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, Wendy Vixxen, and Calvin (c) Chris Yost. Character Mark the cheetah created for Mark White. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard (c) James Bruner. Character Iron Raptor (c) His player. Character Psychofrog (c) His player. The band "et al" (c) Chris Yost All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners. Story conceived by Mark White. Based on characters and situations created by Chris Yost and Eric Schwartz.Amiga (TM) Gateway Computers.
Tabitha watched the houses and cars go by as Calvin drove. This was a neighborhood she remembered, just as she remembered it. In fact, here she was, where she grew up … she began to smile, and relaxed into the car seat.
Tabitha allowed the tension she'd built up to melt away. She felt herself getting misty, watching familiar landmarks and sites go by one by one. It was definitely an interesting feeling, being back to a simpler, less exhaustive time … the time of her childhood.
As they drove into and through downtown Columbus, Tabitha recognized a local business she'd forgotten all about! "Pull over here, this'll be fine," she said, pointing to a parking space in front.
Calvin steered with one paw and neatly pulled in front of the ice cream shop that Sabrina and her friends had frequented when Tabitha had been five or so. She hadn't seen the place since she came home for a spring break many years ago.
"Thanks a million," Tabitha said, removing her seatbelt and for a moment feeling disoriented when she didn't see the overhead switch to activate the motor that opened the door.
"You sure you're okay?" Calvin asked. "I mean, no dizziness or anything?"
"Nope, feel fine." Tabitha found the simple mechanical release handle and opened the car door. Even if I didn't, I wouldn't let it stop me! "And if I have to call, I have the hospital's phone number."
As Tabitha slipped her tail from the opening in the back of the white vinyl seat, Calvin took one hand off of the wheel and reached into his shirt pocket. "Here," he said, removing a business card and handing it to her. "If you need a ride or something, give me a call. Before you leave town, maybe I can take you to dinner. Show you some entertainment afterward … "
Tabitha accepted the card, and the compliment his back-door attempt at asking for a date gave her. "I'll have to see how long I can stay," she told Calvin politely and placed his card in her purse. Of course but there was no time for that; Tabitha had work to do.
She closed the door and he gave her a tentative wave before pulling back into the street. Tabitha watched him go before turning and entering the shop, and the moment she passed through the door memories washed over her, and she smiled warmly.
Walking up to the white marble counter she looked over the menu board hanging over the mirrored back wall. "A hot fudge sundae, please; extra whipped cream and peanuts." When the tiger rang it up, Tabitha handed him make a twenty-dollar bill. "And can I have about two dollars of this in change, please?"
She carried her ice cream to a booth in the back, near the pay telephones. Tabitha ate with disinterest, using the time to organize her thoughts and plan what actions she would take while she was here. She also used the time to review the events that had landed her here, in this time.
Where the hell did I go wrong on this?
She ran the time-date placement formula over in her mind again, then a third and fourth time, followed by a slow shaking of her head. "I know where I screwed up," she told herself sourly. "I had worked out both formulae; one for here and one for 2011 and I used the wrong one! I don't believe I used the wrong damned one! How stupid could I be?!" She speared a ball of vanilla ice cream in anger.
Suddenly it hit her: Daddy! Maybe I didn't screw up after all -- maybe I was supposed to be here so I could save him, too!
When the sundae was half-eaten, Tabitha wiped her muzzle with a napkin and slid out of the booth. She took a seat in the wooden telephone alcove and found the directory hanging by a chain from the small shelf under the telephone. Tabitha looked up the first number on her mental list, put several coins into the machine and dialed.
The receiver rang once. Twice, then a click as the call was answered. "ZZ Studios," a cheerful-sounding female voice came through the earpiece. "How may I help you?"
"I'd like to speak with Sabrina Mustelidae, please," Tabitha responded.
There was a pause. "I'm sorry, we have nobody by that name working here," the unnamed female fur replied. "Are you sure you have the right number?"
"This is ZZ Studios, right? Ton -- I mean, Zig Zag's place?"
"Yes Ma'am, this is ZZ Studios but we have no Sabrina Mustelidae working here. Is there anybody else you'd like to speak with?"
"Is Zig Zag there?"
"Zig Zag is in a meeting. Would you like her voice mail?"
Tabitha pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes as hard as she could. "No thank you. Thanks for your help."
"Goodbye." A click followed by no sound in the earpiece.
Tabitha hung up the telephone and looked up the next number in her list. It was the same as she remembered, but it felt good to see her name and number listed in the book nonetheless.
Her paw actually shook as she deposited more coins in the telephone and dialed the number for her sister's apartment. When the telephone rang, Tabitha's stomach twisted into a knot from nervousness. What was she going to say to her sister??
The telephone rang again. After the fourth ring, someone picked up! Tabitha's elation turned to disappointment when she realized that she was listening to an answering machine. Thinking quickly, she improvised a message. "Hi, this call is for Sabrina. This is your cousin Mary, Sabrina. I'm in town for a few days and wanted to get together with you. I'll call you later this evening. Bye."
When Tabitha hung up the telephone, she let out a pent up breath. She now remembered bits and pieces of Sabrina having another job first but she couldn't remember a thing about it. Sabrina had always been a bit miffed about the way they had let her go and never talked about them kindly, if at all.
A glance at the clock told Tabitha that she could have several hours to while away until she could contact her sister. She stood up and returned to her booth and sat staring at her ice cream. Hunger had left her after hearing Sabrina's voice on the answering machine, so she pushed the dish away. She opened her purse and checked her available currency before getting up and leaving the shop.
Signs mounted on street posts directed her to the nearest bus stop. It was deserted this time of the afternoon and she took a seat on the bench in the warm summer sunlight. She looked around, comparing the mental image of her own time with what lay before her, noting where certain buildings and other landmarks had changed in thirty years. When the bus arrived, Tabitha boarded and took a seat after paying for a ticket. She'd spend the next several hours at a hotel; call Sabrina again to give the hotel name and room number, rest, and try to come up with something plausible to tell her.
Richard Badger sat behind the large wooden desk in his office. He was numb. Tabitha had been missing for a little over three and a half hours now.
He couldn't stop thinking about her. Just yesterday she was there, in the chair in front of his desk; sitting with him and drinking a celebratory bottle of wine.
Numb. He couldn't feel the fingers on the paw that he had been drumming the top of his desk with for the last half hour.
Richard swiveled his chair toward the window again and looked out. The same trees across the way on the grassy knoll were still there. He was becoming intimately familiar with them, the way their branches stemmed off the trunk, their relative positions, everything.
Where is Tabitha? The more appropriate term was when but being lost meant someplace unknown to Richard, not some time.
His mind's eye saw her clearly. Every wrinkle in her clothing, every hair of her fur and on her head was burned into his consciousness. Her smile, her face, her running into the portal and disappearing into -- Richard shuddered suddenly. He refused to believe that Tabitha had entered a portal that took her to either Heaven or Hell. "She's alive," he said to reassure himself. "She's alive and out there somewhere. I know she is."
He turned back to his desk again. The office door opened halfway and Harvey stuck his head in as he rapped on the glass. Richard glared at him, using a look that said he absolutely, positively did not want to be disturbed.
Harvey saw the look, and chose to totally ignore it. "Knock-knock, Richard!"
Badger felt his tail twitch in irritation and was thankful that he was a short-tailed species. "I don't want to be disturbed, Harvey," he said brusquely.
Harvey let himself the rest of the way in. "I know, your door was closed." He shut the door and walked across the office to stand behind the chair Tabitha had occupied yesterday afternoon, the one Richard Badger had been staring at on and off for the past few hours. He folded his arms. "You give the impression of someone who needs a friend. You have one I can call?"
"Go to Hell," Richard spat. He was in no mood for Harvey's brand of humor.
Harvey hadn't wanted things to go this bad so quickly. "Look, that was out of line. I apologize."
Richard let his shoulders sag. "I need to be by myself for a while," he said.
"You've been by yourself for a while already," Harvey reminded him. "It isn't getting you or the project anywhere." He turned and walked over to the wet bar and took down two glasses.
Richard sighed and put his chin in his paw. He closed his eyes and wished for Harvey to leave. A clinking sound caught his attention. "What are you doing?" he asked, looking up.
"Adding ice," Harvey replied before dropping the tongs into the ice bucket. He scanned the available bottles and selected one. "Nobody likes warm bourbon." He filled both glasses a little over halfway before capping the bottle and tucking it under his arm. Harvey carried them over and set one on the desk in front of Richard before sitting in the vacant chair next to his leg. He set the bottle on the edge of the desk.
"It's a little early in the day to start drinking," Richard said without conviction.
"It's for medicinal purposes." Harvey lifted his glass and tipped it toward his boss.
Richard stared at the melting ice for several moments. "Alcohol's never an answer to anything," he said in a deadpan voice.
Harvey took a swallow and swirled his glass. He could tell that Richard was just trying to talk himself out of drinking. "Sometimes, Richard, you find you're not looking for an answer to anything. You reach a point where you need to just stop analyzing every damn thing that you see and indulge yourself before regrouping." He lifted his glass again. "L'chiem."
Richard Badger picked up his drink and took a sip. As the liquid gently burned its way down his throat, he took a larger one. Harvey was right; he did need to take a break. Richard had known how to do that when he was younger. Weeks turn into months which turn into years, and when you've just staggered away from an emotional train wreck, you forget something as simple as bringing life to a halt and marshalling your body and cluttered thoughts back into line. He took an even longer drink this time, draining the glass of its chilled contents.
"Y'see?" Harvey said, "I'm right again." He picked the bottle up and refilled Richard's glass, then topped off his own.
"I suppose so." Richard sat back into his chair, holding his drink with both paws. "Any progress finding Tabitha yet?" he asked.
Harvey swallowed and shook his head. "The timeline's still open. We just don't have a signal to follow. Barbara's in her office now banging her head against the wall. I've got the techs checking, double-checking and triple-checking every piece of equipment we have."
"That's what I've been doing," Richard commented. "Reviewing everything that happened this morning before she --," and his voice cracked as he tried to say disappeared.
Harvey adjusted himself in the chair. "You're pretty fond of her, aren't you?"
Harvey had caught him with his guard down, Richard realized. Damn you, mind your own business, he thought irritably. Richard looked down into his drink.
The wall around his emotions started to dissolve like the ice in his drink. "Am I that transparent?" Richard finally asked.
"You're more opaque than transparent." Harvey said. "Kind of like when you take a pane of glass and polarize it to keep the sunlight down." He shifted himself again and crossed his legs. "Pretty easy to see you care about her."
Richard simply nodded his head. After a moment, he looked up. "I'm not going to lie to you Harvey, and I don't have a cadre of friends to talk to about this. I've cared for Tabitha for a long time now." He shifted his gaze from Harvey and shrugged. "I can't understand how someone like her has kept herself single for all of these years. She's intelligent, beautiful, a good conversationalist, and funny … everything I always wanted when I met the right badger." He shook his head. "Now I'm forty-one and that badger's come into my life as a skunk and a co-worker."
"So what, she's a co-worker," Harvey said with a shrug. "She's my co-worker too, and if I thought I'd have a chance at all, I'd ask her out. A ban on interoffice fraternization is passé, Richard; it's the twenty-first century. And don't be a species-ist, for God's sake."
"Oh, I'm not," Richard confessed. "I don't have a species-ist bone in my body." He didn't say anything for several seconds. "I just want to know that she's safe more than anything else."
Harvey found himself trying to comfort his boss. "She is. Tabitha's nothing if not resourceful. Who knows? Maybe if we go to Toronto now, we can catch up with her."
Richard shook his head. "There're 53 Mustelidaes in the Toronto area, 19 who go by the first initial 'T'."
Harvey raised an eyebrow, his ears following suit. The scrutiny caused Richard to shrug again. "I checked an hour ago. And God knows if she's even still there."
"Well, like I said, the timeline's still open. We could chase after her, I suppose. Adjust the time ahead a few minutes and -- "
The doctor was shaking his head before Harvey could finish talking. "She could cover a lot of ground in those few minutes. And what if the accident repeated itself?" He took another swallow of bourbon. "Can you believe they wanted to send a civilian through there first? Boy, Tabitha was sure right about that. Corporate was so anxious to start reaping profits that they were ready to risk an egghead in an untested system." In a sudden fit of anger, Badger made a fist and beat the top of his desk, scattering papers on both him and the floor. "Tabitha was so insistent on going first!"
Harvey started crunching one of his remaining ice cubes in his teeth. "You're in love with her."
Richard's eyes burned into Harvey. "Mind your own business."
Harvey raised his paws in defeat. "Since Tabitha's not here, looking after you is part of my business. And don't worry; we're going to bring her back, safe and sound."
A depressed nod was his reply. "I know you will, Harvey." Richard drank the last of his bourbon and sat his glass on a page of his daily report that hadn't fallen to the floor. His mind's eye was watching Tabitha again, walking toward the portal, taking off in a sprint as she ran into the glowing energy mass ahead of her. He could hear himself calling to her, 'Tabitha! Don't! Stop!' Only she didn't stop. Tabitha had run her fastest.
That was when she ran her fastest and jumped!
Richard ran over the events in his head once more to be sure of what he had remembered. "Harvey," he asked, "did you notice Tabitha broke into a dead run just as Paul said that he lost her beacon's signal?"
"I noticed she was running," Harvey said. "I didn't think any more of it."
"Maybe we should." Richard was tapping his fingertip on the arm of his chair. "She ran, and then when I called out to her she jumped into it, knowing full well that without the beacon's signal, the portal was going to close and keep her out." His mind began working once more. "Maybe we should think more of that." He pressed a button on his intercom. "IR, meet us in the security room." He stood up. "Harvey, come with me."
Harvey set his glass on the desk and stood up to follow his boss.
As they walked, Harvey was noticing something about Richard's walk -- it seemed to have purpose. "What are you expecting to find?" he asked as they rounded a corner. The Iron Raptor waiting for them in the hallway.
"Just something I have to be sure about," Richard explained. As they entered the security room the motion sensor turned on the room lights. The cyborg followed them inside.
"I wish you came with a user's manual sometimes," Harvey said with a sour tone to his voice as he looked at the machine.
Richard addressed the Iron Raptor. "IR," he said, "I want to see your security recording of the Temporal Complex from seven AM this morning."
"Yes, Doctor Badger." With smooth, self-programmed movements, the Iron Raptor plugged into the security console and began executing commands.
Harvey sat in a chair where he could see the terminal. "I don't think I like where this is heading."
"Think about it," Richard explained to him, "Tabitha ran. She had to have heard us calling to her to stop, but she ran through anyway."
"Meaning what?" Harvey's voice was challenging, and insubordination was the last thing on his mind, but he was the only one on the team who could confront the boss and get away with it so he used it to his advantage.
"Maybe nothing. That's we're going to find out," Richard replied. He looked over his shoulder. "How long until we're ready, IR?" he asked.
"I am ready for playback now," the Iron Raptor reported.
Badger took a seat next to Harvey. "Show us."
Tabitha dropped some coins into the vending machine and pressed the large plastic button. Forgetting the two or three second delay she was about to press the button again when a clunk below told her that her orange-flavored soda pop was waiting for her. She stooped and picked it up, and smiled. Aluminum cans, there's a flash from the past! She cracked open the top and took a large drink. She took her time walking back to her room; it was only a quarter to four, after all. Not quitting time yet.
Sliding the white card into the slot on the door, the latched clicked and she pushed the door open. Looking up and down the hallway she found it empty, and reached up to tap the upper doorframe. Tabitha walked into the room to resume her pacing, but first, another drink. When she did something caught her eye, and she held the muzzleful of beverage in her mouth.
A red light was blinking on the telephone.
No, Tabitha told herself. It couldn't be.
She set the can beside the television and picked up the card behind the phone. Skimming, she read how to retrieve voicemail messages. She picked up the handset and quickly dialed her room number.
"Message one of one," said the prerecorded introduction.
Hi Mary, this is Sabrina.
Tabitha felt the floor move underneath her feet. The feeling in her head was not the result of the traffic accident.
I'm … I'm sorry I missed you. I'll be home the rest of the day, but I can't guarantee what kind of company I'll be.
Tabitha listened to the tone of her sister Sabrina's voice. She sounded dejected.
Look forward to meeting you. Bye.
As the digital recording was asking what Tabitha wanted to do with the message, her paw was slowly reaching out to the cradle and hanging up the receiver.
Tears forming in Tabitha's eyes made their way down through the fur of her cheeks.
"She's alive!" Tabitha allowed herself to sink into the bed and wept for several long minutes.
There was no longer any time to waste. Tabitha took her brush kit to the bathroom, cleaned up and straightened her fur. Her eyes were red from crying … "That'll pass," she said aloud.
Back in the main area of the room she looked at the clock. It was almost ten minutes after four. There was no waiting anymore.
Tabitha grabbed her purse and took the elevator to the lobby of the hotel. She had decided against making another telephone call; that would only delay things. Besides, she sounds really down; I don't want to give her the chance to put off our meeting until tomorrow. It's time to just go see Sabrina and take matters from there.
She hailed a cab from the curb outside and gave the driver Sabrina's address. The ride wasn't too bad; it was only the lead edge of the evening rush hour. Within ten minutes, the cab was turning onto the street that ran past Sabrina's apartment building.
Tabitha frowned to herself as she scanned the street. There's her car, she thought to herself as the cab glided to a stop. She paid the cabbie for the ride and got out. The car pulled away and Tabitha stood in the street, looking up at the building holding the person she'd risked everything for. The sound of an approaching car broke her reverie and she stepped quickly onto the sidewalk. She had no desire to return to the hospital.
Tabitha trotted up the steps and reached high to the top of the doorjamb before she was able to open and walk through the front door. There was the familiar staircase she'd run up and down whenever she'd found herself bored when Sabrina babysat her. She placed her paw lightly on the banister, as if it would crumble if she gripped it too tightly. This building had been razed in 2021 for a larger apartment complex that occupied half the block, she mused with one foot on the bottom stair. Here she was, feeling an incredible and perfectly justified sense of déjà vu. When she stepped up, her stomach suddenly knotted.
Sabrina's apartment is at the top of these stairs.
Tabitha took a second step. A third followed, then another. To calm her nerves, she counted each step as she took it.
It didn't help much. Tabitha knew that she was going to see Sabrina. Twelve years before she died.
This may well be the only time I've actually walked up these steps!
Halfway up the staircase Tabitha began reviewing the introduction she'd been rehearsing the last several hours but she could only remember bits and pieces of it.
"Oh crap," she said as she ascended the heights to the second floor. "How am I going to handle this?" She felt sick from the anxiety welling inside her but there was no stopping now; she was taking the last step.
Tabitha was fifteen feet from her sister's apartment door.
"Oh gaaaawwwd." She rubbed her paw over her belly. "Keep it down, kid," she warned her insides.
She stood there for several seconds, staring at the door. It was a plain wooden apartment door that just happened to belong to her not-yet-dead sister. That fact seemed to amaze Tabitha into immobility.
She took a deep breath, let it out, took two more, and she held the last one as she walked up to the door, raised her right paw, and knocked.
After a moment, Tabitha heard footsteps on the other side of the door. Her stomach somersaulted and performed other tricks as she waited.
The door opened and Tabitha looked into her sister's face for the first time in nineteen years.