I stood in front of the cell staring at … well … staring at me. The caged, unshaven, animal version of me. The way he looked, not at me but through me, brought on the sudden self-awareness that I probably hadn’t survived the bleeding brain or whatever the hell happened to me when I jumped into the future. My eyes dropped to my arms as I lifted a hand toward my face. Transparent. I was transparent.
A magnetic force seemed to pulse in the space between the two versions of myself, pulling us together. Footsteps echoed from behind me and I jumped out of the way as Senator Healy stalked right up to the cell, opening the door and somehow cutting off whatever force had been dragging me forward. The other me stood up slowly, shakily, bruises marring his face and legs.
“Senator Healy!” I tried to croak, not hearing a sound outside my own mind.
“Come on, son. Let’s get you out of here,” Healy said, his voice gentle, barely above a whisper. It reminded me of the way he had spoken to me while I had hung my head over a sink after watching Mason get blown to pieces. Even just thinking about what happened still made me feel nauseous.
The other me shuffled closer, leaning heavily on Healy for support as if his legs weren’t used to walking. The urge to somehow unzip him and crawl inside so I could be seen and heard intensified. I had to find a way! Somehow I just knew that I was dying. And then the old warehouse dissolved and pain shot through every inch of my body.
“He can’t breathe! We’ve got to do something!”
A truck sat on my chest and every ounce of energy I had was devoted to shoving it away. Air. I needed air. Nothing would enter. Nothing would exit.
“His lungs are full of fluid! Open him up!” someone shouted.
And I felt the stab to my chest, skin splitting open and my ribs cracking. I had to get out of here. People aren’t supposed to feel these things.
“Pulse is fading and then coming again … I can’t get it steady,” a woman’s voice spoke right next to my ear.
“He’s jumping,” someone said.
Silence followed for a full five seconds, then I heard Dad’s voice in my other ear, sounding more terrified than I’ve ever heard him in my life. “Jackson, just stay here … please.”
But I couldn’t. There was no way to control it.
“Are you all right, son?” Healy said to the other me, hand clutching his shoulder.
The other me had sunk to his knees with a loud crack as his kneecaps made contact with the hard floor. He clutched his chest, a look of panic in his eyes, and then raised his shirt. A faint line appeared slowly down the center of his chest, blood trickling from the wound.
Which one of us is dying? I thought it was me. He’s not in the future. How can he feel what is happening to me?
A gunshot rang from right behind me, breaking my concentration. Healy fell to the ground, blood oozing from his head. Eyes wide open.
“What the…” the other me said, staring at Healy’s body. Then he looked up, right at me. Or through me.
“Who … who are you?” he stuttered, still on his knees, attempting to stand.
Was he talking to me? No, he was talking to whoever had just shot Healy. But for some reason I couldn’t make my body turn around to see who it was. I needed to breathe air. To feel my heart beat again.
“I’m the only one with enough guts to do this,” the deep voice boomed from behind me.
Chief Marshall. I didn’t have to look.
“Do what?” the other me said, his eyes wide.
Using all my willpower, I forced my body to start to move. The gun fired again. Not just once, but three times. I heard myself scream inside my head … heard the other me’s scream cut off as he slumped to the ground.
Thump … thump … thump.
My heart gave three quick beats as I finally turned, just in time to see Chief Marshall vanish.
“He’s waking up.”
“Jackson? Can you hear me?”
I found my hands and brought them to my face, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. The room came into focus—white walls, a few gray cabinets, a table beside the bed. The bed had metal rails and white sheets that covered my legs. It looked a lot like a hospital room in 2009. Maybe this wasn’t the future after all?
Dad and Courtney stood at the foot of the bed, watching like they’d been staring at me for weeks and I had finally moved.
“Chief Marshall,” I managed to say, looking at Dad. “He killed me.” I took a breath, slowly letting the scene fall into place in my head so I could articulate it. “The other me. He killed the other me. And Healy. He killed Healy.”
My heart raced, causing a searing pain to rip through my chest like it was being split open all over again. “Healy told me before … he said that he had someone doing his time-travel changes for him, someone doing the alterations like putting Holly and Adam in the CIA! He did that, Dad. But he said it’s not Thomas. It’s Marshall! I know it is. He vanished right in front of me. He can time-travel!”
Dad’s eyes widened, but not because of what I’d just revealed but because of the loud beeping on the monitor beside me. “Jackson, I need you to calm down. Breathe … focus on the present for the moment and then we’ll figure out what you saw or think you saw.”
“I know I saw it…” The pain in my chest increased, shutting me up. I relaxed back into the pillow, closing my eyes briefly, breathing as slowly and deeply as possible without aggravating my pain. After a couple minutes, the monitor stopped beeping and Dad let out a sigh of relief.
“Good, very good.”
I opened my eyes again. “Where are we? Did we make it back?”
Dad shook his head and patted my foot over the covers. “It’s still the same place. Same year.”
My heart sped up as I touched the back of my head, feeling a large bandage behind my ear. Then I remembered my dream, or was it a half-jump? My fingers fumbled around, moving toward my chest. I drew in a deep breath and felt the tightness of stitched skin pulling apart. There was another bandage horizontally placed between my sternum and left armpit.
“I’m not dead?” I looked up at Dad and Courtney, who were both standing still as statues. “Obviously, I’m not dead … I just … I thought I was.”
Before they could respond, a man with light brown hair and a striking resemblance to Thomas walked into the room, followed by a red-haired woman. I remembered her welcoming us here with Dad, just before my almost death.
The man held up his hands as if in surrender. “I know, we look alike, but don’t worry, my name isn’t Thomas and I’m not a clone either.”
Courtney laughed and my eyes bounced to her and then back to Dad, who seemed at ease, not worried at all about these strangers.
I sighed with relief.
“I’m Grayson and this is Lonnie.” He nodded toward the redheaded woman “You met her five days ago.”
“Five days.” I could hardly wrap my head around the idea that I’d lost that much time. More details about how we’d ended up here hit me all at once. I tried to sit up too quickly and was instantly knocked back down as pain shot through my head and chest. “Holly … Emily … Mason … are they—”
“They’re all fine,” Dad said.
“Except for the being-stuck-here part,” Courtney added.
After holding a stethoscope to my chest briefly, Grayson held up a giant syringe with a long needle. “Pain medication. I wanted you to wake up first and see how your heart and lungs were functioning.”