Chapter 13: Reversible Dynamics

I'm awake and moving as soon as I hear the telltale scrapes and beeps of the garbage trucks making their sluggish progress down the street. The sun might not be up, but that sound means it's morning, and morning means the beginning of a new sort of life. I tug my hair into a ponytail.

"Get up. Come on."

The trash men whistle and shout to one another, gruff and unintelligible, punctuated with the squeal of machinery. Hep. Yo. Hep. Yo-oh.

I splash cold water on my face in my bathroom and then rummage for a relatively clean sweater in the pile next to my bed. I toss pieces of Edward's clothing at him as I come across them.

"It's the middle of the night." His groan reaches me from somewhere beneath a pillow. One lone foot pokes out beyond the edge of my comforter.

"It's almost five. We need to . . . study." I press my fingers to his ankle, knowing he'll hiss and scramble. "Remember?"

"Okay. Okay," he says, stirring the sheets with his legs, sitting up, yawning.

I stand with my fists on my hips, trying to force my grin into a stern expression. "Dude. How can we speed things along, here?"

He blinks and smirks, dragging a pillow onto his lap. "Er. I might need a minute."

"Oh." I frown. "You know . . . my grandmother embroidered that."

He raises his eyebrows. "Possibly for this exact purpose. Have you thought of that? It's not like wake-up boners were just invented this century."

"Well, no, but—it's just . . . delicate. What are you going to do?" Miss Violet lifts her sleepy head at this, whining at my flustered tone of voice.

"Everybody calm down. This is clearly a modesty pillow, not a humping pillow. Humping pillows are more oblong. Duh."

I pinch my lips together, torn between cracking up and freaking out. "Can you stop screwing around? We have work to do." I turn around and busy myself with reorganizing my backpack and double-checking the safe deposit box papers. I feel strangely giddy to see him so lighthearted this morning. It feels different from before—like it's really real and just for me. Not just for show.

After a moment I hear him shuffle into the bathroom, where he continues to chatter at me through the door.

"Charlie around?"

"He worked the overnight. He'll be home at seven," I say. "So that gives us, like, ninety minutes. We can compare notes for a while, be gone before he gets here, work a bit from the coffee shop, and then take care of our errands."

"Mind if I use the shower?"

"Go ahead. Towels are in the cabinet."

"Hollywood or navy shower?"

"Wha . . . what?"

"Long and hot, or quick and cold? How much time do I have?"

"Quick and . . . hot. Whatever you want. Just quick."

"Coast guard shower. I can work with that."

I roll my eyes. I understand less and less how his brain works. I guess I also like it that way, which makes me mutter at myself in annoyance. "Get a grip, Swan."

I head downstairs, leaving Miss Violet to howl along with the sound of him whistling in the shower.

+x+x+x+x+

We show up at the bank with our paperwork concerning Mrs. Cope's safe deposit boxes. We knock out our signals with the SatCom zapper, then go in to meet with the teller. There's a procedure, and at least some of it seems legit. We manage to avoid a paper trail, whether thanks to some prearranged setup or merely lax systems, I can't say.

In one box is everything we'd seen the previous week: sentimental snapshots, a few moderately valuable brooches and earrings, and a few hundred Euros. In the second box we find a sealed envelope containing four perfect sets of identity papers—one French and one Canadian package for each of us, a coded message, a handful of BioSeal canister microchips, and something I can't quite believe I am seeing: wrapped in a plain tea cloth like it's a loaf of banana bread, a gold bar.

Edward methodically pockets the small loose items and seals the documents inside the Mylar-lined pouch in his jacket before turning his attention to the gold. "Cool. This looks like a doorstopper you can buy from Sharper Image," he says.

"Um. I guess we could pretend it's one of those. No one would suspect."

I watch in silence while he heaves the bar onto the floor to prop open the room's door.

He glances at me, grinning. "Heavier than it looks."

"Yeah." It should be about 27 pounds. Around the same as three gallons of milk, one extra large Thanksgiving turkey, or two bowling balls. "So . . . I'm assuming you scanned the trading tickers when we walked through the bank lobby?"

He nods absently. "Gold is up 3.2 percent."

"To?"

"Seventeen-sixty. Per . . .ounce?"

"Per troy ounce. That's 1,760 dollars, by the way. Not $17.60."

"And how many troy ounces in this thing?"

"They vary. But the standard is 400."

I watch his head tilt as he does a rough calculation. His fingers swirl in the air and his lips move. And I watch his eyes widen when he gets to a number. He looks at me, his face pale.

"That's, like, $700,000."

I nod.

"Gulp. Okay. Let's get this up off the floor."

+x+x+x+x+

We sit in a clump of trees near the water tower in Volunteer Park and decode the message. Well, Edward sits. I pace. It's private here, and no one is around, but we work silently nonetheless.

The lens decoder reveals the note's optically encrypted script, but that itself is a type of code—words and coordinates mixed with numbers and letters that point us to pages, lines, and syllables in our tattered Hemingway book. Bit by bit, we piece together whole sentences. What emerges is helpful—a supplement to and confirmation of what we've pieced together on our own. The locations of places where Aro is stockpiling materials. The names of people—some of them within the Volturi organization—who have been critical of Aro and might be among his targets. The coordinates of a safe house. The chemical formula for what might be a block for the cancer accelerant—an antidote, in a sense. I kneel down and bounce in place until he maps out the process he'll use to synthesize it.

Edward memorizes the information, then we burn up the scraps. I stand up again and stamp the ashes into dust.

He rolls onto his back next to where I'm standing and snakes a hand up my calf. "Hey, you. We learned in advanced bio that memory is enhanced by making out."

"You did not." I kneel down next to him and hover my face over his.

"Okay. Well, let's say it's a theory of mine. We should test it."

"Like you need help."

"I do. Help me."

So I do.

+x+x+x+x+

The week passes by in a blur. We stay cooperative and docile whenever Aro contacts us, all the while observing his movements and putting our own plans in place. We take our SATs and two of our AP tests. I choose a dress for prom. Edward spends extra time in the science lab under the pretense of prepping for the Volta League statewide meet. I join Charlie for lunch between his EMT shift and the museum, and he introduces me to his ride-along—a fire department recruit in training. Emmett.

"Hey," the guy says.

"Hey," I say. "I know you. You work at Beth's."

"Every Tuesday and Thursday," he says, grinning. His dimples and biceps pop. "Until I get my full-time placement, anyhow. Come on by anytime. Bring your friends."

I nod. "My blonde friend, especially?"

He blushes. "You're observant."

"When it comes to Rose, I am. You're . . . someone she'd like."

I'm sort of surprised I just blurted that out. I think about Emmett's guileless, open face as he ambles away. I don't think he's any sort of operative. If he is, he's a hell of a performer.

"Lucky coincidence," Charlie says.

"Yeah," I say. "Lucky."

+x+x+x+x+

"Dude. Your crumbs are all over the steering wheel." We're halfway to Spokane, where the Volta League's statewide meet is being held. I've taken over driving for the eastern half of the mountain pass, because Edward has never seen the way the valley looks when the sun casts shadows from the west.

"Allow me." He reaches over and swipes at the wheel with his jacket cuff.

"How can you eat that? It looks disgusting."

He shrugs. "You don't know until you try it."

"This is dark chocolate Chex Mix?"

"Mm-hmm." He's enjoying the view already; this light really is perfect.

"Mixed with Cheetos?"

"No. Cheese puffs."

"Oh, excuse me."

"Vocabulary tip, Phoenix: puffs are baked, not fried." He smirks and licks the powder from his fingers. "Though I guess you should be eating nothing but nuts and berries right now. Brain food."

I see movement reflected in the windshield as he turns his head toward me in time to see me wincing.

"Sorry. I mean, for the sake of appearances."

I put on a good show for the team, but the truth is we will not be allowed to win the state meet. Winning state means going to nationals, and that's more spotlight than Aro likes for us. I have instructions to tank it.

"It's okay," I say. "I just feel bad. They're working so hard."

I check my rearview mirror and spot Angela following behind us in the rented van, with Ben in the passenger seat hamming it up for her entertainment. Eric is probably asleep on the bench behind them.

"I think Ben is on the ride of his life, win or lose."

"Hmm."

Edward's smile fades, and his eyes narrow as he peers into the windows of cars that pass us by. I know he's scanning faces, storing them away for future reference, just in case. It's his conditioning. I do it, too. We've both been tracking a couple of cars that might be tails.

We used to know who our allies were. It was comforting. Simple. We had an appreciation of the dangers we faced but also confidence that Aro's people were looking out for us. This situation we're in now . . . it isn't just that we've switched allegiances. It's a constant struggle to keep up the Sundial façade.

Normally, if we noticed a tail following us, we'd discuss it openly—maybe even call it in. But now . . . it could be someone from the resistance. They intend to help us, but they're amateurs, and we don't know them. We can't make a false move. Not today. Just thinking about it makes the skin on my neck feel clammy.

The circle of trust is smaller now. For me, it includes one person. I open up my palm to him, and he grasps my hand with exactly the sort of solid, unwavering strength I need.

"I'm gonna smell like chocolate cheese dust now."

"My favorite." His smile and voice are light, but his hold on me is the heaviest thing in the world.

+x+x+x+x+

When we finally pull into the hotel parking lot, it's getting dark, and I'm half in a trance from being on the road so long.

Edward leaps over a suitcase when Ben, loading a bellhop's cart, reaches for my backpack. He catches it just as the weight makes Ben stumble.

"Dang, Bella. Whatcha got in there, a bunch of bricks?"

"Those are my free weights," Edward answers for me. "I started a program."

"Oh, sure, sure," Ben says. He rocks from heel to toe, subtly trying to make himself taller. "I jump rope myself when I'm on the road. Gotta keep the routine portable."

"Good point."

I follow Edward up to his room, and before the rest of the guys from his Science Team show up, we silently transfer the gold to the safe. We're not exactly sure what to do with it, besides carrying it around with us from place to place. It's not like you can just walk into a bank and trade a gold bar for cash without attracting notice. In fact, once these things leave the custody of a commercial vault, it can be hard to get them appraised at full value.

There's an old fixer who works at a casino on the Coeur d'Alene reservation across the Idaho border. Edward's match isn't until the afternoon, so he'll drive out to the casino tomorrow morning while I'm at my meet. Aro thinks they're going to discuss adapting the Snchitsu'umshtsn language for encryption purposes. But Edward has a particular skill at using obscure languages. If there's a way to turn this gold into untraceable money, he'll find out.

My phone starts buzzing with texts from Rose and Alice. I get Rose to admit she wants to go back to Beth's when that cook is working. Alice is game for anything as long as her bass-playing man is away on tour.

I make myself scarce before the chaperones start making rounds. Coach Clapp will put strips of tape on our doors as a way to monitor whether we leave our rooms after lights out.

+x+x+x+x+

Charlie texts me before the meet with best wishes and more apologies for missing the show. I'm happy he got called in to cover someone's absence, because I don't want him to see me lose the match, even though—or maybe because—I'll know I'm capable of winning it.

Edward's Science Team blows their chance at nationals, too. We all go out for milkshakes. Angela and Ben rehash the lightning round obsessively; Ben is convinced there was a malfunction with my buzzer, but I know better.

"I was having an off day, I guess," I say. "Sorry, guys."

We have a Sundial skills refresher course in the high plains near Spokane the next day. It's pouring rain out, so we drill on martial arts and knife throwing indoors. Edward spends an hour coaching Bree on using BioSeal canisters. He has her test everything – food from her plate, an eyelash dusted from his cheek, dirt from the soles of her shoes. When it comes to the latest biohazards, he demonstrates the testing protocol, then clenches his jaw while she repeats his movements exactly.

For the training module, BioSeal canisters have small pieces of fruit preserved inside—strawberries, mandarin oranges—so that the digital readout is backed up with memorable sensory feedback. There's nothing like watching an apple slice turn to grey liquid in an instant to give you a healthy fear of unknown substances.

When she gets ready to test a new designer weapon called the Benito Molecule, he stops her. "There's no antidote for that."

"What about my gloves?"

"Not good enough."

"I won't know, when I'm testing it, if it's this thing or not. Right?"

He chews his cheek for a moment. "Treat everything as if it is. But I'm not letting you touch this."

Instead, he watches as she handles a mystery substance with extraordinary care. She does it perfectly, managing her airway, mucous membranes, skin contact, bystanders. She nods coolly when the digital readout flashes. Antiperspirant, domestic.

At lunch, Bree surprises me by scribbling a note on a napkin. How does she even know to do that?

You were wrong about something, it says.

I furrow my brow.

SatCom. He's sometimes listening, not just when we pinch it.

I suspected. Didn't know for sure, I reply.

Sometimes he has me do it. Spot checks.

I nod. This is interesting. I stifle the impulse to ask her if there's a schedule to it.

I heard you guys talking about private things. Sex stuff. Sorry. I didn't mean to.

Her writing is wobbly now, and I look into her eyes as I crumple the napkin and shove it into my pocket. I know what she probably heard. I can't stand that she knows it; I can barely stand knowing it myself.

I wrap her skinny frame in my arms as Edward catches my eye from across the room. I think he can read my lips as I whisper into her ear. I don't care who hears. "No Honeypot jobs for you, either. Not ever. I promise."

+x+x+x+x+

We're back to a normal routine at school the following week, and I'm getting nervous about timing. Something is brewing.

In recent days, Aro has had us create a travel diversion to prevent a convention of epidemiologists from meeting, which might mean someone in that group poses a threat to his plan. Meanwhile, Edward is convinced that the BioSeal canister microchips from Mrs. Cope's safe deposit box are programmed to recognize Aro's bioweapon. This makes the menace seem that much more real and urgent; it exists, and it might be necessary for us to identify it.

He doubles up his efforts to synthesize the compound that was spelled out for us in the most recent coded message.

+x+x+x+x+

We're all out at Beth's eating pancakes when the first shoe drops. One minute I'm sneaking glances at Rose making time with Emmett over the counter, and the next minute I feel Edward's elbow in my side. He's staring at the old-fashioned television bolted to the wall. Centers for Disease Control, I hear the announcer say. And thought to be a severe flu with abnormally swift spread to the lymph nodes and beyond. The B-roll footage they show is of people wearing masks back in the days of swine flu, but the coverage says only the elderly and infirm seem to be at risk.

We can't react in this setting—in front of Emmett and our friends—so we don't. Not outwardly, anyways. When we stand to leave, Edward pulls me close to his chest, cool as can be, only I feel his heart hammering against his rib cage in time with mine.

+x+x+x+x+

AN: I'm told the real Beth's (Diner, not Cafe) in Seattle would never have a TV, so please forgive me taking creative license on that point. And I might as well ask the same of any immunologists re: what is about to come. I tried to do my research but I'm sure there are things I will oversimplify. Thank you all for reading! This story benefits greatly from the time and wisdom of the lovely happymelt, midsouthmama, and faireyfan. - "thanks!"