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.
Mark reached for the final access cover. The hum of the control system next to him was beginning to get on his nerves to the point that his spotted tail was twitching. He set the DIP switches that took the board he was studying out of test mode and removed the analyzer leads from the fibre optic interface. After locking the cover in place, he put his gear in a carry-all and slung it over his shoulder to went to put it in the storage locker.
Barbara passed him in the hallway outside on her way in. She saw Paul and Psycho wheeling an empty wooden crate past the heavy metal wall that separated the portal from the rest of the room. Behind her, and approaching steadily, was the Iron Raptor.
It amazed Barbara, and everyone else, how something that tall and solidly built could move so quietly and with such agility. Her sensitive feline hearing picked up his mechanical footfalls amongst the clatter of the lab as he came nearer.
"Good morning, Miss Barbara," it said to her. Barbara quickly swished her tail to one side to avoid his heavy metal foot.
"Morning, I. R.," she replied, never sure if it would be impolite not to reply to what was obviously a very noninanimate object!
"Everything is secure in this area," he said in as natural a voice as he could synthesize. "All members stationed are either present or accounted for."
Barbara nodded politely.
"Please forgive the poor grammar Miss. My heuristic programming picks up on everyone's colloquial manners of speech and I tend to emulate it."
The Iron Raptor's apology for poor grammar made Barbara grin for a moment. That's two sentences in a row he ended in a preposition! Maybe he was programmed that way, maybe not; either way, it did make it easier to interact with him … it.
"I have fresh coffee, Miss." Iron Raptor lowered his mechanical right arm to what looked like an old-fashioned codpiece and slid a small panel open. He extended a lined metal tube. "Would you care for a cup?" he asked.
"No, thank you," Barbara declined with a grimace. "Couldn't they have found a better place to put the spigot?"
"It was the only available place," Iron Raptor explained as he retracted the coffee spout. "The placement keeps my gelatin memory at a constant temperature, and the placement of the sealed reservoir is mandatory so condensation does not harm the toner."
Barb didn't know the detailed internal layout of the Iron Raptor as she pondered that, but still tried to imagine it. All she knew what that he was originally designed as a war machine, and being reassigned to a more civilian role did leave an awful lot of space going to waste inside him … it ... whatever.
The Iron Raptor continued speaking, completely unflustered at the previous topic of their conversation. "You have two faxes waiting in memory. Apparently your boyfriend has been experimenting with a new camera and a dresser mirror -- "
"Thank you!" Barbara took a fast look both ways in the corridor, then, in a loud whisper, "Stop reading my faxes!"
The Iron Raptor's shoulders moved up and down in a shrugging motion. Just as he opened his mechanical muzzle to explain his system looked at these things automatically and he had no choice, Barbara turned and walked quickly to the Temporal Central Complex.
Through all of the chattering, one could almost hear a combined hum from the overhead power cables and the massive transformers within the equipment consoles. The two that made up most of the actual portal were idle, and when they came on to create the artificial wormhole to the past, that was when it was all going to come together.
Harvey checked the code number written on the side of the module over Dr. Badger's signature, set the rear end into the decoder, and pushed the module and its contacts into place with a definitive clack as the spring-loaded locking latch snapped shut.
Paul stepped away from the rear console. "Why am I so nervous?" he asked while flexing his fingers open and closed.
"Because tomorrow is D-Day," Harvey reminded him while writing the module number on the log sheet of his acrylic clipboard. "Do me a favor, fire up the number one generator."
"Our backup?" Paul asked. "But why?"
"So we have no potential of a power failure during the final test. Remember, someone we think a hell of a lot of is stepping into this monster tomorrow. I don't know about you, but I don't want a thing left to chance."
Paul had to agree with his boss' assessment and nodded. He walked to a rear console and opened a panel to two large recessed red buttons. He pressed the left with his thumb and a moment later, everyone watched the lights in the room brighten just a bit with the added power. As he looked over the console at the readings in front of him, Harvey picked up his clipboard and walked around the main panel, coming up to stand beside Barbara.
"Final test," he told her. "Where's that Dick Badger?"
"I think he's still in his office," she said. "The door's closed; he must be talking to Corporate."
Harvey nodded. "Not surprised. After the panning Tabitha probably gave him I'd be surprised if he still only had one place to do his business." He removed three sheets as he talked and motioned Iron Raptor closer.
"Who can blame her? If it were me, I'd have taken Corporate to task myself."
When it had arrived, Harvey opened the chest plate and laid the sheets against a horizontal guide. "Four copies of each, please, I.R. and top off my coffee while you're at it."
Small rubber rollers dropped atop the first page and Iron Raptor immediately pulled the first sheet in, followed by the hint of a green light flickering from inside as the robot stepped over to the console and filled Harvey's coffee mug.
Harvey shook his head. "You know Tabitha. Still, she got her way; she's going."
Barbara looked toward the door again. "When she was a kid," she said, "I bet she was a fat, spoiled kid."
"Not with that grown-up body."
"You and your hormones."
Harvey stroked one of his ears. "I've got long ears," he told Barbara. "You know what they say about rabbits with long ears, don't you?"
Barbara crossed her arms. "That they're inversely proportional to their I.Q.'s?"
"Ha ha, how droll." He looked past her shoulder to see the box was where it belonged. "Mice don't sound too loud in there," he commented.
"That's because we didn't put them in yet," Barbara told him. "Ezequiel is bringing them from my office. And if you hurt one hair on their bodies … "
"They're rodents, Barbara." Harvey said with distaste. He accepted his originals and copies from Iron Raptor, and just as Barbara pointed her finger at him, Harvey pointed his back at her. "Not one word!"
Harvey walked over to the crate just as Ezequiel entered with a cage with two white lab mice scurrying around in the cedar chips, and one brown one who seemed keenly interested on where they were going.
"Over here, Eze," Harvey called and flagged him over. Harvey took the cage, and watched Barbara from over his shoulder and he gently lowered them inside.
"Oh my GOD! The bottom came open; they're LOOSE!!"
"What?!?" Barbara ran up to the crate, and just missed Harvey when she saw her mice were okay and took a swipe at him, chasing him down the ramp in front of his laughing technical crew.
"Fire the system up one more time, ladies and gents!" Harvey bellowed as he reached the bottom of the ramp and saw that everybody was clear.
Ezequiel darted out of the portalway to stand and watch with the other junior technicians. Paul walked up and leaned into the crate to set a small electronic beacon next to the cage while behind him, Harvey and Barbara were overseeing what had become routine to them. When the last red light turned green, Harvey slid the control up that energized the twin transformers.
The dampers in the next room were working, but the heavy electrical sound was loud and clear in the complex. Hypnotically everyone watched the portal begin to form, twisting in a counterclockwise motion and filling in from the center a white light, clear in the very center and pulsating, pulsating with pure energy, enveloping everything to the edge of the entryway into time …
"Not close enough!" Psycho yelled.
Barbara looked up and around the partition. Sure enough, the crate with the mice and the locator beacon sat out of reach of the open time stream.
"It's just outside the event horizon," she said. Then, calling, "Eze, give it a nudge in, please."
Ezequiel's eyes went wide. He pointed with a wavering finger at the portal. "In there??"
"It's on wheels," Barbara called back. "Just give it a push."
Ezequiel felt his ears stand straight up. He heard one of the others snicker. Straightening his back, he walked past the divider and up to the end of the crate. Just from here, he could feel the edge of his fur tingle from the gateway they'd created. He placed his left paw on the edge, then his right, and miscalculating the weight he pushed and disappeared with everything else!
"Oh, shit!" Harvey yelled.
Well, words to that effect, anyway.
" … with the plan to warn her and prevent the accident that she died from."
Tabitha spoke into the tiny microphone of her headset in a quiet voice. She'd always had the paranoia of her office having a monitoring device of some sort, and she tried to calm those fears by convincing herself she'd watched too much television growing up. She ran a finger up the handle of her coffee mug and spun it clockwise before picking it up and taking a long drink, following the swallow with a long sigh to relax herself. Tabitha continued:
"Her husband, Chris, is staying at my condo, apartment six ay two. He has no … correct that … he currently has no knowledge of what I'm doing. If I succeed, he may never know. If I don't … well, that's why I'm leaving this record -- "
The knocking on the glass of her door broke her concentration. "Sleep," she said quickly, then touched the screen to bring up the other document she was supposed to be writing. "Come on in!" she called.
Richard Badger opened the door and stuck his head in. "Tabitha," he said, "when you get a moment, I want you to come to my office, please."
Tabitha felt her stomach tug at her. "Sure … ah, what for?" she asked.
"As soon as you're free, please," he reiterated and closed the door.
Tabitha buried her face in her paws. "Oh, God. He knows. He's got my office wired, he heard everything, I'm screwed. Again." She pulled her paws down her face and over her muzzle. As her initial reaction faded, her rational mind added, "Maybe not. It may just be my paranoia."
Tabitha turned her chair to look out of the window again. She took a breath and looked up at the blue sky. Then at the pictures on her credenza: one in particular. "I'm doing this," she said with determination. "Come Hell or high water." A pause. "Unless I'm out of work today."
With a heavier sigh this time she turned back to the screen and touched its edge to bring up her earlier work. Then she checked the position of her microphone. "Wake up," she said peremptorily.
Iron Raptor's eyes glowed a brilliant red as his defense and rescue program engaged. He began moving with increasing speed toward the origin of the distress cry and Harvey and Mark barely managed to stop him by blocking his access to the portal.
"No!" Harvey said. "Abort function and enter standby mode!" He turned his head and shouted in the direction of the portal. "Eze! Stop shouting for help! We're on it!"
The Iron Raptor stopped in his tracks, his eyes still glowing. He still had not accepted Harvey's override of his programming.
"It's all right, big fella. It's a false alarm." Harvey began petting its nose. "Steady, boy, steady."
Iron Raptor's eyes returned to normal. "Mister Harvey," it said, "please stop that."
Barbara had run up to the spot where Ezequiel had been just a moment ago. "Ezequiel?" she called into the time stream. "Ezequiel, are you okay?"
"Please Doctor Barbara, get me out!" his panicked voice floated back through.
Harvey, meanwhile, couldn't help being both concerned and amused by the whole thing. He turned to the technicians. "Somebody go back to yesterday, please, and get Ezequiel."
On the other side, Ezequiel was beginning to recognize his surroundings. He could hear Barbara's voice speaking to him in a calming tone, "Eze, you can see the other end of the portal. Just walk back through it."
Still quaking, Ezequiel yelled back, "I'm not walking into that!"
Barbara stood up and looked at Harvey, who was still chuckling. "Fat load of help you are," she scolded him.
"Doctor Barbara, I'm only out on the front lawn! I'll just come in."
"No!" Barbara warned. "No, you can't do that. Listen, you're in yesterday. You have to come back this way."
"But I don't want to!"
Barbara crossed her arms and stared into the portal in frustration. Harvey walked over to her. "Eze," he said, "you just did it. That means you can do it again. Now come on."
Ezequiel stared at the throbbing light. He tried to take a step toward it. Squatting a bit, he peered into it. "I can hear you Harvey, but I can't see you."
"That's because you're thirty hours away from me."
Barbara turned her head. "No, it isn't."
Harvey pointed into the portal. "You explain the dynamics to him, then." To Ezequiel, "Come on, Eze, follow my voice. You can do it!"
Eze too a step toward it … then another …
In a lower voice, Harvey added, "Eze, if you don't come through now, I'll send the big bad cyborg in after you."
Ezequiel took his mark and dashed headlong into the mass and knocked Harvey and Barbara onto their backs.
"Shut it off!" Barbara yelled.
Harvey looked up into the young raccoon's face. "You okay?" he asked.
Ezequiel nodded nervously.
"Do you want to see the doctor?"
"Si." More nodding. "Y-yes, maybe I better."
"You can get off of me now."
Ezequiel looked at Harvey and jumped off of him as fast as he could to the laughter of everyone watching. Harvey just got up and smiled, giving Eze a tap on the arm. "Go see the doc," he said, then, "Nobody - and I mean nobody! -- says a word about what just happened to Tabitha!"
Barbara looked at Mark, who was watching an indicator. "Beacon's signal is strong, eh," he announced.
"Let's go see!" With Barbara leading the way, everyone dashed down the hallway to the lobby and out of the front door onto the lawn.
And there it was.
"Big as life, and twice as ugly," Harvey said sardonically. He followed Barbara over to the crate where she retrieved her mice. She lifted the cage to eye level and looked at her small charges.
"Safe and sound," she said with a smile.
"What's that?" Harvey said as he leaned over Barbara's shoulder and stretched his ear towards the cage. "Are they saying 'forty-two'?"
"What?" Barbara asked, looking confused. "They're not saying anything - they're mice."
"Never mind. Obscure literary reference." He leaned against the open crate. "Looks like we done it," he announced.
"Yup." Barbara wiggled a finger between two bars of the cage at one of the mice.
"Now," Harvey said, "who gets to go in and bring it back?"