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11:46 p.m.


There! Jessica cried, pointing.

The road came into view, not much more than a pair of tire-wide ruts in the dirt. Theyd finally found a way onto the flats. She reached forward to take Jonathans shoulders as he made the turn, shivering again with relief that hed shown up when he had. Jonathan might be a pain about Flatland sometimes, but he was also the only one among the midnighters who wasnt crazythe only one who made her feel safe. The moments trapped in the car with a raving Melissa and a schizoid Dess, speeding away without him, had made Jessica pretty positive about that.

The razor-wire fence of Aerospace Oklahoma was a couple of miles behind them, the brightly lit construction sites visible across the dark badlands. Theyd had to drive all the way past it before finding a way into the desert.

Watch out for security, she said. They do all this top secret stuff out here.

Rent-a-cops, Jonathan muttered. Just what we need.

The car bucked on the uneven road, and Jessica let go of Jonathan and leaned back, bracing herself against the backseat. She glanced over her shoulder at Melissas headlights, half hoping the old Ford would have plowed to a stop in the loose sand. But the car followed, still close, like a determined bloodhound on their trail.

Jessica looked up at Dess in front, her face softly lit by the glowing readout of her device. She hadnt said much since telling them about Madeleine. Jessica wanted to talk to her, to make sure she was really okay. Of course, shed had two mindcasters messing with her brain, so maybe okay wasnt the word. But the moment the two of them were alone, Jessica had to say how sorry she felt. Shed been the one to reveal Desss secret. And then shed just sat there watching, too afraid to move, while Melissa had done that to Dess

The car slid violently to one side, its engine roaring as the tires lost traction for a moment on the sand. Loose stones pinged the metal frame underneath her. Jonathan fought with the wheel, and they bolted forward again.

Through it all, Jessica saw, Dess never took her eyes from the GPS receiver. Were almost at the flats, she said.

I can see them, Jonathan replied.

A moment later the car leveled out, suddenly riding as smoothly as if theyd found asphalt.

Welcome to the Bixby Emergency Runway, south end, Dess announced.

Jonathan floored the accelerator, pressing Jessica back into the seat. An expanse of moonlit white glowed before them, the salty remains of an ancient sea, as flat as a parking lot.

Melissas car screeched up behind them, then pulled up alongside. Through the rear window Jessica could see huge tails of dust rising from the two cars, white and crystalline, sparkling in the moonlight.

Does that thing have a clock? Jonathan asked Dess.

Accurate to within a millisecond, she said.

Good. Tell me when to brake. I dont want to go through the windshield.

Jessica swallowed. What?

We dont know what happens if youre riding in a car at exactly midnight, he explained. We might maintain our momentum when the car freezes. Or maybe not.

For some reason, none of us has ever volunteered to test the theory, Dess said dryly.

That damn first law of motion again! Jessica groaned. How far are we from Rex?

Dess calculated for a moment. Eight kilometersfive miles to you kidsand theres three minutes and twenty seconds left. We need to do ninety miles an hour.

There was a pause, then Jonathan said, Its floored and were barely making seventy.

Well be short by a mile point eleven, Dess said softly. And this thing wont work in the secret hour.

Well be close, though, Jonathan insisted, and well be flying.

Dess looked out the window. Looks like queen bitch has the scent.

Jessica followed her gaze. Melissa was pulling ahead.

* * * * *

Dess counted down from ten. Nine eight

Jessica checked her seat belt again, wishing they werent cutting it so close. They werent that far from the place, and whatever the darklings planned to do to Rex had to take some time. But Dess and Jonathan were hellbent on getting as close as they could before the witching hour struck.

And she had to admit that seventy miles an hour was eating up the distance even faster than Jonathan could fly.

Three two one brake!

She jolted forward and the car swerved, the tires letting out a shriek as they locked up on the salt. Jessicas seat belt bit into her shoulder, and a huge cloud of white rose up around them, blotting out the moon. The car swung like a fairground ride until the cloud filled the front windshieldtheyd spun 180 degrees and then some.

Before theyd skidded completely to a halt another jolt struck, as suddenly as if the cars tires had stuck in flypaper. A wash of blue swept across the white expanse, and the seat belt cut across Jessica like a knife, her head slamming against the backseat.

Then everything was still, an absolute silence fallen over the roar of engine and screech of tires.

Ow! Jessica cried.

What? Jonathan asked, turning around. I didnt feel anything.

Youre kidding, Jessica moaned. It felt like a bear trap had closed on her shoulder.

Must be an acrobat thing, he said.

Almost as bad as mindcasters, Dess mumbled as she unhooked herself, rubbing her shoulders and neck.

They piled out. Jessica coughed, tasting the suspended cloud of salt that swirled up from the cars distorted and frozen tires. She saw an equally motionless cloud ahead, marking where Melissas car had hit the wall of midnight.

You can fly us both, right? Dess said, hoisting the clanking duffel bag over one shoulder.

It wont be as fast, Jonathan said.

We need you, Dess, Jessica insisted. She wasnt leaving her behind out here. Take his left hand.

With Jonathan in the middle, they lined up facing the direction theyd been driving. The first jump went badly Jessicas push-off was too strong, which sent them spinning in orbit around Jonathan. They skated to an ungainly stop across the salt.

Start small, he said. Jessica remembered when shed first learned to fly, building up from easy steps to house-clearing leaps.

They pushed off again, a jump of about ten yards, then doubled it the next time into the air. Soon they were eating up the desert below them, headed toward the frozen plume trailing from Melissas car.

Thats not good, Jonathan said.

Jessica squinted into the darkness. What isnt?

Her dust trail isnt nearly as big as ours, he said. Its like she didnt His voice trailed off as their next leap took them through the stinging cloud of salt, a shower of needles that forced her eyes and mouth shut. When they cleared it, Jessica could finally see the car itself, a black shape on the glowing blue expanse.

She didnt, Dess said.

Didnt what? Jessica asked.

Brake in time.

A sparkling wedge spread out from the front of the car, a glittering spray of safety glass from the gaping hole in the windshield.

Twenty yards farther on, a dark figure was sprawled on the salt.

29 11:07 p.m. DARK ROADS | Touching Darkness | 31 12:00 a.m. CONCUSSION