Dean Perbile, Kardo and Tres, huddled together next to the old-fashioned screen showing General Mungo, unconscious in the past.
When he spotted Shama, Perbile called out, “Hurry up, Cadet Katooee. ” He motioned for her to join them. “Cadet Quence, go back to your seat.”
“But…” Liberty said.
“I said!” Dean Perbile repeated, his Wander Eye fixed on Liberty.
“Thanks, Liberty,” Shama muttered.
“Good Flade,” Liberty said and squeezed her arm.
When Shama reached the group, Tres cried, “Dad.”
Shama looked up at the flat screen.
“The Native,” Dean Perbile said, his voice full of distrust and dislike.
A man in a dirty camo uniform had appeared. Lines ridged the Native’s narrow face. A rope slung around his waist kept his filthy pants from falling down.
A bot trudged next to him. One eye hung out of the bot’s socket. The bot looked oldfashioned, just metallic body parts thrown together, not human like the bots of today. Its mouth was a gash. Where a nose should be, the metal was indented. Its one beady eye resembled a discarded laser light bulb. And the other dangled on its stem.
Underneath the picture, the text said 1.5 kilometers to site.
“We’ve got no time to lose. Let’s go, Cadet Katooee,” Perbile said.
Perbile began heading toward the exit, but Shama couldn’t take her eyes off the screen.
The Native’s eyes, small and squinty, reminded her of Nylon’s. The bot had a tangle of wires hanging from its chin that almost, but not quite, looked like a beard.
Shama’s heart pounded against her chest.
On the wall behind the stage, a rectangle of glass shimmered.
As Shama started after Perbile, she heard a patter of footsteps behind her and a girl’s voice.
“I’m coming, too,” Tres called.
Three skeletons registered on the X-ray walls as they hiked up the stairs to the meg-lev station. Shama, the smallest, followed Perbile, the tallest, on their way to the Control Center. One figure, Tres, had already reached the upper landing.
Shama wasn’t paying much attention to the Snooper walls or to Tres’ cries for them to hurry up. She was daydreaming about the time she had chased her bird up this stairwell. Her Brizance had led her to the Control Center, and then, she had Traveled to 2001.
“Bazel has messed up,” Perbile said.
Shama felt the locket shift on her chest. She pulled it out from underneath her shirt and gazed down at her mother’s photo.
As she had done so many times before, she squeezed the locket.
She loosened her grasp, and gazed at her mother’s photo. Looking into her mother’s smiling eyes, Shama began to hum. Then, her mouth formed words, and she started singing, “Let the trees…” Perbile was several steps ahead of her, his back turned to her. She raised her voice. “The grass, the lakes return.”
The locket seemed to be growing warm. Shama missed her mother. Deenay too. Thinking about the two she cared most about in the worlds, she gripped the locket. She pressed hard.
Shama felt a flutter in her head, an explosion of color. Dee, is that you?
The Zone in the Future
A red pinpoint lit up next to the AK channel on his O-BRAIN, and Barb realized Shama had activated her thoughtcommunication device.
General, Xt thought excitedly.
I know, Barb thoughtback.
Barb watched his O-Brain screen light up with a scene.
Shama hiked behind Dean Perbile inside a stairwell.
What are you going to say to your daughter, Boss?
Years of watching Lieutenant Bazel’s reckless experimentation had made Barb cautious. Xt, I don’t know.
Are you all right, sir? Xt said.
Yes, Barb said, remembering Anna’s golden eyes. Such an unusual color. Golden like the sun in the days before the pollution clouds.
Xt’s laughter interrupted his daydream.
When Barb looked down again at the screen, he found the scene in the stairwell changed. A thoughtviz of a Brizance bird flew around above Shama’s and the Dean’s heads.
Look at her, Xt thought. She’s managed to use the thought projection function.
Shama stood frozen on the stairwell. Her mouth hung open; her eyes were round.
You forget how little these people know, huh? Xt thought.
Barb burst out laughing.