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Authors: D. L. Orton

Lost Time

BOOK: Lost Time
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Lost
T
ime

D. L. Orton

Between Two Evils Series

Book Two

Also by D. L. Orton

Crossing in Time

Between Two Evils Book One

(Isabel & Diego’s story begins...)


Lost Time

Between Two Evils Book Two

(Diego arrives in the wrong universe...)


Down Time

Between Two Evils Book Three

(Diego fights to get back to Iz...)

Coming Winter 2016


Given Time

Between Two Evils Book Four

(Tego searches for Isabel & finds someone else...)

Coming Spring 2017


Out of Time

Between Two Evils Book Five

(Tego fights to hold onto his love & his life...)

Coming Winter 2017


“The Last Star” by D. L. Orton

UnCommon Origins:

A Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature, and Science

.

Lost
T
ime

D. L. Orton

To My Readers-

Dots of ink lie dormant in an unread book,

Waiting,

Like black holes into another universe,

For someone to find them

And engage the warp drive.

Thank you.

I love you guys.


To Elon Musk-

It was great to spend time with you,

but I’m married,

so I think we should just be friends.

When you are courting a nice girl,

An hour seems like a second.

When you sit on a red-hot cinder,

A second seems like an hour.

That’s relativity.

~Albert Einstein

Chapter 1

Diego: Out on a Limb

I
lie in the greenish half-light, my lungs on fire, panic forcing out any rational thought. And then I remember where I a
m—
or rather where I should be.

I pound my fists against the translucent coffin lid until I manage to hit the release lever. The top pops open and frigid air rushes in, smelling of damp earth and evergreens.

I gasp for breath, my heart pounding.

The last thing I remember is a panicked voice shouting to abort the mission. Stop the countdown because…

Mierda, I can’t remember. But it definitely wasn’t good.

I lift my head, and a blinding pain stabs me in the temples. I take a ragged breath, wrestling down the urge to vomit, and open my eyes. All my body parts seem to be intact, but my skin is wrinkled like I stayed in the ocean too long.

I collapse back into the condensation-covered sarcophagus

and notice bright red drops spattered across the internal wall. Now that I think about it, I can feel the cut in my right palm.

Probably from that damn seashell.

I wipe my bloody hand on the towel—the only thing between me and the full Monty—and shiver in the frosty air.

It’s way too cold for a tropical beach.

Where the hell am I?

I inhale the cool breeze. It doesn’t smell like La Isla beach, either. Maybe I landed in the cloud forest or on the high slope of a volcano?

At least I didn’t arrive under water.

I remain still, listening for the sound of the surf, but hear nothing except a low-pitched groan. The capsule is rocking ever so slightly. I gather my strength and kick the lid off. It bangs and crashes as it falls away from me, taking a long time to hit the ground.

I force my nearsighted eyes to focus. Above me, massive coniferous branches fan out, clouds rolling in just beyond the treetops.

Houston, we have a problem.

I heave myself up high enough to see over the side of the capsule, still shivering in the damp, chilly air. The pod is lodged in the upper boughs of a giant tree, perhaps thirty meters above the blurry forest floor.

Christ, I hate heights.

I think the tree is an evergreen, but I’m not particularly good with plant identification.

Isabel would know.

A wave of despair sweeps over me. I try to shake it off and concentrate on the problem at hand. These are definitely not the sort of trees that grow in the tropic
s—
at least not in my time.

Now that I think about it, it does look a lot like the Jurassic forests you see in dinosaur movies.

Shit.

The soft groan becomes louder, and the pod shifts beneath me, threatening to fall out of the tree.

Go!

I rush to get free before the branch gives way, but my muscles aren’t working properly. On the third try, I manage to wrench myself out, but as I drag my body over the edge of the pod, my towel slips off and disappears into the branches below.

Don’t look down.

I put my bare feet on the prickly bark, grab onto an upper branch, and pull myself free, my eyes pinned on my shriveled privates.

Whose idea was it to send me in a towel anyway?

There’s a cold breeze, and the clouds are getting heavier by the minute. If I don’t get down before it gets dark…

Don’t go there.

I shuffle sideways along the branch until I reach the relative safety of the trunk. My whole body is shaking, and I feel weak.

Something moves at the edge of my vision, and when I look more carefully, the trees seem to be crawling with giant bugs.

I blink a couple of times and realize that they’re not insects, but black bird
s—
hundreds of
them—
perched in the trees around me. I look out into the forest again, dread creeping up my exposed back.

No tyrannosaurs or brachiosaurs, nothing but gree
n—
and all those birds.

At least birds descended from dinosaurs, so I probably don’t need to worry about being eaten by a velociraptor, but I can’t remember if there were ever any giant, man-eating dodos.

With my luck, there probably were.

I shut my eyes for a second, pushing down vertigo, then start climbing down.

The tree is huge, and it’s slow going. I have to shinny sideways around the trunk to find footholds and handgrips, bumping and scraping my bare front-side against the sharp branches and rough bark.

Note to self:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide
was wrong. When time traveling, shine the towel and bring the boxers.

As I move painstakingly down the tree, I get an uncomfortable
feeling—
like something sinister is watching me.

Why are there so damn many birds?

Naked, cut up, and shivering, I continue downwards, wondering how the hell I ended up in Alfred Hitchcock’s nightmare.

But before I manage to climb down even three branches, I hear a loud snap and look up to see a black explosion of wings.

A moment later, the translucent Coffin comes bouncing down the tree branches like a bobsled on a spiral staircase, heading straight for me. I force myself to look down, trying to gauge if I’m low enough to jum
p—
and notice a flash of red moving through the trees.

There’s an astronaut straight out of
2001: A Space Odyssey
down in the forest.

What th
e—

“Diego!”

I whip my head around at the sound of my name, looking for the source of the voice. It takes me a second to spot the woman standing at the base of the tree.

Isabel?

A damp towel drops over my head, covering my eyes, and I lose my balance.

Shit.

I grab for the towel, but my foot slips, pitching me backward. For a sickening instant, I watch the world slip by in slow motion. And then my head strikes a branch, pain shoots through my neck and spine, and I tumble sideways into nothingness.

Chapter 2

Shannon: It’s a Miracle

A
fter I check all the readouts, I shut the cover of the pump house and attempt to secure the latch. The bulky gloves make it difficult to do simple tasks, but I’m used to it, and I don’t rush.

If you don’t take the time to do it right, how are you going to find the time to do it over?

I glance at my O
2
gauge and smile to myself. I’m always trying to beat my own record for oxygen consumption, and today is looking good.

Once I get everything locked back down, I radio Mindy that I’ve completed the task and start walking back around the fishpond to the main airlock.

“That’s the last item on the list,” she says in a bored voice.

Like I didn’t know that already.

Mindy always complains that she has to sit next to the radio while I get to have all the fun, but I did score the highest of any D-1 on the biosuit training test, so I got the dangerous job.

Not like I’m bragging or anything.

Mom says bragging is a sign of insecurity, and that our actions should speak for themselves. Well, I’ve been going Outside since I was knee-high to a ladybug, and I’ve never had an accident. Madders says that’s because I’m careful and I follow the protocols, and he’s the smartest man I know.

Discretion is the better part of valor.

“Come on,” Mindy says. “Time to get your butt back inside. I’m trying to finish that stupid factoring polynomials homework, and I could use a little help.”

We’re not supposed to use the radio for anything except important communications, but Mindy always ignores stuff like that, and maybe that’s why we’re best friends. Like Mom says, we complement each other.

“Be there in a jiffy.”

A huge flock of birds rises out of the forest to the west, and I stop for a minute and watch them, trying to estimate how many there are so I can record it in the log. And then I notice that the top of one pine tree is swaying. A lot.

That would have to be one giant bird to make a tree move like that.

The thought gives me the creeps, and it takes me a minute to decide what to do. I end up backtracking along the paved pathway to get a better look, and that’s when I first see him.

And he’s not wearing a biosuit.

“Uh, Mindy,” I say, my hand shaking as I switch my suit radio back on. “You’re not going to believe this, but there’s someone climbing a tree out here.”

“Uh-huh.” I can hear her munching crackers back in the radio room, then there’s a pause. “Did you just say what I think you did?”

“Yeah. There’s a guy out here in a tree.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure,” I say. “And he’s not wearing a suit. I’m putting it on visual now.”

“Shannon, you’ve gone stark raving m
a—”
She makes a squeal that causes feedback in my headset. “Holy shit, girl. I see him. He’s not wearing a suit!”

“Duh. I just said that.”

“Oh my god, he’s not wearing
anything
!”

“Yeah,” I say. “And why isn’t he dead?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Maybe he’s holding his breath. What should we do?”

“Well, I’ve got two hours left on my suit,” I say, watching the guy move along the branch, “so I’m going to check it out. Maybe you should go get someone.”

“Wait there, Shannon. You’re not supposed to do anything except simple maintenance when you’re Outside. What if you poke a hole in your suit?”

“I won’t.”

“I’m getting your mom. Don’t do anything until I get back!”

I switch off the camera and mic, then start climbing the embankment surrounding the pond, trying to keep my eyes on the man while being careful not to trip and fall. Everyone knows that biodome exo’s are dangerous, but unplanned ones are especially so.

Still, I know the
drill—
and I think this counts as an emergency.

But the suit is heavy and the incline steep, and after only a minute or two, I have to stop to catch my breath. I watch the man swing down to the next lower branch and edge toward the trunk. He’s too far away to recognize, but he’s definitely naked. I can see the dark patch of hair between his leg
s—
but nothing more, um, interesting.

“Shannon Malia Kai!” Mom’s voice comes over the radio. “You get back to the biodome this instant!”

“Hi, Mom. There’s a man in a tree out here, and I’m investigating.” I turn the camera back on. “Do you see him?”


Ka puka.
He’s naked!”

“Been there; done that,” Mindy says.

For the first time, I notice something above the guy in the tree, and it must be something heavy, because the branch is bent way down. As I’m trying to figure out what it could be, the tree branch breaks and sends a whitish torpedo careening down toward the man.

He yells and scrambles out of the way, but his foot slips and he tumbles head first off the bouncing branch.

“That’s not going to end well,” Mindy says.

It takes the guy a long time to hit the ground.

“You turn straight around, Shannon Malia, and get your bottom back to the airlock thi
s—”

I lower the volume in my suit and continue climbing. “I’m going after him.”

“Shannon, stop!” Mom says, but I can barely hear her. “Madders is suiting up, and you need to wait until he gets there.”

“That man could die in the fifteen minutes it’ll take, Mom. Maybe I can help him.”

“She does have a point,” Mindy says.

“Shut it, Mindy,” Mom says. “Let me think.”

“You think while I climb,” I say, still struggling uphill toward the fallen body. The loose dirt and rocks are slippery, and it’s all I can do not to fall or tumble backward. I finally give up on trying to count the huge flocks of birds taking flight and focus on staying upright.

Damn biosuit weighs a metric ton. Why can’t I just be Outside with an oxygen mask?

“Okay, baby,” Mom says after I’m already halfway up the hill, “but leave the camera on. And don’t touch him!”

“What’s he going to do, Mom, infect me?”

Mindy laughs, but Mom cuts her off and addresses me. “That’s enough sass, young lady. Those who m-make m-mistakes Outside don’t live to do it twice.”

“Sorry, Mom,” I say. “I won’t touch anything.”

“Unless he’s got a knife stuck in his invisible clothes,” Mindy says, “there’s not much he could do short of biting her suit. And after a fall like that, he probably can’t even open his mouth.”

“And I’m following the protocol for exceptional situations,” I add, glad to have Mindy running interference on her end.

“I don’t like this one bit,” Mom says. “Please be careful!”

There’s a click, and Madders’ voice comes through. “Glad to hear you’re doing it by the book, Shannon.”

“Hi, Madders. Thanks for the backup.”

“You’re welcome. But you should listen to your mother.” His voice is calm, but firm.

Yeah, yeah.

“You know I always do,” I say and turn back toward the biodome. There are four suits coming out of the airlock carrying a red first-aid kit and a stretcher. The suit in front looks up and waves, and I wave back.

“How much time do you have left on your tank?” he asks.

“Almost two hours. I was on course to break my O
2
record until Joe McNaked decided to go tree-diving.”

He chuckles. “That’s my girl.” They start moving toward the pond. “Be there in a few minutes, so don’t take any unnecessary risks. And leave your mic on.”

“Ranger that.” I continue up to the top of the ridge, trying not to breathe too loudly, then spot the man crumpled at the base of the huge tree. There’s a lot of blood, and his arms and legs are bent in ways they shouldn’t be.

“Can you see him?” I ask and turn the volume back up.

“Ouch,” Mindy says.

“He fell at least five stories,” Mom says. “And it probably killed him.”

“Oh no! He can’t be dead.” I can’t keep the disappointment out of my voice. It’s not every day you find a naked man Outside.

“Yes, baby, I’m sorry,” Mom says. “And that’s close enough. The others are almost there.”

“It’s possible he’s still alive, Mom. I’m going check if he’s breathing.”

I pretend not to hear Mom cursing under her breath.

The huge branch that broke off is blocking my way, and the forest floor around the tree is thick with nasty-looking plant
s—
some of which have thorns. I decide to climb up on some boulders and scoot across them on my bottom until I can get past the fallen branch. But my suit is getting heavier by the minute, and it’s harder to get onto the rock than I expected. It takes me three attempts, and a lot of heavy breathing, before I manage it.

I start edging across the smooth boulder and then let out a startled yelp.

There’s a rattlesnake coiled up next to my
hand—
its tail shaking and its head poised to strike.

“What’s happening, Shanon?” Madders asks. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. Rattlesnake. Right next to my glove. I must have surprised it.”

I can hear Mom’s frightened cry.

“I’m going to pull my hand away really, really s
l—”

The snake strikes, its fangs sinking into the fabric above my wrist, but missing my arm. I lift up my hand and fling the snake as far away as I can. A moment later, the breach alarm goes off in my suit.

“Shannon!” Mom shouts. “What’s g-going on? Are you hurt?”

I glance at the green pressure indicator, knowing I only have a minute or so before the pressure drops and the virus gets in.

“I’m fine, Mom,” I say and pull the small patch kit out of the quick-release pouch on my belt. “The snake punched two small holes in my sleeve, but it didn’t bite me.”


Akole puka
, Madders, hurry!”

“We’re almost there,” he says. “Shannon, get a patch over that pronto.”

“Already on it.” I pull out the tab that releases the primer, but the patch slips out of my gloved hands and lands next to my thigh, primer-side up.

Thank goodness it didn’t land the other wa
y—
or fall into the dirt.

Unfortunately, thin items are really hard to pick up with bulky gloves, and if I touch the epoxy, it will stick to my finger and be ruined.

For a second I consider using up the second patch, but if I don’t manage to cover both bite holes with the first one, I’ll need i
t—
assuming I’m not dead by then.

“Shannon!” Mom yells, making me jump. “The p-pressure in your suit is dropping! What are you doing, baby? Hurry up! Oh my god, why did I let you go Outside?”

“You’re not helping, Mom.” I force down the urge to panic and place one hand next to the edge of the rock. I use the other to slide the sticky circle across the rock and into my palm, being careful not to tip it over or touch the epoxy.

“What’s the holdup, Shannon?” Madders asks. “You need to get that patch on now!”

“Almost there.” I flip the patch over onto my ar
m—
covering both tiny holes in one sho
t—
and let out a whoop. “Got it!”

“Holy shit,” Mindy says. “What took you so long?”

“I dropped the patch.” The alarm in my suit goes silent, but the pressure indicator is still in the red. “But everything’s fine now.” Ten long seconds later, it changes back to orange.

That was close.

I hear a clic
k—
probably Mom giving Madders an earful on a private channe
l—
and rest for a minute, waiting for the suit pressure to go green. Once it does, I pick up a stick and use it to make sure there aren’t any more snakes hiding in the rocks.

“I order you to stay where you are, Shannon.” Mom sounds really mad, but if the mysterious tree man is still alive, she’ll be too busy taking care of him to yell at me. “Madders needs to check your patch and make sure it’s on properly.”

“If it wasn’t on properly,” Mindy says, “she’d be croaking by now.”

“Mindy!”

“She’s right, Mom.” I continue scooting across the smooth boulder. “And besides, I’m already there.”

I slide carefully off the rock and land on my feet.

“Don’t touch anything!” Mom says, her too-loud voice bouncing around inside my helmet.

“I won’t, Mom.” I check my suit pressure and air supply. Everything looks fine.

Jeepers, I hate being treated like a child.

I’ve never seen a guy naked before, and I can feel my heart pounding as I approach him. He’s crumpled on his side with his back to me, so there are no boy parts visible.

I hope they’re all still attached and functional.

“Can you move a little so we can see his, um, face,” Mindy says.

I take a couple of steps closer, moving sideways so that I can see his front side. The ground is covered with translucent shards of ic
e—
which is weird because there wasn’t any ice on the pond toda
y—
and the rapidly-melting pieces crunch underneath my boots.

Maybe he knocked it off the tree branches when he fell?

The guy’s longish, black hair is matted with blood, and his skin is a lot darker than mine, but not as brown as Madders’ or Lucy’s. I can’t see his junk, as Mindy calls it, so I can’t tell if he still has everything.

BOOK: Lost Time
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