a story by
(c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Chris Yost and James Bruner. Chapter 1 (c) 1999 by Chris Yost. All rights to story content reserved. Characters Tabitha, Sabrina the Skunkette, and Amy the Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Cindy Lapine, Clarence Skunk, Wendy Vixxen, and Calvin (c) Chris Yost. Character Mark the cheetah created for Mark White. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard (c) James Bruner. Character Iron Raptor (c) his player. Character Psychofrog (c) His player. The band "et al" (c) Chris Yost All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners. Story conceived by Mark White. Based on characters and situations created by Chris Yost and Eric Schwartz. Amiga (TM) Amiga Computers.
Tabitha shook off the shock of her sister jumping out of her chair and ran after her. “Sabrina!”
It was no use, Sabrina didn’t slow down and made for the front door.
Tabitha skirted around the telephone table and got to the door just in front of her sister. Her back was to the door, both to block the exit and to allow Tabitha to speak to her sister. She reached out quickly and took her sister’s shoulders in her paws and held her firmly. “Sabrina, please! Listen to me!” Tabitha pleaded.
Sabrina was wild-eyed and nearly hysterical. “Lemme go!” she yelled. She tried to force her way around Tabitha. When Tabitha squeezed harder, Sabrina drew a deep breath. “I’ll scream!”
“You can’t scream, you’ll wake the giant old otter lady across the hall!”
Sabrina stopped struggling for an instant, long enough for Tabitha to realize she had a really good chance at regaining control of the situation. “Yes Sabrina, Mrs. Aonyx. Do you know anybody else who calls her ‘giant old otter lady’ besides your sister?”
“You could be a stalker! How do I know what you’ve managed to find out about me?” Sabrina tried to shove Tabitha aside once more.
Tabitha knew that this situation was going to get worse without drastic measures. She released one paw and drew it back before slapping her sister hard across the muzzle. It wasn’t pretty but it had the desired effect: Sabrina stopped struggling. “I’m sorry,” Tabitha said as tears filmed her eyes. “But you have got to listen to me.” She forced herself to relax and lower the tone of her voice. “I’m trying to save your life.”
The adrenaline was still flowing into Sabrina’s bloodstream but the mention of her mortality put the brakes on her struggles. Her shoulders slumped and Tabitha relaxed her hold slightly. Sabrina raised her paws to her forehead. “I’ve gotta sit down,” she said as her knees gave way. Tabitha managed to keep her from falling and helped Sabrina get to the couch.
Tabitha sighed. “That could have gone better,” she told herself wearily.
The sound of Richard Badger’s voice echoed down the halls. Harvey’s sensitive ears turned reflexively away from the noise. He kept walking but when Badger called his name again, in a more normal tone of voice, he stopped and returned to the security room.
Badger was still in the same chair, watching the same video clip for what had to be the thirtieth time.
“You bellowed?” Harvey asked sourly. He crossed his arms, not wanting to venture further into the room than the doorway.
“Come over here, Harvey, take a look at this!” Richard seemed excited.
Dropping arms to his side, Harvey walked over to where his boss sat and leaned his backside against a table. “What?” he asked in a truculent voice.
Harvey’s bad attitude didn’t register with Richard. “I.R.,” he ordered over his shoulder, “replay one more time, audio off.”
The Iron Raptor sent the appropriate signals to the security system and the surveillance video of Tabitha from the lab cameras appeared onscreen. Tabitha was approaching the ramp.
Richard’s eyes never left the screen. “Zoom in on her left paw; follow it. Slow playback by 25 percent.”
Tabitha’s paw grew to fill the whole screen.
The badger leaned back in his chair. “Now watch.”
Harvey leaned in close for a better look, and his eyes widened as he realized what he was seeing. He watched Tabitha’s thumb and forefinger unscrew the end off of the beacon before dropping the power cell and both pieces into her purse as she started running.
Badger watched Harvey closely. The look of incredulity on the rabbit’s face said everything.
“But --,” Harvey gestured to the screen with his paw. “But, what -- why would she do that?” he asked.
“I’ll bet I can tell you exactly why she did it,” Badger replied. He went to the door. “Come with me,” he said peremptorily.
Harvey and the Iron Raptor looked at each other. Rabbit and machine regarded each other for less than a second. Harvey shrugged his shoulders and started walking. Iron Raptor followed him.
In the Temporal Complex, Barbara and Mark were keeping watch on the main console when the badger, Harvey, and the Iron Raptor came through the door. Badger unceremoniously shouldered his way in front of Barbara and began keying in codes to bring up information on the module.
“Aha!” Badger exclaimed. He motioned Harvey over with his paw. Barbara leaned in to look over his shoulder at the readout. He was tapping his finger on a line showing a date. “Look, right here.”
Barbara read it aloud. “3 May, 1999.” She looked at Richard. “That’s not where she’s supposed to be.”
“It sure isn’t.” Badger took a step over and reached for the module release catch.
Harvey’s paw grabbed Badger’s and closed around it and the module. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he asked in an exasperated voice.
“I want to check the authenticity of this module again,” Badger explained.
“You can’t do that!” Harvey started to pull Richard’s paw toward him but the badger pulled back strongly. “You do that and we’ll lose Tabitha for good. You know that!”
Badger yanked his paw back in frustration. The commotion was drawing attention from the techs in the lab and several were coming over to see what was going on. Badger could feel his face starting to burn from anger. He knew that Harvey was right and being caught acting rashly irritated him. ”Then we’re going to stop her,” he announced and released the module to Harvey.
“Will somebody please tell me what’s going on??” Barbara said. She sounded very annoyed. The figurative pissing contest between Richard and Harvey was the last straw for her civility.
“It’s Tabitha!” Badger said as he pointed to the module. “She’s either tampered with the program or forged a new module. She’s back in the past trying to keep her sister from dying in a traffic accident. She has no concept of temporal responsibility!” The badger was fuming now. “She’s good too; I never once suspected she was going to defy orders and attempt it.”
“Okay, you’ve caught her,” Harvey said wearily. “I can’t believe she did it, but you’ve caught her. Now what?”
“Yes,” Barbara added, “You said you’re going to stop her. How do you propose to do that?”
Badger looked at his two subordinates with an icy stare that told them he didn’t care for their attitudes. “We’re in the time travel business,” he told them. “We’ll beat her at her own game.” With that, he touched a spot on the screen several times. “I’m spinning the Departure Time back 30 seconds. I’ll go through on Channel Two, intercept her and send her right back on Channel One.”
Nobody dared say a word. It was one of those incredibly awkward times where you feel the wrath of the boss and compassion for a co-worker you respect who’s found herself in a great deal of hot water.
“Maybe you won’t,” One of the techs announced.
Richard’s eyes widened. “What?”
“When we ran the data on Tabitha’s jump, we noticed a power drain as she entered the temporal horizon and a sharper drop after as she went through.”
“How much?” Harvey asked.
“Eight point three percent.”
“Can you compensate?” Badger asked irritably.
The tech shrugged. “Maybe. That kind of variance is outside the design tolerances. I don’t think we can guarantee an accurate arrival time if the power curve keeps doing that.”
“I’ll risk it,” Badger announced. “People, let’s fire the system up. Ezequiel, get me a beacon. Paul, put One and Two online.”
Reluctantly, Paul and Mark took their positions and Ezequiel ran into the equipment room. Everybody else watched their computer consoles intently.
Harvey was shaking his head. “I still can’t believe Tabitha would’ve done this,” he said. “She’s being set up, or something. She has to be.”
“I don’t want to believe it either, Harvey,” Badger told him as he used his spread fingers to comb his hair back into place. “But face facts: she’s not where she belongs and this is far enough back in time that her sister would still be alive and Tabitha could warn her.”
“There’s a logical explanation,” Barbara said in defense of her friend. “There was a mistake in the coding, or something. You’ll see.”
“I’m sorry Barbara, but it wasn’t that simple. Harvey can back me up on that. What she did was deliberate.” Badger turned and addressed the assembled team in a firm voice. “All right, listen up,” he said. “We’re not going to stand here speculating. I’m going to go back and send Tabitha back here. When she and I have our debriefing about this matter, everyone will find out on a need-to-know basis.”
Ezequiel ran up to Doctor Badger and handed him a locator beacon. Badger thumbed the switch, and nothing happened.
“What the -- ” He turned it over, looking at it from all sides. Using his fingertips, he twisted the end cap and felt it make a half-turn, turning on the yellow telltale by the switch. A glance at the main console told him he was sending a clear signal.
“That confirms everything right there,” he said, and dropped the beacon into his trouser pocket. “Open the portal and be ready on Channel One to receive Tabitha.”
“All right, stations everyone!” Barbara called.
In a moment the hum of the temporal generators filled the room once more.
Harvey took the key position and entered his code, opening the portal.
Badger felt that same tingle through his fur that Tabitha had felt as the wormhole formed in front of him. He felt that same twisting of his digestive tract; the body’s reaction to the oncoming unknown. Slowly, sounds from the past seeped through.
He balled his paws into fists to keep them from shaking. Then, without hesitation, he walked up the ramp and into the wormhole.
Immediately, the sound of a car horn followed by the squeal of rubber on asphalt came through the portal. The sickening thud succeeding it was barely audible over the noise the portal made.
“What the hell?” Harvey yelled.
The sound of a commotion drifted through the portal. It seemed like a hundred voices at once. Someone was calling for someone else to call for an ambulance.
“My GOD!” Barbara screamed! “That was Richard!”
Iron Raptor’s eyes glowed a brilliant red. He was suddenly in motion, running for the portal.
The movement of the robot jarred Harvey out of his shock. “I.R.! No! Abort! Abor -- !”
By that time all anybody could see was the end of the mechanical tail as it disappeared into the past.
The ensuing screams from the opposite side were incredible.
In 1999, a very large bipedal machine emerged from the center of a blinding white light that spiraled from a blue center. It lifted its head and scanned from side to side quickly; looking like it was sizing up the crowd for its next meal. The long metal tail swished to one side, sensors along its length searching for the electronic signal the beacon emitted.
The raptor took two steps away from the light. A male civet from the car that had rear-ended one in front was squatting and trying to hide behind his rear bumper. Mothers were grabbing cubs and kittens and holding them close. Several people started to run.
The Iron Raptor took another step, still scanning. Suddenly it froze as cybernetic algorithms assessed the situation. A male badger was lying in a twisted heap on the pavement, almost a dozen feet away. It turned to look at a tiger, the driver of the car that had apparently struck him. Its brilliant red gaze met his wide eyes, his wide-open muzzle and expression a clear indication he had completely lost control of his excretory system as he shook in his tracks.
The Iron Raptor moved with rapid fluidity toward the badger. Furs scurried to get out of its way. It squatted, almost knelt, and slid its metal paws beneath the doctor’s body, its knuckle joints scraping the pavement as they went. As it stood, the head of the badger rolled limply backwards. The raptor turned back toward the portal, eliciting new screams of fright as it made its way back the way it had come. It entered the swirl of light and vanished.
The beast made its descent down the ramp from the portal after arriving in 2030. As soon as its tail cleared the wormhole, Harvey cried, “Shut it down!!”
The gateways ends collapsed in upon themselves and the past and the present were isolated once again.
Everyone began to crowd around as I.R. carried the badger to the bottom of the ramp. He lowered himself and deposited Richard Badger on the floor.
“Richard!” Harvey yelled at the motionless badger. Immediately Mark and Barbara moved in and began CPR.
“Doctor Badger is non-functional,” the Iron Raptor announced.
“What the hell does that mean?” Harvey screamed at the robot.
Barbara’s quiet voice silenced the room. “He’s dead, Harvey.”
“He was struck by an automobile,” the raptor explained in a cool synthesized voice. “His neck, back and left leg are broken. He has a cranial fracture. His heart and respiration rate are zero. His brain activity has ceased. Those are the limits of my diagnostic capabilities. The doctor will have to inspect him further in order to provide a detailed cause of death.”
Despite Iron Raptor’s calm, unfeeling report, it was unbelievable. Mark placed two fingers on Richard’s Carotid artery to convince himself. With open muzzle he looked up at everyone, and slowly shook his head. Doctor Badger was indeed dead.
Tears streamed down Barbara’s cheeks. Others wept as well. Most were in shock, not able to believe he was really gone.
Harvey balled his paws into tight fists. He stood up and walked back to the console, fighting back tears of his own.
Harvey’s mind replayed the last several hours. I was just drinking with the man, just talking to him! “Tabitha, when you get your striped ass back here,” he muttered fiercely, “There’s going to be hell to pay.”
“This is too much to take in,” Sabrina said in a tired voice. “Okay, we look similar. I admit that. You know a lot more about me and my family than a stranger should know. Why do you have to do this and tell me you’re my baby sister?” She lapsed into silence and tried to make sense of the situation.
Tabitha couldn’t say anything. Everything now hinged upon Sabrina’s acceptance of what Tabitha had told her.
Sabrina wondered if there was anything wrong with the food. Would this woman have drugged it? And why me? I’m nobody! she thought.
Tabitha sighed. “Y’know Sabby, this went a lot easier when I worked it out in my head at MIT.” She lifted her paws. “I’m out of ideas. All I know is that I need for you to believe me. Completely.”
“And how am I supposed to do that?” Sabrina asked. She gestured to the table. “You come in here, you feed me and give me a story about being a long-lost relative in the hope that I’ll buy this cockamamie story of yours, and I don’t understand why. In fact, I’m convinced you’re no relation to my family at all. Now, I’m going to ask you to leave.”
The brick wall Tabitha had hoped she wouldn’t come up against was finally here. Reluctantly, the skunk knew that there was only one way to overcome it but that was exactly what she didn’t want to do, not after the earlier incident by the door.
“I can prove it, Sabby. Beyond the shadow of any doubt you might have.” She got up and walked over to the table; keeping an eye on her sister to make sure she didn’t try and bolt again. Sabrina, for her part, watched Tabitha closely. When Tabitha returned with her purse and sat down next to her, Sabrina began to edge backward, away from her. When Tabitha’s paw went inside the bag, Sabrina had a loud scream ready in case it came out with a weapon.
When the paw emerged with items that didn’t appear lethal, Sabrina relaxed minutely. What looked like a small, thin battery was placed into the largest of the three items and the remaining piece was screwed onto the bottom. Tabitha set the device on the coffee table.
Sabrina leaned forward to look at the item and then looked at Tabitha. “You can prove it with a flashlight?” she asked.
“It’s not a flashlight,” Tabitha stated seriously. She stood and indicated that Sabrina should follow her. “Come this way.”
Sabrina shook her head. “What for?”
“Sabrina!” Tabitha scolded, her patience now wearing thin, “come here.”
Something in her voice forced Sabrina to comply. Slowly, she pushed herself up from the couch and walked to within a few feet of Tabitha before stopping.
Tabitha took a large step toward Sabrina and held the beacon out at arm’s length. “Now, watch carefully,” she cautioned before pressing a tiny button on the device in her paw.
“What do we do now?” Mark asked, unable to take his eyes away from Badger’s body. It was covered by a blanket from the first aid supplies. “How do we explain this to an ambulance crew?”
Barbara’s voice was cracking, as she sobbed. “I … I don’t have any i-idea.”
Harvey had walked back over and knelt with the rest of them. “We could say he was hit in the parking lot.” He wiped his eyes with the back of one paw. “Take him out to the lobby and say we brought him indoors; not like we can do any more damage to him.”
Some of those assembled considered Harvey’s idea and agreed, as heartless as it seemed.
The main console began chirping. Harvey and Paul exchanged surprised looks before both raced up to it and looked for the telltale green blinking light that flashed in time to the electronic pulsing tone.
“It’s her!” Paul exclaimed. “It’s Tabitha!”
Some of the team sighed with relief that she’d been found. Harvey turned toward the chamber and folded his arms. If he could have mimicked the Iron Raptor, his eyes would have glowed brilliantly red.
“Bring her back.”
Sabrina watched but nothing was happening. She started thinking that she was at the mercy of a lunatic. “What am I supposed to see?”
“Wait a moment,” Tabitha advised.
Sabrina waited. Nothing happened. She glanced at Tabitha, who seemed content to wait. Sabrina judged the distance to the door, thinking how to avoid the reach of the woman with the flashlight standing in her apartment.
Without warning, it happened. Sabrina’s eyes went wider than they’d ever been. There, in her apartment, her home, was something. “What the heck is that?”
“Proof positive,” Tabitha informed her, lowering the arm that held the device.
Sabrina stared. Whatever was happening was growing larger by the second. She placed one foot behind the other and started to move backwards, away from the thing.
Tabitha extended her arm. “Come on.”
“What?” Sabrina yelled.
“Come with me,” Tabitha told her. “You’re going to see that I’m not crazy, that I’m not a criminal, and you are going to believe me.”
Sabrina stepped back and to the side. She was going to have to get around that thing to escape. “There’s no way I’m going … ” She waggled her finger at the wormhole, “ … in there!”
“Oh yes you are,” Tabitha insisted and moved toward her. “This is the only way you’re going to believe me, and damn it, you’re coming along for the ride.” She reached for Sabrina’s arm.
Sabrina screamed in fright and tried to pull away. “No! I’m not going in there!”
Tabitha lunged toward her sister. With a quick movement, she bent and grabbed Sabrina around the thighs. When she straightened, Tabitha grabbed Sabrina’s arm and pulled her sister around her shoulders in a fireman’s carry. She strode purposefully toward the open portal.
Sabrina screamed as they disappeared inside.
Barbara and the assembled members of the team looked up in the direction of the sounds. Excited voices followed by a woman’s screams had caught everybody’s attention. A familiar figure emerged from the light carrying another female skunk across her shoulders. The unfamiliar skunk was kicking and screaming loudly.
Paul closed the wormhole when he saw that Tabitha had cleared the event horizon.
Tabitha bent and deposited Sabrina on her feet at the bottom of the ramp next to the covered body of Richard Badger. “There!” she exclaimed. “Now you’re going to believe me!”
Sabrina hugged herself with both arms and shook with terror. Her fur felt as if it held enough static electricity to light her apartment building. She looked back the way they had come, behind Tabitha into the dimming light, back toward the heavy wall, across the room of people, to the life-sized Transformer action figure near the doorway. Her muzzle was agape as she tried to form words to express what she was feeling.
“Now, tell me how I could manufacture this!” Tabitha stated and waved about with her arms. As her gaze finally came around to Sabrina, she caught sight of what was near their feet. Even covered, Tabitha could tell a body lay before them. She dropped to her knees and pulled the blanket back, gasping in shock at what she saw.
”What happened?” she yelled at the room.
“He followed you in.” Barbara said in a voice that cracked with emotion. “He turned your time reference back so he could intercept you.”
“But he couldn’t!” Tabitha exclaimed. “I screwed up the -- ” was as far as she got before realizing what had happened. She grabbed Badger’s shoulders and began shaking him. “Richard!” she yelled into his face, “Richard! Somebody help me, do something!”
“There’s nothing that can be done,” Barbara told her. “He’s dead.”
“Oh, no,” Tabitha responded. She didn’t want to believe what she was seeing. She held his head in one paw and patted his cheek in the other. “Richard, answer me!” When he remained motionless, she set his head down gently and only then noticed the blood staining her white paw. The sight was too much for her to bear. She screamed and then tried to revive him. “Come on, Richard, you’re not getting out of dinner with me that easily! Come on now, come on!”
“He’s dead, Tabitha!”
Tears began to stream from Tabitha’s eyes. “No!” she was insisting. “No, no, he can’t be! He can’t be!”
Barbara went to her and tried to help Tabitha to her feet. Tabitha yanked her arm away and held onto Richard’s body, laying her head on his chest and weeping.
Sabrina knelt cautiously beside her sister and put her paw on her shoulder in a comforting gesture.
Harvey approached the trio. “I take it you’re Sabrina,” he said rather than asked.
Sabrina looked up at him and nodded slowly.
Harvey nodded. “Welcome to the twenty-first century.”
End of Chapter Eleven
This Way to Chapter 12