a story by
(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, Harvey Rabitt (c) Chris Yost. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard, Barbara, and Frank and Michael the security guys (c) James Bruner. Character Ezequiel (c) Ezequiel Rivero. Character Iron Raptor (c) Himself. 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) Gateway Computers.
Tabitha took her seat at the enormous round table in the conference room. She was ahead of the others, attaché in one hand, coffee in the other, butterflies in the stomach.
The time's almost here! My God, it's been so far away for so long, it's only days away now! Tabitha took another drink of her coffee and opened her briefcase to remove the equations she'd complied last evening. Nervously she began shifting the papers. Laying them out she took a pencil and went over them again, as if expecting to find an error to correct. There were none, this she knew. But she needed something to do with her hands, and with her idle time. The way everything she wanted to do, the way she wanted to do it, was laid out in her mind to the minutest of details. All she needed now was the opportunity, and that was to be coming along her way today. Now, why are my hands trembling like this??
"Uh, Doctor Tabby?"
Tabitha felt the pencil in her paw snap in half, her fur bristling. The top piece of the pencil skittered across the polished top, falling off the far side. The bottom half remained clenched in her paw. Slowly she turned her head and looked up.
Now the raccoon intern seemed even more nervous by the look crossing her face. "I-I'm sorry to disturb you, Doctor," he said in an accent that spoke of his South American heritage. "I had called you yesterday in your car, you may remember."
"Oh, I remember," Tabitha said in the sweetest voice she could fake, matching the smile she was forcing. Outside the door she could hear the faintest hint of a giggle. She walked up to the intern, who was wondering why he wasn't running for his life. "It's Ezequiel, isn't it?" she asked.
Ezequiel nodded. "Yes, Doctor Tabby."
That hint of a giggle became a barely repressed laugh.
Tabitha slipped an arm around the nervous raccoon and watched his eyes behind his fur mask shift from her eyes to her arm and back again. "And you've been here how long now?" she asked him.
The arm around his shoulder pulled him closer. Ezequiel felt his tail droop toward the floor as he was walked. Tabitha bent down and spoke in hushed tones. "Now," she started, "I know you're being put up to this, and I know you're a nice guy, but two things you never do here are call me on my day off, and never call me ... " She slipped her hand up and tugged on the scruff of his neck. " ... Tabby!"
Poor Ezequiel was nodding like a mad thing! Tabitha released her grip and smoothed the fur where she had gripped it. "And I don't have my Ph.D. yet, so don't call me 'Doctor'." She brushed and straightened his shoulders. "We on the same page now?"
"Yes," he answered, trying to force the tenseness from his body. "Yes, Doc -- Miss Must ... Musty-le--- "
Tabitha shook her head. "Tabitha's fine." She tugged her blouse straighter. "Now, what was it you wanted?" she asked, wondering if he even remembered why he came in here in the first place.
It took Ezequiel a moment to remember why, too. "Harvey told me that Doctor Badger wanted to know if you finished the preliminary vector plots for the second time jump entry. If the first one is successful, he wants to make the second one as soon as possible."
We don't even have a time destination settled on for the second jump yet! Tabitha smirked, and walked past Ezequiel to the door. She paused at the doorway, then pushed her head through and yelled at the rabbit "NO I don't, not YET!"
The white hare jumped back a step, but laughing out loud now, having successfully hazed the new guy and needled the one person who was fun to tease.
"Harv, c'mon," Tabitha said, "Tuesdays and Saturdays are sacred to me, you should know that by now."
Harvey put up a hand. "That wasn't me yesterday, Tab, that was legit. I just couldn't resist this morning."
Tabitha shook her head and sighed. "Don't you have something technical to do?" she asked.
"Nope. We finished running the new nitrogen lines last night," he told her. "The 1000 MCM power cables will run almost zero percent friction. When we fire the system up, we can all go outside and watch the electric meter spin."
Tabitha remembered something from her calculations the night before. "Harv, when we finish testing, replace the power cables with 5000 MCM size."
Harvey whistled. "You think we're gonna draw that much? Corporate's gonna hit the roof when they see the price tag for that change order."
"Do you want to tell Corporate that the power cables melted in the middle of an actual jump if we don't beef them up?"
Harvey ran the possible scenarios in his head and concluded that Tabitha was right. If anything failed during a jump, there'd be serious hell to pay. "I'll order the new cable this afternoon," he told her.
"Good idea, wiseguy." Tabitha stayed within the confines of the doorway, her balled paws on her hips. "Those nitrogen lines are wide enough to handle the increased diameter, aren't they?" she asked him.
Harvey nodded. "The fit won't be that much tighter; the nitrogen'll flow freely enough. Remember too, the 1000 with the nitrogen cooling can handle the load on those lines easily, and we're talking several days up to a couple weeks to get the cable in, pull the 1000 out and run the 5000 in."
Nuts, I didn't think! "We'll know how far we can push it on today's and tomorrow's tests." Harvey stepped in and Tabitha moved aside so two of their peers could pass by in the hall. "I can't believe it's finally going to happen," Tabitha continued. "We've worked so hard on this for so long, and it doesn't feel real yet."
"It will when you make your time jump." Harvey told her as Barbara the ocelot lab manager slipped in past him with her underarm briefcase and morning coffee. "It's a political assassination, so remember to keep your head down."
Tabitha glanced over to the table. In her peripheral vision she saw Barbara casually glancing over her paperwork. While it didn't have anything to do with her actual plans, it did have something to do with her paranoia about her ... well, "deception" is such a strong word ... "alternate plans" perhaps ...
"By the by, have any idea who the two musclemen are?"
Tabitha jumped. She turned her head and looked in the direction Harvey had pointed. Through the one-way glass she saw their boss Dr. Badger in the lobby talking with two very muscular and well-dressed men; one a doberman, the other a Belgian shepherd. She shook her head. "No, never saw them before." And her eyes drifted back toward Barbara, who was casually looking at her paperwork. I know it's not the stuff I have to worry about, but her and her photographic memory ...
Excusing herself from Harvey, Tabitha walked as nonchalantly as she could manage herself back to the conference table. "Morning, Barb." Quickly, she started gathering up her paperwork. "Sorry, I guess I was kinda monopolizing the conference room, wasn't I?"
Barb took a half-step back. "My dad's word for you would've been 'workaholic'," she told her. She watched Tabitha slide her paperwork into her briefcase and spin it around for her ritual to close it. She was aware of Tabitha's minor quirks stemming from her obsessive-compulsive disorder, but politely kept it to herself. "What are you working on now?" she asked.
"Simple stuff this time." Tabitha latched her briefcase and spun it back around. "I'm working on a jump back to last Tuesday so I can pay my telecom bill on time."
Barbara laughed and set her cup and case on table next to Tabitha's seat. "Nervous about going backwards in time?" she asked.
Tabitha shook her head so her ponytail swung back and forth against her back. "Nah. Just anxious. Not scared."
"If I were you, I'd be frightened out of my mind. Excited sure, but I don't think I could ever step into that thing. And no one's ever done this before, remember!"
She was met with a smug nod. "That's what makes it all so exciting! I've dreamed of this for years and now I get to be the first!" And when they find out what I did when I do it, I bet it'll be my last, too!
As they chatted the conference room slowly began filling up. Ezequiel had earlier taken coffee to the guests in the lobby and was now sitting in a seat trying to be as unobtrusive as he could. Harvey slipped into a seat nearest the door. The seat Tabitha had occupied was now taken by Barbara, so she moved next and sat to her, two up from where Badger would sit.
"Good morning everyone."
Badger greeted everyone as he entered; he seemed stiffer than usual, but anyone could simply surmise he was putting on a more professional tone for himself for the benefit of the two dogs that entered with him. They were impeccably dressed; shirts, suits, ties, pressed and starched. Briefcase polished leather. Intimidating as all get out, whatever that means. Their presence brought an edge of tension to the room, a tension Tabitha could have done without.
Harvey turned around and rested an arm on the chair back. "Hey guys," he said with a grin, "you forgot your shades."
Everyone understood Harvey's remark, but the two visitors didn't reply. Instead, the Belgian shepherd reached into his breast pocket, removed a pair of sunglasses, and slid them up the bridge of his nose.
And that edge I mentioned earlier increased.
"You charge a lot for kid's parties?" Harvey asked.
"Harvey," Badger admonished. He quietly spun himself back to the table.
Everybody settled in their chairs and arranged what materials they had brought with them on the tabletop. Tabitha glanced around and noted the positions of the people in attendance, silently counting them as she went.
Dr. Badger cleared his throat to begin the meeting after the doors were shut.
"We'll break from our usual format today so we can hear from company security," he said, nodding to the doberman, who was now on his right.
The second corporate guy opened a briefcase and withdrew a stack of papers, putting the case back on the floor after getting what he needed. He handed the stack to his partner.
"Good morning, I am Michael and my partner here is Frank. We have become aware of an outside company making some inquiries into what we are doing. This concerns the board of directors, given our security mandate.
"We have reviewed the situation and determined that this company which calls itself Kaisha Corporation is asking pointed and leading questions of us and our company, mentioning specific names including team leaders Harvey Rabitt and Tabitha Mustelidae, and direct references to the mobile security system we assigned you."
Barbara leaned back in her seat, her eyes wide with surprise. "The Iron Raptor?? They know about him??"
Michael nodded. "The security office has prepared these handouts for each of you. Please be sure to discuss these in full with the rest of your technical and clerical staff."
He handed the stack to Dr. Badger and indicated he take one and pass the rest around the table.
"In these handouts, you will find a review of our security policy, your responsibilities to maintain project secrecy and a list of situations and topics that are to be avoided at all times. Failure to comply with security policies will result in job termination and criminal charges where appropriate.
"This is a serious matter, people. I do not have to remind any of you what can go wrong if this project becomes common knowledge. We also have to take into consideration the possibility of corporate sabotage."
Everybody looked at each other and buzzed about this new information. Sabotage wasn't out of the question, but as quiet as everyone kept, it simply never occurred to anyone.
"Are there any questions you would like to ask concerning security?" Michael asked, looking at each of them in turn. Nobody had anything to say. "I urge you to read and familiarize yourselves with the information provided," he added, and after thanking everyone for their time both he and Frank stood and left the meeting.
"Cripes, now it's cloak and dagger," Harvey said as the door shut behind the pair.
Badger looked at him critically. "Project security is extremely important, Harvey. They are just doing their jobs."
Harvey flipped through the security packet as he spoke. "I know, but it isn't like we don't get a polygraph, whiz test and psyche screening every other month for this stuff. Why do they think the project staff is the cause of this?"
Badger shook his head. "They wouldn't tell me. You know security types; they don't tell you anything you don't need to know."
Everyone chuckled. Barbara leaned in to Tabitha and whispered "What's a 'whiz test'?"
Suppressing a smile, Tabitha leaned in and whispered back "Your urine specimen."
"Oh," Barbara nodded, then she looked at Harvey. "Eewww!"
"On to matters more pressing," Badger continued, setting his handout aside. "Harvey, are we ready for testing and operation?"
Harvey glanced at Tabitha before answering. "Testing yes, operation will have to wait a few more days."
Badger looked concerned. "Why?"
Harvey nodded across the table. "Our resident genius and all-around babe wants a larger safety margin on the power handling capabilities. I agree with her assessment. Couldn't hurt to be safe than sorry."
Badger scribbled a note on his legal pad. "I thought that was why we invested so much time and money in the nitrogen cooling system for the power cables. That and to hopefully prevent a repetition of the plasma explosion."
"I was thinking more for later repetitive use," Tabitha chimed in. "When we finally go public with our time travel system we may run multiple jumps during a day, both out and back. With that in consideration, I have serious doubts the 1000 MCM can handle the load."
Badger closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "How long and how much will it cost?" he asked tiredly.
"A week and ten grand, tops," Harvey said easily. "I'll have the exact figures in writing before lunch."
Badger looked at him and then at Tabitha. "Have you completed the calculations we need?" he asked.
Tabitha nodded. "Finished them last night. All ready for simulation," she said brightly. "We just need to burn The Box and plug it in."
Badger turned to the lab manager. "Barbara, please notify the backup team of the change in operational schedule and prepare a budget change order with Harvey on the power system modifications. I need it by this afternoon so we can get started tomorrow."
He leaned back in his chair and looked at Tabitha carefully. "I have an announcement that may come as a surprise to everybody," he said by way of a preamble. "Tabitha, I'm sorry, but you will be replaced by a Michael Ursa for the initial time jump."
The room came alive with a surprised chorus of demands for explanations.
"Please, everyone! One at a time!" Badger yelled, trying to regain control of the meeting.
Tabitha leaned forward and glared at him. "What the hell is going on here!? I'm supposed to make this jump, why pull a fast one this late in the game?" she demanded angrily.
"What she said," added Harvey.
Badger had expected this response, knowing how badly Tabitha wanted to do this. "The decision came from higher up than me," he stated, and foolishly hoped he could leave it at that.
"What kind of excuse is that?" Barbara demanded.
Badger glanced irritably at her unblinking eyes before continuing. "I was overridden at each level," he confided. "Corporate decided that a historian would be a better choice, considering what we are doing. Added to that he is Canadian, he was nearby when the Deputy Minister was assassinated, he's already familiar with the event ... "
"This sucks," Harvey said, crossing his arms and scowling at the table. "We put our heart and soul into this, Tabitha more than anyone! And then get screwed royally when it counts. Heluva way to inspire loyalty, if you ask me," he spat.
Badger and the others continued to discuss this turn of events heatedly. Tabitha, however, sat quietly, her mind busy trying to figure out a way to bypass the decision and said nothing. The meeting blended into the background as she thought, plotted, and rehearsed what she wanted to say and how to say it all when the meeting was over ...
"I must admit that I still have my doubts about the moral implications of what we're doing with this project," Badger stated, looking at the middle of the table. Tabitha felt her muscles jump; the change in topic broke her out of her reverie.
"This again?" Harvey asked with disgust.
Badger looked at him critically. "Morally and ethically, this is a tremendously important question, Harvey. Would you insult God by altering what He has ordained?"
Tabitha perked up in her chair. I wonder if I can use this argument to my advantage.
"God gives us free will," Tabitha reminded them both. She was almost distracted by the tiny sigh from Barbara on her left. "We have the right to try and do whatever we want; He won't stop us."
Badger shook his head vigorously. "Harvey, just because we can do something that offends God, doesn't mean He will stop us. That is for us to decide and us to stop."
Barbara tuned them out. It was the same topic that had been discussed at several meetings. She felt as Harvey did and had let Badger know during the first several meetings. Now, she tuned them out and went over her paperwork while the argument raged around them.
"You remember the plasma explosion in our lab almost three years ago?" Badger asked Harvey. "It took out all of our equipment and the east wall of the building, killed seven of our people and two passers-by, Barbara and Tabitha's predecessors ... "
"I remember," Harvey told Badger. "You and I were in this conference room when the number two high voltage line shorted and set the plasma off."
"And we could've said then 'God wants us to stop'. But, and to use your reasoning, He didn't stop us from rebuilding the system. We even made it better."
Harvey turned to face Dr. Badger more directly. "Well then, maybe He's happy with our progress. How do you know that we actually are insulting God? And if we use it for good and noble purposes, how can it be an insult?"
Badger's face cringed into what was almost a scowl; Harvey's tone was very nearly stepping over the line into sarcasm. "That's circular reasoning and you know it, Harvey," Badger retorted.
Tabitha could feel she lost her chance. The decision had been made. The up side was that Badger's reservations would not stop the company from carrying out this project. If he persisted and tried to block their progress, he could be replaced. That was the down side; Tabitha needed him in charge of this project so she could do what had to be done. If Badger was removed, Tabitha would be promoted and automatically lose her chance at the time jump.
Barbara scowled at the badger and rabbit arguing on the other side of the table. "Boys," she interrupted, "while this debate is interesting on several levels, we have a meeting to discuss project needs going on here. Do you mind continuing this in private after the meeting?"
Tabitha snickered. Barbara was a born lab manager. She knew just the right time to move things along.
"Sure thing, Babs," Harvey said with a grin and a wink at her.
"My apologies, Barbara," Dr. Badger offered.
"These meetings are starting to resemble gatherings of theologians instead of scientists," she chided. "The task at paw has not changed. We have a tight schedule and we cannot afford to get sidetracked at the last minute. Maybe we can schedule some time for this topic after the test."
Badger nodded at her assessment and Harvey gave her the thumbs-up. "Happy hour," he suggested. "Best time. We can get the whole bar in on it."
The tension eased after that, even Tabitha couldn't stifle a giggle. "Very well then," Badger said, again taking the reigns. "Any other matters relating to the project that we need to cover?" He looked at her notes, then around the room.
Everybody shook their head. "Then let's get back to work," he stated briskly, placing his open paws on the table to stand.
Each of the meeting attendees gathered their notes and the handouts together and stood up. They filed into the hallway. Harvey was talking to his techs and Dr. Badger was discussing something with Barbara long enough for Tabitha to become seriously irritated; she wanted to talk to him now. Scooping up her briefcase she angrily strode to the door of the conference room. She let all who were leaving go before her so she could reach up and touch the door frame on her way out without being seen.
Tabitha's anger at being replaced was gnawing at her and she didn't feel like talking to anyone right now. She set her face in a scowl and headed directly to her office.