I knew he could take the gun from me, so rather than try to keep it, I tossed it behind me as far as I could, then turned as if to run toward it but my handcuff link to Yelena held me up.

With a grunt, Jorge pushed past me.

“Come on,” I said to Yelena, yanking her to her feet.

We ran through the open door, and I clanged it shut behind us. Yelena turned the key to lock it, then pulled the key out and kept the keychain. We could hear Jorge pounding on the door behind us as we rushed down the corridor.

“Elevator’s this way,” I said, pointing to the right as we approached an intersection.

“They trap us in elevator,” she said, pulling on the handcuffs toward the left.

Yelena was right — the guards might forget about me, but they wouldn’t forget about her. As long as I was attached to her, my usual methods of escaping wouldn’t work. I needed to get the handcuffs off.

And I still needed to go to the bathroom.

We headed down the hallway to the left. If I recalled the plans to the building correctly, a door near the end of the hall led to a stairwell. There would be an emergency exit on the ground floor, so we could bypass the lobby and escape.

Except I needed to find my clothes. Not because I minded fleeing into the dark in my underwear, although I did, but because the quantum key was in one of my pockets and the CIA wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t bring it back. The technogeek wouldn’t remember he’d given it to me, of course, but it would be listed in my handler’s notes.

We raced past a door with a sign that read Laboratorio de Entrelazar. I stopped running, forcing Yelena to stop as well. Did that mean laboratory of something-lasers?

“There might be lasers in that lab,” I said, “or something else we can use to get these handcuffs off.”

“Get out of building first,” she said. “Guard call someone.”

I had forgotten about Jorge’s conversation as he approached the storage room.

“I need to get … something in my pants before leaving. But it’s too hard with these,” I said, raising our handcuffed wrists.

After a moment, she nodded.

The lab door was locked, but one of the keys on Jorge’s keychain was a master key. We slipped quickly through the door and shut it behind us.

The room’s lights were off, but a half-dozen flat-panel monitors displayed scrolling lines of data. Violet light radiated from a long apparatus of glass and metal that dominated the center of the room. At the far end, a pencil-thick shaft of bright violet hit a prism and split into two weaker beams that extended into holes in the wall.

“That must be the entrelazar,” I said.


“Never mind,” I said. “Let’s see if it’s powerful enough to cut the chain on these handcuffs.”

We raised our handcuffed arms over the laser apparatus, one of us on each side, and walked to the far end of the room. We stopped just before reaching the prism.

A nod from Yelena signaled she was ready, and we lowered our wrists slowly. I held my breath as the handcuff chain entered the violet beam.

The reflection off the metal dazzled my eyes, and I blinked back tears. But I held my arm steady, and so did Yelena. But the laser seemed to have no effect.

“It was worth a try,” I said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Wait,” she said. She walked to one of the workbenches along the side of the room, forcing me to lean over the laser with my arm stretched out, and she rummaged in some of the drawers.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.



“I help you get pants,” she said. “Ah.” She held up a flat mirror about one foot square.

“How will that help?”

She walked to the prism and deftly leaned the mirror against it at a forty-five degree angle. The violet beam reflected up into a ceiling tile, which burst into yellow flame.

“Fire,” she said. “We go now.”

I stared at the flames in horror.

Fire was not my friend.


* * *


The night I lost my mother in the fire, she shook me awake to the sound of sirens. Our apartment was on the fourth floor of a high-rise. I looked out my window to see fire engines pulling up in front of our building.

By the time we got to the hallway, the fire was in the stairwells. We went back into our apartment to try the fire escape, but the fire had started below us on our side of the building — the steps descended into flames.

By the time the firemen reached us and took us down a ladder, we were both suffering from smoke inhalation. I can still remember the way my mother’s voice wheezed as she called my name, trying to make sure I was all right.

The paramedics rushed us both to the hospital.

In separate ambulances.

I saw my mother again, after she recovered, but she couldn’t remember me. All her journals, everything that connected her to me, burned to ashes in the fire.


* * *


“Nat!” Yelena’s insistent voice wrenched my eyes away from the flames. We exited into the hallway and raced for the stairwell. A fire alarm blared from a loudspeaker on the wall, and strobe lights flashed.

“Security office on second floor,” she said, her mouth close to my ear so I could hear her over the alarm. “ Handcuff key probably there.”

“Why did you start a fire?” I asked.

“Cause evacuation, including security office.”

It had been a smart decision on her part, I conceded. She didn’t know my personal feelings about fire — and my feelings didn’t really matter. All that mattered was salvaging what I could of this mission.

Water sprayed from fire sprinklers in the stairwell as we ran up three flights to the ground floor. I expected her to try to take the exit, but she didn’t.

“Why are you helping me get my pants?” I said, squinting back at her through the strobe-lit spray of water.

“I need clothes, too.”

I couldn’t argue with that. A beautiful woman wandering around in the middle of the night, sopping wet, dressed only in her bra and panties would attract attention.

On the second floor, I opened the door an inch and peeked out. A security guard I didn’t recognize was barreling down the hall toward us.

“Up,” I said.

We ran halfway up to the third floor and waited until the guard I’d seen was safely on his way down.

On entering the security office, I spotted a pile of black clothes on a table — and, just lying there for anybody to take, the prototype.

Yelena and I both lunged for it, but I had entered the office first and had longer arms, so I managed to grab it first.

“I stole it first anyway,” I said, “so it really should be mine.”

“No, I stole it first,” she said. Of course, she had forgotten taking it from me at gunpoint. “You came after.”

She searched through a drawer and pulled out a metal knob. “Here is key,” she said. She held it next to the handcuffs and they unlocked.

I sorted through the black clothes, extracting my pants and making sure Yelena’s gun wasn’t in the pile. “You don’t think that safe drilled itself and opened its door for you?”

She grabbed her clothes and began to dress. “Ah, you hide when I come in?”

“Something like that,” I said. The quantum key was still in my pants. I put the prototype in a pocket and then dressed quickly. Now all I had to do was get clear of the building, and I could chalk this one up as a victory.

“Then is fair,” she said. “You do hard work, so you get prototype.”

She seemed to give in a little too easily, but it might just be a combination of professional courtesy and gratitude for my help in escaping.

She pulled her ski mask on, and I did the same.

By the time we snuck out the emergency exit door, fire trucks had arrived. In all the confusion, no one noticed us as we ran away from the building. I decided to abandon my car in the parking lot. It was just a rental under a false identity, anyway.

After we climbed the fence, I said, “I suppose we should split up now.” I felt strangely reluctant to have Yelena forget me.

“Nat, wait.” Yelena pulled off her ski mask, then reached up and peeled mine back. “To remember me,” she said, and gave me a long, slow kiss.

It was the best kiss of my life. It was almost, but not quite, good enough to prevent me from noticing that she was taking the prototype out of my pocket.

I grabbed her wrist and pulled back from the kiss. “Let me guess: you simply wanted the prototype as a reminder of the good times we’ve shared?”

She smiled and relaxed her wrist. “Do you blame me for trying?”


“Good,” she said.

Then she kneed me in the groin.

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