Penny Black hasn’t had it easy. Just about everything you’d expect to happen to a harassed foster-kid turned junkie has happened to Penny. Add in the mysterious power to rewind time, conducting events around her, and it’s a wonder she held up on the streets for so many years. Now, at seventeen, the New Society has found her. Finally, Penny is where she belongs. But that doesn’t stop the visions, or the need to protect the victims shown to her.








Stacey Wallace Benefiel









Ben Fontenot fits his Ret-tech onto his head, flips the microscreen down in front of his right eye, and continues cramming all of his and Christopher’s belongings into their suitcases. “Zellie Adams,” he says in a clear and clipped manner. He has two Zellies and a few Adams’ listed in his contacts and half the time his Ret either techs his daughter Zellie or adult Zellie’s husband, Avery. It makes him wonder why he ever got rid of his iPhone 23.

He is bent over, looking under the bed for his shoes – another thing he wonders about, after all of his years spent on the road,
is why does he always misplace his shoes in motel rooms? --when Zellie answers.

Beeeeeen. It’s early.”

He smiles as her image appears before his eye. Is that a pillow behind her head? She hasn’t even bothered to get out of bed. “Hey Doc,” he says, his smile growing wider. She rolls her eyes at him. Zellie hates it when he calls her Doc. He can’t help it. He’s excited. “You might want to sit up for this, I have some news.”

Zellie rocks back and forth, her long red hair working itself into a rat’s nest against the pillow. She is either trying to roll onto her side or fall out of bed…Ben isn’t sure which.

Finally, she says, “Avery, help me.”

Ben hears Avery chuckle and then sees him come into view above Zellie. He’s doing a crappy job of hiding his amusement over his pregnant wife’s predicament.

Zellie swats him on the arm. “Knock it off and help me up. It’s
all your fault I’m ginormous, asshat.”

“Can you believe people come to her for advice?” Avery jokes to Ben as his face gets really close to
Zellie’s, and then they are moving backward. “There, all better.”

Ben locates his shoes and sits on the bed, slipping his special edition hemp-fiber Chucks on. When he is sure that he has
Zellie’s full attention, he takes a deep breath and says, “We’ve found her.”

“Penny Black?
In DC?” Zellie asks, her voice going up an octave with each question.

Ben nods enthusiastically. He rights his Ret-tech. “Lookout Command sent us new video a few hours ago.” Ben moves his eyes across the microscreen, focuses on the video icon in the top left corner and blinks once, bringing up the latest clip for Zellie. “You’re not the only one who got a 5:00 a.m. wake up call.”

He waits while Zellie watches the clip of seventeen-year-old Penny Black, a Retroact who has managed to elude capture for the past seven years, as
she pauses time and rewinds a twelve-car pile-up on Interstate 66 in Virginia.

Ben shakes his head, in awe. “She collapsed after that display of
badassed-ness, which is consistent with all the intel Melody’s gathered. The Highway Patrol picked Penny up off the side of the road an hour later. They were completely unaware of what she’d done and how many lives she’d saved. The cops delivered her to a juvenile detention center twenty miles from here. Christopher’s on his way now to work his mind mojo.”

“Wow,” Zellie says. “She’s just…amazing. I don’t know how she’s made it this far on her own, Lookout-free, maybe not even knowing what she is. You and Christopher will be on a plane with her in the next couple hours, I assume?”

“Our flight for Cali leaves at eleven DC time. I can’t believe we found her right before the term begins. The Universe seems to be goosing me again.”

“You love it,” Zellie teases. “All right…” Ben can practically hear the gears in her shrink mind click into overdrive. “I’ll meet you at the Society School for an intake at three. We can put off the full psych
eval for a few days.”

Ben grins, blinking to close the video and send it to its folder.
“Hers or mine?”

Zellie snorts. “Dude, like you didn’t fail yours the second we met. I still love you, though.”

“Hey!” Avery says, from Zellie’s left. “Enough with the sweet nothings to Benji while you’re carrying my spawn.”

It’s Ben’s turn to snort.
? Nice way to talk about your son, Adams. So, I guess that makes Zel some kind of reptile?”

Zellie moans, her face moving toward a beaming Avery. She kisses him. “Boys, it’s been eighteen years. Get over it.”



Chapter One




My dreams are getting me in trouble again. They’re causing people to ask me the Questions I can’t truthfully answer. They’re trapping me in this office on a hard plastic chair with a doughy white woman who’s pretending to care about me.

The sign on the wall behind her head says: No cussing, No hitting, No spitting, No texting talk.

I want to call her an asshole, punch her in the nose, and write OMG WTF on her forehead with my saliva. Instead, I restrain myself and smile at her without showing my teeth. I’m in yet another juvie center constructed out of concrete blocks. The walls in this one are painted over in light yellow – the State of Virginia’s pathetic attempt to make this prison appear cheerful.

The caseworker starts in on the usual rigmarole.

Yes, I’m a runaway. I have been since I was ten…and I’ll keeping running for another four months until my eighteenth birthday. Then I can legally disappear.

Yes, I was “raised” by wolves since the age of three, no wait, by a number of crappy foster families, that’s right, each upping the crappiness factor the nearer I got to having boobs.

Yes, I live on the streets. Where? All over. Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia.

Yes, I’m sexually active.

No, I don’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

No, I don’t abuse drugs or alcohol…anymore. I’ve been clean for ten months.

No, it wasn’t hard for me to stop. I like to be in control of myself.
(Which, clearly, I’m not, if this waking up on the side of the road shit keeps happening to me.)

Do I know how I ended up on the shoulder of Highway 66? Did someone knock me out and assault me, leave me for dead? Do I want to get checked out by a doctor?


“I’m dehydrated,” I say. “I’ll be fine,” I say. “I don’t have
much time before I’m legal. Can’t you just let me go?”

“A man has come forward,” the caseworker says, her eyes going all dreamy like she’s met a celebrity. “He’s actually right down the hall in the waiting area. He’s your long lost uncle come to claim you.”

My heart pounds in my chest, thumps in my ears, blocks out the rest of what she is saying.

My parents are dead. Neither one of them had siblings. “Wouldn’t I have known about an uncle?” I ask.

She shrugs. “He has valid ID and a digital copy of your birth certificate on his Ret-Tech. He showed me.” She pats my hand in a way that is not at all comforting. This is complete bullshit. No one has a copy of my birth certificate, because there wasn’t one – not that I’ve ever known of.

“He seems pleasant enough and like the type who’s into men, not teenage girls.”

I know she doesn’t realize that she’s piling more horrible on top of already horrible by sending me away with this guy, but having her use a tenth of her mandatory sensitivity training would be nice. I’m a delicate flower on the inside.


“Can I have my stuff back?” Meaning,
can I have my knife back?
I don’t care whether this man seems like he only goes after age appropriate penis; I won’t be taking any chances. And I won’t be going any farther than the juvie center parking lot with him either. I put the run in runaway.

The caseworker hoists my red hemp-fiber backpack out from underneath her desk and drops it at my feet. I stretch forward to pick it up and nearly wince at the pain that shoots up my side, but I hold back. I can’t go to the doctor. A doctor might have more time or obligation to care about me. A doctor might ask the right question, the one that makes me break down and blab about my dreams.

I get a hold on the worn straps of my pack and stand, slinging it on. Before I turn to walk out the door and go meet my supposed uncle, I reach back and feel for my knife in one of the side compartments. It’s there.

A man with dark hair who’s wearing a fitted black t-shirt and moss green trousers gets up from one of the chairs in the waiting area. He comes at me, his hand extended, his brown eyes trained on mine.

I should think he’s creepy. But I don’t. His palm hits my palm and then we’re shaking hands.

“The resemblance to her mother is remarkable,” he says to the caseworker, who nods back at him with stars in her eyes. “Well…” He hooks his left index finger under my chin and turns my face from side to side. “Her mother didn’t have all of these piercings or model her hairstyle after
Emo Brite, but it’s there. In the eyes.”

This statement isn’t true.
At all.
I look more like my olive skinned, brown-eyed dad than my fair skinned, blue-eyed mother. The caseworker would’ve known that if she’d bothered to check my file and seen the two crime scene photos that have followed me no matter how hard I’ve tried to get away from them. Still, I don’t care. “Ready to go, Uncle…?”

“Christopher.” He places his hand on the back of my left arm and guides me toward the parking lot. “Thanks for all of your help,” he says over his shoulder to the caseworker.

“Anytime,” she practically purrs.

Christopher’s fingers tighten around my arm as we exit the juvie center. He’s not hurting me, but he’s definitely got a good grip. Panic flares in my chest. I twist away from him and swing my backpack off, going for my knife.

“Hold on,” he says in a soothing voice. “You can trust me, Penny, I promise. I’m like you.”

Like me how?
I leave the knife in the side pocket. “You’re a seventeen-year-old girl?” I give him an exaggerated once over. “That sure is one hell of a believable ‘middle-aged-man-aging-gracefully’ get-up you’ve got going on there.”

“My car’s over here.” He takes my arm again and walks me to a silver two-door Toyota with Arkansas plates. Arkansas being the state I was living in prior to Virginia. The dreams plagued me something awful there.

“You’ve been looking for me,” I say. He lets go of me as the passenger side door slides open.

“Not just me, Penny. The New Society has been searching for you since you disappeared off our radar seven years ago.”

I toss my pack into the back seat and get into the car. I…don’t know why. I’m just not threatened by him or suspicious of him and that doesn’t ever happen. I’m a damn bueno judge of character. Eerily bueno. “I don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about, man. I think you’re going to have to spell it out for me. The New Society? Does that mean there’s an Old Society?” I joke.

My door slides shut and Christopher goes around the front of the car, climbing into the driver’s seat. He pushes the ignition button. “Actually, there is an old Society, but most of its members have made their home in Europe for the past eighteen years. We’re not affiliated with the other branches any longer.”


Christopher programs in our destination (the Sheraton by Dulles International) and puts the car in
autodrive mode, presumably so he can focus less on driving and more on telling me WHAT THE FUCK IS UP. I’m not getting any bizarro vibes from him, but this whole scene, this whole New, Old, whatever-the-hell, Society deal is out there.

The car backs up, exits the parking lot, and enters the flow of traffic gracefully. We’re on our way. “I know you have a lot of questions.
Perhaps a visual aid?” Christopher takes his Ret-Tech off of his head and hands it to me. “I assume you don’t have one of these?”

I give him a “duh” look and then strap the Ret-tech on. This is only the third time I’ve ever used one, and it takes me a second to remember how it all works.

“Be careful with your blinking, the New Society won’t spring for the latest model until the end of next month, so the commands are a little touchy.”

I close my left eye in order to steady the gaze of my right. “What am I looking for exactly?”

“Blink on the video icon.”

A clip appears on the microscreen, the text at the bottom reading
Camera 58, Hwy. 66
with a scrolling digital timestamp next to it. 3:21, 3:22, 3:23.

Cars whizz by, semi-trucks, bio-buses, all headed into Washington DC. The traffic is light. Well, as light as traffic in a metro area can be. The highway is ten lanes wide and a clunky station wagon swerves from lane six into lane seven. This is familiar to me. I fist my right hand and push it against my stomach to keep from throwing up.

“My dream,” I whisper to Christopher.

“Keep watching,” he says, taking my left hand. His touch is comforting. “You did more than dream this, Penny.”

Vehicles made in the last six years all come with some degree of autodrive standard. Whereas I used to dream about car wrecks on a regular basis, I only have them once in a while now, but I do still have them, especially when I’m living in a heavily populated area with more pre-autodrive cars on the road.

The station wagon swerves from lane six into lane seven, the newer cars in lane seven correcting and moving out of its way. However, an early model Volt comes up too quickly and slams into the back of the wagon, spinning it. Some traffic darts around the accident, while others continue to become a part of it, until all ten lanes are congested and it doesn’t matter if the vehicle has
autodrive or not, there is no way to avoid a collision. I watch the timestamp flip by. The entire thing happens between 3:26 and 3:33.

And then, running closely along the outside of the guardrail, there is a person. A woman, her arms out in front of her, her fingers spread. She’s got multicolored hair and her dirty tank top and jeans hug her curvy body. Her backpack flaps wildly against her lower back as she runs.

She’s me, and I know she’s me, but I can’t…how can that be? She, I, stop abruptly, my hands pulling at the air. All traffic on the highway pauses and then begins to move in reverse. As I widen my stance, my hands go from using a pulling motion to pushing. The accident comes undone, the cars uncrash into each other, the Volt backs away from the station wagon as it spins counterclockwise and ends up heading in the right direction. Again, I pull at the air, but only with my left hand. I draw the station wagon across lanes seven, eight, nine, and ten and rest it on the shoulder in front of me. With my other hand, I give the paused traffic a quick wave, and it continues on as though nothing had ever happened. When there is a long enough gap between cars, I push the station wagon back onto the road and send it on its way. The microscreen goes black.

“What did
I… how? I don’t…” I’m often at a loss for the words that need to come out of my mouth, but rarely am I at a loss for the words in my head. I rip the Ret-tech off and pitch it into Christopher’s lap. I bang my forehead on the dash, trying to jog some memory of my doing the impossible things I just witnessed myself doing, and not just in a dream. Trying to get something to register in my brain besides a torrential downpour of WTF.

Christopher lets go of my hand and stows the Ret-tech in the compartment between us. “You’re a Retroact, same as me. You have a vision about something horrible happening, and then you rewind time to stop that fatal event from occurring. I’m taking you to a place, a school that my friend Ben and I started, and we’re going to figure out…you’re special, even among people like us.”

Great. I’m Grand Poobah of the weirdoes. No way is this shit real. Rewinding time? Special abilities and a special school? I don’t feel special. I feel like a fucking messed-up freak.

I jam my fist into my stomach again. It’s the only way I know to keep hard-to-handle feelings at bay. “That’s why you’ve been searching for me? So you can study me and…what? I’m not into school or socializing. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m more of the ‘trying to survive and not get raped’
kinda girl than the type that’s dying to learn history or worrying if someone is going to ask me to the Homecoming dance.”

The way Christopher is looking at me, his expression a mixture of sadness and empathy, I get the feeling he’s had a few “trying to survive and not get raped” days himself.

“It’s a chance to have a family, Penny. The history you’ll learn is yours. Mine. We’ve been given awesome abilities that need development and training.” He sighs. “And we don’t have organized dances. Bad shit always happens at school dances. All that taffeta and expectation.”

He cringes and I want to…laugh, be a part of what he’s a part of. I want to care about him and go with him and do what he wants me to do, but…RAH.

I squirm in my seat and turn toward the window, buildings and other cars whipping by. A family. Is he kidding? Just because he thinks we share, uh, superpowers or whatever, doesn’t mean that we are family. I had a family, thank you very much, and they were taken from me. Dead in front of me, their glassy eyes staring and the smell of their burning flesh clinging to my nostrils. I have no intention of going through that brand of pain again.

Christopher stares at me intently; I can feel him looking at the back of my head. “Don’t say no. We don’t want to study you, we want to help you. Take care of you. Ben and me, another woman you’ll meet, Dr. Adams, we’ve all been lost and we’ve all wanted to run away from what we are at some point. But we stuck it out together and have saved so many lives.”

A wave of calm settles over me.
Don’t say no.

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