Excerpt for Reaction by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





REACTION

Book Three:

The Threestone Trilogy

By AR Rivera





REACTION

Book 3

The Threestone Trilogy

By A.R. Rivera



ISBN: 9781370286508
Published for Smashwords, Inc.

The Threestone Trilogy is an original sci-fi/fantasy, speculative fiction tale created and written by A.R. Rivera.

This series is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, objects, locales, or any other named or unnamed thing is unintended and coincidental.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. This book is licensed and intended for the reader’s personal enjoyment. This book is not to be given, copied, manipulated, or resold without express permission from the author.

If you enjoy this novel, please encourage others to purchase a copy for themselves. Writing a book takes a considerable amount of time and effort. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





All Rights reserved.

Copyright 2017 A.R. Rivera

Cover images provided by morguefile.com and used in cooperation with terms and conditions therein. All images have been manipulated into cover artwork by A.R. Rivera.

Fonts provided 1001fonts.com





re·ac·tion [r-kshn]
Noun

A response to stimulus. The state resulting from such a response.

A reverse or opposing action.

A tendency to revert to a former state.

Chemistry A change or transformation in which a substance decomposes, combines with other substances, or interchanges constituents with other substances.

Physics A nuclear reaction.

Physics An equal and opposite force exerted by a body against the force acting upon it.

*Websters Dictionary



Contents

PART SEVEN

The Curse of Righteousness

Swift Kick In the Marbles

This Isn’t a Competition

This is Absolutely a Competition And I’m Losing

A Little Clarity Goes a Long Way

Getting Boned

Someone Please Gouge My Eyes Out

Truth and Consequences

Making the Best of a Pile of Crap

In Need of Assurance

Of Course Size Matters

If It Ain’t Broke Fix It Anyway

Event Horizon

The Reason

For Glory And Iron Roses

Riddles and Chance

Ironic Twists And a Conscience That Won’t Quit

What The Hell Is Wrong With People?

Not-So-Great Escape

Edge of the Universe

It Is What It Is and Ain’t What It Ain’t

PART EIGHT

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

The Motherless Child

It’s Like I’m Constantly Giving Away Children

Mountains Molehills And Curvaceous Exes

Nuclear Winter Wonderland

A Matter of Touch

This Just Keeps Getting Better

Killing In The Name Of

This Plane is Oozing Deuces

Can’t Find The Better Man

What’chya Gonna Do About It

In The Light of Day

The Nature of War

Winning And Losing Are Often The Same Thing

Short People In Tall Circumstances

Violence And Destruction

Two Too Many

Revelations

It’s Scientific; Not So Terrific

Going Back is Moving Forward

Stick And Move

There And Back. Again.

Signs Of The Times

In Case of Flying Objects

Guess Who’s Scarred For Life

The Earth is A Tomb

What Matters Most

Electromagnetic Thing-a-ma-jig

Play It Again

Pushing Forward

When Jackasses Fly

Choose In Haste Regret In Leisure

The Anchor Or The Noose

Threestone Take The Wheel

A Little Light

The Beginning Of The End

High-Time For Change

Problems With Satellites And Airplanes

A Happy Ending? What’s That?

My Dearest Abilene

But-But It Was Right Here

Sometimes You Just Gotta Go For It

Burning Bridges And Everything Else

A Whisper of Caution

Trying To Reason With Fire

Of Smoke And Mirrors, Fire And Ash

Worlds Turn Like Pages

The Day Is Playing Out Like an R.E.M. Song

PART NINE

Before, There Was

During, There Is

After What’s Next

Paying Pipers And Other Nonsense

Small Moves Big Change

Last Chapter

A Higher Road



Epilogue

Other Books By A.R. Rivera




























“… Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

Luke 20:18








PART SEVEN





1 The Curse of Righteousness

WITH THE KNIFE I took from the boy, Nahuiollin, pressed into his throat, I find myself dangerously curious.

Is this murder? Or protecting the collective worlds?

Anger is a familiar emotion. An easy one.

It’s a big black clouds pressing down, infecting like a plague. And you respond with a storm; raining down spite and vitriol. When it doesn’t go your way, the anger translates to rage, and your storm becomes a hurricane.

Rage has brought my hands to the pencil-thin neck of this small, but dangerous native boy who’s already stabbed me several times. Sure, I came here to kill him, but I changed my mind. Then he attacked me.

I’ve spent half my life pissed at the world, and still never felt this … intense. This is like a hostile takeover. The rage is here, in my face, blotting out everything else.

I’ve taken his knife and now I want to surrender to this roaring emotion: to let it completely take me over, to make me forget everything I ever thought was true about myself. To let the rage drive me from the brink of my own value system to a shady place where I don’t want to care about consequences.

What would it mean to lose myself to this hatred? To simply glide the blade across his throat?

The ragged sound of Nahuiollin’s breath slows. Beneath my choking grip, the boys’ muscles relax. He tilts his head back, bares his throat; giving up, as if he’s accepting fate.

What is wrong with this kid? He’s giving me permission to slit his gullet?

What’s wrong with me that I can press a knife into his throat and want to turn the pale skin red?

If I follow through with Abi-Two’s plan, there will be no going back for me.

Real rage destroys.

Am I willing to kill what he will become at the price of who I am now?

Returning to this ancient plane where I’ve seen what happened after I took the duplicate stones—since I left, there has been fire and chaos and death.

Wasn’t that what Doyen told me? That he led the light-skinned stranger to the stones. He showed mercy and was exiled for it. Not before being forced to watch his family die.

Is that what happened to Nahuiollin? He’s out here all alone.

Are those figures in the burnt field the remnants of his family? Did they die because of me?

He showed me where the stones were and I took them, because that was the whole reason for being here in the first place. That, and to answer my fathers’ murder; committed by the one he called Nahuiollin.

I’m supposed to be here to prevent this kid from becoming Daemon; to kill this version of him before he goes postal on me like his counterpart did my father.

But this kid isn’t old enough to sprout pit-hair.

Droplets of blood from the slice on my cheek dot his face. And something about it fixes me. Settles the confusion.

Nahuiollin is crumpled like foil under my grip. He seems too small, and undeserving of the universal wrath I came to lay on him.

No matter who Abi-Two says he will become, right now, Nahuiollin isn’t the man who killed my father, my friend, any of those people in the bus, or the driver of the diesel truck. He isn’t the man who shot, stabbed, or threw me from a rooftop. He’s not a man at all. Just a lost, scared kid.

My entire life I’ve been driven from one decision to the next, most times feeling like the choices were made for me. But I have to stop doing that. It gets me nowhere.

And this … this kid doesn’t deserve to be punished for things he hasn’t done yet. Things he may never do.

“Mercy,” I tell him. “You remember this mercy.”

Careful to keep the long blade pressed to his throat, I release my grip of his hair and go for the rope in my backpack. The move makes me light-headed.

Nahuiollin doesn’t struggle. He doesn’t kick or try to roll away when I work the loop around his knees even though I’m sure he sees my hands shaking. It’s weird that he doesn’t fight when I wrap the other end over his wrists, then his shoulders, and around his neck.

Suddenly, the warm forest air is freezing and I can’t get enough of it into my lungs no matter how deeply I breathe. And then I realize that I’m not in as much pain as I was a few minutes ago.

Days I spent camping with my father hang on the edge of my memory. He used to lecture me about knowing what to do if I was bitten by a snake; how to recognize the symptoms.

My eyes blur, like they’re crossing.

Nahuiollin’s tied-up, no longer a threat, but we are in the middle of a forest in an ancient plane and I’m bleeding. There’s a feeling in my gut shouting at me to hustle, that I could be in deep fucking trouble.

Still, I make myself relax—for just a few seconds—before forcing myself to get up and take stock of my wounds. The cut across my cheek is wet, like it’s bleeding a lot but doesn’t sting when I touch it. My arms are too heavy when I roll up the sleeve of my shirt. Clumsy fingers struggle with shredded fabric. The slice on my forearm is superficial, but I can see white traces of tendon under the red.

I notice the nail of my thumb looks blue and … shit I’m so dizzy.

I force myself to keep moving. Lifting my shirt to check the most serious wound; the spot where that little-shit stabbed me. My jeans drip with dark red blood.

As I run my hand over the fabric, Nahuiollin spouts again, in that guttural language that sounds like he’s got too much spit in his mouth. It’s definitely not Latin-based. If it were, I might understand a little. But the only sentiment I’m getting is anger.

“The feeling’s mutual.” I flash a look to let him know he needs to shut it.

Nahuiollin’s wearing such a grueling, satisfied smile. It only confirms my suspicion: I am in deep shit. Not only am I bleeding like I got my first period, but I barely feel my arms. He stabbed me low on my side, nowhere near my lungs, yet I can’t catch a breath.

He’s done something to me.

Going back to the knife, I take stock of the long, slightly bent blade, and carved handle made to look like a coiled snake.

It takes all my focus and every ounce of my will to grab at the pouch of stones and beg them to, “Save me. Take us both. Please. Find help.”

Before I finish asking, we’re both taken up in the blue funnel cloud—the burning gateway. My vision washes with unnamed colors.





2 Swift Kick in the Marbles

I can’t remember a damn thing. Not a single second since asking the stones to save me.

Most people—if they woke up in a blinding-white room, wearing only a hospital gown, and while trying to innocently scratch their face only to find that both of their arms have been strapped to the bed—would freak out. But this isn’t my first rodeo. Actually, it’s not even the second time this has happened to me. Nope. I’d be as cool as a cucumber if that were the only weird part of this scenario.

What’s got me kicking and screaming is that the only thing inside this room is me and the bed I’m strapped to. The walls are plain white. No windows and one white panel the size of a door. I’m assuming it’s a door even though there’s no knob.

There are no heart rate monitors or IV poles. Not a single roll-away tray table with food on it. No stench of antiseptic. No rocking chair or television set. No intercom for me to call a nurse. No hospital-like track lighting.

Maybe I’m not in a hospital? But that makes no sense because that is what I told the stones to do. Isn’t it? To save me, to get me some place with antivenin at the ready.

I think … I remember thinking of Abi. But she’d rather let me die—and enjoy watching. Then …

I can’t remember a damn thing.

Now, it’s just me in here and there isn’t a single murderous, little native boy tied-up anywhere. No clothes or backpack full of supplies, and most importantly: no Threestone.

“Let me out!”

I must have passed-out before we got to the other side of the gateway, and then that little shit probably found a way out of the rope and ran off with my stones.

“Untie me! Now!”

I’ve got to find him. I’ve got to get the stones back before he figures out how to use them.

Searching for some kind of information I spot, there, in the center of the room, a small dome in the ceiling; the kind that houses a security camera.

I curse at whoever’s watching and try to think of my next move.

Once when I was on a camping trip with my Dad—I must have been about thirteen—we were sitting around the fire like we always did. I’d watch the flames consume the wood while Dad rattled out his “tall tales” about giants or warriors. But this one night, he told me a story about a three-legged donkey named Persey, short for Perseverance.

One day, while Persey was grazing far-out in the field, he fell into an old well. When the farmer found him, there was no way to hoist the heavy animal out. So, the farmer called his sons. He’d decided to bury Persey, rather than let him starve down in the dry well.

After a few hours of shoveling, the farmer looked inside the hole and was surprised to find that aside from being very dirty, the donkey was fine.

Every time the farmers sons poured dirt down the hole, the donkey shook it off, stomped his three good feet and packed the dirt underneath him. More dirt fell, Persey shook off the dirt and stamped it under his feet.

The farmer and his sons kept shoveling until the hole was shallow enough for Persey to walk out.

My limitations are clear: This room is a hole if I’ve ever seen one. I can’t move like I want to, but I can move.

The straps are wide, made of white leather, and buckled around my wrists. Tight. My ankles are also bound, but the straps around them have longer tethers that reach the corner of the bed frame.

With my hands firmly planted at each side, I grab hold of the frame under the mattress and kick my legs in unison, as high and fast as I can. The bedframe rattles and the thin blanket covering me flops around. It’s one of those hospital-type beds with the metal railings.

I’m hoping that my stones took me to a world where the hospital beds have locked wheels under rickety legs.

Keeping my grip tight on the frame, I kick over and over, using all the momentum. The bed jumps and wobbles. So I keep going, shaking the frame as hard as I can. The bed shakes—the judders growing. I feel the feet skip over the floor and move faster. Kick harder, until air whizzes into my ear and the shiny white tile hits me in the face.

I’m on the floor, breathing hard and nearly laughing, with the mattress resting against my back. But the damned bedrails are holding. I’m stuck.

The floor is cold against my left side. I can’t draw my feet up to push off the floor enough to see. Both my arms are pulled at odd angles. The left is tucked under and behind me while the right yanks at the railing, trying to pry it from the frame.

Suddenly, there’s a woman’s voice. Clear as day. It sounds sweet, almost soothing, as it directs me to quit fighting, but when I raise my head, there’s no one.

The female voice orders again, “Stop struggling, Mr. Springer.” And then I know it’s coming from a speaker that I can’t see.

I respond, “Let me go.”

A noise like scraping metal tells that the door is opening. Squirming now, I try hoist my shoulders higher off the floor, but a sudden pain in my side makes me jump. The thin mattress works it’s way from behind me an folds over me.

All four restraints still miserably intact.

On the other side of the pillow that’s blocking most of my view is a big pair of boots with thick, black soles. A mix of brushed Suede and woven denim. Military issue waffle stompers.

“What is wrong with you?” It’s a man’s voice.

“My face itches.”

He harrumphs. “Yeah. Stitches are like that. Manage a scratch yet?”

Stitches, of course. “Still working on it.”

“They sent me to tell you that if you pop any, you’re out of luck. Doc’s gone for the day.”

The silence that follows is long and uncomfortable. It makes my ears itch, like this guy, whoever he is, is somehow talking about me without my hearing it.

“They saved your life, you know,” he adds. Another uncomfortable stretch of silence.

“You’re welcome, asshole.” With that, the military boots turn and walk out.

Even though I’ve got more questions than ever, I’m not about to ask. Something about that particular pair of shoes makes me think I don’t want to hear anything he’s got to say.

That might have been my only chance at getting answers, though. And I blew it. Of course—that’s about as new as Tuesday. I always screw up everything.

The squeak of the door closing makes my chest tighten.

I shake my head and the pillow falls to one side. Grabbing the corner with my mouth, I pull it close enough to quell the temptation of smashing my head into the tiles. Another concussion will get me nowhere.

I need to focus on my next move.

But there isn’t one; not that I can see anyway. I can’t get out of here on my own. I don’t know who put me here. I don’t even know where here is.

I am at the cusp of a dark descent into that familiar spiral of shame and regret when the door screeches open again.

Looking up, I’m sure I must be seeing things because there is no damned way that prick is walking towards me.

It’s the same tool in a suit that I barely missed when me and Abi ditched the hospital. The same douche leading the troupe of agents that chased me from Elijah’s Jetta.

It’s Crew-Cut, the Homeland Security agent that’s been chasing me since before I was aware of what I’d gotten myself into.

Damn. I am so screwed.



3 This Isn’t a Competition

There’s a strong pain in both my heels as a man dressed like an orderly helps me to my feet. Feels like I haven’t used them in months.

It makes me wonder, “How long have I been here?”

Crew-Cut watches. Hears me ask the question and repeat it when, neither he nor the orderly responds.

Anger comes one quick, shifting the silence from awkward to rage-filled.

When the orderly turns to set my bed upright, I notice he’s got a small pack held by nylon laces on his back. Reminds me of the flimsy gym bag I had in high school. I can tell from the shape that there are clothes inside.

He shifts the mattress back in place. Without bothering to put the sheets back on, he swings the small sack from his shoulders onto the bed and turns to face me. Suddenly there are two hands on my hospital gown. The thin material rips and hits the floor.

I’m stark naked, screaming, “What the fu—”

“Get dressed,” the orderly shouts, pointing at the small bag on the bed.

I’d like strangle him with the strings of that bag.

I used to have nightmares about standing in a school hallway, naked and scared. But this real-life scenario is so far from that childhood incubus. There’s no humiliation, only a deep desire to make him suffer as my eyes scan my arms, noting the long slash from Nahuiollin’s knife is stitched and clean. There are also bruises growing on both my wrists and another patch of stitches on my side, surrounded by bright pink skin.

Knowing the men’s intention is to bring me to heel, to humiliate me into obedience, makes me defiant. I’m no one’s lap dog.

“And if I don’t?”

Crew-Cut is standing behind me. I hear but don’t turn when he offers, “You can walk around naked.”

The orderly repeats the command. “Get dressed!”

“What do you want from me?”

“You’ll get answers after you’re dressed.”

And then the two men stand there, watching, determinately waiting.

I wish for a nasty fart to clear the room.

When the dark cloth is yanked from my head, I haven’t got a clue where I am, but know it’s approximately three-hundred and twenty-seven steps from the place where they grabbed me. We took a right and three lefts to get here. The floor was smooth and cold most of the way. This room has a rug.

The room is dark compared to the last. Still, my eyes burn from the sudden light. The moment I got my legs in my jeans, it went black. They came at me, put a bag on my head, zipped my hands behind my back and shoved me here.

It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust, and when they do I can tell I’m in an office. Wood paneled walls and lamps with red shades. My bare toes grab at the plush carpet beneath them.

The chair they force me into is plush leather, deep red with carved wooden trim. I sit still while Crew-Cut squats beside me. My aim is to knee him in the face, but the one dressed like an orderly grabs my hair, pulls my head back, and warns me not try anything stupid.

I reckon stupidity is subjective and spit in his face, managing to crack off half a laugh at the loogey hanging from his nose before my mouth fills with a foreign substance. My stomach lurches as I realize he’s spit back at me.

Before I’m done hacking up the spittle, each of my ankles are strapped to chair legs. The wound on my side screams as Crew-Cut shoves me forward to get at my hands still bound behind my back. The tie around them disappears. Before I can fight, though, there’s a man on each side, each holding one of my arms.

“Don’t try it,” Orderly warns, as my hands form into fists. His nose is still wet.

I pause for a second, thinking through the nausea. What’s my next move? If I did get a shot on him, it’d probably be just the one. Then he’d fire back and … Would it be worth it?

My left hand is in another zip-tie which is attached to a metal loop on the side of the plush chair. The right is zipped up and anchored down just as quickly. One moment of hesitation and I’m defenseless.

“Eat shit.” I say.

“Sleep with your eyes open.” He warns before being dismissed by Crew-Cut.

I spit on the floor beside the chair, glad to see him go.

“Where am I?”

“A few miles outside Colorado Springs.”

That shuts me up. How the hell did I get here? My head whips around to face Crew-cut. “What am I doing here? Why are you holding me?”

“I can’t give you any answers, Mr. Springer.” He gives a quick nod and walks out.

Singing “Ninety-nine bottles” is a terrible way to pass the time.

What I should be doing is formulating a plan, but there’s still that pesky problem of being short on information and what I’ve gleaned so far is depressing.

I’m being held in Colorado?

I asked the stones to save me and they brought me to Crew-Cut: to Homeland Security. To the very people I have been purposely avoiding since before I even knew the stones existed. What does that mean?

I’m down to thirty-three bottles before the door opens again. A man not much older than me walks in. He’s wearing a gray polo shirt with the official DHS seal embroidered in the left side of his chest; a small wreath, stars, and a shield identifying him as one of them.

Around his neck he wears a leather lanyard holding an identification badge. It says he is Marshall Stevens, Intelligence Coordinator Omega, A-2. There’s a red bar just above his name.

He sits in the chair behind the desk without looking at me and opens a few drawers like he’s searching for something. Clearing his throat, he speaks.

“Good morning, Mr. Springer.”

Now I know its morning. “It’s not so good from where I’m sitting.”

“We have a few things to get through today and are pressed for time, as usual. We appreciate your full cooperation in the matters before us.”

“Is that what you call this, Marshall,” my hands pull on the restraints, “Cooperation?”

He looks up, setting a pair of bifocals on his nose.

I give my best fake smile. “Sorry I can’t help, I’m a bit tied up at the moment.”

“You came to us, Mr. Springer.”

I’m shaking my head. “No, I asked to be saved and ended up here.” I’m already regretting that decision.

“Asked?” He queries. And I immediately regret opening my fat mouth.

His eyes take on a strange light, magnified by the cut of his lenses. “Whom did you ask?” When I don’t answer, he continues. “By my count, we’ve always had to catch you. You came to us this time. Very near death, so obviously your landing on our doorstep was a conscious choice. You may have changed your mind since then, but we’ll change it back.”

Nonsense. It’s bullshit-nonsense—every word further convincing me he’s not as informed as he’d like me to think he is.

Of course it wasn’t conscious, but I don’t want to tell him that. “You know, for someone asking questions, you sure seem to know a lot about me.”

He leans forward, folding his hands over the stack of papers and staring me straight in the eye. “We’ll get to that, Mr. Springer. First, I need an answer: whom did you ask to bring you here?”

Again, I say nothing.

“Going by the wash of confusion I’m reading on your face, I’m thinking that you are ignorant of exactly where we are.”

No-duh, shit-stain. “Just outside Colorado Springs.”

He tilts his head in understanding. “Agent Davis would tell you that much.”

“Agent Davis? I’ve been calling him Crew-Cut.”

“It seems he left out some important details regarding this location. We’re in an underground military installation, just outside Colorado Springs.”

I figured as much, but I’m not telling him that.

“You see, the reason I need an answer from you about who led you here, is because no one is allowed in this place unless they are assigned here. And the privilege of that prestigious position only comes with proper security clearance.”

He pauses, possibly waiting for me to say something more.

“You have not been granted clearance Mr. Springer. So, who did you ask to bring you here?”

He’s greeted by silence.

“As I thought,” he stands up, pressing a button on the phone and speaks, “Tell Davis to notify the team. We’re gonna need the Helmet.”

“You gonna to force me to play football now, too?”

“No, Mr. Springer. We’re going to make you talk.”



4 This is Absolutely a Competition and I’m Losing

I don’t hear the door open. My only clue that someone else has entered the room is when everything goes black again. They’ve shoved another sack over my head.

Instinct has me fighting the feel of iron-like arms removing my hands and feet from the ties on the chair. Kicking and punching: well attempting to. It’s only a second or two before I feel the sharp pinch in my shoulder. My minds’ eye conjures the image of a needle.

A moment passes and suddenly, it’s like the world has gone thin. Stretched. The distance between my limbs and my brain becomes this vast expanse that my will can’t cross.

Threestone, where are you?

Then, the voices start.

“We’re on our way to E-3. Alpha-1 in tow.”

Why did You leave me here?

“Subject is sedated.”

“Should we really be doing this?”

“Following orders?”

Static fills my brain.

“You are going to be okay, G. Just tell them what happened. That’s all you have to do.”

I’m sure I recognize the voices.

“Are you sure he’s okay?”

My brain conjures images of stick figure people standing over me, strapping me to a board. I can’t fight. Can’t see. Only hear. So I listen.

“It’s mostly sodium thiopental. It’s harmless.”

“Doesn’t make it right.” The voice is soft … like a fuzzy pink teddy bear.

“Sometimes doing the right thing feels wrong.” That one has an edge to it.

I can feel the gentle breeze of movement. The voices ricochet.

I imagine a group of children sitting at the edge of an old well, leaning over it, yelling. They laugh when the echoes come back to them.

“He’s already talking. This may work faster than we hoped.”

I feel like I’m floating. I know I’m not in a good place, but can’t remember why it’s bad—can’t find the energy to care.

A light comes on, and I blink to find a stretched man hovering overhead. He’s staring at me. Looks like someone I’ve seen before. Maybe that uptight guy … stick up his ass.

Emptiness takes over as I remember something is missing.

Gone.

Spaghetti fingers weave through my hair. There’s pressure on my head and more voices. Different ones that I don’t know from Eve.

“Mr. Springer, we are going to ask you some questions. The sooner you tell us what we need to know, the sooner this will all be over.”

It takes no effort at all to speak, but the rest of my body is out to lunch.

I want to know where my inheritance went. “Where are they?” My father trusted me. I can’t lose them.

It seems like hours pass before anyone answers me. Why can’t I see them?

A blurred figure stands next to the stringy man and his ugly mug. The face is covered by a doctor mask and cap. “How did you get here, Mr. Springer?”

How did I get here? That’s one long-ass story. I’m not sure where it started but I know that my father left me a box of papers.

And I trusted Eli to search through it, to glean the pertinent information, because he was always so much smarter than me and a much faster reader, and I figured he’d be able to find what I needed to know about the stones.

But that was wrong. It was my responsibility to learn it, for myself. To find out if this adventure was about more than just protecting my inheritance.

The stones hold so much power, can harness such unimaginable forces. It’s hard to really relate things that I’ve learned about them because putting it into words sounds crazy. But they are a part of me and I am a part of them.

In World Two, I found out that my little sister—her alternate—wasn’t dead. Because I was able to save her.

In Ice World, I met people who had seen all the technology a human race could create. Doyen said they destroyed their planet with it. How can humans be so intelligent and so idiotic at the same time? Then, I killed him …

I got stuck in that Native World, where it was like traveling back in time. I saw the richest, brightest colors I’ve ever seen. I found of a tribe of natives Eli called the Suma. Usually, and historically, tribes within the region were rich in melanin. But the people I found; their skin was as white as the snow I’d left in Ice World.

I came across the boy with a necklace that held three button-like charms—one white, one red, one black—with three beautiful symbols carved into them. He took me to a hidden field where I found my way to a set of stones sitting out in the open, on some sort of alter, like they worshipped them.

The body I stumbled across in the grassy plain had golden bracelets that covered his forearms. On the tops of those bracelets were three indentions with symbols like the stones.

I watched as a tribal chieftain danced on a hilltop, trying to coax a funnel cloud to the ground.

When the lightning reached out for my Threestone, I remember wanting to get as far from that place as possible. And I did.

I ended up in another plane where each day lasted only a minute. I hiked to a dead patch and found another set of stones. When I returned to the spot I landed in, I watched a distant city turned to rubble by flying objects that moved too fast to see while vines grew around my feet and legs. I didn’t see the big bomb dropping, either. Just the white flash and unbearable heat.

In the next world, I thought I was home. I walked along paved roads and kicked manmade pebbles. There were irrigated fields and street lights. I was elated watching cars pass me by.

I looked at the blue skies and thanked the stars that I was able to make it back.

That’s where I first saw Abi-Two, who told me that the stones are able to hold a charge. I remember thinking, ‘that’s a trick I need to learn.’ But I didn’t have to. The stones just started doing it on their own, like an unasked favor.

They always do things for me. I just have to ask.

I wonder what she’s doing right now. Does she know I failed? Does she hate me like my Abi?

Part of me longs to go back there. Longs to be able to just reach out and touch her. But she’s so far from me and it’s all my fault. I lied to her repeatedly and she moved on with her life while I was gone.

She had no reason to trust I’d be back and no desire to wait. When she smiled at me and said those three earth-shattering words “I hate you” … my heart was already broken, but she proved it could shatter more than once.

It’s over for good this time.

But the stones are always with me. Through it all I had them, until I got here. That’s what is wrong with this place. If the stones were here, then it would be okay.

“You’ll get them back just as soon as we know you’re willing to cooperate.”

I don’t know why that’s funny but it is. Hilarious. I’m shaking with laughter. These people don’t give. Only take and tell lies.

“No one is lying to you, Mr. Springer.”

“That’s enough,” the stringy man says. “Who did you ask to bring you here? Who are you working with?”

That guy’s a moron. If he knew anything he’d know the stones take me wherever I want. Most of the time. They always save me. But it doesn’t matter now because they’re gone.

That kid, too. He’s gone. I don’t think I was supposed to lose him. The memory jolts me.

“He took them!” I had them. He stabbed me and took them.

A memory from some faraway place, like a lasso, it pulls me closer, and I know … like it’s happened before. I was fighting that boy. But he was a man. There was a crash, and … I saw Carrie. Abi said he stole my wallet.

“Mr. Springer …”

Oh, God. I wish they’d stop calling me that. Mr. Springer was my dad. Not me. But I lost him, too.

Then, Eli.

And Abi …God, I miss them.

The voices are mumbling around me.

The static begins to fade, not much, but enough for me to understand that they somehow read my mind; because they’re talking about Eli and the Threestone. And my dad.

“This doesn’t exactly inspire loyalty.”

The stringy man is looking at someone I can’t see. “A few more minutes.”

A voice mumbles back at him. Wah-wha-wah, like a deathly-ill trumpet, or the grown-ups in Peanuts cartoons.

“We need the truth, Mr. Springer.”

The truth? The truth has eluded me since the very beginning. My father made no secret of his intention to keep me in the dark. He was evasive when asked about his choices, his scars, and any part of his life before I was born. He kept it all from me, he said, because he grew up “knowing everything” and still screwed up.

The static keeps lifting and I’m lost in the word: truth.

Because the truth is that I’m the screw-up. I still created the monster and didn’t have the balls to undo it. But now I think I know something … I think my father was wrong.

Because the things he kept from me were the very things I needed to know to stop Daemon. To stop myself from creating another one of him.

In that final video, my father addressed his murderer by name. I thought he did it on purpose, so I followed that name. He shouldn’t have called him Nahuiollin. He should have told me what it meant to follow him, instead of just telling me not to.

If he’d only told me why. If he’d just said that by following that name, that I’d be turning an innocent little boy into a power-hungry, murderous monster, then I never would have interfered.

But now it’s too late. It’s half-past too-late. Because I created the monster—my own personal Frankenstein—and then I lost him. And he took my stones with him.



5 A Little Clarity Goes a Long Way

The last thing I remember is … Crew-Cut telling me I was in Colorado. A face flashes in memory. A bland man in a grey polo smirking. “Agent Davis would tell you that much.”

Tell Davis to notify the team…”

The Helmet.

Oh, God, my head hurts …

My hands shake as I take stock of my limbs, wondering if they’re still in working order, which they are.

The sound of a knock makes my head feel as if it’s splitting in half. It’s followed by an unexpected voice.

“May I come in?” He leans into the open doorframe I hadn’t noticed in the wall behind me. I hadn’t even thought of looking for a door, much less expected to find one open.

The shocking concept of an open door pales in comparison to staring into the eyes of the guy who was my only ally. The same man I watched I die just a few days ago; shot dead by Daemon for being in my general vicinity.

I can still feel the blood on my hands.

My smart-ass high school buddy turned brilliant physicist, Elijah Thacker, is standing in the doorway to this shithole. I don’t know whether to punch or hug him.

Before I can decide, Eli gulps and extends a hand. “I’m Eli. We met once before, in Ivanhoe, but I don’t know if you remember me. Do you remember me?”

Why is he here? I wonder, but answer, “Of course.” The vibration of my voice makes me cringe. I grip my head in my hands and curse.

When I open my eyes, he’s gone. The doorway is still there, still wide open, but I’m alone. Clamping my eyes shut, I’m sure I must be seeing things.

There’s no relief from this headache as I try to think. Moving makes it worse, but I have to get out of here—wherever here is. The moment I get to my feet, I notice I’m still wearing jeans, which is good, but haven’t got a shirt or shoes.

There’s a bulky trunk on the floor at the end of my bunk. I decide to check out the contents. Leaning over the lid, I hear his voice again.

“Here,” he says quietly.

My neck snaps around to the open doorway and sure enough—he’s there. Eli. Not the original, but pretty damned close. He’s got the same short, neat beard. Hair cut above his collar, but long enough on the sides to hold it behind his ears. He looks older than my dead friend by at least five years.

Eli’s stretching out his hand again, only this time, not to make an unnecessary introduction. There are two white pills resting on his palm.

When I hesitate, he adds. “It’s for the headache.”

I watch him, unsure how to respond.

“I was supposed to bring them. I don’t know why I forgot. I get nervous making introductions.” He shifts his weight from one foot to the other.

“Introductions.” I’ve known him most of my life—well another version of him.

Eli shakes his head. “When we met in Ivanhoe … I played along. I gave you the safety word but … you still thought I was from your universe.”

“Macaroni,” I recall, remembering how surprised I was to see the man who I thought was my best friend in those hills. My friend Elijah had picked the safety-word at random from a massive dictionary he kept in his office. Random was supposed to be safer than consciously choosing.

“Not so safe, after all, I guess. I should have used a two-word phrase.”

“Is anything,” I question, “Safe, I mean?”

The ghost of a smile he’s been wearing disappears. He presses his open hand closer to me, stepping further into the small room. “You should take these. That headache won’t go away anytime soon and we have work to do.”

I stare at the offered relief. My gut says he wouldn’t hurt me, but then again, he’s here.

“Why are you working for them?”

He sighs. “I know this is hard, but G, there is so much you don’t know about what’s happening—about what has to happen—we all need you at your best. And we’re short on time.”

With every word my head pounds, it’s tough keeping my eyes open.

“Need me? What the hell for?” I ask, and then snatch the pills from his hand, quickly swallowing them down. I’ve never had a headache like this—not even after being shot. Eating strange pills is a gamble I don’t mind taking.

“I haven’t got the stones or the kid, Eli. I went back to that ancient plane and tried to do what Abi-Two wanted, but … Then I—I don’t know. I jumped. I’m here, he’s not and the stones are gone.”

As I say it, I hear the quiver in my voice. Screw the headache being bad—it’s the heartache that will kill me. I lost the most powerful, most beautiful thing anyone has ever known. And failed my father.

A thought occurs to me … “What year is it?”

“2018.”

I throw up my hands and plop back down on the small bed. “This is Abi-Two’s world, isn’t it?” Dammit. Did I think of her before I jumped into the gateway?

“How did you meet her?” Eli crosses his arms.

If it were anyone else asking, I’d probably tell them where to stick their curiosity: in a very specific, very dark place. But I don’t mind telling him.

“Her dog found me.” I recall, feeling awe and nausea with the memory. “I walked into her house and she thought I was her husband. She kissed me.” She wanted me to be her husband because he’d been gone for six months.

“Sounds like the same plane to me.”

The G from this plane is gone. He married Abi and took off without her.

“If G-Two is still gone, then there are no Threestone in this universe and you don’t need my help for anything.”

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I stare at the floor and wait for the pain pills to kick in.

Eli says my name. When I look up at him, he isn’t fidgeting or pale like I expect. But, of course, he isn’t my friend Eli. Technically, he’s the third version of him I’ve come across, but he’s the second version of him as an adult.

Eli-Two’s cheeks are burning red. That ghosted grin he seems to wear most of the time is back and he’s saying, “That is not entirely accurate.”





6 Getting Boned

The pain killers don’t start working until after Eli has shown me the cache of clothes inside the trunk. By the time the pain begins to ebb, I am dressed in a crappy green t-shirt with the Homeland Security logo on my chest, my own jeans, and a pair of badass, thick-soled Doc Martens.

I lace up the new boots, listening to Eli as he fills in the blanks following my arrival.

Apparently, the native boy, Nahuiollin, did make it here with me. The security guards at the tunnel entrance found him beside me, still hog-tied. Eli isn’t sure where the boy is being held, but he knows he’s here.

“Can I see him?”

“Probably not. They don’t like sharing information that isn’t considered pertinent to our objective, but I have heard whispers that he’s being treated well.”

Doubt has me biting the inside of one cheek. I should care about how he’s being treated, but can’t find the resolve.

“Where did they find us?”

“Tunnel entrance, receiving dock inside the main gate. You both appeared there, out of thin air.”

“I was out of it, I don’t remember anything.”

“Well, your timing couldn’t have been better. We were unloading medical supplies, double-checking the vials of antivenin, immunoglobulin. There are all kinds of snakes around the area, and every once in a while one finds its way inside.”

“You were there?”

“Yes. I work with the medical team when things get slow in A-Unit.”

Eli goes on relaying the details; how I was minutes from death and Nahuiollin was fighting mad. Two guards loaded him onto a Jeep that took him wherever he ended up.

Three nurses plus Eli worked on me. They found the knife in my hand and put it together pretty quickly that the weapon had been laced with snake venom and then got the antivenin into my system ASAP. An actual doctor arrived just as one of the nurses was stitching my wounds.

My headache is nearly gone when I step out of the room and into a corridor lined with closed, unmarked doors. Eli steps out and the door slides shut behind us. I hear the click of an automatic lock and shudder.

“The best part,” Eli says, utterly enthralled, “is that the stones are here, in this very facility.”

He sounds really excited, but I’m skeptical. I mean, since when does the government not take any and all power available to it and then some? But it’s also hard not to believe my duplicate childhood friend when he swears on his life that the stones are here, close by, under the tightest security, guarded twenty-four-seven.

I guess the hardest part is, believing that they—the Department of Homeland Security—have the Threestone and want to give them back to me.

I don’t like that he uses the word give. Like they’re so damned high and mighty, so magnanimous to give me what’s already mine. Assholes.

“Stopping Daemon is A-1 team’s main objective. To do that, we must enable you to not only catch him, but also ensure that your Threestone are more powerful than his, so you can take his away.”

“Sounds too good to be true.”

“Well, it’s the truth.” He takes something from his pocket and hands it to me. It’s a laminated card and lanyard.

“This is your ID badge. You need to wear it at all times.”

My eyes run over the card, taking in the photo. It looks like me but, my jaw looks weird. Too small or something. “I don’t recall having my picture taken.”

“You didn’t.” Eli winks.

There’s a red bar across the top of the badge just above my full name, G. J. Springer III, which is followed by the title Project Coordinator, Omega A-1.

The badge hanging around Eli’s neck has nearly the same title, only his says Lead Project Coordinator.

I follow Eli as he explains that the badge will get me into any one of the locations in this facility that has been allocated for use on Omega project.

“Stopping Daemon is our project?”

Eli shrugs, nonchalant, muttering, “That and saving the world.”

The hallway ends at a wide door. We step out into an open area that looks like a narrow road, which leads to a fork in two underground roadways. One veers right, we take the one to the left. I don’t ask many questions, awestruck by the intimidating mass of this military installation. It’s like an underground city. We walk down the expansive stone and concrete corridor, talking. It’s wide enough that a tank could roll through easy. Steel mesh and huge anchor bolts are fastened to the high ceilings peppering rock with metal and emphasizing the force in the reinforced structure.

“Where are we, Eli?”

“NORAD,” he answers.

I turn to look at him. “The NORAD? Under the mountain? I thought they dealt with military air defense? Aren’t you helping Homeland Security?” He looks at me funny and I shrug. “What? I’ve seen Independence Day.”

He chuckles. “In that movie, they were in New Mexico, you know, Area 51, aliens. I don’t know how things work where you come from, but here, Homeland Security is the premiere agency at all levels of government. They’re top-dog, answer to no one, so to speak.”

It’s doubtful I can believe anything Eli says about this newfound support system. My natural instinct as a member of Generation X is to damn The Man. But he says they want to help me? The thought sends a bolt of dread up my back.

Not sure how I feel about that. My mind is still reeling.

Even so, it’s good to have time with this version of my friend; makes the emptiness of Elijah’s sudden death a little easier.

At every junction we pass, there are huge steel doors—like the ones banks use to seal their vaults, only ten times bigger—tucked into the walls.

“I take it you haven’t made up your mind to let us help you.”

“It’s all a little too unbelievable.” The pain, dull and lumbering through my head, reminds me of the type of people he’s in bed with; what they’re capable of.

“What the hell did they do to me?”

“They needed to make sure you were telling the truth.”

“Truth? About what?”

“Your relationship to the stones.”

“My what?”

“Is it true what you told them, about the way you communicate with them? Can you really just ask and receive?”

I don’t care for the direction this conversation is taking. He isn’t the man my father sent me to for help. “Isn’t it that way for all Threestone Bearers?”

“Not by far.” Eli’s eyes widen. He pauses in his walking along the side of the massive corridor. “In my experience, controlling the stones takes a tremendous amount of training and learning to focus, which another Bearer has had a difficult time with, because of the scrambled thoughts and time sickness.”

I nod slightly, thinking about what this means. Is ‘another Bearer’ my counterpart, Abi’s husband, G-Two?

“G, if what you told Stevens is true; you’re a natural with the Threestone. The most natural Bearer we’ve come across.” He starts walking again.

So do I. “Hey, I can’t remember what I told Stevens. What the hell did he do to me? And how many other Bearers have you come across?”

“Just the one, you know, Abi’s husband—who still hasn’t returned—but we’re veering from the point.”

I stop walking. “And that point is?”

He turns to face me. “That this mess, this whole debacle is bigger than you and me and whichever side we do or don’t choose. There are no more sides, G. Sides don’t matter.”

“Do enlighten me, then.”

His features darken. His mouth is a thin line as he breaks down the bigger picture. “The only thing that matters right now is that you pledge your loyalty to the cause.”

I have to stop myself from laughing. “So it is all about choosing sides.”

He shakes his head vigorously. “No, no. It’s about survival.”

“Survival?” I ask, and then am assaulted by the memory of sitting at the table with my friend Eli in his little yellow kitchen.

We’d just come back from our trip to Ivanhoe, where we’d followed the map to the place where my father buried the stones. His face was pale as he said, “crossing over has consequences … it’s like punching holes in the ozone layer, only on a much bigger scale.”

“Crossing over has its’ consequences,” I repeat. My friend was terrified of the implications.

Eli gives a nod of agreement. “So you understand, then, that we have to pool all resources. You have to let us help you stop Daemon.”

I’m the one nodding now, looking at the smooth gray walkway.

“Okay. Good. The first step in that direction is making the ones who have the Threestone a little more comfortable with giving them back to you.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“By doing everything they ask you to do while you’re here.”

It’s more than a little tough to swallow. But, bullshit or no, those stones are mine. If they’re here, then I’m doing what I have to do to get them back and getting the hell out.

“Do I, like, sign a pledge of loyalty or something?” I ask.

Eli clears his throat. “The project is top-secret. None of us have signed anything.”

“They must have promised you something for your help, how do you know they’ll keep up their end without a contract?”

He shrugs, as if there’s no reason to be concerned. “Right now, it’s a simple gentlemen’s agreement.”

“Just so you know; where a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ is concerned, the little guy always gets boned.”



7 Someone Please Gouge My Eyes Out

Here is something I can’t quite wrap my head around: what the hell am I still doing here?

Scratch that. I know why I’m here, it’s because I didn’t have a choice. Eli had just told me I should do whatever I was asked to gain ‘The Man’s’ trust. The moment I agreed, he mentioned a big meeting we were supposed to attend. And since I can’t leave without the Treestone, I came.

But the longer I’m forced to sit in this conference room and listen to that dickhead, Marshall Stevens, the more I’d like to grab the pointer in his hand and beat him with it before jamming it into my ear. It’s been thirty minutes since he started his power-point presentation on the dangers of getting lost inside the hollow mountain. With no end in sight.

I look around the large conference room at the mostly empty table and wonder why they chose this location if it was only going to be three people: me, Eli, and Mr. Helmet-giving Presenter. The table is at least fifteen feet long, made of black marble and metal. There are nearly thirty empty chairs surrounding it.

The wall on the North end of the room is covered in three rows of built-in screens, though they’re all turned off at the moment. On the Eastern wall there’s a large digital clock, flashing five different times and dates. The one that gives our time is marked with a red ring. On the South wall, behind me, there’s a gigantic flat screen flashing weather information from around the world.

Finally, the projector mounted in the ceiling shuts off and the screen begins to roll up. When the lights click on, I’m already out of my chair.

“At-ten-tion!” A voice calls from the doorway.

Eli jumps to his feet and slaps a hand to his forehead. At the front of the room, Marshall Stevens is also standing at attention, his stiff hand cutting his brow.

Both of the men have their eyes glued to the door. I turn as well, to find a man in dark-blue uniform standing against the wall just inside the door. He’s wearing a beret with the DHS shield on it, saluting a line of people entering the room. Six men and one woman, all in perfectly pressed uniforms, with left shoulders holding row after row of colorful ribbons and medals.

I find myself saluting as they walk to the front of the room. Marshall Stevens scrambles out of their way, coming to stand near myself and Eli. The troupe makes a cutting turn to face us.

“At ease.” The man at the front of the line says. He’s older—probably late-fifties—and thin with neat white hair and a trim mustache. His voice is stern, his back ramrod straight.

At his command, the two men beside me widen their stance and set their hands behind their backs. Unsure what to do, I mimic the pose.

“Doctor Thacker, make the introductions.”

“Yes, sir.” Eli responds, and takes a step closer to me speaking low. “You’re going to meet the leaders of Omega. They’re some of the highest ranking officers in the military.” He nudges my elbow, hinting I should follow as he walks across the long room.

We stand in front of the first man on the left. He’s wearing a sharp Navy suit with gold stripes down the legs and a big white cap that’s a contrast to his dark skin. “This is Admiral James Buchanan of the U.S. Navy.

Buchanan offers his hand. I wipe my palm on my jeans before taking it. He gives one stiff shake. “Good to have you here.”

I nod, “Good to be here.”

I follow Eli’s lead as he steps in front of the next man, who he introduces as Fleet Admiral Joseph Harding of the U.S. Coast Guard. Next, we stand in front of the only woman in the room. She’s tanned and a little plain. Also looks like she wants to kick my ass for what I’m thinking. Her name is Elizabeth Greene. She’s a commissioned officer—whatever that means—in the Air Force and I’m told she’s also an Admiral.

I can’t help it, I’m trying to charm away the piercing glare she’s wearing when I say “I hear there aren’t many women in the Air Force.”


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