Chapter 1: Wait, what?

You know that moment when you round a corner too quickly, and your whole world goes into slow-mo? It's like your very own movie, as some unforeseen obstacle looms before you and your mouth stretches into ungodly shapes, and you can hear yourself going, "Oh, shiiii – "

Well, that never happens to me.

One minute, I'm running from my best friend Vader; the next, I've leapt slap bang into a door and am spread-eagled on the floor, staring at cracks in the ceiling.

I blink; once, twice, and then roll my eyes around to make sure they're still in their sockets. I can hear Vader thunder round the corner and skid to a stop somewhere near my head. His pockmarked face pops into my vision - not the most pleasant of sights, let me tell you - and he says, "Dude, what happened to you?"

"I fell," I say needlessly.

"You look really out of it." There's a shuffle, and then he's snapping his fingers on either side of my head. "Hellooo. Earth to Eli."

"Get your acne outta my face," I grumble, and shove him to one side so I can sit up. "I think I ran into a door."

As is to be expected, Vader bursts into his trademark wheezing guffaws. "You what? I thought you tripped or some shit, but you ran into a door …" And then he descends into mirth that renders the remainder of his sentence unintelligible.

"Shut up." I kick him over. While he scrabbles around on the aged wooden floor and complains in that nasally voice of his, I examine the door that apparently leapt out of nowhere to hit me in the face. "Vader, was this here before?"

He spares it a glance before shrugging. "How the fuck should I know? This is the first time I've been in here. I'm gonna go call Jackson to pick us up."

"No," I groan, snatching my fingers away from the aged surface of the door. "Don't call Jackson. He's a prick."

"Hey, that's my brother you're talking about."

"And he's a prick."

"Yeah, he really is. Anyway, I'm gonna call him."

"No - dude - what did I just say - " But he's already hopped over a pile of splintered wood and disappeared, dialing a number on his phone as he goes. I turn back to the door and sigh. Loser. I guess I'm not one to talk, though - I'm usually sitting right beside him on the couch as we marathon sci-fi movies and pig out on mountains of junk food. At least I'm not the one who stole my name from Star Wars.

That's right, Vader's real name isn't Vader. It's Patrick. I tried to point out that he has the same name as the dude who played Captain Picard from Star Trek, but he still flips his shit if you call him anything other than Vader. It's too bad his parents didn't name him Luke.

Although, 'Luke Lewinski' just sounds lame.

But I digress.

Vader and I are exploring - wow, 'exploring'. Using that word makes it sound like we're about twelve. We're not, by the way. I'm seventeen, while Vader's half a year younger and therefore still sixteen. Doesn't really make a difference, though, 'cause we still act like five-year-olds most of the time. Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, right. So Vader and I were checking out this old, dilapidated mansion a couple of blocks down from his place. I spend most of my life at Vader's house, 'cause now that my mom's gone my dad spends most of his time comatose in front of the TV, which doesn't make for very lively entertainment. It's been nearly five years since mom up and left, and I guess unlike me, he never really got over it. In my case, I was good at forgetting things, and we'd never really been close. My third grade teacher, Ms Krystal, had been more of a mother figure to me than that woman had. When I found out she'd skipped town, I just shrugged and went to Vader's place for dinner. Business as usual.

Normally, at this time of day, we'd still be at Vader's playing video games until our brains rot into pools of mush. Today, however, Mrs Lewinski (who insists I call her 'Ma' despite the obvious lack of relation) was entertaining visitors from out of town, and as a result we were shooed out to 'go play'. After slouching around for a while, kicking stones and bitching about homework, we'd vaulted the gate and made our way into the house.

"It's like that episode of Doctor Who," Vader kept saying. "You know, where Sally Sparrow finds the Weeping Angels …"

I just ignored him, something that I've gotten very used to doing in the seven years we've been acquainted.

Vader still hasn't come back from his phone call, so I turn the doorknob and the entrance to the bathroom swings open easily.

It's one of those old-fashioned deals, with a rusty sink, fancy toilet bowl and a bathtub complete with clawed feet. The place is surprisingly clean, considering the rest of the rooms we've come across so far are often falling apart or overgrown with vegetation. This bathroom, however, seems to have retained its relatively pristine condition, which suggests that the door hasn't been opened in a long, long time.

I nod approvingly at the surroundings, taking in the fancy taps and ornate mirror. Just for kicks, I skip over to said mirror and write 'HELP ME' in the thick layer of dust coating its surface - a little message for anyone who happens to venture in here next. Then I add a stick man with a sad face, which kind of ruins the whole eerie effect, so I rub it out with my sleeve.

"Aw, shit." I blow on the sleeve to get the dust out of it. Vader's mom is one of those people who's allergic an abundance of dust particles - it sets her sneezing like crazy - and while I'm often able to troop into their place covered in all manner of strange substances (mud, soft drinks, on occasion blood), I doubt she'll let this pass.

And then I turn, and see that there's a naked girl in the bathtub.

My imagination launches into overdrive. Is this a mannequin? No, she looks way too realistic for that. She's pretty young, and entirely submerged, eyes closed and long silver – I kid you not, fucking silver – hair drifting around, hiding most of her body.

I run through the long list of sci-fi movies I've seen. Terminator? Unlikely. Alien? I hope not. Random girl who decided to take a bath in an abandoned mansion at the wrong time? Maybe, but who in their right mind would do that, and how the hell did she hold her breath for so long?

There's only one option left. She must be some sort of preserved corpse. This is a dead body in a bathtub. I am staring at a dead chick. A. DEAD. CHICK.

I'm about to whip around and leg it out of there, screaming like a little girl, when she sits up.

"HOLY SHITFUCK WHAT fuuuckk – " I say, or something along those lines, jumping about a foot in the air and running for the exit.

Which has somehow sealed shut behind me.

For the second time that day, I bounce off the door and onto my butt.

That's okay, I'll just yank at the doorknob - Wait, what do you mean there's no doorknob?

You heard me. There's no doorknob. I'm scrabbling at a flat wooden surface, trying to get some purchase in the gap between the door and wall. It might be possible, I guess … if I had the longest fucking claws on the entire planet.

Which, needless to say, I don't.

I spin around and flatten my back against the door, hoping that Bathtub Girl won't kill me, eat me, or possess me - or any combination of the three. Her eyes are freakishly pale, and she looks like she's never seen a day of sunlight in her life. I kinda wanna ask what she's doing in a bathtub - is it just so she can pop up and scare the everliving fuck out of nerds like me? But I can't. 'Cause I'm too busy being scared shitless.

Bathtub Girl stands up, water cascading off her slim body, and I notice a significant lack of clothes. (Re-notice? I mean, I noticed it earlier, but that was before she came alive and jumped out of the water and practically gave me a stroke.)

"You're naked," I croak, finding my voice at last.

She blinks lazily and climbs out of the tub, dripping everywhere. Her thigh-length hair - which is silver, by the way, did I mention that - is sopping wet and covers most of her body, but even so my brain is screaming 'NAKED GIRL!' Good thing the oddness of the situation overshadows this - for all I know, Naked Bathtub Girl could be a zombie. Ohhh, fuck.

"Don't eat me," I whimper, but she's already advancing on me, alabaster hands reaching out and grabbing my -


Oh, okay, that's not so bad.

And then she slams my head against the door and it gets a lot worse.

"Oh god!" I cry, flailing everywhere. "What are you doing? What the fuck do you want?"

"Give me your shirt," Bathtub Girl demands, her pale eyes roaming furtively from side to side. Her voice is low and brisk.

I stop my flailing for one moment of complete inanity. "Wait, what for?"

She just exhales loudly and begins to yank my long-sleeved shirt over my head with surprising strength.

"Okay, okay!" I push her off and comply, throwing the shirt at her when I'm done. Then I renew my attempts to open to the door, all to no avail. "VADER!" I scream hoarsely. "Can you hear me?"

"Quiet," Bathtub Girl says. She's pulled my shirt over her head - it's pretty long even on me, and falls nearly to her knees. As I turn back to her, she bats me to one side effortlessly and plunges her fist through the wood of the door with the same ease as snapping a toothpick. Reaching through the newly created hole, she grabs a splintered edge and yanks, bringing about half of the door with her. Then she tosses the piece into a corner of the bathroom, ducks through the gaping hole and opens the door for me from the other side.

She jerks her head, gesturing for me to follow. "Come on."

I stumble out into the hallway. My eyes are open so wide they're starting to water. "Hold up," I hear myself saying. My own voice sounds tinny and distant. "Who are you?"

"My name is Nova." She turns her head smoothly to either side, looking up and down the hallway. "Where do you live?"

"Uh, couple streets over - wait, what were you doing in the bathtub?"


A shiver goes down my spine. Jesus, like that's not creepy. "Waiting for what?"


Another shiver.

Nova opens her mouth again, but then there's a tramping noise, and Vader reappears. "Dude," he says, tucking his phone back in his pocket. "Jackson is such a - whoaa."

"This is Nova," I say quickly. She nods at Vader, who has turned a lovely shade of puce.

"Wow. Well. Um. Neat hair?"

She just stares at him. The aforementioned hair is still wet, and soaking rapidly through my favourite sweatshirt. In addition to that, I was only wearing one layer - come on, it's summer. It's insanely hot outside. As a result, my scrawny bare chest (well, not that scrawny, I guess. Compared to Vader I'm a veritable Arnold Schwarzenneger) is now exposed to the world. All too late, I realize what our attire (or lack thereof) and ruffled appearance looks like.

"Oh, no," I blurt to Vader, who's begun to get a weird glint in his eye. "We weren't, uh - it's not like that - I just, I found her and - "

"I live with Eli," Nova says. I have no idea how she knows my name, but I go with the flow 'cause enough crazy shit has happened today that it doesn't seem like a really big deal anymore. Except the 'living with me' bit. Yeah. We're gonna have to discuss that - but first, I need to convince Vader that I didn't materialize some dripping wet half-naked girl out of nowhere in his absence.

"She's, uh, she's my cousin. From, uh, Russia."

Vader's expression is disbelieving. "You have a cousin from Russia."

"Distant, distant relation, but yeah. Basically."

"Why's she wearing your clothes?"

I open my mouth and twist it around for a moment before saying, "She fell."

"In the bathtub," Nova adds very unhelpfully. I would glare at her, but I'm afraid she'll punch through me just like she did the door, so instead I yell obscenities in my mind.

"Knew you couldn't have gotten any," Vader mumbles. He still seems kinda weirded out, but just shrugs and leads the way out of the mansion.

Five minutes later, Jackson arrives with great fanfare and screech of wheels as he speeds down the road towards us and then spins his car into a neat stop. Vader folds his arms and huffs something suspiciously like, "Showoff", but when Jackson pulls his sunglasses down an inch and beckons lazily to us, he's the first to clamber into the passenger seat. Nova hops in the back, and I follow suit, pressing myself against the side door so I'm as far away from her as possible.

Jackson peers at me through the rearview mirror. "Yo Eli, where's your shirt at?"

"It was hot," I say lamely. Thankfully, though, enough guys in our neighbourhood go around shirtless this time of year that Jackson doesn't pay anymore attention. Instead, he switches his focus to Nova.

"Hey there," he says, waggling his eyebrows. She stares back at him impassively. "Where you from, babe?"

"Delta Minor," Nova says immediately. There's a moment of silence as the other inhabitants of the car shoot each other quizzical looks.

"She's my cousin," I say quickly, before Jackson can get too curious.

"Damn. You never told me you had a hot cousin."

"Hshmphbjablk," I say, hoping that it'll pass for coherent speech. Fortunately for me, Jackson's attention has - yet again - been captured by something else, namely his little brother's attempts to put on a seatbelt.

If there's one thing Jackson loves more than charming girls (he's quite adept at that), it's his car. So as Vader fiddles with the seatbelt and tries to get it across his chest, his brother snaps, "The fuck are you doing?"

"I'm trying to get my seatbelt on before you kill us all, you asshole."

Jackson turns a corner at breakneck speed. "You doubt my driving skills, Patrick? You, Mr Can't-Drive-For-Shit?"

He does have a point. Vader tends to suffer from extreme cases of anxiety whenever he gets behind the wheel of a vehicle. That's why Jackson never lends him his car; knowing him, his little brother would probably have a panic attack halfway to the destination and drive it right into a building. Whenever we go anywhere, we either have to hitch a ride or walk – I don't have a car, and I'm too stingy to waste money on transportation (in extreme cases, there's a rickety old bike parked by my place that I 'borrow') and Vader can't steer for his life.

He knows it, too, but he continues to whine. "Don't call me Patrick. I don't trust your driving skills."

"At least I can drive without turning my car into a heap of scrap metal, Patrick." Jackson stretches out languorously, resting one arm on the back of the passenger seat.

"Get your fucking hand off my seat," Vader snaps promptly.

"Why? Does it insult your masculinity?"

"Fuck off."

"That's a wonderfully creative retort, little bro. I might have to write it down."

"Fuck off!"

And so on and so forth. The Lewinski brothers can't stay in a contained space for five minutes without arguing.

I'm jerking my knee up and down by the time we near my place, and fiddling with my fingers in my lap with a sort of manic energy. It's just one of those nervous tics that I get when I'm really freaked out. For example, when a strange girl with insane strength busts out of a bathroom and then demands I bring her home with me.

"C'mon," I grunt the moment the car stops, and yank Nova out so fast I'm sure we're a blur. I tug her through the entrance (which is unlocked) and then up the two flights of stairs it takes us to get to the apartment I live in. Vader and Jackson have a large house, which is nice for them since they're rich, but even when mom was around we could only ever afford an apartment. Which is fine by me, anyway. Houses have always given me the creeps - too much empty space and whatnot. Plus, you always see horror movies set in spacious multistoried homes, not teeny apartment complexes with wafer thin walls. Trust me, ghosts aren't interested in a place where old Mrs Wermicker from next door hobbles over every five minutes to see if you want some warm peach cobbler.

Dad doesn't pay any attention as I barge through the front door (that's unlocked, too) and practically shove Nova into my room. His eyes are glued to the television screen, and he only looks up to give me a quick nod, seconds before I slam my room door shut.

"Okay," I say, breathing far harder than necessary after that exertion. "now explain."

Nova stands in the middle of my room, soaking in the surroundings with the same blank expression she's sported ever since she got out of the tub. "Visuals are a 95 percent match. Confirm identity."

Words spill forth from me like water breaking from a dam, tinged with hostility and a fair amount of fear. "What? Who the fuck are you? What are you doing here? What did you mean waiting? Why were you waiting for me? What the hell kind of maniac waits in a bathtub?"

Her hand reaches out, just a blur to my eyes, and I feel a sharp sting on one arm before it is retracted and she inspects her fingers. "DNA verified as Eli Reever, full name Eli Carson Reever, approximately 17 years 163 days and 15 hours of age. Father: James Reever. Mother: Eleanor Carson."

I can't think of anything to say, except: "You didn't answer my questions."

"Sit down, this may take a while," she says. When I don't budge, she places four fingers on my chest (which I realize is still bare) and maneuvers me till the back of my knees hit the edge of my bed and buckle.

"Um," I say. "Nova?'

She cocks her head to one side inquisitively.

"Can I put a shirt on first?"

A/N: Come on now, 'fess up. Who else does the 'random babbling as a replacement for actual words' thing? Oh, just me? Okay then.

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PS: Don't own Terminator, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Arnold, etc etc