess and alone in a frozen world . Time pulls at me, straining my control. Vaguely, I grow aware of the noises I'm making, a keening whine stretched between gasping sobs. Tea rs and blood drip onto KJ's white sheets. I lay my head on his chest. "I need you, KJ. I can't do this by myself." The words make me cry harder. Last night KJ promised me that he would be there to help me. Except he isn't here. He's dying and I'm too weak to save him. I tw ine
Freeze Time email@example.com 249 myself more closely around his limp body. Maybe I should stick the dangling IV into my own arm , drink in the poison and let the two of us die together. I am so very, very tired. I turn my head, searching for the end of the dangling plastic tube. A soft beat pulses in my head. It' s weak, but it' s also the loudest thing there is in the silent freeze. I stop crying . The beat ha s an echo. KJ's heart and my own, both captured by my ear that's pressed against his chest. Hope live s in that beat. Life lives th e re, too. However hard they're trying, the Center hadn't killed us yet. I lie still. It's as if the sound is talking to me, sending me a message of hope and strength. I listen until I understand what it is I have to do. Dragging myself from KJ's bed is the hardest thing I've ever done. I release time f or a second and let KJ go. I'll need all my energy to get through the next half hour and keeping KJ unfrozen will only drain my meagre stores . I set off through the familiar hallways, searching for the two people I'm going to need . I find Jack first. He's not my favorite person, but he is strong and , as he himself pointed out, he knows more than most of u s about the outside world. He' s also likely to believe me without too much explanation. Jack is in the gy m, curled in the tight crouch of a hal f finished sit up. Aidan floats just above the ground on the treadmill to his right. I kneel at Jack's side and touch his arm. Melt time. Freeze time. "What theÃ‰?" Jack is on his feet so fast I rock back on my heels. "Hey, Jack." " Where did you come from ?" He squints at me. "And what happened to you?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 250 I glance at my reflection in the mirror over his shoulder. Blood drips from the band age around my head and clusters in dried flakes along my eyebrow . There's an abrasion from the seatbelt on my neck and collarbone. " It doesn't matter," I say. "I don't have a lot of time so listen carefully . The Sick doesn't give us Aclisote to stabilize us, they do it to suppress our power. If we were left alone we'd be able to change thi ngs in frozen time . And it's not time that makes us sick. It's the Aclisote. Dr. Barnard is killing us. " Jack backs away from me. "Is this a joke?" " You just saw me appear out of nowhere ." He considers me a moment. "How do you know all this?" he asks. "Tr ust me, Jack." I try to keep the impatience out of my voice. "We have to leave the Sick . I can get us out but I need your help." Jack's eyes narrow . "What do you want me to do ?" " Help me get KJ out of here. I can't carry him by myself." "And if I go with y ou, you'll show me how to change stuff in frozen time?" A twinge of unease makes me hesitate . I push it aside. "It's not a question of teaching. As soon as the Aclisote is out of your system, you'll be able to do this , too." Jack nods slowly. "And if I do n't help youÃ‰" "Then I'll melt time and find someone else." Fatigue makes me sharp. "I can't hold time much longer and we still need to find Shannon." " Miss Goody two shoes ? Why her? "
Freeze Time email@example.com 251 "She's got the skills to nurse KJ. Plus we need someone to cut out our trackers." Jack touches the back of his neck. "You're serious." "You coming?" "Shannon's in the common room." Shannon i s harder to convince than Jack. She doesn't believe me when I say Barnard is k illing us and she nearly faints when I drag her out of the common room during frozen time to prove to her that change s stick . Finall y, Jack steps in and tells her this is the only way to save KJ's life. He says he knows a place outside that can heal KJ, that we need her help to take him there, and that we can all come back when it was over. I don't like bringing Shannon along under so many lies, but I don't have the energy to argue about it. Back in the clinic, Shannon unwraps a sterile scalpel and set s to work slicing out the trackers. It hurt s le ss than I expected. Maybe all my nerves are so shocked they don't have anything left to respond with. Shannon takes out KJ's tracker while he' s still frozen. Jack unfolds the wheelchair Julio left in the corner while Shannon rummages in a cupboard to fill a bag with medical supplies. We all work together to lift KJ's wilting body into the chair. Getting down the stairs is harder. My shoeless foot slips on the slick tiles and Jack keeps letting the front end of the chair bounce against the steps . KJ flops a round dangerously and I'm grateful to Shannon when she demands that Jack be more careful. Charlie is standing almost exactly where I left him in the lobby . He' s staring up toward the stairs with his mouth half open, probably wondering where I went . I put on my shoe and push ope n the Center's door. Time pulls at my mind, the whisper grown
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 252 now to a full roar. Shannon eases KJ 's wheelchair down the accessible ramp. I take the stairs , holding the banister like a crutch. Jack bounds ahead, whooping as he h urtles down to the sidewalk . He stands there a moment , feet planted, hands on hips. I see him raise one hand to touch the bandage Shannon stuc k on the back of his neck . The wet banister slips under my hand. Jack is unmonitored. I've set him free and now he ' s going to abandon us . My knees wobble . Time licks at my temples. Jack spins on his heel. "Come on," he says. "I thought we were in a hurry." The smile I give him is watery. "I'm going to need more help," I say, making my way to the bottom of the stairs. "I can't hold time any more on my own." Jack reaches out and clasps my hand. His time skills surge to meet my own, bolstering my control of the invisible force. I ho ld his fingers tightly . He stayed. They are both still with me. "D o you have a plan?" Jack asks as Shannon joins us . I slip my other hand over hers where it rests on the back of the wheelchair. More energy mingles with my fading strength. I shake the hair from my eyes. "Is it true you can drive a car?" I ask Jack. He grins. "Well enough." " Then let's go get one. If we can find someone who is just about to get in or out of their car, we can take their keys ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 253 " I have a better idea," Jack says. " There's one of those car park places over on Second St. The ones where you leave your keys with the attendant. We can take one of those. " "We're going to steal a car?" Shannon asks, horrified. "Not steal," Jack says. "Borrow. It's the only way to transport KJ where we need to go." I study the two faces flanking me. Shannon has her lips pursed, as if she' s about to swallow something nasty that she knows is good for her. Jack beams like its Christmas morning. I squeeze both their hands. "You should know, " I tell them, " I don't have a plan after this." Jack shrugs. "We'll figure it out." We start walking . It' s awkward to stay connected like this Ã three people and a frozen body bumping down a city street littered with unmoving obstacles. Awkw ard Ã yet oddly comforting. It' s true what I'd said to the others. I don't know what to do next. I kno w the Center won't let us go easily, a nd, even without trackers, I kno w they will try to find us. We are four kids, alone and unequipped to survive on our own. It will take days for me to heal completely, longer for KJ, and I don't know how long it will take for the others to freeze time like I can. Until then we'll all be vulnerable. But right now, I don't care . Right now, holding on to these two people who have risked everything to come with me, what I feel is hope. At least now we have a chance. And as Ross o nce told me, a chance is all you ever g e t. After that , life was what you make of it .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 254 I put one foot in front of the other and concentrate on holding time at bay. It won't be fo r much longer. When time starts again, my life as a fugitive begins . Shannon and Jack's hands wrap me with warmth. The pulse of their power urges me forward . This was the life I cho o se Ã that we cho o se. Somehow, together, we' ll find a way to survive.