I took and released a deep breath, relieved that the sound of gusting wind had fallen silent. The relief passed a moment later when I realized I was alone. I closed my grip where Andromeda had been seconds before, but I was holding only the memory of her touch.

“You’re very new to your magic, aren’t you?”

I stared around to locate the voice and found a small speaker in the wall. There was a push-to-talk button. I ignored it for the moment and took in the rest of my space. The floor was carpeted and soft and the dark green of it faded into a lighter shade for the paint on the walls. It all smelled relatively fresh. A couple of beanbags were stacked in the corner with a fuzzy blanket folded on top.

I could sense the lack of magic in the room. The walls were concrete underneath the paint and there weren’t any windows. The ceiling was solid, too, but I didn’t see a camera. I had no doubt there was one, or they had other methods of monitoring my movements.

“Well?” the voice asked, waiting on a reply.

I nodded. “Yes, only a few days.” I pulled the beanbags from their pile and gave each a good squeeze.

“Conversations work better when the other party answers. The speaker is on the wall with a button.”

I rolled my eyes. “Be serious,” I said. “Why would you lock me in a prison and let me choose how to communicate?”

After a few minutes more spent poking around my new cell, a section of wall separated like a door, though I would have sworn no door existed there previously. The towering woman with the portals stepped inside and the wall closed, leaving no seam. She leaned against it.

“Hi,” I said.

She looked at the speaker and back at me. “Don’t want to play?”

“So that whenever I’m communicating with you, you know exactly where I am and I’m physically connected to a device of your choosing, voluntarily? Not so much.”

“Do you like it?” she asked, motioning at the space.

I shrugged. “It’s a little empty, but a trip to Ikea could sort that out in a hurry.”

“Yeah, I thought so too. Of course, it was blue for me.”

“Oh? We’re doing the ‘I used to be where you are, but came to my senses and joined the enemy’ scene?”

She smiled and shook her head. “Who’s the enemy, Lizette?”

“Specifics are hard, but generally speaking, you can point in the direction of the people who kidnap you for that. It’s my first kidnapping, I’ll admit, but that does feel right.”

“You were categorized as a Channel.”

When she didn’t continue, I said, “Was that supposed to be a question? I missed the inflection.”

“You were wrongly placed.”

“You know, I figured that out?”

“In fairness, most of the Placement Techs are not trained to look for people like you because you’re very, very rare, and because general knowledge of your existence makes a whole lot of things very complicated.”

“Sure, sure,” I agreed. I was pretty certain they weren’t planning to kill me. Why put me in a room with the option of comfort in that case? But I also recognized that they could easily change their minds.

“You haven’t asked about your friends,” she pointed out.

“Would you tell me anything if I did?” I countered.

She smiled thinly. “Where do you think you are?”

I toed the carpet and eyed the walls. “Probably not Greenland.”

“Does your mom call much?”

“Has she been calling? She’ll give up after a while and start in again tomorrow. I’m her lost little duckling, you know? The one without a trio.” I shrugged.

She let out a wide smile aimed at the ceiling and crossed her arms before looking back at me. “See, you’ve gone and stolen a lot of my thunder with these comments. I have to figure out a whole new method without relying on the tropes.”

“Yeah, I get how that can be annoying for you.”

“I’m not allowed to give you a tour of the facility just yet. And I’m really only supposed to answer your questions, but you’ve used up a lot of my time in this banter.”

“How inconvenient.” I really didn’t know if I was supposed to hate this woman but the leather boots she had coupled with the clearly tailored jeans were very distracting. Plus, I’d never made out with a woman my height and I was positive I would enjoy it after an adjustment period.

“Why don’t I come back in a little while and we can try again.”

“I’m flexible,” I told her. “Wide open schedule, and you know how to find me.”

She grinned again and the section of wall moved so that she could disappear through it before sealing me back inside. I wondered vaguely about Andromeda and Mathis and Jin. I expected Andromeda was more furious than anything else, ready to climb the next person she saw and claw their eyes out. Hopefully Mathis was getting his first sleep and enjoying it. Jin was definitely sulking.

Not that he didn’t deserve a good sulk; I’d all but ruined his life – at least this portion of it.

“You’re damn right,” Jin said.

I blinked. Jin, are you in my head? I thought.

“I’m a sound Focus, dumbass,” he said. “That means the occasional perk like talking to people I’m bonded with like this.”

Like how, exactly?

“Are you serious?”

I imagined his expression and it almost made me laugh. I only mean because I can tell they have the magic in my area cut off and I would have assumed the same of you.

“Sure, but bonds work on different frequencies since we’re kind of like the same person, so really I’m just talking to myself and you’re, like, overhearing it.”

I did not realize that was a thing. Congratulations on being very useful. Where are you?

“A bare room. Carpet. Beanbags. Speaker.”

What color is the room?

“Red, why?”

I got green, but I understand blue was an option.

“I hate you so much.”

I can’t begrudge you that. Do you know where Andromeda and Mathis are?

“Yellow and Purple rooms respectively. Were we kidnapped by the Teletubbies?”

What an incredible nightmare, Jin, thank you. The woman who portaled us here came and talked to me a bit, but I didn’t get much useful from her. I’m supposed to ask questions when she comes back.

“I’ll check back in a couple of hours then, I guess.”

Does this only go one-way?

“You tell me, freak-show. I’ve only used it in my trio, but I guess that includes you now.”

Can you reach your original trio?

“They’re too far away.”

Bummer.

“One of many.”

I’ll buy you lunch when we get out of this.

“You’ll have to do it before the restraining order goes through.”

I’ll make a note.

He didn’t answer. I stretched out on the carpeted floor and closed my eyes. Until there was something to do, I could only wait around.

I wasn’t sure how long I was dozing but when the door opened and my Tower Goddess returned, I remained where I was.

“Looks comfy,” she said.

“There’s room,” I answered, patting the carpet beside me.

She leaned against the wall again. “Questions?”

“Did you give up on the speaker button?”

She glanced at it. “It still works, but if you aren’t going to use it, there’s no real point in wasting my time with it.”

“Is there a name for me if I’m not a Channel and not a Focus?”

“A Node.” She over-enunciated the word and I tried it out for myself.

“Weird.”

“Very.”

“How many are there?”

She shrugged. “Probably more than we think, but around 1 in three billion is our rough calculation.”

“I always knew I was special.”

“More than you know.”

“Am I here for experimentation? Are you recruiting me? Am I supposed to do jobs?”

“D – all of the above?” she suggested.

“Goody. I hate shots.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that. If things go well, I’ll be your handler.”

My mind fried for a moment as I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t qualify as overtly sexual.

I cleared my throat. “I assume you are one of these Nodes?”

“In fact I am.”

“Do you like it?”

She blinked. “I don’t dislike it.”

“How long have you known?”

“Twelve years.”

“And you were kidnapped when you found out, same as me?”

“I lasted a bit longer.”

“Impressive. You know, I was highly trained in avoiding capture by government operatives.”

“Yes, I gathered that.”

“What kind of good behavior gets me a room with a shower?”

“Have you managed to communicate with your bond-mates?”

I considered. If she already knew and I said yes, that could be considered good behavior and get me some perks. If I said no, I’d be punished. If she didn’t know and I said yes, we lost an advantage.

There was no way these people didn’t know something that I did. “Yes.”

“Good. Isolation is unhealthy. You hungry?”

I rose to my feet and she led me out of the room.

April 23, 2021

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