Authors: Jen Greyson
Tags: #tesla coil, #time travel romance, #tesla time travelers, #na fantasy, #time travel, #nikola tesla
I take a shaky breath. Words from our time together weave into my thoughts. He promised to keep me safe. I promised to let him. Each believed the other and I thought we’d be able to make it a full twenty-four hours before things went wrong and we had to change the plan.
Yet here we are. Unraveling again.
“I have to find answers.” I look away and close my eyes. A shudder wracks my body and I fight the tears. Barely hours ago I told him we were a team, that I wanted him,
him, and now I must leave. Again. My breathing hitches and I open my eyes.
He drops his hands and marches over. In one smooth motion, his hands cradle my face. “I am not a needy man. I do not require you at my side for every sun and every moon. It is enough to know you want me now and will return to me.” His thumbs swish against my cheeks. “I will protect you. And I trust you will ask when it is needed. Go now. Find your answers.” The press of his lips is gentle and the words he speaks against them are another promise, another quiet reminder of his strength. And mine. “Come home to me.”
A tear slips and rolls down my cheek. “I’m sorry.”
He gives his head a slight shake and wipes the wetness. “No. I will not accept an apology. Nor do I require one. This is who you are.” He smiles and presses his fingertips against the base of my skull, branding me with his touch. “Who you’ve always been. I will not ask you to apologize for being your truest, bravest self. You are a warrior.” He kisses me again and murmurs against my lips, “My warrior.”
“There’s no time.”
He yanks me to him and forces me to settle and look at him. “Think, Evy. This is your chance to sort through what you know of Ilif. No one is more committed to finding Tiana than her father. I caution you against racing in.”
“What are you saying?”
I spin and look at Mami. “What do you mean?”
“I do not trust this Ilif. He’s too much like your uncle, sweet-talking me and saying what I want to hear. Your father would not be swayed, I could see that the moment he heard about Tiana.” She glances at Constantine. “Your man is right, Papi will search to the ends of time to find her.” Her voice catches. “And he will find her. You must use this time to find out what Ilif’s up to.”
Steinaman’s living room. Their wire-haired terrier loses his shit and Mrs. Steinaman passes out again, slumping heavily to one side of her delicate gold recliner.
“Dammit.” I bend down to pet Daisy until she stops barking. “Sssh.” While she trembles beneath my fingers, Mr. Steinaman works his way out of his seat, a green overstuffed contrast of his wife’s. “Sorry about showing up unannounced again.” I glance at Mrs. Steinaman, concerned about her extreme reactions to my arrival. “Sorry I keep freaking her out.”
He waves absently at her chair. “Woman’s got a damn heart condition that she won’t get checked. I keep telling her it’s going to be the end of her.”
I hurry to her side and check for a pulse, resting my fingers against her cool translucent skin. Her heart beats sure and strong and I sigh in relief. “I think she just fainted.” I pat her shoulder. She’s can be every bit as fiery as Mr. Steinaman, so I don’t want her coming to and yelling at me. Her eyes stutter open and I lean closer. “Mrs. Steinaman, are you okay?”
She covers my hand with her frail one. “Use the door next time, dear.”
I smile and help her sit up until her weight closes the chair and retracts the footrest. “Why don’t you sit for a minute while Mr. Steinaman and I chat. Can I get you a glass of water?”
She points to the one on the end table and I hand it to her. “I’m sorry that I keep doing that.” If she has a condition, my lightning is probably taxing her heart every time I pop in. Need to remember to start showing up in the hallway before I accidentally kill her.
“Let’s get to business.” Mr. Steinaman pulls out a chair at the dining table and holds it for me. His posture makes me think this is about to be one of his FBI interrogations. I’m oddly grateful, both for his expertise and his relentless probing to draw out details that keep slipping through my fingers.
I’m barely settled in the chair before he begins. “What in tarnation happened to your residence? Looks like that time I warmed up a casserole in the microwave and the Mrs. forgot to tell me what happens to tinfoil. Damn near caught the whole house on fire. Where’d you and your sister disappear to and why didn’t you tell me she wasn’t coming over? A fellow came asking about you. That was when we discovered the damage to your place. Are you going to say something or you want me to just keep badgering you?” He scowls and pulls out another chair, landing heavily on the seat and making the wood groan. “You doing alright?”
I lean forward and prop my elbows on the crinkled plastic cover of the table. “How bad is the damage? I haven’t had time to check it. What did you find out about those men? I think I know the one who was here, but I need your help figuring out if he’s good or bad.”
“How many men are trailing you?”
I shake my head. “I’ve lost track.”
He stands and rifles through the drawer beneath their telephone, coming back with a stack of legal notepads and two pens. He sets a pen on a pad and slides it across the table. “Start at the beginning.”
“First there’s Ilif.” I write his name at the top and underline it. “He’s the guy who was here asking about me.”
“Gray hair, short, walks with a limp?” Steinaman’s absently writing those things down, like they’re not in question.
I can’t catch my breath. Can barely form the denial. “No.”
He looks up, pen hovering above the page. “What do you mean,
? You said you knew him.”
I shake my head slowly. Ilif said he went to my place, talked to Steinaman, found out Tiana wasn’t where she was supposed to be. Why would he lie? I mean, besides the obvious fact that he’s a manipulative bastard. “I—I,” I swallow and struggle to quell the trembles coursing through my entire body. Running a hand over my braid, I pull the end forward and twist it through my fingers. “I know the gray-haired man, but he’s no friend of mine. I thought someone else came. I—I didn’t know it was him. This is bad. In so many ways.”
He frowns and coughs. “Tell me what you know about this gray-haired fellow. I wasn’t sure what to think of him. At first.”
“Why did you trust him? Why did you let him in?” Lightning crackles from my hands and I fist them and shove them beneath the table.
“Settle down.” He stands and paces the dining room, his cane a muffled tap against the bare carpet. “There are some times that I have to trust my instincts over what all the facts are telling me. That’s what I did in this case. And I still stand by that unless you tell me something otherwise.”
I tug the end of my braid and slump against the chair back. “He’s been following me since I was in New York.”
“Wait one moment.” He pauses and taps my chair with his cane. “Before we get mired in what you
you know about him, tell me about your appearing.” He bends to see in my lap. “And that lightning.”
Behind me, Mrs. Steinaman fidgets and holds her breath, turning silent for the first time since coming to. The handful of people who know what I am have found out through spectacular means. I’ve certainly not been careful about concealing it around them, but popping in and telling them the full truth are miles apart.
“I cannot help you if you don’t tell me.”
“I know…” I stand and walk to the kitchen, pull down a glass and fill it. The cool water feels good on my parched throat. “Outside my family, there aren’t a lot of people I trust.”
“I’m not asking you to trust me, girl. I’m asking you to let me help. Those are different. I don’t trust anyone, but I know when it’s time to ask for help.”
As do I.
And fast, before he lies to Papi. I can’t believe I trusted him. I bite my lip and fidget. “I have to settle the questions about who was here. If it wasn’t Ilif, I need to know why he lied so we know where he belongs on our list. Right now he’s on his way to my parents’.”
“Go. But come back. You need me.”
“I do.” Holy shit, I do. I look to Mrs. Steinaman. “I’ll use the door.”
She puts a hand over her heart. “Thanks, dear.”
Steinaman walks me out and waits, watchful from the alcove above his front porch. I nod and flare my lightning. “I’ll be back.”
My arrival skips Papi’s and lands me in a hallway of Ilif’s lab, immediately identifiable by the futuristic opaque glass walls and sterility. Where Camaria’s work environment was open and light and cheerful with the same components, Ilif’s is stuffy and claustrophobic. The ceiling is a foot too short, making me feel like I’m underground and there isn’t a single window other than the ones that peer into the rows of rooms on either side of the long hall. Florescent lighting tracks run along the corners, both top and bottom, like exit lights on planes, ready to show fleeing workers how to get out of this place. I don’t like it.
Beyond the cramped feel, this lab has served as backdrop to all Penya’s transmissions—all the ones I thought she was sneakily sending out, risking her life to contact me. I can’t believe he was so stupid as to not know she was here. For all his lies he probably
and they’re still working together, lying to me, manipulating me, using my family. I grind my teeth together and stomp through the over-bright hallway, on a mission to find him and strangle the fuck out of him.
The first room I peer into hold computers unlike anything I’ve seen at home. Scrolling lines of text and gibberish race across massive plates of glass interspersed with complex line diagrams and models. They interact with each other, morphing and changing as more calculations spin up the face of the smooth surface. Hurriedly checking the one across from it, I find more of the same, different diagrams and models, but same concept. They’re grinding through massive amounts of data. All for alterations? Are the diagrams time lines and projected outcomes? How many of my ancestors have been here? How many are working with him now? I don’t have time to get a grip on his present being my future and the ramifications of what that could mean for me. My brain just can’t deal with that right now.
Three more rooms, and more questions. There’s a reason I’m came here to find him, just like with every interaction I have beyond my own timeline, I just have to figure out why and what happens when I’m not arcing? If this isn’t an alteration, I’m just traveling. To the future, which means I’ve now been able to do something no other rider has—I’ve moved forward. Twice. But considering all that Penya’s lied about, maybe that’s not such a big deal. Maybe everyone can.
I turn a corner and spot him at the end of another hallway; it takes everything I have not to charge him like a bull and tackle him to the ground. We’ve never been together when he’s been in a physical form. I could hurt him now.
He’s turned away from me, standing with a young Asian man and reviewing a stack of papers. Both voices carry down the slick walls and I only miss a few words. It’s sciency shit wrapped loosely in time-traveling. Nikola’s name gets mentioned and Ilif goes off on a tangent about how things work. I yank the end of my braid. My hatred for him (what about him—what is it in this moment that she’s watching that mimics everything she knows/despises about him—what is it that he’s going to flip on it’s head?)
Blah blah fucking blah.
He’s going over stupid details that no one but him cares about. His cohort is fidgeting, trying to get them back on track, trying to get Ilif to finish answering.
Ilif finishes with a flourish. Then, tugs the sleeve of his jacket—the left one.
I tip my head. There’s no reason for him to lie about these details that he’s so expertly doling out. He’s obnoxiously proving how smart he is, but lying about them would screw up whatever they’re working on. Of all the things I know about him, I do know how much he cares about proper results. Left must be truth. I wish I could recall all the times he’s gone right. Now at least I know which is which.
They finish and the other man walks away. Ilif straightens everything from tie to shoelaces, then turns.
I’m so mad I’m shaking. Lightning shoots from my fingers, unable to be contained. The lights dim, then flicker.
Ilif is unconcerned. About any of it.
And better, his image is unaffected. I can fuck him up something good without having to worry he’s going to be flung to the ends of the universe.
“How long has it been? I find it odd that you would seek me out here.”
“I’ll bet. Where’s Papi?”
“Home, I would assume. You and I haven’t worked on a mission for over three months.” He keeps advancing, unperturbed by my appearance, the lightning, or the effect I’m having on the overheads. My lightning snaps and writhes along the floor. “You seem angry.”
I laugh. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“Enlighten me. When are you arriving from? Did we have an argument? Am I the source of this unbidden anger? What arc are you working on now?”
I can’t even. “You lied to me again!”
He straightens his tie. I lash out and cut off the bottom four inches. Smoke tendrils curl upward and he waves them out of his face. “That seems unnecessary.” He motions left, toward a conference room behind a row of windows. “Shall we talk?”
“You mean lie?” I follow him into the room, seething. Lightning flares behind me like a cape. “I’m done talking! I’m trying to figure shit out, figure out who’s after me, who’s behind killing Nikola, and in the middle of that I find out that you fucking
lied to me!”
Lightning flashes through the room, racing up the walls and across the ceiling.