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“We didn’t know what we were doing,” a voice whispered near Jonah’s ear.
Jonah struggled to pay attention. He and his younger sister, Katherine, had just traveled through time, from one foreign era to another. He was becoming an experienced time traveler—a thirteen-year-old expert, you might even say. So he’d learned that when he first landed in a new place and time, he just had to expect his brain to be a little fuzzy.
And his eyes.
And his ears.
And ... Really, for all Jonah could tell, he and Katherine might be seconds away from being burned at the stake or tortured on a rack or trampled by stampeding horses fleeing a war. And he wouldn’t be able to see or hear or notice any of those things until it was too late.
Anything was possible now.
No, no, Jonah told himself. It’s history. Everyone knows how it’s supposed to go. JB wouldn’t have sent us here if we were going to be in danger. Not right away, at least.
JB was the true time-travel expert. It had taken a while, but Jonah trusted JB. The problem was, Jonah didn’t have a very high opinion of the past. Twice now he and Katherine had gone back in time with other kids. They’d been sent to fix history and save endangered children. Each time, their mission had gotten a little complicated ... and endangered them.
Jonah could have drowned.
Katherine could have died in battle.
Their friends could have been murdered.
Near misses, Jonah thought. Those two words, together, had more meaning than Jonah could bear to think about at the moment.
And what’s supposed to happen now? Jonah wondered. I don’t know anything about what happened in ... 1611. He was proud that he could remember the year they’d been sent to. But the pride was followed by a shiver. What if this is the year that fate catches up with us?
That word—fate—prickled at his brain. It was too much for him to think about right now. He blinked and squinted, trying desperately to bring his vision into focus. A moment ago he’d managed to read a paper held close to his eyes. But beyond that range everything was just a gray fog around him. The only thing he could hear was a muffled thump-thump, thump-thump, off in the distance. He could feel some cold, hard surface beneath him—wood, maybe? Wet wood? Why would he be lying on wet boards?
“Jonah? Katherine?” The voice spoke again, sounding so tinny and distorted that Jonah could barely understand. Jonah wasn’t sure if the problem was his ears or the fact that the person was speaking to them from another time. “We tried. We really tried....”
“JB?” Jonah moaned.
“Who else would it be?” the voice said.
“Maybe ... Second,” Jonah’s sister Katherine whimpered nearby. “Second was talking to us on the way here....”
“Second was talking to you again?” JB asked, clearly alarmed. “Oh, no....”
Once upon a time—well, once upon a time in the distant future—Second had been JB’s most trusted employee. They’d worked together restoring history to its proper course after unethical time travelers had messed it up.
Then Second himself had decided to change the past.
He’d sabotaged Jonah and Katherine’s trip to return their friend Andrea to the year 1600—and to her original identity as Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America.
Second had set up a reckless scheme to shift time from its intended path—to improve it, he said. He’d manipulated Andrea and Jonah and Katherine and their new friends Brendan and Antonio. He’d risked their lives.
And he’d achieved everything he’d wanted to in 1600.
He’d even managed to break down the barriers protecting time after 1600, so the results of his changes had rippled forward, changing everything along the way. Now all of time—and history itself—was in danger of collapsing, unless Jonah and Katherine could keep 1611 stable.
No pressure, Jonah told himself. Nothing to worry about.
It was too overwhelming to think about saving all of time, all of history, all of humanity from the year 1611 on. Jonah focused his thoughts a little more narrowly, on just one person:
Second promised, Jonah thought. He promised if we fix 1611, we can rescue Andrea....
Actually, it was a package deal. Second had promised that Jonah and Katherine could rescue Brendan and Antonio and JB as well. All of them were stuck in the past. And, sure, Jonah wanted each of his friends to be safe. But it was Andrea he thought about the most: Andrea with her soft gray eyes, her gleaming brown hair, her stubborn hope that ...
Katherine slugged Jonah in the arm.
“Stop daydreaming about Andrea,” she said. “We don’t have time for that.”
Sheesh, how did she know? Jonah wondered. He stopped himself from looking again at the drawing of Andrea on the paper he was holding in his hand. The drawing was torn from a book that had dropped on him only moments after they’d arrived in 1611, and it proved that Second’s changes had arrived too. But it also proved that somewhere back in time Andrea was still okay.
Jonah realized Katherine was waiting for an answer.
“I wasn’t daydr—,” Jonah started to protest, but Katherine interrupted.
“Yeah, you were,” she said. “You’re looking all lovesick and gloopy again.”
“You mean, the way you look any time you’re around Chip?” Jonah taunted. He was trying to think of a better put-down, when something else struck him. He managed to raise himself slightly on trembling arms and turn his head toward his sister. “You can see my face already?” he asked. “You’re getting over the timesickness that fast?”
He squinted but could see Katherine only as splashes of color in the general fuzziness. Was that blur of yellow her hair? Pink, her T-shirt? Blue, her jeans?
It seemed wrong, all those bright colors in the midst of the gray haze.
We don’t belong here, Jonah thought, shivering. Katherine doesn’t. I don’t.
Which would make fixing 1611 even harder.
“I—,” Katherine began, but stopped, because JB was talking again.
“I see that we made even more mistakes than I thought,” JB said.
Now Jonah could tell where JB’s voice was coming from: a small metal box that had fallen between him and Katherine. It looked like some antique meant for—what? Jonah wondered. Holding a candle? Scooping flour?
It didn’t matter. Jonah knew that the box was anything but antique, and that its appearance was completely fake. If it was transmitting JB’s voice, it was actually an Elucidator, a device from the future that could camouflage itself to fit any time period. In Jonah’s time—the early twenty-first century—it always looked like an ordinary cell phone.
Having it look so primitive now probably meant that the technology in 1611 would be really, really lame. But Jonah was just glad to have an Elucidator. On their trip to 1600, Second had made sure they lost it. They’d been entirely cut off.
Jonah managed to hold himself back from grabbing the Elucidator and clutching it like a little kid with a security blanket. But he did interrupt JB to ask, “Shouldn’t we set the Elucidator to make us invisible? Right away?”
Invisibility was one of the Elucidator’s best apps.
“Um ... no,” JB said nervously. “Not just yet.”
This was odd. Usually JB was all about being cautious, not taking chances. Staying hidden.
“Listen,” JB said. “We don’t have much time. We really messed up.”
“We know,” Katherine said. “We saw what happened in 1600.”
Jonah shivered again, practically trembling. This was odd too—he didn’t remember shivering as a symptom of timesickness before.
“That’s not what I mean,” JB said. “What we thought about time itself—a lot of that was wrong. You have to understand—time travel was so young then. We were as confused as all those early European explorers in their Age of Discovery. All their crazy notions ... Did you know they thought that in the summertime the North Pole would be as hot as the equator, because of the constant sunshine?”
“So then someone went there, saw the glaciers, and figured out they were wrong,” Katherine said impatiently. “Just like you guys went back in time, figured out what it was like, and—”
“No.” JB’s voice was hard suddenly, almost angry. “We didn’t find out that quickly. Time travel is not like geography. There are so many complications. So many extra variables. Things that don’t show up until you’ve made mistake upon mistake upon mistake.”
Jonah realized that his vision was clearing. He could see past the Elucidator now, past Katherine. Beyond her a thin layer of ice shone dully on a weathered wood floor and a cluster of equally weathered-looking barrels. And beyond that—Jonah squinted—was fog.
So I still can’t see everything, he thought. He snorted, because the salt water in the air was stinging his nostrils. No, wait—that’s real fog! That’s why I can’t see anything!
He sat all the way up, swaying only slightly. Now he could see the spot where the wooden floor met a wooden wall of sorts. But the wall rose up only about three or four feet. After that—Jonah looked toward the gray, foggy sky—there was an intricate arrangement of ropes leading up to...
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