Cindy sat bolt upright. Early morning light filtered through the curtains, and she blinked at it through sleep-blurred eyes. With a groan she fell back onto her mat.
“You awake too?” whispered Libby.
Cindy rubbed her head. “Ya. Between Carl snoring, Sheen talking in his sleep, and the three giggle-maniacs upstairs, I might as well have not gone to sleep at all.”
The sound of muffled speech outside drew nearer, and Cindy flipped over and covered her head with her pillow.
Her voice came out somewhere between a whine and a groan. “No…Go away…”
April burst through the door and stomped into the room, generating an impressive amount of noise in the process.
“Time to wake up, everyone!” she shouted, clapping her hands. “Up! Up! Wake up!”
Cindy glared from under her pillow. “Do you have to be so loud?”
Sheen pulled himself up and wiped his eyes. His hair was sticking up even more than usual. “Is it morning alr– ”
“Aurora wants to leave as soon as possible,” April answered before he could finish his question. “Everyone else is already awake. We need to get moving. Somebody wake up Carl, then prepare for departure.”
Libby yawned. “You heard her, Sheen. Wake up Carl.”
Grumbling, Sheen rolled out of bed and stumbled over to Carl’s cot. He immediately began to flap his wings and crow like a rooster, but Carl only snored louder.
“All right, buddy, you asked for it!”
Sheen backed up a few feet, then took a running jump. He sailed through the air and crash-landed onto Carl in a small explosion of pillows and blankets. The shocked boy’s eyes snapped open, and he began to screech.
“AHHH! MOMMY! Help! Help! They got me again! They got me! They….”
“Chill out, mama's boy,” said Sheen, climbing off. “It’s just me.”
“Sheeeeeeen!” Carl whined, throwing off the covers. “That wasn't funny!”
Cindy finally pulled the pillow off her head. “Hey April…where’s Neutron?”
“He is already awake. I believe he is back on the Desperado preparing to embark.”
As April turned to leave, a large suitcase barreled down the stairs like a one-rock landslide. April slammed her foot down on it, stopping it dead in its tracks.
Sheen frowned. “What the…”
Future Libby came rushing down the stairs, her arms laden with countless pieces of luggage.
“Oh no!” she gasped. “That bag had my third back-up set of hair ties in it! I can’t lose those!”
Aurora followed behind her, looking rather exasperated. “Libby, there is no way that you need fourteen suitcases. This is ridiculous! No woman needs to bring THAT many things with her!”
“But what about all my outfits and shoes? And my jewelry? And what about my favorite CDs…and my favorite paintings? Girl, how can I go anywhere without my meditation candles or my pressed chrysanthemums? They bring good luck! And did I mention my shoes?”
“Shoes, yes,” said Aurora. “But not EVERY single pair of shoes you own! You must have four bags filled with nothing but shoes! We’re going into combat, Libby, not a Hollywood premiere. You need to pack a bit lighter.”
With a sigh Future Libby gathered up her bags and headed back up the stairs to her room.
Aurora trailed after her. “I’m not letting you leave until you have three suitcases or less, you got that? Three!”
Sun-Hi burst through the double doors, carrying a tray of rice, vegetables, and various other foods.
“Time for breakfast!”
She set the tray out on the table, and as the kids sat down to eat, a dejected-looking Future Libby reappeared in the stairwell, this time carrying three pieces of luggage. Aurora breezed past her, grabbing one of the bags on the way.
“Eat faster, guys. I…”
Aurora’s wrist communicator began to blink, and April’s voice sounded from the other end.
“Aurora, I am on the ship. Last night we received a communication regarding the Gorlock High Council. You must come listen to this…it is urgent.”
“Uh-oh,” said Aurora. “Guys, forget breakfast. We’re leaving now.”
Carl shoved several more fistfuls of food into his mouth before being forcibly tugged away by the others. They scrambled out of the house and headed towards the ship, Aurora in the lead. Future Libby glanced lingeringly at Shangri Llama as it slipped away behind them.
“I wonder where all the monks are?” she said sadly. “I thought they’d at least say goodbye!”
Cindy pointed ahead of them. “Uhh…does that answer your question?”
Future Libby peered ahead into the clearing where the Desperado was waiting, and where the entire population of Shangri Llama had gathered to send her off.
She darted forward, radiant with joy. “Chen-Yu! Sun-Hi! Mei! Quan! You’re all here!”
“Surely you did not think that we would allow you to leave without properly seeing you off?” smiled Chen-Yu.
He gave a deep bow, and Future Libby returned it gracefully. April stuck her head out of the ship and yelled to Aurora.
“Are you coming or what?”
“Young alien woman!” called Chen-Yu. “Please, join us outside. We cannot let you leave without first giving you all a gift.”
“A gift?” repeated April. “What sort of a gift?”
“Please, come down and join us. I promise, this won’t take long.”
April reluctantly walked down the ramp way, and Jimmy followed a moment later.
“If the three of you would please come forward…” instructed Mei, beckoning to them.
Aurora, Future Libby, and April stepped forward, and Jimmy fell into line with the other kids. Aurora crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently as April fiddled with her helmet. Only Future Libby seemed interested in what the monks had to say.
Chen-Yu began a grand oration. “We have come to give you the most valuable gift of all…the gift of knowledge.”
“Wow” scoffed Cindy. “‘Gift of knowledge’? You’re kidding, right? That’s got to be the corniest thing I’ve heard in awhile.”
“Not just any knowledge,” said Chen-Yu, with dramatic flair. “This kind of knowledge is something we all crave, but are rarely given…knowledge of the future.”
Aurora raised an eyebrow. “What…are you gonna read our fortunes or something?”
April and Aurora both laughed at this, but stopped a moment later when a white, hooded figure stepped out from within the crowd of other monks. A silver pendant hung around her neck, and she held a strange, twisted staff in one hand. A glowing orange stone rested atop it.
“This is Tuyen, the dreamer for our people," said Chen-Yu solemnly. "Her powers of foresight are unrivaled, even among all the generations of seers who came before her. She is the one who instructed us to meditate deeply on the day the nanobots came. Tuyen dwells in solitude in the high mountains, but last night she came to us with news that she had had a dream…three dreams, in fact.”
Tuyen pulled back her hood, revealing a countenance of terrible beauty. Her dark hair was fastened in a tight bun, with several strands hanging free around her face. Her bizarre, vacant orange eyes stared absently into space. When she spoke, her voice seemed to echo in their minds, and it was only after watching her for several moments that they realized she was blind.
“Three dreams, three women, three futures.”
Tuyen edged up to Aurora and touched a lock of her hair. “I will begin with you, child,” she said, running her fingers through Aurora’s ponytail. Tuyen leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Aurora, bringing her face to within inches of hers. Aurora tensed up as the seer leaned against her.
“Umm…what is she doing?!”
“Shh!” insisted Chen-Yu. “She is looking into you. She cannot see in the conventional sense, but she has other abilities that make up for it. Now please, do not speak.”
Aurora looked to one side, unable to meet Tuyen's gaze directly. At last the seer relaxed her grip and rested her head on Aurora’s shoulder.
“I can barely hear your heart, Aurora,” she murmured. “It speaks very softly, for you have not listened to it in a long, long time.”
“What are you talking about? And how the heck do you know my name?”
Tuyen tipped her head to one side, playing with Aurora’s hair as she did so. She smiled coyly, like a child who knew a secret that she was not supposed to. “Oh…I know everything about you. About your past...and about your future.”
Aurora edged away. “You know what's going to happen to me? Are you gonna tell me?”
“No, child. That cannot be done. But I can give you some insight that might help you. When I dreamed of you, I saw in your hand the blade of a knife. Like the knife, you are sharp…cold…alluring. You must be very careful in the coming days, or you will destroy yourself and everyone you care about with this knife. You have an important role to play, Aurora, but you must not let yourself be blinded by the past. Only when you face it will you be able to see your future. Your gift is intelligence…use it well, but don’t let it use you.”
Tuyen released Aurora - who quickly drew back, seemingly drained of energy - and moved onto Future Libby. Tuyen took Future Libby’s hands in her own and gazed down at them.
“Dear heart, when I dreamed of you, I saw an ember. You are like that ember…you are the warmth that sustains and outlasts the flames. You will very soon recover something that you have lost, but when the time comes, you must not allow yourself to feel any fear. To feel fear would mean the destruction of all you care about. Only by remaining steadfast in the face of terror will be able to save the people you love. Your gift is stability…but be careful, for it is the rigid tree that first snaps in the wind.”
Tuyen approached April last. She took her face in her hands, and April stared back blankly.
“Sister, fate is not kind to you. When I dreamed of you, I saw you sinking into a violet pool. You will soon lose two things that are dear to you, but you must not allow these losses to destroy you. Only by struggling with all your might will you be able to save yourself. Your gift is strength, and you will need all of it in the coming days.”
Tuyen stepped backward, her eyes once again vacant, focused on nothing. “I sincerely wish all of you the best of luck. I hope to see you again, Libby. Perhaps I will return to Shangri Llama at some point in the future.”
She pulled her hood over her face, and without saying another word, turned and walked away. Her silhouette grew smaller and smaller, until she melted into the trees leading into the mountains.
Chen-Yu's voice echoed out of the following silence. “You had best be going now. Peace to you, my brothers and sisters, and may you all find what you seek on your journey.”
-> Chapter 22