Kyrja Merchant ran, dodging and weaving around the security poles lining the street. Her rapid breathing caused her lungs to burn. Full pockets clanked, giving away her position. Even over the clamor, behind her boots clapped against the concrete. The guy she’d stolen from had stayed on her heels.
Twelve more lengths and she’d reach the portal. She peered over her shoulder. The angry owner gripped a laser pistol in his left hand. His straight blond hair fell across his forehead. If he drew closer she’d see the determination in his piercing indigo-blue eyes.
She drew a deep breath and picked up her pace.
The last time she’d ventured through the time dimension, she’d bumped into him. On that trip, he hadn’t recognized her in her retro Forties disguise. She’d gotten to know all of his muscles and curves. His touches and her desire got them to the bed, but the timing was wrong. Her need to rush to a closing portal halted the intimacy. She went away with a keen sense of his essence and his name, Ace Redford.
At home, she’d researched the name Ace, which meant noble or in Latin, first in luck. Today, her guy had every intention of getting lucky and catching her and reclaiming the artifacts she’d stolen from the Zander Museum of Antiquities.
He wasn’t getting them. She needed the relics in order to pay her mortgage for the month. Her dealer especially wanted the orb tucked away in her coin pocket. Tariff wouldn’t declare why he had such urgency for the object, but the gleam in his eyes gave her bargaining power…that is if she made it across the divide. In her mind she could feel Ace’s breath on her neck.
She detoured into Vagrant Alley. A kid using a hoverboard skated near the end. Three seconds away. She glanced behind her. Ace rounded the corner. The ten-story buildings lining the alley pushed in, making her queasy. She took a deeper breath. I hate hoverboards.
Ahead, a lift pull dangled. Kyrja evaluated where the elevator was positioned, calculated the time the chair would push down and block the alley. She pulled the chain to call the outside elevator chair from the fifth floor and kept hustling. She hoped it’d arrive in time to block Ace’s progress.
The boy on the hoverboard paused at the intersection. Kyrja edged to his side, shoved him off the board and slid her stomach on top of the craft. She gripped the sides, directed the transport higher in the air and turned south. Five more minutes and she’d enter the spiral and return home, to her time dimension.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVE jj Keller
Ace Redford had seconds to slide through the alley before the chairlift hit the pavement and blocked his path. The damn antiquated chairs should be outlawed. No one used them anymore with hovercraft making the flight safer and convenient. Scents of raw decaying sprouts and the pesticide used to kill them penetrated his nostrils. He blew out the stink and scanned the end of the alley for the thief.
In the distance the bandit bumped a kid off his transport, climbed on board and sped south on Conjunction Avenue. Ace stopped, sliding in the muck, then pivoted to run in the opposite direction. If he could catch the bridge before it closed for the night, he’d surprise and intercept the criminal. He couldn’t understand how he or she moved so quickly through the streets laden by the artifacts pilfered from his museum. He/she was clever enough to hijack the hoverboard.
Damn, the bridge lifted and was near opening. Passengers couldn’t leave the city, except by water transport. Invisible walls erected, protecting the east side of the metropolis from invaders. Had the theft made it across the divide? He ran up the vertical slope and caught the bridge’s border. He glanced over the ledge and scanned the perimeter. His fingers ached from holding the razor sharp edge. He had seconds before the security cameras reported him, maybe less before the metal cut through his skin.
No hoverboards in sight. However, at the end of Conjunction was a shock of lightning. He dropped. At the bottom, he sprinted. The block grew longer the closer he got to the intersection. He stopped several feet from the aberration.
Unbelievable. In front of him was a kaleidoscope of patterns. The forms whirled faster than the tornado vortex he’d witnessed that spring season. The rounded frame of the hoverboard and a fluttering of a black shirt vanished inside the white center. The manifestation closed inside itself, disappearing in a spark of silver.
Sirens screamed in the background behind him. Unable to absorb what had happened he ran, taking Conjunction to Plateau. Huffing short breaths, he pressed his palm to the security entry pad and slipped through the backdoor of Zander.
He leaned against the door, placed his hands on his knees, bent and took deep cleansing breaths. A quick scan of the rebooted museum security system proved nothing else had been disturbed, except what had been taken a few minutes earlier. Upright again, he went into his office, dropped into his desk chair and queued the tape. The theft had managed to disable the obvious cameras, but as with most people failed to consider a back-up defense. Concealed in the Michelangelo replica of Creazione di Adamo was a camera. The video, hidden within the red, became his point of humor. The background shape around the God and angel figures was the brain and the perfect hiding place for a memory device.
Within seconds the nimble theft appeared. He halted the window and enlarged the image, zooming in on the head. He exhaled and pushed his back into the chair. Kyrja. The babe he’d met last week at the Governor’s Gala. Ace scrubbed his hands over his face, bristling the chin hairs. He’d brought her to his museum, intending to impress her with his collectibles and eventually get her into the sack.
He’d done this. She had an unquenchable thirst for information. Combined with her bottomless knowledge of artifacts made her more attractive. His desire to get closer to her became his Achilles heel.
He dug his cellphone out of his trouser pocket, swiped to contacts, and selected Professor Dove’s number. On the fifth ring he considered leaving a message, but time might be imperative.
“Hello,” the rusty monotone rattled through the line.
“Malcolm, it’s Ace. I need your help.” Ace sped through the other images of Kyrja, analyzing her moves and determining her tells.
“It’s midnight. Can it wait until the morning?” Bed covers rustled in the background.
“Who is it?” A feminine voice. He had company.
“One question.” Ace halted the slide of Kyrja breaking into the key’s lockbox. Her gaze moved rapidly along the floor, no doubt checking the circuitry for a flaw.
“Go,” Malcolm murmured.
“At the end of Conjunction I saw a swirling twister that sucked in a hoverboard and…”
“What?” Malcolm’s voice firmed. Ace imagined him sitting upright in bed.
He swallowed. “Kyrja.”
“The girl you’ve talked about for days? The one you didn’t get a last name or address and has a wart on her lip?”
Ace clenched his teeth. “Yes. It’s a beauty mark.” He shifted his jaws. “What was it? The tornado thing?”
Malcolm hissed. “Without more, I’d guess a vortex.”
“Where?” The female tone insisted.
“Are you at home?” Malcolm rushed the words.
Ace glanced at the computer screen. “Yes, downstairs in the museum.”
“We’ll be right over. Draw an image of what you saw,” Malcolm said.
“Who is we?”
The call ended.
Ace captured the image of Kyrja and saved it to his desktop then opened his web browser and typed in “vortex”. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Kyrja landed in an area of Fort Wayne unfamiliar to her. How off course was she? She’d never entered the portal at the end of the frame, so she didn’t have a point of reference. She took a moment to adjust to her molecules getting settled, but felt pain—intense burning ripping agony.
A check of her arms–okay. The front of her chest and her hips were unaffected; yet, the pain intensified. She bent and ran her hands over her thighs and her lower legs. Artifacts rattled with each achy move. Tenderness stung her left calf.
She swung around, a full swift 360. Alone. Flat land surrounded her. Not a sign of trees anywhere near her. Unusual. Ecological Fort Wayne had an excess of wooded areas. The intense burn took her attention. She dropped her waterproof trousers and evaluated the wound. Damn. A six-inch burn on her lower leg. Caught at the end of the maelstrom she’d been sliced by the electrical energy. The slacks should have protected her, why then did the charge injure her? And without cutting through the duck cloth?
Her jacket had a broken slider and between the opening cuts appeared on her tee. Why did she have pain in that area? She tore the edge of her shirt. Thankfully the razor sharp laser hadn’t ripped her skin. She wrapped the cloth around her leg and tied a knot to hold it in place. Tugging up her trousers, she refastened the belt. On the ground was the key. The hieroglyphics on top of the acrylic box glimmered in the evening light. Her heart skipped a beat, then sped to supersonic speed. Her father had a map. She had a legend. If they matched and she could decipher the key, time might be reversed. Could they change destiny? More than anything, she wanted to inverse time–for her father.
“Pray the legend is true.” She tucked the valuable artifact into her bra for safekeeping.
Her cellphone buzzed. She removed it from the inside of her jacket and glanced at the caller. Tariff. A punch to the icon sent the call to message. She swiped the phone’s face to get a compass. West. A finger flick and a map to home loaded. “Walking distance?”
Dizziness wrapped around her. She took a couple of deep breaths and glanced at the broken bits of the hoverboard sprinkling the ground like kernels of corn. It’d be good to ride in a four-wheel vehicle again. She pivoted, turned off her phone to prevent tracking and trekked toward the farm.
The dilapidated barn came into view. She hadn’t been thrown off course as much as she’d projected. Between the bowed or broken barn slats crimson metal shone in the dim sunrays. She exhaled and with an awkward gait raced to the door. With the increased pace, her stolen items clacked and the key pressed tighter to her boob.
The squeaking hinges of the barn door became a welcome song. She knelt beside the front fender on her Jeep and slid her fingers along the wheel casing. Locating the key box, she dragged it out, opened the metal container and removed the passkey. Settled on the seat, she strapped in and took two deep breaths. Tremors pulsated through her bruised hand, making it difficult to get the key in the ignition. She pressed against the seat and regulated her breathing. Ace could have caught her. Her late arrival in the portal made the energy sharper, more acute and could have spit her out in separate pieces.
She shook off the could-haves. She’d survived and the possibility of the key matching the map and allowing her father to travel back in time took her mind off the what-ifs floating through her thoughts.
A thirty-minute drive later she pulled into the driveway of her father’s assisted living patio home. An unfamiliar car was parked on the street directly in front of the house. Perhaps her father had gotten a new caretaker. She removed the bulky Leonardo da Vinci sketchbook depicting the practice of geology, the antiquated bulky paper and size made the manuscript unwieldy. Most of da Vinci’s books were gifted to his pupil, Melzi, and reported lost around 1570. The geology folio, obviously stolen and not lost, was priceless.
Da Vinci’s work had been the most difficult to break out of the museum, Kyrja would protect the sketches until she located a reputable broker. Tariff wasn’t trustworthy. She used him because of her father and his loyalty to the old ones. The document inside her jacket pocket rattled.
Lincoln’s harsh views of slavery had been written, but misplaced after his speech. She’d secured a portion of a page from inside a sealed temperature controlled box. Her desire to take a second look grew stronger as she tried to recall its image. She removed the slip of paper from her coat and peered through the tempered glass. The scraggly writing appeared to be authentic. After a moment’s hesitation, she tucked the parchment under the front seat.
The diamond Windsor Duchess Panther bracelet jingled as she came upright. She patted her pocket and checked the opposite side of her jacket for the comic book.
Left in the plastic protector, the paper booklet dug into the soft under-skin of her arm. A pain in the ass to transport, she knew the going value of the original copy was upward of fifty million.
She glanced at the living room window. No doubt her father kept a keen lookout for her. She locked the Jeep and powered through the pain of walking with a normal gait to the house. At the door she exhaled out the pain, took a deep breath released it, pasted on a smile and then pushed open the door. “Dad, I’m home.”
“In here,” he responded. His voice echoed in the kitchen.
She’d attached sound values to each room of the tiny, yet spacious handicapped accessible home. For a disabled guy he could swing through the place in seconds. No nursing paraphernalia littered the living room. A glance in the master bedroom showed the usual stuff, IV pole, cardiac revival equipment, and breathing apparatus. Who, then, owned the car outside?
Her sore leg throbbed. She tried to relax, but her gut sent warning signals to her brain.
She stumbled into the kitchen and the man sitting beside her father took her breath away. She turned her head and stared at the floor. Gain control. The zipper of her jacket pocket broke open and the panther’s green eyes stared at her. Shit. She looked at her father.
“Kyrja, you’re late.” Her dad, Keffer Merchant, wouldn’t miss one little variance in her body language. His gaze ran over her body. She wished she’d buttoned the jacket to cover her belly. What if burns had appeared during the drive from the farm to this place?
She glanced at the man. Why didn’t he say something? “Yes. Sorry. Delayed.”
“No trouble?” Her father pressed a lever on his wheelchair and moved forward.
She sidestepped behind a counter and nodded toward the guest. “And you are?”
As if remembering someone else was present Keffer stopped the chair’s motion. “Oh, sorry. A new friend. He’s buying the veracity map.”
“How did you find me?” Her voice came out hard and harsh and directed toward the guest. Her father was selling the map? The saving grace which could reverse time and get him out of that damn chair?
Ace went beyond the expected to make sure his artifacts and collectibles were safe and secure. His museum had been sited in two magazines as the state of the art security. He exhaled and looked at the Venus statue, which usually brought him joy, today it seemed out of place. He tapped his fingers on the marble counter top and evaluated the main floor of the museum.
The Italian statue was the center of a grouping of western gear. Fairies had clustered around Asian artifacts. What had he been thinking? He’d dropped the items anywhere, plop them down in an empty spot. He rested his elbows on top of the counter. The list continued. He focused on the empty display case where a spotlight once shone over the key. He had yet to find the map. When had he lost focus on searching for the map?
He needed to get his act together. First, he wanted to amp up the security. Second, he had to hire a designer to group the stock in some type of logical categorization. Finally, he had to rebuild the walls he habitually had in place before he’d met Kyrja.
The monitor built into the marble countertop was used as a cash register. He also used it to search the Internet to compare market values of antiques, and to review security footage. He brought up the break-in shots, hoping to confirm the theft was indeed Kyrja.
Ready in queue, the backdoor alarm rang. He put the recording on pause, jogged to let Malcolm in, and prepared for a lesson in sharing too much information. Ace placed his palm on the panel and typed in the new security code, a new step in the process. He tugged the door and Malcolm entered. A woman, taller than Malcolm’s six-foot, with light brown hair, round face, and intense green eyes followed his mentor and friend.
“Ace, meet Sutton McKinnon. Sutton, Ace.” Malcolm flipped his thin hand between them.
“Welcome,” Ace said.
“Ace. Where was the possible vortex?” Sutton obviously didn’t hesitate to jump to the reason she’d joined Malcolm.
“We’ll get to that matter in a few, darling.” Malcolm started down the hallway and slid through the metal security door leading to the main museum floor.
Ace extended his hand in Malcolm’s direction. Sutton took the clue and followed the professor. Ace proceeded to secure the back door, then joined the other two.
The volume of the recording had increased by megahertz. Malcolm stared at the monitor. Sutton meandered around the artifacts.
“She took the Marsden Legend.”
Malcolm stopped the feed just as Kyrja disconnected the third layer of security attached to the acrylic box and scratched his head under the fishing hat. “She knows what she’s stealing.”
“Yes. I assume she has the map.” Ace experienced that stabbing pain in his gut again.
“I can see why you’re into her. Beauty in addition to her keen sense of historical and monetary values of antiquities.” Malcolm glanced at Sutton. “Did you get a chance to draw the image of the tunnel you witnessed?”
Ace grabbed the paper from the printer and extended it.
Sutton rushed forward and snapped the paper from his fingers. She was an odd one. Other than her initial comment about the vortex she hadn’t uttered a word. She walked behind the marble counter and glanced around.
She picked up the box of colorful markers he kept on hand for when his niece visited. “Do you mind if I use these?”
“No. Go ahead.” Ace glanced at Malcolm.
“She’s an environmental engineer.” Malcolm went back to reviewing the footage.
Using a deep blue marker she altered the shape of the tunnel he’d drawn. As usual, he’d included a key down at the bottom of the image, including the date, time and location.
Sutton held up the altered sketch “Is this close to what you witnessed?”
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