A series of vibrating notes shot through the room, waking Bracken.
He jumped to his feet. Light shone around the edges of the door, and a shadow moved across the gap underneath. Bracken’s breath stopped.
The base notes grew into a rousing song, coming from the room beside him. Steel guitar twanged, the sound shooting through his head like tiny rockets.
Blinking and still unsteady from being so recently asleep, he grabbed his backpack and hurried out the door. At the same time, Jaz stepped out of the door beside his, holding a shotgun. She saw Bracken and lurched, raising the gun. He raised his hand, not immediately registering what was in hers.
“Hey. I fell asl—”
Jaz let out a strangled yell. The shotgun boomed.
Bracken shrieked and dropped to a crouch, then threw his backpack up at Jaz’s head. She staggered aside, and he scrambled past, galloping up the stairs. He burst into the shop, mind blank, ears ringing. The cafe was dark, empty. Some chairs were stacked on the tables. Somewhere in the background, water was running.
Bracken sprinted around the tables, hit the doors and streaked into the night.
His feet tangled in something soft and he fell forward, skidding to a stop on a woven rug. He was now in a small, brightly lit room. Steel guitar and bass pounded around him.
He struggled to his feet and spun in a circle, seeing walls covered in photographs, a large painting, a desk, a phonograph, a bed—and a door.
Bracken sprang for it and threw it open.
He was back in the basement.
Jaz stood in front of him, one hand raised to the doorknob.
They blinked, stiffened and yelled in sync.
Bracken shoved past her and streaked up the stairs again, this time knocking over chairs and jumping over tables between himself and the front doors. He hurled himself into the dark—
And smacked into a wall. He fell back, dazed, then pushed himself up, blinking hard. Red spots flecked his vision. He was back in same the little room, with the now-rumpled rug. He gasped heavily and twisted toward the door.
Jaz stood in the doorway, framed by the overhead lights, her blue hair almost standing on end around her flushed face. She grimaced violently and stamped her foot. “Oh, you are kidding me!”
“What is happening?!” Bracken shouted back. “Why can’t I leave?”
“What—” Jaz pressed her lips together and held up her forefinger. Pushing past Bracken, she went to the phonograph and took the needle off the record.
…I know I can’t be free
but those people keep a’ movin’
And that’s what tortur—
“What is happening?” Bracken asked again, his voice cracking and ears ringing. Then, seeing the shotgun still in her hand, he bristled. “You shot at me!”
“You jumped out at me while I was holding a gun,” Jaz snapped. “What did you think would happen?”
“I didn’t think you’d try to kill me!”
She rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t going to kill you. It’s loaded with blanks anyway.”
“Blanks?” Bracken blinked. “What do you even have a shotgun for?”
“Security reasons.” Jaz closed her eyes and breathed deeply before turning back to face him. “Why are you still here?”
“I was waiting for Kajaani to leave.”
Her jaw sagged. “In the basement?”
Jaz hauled her jaw back up and pointed at the stairs. “There’s a sign! Employee only!”
“I didn’t mean to stay so long! I was tired and fell asleep.”
Jaz threw the gun onto her bed and folded her arms. “Sure. You happened to find your way into her room and conveniently fall asleep until after midnight.”
“You didn’t even mention—” She spun away and yelled at the ceiling. “You could have said something, you know!”
“I told you about Kajaani when you asked!”
She snapped back around. “I’m not talking about Kajaani!”
“Look, I’m sorry! I just needed a place to stay…”
Jaz breathed in sharply, then closed her mouth and pivoted toward the stairs.
Bracken followed. She went behind the bar and he stood just outside it, watching her. The sound of water he’d heard earlier was from the the faucet at the sink. It gushed into a nearly full bucket beneath it. Jaz stuck a silver kettle under the stream. While it filled, she unloaded the dishwasher with her other hand. When the kettle was full she set it on a heating element, shut off the faucet and put the rest of the dishes away. While the kettle rumbled, getting on to boil, she set the bucket in a space beneath the sink.
A steaming pitcher of milk sat in front of the espresso machine. She emptied it in the sink, rinsed the pitcher and set it with its mates on a shelf below the machine. She glanced at Bracken, rubbing her hand distractedly through her hair, and wandered over to a counter lined with tins of tea. She pulled a clear teapot from a lower shelf and measured leaves into it, muttering softly.
Bracken watched her, trying to ignore the tremble in his legs.
“I haven’t had to explain this for a while,” she said pensively, shaking the leaves in the bottom of the pot.
Bracken sat on the nearest stool before his legs could give out altogether. “Did you make that loopy thing happen?” He gestured in a circle with his hand.
Jaz chuckled briefly. “No. That’s the shop. It does that when it resets.” She saw his mouth form a question and added, “Moves to another world.”
Jaz opened a tin and scooped yellowish leaves out with a silver measuring spoon, dumping it into the teapot. “You know what a carousel is, right?”
“The Defiant is like a carousel. Except instead of it turning and everything else staying put, it stays still and everything outside moves around it.”
While Bracken processed this, Jaz lifted the steaming kettle and filled the teapot, then started a small brass stopwatch that was sitting nearby.
Three minutes of silence later, she strained tea into the mug and brought it to Bracken.
He took it, still trying to work up an intelligent response, but only managed: “That doesn’t make sense.”
Jaz poured some tea into her own cracked mug which she took from atop the espresso machine. “Okay—The Defiant is like a train. It goes along a sort of circular track, stopping at seven points along the route, like a train at stations. Only instead of stations, The Defiant stops at different worlds. We left yours at midnight.”
Bracken turned to the windows. The panes were black, as if they had been painted over, giving the impression that The Defiant floated in limbo. Bracken shivered and turned back to his tea. He looked up from the mug cradled in his hands to find Jaz watching him.
“…train stations,” he said, regurgitating the last thing he remembered her saying.
She nodded. “Yeah. Seven. The Defiant stays in each place for twenty-four hours and then goes to the next. So the good news is, we’ll come back around to your world in a few days.”
“So I’m only trapped temporarily.”
She nodded again and sipped at her tea. “Yeah. Just a week. When we come back to your world you can leave the shop like normal and go back to your life of crime and photography.”
“Looking on the bright side, you get a reprieve from your sister for a week.” Jaz yawned and set her cup down. “I need to rest for a couple hours before we open. You can stay in the spare room while you’re here.”
“Thanks.” Bracken tried the tea and found it quite good. “Whose room was it, by the way?”
Jaz didn’t seem to hear him. She rinsed the teapot, returned it to its shelf below the counter, then crossed the workspace and turned off all but the small lights over the counters. “You’ll like where we’re going tomorrow. Tuesdays are fun.”
“Tomorrow is Friday.”
“In your world it is. The Defiant runs on a separate time schedule. Your world is Monday. Tomorrow’s is Tuesday.” She saluted him with her raised mug. “Welcome aboard.”