The Innerworld Affairs Series, Book 4
A dying man from the future appears before the Co-Governors of Innerworld. He tells of a catastrophic future that can be prevented using their daughter Shara's work in genetics along with a time-hop to the distant past. Despite Noronian law prohibiting time travel, Shara is determined to go and historian Gabriel Drumayne insists on accompanying her…to make sure she does not do anything to alter history.
Their opposing goals would be sufficient to keep them apart but the time-hopping triggers the Noronian mating fever, forcing them to cool the heat in the most primitive of ways. From the Frozen Era, to the Noronian colonization of Earth, their journey concludes on Atlantis, just days before its destruction. While they are confronting ancient evils, however, their time-hopping is also causing their present world to disintegrate. Even if they manage to survive the fever and their perilous adventures, there may be no future for them to return to.
Compelling. Irresistible. Imaginative…passion of searing intensity.
Superb, fascinating…this one is the ultimate in putting your imagination into overdrive.
Atlantis, approximately 9500 B.C.
"You will not take the virgin anywhere but my chamber."
Shara yanked Rebekah behind her and raised the cleaver over her head. "Get out of our way or I'll split you in two!"
King Jupiter blinked and the cleaver flew out of Shara's hand and down the corridor. An instant later she countered with her own special ability by hurling a mental suggestion at him to go to sleep, but he easily blocked it. His hand rose to strike her and she instantly paralyzed his arm. Their minds met on a battlefield of wills, pulling and pushing, each straining to overpower the other, but they were too evenly matched for either to be victorious.
"The virgin must be sacrificed," he demanded. "It is the only way to appease the gods and put a stop to the destruction."
Shara stared into eyes of pure madness. His black pupils were dilated to their fullest as he struggled harder to force her to bend to his will. She felt her mind weakening and saw his deranged smile of satisfaction.
Hold on, sweetling. I'm coming. Suddenly Gabriel's mind melded with hers and her defensive position changed to an unexpected attack on the king's consciousness. The next instant, Jupiter's eyes rolled back in his head and he fell to the ground.
Gabriel appeared a moment later. "Let's go!" he ordered, grabbing Shara's hand and pulling her over Jupiter's body.
"Wait," she said as she reached down and plucked a hair from Jupiter's head. She took another second to slip it into her pouch. Then taking Rebekah's hand, the three of them ran for the stairs.
Shara noted the cloths wrapped around Gabriel's hands and upper body like bandages.
I'll explain everything later, he promised.
The closer they got to the surface, the louder the sounds of destruction were. But nothing prepared them for the sight of it.
As they exited through the side door where they had first entered, they heard the screams and shouts of a panicked population. Throughout the courtyard, statues and columns had smashed to the ground. A portion of Poseidon's temple had already collapsed and all around the citadel, buildings were crumbling. The earthquake alone was capable of leveling the entire city but a more lethal destroyer was on its way.
Bright orange fire was erupting from the tops of three mountains that could be seen from the citadel mound—one only a few kilometers away. The burning lava appeared to be creeping down the mountainsides but there was no doubt in anyone's mind that it would not be long before it was flowing into the city.
Shara, Gabriel and Rebekah were swept along with the hysterical crowd, all heading for the beaches in hopes of finding a way to escape the inevitable.
The gates were already opened before the flood of terrified people arrived but the narrowed bridge created a bottleneck. Some people climbed the walls and dove into the canal to swim across while others pushed and shoved their way onto the bridge, not caring who they trampled to get ahead.
Gabriel picked up Rebekah to keep her from getting squashed in the stampede. Shara's fear mounted with each minute that passed. The throng kept moving forward but the fiery lava appeared to be coming faster. She had no idea how they would ever make it all the way back to where the raft was hidden before they were overrun by either the lava or the people.
Three weeks ago, when she'd time-hopped for the first time, she'd been full of daring and confidence. Being killed by a volcano over 12,000 years in the past had never been part of her plan.
Innerworld-Planet Terra (Earth), 2055 A.D.
Shara slid her tall frame a little lower in the chair and pretended to concentrate on the food in front of her. A practiced dip of her head made her straight, shoulder-length hair fall forward, creating an effective, sable-brown veil to shield her expressive eyes. This was one time her kid brother would not get her support. She was going to stay out of this family discussion if it killed her.
"Drek! But that's unfair."
"Mackenzie Locke!" Aster glared at her son, whose sullen face had taken on a tinge of pink when he realized his slip. "I will not have that language in our home. In fact, I don't care for your attitude at all this evening, young man."
Shara watched Mack sneak a look at their father. He should have known better than to expect sympathy from that corner. Aster and Romulus never disagreed in front of their two children, at least not out loud. Beneath the table, Shara gently tapped her brother's shin with the toe of her shoe to warn him to give it up. He was spoiling their weekly family dinner... again. She wasn't surprised when he continued his argument.
"Shara has her own residence. All I want—"
"Shara," Romulus interrupted, "is a grown woman with an established career. You aren't even out of school yet."
Mack's rebuttal was cut short by a sound similar to the tinkling of distant wind chimes.
Shara gasped as thousands of sparks of white light exploded in the corner of the room where the sound seemed to originate. A second later the sparks consolidated into the shape of a person. As the lights flickered out, Shara discerned that their intruder was a very old, bald-headed man. His lavish attire compounded the shock of his abrupt appearance. The long-sleeved, floor-length caftan he wore was striped with a dozen brilliant colors and gathered at the waist by a wide belt decorated with large, rectangular crystals, which glowed from an inner light. As Shara collected her wits, the man swayed and collapsed on the floor.
Romulus reached the still figure first but Shara was right behind him. Quickly kneeling and pressing her finger to the side of the man's neck, she said, "He has a pulse, but it's very weak." She moved her hand so that her fingertips hovered above his temple. Since they both knew her abilities to mind-touch were the strongest of the Locke family, she looked to her father for the required approval.
Before Romulus could decide if the circumstances justified such an invasion of privacy, the man's eyes twitched and slowly opened. Moving his watery gaze over each of the group around him, he settled on Shara. In a strained, halting whisper, he asked, "Where... am... I?"
"You are in my home," Romulus answered in a terse voice before Shara could speak. "More precisely, you have trespassed into the residence of Romulus and Aster Locke. We are the Co-Governors of the Noronian colony of Innerworld, in the inner core of the planet Terra, known to the Outerworld natives as Earth. Who are you and why are you here?"
The stranger's eyes closed and a smile deepened the lines in his leathery face. "I made it. Thank the Supreme Being." When he reopened his eyes, he spoke to Shara again. "Please... if you will... help me to rise a bit... I could breathe more easily. I have so much to tell. And so very little time."
Shara placed an arm under his shoulders and gently lifted him. He was so thin, she could feel his frail bones beneath the silky caftan. When she saw how much effort it took him to remain upright, she continued to support him as he began to explain.
"My name is Lantana. I have come from... the future."
The Locke family's shock was unanimous and their questions came faster than Lantana could respond.
"Time travel experimentation is prohibited here," stated Romulus.
"Why have you come here now?" Aster queried.
Lantana paused to take a wheezy breath. Raising a trembling hand to Aster, he continued. "I wanted to meet you before I died."
Aster raised her eyebrows in confusion. "Me?"
Giving her a small smile, he let his hand drop limply onto his lap. "Yes, you, the Mother of the Transition, the woman who did so much to bring the cultures of Norona and Outerworld Terra into the Cooperative Age. Aster Mackenzie Locke, the first Terran woman to join with a Noronian man and bear children of the future." With those words he nodded at Romulus, Shara and Mack, then returned his gaze to Aster. "In which Terra year did I arrive?"
"Two thousand fifty-five," Aster answered. "What year are you from?"
Lantana sighed. "Then the Transition has not yet begun. I was trying for a later date. I come from a desperate time for both Innerworld and Outerworld, a tragic result of events that never should have happened. But I escaped... to meet you... and seek your help."
"Escaped?" Romulus asked. "Are you a criminal?"
A dry laugh turned into a hacking cough as Lantana tried to answer him. "Yes, I suppose I am. You see, in the future, time travel is still against the law." He ran his index finger over the beveled edges of the crystal rectangle at the center of his belt, and it sprung open like a miniature drawbridge. All four heads leaned closer to inspect the workings inside. "This is the culmination of a lifetime of labor... my tempometer. I began designing it to prove time travel was possible. In spite of the law, I always intended to use it myself before I died. I have admired you for so long, Aster. Your petitions to the Ruling Tribunal of Norona are in every child's history book."
Aster's face flushed with shock and pride. "My petitions were recorded? For history?"
"And your speeches, like the one you made to convince the Tribunal that you and Romulus should be joined." Lantana's expression contorted as he seemed to be searching his memory. "By this time, have you not already delivered your petition requesting permission for Innerworld's people to begin making contact with certain Terran leaders of Outerworld?"
"Yes, I have, but that was over a year ago and they never responded."
"Aah, then it is yet to come. You will hear soon. And do not be discouraged by the Tribunal's caution. When they review your suggestions for a universal trade agreement, they'll come around."
Aster stuttered in confusion. "But I haven't even... that is, I was only thinking of—"
Romulus touched her shoulder. "I don't think it's wise to know too much of our own future."
Lantana grabbed Romulus's arm and pulled himself closer. "You're wrong. It's vital that I tell you... and you must help. I don't have the strength or the time left to find someone else. My life will end before this day is through."
Shara automatically renewed her support of him when he slumped backward once more. His show of defiance obviously drained what little energy he had. For a moment he was deathly still then he drew in a ragged breath and spoke again.
"In my time, there is an evil Terran leader in Outerworld, Khameira Chang Sung. Everyone thought he was just another religious zealot. No one realized until it was too late that he possesses powerful mental abilities. His followers are mindless in their devotion to him. One day he was merely a Chinese farmer. Ten years later he controls all of the Asian continent.
"Because of Khameira's ambition, there was a third great war on Outerworld. Powerful weapons were used which ravaged the surface and decimated the population. Khameira still lives, but he rules a dead planet from a protective underground shelter. It will be thousands of years before the atmosphere will be cleared of all poisons. And in the meantime our people are trapped." Exhausted, Lantana closed his eyes.
Shara gave him a slight shake to rouse him again and demanded, "What do you mean, trapped?"
Romulus added his own question. "Why wasn't he stopped? Surely the Tribunal would have approved interference with Terran culture in the face of such a threat."
Lantana's body trembled as he attempted to summon enough strength to continue. "Sadly, Khameira's abilities blinded the Noronian emissaries in place on Outerworld as effectively as he had hidden the truth from the Terrans. By the time Norona was notified, the tunnels to Innerworld were already destroyed, sealing us inside the planet. Even after the atmosphere stabilizes, there are so many explosives buried in the surface, it will be impossible for Norona to safely rescue us for centuries."
Shara observed her parents communicating mentally and guessed by the expression on Aster's face what was being discussed. As a Terran, Aster was skeptical of strangers and was obviously questioning the veracity of what they were being told. But Romulus would be reminding her that Noronians lived by a code of honesty. Lantana's words should be accepted as truth.
"When will all this take place?" Romulus asked, his brows narrowing in concern.
Lantana tried to respond but was gripped by another hacking cough for several seconds. When he caught his breath, he was so agitated that his words ran together. "You mustn't know the date. All could be lost. You would leave warnings that might create an entirely new problem. Or worse, Khameira could completely change his plan, altering history or creating a separate timeline. The effect of time travel is still theoretical. No, you must do as I say to save Innerworld. Khameira must never be born. Unfortunately, he was raised in an anti-tech community. I was unable to locate any birth records for him, so the simple solution of preventing his mother from conceiving him is not viable."
Shara shook her head, thinking she must have misunderstood. "How would we be able to prevent his birth if we don't know who his mother is and we don't warn future generations?"
Lantana shifted against her arm to face her directly. "You can do it, Shara. Your work makes it possible... without violence."
"My work? I'm a genetic researcher, not a diplomat."
"Yes, yes, I know. You are also well known in my time for your discovery of the memory molecule within the deoxyribonucleic structure."
Shara was almost afraid to ask but curiosity won out. "You mean my theory is correct? It is possible to trace an individual's direct ancestry, as well as the accumulated knowledge of all the generations, back to the beginning of life, through the DNA?"
Lantana nodded. "I was not certain precisely what time I would arrive here, so I brought a copy of the monograph you wrote—or rather, will write—regarding your findings." He pulled a thick sheaf of papers out of a large pocket in his caftan. "I was not certain if my information chip would be compatible with the readout units of your time, so I printed out the portion I deduced would be most helpful for you to move up the completion of your research."
He reached back into the pocket and handed her an envelope. "Inside is the chip and a lock of Khameira's hair. By analyzing it, you will find the genetic identification of his ancestors. Khameira claimed to have Noronian blood. His mental abilities seemed to confirm that." Another coughing spasm prevented him from continuing for several minutes.
Finally he held Shara's gaze with his and spoke in a raspy whisper that sent a chill down her spine. "Go back. Back to the beginning on Norona. Find the rebel who was Khameira's ancestor." His bony fingers grasped her hand and squeezed. "You must prevent that one from being exiled to Terra. Then all will be well." His fingers released their hold as his head fell back on Shara's arm.
After a moment Shara searched for a pulse but found none. Quickly she touched his temple then shook her head. "Nothing." As she lowered Lantana to the floor, Romulus left the room.
When he returned, he said, "A team is on their way from Medical. They'll revive him so we can question him further."
Shara tried to participate in her family's speculations, but she was too torn by her own conflicting emotions. Sadness for an old man who died in her arms, fear of the future he described and elation that her theory would be proven correct were all secondary to an overriding sense of anticipation. A trip back in time would be an unprecedented event. She could be fundamental in saving the planet, justify her entire career and learn the truth about her own ancestry, all in one glorious adventure.
While they awaited the medical team, Romulus removed the tempometer belt from Lantana and locked it in the hidden security drawer of his desk. A short time later the team arrived but swiftly determined that there was no life spark remaining in Lantana's body to be revived. His time had come to an end and the soul had immediately departed the body.
"So," Romulus began as his family took seats in the living area. "Our options have just been narrowed. Without being able to question our visitor from the future in greater depth, there is no way of guessing the exact time period he spoke about. A warning to all future generations might be sufficient. Then again—"
"Then again," Aster broke in, completing her mate's sentence, "depending on how far in the future this takes place, the warning could create a different set of problems, just as he prophesied."
Mack had his own ideas on the matter. "If we knew the date, we could use the old guy's time device to send someone forward to snatch Khameira before he gains control. Since we can't do that, maybe we could get to one of his ancestors in our time. What about that theory of yours, Shara? Can you really figure out who the tyrant's ancestors are by that lock of hair?"
"I think so. I'll have to read my own research paper to see how I finally figure it out, but basically, I believe that the memory molecule contains the pattern of every direct ancestor of an individual. Each person has his own identifying pattern that gets added to those inherited. Analysis of a hair sample should result in a complete list of ancestral patterns. The method involves testing other people and looking for a matchup. In other words, somewhere in Outerworld right now is a direct ancestor of Khameira. Prevent that person from reproducing and Khameira would never be born."
Aster shook her head doubtfully. "I don't see how you could accomplish that. There are billions of people out there and only a fraction of them have their DNA on file anywhere. Besides the physical impracticality of testing that many people in your lifetime, it would be impossible to get everyone's cooperation."
"That leaves only Lantana's suggestion," Shara declared. "He obviously thought out all the same possibilities we did. I must go back to Norona, to the time before the rebels were exiled to Terra. There were only a few hundred people sent to live on the surface. All I'd have to do is test each person in that group, find the one with a pattern that matches one of Khameira's and stop that person from going."
Before Shara completed her last sentence, Romulus was up and pacing. "Hold it right there. You've jumped right over three important facts. One, Lantana did not explain how to use his device. Two, even if he had or you could figure it out yourself, time travel is prohibited. And three, you are hardly qualified for a mission that would obviously entail considerable risk."
"On the contrary, Father, it is my theory that will be on trial and my equipment that will be used. No one is better qualified than I. As far as any risk involved, I am no less qualified than mother was when she helped prevent this planet from being destroyed by an asteroid and rescued you after you were abducted by that demented Terran, Gordon Underwood."
Romulus clearly was not happy with the comparison. Despite what he had said to Mackenzie earlier, he still thought of Shara as his little girl, even though she was approaching her thirtieth year. "Remember, your mother was not alone. She had a highly skilled tracker accompanying her." Romulus preferred not to think about what might have happened to him or Aster had it not been for the special skills of their empathic friend, Falcon.
"Then I'll engage a guardian to protect me. Perhaps Falcon would like a change of scenery. It must be about time for him to take a break from Outerworld's stress factors again."
"You know he rarely leaves his Terran family these days." Giving her suggestion only a moment's consideration, Romulus returned to the original problem. "Besides, a guardian wouldn't help if you don't have authorization to make the trip. I'll compose a communication to the Ruling Tribunal tonight, relaying Lantana's warnings. I'll add a request for permission for someone to make the trip he advised, if the tempometer can be figured out. But, as Lantana mentioned, no one knows precisely what effect time travel might have, so I doubt if the Tribunal would allow such a risk. At any rate, we have to leave the final decision up to them."
Shara frowned but said nothing. At least he hadn't personally refused her outright. It seemed obvious to her that every avenue, even one against the law or with a high risk factor, should be investigated to prevent the disaster Lantana warned them of. But no one could predict how the Tribunal would respond. As she helped her family recall Lantana's description of the future, she leafed through the pages of the research monograph he had brought her.
It took only a quick scan to confirm that this was indeed her work and that completion of the genetic tracking program she had been struggling with was now in her hands. While they awaited the Tribunal's decision, she would go ahead with her research. When approval for the time travel came through, she wanted to be ready to go.
It was inconceivable to her that the Tribunal would refuse permission when the future of both Norona and Terra depended on it. It was also beyond her imagination that they could turn down her request to go when she was so close to proving her theories about the memory molecule firsthand. No one needed to know that her research had a personal as well as scientific basis.
She was only a child when she had set her goal and it was one of her classmates who had pushed her toward it. The little boy had called her a Terran and made an awful face when he said it. Shara had asked her teacher what the word meant, but the definition—a human born on the surface of the planet and whose ancestors were also Outerworld natives—did not seem to apply to her. Nor did she understand why being a Terran, even if she was one, would cause the boy to sneer at her.
When, a few days later, that same boy had made up a cruel song about Shara being a "mixed-breed" and encouraged the other children to join in the fun, Shara asked her parents to explain. That day she learned the truth. Her father was pure Noronian but her mother was a Terran, an inferior species of humanoids. In order for Shara to understand, her parents had explained how they had met.
When the Noronians first established their mining colony in the center of the Terra, they had considered the fact that the native Terrans being humanoid like themselves was an advantage, since a group of Noronians were to be left on the surface. They could easily integrate with the primitive inhabitants. It was never intended for any Terrans to be brought into Innerworld, however.
Tunnels were bored through Terra's twelve magnetic fields for the Noronian ships to travel in and out. Unfortunately, as Terra's population grew, accidents occurred. Because of the magnetism, a Terran vessel occasionally moved into a tunnel doorway undetected just as the doorway was being opened and the people on board were transported into Innerworld. The Noronians considered these Terrans dangerous and inferior but they could not risk revealing their presence by sending them back.
Aster Mackenzie arrived in Innerworld because of one of those accidents but fate had surely had a hand in it.
At the time Aster arrived, there was a strong taboo against Noronian Innerworlders fraternizing with the transplanted Terrans. Nevertheless, Romulus, who had just been nominated for the Governorship of the colony, was irresistibly drawn to Aster and she to him. When they were both stricken by the Noronian mating fever, Romulus knew they were destined to be together. But merely being together was not enough to satisfy the fiery craving of the fever. Although there was no record of it ever happening before between a Noronian and a Terran, Aster and Romulus's souls were crying out to each other. The only cure was joining, which eternally bonded two people mentally and spiritually, and a joining between their races was forbidden by law.
After risking their lives to prevent Terra being hit by an asteroid, Romulus and Aster petitioned the Ruling Tribunal of Norona for special permission to join. Aster's bravery and loyalty during the crisis carried considerable weight but it was the proclamation by the Tribunal that Aster was distantly related to a Noronian that tipped the scales.
Aster became Romulus's mate through the sacred joining ceremony and they were appointed Co-Governors of Innerworld—a post they had held ever since.
The Tribunal's proclamation satisfied most of the people, but there were die-hard bigots who refused to accept it as truth. There were others who accepted it but assumed the drop of Noronian blood Aster inherited had to have been from an inferior Noronian to begin with. In their minds, a Terran could never be their equal and they passed that prejudice down to their children.
As the first child born from a mixed joining, Shara was considered a precious symbol of the future by some and an unholy freak by others. Her parents' joining had been expected to mark a change in the way Noronian Innerworlders viewed Terran Innerworlders, but prejudice occasionally still bubbled beneath a façade of civility. Only a handful of other mixed joinings had been publicly recorded since and just two of those had borne children. Because of their parentage, Shara and Mackenzie's status as "mixed-breeds" was common knowledge throughout the colony.
That fateful day, over twenty years ago, Shara had determined to find a way to prove Aster's Noronian ancestry and thereby remove the clouds surrounding her own heritage. Her choice of a career in genetics had been based on the desire for that proof, her excessive ambition driven by that goal. Now, unexpectedly, the means had been handed to her, and nothing was going to stop her from taking advantage of the opportunity.
With part of her mind listening to her family and part still wandering in the past, she almost overlooked the last few pages in her hand. The word tempometer caught her eye and she took a second look. The final pages detailed Lantana's research rather than her own. He had included his experimental findings, schematics for the device, a set of operating instructions, and a final, handwritten note which read:
My life is ending. There is no more time to perfect my tempometer. I must try it as is and hope that I come close to the time period I seek. Although I believe I have figured out how to make a time-hop from one century to another, I have not uncovered the secret of making a time-hop shorter than a hundred years.
Shara was about to show everyone the pages but something held her back. It occurred to her that her father was only going through the motions of requesting permission to time travel because he didn't really believe she could figure out how to use the device. For a while, she decided, she would keep this information to herself.
* * *
A month later there was still no word from the Tribunal but Shara had made considerable progress on her projects. Her genetic tracking program was nearing completion. After secretly borrowing the tempometer for analysis, she began studying Lantana's notes and gained a fair knowledge of how to operate the device.
With much less enthusiasm, she had done some research into the time period she was intending to go back to. She had always excelled at science and math. History, on the other hand, was a subject that left her in the dust. But she realized the necessity of understanding the era in order to return to it even for a short time.
She knew the basics as well as any other Innerworlder. A little over twelve thousand years ago, a fuel shortage threatened to cripple the entire planet of Norona. Expeditions were sent throughout the universe in search of a new source of volterrin, the rare material upon which the technology of Norona was structured. After centuries of futile exploration, volterrin was discovered in abundance in the inner core of the planet Terra.
Now, so many centuries later, Norona was still dependent upon Innerworld to provide its volterrin. The disaster Lantana had spoken of would cause all trade to be cut off, creating another crisis situation on Norona. Shara was certain that fact alone would convince the Tribunal to approve her journey into the past.
Although most of the population of Norona had rejoiced when the volterrin source was first discovered, there was a small group of dissidents who attempted to sabotage the efforts to import the mineral. These rebels wanted Norona to be forced to return to simpler times and to give up modern technology completely. The rebellion was short-lived and a suitable punishment decided upon. A primitive species of humanoids inhabited Terra's surface at that time. Since the rebels wanted to live in a simpler time, they were exiled to live among those less civilized humans.
Shara knew she would have to learn a lot more about those rebels in order to obtain cell samples from each. The easiest sample to collect discreetly would be a strand of hair but it still required her to come in close contact with them. Wishing she had paid more attention when she was in school, she promised herself to set aside a few days to study whatever material could be found on the rebels.
Though she heard the door to her lab open and close, Shara needed to complete a calculation before she greeted her visitor. She knew someone was speaking but she blocked out the voice and kept her gaze locked on the viewer before her so as not to lose her train of thought. The pressure of a strong hand on her shoulder accomplished what the voice had not.
Annoyed at the interruption, Shara slanted a glance at the fingers spread over her shoulder. The closely pared, unpolished nails and the smattering of fine blond hair on the large hand identified her visitor as a man. Her gaze continued up a bare forearm to an aqua jersey loosely covering a pair of well-developed shoulders. Intending to deliver a glare that would have most men pleading for forgiveness, she swiveled her chair toward him and raised her eyes.
Her intended glare lost its hostility as she caught sight of his attractive, almost boyish features. His crown of blond curls, sky-blue eyes and long eyelashes would have seemed more fitting on a Terran angel. But the warm body standing much too close to hers was definitely not that of a spirit. A plain gold earcuff on his left lobe was the only adornment that was not given him by nature. He epitomized the type of man she avoided at all costs. Her irritation increased as she realized that instead of pleading, he appeared to be patiently waiting for an apology from her.
Lifting his wrist with her thumb and forefinger, she removed his hand then brushed the spot on her shirt where his hand had been. "Now that you've succeeded in interrupting me, what is it you want?"
His features lost some of their angelic quality as he glowered at her. "You mean you didn't hear any of what I said when I came in?"
Shara gave an exaggerated sigh. "Of course not. I was in the middle of a calculation. Everyone knows better than to try to talk to me until I look up from my work."
"I'm afraid your personal work habits are not as widely known as you'd like to think. If you don't wish to be disturbed, you should put a sign on your door. That's what I do, and it is most effective."
Shara got off her stool to face the exasperating man on a more equal level and was disturbed at having to look up to meet his eyes. At a height that neared six feet with her boot heels, she didn't have to do that very often. "I don't particularly care what method you find effective. You've interrupted me and I would like to get back to work. So you may either repeat yourself or leave." As she had done a moment ago, he now took a turn scanning her from head to toe. He stared at her eyes for so long that Shara blushed—something she couldn't remember doing for years. "Well?"
"Very interesting," he said, continuing to stare. "I had been told Shara Locke was a forerunner in her field, although a bit impatient and not the friendliest person one might meet. Obviously that was a fair description. On the other hand, I had expected a much more... mature woman. Tell me, do you have any control over the way your eyes change color, or is it involuntary?"
Shara opened her mouth to respond but wasn't certain what she wanted to say. It sounded as though he had just complimented and insulted her at the same time. And she certainly didn't intend to volunteer the truth about her eyes. She didn't know who he was but she was positive she shouldn't give him any ammunition that might later be used against her. Like her father, Shara's hazel irises changed colors depending on her moods, which made it virtually impossible to hide her feelings from anyone who knew her. She always thought of it as fate's way of counterbalancing her special mental gifts.
Deciding it was better not to answer him at all, she turned back to the calculation displayed on her monitor. "Please excuse me. I really am very busy."
"Getting ready for your trip back in time?"
She gasped as she spun around again. "How do you know about that?"
He smiled, a wide, self-assured grin that showed off perfect white teeth and a deep dimple in his cheek. "Surely you didn't think you could keep something like that a secret. The rumors are flying throughout the scientific community."
When he didn't receive the response he expected, he stopped smiling. "Perhaps it would be best if I simply began again." He held out his hand to her and waited until she accepted it for a brief, impersonal shake. "I am Gabriel Drumayne, Professor of History and Chief Procurer of Antiquities for Norona. Although I do have an office and residence in Innerworld, I spend very little time here, so I realize you may not recognize me. But you must be familiar with my name."
Shara did not hesitate to stick a pin in his arrogant little balloon. "I am very sorry to disillusion you, Professor, but your fame is not as widespread as you imagine it to be. I've never heard of you."
His smirk told her he found that hard to believe. "Nevertheless, you are hoping to receive permission to travel back in time. You will undoubtedly need an expert on Noronian and Terran history to accompany you on such a landmark venture. As I am the most qualified historian available, I will be going with you."