Chill Factor



Chill Factor

My name is Joanne Baldwin. I control the weather.

No, really. I was a member of the Weather Wardens... You probably aren't personally acquainted with them, but they keep you from getting fried by lightning (mostly), swept away by floods (sometimes), killed by tornadoes (occasionally). We try to do all that stuff. Sometimes we even succeed. It's amazingly difficult, not to mention dangerous, work.

I had a really bad week, died, got reborn as a Djinn, had an even worse week, and saved the world, sort of. Except that in the process I let a kid go who may be a whole hell of a lot worse than just a few world-scouring disasters.

Oh, and I died again, sort of. And this time I woke up human.

At least I still have a really fast car...

Chapter One


Chill Factor

The sky overhead was blue. Clear, depthless, cloudless blue, the kind that stares back at you like Nietzsche's abyss. Not a cloud in sight.

I hate clear skies. Clear skies make me nervous.

I ducked and leaned forward again, trying to look straight up from the driver's seat through the most tinted part of the windshield. Nope, no clouds. Not even a wispy little modesty veil of humidity. I leaned back in the seat and adjusted my hips with a pained sigh. The last rest area I'd spotted had been a broken-down, scary-looking affair that would have made the most hardened long hauler keep on truckin', but pretty soon cleanliness wasn't going to matter nearly as much as availability.

I was so tired that everything looked filtered, textured, subtly wrong. Thirty hours since I'd caught three hours of sleep. Before that, at least another twenty-four of adrenaline and caffeine.

Before that I'd been on the road, driving like a madwoman, for three weeks, poised on the knife edge between boredom and panic. In a very real way, I'd been in a war zone all that time, waiting for the next bullet.

I was desperate for a bathroom, a bath, and a bed. In that order.

Instead, I edged a little bit more speed out of the accelerator.

"You all right?" asked my passenger. His name was David, and he was turned away, soaking up the sun that poured through the side window. When I didn't answer, he looked at me. Every time I saw his face, I had a little microshock of pleasure flash down my spine. Because he was gorgeous. High cheekbones, smooth gold-kissed skin, a round flash of glasses he didn't need but liked to wear anyway as protective camouflage. He wasn't bothering with disguising his eyes just now, and they flared a color not found anywhere in the human genome... warm bronze, flecked with orange.

David was a Djinn. He even had a bottle, which currently rested in the pocket of my jacket, cap off. And that whole three-wishes thing? Not accurate. As long as I held his bottle, I had nearly unlimited power at my fingertips. Except it also came with nearly unlimited responsibility, which isn't the supersized bowl of cherries it sounds.

He didn't look tired. It made me feel even worse, if that were remotely possible.

"You need to rest," he said. I turned my attention back to the road. I-70 stretched on to the horizon in a flat black ribbon, stripes faded to ghosts by the merciless desert sun. On either side of the car, the landscape bristled with more spikes than leaves-Joshua trees, squatty alien cacti. To a girl from Humidity Central, also known as Florida, the thin, dry air seemed too light to breathe, so hot it scorched the lining of my lungs. And it was all blurring into sameness, after days of playing cat and mouse out here in the middle of nowhere.

"Chill Factor"

"Oh, I'm just peachy," I said. "How are we doing?"

"Better than we have," he said. "I don't think they've noticed us yet."

"Yet." A sour taste grew in the back of my throat, not entirely due to the lack of toothbrush and minty freshness. "Well, how much farther do we have to go?"



"Miles or time?"

"Just spill it, already."

"We just passed a town called Solitude. Six more hours, give or take." David leaned back in the passenger seat, still looking at me. "Seriously. You okay?"

"I have to pee." I fidgeted again in the seat and glared at the road. "This sucks. Being human sucks, dammit." I should know. I spent a semi-glorious, spectacular, brief period as a Djinn. And I'd never had this embarrassing need to pee in the middle of nowhere.

He kicked back