Tuesday, January 8, 2019

CWATT Chapter 5

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Chapter 5
I had half a mind to pop her one right there, in direct contravention of a previous oath I had taken to never lay hands on a female in an aggressive manner (though I will forgive you, dear reader, given my rather non-existent sexual exploits if you thought I may have initially omitted the “in an aggressive manner” prior to my encounter with one Cynthia Albertson during the previous mission, but I digress…).
Unfortunately, the presence of the heavily-armed team of ChronoSaber commandos ensured that nothing of the sort could occur.
Instead, my only ammunition was my keen wit and prickly tongue.
“You tart!” I spat the words at her.
This only elicited a haughty laugh and a smile from Helene, “Oh, posh! Come now, Finn, though we’ve had our disagreements in the past, I knew you’d find your way out of that mess back…or I should say ‘forward’ ten years from now.”
My face reddened as I took two steps toward her, fists clenched all the while. I plumbed the depths of my unrivaled brainpower for a pithy comeback, a witty retort.
“You scurrilous tart!” It was all I could muster through clenched teeth.
The two men behind her emerged from the darkness. One was a heavily-decorated, bald, black man in an American military uniform.
The other appeared to be a flustered, unkempt bumpkin of sorts with an unstylish tweed blazer to match a similarly grotesque haircut. An untrimmed mustache completed the atrocity against style and common decency.
I was shocked that Ricky brought his hand to his brow in a crisp salute toward the soldier, though I suppose Bloomington’s limp-wristed, backhanded attempt at the same was equally jarring, if for other reasons.
“General Carter, sir!” Corcoran barked the phrase out like a drill sergeant.
“General Carter, sir!” Bloomington did his best to copy his superior officer, though his nasally whine was somewhat less-than-impressive.
The man strutted over to Corcoran and looked him over, as if inspecting his strong chin for defects. To his credit, Corcoran stared straight ahead throughout the entire odd, wordless exchange.
After several moments, the decorated soldier brought a hand to his brow and returned the salute, “At ease.”
Corcoran broke into a grin, “Well I’ll be damned—General Carter!”
The General flashed an equally broad smile as he extended a firm hand, “Bet you thought you weren’t gonna see me again, eh Ricky?”
Ricky’s eyes narrowed with mischief, “Eh, when you’re in the line of work we are, ya begin to expect the unexpected.”
The two exchanged a vigorous handshake for several moments before the General disengaged and turned to Bloomington, “Specialist.”
“Hey General,” Bloomington’s cracking voice betrayed the affected nonchalance of his tone.
I raised an eyebrow at the display, “If your little reunion is over, I’d like to know what in the devil’s oven this…this succubus is doing here!” I nodded at Helene.
She shook her head and sashayed her way in front of me. She reached to grab my chin, and though I moved to prevent her from doing so, she rapped me hard on the wrist before her fingers came to rest on my freshly-shorn jaw.
“My, my. That’s how you repay me for all I’ve done for you? The billions that I, and my business partners,” she nodded at the shabbily-dressed man behind her, “invested in you? This,” her free arm motioned around the room in a wide arc, “wonderful lab space, leaving you to work, undisturbed, in,” she snorted, “perfect anonymity? And not to mention the rather hefty amount of money we’re willing to pay you now to make you whole.
She practically spat the last word at me, though I raised an eyebrow, intrigued.
“Don’t forget Avi,” I said, half-sighing.
“Ah yes, the private Aramaic lessons that were of,” she chuckled, “so much use to you in your quixotic little quest to visit Jesus, Trent, whatever you wish to call him. And what do I receive in return? Name-calling and temper tantrums?” She squeezed my cheeks in like an overzealous aunt condescendingly explaining something to a child.
This time, I raised an arm to force her hand off of me, but Helene caught it mid-flight.
“I’d gladly give you more if you’d let me?”
She grabbed the hem of her skirt and raised it an inch with an arched eyebrow, “Oh? That can be arranged…”
I shuddered with a mix of revulsion and arousal.
“Are you two through yet?” Corcoran yelled. He made his way over to Helene, “Now I got Bloomy, and I got Doc, and I got ‘em both here.”
Sanchez cleared her throat behind the Commander, though it did little to interrupt his train of thought.
 “That’s the last item on your little list. Now I’d like to know what in the,” he turned to the General, “no offense, General, sam fuck our mission is here.”
“Perhaps we should go into the conference room to discuss it,” Helene said. She clapped twice and Carter, as well as the man in the ill-fitting jacket, followed closely behind her. Sanchez was behind them, and half of the contingent of soldiers surrounded them.
The other half flanked us and forced us forward, up the freshly-built stairs, and into a room at the top that was a part of an entirely new level of my laboratory.
I caught Corcoran’s eye during the forced march, “Remind me to thank you for the wonderful trip into this fabulous ChronoSaber police state,” I hissed.
“Ain’t like I had a choice, Doc. The way she sold it to me, this is end of the world, end of time shit we’re talkin’ about here.” He nodded at the room ahead, “Not to mention they seem to think your old pal Klaus is pretty important to this whole deal.”
“What did they—” I reconsidered my volume and raised a free hand to my mouth, “—what did they tell you about Klaus?”
“Eh, not much. Basically just that it’d get ya to come along on the mission. Plus, ya know, all the Nazis raidin’ his lab stuff obviously.”
“So then why are you going on the mission?”
Corcoran’s smirk dropped, “What? ‘End of the world’ not good enough for ya?”
I shook my head slowly as we entered the conference room.
What I saw next caused me to nearly dislocate my jaw so suddenly did it swing open.
There, in that very conference room, stood Ben Franklin, pounding a gavel on the table in front of an assembled coterie of additional poor facsimiles of historical figures. One of the actors was even dressed in a bright green dinosaur suit, presumably to be replaced by something computer-generated in post production.
My mind immediately raced to the hospital bed I had occupied at Chronobase Alpha back in the age of the dinosaurs. None other than the fetching Commander (nee Captain) Sanchez herself had shown me this very ChronoSaber orientation holovid, complete with ridiculous, British-accented anthropomorphic dinosaur in a short-sleeved, button-down engineer shirt, to prepare me for my “dinosaur hunt,” which in reality had been an elaborate way to (quite literally) scare the shit out of me.
“Should Frank’s wife apologize for calling him a fat slob? Socrates!” Franklin barked at a togaed actor at the end of the table.
I glared at Commander Sanchez.
She met my stare and shrugged.
Helene clapped twice, and the director (a scruffy-looking fellow with a large beard and even larger midsection) snapped to attention.
“Uh…cut! Everyone, take five. Take ten. Take whatever!” He eyed Helene nervously even as the old shrew refused to acknowledge him. The actors and crew shuffled out of the room even as the director pushed them out the door.
Within thirty seconds, the conference room was completely empty once more. Helene took “Franklin’s” former spot at the head of the table, flanked on either side by General Carter and the dowdy mustachioed fellow. Two guards stood near the entrance, though Corcoran, Bloomington, Sanchez and myself were allowed to select our own seats.
Needless to say, I took the one furthest away from Helene.
She pointed her mobile at the holoprojector on the wall behind her. Immediately, a picture of my dear friend and colleague, Klaus Thurber, filled the front of the room, his icy blue eyes accented by the silvery streak in his thinning, grey hair. Underneath the picture was a perfunctory bio of his numerous known accomplishments.
Helene didn’t waste but a moment before beginning, “Klaus Thurber. Theoretical physicist, University of Leipzig Department of Physics. Known to associate with,” she focused her gaze on me, “obnoxious, deviant, utterly mad—”
I cleared my throat and leaned in an arched eyebrow.
Helene waved the gesture off, “—contemporaries, known for their outlandish theories.” She tapped another button on her mobile, which brought up a picture of a standard-looking time machine (who would have ever thought I’d write those words down when i was studying with Avi those months ago!?). “This is the C.T.S. Saint Germaine. Exactly one year from today, Professor Thurber will,” she paused and took in a deep breath, “abscond with it.”
The room fell deathly silent for several seconds.
Bloomington raised his hand.
“Klaus stole it? A time machine? From ChronoSaber?” I asked in an effort to save Bloomington the embarrassment of asking the question I knew he would.
“What’s abscond mean?” Bloomington blurted out.
Apparently I had inadvertently worsened it.
Helene rolled her eyes (likely in unison with Corcoran and myself) before she narrowed and steeled her gaze, “He took it. Made off with it. Just, ‘poof!’ It’s gone.” She looked at Sanchez, who hung her head and frowned.
I brightened, “But I thought ChronoSaber security was unmatched? Absolutely unparalleled! Practically MI6 and the Secret Service rolled into—”
“Are you quite finished? Or shall I have you shipped back to the gutter in London where you can argue with your fellow bums about canned beans and gin for the rest of your miserable existence?!”
My mouth went slack. I reflexively pulled on the collar of my t-shirt and swallowed.
“Well!?”
“I’m still pondering it…” I managed.
“Take all the time you need,” she affected a smile.
I squinted; clearly she wanted to hear me give a verbal answer, to allow everyone in this hodgepodge of a group to know who was in charge.
“I’m finished,” I was willing to comply.
For the moment.
Her thin smile became more pronounced, “Good. As you might recall, the only other security breach we had was when a vagrant was allowed,” she chewed the words, “to stowaway on a machine bound for 2002.”
Bloomington raised his hand again. This time, I politely patted him on the shoulder and shook my head.
“This other pilferage was decidedly not by design, and represents an enormous threat to our security. Regardless of what that fool Hank Fleener may have told you—”
I raised an eyebrow. How could she possibly know who Hank Fleener is? I thought.
“—this is the sole blemish on all of ChronoSaber’s otherwise sterling security record.”
Corcoran squinted at Helene, “So why don’t ya just, you know, go back and stop him ‘fore he steals it.”
Helene looked as if she was about to leap over the table and castrate the Commander, “Commander, you of all people should understand the impossibility of such an idea!”
“Right—whatever happened, happened, I know. But I mean, we were just in Leipzig, right? Why the fuck didn’t you tell us to get Doc and Bloomy there like a day sooner, before he boosts it?”
“I assume you also forget the idea that the universe wouldn’t allow such an event to happen? That some horrible tragedy would befall your motley little…” she eyed Bloomington with equal parts shock and revulsion, “…crew well before you got access to the man himself?”
“So if we can’t find him before the fact, how in the devil will we be able to uncover when and whence he absconded with your ‘misplaced’ machine?” I asked, perhaps with a twinge too much condescension.
The unkempt-looking hayseed at the front of the room finally opened his fuzzy-lipped maw, “We were hoping that you could help us with that, Dr. Templeton.”
His voice was deep, with a perfect Americanized elocution that threw me; I was certain that I would be speaking with Uncle Goober from Mayberry. The voice that greeted me was far closer to that of Alec Baldwin.
The man slid a file folder down the table toward me. I appreciated the nod to tradition, even if, admittedly, my tablet was one comfort of my era with which I could scarcely be without.
Sanchez’s eyes went wide, “Wow…” she exhaled.
I looked around the table with incredulity before I pointed at the lovely Commander Sanchez, “Has she reviewed this already?”
Helene rolled her eyes, “Commander Sanchez is marvelling at the vast quantity of paper she sees before her.”
Sanchez nodded, “It’s pretty rare…”
The formerly-disheveled man next to Helene now looked anything but; his hickish cow-lick had been shrugged into place, and his eyes, formerly dull and uninspiring, came to life, focused intently on my own.
“These are all of Dr. Thurber’s files found in his laboratory, shortly after his departure.”
I thought the better of patting the journal in my pocket the little holographic leprechaun had given me.
Instead, I thumbed through the file folder. It was utterly remarkable! Many of the equations were familiar to me, but I had never told another soul about them before my rather abrupt departure, and though Klaus and I had touched on some of the concepts tangentially in our conversations, he demonstrated a mastery of several topics that far outstripped my own genius. Most notable of these topics was optics, which was hardly a surprise to me given our discussions.
More troubling was the fact that within the labyrinthine arrangement of equations upon equations, just when he was about to make a breakthrough that would have allowed him to crack the code of time travel, he stopped. Instead, several large “P.T.”s in Klaus’s handwriting were highlighted on the pages.
“See anything interesting?” The barely-mustached man asked.
“How the devil did you get these?” I looked up, indignant for my colleague. “This is tantamount to stealing!”
 “It’s not stealing when you pay for it,” the man said. he eyed me, then Helene.
I could have reached out and popped the man in the face.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Gabe Marlow.”
He paused, as if the name should have struck me like a laser bolt.
Instead, I merely tilted my head with confusion, along with Corcoran and Bloomington.
“Gabe Marlow? Marlow Aerospace?” Marlow continued.
“That some kinda airplane part-maker?” Corcoran asked, his own rural affectation in full force.
Marlow rolled his eyes, “You might know me from my various space-based endeavors. I was one of the first private companies to explore sending a rocket to space. Wanted to build a big, modular space station slash hotel slash casino in space, charge millionaires exorbitant prices for in-orbit entertainment?”
I certainly hope that wasn’t the tagline, I thought.
“Oh…that Gabe Marlow.” I hoped my delivery was wry enough for the tidal wave of sarcasm to flood through.
Marlow shook his head, “Of course, officially, the government awarded some key contracts to other, higher-profile private spaceflight companies.” He paused and turned to General Carter, “I told you we should’ve gone with something bigger—higher profile! Something with explosions!”
“Since you wanted ‘Marlow’ to be associated with disaster?” The General snorted.
Marlow waved him off, “No matter. Unofficially, we went into business with General Carter here, Army black ops. The stuff we were doing was very cutting-edge, very ‘hush-hush.’ I don’t even think Commander Corcoran over here knew what we were doing behind the scenes during Project Omega.”
All gazes in the room turned toward the erstwhile “hero.”
“Hey, don’t look at me,” Corcoran shrugged. “I ain’t got a clue who the hell this joker is.”
“It was quite some time ago—I was younger. Dumber. More foolish, perhaps, but DAMN—” he banged loudly on the table, “—if I’d take shit from anyone.”
We all jumped out of our seats. I heard a shriek and looked at first Sanchez, then Helene, but both women remained unfazed.
It was only when I turned to Bloomington and saw his hand cupped over his mouth that I realized the source of the banshee-like utterance.
Marlow smiled smugly for several moments until the room calmed down once more, “As I continued to gain money and power behind the scenes from my forays into black ops, I decided to take on a promising academic as a protégé, a German physicist who was doing incredible things, experiments that, at least I thought—” he glared at me, “—were on the vanguard of manipulating space and time itself.”
“Klaus?” I whispered.
Marlow nodded, “Indeed.”
“But…why would you need to ‘manipulate space and time?’ What exactly were you working on?”
Marlow raised an eyebrow, first at Carter, then at Helene.
They shook their heads.
“Let’s just say you’ll find out soon enough, Doctor Templeton.
I collected myself, “All due apologies, Mr. Marlow, but I think you owe me a little more explanation that that. We have the finest, most experienced crew in history ready to work for you…shouldn’t we have a bit more briefing here up front?”
I very much hoped that Bloomington wasn’t picking his nose at that moment.
Marlow shook his head, “My cash, my rules.”
“What do you mean?” my eyes narrowed.
“I’ve put up 1,000 Bitcoin to be delivered to you directly upon successful completion of this mission.”
He leveled a steady gaze at me.
“Yes but—” It took a second for the full force of the words to hit me. “1000 Bitcoin?”
Corcoran and Bloomington looked at each other, dumbfounded.
Marlow noticed their confusion, “It’s the equivalent of about $3 billion in 2012 dollars.”
Bloomington’s hand shot up.
“And 100 Bitcoin each for each of the rest of you.”
Steve, Ricky, and Sophia looked at one another.
Bloomington’s hand shot up again.
“That’s $300 million in 2012 dollars for each of you.”
Bloomington’s hand came to his chin, deep in thought. Or I should say, “as deep in thought as possible for him.”
1000 Bitcoin? For me? Surely it wasn’t quite as nice as the notoriety that I so desperately craved… though I suppose it was a “passable” consolation prize.
“Of course, I asked ChronoSaber to match it, but unfortunately Helene refused.”
She glared at the unkempt, gravely-voiced billionaire. He returned her look with a sharp smile.
“Cheap bitch,” I muttered under a cough at Helene.
“Fancy prig,” she shot back.
“And why would I ever work with this…this hussy on anything?” my rage boiled to the surface, ready to erupt in a tide of invective.
“I suppose ‘billions of dollars of compensation’ isn’t good enough now?” Marlow asked.
“The reason I declined your offer, Gabriel,” she sighed, “Is that I know what Doctor Templeton really wants. And not only that, but I can give it to him…” Helene took a draught from a nearby glass as she leaned over the table. As I steadied myself to make another quip about her unwanted sexual advances, she produced a smile.
Then, her eyes went steely, her expression almost grave as she gritted her teeth, “I promise that when this is all over, we will host a ‘Doctor Phineas Templeton Day,’ at ChronoSaber’s expense, in order to get you the—” she sighed, “—fame and recognition that you so crave.”
My mouth, which had been ready to unleash the full fury of my sharp tongue on its erstwhile target, went slack. I truly didn’t know what to say; I looked first at Sanchez, then at Corcoran. Both Commanders nodded their assent, even if Sophia’s was somewhat reluctant.
“R—really?” I asked. I didn’t know what to do—all residual vengeance directed toward Corcoran (if not Helene) melted away, as I considered all of the wondrous possibilities: entire museums and universities named for me! Lecture series, bestselling books, the whole nine yards! My eyes went starry with thoughts of the opportunities that—
“Look, we don’t even know what the damn mission is yet!” Corcoran blurted out.
Marlow snorted, “Flip to the back of that file, Doctor.”
I shook my head to collect myself and did so, and found a package that looked like it had been torn into by a couple of hungry pit bulls trying to get into a butcher counter. Despite its condition, I could clearly make out the salutation, which I read aloud.
“To: Doctor Phineas Templeton. From: Your Friend Klaus.” My laboratory address followed.
“We went ahead and inspected it. Hope that’s not a problem,” Carter said without a hint of emotion.
“No, no—far be it from me to worry about your federal government committing federal crimes,” I said. I hoped my tone didn’t betray the other journal Klaus had left for me in his lab.
Inside was one of the tiny notebooks that Klaus was fond of using to jot down errant thoughts.
Instead of the dirty limericks and edge-to-edge equations that I had come to expect from Klaus’s books, there were five specific dates and locations (in very neat handwriting, might I add):

25-4-2580 B.C., Giza, Egypt: The show must go on!
13-5-9203 B.C., Jerusalem, Israel: A miner annoyance…
5-1-13872 B.C., Latitude: N. 38 degrees, 43 ‘, 18”, Longitude W. 27 degrees, 13’, 14”: It has risen!
23-4-1749, London, England: Count Your Blessings R.I.P.

But perhaps most jarring of all was the final line, a date that caused Sophia’s eyes to widen and her mouth to utter a curse even before it came into my field of view.
When it did, my jaw went slack. I reached for a handkerchief to wipe my dampening brow, but found none in the clothing that the Commander had provided. My skin went pale and clammy even as I read off the final line, chilling in both its brevity and meaning:

20-4-2102, Cairo, Egypt: Bye Bye…

I could only form two words, awful ones that foretold the fresh hell I was about to enter:

“Oh goody.”

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