Chapter 21

Chronos Academy

1315 hours

Day Three

The screen, which stood about twenty meters high, didn’t interest Shama. It was blank except for the writing at its base: Landing site: southwestern edge of the Upcity launch site known as the toxic swamp. Location: longitude; latitude;temporal: 123497204140012.

The bot’s voice continued the countdown, “Three, two…”

General Mungo stood erect, waiting.

“One,” the bot said.

The whole auditorium seemed to hold its breath.

“Launch,” the bot finished.

Everyone jumped up, cheering.

By the time Shama rose, Mungo had already vanished.

Bazel, his face, pale with excitement, stood directly in front of the QuanTime. At first he just pulled on his long nose and muttered underneath his breath. But when he looked up, he seemed to remember that people were viewing him, and as Shama watched, his eyes clouded, hiding their intensity. A forced smile seemed to drain the last bit of emotion out of his face.

“Our Traveler will appear shortly on the flat screen,” Bazel said. His hooded eyes had gone inscrutable again, but just for a moment, Shama thought she caught a gleam of excitement there. This Probe meant to everything to him.

Although some of the kids remained standing, Shama plopped back down in her Flair.

“How long does it take?” Shama overheard Liberty ask.

“Chronos can’t predict Travel time.” Deza called over her shoulder. “That is, not

exactly.”

Liberty waved her away. “Don’t you have anything better to do than eavesdrop on us?”

Deza smiled. “Oh, but you’re so interesting.”

“I mean about how long?” Liberty said.

“Don’t you ever listen in class, Cadet Quence?” Deza said.

Gleer chided Liberty, “Your mother gave us the formula. It depends on lots of factors like weight, temporal distance.”

Deza spoke up, “Around five minutes.”

Tres snapped, “Would you all please be quiet?”

For once Shama agreed with Tres.

“The W.C. used a randomizer to choose our first landing site,” Bazel said,

“Ha!” Liberty said. “No way a trip to the toxic lake is random. The W.C. is up to something.”

“Didn’t you hear him?” Gleer said. “They used a randomizer. The choice has to be random.”

Aatur smirked at them. “So the W.C. says.”

“Our scenario calls for General Mungo to remain for one hundred and eighty seconds. His TTD—“

Bazel’s hooded lids pulsed. His mouth froze, mid-sentence, as if someone that the cadets couldn’t hear, probably this woman, eBana Razz, had scolded him.

Bazel cleared his throat and began again.  “Excuse the jargon, Chief of Staff Razz.”

He paused. “A TTD is a temporal tracking device. It is ionized to our traveler’s wrist as a precaution.” His confident smile revealed gleaming white teeth.  “It is impossible to dislodge.”

 

 

The Zone in the Future

Xt sat on the cyclestool behind the portal. Boss, I’m sending you another s-seg.

Xt had been feeding him five-minute clips from his daughter’s past. Anna had

taught Shama the song all right. She had sung it to Shama many times. But so far they

had found no evidence that Shama remembered it.

This s-seg doesn’t involve the song, Xt added.

What! The priority is the song, Barb thought. He drummed his fingers on the tablet in

front of him. Let the trees, the grass…

Trust me, Boss. I think you should watch this. Remember I told you how we found

Shama?

            You said you were scanning 2001 and found a feather from the future there. Despite himself Barb felt intrigued.

Xt ducked down behind the portal and disappeared from view.

In all honesty, Barb was glad to turn away from the complicated mathematical formula

that he had been working on.

Here we go, Xt thought. Fankenstein Pet Emporium.

As Xt spieled out the temporal coordinates, Barb looked at the close-up on the screen of

his O-BRAIN.

A girl squatted behind a counter. Her thick, black hair covered her back like a shawl. A

cybratom cage occupied the space above Shama. A sign next to the cage said, “Brizance Bird. The Ultimate Pet. Obeys Simple Commands.”

A laser ray shot out from an unknown source and fried a hole in the cybratom cage

above Shama. As if on cue, the girl popped up and stuck her hand through the hole.

His daughter’s grimy fingers closed around an egg.  Bands of bright purple,

green, orange, and pink striped its sides.

Shama’s eyes, two black stones in a face light-brown like his own, were fierce. A tough

kid, all right, Barb thought proudly as Shama resettled into her crouch behind the counter of the pet store.

“Heh, Nylon,” a man’s voice yelled. The voice sounded harsh, unpleasant, but

the Native was not shown on the screen.

“Someone’s here,” Barb heard the same man call.

As Shama turned in the direction of the man’s voice, Barb retracted the view until it

widened to show a Native, a male, wearing blue goggles. An ugly old-fashioned implant stuffed one cheek. The other implant had gone flat, giving him an imbalanced look. A clown except for the laser gun he held in his hand. He pointed the gun at…Barb’s daughter.

The Native looked straight at Shama, who crouched behind the counter. She

clutched the egg in one fist. “A kid.” The Native paused. He seemed to be trying to place Shama. “That slave for the old witch Poppers.”

His daughter a slave? What did that mean?

Shama jumped up and darted away.

The Native wearing the blue goggles, aimed his gun at Shama and started chasing her.

Although Barb had been trained to avoid emotional involvement in Native life, he felt his

stomach clench. He had to turn away from the screen.

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