Track Two

The three of us are huddled together, my hand holding Pablo's and Rene's arms around both our shoulders.

"That . . . sucked." As usual, my penchant for understatement is more than evident today.

"Is it over?"

Pablo hopes it is, but I shake my head. "No. That last kid at the end? She was the girl Paul saw. But that wasn't what he saw."

When the portal clears just then, I wondered if maybe we are watching some kind of TV show and this scene is the opening credits. But it goes on way too long.

"Wait, what just happened?" Pablo asks. "Are we watching a rerun?"

Rene shakes his head. "I don't think so. There are subtle differences."

"And not-so-subtle ones if you could see the qi. It's . . ." I pause, continuing to watch, and shake my head. "I can't explain it. It's just bizarre."

We watch the school day again, although it's not quite the same as the first version.

This time . . . remember.

"What the fuck?"

"Andrea?"

"See how the girl kind of shuddered when she walks into the school and sees the boys messing with the little kid? I could have sworn I hear something whispering, 'This time remember.'"

"Remember what?"

"No clue."

"Well, I think I've said this before, but that older kid is bad news."

"I don't disagree one bit, Pablo. He's the kind of kid who'd be making trouble for everyone in the Patrol unit and for me. But he's . . ." Again, I pause to watch the qi. "I don't know . . . ordinary evil? Certainly nothing like the darkness we saw before."

One thing in this scene does generate a smile for me, though: Watching the dark-haired girl writing out questions that most of us would like to have asked about those stupid math word problem, and then her note for the girl Paul saw. Thank you, Chelsea.

"I'm glad she has a name. She seems surprised, even startled that the other girl is thanking her, though."

"The ones we've been calling dreamers all appear to be . . ." Pablo hesitates. "Maybe less oblivious to what's happening?"

I nod. "Maybe. Their auras certainly have some, well, different quality to them. So do those two girls, the dark-haired one and the little tyke. I'm not sure what it means, though."

Pablo's comment about this whole thing being a telenovela has some merit, although I've found most of them a lot more interesting than this. Watching this other dimension has more of a . . . an English-language soap opera feel to it. Back when I still worked at the library, Anita had said that soap operas moved so slowly that a person could skip watching them for months on end and still know what was going on when they came back. The way we're flipping between points of view reminds me more of a documentary, and not a very good one at that. The pacing is like a soap opera in some places and a telenovela or standard TV series in others. And the parts that look like horror movies . . . well, yeah. Horror movies.

When the scene changes to the diver dreamer, I'm not particularly surprised.

"Look . . . more subtle changes."

"Rene, the man is freaked right the fuck out."

"I believe you, Andi. He's pretending otherwise, though."

I shrug. Other than the man's qi being considerably more erratic, the morning dive isn't much different from yesterday's. However, things begin to change noticeably — at least to me — from the previous iteration of the scene. The conversation on the boat seems more tense, probably edging toward discordant. I wonder if the dreamer is looking for problems where they don't exist. I really wish I could hear what they were saying. By the time they reach the dock, they appear to be having an entirely different conversation than they had last time.

"It's weird, Rene. Just looking at their qi, it's almost like watching you and Maddie having a discussion of . . . hmm . . . maybe of things you did before you were married? Certainly, before Leon was born. It has that shimmer of, well, not actually tactics and strategy because that's a present-tense state of being. Maybe more the remembering of past battles."

"Have I mentioned, dear sister, that you're very strange?"

I nod absently. "Yesterday, I think. Maybe it was the day before."

"Uh huh. It bears repeating. You're very strange, Andi."

"Sure, sure. Whatever. Thanks."

Pablo snickers.

The scene changes to the beach location, where one of the other dreamers is making small talk with a girl on the beach.

"She's still angry but somehow, whatever that guy said to her . . . muted it it bit, I guess. Now I can see the frustration under the anger. Fascinating."

They're particularly uninteresting to watch. They sit and talk. Their auras and qi are ordinary and, except for early on when the girl was frustrated and angry, remain steady and stable.

It's a relief to see the location change again, although going back to the school and watching the girl named Chelsea doesn't give me a good feeling. It probably has to do with the delinquents and the fact that it's late in the afternoon. Rather unsettling events swirled around the dark-haired girl yesterday. Today, the focus seems to be on both girls.

"What . . . is this a missing scene from the first run? The director's cut or something?"

I shrug at Pablo's question. Watching the two girls talk on the steps of the school, it's clear to me that Chelsea is worried, concerned about the dark-haired girl. As she responds to Chelsea, however, her eyes close tightly, and she stiffens with fear and an inner pain that I used to see quite a bit among the residents of Commerce City, and still do see among the homeless and the throwaway kids who work Colfax at night. She finally pulls a piece of paper from her pocket and hands it to Chelsea.

A name: Melody Tracee.

A heartbreaking diagnosis: DSM-IV-TR 295.30 Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type.

But she interrupts her words to Chelsea by speaking to something that apparently isn't visible to the other girl. But we can see it.

"The hell?? Shadowkin?"

I look at what Pablo is pointing to and shake my head slowly. "No. Not . . . exactly. More like . . . Nope, not even like the Spirits. Or maybe like them but from another dimension? A darker one? Except . . ."

Yep. I'm frustrated.

"It's almost like the balance of good and evil. Not like the Taoist balance where one is always present within the other—"

"Except for the Shadow at one end and Great Spirit at the other," Pablo interrupts.

"Please don't make me think about the metaphysical nature of the First One and the Great Evil, Pablo. Not now. That . . ." I gesture to the thing — things? — in the shadows. ". . . that is neither yin or yang. It's not even wuwei where there is simply balance. It appears to have an entirely neutral qi signature."

"I take it that's a rarity."

I look over my shoulder at Rene. "What do you think?"

"I think Logan might be neutral."

I smile. Rene's trust and belief in our brother Logan is a balm.

"I'm not going to laugh at you, Rene. He might. Your wife certainly would. And that's the sort of naivety I'd expect from my husband. Logan isn't neutral, dear brother. He's the most balanced person I've ever met — and that's saying something, given all the people I've known who are, and were, extraordinarily balanced."

He looks thoughtful for a moment, then shrugs. "Eternity is going to be darned interesting if the lot of you keep surprising me."

I smile again as I turn back to the portal, though the smile is short-lived. Melody walks away with the air of someone heading toward the gallows. Maybe, maybe for her, those drugs she takes are as bad as death.

"That poor kid is afraid . . . and hurting so much. Is this another missing scene from the first run? That would make sense if it's the same day and she's heading over to get drugged out of her mind." I know damn well there's anger in my voice. Pablo and Rene don't need to point it out. Rene does anyway.

"Your eyes are starting to glow, Andi."

"Shut up, Jacobs."

Apparently, in addition to being angry, all the weird qi fluctuations are annoying me. I don't understand them. When things get too weird too fast, I get frustrated. That hasn't happened since I found out I was pregnant and my hellions stopped invading my dreams.

Chelsea heads to the little church, a structure that looks welcoming and comforting even from here. There isn't much to see here either, just the usual soft flows of qi that surround someone who's meditating. But the fact that anyone prays in a way that looks like that . . . Well, I've generally found that indicates a person who's genuinely good. When she gets up to leave, a random books gets knocked into the aisle. The librarian in me is intrigued — it's a little odd to find a LeGuin book in a church. And it's an old book too. When Chelsea picks it up, it nearly falls apart. Gods know I have enough books at home like that. But what all of us — not just those of us on this side of the portal, but apparently Chelsea, too — find interesting is the random page to which the girl opens the book. There, in the blank space at the end of a chapter, is a handwritten note. The words were originally penned before either Pablo or I were born, written when Rene and Maddie were children, immortalized during the years that Logan has forgotten.

What would you think if I sang out of tune
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song
And I'll try not to sing out of key.
I get by with a little help from my friends . . .

Pablo smiles. "Sometimes God does answer prayers."

I nod and smile as well. "I love that song. I grew up with the philosophy Lennon and McCartney put into that song. As a Diné, I know the People are stronger when we stand together. As part of the Pentad and the Wolf Pack, I know we're stronger together than any of us are individually."

"Ah, so you think God was speaking through the Beatles?"

I giggle at my husband. "More likely one of the Buddhas, but why not?"

He shrugs. "I'm not arguing against it. The Benevolent Spirits talk to you . . . why not the Beatles?"

"Yep," Rene mutters, "eternity is going to be interesting."

When the scene flips this time, it's obvious that some time has passed. The dreamer from the beach eventually goes back to his apartment and begins writing. It seems to be a fictionalized version of what's happened so far, at least from his point of view. He describes some of the other dreamers without naming them. It's when he starts on his internet searches that my eyes go wide.

"Well, I've probably done weird internet searches," I admit as we watch the young man from the beach on his computer. "But if anything will prove that's not our universe . . . Well, fine, the internet isn't generally that reliable a resource. But once a librarian, always a librarian . . . and some of the stuff he's finding is utter bullshit."

"Just some of it?" Pablo asks.

"Some of it's real enough. That so-called local mythology? The People's stories talk about similar things, although . . . things are a little off time-wise in that dimension. I'd have pegged those stories at least two, maybe three hundreds years before the dates in that universe."

There aren't any Nations in that part of New York anymore, not in our universe anyway. And our history of the Montaukett is a little different, a lot less mystical. Perhaps the differing geography of that other dimension created different stories of the People. In our world, Montaukett and Pequot were trading partners, both moving across the Block Island Sound freely. Maddie wouldn't be surprised to know that her Dutch ancestors interfered with the indigenous people of this continent in addition to Indonesia. True, there was illness that took out a lot of the native population, but interference in trade was also a factor. At some point — around the time the other universe seemed to have lost track of the Montaukett — those in our world had already joined the Pequot and Mohegan people, and later the Iroquois. I shake myself from the reverie.

"On the other hand, the bad spirit juju?" I shake my head. "History is written by the winners. Guess who they were? If someone not of the People reported how we pulled the Shadowkin out of you after you got back from Quetzalcoatl's realm, it probably would have read like that." I tilt my head toward the man's computer.

"Andrea, I probably would have written it that way! And I was the one infected with the Shadowkin." Pablo looks back at the portal, reading as the man continues to surf the net. "I'm not sure how else I could explain it with the frame of reference I had then, despite being in Quetzalcoatl's world for three years. Hell, I'm still not sure I see things the way you do half the time."

I smile wryly. "That's fine. It's better to have two perspectives on things, right? Or in our case, five."

"I'm still not ready to let you call Madeline," he mutters.

"While I love to listen to the two of you bicker—"

"Do we bicker, dear," Pablo asks.

"I don't think so, Pablito. But here you have one of those five perspectives believing we do!"

"Well, Rene does have a unique outlook on things." This time, Pablo nods with satisfaction.

"Mon Dieu! Will you two lovebirds pay attention to what we're doing here?"

I smile sweetly at Rene. "And what is it that has garnered your utmost urgent attention, most delightful of all my Spirit brothers?"

He gives me a stink eye. "I'm your only Spirit brother, Andrea Yazzie. And look at what the diver is doing."

The scene has changed again, and now we're looking over the diver dreamer's shoulder while he's working on his computer.

I peer at the computer screen through the portal and snicker. "Not the most attractive t-shirt I've ever seen."

Rene shrugs. "I suspect that's not the point. But he's keeping a journal, too. It's rather more straightforward."

"Buying up more cameras than any one person needs, too?"

"Would that help?"

"Why are you asking me? How the hell should I know?"

"Aren't you the expert on other dimensions?"

I glare at Rene. "Technically. I suppose." Then I sigh. "Okay, it looks like the two of them — the journal keepers, anyway — are assuming, maybe, that there are time resets? Like that old movie from the nineties? They're going to learn to play the piano and whatever else the hell Bill Murray did. Something happened there at the end and I don't know what it was. The only time I've seen qi that blinding . . ." I shake my head. "Nope, even when Mother is trying to give me the power of the entire Earth and turn me into a nuclear power plant, it's never been so bright that I had to look away. So . . . I don't know. And we haven't actually reached the part that sent Paul into shock."

"So," Pablo says, needlessly but sensibly, "we wait, we watch."

I nod. "Especially that one and . . ." I hadn't actually seen anything to make me suspicious of anyone else — not in their actions, not in their body language, not in their auras or qi. But something was buzzing in the back of my brain. I sigh. "Well, that one for now."

As Tita always says, if the thought wants to stay hidden, why force it?

The next scene fades in more naturally than some of the jump cuts have. Melody is just coming out of what I assume is her doctor's office. Those ugly-with-nastiness women are heading right for her, and there's the potential for the same mean-spirited confrontation as the last iteration. Except . . .

"Okay, that is not a subtle difference," Rene remarks as the woman from the Inn intercepts the other women.

"No. And . . ." Again, I sigh. "Once more, I wish someone besides me could see this qi. It's even less subtle than anyone's actions, but I can't put my finger on the differences."

Other than Chelsea joining them to walk Melody home, the rest of the evening is remarkably similar to previous iterations. Except, this time, they don't go to the police station, which definitely worries the little girl. Yet, when the kind old woman gives her a basket of food, her anxiety eases quite a bit. The way the woman glances back into the house, the way her qi seems to reach out toward Melody . . . it reminds me of Tita and Mama. That's what love looks like.

It feels like the scene doesn't quite end when the next one begins. It's morning, the setting is the diner, and I get the sense that it's the next day. The newspaper man comes in and Chelsea brings her breakfast over to sit with him. Then the guy from the beach comes in and joins them, followed by the diver, and the woman from the Inn. Any minute now, I'm going to start making up snarky names for these people.

The sheriff comes in with the little girl's mother. Ooh, if qi could kill! Oh, wait. It can. But I know I'm the only person in our dimension who can do that. And the other universe probably doesn't house my evil twin. Anyway, the sheriff is not happy with the newspaper man. The juvenile delinquents come in, too . . . whatever they're saying worries Chelsea a lot. The people who seem to recognize they're having a pseudo-Groundhog Day experience are chatting among themselves, and for one moment, the diver is directly facing the portal.

I stare at the man, almost horrified. "Did . . . did he say what I think he said?"

"What we witness . . ." Pablo says.

". . . we change," Rene finishes.

"Oh, by the Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits, this is not going to end well."

Of course, I already know that. I'd seen what my son had seen. Even the darkness — what I suspect is the Shadow we banished from our world — that's encroaching on that world isn't as horrifying as what he'd seen, although it would certainly explain how the Shadow got there in the first place.

"Somewhere in that world, in that town or not far from it, they have their own version of William Stryker."

Both Pablo and Rene stiffen at that; Rene's jaw is tight and Pablo's breathing is a little ragged.

"I'm calling Maddie."

I turn and look into Rene's eyes. "You can't."

"But Andi . . ."

I shake my head. "It's what we all want to do, Rene. And so it's exactly what we must not do."

"We could save lives."

"Maybe, Rene. Maybe we could. Or we might make everything worse. We don't know. I don't know. I just know that the most powerful precognitive on this planet told me not to do what my instincts tell me to do. Are you willing to risk this being the first time in her life that my cousin is wrong?"

He looks at me with eyes so full of pain and anguish that I reach up and rest a hand on the side of his face.

"It's never enough. I knew that long before I met Maddie, but working with the Pentad for more than a decade has driven home that point. No matter what we do, Rene, it will never be enough. If their world has deities and guardian angels, then let's pray to our own that they have the strength we did to fight the Shadow."

"Some of us died in that fight, Andi."

I shake my head, then tilt it toward Pablo. "All of us did, Rene. All of us. Logan, Maddie, me at the end when I sealed Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca away for a millennium . . . we died and got back up again. Pablo spent three years with Quetzalcoatl, who brought him back every time he died. And can you honestly say you're truly dead, Rene Jacobs?"

He's silent for a while before he closes his eyes and sighs. "Why are you always right, Andi?"

"I'm not. But I do know that Maddie is busy with that frou-frou fashion company of your mother's. And all she and Logan could do is stand here and witness with us. I dunno about you, but I usually get worried when Logan's vorpal claws go snicker-snak."

He opens his eyes and stares at me. I breathe . . . twice, three times.

"Thank you. I will take offense in absentia that you called my mother's company frou-frou—"

"Why? She walked on years ago. I'm sure she doesn't care."

"I think Maddie does."

"Fair point."

"And I'm going to take the first opportunity to tell Logan about the vorpal claws thing."

"It'll be funnier if he remembers where it comes from."

"I'll remind him if necessary."

"Kids, if you'd stop playing around for a minute," Pablo says, "maybe our qi master could decipher what's going on now . . . hmm?"

Beach Guy — well, there we go, welcome to Ninja's Snarky Naming Guide — lays out an outline of sorts that details the previous iteration and what he's observed from this one. Diver Dude adds his own notes. This is great! I have everyone's names now. I still like the snarky ones, though.

Pablo's brows draw together. "He's implying there's a connection to the Humvee he found while diving to the black trucks blocking the bridge on the day . . . well, the world ends, I guess. Unless there's a closed loop here and the black trucks are actually Humvees — and not too many people are going to mistake one for the other if they've been up close and personal with a military-grade Humvee — I don't see any connection. How about you two?"

"Maybe that the end of the story is the beginning of the next one? Not so much a circle or a reset or a loop but . . ." Rene's brows draw together, too.

They're both as frustrated as I am. "A spiral maybe? Qi spirals from Mother to Father and back — or from Earth to the Universe as Grandmaster Chen used to say. It spirals through our bodies."

I try to discern a rational way I can connect the events near the beginning with the events near the end of this grisly tale. But for all my metaphysical studies, for all the powers I have that should more appropriately be conferred on our ha'atathli, for all the insistence that I'm a magnet for weird . . . even I can't see a rational way to connect the beginning to the end and then back again.

"I'll watch the qi more closely — not just for and among the people we observe, but the whole environment. There's still something I'm missing. I have puzzle pieces and I don't think I have all of them."

"Let me guess: The lid for the puzzle box is missing, meaning you don't even know what you're trying to piece together."

I give Rene a crooked grin. "Isn't that par for the course? I have a feeling the box was shredded long ago, that all these pieces are in a big zippy bag."

"But if things are spiraling, how does that . . ." Pablo points to the group in the diner discussing items on Beach Guy's, er, Tyler's outline. ". . . turn into something that traumatizes our son enough that Charles needed to intervene?"

"I wish I knew, love. but you've heard the term spiraling out of control, right? Well, something they do obviously sends their world out of orbit, so to speak."

Next up: Track Three

© Kelly Naylor