My eyes were closed before the dust had settled. This was the right thing to do. The vision I’d glimpsed through a veil of powdered concrete stayed in my mind as a question. Had I, or had I not, really seen a fast man burst through the wall and pick up Priscilla to take her away?
The other girls were breathing in their normal, adequate ways. If it was real, they were all just pretending to sleep, and they’d stay with their eyes closed through the night until the morning bells were ringing. Then they’d get up and move on with their eyes down, not glancing at the wall until it was certainly fixed. It’s not the polite thing to notice when there are holes in the wall.
If it was real, Priscilla would be gone. No one would speak her name. We’re learning to be charming here, and it’s rude to suggest one’s classmate would just leave in the middle of the night, without so much as a by-your-leave. We would have to act as though she never were here. And I would have more opportunity to question in private whether I’d concocted a figment.
Julian Furbeus Rex had sent me here to learn charm, as a punishment, I suspect, for my tears. He did not consider them proof that I had travelled back through time. So I was working on finding more sufficient evidence. Now when I had strange dreams, I wasn’t sure if they were dreams. They could be my movements through time and space.
I listened to the buzzing in my ears – what could have been leftover from the bang of a wall exploding, or my heart beating fast from a very alarming dream. The memory of the vision wasn’t proof that the vision was real. The buzzing in my ears wasn’t proof. The smell of the plaster-in-air was thick and chalky. The smell in my nose was a dust-cloud. Surely this, this must be proof. It was real, if real only in some far-off and bygone time. I would never imagine dust just for fun.
Deciding this, I had another thought. Priscilla had no friends. No one spoke to her. Teachers never called on her. Merely mentioning her name was enough to create an uncomfortable silence, or prompt a change in subject. I’d assumed all of this was because she climbed walls and spit trails of mucus at people and offered eagerly to dispose of others’ tampons. However, it might also be possible that no one spoke to her or about her because no one else could see her. As in, Priscilla might be one of those things from a distant past which only I could recall. If I could remember her all the way into the present, she might be my proof of time-manipulation.
And a fast man just stole her through a hole in the wall.
I opened up my eyes. The wall was there, all right, with the hole. I got up and ran through it, into the hallway, and through the hallway, to where the other wall was broken. The sky was right there. The shreds of a portal trailed it like ghost tails. I got on my knees right where the floor ended, the wires and pipes hanging out. The air was smarting. Ripples throbbed, looking like heat waves with glimmering points. Remembering where my power started, I closed my eyes, and breathed, letting in the broken air. Red-raw momentum sizzled and pinched at my nerves. I was groaning, smoking through all of my spaces. The air opened up a bright blue, biting through me. I could feel it try to heal, but I held with my bones to the searing pain, and with it, made the sky remember.
I opened my eyes, and the portal was there, whole and shining as it had been minutes ago, and ready to melt again. I ran out onto it, a trail hot and grainy, like sand, underfoot. Below me, through howling screens of air, the campus seemed to pulse. The portal pushed past the trees, over and through a forest and on, into wetlands. It was invisible except that it moved, and by turns it was hissing and cracking and quiet. Often it started flaking away, and my feet would sink in lower. When the sounds softened from tinkling glass to lapping waves, I’d stop and feel for the memory, pins-and-needles, weak and spattered. Feel it until it became a tight anguish, patterned with the force of air broken open. The portal would steady, and I could move on the tension of it again.
Once I looked back, and could see myself, as a metered progression of people stretching as far back as could be seen. Interesting, but I told myself to keep moving and stop looking back. I was after a very fast man.
I went until the portal with me rippled over the ocean, and a big moon’s light flicked in the fissures. The portal went down – straight down. I fell, shoving my shoulders against shocked walls of water whenever I could. I felt the way down as lurching horror, making sure my guts would remember. Soon it was curving out again, and the portal ended with a porthole in the wall of a very big building. I drew from my bones a memory from moments ago that belonged to the wall and the water –trembling, bursting bubbles of space unwinding, and there was the portal half-opened. I raced through and was in an entry room, before another door, which was shut. In front of the second door was the fast man, Priscilla on his shoulders, a sharp look on his face while he waited. The portal closed behind me, and Priscilla moved. The fast man cursed.
“Who are you?”
The second door was opening. Priscilla turned to look, her nose wrinkling. “Oh, no,” she sighed. “Diana.”
I was confused by how annoyed she appeared. I had always been certain she was the unpleasant one.
“Are you fast, like me?” The man demanded, getting up in my face.
“I prefer to speak to your manager,” I replied coldly. The fellow was obviously not upper-management. He had the look of someone’s assistant.
He cursed again. “Follow me.”
I nodded, nonchalantly meeting Priscilla’s eyes. She hated me, I understood that now. This could have been her moment, and I’d stolen it. No matter. Winning never made people like you.
Fast man went at human speed. This more than drove home his subordinate status. His swiftness destroyed the integrity of air and left holes in the ocean, but when he came to the undersea lair he was not be at liberty to move his wrecking-speed.
We arrived at an office door marked “Professor W”. I waited for the fast guy to open it up. He shut the door halfway and tried to talk privately about me to his boss, but I slid around it and then around him to face the professor myself.
“Diana Delaetful,” I said, holding out my hand and speaking over the assistant’s protests. “I believe we can be of use to one another.”
The professor had a finger to her chin. “How were you able to follow Mr. Dashing?”
“I just finished asking her that, professor!” Dashing complained. “She said she wouldn’t talk to me, only to y-“
The professor’s eyes lit up.
“Have you not got a time-traveler yet?” I asked.
“We have not. Dashing, you may leave.”
“Wait!” Dashing insisted, setting Priscilla down. “I found the girl who can climb walls.”
“Good evening,” said Priscilla.
Professor W almost waved her away. “Later.”
“That’s not all I can do!” Priscilla argued. “I’m dead. I can jump off cliffs, and drink blood. They call me…Spider Bitch!”
“No one calls her that,” I whispered, and Priscilla heard me say it. She jumped for the wall above my head and spat down foaming spray that hit my face and glued my eyelashes together. She laughed while I struggled to speak around a gob of white goo covering my mouth. My breath made the goo blow up in a bubble that popped and got stuck in my hair. I stopped moving and tried to remember what my skin felt like before getting hit with the spider-snot, but the memory wasn’t strong enough.
“I am your greatest discovery,” Priscilla insisted. “Pay attention to me!”
Professor W. considered her again. “Does being dead make you immortal?”
“Yes!” Shouted Priscilla. “I’m sure of it!”
The Professor looked at me, then at Priscilla – Spider Bitch – then at Dashing, and back at me. She smiled broadly all of a sudden. “I sense a great need for growth opportunity in this room!” She announced. “I may need to send all of you out on assignment. There will be a new office in store for whichever of you manages to distinguish yourself above the others.”
“What’s the assignment?” Dashing demanded.
Professor W. swiped her phone and brought up the selfie of a chiseled, gleaming, naked man and a fully-dressed other man with a name-tag.
“I believe this man can fly,” she told us. “Bring him here, to me, tonight.”
“The last three assignments have been capturing people,” Dashing muttered. “When are we going to start doing other things besides recruitment?”
“Get yourself an office and maybe I’ll let you in on the Master Plan, Mr. Dashing. At the moment, this is all high above your pay-grade.”