Perbile paced the stage, speaking urgently into his communicator.
The brightly lit digital clock in the lower part of the old-fashioned screen no longer ticked off the seconds.
As Shama watched Mungo, her stomach twisted. She had been lucky when she Traveled. This could have happened to her.
Gleer sat with her head in her hands.
When Shama nudged her, Gleer peeked out. Her eyes were redlined.
Gleer almost smiled when she spotted the new group of men and women in the Control Center. They huddled around Bazel and Pink-Branch. Wearing med suits, all of them looked serious and determined.
“Those doctors will take care of Mungo,” Gleer said excitedly. “Once they get him here, he’ll be all right.”
In front of Shama, without a word to anyone, Tres stood and began threading her way through the Flairs into the aisle.
Kardo followed. He reached Tres and linked his arm through hers.
Deza leaned over Liberty’s chair. “I’m glad he’s going with her.” She paused. When she continued her voice sounded choked. “He may need to say goodbye.”
Shama said, “What are you talking about?”
“In Time Keeper’s Guide to the Universe,” Deza said. “Markut Raotj maintains that if a Traveler dies in the past, his offspring…”
Deza’s voice dwindled away as they all gaped at Tres.
The gigantic holofigures on the stage dwarfed both Tres and Kardo. But Tres looked truly miniature, her head barely grazing Kardo’s shoulder.
Shama felt hollow as if a giant shiver had just left her, but none had. “So Tres might disappear?”
“I don’t know,” Deza said. She added, “No one does.”
Clutching Kardo’s hand, Tres climbed onto the stage.
The Dean motioned for the two to wait. He was speaking into his communicator.
Shama could tell by the rapid way the Dean’s mouth moved that he was arguing with someone.
When Tres lay her head on Kardo’s chest, Shama pictured Kardo’s long arm draped around nothing. Just air.
“If General Mungo dies and Tres goes away, will all of us just forget about her?” Shama asked.
Deza shrugged. “Maybe. Or it might be as if she never existed in the first place. Markut Raotj says…”
No longer listening to Deza, Shama whispered, “That’s the worst.”
At least if you died, you were someone once. If you never existed, you weren’t even real. No better than a hologram.
Stepping away from the medical group, Bazel faced the audience. “Excuse me, Madame Chief of Staff.”
Shama stared at the flat screen where General Mungo still slouched against a tree. He looked alive—barely.
Bazel swallowed hard before he began. “We’ve run into a problem. The General has
lost his TTD. Since the device is bonded with his DNA, its throwing off our retrieval mechanism. The QuanTime is poised to bring the TTD back, not the General.” He cleared his throat and continued. “We are in the process of…developing… an alternate…plan to…retrieve General Mungo….”
Shama gasped. While she hadn’t believed all the guff about Chronos being a top-flight military outfit, she had expected the group to be more prepared.
“No plan,” Liberty burst out.
Gleer shook her head. “They have to have a plan.”
On the flat screen, Mungo slumped closer to the ground. He seemed to be growing sicker.
Bazel’s dark face appeared solemn.
Shama guessed that the Lieutenant was listening to eBana Razz. Maybe she was screaming at him. Or maybe she had one of those cool, soft voices that hurt even more.
“That TTD was a part of Mungo. According to the laws of physics, this shouldn’t have happened,” Bazel said.
Shama wasn’t sure what did it. Mungo so ill. Or Bazel sputtering like a typical adult helpless to solve a problem, but she found herself rising to her feet.
“Where are you going?” Gleer asked.
“To talk to Perbile,” Shama said.
“Why?” Gleer said, tugging at the back of her shirt.
“I’ll come with you,” Liberty offered.
“I would come but…” Gleer’s voice trailed off.
“It’s O.K., Gleer,” Shama said.
“Where are you going?” Deza and Rain said together.
“She Traveled,” Liberty said, as together they started down the aisle. “They need her.”
Shama overheard Deza say, “This doesn’t make sense. She’s just a kid.”
“Lieutenant Bazel.” Standing on the stage next to Kardo and Tres, Perbile’s voice bellowed out of the Earbone speakers to the far corners of the auditorium. “I tried to tell you this morning about my findings, but you refused to listen. Now you must hear me out.”
“Madam Chief of Staff, that’s Dean Perbile, Head of the Academy. Not one of our
scientists.” Then in a sharp tone, Bazel continued. “Dean Perbile, get off this line. You don’t have TP clearance.”
As Shama and Liberty threaded their way to the front of the auditorium, a new holoscene lit up on the right-hand side of the stage. A woman sat at one end of a conference table. She wore a purple and silver embryonic suit.
“e-Bana Razz,” Liberty said.
Razz trained her lavender eyes on the audience. Although small of stature, she sat up straight and tall, like a queen. Except for the woman’s lips which were prune-like, a common side effect of the early anti- wrinkle crèmes, her pale brown skin was unlined. The woman’s cheeks boasted the most expensive kind of implants, barely noticeable.
Ten guards each carrying weapons, lined up on the other side of the conference room, guarding Razz.
Liberty let out a low whistle. “HARM guards.”
These guards were the top ranked soldiers in the W.C.’s arsenal. Few ever appeared in public or on the holoimage tube so Shama studied them now. They carried themselves rigidly like bots. Low slung caps hid their eyes. Lore said that the guards trained twenty years to earn the right to carry their advanced weapons.
“Colonel Pink-Branch gave me clearance,” Perbile said.
Bazel’s hooded eyelids snapped open.
Pinkie, looking down, shuffled his feet.
“Lieutenant Bazel,” Razz said. Her voice was sharp and authoritative.
Bazel threw back his shoulders and straightened the puffy cap on his head.
“I want to hear from the Dean,” Razz said. It was an order.
Bazel let out an exasperated sigh. He cast a quick frustrated glance at Pinkie but Pinkie avoided his gaze.
“Madame Chief of Staff, the student who Traveled attends the Academy,” Perbile said. “An orphan. She’s my responsibility.”
Liberty tugged on Shama’s sleeve. “Woo. Ho.”
As one fifth year leaned toward the aisle, her eyes bugged in surprise. “They’re talking about you, Shama.”
Shama could feel a vein in her head start to pulse. She felt hot all-over.
An announcement boomed out of the speaker system. “Cadet Katooee report to the front of the auditorium immediately.”
The Zone in the Future
Barb closed his eyes in order to avoid distractions.
He had to force himself to ignore the map on the wall, the tiny island of yellow surrounded by the sea of black.
Barb had failed to come up with a plan. In eight minutes, Barb and Xt would both plunge into severe sleep deficit mode. After running twenty different calculations, he had decided that if he intervened in history and activated Shama’s O-BRAIN himself, he ran a risk of fracturing Time. So his daughter was turning out to be just another false hope after all.
Your hunch was right, Xt thought, bringing Barb’s attention back to the present.
With his eyes closed, the Sergeant looked vulnerable.
Feeling a pang for the Sergeant, Barb automatically muted his thoughts. Their entire generation had had no opportunity to start a family under normal circumstances. They had all lived with death as the norm of death for younger generations.
Your daughter’s broca is highly developed.
Xt’s thoughtvoice reminded Barb that he had allowed his mind to wander again. He forced himself to return to the matter at hand.
I knew it, Barb answered. Even though Shama’s O-BRAIN wasn’t activated, he felt the
electricity of her thoughts mingling with the queasy feeling that had been his constant
companion for the last twenty-four hours.
You won’t believe how Shama was trained.
Barb had been thirty-five years old when thoughtcommunication was invented. Although for the young, the skill of thoughtcommunication came as natural as breathing, Barb had to attend a six month intensive course. Such a powerful experience, he still remembered his instructor’s name, T.C.I. Best.
Try me, Barb thought.
You know those toys that youngsters play with to develop their brocas, Xt thought.
Barb had seen kids playing with thoughtcommunication toys, many in the form of birds, and he wasn’t so tired that he failed to grasp Xt’s meaning. Shama had stolen an egg. The egg had hatched into a Brizance bird. That bird was used by a thought communication instructor as a device to train Shama.
But who set this up? Barb thought.
We don’t know, Xt thought, blinking rapidly.
Xt had entered the information overload stage. His body language told Barb that he was unable to process existing data.
As Barb felt his own internal processor calculate, then recalculate, and finally confirm the meaning of the data he had entered, he sucked in his breath.