Just haven’t been willing to look it in the eye.
And why would I?
It’s one thing to be lost in a world that’s not your own.
Another thing entirely to know you’ve been replaced in yours.
That a better version of you has stepped into your life.
He’s smarter than I am, no question.
Is he also a better father to Charlie?
A better husband to Daniela?
A better lover?
He did this to me.
It’s way more fucked up than that.
I did this to me.
When I hear the locks in the door retract, I instinctively scoot back against the wall.
This is it.
They’ve come for me.
The door opens slowly, revealing a single person standing in the threshold, profiled against the light beyond.
They step inside, close the door after them.
I can’t see a thing.
But I can smell her—trace of perfume, body wash.
She whispers, “Keep your voice down.”
“What do you mean, ‘gone’?”
She sounds on the verge of tears, of breaking down. “They killed him. I’m so sorry, Jason. I thought they were just going to scare him, but…”
“They’re coming for you any minute now.”
“Why are you—?”
“Because I didn’t sign up for this shit. What they did to Daniela. To Holder. What they’re about to do to you. They crossed lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Not for science. Not for anything.”
“Can you get me out of this lab?”
“No, and it wouldn’t do you any good with your face all over the news.”
“What are you talking about? Why am I on the news?”
“The police are looking for you. They think you killed Daniela.”
“You people framed me?”
“I am so sorry. Look, I can’t get you out of this lab, but I can get you into the hangar.”
“Do you know how the box works?” I ask.
I feel her stare, even though I can’t see it.
“No idea. But it’s your one way out.”
“From everything I’ve heard, stepping inside that thing is like jumping out of an airplane and not knowing if your chute is going to open.”
“If the plane’s going down anyway, does it really matter?”
“What about the camera?”
“The one in here? I turned it off.”
I hear Amanda move toward the door.
A vertical line of light appears and widens.
When the cell door is open all the way, I see that she’s shouldering a backpack. Stepping out into the corridor, she adjusts her red pencil skirt and looks back at me.
I use the bed frame to drag myself onto my feet.
Must have been hours in the dark, because the light in the corridor is almost too much to bear. My eyes burn against the sudden brilliance.
For the moment, we have it all to ourselves.
Amanda is already moving away from me toward the vault doors at the far end.
She glances back, whispers, “Let’s go!”
I quietly follow, the panels of fluorescent lighting streaming past overhead.
Aside from the echoes of our footfalls, the corridor is soundless.
By the time I reach the touchscreen, Amanda is holding her keycard under the scanner.
“Won’t there be someone in mission control?” I ask. “I thought there was always someone monitoring—”
“I’m on duty tonight. I got you covered.”
“They’ll know you helped me.”
“By the time they realize, I’ll be out of here.”
The computerized female voice says, Name, please.
“What’s happening?” I ask.
“Someone must have seen us on the corridor cams and frozen my clearance. Leighton will know in a matter of seconds.”
“Give it another shot.”
She scans her card again.
She speaks slowly this time, overenunciating her words: “Two-two-three-seven.”
A door at the opposite end of the corridor opens.
When Leighton’s men step out, Amanda’s face pales with fear, and a sharp, metallic taste coats the roof of my mouth.
I ask, “Do the employees create their own passcodes or are they assigned?”
“We create them.”
“Give me your card.”
“Because maybe no one thought to freeze my clearance.”
As she hands it over, Leighton emerges from the same door.
He shouts my name.
I look back down the corridor as Leighton and his men start toward us.
I scan the card.
Of course. This guy is me.
Month and year of my birthday backwards.
Voice recognition confirmed. Welcome, Dr. Dessen.
The buzzer rakes my nerves.
As the doors begin to inch apart, I watch helplessly as the men rush toward us—red-faced, arms pumping.
Four or five seconds away.
The moment there’s enough space between the vault doors, Amanda squeezes through.
I follow her into the hangar, racing across the smooth concrete toward the box.
Mission control is empty, the lights beating down from high above, and it’s dawning on me that there is no possible scenario where we make it out of this.
We’re closing in on the box, Amanda yelling, “We just have to get inside!”
I glance back as the first man explodes through the wide-open vault doors, a gun or Taser in his right hand, a smear of what I assume is Ryan’s blood across his face.
He clocks me, raises his weapon, but I round the corner of the box before he can fire.
Amanda is pushing open the door, and as an alarm blares through the hangar, she disappears inside.
I’m right on her heels, launching myself over the threshold, into the box.