Mike Dunbar

Book Five: The Breakout

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Chapter 9

                                            Chapter Nine


            “Our first job is to program our helmets,” Mike said. “Once we do that, we can communicate with the people in this city – if we ever find any. I don’t see anyone.”

            “Let’s fly toward the dome,” Jen suggested to Patrick. “Chaz said it was an important place. I would expect to find people there.” The two time craft banked into a curve and flew off toward the yellow dome. Jen was right. There was a crowd at the dome, but they were not acting like people going about their daily business. Some inhabitants did appear to be working. A small group was involved in moving a large granite block that looked like a piece to a huge, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. However, there was no heavy equipment to do the moving. Other people were working on three huge statues that stood in a row. All the rest were standing still, doing nothing. That is precisely what they were doing – nothing, nothing at all. In fact, they were not even moving. They were frozen in place.

            As Jen and Patrick landed the craft the crews donned their head covers and gloves. Allie got on her knees in front of Menlo and dressed him in his uniform. The dog liked the attention. As Allie worked he kissed her repeatedly, returning her attention. When Allie was done she pressed a switch on Menlo’s chest, and he disappeared. “Bashir put a switch in Jen’s remote, so she can turn Menlo’s cloak on and off at a distance,” Allie told the others. Then, she used her hand to wipe her cheek and chin where she had been kissed repeatedly.

            The cloaked crews exited the craft. As they approached the people in the square they found lots of things to amaze them. Nick and Lenore were fascinated by the work that was being done. The huge block of granite was being moved by people standing at its corners holding some sort of rod. The block was defying gravity. It floated slowly along, apparently controlled by the rods. “This technology is way beyond anything we have,” Nick said in awe. “In my time, we would use a crane to move that block. In the future, they use reverse gravity polarizers, like in our time craft. That’s not what these people are doing. I wish we could take one of those rods into the Time Institute lab,” he said to Lenore. “We would have fun taking that apart.” Lenore nodded as she admired the technology and thought the same thoughts as Nick.

            “Can you imagine the mathematics they used to figure out that block’s shape?” Jen asked Patrick as she stared at the complicated piece of polished granite. That’s exactly what Patrick was thinking. “We would have to use computers to create that shape,” Jen added. “Wouldn’t you love to sit down with one of their text books?”

            Allie examined the people and noticed they were all about her size. She was used to being with people her height. All the time crews and many of the Institute’s teachers were small, but there were also larger people there, and at UNH too. Here, everyone was about five feet tall. The tops of their heads only came up to Nick’s shoulders.

            Mike looked at the buildings around the plaza and thinking aloud said, “This shouldn’t be here. The rest of the world is still in the Stone Age and living in caves. This shouldn’t be here. Who are these people? Where did they come from?”

            Continuing to examine the men and women in the plaza, Allie elbowed Mike. “Look at their faces,” she said. The others heard her and turned to see what Allie had noticed. The people had no expression. The workers watched the block as it moved. However, their faces were blank. All the other people in the square stood perfectly still. They were not watching the work. They stared straight ahead. Their arms hung at their sides and there was no expression on their faces.

            “Are they robots?” Nick asked

            “I’ll check it out,” Patrick said. He approached a man, and more closely than anyone would find comfortable, examined the man’s face. The man could not see the invisible time traveler just inches from his nose, and did not react. Patrick watched a while longer and observed the man blink. He looked at the man’s chest and could tell he was breathing. Otherwise, the man, and all the others stood as still as statues. “He’s human, not a robot,” Patrick told the others after examining the man. “But it’s like no one’s home.”

            Nick and Lenore turned their attention to the three enormous statues that were being carved, and tugged the others to follow them in that direction. They were amazed as they watched the carvers use their rods to slice away chucks of granite. To do so, they pointed the rod at the huge block of stone. Without any blade, without any beam, the rock was sliced off, leaving a surface as smooth as glass. No polishing was required. The carvers lowered the cut-away granite with the same rods. He or she pointed the rod at the sliced stone and it slowly lowered to the plaza, under complete control. “Amazing,” Nick muttered to Lenore. “I have to take apart one of those rods. I just have to.”

            “Guys,” Patrick announced. “This all very interesting, but there is a big problem. We need to program our helmets. To do that, we have to leave them some place where people are talking. There are lots of people here, but is no one is saying anything. We have to find another location.”

            The crews climbed back into the Auckland and the two craft took off. “Any ideas,” Jen asked the others. “Where do we find people who are not doing a robot imitation?”

            “Let’s do the outward spiral,” Patrick suggested. “We’ll cover most of the city that way. If there is any place where people gather and act normal, we’ll spot them.”

            “I can’t believe how big this city is,” Lenore noted after the craft had been flying for a while. “It goes on forever.” It did extend a long way, but not quite forever. Eventually, the Auckland and CT 9225 reached the edge. Outside the city, the craft began to fly over farmland. “We have even less chance of finding people gathering and talking out here,” Lenore said.

            Eventually, the two craft reached the ocean. “This land is a lot bigger than most islands,” Mike noted. “It’s like a small country. Let’s fly along the shore and see if we can find a harbor and some boats. Where there are sailors, there are taverns. Where there are taverns, people gather and talk.”

            The time travelers did not come to a harbor, but they did find a large building standing in the middle of nowhere, all by itself. It was all by itself in the sense there were no other buildings. However, there were lots of people, and they were moving, not standing like statues. They had set up tents and small shelters. This told the crews that they were camping in this place, not passing through. “I think we just found what we’re looking for,” Jen announced. She and Patrick set the craft down behind some trees.

            “Mike, you and Allie are the best ones for this job,” Patrick told the two S/Os. “Find a place to leave our helmets, and then put to use your astounding powers of observation,” he added jokingly. “Find out what you can. Anything that will help us.”

            “Menlo, stay with Lenore,” Mike told his dog. Menlo jumped up on the bench seat and sat next to Lenore. She put her arm around him and he lapped her cheek. The two S/Os cloaked, stepped out of the craft, and walked toward the building. People were standing or sitting in groups talking. Others dozed on the grass. There were so many people the cloaked S/Os had to work at avoiding them. “What do you make of this?” Mike asked Allie through their head cover communicators.

            “They’re camping. It’s a picnic, or maybe a meeting of some sort,” Allie answered. “They don’t seem to be doing any work.” As the two invisible time travelers entered the building Allie said immediately, “We know what this is. We saw lots of them when we were cadets and taking our Methods of Observation class.”

            “Yeah, Mike answered. “There’s no doubt. It’s a temple. In fact, there’s the altar. It’s in front of two statues of gods.” The statues were huge and carved from the same yellow granite as the domed building. They represented a man and a woman standing side by side, holding hands like they were in love. The statues stared out to sea, out to the east where the sun would rise every morning. Gifts and sacrifices were piled in front of the statues. “These people are pilgrims,” Mike said. “They’ve come here on a pilgrimage to worship.”

            Inside the temple was not a good place to leave the helmets for programming. There were lots of people in the building, but they were all praying silently. “We have to find a place outside where people are talking,” Allie told Mike, jerking his thumb toward the campground. Outside, they spotted a ledge over a window. Plenty of people were sitting on the porch under the window and the helmets could hear them clearly.

            Mike put his hands together and Allie placed her foot in them. Then, he boosted her high enough to place the helmets on the ledge. Allie covered them with a craft cloak cover so they would not be seen. Then, she tapped Mike on the head to tell him she was done. He slowly lowered her.

            Back in the craft, Nick announced, “I can’t want to wait in this cabin for three days. It’s too cramped. I’ll go nuts. I vote we do some exploring while the helmets are being programmed.” The others all nodded in agreement. This huge island was in the tropics. Even though the earth was beginning to come out of an ice age, and the glaciers were melting, it was warm and pleasant here.

            “These people are camping, so it must be safe to sleep outside at night,” Patrick observed. “I guess that means there are no wild animals in the area. It should be safe for us too. We have Menlo just in case. He’ll warn us if there’s any danger.”

            The crews followed a footpath away from the temple and came to a road. They followed the road to the west, away from the ocean, and found themselves in farmland. Crops grew in small, neat fields on both sides of the road. There were no farm animals. In fact, birds were the only animals the crews saw on their tour. Nick made the group wait while he watched a farmer working. The farmer was holding a rod parallel to the ground. As he slowly walked along his field, the grain in front of the rod fell like it was being mowed. Another farmer followed behind the first, holding another rod. As he walked along, the grass swept itself up into long rows. “They are using those rods to harvest the grain,” Nick told the others in awe. “I have to get my hands on one of those things.” 

            Three days later, after making a long loop through the countryside, the crews ended up back at their craft. The others watched while Mike and Allie found the helmets and returned them to their friends. “We need information,” Mike said. “This mission is one big mystery, both now and in our time. One option is to cloak and just listen to these people talk. Maybe we will learn some things. But we can’t be sure they will answer our questions. There is no point in going back to the city. No one there is talking. I suggest the second option. We uncloak and introduce ourselves to these people. They seem friendly.”

            “That’s too risky,” Patrick said. “They look friendly, but what if they’re not? This is my idea. The girls are the same size as these people. They will fit in better than we will. Nick, you’re so tall you’ll give them heart attacks. We’ll stay cloaked, but we’ll stand right beside the girls. If there are any problems, we jump in and rescue them. We’re so much bigger than these people; we can fight our way back to the craft. I don’t think we’ll have any trouble here, but if we do, that’s our fall back plan.”

            “You do the talking, Allie,” Jen said. “With your bubbly personality you can start a conversation with a statue.” Jen was right. Allie could chat with strangers and make them feel comfortable. When they were cadets at the Institute, there was always a crowd around Allie. She was the best one to approach these people.

            All six donned their programmed helmets and the boys cloaked. The three girls approached two men who were sitting on the porch talking. “Hello,” Allie said. “It is a very nice day.”

Continued next Saturday.

This book and the previous four in the series are available at: castletonseries.com

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Chapter 8 (cont.)

Chapter Eight (Cont.)

Fred and Wilma

            It was cramped in the craft. The sun had set, but it was too early to go to sleep. The crews were bored, cooped up inside the tight space. “I wish we had a television,” Patrick said. “Or a CD player.”

            “That reminds me,” Mike told Allie. “I brought something to show you.” He rummaged around in his bag and found a small box-shaped device. “It’s a Pitch Perfect,” he told her. “It’s a technology that’s being used a lot by singers in my time. It adjusts a singer’s pitch. If his voice is flat, or he can’t reach a note, this takes care of it for him. No matter how bad he is, he sounds perfect.”

            Allie said, “I read about this technology when I was in school in Ukraine studying music history, before I became a cadet. Don’t I remember that a lot of people didn’t like it? They thought it was wrong for singers to use it”

            “I’m one of them,” Mike answered. “I think this technology is cheating.”              

            “How does it work?” Allie asked.

            “The microphone plugs into this jack on this end,” Mike explained. “The amplifier plugs in here on the other end. The voice goes in one side and comes out the other. If it’s off key when it goes in, it comes out all adjusted and perfect. The audience hears the song with no mistakes.”

            “If you think it’s cheating, why did you buy one?” Nick asked. He reached over and took the Pitch Perfect from Mike.

            “I thought I should know how they work,” Mike told Nick, while his friend examined the device. “I would never use one in a performance. That’s lying to the audience. If a performer can’t sing all the notes, he or she shouldn’t sing that song. The Pitch Perfect is like an athlete using performance enhancing drugs. The guys who take drugs can do things they couldn’t do before. It’s cheating. When my audience hears me sing they have a right to know the voice they hear is me, the way I really sound.”

            Nick opened the Pitch Perfect’s case and looked inside. “Hmm,” he said, showing the electronics to Lenore. “This is how it works.” Lenore looked inside and nodded her head. She was an engineer too and figured out the gadget as fast as Nick.

            “It’s lights out, guys,” Jen announced. “We have to get some sleep. I hope we get lucky tomorrow and find that city right away, but I’m afraid we still have lots of work ahead of us.” The two crews were cramped in the Auckland. They spent a long time shifting around the crowded cabin trying to find a comfortable position. Allie and Lenore were the smallest, so they slept on the bench seats with their knees pulled up to their hips. The other four twisted and squeezed themselves so they all fit on the floor like pieces to a puzzle. Menlo tried to find a spot on the floor, but gave up. He walked over the four bodies and jumped up with Allie. She wrapped her arm around him so he wouldn’t fall off the bench seat. In minutes, Menlo began to snore.

            Jen woke up with Nick’s foot in her face. She struggled to pull herself into a standing position so she could look out the porthole windows. There was no danger. She opened the Auckland’s door and stepped out. “Up and at ‘em, you guys,” she told the sleeping crews. “We’ve got a full schedule ahead of us.” The crews joined Jen outside and stretched the kinks out of their stiff bodies.

            The six time travelers and their dog picked up where they had left off the day before. Mike and Allie kept track of how many generations they jumped backwards in time. While they had no way of knowing what year it was, it was important they make a good guess. To do his work, Chaz needed to know the city’s approximate age. With Lenore’s help, Mike and Allie logged each woman’s sequence. When they got back, they would give their records to the Institute to add to the directory.

            Mike observed the tools and clothes people wore. They changed as they moved back in time, and were no longer as well made as in the Neolithic village. “It makes sense,” he explained to the others. “Human progress happened as time moved forward. We’re moving backward, so we’re seeing change happen in the opposite way. Things are going from more advanced to more primitive. At some point, we’re going to end up in the Old Stone Age.”

            The next time the crews got out of the Auckland they found themselves outside a cave, rather than in a village. Smoke was rising from the cave’s opening and people were working inside and out. There was snow on the ground. “It’s happened,” Mike said. “These are cavemen. We’ve gone back before the Agricultural Revolution, the time when people started living in villages.”

            “I’ve noticed that the air has been colder the last several sequences,” Lenore said. “Why do we keep stopping in winter?”

            “Until about 10,000 years before our time most of Europe was covered by a glacier,” Mike explained. “It was a sheet of ice 3000 feet thick. That’s like ten football fields stacked end on end. The pack of ice was huge. The climate was so cold people moved south looking for places warm enough for them to live. They ended up in southern Spain and Italy. I’m guessing we’re in one of those places. Those countries are warm in our time, but their temperatures were much lower during the glacier. That’s why it gets colder the farther back we go in time. Unless we find that city soon, it’s gonna get worse. Right now, the Ice Age is ending and things are warming up. We’re going back into it. The weather will get a lot colder.”

            After their long search the crews were tired and decided to spend the night in the woods near the cave. Once again, they crammed themselves into the Auckland’s cabin. The next day, they continued their search. They followed women’s sequences and traveled back into the Ice Age. Mike was right. They saw more and more snow and it got colder and colder. 

            As they stood outside another cave Mike informed his companions they were definitely in the Old Stone Age. “You guys have to let me look around again,” he begged. “This will help me so much with my Anthropology class.”  The cloaked time crews snuck into the cave and watched the inhabitants go about their lives. There were a lot fewer people in this group of cave dwellers than in the Neolithic villages. Mike explained that these people were still modern humans; they just had a more primitive technology than the villagers. The cave residents did look like people you would see back home on the street; except they wore skins and the men had beards.

            The people had dogs, but no cows or pigs. Mike showed his friends their tools and weapons. The cavemen had bows and arrows and spears. Their stone knives were primitive compared to what they had seen in the Neolithic village.

            Talking through his helmet communication system so the cavemen would not hear the invisible visitors, Mike called the others to come see something he had found. “You have to see this woman,” he said. The woman was lying on top of an animal skin and seemed to be sick. One of the cave women was feeding her. “She looks different from the others,” Mike said. The time travelers all agreed. She did appear different from the other cave dwellers. She was short and heavy. She had thicker arms and legs. Her forehead was bigger and her nose was wider. Her hair was a sandy red, her eyes were blue, and her skin was fair. All the others in the cave had dark hair, brown eyes, and an olive skin.

            “Do you know what she is?” Mike asked the others with excitement in his voice, like he had made an amazing discovery. “This woman is a Neanderthal! This is amazing. I figure we’re gone back about 12,000 years before our time. My text book said Neanderthals lived in southern Spain and went extinct about 24,000 years before our time. This woman shouldn’t be here. But she is. This means Neanderthals lived a lot longer than we thought.

            “I’m not sure why she’s here in this cave with a bunch of modern humans,” Mike added.

            “They’re caring for her,” Allie said. “I wonder if they found her sick and took her in.”

            “That’s as good a guess as any,” Mike replied. “Compassion is a trait of modern humans.” The group left the cave and returned to their craft. Before boarding to continue their search Mike pulled off his head cover and said to the others, “If they have a sick Neanderthal in there, that means there must be more of them in this area. We have to find them.”

            “Mike, so far we’ve put up with your fascination with all this anthropology stuff and we haven’t complained,” Patrick said. “I’m tired. I’m tired of following sequences. I’m sick of squeezing into a crowded craft. I want to find that city for Chaz. Then, I want to go back to the crew quarters. I want to take a shower, have a good meal, and sleep in a bed.”

            “Guys,” Mike argued. “We have to find the Neanderthals. We’ve made a major discovery. Isn’t that our job? The reason we time travel is to learn new things, to increase knowledge.”

            The others looked at the ground. They all felt like Patrick. They were tired. This mission was wearing them down. However, Mike was right. They time traveled to expand knowledge. They had stumbled onto something important, and they had to do their job. “Okay,” Jen said to the crews. “All aboard. What’s your plan, Mike? How do we find a tribe of Neanderthals without a map?”

            “We do the same as when we were looking for the Auckland outside Carthage. Fly in an outward spiral. It’s pretty safe to say the Neanderthals live in a cave. They have to be burning a fire for heat, as it’s too cold to survive without one. We should be able to spot the smoke, even at a long distance.            

            Mike was right. Spiraling outward Jen and Patrick spotted a cloud of smoke coming up from a hillside. They set the craft down outside another cave. The crews cloaked their uniforms so they could sneak inside. Like the sick woman, these were Neanderthals and they were all short and muscular. Mike led the others around the cavern. He showed them how differently Neanderthals lived from the modern humans in the other cave. Things were really primitive here. The Neanderthals didn’t have bows and arrows. They only had stone-pointed spears. There were no dogs. There were only a few children. “They’re going extinct,” Mike said. “Without children, there will soon be no Neanderthals. We’ve arrived real close to the end of their species.”

            The crews left the cave, and before going the craft stopped to look at the scenery. “I recognize that shape,” Patrick said, pointing at a large hill standing all by itself. It’s the Rock of Gibraltar. You see it in ads for an insurance company. Where’s all the water? Gibraltar stands in the middle of the sea.”

            “You’re right,” Mike replied. “That is Gibraltar. I recognize it too. That means we’re in southern Spain. There’s no water around the rock because the oceans are so much lower. Remember, a lot of the earth’s water is locked up in that enormous glacier. If we walked in that direction we would end up in Africa. You can’t do that in our time, because there’s ocean between Africa and Spain. Now we now know where we are. Since we left that first Neolithic village, we’ve gone south. Makes sense that we would move from the cold north to a warmer area.”

            “You’ve found your Neanderthals, Mike,” Jen said. “We still have our mission. Now, can we look for the island and the city?”

            The Auckland and CT 9225 headed out to sea, to the location where the island and the city should be. The two crews were surprised when they came to land. Every other time they had flown over this area there had only been ocean. “I think we have finally found it,” Nick said. “Only this island is a lot bigger than that one Chaz is working on.”

            The two crews saw the city in the distance. They couldn’t miss it. Even from far away, the polished granite was beautiful. The city sparkled like a crown covered with colored jewels. When they reached the city Jen and Patrick flew low over the buildings. The time travelers were amazed at how perfect everything looked. The city was clean and neat. It was like it had just been built and no one had moved in. “Let’s fly around for a while,” Allie suggested. “We should get an idea of what’s down there before we land. It looks pretty quiet from up here, but there could be danger.”

Continued next Saturday.

This book and the previous four in the series are available at: castletonseries.com

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Chapter 8

Chapter Eight

Fred and Wilma

            The Auckland and CT 9225 never moved. They just appeared on the same spot 9,000 years earlier, still bound together with duct tape. The crews put on their gloves and head covers and cloaked. Then, they stepped out to find their man. They were surprised that the scene on the hillside had not changed much in 9,000 years. The olive grove was gone and pine trees grew in its place, but the ocean still sparkled in the distance.

            They spotted a young man a short distance away, sitting alone. He was about the same age as the crews. He was dressed in leather clothes and wore jewelry made from seashells and bones. He was looking down the hill and his manner made it clear; he was waiting for someone. The crews soon saw who it was. A young woman was climbing the hill to meet him. She too was wearing leather clothes and the same type of jewelry.

            The couple sat together, held hands, and talked while the crews watched. They could not understand the language and were not going to stay in this time long enough to program their helmets. The man put his face near the woman’s, looked into her eyes, and said something. The woman burst into a smile and threw her arms around his neck. They kissed a while. Eventually, the woman stood and pulling on his hand, urged the man to stand. They started down the hill together. All the way down, he had his arm around her and she had her head on his shoulder.

            “I wonder what that was all about,” Nick said.

            “You don’t know?” Lenore asked in surprise. “It was so obvious.”

            “I don’t know either,” Patrick answered. “She seemed happy though.”

            “You guys didn’t get that? Really?” Allie asked with the same surprise as Lenore. “That was a marriage proposal. He asked her to marry him, and she agreed. They’re on the way to the village so she can tell everyone.”

            “If he is Fred Flintstone,” Patrick joked. “We know her name was Wilma.”

            “Isn’t he a little young to get married?” Nick asked.

            “If he stays healthy he’ll probably live to 35,” Mike explained. “If he lives to 50, he’ll be a really old man. People in this time have to marry young in order to be around long enough to raise their families.” Allie squeezed Mike’s hand and put her head on his arm. “He’s real lucky,” Mike added sadly. “He’s got his girl. Even if his life is short, he’ll get to live it with her. I’m envious.”

            The Auckland and the CT 9225 followed the young man’s sequence back to his birth. There, his sequence ended and connected to his mother’s. The crews exited their craft again and this time found themselves in the village. “Makes sense we’d end up down here,” Mike said. “His mother’s going to have her baby in her home, not out on the hillside.” The crews heard a baby cry in a nearby hut. They knew the young man they had seen propose to his girl had just entered the world. “It messes with your mind,” Mike whispered.

            With his birth the man’s sequence had just begun.  The crews had visited two of his most important frames, being born and choosing a wife. The rest of his life would have to remain a mystery. The crews had a mission. “Okay, that’s that,” Patrick announced to his friends. Let’s pick up his mother’s sequence.”

            “No!” Mike said. “You can’t drag me away now. You have to let me see this place. This is what I’m studying in Anthropology. Please, guys. Just a quick look around.”

            The village was nicer than the crews would have imagined, nicer than Neo-lithic villages portrayed in the movies. About a 100 people lived here. The houses were made of sticks woven together like a basket and then covered with mud. They boys had seen this type of construction before, in Hilton. It’s called wattle and daub. The dried mud sealed the walls and kept the wind out. Dogs ran between the houses. Cows and pigs were kept behind wooden rail fences. Fields of grain grew around the village. It was getting near harvest time and waves of high grass swayed in the wind, looking like a green sea.

            “They‘re growing grain,” Mike observed. “This is the Agricultural Revolution, just like we talked about in class. Generations ago they noticed that some plants have bigger grains. They’ve figured out how to get a more food from the same ground by choosing and planting just those bigger seeds. Now, harvests are more abundant.

            “I need to see their stone tools,” Mike told his friends. “This is the New Stone Age. I’ve seen pictures of their tools in my text book. They were really well made.” The group approached a home. A bow and a quiver of arrows hung on a peg outside the door. “This is a longbow,” Mike observed. “It is okay, but not as good as the ones we made at Hilton. It is flat on both the front and back. Ours were shaped like the letter D, flat in front and round in back. There’s no white sapwood to give it added snap when the archer lets go. This bow is okay for hunting, but not for war.”

            Mike knew what he was talking about. He, Nick, and Patrick had learned to make longbows and arrows at Hilton in medieval England. The Auckland crew understood. They had learned the bow maker’s craft at New Durham in the far future.

            “Interesting arrows,” Patrick noted. “At Hilton, we made the sticks for the shafts by splitting logs into long, thin pieces. Then, we hammered the pieces through a hole in an iron plate to smooth and straighten them. These arrows look like they are made from shoots of trees.”

            “No steel arrow heads,” Nick said. “These heads are stone, but they’re well made. And sharp!” he said testing a point with his finger tip. Pointing to another group of arrows Nick added, “These are interesting heads. They seem to be made from bone. Why do you think they have these strange teeth on the edges? They look like some sort of comb.”

            “Those are for fishing,” Mike explained. “Those curved teeth that bend away from the point are called barbs. Once the arrowhead goes through the fish the barbs hold it like hooks. No matter how much the fish squirms, it can’t pull loose. See these arrows with a round stone head? They’re made for shooting birds. The arrow doesn’t go into the bird; it just hits it hard, like a punch. It knocks the bird out of the air so the hunter’s dog can get it.”

            Mike waved to his friends to follow him. He had found what he was looking for. He approached a group of three men from behind. They were sitting on the ground making stone tools. They started by hitting a rough stone with a smooth, round stone. The blow broke the rough stone into smaller pieces. “This is called flint knapping,” Mike explained, whispering through his helmet radio. The others could hear him, but the men could not. “My Anthropology teacher showed the class a video about this. The video showed some guys from our time who have figured out how flint knapping was done. The round stone is a hammer stone. It breaks the flint into pieces. This guy is shaping the pieces with a deer antler. He presses on the flint and small chips slide off. He does that until he gets the shape he wants.”

            “What is that man making?” Lenore asked. “The one putting pieces of flint into a curved stick.”

            “It’s going to become a sickle,” Mike answered. “It’s a tool for cutting grain when they bring in the harvest.”

            “Seen enough?” Patrick asked Mike. “We do have a mission.”

            “Yeah, thanks,” Mike answered. “I’m ready to go.” On the way out of the village the group stopped one more time to watch a group of woman grinding flour. They were using round stones the size and shape of a submarine sandwich. They put a handful of grain on a flat rock and crushed it by rolling the round stone over it. This turned the grain into flour. The women swept the white dust into a clay bowl and started on another handful.

            “Peaceful place,” Mike said as they returned to the craft. “This village reminds me of Hilton, New Durham, and Kwaisiton. It’s nice - living in a small town where you know all your neighbors and work with them.”          

            The two time craft picked up the man’s mother’s sequence and followed it back to her birth. When they opened the Auckland’s door the crews were surprised to find themselves in a different village. “Of course,” Mike announced. “The women are born in one village, but usually marry a man from another village. Then, as a new wife, she goes to live with her husband. It makes sense. Their villages are so small everyone is related. If you’re a girl, your choices of a husband are pretty limited. Most of the men in your village are either your cousins or your brothers.”

            “Ooooo!” Jen said twisting her face like she had eaten a lemon. “I have two brothers. I wouldn’t want to end up married to either of them. My cousins aren’t so great either.”

            “Yeah,” Allie agreed. “I have a brother too. The thought of marrying him gives me the creeps.”

            “You have a brother?” Mike asked. “I didn’t know that.”

            Next, the crews jumped to the mother’s mother’s sequence. Then they followed her grandmother’s, and then her great grandmother’s. Lenore, Mike and Allie, counted five sequences and recorded them for the directory.

            After five sequences Jen and Patrick flew the craft over the ocean to look for the island and the unidentified city. They were not there – just wide, rolling sea. “The rest of the world is still in the Stone Age and that incredible city has already come and gone,” Allie said. “They’re going to have to rewrite the history books. Chaz has an amazing discovery on his hands.” Mike scowled at hearing his girlfriend mention the archaeologist’s name.

            The crews repeated the same search pattern over and over. They followed the sequences for five mothers and each time, ended up in a new village. This happened so many times, they were no longer sure where they were. Perhaps they weren’t even in Spain any more. Mike figured they had gone back 600 years.

            “I’m beat,” Nick said at the end of a sequence. “We’ve been working all day. When do we knock off? Come to think of it, we haven’t been working all day. We’ve been working for six centuries. I’m tired.”

            “It is curious,” Lenore added. “We’re tired from all this work. But because we have been jumping around in time, we have no way to measure how many hours we’ve been at it. I guess we just have to listen to our bodies. We should quit when they tell us that we’ve done a day’s work. Time travel sure does mess with the mind.”

            The crews examined the forest around the craft to be sure there was no danger. Then, Patrick and Mike gathered some wood while Nick started a fire. As the sun went down Mike advised, “We should go into the craft. This is the Neolithic and there are lots of wild animals roaming around. They’re all extinct in our time. But they are here now, and they hunt at night. I’m too young to become someone’s dinner.”

            “They would take Patrick first,” Nick replied. “He has more meat on his bones.”

            “Good job, Nick,” Mike congratulated his friend. “You just made another joke.” Nick was surprised. He wasn’t trying to be funny; he had just said the obvious. If you were an animal looking for someone to eat, Patrick was a better choice than Mike. He had more meat on his bones.

Continued next Saturday.

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Chapter 7 (cont.)

Chapter Seven

The Green-Eyed Monster

            “Lenore says Mapper teams get lost all the time,” Jen added. “I’m worried about that. They’re experienced and know what they’re doing. What if one of us gets lost, or if our two craft get separated?”

            “We could go in one craft,” Patrick suggested.

            “It would be safer if we had two,” Jen responded. Mike, Lenore, and Nick nodded their heads in agreement. Yes, it was much safer to have two craft. If there was an accident or danger, no one at the Institute would know where, or when, they were. But how to avoid one craft, or both getting lost?

            “I have an idea, Nick announced. “Leave it to Lenore and me. In fact, we should get to work right away.” He and Lenore stood up and left the Auckland. “Patrick, we could use a little muscle,” Nick said as he walked out the door. Patrick got up and followed the two engineers.

            “Mike,” Jen said to the Fixer S/O. “You’re worried about nothing. Allie is crazy about you. She’s just friends with Chaz.”

            “She doesn’t act like she’s crazy about me,” Mike pouted. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll have to go by myself. Even that dumb dog would rather be with Chaz.”

            “I’ll go with you,” Jen offered. “You shouldn’t be alone when you’re hurting like this.” The pair started out for the beach in the distance.

            When Mike and Jen returned, they saw the results of Nick’s idea. Patrick had helped the two engineers line up the CT 9225 and the Auckland so their sides were touching. Then, he had wrapped them together with dozens of twists of duct tape. When they went on their mission, the two craft would fly together.

            “Does one craft have enough power to tow another?” Jen asked.

            “No,” Lenore answered. “Each craft will be under its own power. You’ll be flying the Auckland, and Patrick will be in control of the CT 9225.”

            “And how is Patrick going to get into the CT 9225?” Jen asked. “His door is pressed up against the Auckland’s side.”

            “We connected his human interface panel into the Auckland’s console,” Lenore explained. “You’ll fly the Auckland like you always do. He’ll stand beside you and fly the CT 9225. It will be a bit tricky, but you two are such good pilots we’re sure you will get the hang of it fast. We also moved the CT 9225’s gear into the Auckland; since we can’t get into the other craft without cutting the duct tape.”

            “You guys are amazing,” Jen said in awe at the two engineers and their work.

            “My grandpa always said duct tape will fix anything,” Nick announced proudly. “You guys have figured out how we’re going to find this city in the past. That means we’re ready for this mission. Let’s get under way.”      

            Mike was the last one into the Auckland. Jen and Patrick were standing at the pilot’s post, in front of their consoles. Nick and Lenore were sitting on one bench holding hands. Allie was on the other bench with Menlo. He had his head in her lap as she gently scratched behind his ear. Mike did not make eye contact with Allie and sat as far from her as he could. She smiled at him and held out her hand for him to hold. He stared straight ahead and folded his arms. Allie’s expression showed how much she was hurt and embarrassed. Lenore and Nick looked at the floor to avoid embarrassing her more.

            Jen closed the Auckland’s door with an addition problem and she and Patrick each started their craft. “Square root two,” Jen said. “X plus Y cubed,” Patrick added. They had turned on their cloaks. Mike looked up as the two pilots giggled at their math humor problems. Jen showed Patrick her screen and he laughed. Then, he showed her his. She chuckled. “I liked yours better,” Patrick told her as he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

            “Hold on,” Jen told the others. “Northern Spain, here we come. We’re going to take it slowly until we get the hang of flying the craft together. We apologize in advance if the ride’s a bit bumpy. So, sit back and enjoy.” Jen immediately realized she had said the wrong thing. Allie and Mike were not enjoying anything right now.

            Jen opened the Auckland’s door. Nick and Lenore were seated opposite the door, so they were able to see out. The countryside was green and pleasant. Even before they stood they could feel a soft breeze. “Beautiful,” Nick said to Patrick. “How did you ever find a spot this nice?” The hillside overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. A large grove of olive trees spread out below them on the hillside. In the distance, they could see the roof tops of a small village and the masts of fishing boats in the harbor. Here on top of the hill, they were all by themselves.

            While the others got out, Jen and Lenore stayed behind to work on the Auckland. “Mike and Allie are having a real tough time,” Lenore said to her team leader.

            “Yeah,” Jen agreed. “I’ve never seen Mike so angry. I went for a walk with him on the island. He was hurt that Allie was spending all her free time with Chaz. I know Chaz is a nice guy, but Mike is her boyfriend.”

            “Can you talk Patrick into staying here for a couple of days?” Lenore asked. “It would give them time to work things out. Besides, I don’t think we should go on a mission unless our S/Os are working well together.” Jen nodded to indicate that she would talk to her boyfriend.

            The three girls walked down the hill to the village to buy some food while the boys stayed with the craft. Menlo went with the Auckland’s crew. There was no need to cloak. This was their time and they could move about freely. The people in the village knew about the Time Institute and would recognize their red Researcher uniforms. “I know your feelings are hurt,” Jen said to Allie as they passed through the olive grove.

            “What’s wrong with him?” Allie asked with tears in her eyes. “He was fine one minute and then he turned into a monster.”

            “Well, you did ignore him,” Lenore said as gently as possible. “You caused what my grandmother called the green-eyed monster. That’s the name she used for jealousy.”

            “What? When?” Allie asked in surprise.

            “Ever since we got to the island,” Lenore explained. “You and Chaz spent all your time together and ignored the rest of us.”

            “Really?” Allie responded. She reviewed the day in her mind. “Yes, we did go off by ourselves, didn’t we, on the beach and back at the camp? It’s just that we became friends when I stayed on the island. He had so many new things to tell me. The dig is so interesting.”

            “Oh boy! You S/Os are so smart and so dumb at the same time,” Jen told her roommate. “You were so focused on learning about the dig you missed that Chaz has it bad for you.”

            “Really? No!” Allie insisted. “We’re just friends.”

            “He was flirting with you like crazy and wanted to get you by yourself,” Lenore told Allie. “Everyone can see it. Especially Mike.”

            “I’ve got some apologizing to do,” Allie admitted with concern.

            Back on the hill, Mike sat alone on the grass staring at the ocean. Patrick sat on one side of him, and Nick on the other. “Life stinks, eh?” Patrick said to break the ice.

            “Yeah,” Mike answered. “I have a girl that would rather be with another guy, and a dog that would rather be with that girl. At least I still have you two.”

            “I know Chaz wants Allie,” Nick said. “I don’t know why she let him flirt with her all day, but I don’t think she’s changed her mind about you. Still, you can’t treat her like dirt. You have to talk with her and find out what’s on her mind.”

            The boys were still sitting on the grass when they spotted the girls walking up the hill carrying bags of food. They stood up and walked down to meet them. Patrick and Nick took the bags and nodded their heads to Jen and Lenore, a gesture that said come away with us; leave Mike and Allie by themselves.

            “I’ve been a jerk,” Mike said. “I’m sorry, Allie. Forgive me.”

            “No. I need to apologize,” Allie answered. “I was the jerk. I spent all that time with Chaz, ignoring you. I should have seen he was flirting with me. I got all wrapped up in what he was telling me about the dig.” Mike took her in his arms and kissed her. Menlo wanted in on the hug. He stood on his hind legs, his front paws resting on their shoulders. They each put an arm around the dog and hugged him too. “Mike, I love you so much,” Allie said between kisses. “In my daydreams you and I get married. We’re from different times and I don’t how it could ever work, but that’s what I dream about.”

            Mike reached into his uniform shirt and pulled out the gold locket that he wore around his neck. “I love you too, Allie,” he said looking deeply into the redhead’s brown eyes. “Here’s the proof. I’ve never taken this off since the day you gave it to me.” He opened the locket and showed Allie the picture Jen had taken of them in the cadet dormitory common room. Just before Jen snapped the photo, Mike had put his arm around Allie’s shoulder and pulled her to him. The pair had inclined their heads so they were touching. Allie had given Mike the locket as he left on his first mission. Unsure if they would ever see each other again, she had engraved Remember Me on the inside of the cover, opposite the photo.

             “You’re the only girl I have ever loved,” Mike said from the bottom of his heart. “I wish we could get married. We’re both victims of the experience of time. We’ve got the same problem Jen would have faced if she had married Philip in Alexandria. If we live together in your time, I never grow old. You would age and die and I would still be young. The opposite would happen if we lived in my time. I don’t know how we could make it work. I only know I never want to have an argument again.”

            “I love your dog too,” Allie said, giving Menlo a kiss on the nose. “He’s so sweet.”

            “There’s no doubt he loves you,” Mike said, tugging lovingly on one of Menlo’s ears.

            By the time Mike and Allie reached the top of the hill, the others had opened the food and spread a cloak cover on the ground. “Welcome back,” Lenore said to the lovebirds. “We’re having a picnic.”

            As the group sat eating Mike explained to the others where they were. “The area of ocean out there is called the Bay of Biscay. We’re in the corner where France and Spain meet. This is an interesting place. It’s called the Basque country. The Basque are an ancient people. Their language is different from all the other European languages. All the other languages – French, German, Spanish - come from a long-dead tongue called Indo-European. But not Basque. No one knows how it got here, or where it came from. It’s a unique language. It’s not related to any other language in the world.”

            “Sounds like a mystery for some Research Team,” Patrick said, resting back on his elbows. His belly was full and he felt relaxed. Thinking about a strange language was not what he wanted to do in such a beautiful place, on such a beautiful day. He wanted to spend his afternoon with a beautiful woman. He took Jen’s hand and put his head on her shoulder. The group fell silent as they all enjoyed the view and the company. Menlo rolled around on the grass, amusing himself. While on his back, he gently fell asleep with his paws in the air.

            The crews camped on the hillside two days. Finally Jen announced, “We have a mission to do. I could stay here forever, but the Time Institute doesn’t pay me to hang around.” The crews reluctantly packed their gear into the Auckland. “Find that guy’s sequence, Patrick,” Jen said. “Program it into the CT 9225. I’ll do the same with the Auckland. It’s amazing he lived right here on this spot, all those years ago. I wonder what his name was.”

            “Wasn’t it Fred Flintstone?” Nick asked. “Or maybe Barney Rubble?”

            “You did it again,” Mike teased. “You made a joke. If he hangs around with me long enough, he’ll develop a sense of humor,” he said to Lenore, while elbowing his friend. Nick smiled. Yes, he had made a joke. He liked it.

            Jen closed the Auckland’s door and the two pilots answered their math questions. The two craft, tied together with duct tape made a silent, motionless leaped 9,000 years back in time. They ended up on a sequence of some unknown guy that some Mapper team had accidentally discovered.   

Continued next Saturday.

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Chapter 7

Chapter Seven

The Green-Eyed Monster

            The boys settled into their apartment in the crew quarters. The Auckland’s crew invited them down the hall for supper and then left the boys to go prepare the meal. Menlo went with the girls. He knew food was going to be cooked. If he looked sad enough, bits and pieces would find their way to his mouth.

            After supper, Jen suggested the crews begin the mission with a visit to the dig. That way the boys could see it themselves. She knew that Chaz had returned with his team of archaeologists and was already there.  Chaz had told the girls about his new plan. He would have his crew work in shifts. No one would be allowed in the trench for more than one day, without taking a day off. Chaz had developed this approach with the doctors at the medical center. He hoped it would allow him to keep the dig going without his people going into a trance.

            After supper, the group of time travelers sat together in the Auckland crew’s living room and relaxed and chatted. Allie brought out a gift box. The boys looked up wondering what it could be. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. Other than the Sirens’ success at the Newsroom, nothing noteworthy had happened that would call for a gift. Allie placed the box on the floor in front of Menlo. “Here, this is for you,” she told the dog. Menlo sniffed the box and walked around it. Finally, he put a paw on the box and tugged at the ribbon with his teeth. When the bow was untied, he used his nose to push off the box top. He pulled out a piece of clothing.

            “What is it?” Patrick asked.

            “It’s a gift from the Auckland’s crew to Menlo,” Jen explained. “It was Allie’s idea; Lenore drew up the plan. Then, Bashir at the Time Institute laboratory made it. It’s a doggy Fixer uniform.”

            “We all wear uniforms because they identify us as part of the Time Institute,” Lenore said. “They protect us if we are lost in space. And they allow us to be invisible on missions. Menlo has accompanied us on the past two missions and he’s been a valuable team member. If he can become invisible like us, he will be even more valuable. Also, this will save him if we have an accident in space.”

            “Look,” Allie said with a big smile as she pulled the remaining pieces out of the box. “It has four gloves for his paws and a head cover shaped to his muzzle. There is even a leash. Menlo, you’ll be styling.” Menlo wasn’t sure what all the excitement was about, but everyone kept saying his name and so he joined in. He bounced around the room several times and then went from person to person lapping his or her face.

            The next morning the CT 9225 and the Auckland crews packed for their upcoming mission. The first stop was the archaeological dig. The two craft arrived and set down next to the three transports. Those much larger craft were still in the same spot as when the Auckland was here the first time – when Allie stayed with Chaz. Half the archeologists were resting in the camp. It was their day off from the dig. The two crews greeted them and Allie asked if Chaz was in the trench. He was. On the way to the dig, the boys gazed around this new island that was rising out of the Atlantic Ocean. Allie told them that it was even bigger than when she was here. It kept rising every day, and growing.

            The crews climbed into the trench. It was deeper now that the archaeologists were working again, and even more of the domed building had been exposed. Allie introduced the CT 9225’s crew to Chaz and to Will. Patrick, Nick, and Mike were amazed at the size of this building and at its smooth granite construction. The pieces were fit together so exactly the building looked like it had been cut out of one huge block of stone. Buildings in their time, and in the future were not built that perfectly. “How do you think they did that?” Nick asked, running his hand over the polished granite, looking for the joints between blocks. He thought he had found one and put his eye right up to the stone to be sure. He shook his head in wonderment.

            “It’s frustrating,” Chaz answered. “We have no answers. All we have is a great big puzzle.”

            That evening after supper Chaz invited Allie to go for a walk on the beach. Allie agreed that would be nice, but told him they should invite the others. That wasn’t what Chaz had in mind, but he realized it would be rude for him and Allie to go off alone. On the walk Chaz was shoulder-to-shoulder with Allie. He smiled as he talked. He laughed when Allie said something clever. He frequently found a reason to touch her. Mike followed behind with Patrick and Jen. He was miffed that Chaz had cornered his girlfriend and was flirting with. He was also annoyed that Allie seemed to be enjoying her walk alone with the handsome archaeologist.

            While the group was strolling along the beach, Menlo ran himself to exhaustion. This island was flat with no buildings or trees. He could go as far as he wanted without getting out of sight of his people. He had explored everywhere his curiosity had taken him. Now, he had returned and he plodded along side Mike, his tongue hanging out. “It’s nice to have you back,” Mike muttered to his dog. “You know that conversation we were going to have about loyalty. I think I have to have it with Allie too.”

            Back at the camp the group pulled folding camp chairs up to the fire. Again, Chaz placed his chair close to Allie’s. He continued to smile and laugh and to touch her arm and elbow. Mike sat next to Nick and Lenore and glared at Chaz. “What’s with him?” he asked with a pout. “Doesn’t he know she’s my girl?”

            “They became friends when Allie stayed here with him,” Lenore explained.

            “What?” Mike erupted in anger. “Allie stayed here with him? Were they alone? Where were you guys? How long was it?”

            “Jen and I went back to the Institute,” Lenore continued. “Allie was here with Chaz for most of a week. Yes, it was just the two of them, but nothing happened. They just became friends.”

            As a team leader, Patrick realized his S/O was getting overheated. He knew the fastest way to calm Mike down was to distract him with a problem that needed solving.  “Hey Brains,” he said. “Jen and I have a problem. We need to find this island in the past. We know that no sequences have ever been mapped for it. We need you to develop a plan for us. Join us in the Auckland.”  The three left together. Nick and Lenore came along to listen.

            Mike turned to look back at Allie who was still chatting enthusiastically with Chaz. Menlo was asleep by her chair. “A double slap in the face,” Mike muttered to himself. “I’ve got two traitors on my hands.”

            In the Auckland, Patrick described the problem they confronted. “How do we find this island in time? Jen and I have checked the directory. Zilch. That was predictable. If there were sequences, this place wouldn’t be a mystery.”

            “Isn’t this a job for Mappers?” Nick asked.

            “It would be if we had a Mapper team here,” Jen replied. “But we don’t. We have to do it ourselves.”

            “I may be able to help,” Lenore offered. “We all studied what Mappers do in Rabbi Cohen’s History of Time Travel class. “But, when I was a cadet, my roommate at the Institute was a Mapper S/O. She explained to me in greater detail how they work. She said a sequence is like driving along a road. A Mapper team gets on the road - the sequence - and follows it as far as they need to go. While driving along, they record all the intersections with other sequences. Then, they go back and map these intersections. So, it’s like driving back the way you came, taking a turn at an intersection, and seeing where the next road goes. They do that over and over.”

            “Rabbi Cohen said Mappers may never finish their work,” Mike observed.

            “Right,” Lenore agreed. “That’s why the directory is so incomplete. Sometimes, Mappers bump into sequences that surprise them, that they didn’t know where there. They record these accidental discoveries, even though they can’t follow them and map them.”

            “I’m guessing those surprises explain why the directory contains a bunch of sequences that go nowhere,” Jen said.

            “Yes, exactly,” Lenore continued. “My roommate said they don’t follow those surprise sequences because getting lost is a major problem for Mappers. It happens to them all the time. The only way out is for the pilot to choose a nearby sequence from the directory and go there. Once they know where they are, they return and start again. It’s demanding work.”

            “My hat’s off to the Greens,” Patrick said, referring to the green uniforms worn by Mappers. “I’m still asking; how do we find this city in the past?”

            “Lenore gave me an idea,” Mike said. “What is the oldest sequence in the directory?”

            Jen looked it up. “It is a sequence for someone who lived in the corner where France and Spain meet, about 9,000 years ago. It’s in there all by itself. It must be one of those accidental discoveries some Mapper team stumbled across. The next oldest is for an Egyptian about 4,000 years ago. It says he was involved in building the pyramids.”

            “Neolithic,” Mike said thinking to himself.

            “Huh?” Patrick asked.

            “Neolithic period,” Mike answered. “Neo – new. Lithic – stone. It’s the New Stone Age. It’s the time Dr. MacDonald told us about in our biology class. It’s during the Agricultural Revolution, when people started growing their food. They also domesticated animals. This guy probably lived in a village, not a cave.

            “Patrick, if you fly to some other place on the planet, will the craft remember its way back to this island?”

            “Yeah,” Patrick answered. “Piece of cake. All I do is program in this location. We can go anywhere in the world and always come right back to this spot.”

            “Good,” Mike said. “This is my suggestion. I’m figuring that city out there, rising out of the sea, was built before the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans. If it was around during ancient times, they would have known about it and left us a record.”

            “This sounds like something Chaz could help us with,” Lenore suggested. “He’s an archaeologist.”

            “We don’t need him!” Mike snapped. “He can sit out there and flirt with Allie all night long. I know all we need. I’m better at this stuff that he is.” The others in the Auckland were stunned at Mike’s angry outburst. They decided it best to let him explain his plan and to not offer any more suggestions, especially ones that involved Chaz. “First, Patrick, you program in this spot, this new island” Mike continued. “Then, we fly from the island to northern Spain. There, we find the guy whose sequence is in the directory, about 9,000 years ago. Then, we come back to this location, where this island is. We check to see if it and the city are here. If they’re not, we go back further in time.”

            “And how do we do that without any sequences to follow?” Patrick asked.

            “At birth, everybody’s personal sequence connects to his mother’s. We’ll start on that guy’s sequence. We follow it back until it ends, the day he was born. Then, we pick up his mother’s sequence and follow it back to her mother’s. We follow a bunch of generations of women’s sequences, and then check for the island again. If it’s not there, we go back to where we left off. We start following sequences again from mother, to mother, to mother. Then, we’ll check again for the island and the city. We keep doing that until we reach the time when the island and the city were above sea level.”

            “That’s going to take a lot of work,” Patrick noted. “What if we have to go back a thousand years? That would be a lot of sequences, and a lot of stops to check for the city.”

            “I didn’t say it would easy,” Mike argued. “But, it’s the only thing I can come up with. Anybody have another idea?” Every one shook their heads. No, Mike was right. They would have to do it this way. Patrick was right too. This was going to take a lot of work.

Continued next Saturday.

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Chapter 6 (Cont.)


Chapter Six

The Newsroom

            On the way home, Mike said to his parents, “It’s late. Can Jen, Lenore, and Allie stay at the house? They can have my room. Can Patrick and Nick stay too? The three of us will sleep in the living room.” That was fine with Mr. and Mrs. Castleton. Mike’s mother gave the boys extra pillows and blankets and went to bed. On her way upstairs Mrs. Castleton reminded Mike to let Menlo out and to make sure he was back safely in the house before the boys went to sleep.

            “What happened tonight?” Mike asked his friends. “We’ve played at school, at the clamshell, and at the Casino. We’ve never had an audience turn to stone on us.”

            “I don’t know,” Patrick answered. “They loved us. We got a standing ovation, like we were a symphony orchestra. But when we played, they froze.”

            “Except for the tears,” Nick added. “People were crying. I’ve never seen so many handkerchiefs. It was like we were at a funeral.”

            “It happened to me too,” Jen added. “I don’t know how to describe it. Your music reached inside me and found feelings I didn’t know I had. I became so emotional. I’m a Time Institute pilot; I’ve been trained to remain cool-headed. Tonight, I couldn’t. It was like you had this strange power. I loved it, but I couldn’t control it.”

            Allie was the only one who did not talk. She was a music history researcher and knew about The Sirens. She had studied them in school, in Ukraine. She had written a research paper about them. A lot of mysteries surrounded The Sirens. No one knew why at the peak of their amazing career they had suddenly stopped playing. However, she did know that before they quit they had started a musical revolution. She could not tell the boys anything she knew. She could not risk changing their sequences.

            So, she changed the subject. “Guys, we’re here for a reason.” That got the boys’ attention. “We have a mystery at the Institute. We all need to go on a mission to figure it out.” She explained what had happened – the island rising out of the sea; the ancient city; the music; the trance. The boys agreed they would go to the Time Institute the next day during the afternoon. They could slip away, do the mission, and be back in time to do their homework for Monday.

            The next morning Mike awoke. As usual, Nick was up early and his activity had disturbed his friend. While Nick went to the bathroom to dress, Mike turned on his laptop to check his Facebook page. A little red number at the top of the page said he had 108 messages. It was early on a Sunday morning and already he had more messages than ever before? He wondered if it was a joke, or a virus. Mike checked out the senders. They were all kids from Atlantic Academy. “Check this out,” the first message read. It had a link to the Portsmouth Herald’s website. “Cool!” was all the second message read. “You guys are famous!” said the next message. “Let me be a roadie,” the next friend had written.

            Mike followed the link to the newspaper’s site. He found himself in the Arts and Entertainment section reading a review about last night. He was surprised. He had not been aware there was a reporter in the audience. “Patrick, wake up,” he called to his sleeping friend. “Nick, get back in here.” While he waited for Nick, he went to the stairs and called, “Mom, Dad. Allie, Jen, Lenore. Come see.” His parents came down in their pajamas. Jen, Lenore, and Allie had thrown on their red uniforms and came down the stairs in a row. Allie’s long red hair was all tangled from her night’s sleep. Mike made note of this. He had never seen her when her sleek, shiny hair wasn’t smoothly brushed. “Wait until you hear this,” he said in answer to their puzzled expressions. “You’re gonna love it.” 

            Menlo was the last one downstairs. He had gotten up reluctantly and would have preferred to go on sleeping. “So, you slept with the girls last night,” Mike said as his dog trotted by, followed by his black and white, J-shaped tail. “One of these days you and I have to talk about loyalty, old friend. You are supposed to be my dog.” Menlo ignored Mike and went directly into the living room to where the girls were sitting cross-legged on the floor. He put his head in Lenore’s lap and fell back asleep.

            With everyone together Mike explained why he had called them. A reporter had attended the performance last night and had written a review in the Sunday morning newspaper. He had the online version on his laptop. “The column is named Seacoast Night Life and it’s written by Regina Jones,” Mike said.

            He began to read the review. “I had the most incredible experience last night. After dinner at our favorite restaurant, my husband and I wandered over to the Newsroom for a drink and to listen to the band Moon Light. It turned out Moon Light’s lead singer was recovering from an operation and the band was forced to cancel its performance. Newsroom owner Jay Black surprised the audience by booking a young, unknown band from Hampton at the last minute. We arrived just as The Sirens were taking the stage.

            “I didn’t feel cheated by the switch. As everyone knows, Mr. Black is very selective in choosing his music. The Newsroom is noted for the quality of the bands he invites. He outdid himself last night. Normally, rock bands sound alike and look alike. Not this one. The Sirens dressed like they were attending classes at their high school, Atlantic Academy. They wore blue blazers, white shirts, and ties.

            “However, their music was even more surprising than their age and their appearance. Never has music created such strong emotions in me. I feel pride when I hear the National Anthem. I cry when they play hymns at funerals. This was different. The Sirens’ music is audacious and daring. It is not just a listening experience. It’s a feeling experience. The Siren’s music reaches down inside your heart; it burrows deep into your brain. There, it finds emotions you didn’t know you had. I cried, I laughed. I was overjoyed, and I sunk into despair. I was up, and I was down. It turned me inside out. At the end I was exhausted, but I know myself better because the music took my mind to places inside me where it had never been before. The band’s name fits them well. Remember the Sirens were legendary mermaids who could hypnotize sailors with their singing. This band does something very similar.

            “Mr. Black told me he plans to book The Sirens again. When he does, don’t miss them. Soon, people all over the seacoast will be talking about these guys. If you haven’t heard them, you will be left out. This band is hot. It has a magic that I predict will take them to the big time. It will not be long before they are appearing at other seacoast locations. Catch them at one of those places if you can’t make it to the Newsroom. It will be a night you will never forget.

            “The Sirens are made up of three Atlantic Academy sophomores – Patrick Weaver on drums and Nick Pope on bass. Mike Castleton is lead guitar and singer. His signature is a captain’s hat and a hot pink, fluffy guitar strap. Mr. Black told me young Castleton writes the songs, both words and music. I don’t know if he is a natural talent, or if he learned his skills at his high school. Keep your eye on my column, because I intend to schedule these three guys for an interview. I am just as curious about them as you are.”

            The people in the living room were silent. It took them a moment to digest what they had just heard. “What was so different about last night?” Mike asked. “We played the same songs at the Newsroom that we played at the Casino. Sure, the Casino audience liked us, but it wasn’t like this.”

            Mrs. Castleton shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know dear, but we are so proud of all three of you. You have come a long way in a very short time. You’ve worked hard for the past four years to develop your music and you deserve this success. Now, who would like breakfast?”

            “We’ll help,” Jen offered as the three girls stood.

            “That will be fun,” Mrs. Castleton said enthusiastically. “We’ll have girl talk. I live in a house with two men and a dog and I don’t get to do that very often.” Menlo perked up and ran into the kitchen ahead of the women. He sat in front of the refrigerator door to be there when it opened, just in case anything fell out, or was offered to him.               

            “I’ll make the beds,” Mr. Castleton added, as he started upstairs. “Call me when you want me to come down.”

            The three boys were alone again. They looked at each other. Each hoping the others had some thoughts. At last Mike said, “This reporter is right. We’re breaking out. We really could have a shot at the big time. Whether we realize it or not, our lives changed last night. We’re no longer the most famous band at A Squared. We’re in a much bigger world, and I’m scared. I wasn’t ready for this.” The others nodded in agreement. This much success, this fast, was scary.

            “We can’t let our fear overcome us,” Mike added bravely, even though he knew he was putting on a show for the others. “We can’t let ourselves be surprised again. We need to get ready for what’s coming. We need to prepare for the band’s future, and even help make it happen.”

            “What do you have in mind?” Patrick asked.

            “We made a bundle of money last night. We should invest it in the band. I say we use the money to buy recording time. We need to record more of our songs. When we have enough, we should produce our own CD. We also need publicity photos. If we had one, the reporter would have included it with her column. Everyone would know what we look like. Seeing a picture would help them remember who we are.

            “Allie said the Auckland has a mission it has to do. When we get back, we need to deal with these things. I’m telling you, I have a strong desire to talk with Mr. Newcomb right now. I have so many questions I want to ask him. I’m gonna send him an email asking if we can have lunch together next week. I’ll go over to the grammar school cafeteria to meet him. He knows so much about music. He’s helped me before.”

            That afternoon, the boys and the girls took Menlo for a walk in the woods. It was really an excuse to get away from the house and get about their mission. “We need to take the CT 9225 to its frame of origination and leave it,” Jen explained. “You guys fly it there. We’ll pick you up and take you to our frame of origination. The CT 9225 will be there waiting for you. The boys climbed into their craft and changed into their gray Fixer uniforms. Meanwhile, the girls got into the Auckland to wait for them to take off. Menlo climbed in with the girls. Mike looked out the CT 9225’s door at Menlo. Menlo looked out the Auckland’s door at Mike. “Remember that loyalty talk we’re going to have,” he said to his dog as Patrick closed the craft’s door.

Continued next Saturday.

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Chapter 6

Chapter Six

The Newsroom

            The Hampton Casino was constructed in 1899 and is a majestic old structure. It is the biggest building on Hampton Beach and is a well-known landmark. Today, the word casino means a place to gamble. However, the Hampton Casino was built so long ago its name comes from the old meaning of the word – a place where people gather for entertainment.

            Mike Castleton walked out onto the low stage centered on the Casino’s ballroom. He was wearing his captain’s hat and holding his guitar, the one with the hot pink shoulder strap. In a matter of hours, the space would be filled with people sitting at small tables listening to his music. Nick and Patrick were waiting back stage, so Mike was the only person in the huge hall, the only person except for three others. Mrs. Castleton, Mrs. Weaver, and Mrs. Pope sat across the hall at a small table and waved at the young man on the stage.

            After winning the Battle of the Bands, The Sirens had run into a minor problem. The Casino served alcohol, and three sixteen year-old boys could not be allowed in unless accompanied by a parent. It didn’t matter if those boys were the entertainment; the law is the law. So, their mothers came along for the night. After waving at Mike they left him alone with his thoughts. They knew he was mentally preparing himself for the biggest event of his lifetime, at least so far. He was a high school sophomore and still had a lot of life ahead of him.

            Mike scanned the long, wide ballroom, up and down. He had been here last year with his father to see a famous blues musician. The man was so old he played his guitar sitting down. He no longer had the strength to stand through a performance. However, he sure could play that guitar and Mike was in awe of him. Mike thought about the blues player and all the other famous people who had stood on this stage. During the 1930s and 40s world famous Big Bands had set up in the very spot he stood right now. They had played for crowds of dancers that packed the ballroom, night after night. Those bands had played songs they had written and had made famous; songs Mike knew and loved.

            Starting in the 1950s big name rock bands had stood right here, right where Mike would stand during the performance that would begin soon. Mike closed his eyes and tried to soak in inspiration from the great ones who had been here before him. He was a time traveler and wondered if some day another young musician who was just beginning his career would stand here and think of The Sirens.

            At the end of their performance the Casino audience gave The Sirens long rounds of applause. The band played four encores. By the time people began to file out the boys were exhausted. They dripped with sweat, but they felt good. They had experienced a major success. There was no longer any doubt as to whether or not the public would like their music as much as did the students at Atlantic Academy.

            Mike was winding a long cord from his amplifier around his arm when a tall man approached the stage. “Mike,” the man said to get the singer’s attention. He held out his hand to give Mike the white business card he held between his fingers. “My name is Jay Black. I own a club in Portsmouth named the Newsroom.” Mike’s eyes opened wide. He knew the Newsroom. All the well-known bands in the seacoast played there. He also knew that all the lesser bands in the seacoast dreamed of a gig at the Newsroom, but it was too exclusive. You had to be invited to play there. Still, bands were always looking for anyone who knew Mr. Black and could put in a good word for them.

            “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sir,” Mike answered. “I hope you liked our performance.”

            “I did like it,” Mr. Black replied with a smile. “Look, I have a band booked next weekend, but the lead singer has had throat surgery and can’t sing. I need to schedule someone else. How would The Sirens like to play for me next Saturday night?”

            Mike thought he might faint. He felt dizzy and the ballroom seemed to grow dark. As he began to recover his senses, he thought he was coming out of a dream. No, it was not a dream. Mr. Black really was standing in front of the stage waiting for an answer. Meanwhile, Patrick and Nick had come over to see what was going on between Mike and this man. Mike took advantage of the opportunity to regain his footing. He introduced his band mates to Mr. Black and told them about the offer. They nodded their agreement. “That’s it,” Mike said. “It’s unanimous. The Sirens will be there.”

            “Great,” Mr. Black said, shaking hands with each boy. “Set up at six-thirty. First set at seven. Our standard fee is $2,500 for the night. Just let me know in advance who to make the check out to.”

            “Did he say $2,500?” Patrick asked as Mr. Black walked away. “He’s paying us? I would have paid him to play at the Newsroom.”

            “I just realized Saturday is Homecoming Day,” Nick added. “Mrs. Martin did us a favor. If she hadn’t insisted on bringing her brother in as the DJ, we would have already been booked. We would have had to pass on the gig at the Newsroom. Can you believe it? She actually did us a favor.”

            The next Saturday afternoon, Mike took Menlo for a walk in the woods. He wanted to be alone to mentally prepare himself for the performance that evening. It was mid-October and the leaves had begun to fall from the trees. Those that remained still held a lot of their autumn colors, different shades of reds and yellows mixed in with the last little bit of green. It was a beautiful time to be in a New England forest.

            Mike headed for the pond where he and Nick and Patrick used to play when they were younger. Back then, they liked to pretend they were astronauts exploring a newly discovered planet. Now, the boys hid their time craft, the CT 9225 in the woods on the other side of the pond, as no one ever went there. That is where they had seen their first time craft. They had thought it was a UFO. As Mike approached the pond Menlo barked in excited alarm and took off at a run. “You silly hound,” Mike called after him, thinking the dog had spotted a squirrel. Menlo ran straight down the path and out of sight around a curve. As Mike rounded the same curve he was amazed to see Allie, Jen, and Lenore on their knees in the newly fallen leaves, hugging and patting Menlo. He had recognized their scent, even before he had seen them.

            Mike ran up to the girls, greeting them with as much enthusiasm as had Menlo. He hugged each one, and added a long kiss to Allie’s hug. “What are you guys doing here,” he asked with a big smile on his face. He was delighted to have his friends with him.

            “What are we doing here?” Allie asked with a smile. “What are you doing here? We just came from the Homecoming game and were surprised you, Patrick, and Nick weren’t playing. We planned on going to the dance with you again this year.”

            “Oh boy,” Mike began. “This year we’re sophomores and would have to play on the junior varsity team. Junior varsity is a lot rougher than the freshman football we played last year. The JV coach wouldn’t let Nick on the team. He said JV players would break him like a stick. The team has three quarterbacks who are all juniors, so I would have been on the bench, and Patrick didn’t want to play without us. The coach almost cried when Patrick told him. Anyway, we didn’t go out for the team this year.

            “As for the dance, we’re playing somewhere else tonight. Since you guys are already here, why don’t you come listen to us?” The girls all agreed enthusiastically. “Oops. Minor problem,” Mike said, realizing there would be complications. “Our parents are coming too. This place serves alcohol and we’re underage. We’ll have to come up with an explanation as to who you are. We can’t tell them you’re our friends from the future.” 

            Back at the house, Mike’s mother was upstairs doing the laundry. “Mom? Some friends dropped by to visit. Can you come down and meet them?” Downstairs Mike introduced Allie, Jen, and Lenore. “They’re exchange students,” Mike explained. Allie and Jen spoke with slight accents, so the story was believable. “Patrick, Nick, and I know them from the classes we all took together.” Mike was pleased. He had managed an explanation that didn’t contain any big lies, even though some details were stretched a bit. “Do you mind if they come with us tonight?”

            At the Newsroom, Jen, Lenore, and Allie sat at a round table with the six parents. The boys were setting up their equipment. “So, where do you girls come from?” Mrs. Castleton asked, starting the conversation.

            “Jen’s from New Zealand, and Allie’s from Ukraine,” Lenore answered. She purposefully did the talking to focus attention on her friends. Lenore was born and raised in Durham, NH, about 8 miles away. However, she wouldn’t be born for a long, long time. It would be hard to explain how she had become an exchange student if she admitted she came from Durham.

            “My cousin married a man from Ukraine,” Mrs. Pope added. “I think he comes from Odessa.”     

            “Odessa is a port city on the Black Sea,” Allie explained. “I was raised outside Kiev, the capital. There’s a long distance between the two cities. How did they meet?”

            After Mrs. Pope told the story about her cousin meeting her husband, Mr. Weaver asked Jen about New Zealand. While Jen was speaking, a waiter came to the table to take their drink orders. “We don’t have any money with us,” Jen said with alarm.

            “Don’t worry,” Mrs. Castleton said reassuringly, putting her hand on Jen’s shoulder. “You’re our guests.”

            The girls weren’t sure what to order. They knew what drinks were served in the future, but not in this time. Allie decided to hope for the best. “Do you have Coke?” she asked.

            “We only serve Pepsi,” the waiter replied. Allie looked at her friends, her eyes pleading for help. Lenore and Jen both shook their heads. They didn’t know this drink either.

            “What is Pepsi?” Allie asked. The waiter was stunned.

            “They come from other countries,” Mr. Castleton explained to the waiter.

            “Uh, it’s like Coke,” the waiter told Allie.

            “Oh good,” Allie answered. “Can I have one?” Jen and Lenore said they would have the same.

            “So, where do you girls live?” Mrs. Weaver asked. “Do you stay with American families?”

            “We have our own apartment,” Jen replied. “We’re roommates.”

            “Oh?” Mrs. Weaver said, surprised that girls at Atlantic Academy would have their own apartment.

            “Why do you all dress alike?” Mr. Pope asked, noticing the girls’ red Researcher uniforms?

            “We’re involved with a program at the University of New Hampshire,” Allie answered. “They require us to wear these clothes.” The parents weren’t sure they understood, and there was a pause in the conversation while they wondered what this program could be. Perhaps it had something to do with being an exchange student. They never dreamed the program at UNH Allie referred to was the Time Institute, and it wouldn’t exist for generations. Still, Allie’s explanation was technically true.

            At that moment, Mike stepped to the microphone. He was wearing his captain’s hat and his wide, fuzzy, hot pink guitar strap was slung over his shoulder. “Thank you for coming,” he said to the audience. The Newsroom was a night club. It was intimate. That means it was a small space with the tables packed closely together. There was only enough room between tables to allow waiters and waitresses to get around. The front row of tables was only a few feet from the low stage where the band stood. The people at those tables were so close they could reach out and touch Mike. As tightly packed as they were, there were far less people here than had been at the Casio or the clamshell. “The band and I decided that this evening we would play only our original music – no cover songs. We hope you like our style.” He turned his back to the audience while Patrick and Nick began the music for the first song. Then, he turned again to face the audience and started singing.

            Half way through the first song the audience had fallen silent. The people were not just being polite. In fact, the whole club had fallen silent. Waiters stood between tables like statues. The bartender wasn’t mixing any drinks. All the people at the bar had turned to face the band. A lot of the people in the club sat with their mouths open. Some of them had tears in their eyes. This reaction repeated song after song. If Mr. Black had hoped to make money from selling drinks and food, he would be disappointed. No one was drinking or eating. They were all glued to the music.

Continued next Saturday.

This book and the previous four in the series are available at: castletonseries.com

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Chapter 5 (Cont.)

Chapter Five

Battle of the Bands

            The MC’s velvet voice announced The Sirens were playing next. The boys went on stage and set up Patrick’s drums and tuned their guitars. Some people near the clamshell saw they were wearing blazers and ties and became curious. This group looked like school boys. They wondered why one wore a captain’s hat and his guitar had a wide, hot pink, fuzzy strap. Their curiosity caused them to drift toward the benches.

            Mike opened the act singing a song with a driving beat; The kids in Bristol are hot as a pistol, when They-Do-The-Bri-Stol Stomp! It’s really something when they join in jumping, when They-Do-The-Bri-Stol Stomp! A shout went up from the crowd that was wandering around the bandstand eating seafood and looking at the other attractions. People began to file into the seats in front of the clamshell. As she walked down one of the aisles a woman with gray hair began to dance the Stomp. A man with gray hair got up to dance with her, just like when they were teenagers. Other grandparents took their grandchildren by the hands and showed them the steps. By the middle of the song dozens of people were dancing in the aisles. Other families began to fill the clamshell, clapping their hands to the strong, catchy beat. Before the song was over, The Sirens were playing to a full house.

            “Thank you. Thank you,” Mike yelled over the long applause. “Thank you. We are The Sirens from right here in Hampton. On drums we have Patrick Weaver. Patrick played a brief solo and received a rousing applause. “Nick Pope plays bass.” Nick played a deep, booming rift and bowed slightly to the excited applause. “And I’m Captain Mike Castleton,” Mike yelled as Nick and Patrick began the next song. Mike joined in, singing about waiting for the pizza delivery man; although everyone thought the song was about waiting for a girl. When the Sirens’ eight songs had ended the crowd stood up and applauded. Men put their hands to their mouth and yelled or whistled. Some took off their hats and waved them.

            When the Sirens walked off the stage, the audience stood and applauded with energy. The applause continued and continued. Someone yelled “Encore.” Soon everyone was yelling “Encore. Encore.” The MC looked at Mike, Patrick, and Nick as they stood in the door to the waiting room. “Boys, I think you had better give them what they want, or they’ll riot.” The Sirens played two encores. After the second Mike reminded the audience there were still two bands left and they deserved their chance to play. The Sirens were finally allowed to leave the stage. By the time Iron Fist and Swollen Lip were done, the audience had drifted away again. None of the other musicians spoke to the boys as they packed up their instruments. They did mumble among themselves and the boys overheard a few words like geeks, and punks.

            On Monday afternoon Mike was having lunch with Patrick and Nick in the cafeteria when his cell phone buzzed. He opened it and read the text. It was from his mother. U 1!, it read. Mike wasn’t sure what she meant. He showed the message to Patrick and Nick. “You Won!” Patrick shouted, decoding the message. Call her back and find out if it means what I’m hoping.” Mike called his mother, but her phone was busy. He was about to press redial when an announcement came over the public address system. “This just in,” Mr. Gibson, the principal said. All through Atlantic Academy’s classrooms and halls the students stopped and listened. They could detect the excitement in Mr. Gibson’s voice and knew this would be interesting. “Breaking news. Atlantic Academy’s very own band, The Sirens, won the Battle of the Bands at the Seafood Festival. It was a landslide! The Sirens are playing in October at the Casino! Congratulations boys. Good job.” The cafeteria erupted in screaming applause. A crowd of students gathered around the boys, jumping up and down and slapping them on their backs.

            After school, Mr. Newcomb located the boys before they left for home. Mr. Newcomb had been their music teacher when they were in the Atlantic Academy grade school and junior high. Like his descendant, Dr. Newcomb at the Time Institute, Mr. Newcomb wore a perpetual smile. Now, he was grinning from ear to ear. “Congratulations, boys,” he said shaking their hands. “The whole school is so proud of you. But, I think I am the proudest.” The boys thanked their teacher. It was good to see him again. “Tell me. How did you guys do it? I heard those other bands were all professionals.”

            Patrick turned to Mike. “It was his idea,” he said.

            All eyes now looked at Mike, waiting for him to explain his strategy. “I knew the other bands would all look alike,” Mike began. “Rockers have a certain look. So, I suggested we be different, so we would stand out. That’s why we wore blazers and ties. The other bands made fun of us, but when we got on stage, people became interested. As soon as they saw us, they became curious enough to come back to the clamshell.

            “While the other bands were playing I stood in the stage door and watched the audience,” Mike continued. “They weren’t the same audience you would see at a rock concert - people in their 20s and 30s. They were families. They had old folks with them. They had kids. I realized they found the other bands’ music offensive and I knew we should play songs they would like. That’s why I opened with Bristol Stomp. I won’t do that at the Casino, but I knew we had to play music that fit the audience. That’s the mistake the other bands made. They turned off the audience.”

            “Very clever,” Mr. Castleton,” Mr. Newcomb said, putting his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “You learned two very important lessons. First, no artist, - no painter, no musician, no writer - ever became successful doing the same thing as everyone else. The great ones are leaders. They are original and creative. They don’t copy other people. Other people copy them.

            “Second lesson: the relationship between any artist and the audience is always a two-way street. The artist has to create a connection with the audience. You were communicating with those folks. The other bands were playing music at them. You were playing music with them. Never forget that. You and your audience have to be in communication.”

            “Pretty smart,” Patrick said after Mr. Newcomb had left. He punched Mike in the shoulder as a sign of friendship. “You were right. Having an S/O around paid off.”

            “I just did what they taught me at the Time Institute,” Mike explained. “I observed.”

Continued next Saturday.

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Chapter 5

Chapter Five

Battle of the Bands

            At 7:00 o’clock on a sunny Saturday morning in mid-September Mrs. Castleton’s van was stuck in traffic at Hampton Beach. Slowly, ever so slowly, the van wove its way through a tightly-packed crowd of vehicles. All the other vans, trucks, and cars belonged to vendors, the people who would be selling food, T-shirts, and other souvenirs. The vendors were all trying to get onto Hampton Beach to set up for the Seafood Festival. As soon as a car got to its booth space, the people in it began to unload stoves, coolers, tables, and pots and pans. Then, the car’s driver pulled away while the passengers remained to set up their stand. For the next two days at their stand they would be selling seafood specialties or other items. The vendors only had a couple of hours to get ready before the beach road would be closed until Sunday night. By 10:00 in the morning busloads of people would begin to arrive. For the next two days, Hampton Beach would be packed with a milling crowd. It was the biggest event of the year in this small seaside town.

            Patrick, Nick, and Mike were crowded in the van with Mrs. Castleton, along with their guitars and drums. Somehow, they would manage to arrive at the clamshell in time to unload, but the van crept along a few feet at a time. It would be a long while before they reached their destination. As they waited the boys watched the activity outside. They also fretted about their performance and their competition. They had paid to have a professional recording done of their demo song. The money they had invested had paid off. The selection committee had accepted them as well as six other bands.

            The boys had checked out their competition by visiting their websites, and they knew what they were up against. The guys in these bands were in their 20s and 30s. They all played professionally in clubs and restaurants throughout the seacoast area. They all had fans that would probably show up to vote for them. The kids at Atlantic Academy were the only fans who knew the Sirens. Even if all of them showed up and voted for their school’s band, it would not be enough to beat these older bands. No matter, the plan was to get exposure, to become known outside Atlantic Academy.

            Mike held a copy of a flyer that had been inserted in the Hampton Union. It announced the Battle of the Bands and listed the groups that would compete. “Shark Bite, Bleeding Gums, Dog Meat, Toe Jam, The Sirens, Iron Fist, and Swollen Lip,” he read out loud.

            “Lovely sounding names,” Mrs. Castleton said, wrinkling her nose.

            “Even our name doesn’t fit in,” Nick worried. “Bleeding Gums. Dog Meat. The Sirens?”

            Mrs. Castleton finally reached the clamshell and Mike and his friends jumped out to unload their equipment on the sidewalk. Mrs. Castleton couldn’t get out and help. Cars behind her were already honking their horns to make her move. She wished the boys good luck and rolled on. Nick stayed with their stuff while Patrick and Mike ferried the instruments to the rear of the clamshell. There was a small room off stage where they could wait until their performance. The room had a door that opened onto the stage. When their time came, they would go through the door, set up their instruments, and play.

            Meanwhile, the three sat on folding chairs and waited. It would be several hours before the performances began. By then, bus after bus would flow into area and unload tourists who would pack onto the beach. The road through the beach would be closed and tens of thousands of visitors would fill every bit of available space. The boys looked out the door and past the stage. They could see the rows of empty benches in front of the clamshell. They knew those seats would soon fill and the overflow crowd would have to watch while standing.

            A while later another band arrived. They were four men, all with long hair and scruffy beards. They wore raged T-shirts and their jeans had big holes in the knees and in the butts. You could see their underwear. Their arms were covered with multi-colored tattoos. “Hey, little dude,” one said to Patrick. “Is this where the bands hang out?”

            “Yes,” Patrick replied.

            “What’re you dudes doin’ here?” another asked.

            “We’re the Sirens,” Nick answered sheepishly, intimidated by the older players. “We’re playing today.” 

            “Ha,” another man laughed. “You dudes don’t look like rockers. You look like waiters in some restaurant. I mean, like, are those ties around your necks? I don’t even own a tie.”

            Another band arrived. They looked just like the first group – torn jeans, old T-shirts, lots of tattoos. “Hey, man,” one musician said to the new arrival. “I haven’t seen you since that gig at Maloney’s in Newmarket. What you dudes been up to?”

            “Yeah, Maloney’s. That was a buzz,” the man responded. He looked with curiosity at Patrick, Mike, and Nick. “Who are they?” he asked, jerking a thumb at the well-dressed teenagers.

            “They’re like, that group none of us had ever heard of,” a man from the first band responded.

            “No wonder nobody knows about ‘em,” someone in the second group said. “They’re kids. Hey, you kids. Where you from?”

            “Hampton,” Mike replied. He was not happy at the disrespectful way his band was being treated.

            “What kinda music you play, dressed up like that?” a man asked. “Are you like a polka band or somethin’?”

            At that point a third band arrived. They looked just like the first two, except one of the members did not even wear a T-shirt. He was naked from the waist up. “Hey, Man,” one said bending his arm upright and gripping another man’s hand, “Cool you’re here with us, Murph. We’re gonna beat you, though.”

            “Yeah, like fat chance,” the other man named Murph replied. The latest arrival looked at the boys and jerked his thumb at them the same way his predecessor had. “Who are they?”

            “They’re playing,” the man responded. The two burst into laughter. The other bands arrived and joined in mocking the three teenagers dressed in blazers, white shirts, and ties.

            We’re fifth out of seven,” Patrick whispered to his friends. “I wish we were first so we could get out of here sooner. These guys are jerks.”

            “Weren’t they ever a new band? Didn’t they start out at some point?” Nick asked. “You would think they would be nicer to the new guys.”

            As the time for the battle grew closer a crowd began to fill the benches. Soon, the area in front of the clamshell was packed. Mike examined the people through the open door. He was surprised to see so many children and parents. There were even lots of grandparents with gray hair. He smiled slyly. Mike had just noticed something important and he had an idea.

            The master of ceremonies walked out onto the stage carrying a microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in the deep, smooth voice of a professional radio announcer. His voice, made louder by the big speakers, echoed off the buildings across the street from the clamshell. “Welcome to the Seafood Festival’s Battle of the Bands. This year we have for your entertainment seven local bands that are competing for your vote. This is how it works. When you paid your admission to the festival, you were given a ballot. Any time today, you can use that ballot to vote for your favorite band. There is a ballot box over here on the left of the stage. There is another as you leave.

            “Today, each band will play for a half hour. These are the rules. They will play eight songs. Five have to be original music, written by the band. The other three have to be songs people have heard on the radio, recorded by some other artist. These are called cover songs.”

            The announcer continued. “This is the prize the winner will receive. They will have an evening at the Hampton Casino Ballroom. The Casino is that long white building right across the street. If you drive through Hampton Beach at six o’clock on a Saturday night, you will see a long line of people over there on the sidewalk. The line stretches around the corner and down the block. Those people are waiting to get into the Casino to see some big name act. You always know who is playing that night, because their name is up on that sign in red lights.” He pointed at the Casino marquee. “You, the audience. Your vote will put one of these bands up there in lights.

            “I’m sorry, but if you want to come back that night and see our winner, you’ll have to buy a ticket to the Casino. But today, it is all free. So, be sure to vote for your favorite band. Now, please join me in welcoming our first act – SHARK BITE!”

            A group of men picked up their guitars. Each musician took a piece of the drum set and walked out the door. As they exited, several did fist bumps with musicians from the other bands. Each band member attached his guitar to the amplifiers and strummed some strings. Then, they tuned their instruments. “We’re Shark Bite,” the lead guitar shouted into the microphone. His voice boomed all over Hampton Beach. Mike watched people in front near the big amps cover their ears in pain. The guitar player began with a screeching, high pitched solo that lasted 30 seconds. Then, the whole band joined in. They were a heavy metal band. The music was loud and the singer screamed so no one could understand the words. He walked back and forth across the stage banging his head up and down, his long hair flying forward and then back with each toss. A half hour later, Shark Bite finished. There was a mild, polite applause.        

            “What a bunch of stiffs,” the guitarist said as he returned to the waiting room. “We warmed ‘em up for ya,” he said in disgust to the musician named Murph, from the next band. The announcer’s rich voice asked the audience to give a welcoming round of applause for the second act, Bleeding Gums. This band wore torn black jeans, black sneakers, and black T-shirts – all but the singer Murph. His chest was bare, exposing a carpet of satanic tattoos. The tattoos on the arms and shoulders of the other members all matched those on Murph’s chest, frightening images of demons and skulls. They had smeared dark makeup around their eyes so they looked like ghouls. They all had a lot of piercings in their ears, noses, cheeks, eye brows, and even tongues. “If they fell into the water, they couldn’t swim,” Mike thought to himself. “The weight of all that metal would pull them down.” The band’s songs were dark - about suicide, cutting your arms and legs, and losing your soul. Mike watched as horrified parents stood, took their kids by the hands, and led them away.

            Bleeding Gums wrapped up their act and returned back stage. “This audience pukes,” Murph the singer said, or more correctly spat. Mike looked out the door and thought, “There isn’t much of an audience left. By the time we get on stage we’ll be playing to empty seats.”

            Dog Meat performed next. Their first song – and all the others – were full of obscenities. Mike was right; by the time this band was done few people remained. Toe Jam didn’t have any luck getting people to come back to the clamshell. While that band was playing, Mike gathered Patrick and Nick into a huddle. “I want to change the play list,” Mike said. Patrick and Nick were stunned that Mike would do this so close to their act. “You know that ‘60s song we practiced for the really old A Squared alumni? We were going to play it at Homecoming before Mrs. Martin pulled the plug on us.” Nick and Patrick nodded. “I want to open with it.” The other two protested. Mike raised his hands and said, “Guys, trust me. It’s the right song. Being an S/O is about to pay off.”

Continued next Saturday.

This book and the previous four in the series are available at: castletonseries.com

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Chapter 4 (Cont.)

Chapter Four

Dr. MacDonald        

            “We need to decide what song we’re going to record,” Patrick said while Mike added Nick’s assignment to the list. “I like The One I’m Waiting For. It’s one of our best songs,” Patrick added.

            “Yeah,” Nick added with a smile, an expression that was unusual on his normally serious face. “Everyone thinks it’s about a girl. If they only knew it was about being hungry and looking out the window for Bill, the pizza delivery guy.” Patrick and Mike grinned at the joke contained in the song. Even though they had written it, they still found it funny.

            “We need to decide what to wear,” Mike added. “We should all look alike. Dressing alike sends the audience an important message, that we take our music seriously. I think it’s a gesture of respect to them too.”

            “We know the other bands will be wearing, T-shirts and jeans with holes in the knees,” Nick replied. “Do we really want to look different from everyone else?”

            “Yes,” Mike said immediately, without any thought or hesitation. “We want to look different. First, we are different from other bands. Most of them are head bangers and screamers. Second, if we stand out, people will remember us better. That’s our reason for going, to get noticed and to begin our own following. We know we’re not gonna win.” Patrick and Nick nodded. “I’m thinking we should wear our school uniforms.” Mike continued. Nick and Patrick raised their eye brows in surprise. Mike added, “Yeah, we should wear our blazers, white shirts and ties. If everyone else is going to be dressed like slobs, we should be as different as possible.” Nick and Patrick shrugged in agreement.

            “We have to get to Biology,” Patrick said looking at the clock on the wall. “Class starts in five minutes. We can talk more about this later.” The three boys walked into the Biology lab and sat in their seats at the big oval table. Mr. LaVallee, the teacher, said he had an announcement. Whatever it was, it obviously pleased and excited him. “Class. I have a special guest today who will talk to us about his work with grain plants,” Mr. LaVallee said. He was so enthusiastic he couldn’t stand still. He paced back and forth. “I don’t know exactly what work he is doing, but he tells me he is making important progress. I want you to meet my old teacher from the University of New Hampshire, Dr. James MacDonald.”

            Patrick, Nick, and Mike gasped. They had never met Dr. MacDonald, but they had been in his presence, several years in the future when he would announce his discovery. They had saved him from assassination; or rather they will save him from assassination. As they say at the Time Institute, time travel messes with your mind and can make life confusing. They had saved Dr. MacDonald’s new-born grandfather from being murdered back in 1901. They had studied the famous scientist during their cadet term at the Time Institute. Their classrooms were in a building dedicated to him, the MacDonald Center. They regularly met in Room 307 in that building when planning missions or being debriefed. In fact, they had blown up the MacDonald Center in the far future. The Dandelions had converted it into a factory to change the earth’s atmosphere into their own. Each time they entered or left the MacDonald Center, they touched a bronze plaque honoring Dr. MacDonald. Every cadet did this for luck. The boys knew a lot about this man. Far more than their teacher knew. They knew things the man didn’t even know about himself, things that had not happened yet.

            Just like at the Hampton Summit, the famous biologist had brought some of his students to Atlantic Academy to assist him. They stood against the wall, ready if their teacher needed their help. Pushing his joystick forward, Dr. MacDonald rolled his electric wheelchair into the classroom. Every time he changed directions, the motor made a loud click. The boys had forgotten that sound. Not surprising. Their first encounter with Dr. MacDonald had been a pretty intense experience. Small details like this clicking sound get lost in a chaotic situation like an attempted assassination. Dr. MacDonald looked the same as he would several years from now, although he had more use of his arms than he would later. When the boys saw him at the Hampton Summit, he could barely raise them to the height of his shoulders. They knew what this meant. In the next couple of years, Dr. MacDonald’s muscle disease would destroy even more of his body.

            “Thank you for inviting me to speak today, Mr. LaVallee,” Dr. MacDonald said to his former student. “Let me tell you a funny story about your teacher,” he said to the class seated around the oval table. He winked at them to let them know he was going to tease his friend. “It happened when he was one of my students.” Mr. LaVallee blushed. He remembered the incident too. “You all know what a Petri dish is, a small, round plate with a layer of gelatin?” The students all nodded. They had used Petri dishes in lab experiments. “Young Mr. LaVallee was growing a mold for an experiment. He had put the dish in a dark space to allow the mold to grow. When he brought the dish into the light the mold was so disgusting he fainted. His head fell forward and his nose was pressed into the Petri dish. When he woke up he had the mold all over his face. He was so grossed out he had to run to the bathroom to wash. We didn’t see him again until the next day.” The classroom burst into laughter.

            “I hardly ever do that anymore,” Mr. LaVallee replied, continuing the joke.

            “I thought that would end his interest in biology,” Dr. MacDonald teased. “I’m delighted that he stuck with it. In the end, he turned out to be one of my best students.” After the laughter subsided Dr. MacDonald began again, “I’m here to talk to you about biology. I hope that like Mr. LaVallee, some of you will consider it as a career. Biology is the study of life, of living things. That’s what the word means. It comes from Greek. Bio – life. Logia – the study of.”

            Mike elbowed Patrick. “Anthropo – Man. Logia – study of,” he whispered. Patrick rolled his eyes and shook his head. Nick listened seriously and nodded in
interest at this new piece of knowledge Mike had just shared with him.

            “Biologists have made life better for countless people,” Dr. MacDonald continued. “We have helped cure diseases and provide a better food supply. We have helped clean up the environment. My specialty is grain; those are the hard seeds of cereal plants that humans and animals eat. Wheat, barley, oats, corn, and rice are examples of grains. These grains are often used to make the breakfast food that comes in boxes, the stuff you eat with milk and fruit. These dry foods - corn chex, wheat flakes, and oatmeal -are called cereal, because they are made with these seeds from cereal plants. These grains also make bread and pasta, and lots of other foods.

            “Humans have been growing and eating cereals for many thousands of years. It was an important event when people first learned to grow grains. They no longer had to depend on hunting or gathering wild plants. The event changed our development and is so important that it has a name. It’s called the Agricultural Revolution.” Dr. MacDonald was getting into a subject Mike had been studying in Anthropology, and he listened with interest. “When you hunt and gather food, you have to keep wandering, looking for more. When people began to plant cereals, they could settle down and live in one place. They began to build villages. They created civilization. So, you can see how important grain is. You wouldn’t be sitting in a classroom today if our ancestors hadn’t started to plant grain.” The class nodded. They had never dreamed that what they ate for breakfast was so important.

            “The Agricultural Revolution made another important advance when humans noticed that some plants made bigger seeds than others. They saved these bigger seeds and planted them. The result was bigger plants and bigger harvests. They had begun the work I continue. I search for ways to make cereal plants produce more and better grain. This is important because so many people in this world do not have enough to eat. Today, we study plants at the genetic level. I can’t tell you too much about some things I’m doing right now. But, I think there may be a way to increase the amount of food we grow. I think we can increase it so much no one will ever be hungry again. As I said, I can’t tell you anymore. My students who work with me and I are very excited by the direction our work has taken. I hope that some of you will think about biology as a career, and that someday you will work with us.”

            Dr. MacDonald opened the remaining class time to questions. Patrick and Nick didn’t raise their hands. They were afraid of slipping and saying something the others must not know. However, they had just learned something important. Dr. MacDonald was working on his discovery several years before the Hampton Summit. He already had an idea of where his research would take him, but at this time, he wasn’t sure. They wondered if scholars at UNH and the Time Institute knew this. They made a mental note to share this knowledge with their teachers next time they were at the Institute.

            Patrick and Nick didn’t ask any questions, but that didn’t stop their friend Mike. He was still fixated on the beginning of civilization. He asked, “Dr. MacDonald, you said our ancestors chose to grow plants that had bigger seeds than other plants of the same type? Why does that happen? What makes some seeds bigger?”

            “This is caused by genetics too,” Dr. MacDonald explained. “Genes explain why some people are bigger than others, or why some have blue eyes and others brown. We get our genes from our parents. Just as tall people are more likely to have tall children; plants with bigger seeds will create more plants with bigger seeds. Sometimes a plant or an animal will be born with an altered gene. This is called a mutation. Because of a mutation an animal may be slightly better at some activity than others of the same species. If that change makes the animal better at getting food, or finding a mate, that mutation is more likely to be passed on through its offspring. Their offspring also become better at getting food, or finding mates.

            “Now imagine: generations later another mutation happens, one that makes those animals that are already better at getting food even better at the job. Now, they have such an advantage that they get all the food. The others of the species die out, or move to another place. If that keeps on happening, mutations can result in a completely new species. Of course, this takes a very long time.”

            “Did that happen with humans?” Mike asked.          

            “Yes,” Dr. MacDonald answered with a smile. It was obvious he was happy this student was so interested in this subject. “The study of humans is called anthropology,” the man in the wheelchair told the young high schooler. Mike nodded and held up his anthropology text book. Dr. MacDonald smiled and nodded back. “The same happened with humans. Some mutations resulted in a thumb that made it easier to hold things. This ability was important for making tools. Better toolmakers got more food. Some mutations made it easier to walk on two legs. This made getting around faster, and these people could get more food. Some mutations resulted in bigger brains and more intelligence. These people could outsmart animals and other humans, and get more food. Do you get the picture?” Mike nodded.

            “Did you know there have been many species of humans?” Dr. MacDonald asked. “It took a long time for modern humans to develop.” Mike nodded again. “Meanwhile, all the earlier types of humans died out because modern humans got most of the food.”         

            As Patrick and his friends left the classroom their friend Molly caught up with them and led them out into the hallway. Molly was on the Student Council. “We had our first council meeting this morning,” Molly said. “We started to plan for the Homecoming Dance. Everyone wanted you to be the band, but Mrs. Martin said that would not happen. She is going to have her brother be the DJ.”

            “She tried that last year,” Nick noted.

            “She says that she doesn’t know what you did to keep him home, but you won’t do it again,” Molly said. Actually, the boys had done nothing. Miss Watson had. She and her Fixer team had gone to the man’s home and made some minor adjustments to his van. His vehicle wouldn’t start until the next morning. In a panic, the Student Council asked the Sirens to play. “Mrs. Martin told us to forget about ever asking you guys to play again. It looks like we’ll be stuck with that stupid DJ for the semi-formal and the prom. We all wanted you guys,” Molly apologized. She didn’t want the boys to think badly of the Student Council and let them know she really would prefer them.

            “This year Mrs. Martin isn’t taking any chances,” Mike said as the boys walked off to their next class.

            “Remind me what happened last year?” Patrick asked. “Didn’t her brother have trouble with his car? It wouldn’t start or something?”

            “Yeah,” Nick answered. “I’m sure she’s gonna make sure he gets here early this time, so there are no glitches.”

            “Do you guys really care if we don’t play at the school anymore?” Mike asked.

            “It’s the only place we’ve played,” Patrick answered. “I liked it.”

            “I feel like it’s time we stretched our wings and flew this nest,” Mike said. “I’m thinking the Battle of the Bands could be our big chance. If so, we’re movin’ on from good ol’ A Squared.”

Continued next Saturday.

This book and the previous four in the series are available at: castletonseries.com

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