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Other titles in the Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet series:
Many Watersby Madeleine Lengle
and virtual unicorns
A sudden snow shower put an end to hockey practice.
“We cant even see the puck,” Sandy Murry shouted across the wind. “Lets go home.” He skated over to the side of the frozen pond, sitting on an already snow-covered rock to take off his skates.
There were calls of agreement from the other skaters. Dennys, Sandys twin brother, followed him, snow gathering in his lashes, so that he had to blink in order to see the rock. “Why do we have to live in the highest, coldest, windiest spot in the state?”
Hoots of laughter and shouted goodbyes came from the other boys. “Where else would you want to live?” Dennys was asked.
Snow was sliding icily down the inside of his collar. “Bali. Fiji. Someplace warm.”
One of the boys knotted his skate laces and slung his skates around his neck. “Would you really? With all those tourists?”
“Yeah, and jet-setters crowding the beach.”
“And beautiful people.”
One by one the other boys drifted off, leaving the twins. “I thought you liked winter,” Sandy said.
“By mid-March, Im getting tired of it.”
“But you wouldnt really want to go to some tourists paradise, would you?”
“Oh, probably not. Maybe I would have, in the olden days, before the population explosion. Im famished. Race you home.”
By the time they reached their house, an old white farmhouse about a mile from the village, the snow was beginning to let up, though the wind was still strong. They went in through the garage, past their mothers lab. Pulling off their windbreakers, they threw them at hooks, and burst into the kitchen.
“Wheres everybody?” Sandy called.
Dennys pointed to a piece of paper held by magnets to the refrigerator door. They both went up to it, to read:
DEAR TWINS, AM OFF TO TOWN WITH MEG AND CHARLES WALLACE FOR OUR DENTAL CHECKUPS. YOUR TURN IS NEXT WEEK. DONT THINK YOU CAN GET OUT OF IT. YOUVE BOTH GROWN SO MUCH THIS YEAR THAT IT IS ESSENTIAL YOU HAVE YOUR TEETH CHECKED.
Sandy bared his teeth ferociously. “Weve never had a cavity.”
Dennys made a similar grimace. “But we have grown. Were just under six feet.”
“Bet if we were measured today wed be over.”
Dennys opened the door to the refrigerator. There was half a chicken in an earthenware dish, with a sign:
VERBOTEN. THIS IS FOR DINNER.
Sandy pulled out the meat keeper. “Ham all right?”
“Sure. With cheese.”
“And sliced olives.”
“No tomatoes here. Bet you Meg made herself a BLT.”
“Theres lots of liverwurst. Mother likes that.”
“Its okay with cream cheese and onion.”
They put their various ingredients on the kitchen counter and cut thick slices of bread fresh from the oven. Dennys peered in to sniff apples slowly baking. Sandy looked over to the kitchen table, where Meg had spread out her books and papers. “Shes taken more than her fair share of the table.”
“Shes in college,” Dennys defended. “We dont have as much homework as she does.”
“Yeah, and Id hate that long commute every day.”
“She likes to drive. And at least she gets home early.” Dennys plunked his own books down on the big table.
Sandy stood looking at one of Megs open notebooks. “Hey, listen to this. Do you suppose well have this kind of junk when were in college? It seems quite evident that there was definite prebiotic existence of protein ancestors of polymers, and that therefore the primary beings were not a-amino acids. I suppose she knows what shes writing about. I havent the foggiest.”
Dennys flipped back a page. “Look at her title. The Million Doller question: the chicken or the egg, amino acids or their polymers. She may be a mathematical genius, but she still cant spell.”
“You mean, you know what shes writing about?” Sandy demanded.
“I have a pretty good idea. Its the kind of thing Mother and Dad argue about at dinner—polymers, virtual particles, quasars, all that stuff.”
Sandy looked at his twin. “You mean, you listen?”
“Sure. Why not? You never know when a little useless knowledge is going to come in handy. Hey, whats this book? Its about bubonic plague. Im the one who wants to be a doctor.”
Sandy glanced over. “Its history, not medicine, stupe.”
“Hey, why are lawyers never bitten by snakes?” Dennys asked.
“I dont know. And dont care.”
“Well, youre the one who wants to be the lawyer. Come on. Why do lawyers never get bitten by snakes?”
“I give up. Why do lawyers never get bitten by snakes?”
Sandy groaned. “Very funny. Ha. Ha.”
Dennys slathered mustard over a thick slice of ham. “When I think about the amount of schooling still ahead of us, I almost lose my appetite.”
“Well, not quite.”
Sandy opened the refrigerator door, looking for something else to pile on his sandwich. “We seem to eat more than the rest of the family put together. Charles Wallace eats like a bird. Well, judging by the amount we spend on bird feed, birds are terrible gluttons. But you know what I mean.”
“At least hes settling down in school, and the other kids arent picking on him the way they used to.”
“He still doesnt look more than six, but half the time I think he knows more than we do. Were certainly the ordinary, run-of-the-mill ones in the family.”
“The family can do with some ordinary, run-of-the-mill people. And were not exactly dumb. If Im going to be a doctor and youre going to be a lawyer, weve got to be bright enough for all that education. Im thirsty.”
Sandy opened the cupboard above the kitchen door. Only a year before, they had been too short to reach it without climbing on a stool. “Wheres the Dutch cocoa? Thats what I want.” Sandy moved various boxes of lentils, barley, kidney beans, cans of tuna and salmon.
“Bet Mothers got it out in the lab. Lets go look.” Dennys sliced more ham.
Sandy put a large dill pickle in his mouth. “Lets finish making the sandwiches first.”
“Food first. Fine.”
With sandwiches an inch or more thick in their hands, and full mouths, they went back out to the pantry and turned into the lab. In the early years of the century, when the house had been part of a working dairy farm, the lab had been used to keep milk, butter, eggs, and there was still a large churn in one corner, which now served to hold a lamp. The work counter with the stone sink functioned as well for holding lab equipment as it had for milk and eggs. There was now a formidable-looking microscope, some strange equipment only their mother understood, and an old-fashioned Bunsen burner, over which, on a homemade tripod, a black kettle was simmering.
Sandy sniffed appreciatively. “Stew.”
“I think were supposed to call it boeuf bourguignon.” Dennys reached up to the shelf over the sink and pulled down a square red tin. “Heres the cocoa. Mother and Dad like it at bedtime.”
“Whens Dad coming home?” Dennys wanted to know.
“Tomorrow night, I think Mother said.”
Sandy, his mouth full, held his hands out to the wood stove. “If we had our drivers licenses, we could go to the airport to meet him.”
“Were good drivers already,” Dennys agreed.
Sandy stuffed another large bite of sandwich into his mouth, and left the warmth of the stove to wander to the far corner of the lab, where there was a not-quite-ordinary-looking computer. “How long has Dad had this gizmo here?”
“He put it in last week. Mother wasnt particularly pleased.”
“Well, it is supposed to be her lab,” Sandy said.
“Whats he programming?” Dennys asked.
“Hes usually pretty good about explaining. Even though I dont understand most of it. Tessering and red-shifting and space/time continuum and stuff.” Sandy stared at the keyboard, which had eight rather than the usual four ranks of keys. “Half of these symbols are Greek. I mean, literally Greek.”
Dennys, ramming the last of his sandwich into his mouth, peered over his twins shoulder. “Well, I more or less get the usual science signs. That looks like Hebrew, there, and thats Cyrillic. I havent the faintest idea what these keys are for.”
Sandy looked down at the lab floor, which consisted of large slabs of stone. There was a thick rug by the sink, and another in front of the shabby leather chair and reading lamp. “I dont know how Mother stands this place in winter.”
“She dresses like an Eskimo.” Dennys shivered, then put out one finger and tapped on the standard keys of the computer: “TAKE ME SOMEPLACE WARM.”
“Hey, I dont think we ought to mess with that,” Sandy warned.
“What do you expect? A genie to pop up, like the one in Aladdin and the magic lamp? This is just a computer, for heavens sake. It cant do anything it isnt programmed to do.”
“Okay, then.” Sandy held his fingers over the keyboard. “A lot of people think computers are alive—I mean, really, sort of like Aladdins genie.” He tapped out on the standard keys: “SOMEPLACE WARM AND SPARSELY POPULATED.”
Dennys shouldered him aside, adding: “LOW HUMIDITY.”
Sandy turned away from the odd computer. “Lets make the cocoa.”
“Sure.” Dennys picked up the red tin, which he had set down on the counter. “Since Mothers using the Bunsen burner, wed better go back to the kitchen to make the cocoa.”
“Okay. Its warmer there, anyhow.”
“I could do with another sandwich. If theyve gone all the way into town, supperll probably be late.”
They left the lab, closing the door behind them. “Hey.” Sandy pointed. “We didnt see this.” There was a small note taped to the door: EXPERIMENT IN PROGRESS. PLEASE KEEP OUT.
“Uh-oh. Hope we didnt upset anything.”
“Wed better tell Mother when she gets back.”
“Why didnt we see that note?”
“We were busy stuffing our faces.”
Dennys crossed the hall and opened the kitchen door and was met with a blast of heat. “Hey!” He tried to step back, but Sandy was on his heels.
“Fire!” Sandy yelled. “Get the fire extinguisher!”
“Too late! Wed better get out and—” Dennys heard the kitchen door slam behind them. “Weve got to get out—”
Sandy yelled, “I cant find the fire extinguisher!”
“I cant find the walls—” Dennys groped through a pervasive mist, his hands touching nothing.
Came a great sonic boom.
Then absolute silence.
Slowly the mist began to clear away, to dissipate.
“Hey!” Sandys changing voice cracked and soared. “Whats going on?”
Dennyss equally cracking voice followed. “Where on earth . . . Whats happened . . .”
“What was that explosion?”
They looked around to see nothing familiar. No kitchen door. No kitchen. No fireplace with its fragrant logs. No table, with its pot of brightly blooming geraniums. No ceiling strung with rows of red peppers and white garlic. No floor with the colorful, braided rugs. They were standing on sand, burning white sand. Above them, the sun was in a sky so hot that it was no longer blue but had a bronze cast. There was nothing but sand and sky from horizon to horizon.
“Is the house all right?” Sandys voice shook.
“I dont think we went into the house at all . . .”
“You dont think it was on fire?”
“No. I think we opened the door and we were here.”
“What about the mist?”
“And the sonic boom?”
“And what about Dads computer?”
“Uh-oh. Whatre we going to do?” Dennyss voice started out in the bass, soared, and cracked to a piercing treble.
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