Authors: Dustland: The Justice Cycle (Book Two)
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Juvenile Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General
For my sisters Barbara Davis and Nina Anthony
HE UNIT HUMMED.
It had the power of four. It was Thomas, the magician. It was Dorian, the healer. It was Justice, who was the Watcher and the balance for the unit’s strength. And it was Levi, brother of Justice and identical brother of Thomas. Levi suffered for them all.
This was the second day that the unit had been out of its own time and into the future. Its first day had been uneventful; yet it had been a frightful day. Because, in its first attempt at mind-jumping, the unit appeared to have traveled into a place of endless, gritty dust. It could distinguish no landmarks. It saw no growth, no animals, no humans. But it divined instantly what must be the scarcest commodity if such a land were inhabited. It named the place Dustland.
The unit directed. It sensed a wellfield seventy feet below Dustland’s surface. Using its mind as a vector, it willed and jetted the underground water in a stream to the top of the dust. The water collected into an impure half-acre pool. The Watcher and the healer drained off some of the impurities while Thomas and Levi focused its energy, keeping it steady. Watcher and healer drew pollutants into themselves and cast them out again. As the process continued, the two, Justice and Dorian, appeared to creep and ooze.
Presently the unit’s work was finished. Justice and Dorian took on semblances of themselves as the single rhythm, of the unit shut down. They and Thomas and Levi breathed individually and saw individually as the Watcher faded from their eyes.
“Let me test the water,” said Thomas. At once a goblet was in his hand.
It was quite pretty, Justice thought, made as it was of glass trimmed in gold. It was Thomas’ joke. Being a magician, he could cause anything to appear out of thin air. But of course the goblet would never hold water, since it was only air shaped and formed by magic.
Playfully, Thomas dipped the goblet in the pool. He had clouded their minds completely so that they saw exactly what he wanted them to see, at least for a few seconds. Justice was amazed when the goblet filled with water; it had to be part of the illusion Thomas had created. Yet she sensed that it wasn’t, although it came to her that Thomas would think that it was.
What’s going on here? she wondered.
The magic goblet faded and water dribbled through Thomas’ fingers.
He drank from his cupped hands. “Whew! That’s still rank,” he said, making a face. “But it’s good and cold. Sweet, for making it cold, Dorian.”
for the things he thought were cool or tough. But he hadn’t thanked Justice, even though she and the healer had cleansed and freshened the pool together. Part of his disregard for her she knew was because she was only eleven while he, Levi and Dorian were thirteen. And she was the only girl.
Thomas and Levi, being identical and inseparable, had known of each other’s extrasensory ability since childhood. Justice had known of her superior powers only this year and with the help of Dorian and his mother, the Sensitive. But from the beginning Thomas had suspected she had the power. And he had shown often enough through the years that he never liked her. Now the array of extrasensory she had could offset the combined force of the others—Thomas, Dorian, Levi and even that of the Sensitive. It was she who had formed them into a unit so that they could mind-jump to the future.
“A person over there has to be joined,” Justice had once told Thomas. “There’s no other way to survive.”
Thomas had sworn he would never become part of a unit. A monster-machine, he called it, controlled by her.
But they had become the first unit under her direction. And Thomas had built up enough grudging malice against her to do her harm if somehow he found a way to overcome her.
Their first trip to the future ended after the second day. They created the pool and cleansed it. They had heard no unusual sounds, had seen nothing beyond the dust. With a feeling of letdown, they joined into the unit and mind-jumped back to their own time.
A few days later the four of them made a second trip to Dustland and they came upon a marvelous creature.
They were again the unit. The unit had passed through the Crossover between past and future. It had concentrated its energy on the one certainty it had—Dustland. The Watcher had protected it through, surrounding it with its immense force. The unit materialized in the putrid place, where all was the same murkiness of dust. The Watcher faded from them and they were again their separate selves.
“It’s Dustland, all right,” Dorian said. He was a thin boy, but wiry and strong.
“Isn’t it fantastic?” Justice said. “We can jump whenever we want to.”
“So what if we can?” Thomas said. “Who wants to come to this stinking hole?”
“Come on, Tom-Tom,” said Levi. “This is the same place, but it might be a different part of it.”
“Well, who cares?” Thomas said. “If this is the future, you can have it, buddy. There’s not a bloody thing here but dust.”
He was wrong. They had not been long in Dustland when they became aware of a creature galloping across the wasteland.
Justice homed in her telepathy on the four-legged creature. She did not enter the creature’s mind, but trailed along a stream of thoughts and fragments as the creature ran. It was female, and totally at one with Dustland.
This land, in which graygrowth is eaten cleanly below the dust, was a fragment with which Justice’s mind collided. She telepathed to the others to scan her mind as she observed the creature. The others scanned her and knew what she knew.
Hordes passing over the same ground.
Hordes of what? Thomas wondered.
Hordes, human groups, passing over the same ground as the creature.
The she-one did not know where the hordes were going or if ever the same returned. She did not care. Galloping, she scented a Dawip and raced ahead of it to intercept it.
A Dawip? Dorian wondered.
Justice gave them an image of a small animal, quite fleshy. It was prime food for the she-one and a delicacy. The fleshy little beast had the misfortune to have hopped into the creature’s range.
The she-one leaped in a spectacular flight through the air for a distance of twenty feet. She landed on the little beast, trapping it between her paws, and broke its neck in the process.
Let’s get closer,
Justice traced in the minds of Thomas, Levi and Dorian.
They came nearer, close enough to hear the sounds the she-one made as she ate the Dawip’s delicate ears. Next she stripped away thin skin and striped back fur with her tongue and front teeth. As the Dawip’s blood seeped through tissues, she lapped it up. It was the first clean moisture she had had in weeks. Finally the creature ate, holding herself back from gulping the tiny beast in two bites.
Justice revealed to the others that the creature was aware of them. Thomas had opened the strange corridor between his and his brother’s minds so that Levi could
as Thomas did. For Levi could not mind-read on his own. Then all four of them homed in on the creature’s thinking.
She was aware only that she was being watched. She made no movement that might warn them she knew they were there. She sat in the dust, carefully licking the Dawip’s bones. She thought of hiding the small skeleton in the earth, to have tasty bones within her reach. But a sense of all things being even came to her. She would leave the bones lying about. Let starving hordes find them and use them to season their mudsip. If the bones were added to the graygrowth of flat, stringy threads that sprouted just below the dust, the hordes would survive.
The creature was posed regally, with the bones trapped between her paws. She stared at nothing. Occasionally she blinked her enormous eyes; pointed her wide, leafy ears. There were orange membrane pouches behind the ears that swelled and pulsated.
Aware she was that she was being watched; yet she saw no one. There were forms, shapes, hardly thicker than gritty air that had come very close to her. Lines came to her, around the shapes. The shapes filled and she sensed colors washing down over the shapes. Forms were similar to humans but taller than any she had ever come upon.
It senses us,
With bodies and with clothes, just as we do, when we know we can’t have our bodies with us!
Maybe it’s a condition of Dustland that you have to have bodies,
And if you come here with just your mind, it’ll provide the body for you
But how does Dustland know to make the body look like yours or mine?
The question hung on the air.
The creature was
their mental tracings. She gathered impressions of their thoughts, which were like imprints. The imprints did not come quite clear to her understanding. Not at first; but then more so.
She’s beautiful, isn’t she?
was the shape of one imprint pressed on her mind.
That had come from Justice.
But what is she?
The she-one was beginning to comprehend the tracings.
I don’t know what she is,
She looks kind of like a bear, doesn’t she? But smaller.
No, she’s more like a dog, a mastiff of some kind, but bigger,
Much bigger. Have you ever seen a dog with those … those ear-bag things?
They stared at her. They were thinking to one another about her. Still there were some imprints she didn’t understand.
Words about things she had no knowledge of.
Does it breathe through those bag things, you think?
Levi traced. The imprint hit the creature like a soothing voice.
Well, they move in and out, sort of like breathing,
Thomas traced, interested in spite of himself.
Look, I think we should move back. We’re too close and we don’t know what she might do.
Calmly the she-one listened in on them, aware of many imprints. She was alert. Quite ready to attack.
Don’t get so close to it!
Not it, her,
If she wanted to start something, she probably would have by now. She knows we’re here. Besides, she can’t hurt us.
Don’t be so sure,
We don’t know much of anything yet. I’m not even sure it’s the same time period as the last time.
“It’s the same. I know that, if nothing else,” Justice said. She decided to talk softly, since nothing they did seemed to disturb the creature. “And we can’t be hurt,” Justice added. “Because, if we were, we wouldn’t be the same in the past, would we?”
“I don’t figure that at all,” Thomas said. He was talking as softly as Justice had. “If hurt here, we’re hurt at home.”
“But that can’t be,” she said. “If hurt here, it hasn’t happened, and it cannot happen in the past. It never will happen.”
“Oh, I don’t know!” Thomas muttered. “I don’t know
But I can feel the grit on my skin. I get hungry and I get thirsty when all I have is my mind here. I’m getting myself scared, so, please, let’s go back home!”
“I can’t do that,” she said.
He knew there was no arguing with her, and it made him more bitter, more angry than ever.
Justice was excited over their discovery. “Can you just imagine the odds of us finding anything out here so soon?” she said. “I mean, I would’ve guessed we might find something in a month, maybe. But you can never tell about chance.”
“That animal right there could be the only thing here,” Levi said.
The she-one sensed a hand lifting and pointing at her. In her mind there was an explosion of fear.
“What if she’s some beast out of the past and not the future?” Dorian asked.
“There was never an animal like her in our past,” Levi said.