A warp in time, p.1
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       A Warp in Time, p.1

           Jude Watson
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A Warp in Time

  To all the kids in the band


  Title Page


  Newsline: Utqiaġvik, Alaska

  1: Javi

  2: Molly

  3: Anna

  4: Yoshi

  5: Molly

  6: Javi

  7: Anna

  8: Yoshi

  9: Molly

  10: Javi

  11: Molly

  12: Yoshi

  13: Molly

  14: Javi

  15: Anna

  16: Molly

  17: Yoshi

  18: Molly

  19: Javi

  20: Molly

  21: Anna

  22: Yoshi

  23: Molly

  24: Javi

  25: Yoshi

  26: Anna

  27: Javi

  28: Molly

  29: Yoshi

  30: Anna

  31: Molly

  32: Javi

  The Game

  About the Author


  Townspeople in this northernmost city in Alaska reported a strange sighting earlier this week. An otherworldly light in the sky was observed in the northeast, according to several persons who witnessed it that afternoon.

  “I was walking my dog, Pokey, and I saw it light up the sky,” Bert Tremundo said as he exited Mab’s Café. “It was like a bright column reaching up into the clouds. Or maybe down. Hard to say.”

  “We had to look away it was so bright,” said MaryAnn Beeks, the owner of Mab’s Café. “We see a lot of strange things in the sky this far north, but this one took the salmon cake.”

  The sighting prompted a flurry of tweets in this Arctic city, as well as calls to law enforcement.

  “You’d think folks would get used to the northern lights, but they don’t,” Sheriff Gene Toomer said. “We get calls all the time, mostly from tourists and crazies getting all spooky hoo-ha on us.”

  “I know what northern lights are—I’ve seen ’em enough times,” William “Bootlace” Jones said, when told of the sheriff’s comments. “Somebody should do his job instead of calling people names.”

  The United States Navy characterized the phenomenon as falling “space junk,” which most likely splashed harmlessly into the Arctic Ocean.

  The smoke was gone. It had been there, a plume reaching into the sky, and now there was just endless gray. Javi felt hope drain from his body. They had been low on food rations for so long now—if you could even count sour candy as food—that he wondered if they had hallucinated the smoke.

  Had they imagined the music as well?

  That had stopped, too, as soon as they stepped into the forest. A high, piping noise like a flute, mingling with deeper, mournful notes. Then silence.

  “Birds,” Yoshi had said. Always the first one to squash a hopeful sign, always the last one to get a joke. It was lucky he was incredibly brave and saved people, Javi thought, or else he’d be completely annoying.

  There had been a burst of Japanese from Akiko and Kira, but when they all looked to Yoshi to translate, he’d just said, “They agree.”

  “If they ever offer you a job at the UN as a translator, the world is in trouble,” Javi had said.

  Yoshi grunted in reply, but Kira had grinned at Javi. She didn’t speak English, but he could tell she understood a good burn.

  “Ready?” his best friend, Molly, asked, in the lead as usual.

  Not really. Javi shifted his feet. He was supposed to be her deputy. Her second-in-command, her backup. Right now he felt like backing up. All the way back in time to the moment before they all boarded the plane in New York so that he could yell Stop! as soon as their feet hit the Jetway.

  Aero Horizon Flight 16 was supposed to have been the start of an amazing adventure. The Robotics Club at Brooklyn Science and Tech were on their way to prizes and glory at the Robot Soccer World Championship in Tokyo, Japan. Go, Team Killbot! Javi had been so excited he could barely eat the big pancake-and-egg breakfast his mom had made him.

  His stomach lurched. He’d forgotten how empty it was. Don’t think about food. It just reminds you of home.

  Instead of adventure, he’d gotten disaster. The plane had broken apart in midair, the roof peeling back like an anchovy can (don’t think about food). Javi still remembered his terror, how even squeezing his eyes closed hadn’t shut out the strange bright light that had invaded the cabin. That light seemed to judge him somehow, to choose him, to save him—and doom the hundreds of other passengers who were sucked out of the cabin.

  Finally, the plane had crash-landed—except it hadn’t really crash-landed, as Molly had pointed out. They had seemed to glide down, smashing through treetops and coming to rest in the middle of what should have been the Arctic but was a red-tinged jungle full of aggressive vines and terrible birds with beaks like razors.

  In fact, the jungle was so strange they’d had to wonder if they were even still on Earth. It wasn’t until some of them saw the stars that they knew they were. The Big Dipper was there. The North Star. If only it could lead them home.

  Ahead of them now were soaring trees, not like the ones in the red jungle, twisted and dense, but solid trunks spaced apart with branches that spread wide. The leaves were as big as dinner plates. The air smelled fresh and reminded him of cool water and shade. Far in the distance rose a ridge studded with needle-laden trees, looking like an overturned hairbrush against the gray sky. It was the first place that looked like … well, Earth.

  He took a deep breath. To get away from the treacherous sucking sand of the desert was a relief he felt in his bones. He had been through the worst day of his life, but now it was a new day, and he was still standing.

  He looked over at Akiko and Kira, the Japanese sisters who had been on the plane with them. Like Yoshi, they weren’t on the robotics team. They were just traveling home from their school in Switzerland.

  He pointed to his nose and gestured at the woods. “It smells good,” he said.

  They both nodded.

  “Strange color,” Kira said. He looked at the woods again. Kira was an artist. She saw color more precisely, Javi guessed. She was right. The leaves were dark green, but they had a bluish tinge. More the dark of the ocean right before a storm.

  “Ao,” he agreed. Blue.

  “Oliver would love to see this,” Anna said. “It feels like home.”

  Javi swallowed hard. Out of hundreds of passengers, only eight kids had survived. And now they were down to six. Caleb had died, crushed in a low-gravity field. And Oliver—two years younger than they were, scared and determined … now he was gone, too.

  Oliver had been sucked under the blood sand, but he had returned, more like a robot than the kid they knew. He had come back to encourage them to keep going and then had sunk under the sand again. They didn’t know if he was alive or dead.

  “We’re going to see him again,” Molly said. “He said we were.”

  “But he wasn’t really Oliver when he said that,” Anna said. “He was obviously being controlled somehow.”

  “We know, Anna. We were there,” said Molly.

  “He was like a zombie. Like the walking dead.”

  Leave it to Anna to say what they were all trying not to think.

  “Enough!” Molly snapped. “Oliver is alive, period. Now let’s head in the direction of the music we heard.”

  “Birds,” Yoshi said, because he wasn’t about to change his mind.

  Javi didn’t even know if Molly meant what she said. She had made the decision to stop searching for Oliver in the first place. Now she didn’t even look sad. She looked as though she’d just designed a gyro gear program for a robot and it hadn’t worked. Like your friend getting sucked under blood sand was an ann
oyance you could fix if you put your head down and worked harder.

  Did he still know his best friend? She was so into being their leader now, so intent on their mission to get to the end of the valley, that he had a feeling she’d say anything to keep them moving.

  Before the plane crash she’d just been Molly—smart, funny, intense, maybe a little bossy sometimes. They’d shared a love for robotics and double chocolate milk shakes. After her dad died, Javi’s family had drawn her in, the way you’d fold your little brother into your coat to keep him warm. Sometimes on Saturday mornings he’d stumble-bumble his way into the kitchen, still half-asleep, and Molly would already be there, kicking the table leg and on her second helping of pancakes.

  When they’d crashed into this insane valley, he hadn’t even wondered who should be the leader. Molly had taken charge right away. By the time she got to the bottom of the emergency slide she had probably cooked up three scenarios on How to Fix This.

  Except it wasn’t fixable.

  Was Molly? She’d been bitten by a prehistoric-looking bird with a long razor beak that had torn the flesh on her shoulder. The wound was strange and Molly had nearly died. Now she was as strong as ever, but … different.

  He could feel it. Something was missing, or maybe something had been … added? And it kept getting worse. The horrors they’d seen here had changed all of them, he knew. Molly most of all. He didn’t want his best friend to change too much.

  Leaves rustled around them. There was a narrow path to follow, overgrown in places. The path wasn’t straight; it ran up and down the slight hills and, from what he could see, it twisted through the woods. Occasionally, a narrower path would run off in a different direction. They came to several forks and Molly just plunged on.

  “Where are we going?” Yoshi asked. “The sound came from the left.”

  “We did go left,” Molly said.

  “Yes, but then we turned right again,” Anna said.

  “We came from that direction. See?” Molly turned and gestured.

  “No,” Anna said. “You’re wrong.”

  Anna never said, “You might be wrong,” or “I think it’s this way.”

  They stopped.

  Molly held up a hand. “Wait. I hear that sound again.”

  Now Javi could hear it, too, something high and piping.

  “Birds,” Yoshi said. He adjusted the Japanese sword he wore strapped to his back.

  “No bird.” Akiko smiled. “Mozart,” she said.

  The music swelled, louder now. Everyone froze, then lifted their chins, mouths open as if they could catch the tune and drink it down like water. How long had it been since they’d heard music? Since the plane when they had their earbuds in, or maybe the radio as their parents drove them to the airport.

  Molly felt it in her body, each beat of the delirious melody. Rising and falling, looping and rushing and slowing. Her brain flooded, overflowing. Music! That meant …

  “People,” Anna breathed.

  With that one word, the spell broke, and they all took off, running flat out, whooping.

  Except for Molly.

  Molly couldn’t move.

  The music had stunned her. Like she’d been hit on the head and fallen into a dream. That pure melody of joy, with something sad underneath, like a steady pulse of sorrow. First she’d thought of Oliver, the grief at losing him still raging. Then, without warning, she was plunged into a memory of her dad.

  It wasn’t even a special memory. It was an everyday memory. The door to her room opening and him touching her hair and saying, “Hey, bug. Rise and shine.”

  And suddenly she heard his voice, the teasing and softness in it. She heard him.

  Which was ridiculous, because number one, she was lost in a weird valley that made no sense, and number two, her dad was dead.

  Tears swam in her eyes and she wiped them away but they kept on coming, even as she ran after the others. She was last. She was never last! Even Javi was ahead of her, and basically? She could probably beat Javi in a footrace if she hopped the entire way.

  Yoshi was far in the lead now. He was the fastest runner, Anna right behind, and the sisters at her heels. They disappeared around a curve and were swallowed up by the woods.

  Molly felt a deep loneliness overtake her. For this moment, she was alone. Her fingers pressed against her shoulder, right where her wound was. It didn’t hurt, but it felt like there was something beneath the skin. Like an object lodged there, softer than bone. Scar tissue?

  Ever since she’d been bitten by the dreadful duck of doom, she’d been changing. Her hearing was sharper, her upper-body strength had increased. Good things, but strange. Troubling. And the nightmares … those never let up.

  Who wouldn’t have nightmares after a plane crash? It probably had nothing to do with the bite.

  Molly caught a flash of something: a yellow flower on a bush. While she watched, petals opened, then closed. The flower drooped, and then fell.

  What was that?

  The back of her neck prickled. She was used to seeing weird things in this valley. This felt different. Maybe because the woods had felt so safe. It had been a long time since she’d gulped down the fresh smell of earth and leaves. She had another sharp, clear memory of being in Prospect Park on one of those first springlike days. In the shade it was cool, but in the sun she threw off her jacket and she and Javi tossed a Frisbee …

  She heard Anna shout in surprise and fear, and the sound yanked Molly out of that clear memory and straight back to the present.

  She began to run.

  When she rounded the curve, Anna was standing stock-still, staring down. Yoshi was gone.

  Anna had adjusted to being in a place where, at any moment, something could go really, really wrong. At this point she thought nothing could surprise her. She’d always be prepared.

  Not so.

  One moment Yoshi had been there; the next, he was gone.

  Her heart leaping in panic, she ran ahead and stopped just in time. Yoshi had fallen into a deep pit.

  She peered over the edge. Yoshi looked up at her, his face tight and angry.

  “I crashed through some kind of platform,” he said.

  “Maybe you should rethink this whole thing about always going first.” Anna glanced around, taking in the pit’s concealed edges. “It looks like sticks and leaves were arranged over the hole. That’s an old trick.”

  Yoshi’s face reddened. “And I fell for it?”

  “Well, you did fall,” Anna said. Sometimes kids at school called her mean. She wasn’t mean. She just saw reality clearly, and she shared it without dusting it in sugar and rainbows first.

  One day, when Anna was in first grade, she’d come home crying after her best friend had suddenly refused to sit with her at lunch. Her mother had tried to comfort her. “When someone asks you if you like their dress, say yes,” she said.

  Anna had sniffed, tears rolling down her face, and said, “But I didn’t like it! Why should I lie?”

  And her mother had sighed. “Because it’s what we do, to be nice.”

  Anna had decided, at that moment, that honest was more important than nice when it came to purple polka dots.

  She’d been fighting the world ever since.

  “At least there are no sharpened, poisoned sticks or a hungry tiger at the bottom,” Javi said. “What was that movie where that happened?”

  “A gazillion movies,” Anna said. “That’s not the point. Somebody dug this.”

  “It could have been a robot,” Molly said.

  “Um, I’m in a hole?” Yoshi called from below.

  “I think Anna’s right,” Javi said, sounding excited. “It feels like … a human thing to do.”

  “Are we going to discuss this for the next month, or are you going to get me out of here?” Yoshi demanded.

  Anna heard the noise of stamping. Roars. Like a small stampede.

  She quickly dropped the antigravity device into Yoshi’s waiting hands.
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  A group of kids rounded the path, running full tilt and brandishing makeshift spears made out of sharpened sticks. They wore tattered clothes interwoven with reeds and plants. They were running so fast that they came within several feet of the Killbots before slamming to a halt.

  The two groups looked at each other, stunned.

  Anna felt her stomach lurch. Suddenly, the air felt thick and spongy, as if she could leave fingerprints on it. And then they were in the air.

  Yoshi rose from the pit, his katana held in attack position. He didn’t know what the noises were, but he wasn’t taking any chances. He liked to meet uncertainty with a sharp sword.

  He wasn’t expecting to see a crowd of other kids spinning in the air, grabbing on to each other’s elbows and ankles in a stunned, frantic effort to stay grounded to something. They looked like really dumb astronauts practicing for a spacewalk.

  It was the first time he’d felt like laughing since they’d crashed.

  But that would be wrong, right?

  Unfair, too. Anna and Javi had found the first antigravity device near the crash. He knew from experience that the first time you found yourself floating in low gravity, it wasn’t easy. It had taken a while for the Killbots to figure out how to control the devices and how to control themselves in the air when low grav hit. They used bungee cords to keep themselves together, and they’d pretty much mastered the art of leaping into the air and keeping to a general direction as they floated back down.

  Molly and Javi had navigated their way to the low branch of a tree. Anna, Kira, and Akiko had grabbed on to a tall bush with spear-like leaves. Yoshi used the momentum of his leap to drift over solid ground.

  “Turn it off, Yoshi!” Molly yelled.

  Even though Yoshi resented being given orders, he felt it was a good idea to obey this one. He clicked the device to restore normal gravity.

  Everyone crashed to the ground, and he heard a few yeows and yelps. There was one high female voice that cried, “Jeepers!”

  “You could have warned them,” Molly muttered, picking herself up.

  “Could have,” Yoshi said. “Didn’t.”

  A tall, wiry boy stepped forward. He glowered at them and brandished what Yoshi first thought was a metal pipe. Looking closer, he saw it was a musical instrument.

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