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For those overwhelmed by fear of the future.

Live in the moment.


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“This is officially the worst idea I’ve ever had.”

It was true. Alex may have made some questionable decisions in the past, but the dilemma she and her friends now faced was off the charts, comparatively.

“We can still pull this off,” Bear whispered from somewhere to her left.

It was too dark for Alex to see anything other than his silhouette blacking out what little light shone through the crack in the door. But she knew both he and D.C. were right there alongside her, as always. What she didn’t know was who else was nearby—namely, just how many guards were patrolling the high-security ChemTech facility they were trying to break into. And how dangerous their weapons were.

Alex was fully aware they were being reckless. But after losing their best friend, Jordan Sparker, to a fate of being a mindless pawn in Aven Dalmarta’s blood-bonded, brainwashed army, Alex and her friends were more than motivated. They were desperate.

“We need to move,” D.C. said. “It won’t take long for them to find us here.”

A light flashed in the darkness when Bear activated his ComTCD, casting a bluish glow over his face. His pupils were wide and beads of sweat dotted his forehead despite the cool temperature. “The codes Johnny gave us only work for another hour,” he said, flicking through the data stored in his Device. “We need to be in and out in that time, or we’ll be stuck here.”

“Right,” Alex said. “So, it’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. We can work with this.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” D.C. said with a half-hearted grin. Had Jordan still been with them, her smile would have been more genuine, but Alex knew to take what she could get from her friend. “We trust you.”

Alex wondered, not for the first time, if their trust was sorely misguided. After all, it was her fault they were stuck in some dingy janitor’s closet to begin with. Sure, her motives were honourable, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t brought her closest friends on a fool’s errand.

It had all begun just over a week ago, when the three of them had left Raelia and returned to Bear’s home in Woodhaven for the Kaldoras holidays. The loss of Jordan had caused such a hollow ache in each of them that it had been impossible to enjoy their holiday break. So instead, they’d begun planning.

All they’d known was their endgame: freeing Jordan from Aven’s clutches. Their friend might have been ‘irreversibly’ Claimed, but they still had hope, knowing Alex had once freed herself from Aven’s grasp. But even if that didn’t turn out to be possible, their back-up plan was to isolate and protect Jordan from the immortal Meyarin, using any means necessary, even imprisonment.

Their task was made infinitely more complicated by the fact that Aven had promised Jordan something important to him—the deliverance of his previously-believed-deceased- but-now-apparently-alive-and-only-missing brother. Luka had supposedly killed himself six years ago, but Aven had shown the brainwashed Jordan surveillance footage of Luka breaking into a ChemTech lab just last month.

So that was where Alex and her friends had decided to start. Their plan was to verify whether or not the footage existed, and if they found evidence showing Luka to be alive, then they would just have to find him before Aven could use him as leverage against their friend.

Easy, right?

The good news was that Johnny, Bear’s eldest brother, was a Techno—basically a technology genius—and as a ChemTech employee he had insider knowledge of its facilities. It hadn’t taken much coercing from Alex, Bear and D.C. to convince him to join Team Saving Jordan, and he’d been forthcoming with as much intel as they’d needed. While he’d never been to the exact lab in Mardenia where Luka had been sighted, Johnny had managed to hack into the highly classified TCD server to download an entire data file containing the layout of the facility, complete with security codes and a detailed map of the building. With access to so much information, Alex had originally thought her plan infallible. They would arrive just outside the building’s security ward via Bubbledoor, sneak through the entrance using Johnny’s codes, hike up the eleven floors to the surveillance room and search through the database until they found the footage of Luka.

Sure, there were a few holes in the plan, but it should have been a breeze.

What    they    hadn’t    counted    on    were    the    unforeseen complications—complications like the decidedly human guards. “How  close  are  we?”  Alex  asked,  looking  over  Bear’s shoulder as he used the touch-screen of his TCD to project a

holographic map of the facility into the air between them. “We’re here,” he said, pointing to their location. He then expanded the map and swivelled it around, indicating to another room three floors up on the other side of the building. “We need to get there.”

“Not impossible,” D.C. said. “We’ve managed to get this far; what’s a few more stairs?”

Alex bit back her retort and just hoped she wasn’t about to get the crown princess of Medora arrested—or shot. They’d already had one close call with a security guard who’d thankfully been looking the other way when they nearly walked into him—an encounter that clued them in to the fact that they weren’t alone in the building. And Alex had clearly seen the Stabiliser holstered to the man’s belt. She wasn’t sure if he’d carried other weapons, but that alone was cause for concern—one shot would lead to ten minutes of unconsciousness and a second shot instant death.

Not a pleasant thought.

“I don’t suppose you guys would be willing to stay here and keep watch?” Alex asked. “Lessen the chances of us all getting caught?”

Firm headshakes met her question, not that she’d expected anything less.

“We’ve talked about this,” Bear said, his tone unyielding. “We’re going to help save Jordan, no matter the consequences.” “No way are we staying behind,” D.C. confirmed, her arms folded and an expression of distaste on her face. “Don’t even try to stop us.”

Alex raised her hands in a placating manner. “Fine, fine, but you can’t blame me for trying.” She attempted a conciliatory smile, but she knew it fell flat. Straightening her shoulders, she told them, “Stay close, then. And don’t make a sound.”

Bear shoved his ComTCD back into his pocket, extinguishing their light source. As soon as Alex’s eyes adjusted to the nearly black room again, she pushed the door open, silently leading the way out into the corridor beyond. She had to blink her vision clear when the hallway’s brighter, halogen- like lights seared through her retinas, all the while keeping a lookout for the slightest indication of guards nearby.

Frustratingly, the facility didn’t have one central staircase that led to different floors. Instead, the staircases were designed in an architectural nightmare of ups, downs and all arounds. As if it were a Snakes and Ladders game, each set of stairs ended in a different location, but never directly where Alex and her friends needed to go.

Their staircase dilemma could have been avoided if they’d simply used the elevator, but the access codes Johnny had hacked to activate the lift were for an emergency only, since any elevator usage was monitored closely and their presence would undoubtedly be detected. For obvious reasons, they wanted to avoid that.

After what felt like an unending journey of twisting staircases—including one that went straight up to the twelfth floor, one  that  sent  them  back down  to  the  third  and one leading back up to the ninth—Alex began to question their decision to avoid the elevator. Her thighs were burning from all the repeated climbing despite her Combat and PE-honed level of fitness, and the panting noises from Bear and D.C. put her on edge, reminding her it had been a while since they had heard any of the guards patrolling close by.

Turning questioning eyes to Bear, Alex gestured for his ComTCD. Reactivating the holographic map, she saw they only had one final staircase to go until they reached the eleventh floor, before traversing the entire length of the building to arrive at their destination. This would be made more challenging by the glass-walled skywalk in the centre, since the facility diverged into two separate towers from the eighth floor up.

Handing back the Device, Alex hurried forward again, ignoring her protesting muscles when she hit the next staircase. They had only forty minutes left to use Johnny’s codes and she was feeling the pressure.

Finally on the eleventh floor, Alex guided them through zigzagging corridors, pausing at every corner to peak around and make sure the next section was clear. It was time-consuming but proved necessary, since an automatic door clicked open nearby and Alex was forced to pull Bear and D.C. back behind the bend in the hallway.

Carefully peering around the corner, Alex confirmed there was another security guard, a woman this time. Like the first, she was dressed in a gunmetal-grey jumpsuit and had a Stabiliser holstered to her belt. She also sported a sword strapped across her back, the hilt of which poked menacingly above her shoulders. Worse still, her purposeful strides meant she was quickly eating up the distance between them.

Realising their side of the corridor was too long and narrow to avoid being spotted, Alex hurried her friends to the closest door, intending to hide in whatever room lay beyond until the coast was clear. But since the eleventh floor was dedicated to Research and Development—or so Johnny had said—the door wouldn’t open without clearance.

Noticing the touch-screen  access panel mounted on the wall, Alex gestured to Bear and waited anxiously while he tapped on his TCD screen. A life-sized holographic hand quickly floated out of the Device and encased his skin like a shimmery glove, which he moved closer to the access panel. After the forged handprint was scanned and accepted, he hit a few more buttons until another image came to life—an eyeball, to Alex’s disgust.

As soon as the retinal scan cleared, the door clicked open, allowing Alex, Bear and D.C. to tumble into the room and escape the click-click-click of the guard’s boots nearing them.

The moment the door sealed them inside, there was a violent hiss of air depressurising, the only warning Alex had before she rose from the ground. She heard both Bear and D.C. curse as they too were lifted weightlessly upwards until the three of them were suspended in the air as if floating in water.

“It must be some kind of anti-gravity field,” Bear said, waving his hands around, his movements appearing as if in slow motion.

“Um,” Alex said, feeling like an uncoordinated turtle as she bobbed mid-air. “How are we supposed to—uh—” She trailed off with a distressed sound when her torso tipped forward too far and she was left to somersault her way back around until she was close to the right way up again.

“This is so unnatural!” D.C. exclaimed, looking like she was trying to use swimming strokes to move, but to little effect. “Hold  on  a  second,  guys,”  Bear  said.  “We  won’t  get anywhere with you fighting gravity like that. We need a plan.”

You don’t say? Alex thought. But she reined in her inner sarcasm and did her best to stay as still as her current state of floating would allow. While Bear was deciding their exit strategy, she took the chance to look around the room. With cream-coloured padded walls, floor and ceiling, it was empty of furniture or anything else. It was clearly a room intended for one purpose—messing with gravity.

Alex heard a beeping sound and she arched her neck until she could see Bear again, his ComTCD in hand. A holographic body came into view above it.

“Yo, little brother. I take it things aren’t going so well?” Johnny said, and Alex could hear the humour in his voice. She wondered how much of their current predicament was showing through his Device and figured it was enough to give him a good laugh at their expense.

“You could say that,” Bear answered. “We wouldn’t be stuck in here if you’d given us a warning about the guards.”

“Guards?” Johnny repeated. Alex managed to float close enough to see his quizzical expression. “There aren’t supposed to be any guards there. Not on site, at least.”

“We’ve seen two already,” Bear said. Johnny looked genuinely concerned. “We had to break into this room to avoid one of them, but now we’re caught in an anti-gravity field. Can you help us out?”

Johnny gave a quick nod. “Give me a sec.” He disappeared for a moment and soon reappeared with a larger, tablet-style Device. “I take it you’re on the eleventh floor? Anti-gravity is R&D for sure. But if I’m right, you’re still on the wrong side of the facility.” “We haven’t crossed the skywalk yet,” D.C. said. Having given  up  on  her  breaststroke,  she  was  now  attempting  to freestyle her way across the room, looking even more ridiculous than before and still getting nowhere.

“You guys better get a move on,” Johnny muttered, distracted by whatever he was doing with the tablet. “You’re pushing it for time.”

“Yeah, well, if we’d known about the—” Bear started, but his brother interrupted.

“Got it!”

With Johnny’s exclamation, the air-hissing sound came again and Alex dropped like a rock to the floor.

Grateful for the padding that saved her from a very bruised backside, she jumped to her feet and walked over to where Bear was rising. “Thanks, Johnny. We owe you one.”

“Listen, guys,” he said, squinting at the other Device he held. “I don’t know what’s with the guards, but heat sensors indicate there’s one patrolling every floor. That’s fifteen in total. You’re lucky you’ve only come across two, but if you trip any alarms, they’ll all come running.”

Alex closed her eyes, wondering again what she’d been thinking leading her friends here.

“One of those guards is wandering up and down the hallway outside your room. There’s no way for you to get out without being seen. But you’re only a few rooms away from the skywalk, and once you make it over, you’ll be in the clear. I think I can guide you there without you having to step foot in the corridor. But you’ll have to trust me.”

The trio looked at one another before turning back to Johnny. “We’re listening.”

There were three other doors leading from the padded room, and using Johnny’s remote access to open the furthest one, they followed his direction into the long, dark chamber before them.

It  was  only  once  the  door  sealed  behind  them  that  he absentmindedly said, “Heads up, you’re about to get wet.”


Alex’s question was cut off when a billowing mass of cloud materialised above them just seconds before a torrential downpour of water fell straight onto their heads.

“Run!” Bear cried, his voice garbled by the lashing rain. He grabbed both Alex and D.C.’s arms and yanked them along. Not that they needed the motivation, since they were just as desperate to escape the unnatural weather phenomenon.

“No, Bear, stop! Alex! Dix! Stop! Stop!

It took a few shouts before Alex was able to hear Johnny’s yelling over the sound of the deluge, but she came to a sudden halt as soon as his words processed. It was only then that she began to feel the rain vaporise around her and a glow of artificial sunlight kiss her skin. She looked up and marvelled at the sight high above them.

Glancing backward, Alex could still see the rain bucketing down from miserable-looking clouds by the entrance. But looking around her now…

“Is this some kind of weather room?” she asked.

The large chamber appeared to be sectioned into different climate categories. Where Alex and her friends currently stood was a clear blue sky, fluffy white cumulus clouds and, perhaps strangest of all, a synthetic sun. Looking further across the room, she could see all kinds of weather scenarios playing out within bordered segments of the room. Clearly the ChemTech R&D department was earning their keep.

“Yes, Alex, and don’t move another step!” Johnny ordered, his features pinched and his tone laced with anxiety. “I thought I could deactivate the room remotely but the coding is more complex than I anticipated. I can do it, but it will take a few minutes and you don’t have the time to spare. You’ll have to make a run for it.”

“Then why’d you tell us to stop?” Bear sounded belligerent as he squeezed water from his shirt.

D.C. gave a frowning nod of agreement as she too wrung out her sodden clothes and twisted her soaked hair, leaving a puddle of water on the marble tiles.

With a troubling feeling that they weren’t out of the worst of it yet, Alex didn’t bother attempting to dry off.

“Because I need to warn you,” Johnny said, “that some of the weather is… reactive.”

D.C. stopped wringing out her hair. “Reactive?”

Johnny chose not to explain. Instead he gave them an impishly apologetic look and said, “Keep moving and you should be fine. The last section will be the most dangerous, but I’ll have your exit door open by the time you get there, so just sprint straight through. Okay?”

“No, not okay!” D.C. cried. “Do you want to give us some more details?”

Johnny  turned  his  attention  to  his  second  Device  and muttered, “I have a door to unlock. You’d better start running.” Before D.C. could open her mouth to protest, Alex grabbed her arm and pulled her along. “Come on, Dix. The sooner we get moving, the sooner we’ll be out of here.”

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