a story by
(c) 1999, 2000 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, 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 straightened her skirt and took a deep cleansing breath. She stepped up to the office door and knocked. Sticking her head through the doorway, she said, “You wanted to see me, Richard?”
Doctor Badger beckoned Tabitha inside. “Come on in. Close the door behind you.”
Badger removed his headset as Tabitha tapped the high point of the doorframe and turned around to close the door, using this moment to swallow. She learned back in her freshman psychology classes that if someone is intimidated, they give themselves away with that little swallow, and Tabitha had every intention of keeping the deck stacked in her favor however she could.
“Have a seat.”
Tabitha slid easily into a chair in front of the desk, crossing her ankles and shifting her legs to one side so her right foot wouldn’t make her leg jump up and down. She draped her tail over the arm and felt her heart beat a mile a minute.
Badger smiled. “Nervous about tomorrow?” he asked.
Oh, thank God! “Well, yeah, maybe a little,” Tabitha replied. “Maybe just anxious to make the jump and get it done. Sure, it’s not going to make the media for a few months or so, but I’ll know I was the first!”
Now Doctor Badger rose from his chair and walked around his desk. “I have to tell you, Tabitha, it’s been wonderful having someone with your passion on this project.” As he walked behind her chair, Tabitha kept her eyes dead forward. “I hope you can forgive me for our little ‘disagreement’ earlier.”
The sound of glasses clinking in the background caught Tabitha’s attention. “Uh, sure … I mean, I appreciate you’re seeing my point of view … ” As she turned to look over her shoulder she saw Badger closing the door to his small refrigerator and holding a chilled bottle of red wine.
“Absolutely. I wish I could be the one going myself, but Corporate decided they have too much invested in me. So, maybe next trip.” He walked over to sit in the seat beside Tabitha, and set the stemmed glasses on his desktop. Taking the corkscrew he brought with him, he set to removing the cork from the bottle.
“I’m a traditionalist,” he explained as he tugged on the corkscrew, “and I figure there’s no tradition like a new tradition.” The cork slid from the bottle with a pop, and he set it behind the glasses. “To insure good luck, we’ll simply have to drink to it.”
“You?” Tabitha said with a tiny laugh, her upper chest now starting to relax, “You, believing in luck? My God, whatever next!”
“Laugh if you want to,” Badger said as he poured. “But I think it’d be a nice thing to start.”
Tabitha watched the level of the second glass rise. “I never would’ve thought that of you,” she said to him.
Badger handed her a glass by the stem. “There’re a lot of things about me you don’t know about me.” He picked up his glass and held it aloft. “To a successful jump, and your safe return.”
Tabitha held her glass out and they clinked together. They each took a sip and sat back into their chairs, Tabitha relaxing more now, not realizing she was lowering her guard.
“Remember when you first came here?” her boss asked her. “You had so much enthusiasm, and you were so naïve. Do you remember your first encounter with our Iron Raptor?”
“Do I!” Tabitha exclaimed. “That thing scared the hell out of me!”
“And you excused yourself when you ran into it.” He took another drink. “You excused yourself to an inanimate object.”
“Listen, that thing is more alive than you realize!” Tabitha took a longer sip of her wine as her mind recounted that day and smiled to herself.
“I remember the big thing you talked about was using the project to try and go back into time and keep your older sister from dying.”
Tabitha stared over the top of her glass, in mid-sip.
“It was a car accident, wasn’t it?”
Lowering her glass, Tabitha nodded, feeling the muscles in her chest contract again. “I hadn’t even turned 18 yet. I remember so clearly answering the phone when my brother-in-law called from the hospital and asked to talk to Mom.”
“When I told you that it was against our rules, you were crushed, I could tell. And you never mentioned it again.”
With a shrug, Tabitha lowered her eyes. “What would’ve been the point?” she said. “You would’ve kept saying ‘no’, and you might’ve released me from the project.”
Badger shook his head. “That is something you needn’t have worried about.” Tabitha raised her eyes again. “Someone with your talents is hard to come by, and after our last administrative physicist you were a godsend. Another reason I kept my own muzzle shut when I see your tiny bouts with your OCD.”
After a longer sip, Tabitha said, “Most people overseeing a top secret project wouldn’t have kept someone obsessive-compulsive on.”
“I had my reasons.” Badger picked up the bottle and topped off their glasses. “You’re a scientific genius. And you’re a very attractive young woman.”
Tabitha smirked. “Thanks. That means a lot to a someone who can feel 40 creeping up on her.”
Badger smiled, and waved Tabitha’s comment off. “I never understood why everyone wants to live to a ripe old age, but as they get older all they do is complain about how depressed they are about how old they’ve become.”
“I think we begin to realize that it means we’re starting to run out of time. As the saying goes, ‘Live every day as if it were your last, because one day you’re going to be right’.”
“Good advice.” Badger took a drink at the same time Tabitha did.
“We all have our dreams of going back in time and changing things … ” Badger swirled the wine in his glass. “What would you change if you could?” he asked, “I mean, besides your sister. Anything?”
Tabitha’s hindbrain reminded her of what she was doing, and the guilt began to rise again. Does he know? she asked herself. Is he trying to trap me? She nodded, shifted her sitting position and held her glass in her lap. “When I was about to graduate from MIT,” she began, a faraway look appearing in her eyes, “I made a really stupid mistake, one of those decisions you regret forever in retrospect.”
Tabitha watched Richard Badger … he was listening! And apparently, with great interest. So she continued, “There was this skunk who was in a couple of my classes, Terl. You think I’m a genius, he was incredible; he could do some amazing things with cybernetics, he understood astrophysics as if it were the simplest thing on Earth. We dated for over a year, became lovers … ” She held her glass higher and watched the wine swirl as she rotated her glass by its stem. “ … right before graduation he asked me to marry him.”
“And?” Badger prompted, although he could sense what she was about to say.
“ … and I turned him down.” She took a slightly bigger drink of her wine this time. “I loved him with all my heart. But I felt that if I married him, I’d lose out on my dreams of working with time travel. He’d pursue his career and his dreams and I’d be at home, or maybe in some mundane research job, wondering how good I would’ve been at it. So, we graduated a couple of days later … and I never saw him again. If I could go back, I think that’s what I’d change.”
Badger closed his eyes halfway and nodded. He was picturing Tabitha in that mundane research laboratory, in the blue lab coat, clipboard … or perhaps in a housewife’s setting, coffee cup in front of her on the kitchen table, children running at her feet … somehow, that fit her even less than the research job. She was too independent, too … attractive …
“What about you?” Tabitha asked, taking another sip. “What would you change?”
Doctor Badger began to squirm uneasily. Taking another drink, he drained his glass and reached for the bottle to refill it.
“I … well, I’d go back and find myself when I was 18, and beat some sense into myself.”
Tabitha raised an eyebrow.
“Y’see … I’m the reason my mother’s dead.”
Tabitha raised both eyebrows, very high. Badger reached forward to fill Tabitha’s glass again. “I was a typical know-it-all teenager, senior year in high school … my mom was in the hospital, and I was being picked up to go to town to see her.
“Well, I could pass for 18, and wanted to see what an adult book store was like. This city had a couple. On the way down I didn’t just hear, I felt a voice in my head tell me ‘if you go to that store, your mother will die!’ It took me 20 minutes to convince myself that I was hallucinating, and after I saw Mom I went to town, and I saw the inside of the place … and was disappointed in it, by the way … and maybe 10 minutes after I was brought home, the minister came by and told me my mom had died.”
Tabitha watched Badger take another drink. His tail was sagging; he looked as if he wanted to cry. “You know, Richard,” she said, leaning forward some, “it wasn’t your fault.”
“If I’d just listened … Tabitha, my head hurt from that warning. I know it was the voice of God … and I didn’t believe it.”
It had been years since Tabitha had seen the inside of a church, and wasn’t even sure how strong her faith was anymore. She still believed, and she always knew her boss did as well. The conviction with which he spoke was solid; he was convinced he was the reason.
“Richard,” she carefully ventured, “He wouldn’t punish you by taking your mother away.”
“Why wouldn’t He? She wasn’t given long to live, sure, but He could’ve healed her. Miracles do happen … I’d have given anything to take back what I did.”
Tabitha was faintly aware that she lightly touched his leg with her right paw. “I’m touched that you were comfortable enough to share that with me,” she said to him. “Why do I get the feeling you’ve never opened up about this before with anyone?”
“You’re a very perceptive woman,” Doctor Badger said to her. He drank almost to the bottom of his glass. “We’ve worked together a long time, Tabitha. There’s not many others I let get close to me. Certainly here; I can’t forge close friendships because of my position, I have to keep that ‘professional distance’ and all. And I don’t maintain much of a social life. I’ve never even told my father.”
He honestly believes he’s responsible … that is so sad … Her thought was interrupted by the feel of Badger’s paw light brushing over hers. He gently squeezed it, a smile growing across his muzzle. Tabitha noticed a definite softening of his features; his eyes were wider and a little brighter. Tabitha looked into his eyes. There was something there, something she hadn’t seen in a very long time … affection?
Badger patted the back of Tabitha’s paw and withdrew his. “Well, I don’t often open up … it felt good doing it, though.”
“You should do it more often,” Tabitha offered, and finished her wine.
Nodding, Badger agreed, “I should. I guess I need the right person. Someone I can trust, someone I can feel open with … ” His eyes focused on Tabitha.
Tabitha picked up on a change in the tone of Richard Badger’s voice. It was a touch softer, just his few words seemed to indicate he might her to be that ‘right person’.
“I guess we all make mistakes,” she said to him.
Doctor Badger picked up the bottle and split the last of its contents between them. “If I were at MIT the same time you were,” he told her, “I don’t think I would’ve taken ‘no’ for an answer.” As he sat back in his chair, Badger went over what he had just said to her. “Forgive me, Tabitha,” he said with a touch of guilt. “It’s not the wine talking for me. But that was inappropriate.”
Any other time Tabitha probably would have laughed the whole thing off, but she was seeing a different Richard Badger, PhD right now. It may not have been the alcohol talking, but it certainly wasn’t hindering him either.
As long as she kept her own muzzle shut about tomorrow.
“You know that doesn’t bother me, Richard,” Tabitha reminded him. “I don’t think women with that thin of a skin are even around anymore.”
“Still, I shouldn’t have said what I said,” Badger continued. “Would you allow me to make up for it and have dinner with me tonight?”
Tabitha grinned. “You certainly have a unique way of asking for a date,” she said.
“It wasn’t what I’d intended,” Badger lied to her with an awkward smile.
“You know something, Richard? You’ve got a level of sweetness under all of that fur and ultra-professionalism.” She gave him a smile. “Unfortunately, I’m having my brother-in-law as a house guest, and I’m already committed to having dinner with him.”
Badger nodded, pursing his lips. “I understand.” Then, “Is he still your brother-in-law? I mean, considering your sister’s … passed on?”
Tabitha shrugged. “As far as I’m concerned, he’ll always be my brother-in-law. I’ve spent so much time with him since I was little that I consider him permanent family.” She stood up and set her half-full glass on the desk. “But when I come back, I’ll be more than happy to take that raincheck and use it then.”
Badger seemed content to accept that. He felt something he hadn’t felt from a female before -- disappointment. He was familiar with it … why was it different somehow coming from Tabitha? It’s only dinner, he thought to himself. And we just work together, we’re just peers …
The feeling Tabitha was getting told her that Doctor Badger’s offer was perhaps one tier above a simple business dinner. Perhaps she wouldn’t have minded that, under other circumstances. He was, after all, a good-looking male, not more than a couple of years older than herself, intelligent, maybe a fun guy once you got to know him, who knows? Certainly his intentions were honorable; from the way he behaved around here Tabitha always thought he never … who cares? Tabitha thought. I missed my chance at love once. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if I did pursue it when I came back to the present time.
“At least,” Richard said, indicating her seat again, “finish your wine before you go.”
Tabitha smiled, and took her glass again. “Why not?” she said, and sat back down comfortably.
Tabitha checked her purse again. Three hundred dollars in old United States currency still sat hidden within a folded business-size envelope behind her pocketbook. The wine she consumed didn’t do much to take the edge from her nerves. She took her coarse brush from her console and watched herself pull it through her white hair. She had relieved herself of the ponytail in her office before she left, and made herself presentable before stepping out and locking her SUV, walking across the parking lot to the elevator.
From outside her door, she could smell the familiar odor of Chris’ spaghetti sauce. Probably with extra oregano too, the way I always liked it. She keyed in her code and tapped upper frame as she opened the door and walked inside.
Richard Badger tapped his pencil against his chin as he made the final notes he was going to make for the evening. For a change he was going to enjoy leaving on time, even if he had no one to go home to.
“Damn shame dinner didn’t work out the way I’d hoped,” he spoke to himself. “Looks like I’m eating seafood alone this evening.”
Badger felt the melancholy of losing his mother again. He had wanted to tell someone for years what he had done. It would have been impossible for Tabitha or anyone else to convince him otherwise. If he allowed it, he could still feel the residue of the voice of God warning him in words so clear that they were to be forever engrained upon his brain.
Eventually his memory shifted to Tabitha. If he ever met a woman he’d like to know better … “You don’t fraternize with employees,” he reminded himself aloud. “Much as you might like to. Forget you even extended the offer to her.”
He began tapping his pencil on one of the few bare areas of his desktop. The intoxicating effect of the wine, while definitely there, was minimal. The pressure he’d felt in and around his genitals was long since gone. “Perhaps another time,” he thought. “I’m not that old, after all.”
Richard flipped his pencil over his paw and watched it land on top of the paperwork he had no desire to complete. He remembered Tabitha’s first week here. It was within the first couple of days she had talked openly about her older sister, how much she’d love to go back in time and prevent the accident that had claimed her. He remembered clearly the crestfallen look on her face when he’d told her in no uncertain terms that personal use of the time travel equipment, or more specifically any use of the equipment that would change any history, was strictly forbidden. But to her credit, it never discouraged her. Quite the contrary; she worked even harder and had helped bring the project back up to schedule.
“She did work awfully hard, too.” Badger drummed his fingers on the desk, thinking about that. Then, pushing himself back, he stood up and walked to the Temporal Complex.
Unlatching the door to the equipment room he switched on the light and entered, and walked to the table against the wall. He picked up the module on the left and studied it closely. His critical eye scanned over the signatures, serial number, markings, the condition of the electrical contacts, the color of the casing … he set it down and studied the second. Then the third.
“I should be ashamed of myself,” he admonished. “I knew I knew better.” He turned off the light and returned to his office, slid on his jacket, and left for home.
“Hi honey, I’m ho-ome!” Tabitha shouted cheerily and closed the door behind her.
“I’m in the bathroom, Tabby!”
Tabitha cringed; she hated being called that! She was used to it from Chris always calling her that, but after chewing out Ezequiel this morning she realized she just wasn’t as used to it as she thought.
The smell of sauce beckoned her toward her kitchenette. She moved through her living room and paused to look at the collection of videocassettes and open jewel cases of varying sizes on her coffee table. She picked one up and read the handwritten label: Summer 2003.
“Neat, home videos!” She read over the notes on the back, recognizing the mixture of Chris and Sabrina’s handwriting. This one included footage of Alan after he was born. It also was the only one open.
“Hey there, Tabby!”
Tabitha looked up and smiled, but still didn’t see Chris. She set down the case and ran to the kitchen. He’d darted in here, and stood with his back to her, holding a lid in one paw and stirring with the other. She snuck up behind him and slipped her arms around his waist. Speaking in a mock whine, she asked, “Is it soup yet?”
Chris laughed. “I’d forgotten all about that old commercial,” he said with a grin. Not true, but it helped keep the conversation flowing.
“You went to too much work,” Tabitha told him.
“For you? Nah.” He dipped the spoon into the sauce and held it over his shoulder. “Taste.”
Tabitha blew over the sauce and slurped. “Oh, wow, I forgot how good that was! And you remembered the extra oregano!” She kissed him quickly on the neck. “Can I help?” she asked.
“Yep. You can sit down.”
“Yes, Sir.” Tabitha blew a raspberry on Chris’ neck and left to sit at the table while Chris finished dinner. The table was nicely set, with silverware in the right places on either side of the plate, the fork atop a folded napkin on either side. It reminded her of helping her mother, and when she visited, Sabrina, set the dinner table when she was a little girl.
“That’s quite a collection of home movies you’ve got, Pop,” Tabitha called to the kitchen. She had picked up her spoon and was drawing circles onto the tablecloth with the end of the handle.
“I’m not trying to drive you out of your apartment Tabby, honest!” Chris was busy draining the pasta. “You’ve developed such a keen interest in family history, I thought you might like to see them.”
“What a nice idea.” She sat her spoon down. “Did you take your medication?” she asked.
Chris served the pasta onto two dinner plates. “Yes, Mother, I took my medication,” he replied.
“I have to ask these questions,” Tabitha told Chris as he ladled sauce over the spaghetti, “When I signed the release forms for you to leave the nursing home, they made me responsible for you.”
Tabitha giggled when she heard Chris snort. “Are you all packed for your trip?” Chris asked back as he brought the plates out and took his seat.
“Not much to take. Oh God, that smells so-o-o-o good!” Tabitha framed her wording so she wouldn’t be lying. “I’m just taking a small bag; all I need now is my toothbrush.” She twirled her fork and rolled her eyes as the taste and the aroma melded together in her first bite. “Extra oregano for me, extra garlic for you … please move in with me!”
Chris laughed politely and didn’t answer her request. “I’m glad you like it. Sabrina used to say I used too much garlic, but she always had seconds.”
“Sometimes I wish I had someone as devoted as you are,” Tabitha remarked quietly. “Someone in the female population is missing out on a great guy.”
“Eh, my time’s past, Tabby.” He ate another forkful. “I’ll let Alan have ‘em all.”
“Stunt drivers get all they can handle without any help from you, Pop. If I’d want you, any woman would want you.”
Chris raised his eyes over his bifocals.
Tabitha realized what she’d just said. She smiled weakly and went back to her dinner.
With dinner over, Chris excused himself and went to take his bath. Tabitha smiled, knowing that he kept to a fairly rigid schedule these days. She was going to her office to do some work when she caught sight of the slim plastic cases on her coffee table. She held one up to catch the light from the kitchen and read the title: Home Movies.MP7. She tapped the case lightly against her chin and thought about the contents of the discs. She had seen them all before and from the way Chris had acted earlier, Tabitha surmised that he had taken a trip down memory lane.
She couldn't blame him for that. Her entire professional life could be viewed the same way if one chose to do so. It all came down to choices, Tabitha realized. The little choices everybody made every day of their life that had the most potential for change. Just such a choice led Sabrina to take a more traveled route home the day of her fateful accident because of the snow. And that accident left Tabitha, Alan, Chris and her family with memories. Those memories were what drove Tabitha now.
Tabitha looked down at her lap and realized that she was tapping the plastic case against her knee in measured beats. When she put the case on the table, she noticed that her paw was shaking as she drew it back. After all these years, it was nearly time to try and save Sabrina. Days were now down to hours. Tabitha was nervous and more than a little scared at the realization that by this time next week, she could be sitting next to her sister again.
She stacked the rest of the discs neatly on the one she had set on the table a moment before. It was hard to resist the urge to sit here and watch them again but Tabitha forced herself on to her office. She had to stay focused right now and concentrate on the task ahead of her.
“On,” she stated as she entered the office and her computer came to life. It told her that she had ten mail messages and two voice messages once it had confirmed her identity with a retinal scan. It was all work-related, according to the file identifications, so she busied herself composing replies for the next forty-five minutes. Her concentration was broken by Chris’ voice from the doorway.
“Hey kiddo, you going to work all night again?” he asked her.
Tabitha leaned back and turned her chair using her foot. “Just catching up on late-breaking work items,” she commented. “I'll be done in a few minutes.”
Chris nodded. “No need to rush. I don't have any plans or anything like that,” he said with a wry smile.
Tabitha stopped herself from rolling her eyes. “I'll be finished shortly. We'll watch that movie you've been wanting to see. How's that sound?”
Chris brightened. “It sounds good to me. I'll get some popcorn going while you finish up. Gotta have popcorn with a movie, it’s the law.”
“‘kay,” Tabitha replied before turning to her computer again. She wanted to spend as much time with Chris tonight as possible in case things didn't turn out as she hoped they would.
“I've seen better,” Chris commented as the end movie credits began.
Tabitha nudged him with her elbow. “With as many miles as you have on yourself, I suppose you've seen everything at least once.”
Chris' head turned slowly to regard her. His expression was solemn, but his green eyes betrayed his appreciation of the joke. “I'll have you know that I haven't seen everything yet.”
“Sure,” Tabitha continued. “I'll bet you can tell me about the time you worked on the pyramid construction crews in Egypt.”
His body started to shake as the laughter welled up inside. "Cute, Tabby," he managed to say after he started laughing out loud.
She grinned at him. “I learned from the master,” was her reply. Tabitha stretched her arms over her head before standing up. “I don't know about you, but I need some sleep tonight.”
Chris eyed the clock on the wall. “Whoa, it is late. I guess I should let you get your beauty rest, seeing as how you need it so badly.”
“Why you!” Tabitha said as she hit him playfully with a pillow.
Chris chuckled at her. “All right, I take it back. You don't need it that badly.”
“I can use another pillow,” she warned.
He put his paws up in defeat. “Okay, you don't need it at all. There, you happy now?”
Tabitha nodded. “Yep,” she replied happily as she stretched her paw out to him and helped him to his feet.
"Thanks, Tabby," he told her. "I think it's time for me to get some rest too."
Tabitha fell into step behind him and turned off the lights behind them. Chris went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and she went to her office and checked her computer for messages.
Chris poked his head in the door and told her goodnight. Tabitha blew him a kiss and a wink before he crossed the hallway into the guest bedroom. Tabitha shut off the computer and set her desk in order before getting ready for bed herself.
She yawned hugely and flopped herself onto the bed and rolled over slightly to free her tail before pushing her feet underneath the covers. She pulled the blanket to her chin and closed her eyes.
The telecom terminal beside her bed beeped insistently until she opened her eyes. “Whoever is calling me at,” she began as she glanced at the clock readout on the telephone, “four in the freaking A.M. had better have a good reason.” She muttered an unrepeatable obscenity before tossing the covers aside.
She padded to the terminal and touched the display. “What??” she demanded irritably.
Tabitha shaded her eyes with her open paw as the brightening screen showed Harvey's face. He looked apologetic. “We need you at the lab,” he stated without preamble.
“Corporate moved up the timetable on us. Naturally the notification was misfiled somewhere unimportant.” Tabitha could hear the irritation in his voice. “I gave you as much sleep as possible before calling.”
Tabitha squinted in the light from the terminal. “What do you mean?”
“I've been here since two,” he said. “Anyways, we need you here as soon as possible. You're jumping at six A.M. on the dot.”
Tabitha rubbed her eyes with her fingertips. “What's the rush?”
“I dunno,” Harvey admitted. “They never tell me anything around here. James and Stewart are warming up the equipment, so get your pretty little tail down here.”
She let his comment slide. “Let me take a shower to wake up and I'll be on my way,” she told him.
Harvey nodded. “Gotcha. See you in a few,” was all he said before the screen went black again.
Tabitha shook her head. Nothing ever seemed to go right with this project, she thought. She set out some clothes and then took a quick shower. It helped take the cranky edge off her, she realized when she started to put her clothes on. The desire to rush and get underway to the lab was building inside her but Tabitha wanted to make sure that she didn't forget anything now that she was so close to her goal.
Her choice of clothing was a minor stumbling block she had resolved some weeks ago. Tabitha’s problem was that it was early summer, she had to give the impression she was jumping into mid-summer, when in reality she was expecting to end up ankle-deep in snow in Chris and Sabrina Foxx’s back yard in western Pennsylvania. To that end, Tabitha had purchased a new pair of black and white fur stretch pants; similar to the ones her sister used to wear as her trademark, except these were touted as “all-weather”, with the new Wintrex fiber that kept one warm in winter and cool in summer. A Wintrex jacket would go over her blouse and should protect her until she got to the back porch.
Then there was the convincing them to let her inside where it was warm, and convince Sabrina that the older skunk lady was actually her baby sister come from the future to warn her not to take the trip to her college in two days.
And that was assuming everything worked the way it was supposed to. Were her algorithms right? What if the equipment went down while she was in transit? Worse, what if her plan was discovered? These thought all combined in Tabitha’s head at once and played havoc with her stomach, which she ran to her bathroom and quickly purged of its contents.
“Hey, Chris?” Tabitha shook the elder fox’s shoulder and spoke in a hushed tone.
“Hmmff?” Chris rolled over and made out Tabitha’s features backlit from the hallway light. “Tabby, what’s the matter?” he asked.
“Chris, I have to go,” Tabitha apologized. “They moved my schedule up, I have to leave now. I’ll send someone back with my SUV so you’ll be able to use it.”
Chris waved his paw in the air. “Don’t worry about it, Tabby,” he assured her. “I’m not going to need it. If I feel the need to go anywhere, I’ll either take the condo’s shuttlebus or I’ll bribe Dexter Collie again. Guy needs to eat more anyway.”
Tabitha’s face looked apologetic. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yes,” Chris nodded. “Now hurry, and have a safe trip.”
“Pop, there’s more.” Tabitha took a breath. “If I’m not back by Sunday … on my computer is a file called ‘Diary’. It’s password protected, the password is your middle name. Promise me you won’t read it unless something happens to me, okay?”
Chris became immediately concerned, sitting himself up straighter and waking up more. “Tabitha, what do you mean?” he demanded. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing, honest,” Tabitha replied. “It’s just a record of what I’m doing and what I’ve been up to.” She thought for a second. “Let’s just say it’s a record of my work and part of my legacy.”
It was a beautiful non-answer to give an aging fox at five o’clock in the morning. Chris nodded. Tabitha gave him a kiss on the forehead, and quickly got up before he saw her eyes glistening. “Love ya, Pop. Enjoy yourself.”
“Drive safely.” The room darkened when Tabitha closed the door behind her. Chris laid back and slipped his paws behind his head, his vulpine brain trying to make sense of what Tabitha told him.
Tabitha turned out the lights and went through the darkened apartment slowly. A glance at her wristwatch while waiting for the elevator showed that she had plenty of time to make it to the lab.
The ride to the garage level seemed fast to her and when the doors opened, she pointed her keyfob at her vehicle and pressed the button to disable the alarm and open the gull-wing doors.
Tabitha pulled out of the garage a little past 5:15 and started towards her lab. At this hour, traffic was light and her mind drifted as she drove the nearly empty streets. Inevitably her thoughts gravitated toward her fears about the project. A million things could go wrong and her subconscious kept reminding her of each one, in sequence. “What if the field density calculations are off?” her brain wanted to know and on and on.
She could feel her chest tightening as her uneasiness tried to convert itself into a panic attack. “Stop it. Stop it. STOP IT!” she screamed, beating the steering wheel with her left fist. She breathed deeply and counted each breath to calm herself.
“What if the Brunner Effect occurs this time?” was the parting shot her mind left her with before falling silent.
A cold shiver ran up her spine as she reflected, somewhat calmly about that possibility. Her colleagues often joked about the Brunner Effect, and she had too, until at a conference three years ago, she had attended a lecture on its more obscure points.
Tabitha could count on both paws the number of scientists in the world who understood the theory and mathematics behind the phenomena. One paw was all that she needed to count the people who could see its ramifications. She was one of the few, now. And she never laughed at the mention of it any more.
After the conference, she had obtained the journals that had published Dr. Brunner's theory. It was complex and had calculations that raised the fur on the back of her neck. At first, she couldn't make sense of it, so she sought out Dr. Brunner and tried to correspond with him about his work.
Dr. Brunner politely refused to discuss his work with her and indicated that this was not a subject for casual curiosity in a terse reply to her letter. Tabitha had been undaunted and doubled her efforts until she finally convinced him to let her serve as his research assistant for an eighteen-month term while she took a sabbatical from the lab.
She remembered their first meeting in his offices at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. She had been more nervous than when she had taken her oral interviews for MIT graduate school. He had asked to see her published works and had then disappeared into his offices to review her credentials in person. Before closing the door to his office, he had indicated that she should wait on the benches in the hallway.
Tabitha sat and waited patiently for him to re-emerge. She hadn't done a lot of research of her own, but she thought that what she had done combined with her co-authorship of several other papers would sway his decision. Four hours later, his office door opened. He looked around and indicated that she should come to his office. She walked the short distance on wobbly legs that felt as if they would give out at any second.
“I find your work pedantic and childish,” he began as soon as she had sat in the chair across from his desk. “How you graduated with a degree in theoretical physics I cannot fathom. However, I will grant you a one-month trial period to demonstrate that you know what you are doing.”
Tabitha had been crushed at his blunt criticism of her work and talents. She could only sit there, staring at him in disbelief. Nobody had ever complained about her work before! The only thing that kept her from fleeing in shame from his office was the offer to give her a chance. It was slim, but Tabitha had to take it.
The first week had been the worst: Dr. Brunner assigned her the task of working through page after page of tedious calculations concerning space-time curvature and field densities. Moreover, they had to be on paper. He expected to see every step of her work and he refused to read from an LCD display. Every time she handed him her results, he flipped through the pages quickly before sending them into the trash.
“Incorrect. Do them again,” he would state, dismissing her. After five days of this treatment, she had finally reached the end of her patience and snapped.
“What do you mean, they're incorrect? I checked them against a computer model!” she demanded after seeing six hours of work unceremoniously dumped in the trash yet again. She clenched and released her fists several times to keep from doing something she knew that she would regret.
He turned to look at her sadly. She hated that patronizing look he gave her. “Young Tabitha, you consistently make the same mistakes with the simplest problems. Do you not keep up with current research?” he asked her with a note of disapproval.
Her teeth grated at the “Young Tabitha” title. She hated it even worse than the look on his face.
“Simple? Half of the things you have me assigned to are purely theoretical! My answers are correct, dammit!” Her voice rose as she continued. “Where do you get off treating me like a child?”
He put down his pen and leaned back in his chair. Surprising to Tabitha, he wasn't angry at her outburst. “All right,” he said finally. He leaned over and retrieved the papers from the wastebasket and offered them to her. “Explain your results,” he demanded.
Tabitha took the papers, glanced at them to make sure they were in order and went to the whiteboard affixed to the wall. For the next three hours, he questioned every assumption and equation she had used, making her defend her methods and the results she had obtained. It had been an ordeal far worse than her thesis defense.
When she finished, Tabitha capped the marker, placed it back on the tray underneath the whiteboard and looked at him expectantly. Dr. Brunner looked back coolly.
“Finally, you show conviction for your work. I am pleased. I had begun to think that you were not up to the task. However, your results are incorrect. You failed to research the problem before you attempted an answer. Had you proceeded logically, you would be aware of the fact that the basis for your space-time field variance has been supplanted with new research.”
Tabitha started to tell him that she used the accepted standard, when he rose from his chair and walked over to the whiteboard and picked up a blue marker. “Observe,” he said, and began filling the board with numbers and formulas that left no doubt in her mind that she was wrong. She felt intense embarrassment at having her mistakes illustrated by him.
Dr. Brunner grudgingly agreed that she could continue as his assistant after the month was out. Each day was much like the one preceding it: pages of mind-numbing calculations that for the most part did not go into the trash. After the third month, Tabitha began to ask him questions concerning his theories on the phenomena associated with his name.
He peered at her closely, not saying anything. Tabitha wondered whether he was going to agree or not.
“What is your reason for understanding the phenomena?” he asked succinctly. She had noted that he never referred to it using his name. It was always “the phenomena” in discussions.
Tabitha decided to lie to him. “I find it intriguing,” she began. “I want to understand the theory and its implications.” The last part’s true enough, she thought.
He studied her carefully neutral tone and stance. She was hiding something.
“The theory only applies itself to one area. Why are you interested in time travel?”
Careful, she cautioned herself. “It's been a fantasy of mine since I was a young girl. I want to understand everything about it.”
Still carefully neutral, he noted.
“Your skills are not up to the task,” he informed her with his characteristic bluntness. “You show some promise, but I am not willing to concede that you will understand what I have to tell you. Therefore, I will instruct you anew, clearing your mind of the rubbish that the American educational system placed in there and replacing it with knowledge. We start in the morning.” He stated every word clearly and precisely, and left for the evening.
Tabitha had gone back to her room and worked up a good mad at him.
“Self-righteous -- sanctimonious -- infuriating -- insufferable!” was as far as she got before she ran out of adjectives due to her sheer fury. “Three months of hard work and he has the gall to say my head is filled with trash!” She yelled angrily, throwing her research materials at the wall.
After her outburst, she regained a measure of calmness, collected her items from the floor, and organized them neatly on the desk. She sagged into a chair and looked out the darkened window at the lights of the city.
“At least he agreed to teach me. That's a good thing,” she said without conviction.
The next fifteen months were hard on Tabitha. Dr. Brunner worked her unmercifully during the day and instructed her for hours at night on what he called “the basics”.
“Basics my ass,” muttered Tabitha after her last lesson. “This stuff is so advanced, MIT hasn't even heard of it yet.”
Tabitha was growing in her understanding of Dr. Brunner's theories and was developing an awe of him at the same time. She hated to admit it, even to herself, but he was a genius and his teaching had advanced her knowledge years past what she could have achieved on her own. She had been right in her initial guesses at the implications of his theory. There was no way anybody could do what she was going to attempt without this knowledge. She had to be the first to use the time travel equipment or she would never be able to save Sabrina.
“So, Miss Mustelidae, do you have a grasp of theory that bears my name?” he asked, one month before she was to leave. He had stopped calling her “Young Tabitha” after the fifth month, for which she was profoundly grateful.
“Yes, I do,” she admitted.
“I would ask a favor of you then,” he replied. “You now will tell me the truth about why you need this information.”
Tabitha chewed her lip, unsure of what she should do. Upon reflection, she realized that she trusted him. Hesitantly, she started, finally revealing her reason for coming here. It seemed better to actually tell somebody this without having them look at her with pity in their eyes. Or worse, telling her to forget about using the system for personal reasons or risk being fired.
He said nothing as she spoke, only nodding from time to time, listening to her every word. When she was finished, he looked at her with concern.
“What you are planning will be dangerous to you in more ways than you can imagine, Tabitha. You now understand what my theory predicts will happen as a result of your actions, so I urge you to use all possible haste.”
Tabitha nodded. She had gone over the consequences of her actions at least a thousand times in her head.
“This course of action will also not sit well with those that fund your research or those that would subvert it to their own ends. Do not entrust the information you have revealed to me to anybody, under any circumstances. Do not reveal what you have learned here. Tell anybody who asks that you and I had fundamental differences of opinion on the matter.”
Tabitha started to protest.
“Do as I say, Tabitha,” he said in the tone he used for their instruction sessions. “You alone show enough promise to continue my research after you accomplish what you have set for yourself. When you get back, we can continue what we have started here. If my theory holds, then what you accomplish will make all other time travel attempts next to impossible.”
Tabitha heard the car behind her honking its horn as she sat at the green light. She started and looked in the rear view mirror before taking her foot off the brake, she continued to the lab, wondering if she could accomplish the most important thing she would ever attempt in her life.
Under normal circumstances, when a company such as the one employing Tabitha says “six on the dot”, it generally means “sometime around 7:30 or so”. Not today. Today it was definitely going to be closer to seven.
And Tabitha couldn’t sit still. She paced the open area of her office in a perfect circle. She’d washed her paws four times. Her half-empty cup of Iron Raptor coffee sat untouched on her desk.
Hours were now minutes.
It was 6:54 AM.
Tabitha jumped a foot in the air when the public address system chimed. “Tabitha,” came Richard Badger’s voice, “we’re ready when you are.”
Now Tabitha could hear her heart beating soundly in her ears. She was quaking from head to foot to tail. Quickly she ran to her bathroom and washed her face. Gripping the sides of her sink she stared at herself in the mirror, water droplets dripping from the ends of her fur, forcing her breathing to return to something closer to normal.
“Get a grip, kid,” she told her reflection. “You’re doing this, it’s now or never.”
Quickly she fluffed her face dry and opened her kit. First she used her coarse brush, then her medium, then her medium and fine combs. She took out her ponytail and brushed her hair out, using a fresh black and gold band to fix up a new one.
Bowing her head, she offered a quiet prayer.
“Amen.” Lifting her head to speak to her reflection once again, they told each other “Let’s go save Sabrina.”
Mark was the last of the technicians to arrive. Harvey looked at his watch. “I called you almost two hours ago,” he scolded.
“I’m sorry Harvey, but it’s bad enough at home,” he explained. “Sue already thinks I’m fooling around on her, and a call this early didn’t help any, eh.”
“Get to your station and I’ll call her for you later and explain,” Harvey promised. He watched Barbara on the other side with Doctor Badger, both of them talking and trying to stay out of the way. Last minute checks were nearly done.
Tabitha walked in carrying a slightly larger handbag than she normally carried around her shoulder. Her Wintrex jacket was on with the sleeves pulled halfway up her forearms. Typically, she looked like someone who could blend in easily with a crowd.
Barbara smiled. “Nervous?” she asked.
Tabitha nodded. “Mm-hm.”
Barbara gave Tabitha a quick hug. “Good luck, Tabitha.”
“Thanks,” Tabitha smiled. She took metered steps to the console. On the smaller one beside the main control console, she saw the yellow module already locked in place.
Psychofrog handed Tabitha a locator beacon. She pressed the button, and it emitted a beep and a white LED began flashing.
“I’m getting a clear signal,” Mark announced.
“Paul!” Harvey called over his shoulder. “Put Number One Generator online.”
A large black panther paw opened the recessed panel and pressed down the left red button. Again, the lights brightened and returned to normal.
Badger touched Paul on the shoulder. “Put Number Two online as well.”
As Paul opened his muzzle to ask, Badger’s expression told him to just do as he was told. With another loud click, the second backup generator came up and virtually guaranteed a zero chance at a power failure.
Harvey grinned. “No explosions,” he said to Doctor Badger. He looked and saw the distant look on Badger’s face. He was watching Tabitha, as if he were watching his only daughter leave home … or maybe someone closer than a daughter?
Harvey shook his head. Naaaaaaaah.
Tabitha gripped her beacon and opened the magnetic catch on her purse.
Barbara stood beside Harvey and looked over his panel. “Everything’s green,” she announced to the room. “Ready, Tabitha?”
Tabitha turned, startled, and nodded. “Yes, let’s do it.” She couldn’t take her eyes away from the team at the console. She watched from the separating wall as Harvey energized the twin transformers. Badger’s muzzle formed the words “Good luck.”
She felt her fur tingle. Turning, she saw the temporal wormhole twist and form, opening a gateway. The transformer hums seemed louder this time. From the other side, she could hear sounds, sounds from the past sneaking through the portal.
Tabitha turned toward it. She took small steps at first, the tingle heightening as she held the flap of her purse open with her paw, her fingers unscrewing the beacon’s end cap as she walked.
The beacon popped open. The small battery cell slipped out, and it fell into her bag along with the beacon and end cap.
She began to run.
“I’ve lost the signal!” Paul cried out!
“WHAT!??” Harvey screamed. “Stop her!!”
The gathered technicians didn’t know what to do. Tabitha made a leap for the closing wormhole!
Badger forced his way through and ran around the wall. “TABITHA! DON’T! STOP!!!”
He stood helplessly as her tail disappeared and the portal closed quickly behind her.
Among the din of the equipment and the technicians, Badger turned and in as loud as a voice as he could muster, hollered “GET HER BACK!”
Tabitha emerged on the other side to the sounds of rubber squealing. The source of the sound caught her when she turned. As it came to a stop it threw her backwards, her head impacted with the pavement and her last memory was “She came out of nowhere, I never saw her!” before she lost consciousness.