Paranormal Misdirection – Dima Zales, Anna Zaires

WITH FLUFFSTER AT MY SIDE, I review the map-meets-Venn diagram on my phone for what feels like the hundredth time. Then I tell him about it, and he agrees with my assessment: depicted on my screen is a path through the Otherlands. A path that will take me to Rasputin—my biological father, whom I’d finally spoken to in Headspace. “So you’re really going to go after him?” Fluffster asks in my head. “Yes,” I say. “As soon as I can.” Fluffster sits up on his haunches. “It’ll be dangerous.” “I know. But I’m going anyway.” The chinchilla sighs in a very human-like fashion. He knows me well enough to realize that his fantasy of me living at home like a shut-in is just that—a fantasy. “Who do you think is torturing him?” he asks. “If we knew that, we might be better prepared to deal with it.” “Sadly, I have no clue,” I say, a shudder rippling through me as I recall what I saw and felt in Rasputin’s memories during our Headspace joining.

Even now, my knee aches with ghostly pain from the torturer’s excruciating blow. “All I know is that he’s my father and he’s suffering,” I say. “And though he thinks he deserves it for abandoning me at the airport, I’m not about to abandon him.” I’m going to save my biological father, and in doing so, I’m going to meet him—a prospect that fills me with a jittery mixture of fear and excitement. “I still wish you wouldn’t go, but I understand why you want to,” Fluffster says. “And though this might be selfish, I’d like to meet him myself. We knew each other once, when I was his cat, and since I got some of my memory back, I’ve thought about him from time to time.” “Oh yeah, of course,” I say, grinning at the thought of Fluffster as a cat. Standing up, I start heading for my bedroom door, adding over my shoulder, “I have to tell Felix about this.” “He and Kit left to take Ariel to rehab,” Fluffster reminds me.

That’s right. They’re going to Gomorrah. They mentioned that at breakfast—which now feels like a lifetime ago. Well, since Nero excused me from work today, I might as well put my free time to good use and explore what would happen if I entered the first world on this map. A combination of things I learned at Orientation and seer intuition tells me that going into these worlds might be tricky—but that’s why it’s so nice to be a seer. I don’t have to actually risk my hide when I know a threat is coming. Instead, I can do a little vision-based reconnaissance. Explaining my plan to Fluffster calms him a little, and he goes to play with Lucifur— Rose’s cat, who’s now our feline mistress—while I get ready to leave. A few minutes later, I exit my apartment, and as I approach the elevator, my seer intuition sends a tingle of warning. Crap.

Is someone about to try to kill me yet again? No. I don’t think it’s that. A part of me even has an idea of what the issue is, but I better check to be sure. With my finger on the elevator button, I concentrate, evening my breathing. A moment later, I find myself floating in Headspace. As I look around, I realize that I’ve gotten so fast at this process that I don’t even feel the seer lightning going into my eyes. If I channeled my intention correctly, the pyramid-like shapes that surround me by default should show me my near-term future. Judging by the music they emit, they’re not scary, which is good, as I didn’t really expect them to be. Here we go. I reach out to the nearest one and fall into a vision.

I RIDE the elevator down and exit the building through the front door. “Excuse me, miss?” A huge guy in a bespoke suit—without a Mandate aura surrounding him—steps into my path. Warily, I stop. “Mr. Gorin asked me to take you anywhere you need to go.” He nods at a limousine parked nearby. “Where are we headed?” “Actually, I’m just going for a stroll,” I lie, frantically thinking up a way to ditch this unwanted distraction. “I guess I don’t mind a nice walk,” the guy says. “Where are we headed?” Damn it. I can’t take him with me to the gates hub at JFK.

Showing that to a non-Cognizant would probably cause the Mandate to kill me, but even if not, the guy will undoubtedly report to his boss what I’m doing, and Nero might puzzle out that I’ve discovered the map —something I’m not ready for him to know yet. I FIND myself back on my floor, my finger still on the elevator button. It’s as I suspected. Nero replaced Thalia with some rent-a-guard, and I won’t be able to shake him once he sees me. Well, as it just so happens, there’s another way out. Grinning at my deviousness, I take the stairs and exit the building in the back—where the super takes out the garbage. The ploy works. No one stops me. I summon a ride with my phone. If I hurry, I might even catch up with Kit, Ariel, and Felix before they enter the gate to Gomorrah.

Sadly, I don’t come across my friends at JFK, nor do I see them in the hub. Oh well. That’s not why I’m here anyway. My target is the yellow gate. With great trepidation, I approach the start of the path to my father. I’m not really going to go right now, alone and unprepared. But I can see what would happen if I did go in—similar to what I just did with Nero’s guard. At least I hope I can. Convincing myself to enter the gate takes a bit more effort than telling myself to exit my building—especially given what Hekima told us about the dangers of the Otherlands at the last Orientation. It takes a while, but eventually, I believe I’m about to step into the gate.

My foot practically itches to step forward. That’s when I go into Headspace instead. The ellipsoid shapes that surround me now are scary—proving that I did the right thing by doing this via a vision before going for real. Overflowing with excitement, I reach out to the nearest shape.

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