The Academy was organized around a rotunda with hallways branching out like spokes. The door to hallway G stood open.
Shama stopped underneath a sign etched into the glass wall: Dean’s Office. Next to it was the eye with a slash though it, and the cautionary message that seemed to be everywhere in the Zone:
Anti-spying surveillance is operational at all times
Dean Perbile waited by the door, frowning at his communicator.
Shama had gone by the Mess Hall and gotten a snack—soy chips. Tasty, but not nearly as good as the chips in LowCity. To avoid the lecture that she knew was coming, she spoke up first, “Sorry. I tried to hurry but I had to—”
Perbile interrupted her, “Save your excuses.” He paused. “I’m making an announcement at Lights Out; the TimeProbe is scheduled for this Friday.”
Shama fought back her disappointment. “Does that mean I can’t go to LowCity?”
“You’re set for tomorrow morning. A lifter taxi will pick you at 0630 hours.” He shook his finger at her. “Don’t be late.”
Shama didn’t like getting up that early. “I won’t be.”
“Although you don’t always act like one, you’re a cadet at the Chronos Academy. You can skip assembly, but not your first class.” Perbile paused and took a deep breath. “When you get back, I have a minor request. Something I want you to do for me.”
There was always a catch, Shama thought.
“It’s the only thing I can think of…” Perbile mumbled. “On your return.” His voice had regained its bossy tone. “Go straight to the Assessment Center.”
“What for?” Shama said.
“For a full EMS body scan.”
“Does it hurt?” Before he could correct her, Shama added, “Sir.”
“Not at all.”
In the barracks, Shama slouched in her comfortable bed, propped up against thick pillows and gazed at her tablet. With her finger, she highlighted her homework assignment in a thick bar of yellow: Read Chapter One of Time Keeper’s Guide to the Universe but then, her mind wandered.
She was traveling to LowCity. Tomorrow!
She wanted to go by her hut and retrieve her mother’s locket, ask Poppers about Anna, and then, stop by teleschool and surprise Jeep and Mycia. She’d try to find what Nylon and Easypawn were up to. She knew that they’d be watching for her.
Something scratched the wall outside.
Shama looked up in time to see the outline of a light gray door against the background of a dark wall. She sensed rather than saw a presence on the other side of the wall.
“Heh, Liberty. Come on in….” Shama called out, as the wall vaporized, and the door appeared. She had never seen anyone manage to break into a dorm room before.
Liberty, sporting her trademark grin, stepped into the room. She wore a green body- builder’s suit dotted with buttons for blood pressure and heart rate.
“What’s the code to the door?” Shama asked.
Liberty put her hands on her hips. “Forget about that. How did you know it was me?”
“I don’t know,” Shama said. “I think my concussion messed up my head.”
“That’s spooky,” Liberty said.
Liberty pointed at the dark tablet that Shama held in her hand. “And now you can read without the back light?” She glanced at the night sky visible through the glass ceiling. “If you haven’t noticed, it’s cloudy tonight.”
Shama followed her gaze. Clouds still covered the natural moon and most of the A-moon. The only part of the A-Moon’s ad that was visible was, “You,” written in green letters. She was about to explain that she hadn’t been studying, only staring at nothing, when a shrill blast rang, the ten minute warning for lights out.
“Better go,” Liberty said. She pressed her thumb to the wall, and it started shimmering into transparency.
“Do you have to?” Shama said. Her little bird was gone. After three weeks at the clinic with no one to talk to but Meez, she was lonely.
“Don’t want the bed sensors to pick me up as missing,” Liberty said.
Another thing Shama didn’t know about this fancy Academy. “What are bed
“The bed’s wired to pick up your weight,” Liberty said. “Where did you sleep at your
“At home, I slept on a cot,” Shama said, grinning. “A plain cot.” She patted her luxurious bed covered in a bedspread made of Puzz, the softest fabric in the worlds. “If you ask me, this is a funny military academy.”
“I know.” Liberty laughed. “Maybe Chronos was a military academy at the beginning but all we’ve done for forty years is view the past on some fancy screen. Our teachers tell us to be ready, but why?” She paused. “Nothing ever happens.”
“What do they think you’re watching for?” Shama asked.
Liberty rolled her eyes. “In case some dictator gets a QuanTime and goes back and steals all the gold from Fort Knox.” She paused. “Or enslaves some people in history. Or steals the Mona Lisa.” She shrugged.
“Sounds far-fetched to me,” Shama said.
“Me, too,” Liberty said. “But you can see why we all got so excited about your trip.” She grinned. “You made Mungo and the Time Keepers look foolish and Bazel and the Time Changers into heroes.”
Shama nodded. Of course, if a kid could Travel…
Although the door in the wall was ready, Liberty cocked her head studying her. “Where do your friends on earth think you’ve gone?”
Good question. “I don’t know,” Shama said. “In LowCity, people just disappear.”
“They’re probably worried.”
“Perbile is letting me go back tomorrow morning,” Shama told her. “To get my identity wand.”
Liberty laughed. “It’s on your nightstand.”
“I know,” Shama admitted. She glanced over at the black wand, the length of her forearm with the nick near the top. “I wanted an excuse to see my friends.” She shrugged. “And do some other stuff.”
“Sometime, I want you to tell me about life on earth.”
“I can’t,” Liberty said. “See you tomorrow when you get back.”
“You just came to show off,” Shama said.
As soon as Liberty ducked out, the exit grew darker.
“I impressed you, didn’t I?” Liberty’s disembodied voice wafted through wall, nearly solid again.
“Come with me to LowCity,” Shama called after her. But she doubted whether Liberty heard her.
The Zone in the Future
General Barb La 4 G heard footsteps approaching his office and blinked to store the article he had been reading in his mental filing cabinet. As Sergeant Xt 3 P stepped through the security mist, Barb blinked a second time to shut off his internal processor.
At sixty-one, Xt was only two years Barb’s junior in age, but several stations junior in rank. He stopped on the outskirts of Barb’s office.
More bad news, Barb thought, as a wave of shivers ran up his spine. But it was hard to see how the news could get worse. Sixty years ago today, General Mungo had died in the past. His death, out of Time, was known in Chronos’ circles as the Time Bomb. Unless Barb’s team acted, models predicted that everyone born after the Time Bomb, was going to die in the next twenty four hours during the worst bout of Mad Hat the worlds had ever known.
“My apologies for interrupting you, General,” Xt said.
Old-fashioned speech remained the protocol for confidential, face-to-face communications, outside of the Control Center, the only totally secure environment in the Zone.
“But what I have to tell you is urgent,” the Sergeant continued.
As Barb had, Xt had invested in the Trustworthy design, big features, wide eyes, sculpted cheek bones. Yet on his smaller frame, Xt’s face looked odd.
Barb narrowed his eyes to set his features into one of the thirty poses allowed by Trustworthy. What the manufacturer called its Skeptical Look.
“On a routine scan, we found something extraordinary,” Xt said. He flexed his wide eyes in a vain attempt to prevent them from sliding into the sly mode.“General, we think this girl was born out of Time. ”
“Out of time?”
“Like the legend.”