Deborah Jackson

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Preview of Time Meddlers on the Nile

Time Meddlers on the Nile


Deborah Jackson


Cretaceous Park

Sarah parted the leaves of the gigantic fern and peered out at the riverbank. A duckbill dinosaur was directly in front of her, dipping its muzzle into the water for a drink. She glanced back at Matt, who was being far too noisy, rustling leaves and crackling dead branches beneath his feet.

"Matt," Sarah squeaked. She wrenched him backward as the duckbill raised its head and examined them suspiciously.

"It's okay, Sarah. It's only a plant-eater."

"A plant-eater that's big enough to crush you with its feet, or one swipe of its tail. This is crazy. What are we doing?"

"Dad is here, just past that clump of trees. I'm sure of it." Matt pointed to a spot in the forest congested with cypress and palm trees.

"Right," said Sarah. "It looks like the Everglades, but it sure isn't. Why couldn't we rescue your father in a safer time period?"

She couldn't believe he had roped her into another mad adventure, not in a war this time, but in the Alberta badlands 60 million years in the past. She remembered visiting Dinosaur National Park several years ago with her parents—the crumpled and scarred desert-like hills where one of the world's most renowned collection of dinosaur fossils had been unearthed. Her visit had been one of the greatest thrills of her life. Now, here she was, in a tropical jungle of vivid greens and yellows and reds, a landscape so remote from the badlands that it seemed like she'd stepped from the moon into the Amazon rainforest. The thrill was lost to her. All she could feel was the clench of her teeth and the sickness in her belly.

The duckbill eyed them one more time, then spun around. Sarah dove on Matt as its tail slashed the air just where his head had been. They crashed to the ground, nearly disappearing beneath the plush carpet of leaves.

Matt turned his head and spat out some rotting plant material, coughing and hacking, enough to wake a field full of dinosaurs. "Wha'you do that for?"

"What do you think I did that for? The dinosaur was about to take your head off with its tail."

"Oh," said Matt, sounding somewhat humbled. "Thanks."

"You're welcome. Now can we get out of here?"

Matt didn't answer. He swiveled his head to the side as a crackling, zapping sound penetrated the undergrowth. "There he is," he said, pointing toward a flattened clump of ferns where streaks of flesh and linen had suddenly appeared. Matt's father emerged, wrapped in a Roman toga and looking every bit as imposing as Julius Caesar. Another figure, with jet-black hair and a jagged pale face, similarly draped in linen, appeared at the same instant. "And there's Nadine," he snarled.

Sarah felt a shiver ripple through her at the sight of the woman.

"And there's an Albertosaurus," Sarah hissed under her breath, indicating the enormous lumbering dinosaur trampling the small trees and creating deep depressions in the mud farther along the riverbank.

"Hey, T Rex's cousin."

"I hope your father doesn't get eaten."

"Wouldn't mind if Nadine did, though," said Matt. "Let's grab Dad, then wait for the computer to jack us out of here."

Matt leaped to his feet, prepared to dash through the screen of vegetation and grab his father. At the same time Nadine screamed, "What is that?" Her eyes bugged out as the Albertosaurus approached, letting loose an earsplitting roar.

Nadine charged into the mesh of growth as Matt made an equally fervent attempt to race toward his father. They met in the middle, an explosion of creamy white and bleached blue where toga met jeans and T-shirt. Both of them fell backward, Nadine managing to land in the large pile of dino excrement deposited by the duckbill before it had fled. There was a squelching sound as Nadine shrieked and squirmed, now waist deep in the mound of dung.

"Wh—what happened?" Her eyes ballooned when she spied Matt. "You!"

Matt shook his head as the shock wore off and eyed her sideways, his mouth twisting into a self-satisfied grin. "Exactly where I expected to find you."

Nadine scrambled to her feet, shaking the deposits from her hands with a grimace. Matt jumped up too, keeping a wary eye on her.

"Wish I still had my gun," she muttered.

"Yeah, I suppose so," said Matt, "'cause I'm bigger than you now." Another roar made him start and turn back to his father. "Dad, over here!" he yelled.

Nathan Barnes had his eyes fixed on the dinosaur, his body immobile. "If I don't move . . ." he said.

"What if it's not like Jurassic Park?" yelled Matt. "What if he can see you just fine without having to track movement?"

"Right," said his dad, making a split-second decision and diving into the bushes just as the giant beast snapped its jaws. Matt reached out for him and pulled him farther into the ferns. The dinosaur nosed the tree above them, searching for his escaped prey, while Nadine scrambled away from a massive claw. It smashed down right where she'd been standing, flattening a magnolia tree and splattering dino droppings in all directions, coating Nadine even more emphatically.

"Matt, what are you doing here?" gasped his father. "Haven't you learned anything? Cretaceous period, for goodness sake."

"What do you think I'm doing? I'm trying to save you before you get eaten, or killed, or something else nasty. I'm trying to save you from her too." He jerked his head at Nadine.

"She's not the problem, Matt."

"You can say that again," Nadine snapped in their direction. "Did it ever occur to you what you may be doing? Interfering, making a mess of everything? Impulsive, like your father."

"You stole my father from me!" Matt yelled. "Trapped him. And I'm the bad guy here?"

"Be quiet," said Sarah, eyeing the probing Albertosaurus. "Shouldn't we talk about this somewhere else?"

"Nadine may be right," said Matt's dad.

Matt faced him, wide-eyed and gaping. Nadine may be right, he mouthed.

"But Sarah's also right," he continued. "This is neither the time nor the place. We have to elude this predator, and perhaps we can finally go home and sort this out."

"I'm all for that," said Matt.

Suddenly the Albertosaurus swung back in their direction. His head came down and his jaws snapped centimetres from Sarah's torso.

"Matt," she screamed and dove to the side, rolling into the dino droppings herself. At that moment, she felt the familiar tug on her body. The failsafe was activating, beginning to draw them home.

"Time to go," said Matt, echoing Sarah's thoughts. "Hang in there, Sarah. It's going to work this time." His fists tightened on Dr. Barnes's toga.

They were surrounded by a gush of air, pulling them away from the jungle floor. But at the same time Nadine caterwauled like an injured cat and scooted between the dinosaur's feet. "Not without me," she shrieked, leaping at Matt and his father and landing on top of Dr. Barnes, wrenching him from Matt's grasp. The air twirled around them and Sarah felt her body compressed into what seemed like atom size and rebounding on the floor of the lab. Matt plopped down beside her, without his father.

"No, no, no!" he cried, pounding his fists on the now-slimy floor. "I had him. I had him in my hands. We were nearly home. That miserable soul-crushing demon!"

"Oh, Matt. I'm sorry. This is all so hopeless."

"No, it's not," he said, muscling himself from the ground. "I'll just set it up again and we'll go back."

"Not th-there?" she said, unable to disguise the shiver in her voice. "Not in Albertosaurus territory." She stood and the excrement oozed down her body, pooling on the floor around her. She must be a sight, but she hardly cared about that. It was the thought of those giant jaws nearly crunching down on her spine. She couldn't go back.

"Isabelle?" Matt asked the computer. "Is . . . is my father still alive?" His voice shivered too, so he must also be thinking about the dinosaur.

"Your father still exists," the computer replied.

"Is he still in the Cretaceous Period?"

"Your father has moved on in time and universe. Son," she said as an afterthought. "He is in 701 BCE, in Nubia."

"Nubia?" said Matt. "Where's Nubia?"

"The Nile River," said Sarah. "Sudan today."

"Well then, we'll just have to go there."

"Matt, I'm not going."

"Come on, Sarah. You can't bail on me now. We were so close this time."

"We're always so close," she said. Close enough to see Matt's father, touch him. Close enough to speak to him, but also close enough to nearly get killed. "We have to come up with a plan that doesn't involve rapids, arrows, guns, or dinosaurs. Understand?"

"But . . ."

"No skunks, bears, pigs, or chickens, comprends?"

"They weren't that dangerous."

"Look at me, Matt."

He did finally look at her, up and down, from sopping head to slimy legs, leaking a syrupy brown substance on the tiles, and his expression did change. Instead of the tense, focused look he always wore when he embarked on his "missions," his face slackened, his eyebrows rose, and his lips curved. He burst into a bellowing laugh.

Sarah narrowed her eyes and nearly kicked him. She held out at the last minute when he seized her hand and leaned his clean forehead against her dirty one. "I always take too many risks with you," he said. "But you always seem to come out like this—alive, healthy, but a little bit stinky."

"Oh, you rat!" She wrenched her hand from his and turned away, hiding the grin she couldn't suppress. At least, on that point, he was right. "But I'm still not going."

"We'll do some research first."

"Lots of research."

"And we'll get cleaned up too."

"Why, thank you." She smirked. "And maybe we should stock up on food. We might have trouble finding it in the desert."

"Desert? I thought you said Nubia was on the Nile River."

"Yes, I did. Don't you know anything? The desert's all around it. You really do need to do some research. Imagine if we just jumped back in there and we wound up without any food or water in the middle of the Sahara."

"Right," said Matt. "So let's go home and do the research, before your dad finds out we were here."

He grabbed her hand again and this time she didn't extract it. She was having some trouble getting used to the change in their relationship, but she kind of liked it. Dad, however, didn't, and he was looking for an alternate place for Matt to live. He wasn't having much luck so far, though. Matt had no relatives to speak of.

They exited the lab and headed down the long corridor to the sliding doors at the back of the building. Just as they reached the doors a huge rumble sounded from deep within the structure's core. The floor shook under their feet and seemed to ripple. Sarah had to lean against Matt to keep from falling. Gradually the ripples faded away, but now the air was clouded with dust, even though no plaster, paint, or drywall had detached from the walls. Sarah and Matt coughed and hacked for another minute before they could even talk.

"What was that?" Sarah asked, still wheezing.

"Heck if I know," said Matt. "Minor earthquake, maybe."

"Seemed like a major one."

"Well, the building's still standing. Could have been a bomb too."

"Bite your tongue."

"It's possible. We are near Parliament Hill."

Sarah clenched Matt's hand as the door slid open in front of them. She reached out to keep her balance, but something extraordinary happened as her hand connected with open air. Flakes seemed to peel from her skin, molecules lifted away. Her hand was disintegrating before her eyes.

"What!" she shrieked and snatched back her hand. It reassembled within the security of the building.

Matt stared at her, stunned. Then he attempted to do the same thing, extending his hand out into the alleyway behind the building.

"Matt, don't!" Sarah exclaimed, but he ignored her warning. As soon as his hand passed through the doorway, it seemed to come apart too.

"What? How?" He quickly retracted his hand.

"This is insane," said Sarah, staring at the invisible barrier between the lab and the outside world. How could they just . . . disintegrate beyond it? She'd always known that no good would come from their meddling with time, but never had she imagined something this bizarre, this horrific. They couldn't even step out of the lab.

"We're coming undone," she whispered, suddenly feeling faint.

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