Chapter 1

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At the street corner across from the university campus, Professor Laura Richards stood waiting for the light to change. She pulled out her percomm and thumbed to the message with the photo. The girl was twenty-two. The age and gender matched the other missing girls, but otherwise, Laura couldn't see what someone would want with one of her students. Lisa . . . yeah, that's her name. Laura looked into Lisa's eyes in the photo and tried to imagine what she was going through. Is she alive?

Students pressed in around her as the traffic braked for the changing light. A guy bumped her from behind—at around six foot four, he blocked the morning sun, and Laura felt the cool summer air on her neck.

Laura was shorter than most of the students, and her thin frame only made her look more like a student instead of a faculty member. She backed up to get out of the guy's shadow just as the light turned green. She let the crowd of students pass around her before crossing.

A black metal fence surrounded Benjamin Franklin University, except at the main gate where it joined a tall concrete wall. She counted more security guards than usual for summer term. Do they really think more guards can prevent another abduction?

After passing through the biometric scanner at the main gate, she gave a start at the sight of student protesters preparing in the plaza. Then she remembered, It's Saturday—protest rallies are only allowed on weekends.

She hurried to Ben-U's poli-sci building while keeping an eye on the protesters. There weren't many yet. One had a stack of signs and was passing them out. The guards were keeping their distance.

Inside her office building, the air conditioning brought more relief than usual.

"Laura! I can't believe you came in for this," said Professor Nick Hinkle when Laura entered the conference room.

She took a seat at the opposite end of the conference table. Large vidcomm displays covered one wall. "You said we had to come in person."

"Yup. How else can they drop water on your forehead?"

"Don't start, Nick."

"It's just such an honor. You never come in on the weekend."

"I'll do anything for these girls."

"Coming in on the weekend . . . wow, really above and beyond."

"I said don't start."

Hinkle sneered. "I know how much you like the demonstrations."

"We only have a few minutes until the police interview starts. Let's just sit and wait quietly for the detective to arrive. You can do that, can't you?"

"Interview? How about interrogation? Inquisition? You know they insisted we come here in person so they can look in our eyes. I'm sure they'll bring a lie-detector machine." Hinkle laughed when he saw her reaction.

Ignoring him, she pulled out her percomm and scrolled through her messages. Marian Lumière was asking for a ride home from a doctor appointment at 10:30. Laura tapped the screen, which displayed Saturday, August 11, 2040, 8:54 a.m. The interview won't take more than an hour. That'll work. Laura replied to her friend, confirming she'd be there.

Scroll . . . scroll . . . scroll. Nothing interesting. She put away her percomm and rubbed her arms; the air conditioning seemed especially chilly now.

The display screens glowed to life, showing two people. On the right was the dean of students. On the left was a man she didn't recognize.

"Thank you all for meeting on a Saturday like this," said the dean. "Let's get started. Detective, please begin."

"Thank you. Now, I just have a few questions—"

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