'Are you nervous?' the girl standing next to Claire whispered. 'I'm nervous.' She sounded it. They were in a fairly large group of incoming students being led around by an upperclassman at night. It was the end of Claire's first day of orientation, which had been exhausting and full of way too much info to absorb at once; her brain was swimming with maps, people, names, streets, stunningly gorgeous buildings ... she still hadn't met her Special Projects instructor, Professor Anderson, who wouldn't be available until the morning, but she'd filled up her day trying to learn more about the MIT campus.

But it had been impossible to resist the little orange slip of paper she'd received, that had told her where to meet for the 'special tour'. And it hadn't disappointed. An hour of complicated rules, and the Orange Tour had shown them absolutely incredible things ... tunnels, rooftops, secrets of all kinds. Claire hadn't thought she had a head for heights, but it turned out she did ... more than a lot of the others on the tour. She'd been able to stand right on the edge of the tallest building, and look straight down. It was exciting. Dizzying, but exciting.

MIT was ... unique. Like Morganville, it was pretty much a self-regulating system, with its own history, rules and environment ... once you were on the campus, it felt as if the MIT universe was the only universe that mattered. She'd met a ton of people, and they were all a blur. There were at least five upperclassmen leading the tour group, but only one wore a T-shirt that said I'M NOT HERE. His name was Jack, and he was the one who talked the most.

Seeing the cool, creative energy of the dorms taught Claire that it had probably been a huge mistake to stay off campus with Elizabeth, but done was done on that score. She was committed, and it would be too much of a drama to try to beg off now. Plus, she'd already prepaid the rent.

'Hey,' the girl whispered again. 'Are you nervous?'

'No, it's fine,' Claire said. She supposed to normal people there was something spooky about the tour - after all, it was after hours, they were trudging around in the dark, and the upperclassmen leading the tour were doing their best to freak them out. But she couldn't get nervous about it. She supposed Morganville had raised the bar way too high on that one. 'We're safe. They're not going to let anything happen to us, trust me.'

'I don't know where we are,' the girl whispered back anxiously. She shuffled maps, frowning; like Claire, she had a ton of materials, but unlike Claire, she hadn't come armed with a backpack to stow them in. 'Do you know? Because I thought we were heading for Baker House. Isn't that right?'

'I think so.'

'But - we're way off, right? Look, I think we're not even on campus ... no, wait, we are ...' The girl's anxiety teetered on the edge of panic, and there wasn't much Claire could do to help. She checked her phone, supposedly to look at the GPS, but quite honestly, she was checking to see if she'd gotten any messages.

She had. Voicemail from Michael. Again. She'd skipped listening to the last three because she was hoping Shane's name would pop up ... but just as she started to stow the phone away, she saw a text pop up.

It was still Michael ... but it said, This is Shane hit me back.


Claire lagged behind a little, texting back - risky to do on unfamiliar ground, in the dark, but this couldn't wait. Y R U on Michael's phone?

A few seconds, and the text came back. Broke mine sry.

It sounded like an excuse. A bad one. But accidents did happen. Was waiting, she texted back. Saw vid.

No answer for a long moment, and then he typed back, I meant it. That was all. Just that.

And she stopped walking, closed her eyes for a moment, and pulled in a deep, chilly breath. Then she texted, Miss U.

He responded, Luv U.

Her eyes stung with tears, and she hesitated for a long second before she texted back, Ttys. Talk to you soon.


Claire jerked her head up at the urgent whisper from a few feet away, instincts coming alive and screaming, but it was just the girl, the nervous one, still clutching all her brochures and maps and binders. She looked even more paranoid than before. What was her name, anyway? Started with a V. Vita? No, Viva. 'Viva,' she said, and the girl nodded. 'What's wrong?'

'We're supposed to be going to Baker House,' she said. 'But it's not on the map!'

'Well, it's supposed to be a secret tour,' Claire said. 'So maybe it's called something else on the map.'

'But-' Viva shifted uneasily. 'I just - I just want to go back. Would you share a cab with me? Please? We can get one on the street up there.'

The rest of the group was walking briskly on, heading through some trees, and they were being left behind. Well, that didn't seem like a good idea under any circumstances.

Claire put her phone away, shifted the weight of her backpack (which wasn't much, at least not now - a tablet computer, a couple of books she was interested in, and the load of goodies from orientation. She wasn't used to it being so light). 'Let's just catch up,' she said. 'Come on. We can't bug out now, they'll worry about us.' And she jogged onward, looking back to be sure Viva was coming. She was, probably only because she didn't want to be left alone.

Claire was definitely not interested in going back to the house ahead of schedule. Liz had moped about her going to orientation, had fussed about when she'd be back, and then sulked about the fact Claire expected to be gone until late. The drama had been intense. No reason to add to it by coming home off schedule ... that would probably lead to a theatrical scene about how Liz's plans had been spoilt because Claire didn't do what she said.

Two days in and I already hate living there, Claire thought. Probably not a good sign. But she'd hated Morganville at first, and now ... now she really missed it.

And Shane. God, she missed Shane so much. She missed Eve and Michael, and (probably stupidly) Myrnin, too. She'd spent the day providing the mental running commentary from her friends and boyfriend, and from Myrnin when she spotted something excessively and geekily cool. It was getting easier and easier to summon up a mental replica of Myrnin in her head. That was probably worrying.

Cambridge was so busy. Even this late, there were loads of cars zipping around, planes crossing the starless, light-washed sky, crowds gathering for mysterious and unknown reasons around shops or parks. The Morganville in her wanted to tell them all to go home and be safe, but she knew that was verging on crazy. The world these laughing people lived in was a very different place.

She was in a very different place.

The raggle-taggle group of students that their tour guides were leading came to a sudden halt, because in the clearing ahead there was a big group already gathered. There was no apparent purpose to it - just people gathered, talking, some sitting and reading, some playing games, a few paired-off couples so into each other it didn't matter others existed at all. As Claire caught up (and a breathless Viva caught up with her), the entire group came to a stop halfway inside of the crowd, and their guide held up his hand.

'Hang on,' he told them. 'We're really close, I just have to check something. Stay here. Oh, and remember what I told you if security shows up. Don't tell them my name, and don't tell them where you're going.'

Viva held up her hand. 'Um, Jack? I can't find Baker House on my map ...'

'Just a second,' he said, but his words were lost in a sudden chorus of phones buzzing, beeping and pinging. People around them fumbled for their devices, and Claire checked hers out of habit. Nothing.

But the people around them whooped, cheered, high-fived and ... began to dance. All their phones were blaring out a song Claire recognised. Most of them had some kind of glow-in-the-dark things that they pulled from their pockets, and within seconds it was a full-on instant rave.

Their little group was an island of clueless in a sea of moving, jumping bodies ... and suddenly, she didn't see their tour guides anywhere. They'd just melted into the crowd. Gone.

Viva's eyes were huge, and she was clutching all her official MIT loot to her chest as if someone might want to rip off her maps and binders. She crowded closer to Claire as a guy with huge holes in his ears and a shaved head began kangaroo-jumping around near them. The noise was deafening.

Claire spotted the campus security uniforms approaching, and pointed, and Viva gasped and looked as if she might faint. 'Jack!' she yelled, and turned in a circle, staring wildly. 'Jack, they're coming! Jack!'

But their tour guide was nowhere to be seen, and now, as more campus security descended, the flash-rave broke up and students began scrambling away in a hundred directions ... leaving their little tour group frozen and stunned.

There was no sign of their guide anywhere.

Claire, whose survival instincts were a lot more finely honed, had been prepared to cut out, but Viva's shaking hand on her arm prevented her from following the upperclass students, and before she could get Viva to flee with her, it was too late. There were three security guards flanking them, frowning and looking very serious.

'Okay, you know this area's off limits,' one of them said. 'Names!'

There was a confused babble of voices, and he cut them off with an impatient gesture and pointed to Claire.

'Claire Danvers,' she said. 'But we were taking a tour. We didn't know it was off limits.'

'Likely story, Miss Danvers. If you were on a tour, where's your guide?'

'Um ...' Viva held up her hand. 'He left? I'm Viva Adewah.'

He made notes. 'Uh huh. Name of the guide, for the records?'

'Um, I don't know. He took off and left us here!'

The three security men exchanged a look, and the centre one made another official-looking note in his book. 'And where were you headed?'

He got a shifty look and mutters from all of their fellow abandoned group, and Claire sighed. 'Baker House,' she said. 'Which isn't real, right? And Jack Florey's not a real person?'

'Opinions are divided,' the cop said, and put his notebook away. 'It's the Orange Tour, by the way. Long tradition. Sometimes they let us hassle you. Guess this was your lucky night. You're all from Fifth East?'

'How did you know?' Viva asked.

'Because if you weren't, you'd have a different guide. Head that way. You'll get back on track quickly. Stay together. No wandering off on your own. And congratulations. You're part of the history now - you've survived an Orange Tour. Now, don't let us ever catch you hacking.'

A hack, in MIT jargon, meant a real-world mod ... like the most recent one, which had been to turn the Earth Sciences building into a giant Tetris game with coloured interior lights. Hacks didn't destroy, they just ... creatively amended. But Jack Florey had given them the rules of hacks, too - and they sounded remarkably like the rules of surviving Morganville. No stealing. No destroying property. And never hack alone.

Odds were, most people on this tour would, at some point, be involved in a hack, or at least see a really good one.

But probably not her, Claire reflected, with another little burst of regret. She wasn't here to be a freshman; she was here to study with Professor Anderson, on a Morganville-approved study course, and Amelie wasn't likely to be in favour of anything that wasn't strictly on the curriculum.

Escorted by the watchful eyes of campus security, they trudged back toward the centre of campus, where the dome of the Maclaurin Building dominated the landscape. Viva was still sticking close to Claire's elbow. She looked small, and lost; the others in the group were laughing and happy, glowing with adventure and excitement. They seemed born to be here.

Viva didn't. And Claire realised with a jolt that the kid was young - younger than her, or the others in the group. Not much younger, but enough to matter and cripple her with self-consciousness. 'Hey,' Claire said to her. 'So, where are you from, Viva?'

'Iowa,' she said. 'Rockwell City. You probably never heard of it.'

True, she hadn't. 'Is it nice?'

'Not like this. I mean, this is-' Viva flapped a hand around them, helpless to describe it. 'Different. It's great, and I thought I knew what I was getting into, but it's so-'

'Real,' Claire said. She knew how it felt. 'Bigger than you.'

'Yeah.' Viva clutched her binders closer, like a magic shield. 'It's a lot of pressure, and classes haven't even started. I just feel-'


Viva nodded, looking ashamed. 'They all seem so comfortable already.'

'I wish I could help you, but I'm not living in the dorm. Wait - maybe I can help.' Claire grabbed Viva's arm and towed her sideways, aiming for a laughing mixed group of girls and boys; they seemed friendly, and she liked the T-shirt one of them was wearing. It meant he had a good sense of humour, at least. 'Hey, guys? This is Viva. I've got to take off, but could you make sure she gets back to the dorm okay? I'm Claire, by the way. Claire Danvers.'

'Hey,' the boy in the T-shirt said. He had messy, curly hair that flopped in his eyes, and a million-dollar smile. 'I'm Nick Salazar. This nutcase is Oded, that's Jenny, Amanda, Trent ...' He reeled off names as if he'd known them all his life, though Claire was pretty sure he'd just met them. 'Nice to meet you guys. Viva, right? Cool name.'

'Thanks,' she said. She looked scared, but determined.

'Hey, you need a bag,' Jenny said, and dug in her backpack to come up with a tote with the MIT logo. 'Try this. What room are you in?'

'Screw that, the question at hand is what's your major?' Oded said. 'Because let me just tell you right now, any answer other than World of Warcraft or Advanced Ninja Studies will not be accepted.'

'Fight Club,' Viva said. Oded considered, and offered her a fist bump. She took it.

'I stand corrected,' he said. 'She just levelled up.'

Claire wanted to stay with them - wanted it so badly she could taste it. The easy, silly friendship reminded her of what she'd left behind, and she craved it ... but she really did need to talk to Shane. So she drifted off, and Viva - deep into the conversation now - hardly noticed her departure. Claire jogged off to a trail that led to Stratton Student Centre. It was, at this hour, not very busy; she found a quiet table, acquired mocha, and sat down with her phone.

Then she dialled Michael's phone.

'Hey.' Shane's voice was dark and warm and deep, and she sank into it as if it were a blanket. 'You okay, tough girl?'

'I am now,' she said. It wasn't quiet where he was; she heard a rumble, maybe wheels. 'Are you driving?'

'I'm mobile, yep. You know me, always moving, like a shark. I'm restless without you.'

'I miss you,' she said. She leant against the wall. 'I really miss you, Shane.'

'How much?'

She laughed. 'Not enough to tell you in public, especially while you're driving.'

'Damn, there goes my chance for some hot sexy talk.'

His voice just did things to her, she realised ... made her feel warm and liquid inside, made her think all kinds of things she probably shouldn't be picturing out here in front of food court staff. 'I hate my housemate,' she said, to change the subject to something safer.

'Elizabeth? I thought she was your best friend in high school.'

'She was. In high school. But-'

'She changed? Yeah, that happens. Look what happened to Michael.'


He laughed again, low in his throat. 'Kidding, Claire. I'm just saying people change. If you're not there for it, it's not always easy to adjust to it, right? Which is why I hate this. I hate missing your life. I hate missing those little moments that change you. Because they're going to change us.'

He was right, but ... but also, not. 'I need to change a little on my own,' she said. 'Shane, I love you, and I want to be with you, but I need to breathe, too. I need to fly a little and see how far I can go. That's why I took this chance. It's not forever. It's just a while.'

'Maybe a short while if your housemate drives you crazy. What's she doing?'

'Let me see ... she's a drama queen, and not in a fun way; she's controlling; she's OCD; she's passive-aggressive ...'

'You had me at drama queen. I have got to meet this chick.'

'No, you really don't, trust me. She used to be fun and nerdy, but now - now she's so self-consciously not, you know? She's working so hard to be cool that she's uncool. I think maybe she had a bad relationship.'

'Roger that. Seen too many tragic examples. You know, the ones in the hipster hats who try looking like some unholy love child of Jack White and Ashton Kutcher?'

'I learnt a new word today.'

'Which is?'


'Ah, you're so cute. You didn't know that word? You know what it stands for, right?'

She lowered her voice to a whisper. 'Fucking idiot?'

'I love that you have to make that much of an effort to curse. Like you're worried you might scar somebody. Seriously, it's adorable. So, been attacked by any vampires yet?'

'Not a one.'

'Zombies? Giant spiders? Water monsters?'

'It's been really quiet on the supernatural attack front.'

'Too bad, 'cause I got attacked by a devil dog. It was not awesome.'

'A what?'

'A big-ass dog with glowing red eyes. Trust me. You do not want to face a pack of these bad boys. Makes wolves look like teacup poodles.'

'But you're okay, right?'

'Yeah,' he said, altogether too lightly. 'I'm okay. Nothing but bruises. The cops - and I guess, vampires - are taking care of our devil dog problem. Nothing to worry about, trust me. We'll be okay. Aren't we always?'

'Almost always.' She swallowed a lump in her throat, because the confidence in his voice had made her feel unexpectedly frightened. 'Please, Shane - don't get cocky, okay?'

'Oh, now you want to do sexy talk?'

'I'm serious! Please. Please.' The image she most remembered right now was of him floating in a tank of murky water, bleeding ... dying, at the hands of enemies of the vampires. And it terrified her. 'I hate it that I'm safe here, and you're ...'

'Swimming in an ocean of danger, with sharks? Hey, it's what manly men do. That, and wrestle rabid badgers.'

He was being flippant, and it killed her. 'Shane!'

He was quiet for a long moment, and then he said, 'Are you okay, Claire?'

'Yes - I - I-' She took a deep breath. On the wall across from her was a poster promoting delicious bagels, and she focused in on the colours, the shapes, and tried to clear all the frantic noise from her mind. 'I'm okay. Let me know when you get your new phone - can I call you on this one until then?'

'If you want.' He seemed pleased about that. 'I know you're getting settled and all, but maybe I can call around this time at night? Would that work?'

'Yeah. That works.'

'Because I don't want to miss a day with you.' She was silent, not because she disagreed, but because she was overcome with a wave of emotion so strong she couldn't get the words out. He mistook it for something else, because he hurried on, tone turning more impersonal. 'So, yeah, I've gotta hit it. Talk to you tomorrow, right?'

'Right,' she managed to choke out.

'Is it pushing you to tell you I love you?'

'No.' It wasn't a wave of emotion, it was a sea, and she was drowning in it. 'Love you.' That was all she could manage. She hung up the call, and burst into hot, hard tears. She struggled to keep them quiet, but she knew everybody could tell what was going on. Just another sad, homesick, lonely freshman having a breakdown. Great.

It felt good, though, in a weird way. Six coarse food court napkins later, the storm passed, and she was left with a weary, empty ache inside, but an equally empty brain. Her eyes felt swollen, and she knew she looked a mess, but sometimes ... sometimes the emotions were just too big to hold.

She tossed her trash, avoided the glances of other students, and started the walk home. The row house she shared with Elizabeth wasn't that far - about six blocks, about the same distance she'd walked from Texas Prairie University to her old home at the Glass House. She spotted some students walking, and most had earbuds in, rocking out as they strolled, but she couldn't even think about that ... Morganville had taught her to pay attention, or else.

So she was aware within the first block that someone was following her.

He started out far back, but no matter how fast her pace, he steadily closed the distance. Claire caught glimpses of him in blurry glass windows, but she couldn't tell much about him, except that he was taller than she was (wasn't everybody?) and broader, too. Not Shane's size, not nearly, but big enough, if he meant her harm.

In Morganville, she'd have readied a weapon, but this wasn't Morganville. Defending herself wasn't quite that clear-cut. What if she staked some totally innocent person?

'Hey!' the man finally called to her, when he'd caught up to about twenty feet. 'Hey, Claire?'

She turned, still walking, and saw that it was one of the guys from the campus. Nick. There must have been something warning in her body language, because he slowed down and held up both hands, looking suddenly cautious. 'Sorry,' he said. 'It's me. Nick. I know, it's weird I'm following you because we just met, but ... I didn't want you walking by yourself, that's all.'

'Oh,' Claire said. She felt torn between continued suspicion and an intense desire to believe in someone's innocent intentions, for a change. Surely the entire world couldn't be that hideous, right? Yes, she'd had bad times; yes, guys she'd trusted had betrayed her. But it wasn't right to assume that everybody was like that. 'Oh, well, thanks. What about Viva?'

'She's hanging with my crew, headed for the dorm. Not that I actually have a crew, per se, but more of a horde. Possibly a gaggle. So, you're new, right? First year?'

'Yes,' she said.

'Already living off campus, though?'

'Well ... it was probably a mistake. The dorms seem fun.'

'It's epic adventure,' Nick agreed soberly. 'Maybe you're not up for it.'

She almost laughed. 'Yeah, that's me. I'm terrified.'

He smiled, and fell in step with her. A comfortable distance away, a gentleman's distance, nothing intrusive. 'You don't seem like the wallflower type.'

It felt so natural and friendly that it came as a shock to her when she suddenly thought, I think he's flirting with me. Is he? Am I flirting back? I shouldn't be, should I? It was confusing and strange, and for a perilous second, some rebellious part of her thought, Why shouldn't I? I came here to stretch my wings. Well. This is stretching.

'I'm pretty shy,' Claire said. 'Really, I am.'

'I could tell by the way you dragged Viva over and announced her to the world. So, what's your major?'

The inevitable college question. She didn't hesitate. 'Physics.'

Nick seemed pleased, not daunted - another difference between MIT and, well, everywhere else. 'You don't just get to say physics. I mean, what flavour? Chocolate, vanilla, applied, theory ...'

'A little of both.'

'I hate to be the one to break it to you, but I'm pretty sure there's no "little of both" major. You don't know yet, do you?' When she didn't answer, he shrugged and stuck his hands in his jeans pockets. 'It's okay. According to the literature, people change around. Probably good to give it some thought before you commit.'

That's why I'm here, she almost said. To give it some thought. It was about so much more than her choice of study, but she didn't know how to say that, and she didn't really want to give him the wrong idea. 'What's yours?'

'My major? Mechanical engineering, emphasis in robotics. Second year. Haven't flunked me out so far.'

'Do you think it's possible to take a human brain and wire it up to control a computer?'

He missed a step, but only one, and said, 'Ah, I get it, you're asking me a classic Trek question. "Spock's Brain", right? Where the planet of women grabbed Spock, removed his brain and stuck it in a machine to power their systems?'

'I-' She had no idea what he was talking about; she'd watched some Star Trek but not the old episodes. Her parents had been kids when those were on. 'Uh, I guess so.'

'Geek cred points for trying to stump me, but sorry, you'll have to do better than that. Would you like to try anime for a hundred?' When she looked blank, he sighed. 'What took it down, anime, or the Jeopardy reference?'

'Jeopardy, I guess. I know a little about anime.'

'A little about it? Girl, we need to get you on a study programme, fast. You're not going to last a week around here if you can't keep up with the pop culture references. How about Lord of the Rings? Firefly? Doctor Horrible? No? Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.'

He chattered on, and it was warm and funny and sweet and for a change, not at all life and death drama. She lost track of time and progress, and all of a sudden she realised they'd walked right past the steps to her row house apartment. She turned and backtracked, and gave Nick an apologetic smile.

'Ah. The old homestead, I perceive. Well, I did my Guy Duty - you're okay from here?'

'Yeah, I'm okay,' she said. She glanced up. Elizabeth's windows were dark; she'd already gone to bed. 'I should probably-'

'Go, yeah, you should. So just ... see you around, then?'

'I'll see you around, Nick.'

'Goodnight, Claire.' She gave him another smile, and he returned it, and took a few steps away before he turned back toward her, pulling out his phone. 'Okay, this is probably way out of line, and feel free to Xena Warrior Princess my ass, but can I-?' He waved the phone at her, and he looked so puppy-dog cute that she almost said yes.

'I can't,' she said, quietly. 'Sorry. I've got a boyfriend.'

'Oh. Oh, right, of course you do. What was I thinking? Sorry.'

'No, don't be - look, I'm sorry. I guess I was just - I shouldn't have let you think that. I was just lonely, you know?'

'I know lonely. Lonely is a good friend of mine. No harm, Claire. I'm not going to go curl up in a fetal ball and cry for more than, you know, six hours, max.' He flashed her a ridiculously funny smile, and she laughed in return. 'See you around, then.'

'See you.'

He walked off, hands in his pockets, all loose angles and baggy jeans. The only thing he and Shane had in common, she thought, was the confidence. Shane could sling a casual nerd reference, but Nick probably couldn't string together more than a few sentences without one; Shane knew his way around a fight, and Claire was fairly certain that she could take Nick with one hand tied behind her back. Maybe two.

And yet, there was that traitorous little tingle of interest. Probably just because he represented everything that wasn't Morganville - a normal world, where the biggest thing most people had to worry about was the latest episode of their favourite show, or whether or not a girl would give up her phone number for a winning smile.

She liked that world. She just wasn't sure that she was part of it ... or ever would be. That was, Claire realised, what Nick represented to her: a world where a guy could just be amusing and interesting and funny, and not fight for his life every day against overwhelming odds. A life with a home, and kids, and just the usual, mundane worries.

No vampires and monsters. No wonder she felt some tingle of attraction.

Claire unlocked the front door, smiling quietly to herself, feeling oddly relaxed now, off her guard, and when she heard the scrape of footsteps behind her she turned, still smiling, and said, 'Nick, I thought-'

It wasn't Nick.

She didn't know this guy. He was tall, broad-shouldered, handsome in a heavy kind of way that was probably going to turn unpleasant on him in a few years. He was Monica Morrell's type, she thought, and all that went through her head in the same second as her threat assessment. No gun, no knife, but he carried himself as if he was ready to move at her, and alerts flashed red somewhere deep inside her.

She braced, ready to move.

'Hi,' he said, and stopped a few steps below her, but blocking the way down. 'So, you're Liz's new roommate, right? She said she had an old friend moving in with her. I'm Derrick.'

'Derrick,' she repeated. Liz hadn't mentioned him, but then, that didn't necessarily spell trouble. Nevertheless, Claire edged one foot into the doorway, and calculated ahead what her body needed to do next in a hurry. Shift weight, swing right, complete the turn, slam the door, lock it. It was a one, maybe one-and-a-half second movement. Derrick didn't look that fast, but she'd been fooled before. 'If you're looking for Liz, I think she's already asleep.'

'No problem,' he said. 'I'm not coming in. Just wanted to say hi.'

'Hi,' Claire said, without any warmth; she still felt weird about this. She didn't like being doorstepped, especially by someone with that odd look in his eyes. 'Look, it's late. Sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but I-'

He held up his hands, but somehow, she didn't take it as an apology, or a sign of surrender. 'No problem. Just wanted to find out what your name was.'

'Claire,' she said. 'Goodnight.'

She kept her eyes on him as she stepped inside, closed the door, and shot the bolts. For the first time, she was grateful for all the locks. Derrick didn't move, at least until the door closed, but she felt a weird tension in him, as if every muscle was shaking with the desire to rush her.

Claire slid aside the small metal flap over the peephole and looked out.

Derrick's face loomed huge, right there, staring as if he'd known she'd do it. She let out an involuntary gasp, let the flap slip down, and backed away until she bumped into the stairs. Honestly, she'd faced down vampires on her doorstep, and they generally weren't that creepy.

She sat down on the steps, and in the dark next to her, in the shadowy space between the stairs and the hall table, she heard a breathy whisper. 'It's him, isn't it? Derrick.'

Somehow, Claire wasn't surprised it was Liz, huddled there with her knees drawn up to her chest. She was wearing fuzzy pyjamas that were a pale grey in the dimness, and she looked like a terrified little girl.

Claire got up, sat down in the narrow, dark space with her, and put her arm around her friend. Liz leant in, and she was shaking, really shaking. Claire stripped off her coat and put it over Liz's shoulders. 'You're all right,' she said, and hugged her. 'Liz, it's okay. He's outside. The door's locked.'

'But he's here.' Even though it was a whisper, it sounded like a wail of despair. 'I didn't think he knew where I was, but he's here. He knows.'

'Liz - who is he?'

'I met him at my old school. It was a blind date, my friend set us up. I didn't like him, but he - he just kept trying to date me. At first it was just texts and calls and flowers, but then he started following me. I started dating this other guy and he - he-' Liz's voice faltered, and she swallowed hard. 'He just disappeared. He finally called me and said he had to move away, because Derrick had shown up and told him if he didn't that he'd be dead. He told me - he told me that Derrick said he'd rather see me dead than with someone else, and to watch my back. So I left. I quit school, moved out of town, changed my hair and how I dressed, made new friends. I didn't think he'd follow me, I really didn't.'

'But you were afraid he would,' Claire said. 'Because of all the locks on the door.'

Liz nodded miserably. 'He sent me letters. He was really angry I left. He tracked me down in the last place I was, and sent me pictures of my new haircut telling me how cute I looked. He sent stuff to my mom and dad, too. He knows where all my family lives.'

'Did you talk to the police?'

'Sure.' Liz sniffled and straightened up a little, and her voice gained some strength. 'They took it seriously and all, but he never made any threats we could prove. He's being really careful. It's like he's done this before and knows what not to do to get caught. That's what makes it even scarier. I'm sorry. I should have warned you - I should have warned you what you might be getting into. I mean, you're just ... you've always been so nice and gentle, and I don't want to put you in the middle ...'

'I'm not that gentle,' Claire said. 'Did you know I learnt how to fight? And I can use a bow and arrow?'

'You what?' Liz sounded incredulous. 'You mean, you shoot at targets? Did you get into it because of that movie? And anyway, how does that even help?'

'I mean the town I was living in was someplace where you'd better have good aim,' Claire said. 'And a strong stomach, and steady nerves. So if Derrick wants to come creeping, he's in for a big, ugly surprise. I'm not going to hesitate to defend my home, myself, or my friend. Get me?'

'You - you're serious. What, you think you're going to shoot him with an arrow?'

'Well, not right now, because I didn't carry them in my luggage,' Claire said. 'The bow's packed in my boxes. Should be here soon, though. Meanwhile, what do you know about using a knife?'

'I - excuse me?'

'Come on,' Claire said. She got up and offered her hand. 'Let me show you.'

'Claire, I can't fight him!'

'Why not?'

Liz seemed to be at a loss for words. She took Claire's hand and pulled herself up to her feet. Claire switched on the light, and Liz seemed about to object; she winced and reached for the switch.

Claire stopped her. 'What are you going to do?' she asked. 'Are you going to live in the dark, locked in here? Afraid to look out, answer the door, leave? Yes, he's out there, and he's clearly not going to leave you alone until one of three things happens: he hurts you, and gets arrested, or he makes a mistake, and gets arrested, or you stop him.'

'You want me to kill him?'

'I didn't say kill. I said stop. That means defend yourself. There's a difference between losing a fight and giving up. If you want to fight, come with me.'

'I-' Liz looked at her for a long, uncertain moment. 'You're different. I thought that from the beginning when you got off the plane, but it's more than just surface, more than just how you look. You're really different. You got ... strong.'

'In Morganville, you only get strong,' Claire said. 'Or, I guess, dead. But yes. And I know this isn't Morganville, but we can still act for ourselves. Come on. First lesson is how to defend yourself with what's around you ...'

Liz hesitated when Claire pulled her toward the kitchen, and stared toward the door. 'Is he still there, do you think?'

'Maybe,' Claire said. 'I don't really care. Let him get frostbite out there, or get arrested for trying to peep. Don't play his game. Play yours.'

'I don't have a game.'

'You will,' Claire promised her, and gave her a smile that was probably every bit as scary as anything Derrick had in him. 'You will.'

Myrnin hadn't given Claire a whole lot of information about her new mentor, only a name (Irene Anderson) and the fact that she had once lived in Morganville, and been Myrnin's assistant. It was fairly impressive that she'd survived the experience, but that hadn't given Claire much context for what Anderson would be like.

Turned out that she was awesome.

For one thing, she was a whole lot younger than Claire had expected - mid-thirties, maybe. And when Claire knocked on her office door, she thought she'd arrived in the wrong place, because the petite woman standing there had no desk, and was wearing overalls that had seen better days, and was using some kind of very small handheld blowtorch on a pile of metal.

'Just a sec,' she said, without taking her eyes off what was happening. It was more like ten seconds, but then the woman shut off the burner, set it aside, and made a quick note on a pad of paper nearby. 'There. Got it. So, you're my ten o'clock, right?'

'I'm Claire Danvers. You're-?'

'Dr Irene Anderson.' The woman shoved goggles back on her head, and they slid off to hang hilariously off of her blonde ponytail, then clattered off to the floor. 'I know, not what you were expecting, am I? Everybody says that. Including my own family. Hi.' She came around the workbench and offered Claire her hand to shake. It was a decisive, firm grip, and she held Claire's gaze long enough for it to be evident she had blue eyes to go with the blonde hair. Shane probably would have called her hot, though Claire was never sure exactly what his scale seemed to be ... it had more to do with attitude than type. 'Good to meet you. You're young to have survived a year or two doing what you were doing.'

'Are we not supposed to mention ...?'

'Morganville? Sure, you can. Sorry. Native caution is very normal. I've always been so careful about not discussing Myrnin that I often forget to use his name even when I'm able. Speaking of the man, I hear he's better now.'

'Better than he was when I got there.'

'Ah. That's good. I didn't want to leave, but he was just too unstable for his good or mine, and I thought it was better if he had a vampire assistant for a while. Did he?'

'I - don't know. He's never told me much about people he worked with before me. I know that he, um ...'

'Killed a lot of them? Yes, I know that too. And, of course, he killed the sainted Ada. He'll never get over her.' That earned an exasperated eye roll, which stopped when Dr Anderson noticed Claire wasn't smiling. 'What?'

'Ada's - well, dead, I guess. I suppose technically this would be the third and final time. As in, not coming back.'

Dr Anderson covered her mouth with one hand, and closed her eyes for a brief moment. 'How'd he take that?'

'Not very well,' Claire admitted. 'He kind of lost it. But he's better now. I think it helped, letting go. He still has these - episodes, but they're not as bad as they used to be most of the time. More aggravating than terrifying.'

'That's quite a change,' her new professor said, and looked at Claire with more assessment. 'You've done something I was never able to do, then. Congratulations. I was informed Myrnin had cracked the code on the disease-'

'We're calling it Bishop's Plague these days.'

'Ah. Bishop's Plague ... but now I think you had more to do with solving it than he did. Right?'

Claire didn't answer. She looked around the office - though it was more junk room and lab than office - and saw a small, cluttered table stuffed in the corner. It had a duct-taped, sagging office chair, but no visitor accommodations. 'Is this where we're going to work?'

'This? No. Definitely not. I was just tinkering while I was waiting for you. Before we go, you'll need ID.'

'I have a student ID card-'

'Not that.' Dr Anderson went to her desk, opened and closed drawers, muttered, and finally came up with some kind of black magnetic strip card with a logo on it that looked eerily familiar - the Founder's sign. She typed and moused on the computer, then ran the card through a mag strip device. 'Here. Press your thumb in the box where it says.' She passed Claire a small tablet device, and Claire did as requested. While she did, the tablet clicked, and she realised it had taken a picture, too. Before she could ask about it, Dr Anderson took it back and tapped on the screen, then took the mag strip card she'd made and put it into a small white device attached to the computer.

It made some soft whirring sounds, and thirty seconds later, it spit out a finished ID card, complete with picture and thumbprint. Dr Anderson examined it, pronounced it good, and decorated it with an MIT lanyard as she handed it over. 'Wear it around your neck,' she said. 'No tying it on your belt, or backpack, or wearing it as a headband, and trust me, I've seen students try to do all those things. If it's not in the right place, you'll get a visit from security, and you really don't want that. Where we're going, security's very, very serious.' Dr Anderson, Claire saw, was already wearing her own ID. It looked identical, except for the photo. 'If you cut your hair or dye it, or your physical profile changes at all, you get new ID. It has all kinds of data encoded in it. Sounds Orwellian, right? It is. Get used to it.'

Claire scrambled to follow as Dr Anderson shucked her lab coat, tossed it on a hook, and led the way out of the office and down the long hallway to a sealed door with an electronic pass reader on it. Anderson buzzed in, but when Claire started to follow her through, the other woman stopped her. 'Use your card after me,' she said. 'If you come through without swiping, alarms will go off. Like I said. Secure.'

Claire nodded, and let the door shut before she ran her own badge and got a green light to enter. She slipped the lanyard back over her head and stepped through into a very different world.

This part of the building looked new, shiny, and sterile. It was bustling with activity - grad students, professors, people in suits who looked like official government types, or maybe private industry. It was often groups composed of all of those, huddled together, walking and talking. She caught snatches of conversations about genetics, about drug therapies, about nanotech, and that was all in only a two-minute brisk walk. Dr Anderson exchanged nods with most of them, but there was no small talk.

Dr Anderson's lab was marked with a simple white card in the slot that said RESTRICTED. Nothing else on the card ... but when Claire moved to the side a little to allow Anderson to swipe through, she saw that there was something else on the paper, after all. The Founder's logo had been printed on it holographically, so it was only visible from certain angles.

The door made a soft sighing sound as it opened, and a puff of cool air that smelt like metal and chemicals washed over Claire. Dr Anderson shut it behind her, and Claire badged through. She didn't need to be told twice about the security measures.

Inside it was ... well, Myrnin's lab, only sane, orderly, and clean. But she recognised a lot of what was going on at each of the worktables, though instead of using Dark Ages alchemical techniques, Dr Anderson had modern chemistry set-ups and state-of-the-art instruments and computers. It was like porn, but for science geeks. 'Wow,' Claire breathed, and ran her fingers tentatively over a brushed-steel worktable, not quite daring to get her fingerprints on any of the blindingly cool equipment yet. 'You're-'

'Well funded? Yes. Amelie wanted to establish another, less chaotic method of research to validate and record Myrnin's discoveries. You know him; he's brilliant, and he's the living embodiment of chaos theory. So my job is to find out why his discoveries work, document and make them easily reproducible with modern equipment and techniques. And now that's your job, too.'

'I was already doing that. Trying to, anyway. When he'd let me.'

Dr Anderson sent her a warm, knowing smile. 'Yeah, I know how that goes. Working for Myrnin means being zookeeper, nanny and best friend. Trouble is, knowing when each of those things is necessary, because making a mistake means you become a Happy Meal. Badge of honour for you to have survived the experience, Claire. And for getting the hell out of Morganville. Bet you think the worst is over, right?'

Claire shuddered, thinking about the draug, and Bishop, about the thousand life-threatening moments she'd made it through since coming to town. 'Hopefully,' she said.

'You're wrong,' Dr Anderson said. She sounded certain, and sober. 'You live there, at that level, it's like living inside a video game. Surviving is a high, an achievement. Then you come out here into the real world, and the PTSD starts to set in ... because nobody cares what you went through, or that you survived it, and your body's used to a constant adrenaline pump. It's like coming off a drug. If it hasn't hit you yet, it will ... normal life takes a lot of getting used to, Claire. But if you need to talk to someone, well, I've been through it. What's the biggest thing you're missing so far?'

'Shane,' Claire said. Her throat got tight and raw, and for a moment she couldn't go on. 'My boyfriend.'

'Ah,' Anderson said. Nothing else. Her eyebrows went up, but she didn't ask anything, and after she'd waited a moment she got the idea Claire wasn't going to tell, either. 'Let me give you the tour, then. I assume you're familiar with Myrnin's dimensional portals? Did he teach you how to operate them?'

From there, the hours passed fast, full of technical discussions and equations, lightning-fast chains of thought as each of them built on the other's ideas and work. By noon, they had a working mathematical expression of how the portals worked, and Claire matched it up against the work she'd done with Myrnin on the same thing.

Dr Anderson's final version was better, cleaner and covered more theoretical ground.

The afternoon was spent learning equipment, most of which Claire had never seen, though some of it she'd heard about. Most fascinating was a genetic sequencer hard at work cracking the code of vampire DNA. 'It's deceptively human,' Dr Anderson said. 'Tough to tell the difference, because there's really very little to find. It's almost as if the DNA was only part of the equation for how vampires change - it's not just a physical process. And I don't have any equipment that can capture something that only happens on the spiritual plane, at least, not yet.'

'I might,' Claire said. She felt tentative about it, and a little overwhelmed by what Dr Anderson was doing in this very sparkly lab; who was she to pretend to be an inventor? It didn't feel nearly as weird when she was with Myrnin; everything seemed possible.

Here, she felt very ... young. And inexperienced.

But she had Dr Anderson's undivided attention. 'Go on.'

'I ... I thought that since Myrnin had made machines that interacted with vampire powers, then it might be possible to make another machine to cancel them.'

There was a long, strange silence, and Claire felt herself growing hot and uncomfortable under Anderson's steady stare. Then her professor said, very carefully, 'Do you have such a device?'

'Maybe? I mean, I know it can amplify vampire emotions. I think if I can use it in reverse, it could make them afraid instead of angry, cancel out their aggression and hunger ... It's all really just a guess right now.'

'But you built it.'

'I have a prototype.'


Dr Anderson was taking this way more seriously than Claire had ever expected. Even Myrnin hadn't seemed so impressed. 'It's packed, they're delivering it with all my stuff this week.'

'You shipped it?'

'I thought it might be hard to get it through security at the airport.'

'Ah. Excellent point. But you really thought it was safer to trust it to a moving company? Do the vampires know you have this device?'

'Myrnin does.'

'And has he told Amelie?'

'I don't know,' Claire said. She felt more than a little off balance, as if she had done something bad but she wasn't sure what exactly it was. 'Shouldn't he have?'

'If he thinks you're worth keeping alive, he won't,' Dr Anderson said. She had a remote, calculating look in her blue eyes, suddenly, and it was chilling. 'The last thing Amelie would want is a device like that, capable of giving humans a way to control vampires. When is this device scheduled to arrive here?'

'Um, tomorrow, I think. They're just supposed to put the boxes in my bedroom if I'm out.'

'Don't be out,' Anderson said. 'Be home. Check the box you put it in before they leave, and then call me as soon as you're alone and I will arrange for an escort. I want this device of yours put in the secured area as soon as possible, just in case it works as you say. Vampires don't like us developing new weapons against them, Claire. I've seen others end up dead for simply talking about one, and you've actually made one. This is something that Amelie can't, and won't, ignore. I'm really surprised that Myrnin allowed this at all, and even more surprised that he hasn't told Amelie about it.'

Claire thought, with a sudden burst of cold inside, about what had happened to Shane's family when they'd left Morganville. Amelie had been dead set on keeping her secrets, and when Shane's mother had begun remembering too much, talking too much, she'd ended up dead. It was pure luck that Shane and his father hadn't died, too.

What she had done in developing this device - no, this weapon - was a whole lot worse than just blabbing about Morganville. It could be a real threat to them. To their very lives.

Dr Anderson was right. It was something the vampires wouldn't ignore ... and now that she was out of Morganville, accidents could happen. None of her friends would know the difference.

She was alone.

'Hey,' Dr Anderson said, and gave her a small, careful smile. 'Easy. You look a little spooked.'

Claire nodded, unable to say much.

'You got used to thinking of yourself as safe from them, didn't you? That they were on your side. It's easy to make that mistake. They will treat you as an asset, or even as a friend, right up until you cross the line and become a threat, Claire; you've already done that, even if they don't know it yet. You've gone from Amelie's subject to Amelie's enemy, even though technically you've never turned against her ... she won't wait for the actual betrayal. Just the seeds of it are enough.' Anderson's eyes were still calculating, still cool. 'Are you armed?'

'No. It's the real world. I didn't think I needed to ... there are laws against it, right?'

'Would you rather be fined for carrying a concealed knife, or dead in an alley?'

'Are those my only options?'

Dr Anderson's smile warmed up, and the seriousness faded a bit. Just a bit. 'Not necessarily, but I believe in planning for the worst case scenario.'

'You'd really like my boyfriend Shane,' Claire said. 'Okay. I'm used to carrying a knife - silver, right?'

'We have new processes that allow us to have just a silver layer on the edge. It's more reliable and holds sharpness well.' Dr Anderson walked to a locked cabinet and opened it with a palm print and complicated code punched into the keypad; she reached in and came out with a knife in a leather scabbard. It was dauntingly large, and when she handed it over, it felt heavier than Claire was used to carrying.

'Do you have anything ...'

'Smaller? No. Sorry. It'll fit in a backpack handily. If you want to carry it on your person, I'd advise you to take up the current trend of carrying gigantic handbags. Watch the edge. It's sharp enough to slice anything but diamond. And for God's sake, carry it, Claire. You're no good to me at all if you're dead. Until you start working, I can't even be sure you're any good to me at all, but I'm willing to give you the chance.' Anderson patted her on the shoulder in an impersonally kind sort of way. 'What time is it? - Oh, damn, I have a class to teach in twenty minutes. Lab rules: you'll be here bright and early every day. I arrive at six a.m.; I'll expect you no later than seven. You don't arrive before me, and you don't stay after. If I decide that you're reliable, I'll start allowing you to remain in the lab while I'm teaching, but you'll have a period of evaluation before that happens, and of course the lab's sensors will monitor everything you do. That's not meant as a threat, just clarity - I'd rather you aren't surprised by the level of observation you have here.'

It was nothing but surprising, but Claire didn't really mind; she accepted the need for security. She wasn't sure how to read Dr Anderson, though, and she thought her new mentor felt the same about her. Well, at least she gave me a knife, Claire thought. That said something ... but what, exactly, Claire wasn't quite sure.

Dr Anderson had already dismissed her, clearly, because she was shuffling through a stack of papers and ignoring Claire's tentative goodbye wave, so Claire headed back to the door. There was a second badge station, and she used it to unlock her way out into the hallway. Disorientation set in for a few seconds, because there were few signs and the clean white tile looked the same in any direction, but she finally figured out how they'd come in, and badged out for a second time before returning to normal college surroundings. It felt weird, coming from that high-tech world to one where people her age were laughing, throwing footballs on the lawn and flirting as if it was the most important skill in the world.

Maybe the normal world isn't as normal as I expected.

That was a sobering thought.

She headed across the busy campus grounds, and the knife stuck in her backpack felt strange; she checked often to see if somehow the outline of it was visible, but of course it wasn't. It was like a sliver of her old life sticking into her new one, and she didn't know how to feel about it.

Turned out, she had reason to be happy.

Claire crossed Albany Street and headed for Chicago Pizza, because suddenly she was starving, and it was one place she'd tried before, so a little bit familiar ... and as she got her pizza slice and soda and negotiated through the packed room for a little table at the wall, she saw someone standing on the other side of the window, looking in.

Someone she recognised.


Liz's stalker ex wasn't just checking out the day's pie offerings ... he was staring right at her, boring his gaze in hard as a drill. The shock made Claire's heart kick up hard, and she instinctively pushed back from the table and reached down for the pack leaning against her knee - survival instincts, even though Derrick wasn't doing anything but looking at her.

It was something in his eyes. Something just ... wrong.

There was no chair on the other side of her tiny table, but someone got up and left, and Derrick pushed in the door as that student pushed out. He grabbed the chair along the way and dragged it noisily over to Claire's table, where he sat, put his elbows on the table and said, 'Hey, Claire. How was your day?'

She was not up for small talk. Something she'd learnt from Shane: there was a time for distracting chatter, and a time for shutting up and watching, and this was definitely a guy she could not afford to play games with. It was his game, his rules. She couldn't win it. 'You need to leave me alone, Derrick,' she said, and she didn't try to keep her voice down, either. The restaurant was packed with people, and some of them looked over - not alarmed, just curious onlookers. 'Walk away right now.'

'I'm not doing anything, Claire, c'mon. I just want to be friends. Liz is special to me; I ought to get to know the people she likes, right?'

'Liz doesn't want to see you. I don't want to see you.' Claire stood up suddenly, and the sound of her chair going over backward was very loud. Conversational buzz around them stopped. 'You need to leave, right now.'

'Or?' Derrick didn't seem alarmed at all. 'You'll call the cops and tell them I was politely making conversation?'

Claire didn't even think about what she was going to do. If she had, she probably would have second-guessed it.

She picked up her full soda and flung it right in his face.

He gasped, jumped out of his chair, and stood there dripping and furious. Ice chunks glittered in his hair, and his shirt was stained and soaked.

Someone nearby started a slow clap. Others joined in.

Derrick's menace was no longer simmering beneath the surface. He stared at Claire as if he intended to bite chunks out of her, and the small table between them didn't seem like much, if any, protection. Neither did the people around them, who might cheer a gutsy move but would run from a fight.

She'd never missed having Shane at her back so much.

Derrick took in a deep breath, twitched all over, and forced out a smile that was all teeth. 'All these people are witnesses. I never raised a hand to her, okay? She's the one who assaulted me.' He raised both hands, brushed the ice out of his hair, and backed away from the table, and Claire. 'Damn, girl, back off the caffeine. I'm out.' He sounded like a regular guy now, bemused by her reaction, and the clapping faded off. 'Sorry if I scared you, I didn't mean to.' It sounded sincere. All of a sudden, the tide of popular sentiment was turning around them.

'Yes, you did,' Claire said flatly. 'You know it and I know it. But you don't scare me, Derrick. I've-' Killed scarier things than you, she almost said, but that would sound way wrong in this place, this time. 'I've known plenty of guys worse than you. I'm still standing.'

'Chick's crazy,' he said, to no one in particular - just a pronouncement, and it seemed like some of the others agreed with him. Some didn't. One girl was frowning at Derrick, clearly alarmed; at least a couple of guys were not on his side, either. One of them - a big enough fellow - stood up.

'Maybe just go, man,' he said.

'Why not her?' Derrick shot back.

The guy shrugged. 'Well, she's got pizza. You don't.'

It was a mild, but valid, point, and right then, one of the employees - probably the manager, Claire thought - came out from behind the counter and fixed Derrick, then Claire, with quelling looks. 'Whatever's going on, it stops here,' he said. 'Or I call the cops.'

'No problem,' Derrick said. He was still holding up his hands. 'I'm going, man.'

He did, backing through the door, but as he walked past the plate glass window where Claire had first seen him, he sent her a quick, sideways look that was so malignant it might have caused cancer.

She was shaking all over, she realised - the aftermath of the adrenaline flood. She put her chair back upright and asked at the counter for some paper towel. The soda had mostly landed on the floor around Derrick's chair, and she cleaned it up without complaint, and quietly apologised to those around her. They shrugged it off.

The pizza tasted like dust and cardboard, delicious as it probably was, and she ate fast, with her eyes fixed on that plate glass window.

Dreading the moment when she would have to step outside.

'Hey.' Claire flinched, but it was the boy who'd stood up to Derrick at the end; he'd walked up to her side, but she hadn't noticed, because she'd been so intent on the window. 'You worried about him?'

She laughed shakily. 'A little, yeah.'

'There's a back door,' he said. 'It lets out on an alley but it's only a quick run to the street. If he's watching the front, you can duck him for now. But if you want my opinion, call the cops. There's something not right about him.'

'I know,' she said. 'Believe me, I know.' She stuck out her hand, and he shook it. 'Thanks. I'm Claire, by the way.'

'Grant,' he said. 'Take care.'

He didn't offer to walk her home, but she wouldn't have accepted, anyway; right now, the knife in her bag was the only thing she felt inclined to put her trust in.

The back door supposedly had an alarm, but it was propped open, probably to let in the breeze and compensate for the fierce heat coming out of the pizza ovens. Claire slipped through without anyone stopping her, and took a second to look over the alley beyond. It was deserted, and there was no place for Derrick to hide himself.

She ran for the side street, turned left, and headed straight home.

Even though she spent the whole walk looking over her shoulder, she didn't see any sign of Derrick. Maybe he'd gone home to wash the sticky mess out of his hair, change clothes, and plot how to make her pay.

Not really all that comforting, in the end.

Claire's moving boxes arrived an hour later at her apartment, courtesy of a small delivery truck; there weren't many, and she signed for them as they were carried up to her room and piled in the very little space that remained. She obeyed Dr Anderson's instructions and opened the carton that contained her Morganville-invented device ... which looked a lot like some steampunked ray gun, only a whole lot clumsier. It was there. As far as she could tell, it was intact.

Liz wasn't home. Claire locked up after the movers and went back upstairs to stack boxes in order of priority unpacking. She texted Dr Anderson to tell her the device was safe, and Anderson quickly got back to her to order her to wait at home. Apparently, she was sending reinforcements.

Claire spent the time waiting checking the windows for any signs of tampering. Nothing. All was secure, or as secure as it could be. She was unpacking winter clothing from the last box when she finally got a phone call to her cell - not from Dr Anderson, but from a number she didn't recognise.


'Hi, Claire. You don't know me, but don't hang up. Irene Anderson asked me to drop in and take you to her lab. My name is Jesse.' She sounded calm and relaxed, and had a slightly exotic accent, something that vaguely reminded her of the Deep South, but it was well concealed. 'My friend Pete and I will be there around six.'

'That's late,' Claire said, surprised. 'I thought she wanted me to get it to her as soon as possible.'

'Day jobs, they do throw a crimp in your social life,' Jesse said, and chuckled. It was a warm rumble of a sound, and despite her current on-alert-for-trouble attitude, she found herself liking the other girl for it. 'Coming as fast as we can. Oh, and she said you might be a little trigger happy, so please, don't shoot. We come in peace, and I'd rather not go in pieces.'

'I promise to ask questions first,' Claire said. Jesse laughed again, and hung up.

And she did ask questions. She called Dr Anderson, who confirmed straight away that Jesse and Pete were known to her. Claire hadn't really doubted it, but she was still worried about Derrick; it seemed unlikely he knew about Dr Anderson and the escort she'd ordered up, but just now, paranoia was an advantage.

She spent the spare few hours studying, surfing the 'net, and wondering - worrying - about where Shane was, and what he was doing. She'd had an e-mail, she saw - not a video this time, just plain text, telling her that he had a new phone number, and giving it to her. She memorised it and put it into her phone and logged it in her computer in her private phone list - her usual triple backup plan - and was considering calling him (just to be sure the number was right, of course).

Just as she hovered her finger over his name in the address book, though, she heard a loud knock on the door. Her gaze jerked up. It was - surprisingly - six o'clock, and they were right on time.

She still checked the peephole before she began clicking back the locks. Not Derrick, for sure; a boy and girl, both a little older than she was. The girl was the one who drew the attention first, because she was tall, well built, and had fiery red hair that fell in shining waves almost to her waist. She was also - like Eve - Goth style, with lots of black eyeliner, pale make-up, and unnaturally coloured lips. Skulls and leather featured heavily in her outfit.

Claire eased the door open just a bit and said, 'Jesse and Pete?'

Jesse smiled and slid a thumb toward her short, easily overlooked friend. He was built like a bulldog, but he had a pleasant face, and he gave her a weary smile and wave. 'Pete. I'm Jesse,' the redhead said. 'So. We're taking you to Dr Anderson, right? Let's get going. Got places to be, yo.'

'Let me get my bag,' Claire said. 'Come in.'

Pete and Jesse shook their heads, almost in unison. 'Got to keep an eye on the car,' Pete said. 'This neighbourhood, we'll get ticketed if we don't stay right here.'

'Oh.' Claire hadn't thought of that; there was a car sitting down at the kerb, shiny and dark blue. It had tinting and what looked like death metal decals - Jesse's ride, probably. 'I just need to lock this door, that's all.' Because she had a horror now of leaving it open, even though she didn't think Jesse and Pete would let Derrick slip inside while she was gone.

'I'll go in, and Jesse can stay out here and guard the car,' Pete offered. 'Is this thing you've got heavy?'

'A little,' Claire said. 'It's not bad.'

Jesse patted Pete's shoulder. 'Let my man here carry it, he loves showing off his muscles for the ladies.'

'Don't be sexist. I flex for guys too.'

'Yeah, but not with so much style.' Jesse winked. 'Go on, you. I'll tackle the metre maid if necessary.'

Claire led Pete upstairs, pointed out the box, and Pete very happily (and super easily) picked it up and got it down the long flights without a problem. 'So, you're just moving in, right?' he said. 'New student?'

'Does it show?'

'Not as much as most. I don't see a lot of kitten posters and boy bands on the walls up there.'

Claire almost laughed. 'Not my style. Though if you know of any place I can get a sparkly unicorn poster ...'

'Ask Jesse,' he said, and stood aside as she opened up the door. 'She's the sparkly unicorn fancier.'

He said it loudly enough that Claire figured it was bait for Jesse to respond, and the redhead probably normally would have done it, but she was standing very still, facing away. This time of year, and with the height of the buildings, the sky was a dusky blue, well into twilight, and Claire couldn't see much farther than the other side of the street, so she couldn't figure out what had attracted Jesse's undivided attention.

Then a streetlight flickered on, shedding a cold pale light over concrete, a fireplug at the corner, some trash bags ... and a man standing on the sidewalk, leaning against a wall, watching them.

'Friend of yours?' Jesse asked. She sounded calm and relaxed, still, but her body language said something different.

Claire couldn't see his face, but the size looked right. 'It's probably Derrick. My roommate's ex. He's a stalker.'

'Want us to go have a little chat?' Jesse asked, and Claire realised with a start that she was serious about it. 'Pete?'

'Always up for a little heart-to-heart chat,' he said, 'but Anderson was pretty firm about this thing being a priority. So maybe we leave it for later, okay?'

Jesse hadn't moved; Derrick had her attention fixed as if she'd been glued down in one direction. She finally sighed and turned her head to give Pete a disappointed look. 'You take all the fun out of life, you know that?' Pete shrugged, as if he lived with disappointment, and carried the box down the stairs to the car. Jesse stayed put, still attentive toward Derrick's silent, still presence across the street, as Claire locked and rechecked the door. 'Do you have an alarm in there?'

'No,' Claire said. 'I told Liz we need to get one, but she doesn't think we can afford it.'

'Better broke than dead,' Jesse said. 'I can smell the crazy on that man from here. I have a nose for it.' In the dim light, a passing car's lights hit Jesse full in the face, and lit her up like a billboard. Her blue eyes were very, very bright, and for a second Claire had a Morganville deja vu ... but this was the real world, and Jesse was just a badass. Like Pete.

Maybe that was enough.