The sign on the wall read Quarantine. No visitors allowed; still, Shama Katooee sensed a presence, people watching her. She could hear voices, so faint they sounded like thoughts, chattering away in her head. So faraway, they could be colonists on Venus.
She lay on the clinic bed, her long hair flowing at her sides. Her injury had its own name; Medtech Meez called it a concussion.
She cracked one eye.
The light from the moons fell through the glass ceiling and cast uneven shadows on the floor in the hallway. Her watchers stood around the corner, just out of sight.
As Shama struggled to wake, red, green, and pink flashed in her head, the colors of her pet bird, little Deenay. Then, she felt a tingle that swelled into a gentle vibration.
Outside the glass Quarantine partition, a woman rounded the corner.
Through half-closed lids, Shama recognized medtech Meez. Her face, a round soft pillow with a bump for a nose, looked unhappy. Her red hair stuck out like frayed fringe.
Shama started to reach for the pain-med button, but her hand, too weak, fell back on the bed. My head aches, she thought.
“I think she’s awake,” Meez’s voice echoed out of the Earbone Speakers embedded in the headboard of Shama’s bed.
Taking a step forward, a man joined Meez. Lieutenant Bazel stood stooped, and his pocked face smoldered with a fierce intensity. His cap tilted off the side of his head; its three stars glittered. “She looks asleep to me.”
Even stuck in this clinic, Shama wanted to please him, this man who had believed in her, had seen something special in her, and had invited her to leave her life in LowCity to attend the Academy. Even if he had sent her to a disaster site. Even if she had gotten a concussion there. She struggled to speak. “My head aches.”
Meez cast an I told you so glance at the Lieutenant, then looked at the communicator ionized to her wrist. “I’ll send you a mini-dose,” she told Shama.
A green light on the MedNow machine blinked, and Shama felt the icy cold medicine start to travel through her veins. Icy cold like the glass walls of the Zone. Like her insides while she Traveled.
“What happened?” Shama asked.
“She remembers her trip back,” Meez told Bazel. “But nothing about the Twin Towers.”
“I’ve read the reports,” Bazel snapped. “The medical team believes the concussion, not the Travel, caused her memory loss.”
“Oh,” medtech Meez said, lowered her eyes.
Shama remembered the most important thing. The thing that made her want to stay awake. “My bird,” she mumbled.
“She’s been asking about her pet,” Meez told Bazel.
Bazel moved closer to the wall. “Can you hear me, Cadet Katooee?”
Shama managed a nod.
“I’m sorry to tell you,” Bazel said. When he spoke again, his voice was somber, “Your pet died, Cadet Katooee.”
As a groan escaped her lips, Shama felt a memory stir of an explosion. Concrete tumbled down around her and then a beam fell. She had felt a sharp knock on her head.
As if he were talking to himself, Bazel added, “Her trip back proved that we Time Changers are right. Human beings can Travel without harming themselves or Time.”
“But who is she?” Meez said.
“Just a girl,” Bazel answered.
Before sleep wrestled Shama to the ground, a thought that wasn’t her own slithered through the back door of her mind… that I need to keep out of sight for a while.
Her eyes were brown, the same nutty color as her skin. Her hair was an unnatural red, like watermelon on hypersteriods. Her freckles in their messy clover pattern stretched across her fat cheek.
The test finished at last, Shama lifted her finger.
A nasal voice sounded inside her head. Without thinking, Shama repeated what she heard, “Lordy. Lordy. Relieve me of this abomination.”
Meez’s face flushed, then turned redder until her skin was as red as her hair and her freckles had all disappeared. “How did you do that?” she finally spoke up.
“Read my thoughts,” Meez accused her.
Shama shook her head. “I don’t know.”