As unplanned break-ins go, this one had gone pretty smoothly. So far, anyway.
Selena knelt under the window and pulled her glove tighter over one hand, smoothing out the wrinkles between her fingers. Of course, she hadn’t actually broken into anything yet, just hopped a couple of fences and avoided a roving security guard in a golf cart. Honestly, she’d expected better security for a university with a rep for technology. After all, they built rockets here. Well, parts of rockets.
A quick peek past the shrubs and trees revealed no late night stragglers wandering past. The patch of sidewalk she’d chosen was fairly secluded—shaded by a couple of nicely placed trees and warded by a spiked garden fence. The most she had to worry about here was someone looking for a spot to make out.
She adjusted her glove again, and sent a spark through the conductive material, feeling out the fit. The metal strip against her wrist felt awkward, and the charge in the capacitor tingled at the contact. Still, not bad for a prototype. She could tweak it later.
Turning her attention to the window, she ran both hands over the metal frame to search for currents. And she found one—a magnetic sensor that would have been invisible without her power. It was easy enough to trick; all she had to do was suppress the field while she opened the window and slipped through. She dropped lightly to the ground, one hand still in contact with the sensor as she lowered the window back into its frame.
Then she paused, listening for the sound of any night personnel moving through the building. Silence. The only light came from a muted bulb in the hallway, and it was several seconds before she could see more than the dim shapes of tables and computers.
Hoisting her backpack higher on her hips, she crossed the room and knelt by the door,
pulling her mini-tablet out of her pocket. It wasn’t as powerful as her Black Box, but it had the benefit of being compact. Besides, it was plenty to deal with a few security cameras. Luckily, the university was more interested in pouring money into football stadiums than security systems, so they’d scrimped on the cameras and only installed them in the hallway corners. She could probably walk all the way to the elevator without getting caught on one.
Selena disabled them anyway, and risked a quick glance into the hallway. Empty, and dark. She slipped a flashlight out of her back pocket, but didn’t switch it on. She had enough light to see the walls, if barely, and just because the building looked deserted didn’t mean it was.
Luckily, she’d been here once with her robotics co-op, and she had a phenomenal memory for detail. She sped through the dark halls, checking every shadow for someone to jump out and arrest her.
No one did, and she reached the central elevator well without incident. While it would be a simple matter to override the keycard access to the basement level, she had a feeling that the sound of the elevator might just alert anyone who happened to be nearby. Also, it was hard to hide in an open box. So she bypassed the lock on the fire door and took the stairs.
Now she did flick her flashlight on, descending the stairs with a growing thrill that surprised her. After everything that happened, she didn’t expect to enjoy putting herself in danger again. But she couldn’t deny that she didn’t entirely hate the feeling.
It heightened as she reached the basement level, but when she stepped out of the stairwell, she was met with the same empty quiet.
With it came a stark disappointment.
Selena had expected it to look more like the inside of Lartech—clean and hi-tech—but it didn’t look much different than the hall upstairs. Cinderblock walls, metal doors labelled with stickers, dirty tile floor. The only difference was security. The doors were fitted with keycard locks, and the security cameras were actually half-decent.
She headed left, surfing the beam of light along the walls to read the labels on the door. An excited, not-very-practical part of her wanted to take time to explore each room. It may not be Lartech, but there was still some seriously cool tech down here. Robotics, rocketry—she’d heard they had a particle accelerator stashed away somewhere. But she’d come here for a purpose, and it was well past curfew. She didn’t have time to play.
Selena found what she was looking for tucked into a corner lab. By the looks of it, the room had been repurposed pretty recently. She could still see stains on the floor from tables that had been moved. Now, half the room was dominated by a single machine—a blocky 3D printer that looked like a cross between a copier and a giant microwave. A giddy excitement stole over her, and she couldn’t resist running her hands over it, letting her brain process design and function.
“Points for efficient use of space,” she said. “But I’m going to have to take off for artistry.” Well, what it lacked in elegance, it made up for in convenience. She crossed the room to the computer, and booted everything up.
“Okay now,” she said, plugging into the system. “Time to get to work.”
* * * * *
An hour later, she decided she’d done enough for one trip. After all, everything she printed, she had to carry out in her bag. That was one reason she’d elected not to bring any tech of her own past the slim tablet tucked in her pocket.
Selena looked over each piece as she loaded it, generally pleased with what she’d produced. There was a bit of a learning curve involved, even with her abilities. The best part was, getting a close look at a high-end machine gave her a clearer picture of how it worked. With time, she might be able to build something comparable.
She made sure to shut everything down, leaving everything just as she’d found it. “See you soon, sexy,” she said, taking one last glance at the printer before she shut off the lights. The basement was as quiet as it had been on her way in.
Easy in, easy out.
At the top of the stairs, she paused to pull out her tablet again, checking the hijacked feed of the security footage. She spotted her errant golf cart cop, checking the computer lab where she’d broken in. Had she set off the alarm after all? Tripped one she hadn’t seen? While she watched, the guard backed out of the room and started down the hall, presumably to make a circuit of the building. She’d circle the long way to avoid him. By the time he caught up, she’d be long gone, and it wasn’t like there was anything missing for him to report.
Selena cradled the tablet over her wrist while she pushed the stairwell door open, slipped through, and eased it shut behind her. She stayed close to the wall as she made her way down the hall, that thrill of excitement firing up again.
When she reached the corner of the last hallway, she halted to cycle through the cameras on her screen. The guard was just backing out of the last classroom. The computer lab where she’d gained entry was about halfway down that hall. As soon as he turned the far corner, she should be able to sneak behind his back into the computer lab. As long as she was quiet, there’s no way he’d catch her.
She peeked around the corner and could see him—a dark silhouette in the beam of his flashlight. He paused for a long second, then he turned, sweeping his flashlight down the next hall, and away from her. Selena didn’t wait. She pushed off, glad she’d worn soft-soled shoes. Halfway there, she slipped—why the hell wasn’t there a wet floor sign?!—and barely caught her balance. But her shoe squeaked against the tile, abnormally loud in the silent building.
Selena froze, afraid she’d only make more noise if she dashed for cover. Surely he hadn’t heard it. Surely—
Suddenly, someone grabbed her from behind and yanked her aside. She would have shrieked, except as soon as she started falling, whoever it was clamped a hand over her mouth and twisted her arm behind her back.
It felt oddly familiar.
“Stop. It’s me,” he whispered.
As soon as she stopped fighting he released her. He’d pulled her into a classroom—not the computer lab, unfortunately. “Over here,” he said, taking her hand, and she followed him to duck behind a table.
Outside, a beam of light flashed past the edges of the door. She held her breath as it opened, and the light strayed over the room, searching. After a minute, it retreated, and the door shut heavily.
Beside her, Aaron let out a sigh of relief.
She heard a brief rustle of movement, and light bloomed between them. Aaron held a flashlight in one hand, and rubbed at his face with the other. “God, Selena,” he said softly, “You hit me right in the jaw.”
“You grabbed me out of nowhere. What did you expect?” she whispered back. “What are you even doing here?”
“Keeping you from getting arrested,” Aaron said, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Obviously.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” he said. “Hang on a sec and I’ll distract him.” Before Selena could respond Aaron stepped forward and blurred out of sight. Selena held her breath, listening, and after a second heard a distant clatter, followed by urgent footsteps. A second later, Aaron reappeared at her side, breathless, and grabbed her hand. “Quick,” he said. “I left the window open when I came in.”
Wait. Had he set off the alarm?
Selena decided they could argue about it later. She followed him across the classroom, and slipped out the open window behind him.
* * * *
Neither of them said anything for a long time. Mostly because they were out of breath, and too concerned with putting distance between them and the engineering building.
It wasn’t until they were on the relatively well-lit concourse that either of them relaxed. This time of night, it was fairly empty, and the few late night stragglers didn’t pay much attention to another couple of people heading home.
Now that the adrenaline had tapered off, the laden backpack was starting to feel heavier. Beside her, Aaron’s quick, stilted steps suggested he was brewing a really spectacular outburst, and she wasn’t sure how to defuse it.
“Where are you parked?” he asked suddenly.
“Huh? Oh, that way,” she said, “Behind the stadium. Do you need a ride?”
“No, I want to make sure you actually leave,” he said as they turned off the main concourse onto a less-traveled path.
“How did you get here, anyway?” Selena asked. “You can’t drive.”
“I can drive. It’s just inadvisable.” He shrugged. “Carter drove me. He doesn’t know why. I ditched him at the library so he wouldn’t try to follow.”
“Thanks,” she said. The fewer people who knew about this little incident the better.
“Oh, I’m going to tell him,” Aaron said. “I’m going to tell everyone. What were you thinking?”
Selena shrugged. “I needed parts,” she said. “I couldn’t make them with the tools I have, and it’s not something I could order.” Not without ending up on a terrorist watch list, anyway. “He wouldn’t have caught me,” she added.
“Yeah, he would have,” Aaron said.
“How do you know?”
He tapped the side of his head with two fingers. “Psychic, remember?”
“Your visions aren’t perfect,” she said.
“Just highly accurate.”
“Well…You could have texted me instead of tackling me in the hallway. I could have hurt you!”
“Yeah, I did text you. And called you. Your phone’s off.” He thrust both hands in his pockets and brooded at the sidewalk. For a second. Then the dam burst. “God, Selena. For a genius, this was monumentally stupid. And illegal.”
“We’ve done illegal things before,” Selena said.
“Yeah, and for the most part I think we all regretted that,” Aaron said. “Anyway, there’s a difference. We did those things to save lives, and to help our friends. This is…this is a crime of convenience. You do realize it’s not the same, don’t you?”
Selena hunched her shoulders and stared at her feet. One of her shoes had a scuff mark over the toe. “It’s not like I stole anything,” she said. “I was just borrowing equipment.”
“The fact that you don’t see what’s wrong with that worries me, Selena.” He sighed. “Maybe I should have let you get arrested.”
“I was just—” she bit off her words and frowned at the ground. It suddenly felt much colder. They had passed under the shadow of the stadium, and the darkness seemed to press over her. It was weird, because she hadn’t felt any doubt over what she was doing until Aaron had caught her. She didn’t know why that mattered, but it did.
No, she told herself. He wasn’t going to come in and white knight her into feeling guilty.
“I did what I had to do,” she said. “Someone has to make sure we’re prepared.”
“Prepared?” The anger in his voice had changed to something else—something softer, but not any happier. Dread, maybe. “What exactly are you preparing for?”
“Whatever happens,” Selena said.
“Nothing’s going to happen,” Aaron said.
“You don’t know that. Avalon’s still out there. Molly’s dad is actively looking for her.”
“We don’t know for sure that it’s the same person,” Aaron said. “Even if she is, it’s been months. If she was going to move against us, she’d have done it. Leveille is in jail, and she’s more than likely forgotten about us. Or written us off.”
“Maybe,” Selena said. “Maybe not. But—”
“I haven’t seen anything—”
“Just because you can see some things doesn’t mean you can see everything!” she said. Despite herself, her voice cracked. “What about the dam? You didn’t see that coming, did you? You didn’t see Brennan getting shot! Or Ivy getting kidnapped. What if someone else comes for us? Or some other disaster happens and we aren’t ready for it? When that jet engine exploded, you didn’t figure it out until it was too late—”
“And I still wake up at night thinking about it!” Aaron said. “And I’m constantly—constantly looking for danger, for any sign something else might happen. I’ve been looking, Selena. I can control it now. My visions are clearer, I’m getting better at directing them—”
“But you can’t see everything!” she shouted. “You’ll never be able to see everything.”
Embarrassed at the sudden out burst, she started walking again, in fast, aggressive strides with her shoulders hunched up to her chin. They were rounding the stadium now, and Selena could see the solitary shape of her motorcycle in the corner of the empty lot. She didn’t wait to see if Aaron followed her, not until she’d sped up the hill and hopped over the short fence around the lot. She’d already started pulling her helmet on when he caught up to her.
“Selena!” he called, out of breath. “Just—”
“Do you want a ride to the library?” she asked, swinging her leg over the side of the bike. “I have an extra helmet.”
“Uh, no,” he said.
“All right then.” She started the bike.
“Wait, we need to talk about this! At least tell me what you’re building!”
She considered shoving him out of the way and taking off without a response. Instead, she said, “It would be easier to show you. Saturday morning, at the lake.”
“Tell the others to come, too.”
She revved the engine to drown out his protests, and kicked the bike into gear a little faster than she should have. Aaron stepped back, and she caught a brief glimpse of annoyance on his face before he was out of sight. She’d deal with the consequences later.