Tuesday, January 1, 2019

CWATT Chapter Four

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Chapter Four
“Steven?! Is… is that you?”
While it may seem rhetorical to you, dear reader, I legitimately had to ask. You see, this short, remarkably thin man with unkempt dark hair and stubble slowly teetered toward me. For a moment, I didn’t even recognize him despite his pale skin and mouth swung agape, which normally would have served as dead giveaways, though his visage, now suitably sunken and almost like a half-inflated balloon version of his former self, was unmistakable.
He held me there and patted me on the back for well over ten seconds, the only soundtrack Corcoran’s occasional snickers.
“I’m so sorry, Doctor Templeton,” Bloomington whispered, his nasally whine unmistakable, “I tried to tell this douchetard not to leave you, but he just wouldn’t listen to reason.”
“I, uh, it’s quite alright, Steven,” I exerted all of my strength to extract myself from his vice-like grip as I affected a smile, “Great to see you, too. Appreciate the help with the Krauts and whatnot…”
Bloomington laughed, “Yeah, if there’s anything Sophia and I know how to do, it’s mow down Nazi assholes!
He unloaded about a dozen more laser bolts into the jack-booted corpses surrounding us before Sanchez restrained him.
“Easy Steve…” she shook her head at him, as if he were a child misbehaving in a toy shoppe.
“What? Is ChronoSaber charging by the laser bolt now?”
The mere mention of the company’s name sent a shiver down my spine.
As if on cue, five or six of the similarly black-clad individuals with glowing yellow eyes swarmed around the edges of the room. They surveyed what remained of Klaus’s lab, raising their ghastly laser rifles at Nazi corpses and piles of rubble…
… And Ricky and me.
Even though we were rather clearly not a threat to either Steven or Sanchez, one of the seemingly sinister figures stopped and jabbed me in the face with his rifle.
“I beg your pardon?!?” I asked him.
“Identify yourself!” The figure commanded with that same radio-hollow, deep voice.
I sighed, “Not that it matters, but I’m Doctor Phineas Templeton,” I shot a sideways glance at Corcoran, “inventor of time travel.”
Corcoran shook his head and raised his arms, “It’s okay! He’s all right! Lower your weapons!”
“Sir, all due respect sir, but you are not my commanding officer, sir!”
Corcoran narrowed his eyes, “It was my understandin’ that during this mission, private, the government was to have the full cooperation of ChronoSaber, and not the other way ‘round.”
“He’s right,” Sanchez shook her head.
“You heard her—stand down, soldier,” Corcoran said.
“I wasn’t talking about you, Commander,” Sanchez continued to ignore me, “I meant he, Private Marquez, is correct in that you aren’t his commanding officer. I am. Stand down, private.”
The black-clad figure lowered his weapon.
“I’m doing just fine, thanks for asking,” I offered with a wry grin, hoping to ease the tension.
“That’s odd. I thought for sure he’d wanna take orders from a real soldier, you know, one who actually rose through the chain’a command instead’a someone with a shiny uniform who got her rent-a-merc trainin’ on a damned weekend.”
“I guess ten years of sterling service in the Marine Corps doesn’t count for anything anymore?” she asked.
Corcoran steeled his jaw, “A thousand pardons, princess. Where the hell are my manners?”
Sanchez affected a mocking grin, “Ever the charming Pastie, as always, Ricky,” she shook her head. Finally, her eyes came to rest on me, “Greetings, Doctor Templeton. It’s been far too,” she exhaled, “long.”
She extended a lovely hand, which I took in my own. Despite its dainty profile, her entire presence seemed to fill my thin, spindly fingers with warmth and welcoming.
“My goodness, Commander Sanchez, I…you’re…you look fantastic for being some sixty-five million years old.”
She allowed a thin smile to wash over her normally down-to-business face, “I apologize for our last encounter, Doctor. I was under strict orders from HQ to—”
“Nothing of it, Sophia,” I felt a wellspring of confidence within, “you do look lovely, though.”
“See there, Ricky,” she smiled fully, “some people do know how to treat a lady properly.” She motioned for the soldiers to lower their rifles.
Flummoxed, Corcoran tilted his head for several moments, searching for something to say before he pointed directly at me.
“He was eatin’ outta a dumpster when I found him yesterday!”
Sanchez raised an eyebrow at me.
My eyes went wide as I shrugged.
Corcoran shook off his previous statement, “Look, I did my job, now can we please get some details on why we’re gettin’ the band back together for the reunion tour?”
Sanchez raised a hand to her ear and waived Corcoran off. She talked to what I presume was some sort of intercom.
As we awkwardly waited for her to finish her conversation, I decided to turn to Bloomington and change the subject.
“My Steven, you’re… looking well.”
I suppose it was only a half-lie. He had certainly lost some weight, though it appeared to be in the unhealthiest way possible.
Bloomington beamed, “You like it?” he asked.
I didn’t really know what to make of the question, “It suits you.”
This most assuredly was a lie; Steve Bloomington was a creature meant to carry some heft for whatever reason. Absent the extra tonnage, his features became overgrown for his slighter frame, and dare I say downright grotesque.
I nearly retched as he reached to unzip the black jumpsuit that covered his stomach and pulled it apart, to reveal…not the alien-like landscape of pasty skin and dark hair that I expected to find.
Instead, it was replaced by a device made out of some sort of alloy sunken into the remaining small layer of flab overlaying his abdomen. Even more curiously, two three-pronged standard A/C outlets protruded from the curious instrument.
“This is the Personal Electric Biomaterial Burning Lipophilic Equipment, or the ‘P.E.B.B.L.E.’ for short.”
Corcoran raised his eyes skyward, “Aw, shit, Bloomy, why don’t you just call it what everyone else does?”
“Commander, please don—”
“I beg your pardon?” I was shocked.
“Fuckbreath!” Bloomington thundered.
“What? No one calls it a ‘rock’ or ‘pebble,’ or whatever you do. They call ‘em ‘fatteries.’ They burn fat and make energy from ‘em. Somethin’ about the country gettin’ so fat that we had tons of excess energy just sittin’ around, doin’ nothin’. Food industry loved it. Big-time winner for them, since folks can still stuff their faces and be decently thin. As you can tell,” Corcoran smirked, “business is boomin’.”
I struggled through my nausea and tried to project a diplomatic air, “Well, I, for one, find it admirable that you are…controlling your weight problem, Steven.”
Bloomington nodded at Corcoran with smug, “I told-you-so” satisfaction.
I hope they have to good sense to hook him up to the grid, I thought. Electric bills would fall like a stone, post-haste.
The oddly-proportioned scientist lowered his shirt and leaned his head in toward me, “I assume the Commander has already showed you the improvements we’ve made for the trip?”
Corcoran nodded.
“I was a bit shocked by the addition of weaponry and the decreased recharge time, Steven. Is that,” I mustered all of my courage, since I dreaded the answer, “your handiwork?”
Bloomington shook his head, “Nope. I’d like to take credit for it, Doctor T, but it’s from a bunch of lameshit eggheads in the future. At least these ChronoSaber pricknoses let me fix the old girl up—two weeks of non-stop repairs and retrofits to get her ready for the mission.”
I cocked my head, “And what, pray tell, is the mission, my good Steven?”
He nodded over at Sanchez, “Hey Sophie, you about done?”
I couldn’t believe his tone—it was as if he was addressing her like some kind of annoying kid sister. Meanwhile I could barely keep my composure around the lovely, deadly Chronosaber Captain.
She briefly raised a finger, clicked off the device near her ear, and took several quick steps over to us.
“Gentlemen… if you will follow me back to your ship, all will be explained once we’re safely back in Baltimore.”
Almost out of habit, I looked at Ricky for confirmation.
He nodded, “You heard the ‘lady’… move out!”
We emerged through the hole in the building to a rather grizzly mop-up scene. Chronosaber troops in black jumpsuits were lining Nazi soldiers up in single file, then firing a single high-powered laser bolt through a group of five or so German soldiers at a time. The all-too-familiar scent of singed flesh permeated the scene like a bad air freshener as line by line, group after group of grey and brown-shirted fascists hit the ground, lifeless, like bags of meat.
I felt momentarily bad for the thugs until I realized that they had done far worse to the Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, and pretty much anyone whom didn’t conform to their “ideal” vision of humanity.
Other soldiers escorted white-coated scientists toward the odd bell-shaped craft that Corcoran and I had seen upon our arrival in Leipzig. I squinted—I could’ve sworn that Neil DeGrasse Tyson was among them. The white-coated men poured over the craft, scanning them and taking measurements as if they were fitting them for a suit.
We arrived at our ship and received a full escort aboard (with a salute to boot!) from the men who had held me at gunpoint only minutes earlier.
We set a course for Baltimore, and within minutes we were whizzing effortlessly through the sky. It took five, maybe ten minutes to reach our destination, and as we did, I realized that my invention may have opened up an entirely new travel industry; clean, comfortable, and fast as the dickens.
One more trillion-dollar industry that was stolen from me, I mused.
We had already broken through the atmosphere, and Baltimore—my Baltimore, the 2032 version—stretched before us. It was right around sunset, but even the array of shades of orange, purple, and red couldn’t seem like anything but the cheapest of lipstick on the most grotesque of hogs. Blocks of abandoned buildings stretched in every direction away from Hopkins, the product of years of decay spurred on by the government funneling every last shred of available funding into the foolish enterprise known as World War III, the deadliest conflict in human history.
My laboratory was on the outskirts of campus, situated in a quiet, if formerly desolate part of town. I say “formerly” desolate because much to my shock and surprise, the several blocks immediately around my building were a hive of activity. Athletic-looking men and women scattered about in plain beige coveralls, unloading trucks bearing a rather plain-looking “Corrigan Solutions” logo, with both the “C” and “S” large and unmistakable.
“I see Helene is so ever-subtle,” I mused.
Corcoran shrugged, “Yeah, never really did get a good answer on why they were buildin’ stuff here, ‘specially since they’re gonna’ tear it all down and move it downtown once the tower’s ready.”
“Let’s just say it’s a temporary staging location for something… important…” Sanchez said.
Corcoran and I raised an eyebrow at each other.
Bloomington rolled his eyes, “Oh that fucking thing?”
Corcoran and I stared at him.
“What? You’ll see soon enough.”
I turned my attention back to the massive changes that were scarring my formerly quaint lab. In fact, I had secretly been hoping that somehow, someway, it would eventually be turned into a museum of some sort: the birthplace of time travel…
“They didn’t just run a quick hand up her skirt, did they?” I nodded at the lab with gritted teeth.
Corcoran rolled his eyes, “Boy, you’re the damned dumbest genius I’ve ever seen! You didn’t own the lab, remember!? It was given as part of the salary of the—”
“—Jacob Harvey chair of Adjunct Faculty Advisement, yes, now I recall,” I said.
Fortunately for my bruised ego, Corcoran thought the better of pressing the issue.
The autopilot glided us over the busy disguised ChronoSaber employees and toward the roof of my building. Corcoran’s brow furrowed and began to dampen with sweat. He raced to the cabinet and rifled through it, searching for something much as I had desperately fumbled for whisky minutes before.
“Come on…come on…where is it…A-HA!”
He emerged with the rather crude, old-fashioned garage door opener that functioned as the controls to open the roof of my laboratory.
“Well that was a close one,” I deadpanned.
“Let’s just say I’ve had a bad experience or two,” Corcoran let his gaze linger on me with an arched eyebrow for an extra beat.
The ceiling of the edifice below began to retract as the time machine hovered, waiting patiently for the ancient chains and gears removed the ballistic steel ceiling over the lab.
Without the floor of the ship to stop it, my jaw may have well dropped all of the way to the floor below. My lab, my beloved sanctuary that only Avi had managed to infiltrate for going on close to a decade, now teemed with Chronosaber soldiers, each holding an LR-15 laser rifle, trained on the craft (our craft!).
“Helene certainly doesn’t waste any time, does she?” I asked.
“No she does not,” Sanchez replied, eyes forward.
We descended to the floor below, which was being converted into a proper landing pad for time machines much larger than ours. Brilliant arcs of electricity welded metal and what appeared to be gravity-controlling plates together, so as not to nick the bottom of the ship, which I gather was fashioned in a somewhat less workmanlike manner to my own careful “old world” craftsmanship, even if said work required the use of quantum computers and 3D-printers.
As we set down, the walls automatically seemed to disappear as the ship brought itself into 360 degree mode. We opened the ship’s door and let Sanchez take the lead, lest we get the same kind of “hero’s welcome” we had experienced from the ChronoSaber troops in Leipzig.
Instead of the yellow-eyed thugs we had seen while fighting the Nazis, these ChronoSaber soldiers were dressed in generic camouflage uniforms with a somewhat gaudy “CS” patch on both the left front breast pocket and the sleeve. The half-dozen men and women saluted Sanchez as she made her way into the ongoing renovations.
Corcoran followed, and then notably their salutes lowered as Bloomington and I followed them.
Ungrateful prigs… I thought.
One of the ChronoSaber soldiers, a rather clean-cut Latino fellow, saluted Sanchez crisply.
“Welcome back ma’am, and congratulations on completing your mission.”
Sanchez returned the salute, “At ease, Private. And thank you. Though honestly, the ‘fun part’ of the mission is just about to begin.”
I rolled my eyes. “The ‘fun part?’ Honestly? As if engaging in gunfights with time-travelling Nazis’ wasn’t ‘fun’ enough? What’s next? A coterie of knife-throwing horses? Or perhaps a Volkswagen filled with zombie clowns?”
“How in the fuck would they get horses to throw knives?” Bloomington wondered aloud.
“It’s a simple matter of cattle prods and voltage, Steven,” I replied.
“They have hooves,” he shrugged, and waited silently for my reply for several seconds.
I shrugged, not overly concerned with my rare miss.
“So Sophia, this is quite lovely, being escorted from ChronoSaber base to appropriated ChronoSaber base… goons prodding me with laser rifles every opportunity… but what is our mission?”
I steeled myself for some kind of cutting remark, delivered in a silky voice with a Stephen Wright-like deadpan.
Instead, all I heard was a slow clap coming halfway across the room, from atop a catwalk that had been hastily placed about halfway up my rather tall former laboratory. Eventually, the clap subsided, and it was followed by an all-too-familiar cackle.
In the low light of the laboratory, or facility, or whatever the devil it was then, a distinctive, shapely, female form sashayed down the stairs, followed by two somewhat larger gentlemen.
“Typical. So bloody typical, my dear Finn,” the sultry, middle-aged British lilt intoned.
I balled my fists with a mix of rage and frustration.
“Always in such a hurry. Always demanding to know what’s going on right now! Only enough time for a witty one-liner or retort before prematurely moving on, failing to grasp the full gravity and import of the situation.”
At that moment, my erstwhile Benefactor, I should say my true erstwhile Benefactor, Helene Tottenham-Clarke emerged from the shadows into the lab’s bright, shining lights.
“Miss me, dear?”

What does Helene have in store for our heroes? 

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