Chapter 5 TIME FLIES
Katy didn’t know what else to say, and Will couldn’t believe his ears.“This is too weird, Max.What does she mean—different universe?”
“It is entirely possible, Will,” explained Max, now dressed in a white lab coat and sporting wild, white hair and a moustache to match.“According to my calculations multiple universes do exist, and if the space-time between them is folded—well then, it would be a relatively simple matter for a traveler to move from one to another.”
“That’s what I did,” Katy said. “I folded space-time and went from my universe to this one.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Neither do I.All I know is the sounds I heard were signals for help from the universe next door—from here, Will, and I wanted to help.”
“Will,” Max said.“I believe I have found a connection.Katy, when did you receive the first of these signals?”
“About two weeks ago.”
“Exactly two weeks, three days, seven hours, and forty-five minutes ago, I intercepted the first of the anomalous readings.”
“He means that’s when we noticed something was wrong in this universe,” Will explained.
“Precisely,” agreed Max.“Because these events match, it is logical to assume that every time Katy brought the two universes close together, she picked up the interference signals.”
Will looked like someone struggling to make two plus two equal five.“So, you really came from another universe…”Katy slowly nodded.Will continued, “And both of us know that something’s wrong…” Then he started nodding too, a tiny, one-sided smile forming.“…and we’re both trying to find out what it is…”
“Looks like it.”Katy felt relieved that the truth was out—and yet worried, too.“I don’t know what I can do to help, but maybe if we work together…I think we’d make a pretty good team.”
“…pretty good team!—pretty good team!”The voices came from a group of kids on a nearby slidewalk.Their leader, a tall boy with the beginnings of a moustache, and his girlfriend were pretending to be Will and Katy.“Oh, let’s be a team!” they mocked.“Can we be on your team?”Katy started to answer, but Will stopped her.When the slidewalk had moved the laughing group away, Will led Katy to some benches near a hallway marked Restrooms.“It should be safe to talk here.”
“Well, that sounds mysterious.Sort of like a spy story I read once.”She hunched up her shoulders, ducked her head, and looked first to the right and then to the left.“Okay, Will,” she said, dramatically, “the coast is clear.We make the switch at midnight.Got it?”
“You really don’t come from the city, do you?”
“Well, I come from a city, but we keep ours outdoors.”Will started to say something but clamped his mouth shut instead.
“What’s our next move, boss?”Max had joined them in a trench coat and fedora.
Katy played along.“We have to make plans, Maxy.First, we find the source of those interference signals, and then…”Katy used her fingers to gun down an imaginary enemy.
Will rolled his eyes.“Okay, you two.Cut it out and let’s get started.”
Max suddenly looked aside—then turned back to Katy and Will.“Heads up,” he announced.“Cops!”
Will spotted them in the distance.Two helmeted guards moved toward them using small instruments to scan passersby.“I’ve only seen them at awards ceremonies.What are they doing here, Max?”
“Well, find out!”
Max went to work.“Encryptions are layered…” On Max’s screen, multiple combination locks sprang open “…but predictable.”
“What’s taking so long?”
“Stand by…breaking through a firewall—now.”A sparkling fuse met a large stick of dynamite.
Katy saw a guard grab a boy’s arm, study his face, and then let him go.“They’re getting closer, Max, and they don’t look friendly.”
“Will!”Max’s worried face filled the small screen.“They are looking for you. They have orders to find and detain you.”
“What?!Are you sure?”
“Yes.Evidently, you failed to report as a Savage winner.”
“But that was a long time ago.Why come after me now?”
“Beats me, boss.Maybe they have really long memories—or maybe you hurt their feelings—or maybe—”
“Shut up, Max.”
“Will,” Katy said.“Those guys have guns.We gotta go.”
“I know.I think I can lose them.Follow me and don’t run.”
Will led Katy down the restroom hall, through a wide, open doorway, and around a glassy partition.On the other side, they negotiated a labyrinth where kids were adjusting clothing, inspecting makeup, or holding their hands inside small niches in the mirrored walls.As they passed by, Katy could hear the sounds of running water or blowing air.
“Where are they now, Max?” Will asked.“Do we have time to cut through here?”
“They are approaching the entry.Success will depend on whether or not they come this way.I’ll keep you informed.”
Beyond the mirrored labyrinth, the floor was decorated with dark green circles, and large, milky columns were scattered throughout the space.As they passed near one, it suddenly lifted into the ceiling, revealing a boy who stepped off a green circle and headed for the labyrinth.
They’re hollow, thought Katy, and empty, too.I wonder where the—.
“Will,” Max said.“We’re out of luck.One of the guards just entered the restroom.”
“Let’s move,” Will commanded.
“Not enough time, but I have an idea.Stay close and get out of sight.”
“Okay, Max.Come on, Katy—and watch out for those swarmbots!”
Katy nearly tripped over two of the little machines she had been calling janitors.Will grabbed her arm, and together they quickly stepped onto the nearest green circle.Immediately, a column dropped down around them and a toilet seat flipped out beside Katy.She stifled a squeak and looked at Will.He held a finger to his lips and pointed to the wall.
Even though she hadn’t been able to see through the white columns from the outside, vague outlines and silhouettes were visible from the inside.Most were of other kids, but a few seconds later, the unmistakable shape of a guard’s helmet paused outside —and passed by.
“Max,” Will said, quietly.“This may only work for a minute.What’s your plan?”
“I am currently drawing information from Katy’s CTU to mask yours, while at the same time, blending them to create the illusion of one, new person.If he comes back, I intend to—” Suddenly, the guard’s shadow darkened the pale wall.
Max answered.“Aye, aye, Cap’n—just as soon as I rid myself of some unwanted cargo.Ya see, that last swig of grog hit me broadside and blew me clean out of the water.”
“Max,” Will whispered.“What do you think you’re doing?”
“The best I can—under the circumstances.”
“Step out—NOW!”It looked like the guard might be trying to force the column to open.
“I would if I could, mate—but I steered a course for port and I only just made it in time.Couldn’t turn back now.Me insides are creakin’ and groanin’—got to heave!”Max finished his performance with realistic retching and gagging noises, whispering “Flush!Flush!” in between each bout.Frantically, Katy looked for a handle but couldn’t see one anywhere.Will came to the rescue by waving his hand in front of a tiny red light behind the toilet.After the second flush and a few more moans by Max, the guard shook his head, muttered “Stupid kid.”, and moved away.
“What was that all about?” Will asked.
“Sorry, Will,” Max said, his eye patch slipping down over his nose.“He came back too soon.I didn’t have time to complete my pseudo-personality, so I just used the first character that came to mind.It was too much—wasn’t it?”
“You can say that again.”
“But is that guard gone now?” Katy asked.
“He is definitely moving away,” said the contrite pirate.
“Then, that’s what we’ll do, too,” Will said.“I’m going to try to contact a friend.His place isn’t far from here, but if those guys see us, we may have to run.Here—hold these,” he said, handing Katy a stack of toilet paper pieces he had been taking from a dispenser.“When I give the signal, be ready to scatter them behind us.”When their hands were full, Will caused the column to open.
Cautiously, they made their way back toward the entrance, ignoring the occasional double-take their load of toilet paper received.They had almost reached the mirrored labyrinth when Max shouted, “They’ve doubled back!Run!”
“Now!” yelled Will.Tissue flew everywhere and a swarm of swarmbots scrambled in an effort to collect all the pieces.Behind them, Katy and Will heard the screaming chaos of collisions and crashes as they careened out the door, sped down the hall, and ducked through a revolving doorway.
“PREPARE FOR THE HEU EXPERIENCE!” proclaimed the automatic greeting.
“Who’s Hugh?” Katy wheezed, holding her side.
“It’s not a who,” Will said, leading her through a dim passageway.“Hold on—and watch your step.”He grabbed Katy’s hand and pulled her through a curtain of roaring wind—and into a different reality.
The darkness on the other side was total and almost tangible—something to breathe instead of air.Sounds and fragrances, like vague memories, formed within a thought and faded before they could be named.Katy’s skin vibrated with an electric tingle that traveled from her toes right up through the top of her head.Every hair stood at attention—waiting to be counted.Even the floor seemed alive.
It’s moving! Katy wobbled and side stepped on a floor made of moving concentric circles that carried them around a room crowded with people and activity. Dancing, twirling, jumping figures filled every space.They’re even in the air!, Katy realized with a start. Suddenly, she was dizzy.
“Come on!” Will said.“We’ve got to cut across!”Katy stumbled as he pulled her forward onto the next strip of the moving floor.
There, a teen in flashy finery danced toward them with open arms.They tried to avoid him, but before they could step aside, he dissolved into vapor, passed right through them, and shot into the air like a rocket.Then, a large group of people crammed themselves on the circle with Katy and Will, blocking their way—and just as suddenly, they parted, leaving the pathway clear.
Little by little, they made their way toward the center of the room—passing revelers playing with glowing spheres of light, phantoms riding streams of liquid music, and chains of dancers that swept up to the ceiling and shimmered down like the aurora borealis.They passed through the immaterial and bumped into the unmistakably solid—but no one complained.It’s like the real people are as empty as the fake ones.
As they passed through the center of the room, something made Katy look up.There, in a gorgeous gown of gauze and glitter, floated a beautiful young woman—the ultimate fairytale princess.Katy stopped and pulled Will back.She couldn’t take her eyes off the fascinating vision.It wafted like dandelion down through the black velvet air, and when it turned, it looked at Katy with her very own face.
It’s me!—and I’m beautiful.
Stay here and be beautiful forever…
A sharp jerk on her arm brought Katy back to reality.Will pointed to a helmeted figure just sliding into view on the outer circle.They were lucky.They hadn’t been spotted.With a few careful maneuvers, Will and Katy made their way quickly to the opposite side and out through another wind curtain.
“Well, that was about the craziest place I’ve ever been to,” Katy said, as they ran toward the nearest escalator.“What were they—ghosts or something?”
“Holo-whos?What are they when they’re at home?”
“Holograms are three dimensional images created with moving lights.”
“I don’t get it.”
“They’re supposed to entertain you.”
“Oh…you mean like a movie?”
“What’s a movie?”
“You know—where they film actors acting—unless it’s a cartoon, and then somebody has to draw it first—and then they project it up on a big, white screen, and there’s a newsreel, and you get popcorn and…”
“Sorry, sorry… like a bunch of Maxes acting out a play, only on a very big screen in a dark room.”
“Oh, I guess it’s a little like that.”
“Only this movie was more like some kind of weird dream.”
“Yeah—” Will agreed.“—or nightmare.”He checked over his shoulder.“Max?”
“No sign of pursuit, Will.”
“Looks like we lost them.”He allowed himself a sigh of relief.“I still can’t figure out why they’re after me.Seems like a lot of trouble to go through to get one run-away Savage winner.”
“Maybe your friend will know.”
“Maybe so.My parents think he might know something about those interference signals, too.”
“Hey—won’t it be great if he really does know where they come from, and then—as long as nobody finds out that we know—we could use the element of surprise to—”Katy gasped, missed her step off the top of the escalator, and nearly fell.Will caught her at the last moment.
“What’s the matter, Katy?”
“That sign!” Colorful lights flashed in Katy’s eyes. “It says–Ben’s!”