Home > Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)(4)

Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)(4)
Claudia Gray

Or so the thinking goes.

After the paramedics revived Professor Xavier, my parents, Theo, and Paul had to answer questions from the physics faculty for almost three hours. The president of the university has pleaded with Mom and Dad not to issue any public statements about the Firebird project for the time being. So far they’ve agreed, even though reporters have kept calling, and their questions have become more pointed, suggesting the public mood has shifted from breathless anticipation to doubt. Wyatt Conley hasn’t made any public statements either. As far as anyone in the general public knows, he’s still going about his usual routine, a thirty-year-old CEO who wears jeans instead of stuffy suits. His boyish face grins from beneath his curly auburn hair on the covers of business magazines. He even agreed to continue providing funding for my parents’ research going forward—or so he told the dean, who passed this info along to us probably hoping we’d decide we were just being paranoid jerks about the guy.

The other side of Conley lies just beneath that glossy surface.

Not long after that meeting with the physics department, we got our first visit from the general counsel of Triad Corporation.

Her name was Sumiko Takahara. If Wyatt Conley ran a global business while wearing blue jeans, it was because he had people like this behind him—armored with business suits and legalese. Ms. Takahara stood in our house as if she couldn’t believe she’d been sent on an errand this pedestrian; no doubt she spent more time suing megacorporations than talking to academics seated around a table that had been painted in rainbow swirls by me and Josie when we were little kids. Despite this, her professional demeanor never faltered.

“The folders before you represent Mr. Conley’s best offer,” she said. Her gray business suit had a slight glimmer to it, like the skin of a shark. “You’ll find paperwork regarding several Swiss bank accounts, one for each of you. The amounts of money within—”

“Would stun a maharaja,” Theo finished for her, then whistled, like, wow. Paul shot him a look, and Theo shrugged. “It’s true.”

Ms. Takahara seemed encouraged. “If Miss Caine will accept Triad’s offer of employment, I’m instructed to turn these accounts over to you, effective immediately.”

My mother handed her folder back unopened. “In other words, this is the price Wyatt Conley has set on our daughter,” she said. “His offer is declined.”

The chill in Mom’s voice would’ve cooled Siberia in winter. To Ms. Takahara’s credit, she wasn’t fazed. Instead, she looked at me. “The offer is Miss Caine’s to accept or refuse.”

I slid my folder across the table, back to the lawyer. “Then tell Mr. Conley that Miss Caine refuses.”

Finally Ms. Takahara hesitated. She couldn’t have seen many people turn down that kind of money. “Is that all you have to say in reply?”

I thought it over. “You can also tell Conley to bite me.”

So that’s how that conference ended.

Ms. Takahara brought the next offer directly to my parents at the university, supposedly for them to pass along to me. But Conley was trying to bribe them with something they’d value far more than money—this time, he promised information.

“All the research from the Triadverse’s Firebird project,” my mother said that night as we stood in line for pizza at the Cheese Board Collective. “He promised he would share everything they’d learned so far. Experimental data, theoretical work, every bit of it.”

That research had won the Triadverse version of my mother a Nobel Prize. “What did you guys say?

“Honestly, the nerve of the man. The Triadverse is only a few years ahead of us. We’ll catch up.” In her calm, precise voice, my mother added, “Therefore we told Conley to stuff it.”

I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t help thinking that Conley had baited his hook more intelligently this time. For my parents, new knowledge would be the greatest temptation of all. “Are you sure? You guys would learn a lot.”

“Marguerite, we never considered it for an instant.” Mom pulled my arms around her so that I was hugging her from behind. Her hands squeezed mine. “It wouldn’t matter if Wyatt Conley offered us the theory of everything, with cold fusion as the cherry on top. Nothing matters more than you girls. And there’s not one piece of information more important than our love for you.”

I embraced her more tightly, and didn’t worry about Conley any more that evening.

Conley, however, was not done worrying about us. Nearly six weeks ago, he sent Ms. Takahara back to us. This time, she didn’t bother smiling.

“Mr. Conley has improved his offer,” she began.

“You said his last offer was his ‘best offer,’” Paul pointed out.

“He has reconsidered, and encourages you to do the same. I’ve been instructed not to accept any final answer from you today.” Ms. Takahara didn’t make eye contact with anyone at the rainbow table; if she had, she’d have seen her “final answer” written all over our faces. Instead, she continued, “Take your time. Look this over, and discuss it among yourselves. For the time being, Mr. Conley intends to allow you to conduct your research in peace. He asks that you show him the same courtesy. To clarify, he requests that you refrain from traveling to the dimension corresponding to the coordinates in the document before you, henceforth referred to as the Triadverse. Not only would this violate his request, but he warns that the consequences could also be dangerous.”

“Dangerous in scientific terms?” Paul asked. “Or is Conley merely threatening us?”

“I don’t pass along threats,” Ms. Takahara huffed. Probably she thought she was telling the truth. Conley might have told her about dimensional travel, but there was no way he’d explained the full story. “Instead I have shared an extraordinarily generous offer from Triad Corporation. Consider it at your leisure. When Mr. Conley is ready to hear your answer, I’ll be back in touch.”

After she left, Mom, Dad, Paul, and Theo got into a long, intense discussion about what Conley might do after he finally realized I’d never agree to work for him.

“After the carrot comes the stick,” Dad said. They got to work then on superior tracking technology for the Firebirds, so that if Conley tried kidnapping any of us into another dimension again, we could find that person easily, tracing their jumps through the universes no matter how long or complicated the trail might become. Paul and Theo’s pet project was working up a way of monitoring Conley’s cross-dimensional activity; the day might come, Paul said, when we’d need to report Conley to the authorities.

“What authorities?” I asked. Pretty sure the local cops don’t have the power to arrest people in other dimensions. “The FBI? Interpol?”

“Jurisdiction is unclear,” Paul admitted. His hand closed over mine, warm and reassuring. “But if he threatens you, we’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”

I hugged him then, though at that point I felt safe enough. And Conley’s “terms” were easy enough. It’s not as though I was in some huge hurry to go back to the Triadverse, to revisit the Theo who deceived us all.

(Or the Londonverse, where my other self drank too much, partly to kill the memory of Mom, Dad, and Josie dying in a horrible accident. Or the Oceanverse, which was actually a pretty cool place, but where I am probably criminally liable for wrecking a submarine. The Russiaverse—where I was the Grand Duchess Margarita, and Lieutenant Paul Markov was my personal guard and secret love—that world, I would return to. I haven’t, though. Going there again would mean revisiting that Paul’s death.)

Hot Novels
  • Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Chris
  • Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)
  • Never Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #2)
  • Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)
  • Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculi
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
  • Fallen Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #1)
  • Forever Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #3)
  • Ugly Love
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3)
  • Hold on Tight (Sea Breeze #8)
  • Bared to You (Crossfire #1)
  • The Destiny of Violet & Luke (The Coinc
  • Captivated by You (Crossfire #4)
  • Uprooted