Interlude 4. This one is almost a mini-story, and yes, more spoilers. But if you’ve read “Among the Marithei,” this interlude is a sequel to that!
Amara’s lit. teacher, Marta Popovich, was reading out to the class from an actual printed book, bound in real leather (ick!), a book Marta had loved so much that she’d spent the weight allowance to bring it all the way from Old Earth to Nadezhda, and then from Nadezhda to Kriti. It had belonged to Marta’s great-great grandfather, and she’d shown them how he’d marked up all his favorite lines, scribbling annotations in footnotes and margins. Amara could make notes in her tablet, but there was something a little magic about the faded ink, thinking of Great-Great-Grand Alex’s actual hand, scribbling across the page.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
The bell rang. “All right, class. We’ll pick up tomorrow, with Professor Salis joining us for a guest lecture on Telician history. Please review the study notes I’ve uploaded to your tablets, and consider how Tolkien’s quote might apply to the recent Great Rupture on Telic. But remember, no personal questions for Professor Salis about his exile status; it’s inappropriate and invasive. Okay, you’re free to go.”
Amara gathered up her things, still thinking about that hand scribbling across the page. It slowed her down enough that the room had almost emptied by the time she finished, with just Marta and her daughter Katya left in the room. It must be terrible, having your mother for your teacher – especially since from what Amara had seen so far this semester, Marta was three times harder on Katya than she was on anyone else in class. Which really wasn’t fair – Katya was nice, and hard-working, and Amara would like to be her friend. Though that was hard, because Katya was the kind of girl who was very quiet, and tended to keep her head down, hiding behind her hair.
“Hurry up, or you’ll be late for your next class,” Marta said as she left, letting the door swing shut behind her.
She was right; Amara tried to move faster, but somehow that just led to her dropping her tablet – hells! – and then she had to bend down to get it, and of course, that was when her leg chose to give out from under her. Despite all the exercises, and even though the doctors said she was completely cured, sometimes her right leg just didn’t work. Psychosomatic, they’d say, shaking their head solemnly at Uma, and her mother would frown fiercely in response, before assigning Amara a dozen extra chores, all of which required plenty of standing and bending. Uma didn’t believe in indulging weaknesses. So now Amara was on the floor, swearing under her breath, and Katya had come to bend down next to her. SO embarrassing.
“Are you all right?” Katya was handing her tablet back to her – screen not cracked, thankfully.
“I’m fine, sorry.” Amara grabbed the back of a chair and hauled herself to her feet, her face bright red.
“It’s okay,” Katya said, smiling. “Usually it’s me dropping things. I’m a total klutz.”
She really was nice. Amara smiled back, wondering if maybe Katya would want to go see a holo together sometime. She was about to ask, when a deafening shriek pierced the air, ululating from high to low and back again. Katya disappeared. Just blinked out – one moment, Amara was looking right at her, and the next, Katya was gone.
Now Amara was down again, falling hard to her knees – she was supposed to be grabbing a mask from the rack on the wall; she knew how the dome damage drill went, had been doing them for seven years now, ever since the day when her family disappeared – pfft! Just like that, like Katya, gone. A routine Jump gone terribly wrong. But Katya hadn’t Jumped, this made no sense. There was no reason for the sharp pain that ran from Amara’s throat to her belly, that made her curl up on the tile floor, her body wrapped around the brutal ache. Tears wanted to spill out, and she fought them back, fighting for control.
“Amara! Amara, what’s wrong?” Katya was there again, inexplicably back, a mask on her face and another in her hand, offering it to Amara.
Ah! Amara gulped for air, one, two. Okay. She was okay. Amara ignored the offered mask, pushed herself to sit up, wiped the tears from her eyes with an angry hand. “Where did you go?!”
Katya’s dark eyes were wide, panicked. “Please – please don’t tell anyone. It’s supposed to be a secret, my mother made me promise. If you tell anyone, we’ll have to move again. She’s completely paranoid about the anti-humod folks coming after me, which makes no sense since I’m not even modded, I was born this way, it’s part of who I AM. And I am so SICK of moving, I just want to stay in one place, just for a little while.”
“You’re a teleporter,” Amara said, the pieces finally coming together. “Whoa. That’s cool.” There had been a few human teleporters documented in the last several decades, but Amara had never expected to meet one. A long-dormant part of the human genome, finally expressing itself. No one knew why.
Katya shook her head. “It’s not that cool. I can’t control it – it just happens when I’m scared. I blip away; once I ended up in a field covered in cow dung. Disgusting. You won’t tell anyone?”
“Promise,” Amara said firmly. Teleportation you couldn’t control sounded more like a curse than a gift, and any anger that still lingered washed away in a wave of pity. Poor kid. “You have to stay – especially if you like murder mystery holos. There’s a new one playing in town, straight from Varisia, set in the Understory. It’s supposed to be incredible. Want to go?”
“I’d love to,” Marta said, smiling. “But here – put on your mask. We are going to be SO late!”