The Astral Traveler’s Daughter
TEDDY CANNON SAT ON THE floor in the living room of a cramped apartment in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, reading about the assassination of a Ukrainian drug lord. Foreign newspapers weren’t her typical summer reading (she preferred dystopian thrillers, to be honest), but there was something unusual about this assassination. It wasn’t the bullet hole in the Ukrainian’s head. That would be pro forma in most assassinations. It was the fact that there was no exit wound. And, once the autopsy was performed, there was no bullet.
Teddy folded the copy of the Ekspres and placed it in the ever growing stack to her right. She didn’t need to keep consulting Google Translate to know that this incident definitely belonged in the “suspicious” pile.
When she’d called her parents at the end of the school year to tell them she’d be staying in San Francisco (using the magic words summer internship), they’d been disappointed that they wouldn’t see her, but proud that she was on some sort of career track. A major improvement from her situation last year, when she’d been living in the apartment above her parents’ garage, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to a Vegas loan shark. At least she didn’t have that to worry about anymore.
The front door opened, then slammed, stirring the dust that had settled in the apartment over the last few weeks. A reminder that
she—or preferably, one of her roommates, since she was obviously busy—really needed to do some tidying up. (In retrospect, maybe her mother’s weekly cleaning “intrusions” weren’t such a bad thing after all.) Teddy heard footsteps. A pair of scuffed black Converse sneakers entered her peripheral vision.
“What a surprise,” a deep voice rumbled. “Still sitting here. In the exact same place. Doing the exact same thing.”
Teddy glanced up. Lucas “Pyro” Costa was another student at Whitfield, a former LAPD detective. Dark haired and dark eyed, he took smoldering-hot to a whole new level. Teddy and Pyro had hooked up their freshman year. Now, however, their relationship was strictly business.
She shrugged, gesturing to the stack of clippings spread in front of her. “Yeah, but my pile is bigger.”
“And that matters because?”
“Because I’m trying to find connections. Patterns. The answers are buried in here somewhere. I know it. I just have to keep digging.”
“It’s time to move on,” Pyro said.
If she’d been returning to any other school in the world in September, that may have been the title of her “how I spent my summer vacation” essay. But Teddy Cannon wasn’t going back to just any other school. She was going back to the Whitfield Institute for Law Enforcement Training and Development. And they didn’t train just any law enforcement recruits. The Whitfield Institute trained psychics. So, the title of that summer essay? “How I Spent Three Months Combing Through International Papers Identifying Mysterious, Inexplicable Events That Could Possibly Be Linked to an Über-Secret Squad of Psychics Who Call Themselves the Patriot Corps and Still Have Absolutely Nothing to Show for It.”
Pyro settled into a chair across from her, a greasy take-out bag tucked under his arm. “But let me guess,” he said. “You’re still not there yet?”
“Your powers of deduction never cease to amaze me. Are you sure they didn’t kick you off the force?”
He tossed a wrapped burger in front of her. “Eat.”
She put down the newspaper and picked up the fast food. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten. She’d probably starve if not for Pyro.
“Thanks,” she said. Then, “Don’t mess up my piles.”
“Yeah, you’ve got a real system here. I can tell.”
She took a bite and tried to suppress a moan.
“Okay there, Teddy?” Pyro was smirking. That smirk got women into trouble. Even she wasn’t completely immune to it. As he studied her, Teddy felt something in her chest move. Acid reflux, probably. She should stop eating cheeseburgers soon. Then again, why not enjoy them while she could? Once she was back at Whitfield, the school diet was strictly vegan, which supposedly kept their bodies clean and their minds focused.
“You know I have a thing for cheeseburgers,” she said, mouth full.
“What about the guy who brings you the cheeseburgers?”
There was a conversation she didn’t want to have. At least not now. Pyro was one of the most dangerously seductive guys she knew. And once that heat was kindled, it was only a matter of time before the whole building went up in flames.
Teddy ran her hand through her hair—which was considerably longer than it had been when she’d started at Whitfield last year—and stared at the wall, her eyes darting from one article to the next. It had been Pyro’s idea to tack the more pertinent articles on a corkboard. Probably a cop thing. Organized and efficient. But ultimately unhelpful.
Despite weeks of dead ends, Teddy’s determination to track down the Patriot Corps (shorthand: PC) hadn’t diminished. Everything that had happened in the final days of school last year—the betrayal of her classmate and supposed friend Jeremy Lee and the loss of her friend Molly Quinn—was linked to the vigilante group. Teddy was desperate
to understand the organization’s inner workings. She had another reason, one she didn’t want to admit to Pyro, in case he thought she was going soft. In Teddy’s final encounter with former PC member Derek Yates, he had suggested that her mother was alive and with the PC. He’d promised to help Teddy find her. A promise that remained unfulfilled.
Part of her had wanted to stay in San Francisco all summer because she’d thought that Yates would make contact. But now, weeks later, that idea seemed the most foolish of all. So she’d done the only thing she could to feel productive. Try to learn what she could about the PC. Find connections. Patterns.
Pyro cleared his throat. “I asked a cop friend to help me get to San Quentin. See if anyone on the inside had heard from Yates. I didn’t want to get your hopes up, Teddy. But . . .” He trailed off.
Teddy wouldn’t have gotten her hopes up. She knew that playing nice with others wasn’t Yates’s style. He was a lone wolf. And now he was in the wind. Teddy and the other Misfits—her group of friends from school—had helped Yates escape scot-free. He’d used them, and they’d served their purpose. He wasn’t coming back.
“Thanks anyway.” She crumpled the burger wrapper and went back to the Ukrainian newspaper. Her phone buzzed. Dara. On my way up. Need anything?
Nope, Teddy texted back. She closed her laptop, stood and stretched her cramped muscles, then went to unlock the door to the fifth-floor walk-up that she, Dara, and Jillian had sublet for the summer. Although he spent almost every day with them, Pyro slept across the bay in Tiburon on a friend’s couch, though there were stretches when he went back to L.A. to see his family.
Teddy turned to find him watching her. “Dara’s back,” she said. “She and Jillian promised they’d help me go over those bombings from the nineties again. See if they could get any psychic reads.”
“Again? You’ve gone over those, what, five times this week alone?”
“What’s your point?” Teddy heard the edge in her voice but couldn’t help it. An entire year spent at Whitfield Institute, and she still couldn’t further their research. Teddy Cannon’s psychic abilities—astral telekinesis and telepathy—allowed her to do amazing things: blow a steel door off its hinges, see inside someone’s mind, slow down time, but locate someone long gone? Delve into the inner workings of the PC? That would be a big N-O.
Pyro rolled his shoulders, let out a breath. “Look. I want to find the PC as much as you do. I want to find Molly. But don’t you think you’re taking this a little—”
“Taking this a little what?”
The front door opened and Dara stepped inside. Dara Jones seemed to dress the same way year-round: silver bangles up to her elbows, ripped jeans, band tee. She’d bleached her hair blond over the summer, providing a sharp contrast to her dark skin. Gothic glam. A platinum-haired version of Rihanna in her Anti phase. Teddy often wondered if she dressed to look the part: she could predict how people would die. All Teddy knew was that Dara had no control over how or when the death warnings came. Like Teddy, Dara was still learning to harness her abilities. Unlike Teddy, she came from a long line of Louisiana psychics who’d been practicing the dark arts (in layperson’s terms: voodoo) for years.
Dara stopped at the threshold. Read the tension in the room. “Am I interrupting . . . something?”
“No,” Teddy said, shooting Pyro a look. She picked up the article from the Ukrainian newspaper and placed it on top of a thick pile of clips by the window. The bombing folder. She dumped everything on an ugly Formica-topped table in the kitchen, then looked at Dara. “There’s more here. We’re missing something. I can feel it.”
Dara glanced at Pyro before looking back at Teddy. “We’re supposed to go back to school the day after tomorrow.”
“I know,” Teddy said. “That’s why it’s important that we find something
before—” She stopped rifling through the pages in the folder. “Wait a minute. What are you saying? School’s starting, so, what, we’re done? A few dead ends, then we walk away? What we’ve been looking for could be underneath our noses. We just need to try a little harder.”
“You think this is about trying harder?” Dara said.
Pyro lifted his hand as if to touch Teddy’s shoulder, then seemed to reconsider. “Listen, what about some fresh air? A walk? When was the last time you went outside?”
Teddy’s gaze shot from Pyro to Dara. Were they patronizing her? They were the ones with the problem, not her. They were the ones giving up. She’d been out yesterday for coffee. Hadn’t she? Or the day before, when she’d been to the library to look at microfiche. Or was that last week? She rubbed her temples, trying to remember specifics, but the days were fuzzy and running together.
She could keep the events of the past in line for the assassinations, the bombings, the unsanctioned rescues, the foiled kidnappings, the toppled regimes—all events in which the United States government claimed no involvement. But she couldn’t remember the last time she’d left her apartment. Her friends had long since given up asking her to take a break and grab a pizza or go see a movie. She’d refused them every time.
Teddy’s thoughts were interrupted by a crash from behind her as Dara stumbled against a cabinet and tried to steady herself. By Dara’s feet, a newspaper. The New York Times. October 27, 1998. Teddy knew that date. A bombing at an office building on Forty-Seventh Street. Twenty people had been killed, including eight suspected members of Al-Qaeda, and dozens more had been injured. The incident had occurred months after a bombing in Saudi Arabia killed nineteen Americans. It wasn’t until years later that intelligence had officially connected the New York City attack to Al-Qaeda.
“Dara?” Teddy navigated through the stacks to the kitchen, where
she filled a glass with tap water. She handed it to Dara, whose hands shook so badly that the water sloshed on the floor.
Last year, Dara had seen their friend Molly’s death. Or what would have been Molly’s death had Teddy not been able to put the pieces together at the last moment. Still, Molly had been seriously injured. And that injury had led to her disappearance. Teddy thought the prophecy had made Dara feel responsible for Molly; while they were all eager to find out what had happened to their friend, it was different for Dara. More personal. In any case, Teddy had learned to take Dara’s prophecies seriously—no matter how illogical they might seem.
“Dara?” she said. “What is it? A death warning?”
Dara struggled to take a breath.
“Is it about Molly?”
Dara shook her head. “Something else. Something . . . different. It’s been happening more and more since school ended.”
“What’s been happening?” Pyro asked.
“I’m not seeing the future,” Dara said, her eyes once again focused. She glanced down at the paper. In the photo, a burned-out office building. “I think I’m seeing the past.”
“The past?” Pyro said. “That’s incredible, Dara.”
“It’s not incredible when every damn object you pick up makes you see a dead person,” Dara snapped, wiping her brow with the back of her hand. She grimaced. “Sorry. It’s just . . . They’re harder than the warnings. Those I can act on. These, I can’t, you know, do anything about.”
That made sense. But it was incredible. With the training they’d received at Whitfield, each of their psychic skills had increased. Teddy had discovered she had more than just one ability—why not her friend? “What did you see?” she asked. “The PC?”
Dara shook her head. “I saw the building in the picture as the bomb was going off . . . people screaming, running, bleeding.” She gave a small shudder. “God, it doesn’t get easier.”
Pyro put his hand on Dara’s shoulder. “It’s not supposed to.”
“Did you see anything else? Anything that might help us?” Teddy knew the words sounded callous the moment they left her mouth. But it was too late to take them back. Besides, the real question she wanted to ask, she’d managed to hold back: What about my mother?
Dara’s hands were finally steady enough to hold a glass. She took a sip of water and shook her head.
Teddy’s phone buzzed, breaking an uncomfortable silence. Jillian: Be there in five. Eli coming with. Teddy thought, Ugh, Eli Nevin. She wanted to scream. Jillian had promised to go over PC research. That was particularly critical in light of Dara’s newest vision. But if Jillian was bringing her new boyfriend along—a new boyfriend who didn’t, and couldn’t, know anything about their psychic world—they wouldn’t be able to talk about anything important.
Jillian and Eli had met at an animal shelter at the beginning of the summer. Teddy had never seen anyone as besotted as her former roommate. She’d thought that word irrelevant in this millennium, but Jillian had proved her wrong. Eli, with his Save the Earth T-shirts, and hemp oil and nutritional yeast, and twenty-seven different animal rights petitions he’d made Teddy sign since she’d met him. And he went on and on about HEAT, the nonprofit he ran: Humans for Ethical Animal Treatment.
Teddy didn’t have time for Eli and his causes. None of them had time for Eli and his causes. She—they—had their own cause, their own mission, this summer. And time was running out.
“Hey,” Jillian called out from the hallway. “Eli’s just grabbing some veggie wraps. What’d I miss?” She shucked off her signature fringe jacket. You couldn’t help but notice when Jillian walked into a room, not because the girl was practically six feet tall and built like a brick house, but because she radiated sunshine and puppy dogs and sugar cookies and all the good things that people like Teddy Cannon didn’t.
“Oh, you know, just the fact that Dara had a vision of a PC bombing,” Teddy said. “Nothing too important.”
Jillian paused in the middle of twisting her long blond hair into a topknot. Teddy noticed a new pair of dainty bar studs on her earlobes—a gift from Eli? He’d asked Teddy what to get Jillian for her birthday. Crap. She’d forgotten Jillian’s birthday. It had been, what, last week, the week before? Well, she’d make it up to her. Margaritas at the Cantina as soon as they were back at school. Teddy had just been distracted this summer. Her friends would understand. Jillian, especially, would.
“There’s going to be a bombing?” Jillian asked, eyes wide.
“Was a bombing,” Pyro said. “Past vision. Dara can see past deaths now.”
“When did you start seeing the past?” Jillian asked Dara. “Are you okay?”
That was the right reaction, Teddy realized, making a mental note. Not asking what the vision in particular was about or, worse, how it might help her.
“It’s a new thing,” Dara said. “I didn’t want to tell you all until I was sure. But then I saw this.” She held up the newspaper. “It’s hard to know if something is past or future unless I’m looking at an actual live person in front of me.” She glanced at the photograph on the front page. “Or a dead one.”
Teddy slumped into a chair. “Bottom line, we aren’t any closer to finding the PC,” she said. “Sure, we know some of what they’ve done. But other than Yates and our old classmates, we don’t know who the PC actually are.”
“Well, Yates, our ex-classmates”—Jillian paused to take a fortifying breath—“and your birth mother.”
Teddy’s chest constricted. No one—not even Jillian—had brought up the topic of Teddy’s birth mother all summer. Let alone directly insinuated that she’d been involved in the inner workings of the
PC. “That’s not what this is about. I’m”—Teddy paused to correct herself—“we’re trying to find Molly.”
Her friends stayed silent, as if they knew pressing her on this issue could cause her to erupt.
“Besides,” Teddy continued, “just because my mother is with them doesn’t mean she’s with them.” Her eyes went wide as an awful realization struck her. After a summer of researching the past, did they believe her mother was actually a participating member of the PC? Not just a prisoner being forced against her will? “Wait a minute. You can’t really think—”
“We don’t think anything yet,” Pyro said. “We need proof. We need to ask ourselves what Clint would do.”
But thinking about what Clint Corbett would do—dean of Whitfield Institute, ex-cop, friend of Teddy’s birth parents—made Teddy feel even worse.
Clint had personally recruited Teddy last year. And though she wanted to trust him, he’d made that nearly impossible by keeping secrets from her. Secrets about her past. He’d known all along about Sector Three, the covert government training facility where her parents and Derek Yates had worked—or, rather, been experimented on. The facility where her father had died. So yes, she respected Clint. Liked him, even. But on some level, she remained as wary of him as she would be of a crooked Vegas dealer. When it came to doling out the truth, somehow the cards always fell in Clint’s favor.
“All we have are conjectures and—” Pyro said.
“Veggie wraps!” Eli shouted from the hallway.
Teddy shot Jillian a look, then sprang into action. Turned the corkboard around to face the wall and threw one of Jillian’s tapestries over the pile of papers on the floor. Eli had been told the same cover they used for close family and friends: they all attended a school for government and law enforcement trainees. It wasn’t untrue. And certainly nothing in the apartment screamed psychic.
But Teddy didn’t like that Eli was always around. “How much do you think he heard?”
Jillian shrugged. “It’s fine. I told you, we can trust him.”
Teddy rolled her eyes.
“Hey,” Eli said, stepping inside.
Teddy couldn’t blame Jillian for being attracted to him. He was taller than Jillian, with strong shoulders like a swimmer’s, and curly dark brown hair that fell over his forehead in a way that made him look more like a member of a boy band than an activist. Today he was wearing a Greenpeace T-shirt and cargo shorts. Teddy loathed cargo shorts. And anyone who wore them.
“Hey, man,” Pyro said. “We were kind of in the middle of something.”
“No problem,” Eli said. “I can come back later. Just wanted to give Jill her lunch.”
Teddy clenched her jaw. Jillian wasn’t Jill. She was Jillian. Naked-yoga-doing, patchouli-wearing Jillian Blustein. Her roommate.
“Thanks, babe,” Jillian said, kissing him on the cheek.
“Oh, and Teddy, this is for you.” He put down the take-out bag and fished around in one of the pockets of his cargo shorts (All those stupid pockets! What is he hiding?) and handed Teddy a folded piece of white paper.
Teddy glanced at the paper and froze. In a voice she barely recognized as her own, she choked out, “Where did you get this?”
Eli shrugged. “Some guy on the street asked me to bring it up to you.”
“When? Just now?”
“Yeah, like five minutes ago.”
Teddy rushed to the window. She took in the usual people who called the Tenderloin home. Dealers staking out corners for the night, gangs of teens, men and women staggering home after twelve-hour shifts. Dozens of people, but not the one person she wanted to see.
“What is it?” Pyro asked.
Teddy showed him the note. On the outside, in a distinctive scrawl she’d recognized right away, was a single word. Her name. Theodora. But no one ever called her that.
No one except Derek Yates.
Pyro swore, leaning toward the window to search left and right. “He’s gone.”
“Who?” Dara demanded from behind them. “Who’s gone?”
“Should we go down?” Teddy said. “Start looking? Maybe—”
“Waste of time,” Pyro said. “He was gone two seconds after he passed Eli the note.”
Teddy reluctantly agreed. No one was better at disappearing than Derek Yates. Turning away from the window, she unfolded the paper. “Numbers,” she said, scanning the missive. “Just random numbers.”
“If that’s from who we think it is,” Dara put in, “there’s no way those numbers are random. They mean something. What?”
“A phone number?” Jillian suggested.
Teddy shook her head. “Too many digits.”
Suddenly, Eli was over her shoulder. “Those are coordinates. I know because this one time, when we were protesting in . . .”
Teddy didn’t listen to whatever came next. She rushed to get her laptop and keyed the numbers into Google Maps. Heart pounding, she watched as the screen moved from California to Nevada. A small town called Jackpot pinpointed on the map.
“Jackpot,” Dara said. “Anyone heard of it?”
Teddy hadn’t. Although she’d grown up in Vegas, the only association she had with the word jackpot was a generic come-on to lure tourists into handing over their hard-earned cash. The town itself meant nothing to her. She scrolled through her mental time line of suspected PC events. No bombings or assassinations had ever been reported there.
“Maybe he’s messing with you,” Pyro said. “Jackpot, you know. Winner, winner, chicken dinner, except not at all?”
“That saying is messed up,” Eli said. “Poultry farming. Did you know they use arsenic laxatives on chickens?”
God, what is Eli Nevin still doing here?
Ignoring him, Teddy said to Pyro, “Yates isn’t like that. He doesn’t mislead on purpose. He’s giving me a specific clue. I’m just not seeing it.”
“So switch your screen view,” Dara suggested. “What’s at the location?”
Teddy clicked on the street view, and her heart stopped. The computer screen filled with a familiar picture. A cottage. A yellow cottage. The house that she’d dreamed about for as long as she could remember. The dreams had become increasingly vivid as she’d seen, heard, practically felt her mother in the abandoned rooms. Those dreams meant something, Teddy had known, but what? Last year, Clint had told her that the yellow cottage was where her parents had lived while they’d been at Sector Three. The last place they’d called home before her father had died, before her mother had gone missing.
“Teddy? You okay?” Pyro asked.
“We have to go to Jackpot,” Teddy said. “Now.” Turning, she began to grab things she knew she’d need. The bombing folder, for sure. Water bottle. Backpack. Clothes.
Her friends watched, looking bewildered. “I’ll call you later,” Jillian said to Eli. For once, Eli took the hint. He gave Jillian a quick kiss goodbye and left the room.
Once the door closed . . .
“School starts the day after tomorrow, Teddy,” Dara said.
“Which means we have to get to Jackpot tonight.”
“Teddy,” Jillian started.
“Yates wants me to go there. I don’t know why you all aren’t seeing this. It’s what we’ve been waiting for all summer!”
“Teddy,” Pyro said. “Hold on a minute. Yates sends you one slip of paper, and you go running off into the desert? Just like that?”
Her friends looked at her, arms crossed and brows furrowed. Teddy struggled to rein in her impatience. “It’s their house, okay?” She took a shaky breath. “My parents’ house. My house. It’s where we lived while we were at Sector Three. It’s probably a wreck now.” At least in her last dream, it had been. “But if there’s something there that leads me to her . . .”
“Her?” Dara repeated. “You mean Molly?”
Teddy took another breath. Her chest felt tight. “Yes, of course Molly. But also my birth mother.” She shot a glance at Jillian. There. She’d finally said it. What she didn’t want to admit to her friends or even herself. Right now, Yates was her only path to Marysue Delaney.
Pyro, Dara, and Jillian exchanged a look—one that preceded a conversation starting with “We need to talk.” And not the good kind of talk that ended with ice cream and trashy TV.
Pyro spoke first. “Aren’t you taking this too far? I mean, I know it sounds harsh, Teddy, but if your mother wanted to get in touch with you after all these years, she would have done it by now.”
Teddy’s stomach dropped. “Whatever,” she said, turning away to refocus on packing. “This is the only solid lead we’ve had all summer. It may help us find the PC, it may not. But there’s only one way to find out.” She zipped her backpack and tossed it over her shoulder.
“Hold on.” Pyro caught her arm. “If I thought I could talk you out of it, I’d try. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you go alone. I’m coming with you.”
“So am I,” Dara said.
Teddy sighed. Despite her show of bravado, the thought of facing Derek Yates alone was terrifying. Realizing Jillian had remained suspiciously silent, Teddy turned to her roommate.
Jillian bit her lip. “I promised I would go to a HEAT meeting in half an hour.”
“Are you saying HEAT’s more important than the PC?”
“No, of course not. I’m saying that I made a promise, and . . . well, I have other commitments.”
“Other commitments? Derek Yates just gave me the exact location of the house where my parents lived, the house that’s haunted my dreams for decades, and you don’t have time?”
Jillian looked at her feet. “I told Eli I’d go. It’s important to him. To me, too.”
“How’s this,” Pyro said. “Teddy and I will leave now. We’ll take my car. And then Jillian and Dara will follow tonight after the meeting. You’ll be, what, an hour behind?”
“At the most,” Jillian said, obviously grateful for the solution. “I’ll pop in and out really quick.”
“Fine. But it’s like a nine-hour drive,” Dara said. “We’re not listening to any Grateful Dead.”
Their discussion of logistics faded into the background. Finally. After months of waiting, poring over newspaper clippings and tracking dead ends, at last they had something. A lead. A clear direction. Teddy followed Pyro down the flight of stairs and to his truck.
Only one problem.
Even though she knew they were driving to Jackpot, to her childhood home, she had no idea what waited there, or what kind of trap Derek Yates might be leading them into.