1. Falling from the Sky

Heavy winds battered the icy Arctic. Lazy glaciers crept seaward, propelled by the clockwork mechanism that told the ice when to break, the water to go where the wind pushed, and the girl plummeting from the sky to scream.

The young woman’s panicked screech was cut short by the bone-jarring thump of her body crashing into the ground. She lay there for a second, dazed. A thick moan escaped her lips. Her eyelids fluttered. Cerulean blue eyes, completely at odds with her dark skin and flame hair widened, arcing skyward. She yelped and scrambled sideways as something small and dark came tumbling down. The dark object lodged its way into the snow, mere inches from her face. On closer inspection, she realized it was her cellphone.

She scowled at the cracked screen. “Toughest phone in the world, my ass.”

She let out a shaky breath as she struggled to sit upright. Every motion hurt like hell. Metallic wet blossomed across her tongue. She grimaced, wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand. Her brow furrowed when her fingers came away sticky with blood.

Cassandra Baron had just learned three valuable lessons.

The first lesson was that an object of a certain mass colliding with an object of much larger mass, say a frozen tundra, might result in greater damage sustained by the smaller, more human-shaped object.

The second was that teleporting without a clear and specific image of her destination in mind should probably not be attempted again. She’d wound up roughly where she intended but she hadn’t meant to materialize in the blasted air. She shuddered to think of what would have happened if she’d wound up inside one of those frozen glaciers instead.

The third lesson–and this was the real kicker–was that even a being with the ability to defy the constraints of space and time was still firmly bound by something as pedestrian as the Law of Gravity.

The phone that had just failed in its dastardly attempt to skewer her face emitted a pitiful wail. She dislodged it from the snow and held it daintily against her ear.

“Hello?”

“This is Shepard.” The voice of the man on the other end was deep and honey smooth.

She idly wondered if it was that low timbre or the cold that made her suddenly shiver.

“When can we meet?” She asked.

“How’s today?” His tone implied that it wasn’t really a suggestion.

“Today’s good,” she replied. “I’ll need some time, say half an hour?” She contemplated the eerily barren horizon. “One hour–tops,” she quickly amended, rubbing the red wetness between her forefinger and thumb. She supposed she’d better get cleaned up first.

There was a grunt. “Bring the money and I’ll have no complaints.”

Cassandra’s voice dripped sugar and sarcasm. “You give me what I want, and I give you what you want. Don’t you just love how these things fall into place?” Her face soured at the abrupt click in her ear. “No sense of humor, huh?”

She stood and did a slow three-sixty. She closed her eyes, recalling the murky mental imagery that had piqued her curiosity about this place. Twenty-two years earlier, the object she was looking for was abandoned in this general area. Considering time, mass movement and the climate, an object the size of an SUV would be…

She opened her eyes. “One o’clock.”

She began her stiff-jointed trek in that general direction.

The cut inside her mouth and the bones that she was sure had shattered when she fell were already healing. Not quickly enough, if you asked her but beggars couldn’t exactly be choosers, could they?

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