Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 1 Chapter 1 Our car skidded to a stop at the police barricade. Ross rolled down the window. "Agent Carson Ross." He held his badge out to the square faced cop standing guard. "I have a t ime spinner with me." The cop peered past Ross to stare at me with that familiar mix of curiosity and distrust. I picked a t a ragged edge on my thumbnail. I hated dealing with people who hadn't met a spinner before. They always made me feel like an escaped circus animal. Th e dangerous kind, that weren't necessarily fully trained. The cop handed Ross's badge back. "Chief's waiting for you." Ross gunned the motor and sped to the open space in front of City Hall. I pressed one hand against the glove box to steady myself. Whenever I'd been downtown before, this street had been packed. Food carts clogged the sidewalk, people juggled briefcases and cups of coffee, cell phones chirped, voices overlapped the constant rumble of traffic. Today, an unnatural emptiness screamed w arning, made stronger by the police cars barricading the corners at both ends of the block. Behind them a knot of blue uniformed men huddled, tension emanating from them like a bad smell. The sole person on the street was Portland's Chief of Police, who received our arrival with a frown. "Agent Ross." Chief's lips cut a thin slash across the bottom of his face. "You're late." "We got here as fast as we could, sir." Ross climbed from the car. "Is someone from the bomb squad here?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 2 Chief shouted a few w ords in the direction of the huddled officers. I stepped into cool fall air pretending the word bomb didn't faze me. Up close, I could see sweat darkening the fabric under Chief's arms . My already clenching stomach tightened. N ervous police officer s di d not promote relaxation. "McDennon, Slavich," Chief called to two men striding towards us. " Didn't you listen to the briefing? I can only send one of you." The men stopped in front of Chief . They reminded me of char acters in one of the war video game s t he other Center kids played . Both wore crew cuts, green uniforms, and matching expressions of stony resolution. The taller one carried a small bag Ã black , lumpy, and with the words BOMB SQUAD etched across it in white letters. I stuck my hands in jacket pockets to keep them from trembling. "We always work as a team, sir," the shorter man said. "Haven't you ever been on a freeze , McDennon ?" Chief asked . "No, sir," McDennon answered . "Slavich and I just got transferred from the Nevada Air Force Base. There are no spinner s stationed there." Chief's lips grew even thinner. " Spinners can only take two people on a freeze, and regulationsÃ‰" A muscle in Chief's jaw twitched rhythmically, as if he we re chewing up the opinions he'd like to add. "Regulations require one of them be an a gent." "Time work is draining," Ross explained. "Each person Alex brings with her adds to the strain. I have to go because my role is to make sure that nothing goes w rong." It might have been my imagination, but I thought the bomb guys' flinty expressions flickered. A flare of annoyance temporarily overrode my nerves . Were these macho guys really scared to come on a freeze with me? I was a 16 year old girl and they
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 3 were both grown men. Even if I kicked them in the shins during frozen time it wouldn't last. Once time moved forward again, the bruises , and everything else that happened during a freeze would go back to exactly how they were before hand . All that freezi ng would do was bu y them some time to find the bomb. "McDennon," Chief barked, "you go with them." "Yes, sir." The chosen officer stepped forward with military briskness . Only the white knuckled clutch on his bomb bag betrayed his discomfort . "Let's get to it," Ross said. I stretched out my arm, exposing a flat three inch wide metal bracelet, like those bands Wonder Woman wore in old cartoons, except mine was silver colored and emblazoned with the Center's logo. "What's that?" McDennon aske d. "It's called a leash." Ross pulled a key from his pocket and twisted it in the lock at my wrist. The instant the metal fell away from my skin I felt looser, like taking a breath of fresh air after being cooped up in a stuffy building. "It suppresses their power." "You better hurry." Chief took the leash from Ross and glanced at his watch. It was a sporty thing and even from four feet away I could read the time: 1:47. "The guy called it in at 12:32 and said we only had ninety minutes." I calculat ed quickly. Fifteen minutes left. The knot in my stomach twisted back into a pretzel . If I couldn't hold the freeze long enough for McDennon to find the bomb, there wouldn't be time to call in anyone else. I was it. The city's only chance to stop the bomber. "Don't worry. " Ross winked at me, his smile radiating reassurance . " Alex has never blown a mission yet ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 4 His confidence only made my stomach knot tighter. What if this was the time I finally failed him? Chief didn't look comforted , either. His shoulders remained hunched, like a turtle half retracted into its shell. "I don't need your bullshit today, Ross," Chief snapped. "Just get the job done, OK?" Ross picked up my hand. I could tell he was annoyed with Chief because he sque ezed my fingers really hard. McDennon slid a damp palm around my other hand. I practiced breathing slowly, the way Ross always told me to when I was anxious . "You ready, Alex?" Ross asked. I nodded, afraid my voice might shake if I spoke . I'd done hundre ds of freezes, but never one where the consequence of failure meant a building would explode. Holding onto Ross steadied me . Ross was like a television version of a hip dad Ã the kind that played soccer with you after school and asked sensitive question s about your friends. I looked in his eyes. They were blue, with flecks of darker color in them, like waves in a picture I once saw of the ocean. I took a breath. Released it. And then I froze time. Everything stopped. Sound disappeared. The bright Se ptember air grew perfectly still. Peo ple around us turned to statues. Chief remained stuck in his retracted hunch; Slavich stared unseeing at his boots. A clutch of fall leaves, caught by a passing gust of wind, hovered a few inches above the pavement. In the sky over City Hall, a flag hung in a half furled wave. Nothing Ã not a person, breath, insect, machine or object Ã moved anywhere in the world. Nothing, that is, except me and the two people whose skin I touched.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 5 McDennon broke his emotionless fa Âade. "Holy shit." " Weird , isn't it?" Ross said. McDennon gaped at the unmoving scene. He seemed to be struggling to make sense of all the strangeness: a squirrel suspended mid leap between two trees, tail bristled by a breeze that no longer existed; the fact that our shadows didn't follow us since we couldn't block an un moving ray of light; the impossible , absolute silence. My breathing steadied, its calm no longer forced. The frozen quiet lapped me like a warm bath. For the first time since I got out of the car , my body relaxed . This was my element. A freeze was one place where I was the one in control. I let go of the two men's hands. "Let's head in," I said. McDennon didn't move. He was staring at the immobile Chief of Police. I understood his fascination. Frozen people always seemed so vulnerable, exposed by some fleeting instant in their lives. McDennon reached out two tentative fingers to brush the fabric of Chief's s hirt. "It's soft," he said. "The term freezing time is misleading," Ross s aid. "Things don't turn solid, they just won't move by themselves." "But I can still move things?" McDennon bent to pick up one of the floating leaves and ripped it into pieces. Wh en he opened his hand, the shreds fluttered to the ground like confetti. " We need to get going ," Ross said. "Alex can only hold time for about half an hour since she's dragging the two of us along. Where do you want to set up?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 6 McDennon dusted the leaf s craps off his palms. "The briefing notes said a camera caught the suspect leaving the building at the west entrance. We'll start there." Inside , City Hall radiated abandonment . The building was designed with an open lobby tha t soared all the way to a sky light three stories above . To the left and right, stairs led to the upper levels. There were no people. The cops must have gotten them all out when the bomber called. We crossed the open space and headed down a hall to the right. Everyone must hav e left the building pretty quickly. Doors hung ajar on either side of the hall. I caught 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 passed held a lit computer screen , revealing hints of memos, emails, and spreadsheets. I wished we weren't walking by quite so quickly. I was always curious to see how norms spent their days. The west entrance lay at the bend of a stairway leading down into the basem ent. It was a heavy door with glass on the upper half and a sign saying Exit Only . A security camera hung over the top molding, its green light shining dully through the still air. The three of us stopped on the landing, facing the door. Ross placed h is hand on my shoulder. "You ready?" I nodded . McDennon was watching me as if I was about to perform a parlor trick. I ignored him, instead soaking in Ross's easy assumption of my competence. I lifted my chin. "How long ago did the suspect leave?" I asked. Ross glanced at his watch. The hands, of course, hadn't moved since the freeze. He flicked its metal casing. "The camera caught him at 12:25. It was almost 1:50 when
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 7 you froze, so we need to rewind a bit less than an hour and a half ." Ross dug into his pocket and pulled out two sealed packs of orange ear plugs. "Here," he said, handing one to McDennon. "You might want to use these." "What for?" McDennon asked. "Everything is so quiet." "It won't be once Alex starts rewinding." Ross ri pped one package open and stuffed the plugs in his ears. "The sound s are soft but they can be pretty disorienting." McDennon took the plugs. I closed my eyes. In my mind, I saw time as strands woven in the air. Usually the strands slid by freely. D uring a freeze, they hung still, like fiber in a swath of fabric. Mentally, I tightened my grip and pulled the strands toward me. Time shifted backward. It felt like the rocking of a gentle current flowing through my head. I pulled harder, gathering momentum to make the minutes rush back , fast enough so the hour would pass quickly, but not so fast that we couldn't see wh at was happening. The rewind settled into a smooth rhythm. I opened my eyes. Shadows flickered along the stairwell, light fading and brightening to match the rapidly altering pattern of sun and clouds outside the window . A whispering hum filled the air, a combination of all the background noises easily ignored in real time: distan t voices, the hum of a heater, the faint buzz of electricity. To me it sounded like a mistuned radio, nothing more than vague white noise . Ross described the sound as an over l arge mosquito lodged in his inner ear. He said it was doubly irritating since everyday noises like a sneeze or a clap got unrecognizably distorted when heard speeded up and backwards. Ross watched the closed door, tapping impatiently on the handrail with one finger. McDennon fiddled with his ear plugs. A maintenance guy zoomed up from the
Freeze Time email@example.com 8 basement and flitted past us. He was lugging a bucket and mop, his image as insubstantial as the rewound sounds were hushed. McDennon lurched out of the way. "It's OK," I said. "He's not really there." McDennon watched the transparent figure back around a corner and disappear. "He looks like a ghost." "Think of the rewind like watching a movie," Ross said, his voice pitched a bit too loudly on account of the ear plu gs. "A 3 D movie played over a permanent non moving set." " This soundtrack makes it a horror movie," McDennon said. "The ones with all those creepy whispers from the undead." He shivered, still staring after the maintenance guy. "Could I touch him?" "Nop e." Ross patted the cement 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 rubbed a hand through his cr ew cut. I let more time slip past. The strands moved sluggishly through me. I felt tired, and more than usually aware of the draining sensati on from dragging along the two n orms. Probably stress from the bomb threat . Despite the comfort of the freeze , the tight ness in my stomach kept getting worse. "How are things at the Sick this week?" Ross asked. McDennon tugged his ear. "I beg your pardon?" "He's talking to me," I said. I pointed to my shirt . It was part the boring uniform I always wore on free zes: khaki pants and a maroon collared shirt embroidered with the
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 9 words Crime Investigation Center , Northwest Division . "The C I C. Pronounced phonetically it's Sick." "I see." McDennon didn't sound like he did. "And are things good there?" I considered t elling him that when the highlight of your week is rewinding violent crimes it's generally not considered a sign of a happy home. I refrained. My life wasn't this man's business. "Stop!" Ross called. I pulled on the mental strands to halt the flow of the rewind. Superimposed over the closed west door, a shadow door stood open, revealing the dim figure of a man backing into the building. "Is that him?" Ross asked. McDennon studied the man carefully. He looked young, I guessed early twen tie s. A white guy, average height, wearing jeans and a dark windbreaker zipped up to his chin. "The description matches," McDennon said. "Can we follow him?" "Absolutely." Ross smiled at me. "Good job, Alex. That was fast." The compliment sent a flush across my cheeks. I ducked my head and pulled on the time strands, reeling events more slowly. The man continued his backward walk into the building. When he headed up the stairs, we followed him. Rewound images of people filled the hallway. Voices wel led up, the sound s as subdued a s the images were misty. McDennon stared in fascination as Ross walked right through a group of school children on a tour. We passed a man in a suit yakking unintelligibly on his cell phone, a woman waving manicured hands as she babbled instructions to a younger man jogging backward at her side. Our suspect shuffled among
Freeze Time email@example.com 10 the shadow people, hands stuffed in his pockets, actively avoiding eye contact. No one paid him any attention. I speeded the pace of the rewind, the beat of our footsteps keeping pace with my growing excitement. This was the part of investigations I loved: my own carefully controlled rewind, the emerging certainty we were on the right track. We trailed the suspect up another flight of stairs and down an e mpty hall. Recessed lights illuminated beige walls, their blankness broken up by framed black and white photographs of city landmarks: a spraying fountain, trees blooming along a city street, the statue of a woman carrying a child. The doors here were all closed. The s uspect stopped at a large blue recycling bin. The bin's lid dropped closed in reverse, meaning the pla stic popped up into his hand. He reached out over the yawning interior. A backpack, black and limp, leapt up to him. He slid it onto one shoulder, lowered the lid, then glanced surreptitiously around before scuttling backward to a door marked Conference Room 3 . The suspect backed quickly into the room, paused at the threshold to check if anyone was in the hall, then pulled the door shut ve ry slowly. Ross waited until the memory of the door closed before opening the real door. I nearly stepped on his heel in my eagerness to follow him inside. The room was dark. It was an interior windowless room, the only light bleeding through the cover ed window behind us. Any light from the hall stopped where the door had blocked it when I froze time. I squinted , and the shadows resolved themselves into a long table surrounded by chairs. "There he is." Ross lunged over to the right of the conference table and dropped to his knees. McDennon and I scrambled to j oin him. My vision had adjusted to the gloom and I could make out the suspect sprawled on his back with his head under one of
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 11 the chairs. Frowning with concentration, he pulled a strip of duct tape off the bottom of the chair and returned it to the roll in his other hand. McDennon's indrawn breath hissed near my ear. "Bingo," Ross whispered. I wedged my head under the chair beside Ross to get a better view. A brick shaped object was stuck t o the underside of the seat, mummified with a crisscross of tape. Ross reached out a hand and fingered the bomb. I shivered from a mix of nerves and excitement. Even in this inert form, the bomb oozed threat. "I wouldn't touch that," McDennon said . I couldn't see his face from my position under the chair, but his voice trilled with alarm. "No?" Ross grinned at me . "What about this?" With a quick tug, he pulled the rest of the tape away, letting the bomb drop to the floor wit h a loud clunk. McDennon shouted and leapt to his feet, tripped over my legs in his rush to get away , and landed with a crash on one of the conference chairs . " Mr. Ross!" I said, smothering a laugh . Ross shot me another grin , then said to McDennon in a perfectly serious voice: " I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." Ross stood up to help McDennon back to his feet. I remained on the floor until I could control the giggles clogging my throat. Our suspect's wraithlike shape hovered next to me , carefully taping the shadow bomb in reverse. When I managed to rub the smile off my face, I stopped the rewind . Frozen silence settled around us as I crawled out from under the chair . Ross picked up the bomb and held it out to McDennon . The e xplosives expert approached it
Freeze Time email@example.com 12 warily. Released from the tape, the bomb emerged as a mess of wires around a square of something that reminded me of modeling clay but must be the explosive. "It's perfectly safe," Ross said. "The bomb's got an electrical trigger so there's no way it can go off. Electrical impulses freeze just like everything else. None of it works." Ross stuck a finger under one of the wires and wiggled it. "Even if it did it wouldn't hurt us. Time would melt and we'd go back to where we were when Alex froze. Perfectly safe, standing next to Chief." McDennon's expression lacked conviction. "Frozen time doesn't count," I reminded him. "It doesn't really exist." "Right." McDennon straightened his shoulders. He'd probably heard all thi s in training; it was just the reality of it that rattled him. With admirable resolve, he accepted the bomb from Ross. I was impressed that his hands didn't shake. "Let's take this somewhere there's better light. I want to see how it works." The three of us trekked out into the hall. The muted brightness of frozen light seemed glaring after the dark conference room. Ross opened 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 d ark skinned bald man sat behind the desk, fingers raised in the act of typing. The sun streaming through the window made him appear particularly insubstantia l. Dust motes hung like glitter inside his chest. Ross swiped his arm across the desk. Papers flu ttered to the ground, a tray of pencils clattered, the computer hit the ground with a painful crunch. "Doesn't count, remember?" Ross said in response to McDennon's grunt of protest. "It will all go back right as rain when Alex melts us."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 13 McDennon droppe d his bomb squad bag on the newly emptied desk top. "How much time do I have?" he asked me. I focused my attention inward. The current of time was pulling harder now, still manageable, but I knew from experience the pressure would grow. "Ten minutes?" I said. " Twenty if you need it." "McDennon, you have eight minutes." Ross's voice was firm. The bomb expert turned back to his work without comment. He must be used to working under deadlines. "I can hold it longer than that ," I s aid to Ross, softly, so I wouldn't distract McDennon. "If Mr. McDennon doesn't figure this out now, they'll only have fifteen minutes in real time." Ross held up a hand. "You worry about your job, and let them worry about theirs. Push yourself too hard and you'll get time sick." He tapped me lightly on the nose . "You're too important to let that happen ." I nodded, torn between fear we might fail and pleasure that he cared about my health. Pleasure won out. I dropped my head so Ross wouldn't see me smile. We waited. Ross plucke d out his earplugs and flicked them across the room. He stuck his hands in his pocket, jingling the loose change inside. He pushed a framed photo lying on the floor with his toe. It was a picture of the man at the desk smiling next to a teenage boy hold ing a fish. Cracks laced the glass front. I leaned back against the cabinet. On a typical freeze I would have scratched my name into the cabinet's surface. It was my own little ritual, a temporary signature on the scene I'd created. Today, I didn't fee l like it. A particularly vicious time headache was growing behind my temple . McDennon let out a small sigh.
Freeze Time email@example.com 14 "Got it." He wiped his brow against the shoulder of his shirt. I sighed, too. Time was pulling at me harder now, a current with definite int entions of dragging me downstream. McDennon started packing things back into his bomb squad bag. A tiny screwdriver. A magnifying glass. "There's no need for that," Ross said. "Let it go, Alex." I released my hold on time with relief. The scene aroun d us blurred. Ross told me o nce that the melt made him momentarily dizzy, like missing a step off a curb. For me, the sensation was more violent. Scenes from the freeze swung crazily through my head: the suspect placing tape, manicured nails waving in a crowded hall, the janitor's bouncing mop. I tried to relax the way we were trained, to let time wash through me, but it still felt like seconds were being forcibly ripped through my chest. The world steadied. Once again I was staring into Ross's ocean blue eyes. He blinked. Both men let go of my hands. "Holy shit." McDennon again. He was standing next to Chief, bomb bag packed, face going pale. At his feet, the intact leaves floated past on their draft of wind. The squirrel completed its journey to the neighboring tree. The flag on the rooftop fluttered. Chief started. " You're back ?" He looked up at the building, as if he might catch us still inside. "Did you find it?" "Yes, sir," McDennon answered, "and I know how to dismantle it." "Ge t your team," Chief said. "Go." McDennon nodded to Slavich. Chief watched the bomb guys race back up the stairs before turning to Ross and handing him my leash.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 15 "How long were you inside?" "I'd guess thirty, thirty five minutes." Ross refastened the leas h to my arm. I wished he'd been less prompt. The rush of returning time still swam in my head and adding the faint buzz from the leash made me queasy. Ross went to stand next to Chief. Neither man spoke. Chief kept glancing at his watch, then back up a t City Hall. The cops waiting down the street muttered together, the sound an echo to the buzz in my head. I thought we should go over and stand with them, just in case, but it seemed like too much effort to complain. Instead, I sat on the steps and lai d my head on my knees. Time headaches usually faded after a few minutes. "All clear, Chief." McDennon and Slavich burst through the front door, arms raised as if they had just won a championship race. McDennon waved pieces of the bomb and cheers broke out from the waiting police. Chief rushed to shake the men's hands. He was smiling so widely I could see the silver on hi s back teeth. I stood up. M y queasiness bloomed into full on nausea. "Agent Ross." Chief was back, arms draped over McDennon and Slavich's shoulders. "You did all right today, you andÃ‰" He nodded over at me, my name clearly gone from his memory. The other cops flooded around them. They were laughing and shoving each other, all eager to congratulate the new heroes. I put a hand against my stomach, grateful for once to be ignored. If this were the time someone finally thanked me it seemed likely I'd vomit all over their shoes.
Freeze Time email@example.com 16 "That was really freaky in there," McDennon said to Ross. "Do you spend a lot of time on mission s like that?" "Not always." Ross shrugged. "Most of my job is plain old detective work." I slumped back onto the steps . On top of worrying I might throw up, my head felt like someone was squeezing the back of my eyeballs. "It's your job that's dangerou s," Chief said to McDennon. "You're the ones that deserve all the credit." The steps grew crowded. N ervous sweat tainted the air with bitter perfume. Voices called, cell phones jangled. The noises bounced around my head like an untrained orchestra. An d it wasn't just the noise, it was the light, too. Everything around me seemed too bright, the edges so sharp they hurt. I put a hand up to shade my eyes and touched clammy skin . Nausea, feverÃ‰ realization swept over me in a wave of ice. "Mr. Ross!" I m ust have shouted. Heads turned, confusion interrupting their celebration. I didn't care. Panic was sweeping through me, drowning me in a way time never did. Ross hurried over. "What is it? I clutched his proffered hand . "I'm sick." "A headache?" "No! I 'm sick, Mr. Ross. Time sick." Ross's face crumpled, a cheerful balloon shriveled by the prick of a pin.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 17 " Come on. " He pulled me to my feet, wrapping a n arm around my shoulder. " Let's get you out of here." "Where are you going?" Chief called. "I need yo u for the press conference. I called it for 3:00." Ross waved him away. "I'll be there." He shepherded me toward his car. "Don't worry," he murmured as we walked. "It's going to be OK." I stumbled along beside him. I knew Ross was lying. Things were not going to be OK. Time, that invisible essence I controlled with a twist of my mind, always took its revenge. I'd lived in Centers my whole life. Once a spinner got time sick, the end was inevitable. A few months, six at most, and thenÃ‰ Sixteen was young, but not unheard of. No spinner lived past twenty.
Freeze Time email@example.com 18 Chapter 2 "You feeling any better?" Ross asked me as we settled into the car . I lowered the visor on the win d screen to block out the sun's glare. The light stabb ing m y eyes made them water . "Not really." We drove through the city for a while in silence . Polished buildings gave way to aging apartment s and funky cafÂŽs as we neared the Center . I clutched the door handle, resting the other palm on my churning stomach . Ross chose a roundabout route so I had time to calm down . Usually, after a mission, Ross took me out for a meal. He entertain ed me with the latest gossip about other officers Ã the infighting and alliances, who was on probation and why Ã or ask ed questions about my life at the Center and paid attention when I answer ed . The best days were when we talk ed about time work and how vital rewinds were to successful pol ice investigations. He said no one liked to acknowledge how much our work help ed because most people were uncomfortable having their public safety rely on a bunch of institutionalized orphans. Guilt, he said , was a great silencer. I'd been particularly eager to talk with Ross today because he'd been hinting about a particularly big case he was working on . Life changing, he'd called it, flashing me his special Ross smile. The only stop Ross made today was at a mini mart to buy me a soda. Caffeine helped relieve time headaches. I w atched him paying the clerk through the store window and wondered if I'd ever get to work with him again. When spinners got sick, staff pulled us off time work until our chronotin stabilized, which sometimes meant we never
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 19 went back . I massaged my stomac h. The idea of wasting the rest of my life on mindless chores in the Center made my nausea nearly unbearable. " Are you sure this is time sickness? " Ross asked a minute later , as we eased back into traffic . " Maybe it's just nerves. The bomb, all those peo ple." I took a long swallow of soda, then pressed the can against my forehead. The metal felt startlingly cold against my flushed skin. "I don't think so, " I said. We stopped at a light. In the car next to us, a little boy sat in a booster seat, suckin g his thumb with the enthusiasm usually reserved for lollipop s . The boy stared at me. He was a normal boy, with a mom in the front seat, and a sister beside him. A normal boy with a normal life. I wondered if he appreciated it. "It 's such a waste." Ros s slammed a hand against the steering w heel. "You kids are so special. The way they treat you is a crime ." I shrugged. I'd never had a real home. Time spinners were born with chronotin in their blood and all babies were tested for it at birth. I assume d my parents cried when the nurses took away their newborn baby. I often wondered if they were also relieved to rid themselves of a mutant. Not that they had a choice. By law all spinners had to be raised in a Center. So many died young and even the he althiest of us were unstable without medication. Violent. Paranoid . Who would want to raise a child like that? Ross was 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 changed. Ross pulled away from the little family. "Y ou're a really great kid, Alex. Not just a good spinner Ã which you are, the best, I've never had a spinner who really cared
Freeze Time email@example.com 20 about the work Ã but a good person. Ho nest, hardworking . " He slammed the steering wheel again. " You don't deserve this." "Thanks," I mumbled. Any other day, Ross's speech would have lit me up like a torch. Ross , though always kind, had never said he cared about me so explicitly. Today his words just sank into the ache in my chest . They were a gift I could never open. Not when I could count the weeks I had left. Not when I might never see him again. "Look, Alex." Ross cleared his throat. "What if there was a way I could help you? Keep you from getting another attack of the sickness?" " You can't." I looked out the window and drank my soda. "Everyone gets sick ." " There might be," Ross said. " I have a friend Ã a scientist Ã who has some new ideas about how to treat time sickness. It i nvolves taking some different medicine." Carbonated bubbles burst against my tongue, their flavor sharp and sweet at the same time. I savored the taste . Sodas were forbidden by the Center . Was this the last one I'd get to drink? "I'll take whatever Dr. B arnard gives me," I said. We turned a corner. The Center rose up at the end of the block , tall st one walls and barred windows . I downed the last of my soda. "That' s the thing. " Ross slowed the car . "You'd have to take it without Dr. Barnard's knowledge. In fact, you'd couldn't tell him you got sick today. If you do they'll be monitoring you too closely and they'll figure out you changed your meds. " "I have to tell them," I said. "If I don't they won't increase my Aclisote dosage and my chronotin levels will really go nuts ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 21 " If y ou tell them , they'll pull you off time work. I won't see you for weeks . It will be too late by then to try a new treatment. " " Won't Dr. Barnard notice anyway ?" I asked . "They check our blood every month whether we're sick or not." " True ." Ross pulled the car into one of the reserved parking spots in front of the Center and cut the engine. "When is your next blood test scheduled for ?" "Two weeks. Dr. Barnard just rai sed my Aclisote dosage, too." "He did?" Ross frowned. "What was your last chronotin reading?" I shook my head, not trusting my voice not to crack. I didn't remember my reading, but I knew if I had gotten sick so close to an increase, my chronotin must be totally out of control. " Don't worry about your next test ," Ross said. " I can deal with it. The question is whether you're willing to try the new medicine. " " I don't know, Mr. Ross." I squeezed the empty soda can so hard the sides crushed together. "I t sounds risky. Dr. Barnard is a national expert on treating time sickness. If he doesn't know anything about this new treatment, how do you know it works?" Ross ran a finger along the steering wheel. " Dr. Barnard is good but he's also conservative. My scientist friend is doing some really cutting edge work. The results he's been getting are amazing. " He twisted in his seat so he faced me. " Isn't a little risk worth it if you can live longer?" I studie d the crumpled can in my hand , t he once smooth edges now sharp beneath my palm.
Freeze Time email@example.com 22 "It's not your risk, though, is it?" I knew I sounded sullen. Ross's face softened, his expression close to pleading. " It's absolutely my risk," he said. "I don't want you to die. " *** I went on my first mission with Carson Ross on my thirteenth birthday. I'd been a fully qualified spinner for two years and be en through three a gents already, enough to learn that since rewinds make most people uncom fortable, the cops assigned as a gents a ren'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 the 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 t he johns we managed to ID . Ms. Spruce called them whores and shoved them so hard against the side of the police car she once broke a girl's tooth. Tito Marquez was a beat cop in a neighborhood known for gang violence . W e spent a lot of hours driving aro und in the dark busting people for being out of doors or sitting in the parking lot at an all nigh t diner waiting for a call. Agent Marquez drank gallons of coffee and played solitaire on his phone. I stared out the window wishing I could speed time up instead of slow it down. The last guy was the worst. Jonas Saul was about fifty, with graying hair and a gut he had to wedge 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
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 23 laugh his disgusting smoker's hack as if this phrase might be considered original. Or funny. That first mission with Ross involved a dead baby . The probable verdict wa s that the death was natural, SIDS, the y called it, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome , but the cops thought something might be off so they brought in Ross to check it out . I was not happy to be there. My bes t friend KJ and I had gotten an afternoon pass a s a treat for my birthday. He and I had planned the day for a month. We were going to walk down by the river , then KJ wanted to look at gardening books , and I intended to spend all my saved up allowance on a real latte, something I'd only seen people drink on TV. Instead, Jack got caught making out with another spinner in the second floor bathroom . They were both tossed in solitary and I got pulled for Jack's mission. Ross and I drove out through a blazin g summer's day that even the air conditioning in his car couldn't tame. I answered his ple asantries with monosyllables. T he ci ty's hustle shra nk down to streets of tired houses while I mourned my lost afternoon. Our goal , when we reached it, only added to my depression . A rusted chain link fence enclosed a lawn whose only green spots were dandelions . When we stepped out of the car the heat descended like a flaming hand pressing the back of my neck . Ross rapped on the door. No one answered . He had ju st 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.
Freeze Time email@example.com 24 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 comprehe nsion. 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 t o force myself to follow Ross inside. Mrs. Montgomery was already shuffling over to a forlorn sofa . She must have been there a while. An open pizza box displayed congealed pieces of barely eaten pie while a television flashed images through a muted scre en. Somewhere nearby a diaper pail needed emptying . Ross cleared his throat. "Can you show me where Rosalind died?" Mrs. Montgomery pointed vaguely towards a closed door. Ross thanked her. I stumbled over a stroller in my eagerness to get away from the unresponsive woman . 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."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 25 I held out my arm and he unlocked my leash. As soon as the metal left my skin I touched 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 in 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 wo man 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 recognizable version of Mrs. Montgomery. "Let's get this over with," Ross said. I nodded, grabbing time so hard the rewind leapt backwards with a lurch that made me sway. "How far back do I need to go?" "A neighbor called it in this morning. I gather the child died sometime the day before. We'l l have to go back at least 24 hours 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 in to a coil 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
Freeze Time email@example.com 26 rewind moving at a fast clip. Police wandered in and out, poking in drawers and un taking pictures. Their rewound voices 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. T he 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 growing 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 mo vement might shatter her . My grip on time slipped. The ima ge 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 rewind. I t's just.. ." Mrs. Montgomer y'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 watch ," 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 st rands flowing through me . I eased them out, fast or slow, depending on what Ross asked . Only when I heard his s oft oh of comprehension did I pee k. The shadowy form of Mrs.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 27 Montgomery slept, her breath rising and falling in rhythmic exhaustion. A thin bed spread covered most of her body. I t must have been a cool night because h er 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 curve d around the soft pile, the unconscious gesture of a mother protecting her young. Except the arm was not protecting. It s weight pushed the heap of blankets forward , so that the edges of the nest caved over, press ing down onto the form beneath and coverin g 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 strayed from 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 headache pounded inside my skull. " Come on ," Ross said. Mrs. Montgomery still perched on her sofa, staring at the silent 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 was 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 he at, my body shivered . "The initial assessment was right. Your ba by died of SIDS. It was nobody' s fault. I'm so sorry."
Freeze Time email@example.com 28 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 t ruth before , but because I'd never seen one do it to protect someone like this: a poor, pale, worthless woman with nothing to offer in return. Warmth surged through my chill ed body , making my skin tingle. Mrs. Montgomery raised her head. Her mouth worked, as if she barely remembered how to speak. "Are you sure?" " 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. Ross ushered me out to the car and drove to a fast food restaurant. He ordered three hamburgers, fries, and two chocolate milkshakes. I hoped he'd eat quickly. I wanted to put as much distance between me and that rewind as possible . We parked in the shade under a tree. Ross adjusted a vent o n the dash so cold air blasted toward me. " I'm always famished after a rewind ," he said, handing me a burger. " Aren't you?" The unexpected gift filled my hand. I'd never heard of an agent buying a spinner lunch before. Ross slid his seat backwards and se ttled in to eat. " Won't the Center wonder where we are ?" I asked, worried Ross's generosity would get him in trouble. Ross shrugged. " They don't kno w how long the mission lasted ." He noticed my untasted food. "Unless you want to go back ?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 29 "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 almo st 36 hours. How long can you go?" "I rewound 2 ! days once," I said, my words muffled by the food stuffed in my cheek. Ross whistled appreciatively. Spurred by the praise I added: "And I can hold time for at least two hours." "Impressive," Ross said. " I might have to keep you around. Think you can handle homicide?" "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 sound ed like a promise. The possibility that this generous, kind man might want to work with me was the best birthday gift ever . Suddenly, I didn't care about my missed outing. Hope made me brave. "Why did you do it? " I asked. " Why did you lie to Mrs. Montg omery?" Ross handed me one of the milk shakes 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 ?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 30 "Sometimes. " I considered the question. "I rewou nd 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, with a slight chemical undertone. " What will you write in your report ?" " That the baby died of SIDS. What happened in that rewind will be our secret, known to nobody in the world but us two ." Outside my window, a group of teenaged girls slumped their way across the pavement. It was so hot the h eat waves blurred their ankles . I savored my burger , protected by the shelter of shade and air conditioning . I'd never thought about things like ju stice or truth. Rewinds were just what spinner s did. At best , they were a break from the tedium of Center life. At worstÃ‰ well, from the stories I'd heard, even Jonas Saul wasn't the worst that could happen to someone. " Powers like yours shouldn't be wast ed, " Ross said. "Your ability to freeze time can make a huge difference 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 powers made me different. Ross was the first person to say they made me special.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 31 *** Charlie, one of the Center's front desk guards, knocked on the window of Ross's car , interrupting our conversation . "You guys get l ocked out?" Charlie asked. "Sorry. Ms. Eckbridge said I could run out for some coffee. Slow day." Ross and I climbed from the car. The caffeine from the soda had finally kicked in. Bright things didn't hurt my eyes anymore. I hadn't answered his quest ion about the new medicine . The lure of hope battled my fear of mortality, the two emotions heaving through my unsettled insides like a rocking boat. We climbed the steps and Charlie waved his key card to let us in to the cramped Center lobby. I breathe d in the familiar scent of cleaning solution and canned food, letting my vision adjust to the dim light. A framed black and white photograph hanging near the entrance showed what the Center looked like a hundred years ago when it was a newly built hotel . Back then , the lobby was an elegant space, open and airy, with so fas scattered among potted palms . Since then the lobby has been chopped up into offices. Brick replaced the glass windows , choking out any source of natural light. The front door bristled with electron ic locks and security cameras. Only a pair of curving stairs leading to the second floor hint ed at the space's former glory , and even these potentially graceful lines were ruined by the guard station plunked d own at their base. Ross walked me over to the glassed in station. Charlie went inside and slid open the window partition , releasing a waft of air tinged with the stink of unwashed socks.
Freeze Time email@example.com 32 Charlie spread out a page of the log book. Ross signed me in while I held out my arm for Charlie to unlock the leash. Its release lightened my lingering headache. "I'll see you soon?" Ross asked. I knew he was really asking what I'd decided , but he couldn't say anything more explicit in front of Charlie. "Mr. Ross, IÃ‰" My stomach gave another lurch . Six months ago, when Adelaide got sick for the third time, I visited her in the clinic . I knew immediately her time was over. Sweat drenched her once bright hair, her face so pale the white pillows seemed beige by comparison. S he didn't respond when I said her name . I held her hand for an hour, listening to the uneven rasp of her breath . I don't think she ever knew I was there. When I went back to the c ommon r oom, no one asked me about her. None of us menti on ed her now. If I put off the normal treatment s , how many of my remaining days would slip through my fingers? What would those last days be worth if I had to spend them locked in the Center? CIC Deputy Director Janet Eckbridge swung open her office door and stepped out into the lobby . A petite woman in her late f ifties, Eckbridge wore one of her usual mono colored suits and professional height heels. Beside her walked the Center's director , Dr. Jeffrey Barnard . He was probably about the same age as Eck bridge, but he looked way o lder. Everything about him sagged , from his poorly fitted lab coat , to the skin drooping under his chin. Even his hair seemed to be sliding away from him, leaving a few gray strands in the back and bare forehead up front. I tilted my head down, aware of my red rimmed eyes and puffy nose .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 33 "Agent Ross, Alexandra ." Eckbridge nodded her smoothly bobbed head in our direction . "How did y our mission go?" "Very successful ly ," Ross said. "We found the bomb and the team was able t o 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 massaged my stomach . Rotating pictures from the security feeds inside Charlie's station flashed against the glass : a grainy im age of the Center's front steps, a group of Youngers reciting lessons in a classroom , an older spinner mopping an empty hallway. The common room looked crowded and I made a mental note to avoid it. "Good." Eckbridge always spoke in the clipped tones of a highly efficient automaton. She sounded no more impressed by Ross' s answer than if he'd said we'd prevented a fender bender. Instead, s he asked Ross when she would be receiving a copy of his last report. Ross wasn't known for stellar paperwork. Figuring they no longer needed me , I started to slink my way out of the lobby to ponder my dilemma alone . Dr. Barnard stopped me . "How are you feeling these days, Alex?" He peered at me over his wire rimmed glasses, like I was a lab rat failing to perfor m as expected . Ross stopped talking . H e and Eckbridge both turned towards me . The lobby suddenly grew very crowded. Three pairs of eyes fixed on me : Eckbridge's gaze impatient , Barnard 's clinical , Ross's anxious with hope . A warm flush crept along the s ide of my neck . My roommate, Emma , told me once that she'd give up a year's allowance to work with Ross. Her agent, she said, reminded her of a squashed toad Ã
Freeze Time email@example.com 34 warty with sticky hands. She said he never spoke a word to her on the drive to or from a miss ion . KJ said his agent made him sit in the back seat. I placed my hand against my neck , feeling the rapid beat of my heart pounding tainted blood through my veins. "I'm fine," I said. Ross rewarded me with a massive grin. The pa in in my head faded to a dull pulse . Dr. Barnard frowned. " No worse headaches than usual? " he asked. " Any nausea ?" I scuffed the worn tiles under my feet. "No," I lied. " It was a r ough day, " Ross put in . " We ended up cutting it a little close . Things were pretty tense in there for a while ." "I see." Barnard sounded thoughtful , perhaps wondering why the gruesome murder I'd rewound a few months ago hadn't fazed me when a plastic box had. I kept my attention glued to the floor. One of Barnard 's shoelaces had come untied. Eckbridge's low heeled pumps glowed with polish. Navy, to match her suit. "If you need to rest ," Eckbridge said, " you can spend the afternoon in your room." "That's OK," I mumbled . If my days were numbered, the last place I wanted to spend them was shut up alone in my room . " I signed up to work with KJ in the garden." "Whatever you prefer." S he turned to Ross. "We have a free office , if you'd like to write up your report here."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 35 "I won't be able to do that ." Ross backed away . "I'm supposed to meet the police chief for a press conference." "Make sure you get us a copy of both report s when they're complete," Eckbridge called . Ross said something vague. Behind Eckbridge 's back, he winked at me. Charlie buzzed th e door open and Ross strolled outside. Sunshine picked up lighter threads in his hair, making them glint like thin strands of gold. At the threshold, he turned and waved to me. I watched him leave, holding our secret pact inside my chest, a tendril of h ope to protect me from the shadows that descended as the front door's locks clicked back into place.
Freeze Time email@example.com 36 Chapter 3 The Center's cour tyard wasn't a great place for a garden. Shade covered most of the area , leaving only a small plot with enough sun to grow anything besides rhododendrons. Even wi th these limitations, KJ managed to coax out a reasonable crop of greens , plus a few different kinds of flowers. As soon as Ross left, I slipped out into the cool air . KJ was pulling up some weeds that had inv aded the space between the beds . The steady work must have warmed him, because he'd ditched his sweatshirt, leaving his long brown arms bare. I watched him for a few moments. Everything about him: the focused concentration, gangly limbs, dark brows , and j utting nose, already seemed tinged with the nostalgia of loss. "Hey," I called. KJ settled on his heels , smiling . "You're back early . " He shoved his over long bangs away from his eyes with his wrist, the closest he had to a non muddy appendage. " How'd it go?" I grimaced. " Not great ." "What? No fast food treats with Ross ?" I moved towards him, away from the door. "No." The abruptness of my answer wiped the cheer from KJ's face. "What happened?" he asked. When I didn't answer, h e waved me closer. "Wanna talk about it?" "It's justÃ‰" that I'm dying .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 37 I couldn' t say it . A bout a year ago, a baby bird found its way into the courtyard and KJ nursed it back to health. KJ adored that ball of fluff. Every time KJ came near, the bird w ould squawk and dance, clacking its little beak to demand its meal 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 , he crump led, like I'd knocked all the air from his body. I knew he'd react the same way if I told him I'd gotten sick . Plus, h e'd treat me like something fragile afterward , and I didn't think I could stand that. I plunked myself down o n a patch of grass near the beds . At this point in the afternoon , the sun had abandoned all but a small corner of the courtyard. In the spot where I sat , the air carried a definite chill. "I'm just tired ," I said . " There were like thirty cops there and all of them were freaking out." "How come you always get the glory jobs?" Coming from anyone else, the words would have sparked a defensive retort . Not KJ. I knew he didn't envy me. H e didn't even like time work . KJ's a gent worked the traffic divi sion so mostly he unwound car accidents. The work was usually dull and occasionally gruesome. Either way his rewinds weren't a lot of fun. I plucked half heartedly a t a dandelion making inroads on some nearby lettuce. "What'd you do today?" " Dr. Barnard 's computer had a glitch so I spent all morning cleaning off the virus. It was actually really cool." A dreamy expression crept over KJ's face . " Computer viruses are like puzzles, you know? Untangle the code and the whole thing comes apart."
Freeze Time email@example.com 38 "You're such a dork," I said . I'd meant the comment lightheartedly, but the words came out sounding kind of mean. KJ picked up a rake. " Hey, come on, dorks are the new cool . " I flopped onto my back and stared up wards . The walls surrounding the courtya rd hid most of the sky , leaving only a small rectangle of blue overhead. The more I studied it , the more the walls seemed to be leaning, as if they were closing in around me . "If you weren't a spinner , " I asked, " what would you want to be?" "I don't know ." KJ raked the scattered weeds into a pile . "Tech stuff is cool . Or maybe I'd be a marine biologist. I've always wanted to see the ocean ." He leaned agains t 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 ." " I'd rather still be a spinner but 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 . And you'd die before you learned enough to be useful ." "You're in a cheerful mood." KJ bent to scoop up the pile of weeds . "What would you want to be ?" A cloud drifted over the edge of the Center' s walls. I studied it, trying to force the bit of fluff into some kind of shape, but it refused to become anything but a blob. I turned KJ's question around in my mind to the one I really wanted to ask: what would you do with your life, if you knew you onl y a few months left to live? An ache filled my chest, the longing as unshaped as the blobby cloud. " I'd want to be someone important," I said. "Someone who makes a difference."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 39 "That's funny." KJ carried the weeds over to the composter . " Shannon and I w ere just talking about that last night . About how important it is to feel useful. She ways that's why she likes working with the Youngers ." Something about the way he said her name, just a shade too casually, caught my attention . "Shannon?" "Yeah." KJ's n eck had turned slightly pink . "You were watching that movie with Emma so Shannon and I hung out." A little smile twitched at one corner of his mouth . I wriggled my shoulders. The grass itched my back, each blade an individual irritant. Kids at the Center paired up all the time. The relationships rarely lasted, though, and then all of us had to deal with the fall out Ã the mood swings, crying jags, avoiding people at lunch. It was exhausting just watc hing it. I'd never seen the point and, in the past, KJ always agreed with me. Now I forced myself to picture it: KJ and Shannon, together. In the last few months of my life, my best friend would be distracted by someone else. The acid remnants of nause a rose up to scrape the back of my throat. When I swallowed, my mouth tasted bitter. I stood up. "There's no point pretending we have options when we don't . " "No need to bite my head off," KJ said . "You're the one that asked." "I t was a stupid question. " I snatched up KJ's abandoned rake and scraped it across a mound of dirt. The rake's thin tines bent under the force of my stroke . I shoved harder, welcoming the sting of wood against my palms. " We don't have choices. We're t ime spinner s. We re wind cr imes and identify the bad guys. Then we die. That's it. That's all there is . " KJ si ghed. "Alex , can you just tell me what's bothering you ?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 40 " It doesn't matter . You wouldn't get it." "Try me." I stopped raking . The sun was still bright where KJ stood and I had to s quint. " When I was out today Ã‰" I cast about for a way to tell KJ what was wrong without confessing I was sick . "Ross asked me not to tell the sta ff about something ." KJ frowned and I realized I'd phrased the whol e thing badly. Spinners never told staff anything unless they had to. "Was it something about the case?" KJ asked. I shook my head. "Did Ross do something to you?" "Of course not." "Then what?" "Forget it," I said, regretting the impossibility of what I'd started. "I told you, it doesn't matter." KJ watched me for a while, not saying anything. I yanked the rake harder. A splinter flaked off the wooden handle, shooting beneath my skin with a sharp stab. I yelped . KJ came over and took my hand, openi ng it inside his own. The jagged tip of the splinter stuck out from my skin. KJ touched the spot gently , rubbing the sliver in an effort to tease it out. " I hate the way you let Gloss manipulate you," he said . KJ nicknamed Ross " Gloss " shortly after I sta rted working with him, claiming Ross was " all shiny surface with no substance underneath " . I closed my fingers . " He does not manipulate me ." " What about that case last month? " KJ smoothed my hand back open. " The one where he stopped the rewind halfway through ?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 41 "The guy wa s getting undressed," I said. "So he wanted to p rotect your innocence ? " KJ slid his thumbnail under the splinter and tried to pull it out. I winced. " Alex , you worked vice for a year. You've seen naked everything." "Yeah , and it sucked. Besides, the victim wasn't even there. The guy couldn't have had anything to do with it." "Then why did Gloss ask you to lie? If Eckbridge ever found out , you'd be in huge trouble. No allowance, no privileges , and you'd be in solitary for weeks . Plus you'd be stuck doing all the nastiest chores for months. " " Not telling made everything better . " KJ muttered something I didn't catch. I could tell he was getting irritated with me because his attempts at removing splinter were getting less ge ntle. I tightened my grip on the rake I still held in my free hand, trying to rein in my growing frustration . KJ always got stubborn when we talked about Ross. "Ross had already talked to the guy ," I explained, " and he knew that if I kept rewinding we'd see him make dinner with a serrated knife, exactly like the one that killed the victim. Except Ross knew he didn't kill her . If we'd reported it, the police would have made life hell for this poor guy . It wouldn't have been fair ." "Ross doesn't get to decide what's fair . He's just supposed to report the facts." "You say that as if it were simple. " I could hear anger leaking into my voice, but made no effort to stop it . " Facts are simple in your world , because all you ever do is re wind traffic accidents. What Ross and I do is complicated ." KJ gave up on my splinter. "It' s not complicated, " he said. "It's a stupid rewind."
Freeze Time email@example.com 42 "They're not stupid." I yanked my hand away. The space between gaped like an open wound . From across it KJ s eemed very far away. " My missions matter . They're life or death Ã not like cleaning off a computer virus or planting flowers no one wants." I threw the rake on the ground, sending the handle flying through a patch of long stemmed flowers . They were delicate thing s , all lacy petals and quivering stamen . My frustration drove the rake harder than I intended and t hree blooms toppled over, their stalks snapped irrevocably . Hurt sharpened KJ's features . "What'd you do that for?" "It's just a flower." K J stared down at the crumpled blooms . The broken stalks leaked a pale green liquid. Flower blood. "God, Alex." KJ sounded tired. "W hy do you have to make everything so hard?" The space between us widened so far I was afraid I'd collapse into the gap . I wanted to scream at KJ, tell him I was dying, ask him to forgive me, but the irritation on his face shut me out. I turned and stomped my way across the courtyard . Even though I knew it was irrational, I felt like KJ had failed me. He was supposed to figure out what was wrong without me having to tell him. Instead all I got was criticism . Well, I didn't need more doubts and questions . I wanted something bright and hard that I could fight against. I shoved my way into the Center. The door , designed with a hydraulic hinge , refused to slam. Instead, it only gave a mournful sigh before slowly settling back into place. ***
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 43 Matron, the Center's nurse and resident den mother, pounced on me before I'd taken three steps into the hallway. "There you are!" she cried. "I've been looking for you every where . The press conference about the bombing is on TV . Eckbridge gave permission for us all to watch it together!" My stomach sa nk all the way to my toes . The idea of sitting in a room with the other spinner s while Matron crowed about my professional success sounded about as appealing as spending a month scrubbing toilets. "That's OK," I mumbled . "I already know what happened." "Don't be silly . It will be fun to see Mr. Ross on TV . " This Matron was the fourth Matron we'd had over the seven years I'd lived at the Center. KJ's theory was that Eckbridge thought we wouldn't notice change s so much if the staff were all called the same thing. This Matron had been here over two years. She was a wide, comfortable looking woman with smooth dark skin and short hair curled into an immo bile cap around her face. She was also relentlessly chipper and lived under this ridi culous impression that we all loved being spinner s. Some of the other kids call ed her Kindergarten Matron behind h er back because she always talked in an aren't we having fun voice. I tried a new angle. "I'm such a mess." I waved my grass stained fingers in her direction. "I need to wash up." " Be quick , then, so you don't miss any of it. " Matron beamed at me . "It 's going to be on in less than ten minutes!"
Freeze Time email@example.com 44 I tried to dig up another reason to refuse her invitation . Nothing came to me. With a sigh, I nodded and trudged off to the nearest bathroom . Matron bustled down the hall to dig up more viewers . The common room was much less cozy than the name implied. It was a big , shabby s pace on the ground floor with blinds covering the windows so outsiders couldn't see in . Fluorescent lights hum med over linoleum floors and an assortment of mismatched furniture . A book c ase stretched across one wall, mostly well thumbed paperbacks Ã romance and thrillers were popular Ã mingled with pristine good for you classics , courtesy of Deputy Director Eckbridge. A shelf on the opposite wall h eld a haphazard stack of puzzles , board games , and some neglected art supplies . Next to that wa s a lon g table holding three computers set up with lots of games and severely limited internet access . Despite her enthusiasm, Matron only managed to convince half the other spinner s to watch the press conference . Most of them she'd probably trapped because the y were already in the room enjoying our brief afternoon free time. Jack sat at the computer table, head buried in a pair of headphones. Aidan and Raul were playing the card game War . Crazy Calvin read a book in the arm chair farthest from the TV . Emma w aved at me from where she sprawled on one of the sofas. She was reading a gossip magazine while simultaneously tracking the dubious hilarity of a TV sitcom. Emma was chubby , nearsighted, and couldn't hold a freeze for more than tw enty minutes. She was OK as a roommate, but we didn't usually spend much free time together . The way she talked about movie stars as if they were her friends drove me nuts .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 45 Shannon sat on the second sofa , along with four Youngers, all of whom beamed pleasure at being allowed into the big kid's common room . The Youngers , all girls, were snuggling against Shannon , listening while she read aloud a story about a lost princess . Everyone agreed Shannon was the prettiest of the spinner s. She had long blond hair, even teeth, and the body of a lingerie model. She also suffered from some kind of do gooder compulsion. When she wasn't doing chores or on a mission, she tutored groups of Youngers in reading and math . I suspected ha lf the kids fail ed their tests on purpose in order to spend time with her. "Look who's here," Aidan called when he caught sight of me. " Our very own celebrity . Think I could get your autograph later?" Raul chuckled. Raul was like the buddy in one of those teen comedy movies, the guy whose only role was to laugh whenever the main character made a smart alecky comment . Except that Aidan's comments weren't particularly smart. They always revolved around the same theme: mock an yone who wasn't as big a slacker as he was . Shannon slid under his radar because she was blond and pretty, KJ avoided most insults because he was big, which left me as Aidan's favorite target. I ignored both him and Raul , slinking across the room to curl into one of the arm c hair s facing the TV . Shannon finished her story just as KJ walked into the room. He made a beeline in her direction, ignoring me completely . S hannon smiled. She slid over to make room and KJ wedged himself in between her and one o f the Youngers . I hunched down in my seat and picked at my splinter . It hurt. "All right, everyone." Matron bustled in and started hunting around for the TV remote . "We've got a special show to watch."
Freeze Time email@example.com 46 The music on the sitcom grew to a crescendo. The on screen couple kissed, prompting the studio audience in to a canned awww . The credits started rolling as Matron switched the channel. "Coming up next," a smooth voice announced , " a shocking bomb scare evacuates downtown on the eve of Labor Day Weekend ." The camera panned over images of harried p eople being ushered out of City H all. "Was this a random act of violence? Or something more sinister ? Stay tuned to a special press conference, coming up live right here on News Six. " The channel's logo filled the screen and the scene cut to commercial. "It wasn't a real bomb ," Crazy Calvin announced. "It was all fak ed to raise the profile of the a gents. They're in the middle of salary negotiations, you know." Nobody paid him any attention. Calvin was big on conspiracy theories. "Jack," Matron called over a jingle advertising low cost car insurance , "turn that thing off and come join us." I hoped he'd ignore her, or, better yet, mouth off and distract everyone by getting in trouble . Instead, Jack snapped his headphones off with atypical obedience . "Wouldn't want to miss the star performance." He bounded over and dragged an armchair so close to mine I could smell the bitter tang of cigarette smoke embedded in his clothing . Jack was the Center's bad boy. He favor ed leather jackets, worn j eans, and combat boots , and he was always gettin g in trouble. Rumor had it he once had a Norm girlfriend who m he visited whenever he got a day pass . His attitude about time work was so bad , most of the a gents put him on their do not use list , so as of last year he'd been assigned to work in Dr. Barnard 's office . Barnard must not have liked working with him
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 47 either. From what I could tell , Jack spent most of his time either playing video ga mes , working out in the Center's small gym, or smuggling in contraband items like cigarettes and booze. God knows where he got them. "Think he'll mention you, Alex? " Jack imitated an overeager reporter . " Give credit where credit is due?" "Now, Jack." Matron pushed Emma 's feet off the sofa so she could sit next to her. Two of the Youngers immediately abandoned Shannon and curl ed up against Matron 's wide hips . I noticed neither Shannon nor KJ made any effort to reclaim the extra space. Sha nnon was sitting s o close to KJ she might as well be on his lap. "You know Dr. Barnard thinks t ime spinner s should keep a low profile. The rest of the city is still getting used to you ." "Yeah." Jack's voice dripped sarcasm. "F orty years unwinding crime s and people still think we're dangerous monsters . Good strategy." "Ben Steinhart got publicity after his rewind nailed that pub owner for selling drugs ," Shannon said . " Remember what happened to him? Piles of hate mail and then those protesters Ã‰" She didn't need to say more. We all remembered. After the pub guy got arrested, protestors chanted angry slogans on our steps day and night for weeks. They screamed at passing cars and carried signs that s aid things like: Lock Up the Freaks, Time S pinner s = Tax Suckers, No More CIC for the Sick . The cops only dragged them away when they started breaking things. Meanwhile, w e all stumbled around so sleep deprived it was like living in a home for the undead .
Freeze Time email@example.com 48 Shannon gave a small shudder. " Half the city still thinks Ben faked the evidence." "Ben did frame the pub owner," Calvin said. " Someone bribed him to do it so that Ã‰" Jack cut him off . "A spinner puts away one popular scumbag two years ago and now we don't get credit when we stop a bomber from blowing up City Hall ?" Jack always ranted about how spinner s didn't get enough respect , which KJ thought was funny given how little time work Jack actually did . Whenever Jack started up, KJ always wink ed at me or imitate d Jack behind his back. Without thinking, I glanced across the room when Jack started his tirade. KJ's wasn't paying attention. His head was bent to catch something Shannon was whispering to him . I looked away. " I know it seems unfair," Matron said. " 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 leaned forward. He smiled directly at Matro n, a wolfish smile showing too many teeth. High on the wall over the TV, the freeze monitor gave three electronic beeps and the words Jack Whiting flashed across the screen. Matron started. All us spinner s had tracker chip s implanted in the back of our necks when we were babies. It linked to the monitors so staff could tell when we froze time. They also track ed our location to within fifty feet . For our own security, Eckbridge said . "Jack, " Matron said, " you know it's against the rules to freeze time outside of training ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 49 " Why? Does it make you uncomfortable, Matron? Wonder what I 've been doing? " The room phone rang. Matron jumped up to answer it . "Hello? Yes , I'll check ." She put her hand over the mouthpiece. " Did he take any of you with him?" She looked at me, since I was the one sitting closest to Jack. I shook my head. " He froze alone," Matron said into the phone. "OK, I'll tell him." She hung up . " Dr . Barnard let you off with a warning. I hope you appreciate the leniency." Jack shrugged. I was surprised Barnard gave him a break. Last year, Jack got locked in solitary for a week after beating a kid named Donny in frozen time so badly Donny lost consciousness. Do nny was fine afterwards, of course. Staff only found out because he squealed. "Why'd you mess with Matron?" I lowered my voice so only Jack could hear me . "She's OK." " Yeah, if you're five , " Jack said . " Why do you care? She's just a Norm. And b esides," he lifted one hand and placed it on my thigh , "h ow do you know it was Matron I was messing with?" "You're an ass, Jack." I moved his hand away. Emma always sighed over Jack, saying he looked exactly like Tom Cruise in Risky Business . I didn't see the attraction. For me, his cuteness was totally erased by acting like a jerk. "Your loss." Jack's eyes slid from my face and down over my chest . I t urned away and faced pointedly towards the TV. "Shhh," Matron called. " The mayor's on ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 50 The mayor stood at a podium surrounded by microphones, his image flickering under multiple flashing cameras. Behind him, Ross, McDennon , Slavich, and the police chi ef stood shoulder to shoulder. The mayor cleared his throat and started reading from a prepared statement, laying out the basics of the operation to the members of the press. To my relief, t he common room started buzz ing with sounds of inattention. Matro n might have trapped everyone in front of the TV , but she couldn't force them to listen. "Ã‰crisis was averted thanks to these brave men," the mayor summed up. "They all risked their lives today and I, for one, can't thank them enough." More lights flash ed as the mayor turned and shook hands, first with the Chief , then Ross , and finally with the bomb squad . When he was done, he urged Chief to the microphone and opened the floor to questions. " Do you have a suspect?" someone asked. "W e do," Chief said. I perked up. I hadn't expected the police to ID our guy so soon. "The suspect has been identified as Jason Torino, age 24." A blurry photograph of the man I saw in the rewind flashed up on the screen. His body was 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 wore the same dark windbreaker I saw him in earlier. "Anyone who has information about this man's whereabouts is a sked to call the police emergency number. Please remember he may be dangerous." "So young, " Matron sighed. "What can happen to someone to make them want to do something like that?" "I can think of a few reasons," Jack said.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 51 Matron waved dismissively. "Yo u don't mean that." Calvin cleared his throat. "Statistically, most terrorists are under the age of 25. They tend to come from troubled homes, often suffering some form of abuse in childhoo d Ã " "Give it a rest, Calvin," Aidan interrupted . Across the room , Shannon said something to KJ that made him laugh , a rich happy sound that warmed the air of the overcrowded room . I picked at some dirt under my fingernail and tried to remember the last time KJ had laughed like that at something I said. Nothing came t o mind. In the courtyard he'd asked me why I had to make everything so hard. Did I do that? I mean, besides today and the being pissed off about dying part, was I not that fun to hang out with anymore? Another reporter raised his hand , a chubby man hold ing an oversized spiral notebook . " Reports say 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 a n anti spinner hate crime?" A lull emptied the common room of sound as everyone in it turned to hear Chief's answer. My stomach, still not completely recovered, clenched. The Norms' distrust of spinners already kept us in a glorified prison; having our haters bomb meetings would not make things better. Ch ief put on the blank expression that must be a requirement for any public service job. "It's too early to tell what the bomber ' s motivations were ," he said. "That's a lame ass political answer," Jack sneered .
Freeze Time email@example.com 52 "Language, Jack . " Matron gestured towards the Youngers. "Doesn't matter if he answers or not," Raul said. "Once that reporter asked the questions, everyone will assume it's true and then somehow the bombing will be our fault." "Channel Six is a mouthpiece for the government," Calvin said. "They scripted the question on purpose to keep up the national hysteria around spinner s." "Like the Norms need any help being hysterical," Jack said . On screen, t he reporter was pushing his po int . "A re cent survey showed that seventy nine percent of the population believes spinner s are mentally unstable. It is true, after all, that many of them are born with serious physical or mental disabilities. Half of them don't live to see their fifth b irthday. And we've all heard the reports of spinner s behaving erratically, even violently, especially at the ends of their lives . Given the overwhelming unpopularity of spinner s among most Americans, doesn't the location of the bomb imply someone is makin g a political statement?" " I nstances of spinner s with mental illnesses are vastly over reported , " Chief said. " Spinners do some unusual things, but at the end of the day they're just regular kids." The chubb y reporter looked unconvinced. He raised his hand to ask another question . Chief ignored him, pointing instead to the woman sitti ng next to him, a young reporter dressed in a tight fitting red suit. "I have a question for Agent Ross," the woman asked , her smile so wide she could have been posing for a toothpaste commercial . Chief grimaced , but he stepped aside so Ross could join him a t the microphone . The camera zoomed in on Ross's face. " How stressful was the rewind when you found the bomb ?" the reporter asked.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 53 Ross waved a hand, the essence of relaxed nonchalance . "Not very ," he said . "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 it today." "Ther e you go, Alex," Jack said . "You're a good spinner . Doesn't that make you proud?" "She should be proud," Matron said. "We all know how hard the work is." "Calling her a good spinner makes it sound like she's his dog." Aidan and Raul snorted with laughter. I glanced over to see if KJ had noticed the boys' teasing and saw Shannon holding his hand, whispering as she traced his palm with one finger. Shannon h ad taken up tarot card readings a few months ago. I supposed now she'd moved on to palms. The reporter asked Ross what the rewind was like and Ross launched into a long description. I curled back into my chair, wishing I'd chosen a seat closer to the door so could more easily escape . It's not like anyone would miss me. I peeked over at KJ a gain. His dark head was bent close to Shannon's blond one , his face lit with something I was sure had nothing to do with a newfound belief in the occult. "Jealous about your boyfriend?" Jack's voice was low. I snapped back up upright. " KJ's not my boyf riend. " "Oh, that's right. " Jack twisted his fingers together, making the knuckles crack in quick line of pops. " Your boyfriend is Carson Ross." "Don't be gross. Ross is like twenty years older than me." Jack leered. "Most guys wouldn't mind. If you ma de a little effort you wouldn't even be bad looking."
Freeze Time email@example.com 54 "You're pathetic," I said. "Don't kid yourself. All anyone wants is to have a good time ." "I don't . " I brushed at a smudge on the knee of my pants. I probably should have changed before going to s it i n the dirt. " Mr. Ross doesn't ." Jack laughed. "Ross isn't the saint you think he is . I used to work with him, too, remember?" Defensive anger tightened my chest . What was it with everyone today? First KJ and now Jack. Nobody understood Ross except me. " So he cuts corners once in a while ," I said . " At least he's trying to make life better for other people ." " Other people, like you?" "Yeah, he makes my life bett er. Doing something that matters in the world makes my life mean something. Unlike yours." I crossed my arms . "I think you're jealous that R oss dropped you to work with me." "Jealous?" Jack snorted . "I'm not jealous. I work with people much more import ant than Ross." I stared at him. Jack didn't work with important people. He didn't even have a regular agent. Jack leaned towards me. "Let me offer you some friendly advice. If you want to keep getting the high profile cases , you'd better find another agent . Your hero is poking into too many things that aren't his business. People who matter are starting to align themselves against him . Trust me, Carson Ross is going down." I wondered if Jack was losing it. It happened sometimes. Jack was nineteen, three years older than me , and surely due for time sickness any day . Lots of people fell
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 55 apart when their time cam e. Look at Crazy Calvin. S ix months ago he'd been one of the Center's better spi nner s. "Can you address the rumor that the bomb was placed at City Hall by the thief people call Sykes? " The question jerked my attention back to the TV. Ross had returned to the background, leaving Chief alone before the pressing crowd . Camera s were flashing like strobes . Chief's face looked frozen , the smile pasted to his lips a forgotten remnant of a happier emotion . He squinted against the media's lights. "I beg your par don?" The reporter who' d asked the question straightened his shoulders importantly. He was tall , with hair that stuck up around his head as if he'd only just gotten out of bed. "There's a report that Jason Torino has already contacted the police and he's willing to swear it was Sykes that set him up." The buzzing in the common room faded to match the hush settling over the reporters . Aidan's hand hovered over a pair of cards. Emma's magazine drooped in her lap. Even Calvin looked up from his book. Sy kes was the city's most notorious criminal and the police department's Achilles heel. Five years in and no one had a clue about who the man was or how he managed his operation. Or if he was even a man. Ross was obsessed with him. Sykes was blamed for t he theft of at least $50 million . He stole from everyone : banks, high end jewelry stores, elegant homes , plus neighborhood businesses , random houses , items left in cars . People would swear they'd left the building locked, set alarms, secured valuables in safes and still things would vanish. Rewinds turned up nothing. The hysteria grew to a peak last March when local celebrity Tanya Sewell killed
Freeze Time email@example.com 56 herself after Sykes stole personal memorabilia including some compromising photos that were later sold to the press. Emma had cried about it for a week. Chief cleared his throat. "I have no knowledge of the suspect contacting the police." "I got this information from a solid source," the reporter said. Chief's lips settled into a tight line. The reporter p ressed on . " Assuming the rumor is true, does this imply Sykes is turning violent? And if so, how will the city protect us when you've so far failed to even put together a description of him?" "No comment," Chief said. Questions exploded from the press ga llery. Hands waved, cameras clicked. Chief leaned into the bank of microphones and thanked everyone for coming, promising to let them know as soon as they had more information. His expression held thunder. "Maybe," Aidan called out, " Sykes leaked the rumor himself, just to piss Chief off. The guy looks like he's about to have a stroke ." Raul laughed. Calvin started rambling about some theory involving leaks and department heads. Jack left the seat next to mine and asked Aidan to deal him in for a ne w card game. I sat alone , staring at the flickering TV . Just before the scene cut off, I'd caught a glimpse of Ross. He was watching Chief walk off the stage. Instead of looking sympathetic, or even gleeful at his boss's embarrassment, Ross's expression was calculating. He reminded me of a cat trying to figure out which way a cornered mouse might run and in that instant I knew. Ross was the solid source. He'd leaked the information about Sykes to the press.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 57 My heart started beating as if I'd run up a flight of stairs. Was this the big case Ã the life changing one Ã Ross had hinted at ? Did he finally have information that might lead to the arrest of the elusive Sykes? Shannon's lilting giggle floated across the room. Suddenly, all the frustrations and indignities of my day, of every day, flared inside me. I hated that we had to wear leashes when we went outside. Hated that Norms always looked at us like we were something rotten . Most of all I hated that my life was ticking away and I would have to spend every day of it here, in this same ugly room, with these same annoying people. I brushed a finger across the splinter still stuck in my palm, my nerves releasing a shivery flush that raced across my skin. Ross was the only person who cared enough about me to offer help and I had almost been stupid enough to turn him down. I knew now I'd made the right choice . With Ross I could be someone who made a difference. Someone who mattered . I didn't care anymore if the other spinner s thought I was a show off. I didn't care that my best friend had abandoned me. However much life I had left I wasn't going to waste it . I would turn my back on the Center and put my faith in Carson Ross.
Freeze Time email@example.com 58 Cha pter 4 The m orning alarm dragged me from a night of fractured sleep . I'd dreamt the fat reporter was accusing me of attacking Ross during a rewind. He kept quoting statistics about spinner s going insane , pushing for me to admit I'd lost control. I to ld him I hadn't done anything, that Ross was fine, but when I looked for him, Ross was nowhere in sight. I woke to a mingled sense of panic and exhaustion . The sound of traffic drifted up from the street, Labor Day vacationers getting a jump on their lo ng weekend . Emma moaned a sleepy protest from the bunk below mine. I turned on my side. Except for the wall of celebrity photos Emma had taped up around her bed, the room , full of standard issue furniture , offered little in the way of decoration . There weren't even errant pieces of clothing lying around to brighten things up. At the Center, tidiness was mandatory. Julio started the secondary wake up call , banging his night stick against each dorm door as he unlocked it . Outside, f og pressed against my window, bringing with it the heavy scent of damp. I burrowed deeper in my blankets , stopping time with a mental flick before Julio reached our door . While not technically allowed, n o one ever bothered us if we froze time in our own roo ms . Stillness settled around me, slipping through the cracks of my closed lids . I couldn't actually fall back to sleep without losing control of the freeze, but at least I could delay having to get out of bed. I lay still, listening to the sound of my ow n breath. Tiny things, like the faint bleach smell rising from my sheets or the headache lurking in the back of my skull , grew larger in the vacuum. I imagined I could feel my chronotin levels rising , the cells duplicating, unchecked by the calming influ ence of Aclisote .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 59 I'm going to die . The words ran through my head like a gonging bell, knocking away any lingering wisps of sleep. I sat up. Within the silent freeze, the vastness of the unmoving world around me felt oppressive. I was completely alone and for once the feeling was not freeing but instead chilling . Would death be like this? A solitary soul moving through a world that neither knew nor cared abo ut its existence? I let time go , shifting instantly back to my previ ous position beneath the sheets. Julio's stick smacked against the door with a sharp crack. Emma grumbled her way out of bed and pulled on a robe. I followed her out to the bathroom, mov ing through my morning routine in a stupor . How much of a risk was I really taking by not reporting my illness ? I pondered the question, brushing my teeth so long minty foam started dripping down my chin. The usual cafeteria cacophony of clattering spoo ns and raised voices enveloped me when I made my way down to the basement for breakfast. " Good morning , Alex, " Matron said from her spot at the meds table set up just inside the door. Her chipper tone grated across my nerves . I grunted a greeting . Matron sorted through the bottles of Aclisote lined up on the table , searching for the one with my name on it . I watched her fingers moving among the bottles, trying to decide the merits of faking a cold so that I'd get sent up to the clinic. If I got a high chronotin result from a routine test would they still pull me from time work? Or just raise my Aclisote dosage?
Freeze Time email@example.com 60 " There it is ," Matron said , selecting a bottle and ripping off the seal with a practiced hand. "Looks like you've got a new on e." She picked up a medicine cup and measured out some of the purple liquid with a snub nosed syringe . " That's too much," I said. Matron checked the label. " No , it's not ." I squinted at the tiny writing on the bottle Matron held out to me . Alexandra Manning, 5 cc's , twice daily . Five cc's? Yesterday , I'd been taking four and a half. My cheeks warmed, r elief mingled with guilt, as if somehow Dr. Barnard had caught me lyin g . "Why did Dr. Barnard change it again ? He just raised my dose after my blood test two weeks ago ." "Who knows?" Matron handed me the plastic cup . " Though between us two, it's possible Nurse Amy wrote up the label wrong and no one noticed until now." Matron shook her head . " That girl has been so distracted lately, I'm surprised she find s her way to work every morning. " Was this the reason I got sick yesterday? That Amy hadn't followed up Dr. Barnard's prescription? I tossed the me dicine down like cowboys shoot whiskey. The chemical sweet flavor tasted reassuringly familiar. Then I remembered the pointed questions Barnard had asked me in the lobby yesterday. Maybe the prescription wasn't wrong . Maybe my chronotin levels were so high he knew he had to keep raising the dosage even without another test. I tossed the cup in the trash and stumbled over to the food line, staring at the stacked white bowls without really seeing them .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 61 "Hey, Alex," Shannon chirped. My mood darkened. O f course it had to be her turn to serve breakfast. "Oatmeal with toast or just oatmeal?" Shannon asked. For a split second I considered confessing to Shannon I'd felt sick yesterday and asking her to run a surreptitious blood test, something she knew how to do since she often helped Matron in the clinic. The impulse was squashed equally quickly when I imagined her self important pleasure at reporting me to Eckbridge. She'd tell KJ, too, and he'd be so hurt not to hear it from me first, he probably would n't speak to me for a month. "Just oatmeal," I said. "KJ said you were in a wicked bad mood yesterday," Shannon said, scooping up a big spoonful of gray goo and slopping it into one of the bowls. I made a non committal noise, annoyed at the idea of the two of them discussing me. "He felt so bad about arguing with you," she said. "After you'd had such a tough case and all." "Where is KJ?" I interrupted, scanning the room in vain for KJ's dark head. "Didn't he tell you?" Shannon handed me the bowl . Her tone was innocent, but her mouth looked smug. "His agent called yesterday to reserve him for a morning shift. They're expecting a bunch of car wrecks today. All that fog." "Right," I said, taking up my cereal. "I forgot." I added a cup of tea to my tray and sat down at an empty table . I decided I didn't need a new blood test, I just needed to know what my chronotin levels were at my last one. Then I could tell Ross and he could ask his scientist friend if they were worrisome. I stirred my spoon through the thick oats, picturing my last test, the narrow exam room,
Freeze Time email@example.com 62 its gleaming surfaces and lingering smell of disinfectant . Amy, Matron's part time nursing assistant, had been complaining about bein g hauled in for an extra shift. She'd taken my blood, dropped it into the chronotin analyzer, and thenÃ‰ I scooped up a bite of oatmeal, only realizing after I swallowed the gummy mass that I'd forgotten to add sugar. What number had appeared on the digi tal read out? I prodded the tasteless oatmeal , struggling to remember. I knew at one point my result had been 170, but was that last week or the month before? "Hey." Yuki pulled out the seat across from me and sat down without invitation. I picked up m y tea , abruptly aware that I hadn't really brushed my hair this morning . The fact Yuki managed to dress well was a source of frequent discussion between me and Emma. We all chose our clothes from the same pile of donated items, but while I never uncovere d anything except faded T shirts and wrinkled jeans, Yuki somehow found things that screamed style . Today she wore a long black sweater over colorful tights with a matched pair of bracelets jangling at her wrists. I rubbed a spo t of oatmeal off the tired sweatshirt I'd been wearing all week. "I hear you and KJ had a fight, " Yuki said. I shrugged. Gossip travel ed through the Center faster than light . "Was it about Shannon?" Yuki asked. "The two of them looked awfully cozy last night." "No," I said, hoping curtness might discourage this line of conversation. A futile hope, given this was Yuki .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 63 "I don't know why you don't just go out with him." Yuki tilted her head , making her hai r slide along her shoulders like black silk . "He's not as cute as Jack, but he's got that cool nerd thing going for him ." " KJ and I have been hanging out since I was nine," I said. "It would be like dating my brother. Plus I don't see the point in getti ng emotionally involved with anyone . It's not like there's a future in it." "Who said anything about the future? Might as well have fun while you can. Everyone else does." I refrained from pointing out to her that this same "fun" ended with girls sobbin g in bathrooms, screaming fights in the hallways, prescriptions for anti depressants, and countless hours wasted in long descriptions of shared misery. I took a nother bite of my oatmeal. "KJ and I are just friends," I said . "He can go out with anyone he wants." Yuki raised a skeptical eyebrow . "Well it's obvious to everyone else that what he wants is to go out with you." The spoon slipped from my fingers and hit the floor with a loud clatter. I bent to retrieve it, grateful for the second of under the table privacy. Yuki 's suggestion was ridiculous , of course . KJ didn't think about me any differently than I did about hi m . I knew that, knew it, and yetÃ‰ tiny moments nagged my me mory: KJ brushing my palm as he worked on my splinter , the occasional odd pause I'd noticed in some of our recent conversation s , that time I caught him watching me from across the room . I pushed the images aside. Yuki was a gossip who said things just to see if the y made an impact. " KJ and I are friends," I repeated , sitting up again . "That's all."
Freeze Time email@example.com 64 " If you say so ." Yuki strode off in a whirl of bangles and flashing legs . Seconds later she was leaning over the food counter talking to Shannon . The two girls put their head s together and even through the noise in the cafeteria I caught Shannon's giggle. The emptiness that had filled me when I wa tched KJ in the courtyard yesterday threatened to open again in my chest. I scrubbed at my fallen spoon with a napkin . Yuki was wrong. I wasn't jealous. At least not of being KJ's girlfriend. I was just worried he'd have less time for me now that he an d Shannon hooked up. I was telling the truth when I told Yuki KJ was like my brother. Wasn't I? I forced myself to focus again on the memory of m y last chronotin test but couldn't drum up any more details than before. After a while I gave up . My mem ory seemed as blank as the rapidly cooling mess on my tray . *** Living in a Center meant I didn't have a lot of free time to brood . Spinners not being particularly popular with taxpayers , the Center had to keep the cost of running the place low , which meant the thirty two kids who live d here did most of the work to keep things running. Just like a real home, Matron always said . We took turns cleaning the common room, serving meals , emptying trash, scrubbing bathrooms. Older kids go t assigned bigger jobs, too . Yuki worked in Eckbridge's office, Aidan helped the cooks in the cafeteria . The lucky kids go t assignments they really enjoy ed , like KJ fixing staff computers , or Shannon helping Matron and Amy in the clinic . My job was to drill the Youngers o n time skills . Mostly I help ed with Class A, the beginner's group . It was an OK job , made better by the fact that I love d the room
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 65 itself. Tall windows let in light dappled by the street trees growing outside. The window panes so thick they muffled most of the street noise , and the Center was built high enough off the ground that passersby couldn't see in. When the trees were in bloom the room reminded me of a giant tree house. This time of year , with the leaves blazing into fall colors, it felt li ke sitting in a nest surrounded by flames. Teacher Julie wav ed at me when I walked in. She was a young woman, with curly red h air and so many freckles her face appeared tan all year long. She always dressed as if she was about to head out on one of the treks she took on her days off Ã jeans , sturdy shoes, bright bandanas. The kids like d her because it wa s easy to get her off to pic. She'd drop multiplication tables in a heartbeat if they ask ed about her latest fishing trip . Today looked ripe for a distraction. The ten students were spread out across four tables, facing a wall with a whiteboard surrounded by maps and all yawning with boredom. " How many spinner s are there in the US?" Julie asked the class. "2,500," the kids chorused in a monotone . I picked up the list Julie left me on a clipboard by the door. As usual, I would be taking kids aside so they could practice freezing and rewinding time. My heart sank when I saw Anna Chang's name at the top . Anna hated time work . "That's right," Julie said, "or about .0007% of the total population. How many spinner babies are born each ye ar?" Jenny raised her hand. "Miss Julie, is it true spinner s used to be called w itches?" A ripple of interest passed over the slumping students. Even Julie perked up. Who didn't think witches sounded more fun than birth rates.
Freeze Time email@example.com 66 " Well," Julie only waver ed for a second. " Back in the 1700's , time wo rk was considered black magic. Spinners were outcasts: feared, driven from villages, some were even burned at the stake." "Why were the Norms so scared of us?" Emilio asked. " No one had discovered Aclisote yet, so spinner s were mostly crazy. Plus t here were lots of stories about spinner s who c oul d appear out of nowhere or make things disappear . " Emilio leaned forward eagerly. "How'd they do that?" "They didn't really," Julie smiled. "Changing things in frozen time isn't possible. They're just stories, like the ones about really old people being spinner s. What people have always feared is spinner s find ing out their secrets. They fear someone freezing time and reading private letters or spy ing on people in their houses . Plus , back in those days spinners didn't get training like you kids do, so spinner s couldn't control their power very well. Time must have started and stopped for them without them knowing why and if they happened to be touching someone when it happened, they'd take them on a freeze by accident." Julie was warming to her topic, waving her hands around the way she did when she found a story interesting. "Just imagine how scary that would be, to have the world around you suddenly stop mov ing ." Julie paused , seeming to remember that for us, stopping the world didn' t seem too od d . She cleared her throat . " Can you think of other reasons people might have fear ed spinner s in those days ?" " Back then, spinner s were like zombies," Emilio offered, holding his arms out stiffly in front of himself and wagging his tongue. A bunch of the kids giggled.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 67 Tari q waved his hand. " Spinners could take advantage of the Norm s when they were frozen ." More giggling. "And they must have died," piped up Jen ny , "just like that." She clapped his hands together. "In the middle of the street." Now all the Youngers were laughing , as if what Jenny had said was a joke, or maybe just because the image of people falling over dead in the street sounded funny. I grip ped my clipboard, wishing Julie would go back to the day's lesson . Listening to them talk about spinners dying was making my head hurt. "That was a long time ago," Julie said. " People understand the limits of time manipulation these days, and n ow that we have Aclisote spinner s are perfectly stable . " I beckoned to Anna Chang and pointed to the practice room. She pretended not to see me. Tariq's hand shot up again . "If Aclisote was discovered in the 1800's why were spinner s still locked up until just recently?" "It took a while to get the science right," Julie said. She sounded apologetic, which was silly. What people did 200 years ago was hardly her fault. "At first Aclisote made spinner s kind of, um, slow. They couldn't really function very well. It's only been since the 1950's that the dosages were refined enough that spinner s could control their skills and do rewinds for the police." Anna finally acknowledged my waving and stood up from her table. Julie launched into a story about the first ca se ever solve d by a rewind. I ushered Anna 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, slid the lock once
Freeze Time email@example.com 68 we entered. The S ick was really strict about controlling where we could freeze time. Matron explained the staff didn't want the kids to dig through Teacher Julie's desk and find answers to tests. Jack said they did it because staff thought we might scratch their eyes out in fro zen time, just for fun. Which, frankly, Jac k had probably done. " Hey A nna. " I rubbed my ear, trying to clear the images Julie's now muffled voice had brought me: hatred , insanity, sudden death. " Shall we try a rewind?" "No." Anna was a round cheeked eleven year old with the attitude of a teenage thug. I corralled my annoyance . " Then we'll just practice freezing ." Anna flicked back her dark hair. "Let's just say we did and you let me out of here. It's not like anyone would know." "Come on," I said, trying 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 brought out my final piece of leverage . "I'll let you eat the chocolate bar." Anna gave a huge sigh and took my hand as if she was doing me a major favor . A slight stutter told me she 'd stopped time, an internal blip like an extra heartbeat. O n the other side of the glass, T eacher Julie stood with one arm raised, in the act of pointing at one of the nine remaining students frozen in their chairs. "Good job," I said. "That was really smooth. " Time power hummed through our linked hands like a very low level electric current. I couldn't break someone else's freeze, but as long as we touched my own power supported hers. I slid my hand free.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 69 "Now you hold it alone." Time wavered for an instant , before Anna caught it and pul led it tight . "There you go, " I said. Despite herself, Anna looked pleased. I opened the cabinet and took ou t the chocolate bar the kids had been eating in frozen time all week. "Here . " Anna ripped open the wrapper and took a bite. I watched her eati ng. In the frozen silence her chewing sounded loud. I touched my ear again. If I pressed down the sound of my pulse thudded loudly . I thought about chronotin , a slow poison taking a second of my life with every beat of my heart. I dropped my hand. " You s ure you don't want to try a rewind ? It's more exciting than just sitting here. " "How about we go out there." Anna gestured at the frozen world outside the glass. "That's more exciting than just sitting here too." "We can't," I said, "the door isÃ‰" I s topped. Annoyance and anxiety collided into a spurt of inspiration. I suddenly knew how to get the information I wanted about my chronotin levels . I'd be breaking every rule in the book, but surely, in a life or death situation like mine, the risk was w orth it. I gave Anna a huge smile as my plan sharpened into focus. "Let time go ," I said . " We're done." Anna was so taken aback by my sudden capitulation she forgot to finish the chocolate bar. She released time immediately, whirling us back to our pre freeze , chocolate less positions. Jumping from her chair, she started banging on the glass so Tariq would let her out, presumably worried I might change my mind. The classroom no ises surged when the door open ed ; voices, shuffling feet, the scratch of a pencil. The
Freeze Time email@example.com 70 freeze monitor, however, remained quiet. M onitors were blocked in the freeze room so they didn't beep during training sessions . I wrapped my arms around my body, huggi ng myself to keep from jumping up and down with impatience. Tariq called Emilio to take his turn. As soon as the door closed again I froze time . Peace settled around me and I relaxed into it. Ten year old Emilio's body was easy to pick up and move out of my way. Tariq fell over when I shoved the door open. He hadn't had time to lock it. I paused to settle him more comfortably on the floor. Even if he wouldn't remember it later, it seemed mean to leave him collapsed over a chair. I'd only ever wand ered around the Sick o n a freeze once before Ã a dare I accepted back when I was still trying to fit in that left me in solitary for three days. The silent rooms had a dream like quality, familiar and also strange. My footsteps sent out a lonely echo as I covered the short trip upstairs to the c linic . The clinic took up half of the second floor. Beige wallpaper stamped with pale sailboats covered the walls. The main space was pretty spare ; a couple of padded chairs made up the waiting room , separated by a half wall from Matron's office . Closed doors mark ed two sick rooms, a half bath, and an exam room . The air smelled like disinfectant. Amy must not have come on duty yet because the whole place was empty. Behind Matron's desk stood the row of filing cabinets I'd come to search. There were four of them, each drawer neatly labeled. I skipped the administrative ones, running a hand along the drawers that held our medical records. A C, D G, H L. I yanked on the handle marked M R. It was l ocked. The headache lurking in my skull since yesterday pulsed. I ignored it, running my fingers along the edge of the cabinet until I found the lock , a nickel sized button flush
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 71 with the metal casing . T here was nothing electronic about the lock , which meant it could be opened in frozen time . The key was in the second place I tried, casually tossed in the top right hand drawer of Matron's desk between to a tin of breath mints and a crumpled tissue. I unlocked the M R drawer with sweaty palms. The fold er labeled Manning, Alexandra was filed near the front. My file wasn't particularly thick. I plopped on the ground so I could spread the pages across my lap. The infor mation I wanted sprang out immediately, scribbled on a stack of paper s clipped to the left hand side of the file. One column showed 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 focused on the last few entries : 6/23 172 FB 4 cc JS 7/21 171 AS 4 cc JS 8/18 17 3 AS 4.5 cc J S 9/2 5 cc J S A wave of relief broke over me. At least my chronotin levels hadn't spiked. In fact, with all the Aclisote I was taking now , my levels were probably even lower now than they had been whe n they tested me two weeks ago. Maybe Ross was right about my sickness; maybe it was just nerves . I pushed the file aside, about to stand up, when a new question poked its way through my relief. If my chronotin levels were steady, why had Dr. Barnard raised my Aclisote not once but twice ? Was 173 some kind of scary
Freeze Time email@example.com 72 threshold? Were there other signs of imminent time sickness besides chronotin readings? I wiped my palms against the front of my sweat shirt and pulled the file back into my lap. The page s on the right side of the file held records of my physicals, notations of height, weight, blood pressure, a time I'd taken antibiotics for strep throat. There was n o mention at all of time sickness. I flipped the chronotin chart back a few pages . Amy's initials were replaced by her predecessor, Jessica's, and then someone called TR whose face I couldn't remember. Over the years, my readings had crept stea dily upwards, interspersed with occasional crashes when Dr. Barnard raised my Aclisote prescription. Looking at the line of numbers, i t dawned on me how little I knew about chronotin levels, a knowledge gap that suddenly seemed glaring. All I really knew was that chronotin rose as you aged and high levels were bad, but what was high, exactly? I turned back to the cabinet and yanked out more files. KJ's readings for the last year ranged between 160 and 165, Yuki 's 158 to 161 , Aidan 's 140 to 150 , Jack's 1 67 to 175 . Emma averaged 135. Crazy Calvin's levels used to be in the 160's but now were the lowest out of everybody's : 120 at his last test. I leaned back against the me tal cabinet . F iles spread around me like a paper carpet , reams of information that added very little to my knowledge. I tos se d my file in among the others, wishing KJ was with me so we could talk through everything together. Things always seemed clearer when I talked to KJ. A throb in my head reminded me I'd better let time go soon . I pushed the desire for KJ 's help aside. I told myself I'd learned what I came to find out . I knew my
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 73 chronotin levels now and I could tell Ross the next time I saw him. Ross would know what to do . Clinging to this reassurance , I released my hold on time. One swirling instant of dizziness and I was back in the freeze room listening to an untoppled Tariq click the lock on the door. Emilio was watching me expectantly. I rubbed my temple with one hand and held out the other to th e little boy. "Want to eat some chocolate?" I asked. I was taking a break after my fifth Younger, when Ms. Eckbridge poked hear head into the classroom. " Excuse me , Julie," she said, "but I'm afraid I need to claim Alexandra." The sound of my name made me jump. I llogical as it was, I was sure Eckbridge somehow knew about my illicit trip to the clinic . I followed her into the hall with halting footsteps . She wore yellow today, a n upbeat color that I knew from experience didn't mean she would be any more lenient about infractions. Eckbridge spoke without preamble: " Mr. Ross just called to ask for you to come on a mission. It seems the police found a body." I heaved a sigh. Eckbridge didn't know. "Great, " I said. Eckbridge raised one eyebrow. I slapped a hand over my mouth. Relief had prevented me from registering what she said until too late. "I mean, that's awful. " I wiped my hand over my blushing cheeks, pausing to rub the spot on my temple where a time headache sti ll flickered . Eckbridge caught the gesture.
Freeze Time email@example.com 74 " You're not worn out from yesterday's mission , are you ?" "Of course not." I dropped my hand. The opportunity to spend the day with Ross was worth a pounding headache. "Good. D r . Barnard put Emma on call this weekend, but she says she's not feeling well." My shoulders tightened. "Emma is sick?" "It's just allergies. Anyway, Mr. Ross insisted that you would be a better fit for this case and I agreed ." "Why? " I asked, surprised Eckbridge wo uldn't follow Barnard 's orders. He was pretty strict about controlling assignments. " Who died?" "A woman found the body this morning. " Eckbridge smoothed the immaculate line of her skirt, 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 75 Chapter 5 " Jason Torino's dead?" I remembered Matron sighing, so young , and felt a flash of unexpected pity. "Who did it?" "I assume that's what Agent Ross is getting you to find out." Eckbridge considered my barely combed hair and rumpled clothes. My sweatshirt was smudged where I had wiped my hands on them. Eckbridge's lips pursed. "You probably have just enough time to change before Mr. Ross gets here." My happiness about going out o n a mission overcame even the dull buzz of the leash. Ross seemed similarly keyed up, tapping his foot while Charlie signed me out. When the Center doors locked behind us , Ross jumped the s tairs three at a time in his rush to reach the waiting car. I scrambled after him, barely getting my seatbelt clicked before Ross gunned the engine . " This mission is a miracle ," he said, zooming around a truck with enough acceleration to pin me against m y seat. "A total gift." Adrenaline shot through me , whether from Ross's driving or the ideas bouncing around in my head, I wasn't sure. "You think Sykes killed him , don't you," I said. Ross's eyebrows rose . " What makes you say that?" "I saw the press conf erence last night." I hesitated , worried Ross might be mad I'd figured out his secret . "That reporter said someone leaked that Torino was working for Sykes. I thought Ã‰" I gulped. "I thought you might be the leak." Ross 's lip twitched with a small smile . "I always said you were a clever girl."
Freeze Time email@example.com 76 I relaxed into my seat . It was leather and heated against the morning chill. "Were you the one he called? Did he tell you why Sykes wanted to blow up City Hall ?" " Torino never called anyone," Ross said. "The whole thing is just a guess on my part. I actually don't think Sykes every intended the bomb go off . I think he just wanted to scare someone . But I think when Sykes heard Torino was talking to the police , he got rid of him . H ere's the miracle part." Ross pulled onto a wide double lane street. T he engin e roared as we picked up speed. " Jason Torino's murder fits the MO of three other deaths in the last couple of years . All three victims had their throats sli t. " Ross held up a finger, adding one more as he ticked off each similarity. "There were no witness es , no sign of struggle, and the body was found far from the last place victim was seen Ã so far, in fact, no one can figure out how the victim could have ended up there. Plus , all the bodies were carefully placed so that they'd be found, but only long afte r anyone could manage a rewind. All the bodies except this one . " The morning sun outlined Ross's profile with a golden glow, like a n endorsement from so me ancient deity. His anticipation fill ed my own veins with its racing pulse. "W hat makes you think the murders have anything to do with Sykes?" " Because I think I know how Sykes is managing his robberies ." Ross 's smile lit his face even more brightly than the beam of sun . "Tell me!" "I wa nt to make sure I'm right first, " Ross said . " Unwinding this crime will be the first step to prove my theory . " He pointed at me. " You will be the second . You're going to b e critical to making all the pieces fit together. " Something warm swelled my insides. Ross needed me .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 77 "We'll catch this guy," I promised . " I'll rewind the crime and we can see the killer . Then we can follow him and see where he lives . " "That's my girl ." The full blast of Ross's smile washed over me. "I knew I could count on you." I grinned back, so drunk on pride and happiness I didn't even feel nervous when we raced through a nother almost red light. A gut wrenching automotive flourish announced our arrival at Franz Meats. M y legs welcomed the solid ground like an old friend. Franz's occupied a squat building hunkered down in an asphalt parking lot. Today the only visitors were three cop cars. Blin ds covered the store windows, making the place look sleepy. A sign saying Closed for the Holiday was taped to the glass. Ross ducked under a strip of yellow police tape and opened the door. Jason Torino's body lay on the floor ten feet from the entrance , face down in a pool of congealed blood. Nausea rose in back of my throat, the glee that filled me in Ross's car turned into a sour mass. In all the rush, I'd managed to forget that this case involved someone's death. Jason Torino seemed even younger t han he had in the rewind, his pale cheek too smooth to grow a full beard. One arm was flung up over his head as if at the last minute he had tried to ward off the evil that got him. His other arm lay twisted awkwardly beneath him. At the side of his neck a deep gash showed the source of all the blood. The edges of the slash curled back like a pair of obscenely pursed lips. "Agent Ross." An officer separated himself from the cluster of uniforms on other side of the room. Ross moved toward them. I followed, stepping as far around the fallen body as
Freeze Time email@example.com 78 the space allowed . The police started a round of introductions. I tuned them out, scanning the store so I didn't have to look at Jason Torino . Closed freezer doors lined one wall, their metal front s gleaming in the bright overhead lights. On the opposite side , racks offered various meat related products: barbecue sauce, seasonings, grill tongs. In between, a line of glass display cases divided the pu blic and vendo r sections of the store. Even though the cases were empty and wiped clean, the room still carried a lingering aroma of raw meat mixed with the peppery scent of salami. T he smell made my stomach lurch . "How long since he died?" Ross asked. "The woman who runs the shop found the body about two hour s ago," said one of the cop s . He was a beefy man with a very close crew cut and a nose that had been broken at least once. H e leaned back on his heels while he talked , 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 . T hey 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 sh e left some sandwich meat they planned to bring in the freezer ." Ross glanced at his watch. "So time of death was some time between 8 :00 last night and 9:00 this morning ." " Forensics will narrow it down ," the cop said, " but I'm guessing it was last night. " He nodded toward s Jason , his squashed nose wrinkled with distaste. "The body's not real fresh. "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 79 I dared another peak at Jason . The guy did seem sort of deflated, as if his body had started to settle into the hard floor. Near his head, a couple of fli es hovered like tiny helicopters. I turned my attention back to Ross. "Is the shop owner a suspect?" Ross asked. The cop shrugged. "She sounded pretty shook up when she called. We've got a guy checking her out, though." "Guess we'll get to work then." Within seconds I was unleashed and the two of us were holding hands . Movement stopped . Sound ceased. T he flies hung motionless over the blood. Ross popped in his earplugs . " Let's start the rewind. " Even through the freeze, the stomach turning raw meat scent saturated the air particles . S ilence hung around me like a heavy blanket, an almost physical presence draping itself over me and weighing me down . I must have been more tired from my poor night' s sleep than I realized. Time always fought against me when I froze it, but the feeling today was more pronounced. Even my thoughts moved slowly, as if they had to push themselves through a barrier to reach my consciousness. I pulled on the time strand s . They shifted sluggishly. I pulled harder. Undecipherable buzzing noises floated through the air. Shadowy doubles of the cops around us mov ed with quick little jerks. I watched an echo of myself get re leashed , hover for a split second , then hurry backwards out the door with Ross. The cop s paced the room for a bit, mouths moving in muted gibberish as they probed around the crime scene. Pretty soon they started leaving in small clumps. A short haired female cop , her partner, and another woma n reversed their way in side . The cop un draped a police
Freeze Time email@example.com 80 blanket from the woman's shoulders, talked to her a while, then backed away with her partner and left the woman alone. The woman proceeded to crouch against the floor of the store, crying a weird hig h pitched sobbing , before lurching upright and staggering back first to the phone. She gestured frantically as she spoke into it . If the half decapitated body weren't lying beside her, the scene might have been funny. The woman replaced the receiver , ran backward away from the phone , and then opened her mouth in a long scream. Finally , she, too , toddled back out the door. Shadows fled along the checkered tile floor as d arkness d escended on the unmoving shop. Faint car noises passed outside, the large re frigerators hummed. The sense of heaviness seeped deeper into my bones. I speeded up the rewind , impatient to get to the murder . The hands of the clock over the counter spun backward. 6 :00 am, midnight, 10:00 pm. I wished I could sit down. The slipping minutes seemed to be leaking from my brain, the seconds taunting me, struggling to free themselves from my control. A time headache burst into my skull with the force of an explosion. Panic dried my mouth. I bra ced myself against the edge of the display case , truth too obvious to ignore . I'd done rewinds two days in row before . I'd done them after a worse night of sleep than I got last night. This headache was different. This tiredness was different. Somethin g was going wrong. " Mr. RossÃ‰" I said. I realized I'd forgotten to tell him what my last chronotin reading was. It must be too high. 173 must mean something horrible. The blood around Jason Torino started to move.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 81 " Alex ! Slow it down." Ross leaned forw ard . Blood seeped up toward Jason's body, scarlet rivers returning to their source I blinked, struggling to control the time strands even as they pulled away . Jason started twitching . I concentrated . Hard . If I could just hold on a little bit longer, the murderer would show up . I clenched the strands with all my strength . Even if we didn't follow the killer at least we'd see who he was. If I could just hold on . Blood flowed out, then back in, as time wavered from my control . Jason's shadowy double writhed. Something inside me ripped. The shadow image of Jason disappeared. Time poured from my mind and body in a rushing torrent. With a cry I watched the scene around me break up. Images rushed into a tangled soup : the cryin g woman, the cops, the wings of the fly. "No!" I tried desperately to pull the image back. I couldn't fail now . We had to catch the killer . It meantÃ‰everything. Pain flooded the emptiness left behind by the rush of time. I gasped, bent double by the b last. Ross turned toward me . His mouth moved but I was way too far gone to understand . My fingers scrabbled for purchase on the glass case . Air moved against my cheek, sounds buffeted my ears. The squat cop moved toward me blinking anxiously . Time was moving again. The rewind was over . "I couldn't hold it." I felt like a husk of a person, a shell empty of any spark of life . "I messed up." Ross caught me before I fell. "Alex?" I'd been an idiot. I should have told Dr. Barnard I'd gotten sick as soon as I got back. He would have done something, prevented this from happening again so soon.
Freeze Time email@example.com 82 "What happened?" the cop asked. I opened my mouth to say I was sorry just as the world went black.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 83 Chapter 6 The light seemed unnecessarily bright. White sheets , white walls, a shining metal tray. I closed my eyes almost before I opened them. Thirst swelled my tongue . Water , I said, except the words came out as a moan . Faces faded in and out of my vision: Matron, Ross, Chief . I wasn't sure which were real. Someone said my name . KJ? It sounded like he was crying. My head pounded with a thousand miniature drummers playing rumbas in my head. The darkness that returned felt like mercy. The next time I woke I was dark . Stiff sheets stretched tautly against my chest . Cool air brushed my cheek, smelling like rubbing alcohol . An IV pulled against my arm. Moon light leaking through a slatted window outlined the furniture filling the room: bed, sink , cabinet, an empty chai r. I was in the clinic . A weight settled on my chest, sinking slowly down to fill my stomach. I'd never heard of anyone suffering two bouts of time sickness in two days . Usually kids had months between episodes. At this rate, the third one might hit me tomorrow. Or tonight. Self pity closed my throat. Only the lucky few survived to face a fourth. You knew it was coming , I told myself. You always knew . The self lecture didn't help. Tears dripped past my temples into my hair. Padding footsteps sounded outside my room . I closed my eyes , not wanting anyone to see me crying . The door opened with a soft whoosh . Someone moved close to my bed. Matron , I figured, or one of the night staff. I held still, keeping my breath slow and even. I wasn't ready to face the world yet .
Freeze Time email@example.com 84 A gentle tug on my arm told me Matron was changing the bag on my IV. I waited while s he fumbled with it, wondering why s he didn't turn on the light. The few other times I'd been here I didn't remember the staff being that considerate. Maybe the standards went up when the patient was terminal. The fiddling stopped . I turned my head infinitesimally and slid one eye open a fraction. Through the forest tangle of las hes I saw a bulky f igure shuffling through the bottles of medicine in the cabinet next to my bed . " Is she s till asleep ?" Another head poked around the door. Even in the half light I recognized the outline of Nurse Amy . The figure beside me started . " Like a baby . " Surpris e popped my eyes all the way open. I knew that voice and it wasn't Matron 's . It was Ross. Ross slid his hand from the cabinet, neatly pocketing 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 came to stand close to Ross , her face lifted toward his and paying no attention at all to me. "Besides, why do you care if the night guards see you h ere? Agents are allowed in the Center any time." " Eckbridge already gave me a report on Alex's condition. " Ross shrugged . " I wouldn't want Eckbridge to think I don't trust her. And it's not that I don't, it's justÃ‰ Alex and I make a good team and I want to be sure the kid's going to be OK. " Ross's concern warmed me like a hot bar of sunshine. I was just about to tell him I was awake , when he added: "Besides, we wouldn't want the night guard to see this." There was a rustling sound and the squeak of a soft soled shoe sliding across the linoleum floor as
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 85 Ross pulled Amy close . She giggled. I slammed my eyes shut. To my infinite horror, I recognized the wet slurping sound of people kissing. Astonishment sealed my embarrassment . Ross had a girlfriend . A serious one. I'd even met her. Twice Ross had invited Samantha to join us for lunch after a mission. She was tall, slender, with the careless elegance of women in magazines. She worked at some job t hat sounded vague but glamorous, Marketing or Hum an Relations. The two of them talked casually about nights at the theatre, a weekend spent boating in the gorge, vacations in Mexico. When a waitress once assumed Ross and Samantha were my parents I blushed so deeply I thought my cheeks would keep the st ain for a week. Why would Ross risk losing someone like Samantha for Amy ? Amy was low on the medical staff totem pole, relegated to dealing with upset stomachs and monthly cramps, doling out our evening meds , and running blood tests . She was young, with mousy brown hair that started too high on her forehead and a patch of pimples i n permanent residence along her hairline . Whenever we asked her for anything, she complied with a harassed expression that implied she found us irritating. Either that or she turned up the volume on the music she listened to obsessively and pretended she couldn't hear us. " Mr. Ross !" T he admonition broke on a nother giggle. More rustling. I cracked open one eye. The writhing shape reminded me of an oversized hunchback, the chest too large and head deformed. I closed my eyes again and waited, hating mysel f for witnessing this scene. "I'm so glad it's you here taking care of Alex." More kissing, some indistinguishable murmurs. "She's a good spinner , you know. She can hold time much
Freeze Time email@example.com 86 longer than the others." Smooch, rustle. "I have a case coming up I coul d really use her on, too. A Sykes case ." "Can't you use someone else?" Am y breathed. "I'm sure all the spinner s would be proud to work with you ." "I'm used to Alex. Our freezes feelÃ‰ comfortable." Mortification destroyed any pleasure at his kind words . I concentrated on breathing, making each intake of air deep and even . " I wish I could help," Amy sighed. More kisses. "Actually." An idea dawned in Ross's voice. "You could help me." " I could ?" "You know how Dr. Barnard never releases patients after a bout of freezing sickness until their chronotin levels drop below 1 50? Well, Alex's chronotin levels are naturally high . Dropping them that low might take weeks. And w aiting that long would have a real impact on my work . " "So how can I help ?" Amy sounded eager. "Fake the test results for me ." Silence greeted this suggestion. Heavy, kiss less silence . Amy's shock mirrored my own . Monitoring chronotin was a cornerstone of Center routine. Not to mention the essential foun dat ion for my own life and health. I wondered if I was sicker than I thought. Maybe this whole scene was a hallucination . "It's no big deal ," Ross said . " When M atron draws Alex's blood tomorrow pretend to run the sample but instead just write in that she dropped to , say, 1 67, and then the next day write in 1 48."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 87 The casualness of his tone stung like a lash. How could Ross act so cavalier about my health? I opened my eyes again. Amy stood stiffly in Ross's embrace, her head craned back so she could se e his face . "What if I get caught?" Amy asked. What if I get sick? The words rose to my lips, hovering there like trapped birds demanding flight. Only the burning shame of witnessing their intimacy kept me silent. Beneath the sheets, I clenched my fists so tight ly my nails bit into my palm. "How could you get caught ? " Ross bent his head to nuzzle Amy's neck. His words grew muffled . " You toss the samples after you test them, right? So if for some reason anyone else tests her blood they'll just thin k the first result was faulty ." My anxiety must have winged its way through the room telepathically, because Amy asked : " Isn't it dangerous for her?" " Of course not !" Ross 's indignation gave me a small amount of reassurance . "Dr. Barnard already increased her Aclisote dosage. Waiting for her chronotin to drop is just a formality. " My hands relaxed a little . Surely Ross was right. He'd worked for the Center a long time. Ross smoothed Amy's hair back against her head. " Dr. Barnard 's a n expert in his field. His skill at Aclisote manipulation are world famous ." Amy leaned against Ross's chest. " I'm not on shift tomorrow, " she said, but even to me the protest sounded half hearted . Ross kissed her. I closed my eyes. "A s mart girl lik e you will figure something out." There was more rustling. I heard Ross whispering and then for a while the only sound was heavy breathing. Amy gave a little moan.
Freeze Time email@example.com 88 "If it will really help youÃ‰" she said. "You'll be my heroine. My invisible partner in crime." Ross gave a throaty chuckle. "In solving crime, I mean. When I catch Sykes , you'll know it was partly because of you. " Amy gave another moan. I lay still, pretending to be asleep and trying not to listen. F inally, Ross said: "I better go. Wouldn't want to get you in trouble when Julio comes back for a check." "You'll stop by later?" Amy asked . "I'll call." A few minutes later I opened my eyes to an empty room. Shadowy shapes lurked in the dark, the outlines of furniture turn ed vague by the night. I stared up at the ceiling and listened to the clinic 's night sounds. Something mechanical beeped at steady intervals, a radio played classical music in the distance, a car sputtered outside the window like an old man's cough . Memo ries from my last rewind played against the gloom: the seeping and receding blood, Jason's disappearing body , the door that never opened to reveal the killer. I twisted onto one side, then the other , my positions limited by the dangling IV line . I felt t ired and dirty, soiled by my unintended voyeurism , my failed rewind , and Ã especially Ã by m y confused thoughts about Ross . Ross. The man who just made a midnight visit to secure my ability to work again, even after the disaster of my last attempt. Ross . The lifelong agent who didn't think it was important my chronotin levels were being checked. Ross. W ho would stoop to seducing Amy to get what he wanted.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 89 *** When I woke up the sun was shining. Matron stood near my bed, twisting the little rod th at opened up the blinds . When she saw I was awake , she smiled. The light splashing her arms turned them the rich color of creamy coffee. "Back among the living I see." I thought the comment in bad taste, given my current situation. I pushed myself up into a sitting position. My IV was gone, which I took as a sign of recovery. I was also starving. "What time is it?" "You really want to ask what day it is." Matron whippe d a plastic thermometer from her pocket and popped it in my mouth. The multicolored kittens decorating her smock smiled encouragingly . "You've been in here for two days. We've all been terribly worried ." " Two Ã‰!" The thermometer clattered against my tee th and Matron made a zipping motion across her lips with one hand. I waited impatiently until the probe beeped and she took it out. " Two days? What's today?" " Monday ," she said, squinting at the thermometer. This close I could smell the comforting vanilla scent of her hand cream. "Looks good. Amazing really. When you came in you were as sick as I've seen anyone ." She picked up my chart from a rolling
Freeze Time email@example.com 90 supply table and made a note, then rummaged in the cupboard by my bed for a sealed needle pack. "And to answer your original question it's almost noon." Noon. I'd been out for over 48 hours. Except for last night . I cringed as I remembered . Ross and Amy . All that heavy breathing. As if my uncomfortable recolle ctions conjured her, Amy stuck her head in the door. She wore street clothes, jeans and a green cardigan with square pockets. Thin headphone wires trickled from her ears to a device hidden in one of her pockets . " Hi ." She gave Matron the kind of smile little kids give when you take their picture, lips stretched with no emotion behind them . Matron's eyebrows rose. "Didn't you just get off shift?" "Yes." Amy blushed. "I Ã‰ uhÃ‰ just wanted to check on Alex. CarÃ‰Mr. Ross said he was worrie d andÃ‰" "Patient is doing fine." "That's great , " Amy said without enthusiasm . She hovered in the doorway, shifting from foot to foot. "Do you need me to do anything, Matron? Since I'm here and all." Matron looked at her sharply. I remembere d Ross asking A my to fake the results of my chronotin test . While the idea still made me nervous, I also felt burdened by the lengths Ross had gone to help me. I figured I owed it to him to do what I could to make sure his plan succeeded . I straightened up. "I'm prett y hungry. Any chance for some lunch?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 91 "I'll get it," Amy said promptly . "And I can run that blood sample if you want, too." She nodded toward the empty needle in Matron's hand. "Mr. Ross said he'd stop by this afternoon to find out the results ." Matron shook her head but didn't stop the younger woman as she scurried off. She took my arm and patted the vein in the inner curve of my elbow with a damp swab. The sharp smell of alcohol invaded my nostrils . " Hopeless dreamer , that girl is," Matron muttered, more to herself than me. "As if Mr. Ross would have anything to do with her ." The needle slid into my vein with a familiar prick. We both watched as the dark liquid fill the plastic tube. "There are quite a few people who will be happy to hear you're on the mend ," Matron said . " Y our 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 s eeing KJ, and having him not be mad at me, gave the day brighter possibilities. Now that my sickness was public, a bit of sympathy didn't sound as awful as it had when I first found out. I promised myself that the next time I saw him , I'd tell KJ everyth ing. I wouldn't even mind if he was dating Shannon. Matron pulled the needle free and cappe d off the blood vial with a practiced hand. "That should to it." She placed the full tube on a clean paper towel and made another note in my file, leaving both on the rolling table for Amy as she left the room . I lay on the bed and studied the thin vial of blood. It wa s really more maroon than red. Mixed in with all those red and whit e blood cells, oxygen atoms, and who knows what else, chronotin swirled among st its humbler kin. I imagined I could see it, a
Freeze Time email@example.com 92 microscopic black mist twisting through the liquid, infecting all the healthy cells until their delicate structures corroded . Amy returned . She'd ditched the headphones and was carrying a tray with a bowl of soup , toast , a carton of orange juice , and, my favorite, a bowl of chocolate pudding . There was a small metal table top attached to an arm beside the bed and she swung it around until it rested in front of me. The scent of chicken soup and chocolate wafted toward me and my stomach grumbled appreciatively. Amy watched me eating for a moment. "How do you feel?" Unlike the ha lf interested tone nurses usually use when they ask you this , Amy's voice held genuine curiosity . She must be feeling guilty about helping Ross. "Great. " As I said it, I realized it was true. I actually felt clearer headed than I had in ages. I guess k eeping secrets did take a physical toll. "I mean, I feel w eak, but other than that I'm pretty normal." Amy looked relieved . "I'll tell Mr. Ross ." I slurped up my soup as she push ed the rolling table out of the room. Presumably she was off to throw awa y my blood and fake the results. Soup finished, I picked up my pudding . The first bite tasted delicious, chocolate sliding over my tongue like a sweet cloud . I licked the spoon, wondering what Ross knew about Sykes that he wanted my help investigating. Another dead body? A theft discovered before the window for rewinds closed? A whisper of worry interrupted my dreamy visions. What if I got sick again the next time I tried to rewind?
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 93 The chocolate coating my mouth turned slimy. In retrospect, both time s I'd gotten sick, I'd felt off, right from the very beginning o f the rewind. What if I tried a freeze right now? I should be able to tell instantly if things weren't right. I put down the half eaten pudding, pretending the thought of rewinding time didn 't make me break out in hives. A quick rewind wouldn't make me sick again , would it? Not now that I was pumped full of Aclisote . Even if it did, testing my skill was worth it. I t was b etter to mess up here than after Ross got his hopes up. Better to get sick again than to disappoint Ross . Without letting myself think any more , I snatched at time and pulled it up short. For a split second I thought it hadn't work ed. Usually freezing tim e caused a slight jolt somew here deep in my midsection. I'd always thought of it as time trying to get away from me. This transition slid by seamless ly ; one instant the world moved, the next it didn't. Taking a deep breath, I grabbed hold of the time str ands and started to rewind. Shadow images slid past me with the fluidity of a boat riding a gentle current. I watched my own misty arms regurgitate food onto my tray, then waited for Amy to back into the room, mutter gibberish at me, and remove my meal b efore I brought the rewind to a halt . Easy. Smooth. I smiled my relief at the still room. Nothing about the rewind felt strange Ã no struggle to pull time backwards, no wisp of nausea, no fledgling he adache. In fact, I felt extra strong , like I could ho ld this freeze for hours. I dipped my finger in my pudding and signed my name across the tray in triumphant brown letters. Then I gobbled up the remaining bowl of fudgy goodness, looking forward to eating it all again once I'd melted time . As Emma always said: all the flavor and none of the calories.
Freeze Time email@example.com 94 Pudding demolished, I leaned back into my pillows. No sense holding on any longer. I let time move forward again . It was another seamless transition, carrying no hint of dizziness . Melts always went smoother when there wa s less to put back. The freeze monitor in the clinic 's main room beeped. "Alex?" Matron's voice drifted in from behind the closed door. "You freezing in there?" "Just practicing," I called back. Since no one cared if we froze time in our rooms, I figured Matron wouldn't make too big a fuss about my freezing time here. For now, at least, the hospital room was my room. "You really shouldn't do that until Dr. Barnard clears you , " Matron said. "Sorry ." I reached for my pudding. "I won't do it again." "Did you get enough to eat?" I didn't answer. "Alex?" I still didn't a nswer. I couldn't. What I was seeing was simply not possible. The pudding I'd eaten in frozen time was gone.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 95 Chapter 7 The brown smudgy letters on the tray screamed my name like a confession . How could they be there? I shook the pudding bowl . It remained stubbornly empty. I turned it over, as if somehow this might make the pudding magically reappear. It didn't. "Alex?" Mat ron's head popped around the edge of my door . "I'm fine," I said automatically . Matron raised her eyebrows. "Just tired, I guess." I faked a yawn. "Why don't you rest a bit." Matron gathered up the remains of my meal , clucking her tongue at the chocolate mess on my tray . "Sorry," I mumbled. Matron wiped up the smeared pudding. "I'll tell KJ you'll be ready to see visitors in a couple of hours." "OK." I watched her stack the empty soup bowl into the equally empty pud ding bowl. Maybe I imagined it. M aybe I'd eaten the pudding before the freeze and just forgot . M aybeÃ‰ "Matron, can I freeze one more time? Just for a second. To make sure I can still do it." Matron put her free hand on one wide hip. "You just did. Why try again? You're already tired." " I need to Ã‰" my m ind scrambled, searching for a pretext that might convince Matron. "Freezing time is the only thing I'm good at. If there are going to be any problems I want to know now ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 96 Matron's expression softened in to something much too close to pity. "Honey, freezing time isn't all you're good at. You have lots of skills." I gave her my best puppy dog look and pushed my advantage . " But can't I freeze t ime for one minute? I promise I won't rewind anything . Or le ave my room. " Matron sigh ed . "Once more. But that's it, Alex. Then you have to rest." "Thanks." I dropped my head in an imitation of meekness. When Matron patted my hand, I squashed the pang of guilt that cam e with it . I wa ited until I heard Matron clo se the outer door of the clinic before I reached out . The shafts of noonday sun streaming through the blinds turned dull as everything stilled . I climbed out of bed . Cold tiles met my bare feet. I lifted a pillow off my bed , dropped it on the floor, and released time. Sunshine brightened. The freeze monitor in the clinic beeped. I remained standing a foot from the bed, the pillow in a rumpled heap on the linoleum. "Oh my god," I whispered. The p ossibilities flooding my brain made me giddy. I could affect things that happened in frozen time . That meant I could doÃ‰anything. I plunk ed down on the edge of my bed. I could appear somewhere no one expected me to be Ã or disappear if didn't want to be found. I could move someone out of the way of a moving car, catch something Ã or someone! Ã before they fell. Power like this would make it easy to solve crimes . I could appear at a crime scene in an instant Ã maybe even stop some crimes from happening at all. I'd be like a spinner superhero . Excitement drove me back onto my feet. Amy said Ross would be here this afternoon . I pictured his face, the amazement lighting his features when I showed him what I could d o . I laughed out loud with sheer pleasure, then laughed again when I
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 97 imagined telling KJ . Why not tell him now? What better way to close the distance between us? Think of the tricks we could play on people! With a reckless tug, I stopped time again and dashed from my room . Matron, probably assuming I was too sick to go anywhere , hadn't bothered to lock my door when she approved the freeze. The clinic office wa s empty, the clock on the wall stuck at 12:34 . Lunch time. I raced out into the hall . Matron's stout body blocked the top of the main stairway. She was leaning over the railing . It looked like she was talking to someone coming up the stairs . Afraid I might jostle her if I squeezed past, I turned right and made for the smaller emergency staircase. The tiredness from my illness dissolved in my elation. I leapt down the two flights to the basement, taking the steps three at a time. In the cafeteria , f luorescent lights emitted an unflattering bluish glare into air scented with deep fry oil. The Center kids sat in frozen clumps around a half dozen round tables, plates of food set out before them on plastic trays . It was hamburger day, paired with frenc h fries and limp canned peaches . Large salad bowls filled with sliced leaves of iceberg lettuce, Sick's nod to health, stood mostly untouched in the center of each table. KJ was sitting alone at a table at the far end of the room. I thought about just appearing in front of the whole Center, but rejected the plan almost immediately. It would take way too long to answer everyone's questions. Instead I picked up a napkin from the food line, dug a pencil o ut of the kitchen's junk drawer and wrote: Surprise! Meet me in the stairwell Ã QUICKLY Ã and I'll explain. Don't tell anyone I was here. A I wound my way through the tables to reach him , a trickier journey than I first envisioned . I tripped over a Yo unger ' s backpack , sending it skittering feet from where it
Freeze Time email@example.com 98 started . A slight breeze from my passing fluttered the pages of Calvin's book. I put things back and slowed my pace. KJ sat with one hand resting in his lap, the other lifting a french fry towa rd his half open mouth . I folded up my note and tucked it into his empty hand. To make double sure he'd notice, I crum pled his fingers around it. When I melted time it would feel to him like his hand had clenched all by itself. The thought made me giggle . I wished I could stay and watch his expression . Instead , I made my way back through the cafeteria and hid in the stairwell . Waiting for KJ was nearly intolerable , though it couldn't have been more than a minute . Twice I almost froze time again so I could run back and check to see if he was coming. Finally, I heard the door swing open and KJ's voice calling my name into the gloom . "I'm here, " I said. KJ let the door close behind him . "You're awake. " Relief flared across his features, doused almost immediately by concern. "You should be in the clinic ." "I'm fine." I reached out and grabbed his bare fingers . KJ's hand tightened around mine. He pulled me into a hug , wrapping his other arm around me. "I was so worried." His voice sounded wobbly . I wriggled free, impatient to show him what I could do. " C heck this out, " I said. I stopped time . KJ looked aroun d . "What are you doing?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 99 "I'll show you." I pulled him up the stairs and into an empty classroom . "Alex, wait, I need to talk to you." " Later . " I slipped my hand from his. "Don't move." I hurried over to a bookcase and pulled out two handfuls of books. Making sure KJ was watching, I dropped the whole pile on the floor with a terrific crash. KJ's face took on the wary expression of someone dealing with a lunatic. I laughed, partly because he looked so silly and partly because of the excitement racing through me . "AlexÃ‰" "Don't say anything yet." I came back to stand next to him. "You ready?" Time started again , the transition as easy as it had been before . The books remained in their disheveled heap. KJ took a step back. " How'd you do that? " " Isn't it great? " I touched his arm and f roze time again so no one would hear us talking. Exhilaration shivered my veins like electricity . I danced around KJ , barely able to contain myself. "Think what we can do! We can sneak food from the kitchens , convince everyone the Center is haunted, move chairs around, take people's stuff." KJ was still staring at the crumpled books . "Alex." "We can cheat at cards, take M atron's keys and unlock doors, create perfect alibis . Forget something ? No prob lem, just freeze time and get it done in a jiffy." "Alex!" KJ's voice was sharp. I stopped dancing. "What?" "How'd this happen?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 100 There was no shared pleasure in KJ's voice. Instead he sounded strangled, like the whole idea of my new powers was more than he could swallow. My excitement dim med . "I don't know. I just woke up and was like this." "You can't tell anyone." KJ moved away from me and started picking up the books . I crossed my arms over my chest, holding my disappointment close. " D uh. If they knew I could do this none of the tricks would work ." "They wouldn't just stop you doing tricks , they'd stop you from everything ." "You mean leash me? " A prickling sensation crawled up the back of my scalp at the idea. " All the time?" " Well, leash you, of course , " KJ said, as if this was totally obvious . " They'd probably take you away t o the Central Office to stu dy you . Make yo u do tests, take blood samples, who knows what else. " He started stuffing books back on the shelf. " They'd test all of us, try ing to figure out how this happened . It would be like the bad old days you read about where spinner s were experimented on." KJ shoved the last volume back in to place and turned to me. " The Norms are scared of us already. Our only saving grace is that nothing we do in a freeze sticks . Imagine how much they'd fear us if it did. " "Oh." All the plans burning within me since the pudding vanished fizzled as if doused by a pail of water. I imagined a sterile room lined with beds filled with spinner s, wires sprouting from their heads like misplaced antennae. Dread drifted towards me like smoke on a breeze . "What about M r. Ross?" " Definitely don't tell Gloss . He might like you, but he's still an a gent. If he didn't turn you in he'd lose his job. "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 101 My dr ead settled into something heavier . The brilliant plans I'd made for my future sank beneath its weight . I was suddenly very aware of how little I'd eaten in the past few days. Time , which had seemed so easy to hold a minute ago , now pulled on my control . "But I have to tell him . When we go on a mission Ã‰" "Alex." KJ put a hand on my shoulder. " You can't go on missions like this ." KJ's hand weighted my shoulder . I balanced myself against one of the library table s , fighting the urge to sink to the ground. Without time work my new powers made me nothing but a freak, different even among the outcasts. I would have no possibility of accomplishing something before I died. I 'd have to lie to Ross and say I didn't want to work with him anymore . I'd have to lie to everyone. The other spinner s . Eckbridge. Matron. Matron! "Oh, no ." P anic pulled me upright. "What ?" I slid out from under KJ's arm. "Matron told me I could only freeze time once. I've done it, umÃ‰" I tried to think. "Three times? The monitor must be going h aywire." I found a clock. 12:3 5 , one minute of real time. How long did it take to walk from the stairs to the clinic ? My stomach tightened. "She's sure to be coming to check on me." "Go," he said, "I'll come up as soon as you melt time." "No!" Thoughts whirled through my head, making it hard to focus. " How would you know I was awake? Wait until Matron tells you I'm up. She said she was going to." KJ opened his mouth, then closed it without speaking. T he rebuke hit me anyway. The colossal stupidity of the risk I'd taken hung between us like something
Freeze Time email@example.com 102 p alpable. I'd run around like a child showing off a new toy with no thought of the consequences of my tricks. Co nsequences that might not just a ffect me, but all spinner s. I stumbled my way back to the stairwell and up the flight to the clinic . None of t he elation that buoyed me on the way down remained to cover my exhaustion . Only the fear of trying to explain to Matron where I'd gone kept me moving. If she entered the room an d found it empty, what could I say? She'd only been a few feet from the clini c door Ã she'd have seen me if I left. I pictured my bed, the scattered sheets and fallen pillow. No excuse I could think up seemed even faintly plausible. Opening t he door to the hallway felt like pushing a lead weight. I stuck my head around it. The ha llway outside the clinic was empty. Panic pushed my heart into my throat. I tottered toward the clinic . For once I wished the Center raised us with some kind of religion Ã then at least I'd have someone to pray to before I opened the door. I put out my hand and pushed. Relief weakened my knees . The door to my room was closed. Matron hovered halfway to it, her brisk stride caught mid step so she leaned at an impossible angle. I didn't think I'd ever been so happy to see her . I moved past her , careful no t to ruffle any part of her body. Shudders rattle d me , exhaustion, nerves, and the unexpected reprieve all taking their toll. Maybe I could fall asleep before Matron reached me. It certainly wouldn't take any effort to pretend I was ill. I pulled open my door and stepped inside. My heart stopped beating . Next to the bed, attention fixed on the empty sheets, stood Carson Ross.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 103 Chapter 8 I sank down on to the cold tile floor . Part of me wanted to run back out and ask KJ what to do, but I didn't think I could bear to add to his disappointment in me. Nor could I afford to lose even the few seconds another melt/freeze would take. I tried to think of some place to hide. Side table, sink , locked cabi net. The space under the high bed was so exposed Ross would have seen me the instant he walked in to the room. Time whispered inside my head, pushing for release. Even with the world frozen, my internal clock was ticking down the limits of what I could d o. Choice dribbled away. I was going to have to face the consequences of what I'd done. Dragging myself to my feet, I propped my body against the wall near the door clinging to a vague hope that I might convince Ross I had been behind the door when he opened it. With a feeling of imminent doom, I released time. "Ã‰ she alright , Mr. Ross?" Matron's voice floated in from the main room. "Mr. Ross. " I tried to sound jolly . "Over here." Ross spun around so fast it was as if I'd s macked him with a rock . I forced my lips into a smile . " Boo ." Ross's face lit up like a firework. "Everything's fine, Matron." Ross motioned silently to me, pointing urgently towards the bed. It took me a second to understand . Ross was going to cov er for me ! I dove for my wrinkled sheets . Ross opened the door a crack, placing his body so he blocked Matron's view of the room inside. I scrambled to lie flat, pulling the blanket up to my throat.
Freeze Time email@example.com 104 "A ctually, A lex is sound asleep," Ross said in a hush ed voice. I snapped my eyes shut. "She must have dream frozen . I thought you said she was acting perky?" " She was when I left her." Matron sounded puzzled. "I guess she wasn't as recovered as she seem ed." I heard the soft swoosh of the door opening all the way . I lay still, breathing as evenly as my hammering heart allowed. "She's still doing really well." Matron 's feet padded close to the bed. " Her fever is gone and she managed to eat her whole lunch ." She straightened the covers on my bed. Her hand lingered as she smoothed them across my chest. "Poor thing. It's so hard to watch them at the end." Matron spoke so wistfully I almost opened my eyes . I realized I'd nev er heard any of the staff talk about us dying. For the first time I thoug ht about it from her perspective. Matron practically raised the whole crew of us and then had to watch us die off one by one. Pity momentarily lightened my fear. When she moved her hand away, I had to force myself not to reach out to bring it back. " It' s such a waste, " Ross said. I heard the scrape of the visitor's chair as he pulled 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 hav e nodded, because she continued: " S ure, you can stay. J ust don't wake her up." Ross assured her he wouldn't. Matron's soft soled shoes padded as she left the room. The door shut. I lay still. Waiting. "You can open your eyes now."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 105 I toyed with the idea of pretending I had fallen asleep for real , but couldn 't bring myself to do it . I owed Ross an explanation. Plus it was only putting off the inevitable. F eeling like the proverbial lamb heading to slaughter , I pushed myself up against my pillows . Ross sat close beside the bed, elbows on his knees so he co uld lean even closer. His face shone with contained excitement . I licked my lips with a dry tongue. "Thanks." "You really feel OK?" "Yeah." I shrugged. "I feel great actually. Just really tired ." Ross grinned at me like a crazy jack o lantern. "So you froze time." I nodded. "And?" "AndÃ‰" I didn't know what to say. My mind was an empty room; all air and no substance, with nothing in it that I might use to explain anything. "It worked okay. I don't think they'll let me go on missions anymore , though ." "It worked okay ? Come on, Alex, what happened? How did you get over by the door?" My heart started pounding again. "I heard you coming and decided to h ide." I knew I sounded horribly lam e. I twisted my hands together . "Like a surprise." Ross frowned impatient ly . "No you didn't. You weren't there when I came in. I checked. You appeared there later. "
Freeze Time email@example.com 106 "No, I was there ." I shook my head so hard my pillow slipped away from me. I sat up straighter, pushing myself as far from Ross as the bed allowed. "Where else could I have been? You just didn't see me." By the end of the s entence my voice had risen to a horrible squeak . I knew the sound was like a neon flashing liar , liar . I clenched my hands together more tightly . "Alex. " Ross leaned back in his chair . My heart pulsed in my throat, the beat pounding out the only though t my blank mind could hold: h e knows, he knows, he knows . I barely made out Ross' s words through the din. "Remember how I told you about my scientist friend? " Ross asked. I twisted my fingers together . The tendons stood out on the back of my hands like twigs ready to snap . I knew what was coming next. He'd tell me it was too late now for him to help me and that what I was doing was dangerous . He'd say how badly he felt about turning me in. He might talk about duty, mine or his. I t didn't matter. The result would be the same. A chill circled my wrist , as if the leash was already pressing against my flesh. Ross cleared his throat. " When you got so sick the other day, I called him up ." He waited . The meaning of his words penetrated my brain slowly . Then details from the night before crept back to me, simple things suddenly weighted with new meaning. Ross changing the IV bag over my bed. Ross sneaking something in or out of my medicine cabinet. A stunning possibility jerked my head up. " I know I shouldn't have given you experimental meds without your permission," Ross said . " I meant to talk to you again , except you got sick sooner than I expected. And
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 107 then once you collapsed, well, I knew I didn't have much time." He looked a little sheepish , like a kid caught stealing candy. "You see you have to take it right away or it doesn't work and," Ross shrugged, "I figured it was worth it if you lived lon ger." Shock broke over me in waves . Ross was breaking the law for me . Ross cared about me enough to risk his agent license. "You mean you changed my medicine? " I gasped. " I'm not taking Aclisote ?" "That's right ." My mind was still blank, though no l onger with fear. The enormity of what Ross had done made it hard to think . "How much longer will I live?" "It depends how it all works out. It might not make any difference, it could add years." A flame of hope lit within me like a thin shaft of light in a dark well. " So this new drug is stronger than Aclisote ? How low will it keep my chronotin levels?" " I don't completely understand the technical parts. " Ross waved a hand. "You'd have to ask my scientist friend for the details . He did say, though, that there might be some unusual side effects." Ross leaned toward me again , the excitement he'd shown earlier clear in the hunched tension of his shoulders . "When I first came in your room, you weren't here, were you?" I stared into Ross's sea blue eyes. They met mine steadily. KJ's warning not to tell anyone rang in my head , along with the vision of spinner s being experimented on at the Central Office . I shoved the image s aside. KJ didn't know what Ross was risking to help me .
Freeze Time email@example.com 108 "No, I wa sn't. " I said. Ross nodded eagerly . " When I froze time it was different . " I swallowed. " Anything I did in frozen time stayed that way after I melted it . " Ross's face lit up . His happiness widened my ray of hope, warming me with its glow . " What did you do ?" Ross asked. "Nothing much . I ate some pudding and then after I melted time it was still gone . So then I froze and re melted a few times to see what would happen. I went out into th e hall andÃ‰" I decided to omit any mention of KJ . If something did go wrong, at least he wouldn't get in trouble , too . "I walked around." "Did you change anything anyone would notice?" I shook my head. "I dropped some books, but I put them back . I was afraid if I got caught I'd get leashed ." "Good thinking." Ross jumped up from the chair and started pacing t he room with quick strides . " This has to be our secret. You can't let anyone know about your new abilities . None of your friends, none of the staff or doctors, no one." He wheeled back to my bedside, leaning his elbows on the visitor chair's back so his face was level with mine. "You understand how important this is? It's not just about getting leashed . Power like this scares people. If Dr. Barnard found out what you can do he 'd lock you up. He 'd put you back on Aclisote , too, a nd a t the rate you were going, you wouldn't last long ." I nodded. After the frightening visions KJ's warning produced I didn't need to be told twice.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 109 "I won't tell anyone," I promised. Anyone else , I amende d silently . I wasn't worried. I knew KJ would keep my secret . Ross seemed to sense my slight reservation . He frowned at me. "You're not th e only one at risk here. I'd get in a lot of trouble for changing your meds . " Guilt washed me as I thought of all the people I was putting at risk just by existing. Ross could lose his job. My fellow spinner s could turn back into test subjects. I pictured KJ's long body laid out on a surgeon ' s table, doctors cutting into his brain . A tendril of doubt rose up in my mind . How long would the new drug prolong my life ? How much was everyone else risking for what might turn out to be very little gain? I uprooted the doubt. I wasn't being selfish , I was volunteering as a test subject . If the new medicine worked it might he lp others later on. I met Ross's gaze squarely. "I won't tell anyone," I repeated , heaping the words with all the conviction I could muster. "That's my girl." Ross smiled at me, a slow sweet smi le that made the edge s of his eyes crinkle . I drank in the smile's comfort like a flower takes in sunshine . "I filled all your medicine bottles with the new drug." Ross gestured to the locked cabinet beside me. "They should transfer those to the cafeteria when you get out. Before you take a dose , check the label. The bottles I swapped 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. Also, make sure Amy is the only person who tests your blood." Amy usually tested our blood, so this wouldn't be hard, but the request made me remember their deal to fake the results . The anxious feeling I'd had last night crept back over me.
Freeze Time email@example.com 110 "Mr. Ross?" I struggled to find a way to ask what I wanted without admitting I knew what he'd done to get Amy's cooperation . "When your friend gave you the new medicine, how did he know what dosage to give me?" "I made a copy of your file," Ross said, "and gave it to him." I twisted my fingers together. "The data in there is old, th ough. What if my chronotin spiked since then?" "Relax." Ross smile again. "I took a blood sample from you while you were knocked out. Your chronotin levels are right where they should be." My fingers relaxed into a heap in my lap. Even though he'd had no idea, I felt ashamed of my doubts about Ross. Of course he'd never do anything to risk my health. "One last thing." Ross straightened up. "No freezing time. Even when you're alone . This is way too important to play with." "Don't worry, Mr. Ross ," I said . " I won't let you down." "Good girl. I knew I could count on you." Ross smiled at me again , face shining with the exact image of pride I'd imagined when I first woke up . I busied myself readjusting my sheets . I really hoped my face wasn't beaming l ike Matron's or, worse, Amy's. "You rest for a few days, " Ross said, " and t hen next week we'll see how your new freezing skills can help us on the job ." My hands sti lled . " A job? Is it safe?" "Perfectly," Ross assured me. "I'll set everything up so no one notice s a thing." Memories of our last mission flooded my mind. I clutched at the smooth sheets . "Mr. Ross, last timeÃ‰ the Torino murder. I couldn't hold it. I'm so, so sorry."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 111 " That rewind went great . " Ross sounded surprised . "I got exactly what I wanted . " "You did? But I let it go before the murderer showed up." Ross cocked his head to one side. " You probably just don't remember ." My final worry drifted off my shoulders and evaporated into the air. I settled back down in my bed, succumbing at last to my exhaustion. I didn't have to think anymore. Ross was here . Ross would take care of everything . *** KJ came to see me while I was eating an early dinner: macaroni and cheese, a salad of iceber g lettuce drenched with a bright orange dressing, garlic bread and a frosted brownie. Between emotional upheaval and two days on an IV I was shaky with hunger , so I was inhaling the mediocre menu with monster bites . " You got back OK?" KJ asked as soon as Matron left us. I swallowed down a hunk of lettuce big enough to hurt my throat . My conference with Ross had reassured me so much that I forgot about the panic ked state I'd left KJ in. I stopped shoveling food long enough to tell him Ma tron knew nothing. KJ sank into t he visitor's chair with a relieved sigh. " That's great ." He watched me attack the pasta . "Did Matron tell you I was here while you were sick?" " Yeah ," I said. I popped a piece of garlic bread into my mouth , savoring the warm butter as it melted over my tongue . "It must not have been real fun. I was pretty out of it."
Freeze Time email@example.com 112 "It was awful ," KJ said simply . " For a while I thought you wouldn't make it." I stopped chewing . The happy peace I'd enjoyed after Ross's visit crum bled a little. I remembered why I hadn't told KJ I was sick in the first place. KJ's solemn expression marked a line between our lives as we'd lived them , lives sheltered by schedules and chores and squabbles that could always be fixed, and a future stripped of everything but the slow measure of a relentless countdown. I squirmed away from the exposure of that barren place. "And look at me now. " I finished the last of the bread. "P erfectly healthy again." "Except you're not, " KJ said . "Th ings are different now." I fiddled with my fork. "They don't have to be . " " They are different . For both of us ." Even though he wasn't as big as Ross, KJ's body didn't seem to fit inside the visitor's chair. His elbows were squashed within the padded a rms, his knees splayed awkwardly between the seat and my bed. He cleared his throat. " 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 nodded . I wan ted so badly to tell him about the possible reprieve Ross offered me Ã offered all of us. Nothing had to change. We still had time. "I figured out the answer ," KJ said . " If I was a Norm I'd want to grow up and have a family. I'd want a wife and children Ã‰" " W e're not Norms," I interrupted. "We can't have children. We can't have any of those things." "We ca n have some of them," KJ said. His voice wobbled, just as it had on the stairs when I first found him after I woke up . I suddenly heard Yuki 's voice saying it's
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 113 obvious to everyone else that what he wants is to go out with you . The hungry shaky sensation I'd suffered before I ate came back . KJ thought I was dying and he wantedÃ‰ what? To comfort me? I pictured KJ's ta nned arms working in the courtyard , the way his nose w rinkled when he laughed , the full lips that defined his mouth , and for the first time I let myself imagine touching them . My stomach turned over. I shoved the images away. KJ was my friend, my best f riend. Relationships between spinner s never lasted. W hat if Ross's medicine worked and I lived for years? W hat would I be left with after we broke up? KJ didn't seem to notice my confusion , or maybe he did, and just misinterpreted it. " Alex, " he said, " you must know how much I care about you. You've always said missions matter to you more than anything else , but now that that's over.. ." " It's not," I blurted out , desperate to stop him before he said something h e could never take back. "Ross said even with my new powers, I can still do time work." KJ's body stiffened . His lips moved a few times without making a sound . " Gloss was here ? " he managed . "And y ou told him?" " Um , yeah." I traced a pattern in the pudd le of orange dressing with my fork . I felt like I was betraying someone but I wasn't sure whom . " Ross was in the room when I got back . He basically saw me reappear ." KJ's breath hiss ed past his teeth . I plunged on before he could interrupt . " He's not going to tell anyone. He said it was all OK Ã that this was a normal side effect." " A normal side effect? If it's so normal why not tell anyone?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 114 I picked at a stray piece of lettuce with my fork. The thin green leaf skittered around in t he gloppy dr essing, refusing to be impaled . "It's normal, but really rare. You know how Matron freaks about everything. It's better not to tell her." "Maybe someone should be freaking out," KJ said. "Have they checked your blood yet? Where are your chronotin levels?" " I don't know," I admitted. "Ross asked Amy to fake them so I'd get out sooner." As soon as I said it, I knew the confession was a mistake. The room got very quiet. I raised my head from the striped pattern I'd drawn on my plate. KJ was staring at me with pure horror. "Ross is faking your chronotin results ?" He spoke way too loud ly . My eyes flew to the door, afraid Matron might have heard him. " The blood tests are just a formality," I said. The words, which seemed comforting when Ross said them to me , fell flat under KJ's doubting glare . I pushed on. "Dr. Barnard knows what he's doing. Besides, I told you I feel great . Better than usual, in fact. " " Are you insane? You have no idea what's going on. With no one monitoring you, you could get sick again even sooner." "Ross says I won't ." I abandoned the lettuce and snatched up the brownie. " So he's going to make you do time work, " KJ said, " even though nobody kno ws how this new p ower works. "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 115 "He's not making me. I want to keep working." I ripped off a piece of brownie and push ed it in my mouth. "And what if you get sick again ? " he asked . " What if this weird power is because your chronotin levels are out of whack ? Ross isn't a doctor. " The brownie dissolved into clods of dirt on my tongue. A sequence of events flashed before me: a blood test revealing wildly suppressed chronotin, a new round of tests that would show the presen ce of a different drug, Ross exposed , ruined, all because he wanted to help . KJ leaned forward, stretching one hand towards me . "Forget about Gloss , Alex. Forget about work. This is your life we're talking about. Look at me. Tell me how you want to spend what little time you have left . " The bright optimism Ross left me with receded like a li fting mist, revealing a dark tangle. KJ 's hand was inches from my own. I inhaled his familiar scent, a mixture of fresh earth and soap. I thought of Margaret , a spinner who died last year, cur led up on the bathroom floor sobbing after her boyfriend dumped her. I saw the fleeting comfort of a single kiss crushed beneath a year of eating lunch alone. Two years. Three. My heart started beating very fast . I couldn't explain to KJ why I might l ive without betraying Ross. And I couldn't betray Ross, not after everything he'd risked for me. I was locked into a maze with no guide to show me a way out. " I wish I'd never told you any of it. " Frustration put more anger into my words than I meant. KJ sat back, cradling his rejected hand as if I'd slapped it. "I'm just trying to help."
Freeze Time email@example.com 116 "Y ou're not." I didn't want to deal with the complications KJ offered . I wanted Ross, with his soothing words and simple answers . "I t's my life, KJ. It's for m e to say what I want to do with it ." "And you cho o se Ross?" Well , you chose Shannon. The words were on the tip of my tongue, only swallowed when I heard a sound at the door. " Are you done with your dinner ?" Matron asked . She bustled over to pick up m y tray . KJ stood to get out of her way . He moved stiffly, like someone injured. Confusion spun my thoughts into a tangled soup. All I wanted was for neither of us to get hurt and still somehow I'd messed everything up . Our conversation played back in my head , the sounds as unintelligible as if they were a rewind . Maybe i f everything hadn't come at me so suddenly, if I'd had time to thinkÃ‰ M atron bustled around me, straighten ing my pillows, fussing with my tray. " I almost forgo t your medicine ," she said brightly. Unlocking the cabinet , Matron measured a dose from the mislabeled bottle and handed me the cup . KJ started backing away. I gulped the medicine , eager to finish ou r conversation alone . "I'll let you rest, " KJ said. The liquid in my mouth prevented me from asking him to wait. I swallowed, t oo quickly, choking as the medicine slid down my throat. Matron patted me solicitously. By the time I'd stopp ed coughing the d oor had closed and KJ was gone.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 117 C hapter 9 I slept badly that night and woke to the sound of people talking i n the main room of the clinic . Matron's voice , sharp with anxiety, mingled with a man's voice I didn't recognize . Somebody groaned. The squeak of a wheelchair confirmed my fear: a nother spinner was sick . The clinic had two patients now. Dread replaced my sleepiness. Heaviness invaded my insides, leaving me pinned against my mattress . I struggled to make sense of the quick patter of wor ds even though I feared what I might find out. "Did you check his pulse?" "Get me an IV." "Watch his head." His. One of the boys, then. My dread thickened. Jack, I pleaded . Couldn't it be Jack? At 19, he was by far the oldest spinner . That would be fair. No t that time sickness was ever fair. Early morning sun squeezed lines of light through the blinds, leaving stripes across the foot of my bed . I traced the pattern with my eyes, arms pinned beneath the insurmountable weight of my sheets. The door next to mine shut, muffling the voices to levels I could no lon ger understand. If it were KJÃ‰ My mind was incapable of fin ishing the thought. Please, I begged the sterile room. Please. It was another half hour before my door opened . Amy's smock looked rumpled, her mouth tight around the edges . "You're awake ," she said . " Breakfast will be a bit late this morningÃ‰" I sat up. "Who is it?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 118 Amy sighed . "Calvin." I nodded, ashamed of the relief sweeping through me. This was Calvin's third attack. His chance of recovery was slim. " Breakfast doesn't matter," I said. "I'm not hungry." " Matron said I have to give you your meds." Amy unlocked the cupboard and pulled out the bottle with my medicine. Beneath her fingers, the misspelled letters of my na me stared out at me accusingly. Next door, Calvin lay dying, while I was being offered a reprieve. I swallowed the cup of fake Aclisote over a lump of guilt . The new medicine tasted even more sickly sweet than the usual stuff , with less of the chemical bi tter aftertaste I was used to . "How's he doing ?" I asked. Amy put the bottle back in the cupboard , locking it with her key . " Not great ," she sa id. "He's not really conscious ." I sank back into my pillows. Even though I'd just woken up, I felt exhausted . Spinners die d every year in the Center. When I first came, they were all older kids, ones I didn't know very well, and their leaving didn't make much difference to me . One less person in line in the cafeteria, one new chore to redistribute to the group . In the last year or so that started to change. Ben Steinhart was only seventeen when he got sick . He had red hair, played basketb all like win n ing mattered, and laughed so loud it made the ceiling tiles in the common room rattle . When he died you could sense the change among the kids my age . There were eight spinner s older than sixteen living in the Center; when Ben died it was like he took a cushion with him. I t wasn't older people who were dying anymore. I t was us. There were nights sometimes in the common r oom when I saw one
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 119 of the kids looking around and I could tell by the panic in their eyes what they're thinking: Who's next? Him? Her? Me? Fo r this week, a t lea st, we all kne w the answer to that question . The next one up was Calvin. When they told us it was over, we'd stop talking about him, a nd the silence would be so loud it would be like everyone was shouting his name. It always happe ned like that. Fo r a few days people would avoid sitting in his usual chair. Whoever got assigned his job would feel awkward about it at first, as if the things he'd handled were haunted. It wouldn't last though. Death was too common among us to spend a lot of time honorin g the dead. If we indulged in traditional mourning none of us would ever wear any color except black. *** I rejoined the other spinner s two days after Calvin got sick . Emma gave me a hug when she saw me, the cafeteria lady handed me an extra cookie at lunch , but most of the other kids didn't say much. What was there to say? Gee, sorry you're going to die soon. At dinner that night, KJ ate with Shannon . They held hands under the table . I sat with Emma and Yuki , pretending to be interested as Yuki filled me in on the gossip I'd missed while I was out. Aidan was stuck on dish duty because he faked a headache to get out of a mission. Raul got caught kissing Natalie. Jack was in solitary again. Yuki said Jack had been sent on an e rrand and was found hours later in a car with a Norm. She claimed Jack was the one driving, which seemed far fetched , even for Jack. KJ didn't turn up in the common room that night. Neither did Shannon.
Freeze Time email@example.com 120 The days slid into their familiar track. Chores, teaching the Youngers, reading in my room to avoid the common areas . I only weeded the courtyard garden when I knew KJ was on a mission. Calvin died on Thursday. Eckbridge set up the usual shrine: an 8 x 10 photograph in a black frame surrounded by four tall white candles. The photo graph was an old one. Calvin looked about 16, still sane, with chubby cheeks and longer hair. H e was smiling crookedly, as if caught in t he middle of telling a joke. At dinner Eckbridge said a few words ab out what a great spinner he'd been and how we'd all miss him. Only Emma cried. For the rest of the week, gloom filled the halls like noxious fumes, poisoning the simplest interactions. Aidan and Raul got in a fist fight over whose turn it was to sweep th e lobby. Yuki stomped out of the cafeteria after Jasmine called her bossy . I kept myself busy , taking an extra shift in the Younger's classroom an d volunteering to sort through some box es of donated clothing . Neither activity kept me from worrying . The question of my real chronotin levels whined in the back of my mind like a particularly persistent mosquito . Any hint of a headache, minor muscle twinge, or stomach rumble threw me into a panic. The worst part was I d idn't have anyone to talk to about it . Once I tried to approach KJ , except when I found him he was with Shannon . They were in the courtyard . Not working. Shannon was sprawled in the grass , her head pillowed by KJ's lap. From an upstairs window, I watched him pick a flower and present it to her with a courtly flourish. Shannon tucked it behind her ear with a lip splitting grin . At dinner that night, Shannon hummed while she wiped down the tables , the wilting bloom still clinging to the folds of her braid. After that, I made a point o f avoiding them both. Why should
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 121 KJ deal with me and all my troubles when he could spend what remained of his own life like said he wanted: buffered by the fleeting pleasures of romance. Let him get what he needed from Shannon. It was clear he didn't ca re about me as much as he'd claimed. The only bright spot in my week came when the news broke that Ross had solved the Torino m urder. The accused was a small time criminal named Karl Sardinia that Ross said he recognized during the rewind. Pleasure outwe ighed my surprise. Ross must have been right, that my collapse did confuse me more than I thought. Now all I wanted was to talk to Ross and find out if this arrest brought us any closer to Sykes . Finally , on Sunday , Eckbridge's static clouded voice paged me during dinner. I went to her office where she gave me the news I'd been dreading and hoping for all week: I was cleared for time work and Ross was on his way over. We had a mission . Nurse Amy stopped me as I was hurrying down to the lobby . She was wearing her nurse's uniform, a long top over nylon pants and th e kind of shoes people describe as comfortable. "Hi Alex." She gave me an extra bright smile, as if we were buddies who might be excited to see each other. "Matron said you're going on a mission. Is it with Mr. Ross?" I nodded. "Oh, um." Amy glanced over her shoulder to check the empty hall. She lowered her voice. "I was wondering if you'd do me a favor." "Sure." I made a show of checking my watch. "Right now?" "Yeah." Amy slid something out of her pocket and held it against her chest. I tried not to show my impatience .
Freeze Time email@example.com 122 "WillyougivethistoMr. Ross?" Amy shoved the thing she held in to my hand, her cheeks flushed . I looked down. I was holding a small envelope, p ink as Amy's cheeks, with Carson written on it in ornate curlicues. My stomach twisted . " I don't knowÃ‰ ," I started, but Amy had already hurried off toward the clinic . I stuck the envelope in my pocket and went to meet Ross by the front desk . I got leashed, signed out, and followed him out to his car . It was cool outside, the sky already tipped into dark. Ross started the engine. His car purred like a large cat, the faint rumble resonati ng deep in the center of my chest . "Here," I said, climbing in and handing him Amy's note. " What's that ?" Ross asked. I couldn't look at him. " It's from Amy ." "Oh." He shoved the unopened envelope into an empty cup holder , with no more interest than if I'd handed him a gum wrapper. We pulled out of the garage into the growing dark . Ross tapped the steering wheel, whistling snatches of songs. I sunk lower in the leather seat, not sure if I was more embarrassed for Amy or Ross. " Did Eckbridge give you the briefing for our mission tonight?" Ross asked. I shook my head. Misty rain filled the air outside our car, as if we were driving through a cloud . Ross turned on the windshield wipers. The smear ed surface made everything slightly out of focus. "It's a good mission . One that w ill put a huge dent in Sykes's operations." I sat up a little straighter . " Will it connect Karl Sardinia to Sykes?" " No . This one's about money. Everyone knows Sykes has to be laundering millions of dollars every year, bu t no one has been able to trace it . " Ross turned the car
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 123 smoothly around a bend, accelerating into the darkness. " A couple weeks ago, an informant told me to check this guy named Thompson who works at Ardent and Roth ." He glanced a t me. "You know Ardent and Roth ?" "They're accountants, right?" "One of the largest firms in the city . It's been a real bitch getting the Chief to follow up . A& R has some big names on their board. All that changed after the bomb scare. Chief owes me now and he's finally will ing to listen . I've had a detective watching Thompson for the last week , checking his patterns, seeing when he works. Last night Thompson had drinks with a guy I know is definitively one of Sykes's. Today Thompson spent all day Ã on a Sunday! Ã in his office. Soon as I heard that I asked for a time search warrant. It took some doing," Ross grinned to himself, "but I got it." I waited for Ross to say more. When he didn't , I said : " I don't get it. What crime are we unwinding?" " Thompson is cooking the books." " So how do we catch him?" "We'll watch. See what codes he puts in, how he moves stuff around. I'm not sure exactly what we're looking which is why I asked Chief to send us an expert." "We're b ringing an expert?" I sounded l ike I'd swallowed a squeaky toy. "We can't do that ! I've never done a rewind since things changed, what if something goes wrong? What ifÃ‰?" "Relax. I've got it all figured out. Chris Ã the expert Ã will never know. He hasn't done a rewind before so h e won't notice if it feels a little different." "But what if we change something?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 124 "Don' t worry. Even y ou can't change the past." "How do you know?" " Because the old Ã‰ oops , almost missed the turn." Ross squealed around a bend then almost immediately pulled up in front of a tall office building . "Because changing the old stuff Ã stuff that happened in the past Ã isn't possible ." Ross parked behind a police car idling in a loading zone . " We just have to remember exactly how we were standing when you freeze time and be real careful not to touch anything." I must have looked unconvinced because Ross gave a firm little nod. "Trust me on this one. I'm sure." "Mr. RossÃ‰" I started , but he had already turned away, stepping from the car to greet two cops and an un uniformed man who were getting out of the other car . I climbed out onto the sidewalk alone, my stomach twisting like an overactive octopus . Twenty minutes later , we were all standing in an elegant office ten stories above the ground. Expansive views showed the twinkling lights of the city . Had it not been night time , I was pretty sure I could have seen Mt Hood soaring up beyond the city limits. The office itself was muffled with heavy wood paneling and thick maroon carpe t . The wide desk lay bare except for a computer monitor and a modern style desk lamp, it s smooth metal neck set in a gentle curve like a swan ' s. There were framed plaques on the walls but no photographs , no clumsy offerings of children's art, not even a ca lendar to give a sense of personality. Matthew Thompson, as the name on the wall outside proclaimed, must keep his personal life separate from the office. Ross was talking to the tall man who had come with the police. He'd introduced him self as Chris Hernandez , a n accountant who specialized in something called forensic
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 125 audits Ã a process, I gathered from their conversation , which involve d reviewing completed financial statements to figure out how they were put together. Hernandez had long gr ey streaked hair pulled back in a ponytail and sharp cheek bones that made me think he must be Native American . I fiddled with the smooth metal of my leash and tried to act natural . "Ready?" Ross joined me , the eager smile back on his face. He unlocked my leash and placed it on a polished table . "Why don't you two wait outside," he said over his shoulder to the police. The two officers accepted this unusual request without comment and headed obediently out the door. A tiny bit of my tension slackened. Ross wrapped his hand around mine. I held my other one out to Hernandez , who accepted it hesitantly. I wondered if he believed the rumor I heard once that touching spinner s made sparks. " Freezing time can feel pretty odd ," Ross said to Hernandez . "It helps if you close your eyes." Hernandez obeyed and Ross winked at me. Admiration burst in my chest at his cleverness. With his eyes shut, Hernandez wouldn't notice if anything shifted slightly after the freeze . I smiled at Ross. He was always one step ahead, always watching out for me. I froze time and then, almost immediately, started the rewind. A reverse s unset brightened the windows, the soft pink glow growing into full sun in a matter of second s . Hernandez, eyes open now, gave a low whistle . It was pretty spectacular. A shadow version of the office door opened and a man wobbled in backwards, u n packed his briefcase, rearranged some things on his desk so they were less orderly, then pulled a bunch of papers from a locked drawer. I slowed the rewind .
Freeze Time email@example.com 126 Matthew Thompson was short, with a ring of dark hair around a shiny bald head . He wore a perfectly pressed shirt with thin stripes and a bright yellow tie. Ross and Hernandez moved to peer over the gu y's shoulder. I came too, but m y inspection didn't reveal much. The guy had a couple of spreadsheets open on his computer and he was carefully typing numbers in and comparing them to the sheets of paper spread out in front of him. Except for the fact tha t the numbers disappeared when he hit a key rather than appeared, time could have been moving forward. Minutes slid backward. Hernandez pulled a small notebook from his pocket and clicked his pen. My shoulders clenched. "No point. " Ross grabbed Hernandez ' s hand before it touched the paper. "Frozen time doesn't exist , remember? Nothing you do will stick." Hernandez slid the paper back in his pocket without complaint. I massaged a knot in my neck . The next chunk of time passed very slowly. Sometimes Hernandez asked me to speed things up, other times he wanted time to unroll slowly. Once he asked me to make time go the other way. "I can't." I shook my head. "I can only rewind time, not play it f orward." Hernandez grunted. I rocked on my heels , glancing out the window occasionally to study the sun's progress. Usually, rewinds were pretty interesting, what with them being crime s cenes and all. Not this time. A man typing on a computer offered ve ry limited entertainment value . I was trying to remember the words to a poem I'd memorized three years ago , when Ross finally called a halt. He was solicitous, praising my stamina for holding on so
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 127 long, and clearly pleased with whatever information the y'd managed to uncover. With casual authority, he told Hernandez to return to the spot where we'd started the freeze, explaining it would make the melt less disorienting . Hernandez accepted the command and then closed his eyes again when prompted. At Ro ss's nod, I released time. Like in the clinic , time started up again with unusual smoothness , which was probably what gave me the space to realize we'd made a mistake. Hernandez was standing facing the window . W hen I'd frozen time, he'd been looking the other way , talking to Ross . The tumble of rewound images stopped . Thompson's shadow image vanished . Plain old lamp light brightened the room. We were back. I waved frantically at Ross . He raised an eyebrow. Wrong way , I mouthed, twirling a finger to illustrate my point, he's facing the wrong way . Ross frowned at me for an instant, then cleared as understanding dawned . Hernandez's eyes fluttered. I made the decision in an instant. Leaping forward, I threw myself at Hernandez in a ridiculously overacted faint . The force of my thrust knocked us both to the floor. "What the hellÃ‰?" Hernandez disentangled himself from me so quickly you'd think time skills were contagious. I stayed on the ground, even managing a small moan. The fact the moan was more relief than discomfort didn't prevent it from working. Hernandez stepped even further away . He would never remember what position h e had faced when time melted . "Alex!" Ross dropped down beside me . "Are you all r ight?" "Sorry," I said, "I got dizzy. We were frozen for so long."
Freeze Time email@example.com 128 "You did great," Ross grinned at me behind Hernandez's back . "Did you get what you needed?" I asked. "That's for Chris to say." Ross helped me back up to my feet and ushered me into one of Jeff Thompson's chairs , a tall wingback covered with some sort of smooth fabric that might have been suede but was probably something more politically correct and expensive. I leaned back into t he comforting softness. The high sides embraced me like a hammock . My r elief that we'd pulled off the rewind made the seat particularly comfortable. Chris and Ross stood near the door, engrossed in a conversation about what they had found . Their words b ounced around my head without real meaning attached to them. Balance sheet, debits, collateral, uncollected debt, subsidiary organizations. I wished they would take me back to the Center and have their conversation somewhere else. I'd been going to bed early latel y and my eyelids felt heavy. Plus my head hurt. I yawned and let my eyes slide shut. Ross's voice rose and fell, pu n ctuated by Hernandez's alto tones. After a few minutes, the volume increased. T hey seemed to be disagreeing about something. " Are you saying this whole exercise was worthless?" My eyes snapped open. Ross stood facing Hernandez, arms crossed tightly across his chest. "It's not worthless, " Hernandez said, " it's just not enough for a conviction. The books show that he's movi ng money from one account to the other . Unfortunately, there's nothing illegal about having a lot of subsidiary companies. Unless there's backup showing where the cash originally came from , we have nothing to go on."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 129 Ross scowled . "What kind of backup ?" " Keys to a safe deposit box , a memo ordering the act , handwritten notes ." Hernandez shrugged . "Stuff nobody would be dumb enough to leave lying around ." "Let's check the files , anyway ." Ross took a step towards one of the cabinets. "You never knowÃ‰" "Whoa, whoa." Hernandez put out a hand like a traffic cop calling a stop. " You don't have a warrant for that , Carson. All you got permissio n for was a rewind. Even i f you found anything a judge would throw it out as illegal search." "Any chance we could get a warrant?" "Based on what I saw today?" Hernandez shook his head. "No way ." Ross shoved his fists into his pockets. I sat up, wide awake, my own indignation rising to match Ross's. " Chief knew I wouldn't find anythin g , " Ross said . "That's the only reason he let me to come to A&R, is n't it? " "You've got to admit it was a long shot, Carson," Hernandez said. " Chief wouldn't have agreed at all if you hadn't just caught the bomber." "And now that leverage is gone." Ross kicked the side of Matt Thompson's desk . Hernandez made a move as if to protest, but backed off. I didn't blame him. Ross 's pocketed fists were twit ching like grenades waiting to explode . Abruptly, Ross spun around . " I guess we're done here." He strode over to the door and opened it, gesturing for Hernandez to step through first. Chris didn't need to be told twice.
Freeze Time email@example.com 130 "I t hought time work was instant for the rest of us," an officer waiting outside joked. "You guys were in there forever." Ross motioned to me . " Come on, Alex. " I headed towards the door. W hen I reached him, he put out a hand to stop me . "Hold on , I forgot your leash . " I held out my arm . Ross stepped back so he stood behind the office door , pulling on my arm so I stood next to him. Through the wood , I heard o ne of the police officers laughing . "Quick. " The urgent whisper made me jump. Ross' s lips were so close to my ear his breath lifted my hair on a hot puff. "F reeze time." "What?" "Do it. " His grip on my arm tightened . "Now." Without really thinking I reached out and grabbed.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 131 Chapter 10 The room stilled. Ross slipped off a shoe a nd wedged it under the door, making sure it held at precisely the same spot before letting go. I looked around the silent room. " Did we leave some sign we were here?" " No ." Ross took a pair of gloves from his pocket and pulled them on, then walked back to the desk and started opening and closing drawers. "What are you doing?" Ross tried a drawer on the file cabinet. It emitted a metallic clunk, refusing to open. "Looking for evidence." "Without a warrant?" The clanking metal sounded loud in the muffle d room. "You won't be able to use it." " I don't care about a trial ." Ross dug around in his pocket and pulled out a thin piece of metal. " I just want to know ." The metal glinted in his hand and the previously locked drawer slid open. Ross started flicking through the files one by one. A kernel of doubt hardened in my gut . "Mr. Ross, " I said. Ross pulled out a file and started reading it. "Isn't this illegal?" Ross kept reading the file . His blue eyes shone in the frozen room, like a chip of life within the flatness of a painting. " Technically. But it's n ot as illegal as what these guys are doing." He waved a hand, the gesture encompassing the plush carpet a nd expansive views. "Look at all this wealth. Sykes is bleeding honest people of hard
Freeze Time email@example.com 132 earned money and covering it up by buying off other corrupt men. And our efforts to stop him are complicated by all these bureaucratic rules and back room deals ." B it terness made Ross's voice sound harsh . I'd n ever heard him like this before; angry and earnest. My doubts waver ed beneath his outrage . " I must be getting close, " Ross continued. " That's got to be why Chief is under so much pressure to stop me . Stop us. " He tipped his head toward me . " Under pressure to stop us from finding Sykes ." The us shot a thrill of pride through my doubts . I raised my chin. "Who wants to stop us ?" "A lot of people." Ross grabbed another file . "Sykes could never have gotten this far without people on the inside helping him." Ross laid a folder across the open drawer . " Take the arrest of Karl Sardinia. I know that guy works for Sykes. On the surface everyone acts all pleased we have a culprit, but I'm not getting any where with the investigation. I've had evidence disappear , witnesses retract their statements, staff take days to do a routine task they should be able to turn around in a couple of hours. It's got to be Sykes behind it. Practically the only evidence I have that no one can mess with is your rewind . " The pride warming my insides blossomed. Ross had never talked so openly to me about his frustrations . Something about the last week Ã my new powers, the risk we accepted together for the medicine Ã had turned me from an assistant to a real partner . I reached into the cabinet and pulled out a file . "Tell me what to search for."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 133 "You sure you want to? " R oss asked. " I wouldn't want to put you in a position of doing something you think is wrong." I met his gaze steadily. "I'm already part of this. " Ross picked the l ock on a second set of cabinets while he explained his theory . Sykes must have set up a bu n ch of linked businesses to flush through the money he got from his robberies. Some would be real companies that dealt in cash and could easily hide some padded income, others were made up ones Sykes could bill for dummy services and thereby show stolen fu nds as legitimate income. He told me more Ã about off shore account s and multiple wire transfers. I didn't follow all of it but I understood enough to do what he needed: read through the files and write down the name of every company mentioned in the not es or on a receipt. We got through four of the five drawers before I told him I couldn't hold time much longer. "Do we have enough?" My head was pounding, though I didn't feel any of the wooziness I'd suffered when I got sick. "Enough to start." Ross pu lled out one last file and flicked through the pages. "I'll run these through the computer when I get back to the office to try and figure out how they're all linked together." He stopped, frowning at a single sheet of paper at the bott om of the stack. I leaned over his shoulder. The page was filled with squares connected by a series of lines. Each of the boxes had a name typed in it, like a complicated family tree. "What's that?" "An organizational chart for Lion Enterprises."
Freeze Time email@example.com 134 Time pulled against my ho ld. I leaned against the edge of the desk. "Can we go?" "Of course, of course." Ross folded the sheet and slipped it into his pocket before closing and relocking the cabinets. We both scanned the room. I adjusted a paperweight I'd shoved sideways, Ross f luffed up the carpet around our feet. "Come on, my miracle worker, " Ross said. He put an arm around me and led me back to our spot behind the door. It felt good to lean against him. "You did really well today , Alex. How about I ask Eckbridge to get you a couple day pass ed as a reward for your work on the bomb job ? You can take one of your friends with you." I thought about the last time I'd been out on a pass. It had been two months ago, a sun drenched July afternoon , and KJ and I had gone out into the city together. We walked all the way to the park and ate Chinese food in a crummy little restaurant with a faded red awning . My fortune cookie said new friends will take you places you never imagined . KJ kept suggest ing places I might not have imagined: a submarine in a tropical ocean, the int ernational space station and, w hen I laughingly claimed to have imagined all of those places, an underground burrow lined with rabbit pelts and inhabited by three foot dwarves. I pushed the memory aside . " One pass is enough," I said. " We're all so cooped up together in the Sick. Sometimes it's better to get out alone ." ***
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 135 Ross's promise bore fruit sooner than I expected. Emma and I were heading into the cafeteria for lunch the next day when Eckbridge handed me a pass that said Director Barnard had authorized me to sign out between one and three o'clock. "You got a pass ?" Emma squealed when Eckbridge's footsteps faded. "That is so unfair. I haven't been out for like three months." "That's Ã”cause last time you were half an hour late getting back," I said. Emma grabbed my arm . "Buy that bracelet for me, please? That silver y one I told you about at that store on 15 th Street ? I'll give you my allowance ." We filled our trays with sandwiches and a fruit salad made up primarily of not quite ripe melon. Emma spent the entire half hour for lunch telling me all the places I should shop while outside. I half listened, the pass like an ember burning a hole in the pocket of my jeans. I knew I would spend most of my time just walking around. I loved feeling like one anonymous person among thousands cramming the streets. Emma rolled her eyes when I told her. She claimed the pass was w asted on me, though she seemed consoled when I promised to get her the bracelet . At 12:30, Emma left me to go to her afternoon assignment . I settled myself in the common room and slipped a racing game into the X box to kill the half hour until I could lea ve . I didn't usually waste time with video games but I was too restless to read. Part way through my third race, KJ walked in and sat down beside me. "W e have to talk." I focused on the glowing screen, watching my flame decorated car spe e d through a desert landscape . The score board in the corner said I was in second place, just behind a baby blue Porsche . " What do you want to talk about?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 136 " I did some research on chronotin levels." My car skidded around a corn er, barely avoiding a field of cacti. The blue Porsche shot ahead . "What kind of research? " All our computer search engines were restricted and I kne w the library didn't carry much hard science. " Dr. Barnard 's laptop was acting up so I cleaned it for h im . Turns out he has an account with a medical library which he didn't bother to password protect ." I shot a sideways glance at KJ. The concern on his face made my heart sink. I turned back to the game in time to see a green Ferrari zoom past me . "What 'd you find out?" " I looked up a whole bunch of articles. They mostly said stuff we already knew, like that the higher the chronotin level the stronger the spinner . Which makes sense in your case. " KJ took a breath, as if steadying himself to deliver bad news. My hands tightened around the controller. "One of them quoted a study that showed that h igh chronotin levels also equate with earlier death rates, as well as erratic behavior and more intense bouts of time sick ness . " Like Crazy Calvin , I didn't say out loud . My car avatar hit a straightaway and I pressed the control to ful l throttle . " I guess that explains why I got sick so early ." I purposely kept my voice light. " What's the saying ? Whatever makes you stron g also kills you? " KJ didn't acknowledge the joke. " Nothing I read said anything about being able to change things in frozen time. Even at the end of life, even with really high chronotin levels. "
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 137 My car passed the Ferrari on a winding turn , then skidd ed on an oil spill. The Porsche zoomed out of sight ahead of me . In the corner, the timer started counting down to the end of the race , red numbers flashing a steady decline . Seven, six, five. "Alex." KJ touched my arm. I drove faster. Three, two, one. " I think Gloss is lying to you . Whatever is happening to you is not a normal side effect. You need medical help . " The light flashed zero. Game over. I kept my eyes glued to the screen . "It will happen anyway." "I t doesn't have to happen yet." I threw the controls onto the floor. "Don't you get it? I want to keep my new power . I want to use it to solve cases ." "But you don't know all the risks ." I stood up, wishing I could run away and not hear whatever else KJ had to tell me. " What if your chronotin levels are too high? " KJ asked. "High is normal for me." I punched the machine to eject the game disk. My finger was shaking and I kept missing the button. " I heard A my say it was usually up near 17 0." "Then what if it's too low?" KJ put hi s hand over mine. " There's one more study I found. This one showed a correlation between time sickness and deeply suppressed levels of chronotin." " It's hi gh chronotin that make s you get sick ."
Freeze Time email@example.com 138 " I guess safe levels fall into a pretty narrow band. So f or you a Ã”normal' re ading of chronotin might be low ." " I'm still taking Aclisote . My levels can't be that far off ." The lie made my mouth feel dirty. " Come on, Alex ." I could tell by his voice that KJ's patience was wearing away. He squeezed my hand, trying to force me to turn and look at him. " Just take a damn blood test ." Conflicting loyalties pulled at me li ke a metal ball stuck between two magnets. I hated lying to KJ, but telling him the truth Ã that Ross was giving me a new drug Ã would only make him more adamant I talk to Barnard . Plus , a small voice said in my head, if you get back on Aclisote and lose your new power, Ross won't think you're so special . I shoved the little voice into a very small corner of my brain. "We all kno w what's going to happen next," I said, freeing my hand from his. " I'm going to die." "Alex, please. I don't want you to die sooner than you have to . I'm begging you." The pain in his voice pushed me away from him . I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want the burden of his sorrow. I crossed my arms, backing up until I hit the bookcase. "You don't trust Ross." "No." KJ's voice sounded heavy with defeat. "I don't. And I don't understand why you do." The answer popped so clearly in my mind I almost said it aloud: I trusted Ross because I had to, because if I didn't I was just an ordinary spinner dying an early death. I
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 139 pushed t he insight aside, replacing it with an image of Ross smiling at me, his face lit with pride. I clung to it like a drowning swimmer clutching a raft. KJ must have sense d my determination. He let out a long sigh. " I have to go. " I gestured at the clock. "My pass starts in five minutes . " KJ made no move to stop me. I walked away, shoulders stiff under the weight of his gaze.
Freeze Time email@example.com 140 Chapter 11 Out in the street , a damp breeze brushed my cheek like cold fingers . I aimed my feet a little closer to th e building 's eaves and pulled the sleeve of my jacket lower to make sure it covered the leash . Other people hurried by me on their own mid day missions Ã a well coiffed woman in a suit talking on a cell phone , a bike messenger with a barbed wire tattoo etched across his neck, two teenage girls juggling shopping bags and cups of steaming coffee. The air smelled of wet leaves. It took a whole hour of walking before I managed to rationalize away the bulk of my fears. I decided that while KJ's research might be correct, none of it meant anything specific about me . Scientific studies were always based on aggregated data. There might be a correlation between high chronotin and erratic behavior or early death, b ut that didn't mean any specific person faced those particular results . Especially not one taking an experimental drug. Any researcher would agree . And the undeniable truth was I felt great Ã no lingering headaches, no nausea. I'd held time for ages wi th Ross the other night and it had never felt more natural. Feeling lighter, I headed back toward the center of town to carry out my commission for Emma . As I neared the store I ran into a small crowd blocking the sidewalk. I was edging past them when I caught a glimpse of what they were looking at and stopped. A man painted completely silver stood stock still on an overturned milk crate. He was holding one arm in the air as if hailing a cab, gaze fixed on some point over everyone's heads. He held his pose so perfectly, I stared at him for a full minute before I convinced myself he wasn't a statue .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 141 "That is so cool." A young woman with dreadlocks fished in her purse for a dollar and dropped it in a cup set near the guy's feet. The statue man raised his arm and saluted her, then immediately refroze in a new position. The woman laughed. Behind me someone snorted . Glancing over my shoulder I saw a short woman in a shabby trench coat. She was glaring up at the silver man, her greying hair escaping the scarf tied around her head in frizzy bunches . She caught me looking at her, and muttered: "It's sick, that's what it is." "Excuse me?" I said. "Th at's what we look like to t ime spinner s, you know." She screwed up her lips like she planned to spit. " Nothing but stupid statues for them to laugh at. It's disgusting." The leash around my wrist felt conspicuous, as i f the slight bulge under my sleeve was sending out a signal the woman could pick up. I pulled my sleeve all the way down over my knuckles . " He's not a time spinner ," I said, nodding toward the silver man. "He might be," the woman said darkly. "How else would he know what people look like frozen?" "Anyone with an im agination can picture a statue," a familiar voice said. I spun around . Jack had materialized at my elbow . He wore jeans and a green sweatshirt with the hood pulled down low . The top of i t was dark with rain. "You're one of their defenders aren't you?" The old woman 's voice grew louder . " Part of that S pinner Freedom group. You p robably t hink that time spinner s should be allowed to roam around mingling with the rest of us . " The woman p ointed at Jack ,
Freeze Time email@example.com 142 hunching forward like an avenging beetle. " It's b ad enough we have to have them living right here in the city without worrying they might get out . " A muscle twitched in Jack's neck . Even though Jack was only about 5'10", all those hours working out gave him an impressive bulk. A less irate person might have found Jack threatening. This old lady just kept waving her gnarled witch finger at him while she ranted . Jack glared at the f inger as if he'd like to bite it off. "And what if they were le t free?" Jack asked. " Nasty creatures, the lot of them." The old lady shuddered , washing me with an answering wave of conditioned shame. " It's abnormal. My sister saw one once. Crazy as a lo on, he was, unwashed hair and drooling all over himself. She said his guard kept him tied up. Probably afraid the freak would attack him . Scared my sister so bad she had nightmares for a week . " People were starting to cast furtive glances at us now inst ead of silver man . A few wandered away. Two youngish men who had been ignoring silver guy up un til now drifted closer. When one of them noticed me looking at him , he turned away quickly. "It's people like you," Jack started. The two men stopped a few feet away. They put their heads together and one of them pulled out a cell phone. " Hey , Jack ." I linked my arm through his , purposely pressing his leash into his skin as I did so. "We have to go. Now." Something in m y face must ha ve convinced him I was serious. He gave the woman one last scathing frown and let me lead him away. I tried not to hurry. At the corner I looked back. The woman had vanished into the crowd, but the two guys still
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 143 stood by silver man. O ne talking intently into his phone. The other one stared at us as we walked away . "Come on." I turned the corner, pulling Jack with me . "Why did you have to do that?" "What? She's a prejudiced old bitch. She deserved it." "I don't like being the center of at tention." My heart was thudding in my chest . "Didn't you see those guys?" "What guys?" Jack turn ed around. I glanced over, too . The two men were nowhere in sight "They had phones," I muttered. " Everyone has phones," Jack said. I could tell he was still a ngry . "They might have been stopping to lend support." "Right ." I dropped Jack's arm. "What are you doing out here , anyway ?" "I brought you a message." "A message? From who? And how did you find me?" "I heard Emma ask you about the bracelet ." Jack nodded at the store across the street. "The message is from Eckbridge. She says since you're out, could you pick something up for her." Jack held out a plain envelope. I scowled at it, resentment keeping me from immediately accepting the missive. Ho w typical that Eckbridge would lay claim on some of the few minutes of freedom she allowed me. "Why not send you?" I asked Jack.
Freeze Time email@example.com 144 He shrugged. "Guess she doesn't trust me. " He waggled the envelope impatiently. "Come on. I was only supposed to be out fo r ten minutes. You sure dragged your feet getting here." I took the envelope. Inside was a second sealed envelope and a folded sheet of paper. Alex , the typed note read, please deliver this to Mr. James Sidell. He has a package for us and needs the enc losed payment. Below that she'd printed an address and signed it with a loopy "E". I glanced at my watch. I still had over half an hour of my leave. Eas ily enough time to get Emma 's bracelet and drop off the check. I sighed and tucked the envelope in my pocket. "You better hurry back then, " I told Jack. "Eckbridge might never let you out again if you're late." *** Ten minutes later , I arrived at a squat building marooned on a corner between a self pay parking lot and a warehous e offering doggy day care. Dust colored stucco coated the outside walls. Above the front door a sign read Just Rewards. Decals plastered on the large windows advertised sports trophies and garish plaques . Behind them, blinds covered all but the top few inches of each pane of glass. Muffled barks from the neighboring business mingled with the engine roar of passing cars. I double checked the address to make sure I was in the right place. If Eckbridge was buying someone a trophy, then judging from this store's exterior she must not have much left in the budget to pay for it. The address es matched . Twisting the rattling metal doorknob , I pushed the door open .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 145 Stuffy air, dim as the blinded windows promised, welcomed me inside. Shelves laden with awards filled the main part of the room: athletic figures waving baseball bats, round medallions like wanna be Ol ympic medals, framed monstrosities with room for whole paragraphs of accolades. I suspected business wasn't going well. All the displays needed a good dusting. A woman sat on a stool at the front counter typing into a laptop. "Hello?" I called. The wom an jerked her head up with a nervous start. She was middle aged, no make up, with graying hair hanging loose to just past her shoulders. Her skin had the p apery texture of heavy smokers and e ven in the gloom I could see dark circles pressed beneath her ey es. "Can I help you?" She sounded suspicious. Clearly stellar customer servi ce wasn't going to be what turned the company around. "I'm here to see James Sidell." The woman's face paled. "You're Alexandra Manning?" "Yeah, " I said, surprised she knew my name. "Did Ms. Eckbridge call ahead?" "Who?" The woman's eyes darted around the room as if search ing for a way to escape. Familiar bitterness at the Norms' discomfort around spinners surged within me. I held out the sealed envelope . "I have a check here for Mr. Sidell. You have a package for me?" She was staring at my hand as if it held a dead rat . I bit down on the inside of my lip to keep from snapping at her. Just my luck to meet two rabid spinner haters in one
Freeze Time email@example.com 146 day. The woman took a breath, as if steeling herself for some ordeal . My irritation soared. "Come this way." She pushed open a door behind her and motioned me to follow her through. The room beyond turned out to be a work room. A stack of plaques lay on one of the tables. Another hel d a pile of soccer trophies, half packed into a tipped over cardboard box. Overhead lights buzzed in the still air. The room was deserted. My hostess gestured through the jumbled work room toward another door at the back. "Mr. Sidell is in the office." She didn't offer to walk with me. As soon as I passed her she scuttled back into the show room. I thought I hea r d the click of a lock as the door shut. What did she think? I was going to freeze time and come out and watch her? I stomped my way across the room, hoping against hope that Mr. Sidell wasn't as narrow minded as his staff. Sidell's office was protect ed by one of those thin hollow core excuses for a real door . I knocked so hard it rattled in its cheap frame. "Come in." I walked into a room not much bigger than a large broom closet. A wooden desk filled most of the space, its surface crowded with stac ks of paper and random trophies, most of them broken . Two men crammed in with the furniture: one sat behind the desk and the other in a chair directly to my left. The man at the des k was balding, overweight, and w ore a w rinkled button down shirt. He loo k ed as downtrodden as the woman in the storefront , with unwashed hair and heavy jowls dragging down his cheeks . "Mr. Sidell?" I asked.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 147 " You're Alex andra ." All this emphasis on my name was starting to annoy me. What difference did it make who I was ? All I was here to do was pick up some stupid trophy. "Ms. Eckbridge sent me with a check." I held the envelope out to him. "You have a package for me?" Mr. Sidell took the envelope and , without even glancing at it, stuffed it into his pocket . His face wore a curious expression, a mix between eagerness and anxiety that seemed wildly inappropriate for our transaction. A thrum of unease prickled my skin. "I have a few questions for you." Sidell pointed to a chair. The office managed to feel both stuffy and cold. They must have left the heat off to save money. My jacket , wet from the day's drizzle, stuck uncomfortably against my skin. " I don't really have time ," I said . " I have to get back ." Footsteps sounded behi nd me . I spun around to see a big guy ducking his head to enter the room. He was young, clean shaven, and wore a tight shirt that showed off the many hours he must spend at the gym . Gym G uy gave me a quick appraisal, then shut the door and leaned agains t it. My heart fluttered up to my throat and started beating very fast . I turned back to Mr. Sidell. " If the trophy isn't ready, I could come back later." The arrival of Gym Guy seemed to bolster Sidell's confidence. He straightened in his chair. "You work with Carson Ross." It was a statement, not a question. My brain started humming a thousand thoughts a minute, none of them helpful. Gym Guy ' s
Freeze Time email@example.com 148 presence behind me radiated like a burning sun. "I have some questions for you about a job you two did toge ther." "Everything about our jobs is written up in reports." I crossed my arms. I hoped it made me look confident , though my real intention was to keep my body from shaking . " They're public record. I'm sure you can get a copy ." "Everything is not in those reports ." Sidell gestured to the man sitting beside me. "At least not according to Officer Cannon ." I'd almost forgotten there was a third person in the room. I turned with a sense of suspended doom. Sitting in a chair in the corner was the cop who had been at the butcher shop the night Ross and I investigated Torino's murder . He was out of uniform, but I recognized the painful crew cut and squashed nose. My brain struggled to connect dots I couldn't see. Sidell was watchin g 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." Sweat made my underarms slippery. Ross said Sykes's people were trying to block his investigation . Did these guys work for Sykes ? I licked my lips. "I don't remember. " "What do you remember about that night?" The only windows in the room were set high up above Sidell's desk. Both we re small, like those in a basement. They were also barred and opaque with grime. "I don't have to tell you anything." " Look." Sidell sounded strained. "I'm just tr ying to find out the truth here ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 149 The cold from the unheated room seeped deeper into my bones. I crossed my arms more tightly . Ross said the only evidence he had against Sykes was my rewind . Whatever happened, I had to make sure nothing I said threatened that . "I told you I don't remember much about that night. I got sick ." "But you saw the murderer?" I swallowed, hoping I wasn't about to contradict Ross's report . "Yes." "So why did you say you were sorry?" Behind me, Gym Guy shifted against the door. Even the way he moved sounded muscl e bound . A bead of sweat slid along my ribcage, its path as cold as the rain matting my hair. "Because I couldn't hold it long enough to track the killer. Luckily, I didn't have to. Mr. Ross recognized the man." " But he can't have." Sidell slammed a fist on the desk, scattering papers fr om their untidy heaps. " Karl Sardinia couldn't have been at the butcher shop that night . He was with me." Sidell stood up. He was taller than I expected, and his bulk seemed to take up all the extra space in the room. I wanted to step back but Gym Guy ' s looming presence prevented me . "You have to understand how important this is." Sidell pressed his curled fists on the desktop, leaning his weight against them so his face was level with mine. " Karl Sardinia is my son."
Freeze Time email@example.com 150 Chapter 12 The c old seemed to have chilled my thought process. My brain moved sluggishly, trying to put meaning to Sidell's words. I shook my head. " I don't understand." "He's my son," Sidell repeated. "And you and Ross framed him ." "We didn't." My mouth was dry. "We saw the guy come back in the room. We sawÃ‰" M emory flooded my brain: Jason's body flickering on the ground, blood seeping back into the wound, the jerk as the unraveling slipped . "Mr. Ross recognized him. He knew him." "Carson Ross is lying!" Sidell's ey es bulged from his face like blood shot grapes. "You have to help me, you're the only one who can." I shook my head ag a in , de nying his words as much as my ability to help . What if Sidell was right? What if Karl Sardinia was innocent? "I can't." I strugg led to keep my voice steady . " I don't remember. It' s Mr. Ross you have to ask ." "Mr. Ross?" Spittle from Sidell's mouth dotted the desk top . " That power hungry bastard is gonna say , Ã”O h , woops , sorry I made a mistake ' ?" He banged the table again. "No, it has to be you , you have to tell them that you never saw anything . Tell them Ross isn't credible. T ell them he lied." "I can't, I'm sorry." I was babbling, m y head shaking from side to s ide like an out of control bo bble doll . If I said Ross lied his whole case would unravel. He wouldn't want to work with me anymore. He wouldn't help me .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 151 "Please." Sidell's desperation filled the room, a heavy presence that made the air hard to breathe. "I'm begging you. For m y son." "Frank." Officer Cannon got up from his chair and put an arm around Mr. Sidell . "It's OK , buddy. Calm down. We got a backup plan, remember?" Cannon cocked a head toward the door. " We tried your way. We tried reasoning with her. Now we've got Buck her e for Plan B ." Gym Guy Ã Buck 's Ã h and landed like a boxing glove on my shoulder. The weight bowed my knees . Officer Cannon helped Sidell Ã was that even his name? Ã back into his chair. The big man drooped in his seat like a deflated sea slug . "I think you can tell that my friend here is pretty upset." Officer Cannon came around and perched on an edge of the desk. "Your type doesn't have families . I warned him you might not understand how a father would feel in this situation." Sidell was picki ng at a spot of spilled ink marring the surface of the desk . His finger move d b ack and forth, the nail making tiny scratching sound s . "All we're asking is that you tell us the truth." "I am," I said. "I don't remember anything else." Buck's hand tightene d on my shoulder. The hard line of my clavicle seemed horribly delicate under his meaty grip. " It would be better for you if you did ," Officer Cannon said. Little bits of wood shavings peeled away under Sidell's fingers but his effort s weren't making any difference. The stain ran so deep that the wood beneath remained as dark as the slivers he'd removed.
Freeze Time email@example.com 152 " It's public record that I got sick on that job. " Fear turned my voice to a whiny squeak. " Even if I contradicted Ross no one would believe me. " "Lot s of people," C annon said, " are not fond of your Mr. Ross . Plenty of them would be happy to champion anyone who discredited him ." I stared at Sidell's fingers , unable to stop watching his restless fidgeting . Cannon pressed on . "You have nothing to be afraid of. Mr. Ross can't hurt you if you're under our protection." I forced myself to face Cannon . The officer wore a blue sport coat that didn't hide the fact he carried a gun under one arm. My sense of cold deepened . " Your protection? " I asked. " You mean the police?" Buck released a small snort of laughter. Officer Cannon smiled. "Yeah, them too." A chill that had nothing to do with my wet clothes settled over me. Was Sidell telling the truth about Karl Sardinia 's whereabouts the night of the murd er ? O r was he lying to protect his son? It hardly mattered. Either way I was sure Syke s was behind this interview . No one else wanted Ross brought down so badly. Irrationally , this conclusion gave me back a tiny dose of courage. Maybe Ross had made a mistake, but even if that was true I wasn't going to tell these gorillas anything just because they threatened me. If Ross had made a mistake , I'd talk to him, but not like this, not publicly and under pressure from the very men we were trying to bring down. I twisted my body in a useless effort to slide out from under Buck's iron grip. " I have nothing to tell you."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 153 For the first time Buck spoke. His voice was hard and his words crumble d my new found confidence. "I to ld you questioning her was a stupid idea. All she's good for is as a lesson for Ross. " Officer Cannon lifted his palms in a well I tried gesture. "I guess she's all yours then." The first punch landed in the center of my gut. I bent over, stunned by the pain flooding my body . The second hit knocked me to the floor. "Stop!" I screamed. Blood leaked into my mouth, the salt taste raw on my tongue. "Are you willing to help us out?" Cannon asked. The tile under my cheek was scratched with years of wear. Piles of dust balls lay in heaps beneath the desk . With an effort I shook my head. "Time spinner s, " Cannon said with disgust . "Bunch of stupid freaks." He flicked a hand at Buck . " Make sure you leave her body somewhere Ross will find it . Eventually. " Sidell dropped his face into his hands. His shoulders started shaking. I t hought he might be cr ying , but any sympathy I mig ht have had for him had dissolved when Buck started punching . Fear and pain paralyzed my thoughts. I had to get out of here. I reached out to freeze time but the leash yank ed the power away from me . The block hurt almost as much as Buck's fists. Buck g rabbed my arm and dragged me toward the door. I started screaming. Buck shook me so hard my head felt like it was about to topple off my neck . "Shut the fuck up," he growled.
Freeze Time email@example.com 154 I breathed in jagged gasps , unable to fill my lungs. Buck dragged me out into the work room . With one hand he pulled a blue plastic tarp from a shelf and shook it out on the ground. What had Cannon said? Make sure you leave her body somewhere Ross will find it . Buck was going to wrap me up in this thing and kill me. Then he'd take me s omewhere so far away no one would find my body until it was way too late to trace it back here. Tears clogged my throat. I wrenched my arm , tearing my windbreaker in my frantic efforts to get loose . Buck swore and adjusted his hand to get a ti ghter grip. His fingers smashed the leash, making the h ard metal bit e into my flesh . I gasped under this new onslaught of pain. "What's that?" Buck stared at the metal band peeking out through my torn sleeve . I didn't answer. "I said what's that?" Buck rep eated, shaking me to make his point. " It's a leash. " Tears blurred the scene around me. The blue of the tarp floated toward me like an endless sky. "What's it do?" The words reached me from somewhere far away. It was as if I didn't hear the words as m uch as the echo they left behind. Even then, their implication penetrated my consciousness only slowly. When they did the world sharpened with a snap . Buck didn't know what a leash was. "It's how they track us when we leave the Center." The lie came t o me in a flash. Buck's hand loosened fractionally on my arm. I kept the fear clear in my voice. "I'm due back there any minute. The instant I'm late they'll come for me ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 155 Buck's eyes moved from my arm to my face , searching for truth . Tears wet my c heeks. Snot leaked from my nose. I sniffled. "Fucking Center." Buck 's grip tightened again around my arm. He yanked me toward the work ben ch, searching one handed through drawers of tools. His fingers closed on a pair of metal cutters . The unsparing light caught bits of rust along the blade. "No!" I struggled against him, not having to pretend I didn't want the crude implement anywhere near my skin. Buck slammed my arm on the work bench , holding it steady with one arm while he worked the m etal cutter under the leash. I screamed . The jaws of the cutter closed around the band but didn't break it. Buck swore again. He twisted the blade to try another angle . The sharp edge sliced my wrist as it turned, a deep incision instantly overflowing with blood. I screamed again. Red welled up from the gash on my arm , splattering drops on the bench and floor. Using his forearm to hold me still , Buck used both hands to work the cutter, opening and shutting the scissor like blades ov er and over. With each press of his hand, the cut in my arm opened up and vomited another gush of blood. Dots careened across my vision. My mind swirled. The leash's band bent upwards. Release came s uddenly. Buck ' s arm flew up from the sudden lack of resistance, near ly gouging himself in the mouth with the cutters. He snatched up the battered leash and tossed it onto the workbench . Clarity cut through the panicked fog in my head as the leash's buzz receded . For a moment we both stood still, panting. "Come on." Buck , still holding my arm, dragged me towards the blue tarp . I tried to calm myself so I'd be prepared . One breath. Two.
Freeze Time email@example.com 156 Buck shoved me to the ground and started wrapping the tarp around my body. It smelled like mold and paint thinner. I waited only until I was absolutely sure Buck wasn't touching me , before reaching out and freezing time.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 157 Chapter 1 3 Frozen stillness enveloped me like the welcome arms of an old friend. I thrashed in my plastic wrapper, wriggling until I freed myself from the horrible cocoon . My body shook so badly I couldn't stand so I scooted away from Buck on my seat , moving until I hit a concrete wall. Then I curled into a ball, arms wrapped tightly around my knees , and waited. Time, or lack of time, passed. When I was able, I took stock of what I'd done. Immobile Buck crouched over the limp pile of abandoned tarp. He was frowning in concentra tion, trying to keep my missing body still. Blood from my arm left incriminating dots on the floor , a trail leading from the tarp to the place where I huddled . A larger blot stained the work bench and smeared the ugly jaws of the bolt cutter . When I melted time it would seem to Buck as if I'd vanished into thin air. I pictured his shout of surprise , the others running to him, their confusion and fear. Their first call would be to Sykes . Within minutes Sykes would know what I had done, and kn ow the kind of power I held within me. What would someone like Sykes do next? Would he tell someone? Or would he try even harder to get rid of me? Fear pulled me to my feet. I had to get back to the Center. The Center, with its locking doors and 24 hour security, the only place I might be safe. My knees wobbled . I wiped my nose on the back of my hand. My whole body felt tender: my jaw aching from Buck's punch, my stomach bruised , and my armÃ‰ I looked down at my arm. The gash across my wrist was about an inch long and deep enough th at it probably needed stitches. Fresh blood trickled steadily onto the floor .
Freeze Time email@example.com 158 Despite my eagerness to leave this horror chamber, I first poked around until I found a bathroom. It was small room p ainted dark red, with a sink, toilet and a cabinet filled with cleaning supplies. Luckily for me, someone had left the light on. The person in the mirror looked like something out of a zombie movie. The should er seam of my windbreaker gaped open. The s leeve was a torn bloody mess. A bruise bloomed along the left side of my face, my cheek swelling into an ugly puff that was already starting to push my eye closed. I splashed water on my face and finger combed my hair into some semblance of order. Clenc hing my teeth, I stuck my cut arm under the water. Fresh blood gush ed down the sink. I couldn't bring myself to use the soap. A quick search of the storag e cabinet unearthed a reasonably clean rag which I wrapped tightly around my arm. Good enough. Bac k in the workroom, Buck crouched in the same intent position over my abandoned plastic chrysalis. Even the sight of him frozen made the panic beat back up into my throat. Remembering the click of a lock when I entered, I headed instead to the far end of the workroom where a lit emergency exit showed the way to a back door. This door must remain unlocked during business hours the sign read. I was almost running by the time I reached it . The blessed handle pressed open. Offering silent thanks to the fire department and all agencies dedicated to worker safety, I stepped out into a narrow alley at the side of the building. I jogged away from the trophy store, dodging among the scattering of frozen people. The closer I got to the Center, the more crowded th e sidewalks grew. After a while I moved onto the street. Stalled cars were less likely to be effected by a slight bump than stationary people.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 159 The stone walls of the Center rose into view a block before I reached them. I quickened my pace. The CIC sat on a small hill, raising the building a full ten feet above street level. A low wall and a narrow strip of scrubby plantings discouraged passersby from getting too close. Arched windows set at even intervals along the gro und floor offer ed the blank stare of opaque glass, effectively blocking any glimpse into the rooms beyond. Small black camer as tucked in the eaves ga ve evidence of the constant surveillance around the building. All the windows were all barr ed. Other days I resent ed the trapped sense of living in a virtual fortress ; today the place beckoned like a desert oasis. My foot was on the first step before I realized I couldn't just melt time and appear on the Center's doorstep. Too many potential witnesses crowded the streets, with video cam eras ready to back them up. I scanned the surrounding area , finally settling on a dumpster filled alley a half block away. After searching the narrow space to make sure it wasn't already occupied, I crouched down out of sight and let time go. The smell w as terrible. What in frozen time was a whiff of rotten something, i n real time made me gag. Scampering rustles told me I hadn't considered non human residents in the alley. I left the torn and bloody windbreaker under the dumpster , not wanting to call attention to myself. It seemed to work. A few people cast sidelong glances but no one spoke to me. I walked quickly, head down, terrified Buck might somehow appear before I could reach the Center. I leapt over the wide steps to the Center's front door t wo at a time and rang the bell. The door camera's red eye blinked over my head. Finally, an electronic buzz told me someone had punched the code to open the door.
Freeze Time email@example.com 160 Charlie was on duty at the front desk. His mouth went slack when I stepped inside. "What happened to you?" "I got beat up." I leaned against the front door, pushing it shut behind me. The click of the lock resetting sounded like safety . "Can you call Eckbridge? I need toÃ‰" "Alex andra !" Eckbridge's voice echoed loudly in the tiled foyer. "W here have you been? The freeze monitor is flashing your name . " She stopped when she saw me . "Oh my god." She hurried over and took my head in her hands, tipping it so the light shone full on my battered face. "What happened?" "It was a trap." Relief at b eing back within the Center returned the shivers that rattled me at the trophy store. "That place you sent me to Ã the trophy store? They didn't h ave anything for me to pick up." A lump formed at the base of my throat. "They took me to a back room and saidÃ‰ they said I had to change Mr. Ross's report, that I had to let Karl Sardinia go free. When I refused the guy hit me." The bright lights made me blink. "They were Sykes's men, they had to be." " What are you talking about? " Eckbridge tilted my head back down , a frown cutting a deep line between her brows. "What trophy shop? I didn't send you anywhere." My sense of safety slid away from me like an outgoing tide. If Eckbridge hadn't stil l been gripping my head I might have fallen . " Jack gave me your no te," I said. " You a sked me to deliver a check and pick up a package ." Eckbridge shook her h ead. "I didn't give anyone a note ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 161 "ButÃ‰" Jack's face danced before me, the echo of the words h e'd said to me that day he froze time in the common room loud in my head. People who matter are starting to align themselves against him , he'd said. I work with people much more important than Ross . "Jack." I gasped the name. " I hardly think Jack could have had anything to do with this ," Eckbridge said. " He's been in Director Stephen's office all afternoon . " Her eyes narrowed. " Are you trying to get him in trouble ?" "No! Jack gave me a note." A figure flitted across the landing behind Eckbridge. I pointed. "There he is. Ask him." Jack descended the stairs wearing an expression of confused innocence. "What's the problem Ms. EckÃ‰ ?" The words died on his tongue when he sa w my bruised face. " Oh my god, w hat happened? " "Did you give Alexandra a message?" Jack leaned a steadying hand on the banister. "Who did that to you?" "The men at the trophy shop," I said. "The place you sent me." "I didn'tÃ‰" Jack's words came out on a whisper. "Honest to godÃ‰" His gaze flicked to Eckbridge and he straightened. "I was with D r. Barnard all afternoon." His denial hit me like a slap. I lunged toward him , wanting to scratch the composure off his lying face . Eckbridge grabbed my arm to res train me. When her hand closed on my bound wrist and I screamed. "What's the matter?" Eckbridge looked down at my arm . " Where's your leash?" "I told you." I couldn't help it. Tears of pain welled up in my eyes . "The guy tried to kill me . He cut the leash off so you couldn't trace me."
Freeze Time email@example.com 162 "Leashes don't have a trace." Eckbridge's face registered alarm . "Alex, I don't know what this is about, but if you froze time out in the city, that's a serious offence . I'm going to have no choice but to Ã what? " Tears poured freely now down my cheeks and I was pretty sure from the lightheaded wooziness threatening my ability to stand up that I was turning something way past pale. "My arm," I moaned. Eckbridge studied the limb clutched in her hand, seeming to n otice the bandage for the first time. Quick fingers unwrapped the cotton. T he final layer stuck to my skin. I whimper ed when she ripped it free . Eckbridge drew a sharp breath. Dried blood smeared the skin on my forearm, framing the raw mouth of the incis ion. My wooziness took a turn for the worse. " Sweet Jesus , " Eckbridge breathed . "Charlie, call Matron. Tell her I'm bringing Alex in and she'll need a room ." She wrapped an arm tightly around my shoulders , her hand hooked under my armpit. "Come on, Alex. Can you stand?" Jack stepped toward us. "Alex, I'm so sor ry. You know I'd never hurt another spinner ." If I'd felt even slightly less shaky I would have punched him. Eckbridge took me up the elevator to the second floor . The wave of dizziness had p assed, leaving me drained. I tottered next to Eckbridge's brisk trot. She held me so close I thought our feet might tangle together. "Damn sicknessÃ‰ " Eckbridge muttered to herself as we walked, " stupidÃ‰ should have knownÃ‰ so unpredictable." Matron met us at the clinic door.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 163 "What is it ?" Eckbridge held up my arm. "She'll need stitches." Her voice was grim. Matron made a clucking sound and shook her head. "Put her in the exam room. Amy, " she called over her shoulder, "make up a shot of Novocain." Eckbridge helped me up onto the exam room's padded bench. Dry paper crackled under me as I sat down. "Can you sit up by yourself?" Eckbridge asked. I nodded. Eckbridge let go of me. She handed me a wad of tissues and waited while I wiped my face. "Eve ryone gets worried after they get sick," she said abruptly. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. You can always come talk to me if you're feeling depressed." I nodded again. It was a weird non sequitur, but I was glad Eckbridge wasn't yelling at me anymore. Ma tron bustled back in with a tray full of supplies. Amy followed with a needle. When she saw my mutilated arm , she let out a small gasp . Matron pulled on a pair of rubber gloves. I kept my face firmly turned toward Eckbridge so I didn't have to watch. "You have to call the police," I said. A sharp jab told me Matron had shot me with Novocain . Eckbridge sighed. "Alex." "I can lead them back to the trophy shop. " The smell of iodine filled the small room. I tried not to flin ch while Matron cleaned my arm. " Even if they're gone we can always rewind."
Freeze Time email@example.com 164 "Not now, Alex," Eckbridge said. "My arms not that bad. I can still go on a mission." Eckbridge shook her head. I swallowed my frustration. "Then se nd someone else ," I said . "KJ will go." The outer door to the clinic slammed open. "Where is she?" a voice roared from the waiting room . Matron jumped. I was glad she hadn't started stitching yet. Eckbridge squeezed between Amy and Matron to get out of the exam room. "D r. Barnard ?" " Is Alex here?" He was still yelling. I was surprised he sounded so upset. The man barely knew me. "Yes ," Eckbridge said . "Just a bit banged up . Matron will keep her here for a while , un til we're sure she's not going to hurt herself again." Hurt myself? Matron's needle jabbed my arm when I jerked. Hurt myself? Is that what they thought? That I'd cut my ar m myself ? "Hold still," Matron admonished. The door to the exam room banged open. Dr. Barnard stood in the doorway . The straggly hairs around his bald head stood out like an attacking dog's ruff. "What happened?" I tried my explanation again. " Jack gave me a note. He said it was from Ms. Eckbridge but it wasn't. They sent me to a trophy store Ã I know where it is, I can lead you back there. There were three guys. They were Sykes's men, I'm sure of it."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 165 Eckbridge's head bobbed behind Stephen's b ulk. " The sickness must be causing hallucinations. When did you last adjust her dosage ? " Dr. Barnard wasn't listening . He moved so close to me that Matron had to stop stitching. "How did you get away?" Did that mean be believed me? My mouth went dry. Barnard was glaring at me with the intensity of a physical force. I swallowed. "They said they were going to kill me. He cut my leash off. IÃ‰ IÃ‰" "What. Did. You. Do." A dawning terror rose up in my chest. He knew. Dr. Barnard knew I'd changed thi ngs in frozen time. But how? My mind wheeled through possibilities. Did the monitors show where I was when I froze time and so he figured out that I got back impossibly fast ? My mouth opened without making any sounds. Barnard stood so close to me I could smell stale coffee on his breath . "I ran away ," I managed. The words came out in a whisper. Barnard's lips pressed together so tightly they almost made his saggy chin taut. " Amy ," he snapped . " Go and get a syringe. I need to test this girl's blood right now."
Freeze Time email@example.com 166 Chapter 14 I wat c hed, helpless, as Amy scurried from the room. Eckbridge was staring at Barnard , confusion stamped across her features. None of us said anything. The tiny exam room was so crowded with bodies it felt like there wasn't e nough air for us all to breath. When Amy came back , her face was pale . A small piece of my wilting brain managed to feel sorry for her. I remembered Ross telling her they could never trace her faked test results and wondered if t his was true . Amy must have been wondering the same thing. Her hands shook so much she couldn't rip open the packing holding the needle. Matron extracted the syringe herself . She swabbed my arm above the half stitched gash and plunged the needle into the vein at my elbow. Blood, dark and rich, filled the tube of the syringe with my secret. My heart p o unded so hard it seemed impossible the others couldn't hear it drum ming . On ce the test was complete whatever Ross was giving me would be exposed. Barnard would grill everyone to find out how I got it. The way Amy looked now I couldn't imagine her standing up to Barnard for longer than it took her to draw breath. Ross would be r uined. And IÃ‰ Matron slipped the needle from my skin and pressed a cotton ball over the prick in one smooth movement. "I'll take that." Barnard snatched the needle . "Janet." Ms. Eckbridge jumped. " Take her arm and don't let go of her . I don't want her f reezing time alone ." "Freezing time? What differenceÃ‰?" "Just do it." Ms. Eckbridge wrapped one hand around the bare skin of my un hurt arm. Barnard turned to Amy . " Go downstairs and ask Charlie for a leash. Matron, w hen
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 167 you're done leash Alex, put he r in a room , and lock the door. She's to stay here until I say she can be released. Is that clear?" The three women nodded dumbly. Barnard walked away, carrying with him the blood y evidence that would guarantee my imprisonment for the rest of my short life. Amy followed Barnard out with a face so white I thought she might faint. Matron kept shooting glances at Eckbridge while she stitched up my arm. I knew the older wome n wanted to talk but wouldn't as long a s I was there. I didn't mind. The silence gave me space to think. I'd watched Amy test my blood before. She poured the sample into a vial and added a few drops of a separating solution she kept in a short green bottle. I could picture her swirling the vi al . It took ten minutes , she said , before the chemical reaction finished. After that she smeared some on a slide and ran it through a buzzing little metal box that looked like a miniature copy machine. Ten minutes. I glanced at my watch . 2:46 . Say it took Dr. Barnard thirty seconds to g et to the lab room and maybe ten seconds more to mix up the solution. That meant he'd be putti ng the sample in the box by 2:57, 2:56 to be safe. That left me nine minutes to figure out a way to stop him. Assuming Amy didn't get back with a leash first. M atron's fingers moved methodically through her task. Prick, pull, snip. My skin slid together into a neat seam. I tried not to fidget. 2:49. Eckbridge's hand squeezed my other arm. Not only would I have to get away from her, I'd have to cover the fact I' d frozen time . The impossibility of my task made my head hurt worse than the stitches . 2:52 . "That should do it." Matron straightened up and pulled of f her gloves. She frowned when she saw my face. "You feeling OK? You look a bit pale."
Freeze Time email@example.com 168 "I'm OK ." I sai d . "I'd like to lie down." Eckbridge's fingers pressed my good arm lightly. "I'll take you to a room." I jumped off the exam bed. Eckbridge kept a firm grip on my arm as we left the room. 2:5 3 . The clinic door opened. Amy was back. "Can I pee first?" It took all I had not to scream the words. Eckbridge hesitated. "I really have to go." I offered up an apologetic grimace. "You can b lock the door." She glanced over at Amy . The nurse was trying to extricate the leash from her pocket. The straps had tan gled with the wires of her headphones . I gave a restless jiggle, hoping Eckbridge would interpret it as need. "Be quick." Still holding my arm , she led me over to the bathroom. I pushed the door open hard, swinging it forward, and stepped around it with pantomimed eagerness. When the door had swung back far enough to block me from view I froze time. Silence descended like a reprieve. The bathroom door remained open a little less than a foot, just enough for me to slide my body through it and under Eckbridge's outstretched arm . When I gained the waiting room I checked my watch again . It still said 2:53 . Adrenaline made me run when I didn't need to. I charged into an empty exam room and took the things I needed, then raced to where Dr. Barnard stood in his narrow lab. The green light of the chronotin analyzer sent out a weak beam. My heart squeeze d painfully until I saw that Barnard still held the tube with my blood . The red liquid sloshed up the sides of the vial . He must have been in the act of sw irling it. I released a breath I hadn't realized I was holding.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 169 The fragments of my plan fluttered around my brain like bits of paper caught in a windstorm. I grabbed at the scattered pieces , forcing them together as I raced through the Center's silent halls. I found KJ in the third place I tried . He was in a storage room putting away a box of computer supplies. Snatching up his frozen hands , I melted and refroze time as fast as I could manage the commands. "Holy shit!" KJ's whole body jerked. The b ox in his hand flew up in the air, landing on the floor with an unfortunate cracking sound. "You can't just appear like that." His expression altered when he saw my face. "What happened to you ?" I told my story quickly , trying to gloss over the worst parts. KJ still looked sick when I finished. "Alex, IÃ‰" He moved as if to put his arms around me and I stepped back automatically. KJ shoved his hands in his jeans pocket s . " How badly did they hurt you?" " Nothing permanent ." I held up my arm to show the small bandage Matron had taped over the wound. " This is the worst of it ." KJ shook his head, clearly still trying to fit my story into his brain . "So Dr. Barnard Ã‰?" " He must suspect what really happened ." " What would have tipped him off?" KJ asked . " All they know is that you tripped the freeze monitor. " " I don't know ." Fear squeezed my patience. "Does it matter? Barnard knows what I can do. Or at least suspects. "
Freeze Time email@example.com 170 KJ crossed his arms over his chest . " Why are you here ? Freezing time now is only going to make things worse with Barnard ." I studied the floor . "I didn't tel l you the whole story before . About Ross. There's a reason he's not testing my blood. He's giving me a new medicine. Something that' s supposed to extend my life. It sounds like some kind of super Aclisote , which are probably keeping my chronotin levels extra low. If Barnard runs a test he'll figure it out ." " You let Ross give you drugs ?" KJ spoke with ominous calm . I nodded. "Then letting Barnard run the test is the best thing for you," KJ said. "H e'll take you off Ross's drug and put you back to normal ." My head snapped up. KJ wore a look of grim determination. A beat of panic rose back in my throat. "It means he'll lock me up ," I said . " If some other drug shows up in my system they'll run a bunch of tests Ã they'll make me freeze time and t h e y 'll figure out I can ch ange things. Then they'll ru n more tests on m e Ã on all of us. You said it yourself. I can't just appear places. It's too much. They won't let anyone have this kind of power." We sta red at each other a long time. I knew KJ so well I thought I could see the struggle beneath his skin: desire to get me back on Aclisote balanced with the urgency of my request. Anger at the way I'd treated him lately. B itterness that his assistance might protect Ross. Finally he let out a long sigh. "You'll help me?" I asked. " On one condition."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 171 "What?" "You get your blood tested." "KJ, I told you, I can't. If they test my blood, they'llÃ‰" "Shannon can run the test. She helps Amy all the time." Shannon. Of all the people he could have chosen to involve, Shannon was probably at the bottom of my list. I bit my lip , trying to think up another option. The image of Dr. Barnard holding the vial of my tainted blood left me with little choice. "OK, " I said. KJ uncrossed his arms . " What do you need?" Relief buoyed my spirits . KJ was back on my side. I allowed myself t o believe my plan might work. "Your bloo d. " I held up the bag of supplies I'd taken from the clinic . "I need your blood." "To swap out your sample?" I nodded. "It's a temporary fix," KJ warned . "He can draw more." "It buys me time." I grimaced. "It al ways comes down to time, doesn't it?" KJ laughed softly. He was already rolling up his sleeve. Drawing blood turned out to be harder than it looked when the clinic staff did it. Even after I'd tied off KJ' s arm to make the blood vessels pop up, the actua l injection part took a while. Skin is tougher than it appears . By the time I was done, KJ 's face had turned slightly green. "You might want to practice that if you're going to make a habit of it."
Freeze Time email@example.com 172 "Sorry," I muttered. "I guess I could have taken it fro m someone frozen." KJ pressed a cotton bal l against his jabbed up arm. " I don't think you could. Without blood flow you might not get much. Or you'd literally empty a vein and give the person a stroke. " I capped the filled syringe carefully so I didn't a ccidentally squirt out all the hard won liquid. Gathering up all the other things we'd used drawing KJ's blood Ã an alcohol swab, t he rubber arm tie, cotton balls Ã I stuffed them back in the sack . "We have another problem . " I stuck the sack of trash in my pocket . " I need to block the grid somehow so Barnard doesn't know I stopped time." "You've already triggered the system." KJ scratched his chin. "I supposed I could reset the mainframe ." I must have looked blank. "If you melt time again long enough for me to unplug it in real time , then the whole system will reset when things start up again. It happens once in a while during a power outage. The restart should erase your freeze ." "Won't the monitor go off as soon as I melt tim e?" KJ shook his head. "It takes a couple seconds for the grid to register the freeze and react. If we work fast enough we should be able to unplug the mainframe before it has time to sound the alarm ." "There's no way you can just disable my tracker so that I'm not on the system ?" " Not unless we cut it out of your neck ." I shuddered . "I'll take the one time, then." The freeze monitor's mainframe lived in a n electrical closet that was locked with a card key. KJ and I talked through the options , settling on one that would work, but
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 173 would cost a few vital instants . With the image of Barnard 's swirling vial floating in the forefront of my brain , we searched the building until we found Simon, the head maint enance guy . KJ patted the pockets of Simon's blue coverall, th en slid one hand carefully into the one with the card key. Key in hand we hurried to the closet, blessedly located in a little used side hall. I took KJ's hand. "Remember you have to be fast or the monitor will register you r freeze ." I squeezed his fingers. "I will." I dropped hold of time. KJ swiped the card. We snatched the door open and I refroze. The closet was dark , lit by only a few small lights on the monitor control panel . Even hold ing the door open didn't help much since no shaft of light had entered it while time was active. KJ crawled around on the floor, patting wires and cords as he traced the right one to the power outlet. When he found it, I propped the door open and moved c loser so I could put my hand against the back of his neck . "Ready?" KJ nodded. Time ra n forward just long enough for KJ to pull the plug out . Freeze time. The two of us sank back on our heels. I let go of KJ's neck and wiped my hand on the thigh of my jeans. KJ re plugged the monitor. For a while we just sat there. "OK," I said , finally . Simon had barely moved when we returned the car d key. Dr. Barnard hadn't moved much either. I poured KJ's blood into a fresh vial and added a few drops of the se ttling solution. I swirled it slowly, checking the original vial to try and match the blood wash up the sides of the glass.
Freeze Time email@example.com 174 "We should be timing this ," KJ said. I automatically checked the clock . 2:54 . That wasn't going to work. "Count," I said. KJ starte d counting in a steady cadence. I swirled the vial until he reached 300. Five minutes. Very carefully I slid the vial with my blood out of Barnard 's inert fingers and replaced it with the tube of KJ's . KJ took the vial with my blood and capped it with a stopper. "Can you get back in five minutes ?" I asked. KJ nodded . Still counting , he pulled the bag of medical trash from my pocket and placed the capped vial of blood inside it . " I'll get rid of this," he said, before taking off down the hall at a run . I picked up his count and headed back to the clinic bathroom. At 600 I released time and watched the bathroom door swing shut. I listened for the sound of the monitor beeping . Only when I heard instead the soft thump of Eckbridge's body as she leaned against the door did I remember I was supposed to be using the facilities. I did my business, grateful, as it turned out, for the few minutes it allowed me to calm my breath. When I emerged, Eckbridge took my arm again , leashed me, and led me to the same room I'd woken up in after my bout of time sickness. I climbed into bed meekly. My battered body ached from running around and I was actually grateful for the chance to lie down. The door to the room clicked shut and I heard the snap of a lock . I stared up at the ceiling, brain buzzing with the leash's interference, thinking of all the things that might go wrong: the betraying beep of the re awakened monitor marking my freeze , KJ
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 175 not making it back to the storage room in time and so appearing from nowhere in some random hall, Barnard figuring out he'd been tricked . The murmur of Matron and Eckbridge's voices drifted through the locked door Ã soft, worried sounds unintelligible fr om where I lay. The clock on the wall ticked, a thin red hand marking the passage of every second. Time moved forward, out o f my control . I closed my eyes and waited. *** Barnard turned up in my room an hour later. He'd calmed down , though he still see med too upset to sit still . Instead , Barnard paced around my room , spinning the heavy gold watch he wore around his wrist as he walked . "Tell me what happened today." I told my story the way I had before: Jack handing me a note supposedly from Eckbridge, t he woman sending me to the back room, the men threatening me if I didn't turn on Ross. I omitted my own screaming panic and refrained from restating my accusations of Sykes's involvement . I didn't want to sound too far fetched since Eckbridge already thought I was crazy. Instead, I kept the focus on Sidell's role as Karl Sardinia's father. When I finished, Barnard stopped pacing and rested his hands on the metal b edrail at the foot of my bed. His eyes were bright inside his droopy f ace. "How did you get away?" I met Barnard 's gaze blandly. The hour had given me lots of time to think up a good cover . "I fought the big guy off and ran. I figured they wouldn't chase me once I hit the street."
Freeze Time email@example.com 176 Barnard mouth twitched . " The cops picked up some guy babbling about a time spinner who disappeared." His tone was casual, but his knuckles were white where he gripped the rail. " He must not have wanted to adm it I got away from him, " I offered. Barnard was studying my thin frame suspiciously . If he'd actually met Buck he must know I was lying when I said I'd fought him off . I hurried to change the topic. "What did the cops do with the guy after they talked to him ?" "They let him go." Barnard released the bedrail and walked to the window. "You have to admit you r story is pretty far fetc hed, Alex." I pointed to my bruised face. "What about this?" Barnard lifted a slat and peered out the window into the depthless grey of lowering clouds. "Ms . Eckbridge says she never gave you a note. She thinks your wounds are self inflicted . That you hurt yourself because of the time sickness." I slumped back onto my pillow. I supposed being called crazy was better than Barnard knowing the truth, but the label was hardly comforting. And I had hoped someone would try and catch Buck. Even if he blabbed that I had disappeared no one was likely to believe him. " How long until I'm cleared for time work? " "Ti me work?" Barnard dropped the slat and turned 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 sat bolt upright. Barnard moved across the room. "We'll just keep an eye on you here for a while. Maybe run a few tests." "No!"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 177 Barnard rapped sharply on the door. "You can't do that," I cried. " I can still do time work. Ask Mr. Ross." Dr. Barnard didn't even bother to turn around. " Carson Ross is not a medical expert for the CIC ." The lock clicked from the outside. Before the door even opened all the way, Barnard slipped through it and yanked it shut. The lock fell back into place with a snap. Tears of frustration stung the back of my nose. After all I'd done, all the lies and desper ate tric ks, I'd ended up exactly where I didn't want to be: leashed and alone in a locked room .
Freeze Time email@example.com 178 Chapter 1 5 I was dreaming about KJ when I heard the lock turn . My eyes popped open , dispelling an image of our hands en twined like vines wrapped around a trellis . A dark shape slid through the open door , black on grey . My first through was that KJ found a way to come down and see me, but the size of the outline was too bulky to be him. A ripple of fear shot me into total wakefulness , my dream com fort dissolving as my thoughts veered to Buck. The tall shadow spoke: "Alex." I sat up. "Mr. Ross?" "How's my best girl?" The warmth in his voice released a flood o f emotions: relief, security , confusion . "You came! " My mind creaked into gear . " How'd you get in here?" "Nurse Amy let me in." The visitor's chair scraped across the floor as Ross pulled it close to the bed. I didn't think about Amy. I didn't care anymore what he might have done t o see me . Whatever he'd done, he'd done it for me. I smiled at him through the dark. "I'm glad." Even in the grayness I could tell Ross wasn't smiling back. " What happened, Alex? " he asked. "Eckbridge said you tried to kill yourself." "Of course I didn't. " Surprise that Ross believed her added vehemenc e to my denial . Ross' s didn't relax . " So what did happen ?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 179 I told Ross how I was lured t o the trophy shop and about the men there who attacked me. I told him everything, including all my suspicions about the guys being Sykes's men. Ross listened raptly. He murmured good girl when I described how I refused to turn on him . When I got to the part about Buck rolling me up in the tarp, I suddenly ran o ut of steam . I knew he wouldn't like what I did next . Ross leaned forward. "What happened then?" My eyes were adjusting to the gloom . I could make out Ross's features now , a mix of grey and shadows. It looked like a mask of the man I knew. "He Ã‰ he was going to . . . to kill me. I had no choice." "What did you do, Alex?" The same words Barnard said to me. I swallowed. "I froze time ," I said in a small voice, " and ran away." Ross's body sagged away from me . I couldn't see his face anymore. "I had no choice. " I knew I sounded defensive . Ross let out a long sigh. His disappointment hurt worse than all of Buck's physical blows. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ross. I didn't know what else to do." "It's OK." The words di dn't help. Ross was shaking his head, negating the absolution. " Has anyone tested your blood yet?" " Barnard tried. I froze time and swapped the sample." "You froze time again?" H e sounded angry. " Whose blood did you swap in ?" "KJ let me draw his," I a dmitted. Ross groaned . I spoke quickly. "D on't worry, KJ will never tell anyone about my power . I warned him what would happen to me if he
Freeze Time email@example.com 180 did. Plus he helped make sure my freeze didn't show up on the monitor." I explained about the reset. "That was ver y resourceful, " Ross said carefully. He leaned forward so I was a ble to see his face again . His eyes were like dark bruises buried in a nest of shadows. "Tell me the absolute truth Alex. Is there anyone else who knows what you can do?" I shook my head. "Just KJ. And Buck, if he figures it out." "He will." Ross's lips tightened into a dark line across his face . " We're going to have to work a little faster than I'd planned ." "I can't." I bent my head under the double weight of his expectations and my own failure s . " Barnard won't let me do time work anymore ." Ross's bark of laughter exploded in the quiet room . I lifted my head, bewildered that he found anything amusing in this situation . " Alex, Barnard can't stop you ." "H e said he'd keep me loc ked up. If I freeze time again he'll leash me, I know he will." " So we make sure he doesn't find out." Ross grinned. " No one monitors dream freezes ." I shook my head. "How does that help? We're locked in our dorms at night. " Ross dug in his pocket an d pulled out a key. " Not anymore ." He pressed the key into my hand. The edge was sharp, the metal warm from Ross's touch . " Thurs day night there's an agent's meeting here at the Center ," Ross said . " I'll make sure to leave the building at exactly 10:30 . You l eave your room just before then
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 181 and hide somewhere where you can see the front door. At the point when I am just outside the door, but the door hasn't shut yet, freeze time ." "I'll trip the monitors." "Sure, but the monitor only tracks you within 50 feet. They'll assume you're locked in your room. Even if someone checks, by the time they get there you'll be back." Something nagged at me , sharp and uncomfortable as the prick of a needle. I picked at an invisible piece of lint on the bed. "What is it we're going to do?" "Stop Sykes ." Ross ' s voice washed over me like a draft of icy air . I forced myself to ask the next question. "Mr. Ross , are you absolutely sure it was Karl Sardinia you saw in the rewind?" "I never saw Karl in the rewind ." The imaginary needle grew into a blade . A long one that cut straight into my heart. "But you arrested him." " Of course I did. I wanted Sykes to know I was on to him ." Ross sent Karl to prison as a message to Sykes. Just like I was supposed to be a message for Ross. " Then Karl might be i nnocent. " Ross shrugged. " Of that crime . It doesn't matter. Karl Sardinia is one of a half dozen people I'm sur e work for Sykes . I checked all Sykes's compatriots out and Karl had the wea kest alibi. " " But that's not right ," I said . " Karl Sardinia might be found guilty of murder based on evidence that you made up. That's not what our job is supposed to be about."
Freeze Time email@example.com 182 Ross fixed me with his shadowy stare. "Our job is to seek justice for criminals. Karl Sardinia is a known associate of Sykes. That means h e 's participated in the theft of millions of dollars, bribed officials, and ruined people's lives. Even if he didn't wield the knife, he almost certainly knew about all the murders. Karl deserves this punishment. You should be proud that your work will r esult in a bad egg getting put away for life." If this was pride I didn't like it. I felt like something rotten was festering in my stomach. I wanted to take a long shower and wash not just my skin but my whole insides, too. " Mr. Ross , what you want to d o Thurs day night, it's nothing illegal, is it?" "Illegal? Everything about you right now is illegal." "Yeah, but, my illegal is just rule breaking. It's not likeÃ‰" I thought of Sidell's agonized face. Whatever his relationship was with Sykes, he was also a father trying to protect his son. Was it fair to have a thief sentenced for murder? " We're not going to frame someone else or plant evidence or anything, are we ?" " We're not going to frame anyone. The person we're going a fter this time is 100% guilty. And s topping him will stop Sykes cold." My expression must have betrayed my doubt . Ross leaned for ward, his face bathed by a shaft of milky light. " Alex, all we're doing is making sure justice gets done. C an anyone else claim the same? Dr. Barnard? Sy kes? " Ross brushed one finger across my bandage covered wrist. " Don't you want revenge against the people who hurt you ?" Revenge. The word hung in the air between us, harsh and ugly. I could hear KJ in my head telling me r evenge wasn' t justice. I wasn't sure it was even fair. The slice in my wrist throbbed , bringing images of Buck, his strong arms and brutal fists. Sykes had sent those men to beat me. To kill me. That certainly wasn't fair.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 183 Dr. Barnard saw me as a possible PR prob lem that was best hushed up. Where was the justice in that? I blocked out KJ's voice. He didn't understand . He might care about me, but he wasn't willing to take chances to make things right . Ross was the only person willing to fight for me. I studied the man before me. The p ale moonlight turned Ross's skin to marble. He reminded me of a statue . P assionate and honorable, h andsome and adored. Ross touched my bandaged arm again. "Don't waste the gift you've been given," he said. "This is our chance to make a difference, and a chance is all you ever get. After that , life is what you make of it ." I ripped out my doubts and soothed the wound in Ross's conviction. Every hero takes shortcuts, I argued with myself. It's t he end that matters. Someone had to pay for everyone to remain safe. I knew what I was paying. Why shouldn't a few others pay too?
Freeze Time email@example.com 184 Chapter 16 Dr. Barnard unlocked my leash and released me to the Center routine on Tues day night. He'd had Mat ron test my blood a second time but Amy was on shift for that one so naturally it came back within range. I showered and changed, then set out to find KJ. I found him playing checkers with Aidan in the crowded common r oom . Most of the kids were cheering on a football game blaring on the TV. One glance told me Shannon was missing, which only added to my pleasure in being out of the clinic . "You're back!" KJ jumped to his feet as soon as he saw me and came over to give me a hug . "How do you feel?" I held up my bandaged arm and pointed at the fading bruises on my face. "About how I look." "Ah, not great then?" I pretended to swat him , laughing . "Alex." I hadn't noticed Jack was in the room until he touched my elbow. "I need to talk to you." Anger surged through me at the sight of him. It seemed to pulse especially hard beneath the stitches on my wrist. I clenched my fists. KJ stepped in front of me . I wasn't sure if he meant to protect me from Jack or stop me from smacking him . Given Jack's build , either intent ion was probably a good idea. "Alex doesn't want to hear anything you've got to say." Jack made an impatien t gesture, leaning around KJ to speak directly to me. "Please, Alex. It's important." There was no sign of Jack's cocky grin. The artful tousle
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 185 t hat usually defined his hair seemed to have collapsed into something b etter described as messy. F aint shadows under his eyes hinted that he might not be sleeping well. Curiosity diluted my anger. I put a hand on KJ's arm. "It's OK. I'll talk to him." KJ stepped aside with obvious reluctance. I followed Jack to the only private spot in the room Ã a table shoved in the corner with an unfinished puzzle depicting a pristine palm studded beach. We both pulled up chairs. KJ sat down again with Aidan. He slid a checker piece forward and Aidan immediately jumped it. "What?" I ask ed Jack. " When I gave you that note, I didn't know you'd get beat up." I pi cked up one of the heaps of mystery puzzle piece s . "What did you think was going to happen?" I asked. The piece I'd chosen was blue, one of a hundred meant to fill in the empty stretch of blank sky. I shoved it into a random spot without success. "I thought they'd scare you, try to get you to stop working with Ross. I never thoughtÃ‰ " Jack pointed at the greenish marks of my bruises. " Did one of them really try and kill you ? " I ignored his question. "Who do you work for?" " I thought you'd figured that out." Jack fiddled with a line of connected edge pieces , pulling one out and replacing it repeate dly . "I work for Barnard ." My face must have done something weird because KJ , watching me from across the room, made as if to stand up. I waved him away. "Center Director Barnard ?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 186 "Well, yeah. Why do you think he approved a day pass for you so soon after you got sick ? And it was Barnard who slipped me out so I could give you that note. " Jack's words rattled in my head like the puzzle pieces I didn't know how to fit together. I twisted the bit of sky in my hand. " Why would Barnard want me to bad mouth Ross? " Some of Jack's swagger returned. He smoothed the line of beach sand edging the puzzle. " He doesn't care. H e's just following orders ." I struggled to make sense of it all . If Barnard gave Jack the fake note, then Barnard knew where he was sending me. Which would explain why he didn't want anyone to rewind anything and why he came to find me so fast once I got back . Buck must have called him the minute I disappeared. But if Barnard knew about Buck, that meant he also knewÃ‰ "Sykes," I gasped. Jack smirked . " Barnard takes orders from Sykes?" Jack picked out a green piece and popped it into a half finished palm tree . " Just in small ways: stalling an i nvestigation, assi gning a weak spinner to a n important rewind. How else do you think no one ' s ever managed to rewind a Sykes crime ? " "No one until Ross, " I said. "Exactly." My anger returned , a flame so bright it made my earlie r emotion towards Jack seem like minor irritation. Dr. Barnard deliberately sent me out to face Sykes's men, knowing they were going to threaten me, probably knowing they might kill me . The enormity of his betrayal made it hard for me to breathe. I stared out at the boi sterous common room. T he familiar space seemed filled with sharp angles and dangerous lines.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 187 This place was supposed to be my home. I t was the refuge I 'd sought when Buck attacked me. " How could Barnard do that ? " I asked . " His job is to protect us. " " If it makes you feel better , I think Barnard is worried . My guess is that the bomb threat was aimed at him Ã that Sykes wanted Barnard to know he could get him any time he wanted . The day it happened, I overheard him ranting to Ms. Eckbridge about how you can't trust anyone. Then when you came in all beat up yesterday , he completely freaked. W hatever deal he has going with Sykes isn't working out for him anymore. Barnard is s cared." The thought hit me that Jack might be lying. He could be working for Barnard right now, getting me to talk to him, hoping I'd spill the beans about how I got away from Buck . "Why are you telling me all this?" I asked. Jack sorted through the pile of mismatched pieces . "I figured you'd earned it, what with getting beat up and all. Least I could do." My bullshit meter rang an alarm. The Jack I knew was not altruistic. " What do you want? " All bravado faded from Jack's face . He dropped the handful of pieces he'd collected and looked me full in the face. " I think you can help me." "Help you what?" Jack's squinted like a gambler placing a bet. "Get out of the Sick ." "Leave the Center and you don't get Aclisote . You'll die."
Freeze Time email@example.com 188 "Will I? When I worked with Ross he kept talking about problems with Aclisote . He hinted there might be another way, and that if I helped him he might be able to get me out of the Center, set me up in apartment on my own." I leaned back in my chair. The hard woode n slats pressed against my spine in a way that hurt . Ross always implied I had been his first choice. His only choice. "So what happened?" I asked. "Never panned out, obviously. Ross's talk always stayed vague. When I started working for Barnard , it seemed like Barnard was m ore likely to get me what I wanted. A nd a fter a while Ross pretty much dropped me for you , anyway . Now I'm thinking I might have made a mistake. " One of the football teams on TV did something impressive . Cheers and boos roared t hrough the room. I chose my words carefully , still not sure how far I could trust Jack . "Ross never said anything to me about leaving the Center. " "W hat did he promise you?" Life, magical powers, respect. I settled for the thing that was easiest for me t o admit. "Revenge. That we'd get back at Buck and Sykes for what they did to me." "H ow?" "I don't know. We're going on a mission , but he hasn't told me what it is." I wasn't sure Jack believed me . He'd stopped making any efforts at pretending to solve the puzzle. Instead he was stacking the pieces on top of each other like a jagged tower. I fiddled with the bandage on my arm, smoothing the hospital tape where it puckered against my skin.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 189 " Be carefu l with Ross ," Jack said , finally . " He doesn't do things for other people. Whatever you're doing together , it will benefit him. " Reflexive defensiveness tightened my chest. "It will benefit me, too." "I hope so." Jack actually sounded sincere. He stood up, the abrupt movement knocking over his puzzle tower. "And if you do figure out a way to get out of here, keep me in mind . I know my way around out there better than most." I didn't answer. Jack tipped his head to me and walked out of the common room . I watched him go , the implications of everything he'd told me ricocheting inside my head . "What did Jack want?" KJ slipped in to Jack's empty seat so quickly he must have sprinted across the room . "Hey, what about the game, man?" Aidan squawked. "You won," KJ called, not bothering to turn. Aidan gave a disgusted snort and slunk over to join the football watchers . I waited until he'd settled o nto a sofa before answering. " Jack told me it was Dr. Barnard who sent him out to give me the note." KJ took a sharp breath . " Our Dr. Barnard ?" "It means the bastard doesn't care if I get killed." I smacked the table top, scattering a dozen puzzle pieces on to the floor . Heads turned. "Hey, Alex," Aidan called , " usua lly if you have to hit them, that means the pieces don't fit together." Raul and a few others laughed.
Freeze Time email@example.com 190 I lowered my voice. " It also means Barnard is a dishonest sack of crap who accepts bribes from criminals . " KJ listened while I filled him in on the connection to Sykes . "Do you think we can report him to someone?" "To w ho m ?" KJ asked . He bent to collect the pieces I'd dropped . I fli cked through the possibilities. Matron and Eckbridge thought I was crazy. Ross would believe me but what could he do without proof? Jack would probably deny everything. I picked up another bit of sky. "The only way for the truth to come out about Barnard is if Ross catches Sykes." " OK ," KJ said. I tensed , but KJ didn't sound bitter, not like the time I said I'd ch osen Ross. Shannon must have worked out pretty well as a consolation prize. Or maybe KJ changed his mind about wanting me that way. The thought slid into my stomach like I'd swallowed a lead weight. I ignored it. I reminded myself this was what I want ed: KJ as my friend and everything between us remaining like it always had. S imple. KJ started sliding pieces towards himself, ordering them into neat piles: blue for the sky, tan for sand with a separate pile for the darker brown tinged by shadow Ã and three green sections denoting palm fronds, bushes, or beach grass. I frowned at the oddly shaped bit of blue cardboard I held, as if by staring at it long enough it might reveal its destined resting place. "If you want to help Ross," KJ said, "you'll have to live as long as possible. Which means," he started arranging the pieces by more subtle gradations of color and texture, "we need to get your blood tested." I groaned . "You don't give up, do you?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 191 "Nope." I turned my sky piece up side down. I t look ed like a clown's profile, with a bulbous nose and horribly indented eyeballs. " Don't even think about backing out ," KJ said. He snapped together a line of green that turned into a palm frond's spine . " You promised." I shoved my misshapen clown's nose into a sky blue hole . It didn't come close to fitting. " Come on, Alex, " KJ said. "A ren't you even a little curious ?" " A little," I admitted. "It's justÃ‰" I blurted out the fear I'd barely even admitted to myse lf. "What if the results show something bad ?" "You mean what if the results show Gloss is making you sick . That he doesn't know enough about this drug he's so eager for you to take. " "No," I said. The denial sounded weak even to my ears . As much as I wanted to believe in Ross's integrity, a door in the back of my head leaked other images , spooling them out like pictures on a movie screen : Ross murmuring things to Nurse Amy in the dark, then tossing her letter aside like a piece of junk mail. Ross with his skeleton key s and filched bits of evidence. Ross encouraging me to lie. I slammed the door shut. "I trust Ross," I said with forced vehemence . "Besides, I got sick before he gave me the new medicine. I'm sure what he's giving me is making me better. Just like he said . " KJ slipped another puzzle piece into place. "Then there's no reason not to run the test."
Freeze Time email@example.com 192 I flicked the clown piece back into the pile and picked up two new ones . They shared the same sand beige color, but they didn't fit together. I dropped them both in disgust. "Fine," I said. " Good." KJ smile d at me . The warmth of his familiar grin softened my resentment. Sitting here with him reminded me of how much I'd missed him . Everything was so easy with KJ . I never felt like I had t o explain myself. KJ's long fingers slid another piece into place. I suddenly remembered my dream with our entwined hands. I inhaled, breathing in his familiar scent , of growing things and sun warmed earth . The imagined sunshine warmed me even inside t he claustrophobic Sick. KJ stopped playing with the puzzle pieces . " I already talked to Shannon and told her we needed her help . She said..." The spreading warmth iced over in an instant. I moved my hand s to my lap. "You told Shannon?" "I didn't tell her about the drugs or about the new power . I just said you were paranoid since you got sick and wanted to take an extra test without worrying Matron ." " Right. " I sat back in my hard chair and scanned the room again. "Where is Shannon?" " She's out on mis sion ," KJ said. "When she gets back, let's all talk together about how to run the test. Shannon was thinking we might be able to pull it off when everyone's at lunch. " The idea of planning an e scapade along with Shannon sounded distinctly unpleasant . I reached in my pocket and fished out the key Ross gave me in the clinic .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 193 " Nighttime will be safer." I plopped the key down on the table. " Ross gave me this. It op ens all the dorms . I checked before I came downstairs ." *** KJ ref used to wait, so we planned my test for the next night, Wednes day . Lights out was at 10:00 . I waited until Julio , the night guard , locked all our doors and went downstairs before freezing time. Emma lay in a tight curl in the bottom bunk , her face towards the w all . I slipped out easily , melted time, and went to unlock KJ and Shannon's rooms. Shannon had a single, so I didn't have to worry about waking up her roommate. KJ rooms with Aiden but he promised me Aiden fell asleep early and slept like a rock. When I clicked open the door, KJ was waiting for me just on the other side. Like me, KJ wore the clothes he'd had on all day. Shannon was dressed in a long white nightgown and pink slipp ers . With her hair loose down her back she looked like a fairy tale princess out for a midnight adventure. She greeted KJ with a kiss , then held his hand while we walked. I followed them, keeping my attention fixed on the scuffed tips of my sneakers. Ou r trip through the empty halls was uneventful. Two s ecurity staff man ned the front desk at night and t hey took turns walk ing through the Center about once an hour, checking for break ins , shushing any noise from the dorms . S neaking d own to the second flo or so soon after lights out was easy . The clinic doors were unlocked. The three of us slipped through the darkened space, not turning on any lights until we reached Dr. Barnard 's lab . I squinted when the room's white walls gleamed in sudden brightness . The lab was a narrow rectangle. A n L shaped counter ran all down one side and across the short
Freeze Time email@example.com 194 end in the back, leaving minimal standing room. Closed cupboards above and below the counter held medical supplies. On the counter's surface stoo d glass jars with cotton swabs, Q tips, gauze. Next to them hunkered the small metal chronotin analyzer. It all looked medicinally sterile; the only color in the room came from the red medical liquid waste container fastened to one wall. We filed into the lab one by one, KJ first, me last . " Oh good," KJ said. " Dr. Barnard left his lap top. " He commandeered the lone wheeled stool and powered on the machine sitting on the far end of the counter . It chimed an electronic welcome . "I hoped he'd do that. I thought of another thing I wanted to look up ." Shannon bustled around collecting the supplies she needed with a sure hand. I pulled myself up to sit on the counter . The clinic wasn't heated at night when there weren't any patients and the counter top c hilled me even through my jeans. At Shannon's order, I rolled up one sleeve . She drew blood much more efficiently than I did. "This will take about ten minutes," Shannon said, squeezing a few drops of separating solution into the vial of blood. I watch ed the swirling liquid nervously. Mainly to distract myself, I peered over KJ's shoulder . He'd pulled up some kind of medical story , all tiny font and unintelligible charts. "What are you looking for? " Shannon aske d. She wedged herself past me so she could lay a hand on KJ's shoulder. KJ scrolled the mouse to the end of the article . Despite Shannon's best efforts to massage his shoulder, KJ's back remained stiff. I couldn't help enjoying a stab of malicious plea sure. Surely her clingy affection irritated him as much as it did me.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 195 "I wanted to follow up on an article I read the other day ," KJ said . " It talked about the risks of chronotin suppression ." With Shannon so close, he couldn't explain further, but I k new he was referring to the research he'd done the day he confronted me in the common room . We both assumed that Ross was giving me massive amounts of an Aclisote type drug . KJ must want to know more about the e ffects of such high doses . KJ 's mouse cli cked on a link and w ords slid slowly up the screen , the font to o small for me to read from the counter . Shannon remained beside him, swirling the vial. I picked at the bandage covering my stitches. The sticky tape itched. "This is interesting." KJ hunched forward. "What is ?" Shannon asked. She leaned forward, as if she, too, could decipher the obscure text. "It's a study from England." KJ scrolled down the page. "Hang on." Shannon checked her watch. "Times up, " she said. I jumped off the counter so she could reach the chronotin analyzer. Shannon picked up an eyedropper, sucked a few drops of blood from the vial, and then dripped a crimson dot onto a glass slide. I realized my heart was pounding. The slide slipped into the machi ne , which buzzed angrily and flashed a yellow light . Shannon leaned a hip against the counter. "It'll take a minute for the results ." I tried to pretend I wasn't anxious. "What'd you find, KJ?" " More about chronotin suppression be ing bad, " KJ said . His voice sounded odd and I wished I could see his face. "It's hard to tell if the problem is low levels of chronotin or high doses of Aclisote . Either way, thoughÃ‰"
Freeze Time email@example.com 196 His voice trailed off. The cold in the room deepened . I rubbed my hands against my upper arms to smooth out the goose bumps . "Either way what?" KJ turned around. My wish to see his face did a U turn . A frown drew his dark brows low on his forehead . "Either way it's not good. Suppressed chronotin levels have a high correlation with severe t ime sickness. The study says post maturity patients with levels below 100 all died within days." I swallowed. My heart was pounding so hard, I had to force spit over the lump it made in my throat. "But I feel fine." "Of course you do," Shannon said in the kind of soothing tone she used when a Younger failed a math test . "Dr. Barnard would never let anyone's levels drop that low." KJ pressed his lips together , holding back all the things he couldn't say in front of S hannon. Like how Dr. Barnard had no idea what my levels were since no one had tested them. And how if my levels were that low I'd have to go back on Aclisote . Immediately. The analyzer beeped , the sound mingling with the alarm bells ringing in my head. Tomorrow was my date with Ross. If I change d my medicine, I wouldn't be able to manipulate things in frozen time . "It's just one study," I said. "Let's do more research, make sure low chronotin really is a problemÃ‰" Shannon's voice cut through my ex cuses . " I don't think you have to worry about low chronotin." I wheeled around. The news was good, but Shannon didn't sound good. Her voice sounded strain ed and she was tapping the LED display on the analyzer , as if the numbers might be stuck . The g oose bumps spread from my arms up along my neck .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 197 " Why not ?" "You're chronotin levelsÃ‰" Shannon raised her head. "The analyzer says they're at 317."
Freeze Time email@example.com 198 Chapter 1 7 "They're at what?" KJ shoved past me to see the reading. "That can't be right." He smacked the metal box. Shannon protested . I sagged back against the counter, my legs too weak to hold me upright. "Run it again." KJ demanded. I touched a hand to my throat. Rapid beats pulsed beneath my fingers, ragged and hard and too close against my skin. Nerves? Or something more ominous? My head swam. The analyzer buzzed as Shannon placed a new slide into its jaws. All three of us leaned toward it, keeping a silent vigil over the vibrating machine. When it beeped we all jumped. Shannon read the result out loud. "317." KJ wanted to draw another blood sample. Shannon started explaining how the analyzer worked and why more blood wouldn't make any difference . I slid down onto the floor . 317. I'd never hea rd of anyone having a reading anywhere close to that high. I should be dead. Or crazy. I leaned my head against the cabinet, bracing myself against its solid surface. Except I wasn't dead, and as far as I knew, I wasn't crazy. What ever drug Ross was g iving me it must counteract the usual symptoms of time sickness. How long would it last ? Surely such high levels of chronotin would have dramatic consequences . A new thought clicked into place, the logic so perfect I knew it must be true. High chronoti n did have consequences . It explained why my actions in frozen time
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 199 stuck. I sat up straighter. This was the reason Ross gave me the new drug; not to extend my life, at least not primarily. No, Ross wanted to give me more power. Power he could use. The realization coiled through my stomach like a snake dragging something dirty. I wanted so much to believe that Ross was treating me because he cared about me Ã that the new power was simply a perk. Jack's warning came back to me: Ross doesn't do things f or other people. Whatever he's making you do, it will benefit him . I'd always kno wn my power helped Ross . I didn't begrudge him that as long as I also got what I wanted: respect, affection, and hope for a longer life . But had Ross really given me this power without any thought of the risk? Did he care if he hurt me? If I died? All the compromises I'd seen Ross make prickled uncomfortably in my memory. Was it really OK to get a desired end by any means? " We have to tell Matron right a way." Shannon's voice penetrated my daze. She and KJ stood close beside me. From my position on the floor, all I could really see of either of them were their feet. Shannon's pink slippers stood so close to KJ's shoes they might have been hugging. "No. " KJ and I spoke together. Shannon stepped back . "I don't understand," she said. "Alex al ready knows how to fix this. " KJ was looking at Shannon, but I knew his words were meant for me. "And she will. Starting tomorrow." Tomorrow. Tomorrow was the day I was supposed to meet Ross. I imagined Ross's disappointment, and maybe even concern, if I didn't show up. When would we
Freeze Time email@example.com 200 have a chance to talk if I missed our meeting? There could be a logical explanation for all of this. Didn't I owe him the chance to explain? "Not tomorrow, " I said. "Why not ?" KJ's voice held a warning. "Because." I didn't hesitate . I was sick of not telling the truth . "Because I'm going on a mission tomorrow night. With Ross." " Jesus, Alex." KJ's disappointment landed on me like a physical burden . All yesterday's joy at our revived friendship sa nk beneath its weight . Shannon shook her head . "I still don't understand. What has your mission got to do with anything?" " It means she doesn't car e," KJ said, "about anybody but herself." "That's not true," I said . "You're right. " KJ turned away and started cleaning up the evidence of our experiment. "I forgot about Gloss . You certainly care about him ." I didn't know what to say so I kept my mouth shut. Shannon started to point out the risks of not reporting my symptoms , but KJ cut her off with an abrupt don't bother , which made Shannon glare at me as if his rudeness were my fault . The trip back up to th e dorms crackled with silence. *** Thursday lasted forever. Every time I checked the clock it seemed like the hands had moved backward. Twice I went into a panic thinking that I'd somehow frozen time by accident. I spent the whole day trying not to be in the same room as KJ. Whenever I
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 201 saw him I remembered my chronotin reading and my heart rate jumped about fifty percent. I was afraid he would try and talk to me again, and I wasn't sure I could resist succumbing to his logic if he did. At lunchtime, I caught Shannon making her way toward my table with the purposeful stride of someone girding themselves for battle . I fled, dumping half my sandwich in an effort to avoid her. I spent the afternoon working in an emp ty Younger's classroom , tearing down the summer displays, washing shelves, and tacking fall images on all the bulletin boards Ã physical work to keep my mind distracted . I spent an hour tracing and cutting leaves from red and yellow construction paper. La st year, KJ and I got a pass and picked up real leaves in the park . It was a bright fall day, the air hot between cool breezes. We talked about food we'd like to try some day Ã I wanted sushi, he wanted a really good steak Ã and stared in all the shop wi ndows, playing a game where each of us chose one item to own. It was an hour filled with nothing. It was an hour filled with everything. I could no longer imagine a future that included us going outside together ever again and the thought made me want to tear up the leaves I was cutting into a thousand pieces . By the time 9:00 pm came I was exhausted from waiting. I went to my room and tried to read until lights out. Emma came in at 9:45 and chattered to me about a TV show she'd been watching. At 10:2 0, her breathing finally slowed into sleep . At 10:25 I unlocked my door and crept downstairs . The Center's halls were deserted. I floated ghost like through the passages until I reached the main staircase. Ross stood in the lobby . The clock read 10:28. R oss seemed in no hurry to leave, telling Charlie a long winded story that made them both laugh. I hid behind a pillar and tried not to jiggle. Finally, Ross sauntered towards the exit . Charlie
Freeze Time email@example.com 202 pressed the code that unlocked the front door . Ros s opened it and stepped out into the night. The instant the darkness swallowed him, I froze time. Sprung from my imp atient crouch, I leapt down the stairs in a few giant hops . Charlie 's hand hovered over the key pad that released the door, the remains of a smile curving the edges of his lips. I hurried through the half closed front door and slipped out into the black . D amp air greeted me as I stepped outside . Mustard colored street lights illuminated d ead leaves scattered across the sidewalks . T rees l eaned in the blast of a stilled gust of wind. Ross stood just outside the door , one hand wrapped around its heavy edge , h is head turned toward the shadowy corners of the front entrance, presumably searching for me. He wore jeans, the nice kind that didn't show up in donated boxes . He'd zipped a leather jacket over them and added a scarf and gloves to balance the cold. Over one shoulder he carried a messenger bag. I reached out and touched the bare skin on his wrist. Time pulsed, then stopped again. "Alex." Ross laughed. "It's amazing. Even when I'm expecting it." "Mr. Ross." The eagerness of his smile washed me in a familiar cocoon of comfort. The doubt s that haunted me all day recede d beneath its charm. I could n't help myself. I smiled back at him . "I have so much to tell you." All the things I'd learned recently tumbled around in my head: Jack's accusations against Dr. Barnard , my insane chronotin levels, KJ's theory about suppression.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 203 "You do?" Ross let go of the door, making sure it would stay before he stepped away . " What do you say you tell me everything on the ride home. Let's focus on the business at hand first, OK?" "The ride?" The unexpected reference distracted me. " We can't drive anywhere. C ars don't work in frozen time." Ross winked at me. " Who said anything about a car? " He bounded down the steps like a boy on a special outing. An answering pul se of enthusiasm warmed my insides . We were on a mission . The mission. My questions could wait. Only a few late night pedestrians had been wandering the street near the Center when I stopped time. We passed a guy holding a cigaret te to his lips as he walked an ugly b ulldog , and a couple, arms linked, heads bent against the invisible wind. Ross led me past them and into a narrow, unlit alley . "There she is." Ross gestured toward a dark shape tucked in the shadows . I squinted at it, the pieces coming together slowly in the gloom. " A double bicycle?" The two seats were dressed up with jaunty fabric, the frame a recently painted aqua blue . "I don't know how to ride one." "Don't worry. I'll keep it balanced. All you have to do is hang on." "You think of everything. " I laughed and touched the smooth metal, delighted by its elegant lines. " Where did you get it?" "Right here." Ross dropped to one knee, fumbling for something in his bag. " I've been checking the area the last couple of nights. The guy who owns this pa rks it here every nig ht." Ross pulled out a pair of bolt cutters and started working on a chain I
Freeze Time email@example.com 204 hadn't noticed that tied the bike frame to a post. My laughter died. The chain slid to the ground with a noisy clunk. "H ow will we lock it back up?" I asked. "What?" Ross glanced down at the limp bike chain like he didn't quite recognize it. "I don't know. We can wrap the chain around the frame again when we come back . Maybe no one will notice. " He stood up. " I'm sure the guy has insurance ." Pu lling the bike free of its shackles, Ross dragged it down into the street. "Come on." All my worries about Ross 's integrity surface d again. I pushed them aside . I'd already made my choice. Besides, Ross was right. The bike would be fine. If it was th is easy to steal someone would have done it before now if they'd wanted to. And anyway, this was Sykes we were after. What was one missing bicycle compared to catching him . Managing the bike turned out to be easy with Ross riding up front . I figured o ut the balance part pretty quickly even when Ross weaved on and off the sidewalk, slithered between cars , and plowed down the wrong side of the street. Once we drove through the center of a plaza. I squealed like a real teenager . The cold air whipping th rough my hair seemed to take all my worries with it . Ross seemed equally giddy; skidding around corners, laughing when we clipped a hedge. Even after we left downtown and headed out on quieter roads, R oss still weaved around traffic and into the wrong lane whenever possible. I wasn't prepared when the ride stopped. "Here?" We were in a residential area a few miles west of down town. The street was wide and curved, reminiscent of an ambling country lane, except paved. Surrounding houses
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 205 rested on large lots set far back from the street . There were no sidewalks, but there were lots of basketball hoops and empty swings dangling from tr ee limbs. Ross hopped off the bike . He hardly even seemed out of breath. I slid from my seat more slowly, reluctant to leave the pleasure of our drive. I felt a bit embarrassed . I'd been enjoying my ride as if it was the real event, when for Ross it wa s only the transition before our night began . " Come on, " Ross said. He leaned the bike against a tree and adjusted the strap of his bag. I studied the house before us . The weed free lawn stretched out like a welcoming carpet. Beds of carefully selected p lants edged the neat brick path leading from the driveway up to a lighted front porch. On one side, a huge oak tree towered li ke a sentine l. It was the kind of house I used to dream of living in when I was little . A perfect house. A home. Every doubt I' d ever suffered on Ross's behalf settled in to a n uncomfortable knot in the middle of my stomach. I hesitated beside the bike , one hand grasping the metal frame. "What are we doing here?" "This is the place ." The metal was cold beneath my palms. I shivered. "Was there a crime here?" Ross smiled. "Not yet." The knot in my stomach tightened. I wanted to climb back on the bike and ride away into the night. Not that I knew how . "Mr. Ross, I don't thinkÃ‰"
Freeze Time email@example.com 206 "Come on, " Ross coaxed . He walked over and took my hand. "We're the good guys, remember? We're the ones that st op the criminals. And this guy Ã " he nodded toward the house Ã "is one of the big ones." I studied the house again. It had a bay window, a screened in porch on the s econd floor, and white trim. The windows were all dark. "Is this Syke s 's house?" "No. It belongs to someone close to him." Ross pulled on my hand. Reluctantly , I let go of the bike . Ross led me around to a door on the side of the house. The top half di vided into four panes of glass. "Hand me that rock, will you?" Ross pointed to a fist sized rock, one of a chain of stones marking the edges of a planting bed. Even though I knew why he wa nted it, I obeyed. Glass shattered in a tinkling smash as Ross threw the rock through one of the panes. "Easy as pie." Ross reached in and unlocked the door. "Ladies first." The door opened into a utility room. A stacked pair of cherry red washer/dryers stood on the right, next to a counter piled high with a mound o f freshly washed towels. Through the glass fronted dryer, I made out more light colored fabric. Sheets, maybe, or a lot of undershirts. The sweet smell of laundry soap hung in the still air. I twisted back toward Ross. On the wall next to the open door the lights of a burglar alarm shone through the dark, their elect ric warning rendered ineffective by this frozen non time. The knot in my stomach swelled with the steady drip of my anxiety. "You wait here, " Ross sa id.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 207 He brushed past me into the interior of the house , moving with a confidence that implied he'd been here before. I wondered if he knew the occupant. Did they know each other ? Or had Ross Ã”cased the joint', as they said on those TV cop shows. The unb linking light of the burglar alarm stared at me as I listened to the soft thump of Ross's shoes moving away . The d arkness vibrated menace . I felt like a chara cter in one of the horror movie s KJ and I watched sometimes. The ones where the character was tr apped and you knew the bad guy was creeping ever closer. D oom pulse d around me. Closed cupboards hinted at grisly secrets, doorknobs seem ed likely to turn on their own. I scurried after Ross. There was no way I was going to stand there all by myself in the creepy silence . I tip toed through an open kitchen. Stainless steel appliances gleamed in the moonlight. A bowl, sticky with melted ice cream, lay on the marble countertop near the sink. We're the good guys , I repeated to myself, like a mantra, like a talisman. My shoes squeaked against the floor like frightened mice. We're the good guys . I passed a formal dining room, through a soaring entrance hall, and then followed Ross's disappearing shadow up a fli ght of stairs. Two doors and a short corridor opened off the landing. I peeked into one of the rooms . A white crib , empty except for a herd of stuffed animals. A shelf of short books. I backed out and screamed when I bumped into Ross. " I told you t o wait for me downstairs ." Ross's words were curt. I stumbled back the way I'd come . Ross moved away from me, not bothering to see how far I went. A few steps down the hall he o pened the door to another room , then slipped inside so I was left alone in the empty hall. I leaned over the banister. The
Freeze Time email@example.com 208 shadowy air of the entrance hall seemed thick with silent whispers telling me I didn't belong here . I lean ed against a wall. The cool surface pressed against my back, still sweaty from our brisk ride , mak ing me feel feverish. The door to the room Ross had entered hung ajar, exp osing a crack of inky darkness. I tried to picture what Ross was doing inside . It would be a study, I decided, with heavy furniture and the smell of cigars. Ross's bag must contain some kind of evidence and he was probably slipping it into a file or at the back of a drawer. He didn't want me to know because I'd told him I didn't approve. I pressed one cheek against the wall, willin g the coolness to calm me . Ross was a good agent. He knew that w hoever owned this house was guilty and this must be the only way to make sure the criminal got caught. It might not be truth but it would lead to justice. "Mr. Ross?" My voice came out so softly I doubted he hear d me. The stillness around me felt accusing. Whatever Ross was doing in there he was only ab le to do because of my power. Which meant i t was no different than if I'd done it myself. I'd defended Ross to KJ a hundred times. If I truly believed that Ross was right then I should be part of whatever compromises Ross was making. Maybe some of it was distasteful, but we did it because we were the good guys. If we were truly partners, then whatever we did, we did together. Anything el se was cowardice on my part. I walked to the door. Carpet muffled my footsteps. My hand grasped the doorknob and slowly pushed it open. The room was not a study . It was a bedroom, filled with silver light spilling through an open curtain. A doorwa y marked the entrance to a walk in closet. Besides that, another door opened into a master bath. There was a fireplace, a dresser with a
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 209 glinting mirror, clothes puddle d on the floor. In one cor n er, a small table held a coffee mug , a splayed out pap erback and a framed photo of a couple leaning against the rail of a sailboat . In the center of the room, a bed rested within a carved wood frame. A man lay there on his back . P ale skin and a lush salt and pepper beard made him look like a middle aged S anta Claus . The silky fabric of the covers tucked under his chin gave off a dull sheen. I could see the soft grey collar of his pajamas peeking out around his neck . Ross stood at the side of the bed staring intently at the frozen man . I ope ned my mout h to announce myself but s omething about Ross's stance stilled my tongue. He looked odd, triumphant in a way that seemed more pain than pleasure. I hesitated, torn between stepping forward to offer my support and withdrawing to give him privacy. Before I could decide, Ross moved. He slung the messenger bag over his head with sudden purpose , pulled somethin g from it, then dropped the bag on the ground where it crumpled in to an abandoned heap. Ross straightened. My heart stuttered. Ross was holding a knife.
Freeze Time email@example.com 210 Chapter 18 The mass taking residence in my stomach heaved itself up into my chest. I couldn't breathe. I tried to call Ross's name and a ll that came out was a choked burble. The knife glinted in the moon light. It was a long hunting blade, the top edge serrated with jagged cuts, like a line of cartoon teeth poised to attack their victim. Ross raised his hand. I clung to a desperate hope that he meant to set the blade on the bedside table. A warning. A threat. Ross silenced my hope with a fierce slash across the man's neck . I screamed. Ross whirled around . "Alex!" His face was lit with something dark and burning . " You're supposed to wait downstairs ." My breath came so fast it made me dizzy. A small amount of blood leaked from the gash in the man's neck , the first hint of the deluge time would release whenever I let it go. Ross came toward me , the wet knife clutched in his hand. I backed away. "What did you do?" I managed. "He was a bad man, Alex." Ross approached me as if I was a wild animal about to bolt. "You killed him." "That man has killed lots of people. He deser ves to die." I couldn't tear my eyes away from the frozen lump on the bed. He was a big man. He would have a lot o f blood. "Then we should have arrested him." Ross gave a sharp laugh. "Arrest Austin Shea ? That's not likely. There's not a mote of evidence to link him to his crimes ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 211 "ButÃ‰ you killed him." The bald fact seemed insurmountable. That and the fact that Ross, h andsome, brave, honorable Ross , stood before me brandishing a knife. "You used me. You used my power." I gestured feebly around the room. "This is all my fault." "It's not your fault. It's your gift. Because of you we can bring people to justice. Sykes will know he's not safe now . He'll figure out how this happened. He'll know we can get him at any time." "No!" I tried to back away from him. A wall stopped me . Ross frowned . "Isn't this what you wanted?" He gestured at the man on the bed. "Revenge? I thought we agreedÃ‰" I shook my head. "I never agreed to this. It's not what I want." I stared at Ross, seeing only a stranger. "I'll tell." " No you won't ." "I will ." Dots flecked my vision . The whole room seemed to be tilting. I b linked, trying to steady myself . " I'll tell Matron everything. And Dr. Barnard . I don't care what they do to me ." Ross grabbed my shoulder and shook me so hard my head smacked the wall . "You will not ." The words sounded like they were chipped from ice . R oss's hand raked the length of my arm, his fingers dragging along the bone . He gripped my wrist. The handle of the hunting knife pressed into my palm , warm and smooth. The blade below looked angry. Ross wrapped his fingers Ã his gloved fingers Ã around mine and forced my fist to close around the bloody knife. "I was never here ." His face was so near my own I inhaled the warm damp of his breath. He smelled of mint gum . " You are everywhere. You touched the rock, the
Freeze Time email@example.com 212 doorknob, the knife." He pulled the blade from my hand, using only the edges of his fingers . "I'll keep this somewhere very safe. If you do anything to betray me ." His eyes bore into mine , their blue changed to dark by this colorless room. "Anything. I'll tell the police to fingerprint yo u. I'll tell them you've been acting strangely. It will be a familiar tale of another worker gone mad with time sickness." Ross's face filled my whole vision. Little imperfections I never noticed revealed themselves: a stray hair sprouting from one nost ril, a budding wrinkle twisting a bitter line through his upper lip. "Someone will find him ," I said . " The police will come. They 'll rewind the whole thingÃ‰" "No one will find Austin for days. His wife and son are out of town until Mon day . In the morning, his office will get an email saying he decided to go with them." Ross gave a little smirk. I remembered my own words to him earlier this evening. You think of everything . My stomach twisted . "Even if they d o rewind the scene, what do you think will show up? This is frozen time, remember. It didn't happen . They'll see the crime. They might even figure out how the crime happened. But they won't see who did it." I was trapped in a room with no exits. Everywhere I turned, Ross threw up a wall. I tried again. " If you pin this on me, t hey'll figure out you helped me. They'll test my blood and find the drugs." A flicker crossed Ross's face, a small spasm as if I'd said something amusing . " Drugs? What drugs?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 213 "The ones you're giving me!" I was yelling now, the words torn from me like chunks of my own flesh. "The ones that cursed me with this horrible power." " But I'm not giving you any drugs," Ross said. "Yes , you are. All those bottles, my misspelled name. The y'll test them, they'll find out what's in it and trace it back to you, they'llÃ‰" "They'll find out there's nothing in them," Ross said, so calmly I knew he wasn't lying. "That stuff is a placebo ." The wall at my back turned liquid. I slid d own it, landing with a thump on the carpeted floor. A placebo. Sugar water . Nothing. I felt hollow. My insight in Barnard 's lab had been right: h igh chronotin levels did explain my power. Except it wasn't the drug that caused it. It was me. Me, unfettered by any medicine . No wonder freezes were easier now, the melts more smooth. Spinners were supposed to have high chronotin levels. We were supposed to be able to change things in frozen time. "So Aclisote Ã‰?" I asked. " It suppresses your chronotin levels so no ne of you reach your full potential. Unfortunately, the stuff also makes you sick . Barnard and his ilk time it just right Ã as soon as you get old enough to start to question things or cause trouble, they up your dosage and you die. " Something deep within me gave way. Pain welled up from the break, like lava oozing through a brittle crust. " You know this and you haven't done anything?" " Oh , for god's sake, Alex, what am I supposed to do? Take on some crusade to save the spinner s? It's not like no one knows about this. They'll have lots of ways to
Freeze Time email@example.com 214 prove me wrong. At least I saved you . You should be thanking me, not staring at me as if I just grew horns." "ButÃ‰" My brain felt like a plate of scrambled eggs. "I can'tÃ‰ I won'tÃ‰" " I t's not that har d a choice . Stick with me and you can live a long life with unimaginable power . I'll get you out of the Center, set you up in a place of your own. We can solve more crimes. Use your power to d o some good for this city. Or you can refuse and I'll retriev e my placebos. Y ou'll go back on Aclisote . " Ross shrugged. " I'd give you maybe four months to live . Less if you cause any trouble. " I studied my hands. A smear of blood from the knife marred my palm. In the half light, the blood appear ed black. "I'll tell Matron.. ." " Haven't we been over this? If what you can do goes public, they'll have no choice but to lock dow n that Center so tight no time spinner will see daylight for generation s. No one with your kind of power can go free." He held the knife up before me , swaying back and forth like a hypnotist ' s watch . "Look at what you can do with it." I wanted to scream at him, hit him, scratch the complacent expression off his face. Even m ore than that I wanted to cry. Not because I knew he had me trapped. Not because a man was dead because of me. I wanted to cry because I had just lost the only adult I ever loved . Ross crossed the room and picked up the messenger bag. Pulling out a plast ic sack , he carefully wrapped the murder weapon and placed it inside. When h e walked out I followed him. What choice did I have? If I melted time, my tracker would place me at the scene of the crime. I could run, but I didn't know how to ride the bike by myself ,
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 215 much less which direction to go in . Ross would get to the Center first and then all he had to do was wait until I inevitably let time go to secure his alibi . We rode back in silence. I didn't feel like a real teenager now, I felt like a hostage . Ross stopped along the way to drop his blood stained gloves into a sewer . When h e parked the bike he didn't bother masking the broken chain . All he did was make sure he wiped it clean of his finger prints. The door to the Ce nter stood half open just like we left it. Charlie's hand still hovered over the controls at the front desk , the smile still pasted on his lips . Nothing had chang ed yet everything was different . I entered the Center like a condemned prisoner heading to th e executioner. Utter stillness wrapped the frozen rooms . My footsteps echoed through the hallways, reverberations no one would ever hear. Without conscious thought, I headed to the only consolation I knew. KJ's door opened with a twist of my key. He sl ept on the bottom bunk, knees half bent , face turned toward the wall . I climbed over his inert form and coiled myself into the curve of his body . As soon as I lay down, I started shaking. At this instant Austin Shea was alive. Frozen, but alive. He was still a husband. A father. I closed my eyes and breathed in the night. Darkness entered my body, weight ing it down and stilling the shudders. When I was nothing but a heavy shadow, I let time go. A breeze finished its journey through the window. The th rum of the highway resumed. The Center's front door clicked shut. And in that perfect house, far away across the city, Austin Shea's stilled heart began to pump. I pictured the blood pouring through his slashed veins, red rivers soaking
Freeze Time email@example.com 216 silken sheets a nd coating his collared pajamas. Tears burned against m y eyelids but I kept them back. I did not deserve the relief of crying. Carson Ross may have slit Austin Shea's throat , but I knew that I was the one responsible for his death.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 217 Chapter 19 KJ woke with a jerk. He half pushed me away, then stopped and put a tentative hand on my shoulder. "Alex?" His voice sounded muffled with sleep. My body started shaking again. I curled into a ball, pulling my knees close against my chest. "What's wrong?" K J whispered . I couldn't answer. KJ's hand closed around my arm. "You're cold." He tugged his blankets out from beneath me and draped them over both of us. I ducked my head, burying myself inside his shelter. It smelled musky, warm, and intimate, like th e possibility of safety . KJ wrapped his arms around me and held me close. We lay like that for a long time , my back against his chest, his legs curled against mine . I tried to focus all my attention on the warmth emanating from his body . It didn't work . My brain felt saturated with loss. Eventually, t he blanket tent filled with my recycled breath and turned claustrophobic. I raised my head into the night . KJ stroked the hair back from my forehead. His hand moved gently, as if my head might break i f he pressed too hard. I stared at the wall in front of me . Pencil marks marred the surface, some faded, some fresh. A boy's private ramblings . KJ froze time so we could talk without waking Aidan. "What happened?" he asked. I told him everything: the sto len bike , the perfect house. Ross handing me the rock, the glare of the impotent burglar alarm. I told him about Austin Shea and the gash
Freeze Time email@example.com 218 along his neck. I told him about the placebo a nd how Aclisote was killing us. KJ's hand never st opped stroking my hair. When I was done I waited and let what I'd told him sink in. Finally, he spoke. " I'm sorry, Alex." "Sorry about what? That you're being poisoned?" "That you had to find out like that. Sorry that Ross wasn't who you believed." "You n ever liked him," I said . "No, but you did." On the wall , KJ had drawn sketches. Most were of plants but there was also a barely visible fighter plane, t he outlines of a face in the act of turning away , and a word, the same word, written over and over . " D o you think they all know?" I asked. " The police chief , Eckbridge, Matron?" " I don't know ," KJ said. I traced the letters on the wall with my finger . Lines , straight and harsh, unsoftened by curves . "What am I going to do?" "We'll have to leave. " We, he said. A s if this was obvious. I blinked at the wall , a t the letters that spelled my name, and something like hope flickered . " You'll come with me?" I asked. "Do you want me to ?" I turned over. KJ's face lay inches from mine , his eyes soft in the m oon lit dark . Familiar and not familiar. He was the person I knew best in all the world and the one
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 219 person I knew would never let me down. I'd been so afraid of things changing between us, I'd nearly destroyed our whole friendship. And now e verything ha d changed anyway . Familiar and not familiar. It was always KJ I 'd co me to when my life fell apart , always KJ who listened and understood . And now it was KJ who held me in his arms and touched my cheek so gently my body filled with fiery tingles that cha sed away the shadows Shea left behind . "I'm a mess," I said. "Everything I do is a disaster." " You're not a mess . You're the bravest person I know." "I'm not. It's too much." "You don't have to do everything alone. I'll be with you. We'll face whatever happens together. I promise." I let the world shrink until there was nothing in it but the two of us . The sweetness in KJ's face washed away my fears, his lips blocked out the past and filled up the future . I tasted his breath on my tongue. It was warm and rich, like new grass growing in the spring. Like lif e and the chance to live it. We kissed for a long time. With each caress, a little of the burden I carried floated away . KJ stroked the curve of my no se . I traced the line of a vein pulsing in his neck. "Do you know how long I've wanted to do this?" he whispered. I held my finger on his vein. My world grew a little wider, steadied by the beat of his heart. "What about Shannon?" "A pleasant consolation who doesn't compare to the real thing." Happiness swelled in my chest . In a faint way I even felt sorry for Shannon. I propped my head up on a mounded pillow.
Freeze Time email@example.com 220 "How will we survive out there? " I asked. " We have nowhere to live. We don't have social se curity numbers, we can't get jobs. We don't even have school records." "If we stay here we won't survive at all ," KJ said. His hand slid around to the back of my neck , fingers skim ming the tiny bump that lived beneath my skin. "We'll have to cut our trac kers out." I nodded. The idea didn't sound so scary anymore. "What about everyone else?" " Thirty people is too many to hide. Let's figure out a place to go out there, t hen we'll come back for them." "At least we should tell them," I said. "They can stop taking Aclisote ." "That only works until the next blood test. It's better if the staff don't suspect what we know. " I had a momentary image of Jack running around the Center stealing blood samples fr om the other spinner s to fake his own. But which spinner s? Who would you keep in ignorance to ensure y our own safety ? "At least you stop taking Aclisote ," I said . The toll of the long night was beginning to demand its price. I yawned, and nestled my hea d against KJ's shoulder. "I will," he promised. "I have my next blood test tomorrow so I'll be clear for a month after that." "We don't have a month , " I said. "I have to get out of here before Ross calls me out again . Let's meet right after breakfast. I can Ã‰" another yawn cut me off. KJ kissed the tip of my nose. " We do have some time . I'm scheduled for a mission right after the test , so let's plan to meet up at lunch . Right now, though, we
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 221 better get you back to your room. There's no sense complicat ing the next few days by having us both tossed in detention." Despite KJ's best intentions, I didn't get to my room for another half an hour. Once there, I changed into my pajamas and dove beneath the covers. The chill y blankets warmed quickly against my flushed skin. A smile I couldn't stop curved my lips . It was hard to believe that a day as horrendous as this one had ended like this. Sleep called me with the promise of dreams. I entered them willingly. For the firs t time I had a future and even in the midnight dark, that future looked bright. *** Morning sunshine touched my cheek with the warmth of a kiss. I opened my eyes. Emma was already up and out of the room. Somehow, I'd managed to sleep right through the morning alarm. Soft rain fell from scattered clouds, filling my room with gentle patter and the smell of wet pavement . Through the edges of the blinds I caught the arch of a rainbow gracing the sky above the city . The gauzy colors reminded me of my own half finished plans, beautiful promises lightening an otherwise dreary day. I jumped from my bed, nearly skipping as I made my way down the hall. In the empty bathroom I turned the shower on full blast, letting the steam fill the room until the tiles we re hidden beneath the clouds. I might be in a Turkish bath, or floating in the sky, or on some mysterious foggy moor . Today, anything was possible. Back in my room , I dug out a clean pair of jeans and found an actual blouse under the heap of t shirts stu ffed in my dresser. It was pale yellow and sprinkled with white
Freeze Time email@example.com 222 flowers that reminded me of the blooms KJ grew in the courtyard . I smoothed the wrinkled cotton against my stomach. The outfit made me feel different Ã older, more sophisticated. O nce we left here , we would have to get all new clothes . It would make it harder for them to trace us. We should probably change our hair, too. I pulled some wet strands back, trying to picture it short. Maybe we should b ring Emma with us. She would adore getting a whole new wardrobe. I'd ask KJ what he thought. The last few people were leaving the cafeteria when I bounded in a few minutes later . "Hey Alex," Aidan called on his way out . " Shannon was looking for you." I nodded, suppressing a pang of guilt as I scanned the cafeteria for KJ. He wasn't there , of course, since his mission started at 8:00 and it was now nearly 9:00 . I hoped whatever he ended up doing wasn't too draining. W e'd been u p awfully late last night. I made my way to the breakfast bar and helped myself to some toast, eggs, bacon and a big cup of coffee . I was starving. Objectively, it had been hours and hours since my last meal. Amy was staffing the meds table. She looked tired and grouchier than usual. I wondered if she'd listen to me if I told her to give up on Carson Ross. "You're awfully late this morning." Amy unlocked the cabinet and snatched up a bottle of meds. I smiled at her, my happi ness impervious to her rudeness. "And on a morning Matron needs me at the clinic , too." Amy pressed down to unscrew the lid , clicking her tongue with irritation when it wou ldn't turn. "These damn bottles, " she muttered, wrenching harder on the plastic lid . "They always stick."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 223 "Let me help," I offered, holding out a hand . Amy tossed the bottle to me with poor gra ce. I pushed down and twisted, popping the lid off effortlessly. Amy sniffed. I handed the bottle back , glancing automatically at the label as I did. Alexandra Manning , 6 cc' s Aclisote . My fist clenched. Six cc's? I squinted at the label more closely. Manning. With two n's. All my happiness evaporated in an instant. I felt like I'd been dropped from a two story building onto a pile of con crete. My hand shook, splashing p urple liquid across the meds table. " Alex!" Amy wailed. "Who changed my meds?" My voice came out unintentionally harsh. Luckily, Amy didn't seem to notice. Her attention was focused on wiping up the spreading liquid before it hit to the floor. " Gee, I wonder , " she said sarcastically. "Dr. Barnard maybe?" "Why would he change them? My chronotin readings are normal ." Amy gave a guilty lurch and snatched the bottle from my hand. "I don't know." She poured the full dosage into a plastic cup . " Dr. Barnard changes meds all the time. " The medicine slopped in the cup when she handed it to me . I held it gingerly, trying to keep my hands from shaking . Dr. Barnard knew. Or at leas t suspected and now he wanted me dead. Careful planning was no longer an option. We'd have to leave today. My heart started pounding. Planning an escape was exciting, actually walking out the door sounded terrifying. Questions flooded my mind. Where would we sleep ? How would we eat? "You OK, Alex?" Amy was peering at me. "You're not getting sick, too, are you?"
Freeze Time email@example.com 224 " No ," I said automatically. The last thing I wanted was to get hauled into the clinic for testing. I brought the cup to my lips. Amy was still watchin g me. With an act of will, I let the liquid pour onto my tongue, then forced my throat to swallow an infinitesimal drop, holding the rest in the center of my mouth. Amy bent her head to initial my chart. I picked up my tray and walked to a table with fe igned calm. The sickly chemical taste of medicine soaked my tongue. As soon as I sat down , I grabbed my coffee cup and let the Aclisote pour out into its murky depths. My appetite was gone. Even a fresh cup of milky coffee failed to transform the toast into anything but dry clumps in my mouth. I nibbled on a piece of bacon , developing and rejecting plans. KJ could ask for a pass to get computer equipment and I could sneak out with him. No, that would only give us a few hours head start before they noticed we were gone. Night would be better. Then we could take time to cut out our trackers before we left. But how would we get out of the building? The front door locked electronically. Even if we lured away the desk guard neither of us knew the pass code. " Aren't you supposed to be somewhere ?" Amy stood next to my table, ta pping the face of her watch. "I t's after nine o'clock . " I glanced around the cafeteria. All the other kids were gone . " Oh , um Ã‰" M y mind scrambled, trying to remember my morning's assignment . "I'm supposed to be supervising the B class's gym time." " Well , you better hurry," Amy said. "Those children can't be left alone." The gym was in chaos. Twelve Youngers ran around in unsupervised glory, screaming and leaping around the room. They'd managed to pull out every ball from the storage area and seemed t o be engaged in some kind of game that involved whipping
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 225 balls very hard at each other . One little boy was already crying in the corner, his cheek red from an over zealous opponent. I found a whistle, blasted it to restore order, and then spent the next t en minutes calming them all down enough to set some rules. An hour later they trooped out, only to be replaced by the A class. The morning dragged on. It was after twelve by the time I cleaned up from the last group . L unch was in full swing. I grabbed a tray and stepped into line, scanning the cafeteria to see if KJ was back from his mission . "Alex! " Shannon appeared at my elbow so suddenly I almost dropped my tray. " I've been looking for you everywhere!" "You have?" A flush of guilt warmed my che eks . Shannon's eyes were edged with red, her hair fuzzy where it slipped from her braid. "It's KJ." Shannon gripped my arm so ha rd her nails bit into my skin. "He's in the clinic ." "No , he's not," I said. "He's on a mission ." Shannon shook her head. "He never went. Dr. Barnard said he collapsed during his blood test . Matron let me sit with him all morning. He's sick, Alex. Time sick."
Freeze Time email@example.com 226 Chapter 20 "No," I said , the word more denial than doubt. Shannon's tear stained face proved she told the truth . I moved out of the lunch line, dragging her with me. " Is it bad? " Shannon's lip trembled. She nodded. I thought of my conversation with Amy . You're not getting sick, too, are you? she'd said. I hadn't even noticed the q uestion's significance at the time. And on a morning Ma tron needs me at the clinic . I should have asked, should have made her explain. I could have gotten to KJ hours ago. I pictured him lying in the hos pital bed, imagined the IV dripping poison into his veins. "Is he..." I started. My mind was jumbled with too many thoughts trying to make themselves heard at the same time. The only clear idea in my head was that I had to get KJ out of the Center. "Do you think he can walk?" "Walk?" A tear we lled up and trickled down Shannon's cheek. " He can't even sit up. I just came from his room . He looksÃ‰" she paused, clearly st ruggling to find a word terrible enough to describe how KJ looked , " like someone drained all the life from his body . He's pale and quiet and so, so still. " The center of my chest felt like someone had gripped all the muscles into a wad . I pulled my arm free from Shannon's grip. "I have to go to the clinic ." "You do, " Shannon agreed . She sniffed . "Don't be mad at me , Alex, bu t after I saw KJ , I told Matron about your chronotin levels . Matron wants to see you right away." Horror froze me to the spot . "You told Matron?"
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 227 " I couldn't let you get sick , too. Don't worry, " she added, in a misguided effort to calm me , " it will be OK. Dr. Barnard is here this morning. He's the one who administered KJ's test ." "Dr. Barnard ." I repeated the words like an automaton. Shannon gave my arm a gentle stroke . "Yes. Dr. Barnard will make sure you're all right." The walls of the cafeteria seemed to be closing in around me. The plastic tray slid from my hand and landed on the floor with a loud clatter. It didn't matter how sick KJ was. I had to get us both out of here right now . I sprinted for the stairs, leaping up the steps three at a time. My heart thudded like it wanted to outrun my body and get to KJ first. When I reached the clinic I nearly yanked the door fro m its hinges in my rush to get it open. Matron wasn't in the anteroom . I skidded around her desk and threw myself into the sick room. Perhaps if I hadn't been running so fast, if I hadn't been breathing so hard the sound of panting filled my ears, if I had been thinking even a little strategically, I might have not iced them sooner. As it was I careened all the way to KJ's bedside before I noticed his room was occupied. Matron stood on the far side of the bed, her face tight with anxiety . O n my side of the bed , inches from me , stood Dr. Barnard . "Alexandra." I rea lized my mistake in an instant, but even as I reached out to grab time, Barnard dropped the leash around my wrist . " We were just coming to get you ." Time lurched as it snapped away from me . It felt like running headlong into a stone wall. The shock made me gasp . I grabbed the leash, frantic to pull myself free. The leash was meant for someone larger than me and spun loosely around my wrist. Not that
Freeze Time email@example.com 228 that helped. The leash's hard edges bur ned my stitches when I tried to wrench my hand through it . A familiar buzzing sensation filled my brain. "What's this for?" " We heard about your chronotin levels ," said Barnard . "We're worried about you ." " Shannon's lying ," I said . My eyes jumped to K J 's inert form . Dried spit collected in an uneven line on his lips. The hair I'd run my hands through just a few hours ago flopped on the pillow like lank straw, as if the energy that animated his body had been leached even from his hair. From one arm an IV ran fluid from a plastic bag mounted over his bed. My heart lurched. How much Aclisote had they given him to make that sick so quickly? "I can take a blood sample now if you like." Matron sounded tired . Barnard 's head moved in a quick jerk. "No. If they're as high as Shannon said, I have to take Alexandra to the Central Office ." Panic blurred my vision . "The Central Office ? Why?" "You may not realize it, but you're a very sick girl." Barnard pushed his glasses back up his nos e . Matron held herself very still. She was blinking a lot, the way little kids do when they're trying not to cry. The panic in my chest rose up like a caged creature. I pulled again on the leash. "Why this ?" "We can't have you freezing time in your condi tion, " Barnard said . " You might hurt yourself ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 229 I twisted around to face him. Barnard 's eyes slid away from my gaze and a ny doubt I might have had disappeared. Barnard knew. I reached out for time. The leash blocked me like a locked door. I could feel time pulsing just out of my reach. I pushed mentally against the block. It didn't move. "Can't we wait?" I was begging. "At least until KJ wakes up. You can keep the leash on, I justÃ‰" My voice cracked, shame at letting them see my weakness mingling w ith fury that they controlled me so completely. " I want to make sure he's OK ." Matron gave an audible sniff. "No," Barnard said. "It's too risky." Risky for who m ? I wanted to ask, but I already knew the answer . Barnard knew what I could do and he knew that Aclisote killed us . Knew and still fed it to us. I dove for the door. Barnard moved just as quickly. When my hand closed on the knob, Barnard slammed me against it . "Let me go!" I screamed. "You're killing me, kill ing all of us." Barnard leaned his shoulder into my spine . I squirmed beneath the pressure, trying to turn around so I could reach him. One flailing arm caught at his jacket and I dug my fingers through the rough cotton , digging them hard into the flesh u nderneath . "Give me something to restrain her," Barnard barked. I heard Matron rummage in a cupboard. Barnard pushed into the door so hard t he opaque glass smashed my face. "Here." Matron panted up behind me. Barnard gave a soft grunt of acknowledgeme nt. The two worked together t o pull my arms behind my back. Thin cords bit into my wrists. Only when it was secured did
Freeze Time email@example.com 230 Barnard lift his weight from my back. I straightened. My nose felt like it listed sideways. Barnard kept a tight grip on my arm. "I'll drive her out there myself." I tried to pull away. Barnard gripped me harder. Thoughts flittered in my mind like shreds of tissue paper , each fragment floating away before I could concentrate enough to grow it into an action. Think , I screamed at m yself. I reached out again for time , concentrating with everything I had. A faint sense of time passing, like the slightest of breaths, touched my senses. I clutched at it, willing time to stop. Nothing. " I'll take her out to my car ," Barnard said . "Matron, keep an eye on KJ . I want you to test his blood twice a day. If his chronotin levels go above 125 raise his dosage." "125?!" I shrieked. Barnard , his ear inches from my mouth, flinched " Are you sure, doctor ? " Matron asked . "It's necessary, " Barn ard said in a voice that quelled argument . "Please." I bent my knees, pulling down on the man that held me , trying to force him to stop . "You'll make him even sicker . He'll die." Barnard yanked me back up, his fingers pinching the thin skin of my upper a rm. "You don't know what you're talking about." "I do!" I didn't care who knew what I knew. I only cared that they stop poisoning KJ. " Aclisote is dangerous . We should have high chronotin levels." I lunged toward Matron. "Please, listen to me. W e're not meant to go that low . It's suppression that kills us, not high chronotin levels ."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 231 "That's enough, Alex!" Barnard dragged me backward pulling my arms so hard I feared they might pop from the sockets . "I'm sorry, Matron. You can see what the chronot in is doing to her. She's getting irrational." "No!" I was sobbing now, fighting Barnard's grip like a person possessed. "Alex." Matron reached towards me even though she was too far away to touch me. I increased my struggles. If I could only make her understand . Matron would help me. Matron wouldÃ‰ "Do you want me to give her a sedative , doctor?" Hope leaked from me like air from a balloon. I slumped in my captor 's arms. Barnard adjusted his grip. "No ," he said . " I can manage ." Barnard propelled me toward the door. I stopped struggling. He was too strong. We were halfway down the hall when I heard the pad of Matron's soft soled shoes running after us . "Wait," she said . "Let her have this. It's raining out there." Barnard waited while Matron wrapped a maroon Center raincoat around my shoulders. T he cheap nylon fluttered like a cape over my bound hands . I kept my head lowered. The small kindness offered no relief to my despair. Barnard had parked on the street so we left the Center through the main entrance. Charlie buzzed us out, watching me go with a rubbernecker's horrified fascination. News of my transfer would be all over the Center within the hour . Outside , soft rain had turned into torrents , drowning the fleeting promise of the morning 's rainbow . Barnard splashed down the Center's steps , dragging me with him .
Freeze Time email@example.com 232 Water drenched my hair almost immediately. The cold drops slid down the neck of my clothes and soaked through the mesh of my sneakers. My frantic brain slowed in the rush of cold air, focusing on a single point: the leash. I had to find a way to overcome the leash. Barnard clicked his key fob to unlock the door of a dark blue sedan. I tried again to push my brain against the block, but the leash was too strong to fight. Barnard opened the car door and shoved me into the front passenger seat. My clasped hands made sitting awkward . I perched at the edge of the seat, back arched, mind concentrating on the blocked flow of time. Barnard leaned over me, trying to wrap a seatbelt around my body. The wet jacket slipped from my shoulders and tangled in the be lt's buckle. " Damn it ," Barnard mumbled. He slammed the door shut and walked around to the driver's side. Rain pounded on the car's metal roof. I tried to reach for the door handle, but my bound hands made the stretch impossible. Barnard slid into the seat beside me. "Here." He shoved the jacket into my lap and clicked the buckle into place. The soggy nylon felt slimy against my skin . My fingers were growing numb from lack of circulation. Barnard considered me. "Lean forward." I flinched away from hi m . What now? Would he inject me with Aclisote right here? I pushed at the block in my head and received an answering shove of rejection. A headache branched through the inside of my skull. "Come on." Barnard pushed my shoulder, hard. My body slammed forward, cheek colliding with the glove box. Barnard pulled my bound hands toward himself. "Can't have you leaping out at the first stop light."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 233 My cheek stung. I rested it against the smooth plastic while he un bound the cords around my wrists . The returning blood made my fingers tingle. I stretched them gratefully. Barnard retied the cord around my left arm and then fastened the other end to the car's emergency break. I pulled on the cord . My motion was limited to about a four inch distance from the emergency brake and the cord was strong enough there was no way to break free. "There ," Barnard said . " Now you're not going anywhere." He turned from me and started the car. It was a newer car, the kind whose engi ne hummed quietly beneath the muffled thrum of pouring rain. I leaned back as we slid forward . The abandoned raincoat oozed water onto my lap . I picked up the pile of wet nylon, inten ding to toss it on the floor, when a n edge of fabric caught at the leas h on my unbound right arm. I glanced at Barnard . He was concentrating on making a left hand turn . As casually as possible I wadded the raincoat up in my lap, burying both my hand s in its folds as if I was cold . We merged onto the freeway. In the falling rain, traffic moved slowly. I shook the leash down to the thinnest part of my wrist. Using my bound hand I squeezed a bit of the jacket between two fingers and shoved it into the space between my skin and the lea sh. I had to use my pinky to shove the fabric far enough to cover the width of the band. With that first piece in place , I spun the leash a tiny bit and pinched another bit of fabric. The fabric rustled. Barnard glanced at my lap. I held still, watchin g the regular pass of the windshield wipers. We drove for a while in silence. When I moved again, the rustling jacket sounded loud in the muffled space. I needed a distraction .
Freeze Time email@example.com 234 "Any one of us could do it without the Aclisote , couldn't we?" I slipped anot her piece of fabric under the band. "Do what?" Barnard didn't take his eyes from the road . "Change things in frozen time." Barnard 's hands clenched the steering wheel. " That's not possible ." "If it's not possible then why am I leashed?" " To keep you safe," Barnard said. "With your chronotin so high freezing might make you sick. Clearly, it's already causing hallucinations." Anger made me careless. I spun the band too fast and the pieces of jacket slid from their tenuous hold. "I am not hallucinating. You've been giving me Aclisote my whole life on purpose to prevent this very thing from happening. " The windshield wipers smeared the ra in across the windscreen. Barnard frowned out into the blurry world . I focused my attention on the s urreptitious movements of my right hand. The awkward stuffing motion was making my palm cramp. " You would do the same, " Barnard said. The admission surprised me less than his tone. Barnard sounded defensive. " If you were in my position. I mean, you c an't all just run around and change things whenever you want. " "You don't trust me ?" A bit more fabric slid beneath the leash. Half of it no longer touched my skin. I reached out and touched the block. Still solid. "It's not about trust ." Barnard seeme d to have warmed to his topic. I wondered how often he got to talk so openly. There couldn't be too many people who knew. "It's
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 235 about possibilities . I didn't know you people could do this until quite recently, and I have to admit I find it pretty terrify ing . You could be anywhere, do anything and the rest of us would never know. And with you all so unstable! We'd never feel safe." "So you have to kill us?" Barnard had the grace to flinch. "It's for the good of society." "Why not just do it when we're tested, then? " I jammed a piece of jacket under the leash so hard my fingernail scraped my arm . " Why let us grow up at all ?" " Killing babies is monstrous . " " And killing teenagers isn't ?" " Most of you would have died anyway . " Barnard turned the car onto the freeway . The r ain had slowed now and traffic was thin outside of the city center . " It's not as bad as you think. Aclisote was a blessing when it was discovered. No one is sure if the strain is mental or physical but before Aclisote ha rdly any spinner s survived past adolescence. Time really does kill." Barnard gave a little chuckle at his own pun . I shoved another bit of raincoat under the leash. It was almost completely blanketed now and I could feel the static fading in my head . I reached for time and the block shudder ed . I was almost there. "I know it sounds harsh from your perspective," Barnard continued, "but taken on balance it's not a bad compromise. You get guaranteed life for at least fifteen years . You're taken care of, kept sane, you do good work Ã it's more than a lot of people get. " "So all you Norm s sit around being self righteous while we're drugged and locked up?" "Oh no," Barnard said, "most people have no idea. That's the gift we give them. They get to enjoy th eir happy, safe, peaceful lives, unsettled by either excess crime or
Freeze Time email@example.com 236 crazy time workers. We're the ones who bear the burden. The ones who know. It's hardest on us." The car hummed along the center lane. I checked the speedometer. 68 miles per hour. Twi sting my arm, I slipped the last bit of fabric under the leash. The faint buzz haunting my brain faded. My heart started to pound. I knew this was a desperate plan, a terrible plan, dependent on so many variables it was more likely to fail than to succe ed. It w as a plan that might kill me. It was the only chance I had. Moving my left , unleashed, hand out from under the raincoat, I reached across the emergency brake. I stretched one finger, aiming to touch the place where Barnard 's shirt met his pants . "Alex?" Barnard had noticed my silence. He glanced at me , taking in my searching finger . "What are you doing?" He reached down to swat my hand away and I knew t his was it. My one chance. Quick as a snake I reached out and grabbed his wris t. Barnard started , the first hint of fear paling his cheek. I said the command out loud. I wanted him to know. "Freeze time." Barnard 's eye s widened as the world stopped. All of it . The breeze, the birds, the falling rain. All of it except us, our bodies, still moving 68 miles per hour as we slammed into the immobile car. My head hit the dashboard with enough force to stun me. Barnard 's body careened forward , plunging the stee ring wheel into the soft curve above his belt. There were no airbags. Pain exploded through my brain, physical impact combining with the
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 237 whiplash force of the leash as the jacket ripped away its protective padding around my skin. A wall slammed between me and time, forcing the river forward . The car leapt ahead. I heard myself scream as we swerved wildly across the highway. Barnard grabbed the steering wheel , skidding the car sideways. Brakes screeched . Ours? Another car ' s? Then a cement divider reare d up and filled the windscreen with its undeniable might .
Freeze Time email@example.com 238 Chapter 21 A siren wailed . Red li ghts burned the backs of my eyelids . Words, urgent and meaningless, attacked my ears. The scent s of burnt rubber and wet pavement soaked the air . When I took a breath, stabbing pain shot through my chest. Someone pulled up my eyelid and I winced under a bright light. My mouth tasted like metal. "Responsive." A brisk voice. Female. "Nothing obvio us broken. We'll need to suture the forehead." She place d 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 h im?" "Unconscious. Send Riker over." Someone slid a brace around my neck. Strong hands reached under my shoulders to lift me from the car. They stopped when my left arm trailed back towards the emergency brake . "What's that?" s outhern boy asked. I felt the pull as he yanked on the cord . S ome one lifted my right arm. " She's a spinner ," the woman said. She slid the leash around my wrist . " This guy must be an agent. I didn't know they tied them down. " " What do we do?" s outhern boy sounded nervous .
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 239 I forced my eye s open. A face bent over mine. A woman, about thirty, with dark skin and thick, pulled back hair . " Cut it off ," I muttered. "You awake?" Her hands moved professionally over my body. "What hurts?" Everything, I thought. I held m y right wrist out to her. "The band ." She took hold of my forearm . My wrist was raw and the bandage coveri ng my stitches had come off . The raincoat must have ripped it from my arm when we crashed. The woman called to someone over her shoulder. A minute later a pair of metal cutters appeared. Two snips and both arms were free. My head cleared fractionally . I tried to climb out of the car. It was awkward to move in the enclosed space, made smaller still by floppy pillows of air bags. "Not yet." The woman pushed me back, her hands gentle but firm. She wore a blue uniform with Portland EMT woven on her chest. Beneath that a name tag read Theresa Gonzales. "We'll take you on the gurney, OK? You might have i nternal injuries." "I have to go," I said . My head was swimming . "Not yet, honey, you're still in shock." Theresa leaned over me and slid her arms under my back, then frowned over her shoulder. "You gonna help me here?" A man in a matching blue unifor m moved forward with a tentative step. Southern boy. He wasn't as young as I'd thought, maybe late twenties. Dirty blond hair cut short and skin as raw as if he'd shaved over pimples with a rusty blade. His name tag read Mike Mills. He hesitated a minu te, then grabbed hold of my legs. As soon as I was deposited on the gurney he stepped away .
Freeze Time email@example.com 240 I turned my head as best I could in the neck brace . Barnard 's car was totaled . Glass from the shattered windshield sparkled in the afternoon sun. It looked 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 bent upward like a shark fin. Steam billowed from under the crumpled metal. A line of traffic already piled up behind us. On th e far side of the car, two more EMT's leaned over Barnard , who seemed to be out cold. A spark of hope flickered inside me. My ridiculous plan had worked. I was out of the car, alive and un leashed. Theresa pulled a blanket over me and pushed the gurney toward the waiting ambulance. "What's your name, honey?" "A Ã‰Amanda. Jones. Amanda Jones." I touched my chest. It felt bruised. I took a few more breaths. There was definitely something not right. "What's wrong with me?" "You're going to be fine, Am anda." Theresa said. The gurney rolled into the ambulance with hardly a jolt. Mike was already inside, grabbing straps to secure me. Theresa took a seat by my head. "Who should we call?" "Call?" The adrenaline already coursing my body spiked. If the C enter staff met me at the hospital all of this would be for nothing. I should freeze time now, get out. I struggled to push away Mike's hands . The ambulance's engine roared as the van rolled out. Too late. I sagged back onto the gurney. "Nobody. The re's nobody to call." "You're a spinner , right?" Theresa touched the bruised marks on my wrist. She had very smooth skin and eyes that crinkle d when she smiled. "I know you're all orphans, but whatever Center you work for cares about you, too."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 241 The platitude made my stomach convulse. I swallowed hard, trying to keep the anger from my face. " I live at the Salem CIC," I said . They had probably already called in Barnard 's license plates, but maybe I could buy myself a little time with misdirecti on. "We came up to help on a case and were heading home." Theresa nodded to Mike who picked u p a walkie talkie and passed on the information . I kept watching Theresa. I reminded myself that she didn't know spinner s were poisoned , that not everyone was pa rt of the conspiracy. The thought only sort of helped. Theresa leaned forward and reached for a needle. Taking my arm, she patted at my inner elbow for a clear vein. I jerked away. "What's that?" "It's just for a saline drip . The doctors like to have i t going before you get in so they can easily administer whatever medicine you need." "No." I cradled my arm , holding it away from her. Theresa held up her h ands in an Ã”I surrender ' gesture. I curled my arms closer to my chest. "Where are we going?" "The closest hospital is City General," she said. "We should be there in five minutes." I nodded. City General was good Ã no more than five miles from the Center. I stared at the ceiling, trying to do a mental survey of my injuries. I tensed and relaxed the muscles in my arms and legs. Besides my sor e chest, all there seemed to be was the bandage fastened around my forehead. Theresa had said something about sutures. I must
Freeze Time email@example.com 242 have s mashed my head against the dash board. Probably in the first crash, the one without the airbags. I lay still, trying to be grateful the pain wasn't worse. Our ride was brief. The ambulance doors banged open almost before the van stopped. Mike leapt to the ground and he and Theresa maneuvered my gurney out in seconds. A doctor waited outside. Theresa started spouting things about contusions, shock, BP , and other acronyms I couldn't follow. I switched my attention to the figures hurrying in the background. I found her almost at once. Ms. Eckbridge was making her way toward the ambulance at a rapid clip. In her hand s he held a leash. "Doctor," Eckbridge called. The man leaning over me hesitated, half turning at the call. Eckbridge jogged closer. I didn't have a choice. There was no waiting for an opportune m om ent , no careful covering of my tracks. I reached out and stopped time. Frozen silence was always startling in a crowded place. One instant the scene was crawling with noise and peo ple, the next everything settled into a quiet unlike any natural silence . It wasn't just lack of noise , it wa s the absence of sound. Pure. Undisturbed. I undid the straps holding me on the gurney and sat up, then, very gingerly, I took the brace from around my neck and twisted my head back and forth. Stiff, but not bad. Walking went less well. My knees wobbled, my head ached, and I was dizzy to the point of nausea. I leaned against the gurney and whimpered for a bit . All I wanted was to curl up i n a ball and go to sleep, but I knew that wasn't an option. As soon as I slept, t ime would melt, and they would catch me. And every second of real time that passed meant another drop of Aclisote into KJ's veins.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 243 Thoughts of KJ settled me. I fixed an image of him firmly in my mind and headed away from the chaotic hospital entrance, ou t toward the street. I walked three blocks before I found someone on a bicycle , then strained to drag the guy onto the sidewalk. I felt bad ly about stealing his bike . This poor guy was going to be riding down the street one minute then sitting on the gr ound , bikeless, the next. The ride to the Center felt endless . One trip on the back of a tandem bike wasn't enough training to ride well. I fell over eight times before I mastered a semblance of balance and still walked the bike down hills because I did n't trust the brakes . Rain drops hung in the air , plastering themselves against me as I passed through them . I had to stop and rest a lot . Twice I almost fainted. Only p anic kept me conscious . If I passed out I'd lose control of time. Somewhere along the way I realized I was starving . I found a mi ni mart and inhaled three candy bars with peanuts and a half liter of one of those sports drinks that claim to be full of electrolytes . Not exactly food for champio ns but it kept me going. When I reached the Center I was shaking so hard I had to sit down on the steps. The frozen street shimmered before me in a watery haze. My ribs ached. I focused on the pain, honing my attention on that one thing to keep myself awa ke . Finally , I dragged myself up to the Center 's doors. Locked, of course. I melted time and rang the bell. " Alex ?" Charlie's voice crackle d through the intercom. "What are you doing out there?" I glanced up at the camera that monitored the front door. " Dr. Barnard was driving me to the Central Office ," I said. It seemed like too much trouble to lie. I leaned against the door. "We got in an accident. Let me in."
Freeze Time email@example.com 244 The door buzzed and I almost fell inside when it opened. Charlie was already out of his cha ir , a phone pressed against his ear. I froze time before he got any closer then took off my shoe and used it to prop open the door. Despite the urgency biting at my heels, I could do nothing more than stumble my way to the clinic . KJ, I kept repeating in my head. I have to save KJ. When I finally reached him he looked worse than I remembered. V eins showed through the tissue paper of his skin. His mouth hung open . I pulled the IV from his arm, pressing my fingers against the small puncture. Melt time. Freeze time. KJ didn' t move. I found a vein , seeking the reassurance of his pulse. It was faint, the soft flutter of a wounded moth. "KJ." I shook him. No response. I slapped his cheek, lightly, then harder . "Come on, KJ, wake up. We have to go. " His skin jiggled under my hand like pudding . I shoved my arms under his torso, trying to drag his six foot frame upright with arms no stronger than blades of grass. I strained with the dregs of my strength. Something wet slid out from under the bandage around my head . I didn't have to touch it to know it was blood. Tears of frustration spilled onto my cheeks . I climbed up onto KJ's bed and wrapped myself around him . Exhaustion pulled at me like a second layer of gravity. I knew I couldn't hold time a lot longer. Failure loomed up at me from every corner . I'd tried so hard, risked so much, only to be left here, helpless and alone in a frozen world. My ribs ached. My head pounded. Time swirled against me, pressing into my mind, slipping from my contro l.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 245 Vaguely, I grew aware of the noises I was making, a keening whine stretched between gasping sobs. Tears and blood dripped onto KJ's white sheets. I laid my head on his chest. "I need you , KJ. I can't do this by myself ." The words made me cry harder. L ast night KJ promised me that he would be there to help me. Except he wasn't there. He was dying and I was too weak to save him. I twined myself more closely around his inert body. Maybe I should stick the dangling IV into my own veins, drink in the poi son and let the two of us die together. I was so very, very tired. I twisted my head, searching the end of the dangling plastic tube. A soft beat pounded in my head . It was weak yet it was also the loudest thing there was in the perfect silence of the freeze . I lay still, listening. The beat had an echo. KJ's heart and my own, both captured by my ear pressed against his chest. Hope lived in that beat. Life lived there , too . However hard they were t r ying, the Center hadn't killed us yet. It w as then that I knew what I had to do. Dragging myself from KJ's bed was the hardest thing I'd ever done. I released time for a second and let KJ go. I'd need all my strength to get through the next half hour and bringing KJ with me wouldn't help . I force d myself to go to the cafeteria and eat some real food. Digging through the oversized refrigerators, I found enough leftovers to make a stack of sandwiches. I ate one and p acked the extras in a paper bag, along with cookies, apples, and some bottles of wa ter. Then I went hunting. I'd thought about this carefully while I was eating. Jack wasn't my favorite person, but he was strong and as he
Freeze Time email@example.com 246 pointed out he knew more than most of us about the outside world . H e was also likely to believe me without too much explanation. I found him in the gym, curled in the tight c rouch of a half finished sit up. Aidan floated just above the ground on the treadmill to his right. One more witness. I knelt at Jack 's side and touched his arm. Melt time. Freeze time. "What t heÃ‰?" Jack was on his feet so fast I rocked back on my heels. "Hey, Jack." "What the hell happened to you?" I glanced at my reflection in the mirror over his shoulder. Blood dripped from the bandage around my head and clustered in dried flakes . Abrasions from the seatbelt left red marks on my neck and collar bone. The knees of both legs of my jeans were torn from my bicycle lessons. " You were right, Jack. There are problems with Aclisote . In fact, taking Aclisote is what's making us all sick ." Jack backed away from me. "Is this a joke?" "Let me show you what I can do." I held my hand out to him. Jack eyed it like I was offering him a dirty sock. "Trust me, Jac k." I tried to keep the desperation out of my voice. "We have to leave here." I swallowed hard. "I can get us out but I need your help." Jack accepted my proffered hand . Melt time. I waited a beat, making sure Jack recognized the flow of time , and the fa ct that we were not in the place we started . Freeze time. Jack yanked his hand away like my touch was electric. He looked around the room.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 247 Aidan 's head had jerked around at what must have been a flash of two people appearing. His mouth hung open in a bar ely started exclamation. Jack stared down at his palm. "How'd you do that?" I explained as briefly as I could. " I can tell you more later, but we have to go now ." I crossed my arms around myself, hoping the extra pressure would keep me upright. "Will you help me?" Jack's eyes narrowed . "What do you want?" "I have to get KJ out of here. I can't carry him by myself." " And if I go with you, you'll show me how to change stuff in frozen time?" A twinge of unease flicked through me. I pushed 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 it , too ." Jack nodded slowly . "And if I don't help youÃ‰" "Then I'll melt time and find someone else." Fatigue made me sharp. "I can't hold this much longer and we still need to find Shannon." "Shannon? I thought you didn't like her?" " She's got the skills to take care of KJ. Plus w e need her to cut out our trackers ." Jack touched the back of his neck. "You're serious." "You coming?" "Shannon's in the common room." Shannon was harder to convince tha n Jack. She didn't believe me when I said the staff were killing us and she nearly fainted when I dragged her out of the common room during frozen time and the change stuck. Finally, Jack stepped in and told her th is was the only way to save KJ's life. He said he knew a place outside that could heal KJ, that we
Freeze Time email@example.com 248 needed her help to take him there, and that we could all come back when it was over. I didn't like bringing Shannon along under so many lies, but I didn't have the st rength to argue about it . Back i n the clinic , Shannon unwrapped a sterile scalpel and set to work slicing out the trackers . It hurt less than I expected. Maybe all my nerves were so shocked they didn't have anything left to respond with. Sha nnon took out KJ's tracker while he was still frozen. Jack found a wheelchair in one of the clinic 's closet and I stuffed my sack of food into a pocket on the back. Shannon added a bag full of medical supplies she said would help KJ . She and Jack worked together to lift KJ's limp body into the chair . Jack had to pick KJ up again to carry him down the stairs while Shannon and I struggled with the w heelchair. My shoeless foot kept slipping on the slick tiles. KJ fl opped on Jack's shoulder like a laundry sack and I was grateful to Shannon for demanding Jack be more careful. The front door was still stuck open with my shoe , Charlie standing three steps from where I left him . He was staring up toward the stairs with his mouth half open, probably wondering wh ere I might have gone. I put on my shoe and pushed open the Center's door. Time pulled at my mind, the whisper grown now to a dull roar. Shannon tilted the front of KJ's wheelchair up . Jack grabbed the bar and together they maneuvered it down the stairs. I watched, holding the banister like a crutch. The farther they moved away from me, the stronger the pull to release time. "Alex?" Jack looked back at me. " You coming ?" My knees started giving way. "I can't hold it."
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 249 Jack's eyes flicked up at the Center's door. I knew what he was thinking: i f I melted time now, we'd be caught in minutes. Jack raised on e ha n d to touch the bandage Shannon had stuck on the back of his neck. He was unmonitored. If he ran away alone, no one would catch him. Shannon, burdened with the half dead KJ wouldn't have a chance. And me? I sagged against the rail ing, as despairing as I'd felt curled up on KJ's hospital bed . I'd set Jack free, released him from his tracker , and now he was going to make his own chance. My wobbly knees gave up their hold . The cold of cement steps oozed through my jeans. Time licked my temples. Jack started to run. He took the stairs in three steps . "Come on." He scooped me up, carrying me like a bride over a thr eshold . My head bounced against his collarbone as he j ogged back down the stairs, each knock a new jolt further waking me up . He'd stayed. They were still with me. "Do you have a plan?" Jack dropped me onto KJ's lap, wedging my hips down into the smal l gap between KJ's body and the sides of the wheelchair so I wouldn't slide out. " Is it true you can drive a car? " I put my hand on his bare arm and a drift of energy rose to mingle with my fading strength. I grabbed at the faint power, pushing time dee per into the freeze . " Well enough ." Jack grinned. "There's one of those car park places over on Second St. The ones where you lea ve your keys with the attendant. " Jack moved his arm from mine to steer the wheelchair , taking his energy with him .
Freeze Time email@example.com 250 " Keep touching me! " I gasped . " Both of you. I can't hold time alone." Each of them put a hand on my shoulder, making sure their bare fingers touched the skin on my neck . The powe r in me pulse d a little stronger and I drew an unsteady breath . "I don't h ave a plan after that . " "We'll figure it out." Jack took hold of the wheelchair with his free hand and started down the sidewalk. The four of us moved forward. It was awkward to stay connected like this Ã three living people and a frozen body bumping down a city street littered with unmoving obstacles. Awkward Ã yet oddly comforting. It was true what I'd said to the others. I didn't know what to do next. I knew t he Center wouldn't let us go easily, and, even without trackers , I knew they would try and find us. We were four kids, alone and unequipped to survive on our own. It would take days for me to heal completely, longer for KJ, and I didn't know how long it would take for the others to freeze time like I could . Until then we'd all be vulnerable. But just then I didn't care. R ight now, holding on to these two people who had risked everything to come with me , what I felt was hope. W hatever happened , we had a chance. And a chance was all you ever g o t. After that , life was what you mad e of it . That at least Ross told me true. I closed my eyes and concentrated on holding time at bay. It wouldn't be for much longer. When time started again my life as a fugitive began. Shannon and Jack's hands wrapped me with warmth . The pulse of their power swa m in my veins . This was the life I chose Ã that we chose. Somehow , t ogether, we'd find a way to survive.
Freeze Time firstname.lastname@example.org 251