Chapter no 58

Quantum Radio

In the soft, yellow-green glow of the ChemLight, Nora and Maria sat in the gift store, listening for any indication that Kato and Ty were returning.

The pilot—Commander Matthews—lay on the floor, his breathing shallow and erratic. Periodically, he would stir, but he hadn’t opened his eyes in perhaps an hour.

Maria took out the bottle of methadone pills and stared at it. Nora knew she was debating whether to take one.

Maria must have been feeling pretty bad, because she exhaled heavily, twisted the top off the bottle, extended a finger in, and brought a capsule out and dry-swallowed it.

Matthews inhaled sharply and jerked, his right shoulder rising.

Nora placed a hand on him, and he settled, then opened his eyes and, to Nora’s surprise, smiled at Maria.

“Maria,” he whispered.

She studied him, brows furrowed. “Do I know you?”

He let out a ragged laugh that turned into a cough—a painful cough, Nora thought.

“’Course not,” he breathed out. “But I know you.” He swallowed hard. “Saw you at Camp 17.”

“Camp 17?”

“On your Worlds & Time tour.”

Maria’s eyes bulged. Nora caught sight of a small tremble beginning in her hand.

Matthews stared at Nora. “Did you contact her? Recruit her?” “Why would I?”

He squinted at her. “Because she’s performing at the A21 launch. In seven days. Is it part of the follow-up operation?”

Nora swallowed, trying to make her voice steady. “I can’t say, Commander.”

He nodded and refocused on Maria. “‘Mirror Tree.’ It’s my favorite song.

Played it a million times in my bunk in flight school.”

Maria sat stock still, eyes still wide, as though she was paralyzed with shock.

Matthews, seeming oblivious to her duress, smiled. “I like ‘The Looking Glass World’ too. But ‘Mirror’ is still my favorite.” He drew a breath that didn’t fill his lungs, exhaled, and sucked in air again, trying to make his ragged voice singsong-like.

“In the forest of time… A tree grows to the sky… An endless climb… To a future that’s a lie…” With the last word, Matthews closed his eyes and his breathing slowed again, as if singing the lyrics had soothed his mind enough for sleep to come.

It had the opposite effect on Maria.

Her chest was heaving, body trembling. Nora reached out and placed a hand on her forearm.

Maria reeled back, shaking like a caged animal who had just been shocked with an electric prod.

“Maria,” Nora said, leaning forward.

The younger woman’s breathing slowed, but she didn’t tear her eyes away from the pilot.


Finally, she made eye contact with Nora. “How does he know that?”

“The song?” “He can’t.”

“Why not?” Nora asked.

Maria closed her eyes and shook her head as if trying to make it go away. “Maria, what’s wrong?”

Maria tried to slow her breathing, and when her chest finally stopped heaving, she said, “I’ve never sung that song. Never even had a chance to write it down. They took my notebook.”


“I thought up the lyrics on the plane from Nashville to DC. I was going to write it down, but I never had a chance.” She focused on Nora. “How does he know? What’s happening here?”

Behind them, Nora thought she heard rustling; the sound of footsteps. But when she looked, there was no one there. The sound came again, faint but clear.

“Stay here,” Nora whispered.

Maria reached out and grabbed Nora’s arm, fingernails digging in, eyes wild. “Don’t leave me.”

“I’ll be right back.” “Doc.”

Gently, Nora wrapped her fingers around Maria’s hand and pulled it away. “I’ll be right back. I promise.”

Nora clicked the flashlight on and ventured away from Matthews, Maria, and the glow of the ChemLight, toward the stone stairwell that led up to the first floor and the entrance onto the National Mall.

She paused there, listening. Had the person—or animal—left? “Hello?” she called out.

There was no response. But she had the distinct impression someone was watching her.

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