In anticipation of the relaunch of Recursion, both in ebook and paperback, I will be posting snippets all week. Book 2 snippets will be coming soon. Let me know what you think in the comments or shoot me an email. Enjoy!
Smoke fills my lungs as I fall out of the blackness and onto a hard-packed dirt floor. Coughing, I roll onto my side, blinking away burning tears. A staircase on the far side of the room stretches up to a shut door. Shelves filled with jars and canned food line one wall. Racks of guns line the other. Have I been here before?
I remember my mantra.
Your name is Molly Gardner. You are an agent for the ISD. You have just traveled through time.
But when? And where?
I roll onto my side, waving away the smoke. The straps on my pack dig into my shoulders. Flames lick at the ceiling. The shelves to my left erupt into flames, almost spontaneously. This is no normal fire.
The staircase is still untouched, but I need to hurry. I move slowly, staying low, across the dirt floor, my pack heavy on my back. I am wearing a knee-length skirt, long by modern standards, but not long enough to offer much protection. At least my wool coat and pack are keeping the sparks off of my skin.
I reach the foot of the stairs and climb, coughing in the smoke. At the top is a wooden door. I pause, remembering more. This is the Paris Station. It’s 1955. I’ve come with . . .
My partner, Vic, and our new agent-in-training, Leung. They must still be traveling behind me through the tunnel. The fire has spread down the shelves. It could soon reach the stairs. I can’t leave.
I descend back down the stairs, waving smoke from my face. In the back of the cellar, a shelf has been pulled out a few feet from the walls. Dancing light hits the shelf but doesn’t touch the shadows behind it. It is dark, there. A dark beyond dark.
On the shelf next to me are folded blankets, canteens, and canned foods. I grab a blanket and a canteen, wrapping the blanket around my shoulders and draining the canteen in a few gulps. Sparks rain down from the ceiling. It could give way any minute. Come on, come on.
I sense it happening before I see it.
The atmosphere in the room takes on a sharp, electric taste. The darkness at the back of the cellar intensifies. My vision warps as if the wood itself bends and stretches. My ears pop as the air pressure in the room shifts, and my partner, Vic, is suddenly there, falling in a heap.
He groans, rolling over. I rush to his side and grab his shoulder, shaking him.
“Come on Vic, get up.”
There’s a creak as the weight of the house settles against the changing structural support.
Vic coughs. “What’s happening?”
“The Station is on fire.”
“We gotta get out of here,” Vic struggles to his feet. He stumbles for a moment under the weight of his own pack. He stands, and then drops back toward the ground, coughing from the smoke.
I grab him by the arm. “We have to wait for Leung.”
“Who—” He shakes his head as if to clear it. “How long since you came through?”
I check my watch. Maybe four minutes had passed between when I came through the tunnel and when Vic arrived. It’s now already been almost a full minute since Vic’s arrival. How far behind me was Vic when we went through on the other side? Our protocol is to wait five seconds. I estimate the differential at a factor of twenty. It should be three minutes, but was Leung delayed before entering? Did the Director say something to her? At such a high differential, a delay of seconds turns into minutes. I can’t worry about that right now.
“Vic, there are hotel guests. And the other agents.”
He nods. “I’ll find them.”
Vic shoulders his pack and runs through the smoke and up the stairs, his boots pounding on the wooden planks. He stops at the door, testing the surface for heat, then pulls the door open. For a moment, Vic is surrounded by an orange corona of light. Then the door closes and he is gone.
I stare at the darkness in the back of the cellar. Leung is the third member of our team, and this is her first mission. I remember seeing her eyes locked with my own moments before I stepped into the tunnel. I imagine her stepping into this hellish inferno alone.
Above me, Vic’s boots pound from one side of the building to another. We’re in the Paris Station, in the cellar of an old, six-story hotel that had once been a brothel. It is a Way Station for the most secretive government organization the world has ever known. The brothels were shut down after the war in 1947 and, while investigating the disappearance of American soldiers after the city had been retaken, ISD agents discovered the unique properties in the building’s cellar. Now the ISD owns the building and uses the hotel as a front.
But this fire means people, reporters, and police will dig and file and categorize everything they find. We’re going to have to make sure no one discovers the additions in the sixth-floor apartments, or the failsafe buried behind the stairs in the cellar.
Oh yeah, the failsafe. We have explosives buried in the foundation of the building designed to implode the building and collapse the tunnel if its secrecy is ever threatened. I’m standing on top of a bomb and the room is on fire. Great.
Still no Leung.
My watch reads five minutes since Vic came through. Something’s wrong. Tunnels are unstable by nature. The fire could have collapsed it. But if it hasn’t collapsed and I leave, then I am abandoning Leung to this inferno.
A whole piece of the ceiling gives way, crashing to the ground in front of me and erupting in a shower of sparks. I hold my hand up against the light. As the smoke clears, I see Leung’s small figure, dwarfed by her pack, lying prone on the ground.
She made it.
I run in a low crouch across the floor, throw the blanket over Leung, and wrap my hand around hers. She moans, her eyes flickering open.
“You have to get up.”
The glow of the fire against the shelves increases. The flames have spread down the shelves on both sides of the room and creeping along the ceiling toward the stairs. The smoke is so thick that I can barely see the top of the stairs. If Leung doesn’t wake up soon, we’ll both be dead.