Authors: Lily Worthington
Tags: #Poseidon DPG
What’s going on with me? Who is he?
With a frustrated sigh, she walked to the bank of televisions on the wall opposite the director’s office door and Curtis’s desk. They were showing different news channels from around the world. TSCCA was actually part of the Homeland Security department, but because it used unconventional and highly secretive technology, its official cover was doing geological research for the Department of Interior. Anyone who had been inside TSCCA headquarters would know it had nothing to do with geological research. High-tech research equipment, yes. Geological studies, no. In fact, headquarters was a fortified stronghold with the most advanced defensive system available, including a cache of weapons that could have been used to defend a small country.
Without really watching any of the news channels, Skyla asked quietly, “Curtis, have you ever felt you knew a person from a long time ago, but you’re sure you’ve never seen them before?”
A rather long moment passed before she heard his nonchalant reply, “No, I have not. Maybe you’re just tired from traveling through time.” Another pause and she heard a rapid string of typing. Before she could make much of it, Curtis continued.
“Maybe you should go see Knox for a full checkup. I’ve just read the incident report from Vivienne. You didn’t come back through our protocol channel.” Curtis’s cold, analytical tone pulled Skyla from her momentary uncertainty. She hated those kinds of feelings. After the car crash, she’d had an intense need not to feel vulnerable or helpless ever again. That’s why she’d joined ROTC during college and then the Secret Service afterward.
“I will, but not before I speak with the director.” The director’s office door hissed open at that moment. A familiar figure walked past the door. The director was a medium-height, slimly built woman of Asian descent. Her translucent complexion was enhanced by her chin-length, jet-black hair. As usual, the director was dressed in a form-fitting skirt suit in a neutral color and a pair of killer heels. Skyla had always admired the director’s wardrobe. Today, the director wore a pair of soft pink patent leather peek-a-boo stilettos with her pale bluish-gray suit. A pair of pearl stud earrings and a matching strand of pearls were the only accessories she wore. Frankly, the director looked more like a senator’s trophy wife about to host a high-society luncheon in D.C. than the founder and first commander of an experimental counterterrorism government unit.
“Skyla, come in. Curtis said you have something urgent to report.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Skyla was relieved she was finally walking past the Bulldog’s desk and into the director’s office.
Inside the office, the director had coordinated an efficient glass-top desk with a floor-to-ceiling tropical fish tank behind her. One wall was lined with computer monitors showing various ops teams from different government agencies on missions around the globe. The other wall was lined with TVs showing different news channels, just like the ones in the waiting area.
“Director.” Before she started to report her encounter inside the bank, the director pulled her into a tight, affectionate embrace.
“I’m glad you’re all right. I read the incident report from Vivienne. You should’ve let Knox check you out first.” Giving her another tight hug, the director went on. “And how many times have I told you to call me Laura when it’s just us? Most people in the Agency already know we’re related by marriage. There’s no need for the formality when we’re behind closed doors.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Skyla always felt the need for formality between her and the director, even though the director had treated her like a daughter since the day Skyla had woken up in the hospital, three months after the car crash. Their families saw each other often even after her uncle, her mother’s younger brother, went missing in action just over ten years ago in Afghanistan during one of the government’s secret ops.
A more intense look now lined the director’s otherwise flawless face. Under her aunt’s sophisticated beauty, there was a ruthless commander who had not only kept critics within the government at bay, especially during the Agency’s early years, but was always as protective of her agents as if they were her children. She had handpicked every one of them. She knew each agent and their strengths and weaknesses. Each time any of them got hurt, or worse, died in the line of duty, the director took the loss and regrets all the way to her soul.
“Tell me why you feel you knew the man inside the vault.” The director looked straight into her eyes, as if she were searching for something hidden. It made her feel a bit unsettled, the same way she had felt when she first woke up from her coma and there was Aunt Laura, the first person she saw.
Skyla steadied her voice. “I can’t say. There was just this doomsday feeling I got from the figure inside the bank vault.” She paused briefly, trying to clear the weariness she had been feeling ever since the encounter. “It was as if we knew each other from a long time ago. Aunt Laura, do you think I met him before the car crash?”
Instead of answering her question, her aunt spoke in her commander tone. “Go see Knox for a full checkup and ask him to send his report to Curtis directly. Then take the rest of today and tomorrow off. I’ll brief the Homeland Security director on this.”
For a split second, Skyla could have sworn she saw fear on her aunt’s face. But it came and went so quickly that she decided she was probably just hypersensitive from not using the Agency’s protocol coming back through time. She gave her aunt a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about me. My body will adjust. We have no time to waste. We have to put a team together now and go back. I can feel something huge is happening, and it will alter our present.”
Her aunt looked at her, searching for something. After a few long moments, she asked, “And what do we do when the team travels back? You said the steel box has been secured by the unknown person or entity. We do not know who or what he is. We have no information as to the whereabouts of him or the box.”
The director walked to the sideboard next to the conference table. She traced a finger on a silver picture frame, the only personal item in her office. It was of her late husband Johan, Skyla’s uncle. “Whatever the threat, now or in the past, it can wait. All this can wait, Skyla. Trust me.”
Without further ado, the director waved her toward the door. Reluctantly, she got up and walked out of the office.
Turning her head back, she saw her aunt still standing in front of the picture frame. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Remember, your parents and I love you very much, even though when you first woke up you didn’t recognize any of us. We did not expect you to come through after the crash and the coma, but you did. A second chance at life is a rare gift.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Although her aunt’s comment seemed cryptic, Skyla knew full well how lucky she was to have survived the near-fatal ordeal. Not only had she survived, her family had been there for her day and night, helping her reintegrate back into her former life, a life she had no memory of. When she first woke up, she spoke fluent Italian on top of English. But her English was archaic. The esteemed medical team put together by her aunt and her parents opined that her unusual linguistic condition was a result of her head trauma from the car crash. She was also told that she’d had incredible scholastic aptitude since she was a toddler. That explained how her speech patterns were virtually normalized within a year, even though occasionally her brain would still think in Italian instead of English. At the time, she had thought of it as a cool side effect from her severe injuries.
Heading out of the director’s office suite, Skyla noticed Curtis was being unusually quiet. Normally after anyone barged into his boss’s office, he would give the person a not-so-subtle dressing down, reminding them that making appointments with the director in advance was a rule, not a request. But now he was just sitting in front of his computer looking entirely absorbed by whatever he was reading on his computer screen.
Well, maybe the Bulldog has finally given up on us mere mortals.
With that thought, she headed down to Knox’s office on the third level.
Breaking and entering into TSCAA headquarters was as easy as breathing to Rei. He was standing in a sterilized hallway just seconds after his mind thought of the location he needed. Because of his bargain with the gods, he could travel to any time period as he wished, as long as the gods deemed it necessary for him to do their bidding. And for some reason, leaping through time almost a century ahead fit into the scheme his masters and mistresses had in mind.
At the Last Battle, he had made a bargain with the gods. He would raise an army to do their bidding in exchange for immortality to find Elizabeth again. That was over five centuries ago. He and his men, all fallen soldiers like himself, had fought against great evils, but at times they were also sent to aid evils.
It was rather odd that the gods allowed him and his men to come to the twenty-first century when their current mission was confined to the 1930s. Rei didn’t think too much of it. He had a mild curiosity, yes, but his main objective remained the same—find Elizabeth. Was the female agent, Skyla Gray, truly his Elizabeth? His mind flashed back to the past…
It had been a month since he was carried out of Elizabeth’s home unconscious with a severe wound right below his heart. The captain of his father’s ship thought he would not live through the journey home. He did survive, though barely. His wound healed, but his soul was lost.
As soon as he set foot back in his homeland, he started preparing to go back to Florence, to take Elizabeth with him even if he had to abduct her. His father, the Emperor of Serbia, first pleaded with him to stay for his family, and then ordered him, as his king, not to leave the country while the Turkish invasion was looming. He had ignored both the plea and the order and immediately sailed back to Florence.
Upon his arrival, he learned that Elizabeth had perished in a fire. Rumor had it she had deliberately set the barn on fire so she could escape her marriage to Fernando di Medici. He couldn’t, wouldn’t accept Elizabeth was gone. So he risked his life and sneaked back to Elizabeth’s home, the home she had lived in since childhood with her father, her uncle, and her cousin—the cousin who had sold her to di Medici.
He stealthily bypassed the two guards at the gate who wore the Medici coat of arms and slipped inside her father and uncle’s work studio. A lone candle flickered on a large workbench in the middle of the room. There, a hunched figure seemed to be completely consumed by the stack of papers in front of him. The figure leafed through the stack rapidly while muttering to himself. Rei couldn’t make out what the figure was muttering about, but he recognized the shape of the figure—a tad portly with wild gray-white hairs falling over his shaking shoulders. It was Elizabeth’s uncle—Giovanni. Rei purposely put weight on his footfall, giving away his presence.
“Who’s there?” The old man straightened and tried peering through the shadows.
Rei relished playing the stalking and hunting game. Giovanni’s fearful voice sated his bloodlust to a small degree. Unhurriedly, he stepped out from the shadow at the end of the workbench and prowled to Elizabeth’s uncle with deadly intent.
“Giovanni.” He gave a slight nod.
“You! You!” Fear, outrage, and grief flashed through the old man’s pasty face. Before Giovanni could scream for the guard, Rei leaped over the table at him and propelled the old man against the wall. He was no match against the sheer mass of Rei’s body.
He muffled Giovanni’s scream with his rough, calloused hand. “Be quiet, or I will gut you right here.” He raised his other hand to show Giovanni the glimpse of the light reflecting off his dagger.
Giovanni immediately went quiet and still. Rei savored the terror in his eyes. “I should kill you right now, for Elizabeth. Your son traded her to Fernando for glory and riches.” Without any mercy, he pushed his dagger harder against the old man’s trembling throat, showing he was serious about his threat.
After a moment, satisfied that Giovanni would be cooperating now, he backed up a little and moved his hand from Giovanni’s mouth to his throat, restricting the old man’s vocal cord movement.
“How did Elizabeth die?” His hand applied more pressure.
Giovanni tried to speak through his crushed windpipe, but only gagging noises came through his already blue lips.
Rei was losing patience, and his blood was boiling feverishly. It would be so easy to crush Giovanni dead right here, right now. Suddenly, he remembered how much Elizabeth had loved her uncle. He relaxed his grip a fraction. “Tell me now!”
Reeling from lack of air, Giovanni choked on his words. “Elizabeth did not…” He was still choking. Rei loosened his hand a little more. “Did not what?”
Giovanni was finally able to suck in air. Still wheezing, he said, “Die… Elizabeth did not die.” It took a few moments for him to understand what Giovanni had just said. Comprehension slowly dawned.
“What?” He let go of his chokehold on the man.
“She didn’t die. She lives.” Heaving from the lack of oxygen, Giovanni’s terrified eyes turned somber. “My niece did not die in the fire. She took my experimental time machine and went to some future time.”
He was too shocked to speak; he just stared at Giovanni while the old man continued rambling. “I set the fire after I saw her and the time machine vanish into thin air. I set the blaze so everything would be burned to the ground with nothing left but ashes.”
His heart sped from the news. “Elizabeth didn’t die.” He was already backing away from Giovanni and turning to the door. He was ready to go find her.
“Wait, you cannot find her, not without a time machine.” Giovanni’s words halted him mid stride.