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Authors: M.L. Banner

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BOOK: Time Slip
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When he had left his laboratory yesterday afternoon and traveled the four miles by bicycle, he witnessed a mysterious post-apocalyptic world: none of the cars he pedaled by worked, and all appeared to have been abandoned on the road; all the power seemed to be off, everywhere; and it was much hotter than normal so there were few people wandering around in the midday heat. He had been desperate to find anyone to talk to and discover what the hell had happened and when, still having no idea if he arrived months or years after the moment he stepped through the time slip.

The only person he had spoken to had been darting across his path, barely stopping. When he asked the man what was wrong, the man yelled back, “They’re after me” and then promptly jumped off the highway embankment they were both on and disappeared. The second person he ran into literally ran into him. He heard rapid footsteps come from out of nowhere and was pushed from his bicycle. He hit the pavement so hard he passed out watching a big man wearing bib overalls and nothing else pedal away on his bike. More irony, since he had stolen the bike earlier.
Guess it served me right
.

When he came to, the right side of his face felt flushed, probably sunburned. But what shook him to his core were the lights above.

Some years back Betsy and he had been guests on a luxury Alaskan cruise, courtesy of some rich benefactors of his earlier research on gamma ray generation. He had been somewhat reluctant to take the gift, but Betsy had insisted, since they had not had a vacation together in years. One night, outside the Port of Juneau, they watched, mouths agape at the aurora borealis. It was magnificent, and they often talked about what that was like. Now, as he stared straight up at what should have been the dark night sky, what he saw didn’t fill him with wonderment. It filled him with dread. The entire sky was carpeted with auroras: red and green undulating currents washing in and out overhead, like some mad psychedelic seascape from Alice in Wonderland. This, of course, was impossible, being this far south of where auroras were ever seen—that is, unless something bad had happened. Then it all fit together: the dead cars, the lack of power, the auroras in the sky, the hotter temperatures. They must have had… rather, were still having a series of calamitous solar storms.

He pushed himself up, wobbling just a little. His mouth was parched and his head pulsed. Something tugged at his shoulder and he was relieved when he saw it was the canvas bag he had been carrying with supplies from his lab, including a bottle of water. He sucked on it like a pacifier, and the plastic crinkled as he pulled out the last drop.

He had guessed he was only a few blocks from Dr. Mendelson’s lab, and so he trudged forward on foot, picking up his pace, feeling a little better with each step. He was pushed by a mental tail wind, a need to find this man and with him, his wife’s cure.

As if guided by some internal GPS, he reached his destination in a matter of minutes; the bizarre auroras flooded the streets with green-red light, making it easy to see.

Mendelson’s lab was in worse shape than his own. In fact, block after block of this area had been consumed by massive fires. More pieces of the puzzle fitted together to provide a more complete picture of what had happened.

After jimmying the door and getting inside, he easily found Mendelson’s office, but it was mostly destroyed, and there was nothing salvageable that would lead him to the cure or the man on whom Betsy’s life depended. He had one last lead: Mendelson’s home. From the mental picture he had of the map, it was about four miles away. He needed to find some more supplies and procure another bicycle, and maybe some sort of weapon.

Stepping outside, he scrutinized the area to get a sense of what was around him to fill his mental shopping list. His head tilted up and once again he was distressed.

Chapter 17

Aug 10 (04:14)

 

“That was a waste of my time,” the man grumbled to himself as he sat back in Dr. Ron’s creaky university office chair and considered his next move. The office was meager, filled with a chaotic arrangement of stacked books, typed student reports, and University correspondence. The bookshelves were bursting with volumes about physics, mathematics, quantum mechanics, relativity, thermodynamics, and words the man had never heard of. Randomly poking out from the tangle of books and piles were faculty and science achievement awards, and various knickknacks and trip pictures. Submerged beneath this sea of paper and junk was his target’s desk and computer, networked with the university system. None of this yielded anything but a dull headache.

He longed for one of his cigarettes; they helped him think. But he wasn’t about to break down and smoke one of his last two just yet, not when it could be a long time before he would be able to find another pack. He hated this piss-ant section of America that didn’t sell the things he held so dear, like his Dunhills. Far worse was the ignorance of its people, with their poor taste in clothes and food, their bad accents, and their always wanting to shake his hand. He couldn’t stand to touch any of them, even with his gloves on. He tugged on the end of his right Fratelli Orsini, mindful of not stretching the leather too much, and then curled his fists into balls, squeezing tight for a moment, and then exploding his fingers outward as if that could expel the sickness he imagined swarming around his gloved hands.

His phone’s buzzing broke his concentration and the silence, agitating him further. The phone’s display said the number was “blocked,” but there was only one person who would be calling him now.

“Is it done?” His handler’s voice was both insistent and whiny.

“No! The package is missing. The police are after him and he is most likely on the run.” His words seethed out like the steam from a boiling tea kettle. He should have demanded triple his fee for their putting him through this.

“It is imperative you finish and get the data before the authorities or someone else gets him. We will pay you four times your normal fee, but this must be done by tomorrow at the latest.”

“Da,” he acknowledged before ending the call and slipping his phone back into his sport coat’s inside pocket. He would go back to the doctor’s lab and poke around there, police or no police. It was time to push this along. The trail was getting colder.

The man sprang up from his seat and walked to the door. His chair scooted backward across the timeworn linoleum floor, coming to rest against Cindy Spinnaker’s body. It was the one day she had come to work early to type up Dr. Ron’s notes for his single class, which were to be included in the fall syllabus. Her wide eyes and vacant smile reflected her momentary excitement at thinking her boss had arrived before her—now a frozen flash in time, like a surreal photograph. What looked like a third eye etched into her forehead winked tears of red, which puddled on the floor beneath her.

Chapter 18

Aug 10 (04:15)

 

Monty inched past building after building, oblivious to their darkness, with the moon providing barely enough light to navigate the frontage road and yet remain unseen. Approaching the lab, he tried to blink back fatigue’s clutches on his weary eyes and mind. He replayed today’s events and always ended at the same two things that pounded his nerves: Dr. Ron was never coming back, and if he didn’t succeed in getting another time slip open, it would have all been for nothing. Fearful of waiting at the house any longer, he figured he would take his chances and hide in the lab, watching for an opportunity to present itself.

The Porsche’s tires rolled over the asphalt almost silently as he passed. A beat of hope filled him at seeing only one police car parked out front, yellow police tape pulled across the entrance. No sign of the officer, though, who must have been either inside or patrolling the grounds. Monty couldn’t have the officer interrupting him before he could finish—all he needed was fifteen minutes. The building’s lighted sign was out and the darkened fence line around back seemed to confirm the complex’s power was still off. He had no idea how he would get power back on, assuming as he did that the police or someone from the power company caused this outage by flipping a switch or locking down the meter. If that was all, he just had to figure out where the switch or meter was and then flip it back on. But first, he set up a diversion.

For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Monty hopped over the fence. He had planned on the electrified barrier being off. What he hadn’t planned on was getting stuck on the fence’s barbed-wire top. He wasn’t paying attention because he was looking past the laboratory complex to other properties and realized that the lights were not on anywhere to the south of the highway for about three blocks. He was noticing this, puzzled and unsure what he would do if he couldn’t just flip a switch, when he got stuck. A particularly nasty barb was biting into his arm, drawing a little bead of blood from his forearm. Frozen for a moment, stuck and in plain view of anyone who might look his direction, he decided to try to work his way back to unhook his tangled arm. Then he saw something out of the corner of his eye that terrified him to his core: lights! His head spun around and he watched from his twelve-foot-high perch above the ground in horror as the power was coming on in sections toward him, and very quickly: a square section of lights three blocks away, then two blocks away, then the next block. He panicked and yanked his arm out of the tangled wire, ripping a deep gash between his elbow and wrist. Now free, he turned his shoulders and flexed his knees to jump, when the property’s spotlights erupted. Then, like in a slow-motion highlight reel, he was airborne.

~~~

The man pulled the Cadillac off the road at the same place by the billboard and watched. Only one police car sat in front of the lab’s entrance, but no one appeared to be in the car. He would only have one, maybe two officers to eliminate and find the data his handlers wanted, and maybe clues to his target’s whereabouts. He might even get lucky and have the target show up.

He was about to exit the vehicle, his driver’s-side door slightly ajar, when lights started to blink on a few blocks behind the complex and then on and around the complex itself. Pulling the door shut firmly, he watched for movement.

Chapter 19

In The Future

 

Finding Dr. Mendelson’s house was easier than he expected, as he remembered the map’s details quite well before his slip through time: all he had written was an address and cross streets to jog his memory; it wasn’t like there were public phones with attached phonebooks around anymore to look up addresses. The doctor’s unassuming two-story stucco stood in a neighborhood of what looked like two and three-story upper-middle-class homes. It had been a suburban utopia at one time, with manicured lawns and bushy trees, sharp-looking streets crowded with children playing, a paperboy chucking the daily onto driveways, and crossover vehicles racing from garages to get to work, their drivers applying last-minute lipstick or taking sips of their morning coffee. Now it was a scene from a disaster movie or an ongoing nightmare: most of the homes were burned to the ground. The few remaining, like Mendelson’s, were looted, with doors open, a scattering of windows broken and various belongings tossed into the yard. It was a soulless place.

Dr. Ron pulled out his hand-scrawled note, inspecting it more closely to make sure he wasn’t reading a 1 as a 7 or a 5 as a 6. Betsy always chided him for his poor penmanship, often looking at his handwritten notes and asking, “What does this say?”

“It says 5-1-1-6,” he answered, speaking to a black roll-a-board in front of him on the lawn. “This is the place, Bets.” And he just stood there, shoulders sagging, heart pumping. He really longed for her and felt regret at leaving her for this lame-brain scheme of his that now looked to have little chance of working. Even when he had told her about his plan, as the words were coming out of his mouth, he had started to question its feasibility: how would he convince this Dr. Mendelson to give him the formula, how would he find him… Endless questions filled his mind. But then his life partner so enthusiastically embraced it, squeezing his hands and telling him, “I trust you, husband, and I know you will be successful.” This made the plan real and gave him certainty. A certainty he didn’t feel now, looking at this abandoned home.

Perhaps he should have just stayed with her and comforted her in her final hours. At least they would have been together in her last few months… days. Instead, he left her to die alone. That thought stuck at the bottom of his gut; a sour taste of bile tried to work its way up.

His sagging head eyed the doorway, not wanting to go in, afraid that this would be the end of the line, that he wouldn’t find this Mendelson. He could see that the man wasn’t going to be home, and that most likely there wouldn’t be any leads inside. So he just stood there, filled with doubt. This was a rare sensation for him, as doubt never played a part in any of his decisions; he always knew what to do because science guided him. And when he wasn’t sure, he retested until he was. Even with matters of the heart and his love for Betsy, it was easy. Their love was something tangible to him, as real as the laws of physics: his love for her guided him in everything related to her.

What would she say right now?
A smile built, as the answer came to him. “There’s always an answer somewhere. If you haven’t found it yet, it’s because you weren’t looking in the right place. Keep on looking until you find it.”

Still straddling the bicycle, he swung one leg over it, letting it drop against the discarded luggage. He repositioned the canvas bag slung around his shoulder, transferring the strap’s bit to another part that didn’t hurt as badly, and stepped up to the threshold and into the home. If this wasn’t it, he’d find another place until he found him.

A boot print dented the faux wood door just above the stylish brass handle, but the frame had received the brunt of the violence and now lay broken and in pieces scattered around the doorway. But then he saw a torn piece of paper taped to the door. The note was meticulously handwritten, its letters prominent and very legible:

BOOK: Time Slip
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