Sarah faced off against her uncle, countering misery with bright joy. Power surged from under the chapel, making her feel superhuman, a goddess! Though she was focused on fighting the negative feelings, she was also aware of struggles going on around her.
Clara approached the other Posse member trapped in dirt. A second shimmering bubble grew between her hands, and swallowed the hapless man. Clara punctured the bubble with her arrow, and with a light pop, the man disappeared. Charlie exploded from the forest, riding Splotch and swinging a lasso! He neatly roped another Posse member, cinching her arms to her sides. When she fell from her horse, Clara enveloped her in a green sphere, and then she was gone.
Suddenly the clearing felt empty. Fern and Levvy had chased away two Posse members on horseback. A lasso-spinning, bellowing Charlie rounded on the remaining pair of riders, and they lowered their slingshots and retreated. Harpminster Abbott stood completely still, yet he seemed tense with some inner exertion. A moan came from the weeds, and Sarah remembered Quinn was injured. She wanted to help him, but all her might was spent on repelling her uncle’s bad energy. Harpminster Abbott twisted his hands in the air and grimaced, as if trying to break the seal on a jar.
A spray of dirt erupted from the ground! Tufts of grass flew skyward, and a dirt fountain became a geyser—a column of earth shot straight up, reaching the height of the steeple. With a sound like a drum roll, clods of earth rained down on the chapel. Dirt and rocks showered painfully on Sarah. She covered her head with her arms, and distracted by pain, her powers faltered. Abruptly she felt scared and sad. She looked for Quinn, and found him crawling up the chapel stairs, bloodied from shoulder to elbow.
Charlie thundered back onto the scene. He slid from Splotch and slapped the horse’s haunch, urging her to safety, then took Sarah’s hand and hauled her into the chapel. Outside, Clara was trying to grow another green bubble, but falling rocks were bursting all her attempts. When the spray of dirt ended, Sarah peered through dust and silt, and saw a freshly-dug pit. A sickly, pale gleam shone from this fresh hole, illuminating her uncle’s face from below, and from it rose a single, shining, green-hued rock. Harpminster Abbott grinned, and the rock’s unearthly light was reflected on his teeth. He donned a pair of glossy black rubber gloves, held out greedy hands, almost tumbling into the abyss in his eagerness to grasp the glowing rock.
Sarah couldn’t rally her powers, and Clara was struggling too; their twin hexagons had dimmed. They watched from the chapel as the lump of glowing rock slid through the air, and into Harpminster Abbott’s waiting arms. The instant he grabbed hold of the rock, he hurried to his quad, and placed it in a black box welded to the bumper. Green light seeped from the pit, casting strange shadows on the chapel. Sarah’s uncle straddled the quad, and turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life. Clara tried in vain to grow another green bubble, but she was too late. Wheels spun in loose dirt, and the quad roared away.
Sarah felt weak, as if she’d run a marathon. Quinn was stretched out on a pew, pale and barely conscious. She hurried to his side, and tried to heal his shoulder—but her powers wouldn’t work! Frantically, she tugged at her hexagon necklace, as if it were a chain on an electric lamp. Nothing happened. Why couldn’t she heal her friend? Quinn’s health was good for everyone!
“Sarah, you have to close that rupture in the earth,” said Clara.
“Later,” Sarah said. “Quinn is hurt. I have to help him first.”
“The priority is filling the hole,” Clara insisted.
“That’s ridiculous!” Sarah pointed at Quinn, prostrate on the pew. “A person’s health is more important than landscaping your stupid church.”
“Sarah,” the Oracle said gently, “the lump of metal your uncle extracted is radioactive. There’s more uranium down in that hole, and it’s poisoning the air. Every minute the pit stays open, everything alive on the surface is affected.”
“Affected how?” Sarah asked, her tone edgy, hysterical.
Clara clucked her tongue impatiently. “I can’t predict how radiation exposure will work. But believe me, your friends and the animals are in danger right now. When these metals are underground, the radioactivity is filtered through dirt, but open to the air like this,” Clara swallowed hard, and looked nervous. “Please, Sarah—I’m begging you. Fix the hole.”
“I’ll be back soon,” Sarah told Quinn, though he couldn’t hear her.
Piles of dirt were mounded around a gaping abyss, wide and deep as a mine shaft. Depleted and overwhelmed, Sarah didn’t know where to start. A phantasmic green hue emanated from the hole, and Clara seemed on the verge of tears. Sarah felt weak, and doubted she could complete the task. But if filling the hole was for the greater good, she reasoned, her powers would work.
Her arms felt heavy and useless. With the remains of her strength, Sarah pressed her palms together, and willed piles of rock and dirt to go back in the hole. To her surprise, her golden hexagon revived, and earth began to shift. She closed her eyes, and pictured the chapel grounds as they had been. Rocks and clumps of dirt rose up, moved sideways, and plopped into the pit. The air filled with debris; Clara took cover inside the chapel. When the hole was full, plants ascended, and plunged into the ground roots first. Sarah tucked the last bunches of grass and stray weeds into earthy homes.
She woke on a soft bed, beneath a latticed roof overgrown with plants. Daylight streamed through leafy branches. Sarah blinked, and Clara Bonhomme came into focus.
“You’re in my home,” said Clara warmly. “Your friends are waiting nearby.”
“I thought you lived in the chapel,” said Sarah groggily.
“Not anymore,” said Clara. “I get nightmares when I sleep in the chapel. When Thomas Bonhomme, my father, built on a uranium deposit, he mistook the energy he felt for something sacred. Until his death, my father believed that divine blessings rose from below his chapel. It was I who discovered the truth. Through my ministry, Harpminster Abbott also learned the secret of Blue Earth Lake. He came to obtain uranium ore. Now that he has succeeded, he will try to create nuclear power.”
“But that glow from the ground isn’t uranium,” said Sarah. “My father says radioactivity only glows green in comic books.”
Clara nodded. “Your father’s right—uranium doesn’t glow, and radioactivity isn’t green. I enchanted this area to make radioactivity visible. You and I are lucky, Sarah, because radiation gave us special powers. Many other people, like my father for example, simply get sick and die when they are exposed to what lies underground at Blue Earth Lake.”
“I don’t want to be a Deevie,” Sarah said.
Clara smiled. “Try to be grateful, Sarah. You are still the Queen of Nature. Used responsibly, your gifts are a miraculous blessing. Where they came from isn’t important; what matters is how you choose to use them.”
“But—why are my uncle’s powers so awful?”
“Deviations caused by radiation are like cocoons. Sometimes a hideous worm emerges, and sometimes a beautiful butterfly is born. Not all deviations are alike; your new friend Gustavus Sneep, for example,” said Clara. “His exceptional ears are a deviation, caused by radiation exposure.”
“Those people you sent away in the bubbles,” Sarah asked. “Are they alive?”
Clara nodded. “They are still alive. But they are in a place—a time, I should say—when they can’t hurt anyone. Unfortunately, they can never return. Quinn was sent here in a similar fashion, by another Epochal Priestess, like myself.”
“So Quinn is stuck here?” Sarah asked, distressed at the thought. She would be devastated if Quinn returned to his own time, but it was sad to think he had no choice.
“There is a way—” Clara began.
With a shock, Sarah remembered Quinn’s arrow wound. She leapt to her feet, and interrupted. “Where is Quinn? He was injured!”
“I am happy to report that Quinn Braxt is quite well,” said Clara kindly. “I healed his wound. Sarah, you must follow the Cariboo Posse, take back the fuel your uncle has stolen, and dispose of it. Bury it deep in a rocky place, far from any lake, river, or underground spring.”
Sarah’s shoulders sagged. The mission to the Cariboo was getting more complicated and dangerous with every passing day.
“It won’t be easy. But you are capable, Sarah Spellings.”
“How do you know?” Sarah asked. “Can you see the future?”
Clara shook her head. “I never know exactly what the future brings. Each decision sends possibilities tumbling in all directions. I see greater potential for happiness in some ways forward, and likelihood for tragedy in others. Your happiness is intertwined with the unfolding of these events, Sarah. Get that fuel back from your uncle, and send it back to the depths of the earth.”
Clara lifted a curtain of willow branches, and ushered Sarah outside.
Quinn, Charlie, Levvy and Fern were waiting on the chapel stairs. At the sight of Sarah they rose, and prepared the horses for travel. Rumpus sprang to Sarah’s side, yelping with delight. Fern ducked her head, and busied herself with Jubilee’s saddle.
“Victory!” Levvy crowed, punching the air. “We chased the Posse away!”
“Stopping here was a mistake,” spat Fern.
“I’d like to know why you didn’t see them coming,” said Charlie. “I thought you had eye implants, or whatever.”
A long pause stretched out after this comment. Grasshoppers whirred, and a woodpecker drilled for insects. Fern, frozen mid-buckle, rested a small hand on Jubilee. “My eyes are failing,” she said at last, so quietly Sarah strained to hear. “You’re right, Charlie. I should have seen the Posse coming, and that bear on the road. I tested my eyes last night. The implants are faulty, which means my usefulness on this expedition is limited. I should have gone back, and Murdock should have come.”
Levvy clucked in sympathy. Quinn cleared his throat, and mounted Geronimo. Sarah pitied Fern, but could offer no advice. It was another blow for the team, not being able to depend on Fern’s vision. Clara wished them well, and they rode east, toward the Cariboo. Sarah felt glum; a concern nagged at her, hovering on the edge of her thoughts. The horses were plodding along a shady, pine-fragrant trail, bluebirds swooping in the branches, when Sarah’s heart suddenly lurched violently.
Sammy! Had her little brother inherited his grandmother’s deviated genes? That was why her father was so secretive, and distracted!
Tony Spellings was watching his son carefully, hoping for a normal child.