It was a rough landing. Lights streamed past Jonah’s face, an unbearable glare. Some force that had to be more than just gravity tugged on him, threatening to pull him apart from Chip and Katherine, from the Elucidator and the Taser, from his own self. The image that burned in his mind was of his body being split into individual cells, individual atoms. And then that image broke apart too, and he couldn’t think, couldn’t see, couldn’t hear. He could only feel time passing through him, time flipping back on itself, time pressing down, down, down. . . .
Then it was over. He lay in darkness, gasping for air. Dimly he heard JB’s voice say, “Welcome to the fifteenth century. Good luck.” But he couldn’t quite make sense of the words. It was like hearing something underwater, sounds from another world.
“You’re hiding, aren’t you? Staying out of sight?” It was JB’s voice again, hissing and anxious. “You have to stay out of sight.”
“Darkness,” Jonah mumbled. “Safe.”
His tongue felt too thick to speak with. Or maybe it was too thin—too insubstantial. He didn’t feel quite real.
There was movement beside him. Someone sitting up.
“You’d like to keep us in the dark, wouldn’t you?” Chip accused. “You didn’t tell us anything we’d need to know to survive in the fifteenth century.”
Whoa. How could Chip manage to sound so normal at a time like this? And so angry (which was pretty much normal for Chip)? Wasn’t his head spinning too? Wasn’t his vision slipping in and out of focus? Didn’t he feel like he might throw up if he had to do anything more strenuous than breathe?
“You didn’t even tell us who we’re supposed to be,” Chip continued.
Distantly, as if he was trying to retrieve a memory from centuries ago—no, he corrected himself, centuries ahead—Jonah puzzled over what Chip meant. Who we’re supposed to be . . . Oh, yeah. The whole reason they were in this mess was that a group of people from the future had gone through history plucking out endangered children. This would have been very noble and kind, except that
they began carrying off famous kids, kids whose disappearances were noticed. JB, who seemed to oppose any tampering with history, was convinced that all of time was on the verge of collapse because of these rescues. He and his cohorts had managed to freeze the effects of the rescues—the “ripples,” as they called them—and gone after the missing children. There’d been a battle, and thirty-six kids from history had crash-landed at the very end of the twentieth century.
Chip was one of those kids.
So was Jonah.
For the past thirteen years, though, they’d known nothing about their true identities. They’d been adopted by ordinary American families and grown up in ordinary American suburbs, playing video games and soccer, trading Pokémon cards, shooting hoops in their driveways. They had no way of knowing that their ordinary lives were ordinary only because they were in Damaged Time—time itself, trying to heal, had kept both sides of the battling time travelers out.
But Damaged Time had ended. And JB and his enemies, Gary and Hodge, immediately swooped in, each side eager to finish what they’d started.
And that, boys and girls, is how I came to be lying in the dark in the fifteenth century, Jonah thought, his mind working a little
better now. That “boys and girls” line was imitating someone, someone on TV probably.
Someone who wouldn’t be born for another five hundred years.
A wave of nausea flowed over Jonah. He wasn’t sure if it was because it’d just sunk in that he was hundreds of years out of place, or if it was because his senses were working better now and he’d just realized that the fifteenth century reeked. A smell of mold and decay and—what was that, rotting meat?—surrounded him. And his nose brought him the first fact he was sure of about the fifteenth century: Whatever else was happening then, no one had modern flush toilets yet.
“Where is that Elucidator?” Chip demanded. He was feeling around on the floor now. “JB, you’ve got to tell me the truth. Who am I?”
“Well, it’s kind of a delicate situation,” JB hedged. “We shouldn’t be talking at all right now, until you’re sure that no one else can hear us. . . .”
His voice trailed off to just a whisper, which Jonah could barely hear. Why was Jonah having so many problems? He’d been holding the Elucidator—he ought to be able to tell Chip where it was. But his hands felt too numb to be sure if he was still clutching anything or not.
Meanwhile, Chip seemed perfectly capable of sliding
his hands all around, groping all along the stones of the floor. He nudged first Jonah, then, apparently, Katherine. Jonah could hear her moaning softly, as if she felt every bit as miserable as Jonah did.
“So help me, JB. If you don’t tell me who I am, right now,” Chip fumed, “I’ll scream so loud that people will hear me in two centuries!”
“No, don’t,” JB begged. “I’ll tell you. Just be quiet. You’re . . . you’re . . .”
“Yes?” Chip said, his voice rising threateningly.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the date, exactly, since the three of you took the Elucidator, and that may have thrown some things off, but I think it’s probably safe to say, given when you should have landed, that you’re . . . um . . .”
“I think, right now, you’re the king of England.”