2011 RWA Golden Heart® Finalist
2009 On the Far Side - First Place (RWA Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal Chapter)
The fate of two worlds hangs in the balance as three lives entangle: Jake, a man shifted to an alternate Earth, where he must drain energy from others to survive. Tess, the parapsychologist trying to save him. Ross, the FBI agent torn between duty and his love for Tess.
CHAPTER 1: Beyond Help
The man on the floor was transparent.
He tracked Tess as she crossed the room, stopping a couple meters away from him. He studied her, and she knew he was trying to understand. Trying to remember.
Her heart ached for him. He was human, after all. At least he had been.
“How do you feel?” Tess asked, taking another step toward him.
“Close enough, Doctor.” The low, cautioning voice came not from the fading visitor, but from the FBI agent who’d moved to stand behind her. Tess did what she usually did when Ross McGinnis spoke to her in that tone. She ignored him.
“Where . . . am . . . I?” The visitor’s voice scraped like dry leaves blowing across pavement. “Who are you?”
“I can answer those questions for you, but . . .” Tess swallowed. “It’s going to come as a shock.”
He blinked at her, and his gaze slid around the lab. The equipment had been removed, leaving nothing to look at but the exposed brick walls, painted ductwork, and gleaming hardwood floors.
“Where am I?” he repeated.
There was no time to make him understand. He had maybe an hour to live. But he deserved what little explanation she could offer.
“You’ve come here from a different Earth.” His gaze snapped back to her face, and she could imagine what he was thinking. “There was a catastrophic impact event—an asteroid. The destruction knocked some of you loose from your own reality. Brought you to ours. We don’t know how or why.”
He stared at her, long and hard.
“Who are you?” His voice was stronger now, more insistent. But it still had a hollow, echoing quality.
“My name is Tess. I’m a parapsychologist.”
One corner of his mouth twisted. Tess started to ask if he was in pain—but then realized the half-dead transparent man was smirking at her.
“This is a joke, right?”
She frowned. “I’m sorry. No.”
Tess debated about how much to tell him. Compassion for the dying man warred with her sense of duty. She had a responsibility to glean as much information as she could from him. The lives of people on her own Earth depended on it.
“What’s your name?” she asked as he continued to study her.
“Jake, I’d like to ask you some questions.”
“How about you answer a few first. Like why do I feel like a pile of grated cheese?”
“That’s complicated.” She knelt on the floor so he wouldn’t have to look up at her. “Your dislocation left you unable to sustain life energy.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“I’m sorry I don’t have a more scientific explanation for you. We’re still trying to understand it. Physicists believe the impact weakened boundaries between our two universes, allowing some of you to pass through to our world. But without the connection to your own world, well . . . you’re broken, for lack of a better word.”
“Yeah, I noticed that.” His eyes searched around the room. “There are others like me?”
“As many as twenty, maybe more. More keep popping up.”
“Where are they?”
She studied his face, which was little more than a ghostly residue now. “They died, Jake.”
“I’m dying too.”
“Without a transfusion of energy, yes.”
He gave her a tired smile. “I don’t think my insurance covers that.”
“I’d help you if I could. Unfortunately the effects of—”
“Doctor,” interrupted the agent, “I think you’ve told him enough.”
The Echo’s ticking clock, and her compassion for his situation, shaved a slice off her already thin tolerance for the Bureau’s interference. Glancing up she said, “Agent McGinnis, please do your job and allow me to do mine.”
The agent’s dark eyes registered no surprise. From their first handshake—months ago at the International Echo Summit in Washington D.C.—they’d generated neon sparks of animosity that had singed anyone within a three-meter radius.
As she glared at him, his gaze cut back to Jake. The agent frowned. “Doctor . . .”
She returned her attention to her subject—or to the spot on the floor where he had been.
“No,” she groaned. She stepped toward the empty corner, kneeling.
“Careful, Doctor,” warned the agent.
A burned-out bulb in the overhead light flickered on, and she jumped. Glancing down at the floor she noticed something that looked like chalk dust. She reached out and touched it with the tip of a finger.
“Tess!” the agent shouted. But it was too late.
White heat seared up her leg, and she screamed.
Sharp pains slashed up her body, a riptide of razors. Tess’s life gushed out of her and into Jake. He gave a long, low moan, and Tess felt him strengthening, pulsing with her energy.
Jake rose to his knees as she fell back onto the floor, head striking the hardwood. He crouched over her, hands sliding up the outsides of her thighs. She gave another cry of agony.
From far away she could hear Agent McGinnis shouting. But Jake’s arms had coiled round her waist like serpents, and Tess knew she was beyond help.