He sighed. “Our roles here are not as grand as all that. We, each of us—” his gesture included Clare and Sam, “—help facilitate the transfers. We’re technicians.”
“The arrivals. For the vill—for people like Ji.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What didn’t you say just now?”
“Villein,” Ji said before Dan could speak. “It’s what I am.”
“It’s your word for anthropologist?”
“You could say that. We don’t really have anything that translates exactly.”
Clare took a step toward her. “Lyssa, he isn’t—”
“I’m not talking to you.” Her words were clipped, her mouth tight, as she turned hot eyes on her friend.
She flushed. “I just—”
“No. No, you don’t get to talk. Not now.” Her anger burned too bright to be swayed by Clare’s wide, hurt eyes or the way they began to gleam with unshed tears. Clare’s throat worked and then she turned and walked out on unsteady legs without another word.
Sam cursed quietly. “Was that really necessary?” he asked her as he followed his wife.
She turned to Dan, silently daring him to challenge her temper. Instead, he offered a small, sad smile and stood. Without a word, he left.
Lyssa pressed a hand to her eyes and realized she was shaking. A long breath, then another, and she felt calm enough again to raise her head. Ji watched her, one hand on the table and the other on his knee, patient and relaxed. “If this is some sort of sick joke—”
“You saw the technology. Watched my colleague’s heart beating from one room over. Tell me, have you ever heard of technology like that?”
“How did you know what I saw?”
“You think our technology lacks security?”
“So you didn’t find me by accident.” She blew out a heavy breath and tapped her fingers on the tabletop. “I’ll admit I haven’t seen anything like that, but that doesn’t mean that someone somewhere hasn’t designed it.”
“I meant here.”
He shrugged a shoulder. “I didn’t.”
“Right.” She leaned back in her chair and mimicked his pose, trying for the same easy posture. “So let’s just say it’s true and not some twisted, expensive, horribly complicated prank—”
“Yes, lets,” he said, not quite able to keep the amusement from his voice despite the straight face.
“—Then how does it work exactly? Is it a ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ situation or like a ‘quantum leap’ or what?”
His brow creased. “Those are popular culture references, correct? I have more difficulty accessing those.”
“Accessing? Nevermind,” she said when he opened his mouth to explain. “Later. Right now I want to know how you go about jumping around different dimensions. What’s the magic spell that makes you go poof, Houdini?”
“Threose mesh. It’s a special material that can be tuned to the frequencies of the various dimensions and transfer whatever it surrounds between the planes.”
“Right,” she said, drawing out the word. “So it’s cloth.”
“Put simply, yes.”
“Not magic.” He leaned forward, his expression earnest now. “It’s the result of generations of scientific study and technological advancement. Our greatest achievement. Threose mesh is constructed of something similar to what you’d call a bio-nano-chip, suspended in living tissue that—”
“Wait. Living tissue?” She asked, her nose wrinkling.
“Yes, it’s—” At her growing look of disgust, Ji stood. “Come. I’ll show you.”
“I don’t think I—”
He left the room without letting her finish, betting that her curiosity would overcome her distaste. He didn’t know where the others had gone, and he didn’t see them as he passed through the hall and entered the empty Echo Chamber that Lyssa had explored first. Turning on the lights, he watched with satisfaction as she trailed behind him.