Landlocked (Atlas Link #2)

LANDLOCKED Cover

LANDLOCKED (Book 2 of the Atlas Link Series)
May 2nd, 2017

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Landlocked (Atlas Link, #2)

When there are more traitors than allies, who do you trust?

Two years have passed since SeaSatellite5 was taken by the Lemurians. Trevor and Chelsea have rejoined the war on TAO’s side, exploring Link Pieces in hopes of finding the station. But so far they’ve managed to find nothing. Not even solace in their crumbling relationship.

After following a Link Piece to A.D. 3001, the botched trip leaves them telepathically connected. It’s too much for Chelsea and, retreating to a nightclub in Arizona, she interrupts an operation conducted by a paramilitary group called TruGates. They seem to know more about the Atlantean-Lemurian war than they’re letting on, and also unknowingly hunt Lemurian mercenaries. While guarding her own ties to the war, and despite Trevor’s and TAO’s misgivings, she agrees to join up if it’ll possibly lead to finding SeaSatellite5.

Back at TAO, Trevor learns that what he and Chelsea assumed happened to SeaSatellite5 barely scratches the surface. As the picture of the war expands, allies and traitors churn out of the web-work left behind. If Chelsea and Trevor can’t get past the betrayals and heal their wounded hearts, not only will the fate of SeaSat5 dangle on a precipice, but also every member of the crew they once risked everything to save.

*** *** *** ***

ALS Series Thing

CHAPTER ONE

CHELSEA

When I was eight-years-old, tearing through the Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History in New York, I declared my dream of being an archaeologist. But I never thought I’d one day be running from the past. Literally.

SeaSatellite5 was supposed to have been the strangest thing to ever happen to me. Then I traveled through time in an attempt to save the station from the Lemurians who had stolen it. And for the first moment since venturing through Link Pieces alongside TAO—The Ancient Operation—two years ago, I now feared for my life as I sprinted through a Roman temple to our Return Piece. Without it, we couldn’t get back to our home-time, to our present day.

Water trailed from my palm, still wet from my last hydra-like attack. Sophia’s footsteps thudded behind me, punctuated by Trevor’s ragged breaths. Somewhere behind us, possibly lost in the labyrinth of this ancient temple, were Dr. Hill and Major Pike. Apparently, they’d never had this type of code-red Return either. It didn’t help that our Return Piece, easily the size of a stand-up punching bag, couldn’t be moved. We were lucky to have found it to begin with. Turns out Link Piece travel wasn’t an exact science, and there was no guarantee you’d ever come back. We learned you can travel back and forth to the same place-time so long as you used different Link Pieces to do so. TAO had tried to make the whole system work, but the only thing they’d learned so far was that maybe time-travel wasn’t a recreational sport.

Which begged the question of why the Atlanteans and Lemurians did it so much. Personally, all time travel did was make me queasy. Or maybe it was just the memory of the first time I’d traveled through time via Link Piece—the day the Lemurians stole SeaSatellite5—that made me feel sick. I’d been mega hungover (the first of only two times), and between the station rocking side to side and the actual trip through time, my stomach couldn’t hold anything for days.

Pieces of the temple’s ceiling fell throughout the corridor, crumbling all around me. Next time, I wouldn’t leave the history research up to Dr. Hill. He was supposed to check before each recon mission that we wouldn’t travel to any world-shattering events, like D-Day or Caesar’s death. And while everyone got something wrong once in a while, landing us during a siege on Rome in 1849 wasn’t exactly a simple screw up.

I rounded a corner and caught sight of the Return Piece, standing six feet tall at the end of a darkened corridor. The marble sculpture’s smooth white edges perfectly depicted a strong, muscular man. Not a rough, unfinished edge remained. The technique was clearly ahead of its time. Probably part of the reason it ended up a Link Piece compared to the rest of the artist’s work.

The reasoning behind Link Piece creation wasn’t an exact science, either.

“Almost there!” I shouted over my shoulder as I reached the statue. The cool marble glowed in the low light bouncing off the walls, but I knew better. It wasn’t light. A hazy blue settled over the statue, dancing around it. The mirage denoted this beautiful sculpture as a Link Piece.

I tore my eyes off the sculpture and dug around in my pockets for our original Launch Piece, a Roman-era, silver necklace we had fought the Lemurians for at the Museum of Natural History. The fight had taken place in New York City in 1956, but we’d traveled there a year ago. Sophia and I had confirmed its Link Piece status shortly after returning. We’d never traveled with it until now because although it led to Rome, from which more ancient Link Pieces could have been recovered, we’d only recently discovered it might lead to SeaSat5.

I draped the Launch Piece in the crook of the sculpture’s arm and wrapped my fingers over it and the statue. Stretching out my other hand, I waited for my approaching teammates and prepared to travel through time. Well, team wasn’t exactly the right word. More like accomplices. For a U.S. Army operation, TAO was a helluva lot less organized than you’d think. Guess exploration of Atlantean time-travel did that sort of thing to the military.

Sophia and I were untrained in using the Waterstar map, since no other Atlanteans were around, so we took a risk every time we traveled. Not that you could really use the map, since it appeared as an overlay that only we saw. When I held a Link Piece, the connections surrounding the artifact—where and when it connected to (its time-place)—swam alongside other nearby connections. The map was the only reason these time-travel missions succeeded. We were able to, with relative accuracy, see if a Return Piece was available once we got there.

Sophia reached me first and ignored my hand. She grabbed hold of the statue and waited for the others, but kept her eyes focused intently on the sculpture in front of us. Normally, she worked the transfer through time and I acted as an anchor. Moving this many people so far in time was dangerous. But we both owned the connection; we both could work it. So I held the door open for her, kept her grounded, and Sophia ushered us on through.

The guys might as well have crawled. Precious seconds passed as the temple fell apart around us. Shards from the stone ceiling rained over my head and shoulders, but I didn’t dare let go and risk getting left behind.

Major Howard Pike made it to the sculpture first and clutched Sophia’s hand. Dr. Hill and Trevor brought up the rear, the former carrying an armful of artifacts. He used his free hand to take Major Pike’s as Trevor reached out for mine.

“Not exactly the best time to do some collecting,” I told Dr. Hill. He would have waved me off if he had a third hand. To Sophia, I said, “Ready?”

“Yep,” she said as she started the transfer.

I jumped in beside her, wading through the azure tones only the two of us could see. The Waterstar map swallowed my entire vision. How weird must it be for the guys, who couldn’t see anything. Even when I’d moved Trevor and me from the future on SeaSat5 to our home-time to get help from TAO, it was a shift of place to him—as if I’d done nothing more than teleport and take him along for the ride.

The transfer finished in an instant. Sophia was better at the whole time-travel thing than me. That experience, actually moving things through time, wasn’t one of the skills she could teach me like she had martial arts. No, the art of time-travel could only be mastered with… time. Whatever.

We arrived in TAO’s Transfer Room, a fancy name for a retired conference space. Wide enough to house anything we might feasibly bring back, small enough to fit inside the compound once belonging to an isolated energy manufacturing facility. The U.S. Army had bought them out, renovated, and secured the compound twenty-some-odd years ago. For a different purpose, obviously. In addition to being an iffy science for TAO, Link Piece travel was also, apparently, a fairly new one for them. If only we had the Atlanteans close by to help us. Not Sophia and me, but actual living, breathing Atlanteans who traveled through time on a daily basis.

TAO headquarters consisted of a four-floor building that housed offices, labs for both science and archaeology, the map room, some conference rooms, and storage. A second building out back contained other things—things Trevor and I hadn’t been allowed to see. That second building was larger than the main one, so I’d always assumed it was a hangar for classified military planes or other shady secrets. I still wasn’t a fan of the whole “cloak and dagger” thing, even if I understood its purpose.

The Transfer Room’s bright lights seared my vision after the darkness of the temple. I stepped back from the statue and bent over, hands on my thighs. My chest heaved. “Can we not go to that place-time again? Please?”

We’d been to this particular Roman temple before because the area was supposedly a Lemurian base. Whether that was true of ancient or present-day Lemurians, we didn’t know. The whole time-travel-and-living-in-various-periods-at-once thing pretty much went over my head. The temple was—or is—a Lemurian base, and where Lemurians lurked, so too might there be clues as to where and when in time SeaSat5 was taken. But each time we traveled to this temple we’d come up short, found nothing to prove SeaSat5 was taken by the Lemurians at all, despite my and Trevor’s first-hand experience.

“We had to double-check that the Piece we needed wasn’t there,” Trevor said.

“Duh.” I understood that. But TAO didn’t have a huge staff, and they had even fewer people they trusted to go gallivanting through time without touching anything. That Major Pike was the only soldier amongst us should tell everyone what they needed to know about TAO.

Trevor shot me a “stop being a smart-alec” look. I wasn’t having any of that today. Especially not today.

In the two years since SeaSatellite5 had disappeared, unknowing victims of the Atlantean-Lemurian war, Trevor and I had attempted rekindling our relationship. We had tried the “go slow” plan we’d agreed to the morning SeaSat5 was taken, and it’d worked for a while. But the strain of what had happened, of being unable to get help, of being stranded here while who knows what had happened to the crew, it had gotten to us. Add in dealing with the grief of our friend Michael’s death at Thompson’s hands, and the loss of the crew to our inexperienced mistakes, and it all had taken its toll. Instead of working through it together, we’d worked on it apart. Way apart. Trevor dove straight into working on stuff for TAO, and I’d immersed myself in music and sorting whatever files Dr. Hill still had from the Atlantean outpost.

We’d dealt, but we’d never figured it—us— out.

Hence why I wasn’t having any of it today, the two-year anniversary of SeaSat5’s disappearance at the hands of Lemuria. The absolute only thing on my mind aside from this little time-jaunt was finding the closest bar as quickly as possible. The weight of everything, of failing Captain Marks and the crew, still weighed me down. On the good days, I could pretend it wasn’t at least partially my fault. On days like today, the pressure sunk me so deep into the earth it felt like no force of God could ever pull me out.

I’d be damned if I was kept sober tonight. Not that I’d get drunk, thank you very much. The super soldier part of me fought off toxins, including alcohol. I could get drunk, and medicines and drugs affected me, but the amounts needed were ridiculous—like when my dentist wasn’t able to put me under or keep me from pain when he’d taken out my wisdom teeth.

But even buzzed would be an improvement over now.

Major Pike stepped off to the side to clear us and the room, then gestured for the doors to be opened. On the other side of the glass sat a technician and one security guard posted in case of emergency. Which was pointless because anything or anyone not attached to Sophia or I at the time of transfer wouldn’t be brought back with us. This guy’s posting was another one of the military’s redundant systems.

Major Pike ushered us through the open door and down the hall to the briefing room. We left the sculpture in the Transfer Room to be collected by Dr. Hill’s team of archaeologists and brought to storage.

The briefing wasn’t special. Nothing entertaining had happened while in Rome, other than the siege itself. We’d gone to Rome, hadn’t found anything connected to SeaSat5 or a Lemurian base, had gotten chased out, and then we’d come home. Normally that would have fascinated me. Two years ago, you might not have been able to get me to leave. Actually living history was every archaeologist’s dream.

Not this archaeologist. Not anymore. I’d lived enough history to last me a score of lifetimes.

I drummed my fingers on the table as Major Pike recounted details of our stay in 1849 to General Holt. When the briefing ended, I high-tailed it toward the women’s locker rooms and sped through the soap suds as fast as I could. I dressed and dried my long hair, now dyed dual-tone. Blonde on top, dark brown on the layers underneath. I let my hair dry straight, then threw on some quick eyeliner and headed out without a single word to Sophia. We weren’t telepathic, but she always knew what was on my mind. Like a childhood best friend would even after years apart.

But it wasn’t Sophia I wanted to avoid. I hoped to side-step Trevor completely. He knew the date and he knew me so very well. He also showered like the water was always freezing cold and someone held a gun to his head.

A pang shot through my chest at a memory from the hijacking two years ago. Okay, gun to head jokes aren’t funny when that’s what actually happened.

I found Trevor outside the locker room waiting for me. He stood in the doorway, blocking my path.

“Don’t,” he said.

I stepped toward him and he moved. He knew better than to challenge me. “It’s my night off.”

“I know what day it is.”

I flashed him a smile, but it sprung from frustration and was bitterly fake. “I should hope so. You were there, too.”

His gaze didn’t waver.

I sighed. “I’m going out for a drink, maybe two. Then I’ll be back. No babysitter needed.”

I brushed past him to the elevator, and he stepped in right beside me. He put his hand over mine before I could depress the ground-level button. “Chelsea.”

“Oh come on, Trevor. It’s been two years!”

Trevor frowned. “I know. At least don’t go alone, that’s all I’m saying.”

“I don’t need a babysitter,” I repeated, then pushed down hard enough to hit the DOWN button. The elevator descended as though moving through mud.

“Drinking buddy, then?”

I took in Trevor’s expression. His blue eyes were serious, almost hard around the edges. In the two years since SeaSat5 had disappeared, Trevor had grown up a lot. We were both practically kids when all that happened. Now I was twenty-three and working for the military, and nothing was as I’d planned my life to be after college.

“Trevor Boncore, drink?” I asked.

Trevor was barely into his legal drinking years. And by barely, I meant a few weeks. He’d turned nineteen in between meeting me in Boston and me showing up on SeaSatellite5. Since then, I’d never seen him so much as purchase a nip of alcohol, never mind kick back with a beer. It didn’t help he spent most of his downtime on-base, hovering over his 3D rendering of the Waterstar map like the parent of a newborn baby. Just because we lived in the compound didn’t mean he had to stay here 24/7. I sure as hell didn’t, even without the aid of teleporting wherever I wanted to go.

Trevor sighed. “Look, it’s been two years. When we started this, we figured we’d find them in a few months. The fact that we’re not any closer to finding SeaSat5 than on the day Lemuria took them is…”

“Pathetic?” I supplied.

“I’d say disheartening, but yeah. Pathetic.”

My eyes slid up to the ceiling as I thought it over. He wasn’t wrong. The elevator stopped and the doors opened on the ground floor. “All right. Come on.”

###

Watching Trevor experience going to a legit bar like this one, not a music venue with a bar like the Franklin, was painful. He constantly looked over his shoulder at all the leather-clad bikers and their friends, and had only drank a quarter of his beer. In the last hour.

I didn’t mind the dim lights, loud music, and smoky air. That was your typical night at the Franklin, and I played a lot of shows with my rock band there. As far as I was concerned, if the bass wasn’t throbbing in your chest, the music wasn’t loud enough.

I finished my third beer and placed the glass bottle on the bar before pointing to Trevor’s drink. “You know that’ll get warm if you don’t drink it, right?”

“Hm?” he mumbled, eyes glued to a jukebox in the corner like he’d never seen one before.

“If you don’t like the beer, I’ll drink it and order you something else.” Like a froofy mudslide or something. Anything he could stomach.

Still no real response came, so I snapped my fingers in front of his face.

He startled. “I’ll drink it.”

“Yeah,” I said. “When you’re thirty.”

Trevor grabbed hold of the glass bottle and pressed it to his lips. Five seconds later he slowly pulled it away. A look of utter disgust crawled across his face as he made swallowing beer look like a nasty chore. I mean, it was a mega hoppy IPA he’d ordered all willy-nilly.

I exhaled and stuck my tongue to the inside of my cheek as I looked away. I never should have brought him. If his inability to finish a beer wasn’t embarrassing enough, his incessant staring at other bar-goers was sure to land us in a fight his ego couldn’t handle. Having a kind-of-girlfriend with the strength of five men did that to you.

A glance at my watch revealed the time: ten-thirty. Much earlier than I would have liked to head back, but I seriously doubted Trevor would make it to last call.

I reached into my pocket, withdrew some singles, and placed them on the bar top. The bartender came by to take them, and I waved a thank-you with two fingers. I hopped off the barstool and gestured toward the door. “Come on, let’s go home.”

Trevor shook his head. “It’s too early.”

“You’re not having fun.”

“I didn’t know this was supposed to be,” he countered. “I thought you wanted to come here to forget.”

“I do. But right now I’m a little bit more worried about you accidentally starting a fight with these guys than I am about my inability to handle two years of SeaSat5’s absence.” I tugged on his arm. “Let’s go.”

Trevor dismounted his stool and brushed off my hand.

One of the guys Trevor had stared at slid in between us. He was decked out head-to-toe in leather, with a black goatee curling around his mouth. He had to be about thirty-five or forty. Gross.

“Seems to me a guy such as yourself, so lucky to land a looker like that,” the dude said, thumbing at me, “shouldn’t be brushing off the touch of a lady.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Trevor mumbled to him.

I could have smacked Trevor. Truly, I could have. “Leave him alone.”

He turned to me. “Oh come on, pretty lady. Why don’t you go home with a real man?” A slimy grin marred his face.

Double-gross. “Man, back off,” I told him.

The guy advanced, so close that when he leaned into my ear, I could smell the nacho cheese sauce from the bar’s dinner special lingering on his breath. “Kid’s a scrawny mess. I can show you some—”

“Finish that sentence,” I said as I brought my hands up between us and pushed against his chest, “and I’ll hit you so hard you won’t be able to speak for a month.”

Trevor moved around us. “Don’t talk to her like that.”

The dude chuckled and lifted his hands. “Okay, okay, Peter Pan. Take your bitch home with you.”

My jaw set hard, muscles twitching. Trevor must have seen it happening before the guy did, but my fist flew faster than Trevor’s hand could grab. My punch connected with his nose, the force of five men concentrated into a closed fist. The dude cradled his gushing nose with wide, disbelieving eyes. I spun on my heels and gestured for Trevor to follow me out the door. Trevor couldn’t handle bar-life, and I couldn’t handle being treated like an object.

The second we made it into the parking lot Trevor jogged so he was in front of me. “What the hell was that?”

I shrugged. “He annoyed me.”

“I had it.”

A smile broke on my face. “Yeah, okay Trevor.” I rolled my eyes and sidestepped him. The only thing he had was a severe case of bar-phobia.

He stepped in front of me again. “He could have hurt you.”

I leaned in close to him and whispered, “I fight Lemurians with powers on a near daily basis. What do you think some drunk idiot is really going to do to me?”

Trevor’s eyes grew hard and his jaw set. “That’s not the point and you know it. I’m just worried about you. Tonight and all.”

I walked past him, not stopping until I got to our car. “Don’t be mad because I can handle myself.”

Trevor didn’t say anything.

I needed to find a new bar.