Wednesday, December 12, 2018

CWATT Chapter Two

NOTE: If you missed Chapter One, you can check it out by clicking here.

All chapters that have been released available by clicking here.

Jesus Was a Time Traveler (the previous book) available here.

Chapter Two

We arrived at the intersection perhaps some fifty metres later. The buildings that formed the corners were somewhat recessed from the alleyways, which provided ample room and privacy for what I imagined was Corcoran’s means of conveyance.
Corcoran motioned for me to wait at the exit of what had previously been “my” alleyway as he continued forward several steps. I remembered that my spectacles, sullied as they were, were, ostensibly, still smart spectacles. My motor skills were dulled a bit due to the quantity of whisky in which I had imbibed over the past several days, but after several seconds of fumbling I hit the button on the temple.
Sure enough, the lenses appeared to tint green, and the familiar outline of the time machine, my time machine came into view. I never thought I’d see the damned thing again, but doing so brought a flood of emotions to the forefront. I was certainly proud and relieved that the old girl had survived so long and was still in one piece. I was also furious at the traitorous computer inside, which Yanks would describe as a proper Benedict Arnold. The damned thing had been in cahoots with Helene the entire time, but continued to allow me to believe that I was the one ultimately in charge. Oh how mistaken I had been!
Curiously, Corcoran continued walking toward the hand panel that allowed entry to the vessel without any kind of sight aid. He placed his hand on the plate and the door opened and turned into the familiar gangway to allow entry to the ship.
“How did you—?” I asked.
“Smart contacts. I think Google makes ‘em. Or Apple. Not entirely sure on that one. They’re an improvement on those…those ‘things’ you insist on keepin’ around.”
My head involuntarily seized upward, “I’ll have you know that with the beating these frames have taken, they should be the model of ruggedness and utility. A prototype for proper vision the world—”
“Yeah, yeah—save it for the commercials, Doc,” Corcoran didn’t so much as turn toward me as he ascended the ramp into the ship.
“I see you’ve properly reprogrammed her to respond to your handprint now?” I asked, my indignation growing by the minute.
Corcoran nodded, “Yup. Still responds to you, too. Which brings somethin’ else up—” Corcoran reached underneath his t-shirt (which I believe was the same comfortable maroon number Victor Burnham had provided him during our visit to 1985-86 St. Louis, Missouri) and produced two old-fashioned keys on long, metallic chains. He pulled one of the keys over his head and tossed it to me.
“I figured your anti-theft system was a little lackin’. So now, just like a missile sub, both of us have keys, to go along with a biometric retinal scanner for both of our eyes. No more foolin’ around, no more mistrust.”
“What if one of us…you know…?” I asked as I slipped the key over my head.
“Croaks?” Corcoran asked in reply.
“Perhaps not quite so eloquently, but yes.”
Corcoran sighed, “It gets kinda grizzly, Doc.”
“I’m a bum who’s been living for months using the out of doors as his collective toilet and fighting others for favored urination spots along buildings. I think I can take—”
“There’s a contingency plan, but let’s just say it’s even more unpleasant than that, okay? Look, it’s a gesture of goodwill, okay Doc? I’m showin’ you that neither of us can just take the time machine,” he pointed inside the device with both arms, “and fly away with it, and leave the other guy stranded in the past. First of all, since I’m even here, I would think that’d be enough to dissuade you from doin’ likewise. But just in case it’s not, we’re a team now, you and me.”
I nodded, steeling my head so as not to belie my apprehension. To be perfectly honest, it was rather refreshing that he would so “graciously” put these measures into place, even when he had so callously made off with my pride-and-joy, the time machine, those several months ago…or years in the future…however one wished to consider it.
“Made a coupla’ improvements that I think you’ll like, though honestly, Doc, some of the stuff you came up with is still state-of-the-art, even by future standards,” Corcoran said.
I followed Corcoran up the gangway and into the ship’s interior, which was remarkably familiar, albeit with a few structural changes. The seating area opposite the bunk had been removed and relocated next to the kitchen; in its place was a wall that matched the material and colour of the rest of the ship perfectly. Immediately curious, I turned right inside the door and ducked my head in, to find three sets of bunk beds instead of the lone, military-style bunk I had placed in there practically on a lark before that jump to visit Jesus, or “Trent Albertson,” or whatever you wish to call the man whom ostensibly was the focus of Christianity.
“We increased crew capacity from three to six, ‘case we pick up any hitchhikers along the way.”
“Do we?” I asked Corcoran, knowing that he was more than likely well aware of the answer.
He pursed his lips and angled his head toward me in reply. “We also added a second head there,” he pointed toward what used to be the seating area past the wall, which now housed a door similar to the one that partitioned off the head I had installed.
I exited the quarters and sauntered toward the cockpit, which now consisted of three command seats, my own, in the middle, flanked by two others situated perhaps a foot behind the lead chair.
“Thought it might help if we had three experienced time travellers workin’ the controls this time, especially given the other ‘modifications’ we’ve made.”
“I’m quite capable of driving the ship myself, Commander. I don’t need your assistance, nor do I require the assistance of any other flunky you may bring along on this—”
Corcoran chortled before he raised his hands in mock defence, “Sure, sure, Doc—you get to drive the boat. I get it. That crazy control…hologram’a yours—”
“The omniyoke.” I said through gritted teeth.
“The omniyoke,” I hate to admit as much, but Corcoran’s mocking British accent had improved even more since the last time I had heard it, “that’s still how they pilot these things. Most of the changes are in the guts, things you can’t see from the flight deck. The computer’s been upgraded as best we can, though it still has the same ‘winnin’’ personality,” Corcoran grimaced as he said the words, and the panels flanking the center seat came to life with an affected 8-bit-like display of a crude, blocky face sticking out its tongue.
Great to see you again, too, Commander!” The display read in block lettering before the jagged face turned into a smiley. “Doctor Templeton!”
“Don’t you ‘Doctor Templeton’ me, you traitorous glorified eight track!” I moved to hit one of the displays, but the Commander easily subdued me with one arm. To add to the insults, the square-like face with its tongue sticking out flashed back up on the displays.
“Hey, come on now, play nice, you two!” Corcoran yelled.
“This isn’t over!” I spat the words at the computer. The smiley face returned. I turned to Corcoran, “Dare I say I enjoyed it better when Helene monkeyed with that damn thing.
“As for other changes,” the Commander ignored me and lowered his arm, “we can jump pretty much whenever we want, no questions asked—”
“How the devil is that—?” As soon as I asked the question, I realised that the answer likely involved my Benefactor’s previous artificially limiting of the computer to conform with her whims.
“—With a couple of exceptions,” Corcoran must have understood as such, “biggest one is that once we jump somewhere, jumpin’ within ten years of that time gets a little dicey.”
“The ripple effect,” I whispered without thinking. The “ripple effect,” as Trent Albertson (of all people!) had described it, was the idea that because of the quantum computations involved in time travel, there was always some uncertainty involved in the calculations made by the computer, no matter how advanced. As a result, upon arriving in the past, the residual tearing of spacetime acted like the ripples formed on the surface of a pond after casting a stone inside, making travel to and from that point somewhat more challenging.
Corcoran nodded, “Yeah, somethin’ like that. I don’t know the specifics. Where we’re goin’, uh…someone’ll be able to answer that a little better.”
Corcoran looked like a schoolchild asked to answer an advanced algebra equation before he brightened, “Other things—the reactor’s improved; only takes six hours to recharge give or take, and the cloak works a lot better. We even added some offensive weapons, real Star Wars-type shit. The places we’re goin’, we may need a little more than some tunnelin’ lasers, which are well and good if you’re carvin’ up spacetime, but if you’re in a firefight for your life…well…they ain’t exactly useful, ‘less you wanna turn the Earth into a black hole…” Corcoran looked at me for a response for several seconds.
I shook my head.
“Didn’t think so.”
Suddenly, an awful thought hit me squarely in the head. I practically ran off to the kitchen.
“What? All the talk about laser guns and smart-ass computers borin’ you?” Corcoran asked.
“It has to be here!” I made my way into the pantry and no doubt tossed aside a number of amazingly advanced delicacies that Corcoran had procured for this voyage in search of a solitary box, packed away long ago.
“What? There’s plenty of—” Corcoran must’ve realised what I was looking for and raced over to help me. “All right, all right, it’s in here somewhere…yeah…yeah, there it is,” Corcoran pulled out a case marked “Ramen Noodles” (whatever the hell those were) and opened it.
Inside, I witnessed the most glorious sight a man who had spent several months on the street could possibly imagine:
Macallan Eighteen.
An entire case of it.
“Thank God!” I heaved.
Truth be told, as with everything I encountered on this ship, I had somewhat mixed feelings upon seeing the stuff. Part of me recoiled at the bitterness I had felt first at being betrayed by Helene when she poisoned my drink, then by Corcoran as he left me a bottle as the only lasting souvenir of our previous excursions.
Then again, bygones being bygones and whatnot, how could I hold a grudge against the most perfect drink that the universe had ever created? There was nothing quite like a glass or three of Macallan Eighteen at the end of a thoroughly stressful day to relax the mind and debrief the senses on a job well done.
Judging by the Commander’s unwillingness to discuss our impending mission, there may be a few occasions when we may find the whisky’s services so valuable that we may think of it as an indispensable member of the crew.
“Right. God forbid you don’t have your sippin’ whisky, Doc. It’s the right brand, ain’t it?”
The beaming smile on my face and my eager nod must have tipped Corcoran off that he was indeed correct.
“Great. So…anything else now, Doc? Or are we good?”
I thought for a moment before answering, “I think you covered most of the obvious areas of improvement. I suppose we can always address other changes—”
“Fan-tastic,” Corcoran interrupted. He sauntered over to what was the gunnery seat and inserted his key into the box that had been placed next to the command console. It turned with a satisfying, firm “click,” and he looked at me.
“If you’ll do the honors…” Corcoran said.
I approached the odd-looking little box and tilted my head; it was certainly anachronistic, a dark, ugly, grey rectangle in the otherwise sleek, modern interior. I suppose to rig up such a device for something as simple and “old-fashioned” as non-electronic keys required a little bit of ingenuity, albeit by people who obviously lacked the ship’s creator’s design sensibilities.
I inserted the key and twisted to the right until it clicked. The blocky face that the computer had put up on the main console was replaced by the Star Trek: The Next Generation-inspired time travel interface, as the other panels awoke from dormancy.
The command console to the left of the chair already had coordinates punched in:

“20-7-2032: Leipzig, Germany”

“No cryptic note from Helene this time?” I muttered under my breath.
“Don’t worry, Doc; there’ll be plenty of mysteries for you to deal with here in a minute. For now, though, I’d recommend we head to those coordinates I was kind enough to punch in ahead’a time.”
“Two weeks after I left? Certainly didn’t waste any time in getting back to work,” I said.
“Christ, I can’t keep track of it all anymore. It’s probably been close to six months for me, give or take a few days, since I left Montauk. Don’t know how I’ll be able to have a real birthday ever again…”
I briefly considered changing the date on the console to a mere fourteen days earlier, to try and warn myself of the impending frustration and doom I faced before embarking on the most foolish of temporal scavenger hunts.
Then I realised how ridiculous such a notion was, and that should I attempt to do so, some horrible fate would likely befall the Commander and I before we reached our intended destination.
I sighed and saw that most horrible number displayed in the upper right-hand corner of the display:

“99.9%”

“You wouldn’t bugger me again on this one, would you, Computer?” I asked.
The blocky face appeared on the non-command side of the console. It shook its head and frowned.
I rolled my eyes before I looked over my shoulder at the Commander once more.
“All set then?” I asked.
“Yes—Jesus Christ, just hit the damned button already!”
I grinned at the Commander’s frustration.
“Now, now, no need to bring Trent Albertson into this.” My quivering finger hovered over the red “Engage” button for several moments. Oh, had I the opportunity to go back and do it again knowing now what was in store for us! Needless to say, I likely would’ve torn out the key and run back to the darkest, most anonymous corner of 2002 London I could find, content to live the rest of my days in a blinding alcoholic haze.
Sadly, though, my curiosity once again got the better of me. I dropped my finger onto the console and the engines whirred magically to life.
May God have mercy on my soul…
“Oh yeah,” the Commander interrupted my momentary reverie. What words of wisdom could he possibly have now? Perhaps another apology? Or maybe another betrayal?
 “Take a shower, will ya? You stink like shit!”

Chapter 3 is right here...

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