They walked over to the window and looked down at the metal cart that was suspended from the motorized zip line.
“It can only carry one person at a time,” Torgwal said.
“I’ll go first, so I can open the window and turn on the lights.” Crinblee climbed into the cart. She pressed a button inside the cart and it began to travel across the cable toward the house.
“Battery-operated?” Riley asked.
“No,” Torgwal said. “It gets power from the house—through the cable.”
When Crinblee reached the house, she opened the window and climbed into the house, and then sent the cart back toward the treehouse.
“I’ll go next.” Rachel stepped up to the window. When the cart had reached the treehouse, the motor stopped and Torgwal helped Rachel climb into the cart.
Torgwal said, “Okay, now, press the green button.”
Rachel gripped one side of the cart and pressed the button. When the cart reached Torgwal’s window, Crinblee helped her climb into the house and sent the cart back to the treehouse.
“How do you control the cart from here?” Riley asked. “I mean, what if Crinblee forgets to send it back to you?”
Torgwal held up his tablet computer.
“Of course.” Riley said.
“Hop in,” Torgwal said.
Riley got in. When he made it to the house, Crinblee said, “Be careful getting out.”
Riley climbed through the window and began to look around. “So, this is Torgwal’s bedroom?” The walls, the ceiling, the floor—the entire room appeared to be made of sheet metal. “A steel room?”
“Steel?” Crinblee seemed confused.
Oops. It was a word that didn’t translate. Doc’s translation system had obviously been substituting approximate values for much of what was being said, and doing an excellent job of it. But it was not perfect.
“It’s a composite material made from recyclables,” Crinblee said.
“Hmm.” Riley touched the wall. It wasn’t like anything he’d ever felt. “Interesting.”
“But where’s the bed?” Rachel asked. “And the rest of the furniture?”
“Wow,” Crinblee said. “You mean you guys don’t have Synthesication?”
“I don’t even know what that is,” Rachel said.
“It’s the latest thing.” Torgwal climbed in through the window. “Let me show you. You’re gonna love this. Everybody stand here in the center of the room.”
Once they were in place, Torgwal walked to the door. Riley saw him reach for what should have been the light switch. But instead, it was a small display that looked like an LCD screen.
As Torgwal’s hand approached the screen it came to life, displaying several buttons. He touched one of them.
Items began to materialize before their eyes: a king size bed—fully made, a desk covered with gadgets and a matching chair, and a large screen on the wall. Did they have TV here? Riley could only imagine the weird shows they’d have here. The walls became covered with a blue fabric with patterns in it—like wallpaper. The ceiling transformed into a puffy white styrofoam-like material. The floors were carpeted.
“Is all this stuff real?” Riley asked.
“Try it,” Crinblee said. “Sit down on the bed.”
Rachel acted like she wanted to, but hesitated.
Riley sat on it. “Wow. And it’s comfortable.”
Rachel walked over to the desk and sat down in the chair. “What’s all this stuff?”
“Just some projects I’ve been working on,” Torgwal said. “Okay, now stand up, because I’m about to make it all go away.”
Riley and Rachel stood up and stepped away from the furniture.
Torgwal touched a button on the panel by the door, and the room went back to the way it had been before: bare and cold.
Riley reached down where the bed had been and tried to feel it, but nothing was there. “That’s incredible.”
“It’s Synthesication technology,” Torgwal said. “Actually there are two processes. Synthesication compacts objects into their smallest electronic form.”
“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Riley said.
“He’s kidding, Riley,” Rachel said. “It’s got to be some kind of a trick.”
“Nope. No tricks. That’s how it works,” Torgwal said. “And then once an object has been converted into electronic form, it is stored in the Synthesication Computer’s memory. That’s what just happened—when things disappeared. They didn’t vanish into thin air. They were scanned, compacted, converted, and stored by the Synthesication Processor. The reverse process is called Desynthesication. It converts the items back into their original state.”
“It’s not something we really needed for our house,” Crinblee said, “because we’ve got plenty of room. But think about it: a person could live in a small, one-room apartment, yet have all the comforts of home. You don’t need a place for your bed until you’re sleepy. The rest of the day you could have a couch or a desk or a kitchen table and stove in that space.”
“Wow, that’s cool. What about people though?” Riley asked. “Does the Synthesication process work on people?”
“No,” Torgwal said.
“Actually, we don’t know whether it does or not,” Crinblee said. “Parliament passed a law forbidding the use of Synthesication on any living being. So those limits are hard-coded into the system.”
Torgwal said, “We heard that Federal Researchers tested the technology on animals, and—”
“You don’t even want to know what happened,” Crinblee said.
“Eww,” Rachel said. “You’re right—I don’t want to know.”
Doc was going to love hearing about this, Riley thought. Too bad he was so close to dying. He wouldn’t have time to try to replicate the technology.
Something began to beep.
“What’s that?” Rachel asked.
“It’s our mom,” Crinblee said. “Hurry—lie down by the door, up against the wall so she can’t see you.”
Riley and Rachel scurried to the floor near Torgwal’s feet.
Torgwal touched a button on the display panel. “Hi, Mom.”
“Where have you two been? I’ve tried to call you several times. And I lost your tracking signals for two hours. Have you and your sister been out in the fields again?”
“No, Mom, just in the treehouse,” Torgwal said.
“Crinblee, you look like you’ve been sweating,” their mom said. “Are you sure you haven’t been in the fields?”
“It’s hot in the treehouse, Mom.”
“How many times have I told you two that you can’t go to the treehouse without a computer? It worries me when you go off the grid.”
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Torgwal said.
“Me too,” Crinblee said.
“Well, I’m sorry I have to work nights,” their mother said, “but that’s just the way it is right now.”
“That’s okay, Mom,” Crinblee said. “We understand.”
“Good,” she said. “So, are you in for the night?”
“Yes, Mom,” Torgwal.
“Good,” their mother said. “Just one more thing. Who are Tunpricwa and Gynblat Quanshtick, and why are they in your bedroom?”
“Uh…they live down the street, and we were just hanging out,” Crinblee said.
“So where are they?” their mom said. “I want to see them.”
Crinblee motioned for Riley and Rachel to stand up. “Here they are, Mom.”
“Hmm, I don’t remember ever seeing you two before.”
“They don’t get out much,” Torgwal said.
“Okay, fine. I’ve got to get back to work. But they need to go home soon. Bye.”
Torgwal closed the connection.
“You think your mom believed you?” Riley asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Torgwal said. “I’m a good liar when I have to be. And besides, it’s not that hard to believe that me and Crinblee made a couple of new friends.”
“Really?” Crinblee asked. “When is the last time we made any new friends?”
Torgwal shrugged. “Still—I think she bought it.”
Crinblee furrowed her brow. “Or she could be calling the Quanshticks right now to check our story.”
“Nah, she wouldn’t do that,” Torgwal said. “She has complete faith in me.” He grinned.
The panel near the door beeped three times in rapid succession.
Torgwal’s smile evaporated.
“They’re here,” Crinblee said.
“Who?” Rachel asked.
“The Federals,” Crinblee said. “Mom called it in.”
“No,” Torgwal said, “they can’t get here that fast.”
Three more beeps, and then a voice over the panel said, “Federal Officers. Open the door immediately.”
Crinblee turned to Riley and Rachel. “You’ve got to get out of here.”
“Can’t you just hide us somewhere?” Riley asked.
“No,” Torgwal said. They’re tracking your tags. You’ve got to get out of range—back in the fields.”
“No,” Rachel said, “we can’t go back there. The Baljeevers will get us.”
“Well, it’s either that or let the Federals arrest you,” Torgwal said.
“And fly us back across the Main Stream?” Riley asked.
Torgwal looked at his sister, who didn’t offer any input. “We don’t know for sure what the Federals do with illegals.”
“But you said they just take them back home,” Rachel said.
“That’s the official word,” Crinblee said. “That’s what they say they do. But we have no way of knowing whether it’s true. They may torture them first. Or they might not even take them back at all.”
“What do you mean?” Riley asked.
“There are rumors that they’ve started executing illegals,” Torgwal said. “I think you’re better off going back to the fields. I’ll give you a couple of lock guns and you can have our flashlight belts.”
Torgwal and Crinblee took off their flashlight belts and gave them to Riley and Rachel. Torgwal entered some keystrokes into the panel and the furniture reappeared. Then he went to his desk, grabbed two lock guns out of a drawer, and handed them to Riley and Rachel. “They’re fully charged—but they’re only for the Baljeevers. Don’t use them on a Federal officer whatever you do. And don’t use them until you have to. You don’t want to run out of power. Go back to where we found you: in the open field. Get there as fast as you can and stay there, because the Baljeevers prefer the wooded areas.”
Torgwal handed Riley an electric lantern. “Once you get there, turn on this lantern and keep it on all night. There should be enough juice to last until sunrise. It should keep the Baljeevers at a distance—unless…”
“Unless what?” Riley said.
“Unless there’s a pack,” Torgwal said.
Torgwal picked up a metal spike and a leather holster from his desk. “If you have to use a lock gun on a Baljeever, stab him in the eye with this spear while he’s locked.”
Rachel cringed. “Gross.”
“You must push it deep into the brain to kill him,” Torgwal said. “Then pull out the spear. The Baljeevers will eat him instead of you—if you’re lucky.” Torgwal slid the spike into its holster and handed it to Riley.
“Are you sure that will work?” Riley secured the holster to his waist, just below the flashlight belt. “Have you ever tried it?”
“No.” Torgwal pulled the desk away from the wall. There was a leather scabbard attached to the back of the desk. Torgwal unhooked it and handed it to Riley. “So, take this machete—just in case.”
Riley tied the cords of the scabbard around his waist.
A voice from the panel said, “Federal Officers coming in.”
“They can just break in?” Rachel said.
“They don’t have to break in—they have the master codes,” Crinblee said. “Now, go!”
Riley and Rachel hurried to the window.
“You’ll have to ride over together,” Torgwal said. “There’s no time for two trips.”
Riley helped Rachel climb into the cart. “Are you sure this cable can support both of us?”
“Just go!” Torgwal helped Riley get into the cart and Riley activated the motor.
The cart began to move across the cable.
“I’m scared, Riley,” Rachel said.
“I know.” He put his arm around her. “Me too.”