“Pause,” I say, and the image stills. The sound cuts off and leaves only the hum of the Link station behind in my bedroom. I get up and close the door, something I should’ve done earlier. But Heath had sent me a flick in an email, with the subject line: DROP EVERYTHING AND WATCH THIS.
I suppose I should know that anything Heath sends me will be the latest, breaking-est newsfeed. Usually I don’t care much, and I ignore his messages until he puts the subject line in all-caps.
In this case, I want to see the flick. At the same time I don’t.
After casting another glance at the door to ensure it’s locked, I say, “Restart.” I’ve opted to watch the footage on my Link station instead of my cybernetics. The Link has a much bigger screen and data can be erased at will. Anything I watch on my cybernetic lenses—multi-media contacts I wear day and night—will remain in the history until I’ve viewed five additional items.
The flick flips back to the beginning, where a squad of technofoil-jacketed Hoods block the entrance to a building. They wear silver, metal suits from boots to heads.
Everyone says they need the helmets to cover their scarred faces. That one of the requirements to become a Hood is to incur at least two facial injuries in the line of duty. I don’t know if I believe the rumors, but I know the Hoods scare the crap out of me. More military than regular policemen, if a Hood comes calling, there’ll be heavy consequences—because it means you’ve messed with something time related.
The Hoods can punish citizens before inquiring, and I’ve seen enough vids of smashed noses and missing teeth to know I want to steer clear of their all-seeing eyes.
On-screen, their jackets will prevent anything from penetrating, and their loudspeakers and weapons keep the gathering crowd at bay.
The shot pans beyond the sidewalk-crowd to show what building the Hoods are safeguarding, and though I can’t see the whole thing, I glimpse enough.
The white light from the enforcement orbs glint off the gold letters of the Time Bureau.
I suck in a breath. There’s something equally disturbing and intriguing about the Bureau. I’ve been many times with my father, because he works there as the dean of technological development. I watch the south corner, where I know a concealed entrance lurks. I notice several Hoods are turned that way too.
Seeing the Time Bureau on-screen when I’m going to be hacking their system tomorrow night is especially unsettling. I quell the churning unrest in my gut and keep the flick rolling.
The main door to the Bureau hisses upward and four people spill out. Three of them are obviously teens, and the fourth is an adult. Two of them—the adult and one of the teens—wear hoods, their faces turned toward the ground as they run. This is where I’d paused the flick before, because the people aren’t the only things the building has to confess.
A bright—so bright it hurts to look at it—green light accompanies the people, highlighting their hair in alien hues and painting the surrounding crowd into stunned silence. Even the Hoods watch, electrorays hanging limply at their sides.
Green light kaleidoscopes from the building. I know what I’m seeing. My mind forms the words—time rift—but I can’t quite believe it. Dad has never said anything about the Bureau housing a rift. Before I can say “Pause,” again, the flick ends.
The creaking of my old house settles into the silence left by the termination of the feed. Just as I’m about to start it again, a date flashes on-screen. November 6, 2068.
The screen shrinks until it sits in the corner of the main picture, where a news rep looks earnestly into the camera. “This flick, apparently recorded five years ago and showing an alleged time rift at the Time Bureau, began circulating video logs an hour ago. The Time Bureau has no record of a rift site at their facility and claims the Black Hat falsified and released the feed. The notorious jammer that’s had his hand in numerous hacks has been recently traced to Castle Pines. He has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for this alleged cyber attack.”
I lean away from my station; my heartbeat hammers with his words.
They’ve traced the Black Hat—they’ve traced me—to Castle Pines.
I see Chloe everywhere.
Sometimes in the dry towel hanging in the bathroom, sometimes in the empty space at the dinner table. Sometimes in the shag rug that covers my hardwood floor now. Mom ripped up the carpet when Chloe disappeared.
I let my eyes skate over that rug as I watch the moonlight chase shadows through my bedroom. Chloe used to be the one who couldn’t sleep at night.
Now that she’s gone, I’ve taken over the role of insomniac in the Phillips household.
I can’t get away from her, no matter how many times I’ve cried and begged to move. Mom loves this house, apparently more than she loves me. She inherited the mansion from her grandmother, and it’s seen our family dwindle from five—Mom, Dad, Chloe, me, Shep—to four when Dad died. Now that there are only three of us living here, I could go days without seeing anyone. That is, if Mom didn’t have a scheduled Sunday morning check-in.
Mom’s a laser fusion scientist at NovaRad, a research firm. She’s trying create energy without creating waste. She’s methodical in everything she does. Chores are scheduled and get done exactly the same every time. The garage gets cleaned every May. The back shed every October. Mom freaks if the gardeners are late, or if I don’t fill up the car with gas as soon as the indicator light comes on. Making dinner is the only thing I’ve seen my mother do without a set of rules. She calls cooking her “mad scientist” moment, minus the lasers.
Everything else in her life is done according to the scientific method: Ask a question, research, hypothesize, experiment, analyze, communicate. Except we suck at the communication part. Thus, the scheduled check-ins.
The alarm clock next to me indicates my check-in will arrive in seven hours. I close my eyes and roll toward the window.
When I open my eyes again, I find a wispy, see-through version of Chloe sitting in the window seat, her knees clenched to her chest.
My pulse accelerates; my heart skips; I inhale sharper than I mean to. Chloe doesn’t turn to look at me, but continues to gaze through the window.
I’ve seen versions of my older sister before, sitting at the window, rushing down the stairs, wandering through the formal living room and into the hall toward the game room. She loved to lounge in the beanbag there.
Her dark clothes melt into the surrounding shadows, her long hair is ponytailed, the silver buckles on her boots glint in the glossy moonlight. Her jaw muscle twitches, something that used to happen when she was nervous—or when she had a problem she needed to work through. I’ve seen her do that a lot. Before she disappeared, she’d been hanging out at my mom’s lab in all her spare time. She said she loved watching the lasers, that she got to listen in during Mom’s meetings, and once she told me that she was researching the practical uses of laser beam energy for Harlem Something-Or-Other, Mom’s boss. I didn’t know if that was true or not, but Chloe constantly carried around a notebook, always scrawling notes and equations with more letters than numbers.
An unearthly blue glow rests on her shoulders and slides down the curve of her back, almost like an outline. I’m not sure why I continue to see my sister when she’s been missing for so long. At first, I thought she was a ghost, but after five years I know that phantoms aren’t real—even if you can still see them.
I’m not sure what to make of the nearly translucent visions of my sister. The Chloe I see can’t possibly be the same person who disappeared in the dead of night. For one thing, she’s aged right along with me. Always thirteen months older, with hair that’s longer and longer, and then cut again.
When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a seventeen-year-old junior whose only texts consist of asking her younger brother if he needs a ride home from school. I see a girl with gaunt cheeks and dark circles under her dad’s green eyes. I see freckles, pale skin, and mousy hair that hangs in strings to the middle of her back.
Chloe used to be jealous of my green eyes;
I wanted her dark ones.
Mom used the word “prodigy” when talking about us—my piano, Chloe’s science. I followed her around at school, perpetually one year behind, but hopelessly pleased when people thought we were twins. The year she disappeared, she was at the junior high and I was still in elementary school. It was the first time I realized Chloe had a life without me in it.
Now my whole life is lived without her in it. When my sister turns from the window and looks at me, I squeeze my eyes shut. When I open them, she’s standing up, staring toward the door. She’s still a head taller than me, with olive skin and dark eyes—like Mom—but her black hair has been cut into a stylish A-line.
I fill my brain with useless thoughts. I’ve already organized my closet according to size and color—everything I haven’t packed, that is. I’m determined to convince my mother to move, and every time I see my sister, I fill another box.
This idea soothes me. I close my eyes and imagine boxing up my desk. Top drawer: pens, old stationery, matching envelopes. I have just the box for those….
I hardly use the old desktop computer anyway, choosing to complete my assignments in the lab at school or at Sarah Jane’s house. Or not at all.
Second drawer: sheet music I haven’t played in a while. Some Beatles, Maroon 5, Jason Mraz….
With my eyes clamped shut and my mind racing through the packing list, I don’t have space to worry about where Chloe is, or what she looks like, or how she’s aged right along with me.
At some point while I list the songs I used to sing and play, I fall asleep.
Someone breathes in the room with me. The inhale, pause, exhale creeps through the darkness, filling the spaces between the whistling of the breeze and the chirping of the crickets. The sound of that breathing comes steadily, and strong.
My eyes jerk open. The empty window stares back at me from across the room, highlighted with the shimmery glow of the moon. The curtains flutter in the early summer wind. Mom won’t turn on the air conditioner for a few more weeks, claiming the weather is still cool enough to leave the windows open at night.
The fabric flaps against the windowsill irregularly, but the movement doesn’t match the breathing. I can still hear the inhale, pause, exhale. Sudden fear seizes my muscles. The breathing migrates much too close, coming and going like ocean waves on the shore. The constant roar of it is everywhere, echoing and exhaling and excruciating.
My thoughts collide and tangle, with only one swimming to the surface. Get out!
I want to fling the blankets away and rush into my parents’ bedroom, the way I did when I was younger and nightmares followed me into the dregs of slumber. Dad was always able to soothe me. His calming presence is what I missed the most in the days and months immediately following his death. I’ve forgotten the timbre of his voice, the way he could calm me when I was afraid. I haven’t yearned for him so strongly in a long time.
But I’m not a child anymore, and I haven’t frequented my parents’ bedroom at night since Dad died when I was nine years old.
The breeze stills. The curtain pauses. The pounding of my heart quiets.
Maybe it’s Chloe, breathing in and out, though I’ve never been able to hear her. Not a footfall, a breath, a word. I’ve tried to talk to her, tried to get her to explain why she won’t leave this house.
Every time I try to interact with her, she doesn’t respond. Her eyes don’t flick to mine. She doesn’t say anything. She ignores me as completely as if I’m not here—or as if she isn’t. Once, I tried to touch her, and I couldn’t. So I know she’s not real, not a ghost, not here.
I see her face on the backs of my eyelids; the house oozes Chloe from every crack; I have to get out, get out, move.
We shared a room, though my uncle removed her bed three days after the memorial service. Mom took out the carpet and laid hardwood. The plush purple rug and an upright piano were brought in, so I could pound on the keys whenever I wanted, so the room wouldn’t look so huge and feel so empty.
My bedroom door gapes open, as does the door that leads into a shared bathroom. Through that, my brother’s room is shrouded in darkness. Maybe the sound comes from his bedroom across the way. But he started closing his doors a couple of months ago. “Fourteen needs privacy,” he’d told our mother. “I don’t want Saige in my room, messing with my stuff.”
She didn’t argue, and I couldn’t care less about his things. I never wanted to go in his room—until mine suddenly didn’t feel safe anymore. My room has been my sanctuary, the one place I knew I was okay.
I’m not crazy, I tell myself in the sternest mind-voice I can muster. The wind bartering with the curtains whispers back, Maybe I am.
I lean up on my elbow so I’m looking into the bathroom that divides my room from Shep’s. He could be in there; he might not be. A notoriously deep sleeper, Shep doesn’t wake up until he’s ready. Summer before last, he walked right into the sliding glass door in his first of many sleepwalking episodes. Sometimes Mom finds him asleep in the backseat of her car.
If he hasn’t wandered off yet, I won’t be able to wake him, not from all the way in here. I whisper-hiss “Shep!” anyway.
The breathing continues. Maybe Shep’s, but probably not.
Orange night-light shadows paint the mirror and the floor in the bathroom. I strain to see through them, into Shep’s bedroom.
That’s when I hear another body breathing.
One is faint and far away, deep in the recesses of slumber, coming from my brother’s room.
The other is still strong and steady, rhythmic and loud, echoing behind me. Could be Chloe, but it could also be something else entirely.
Without thinking, I leap from bed, dart across the room, and slam the window shut.
I don’t hear anything but the rush of blood in my veins, the drag of my blanket on the hardwood, and the slap of my feet across the bathroom tile.
I settle on the edge of Shep’s bed, as far from my bedroom as I can get. My arms shake as I cast one last look toward my room. I see mist rising through the moonlight outside the window. I blink; it’s gone.
I duck and cover my head with my blanket, screaming inside myself. The comforting, steady warmth of Shep’s body calms me. He’s real, and he’s here, and I use these very solid facts to ground myself. The whispering in my head quiets. In fact, Shep’s breathing is all I hear for the rest of the night.
My name floats through the haze in my head. The pain in my lower back registers. As my name gets called again, I notice an odd smell, like dirty socks and burnt metal.
Loud knocking nearly brings me to the surface of sleep. “Shep? Have you seen your sister?” Mom’s voice carries through his closed door, half-frustrated, half-worried.
I groan, the pain along my spine twice as sharp now. I recognize the smell as the standard stench in Shep’s room.
I sit up as fast as I can with the debilitating sting in my back. The creepy breathing. That’s why I spent the night in Shep’s bed. I must’ve fallen out sometime during the night.
His clock reads 8:04, and Mom’s on the prowl for our Sunday morning check-in. I groan as I scramble back to his bed just as he comes out of the bathroom, a towel around his waist, his hair dripping wet. “Haven’t seen her,” he yells to Mom.
“Shep,” I say.
He yelps, spins, and drops his towel.
I scream and press my palms against my eyes.
“What are you doing in here?” he demands. Scuffling follows, and I hope he’s gluing that towel to his body.
“Get out! Now!”
Before I can move, his bedroom door swings open. I lower my hands to find Mom standing in the doorway, her normally smooth hair flying in wisps around her face. She’s holding the phone to her ear with a wild look in her dark eyes.
Mom hangs up and stands there, her gaze volleying between me sitting in Shep’s bed and him white-knuckling a towel around his naked body.
Seconds tick by, each one marked by the whitening in my mother’s complexion. “What is going on here?” she finally whispers. It would’ve been better if she’d yelled it. It might’ve been better if she’d never found me, the way she woke up one Sunday morning and never found Chloe.
“Nothing,” I say quickly, leaping from Shep’s bed like it’s suddenly caught fire. I don’t know what else to say. There is no explanation.
I’ve learned not to argue with my mom. Once, I told her I didn’t like the pulp in the orange juice. She lectured me for ten minutes about its health qualities before stomping into her office, shouting “I’ll let you pick the juice from now on!” over her shoulder.
We talk about the weather and my grades and what’s for dinner. Those are the only safe topics, and sometimes they don’t even count. Shep’s learned to grunt and nod instead of actually speaking. Chloe was the only one I could confide in, and since she disappeared, I feel like a stranger in my own family.
Mom’s looking at me with worry pinching her eyes, but there’s something deeper there. Something I don’t like. Something like she’s been expecting me to crack, and now I’ve finally done it by climbing into bed with my younger brother. She squints at Shep, and I see the calculating look she sweeps over him and then me. Does she really think I came in here, and he, and me, and ew.
“I didn’t know she was there,” Shep says, and I get the feeling it’s not the first time he’s defended himself. “Maybe she came in while I was showering or something. She sure as hell wasn’t there when I woke up.”
“Language,” Mom scolds and then she scrutinizes me again. “Well, Saige? Why are you sleeping in your brother’s room?”
There is no freaking way I’m telling her about the breathing. Shep maybe, if he wasn’t fresh from the shower and still clutching a towel around his lower half.
“I wasn’t sleeping in here,” I scoff. “I just needed a thumb drive for school. Shep has trillions of them.” I cast my eyes around the room, hoping a bin of the stupid things will materialize.
“It’s Sunday,” Mom says, and I close my eyes, unable to look at her until I can come up with something else. I can’t tell her I slept in Shep’s room because I saw Chloe sitting in my window seat.
I open my eyes and meet her penetrating gaze. “Yeah, but I’m going to Sarah Jane’s to study today.” The lie hovers in the air between us. She knows a fib when she hears one, and I suck at lying. Chloe took that talent with her.
Mom’s eyes beg me to tell her everything, but at the same time she doesn’t want to know. She can’t hypothesize about my feelings, and that frustrates her.
I push past Shep, leaving my blanket on his bed, hoping Mom won’t notice it. When I arrive in my room via the bathroom, she’s standing in the doorway, blocking my escape into the hall.
“Where’s your blanket?” She glances over my shoulder to the bed.
“Laundry,” I bite out as I move to the window seat, my usual spot for her check-in. “It was too hot last night. You need to turn on the freaking air conditioner already.”
I expect a rebuke for saying freaking, but it doesn’t come. She knows I didn’t sweat through my blankets. She doesn’t vocalize it, but her eyes say everything her mouth can’t. I know she loves me, wants the best for me.
Still. I’m not Chloe, and I’m not going to vanish in the middle of the night. She did things like that, even before she disappeared and never returned. Her bed lay empty most nights, and while I stayed in like a good girl, she snuck out.
After Dad died, Chloe sort of escaped inside herself for a while. She spent more and more time with Mom, and when I asked her where she went at night, she said, “Eliza’s,” or “Cedar’s.”
Her friends—a new group she’d found once she’d entered junior high. A group where I was definitely the tag-along, the one everyone put up with because “she’s Chloe’s little sister.” I reasoned that since she spent so much of her free time at work with Mom, she used her restless nights to hang out with her friends. I didn’t know what they did in the dead of night, and I’d never wanted to know. Until she didn’t come back. Then everyone wanted to know, and I had no answers.
I focus on my reflection in the glass, a clear invitation for Mom to go through her inspection. She’ll leaf through my mostly-finished homework, her lips pursed but not saying anything. She’ll scroll through my text messages, and I can never tell if she’s disappointed I’ve only sent two to Shep, or relieved I’m not messaging boys she doesn’t know. I can still remember Mom shrieking, “Cedar? Who’s Cedar?” after she found Chloe’s phone and the hundreds of texts they’d exchanged.
I hear the scuff as she replaces my phone in my backpack, her footsteps as she moves into the bathroom. She’ll open and close the medicine cabinet before emerging with a scowl of disapproval. I don’t care. I’m not taking the anti-hallucinogens. They make me feel weird, and they don’t stop me from seeing Chloe anyway, so I don’t see the point.
In my reflection I look tired, like I spent most of the night pretending to be asleep.
“Packing again?” she asks.
I turn away from the window and find Mom gesturing toward my computer desk. I hadn’t started packing, but unfamiliar electronics litter my desk. I see a hovering screen, something that looks like an elongated—and much shinier—version of a butter knife, and a paper-thin, nearly transparent tablet.
Mom says something, but I can’t hear her over the sudden intake of my breath. Or the pounding of my heart. Or the scream of jet engines in my ears.
Is this real? Or another hallucination? The visions have never extended to my environment before, but then again, I’d never heard anything either, until last night. The breathing was definitely there, absolutely real.
Before I can begin to think of what, a blue bolt of electricity sparks from out of nowhere, and a voice says,“Crap. I’m late for practice.”
“You heard that, right?” I look at Mom, find her staring at the now-perfectly-normal computer desk with disbelief clearly written on her features.
She snaps her gaze from the desk to focus on me, all emotion in her eyes wiped clean. She puts her hand on my shoulder; it feels much too heavy. “Heard what?”
Only minutes after I’ve finished the flick, an ad comes up in my network, which I set to play on my cybernetic lenses. Legally, I have to watch it—government sponsored ads can’t be deleted unseen. I half listen while stewing over how I can lure the authorities somewhere else.
“Time shouldn’t be messed with,” the ad says, showing a panoramic view of the ocean and a blue whale cresting the waves. “Enjoy the present. Learn from the past.”
Perfect timing. The rift flick will be viral on all the vidlogs by now. As required, I put in sixty seconds on the ad before I delete it. Dad’s going to have to log a ton of in-person hours at the Bureau because of that flick, and I find the thought more comforting than anything else.
I used to be interested in everything Dad did. His inventions, his politics, his job. That was all before I realized that most of what he created made it easier for the government to monitor me, easier for someone at the Advertising Agency to collect data and subscribe specific ads to my personal tastes, and much harder to be myself.
His Receiver made it possible for a person to live within a single room, never interacting with someone else. Shopping, education, communication can all be done inside your mind—the Receiver connects human brain tissue to the Circuit. Everything can be controlled with a simple thought.
Dad’s politics regarding technology development made everyone stop and stare, analyzing and judging my hair, my jeans, my stature. He pushed technology to the limits, breaking barriers in biological and physical science. He’s invented things that have since been outlawed—like the ability to create an alternate identity online. Someone with no past, no history, no record, no file.
That, of course, didn’t go over well. “We can’t have people committing crimes and then erasing themselves,” Wilder Thomas, the head of the Security department at the Time Bureau, had said. Nearly everyone had agreed with him. Anyone found to have created an alternate identity is immediately taken in for questioning by the Hoods. Wilder’s gone on to become the Time Keeper, and his policies on time travel are well respected. At least until now, I think.
I puzzle through why he thought he needed to hide a rift at the Bureau. Time travel is definitely a controversial subject that’s brought up every election season, along with the education system and federal spending. Too many risks, and too many unknowns, cause general nervousness and unrest among the majority of citizens.
Some—including Dad—say we should use the advanced technology we discover. The Time Travel Initiative allows for testing under extremely controlled measures, but the use of rifts for travel is strictly prohibited.
The same ad declaring that time shouldn’t be messed with pops up in my feed again, and I open it. Ad Agency personnel must be going nuts with damage control. I’ve never received the same ad in the same day before. Even with these attempts to pacify the public, Wilder will have to answer for his unregistered rift at the Bureau—and so will Dad. As the lead developer of technology, he oversees the Bureau security systems. An internal leak about an undisclosed rift will cause him a ton of work and make him hella unhappy.
I almost smile at that thought. Maybe if he’s neck-deep in work, he’ll leave me alone about attending his meetings and joining his tech development team.
As much as I hate how the government uses the technology we have, I admit that I’m linked-in every minute of every hour that I’m awake. I like getting information from my Receiver with only a quick thought. It’s fun to chat with my friends or watch a flick on my cybernetic lenses while I workout.
And I certainly couldn’t have created the Black Hat—or done any of the dozens of jams—without the current legal and illegal technology available. I definitely have a love-hate relationship, with both my dad and technology.
The flick Heath sent bothers me for many reasons, one of which is that I had nothing to do with it. And something more nags at me. A cold prickle skates down my arms as I go into the bathroom and drop a holoswitch into the concealed drawer of the built-in cabinets. I don’t have the proper permission codes to own and use the switch—technology which allows me to see and interact holographically with the person I’m chatting with. I can transfer objects to their environment, and they can show me things from theirs. We’re not physically in the same room, but as close as we can get electronically.
My parents—mostly my dad—monitor where I’m linking into the Circuit, and in what capacity I’m using it. He pulls the log from the Ad Agency, checking which sites I’m looking at, and if I’m really doing my digis for school. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he can put a block on my Circuit sites, only allowing me access to specific, predetermined, and approved information.
Everyone is allowed to be linked-in as much as they want, and I know people who play immersion realms for hours. Dad’s only limited me once, and only after I didn’t turn in my English homework for over a week.
That’s the other thing about holoswitch: I can talk to anyone anywhere without him—or anyone else—knowing. He wouldn’t be able to see the chat or its history, or know who I’ve been talking to. Since I’m underage, I need permission from both a parent and the government to own and use the holoswitch. I don’t have either.
The switch gets lost among the mess of excess computer parts and fiber optic cables in the drawer. As I stare down into the electronics, I commit to myself that I will do a better job of covering my tracks in the future. I’ll stay up late one night, switch over to my Black Hat identity, and play a jam in another state. I can hack into a distant city system and get all the outstanding parking tickets paid, sign the jam with my Black Hat signature, and lure the authorities there. The last thing I need is cops sniffing around Castle Pines. Sure, it’s a big city with a couple dozen sprawling subdivisions, but if they already know I’m here, it won’t take long for them to find the right neighborhood.
I force myself to breathe. “Restart,” I say, and drop static-free rewetting drops over my cybernetics so I can watch the flick again. When the four people exit the building, I suddenly understand the nagging in my mind. I recognize one of the teens. The tallest guy.
“Cooper!” I say, though no one is around to hear. I open my bedroom window and start shimmying down the rain gutter. I could use the stairs, and I have permission to be outside. I just don’t want to tell anyone where I’m going.
“Chat Heath Stonesman,” I instruct my Receiver when I hit the ground. I pinch my thumb and forefinger together to activate the speaker in my ear and it crackles to life with Heath’s voice.
“What’s up, Price?”
“That flick,” I say, knowing I can’t say much over a public line.
“You on your way over?”
“Backyard,” he says and the chat beeps, indicating the line has closed. The two blocks to his house feels like two miles.
“Spill,” I say as soon as Heath emerges from the shadows of the massive oak tree in his backyard. He’s taller than me by three inches, and his spiked brown hair adds more height. His eyes look gray in this light, but sometimes they look green and sometimes brown and sometimes blue, depending on what he’s wearing. His hacker identity is “Chameleon” for a reason.
He can run incredibly fast, something that gives him an advantage over me in every hack we do. Luckily, I’m usually behind the screen while Heath is behind the scenes.
Someone built a tree house in the lower branches of the oak, but that’s not where Heath and I go. We stay on the ground and rely on the absorption plugs—another of Dad’s useful inventions—I’ve installed in the bottom of the tree house to suck our words away from anyone who might be listening. Heath has nosy parents and overly concerned neighbors.