Thursday, January 24, 2019

CWATT Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

The snark and amusement quickly drained from my face as I levelled narrowed eyes at Helene.
You put him up to this, didn’t you?!”
She raised a cold, calculating eyebrow, “Of course—that makes sense. I somehow engineered the theft of one of my proprietary time machines by one of the few people to ever exist on this planet who might be able to reverse engineer it.”
I shook my head, “But you know he doesn’t!”
Helene wrinkled her nose, “Do I? That last entry—the end of the world?!”
I looked at Sanchez, “Is she right, Commander Sanchez? That wasn’t more ChronoSaber propaganda designed to mislead me?”
During my previous jaunt through time, Commander Sanchez had been the one to inform me that April 20th, 2102 was the date beyond which no time traveller had returned.
More troubling, people from her time onward had no idea as to why.
Sanchez nodded, “I’m afraid she’s correct. That information was absolutely true.”
Helene subsumed her scowl beneath an affected grin, “As much as you must think I’m simply a cruel, heartless businesswoman hellbent on making your lives a living hell—”
Corcoran and I exchanged a knowing glance.
“—I’ll have you know that you—especially you, Finny—are of far less import to me than this Thurber fellow, potentially ending the world!
She spat the final sentence across the long conference table with such vigor that I reached for my non-existent kerchief once more to wipe my face.
“Oh, spare me, Helene—” I started.
Carter pounded the table, “That’s enough, God damn it!”
He let the rich bass tones of his voice reverberate around the room for several seconds before nodding at Corcoran, “Now you and I both know that Army Black Ops finds working with private industry somewhat distasteful,” he eyed the two billionaires at the head of the table with suspicion, “but we’ve made exceptions in the past, Ricky. Namely for you to end the Third World War in 2032.”
I scowled first at Corcoran, then at Carter, and opened my mouth to speak.
Carter’s glared right back and stopped me in my tracks; the veins in his neck strained against his dark skin as his jaw jutted out taut, giving me the distinct impression that he was chewing on nails.
“By all reports, if this Thurber has anything to do with whatever occurs in 2102, for good or ill, then we need to find out what that might be.”
“So what are we to do then? Go on another scavenger hunt through time, with little more than Klaus’s ridiculous clues to guide us?”
Marlow nodded, “That’s exactly what you will do.”
“Yes!” Bloomington pumped his fist like an adolescent on his first trip to a whorehouse.
I shot a sidelong glance at the oddly thin scientist.
Helene interjected, “This time, though, the gloves are off: no restrictions on jumping, and no restraints on the QC.  You may tackle the list in any order you like, though I would suggest that you four start with the first entry on the list, since it’s a ChronoSaber operation.”
My eyes bolted upward momentarily before they settled on Helene, “Four?”
“Awesome!” Bloomington practically squealed with glee, “I’ll tell Marie to get her shit packed—”
“Commander Sanchez will be accompanying you as the ChronoSaber attaché on the mission.”
For once, Corcoran, Bloomington, Sanchez and I all yelled in unison:
“What!?”
“Ms. Tottingham-Clarke, with all due respect, my responsibilities at ChronoBase Alpha will likely preclude me from—”
“She doesn’t even know how to operate one’a these things!” Corcoran interrupted Sophia.
“I have to say, I agree with the Commander on this one—” I tried to get a word in edgewise.
“Do you know how many Nazis Marie’s mowed down? Seventeen. I counted every last fucking one of ‘em!” Bloomington screamed.
“And how many have I mowed down, Steve?” Sanchez narrowed her eyes at the skinny-fat man child.
He thought for a second and sighed, “Forty-three… I guess…”
“Shut up. Shut up!” Helene barked. She blinked and covered her ears, “Christ on Christmas, it’s like dealing with children in here! Am I the only one who sees the grave import of this?” she looked at Sanchez, “Sophia, the Army already has a representative on-board, and as much as I…” she looked at Marlow, “…tolerate Mr. Marlow here, I need someone from ChronoSaber to serve as my own eyes and ears onboard, and keep the, ahem, others on board on the straight-and-narrow.”
Corcoran rose from his chair, “I’ll be damned if I have some stuck-up soldier wanna-be lookin’ over Doc and my shoulders on this trip!”
He nodded at me, and I dipped my head in return.
“And, uh, Bloomy over here, too, a’course…” He must have noticed Bloomington’s peculiar, face-drained-of-pudge scowl.
Carter shook his head, “No ‘ifs,’ ‘ands,’ or ‘buts’ about it, Rick—Sanchez is going. It’s a concession we had to make to get use of the time machine for this mission.”
Corcoran turned to Sanchez. Sophia narrowed her eyes at him in reply, “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Commander.”
Ricky didn’t skip a beat, “Don’t mention it.”
Helene rose from her chair and shook her head, “If we’re quite through here, I have times to go, people to see.”
She paused before completing her thought, eying the four of us at the end of the table much like a lion would a wounded gazelle.
“So that’s it? ‘Oh, let’s get right into the scavenger hunt,’ then, isn’t it? Send dumb old Dr. Templeton out to be embarrassed once more, one more time—?”
“Oh, for the love of God,” Helene rolled her eyes, “Must we listen to you throw another tantrum, Finny? Isn’t Mr. Marlow paying you enough to just go along with it for once without being an obstinate, hard-headed bore?”
I thought about her assertion for a moment. I knew Helene was up to something, but as of yet, I wasn’t sure what. I doubted that Klaus was in cahoots with the wily old shrew; after all, Marlow, though no Helene Tottenham-Clarke as far as net worth goes, still seemed to be fabulously wealthy, to the point that he could entice me to join this voyage by flashing a wad of cash at me.
Nonetheless, I wasn’t likely to tease out what she had up her sleeve in the presence of either Carter or Marlow. More importantly, perhaps Sanchez knew more than she was letting on, and could be pumped for information on the voyage.
Not to mention that I utterly abhorred seeing my beautiful laboratory reduced to such a monstrosity of ChronoSaber goons and gaudy technology from who-knows-how-far in the future?
“Actually, I’m told people find me rather charming,” I said, with the faintest hint of a smirk.
Helene sighed,”Now, if there’s nothing else terribly pressing…”
She allowed the silence to fill the room for a good two seconds.
“Good enough for me,” Helene walked out of the room, flanked by the ChronoSaber guards that waited outside. The two soldiers stationed at the door preempted any impromptu Q and A between the erstwhile time travellers and General Carter.
We made our way down the staircase toward my time machine. No matter how much Steve Bloomington had violated the old girl with all manner of “improvements” (though, truth be told, I was grateful for many of them), she still looked utterly remarkable, with nary a scratch on her shining, brushed alloy finish. I allowed myself a moment to admire the ship with a hearty sigh before I made my way toward the gangway.
Marlow followed directly behind me, and though I didn’t know what to make of the man, I was heartened by the somewhat frosty tone with which Helene had referred to him. Though now, more than ever, my guard was ever-raised, on the lookout for further traps and feints, I thought that anyone who bankrolled Klaus (and who offered such a princely sum to myself) couldn’t be wholly irredeemable.
That’s likely what others think of you and Helene, you dolt! I chastised myself.
It was only later that I realised that my likability (or I should say lack thereof) likely painted a far different picture of our relationship than previously considered.
As we approached the ramp, Corcoran stopped and saluted General Carter with his right hand, while his left pulled Bloomington back toward him even as the now-svelte and grotesque scientist let out his familiar (if out of place) squeal.
“Guess this is goodbye again, General.”
Carter returned Corcoran’s salute, “Maybe. Maybe not, Rick. You be careful out there. You’re far more than a desk jockey, shit, more than even a soldier. You’re an icon now. America needs you. Get back in one piece, whatever the cost.”
Corcoran nodded. I craned my neck to get a better look at the Commander. His eyes were dull; they stared straight through the General to a place far, far away. It was the same expression he had after he witnessed the carnage we had unwittingly wrought back in the Mayan village on our first trip.
Of considerably greater import, it was the same vacant, yet understanding, stare that he had given me so many times over the course of our first journey, almost willing me to understand, to figure out the con he was running against me.
I never did.
This time will be different, I assured myself as I followed Marlow onto the now-narrow entryway to the ship. I found it odd that the billionaire was making his way onto the ship alongside the crew, but I rightly suspected he had his reasons for so doing.
One of the features of my design on which I had most prided myself was the open layout of the craft. Though I wasn’t a proper architect hitect or interior designer, I knew enough about the subject from my father’s short lectures on ancient Greek and Roman buildings to know that the single room with small alcoves off to the side gave individuals the sense that the craft was larger.
Now, though, with expanded living quarters, another head, even more chairs on the bridge, the ship felt downright claustrophobic.
Hopefully that feeling will be offset by Bloomington’s decreased tonnage, I thought with a chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” Marlow asked.
“Pardon?” I asked. Perhaps I hadn’t realised entirely how audibly proud I was at my mental jest at Steven’s expense.
“Forget it,” Marlow shook his head. He arched an eyebrow and looked me over slowly, deliberately, almost as if he were a jeweler inspecting a diamond for flaws.
“A hologram would last longer,” I quipped.
“Phineas Templeton himself,” Marlow ignored my jest. Instead he extended a warm hand, “It is an honor, sir.”
“Forgive me if I don’t take your hand; given my history with scoundrels,” I threw my voice toward Ricky, who remained steadfast in his procession toward the cockpit, “in the past.”
Finnegan’s jaw dropped open, “Oh of course! Stupid old me! I forgot what that snake in the grass she-devil had done to you. My God; the father of time travel, relegated to history’s dustbin, all so Helene could make a few extra bucks.”
I gritted my teeth and forced myself to pat the frumpy billionaire on the back, over that hideous brown tweed blend he attempted to pass as a jacket.
“Indeed, indeed…” I took a breath.
Marlow pulled me close and grabbed my forearm. “We will meet again, Dr. Templeton. I know time travel scrambles the old noggin a bit—gets you feeling nutty sometimes. Just remember, if you’re ever in a pickle, remember where ‘back’ is.”
I rubbed my chin with my free hand before I opened my mouth to speak.
“Wish I could be more specific, but you’ll know what I mean when you need it. Until then, I’ll just say, ‘until next time.”
With that, he patted me twice on the back, the second so forceful that it halfway propelled me into the command deck as he made his way back down the gangway.
Or I suppose you could frame it that he gave me a running start to the bar. Even though I had seen the woman mere moments before, the mere mention of Helene’s name (along with the veiled poison the words clearly held for Marlow) led me to take the few short steps over and fix myself a Macallan Eighteen, neat.
I took down several swallows in a single draught and craved more. Though one might think that my time in the past as a bum had caused my habit drinking to cross the line into problem territory, I still blamed my unquenchable thirst for scotch on the medigel and my harpy of a Benefactor more than anything else.
I sopped up the stray whisky from my freshly-shorn chin with a cocktail napkin, sighed, and turned to wave a hearty goodbye to Marlow with an affected smile.
Instead, I found wild whisps of dark hair standing half on-end before I looked downward and saw Bloomington’s gaunt-yet-gooey smiling face next to an empty glass.
“Hey, save some for me, crapface!” Bloomington nudged me with a limp elbow, in what I suppose was designed to be an attempt at camaraderie.
I smiled thinly and poured him a healthy swig.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa—I’m not all medigelled-out anymore!” Bloomington held up his hands in mock protest.
I shrugged and dumped two-thirds of his glass into my own before I took another hearty pull off of it.
A sharp snort echoed around the cabin, “Jesus Christ (I resisted the urge to correct Sophia by saying ‘Trent Albertson;’ it had become a bit of a habit of mine to interchange the two names), is this all you people do on these trips of yours?” Sanchez couldn’t hide the incredulity of her uncharacteristically judgmental tone.
Before I could reply, the glass in my hand clinked as Steven shot his hand out and connected it with his own.
“Just like old times, eh Doctor Templeton?”
As I rolled my eyes, Corcoran turned around from the flight deck and grinned.
“Hey Doc, if yer hungry, trash can’s over there.” He pointed at a corner of the kitchenette.
I harumphed, somewhat less than amused.
He grinned, “I could use ya up front to, you know, pilot the damned ship!”
I bristled, then refilled my glass for a final time, and made my way over to the flight deck.
Corcoran motioned toward the two-key contraption on the dashboard. Ricky’s was already in place; I removed mine from my neck, inserted it into the fitting, and turned.
The console came to life with the familiar “home” screens I had installed, even if several more options for weapons and the engines had been added.
“Think ya can remember how to fly this thing?” Corcoran asked.
I calmly reached out and hit the “auto-pilot” button on the console.
“Yep,” I said.
The computer flashed all manner of icons and text on both screens. The familiar time travel display popped up, complete with the map of the world and “dial” icon that controlled the target time period.
I must confess, dear reader, that my initial instinct was to program the ship to go anywhere but one of the time periods provided by Helene, just out of principle. After all, it was her ridiculous little scavenger hunt that had not only driven me utterly mad, but also been designed to do so! Oh, what I could do with an untethered time machine, the places I could go, all of the fantastical historical figures with whom I could interact, set timeline be damned! My eyes gained a mischievous gleam as I continued to turn the dial toward parts unknown.
My head tilted involuntarily as I considered what all that would truly mean; being a mere observer to God-knows what kind of a historical travesty, another important person torn from the pages of history and revealed to be yet another ChronoSaber puppet, playing out a role until a preordained death, when thousands more mourners from the twenty-first century would show up to simultaneously celebrate the poor wretch’s life and pay ChronoSaber handsomely to do so.
I shuddered at the thought of contributing to such a vile enterprise, albeit tangentially.
Besides, all thoughts of revenge aside, Klaus almost assuredly needed our help, whenever he was. Though Helene, and, by extension, Sanchez might have some idea of how Professor Thurber operated, neither had the faintest idea how the man thought, of what a brain so overpowered with intellect was capable. Only someone with a similarly outrageously bright mind could even hope to do so, and, at least according to some of history’s greatest businesspeople, there was only one man who fit the description.
Even if they had to dispatch another paper hero to an alley in London to find him.
Speaking of Ricky, his gruff, Southern twang rang in my ear.
“Hey ‘puter, can we get some tunes on in here? Maybe…oh, I dunno…’Magic Carpet Ride,’ by Steppenwolf?”
My eyes nearly shot through the roof of the craft; how utterly predictable, given that it had been the “runner up” as the first song I chose to play whilst taking off to times unknown.
The (admittedly catchy) tune played throughout the ship. Corcoran grinned like an idiot who had discovered a piece of “half-chewed” gum stuck under a park bench (or I suppose I could just say “Steve Bloomington” to save us all some time and trouble).
“I could get used to this…” Corcoran leaned back in his chair, hands folded behind his head.
“I had no idea you were such a First Contact fan,” I muttered.
“What now?”
Instead of answering, I merely shook my head knowingly.
“Wow…talk about ancient…” Sophia startled me from over my right shoulder. “Even the Star Trek movies with Chris Pine are old, old.”
My face went flush.
She broke into a smile and put her hand on my shoulder as she leaned over. “It’s okay—I’m kinda a Trekkie too.” she whispered at me.
I do believe the temperature in that cockpit rose a good 5 degrees centigrade at precisely that moment, as I was compelled to pat my brow with a handkerchief.
Sophia’s elegant hands deftly maneuvered over the controls. She pulled up the first set of coordinates:

25-4-2580 B.C., Giza, Egypt: The show must go on!

This time, the computer barely hesitated in its calculations:

“99.9%”

The red “engage” button flashed up on the screen. As I pushed it, an involuntary reflex pushed a cough through my lips, almost as if in vain protest of the events to come.
As we ascended through the lab and into the clouds, even I couldn’t begin to fathom the awesome, terrible events that were to come.

What could possibly be so terrible? What awaits at the end of our heroes' first time jump?

Stay tuned next week for another exciting installment of Corcoran Was a Time Traveler (and join the email list below to know as soon as it goes up!):

 

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