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A Mutiny in Time, Page 2

James Dashner

  They had two hours and forty-seven minutes before the earthquake that would almost kill them.

  POOR DAK, Sera thought as she and her classmates filed through the entrance to the Smithsonian. Her best friend was always annoying people with his ill-timed speeches on useless historical facts. And his obsession with cheese was just . . . well, weird.

  Last year in fourth grade he’d written an entire poem about types of cheeses and how each one of them was like a family member to him. Mrs. E’Brien had finally relented and let him recite it to the class in exchange for his promise to spare them any spontaneous sermons about people who were dead. He’d proudly done his performance, but then only made it a day and a half before he suddenly blurted out a five-minute information dump about the guy who invented the stepladder.

  So yeah, Dak was quaint and unique and a little bit annoying in his own quaint, unique way. But none of these qualities were what made Sera think Poor Dak that morning. What worried her was how clueless he seemed to be about the true state of the world. The SQ. The natural disasters. The ever-increasing crime rates.

  The Remnants.

  That last thought made her pause, a deep ache pressing against her heart. . . .

  And then the stinky kid named Roberk bumped into her from behind.

  She knew it was him because an untimely draft pushed the boy’s patented smell across her body like rotten air escaping from a newly unsealed tomb. The odor itself was a one-of-a-kind mixture of fried liver and boiled cabbage — it definitely put her in mind of hydrogen sulfide. “Geez, Sera,” he said. “If you want a hug, just ask for it.”

  Sera wanted to tell him all about hydrogen sulfide, about how it was usually produced by swamps and sewage, which basically made Roberk a walking sewer — but it was hard to say anything while holding her breath. So she just gave him the biggest eye roll she could muster, then continued walking. She caught up to Dak in the atrium of the building, where the exhibits began on the other side of a huge open archway. Dak was craning his neck so much she thought he might strain a muscle. He was obviously dying to see what awaited them in the museum.

  “Don’t hurt yourself, there,” she leaned over and said to him, determined to slam a door on the sour mood that had crept up on her when she’d thought of the Remnants. “You’ll miss the whole tour if they have to take you away for emergency neck replacement.”

  “Whoa!” he whispered back fiercely. “I think that’s a Viking longship in the next room! Must be a new exhibit. Do you think it’s a karvi or a busse?”

  Sera got on her tiptoes to look — through the archway she could see the ornate carved dragon head at the bow of what had to be a massive wooden ship. “Cool.” She would’ve said more, but Mr. Davedson had just cleared his throat to get the class’s attention. Their teacher was an odd duck — the word crooked described his features the best. Hair, eyebrows, mustache, ears, tie, pants. Everything about him seemed to lean to the left.

  “Okay, kids, listen up!” He always called them kids, and she’d been tempted for months to respond, “Yes, Grandpa?” But she hadn’t gotten up the nerve quite yet.

  “We’ve got an awful lot of things to see today, and not much time to do it. Remember not to question the docent when he speaks — he’s a representative of our beloved SQ.” He shot a nervous look at a tall, smartly dressed bald man standing by the door. Sera had seen him when she’d come in, but she hadn’t noticed the silver SQ insignia he wore on the lapel of his suit. “I expect everyone to be on their best behavior — in tip-top shape and proudly representing the fine institution of Benedict Arnold Middle School! Can I have a woo-hoo?”

  Oh, please, Sera thought in a panic. Not this — not in front of the museum staff!

  When no one responded, Mr. Davedson cupped his hand behind his ear. “I can’t heaaaaaar you. Can I have a woo-hoo?”

  The class halfheartedly gave him his lame cheer, and he shook his head sadly. “Well, I would’ve thought we’d be just a little bit more excited to come here during such dark times. The SQ has graciously released funds to ensure the continued operations of this museum, and we should all be grateful!” He shot a second nervous glance at the docent.

  That was another thing that made Sera want to scream. Not only had she gotten the biggest goon at the school as her teacher, but he always said stuff like that about the SQ. It was ridiculous to her that they should thank the SQ for not closing down a public building. As if anything they did could make up for the way they bullied the governments of the world. Not that she should expect her teacher to grow a backbone when even the President of the United States was eating out of the SQ’s hand.

  “Good ole Mr. Davedson,” Dak whispered to her. “Can’t say a bad word about anyone. You gotta love that guy.”

  Sera smiled despite herself. Dak was oblivious, but somehow he always saw the positive in other people. Even if it did annoy her sometimes, it was a trait she wished she had.

  The museum docent, stiff and gruff and chrome-domed, finally took over command, paying further lip service to the SQ for “visionary leadership in trying times.” Sera managed to suppress her eye roll until the docent had turned to escort the fidgety group through the huge archway and into the Age of Exploration exhibit hall. The longship Dak had spotted now loomed above Sera like a hovering spaceship, suspended by almost invisible wires. Naturally, the group stopped walking right when she stood in its shadow. One little snap of a wire and she’d be crushed, her head ending up right next to her toes.

  The room was filled with other replica boats, an early compass, a detailed diagram showing the difference between Viking and Egyptian vessels, and (of course) dust. Lots of dust. As the docent started droning on about this and that and who said what about who did that, she had the sudden realization that this could end up being the longest day of her life. She ached for the cool halls and auditorium of the local university. There was science and technology on display here, but it was hardly cutting edge.

  On the other hand, Dak stared with fascination at the SQ puppet preaching his boring knowledge. He couldn’t have been more riveted if a corpse had just dug its way out of a grave and started dancing. Half to annoy him, Sera nudged him with an elbow.

  “So much for your step-by-step agenda,” she said under her breath. “Looks like we’re stuck with a babysitter.”

  Without looking at her, he whispered, “Yeah, this is some fascinating stuff. I can hardly believe I’m here to see it with my own eyes.”

  Sera realized it would be pointless to even try talking to Dak until lunch.

  They moved on from there to other rooms and halls, learning about everything from dinosaurs to the SQ’s influence on the space race. Sera tried to question something the docent said at one point, but her teacher hushed her immediately, once again looking around nervously.

  Ugh, Sera thought. She swore to quit listening altogether.

  Every once in a while, Dak would tear his gaze away from the docent and look at her with wide eyes. Then he’d say something like, “Isn’t that cool?” or “Can you believe that?” or “Man, those Mongols had a sense of humor.” She’d simply nod and hope he didn’t force her to admit she hadn’t heard a word that had been said.

  Eventually they circled back and found themselves in the Exploration hall again, where they stood for what seemed like hours before an exhibit dedicated to the discovery of the Americas by the famous Amancio brothers. Everybody knew the story, though the docent left out the best part — the grisly fate of the cruel man that the heroically mutinous brothers had disposed of, Christopher Columbus. In fact, Sera had only ever heard of Columbus because Dak liked to tell the story. The man’s name never came up in class or during Amancio Day celebrations.

  The docent was just going off about how important the SQ had been in shaping the history of the world for the better when Dak cleared his throat loudly and raised
his hand. Oh, no, Sera thought. Here we go.

  “Excuse me!” Dak practically shouted when neither of the adults acknowledged him. “Excuse me! I have something important to say!”

  Both men looked sharply at him.

  “What is it?” Mr. Davedson asked. Sera knew that expression and that tone. The man had seen this happen far too many times — and he knew that indulging Dak at the museum could spell disaster.

  “Well, I think you’ve clearly forgotten to say something important about the compass and its history.” He let out a chuckle and glanced around the room as if all the students would be nodding their heads vigorously in agreement. When no one did, he frowned. “You know. How the fourth-century writings of Wang Xu in China were instrumental — pardon the pun — to the eventual discovery of magnetism and the directional iron needle. Heh heh. Hard to believe there was ever a world where people didn’t know about that!”

  The room had fallen tomb silent. Tomb-buried-under-three-miles-of-bedrock-under-the-ocean silent.

  Someone sniffled.

  Dak chuckled again. “Oh, man. Crazy stuff.” He shot an embarrassed look at Sera then looked down at the floor, his face awash in red.

  And those were the moments Sera realized exactly why they were such good friends. They were both inhumanly dorky. No judgments. She reached out and punched him lightly on the arm.

  “Ow,” he said. But he smiled, and the red in his cheeks started to fade.

  “All righty then,” Mr. Davedson barked, clapping his hands once. “That wasn’t so bad. Let’s all gather —”

  A sudden burst of violent movement cut him off. The entire building started to shake, along with everything inside of it, display cases shuddering as the great hallway seemed to bounce and tilt and wobble. Screams erupted from every direction at once. Sera planted her feet and fought to keep her balance while most of her classmates fell on top of one another. Dak was one of them, tangled up in a sea of arms and legs.

  As if anyone needed to hear it, Mr. Davedson screeched one word at the top of his lungs:


  DAK KNEW very well that time made no sense during natural disasters — he’d been through a dozen or so over the course of his life. But as the terrible shaking of the world around him stretched on and on, he could have sworn that each second lasted a full minute. Terror filled his every muscle, bone, and nerve.

  He currently had a foot in his mouth, and he was pretty sure it was Makiko’s, her toe somehow squirming its way between his lips as a whole group of people tried to wrestle free of one another on the floor. He swatted her leg away just as someone’s armpit replaced it, smashing against his nose. The ground beneath them felt like a nightmarish seesaw, pitching back and forth as the groans and squeals of bending wood and metal filled the air.

  A hand suddenly slapped his back and squeezed the material of his shirt into a fist. Then he was yanked up to his feet. He spun around to see Sera staring at him with fear in her eyes. Somehow she’d turned into Marvelman when the quake started.

  They stumbled away from the mass of kids on the floor to an open area that wasn’t beneath any hanging displays, then helped each other maintain their balance as they staggered two or three steps one way then back the other. He saw an ancient Mayan figurine suddenly roll across the floor from another room, just in time to get stepped on and smashed by Roberk. Dak’s heart broke a little, but a fresh jolt that threw him several inches off the floor brought him back to reality — he had to hope people didn’t get smashed like that, too.

  “It’ll be over soon!” he yelled at Sera.

  “If we don’t die first!” she called back.

  “Well, it’ll end whether we die or not!”

  “Thanks. I didn’t know!”

  A sudden crack rang out, a splinter of thunder that made the hair on the back of Dak’s neck stand up. The sound had come from directly beneath them. He stared in horror as the ground split open before his eyes, a gap slicing across the floor like a zigzagging snake. Chunks of tile tore free and plummeted into a dark basement far below. Dak grabbed Sera by the arm and they jumped to safety, then watched as their classmates scrambled to get clear.

  Two of their friends didn’t quite make it. They dangled over the abyss, holding on for dear life. Mr. Davedson and the docent were sprawled out on the other side of the room and seemed to have no intention of helping the endangered kids.

  “Get them!” Sera yelled, already moving.

  Dak followed her as best he could — the building continued to tremble and shake, making it impossible to walk. They dropped to their knees and crawled forward to Makiko, who gripped a jagged outcropping of tiled floor. Her eyes caught Dak’s, pleading for him to save her.

  “I’ve got her!” he yelled at Sera. “Go help Fraderick!”

  As Sera crawled away, Dak was left hoping he hadn’t spoken too soon. If the building pitched at the wrong moment, he could slide right past Makiko and into the abyss below — probably taking her with him. He lay on his stomach to get as much stability as he could. Then he reached out and grabbed both of her arms.

  He pulled, trying to bend his elbows and lift her out of the hole. She hadn’t seemed very big whenever he’d looked at her before, but now she felt as if she weighed as much as Fat Bobby — that dude who sat in front of the Laundromat doing absolutely nothing on Saturdays. Dak screamed with the effort, throwing all of his strength into it. Makiko seemed to realize it wasn’t working and started to climb him like a ladder, using his armpits and belt as rungs and the back of his neck as a foothold. He gurgled in pain as she lurched up and over the edge then toppled off of his body.

  “Thanks, Dak,” she said, facing him. “You’re my hero.” Then she giggled.

  Dak could only stare at her. That was one messed-up girl.

  He saw that Sera had gotten Fraderick pulled up safely as well, and everyone scooted as far away from the gap as possible. The building continued to shake, creaking and groaning all the while. But the hole in the floor had stopped growing. No one was screaming anymore.

  We’re going to make it, Dak thought.

  Then something snapped, like a loosed rubber band cracking through the air. Then again. Then again.

  “Up there!” someone yelled.

  Dak looked toward the ceiling and saw that the thin wires holding the Viking ship upright were breaking free from the walls, whipping out to smack into the wooden craft. Its port side abruptly tilted downward several feet, sending a spray of broken drywall snowing down on top of the crowd. Shouts and screams again filled the air as everyone half-staggered, half-crawled out of harm’s way.

  He rejoined Sera as they moved toward the far wall. They were still a dozen feet away from safety when the floor lurched upward several feet then slammed back down again, as if the whole building had been picked up and dropped. Sera sprawled onto the floor as more snaps and cracks whipped through the air — this time followed by a terrible, creaking groan. The ship had torn loose and was tilting away from its perch, falling toward the ground as its final supports broke free.

  Dak could see where it was headed and wasted no time thinking. He grabbed Sera by the hands and yanked her across the floor so hard that she slid ten feet and slammed into the wall. Then he dove after her. He didn’t have to look because he heard it well enough — the ship crashed into the ground right where he and his best friend had just been.

  And as if that had been nature’s exclamation point on the whole affair, the earthquake ceased a few seconds later, everything almost instantly growing still. Dak twisted around to sit with his back against the wall, right next to Sera, who was pulling in heavy breaths, just as he was. They both stared at the smashed ancient longboat, now nothing but a pile of firewood with a carved dragon’s head sticking out at the top. Dak felt as if he’d just watched history itself being

  “That was close,” Sera whispered.

  “Yeah,” Dak agreed. “Good thing you have someone watching out for you. I’ll take your thank-you payment in cash, credit, or fine cheeses. Your choice. I just wish I could’ve done something about that poor boat.”

  Sera shoved him gently. “If it was a choice between me or the boat, I’m okay with how it turned out.”

  Mr. Davedson was the first one to stand up, and he walked around the broken ship toward the large crack in the floor, brushing dust and debris off of his shirt and pants. He reached the edge and looked down, then turned to face the students crowded up against the wall.

  “I can’t believe it,” their teacher said in a dazed whisper. “I just can’t believe it.”

  “What?” Dak asked.

  Mr. Davedson shook his head slowly back and forth. “Seven earthquakes this month. And now they’re happening here.”

  No one responded, and his words hung there for a moment.

  “The SQ has everything under control,” the dust-covered docent insisted harshly.

  Dak and Sera exchanged a quick glance. They’d never admit it aloud, but they couldn’t quite believe him.

  THREE DAYS later, Sera suffered one of the worst Remnants of her life.

  Her uncle Diego was out running errands, so Sera was home alone when she had an overpowering disturbance inside her head. An uncomfortable itch that made her stop and rub her temples, as if she hoped to dig deep down enough to massage it out. She couldn’t explain it — she never could — but she knew with absolute certainty that she needed to go outside, to the backyard and fields behind her home, and walk to the old barn that was half a mile down the old dirt lane.

  The sun shone in a sky without any clouds, but a grainy haze darkened the light to an orange glow, surreal and otherworldly. The haze came from forest fires in rural Pennsylvania, their fog of smoke drifting toward the sea on a light breeze like a noxious storm. Sera ran along the lane, enjoying the warmth despite the weirdness that had settled inside her, that pull to run to the barn for the umpteenth time in her life.