Pulled from his world by an experiment gone wrong, Darwin Lloyd is one of the few that can see the Threads—quantum strings that can be manipulated to change or control reality. On an alternate Earth ravaged by war, Darwin is torn between the Qabal and SafeHaven, his only goal to find a way back home and stop the same fate from happening in his time line.
Threads—thought of as a gift from the machine he helped his father create—and Threaders are both loved and hated, treated as gods by some and as criminals by others. Out of his element, Darwin must learn how to control the Threads and possibly join the hated Qabal to find the path back to his dad.
But Thread use comes at a price. Follow the possibilities and probabilities too far and the human mind shatters, leaving the Threader a mindless, drooling husk. Yet the Thread's pull is almost irresistible, and a constant battle for those that can see them.
In this strange new world, Darwin discovers what he could never find on his own: friends, family, love, a mother he lost years before, and a younger sister he never had.
Release date: January 12, 2021
Print pages: 384
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Echoes of Silence
He was dying for the second time this week. The sidewalk swayed under his feet, buckling and tearing, breaking into chunks before his eyes. His gut roiled and he fell first to his knees and then to his hands. His skin stung with a sudden cold that froze the sweat on his back. His shirt hardened and cracked as the ice broke into small pieces and fell to the ground like snow. The concrete sidewalk changed to mud, morphing into frozen winter ice. Grass sprang up between his fingers. The houses disappeared in a wet smear, replaced by fields of low scrub and bogs.
No! This couldn't be happening again.
Darwin Lloyd tumbled to his side. His entire body ached with the pain of hundreds of needles. He held a trembling hand in front of his face, sure that he would see only a mass of blood and bone. Yet it remained intact. He spun it to look at the back and made a fist. Smooth skin stretched across his knuckles, white from the pressure. They turned red when he spread his fingers out and blood flowed back into flesh. Confusion and fear plucked at the corners of his mind before panic washed it away in a mad rush. He stood, struggling to keep his balance, lurching in the sudden stillness of everything around him, and falling back down. He was afraid to breathe, afraid to run, afraid to stay still.
The concrete sidewalk reappeared, rough and solid under his hands, bringing him back to what was happening. Relief coursed through him. Maybe it was over. He lifted his head and saw ramshackle houses filling the sides of the street instead of the homes he'd grown up with. Some of these were so broken that they used their neighbors for support, leaning against each other like tired old men waiting for the end of days. The relief he'd felt only seconds before deserted him.
Everything sheared again. Tall structures rose around him, glass and steel reaching for the bright blue sky and scattered clouds.
And then it was gone.
His body exploded into a thousand pieces, each one aware of where it was. Of when. He sensed each piece fracture before they exploded into a thousand more fragments. His mind grasped for stability even as it was torn apart by the memories, the sights and smells, the tactile feedback of each part of him, spread across the vast distances of space.
Time became an abstract thing. The tip of his left pinky finger shriveled and wrinkled with age. Part of his elbow grew chubby and dimpled with the fat of a newborn baby. His earlobe disintegrated into dust.
Darwin tried to close his eyes, tried to push away the tens of thousands of sensory inputs that jabbed into his mind. Only pieces of his eyes closed, the rest continuing to feed his visual cortex, pounding it with images that made no sense.
Terror frayed at the edges and along with it, the rest of his mind. Insanity pulled at what was left, peeling away layer upon layer of his identity until all that remained was a tiny core, a sealed unit that shimmered gold, holding the essence of who he was, who he had been. Who he was yet to become.
Reality snapped back into place with the impact and finesse of a sledgehammer. He stood firmly on cement just outside his dad's house. The only thing left to remind him of what had happened was the frozen sweat on his t-shirt and shorts. He fished through his pockets for his house keys, his body on autopilot. Feeling warmth flowing down his face, he wiped at his chin. His fingers came away bloody. He shambled to the front door, the world suddenly dull and bland. Normal. Incomplete.
It had never been this bad before.
Darwin placed his keys into the bowl by the front door. His motions were slow and careful and he could already feel the headache starting to stab deep into his brain. It always happened after an episode, a sharp pain building until all he wanted to do was lie in a dark room and cry. And if the pain wasn't sufficient, the constant buzzing that accompanied it was enough to drive him crazy.
The headache intensified, focusing on a spot behind his left eye. It felt like someone had scooped it out of the socket, poured Tabasco sauce into the gaping hole, and jammed the eyeball back into place. It was still better than being torn into thousands of pieces.
And it was nowhere near as bad as waking up in a hospital after a car accident that stole your mother from you, leaving you scarred and clinging to life-even after being told the truth, that you would never see her again. The doctors had gotten rid of any physical signs of the accident, but he could still see where the scars had cut across his face, even if no one else could.
No one had been able to get rid of the emotional ones, even after years of therapy with different psychologists and psychiatrists. When you were sixteen years old and behind the wheel of a car going seventy-five miles an hour-the reason your mom was dead-those scars ran deeper than anyone knew. Her birthday was only a few days away, and that always brought the guilt to the surface, even after all these years.
The pain in his head intensified, trying to shove the memories of his mother out of its way. He stumbled to the kitchen, the constant guilt he held onto for being alive when she was dead lashing out at him, and splashed cold water on his face. The liquid came back pink. He did it again and again, his fingers trembling, until the water ran clear. He couldn't find where the blood had come from. He grabbed a bottle of Advil from the cupboard and a can of Coke from the fridge to help wash it all down. Placing the can on the counter, he bent over and pressed the ice-cold aluminum against his eye until he saw stars. It didn't help, but it gave him a distraction as he fumbled with the lid of the bottle and poured three pills into his shaking hand.
Grabbing the can off the counter, he shuffled to the living room and stared at the clock on the wall, struggling to bring it into focus. His mom had bought the monstrosity only days before the accident. The minute hand was easily seven inches long, and the hour hand pointed just past what was supposed to be a Roman numeral four. Whoever made the clock didn't know much about Roman numerals; the four was represented by four Is instead of IV. It had always bothered him. When he'd pointed it out to his mother, she'd just laughed and said she hadn't noticed. The time was four thirty-five.
He dropped into a chair and cracked open the can, throwing the pills into his mouth and gulping the carbonated liquid. A hiccup followed the quick swallow, forcing the pills back up into his throat. He swallowed again. Soft drinks always made him hiccup . . . something he had inherited from his mom. It used to drive him nuts, but since she'd died, he just took it in stride.
Mail from the day before sat in a neat pile on the coffee table, brought in by the cleaning crew who showed up every Wednesday. They knew enough to make sure the pile was two inches from the edges of the table and perfectly squared. No one worked for his dad without picking up on his eccentricities. Darwin didn't remember the OCD being a big issue before the accident, but since then, it had gotten worse, and his dad's heavy load at work was only adding to it.
He put the Coke down, using a coaster to protect the wood surface of the table, and pulled the mail pile closer, hoping to find a letter from the university. He was in his fifth year of a bachelor's degree in physics at Princeton and was waiting for the confirmation of the completion of his internship at Quantum Labs. An internship wasn't normal procedure, but with his marks and his dad's reputation, he'd convinced them to treat it as an outside course. He'd planned his final year's workload on getting that letter, and they needed it before the year started. Summer was almost over, and still no letter.
He reached for the can, missing on the first try. Closing an eye to block the blurriness, he aimed for the can again before yanking his hand back with a soft cry. A vaporous cloud wrapped the Coke, a mist that moved and circled like a drop of blood in a glass of water. Fine gossamer threads spun outward from the mist before falling gently back into the swirling mass.
He leaned in to take a closer look, trying to focus on the amorphous image. The entire can looked like it was made of individual wispy threads. Brief streaks of color flashed through it, distinct from the uniform gray of most of the strands. He watched as they wove around each other, slipping through gaps and openings, but never becoming knotted or clumped, never resting, never stopping.
The effect was hypnotic. He moved closer, confused by what he saw, yet pulled in by curiosity. The mail was still clutched in his fingers, forgotten.
Suddenly there were two cans, each shaped by the translucent strands. Through them, he could see the brown liquid swirling, made up of hundreds of fibers of its own, and through that, the wood grain of the table. He blinked again and the image morphed into four cans, gauzy versions of the original. Each vaporous can made up of threads that continued to twine around each other.
He reached for the cans again, hesitating, holding his breath. He couldn't tell which one was the original and which ones were the copies.
Darwin slid his fingers into the threads, not sure what to expect.
Nothing. No resistance, no change in temperature. Just . . . nothing. His fingers moved through them as if they weren't there.
Had he fallen asleep? Was he dreaming? Hallucinating? The images, despite being see-through, looked so real, so life-like.
The gossamer strands changed again and he jerked his fingers back.
A ghost-like hand picked up one can, the sheer fibers lifting into the air as the can rose. The second can wobbled as another wispy hand banged against it, the threads suddenly interacting with each other. Coke spilled from the third can's mouth as it slammed onto its side, knocked over by another hand made out of the finest silk. Darwin stared at the fourth can, concentrating on what was happening to it.
The buzzing in his head stopped with a suddenness that left him dizzy and empty.
Silence poured through him, filling the space left by the constant noise. Pain seared through his eye again, stabbing into his frontal cortex.
He fell forward, his head landing with a thud on the coffee table.
Journey of Fear
Darwin woke with a start. He pushed himself up and dropped back into the chair. A pool of drool lay on the pristine surface of the table, slowly spreading toward the scattered mail. He lifted the bottom of his t-shirt and wiped it away. The single can of Coke sat where he'd placed it on the coaster. He laid his trembling fingers on it, gently moving them down the smooth metal sides. One part of his mind was sure he was going insane. Another part told him he had just been hallucinating-that everything he remembered was a dream induced by the headache and pills.
His head throbbed like something inside had snapped and broken off, leaving behind a jagged, gaping wound. The pain had moved from behind his eye to the back of his skull, spreading around the sides and over the top.
At least the buzzing was gone.
The oversized clock on the wall said it was nine-thirty. What the hell? His chest tightened, and he couldn't pull in a breath. Where had the time gone?
He picked up the scattered mail with shaking hands, taking another wipe at the drying drool. His dad would be pissed if there was any mess when he got home from another late day at work. He hated if anything was out of place. Darwin took a quick peek at the clock again, gently shaking his head in disbelief. Five hours gone! He straightened the mail back into the original pile left by the maids and grabbed a towel from the kitchen to give the table another wipe down.
He left the Coke can for last.
The can was warm, with not even a hint of sweat on the outside to show it had ever been cold. He fumbled as he lifted it off the table, and he could feel the liquid inside slosh around. He waited until it stopped.
What the hell had he expected, another episode? Maybe it was just a dream. He'd fallen asleep and imagined the whole thing. He would almost have believed it, except for the headache left from the incident outside this afternoon.
He used the warm Coke to wash down a couple more Advil before he poured the rest down the drain and tossed the can into the recycling bin. If the headache was still there in the morning, he'd go see his doctor. It had been years since he'd been there. Basically since he had left for university. He was pretty sure he was still a patient. Maybe he'd find a psychologist.
He'd have a talk with his dad as well. Now wasn't a good time, though; there was too much going on at his work, and Darwin didn't want to put any more stress on him.
Taking one more look around to make sure nothing was out of place, he went up the stairs to his bedroom and crawled into bed, hoping that by morning everything would be back to normal.
He wasn't going to hold his breath.
Darwin opened his eyes to the darkness of a New Jersey morning before the sun had a chance to come up. The opening riffs of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" filled the room just as his feet hit the floor. Five in the morning. He reached for his phone and turned off the alarm. He wasn't even sure why he set it anymore. The crippling episodes had started last week, and along with them had come the ability to wake up whenever he wanted to, as though part of him was attuned to time itself. He shrugged. It seemed some good always came with the bad. At least his headache was gone, and with it the buzzing. A creak outside his room told him his dad was in the hallway. It was followed by a knock on the door.
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