#52 in the Deathland series
As the swirling mists of the trans-mat chamber faded away, the seven people inside the unit tumbled to the cold floor, gasping for breath.
In silent agony, the companions lay where they fell, waiting for their tortured bodies to finally overcome the horrid sickness that always accompanied a jump. Almost an hour passed before the first of them was able to stir.
“N-no m-more,” J. B. Dix whispered, a string of drool hanging from his mouth. His wire-rimmed glasses slid from his shirt pocket and fell to the floor as a tremor shook the man. “D-dark night, I can’t take…another bastard jump.”
Panting for breath, Ryan Cawdor swallowed before being able to answer. Fireblast! He had known they were pushing the envelope with three jumps in a single day, and now they were paying the price. It felt as if fire ants were eating his guts.
“A-agreed,” the man croaked. “Don’t…give a motherless damn if we find any food in this redoubt or not. No more jumps for a while. Win, lose or draw, this is it.”
Mumbled agreements from the others answered his decision.
“About time,” drawled Jak Lauren. The albino teenager was lying on his side, fighting to control his rebellious stomach. His pale skin looked even whiter than usual, almost the same color as his long snowy hair. The armpits of his shirt were stained dark with sweat. “N-not done six before.”
“Won’t ever again, either,” gasped Krysty Wroth, unbuttoning the front of her khaki overalls to expose a wealth of creamy cleavage. Rivulets of sweat streamed off her lovely face, the woman’s fiery red hair flexing and moving as if stirred by secret winds.
“Don’t exaggerate. It was six in a week,” corrected Dr. Mildred Wyeth, leaning against the chamber wall. She rubbed the back of a hand across her mouth as if trying to remove an unpleasant taste. “Only did three in the same day.”
“More than enough.”
Resembling a Civil War college professor with his silvery hair and old-fashioned clothing, Dr. Theophilus Tanner lay on the cold floor, savoring the coolness against his cheek, his hands white-knuckled about his ebony walking stick. Patiently, he waited for the world around him to stop spinning and settle down. For some reason, the jumps hit him harder than the others. Perhaps it was a legacy from the time-travel experiments done to him by the whitecoats of Operation Chronos. Doc didn’t know, and for the moment, he didn’t care. Every peaceful second brought him away from the debilitating jump sickness and put strength into his body.
Grimacing in determination, Dean Cawdor forced himself to stand upright, then crashed back down on his ass. The eleven-year-old blinked away the hurt pride, and began the struggle to rise again.
“Stay still, son,” Ryan ordered brusquely. “Rushing only makes the aftereffects last longer.”
“Okay,” the boy agreed, relaxing into a heap.
Disregarding his own advice, Ryan struggled to his hands and knees, concentrating on every move as he struggled upright. His vision was clearing, and he was feeling stronger by the second. Briefly, he wondered if he was acclimatizing to the shock of disintegration. Doc had once theorized that the sickness was actually a person’s soul searching for the body so rudely taken away. Foolishness, of course. But the time traveler often talked utter nonsense.
Adjusting the patch over his left eye and squinting to focus the right, Ryan glanced about the chamber. The walls and floor were made of a smooth blue material speckled with flecks of gold. He didn’t recognize the color combination, so they had never been in this redoubt before. For the millionth time, he wondered why the predark scientists had decided to color code the redoubts instead of just putting up signs listing the locations. Just another of the endless ancient mysteries they would probably never solve.
Drawing in a lungful of air, Cawdor noted the atmosphere tasted flat and smelled antiseptically clean, as if every possible sign of life were missing. On the rare occasions they found an inhabited redoubt, there were faint odors of sweat, sex, blasters and food, hot oil in machines, the sharp stink of ozone from the nuclear reactor. Both life and death carried a perfume easily recognizable. This one smelled deserted.
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