a story by
(c) 1999, 2000 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, and Wendy Vixxen (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) Himself. Character Psychofrog (c) Himself. 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) Gateway Computers.
Tabitha stalked back to her office and slammed the door shut behind her, throwing her briefcase onto the floor beside her table, the breeze sending the top two pages fluttering toward the floor. She smacked her coffee mug on her desk and paced, fuming, shaking with suppressed rage.
"How could you do that to me!" she nearly screamed! "You knew how much I wanted to do this! You knew full well I have to go!" She came to a stop in the middle of her office and looked for something to smash to vent her anger. Seeing nothing that she could do without, she put her fingertips to her temples, closed her eyes, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She did this several more times and felt her anger dissipate slightly.
Opening her eyes, Tabitha stormed to her chair and fell into it. As her mind calmed, she felt the headache come on, and it wasn't in the mood to take prisoners. Reaching into her top right drawer she took two aspirins from the bottle and washed them down with the cold coffee that remained in her mug from before the meeting. Idly, she counted the tablets in the clear bottle. Periodically she would tip the bottle, jumbling the tablets, and start counting again. With the tip of her left foot she set her chair in motion toward the window. Feeling a cramp in the base of her tail, she shifted to adjust herself and settled back. Tabitha stared through the glass over her credenza, toward the trees of the woods beyond the grassy clearing. As she calmed her eyes shifted from the exterior view to the interior view, focusing on the framed pictures of her family.
The aspirin hadn't quite started its job yet. Tabitha set the bottle on the corner of the credenza and looked at the row of people who had meant so much to her. Her mother's picture was the newest, standing next to the one Tabitha had taken with her a handful of months ago. The one in the middle was one of her favorites: it was one of her mother with her father at their 35th wedding anniversary party, both caught in mid-laugh at something that must've been the funniest thing they'd ever heard. What made the picture special to Tabitha, though, was that while they were laughing at whatever they were laughing at, they were holding hands with their fingers interlaced. They absolutely loved each other.
Tabitha sighed. Her headache was still there, but her mind wasn't on it. The picture she had been avoiding was next to the one of her parents, and just slightly behind. Tabitha leaned forward and pulled it the few inches toward her so she could look at it unobstructed. She could feel her heart move into her throat as she looked at the photograph of her sister's small family. Sabrina sat with Chris behind her left shoulder, their then-eight-year-old son Alan standing on her left side with his left paw on top of her folded ones. Tabitha studied Alan's young face. He was born with Chris' vulpine features and temperament, and Sabrina's softer fur and creative nature. Chris' wish was to name their firstborn -- provided it were a boy -- Christopher Robin Foxx II; but when Sabrina had miscarried their first baby, he was content for her to name him, and she did, after her and Tabitha's maternal grandfather. Her next miscarriage had guaranteed him to be an only child.
Sabrina had never talked about that and Tabitha never asked her sister how it had affected her. Tabitha remembered seeing Sabrina watching Alan play with his friends on several occasions and the pain in Sabrina's eyes was obvious only to those that loved her.
Tabitha closed her eyes to regain some control over the emotions that were about to consume her. "Sometimes I wonder if Richard's right," Tabitha wondered aloud. "Maybe I'm not supposed to try this." She looked at the two-dimensional picture of her elder sister again. "Maybe you died for a reason I don't understand yet."
Tabitha winced when she felt her eyes overflow and a tear found its way down each cheek. And she felt her resolve grow stronger. As her head began to throb again she wiped her eyes with the palms of her paws and leaned her chair back, looking at a point beyond the ceiling.
"Lord," she said, "if I'm really not supposed to go back and try this, then please blow up our lab again. Otherwise, sniffle and please forgive me, I'm going."
Harvey walked through the door and into the Temporal Central Complex. The original design team had decided that sounded better than "The Time Portal Room"; more technically impressive. Some wags had created a sign that said TARDIS and placed it over the entrance, and that went up with the original incomplete system and rear third of their building three years ago. He still called it "Lab", even though the experiments were long done and over with.
Harvey walked past the window to the lunchroom. Through it he saw the Iron Raptor, their mobile security system, nearly six and a half feet of metal and electronics built into the shape of a bipedal dinosaur that could easily win any confrontation by sheer intimidation by its height, refilling the coffee machine. Taking the next left, Harvey walked through the open door.
"Yoi!" Harvey made a wide overhead sweeping motion with his arm and the folder he carried. "Gather 'round, youngsters!" As the techs gathered around he took a swallow from his ceramic mug and set it on top of one of the consoles that would very soon make the system work.
"Only gonna take a few minutes, everyone," he announced. He took a mental headcount. "Where's the frog?" he asked.
A beaver turned around. "Hey, Psycho!" he yelled.
From the ceiling, Psychofrog hung from one of the nitrogen cooling lines, his legs wrapped around the insulation around the plastic pipe. "Be right there!" he called back, pulling himself closer to the seam he was wrapping.
Harvey took a step closer and leaned between the beaver and the panther. "That was supposed to be done last night, you slacker!" he scolded.
"We'd run out of plenum tape!" Psychofrog answered. "This is the last one." He cut the tape and let the roll drop to the floor, and smoothed it over the seam. He brought his arms up and shinnied along the line to the ladder, pausing long enough to snag a fly from the ceiling with his tongue before climbing down to join his peers.
Now Harvey's headcount was complete. "I'm gonna make this short and sweet," he started. "Someone on the team is saying stuff he or she shouldn't be saying. Apparently someone's trying to pry into what we're doing here. They're playing the game by dropping some of our names and hoping we'll slip and give them more information. We may even have someone planted here, so don't be surprised if we all get re-screened."
The murmurs of decent weren't kind at all. "They're not saying we're responsible!" the panther said. "No way!"
"Just my observation, Paul," Harvey explained. "The information came from somewhere, and where else could it have come from except from any of us here, or from Corporate." He pointed his folder for emphasis. "I expect everyone on my team to co-operate no matter what way they go. Keep your muzzles shut, don't even say a word to your wives, mistresses, girlfriends, boyfriends, anyone. 'nuff said."
The frog they called Psycho spoke up. "Maybe whoever it is is from the future," he said. "That means everything works."
Even Harvey had to laugh with everyone at that one. "Could be," he said. "But the consequences aren't nice, so like I said, traps shut.
"Next item: we're going to be changing the power cabling." He already saw the jaws dropping. "We're going to 5000 size, so consider yourselves well warned in advance." He turned to the cheetah. "They're testing today, we're jumping tomorrow. Please assure Barbara and me that everything's in order and ready to fly."
"Everything's ready, eh," Mark assured him. "I just have to yank my test equipment and put the access panels back."
"Be sure everything's wiped down and looks pretty for Corporate when they come by for the Grand Tour," Harvey warned. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were here for the premier use tomorrow."
"Should we even be doing this?" Psychofrog asked. "Y'know, considering what can happen when we change history ... "
Harvey sighed. "Now don't you start! We're not here to change history, we're here to study it. Or so they tell me. Something I should've reminded them in the meeting." He said the last bit half under his breath.
Suddenly all of them jumped when they heard a door slam and glass rattle in the distance. Everyone turned their eyes toward the door. Harvey automatically turned to look too, even though the view out the door was the opposite wall. Only one person it can be, he thought, remembering how angry Tabitha was at the bombshell dropped in the meeting. Turning back, he got everyone's attention. "That's all I got, any questions?"
A couple of heads shook, but no one said anything. "Okay, we're testing after lunchtime today. We're bringing hot food in about 11:30, so no one goes anywhere. Back to work."
The technicians broke up, business and small talk resumed almost immediately. Harvey looked out the door, thinking of visiting Tabitha. Best to give her time to cool down, he surmised, and went to see if the coffee was done.
Tabitha pushed her chair back and forth with her middle toe on the carpet, staring at the yellow plastic and metal box in her hands. She turned it over one way, then another, then another still. She studied the two rows of metal contacts protruding from the bottom, the two forged signatures surrounding her own, the forged date from almost five weeks ago ...
It was her ticket to January 2011, before her sister Sabrina's death.
sigh "I wonder if I could have accomplished it in only two days, anyway." She turned it right-side up and traced her finger back and forth slowly over her handwritten name, the only legitimate one there. The others she had scanned from the module that had the time data for the actual trip to 2015 Ontario and fixed into place on the side. The melancholy Tabitha was feeling acted like a weight that pulled on her from the inside and made her heart sink toward her feet.
And at the knock-knock-knocking on her office door, Tabitha muttered something one would normally hear on a golf course; she wasn't in the mood for visitors. She turned and could make out the outline of a tall rabbit standing on the other side, who was now using the knuckles of both hands to play the drum beat from their mutually favorite song from the band Et Al. With a forced smirk Tabitha slid the module into her middle desk drawer, and after several seconds called "Come on in, Harvey."
Her door cracked open, and Tabitha watched a white ear appear. Harvey waved it up and down saying "Don't shoot, it's only me!"
Tabitha leaned back in her chair. Don't make me smile, Harvey, I'm not in the mood to! Harvey stuck his whole head in. "Feel like some company?" he asked, letting himself the rest of the way in and closing the door behind him.
Silently, Tabitha extended her arm and pointed to her second favorite chair with her open left hand. Harvey noticed her slightly pained expression and tried to ease into breaking the ice. "Are you okay Tab? You look under the weather." He settled into the long frame of the chair opposite her.
"Just a headache. It'll pass. I took some aspirin." She forced a wan smile. "See, I'm feeling better already."
"Tabitha," he said reproachfully, "I can tell when you aren't being completely honest with me."
"Oh, all right," she confessed, "I have a stress headache. Badger took me by surprise at the meeting, that's all."
Harvey snorted. "He took us all by surprise. Want me to rough him up for you?"
Tabitha giggled, surprising herself. "Nah, thanks anyway," she said, waving off Harvey's offer. "I'll try to talk to him alone, see what I can accomplish that way."
"There's no fun that way," Harvey said, folding his arms.
Before she answered, Tabitha had a thought. "You don't suppose it has anything to do with what the security men were talking about, do you?"
Harvey raised an eyebrow. "Interesting thought."
Tabitha leaned forward and rested her hands on her desk. "You don't think they think it's me, do you?"
Harvey shook his head "If they or our Dick Badger thought that," he said, "they'd have led you away by now. In handcuffs. Granted, that part wouldn't be so bad ... "
"My ex-wife never thought so."
Finally Tabitha cracked a smile and laughed. "Thanks Harv, I needed that. You're a good friend."
"Don't tell my tech staff," he said, getting up to leave. "I've got them used to my being a taskmaster, and I don't wanna ruin my rep."
Harvey winked at Tabitha and turned to the door. A rapping occurred just as he opened the door.
"Oh," said a startled Richard Badger. "Hi, Harvey."
"Hi, Dick," Harvey replied.
"Richard," Badger corrected as he and Harvey passed each other in the doorway.
"Dick," Harvey said under his breath, missing Badger turning toward him as he pulled the door closed behind him.
Tabitha glared. "What do you want, Di -- Richard?" she asked in a tone that brooked no love toward him.
Badger had gone over what he wanted to say, but it had depended on her being more receptive to his being there than she was. "I was hoping you'd stick around after the meeting," he told her.
Tabitha walked around her desk. "Why?" she asked enroute to her bathroom to splash some water on her face. "So you could humiliate me more? Maybe another knife to the back?"
"Tabitha, it couldn't be helped," Badger explained, now raising his voice to be heard over the sound of running water. "Corporate decided if they were making the investment, they wanted to get the most for their money. You've got to agree it makes sense."
Tabitha rinsed her face, turned off the water, and fluffed her fur with a soft towel. "I agree it makes sense," she countered, "I also agree we decided I was going to make the jump. Richard, it was carved in stone!"
Richard Badger opened his arms and made a subtle shrug. Tabitha remained quiet and waited to see what he was going to say.
Badger looked at Tabitha and thought of how much the project had benefited from her talents and dedication. He tried to push that line of thinking from his mind though. Despite her position as his vice-administrator, he was her supervisor, after all.
"Tabitha," he began, "I understand that you are upset over the reassignment."
"You're damned right I'm upset!" She balled the towel and threw it for emphasis on the table, knocking over pages of a newspaper she'd left open two days ago. "This was supposed to be my jump! We had agreed and gotten approval from Corporate months ago!"
Her tone of voice told him that she was seething with anger at the switch the higher-ups had pulled on her.
It seems that all I do nowadays is take abuse from the people involved with this project, he thought. It was extremely exhausting and he was getting tired of it.
"Tabitha," he said as sternly as he could manage, "You knew that your assignment was tentative and that you could be replaced if someone more qualified was available."
Tabitha surged forward. "Don't give me that crap! I was granted final approval and you know it. Does this Ursa guy have any background in quantum physics? What is he supposed to do if there are problems? Wait around for a few years and keep his muzzle shut?"
Badger folded his arms and straightened his back, a technique that never seemed to fail with everyone else ... well, except for Harvey and Tabitha, usually. "And what would he be able to do if he did have a background in quantum physics?" he asked her, narrowing his eyes to meet hers.
"Then he could build a signal device to let us find him!"
That threw him off.
"Without the temporal physics and engineering knowledge he's screwed!" Tabitha yelled, not fazed for an instant. "But he doesn't, he's a damned historian! I am the only one with the skills to make changes in the field if necessary. Do you want to lose the first person you send back in time?"
Badger didn't have a fast answer for that argument.
"That sure would make good press! Can you see those headlines? 'Time traveler lost, whereabouts unknown'," Tabitha told Badger, using her open right hand to emphasize the bold print in the air.
The badger's face remained unchanged. His mind, however, screamed at him: Why hadn't I thought of that? The static tests were successful, that much was true. But risking everything on the first jump was folly. Tabitha has a point here. If they lost the historian, the project might possibly never recover, especially with people from Corporate in attendance, and sure as anything someone would bring a member of the press; they'd been chomping at the bit for the last year to see a return on their stockholders' investment sometime soon.
Badger looked thoughtful and Tabitha leaned back on the edge of her table slightly, forcing herself to relax. Her tail remained tightly curled.
"Tabitha, you may be onto something here," he said cautiously. "We need to know that we can, in fact, reach a specific point in time." He shrugged again. "At least, it's as good an excuse as I can come up with. I think that I can make the case for a temporary delay while you perform the first jump to test the system and troubleshoot any failures before we go public with this."
Tabitha allowed herself a glimmer of hope but kept her face set carefully neutral and forcing her tail not to swish in the excitement of what may only be an empty victory. She knew that to antagonize him further would do no good for her cause.
"How much of a delay were you thinking?" she asked.
"A week should do. That will allow you to make the jump and return and let us fine-tune the system for use." He held up a paw. "I think you're right on top of this subject but I still have to make the case to Corporate. They may not see things the same way as we do," he cautioned.
Tabitha could feel a small bit of relief at her victory. All I need is tomorrow! "The two things they fear the most are losing a time traveler in front of the world press or failing to put one at the correct point in time," she thought out loud. "Therefore, the best approach would be to point out their liability in case of failure in addition to tipping our hand on what is going on here. With the security breaches, that could give this Kaisha outfit more information than we can risk."
Richard Badger folded his arms and rested his chin on his chest as he thought about her assessment. Presently, he lifted his head and nodded. "I think you're right. I'll arrange a meeting right away to present our thoughts on this. He stepped closer and looked at her, closer than was usual for him. "There is a good chance that our arguments will fall on deaf ears, Tabitha. You must prepare yourself for that possibility also."
Tabitha sighed with emotional fatigue. "Richard, I want this more than you can know. I have to go first."
Tabitha hedged, not wanting to let anything slip about her plan. "Call it a deep-seated urge I've had since I was a little girl," she told him. "This is something I've always wanted to do. That's why I've worked so hard for so many years. I can't have this taken away from me, not now."
"I wish your enthusiasm would rub off on more people around her," he commented.
His final word made Tabitha smile finally. "I bet Harvey could rough 'em up if you need it." She walked him to the door. "Thanks, Richard" she said as he was leaving her office. "I appreciate it."
Badger merely nodded without answering and he continued down the hall.
Tabitha pushed the door closed slowly and leaned on the door handle. She closed her eyes, and slowly a very large smile connected her cheeks and forced her headache away.