“Mavis, you have to come now,” Ellie pleaded, “or else we won’t have time before next period.”

Mavis sighed in a longsuffering way, but raised himself from the lawn and brushed the crumbs of his lunch off his lap. He gave one last draw on his juice box before lobbing it into the trash bin.

“You don’t need me to start y’know. I can always join in.”

“But your ideas are the best,” Ellie explained as the two of them ran across the field. “And just so you know, Nell’s playing today, too,” Ellie winked slyly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The two of them reached the edge of the field, next to the swing sets, where the other children were busy arguing.

“We’re not doing dinosaurs, Patrick,” Chase said. “We’re not five anymore!”

“Oh, because secret agents is so original?” Patrick fired back. “It’s time for something different.”

“Pirates!” Nell offered.

“We’ve done that, too.”

“Not for a while.”

Patrick groaned at everyone else’s obstinance. “You guys just do what you want then. I’ll do my own thing.”

“We’re all doing our own thing,” Mavis declared as he arrived on the scene.

“Huh?”

“Dinosaurs, secret agents, pirates…all of it!”

“That doesn’t work,” Chase folded his arms in protest.

“It does when there’s time travel involved!”

All of the other kids went quiet and cocked their heads curiously. Mavis immediately launched into the hushed tone of one distributing top-secret information.

“We’re not just any secret agents, though, we’re members of the Temporal Security Agency. Time travel has already been invented but the government decided they have to regulate it, so they set our team up to monitor the ripples of time and watch for any temporal disturbances.” He was reciting the background for the latest adventure game he and his brother had been playing at home. Any hesitation the other kids held was swept away at the sound of such a fleshed out premise! Mavis had learned before that being able to launch straight into a compelling introduction was the best way to end an argument and get everyone else to fall in line.

“What’s a temporal disturbance?” Nell asked, and with that sign of curiosity the matter of what they were going to play was officially settled.

“It means that someone else has traveled back in time, messed something up, and now the future is about to be rewritten! But our sensors in the past tell us those changes are coming before they reach us, and that gives us a chance to jump back in time and undo whatever changed.”

“I don’t understand,” Patrick shook his head.

“Bad guys in the past changed things, we gotta go back and stop them,” Ellie surmised.

“Oh, okay.”

“EHH! EHH! EHH!” Mavis tried to imitate the sound of a klaxon sounding. “Oh no, everyone, that’s the alarm! We gotta get to the Time Capsule quick! Nell and Chase, prime it for launch. Patrick and Ellie, grab weapons and supplies. I’ll get the report from the computer!”

Everyone scrambled to their duties. Patrick and Ellie sprinted to the trees and came back with their arms full of sticks and pinecones, the guns and bombs which were surely standard issue for sensitive time distortions. Ellie and Chase dashed to the jungle gym and started unplugging invisible hoses and tightening massive bolts.

“Make sure you stabilize both reserves before fueling them,” Nell ordered, then did a double-take and threw her hands up in disgust. “No, you klutz, you’ve done it backwards again! I’ll do it myself.”

“Oh come on, Nell,” Chase protested. “Don’t be mean in this one, too.”

“No, it’s alright,” she flipped off the scolding tone like a lightswitch. “I’m going to learn how to be nice during this one. It’ll be good.”

Mavis came hurrying back to the jungle gym, flipping through imaginary sheets of data. “Well it looks like this was a coordinated attack,” he declared. “Three teams made a coordinated attack at three different places in time. We’ve got to go to the days of the dinosaurs, the pirates, and the old west. We’ll visit each one in turn, keep things from being changed, and catch whoever is behind this all.”

“We’re ready to go!” Nell announced as she closed the electrical panel on the side of the time capsule.

“Here,” Ellie handed out high-powered rifles to them all. Patrick distributed utility belts and stuffed their pockets with bombs.

The door to the Time Capsule slid open behind them, a thick, white cloud flowing out with a hiss. It was now or never!

“Two hundred million B.C.” Mavis read out as he walked into the machine and entered the coordinates onto the center panel. “There’s going to be raptors and T-Rexes. Don’t use your guns if you don’t have to, they’ll probably just make them angry.”

Patrick was the last one into the time capsule and he sealed the door behind them. “Ready to make the jump!” he declared.

Ellie and Nell went to the central power conduit to monitor its levels while Chase concerned himself with the data screens all along the walls.

“And here we go!” Mavis roared as he hurriedly flicked three switches, turned a dial, and pulled a slider all the way to its activated position!

There was a sound like the crack of thunder and bright lights flashed from all the monitors and displays. The ground rumbled beneath them and a steady hum shook all the walls: the resonance of change. All about them the world whisked back through time. Through portholes they could see life reversing at rapid speed. The building they were in unbuilt itself, the city skyline went from steel skyscrapers to log cabins to a wild forest, the sun and the moon chased each other through the sky faster and faster until they blurred into one. They were racing past entire millennia in a single moment now, and all the outside world blurred into incomprehensibility.

“MAINTAINING APPROVED LEVELS!” Chase reported over the roaring din. “WE’VE REACHED SLIPSPEED!”

“OKAY…” Mavis nodded, his eye on the date indicator ticking down in the center. “WE SHOULD START TO SLOW OUR VELOCITY NOW!”

Streaks started to show in the pure white of the outside world. The streaks slowed into changing patterns, slowed into recognizable forms of mountains and stars and trees.

“PREPARE FOR TIMESTOP!” Chase announced before Mavis could.

Outside they could make out individual pterodactyls flying backwards, water flowing up the mountainside, leaves rising from the ground to perch on the branches of trees. Suddenly a bright light appeared in the sky, coalescing rapidly to the center of a tremendous explosion! As time continued to march backwards the unmistakable streak of a meteor traced backwards from that explosion, settling into the position it held one hour before. Then, all at once, time paused for a split-second, then began moving forward at regular speed. They had arrived.

“Whew!” Patrick said in relief.

“But what was that explosion we passed along the way?” Mavis demanded.

“My character says, ‘well it’s got to be the meteor that kills the dinosaurs,'” Nell rolled her eyes. “‘Obviously.'”

“Nell, we’ve talked about this,” Ellie sighed. “You don’t have to narrate what you’re saying. You just say it.”

“I think you’re right, though,” Mavis approved Nell’s observation. “But that meteor was supposed to hit the earth, right? Why’s it exploding up in space?”

“Captain, I’m getting readings of a nearby heat signature,” Chase approached with his tricorder. “It could be a rocket facility.”

“Time travelers, Chase,” Ellie shook her head. “Not Star Trek!”

“But excellent observation,” Mavis nodded. “I’ll bet that’s where our time-troublemakers are at. In about an hour they’re going to shoot a missile to take out that meteor before it hits earth.”

“Well…that sounds pretty good to me,” Patrick shrugged. “Then the dinosaurs will still be alive.”

“That sounds good?!” Chase demanded. “How will humans be able to evolve, then? They’ll all get eaten and we’ll never exist.”

“But we’re here now. We could just stay here and live with the dinosaurs.”

“We’re not going to give up all of human civilization for some old animals!” Nell scolded.

“What then? Make sure that all the dinosaurs die?! That’s not right!”

“Listen Patrick,” Ellie said more gently, “you’re a Temporal Security Agent, aren’t you? Well it’s not your job to get lost in time, it’s to keep it the same, whether for better or worse. It’s the burden we all bear. We’re all in this job because we’re the one’s willing to make the tough choices.”

Patrick wiped a small tear from the corner of his eye. “Alright,” he said, “let’s smoke ’em.”

“Good man,” Mavis clapped him on the shoulder, then walked over to the wall of the time capsule and opened a hatch. Inside was a harness fitted with all manner of wires and buttons. It was pulsating with yellow energy. “Looks like the remote activator is charged,” he observed. “Remember, its tethered to the last point of time that the Time Capsule came to, and can return us to it in an emergency. But it will break after a single use. Who wants to be in charge of it?”

“I will,” Ellie accepted the responsibility and put the harness around her shoulders. “We’re ready to go!”

But just then they were interrupted by an ear-splitting shriek coming from somewhere just outside the Time Capsule. Each of them shivered as a long-forgotten instinct woke up in their hearts. The instinct to be terrified of an apex predator!

“What is it?” Chase looked to Patrick fearfully.

“T-Rex, of course.”

“We have to run!” Nell panicked.

“He’s already got our scent,” Patrick shook his head in defeat.

“Alright,” Mavis said. “Looks like we’ve got to split up. You’ve still got the coordinates of that enemy base, Chase? You and Nell and Ellie go check that out. Patrick, you and I are on dino-distraction-duty!”

Everyone nodded, Patrick particularly enthusiastically, then bolted for the door and out of the Time Capsule.

“Keep your walkie-talkie on channel 6!” Mavis called after the others as he switched on his own.

“He’s already here,” Patrick grabbed Mavis and pointed in equal parts terror and giddy excitement at the treeline. The branches and leaves burst apart as a massive lizard charged into the clearing, eyes locked on them, and giving off another ear-splitting roar!

“RUN!” Mavis shouted, then the two turned and bolted in the opposite direction of their comrades, leading the Tyrannosaur away from the mission. They hadn’t gone more than ten paces when they heard a sickening crunch from behind. Wheeling around they saw that the dinosaur had paused to give their Time Capsule a taste, puncturing through its walls with its teeth. Panels were strewn on the ground and sparks of electricity flashed from exposed wires. The machine…was broken.

“Well this just got worse,” Patrick understated.

*

Meanwhile the other group dove through the underbrush, anxious to not waste a moment in their task.

“There’s no telling what we’re going to find when we get there,” Nell observed. “Everyone have your rifles ready, but I don’t want any sloppy shots giving away our position! We take out any guards stealthily, you understand?”

“Wait, whoever said that you outrank us?” Chase asked.

“Oh. I definitely outrank you.”

“Quiet, you guys!” Ellie hissed, dropping to a crouch and pointing through the low-hanging branches. The others halted and followed her gaze to a patrol walking by.

There were three guards, all of them in strange, metallic armor suits that covered every inch of their body.

“Are they robots?” Chase wondered aloud.

“Only one way to find out,” Nell said determinedly.

“Yeah…wait…what do you mean by that?”

But rather than answer Nell lifted up a large rock and hurled it full speed at the head of the nearest guard. It cleaved the helmet clean off, sending a bright ribbon of blood shining through the air.

“Guess that’s not a robot.”

“Ewww! No!” Ellie shook her head. “Don’t make it gross, Nell.”

“Well that’s what I see, you can see whatever else you prefer.”

I like it!” Chase approved.

Ellie shook her head, then looked back up at the guard crumpled on the ground, still dead, but with head fully attached and totally bloodless. Meanwhile the other guards ducked for cover and drew out their weapons.

“We got infiltrators at the West Perimeter!” one of them called into his communicator as the other drew a bead on the children.

“I said to take them out quietly,” Ellie hissed.

“What? I got mine,” Nell protested. “You two were supposed to nab the others.”

“Never mind that!” Chase roared “We’re blown now!”

And the three of them dashed back through the trees, ducking and weaving to dodge the incoming gunfire!

*

“You distract the dinosaur!” Mavis shouted to Patrick as they tore through the undergrowth. “I’ll circle back and fix the Time Capsule!”

“Got it!”

Mavis peeled to the side and ducked behind a rocky outcropping, waiting for the T-Rex and Patrick to pass him by before racing back to the Time Capsule.

“It looked like it bit through the Stabilizer Array,” he muttered to himself as he came upon the scene. “Probably blew all the gaskets! I can replace those from the Fabricator, but I’ll have to come up with something custom to replace the Levelling Detection….I just don’t know if I have enough time!”

*

Ellie stumbled through the bushes and right into the path of the enemy patrol.

“Oh no!” she shouted, then turned and bolted back the way she came.

“After her!” the leader of the patrol shouted and they all rushed over the same bush she had disappeared behind. No sooner did they do so than they fell down a massive ravine to their deaths!

“Nicely done,” Chase’s head popped out from one of the bushes on the edge of the cliff.

“Thanks,” Ellie smiled as she popped out from a bush on the other side.

“What are you two happy about?” Nell huffed next to Chase. “We’ve only taken care of half your mess. I’m sure they already radioed to their base that we’re here, so now they’ll be on high alert at their base. They’re just waiting for us to invade!”

“Well then maybe we use that to our advantage,” Chase looked thoughtfully to a nearby mountain top.

“What?” Nell scrunched her nose.

He sighed and pointed out the cliff directly above the enemy base and the massive boulder that was lingering at the edge of that very cliff.

“If they’re looking for us down below, they won’t be watching up above. They won’t see us dropping that big, old rock right on top of them!”

“That seems…too convenient…” Nell shook her head.

“I like it!” Ellie said, and she traipsed off with Chase to start climbing the mountain. Outvoted on the matter of plot contrivance Nell followed with a sigh.

*

Mavis moved his hands like a concert pianist. He grabbed and placed and bolted and snapped and fused and sheathed and twisted with the speed of an expert in a panic. Every now and then he glanced up to the sky, watching the fiery streak that illuminated the cloudless sky. Every minute the meteor seemed a little bigger, a little lower towards Earth. He could almost feel the heat coming off of it!

If Chase, Ellie, and Nell took care of their part of the mission then that meteor would wipe out everything still tied to this timeline in a matter of minutes. Mavis’s hands started moving even faster!

“Come on, Patrick, get back here! I need your help!”

*

Up above Chase and Ellie and Nell clung to the side of the cliff, climbing as quickly as they could to the summit.

“That meteor is getting closer!” Ellie said, a slight tinge of panic in her voice.

“I don’t think we’re going to make it up there in time,” Nell concurred.

As if matters weren’t bad enough, Chase’s next step dislodged a loose stone, which frightened a flock of pterodactyls roosting down below. With ear-splitting screeches the massive creatures swooped up towards the children, threatening to dash them off the mountainside.

“Hang on!” Chase called. “I’ve got an idea!”

“Ohhhh no,” Ellie shook her head. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this!”

“Hyah!” Chase shouted, flinging himself off the rock wall and onto the back of the nearest pterodactyl! The creature squawked in surprise and flapped wildly, trying to knock its hijacker off.

“Oh no you don’t!” Chase snarled, wrapping his arms around the creature’s neck and hauling upwards, slowly steering it towards the top of the cliff and away from the other attacking pterodactyls. “Ha! Look at that!” he called to the girls down below. “Two birds with one stone.”

“Two pterodactyls, don’t you mean?” Ellie grinned, then swallowed her fears and leaped onto the next flying reptile to pass by!

“Hey, wait for me!” Nell followed suit.

*

Mavis leaped into the air and grabbed hold of a support beam in the roof of the Time Capsule. He swung his other arm to swap a fresh power cell in place of the damaged one while his legs pumped wildly, keeping himself aloft.

“Patrick, where are you?!” he roared yet again.

As if on cue Patrick’s head came bobbing into view just above the tree-line. Mavis stared in amazement as the same T-Rex from before came charging into the clearing, Patrick perched triumphantly on its head, steering it from a harness made of vines and–

Nope, nope, nope!” Nell shook her head, hopped down from her swing, and folded her arms.

“What?” Patrick asked innocently, still holding his heroic pose on top of the slide.

“There is no way you captured and tamed a T-Rex in the last fifteen minutes.”

“Oh you’re one to talk! You’re riding a pterodactyl up a mountain!”

“That wasn’t my choice. These two–” she gestured to Ellie and Chase, “have absolutely no sense of reality.”

“C’mon Nell, we’re traveling through time,” Mavis sighed. “This doesn’t have anything to do with reality.”

Nell threw her hands up in exasperation, but clambered back into her swing and started pumping into the air. “Well I say ‘Are you two ready to jump off?!'”

“You don’t have to say that you say it,” Ellie reminded. “Just say it! And yeah! Get ready, it’s going to be a rough landing!”

The three flyers launched off their steeds and skidded onto the top of the cliff.

“Alright!” Chase crowed. “Let’s shove the boulder over!”

The three of them sprinted to the behemoth and pressed against it with all their might. Looking up they could see the meteor looming as large as the sun in the sky. It was near enough to make out the mile-high flames scorching its surface. Near enough to feel the weight of it bearing down on them.

“PUUUUSH!” Nell strained.

*

“Patrick, watch where you’re stomping!” Mavis ordered. “I barely have the Time Capsule put back together!”

“I’m trying…but…this guy isn’t following orders,” Patrick called down from his perch. “I said, go right!” Patrick gave the reins a sharp tug, eliciting a deep snarl from the beast. “Easy boy, easy!” Patrick tried to soothe, but the T-Rex wasn’t having it any more. With a particularly mighty roar it shook itself vigorously until Patrick was dislodged and fell to the creature’s feet.

“I thought we had an understanding!” Patrick said indignantly, but the T-Rex just bared his teeth and snarled.

“Uh-oh!” Mavis squeaked.

*

“We’re too late!” Ellie pointed to the enemy base down below. A hatch had opened in its ceiling and a massive cannon emerged, pointed directly for the approaching meteor. The coils at the back of the cannon hummed and glowed as a fire started to glow at the bottom of its barrel.

“Just focus!” Chase ordered. “Rock it back…and PUSH!” All three of them shoved in unison. The rock resisted their force for a moment, but finally gave way! With a great crumbling sound it went careening down the side of the cliff, bounced off the rocky wall once, twice, then spun through the air on a direct collision course for the base below. Already the gun had charged, though, and it fired its molten blast into the air…and into the falling boulder! The rock had intercepted the blast just in time, and now the rock burst into a million pieces of shrapnel!

Some of those shards pounded back down into the enemy base, tearing it to shreds, and some of them flew out sideways, pelting over the treetops and punching through the T-Rex that was menacing Patrick and Mavis. It fell to the ground, mere inches from crushing the Time Capsule again.

“You guys better get here!” Mavis shouted as he started punching numbers into the command panel.

“We’re coming! We’re coming!” Ellie shouted back, looking over her shoulder as the meteor broke through the atmosphere and scorched the clouds. Their three pterodactyl-steeds came wheeling back to them from that direction, frantic to outstrip the specter of doom! Ellie, Chase, and Nell leaped onto the lizards’ backs, steered them straight for the nearby clearing, and tumbled off at the entrance to the Time Capsule.

“This isn’t going to work!” Nell looked incredulously at the extensive damage still strewn throughout the Time Capsule.

“She’ll hold together,” Mavis snapped back as the last of the children entered the machine.

“We’d have a better chance surviving the meteor than a time jump in this heap of junk!”

“Never tell me the odds!” Mavis punched the button.

“Hey!” Nell cried as she the Time Capsule lurched to life, knocking her to her feet. “I wasn’t ready, you scoundrel!”

“Scoundrel?” Mavis smiled slyly as he helped lift her back to her feet. “I like the sound of that…”

Nell scoffed and turned away. “You’re a moron.”

“I know,” he sighed.

“Quiet, you guys,” Patrick said in awe. “Look!”

The rest of them followed his gaze through the nearest porthole. All of them watched as the meteor impacted on the ground, kicking up a tremendous wave of dirt and fire, and flinging dinosaurs violently through the air! The ripple of destruction broke right on top of them, but they weren’t smashed to bits. All the rock, and dirt, and dinosaur washed over them without making a single dent, for the Time Capsule had already untethered from the time of that place and was picking up pace to leave it behind as a distant memory.

Patrick hung his head sadly.

“I can’t believe we just let that happen,” he sighed. “We were there, man. We saw them: dinosaurs! They were going to be spared and we just let them die.”

“You know it was the right thing to do,” Ellie patted his shoulder reassuringly. “It’s our mission to keep time on its predefined course, not to–ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! PATRICK, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?!”

She leaped back quickly from the boy, startled by whatever she had just seen. As soon as she was out of the way the other children could see what had set her off. The head of a baby raptor had just popped out from Patrick’s shirt pocket, and now the lizard was trying to wriggle all the way out as the boy vainly tried to shield it from view.

“N-n-nothing to see here,” Patrick stammered, poking at the baby again, only to get a nasty bite on his finger in return. “Ouch!”

“Patrick!” Mavis said accusingly. “What did Ellie just get done saying? We can’t change time!”

“I haven’t!” Patrick insisted. “Look, this baby was there when the meteor hit, right? So what do you think happened to it? It died! It was taken out of the picture. Well now it’s still out of the picture, I’ve just taken it out another way, that’s all.”

“You can’t just bring a foreign element into your home like that!” Nell exclaimed. “You have no idea what it’s bringing along with it!”

“Oh come on. It’s just this one, little guy. I didn’t bring anything else with us.”

As if on cue a slow, trilling sound came from the storage bay. Next the sound of claws tapping on the tile floor as three adult raptors sauntered into view.

“Oh…” Patrick said. “Unless it’s pack saw me take it and followed us here…”

PATRICK!!” all the other children said in exasperation.

But there was no more time for discussion. Just then the raptors caught sight of the baby and leaped furiously after it! All the other children dove to intercept them before they tore Patrick to shreds! What followed was pure chaos. Chairs were thrown, panels were smashed, and wires were stripped out of the walls! Jaws snapped at ankles and make-shift lassos tossed in every direction. Everyone was both pursuer and pursued at the same time, no one stayed still for even a second.

And during it all the Time Capsule churned faithfully on. Millennia after millennia passed, century after century, decade after decade. Now the blur of rising and setting suns slowed and the moon rose over a stormy night, its light reflected on the world’s largest mirror: the Pacific Ocean! A massive thunder cloud in the east rushed onto the scene like smoke in a jar until it filled the entire horizon.

Time slowed down still further. The waves settled into a tumultuous rolling and the storm became a single, solid gale. Details that were imperceptible before became clear, such as daggers of lightning that stabbed in the heart of the storm and rain that streaked sideways over the sea.

And in this world of sea and storm there loomed a single witness: an old ship. Its sails were straining away from the storm, but still the water spilled over its deck and threated to sink the entire thing at any moment. And it was upon this doomed vessel that the Time Capsule came to rest, silently perching itself at the very back where none of the sailors would notice it amidst the chaos.

All at once the Time Capsule’s engines groaned to a halt and the time travelers became tethered to this current moment of history. Now the spray of ocean water came peppering through the holes in the Time Capsule and the wind howled through every crack. The children and the raptors froze where they were, startled by the sudden change in their surroundings.

“Where are we?” Chase glanced to the main panel. “Hmm…Pacific Ocean…1700s…looks like we’re on an old sailing ship!”

“Not just any old sailing ship,” Ellie pointed her finger to the mast where a jolly roger blew fitfully in the breeze. “A pirate ship!”

Before the children could say anything more the raptors had snapped out of their initial shock, and returned to the matter of terrorizing the children.

“Ahhh!” Chase flung himself backwards just in time to avoid having his face bit off. As he fell he threw his hand out to catch himself, accidentally pressing the cabin decompression button along the way.

FOOOOM!

The doors of the Time Capsule slammed open and all of the children, raptors, and broken pieces of the machine were expelled instantaneously. They burst across the upper deck like little cannonballs, spraying splinters and splashing puddles of water onto the crew of pirates assembled below.

“Lookee there!” the Captain of the cutthroats shouted. “Sirens! No doubt the same ones what conjured up this blasted storm! They be here to sink us to the very depths! Bring me their hearts if ye want ter live!”

All five time travelers gasped at the face of the man. It was the most grizzled, scarred, and burned visage they had ever seen. Over his head he wore a crimson three-cornered hat, and extending from his face was a beard so scraggly and sprawling that it appeared like an explosion on his chin. It was also as dark as night.

“This is Blackbeard’s crew!” Ellie whispered in shock.

“Yes, and they’re coming to murder us!” Chase panicked, for at their Captain’s behest the entire crew was now surging for the upper deck, belaying pins and cutlasses waving in every hand!

But they never made it to the children. For no sooner did the raptors see the rushing tide than they concluded these larger humans were much more of a threat than the small children. The lizards rose to their feet and dashed into the fray, clashing into the pirates on the stairs, slashing at them with murderous intent!

“Let’s go!” Mavis ordered, bounding for the nearest rigging and climbing away from the commotion. The others quickly followed, discussing their situation as they went.

“Why would the time crooks have come here?” Patrick wondered aloud.

Mavis pointed to the massive storm drawing ever nearer. “Legends state that Captain Blackbeard terrorized the seas until he and his crew were drowned in a terrible typhoon. This must be the moment where the greatest menace to ever sail the ocean died!”

“Unless he didn’t,” Ellie caught on. “Unless someone went back to save him, just like they were about to with the dinosaurs.”

“And who knows what sort of devastation that old cutthroat might get up to if he doesn’t die here,” Nell agreed. “Our whole society might be changed because of it.”

“Alright,” Mavis concluded. “We’ve got a moment while the raptors have the pirates distracted, but it won’t last for long. All of you look for the time crooks and stop whatever they’re up to. I’ll try and get the Time Capsule back to a workable state again. Everyone clear!”

“Clear!” came the chorus of responses. All of the children flung themselves from the rigging, grabbed the nearby ropes, swung to different parts of the deck, and dashed off in search of the time invaders.

“I’ll sweeping the cargo hold,” Nell said into her walkie talkie, ducking under some crates to avoid the gaze of nearby pirates.

“I’ve got the sleeping quarters,” Ellie finished her rope swing by kicking a raptor clean over the railing.

“I’ll check the exterior,” Patrick swung hand-over-hand along the outside of the ship, moving as effortlessly as if he were crossing monkey bars on a playset.

“I’ll look in the Captain’s quarters,” Chase offered, and so saying he pushed open the great door and sidled into the dimly lit room. There was a great desk in the back, a heavily marked map upon it, and a chest down by its side.

“Blackbeard’s treasure!” Chase gasped, then reached a trembling hand to open its lid. All manner of gold and jewels twinkled up at him, an incredible wealth untold. “Patrick was dumb to bring a living raptor with him,” he said. “But who would miss a few gold coins destined to be lost at the bottom of the ocean?”

“I would,” a dark voice breathed out from behind. Chase spun around in the dark and found himself face-to-face with the silhouette of Blackbeard himself! Before Chase could dodge out of the way, the burly man flung out a massive arm and seized him around the neck, lifting him high into the air.

“Guys, help!” Chase choked into the walkie talkie. His legs kicked wildly and his eyes roved his surroundings for anything help him out of the situation.

“Ye know that they say: there be no honor among thieves!” Blackbeard snarled. “Now ye’ll feel the full measure of an honorless death!”

A slight movement caught Chase’s attention and his eyes shifted to a nearby porthole just in time to see the baby raptor slink into the room. “Hey ugly,” he grinned down to Blackbeard, “you ever been bit in the butt by history?”

With a crash the baby raptor’s mother burst through the porthole, took one look at the giant of a man standing near to her baby, and snapped her teeth into his great posterior.

“Yeeeooowch!” Blackbeard dropped Chase and twisted round, trying to clobber the raptor.

“Alright!” Chase crowed into his walkie talkie. “Never mind on that rescue!”

“Would you be quiet!” Nell snapped back. “I think I just heard something!” She put the walkie-talkie down and pressed her ear to the wall at the back of the ship. There, on the other side of the hull, she could just barely make out a faint, machine-like whirring. “I found them!” she hissed. “They’re hanging onto the outside of the ship!”

Ellie swung around the outside corner of the ship and did a double-take. “I can confirm,” she said. “I’ve got eyes on them and…uh…you guys better grab onto something!”

“Wait, why?” Chase asked as he lifted a handful of gold coins and rubies from Blackbeard’s treasure chest and deposited them in his pocket.

Before Ellie could give an answer the futuristic thrusters that had been attached to the back of the ship activated. Two jets of fire streaked out above the ocean as twin beams of light, propelling the entire ship forward at turbo speed!

With a shout Blackbeard and the raptor flew through the room and smashed into the wall at the back of the sleeping quarters. The raptor was knocked out cold.

“Uh oh,” Patrick gulped.

“Now it’s yer turn!” Blackbeard approached Patrick with a toothy grin.

“What’s going on?” Mavis’s voice came over the communicators. Up above, he scrambled out of the Time Capsule and rushed to look over the rear of the ship.

“They’re using thrusters to push the ship away from the storm!” Ellie replied, flipping through the air and landing on one of the metal platforms that the time bandits had erected to hold those thrusters in place. There were two more of those armored guards standing upon it and the nearest of them rushed forward to attack Ellie. “We got to get these out of commission,” she concluded before ducking under the guard’s first punch!

“I’m here!” Patrick sprang out a rear-facing window and fell onto the platform beneath the other thruster. He turned up his arm just in time to block a punch from the other armored guard, then swung his own fist into the menace’s side with a loud clang. “Owwwww!” he moaned.

On the other side of the hull Chase threw the chest of gold and jewels at Blackbeard. The heavy trove slammed into the pirate’s face, then slid to the ground without so much as fazing him.

“Yer a fool!” Blackbeard snarled, then gripped the back of Chase’s shirt and flung him clean through the wall. Chase slammed into the guard attacking Patrick, knocking the enemy over the edge and down to the water below.

“That’s one down!” Patrick crowed.

“But a new one still to go!” Chase pointed to Blackbeard forcing his way through the hole he had thrown the boy through.

Ellie ducked and weaved around her own assailant, trying to avoid the foe’s crushing blows.

“You don’t have a chance!” the guard snarled. “No armor? No augmented strength? No weapon? How do you expect to defeat me?”

“I don’t!” Ellie shot back, standing to her feet and raising her fists.

The guard gave a wild cry and charged forward at full speed. Right before impact Ellie gave a quick sidestep, causing the guard to pummel full speed into the thruster stream that Ellie had been standing in front of a moment before.

“I expect you to defeat yourself,” Ellie concluded as the guard’s armor and skin melted off and its bones turned to dust…

“No!” Ellie interrupted Nell’s narration. “I beat the guard, so I get to describe it! Shee just gets caught in the thruster stream and carried out to sea. No blood or melting or anything.”

“Hey you guys, we’re still moving away from the storm!” Mavis pointed out as he tried to screw a panel back into place.

“Yeah, we know!” Chase strained as he ducked one of Blackbeard’s giant fists. “This situation is a mess! We still have that remote activator thingy charged? Let’s reset and try again.”

“No we don’t,” Mavis sighed, looking up at the broken module. “I better get that back online, but now we’ve only got one shot at this. We have to get it right!”

“Don’t worry!” Nell called into her walkie talkie, sprinting as quickly as she could through the hull of the ship. “I’m bringing backup!”

“What?”

Nell clipped the walkie talkie to her pocket and sprinted even faster. She flew into the Captain’s quarters, off the desk, and through the hole that had been broken through its back wall. She vaulted over Blackbeard’s head, then came to a skidding halt on the edge of the thruster platform.

“Arrgh! Another one!” the buccaneer snarled, stepping into line with Nell. Then, all of a sudden, the two other adult raptors slammed into his back! They had been chasing Nell all through the hold of the ship and he had stepped into their way. A moment later and the pirate and lizards were flailing in their fight, the children left entirely forgotten.

“Good work, Nell!” Patrick approved. “Any luck on your side, Ellie?”

“Almost…got it…” Ellie had spent the last minute straining at the bolts on the thruster on her side. She had managed to remove its outer panel and was trying to pry the largest cable out of its socket. “There!” she exclaimed as the cable came loose and the power to the thruster cut off instantaneously. Everyone shouted as the entire ship now careened to one side, driven through a tight curve by the other thruster that was still online.

“Hold on!” Ellie panted. “Hold on!” She watched as the ship raced through an arc of 45 degrees, 90 degrees, 135 degrees… “NOW!” she shrieked as it turned a full 180, then thrust the cable back into its socket, bringing the second thruster back to life. Now the ship was facing back towards the storm and blistering forward to meet it!

“Time to go!” Ellie called to Patrick, Chase, and Nell…but none of them would be leaving anytime soon. Of course all of their commotion had drawn the attention of the pirate crew, who were now billowing out of the holes in the back of the ship and vaulting over the railing, filling up every open space of the platforms that the children stood upon. Ellie flicked her eyes left and right, but the only escape was into the swirling ocean water.

“Arr, Captain was right!” one of the pirates snarled. “They be sirens, come to sink us in the depths!”

“Well now we have them on the end of a plank,” another laughed. “Let’s make ’em walk it!”

“Mavis, are you hearing this?” Ellie asked fearfully.

“Yeah, yeah…let me think…” Mavis closed the last of the panels he had been repairing and rapidly flipped some switches. “Things are even shakier than before,” he wiped his brow, “but I think the Time Capsule might hold out for another jump.”

“You’re going to leave us?!” Nell screeched as the pirates slowly advanced, cutlasses out, forcing the children to back up to the edge of the platforms.

“Trust me,” Mavis returned, scrutinizing the three-dimensional time-space hologram in the center of the Time Capsule. “And…activate!” He flicked three switches, turned a dial, and pulled a slider all the way to its activated position. The Time Capsule hummed to life, detaching itself from that moment and floating weightlessly forward through time and space.

“He is leaving us!” Patrick pointed frantically at the outline of the Time Capsule as it flickered out of their reality.

“Shut yer mouth!” Captain Blackbeard snarled, each of his fists was closed around the tail of an unconscious raptor. ” And jump to yer doom!”

Up in the Time Capsule, Mavis had each hand on a separate dial, turning them in tandem to maneuver himself through space with careful precision. Now that he was detached from any moment of time the machine’s matter would not interact with the pirate ship. He was able to steer his vessel clean through the wooden walls, coming out the back of the ship, just underneath the platforms his friends were about to fall from.

“Okay,” he wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. “I’ve got to time this just right.”

“I said off!” Blackbeard shouted up above, then swung the limp raptors at the children. Ellie, Chase, Patrick, and Nell took another step backwards, lost their balance, and plunged off the edge!

“Whoops!” Mavis said as the children fell clean through his vessel and down to the water below! He spun another dial and time slowed around him, paused, and finally reversed, scooting the children back up into the air. He spun the dial the other way round, returning time back to its forward motion. At the exact same moment he punched a button, retethering himself to that instance of spacetime, causing the Time Capsule to become physical once more. Chase, Evie, Patrick, and Nell fell through the Time Capsule’s open hatches and landed with a thump in their seats.

“Gotcha!” Mavis crowed.

“How many tries did it take?” Nell demanded.

“Just one, of course.”

“Come back here!” Blackbeard shouted from above, then leaped off the platforms, raptors still dangling from his hands.

“Get us out of here!” Chase shouted.

Mavis punched the controls again, sending the Time Capsule hurtling into the future. As the flow of time accelerated outside, the children watched the pirate ship streak past them at superspeed, jets propelling it straight into the storm! They had done it. They had restored time to its proper outcome. A little messy perhaps, but fate had been restored. Now there was only–

“What manner of witchcraft be this?!” a gruff voice interrupted from the corner of the Time Capsule. For Blackbeard had fallen into the vessel before Mavis had finished making the jump forward in time. He was hurtling towards the future with the children!

All was chaos once more as pirate and children chased each other all about the Time Capsule. Blackbeard was a more persistent predator than the raptors, though, far less prone to being distracted. Despite the children’s efforts best efforts he soon had Patrick by the scruff of his neck.

“Alright then!” he roared. “All of ye will be calming down now, ‘less you want any harm to come to yer crewmate here!”

Mavis, Chase, Nell, and Ellie glanced at each other, then slowly lowered the boxes and chairs they had been about to throw.

“Very good!” the pirate approved. “Now it would seem I am requiring a new vessel. This” he gestured to the time machine “will be that vessel. The lot of you will teach me to command such a craft and I…will let you live.”

“Don’t do it!” Patrick shouted. “We can’t let him get power over all of history!”

“Well perhaps not all of ye will live!” Blackbeard hissed into Patrick’s face.

“Don’t hurt him!” Nell shouted. “We’ll help you.”

“What?” Mavis looked incredulously to Nell’s worry-etched face.

“Very good,” Blackbeard approved. “Now if ye would be so kind, lass, direct me to the helm of this vessel.”

“It’s over here,” Nell stepped to the central panel and flipped a few switches, causing the Time Capsule to shudder as it hurtled along its way to the future.

“Curious…” Blackbeard took a step nearer, still holding Patrick firm. “No wheel?”

“No. Switches and dials.”

“Teach me.”

“Let the boy go first.”

“If I be letting the boy go, then you will have no reason to obey.”

“Trade then,” Nell held her arm out to Blackbeard. He paused for a moment, as if trying to detect a trap, then gripped her wrist. As soon as he had her secured he let Patrick go. “I’ll tell you everything,” she said, “and you can keep our ship. But in return we’re going to need your help. We have an important mission to fulfill and we’re down to its last stage now. You see us through to the end, drop us off at our home berth, and then our ship and the knowledge to run it will be yours.”

Blackbeard laughed, then spat in his hand and held it out to her. Nell nodded and spat in his hand, too.

“Er…” Blackbeard stared at his hand in confusion, but waved the matter away with a careless shrug. “It’s a deal then!”

“Perfect,” Nell turned back brightly to the other children, only to find them staring at her with mouths agape. “What?” she asked innocently.

“Could I have a word, Nell?” Mavis hissed as he grabbed her elbow and escorted her out of Blackbeard’s earshot. “What do you think you’re doing?! We can’t give the Time Capsule to Blackbeard!”

“Well he’s going to help us finish our mission first. We’ll come back home with history having been righted and that’s the extent of our job, Mavis.”

“History won’t be righted! Blackbeard was supposed to die in that storm.”

“We don’t actually know that. It’s only a legend that he died there. And anyway, he’s still been taken out of that timeline one way or another, hasn’t he?”

“Oh really? You’re using the same defense as Patrick with his raptors now? At least he wasn’t giving them a time machine to go mess up whatever moment in history they want! There’s no telling what that old cutthroat will get to if he has the Time Capsule!”

“Alright!” Nell conceded. “It’s an imperfect solution. We’ll just have to figure out the rest as we go. What matters is that I took care of what I had to in the moment.”

Mavis narrowed his eyes. “You mean saving Patrick.”

“Yes, saving Patrick, Mavis. What’s the matter with that? He’s a member of our crew, isn’t he?!” And with that she jerked her arm free and returned to the rest of the crew.

“We’re about to come out of timewarp,” she observed, “and I’ve got a feeling this will be the most dangerous task we’ve faced yet.”

“The time coordinates say its the mid 1800s,” Chase announced. “Coming into the United States…looks like central Missouri.”

“1800s!” Blackbeard clapped a hand to his head. “What manner of ships might one find in such a time as that?”

“Oh, some really cool ones,” Patrick grinned. “They’re about to invent invent the first ironclad warships.”

Ironclad?!” the pirate exclaimed. “I’ll be unstoppable!”

Mavis shot a furious glare at Nell.

“Never mind that, Blackbeard,” Nell tutted. “We had a deal and you need to have your mind on the mission at hand.”

As if on cue the Time Capsule began to wind down for final approach. It was now slow enough for its occupants to make out the landscape before them. The ocean of water had been replaced for one of dust. A single, flat, empty plain extended for as far as the eye could see in every direction.

Well…almost empty. Snaking through the void was a single, black snake, which as the Time Capsule descended lower and lower revealed itself to be a railway line. And upon that line a single steam train chugged from east to west.

“A train?” Chase said in surprise. “Why would the time bandits be interested in a train out in the middle of nowhere?”

“Probably there’s something important on the train,” Ellie observed.

“Yeah…hang on…” Patrick stepped over to the panel, started fiddling with the Time Capsule’s optics, and the screen overhead zoomed in to a close-up view of the passenger car. There, framed against the fifth-window-from-the-back they saw a tall, thin man. He did not yet have his famous beard or stovepipe hat, but he was already recognizable to the children.

“Abraham Lincoln?!” Mavis exclaimed.

“I guess this time they’re not trying to save monsters or tyrants,” Nell concluded. “They’re trying to assassinate someone prematurely, take him out before he can steer the course of history.”

“But how?”

“What manner of witchcraft be this?” Blackbeard approached the panel and view screen in awe. He reached a hand out to the dials but Mavis slapped it away.

“I’m working,” Mavis said, then spun the dial so that the outside optics moved forward along the train tracks. “Obviously a train is an isolated, easy target to destroy. The question is whether they’re trying to do that from within the train, or from outside of it…oh…”

A distant bridge had just come into view on the display panel. It was a strip of nearly a mile, stretched precariously over a gorge that was over a thousand feet deep. And down on the supporting beams had been strapped many massive clusters of dynamite!

“Alright,” Mavis sighed. “Looks like we know their play.”

“Well what about on the train itself?” Nell asked. “Any additional threats there?”

Mavis spun the dials and the viewing screen shifted back to the engine. It slid along the outside of the long vehicle and the children watched for any anomalies.

“There!” Chase pointed. “Two of those armored guards lurking on top of the cars.”

“Nuts…” Mavis exhaled through clenched teeth. “You guys understand, we can’t just stop the bridge from exploding, we have to handle it discreetly. We might save Abraham Lincoln, but if the people on that train see something that they weren’t supposed to, the ripples through time might still be enormous! This is going to be a much harder task.”

“Is the remote activator working now?” Ellie asked. “So we can reset the timeline if things get too screwy?”

“Yes,” Mavis checked the glowing harness. “But we can’t get sloppy because we’re depending on it. We can only reroll the dice once, then the remote activator will break forever. I’ll be the one wearing it and I won’t activate it unless we absolutely have to.”

“So what be the orders for me and my little reptile friends?” Blackbeard grinned toothily. He was stroking the heads of the two raptors he had brought aboard, which having finally regained consciousness now seemed to regard the pirate as the leader of their pack.

“Somehow I don’t see you as being the sort to handle things discreetly,” Mavis’s eyes went wide. “So you’re going to be as far from the train as possible, handling the dynamite on the bridge. Ellie, Patrick, you go with him. Chase, Nell, and I will take care of things on the train. Everyone ready?”

They all nodded and Mavis punched the thruster, whisking the Time Capsule through the air and over to the bridge. Mavis very briefly tethered to that timeline, just long enough for Patrick, Ellie, Blackbeard, and the raptors to jump out onto the tracks. Then he untethered the Time Capsule and raced to the back of the train for a soft landing.

“Looks like that’s the storage car right in front of us,” Chase observed as the machine tethered once more to that moment of time. “We can probably find some more time-appropriate clothes in there.” Chase was correct, and very quickly they were all dressed accordingly. Then they split up, Nell and Mavis going up top to take out the armored guards, while Chase moved into the passenger car to make sure that no one was noticing the soft thuds coming from above the ceiling.

*

“You say there is a great bomb inside of this little stick?” Blackbeard peeled one of the pieces of dynamite off the bridge with glee. “What will the British Navy think when they see me hurling this at their decks?!”

“Blackbeard, remember, you can’t go back to your olden days!” Ellie reminded him as she pulled another stick of dynamite off the bridge and handed it to Patrick, who was carefully removing their fuses. “You can’t do anything to change history. That might erase all of us so that we don’t exist!”

“Nay,” Blackbeard shook his head. “If I understand you correctly, then I only must only go no further back than the day you found me in the storm.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I were to go to my history then it would undo the makings of me,” Blackbeard explained. “But so long as I only tamper with my present and my future, then I shall come to no harm.”

“But…we might!” Patrick said in exasperation. “You’re forgetting that your future is our past!”

“Nay,” Blackbeard said again as he removed the last stick of dynamite from the bundle they had been working on. “What is forgotten is that I now have the only fused explosive, and ye are at my mercy!”

“What are you doing?” Ellie exclaimed in shock. “We had a deal!”

“And now we have a new one,” Blackbeard sneered. “Ye will forget this ‘quest’ ye are on, ye will return me to the ship, and I will maroon you all in this savage time, taking your vessel for meself! Raptors!” he snapped to his newfound pets. “Surround them!” The lizards obediently flanked the children on either side.

“You won’t get away with this,” Patrick said, and before another word could be uttered by any of them the sound of a shot rang out! The children and pirate ducked as a bullet pinged off the side of the bridge only three feet away!

“We’re being shot at!” Blackbeard roared, pocketing the dynamite and reaching for his flintlock pistol.

“But by whom?” Ellie wondered aloud as she and Patrick used the distraction to move under the girders of the bridge and away from Blackbeard and his raptors.

“Think about it, Ellie,” Patrick replied. “Wasn’t there something strange about that dynamite?”

“No…it just looked like the regular stuff to me.”

“Exactly! But everything we’ve seen so far from the time bandits stood out like a sore thumb. A high-tech cannon in the age of dinosaurs, jet thrusters on a pirate ship…but this dynamite has been totally period correct.”

“So you don’t think it was the time bandits who put it there?”

“I don’t.”

“But then, who?”

*

“Nell, you ready?” Mavis hissed to his side. The two children were on top of the speeding train, crouched behind the skylight on the roof of the passenger car. On the opposite side of the car was an armored guard, seated with his back to the children.

“I’ve been ready,” Nell sighed in exasperation. “Are we doing this or not?”

“Okay, okay, I just want to be sure we don’t mess anything up.”

“Then don’t mess anything up!” And without further ado Nell sprang from their hiding spot and lobbed a metal plate she had pried from the top of the car through the air. It arced like a frisbee, sailing straight and true into the back of the armored guards. With a sickening thud it…

“…simply knocked him out and he fell off the train!” Ellie interrupted quickly.

“Hey, didn’t you say that the person who takes the bad guy out gets to describe how they die?” Nell accused.

“Um…yes…”

“Then if you don’t want to hear what happens plug your ears.”

Ellie did exactly that, watching deafly as Nell spoke on and on, gesticulating wildly with her hands, flailing them at her side, wrapping them around her neck, and motioning a breaking-in-two. Then Nell mimed falling over sideways, pointed down to the ground, and splayed her hands out in front of her, eyes flashing and mouth moving with feverish excitement. Finally she clapped her hands together and gave what appeared to be the final detail of the armored guard’s epic demise. Ellie pulled her finger’s out of her ears just in time to hear all the boys exclaim in disgust.

“Oookay,” Mavis said with widened eyes. “I guess we move on.”

Just then Chase’s voice came rising from their walkie talkies.

“Hey, are you guys seeing this?”

“What?”

“We got a rider approaching.”

Mavis and Nell shielded their eyes and looked across the plain. As Chase had said, a lone rider was quickly approaching the train, coming from the direction of the bridge. He was waving a red flag and gesticulating to a wooden barricade that had been laid across the tracks a quarter mile before the bridge.

“It’s a robber!” Mavis concluded. “He’s trying to stop the train!”

“One of the Time Bandits in disguise?” Chase asked.

“I don’t think so,” Patrick’s voice joined the walkie-talkie conversation. “I think this must have really happened in Abraham Lincoln’s past, just it never got written about in the history books. There’s more of those train robbers down here. They’re the ones that put the dynamite on the bridge. Probably what the rider is there to negotiate things with the engineer.”

But what exactly the rider had to say to the engineer was never found out. For right at that moment the engineer gave two blasts of the train’s horn and turned the engine’s speed up to its maximum! The locomotive lurched forward, barreling clean through the wooden barricade, jolting wildly as the splinters of it passed under its wheels. The highway robber was left back in the dust.

“We’re going to go onto the bridge!” Nell squeaked. “They’re not going to stop and the highway robbers are going to blow the bridge away! Have you got all the dynamite off that bridge yet?”

“We only cleared one side!” Ellie said in a panic. “Kind of got distracted!”

“Get the other side now!” Nell ordered. “Otherwise they’ll be picking their loot from the wreckage at the bottom of the ravine! We have to stop them!”

“No!” Mavis said forcefully. “Crazy as this looks, it already played out once before in history and we know Abraham Lincoln didn’t die here. We have to let it play out the same way here and now. Somehow–I don’t know how–but somehow it all works out. Patrick and Ellie, do not interfere with the bandits on the bridge. I repeat, do not interfere.”

“Yeah…about that…” Ellie groaned as she and Patrick watched Blackbeard deliver a spinning haymaker to yet another of the highway robbers, dropping the man off the bridge to join a half-dozen of his companions at the bottom of the ravine! As Blackbeard continued punching through the front of their forces his raptors slithered around to the back and attacked from the other side!

“Maybe it won’t matter,” Patrick suggested hopefully as he and Ellie crept along the bridge’s girders to its far side. “Maybe they messed up with wiring the dynamite or something. Maybe they would have blown themselves up instead, so Blackbeard taking them out makes everything similar enough that history won’t be changed.”

“We can’t take that chance,” Ellie sighed. “But I just don’t see how we can undo what’s already been done.”

By this point they were close enough to the far side of the bridge that they could see the two highway robbers who were crouching behind the boulders there. Running between them was the fuse that went along the underside of the bridge, connecting to every stick of dynamite.

“Those must be the guys who are going to set off the dynamite,” Patrick observed.

“I don’t think so,” Ellie shook her head. “Look, the fuse runs past them and up into that mountain pass.”

The two of them quieted down as the sound of the two robbers’ conversation became discernible.

“You think the boss is actually going to go through with this?” the one on the left asked nervously.

“I dunno,” the other returned. “He really thought the train was gonna stop. I don’t reckon he meant for it to actually come to this.”

“Well he’s going to go through with it, mark my words. I know Big Jakes and he’s never one to be made a fool of! He’ll gladly kill them all just for the spite of it!”

“Well that’s no good, we’ll all be wanted for murder! That wasn’t what I signed up for!”

“Me neither! I’m cutting the fuse!” And with that the robber bounded out from behind his boulder and grabbed the fuse with his hand, drawing his knife from its sheath.

“Oh good!” Ellie whispered excitedly. “This is why the train wasn’t destroyed in history.”

But then, all of a sudden, a rock came hurtling through the air, struck the robber in the head, and he toppled to the ground with a thud. The fuse had been left uncut!

“A-HAHAHAHA!” Blackbeard’s rolling laughter came from behind the children. “All the people in this time have gone soft!” The pirate was clearly thoroughly enjoying his little tousle.

“Not good!” Patrick exclaimed. “Get off the bridge!” The two children bolted forward, but they were too late. Whoever “Big Jakes” was, he had just set off the dynamite! All around the children was pure chaos as the bridge burst into a million splinters! A deafening, rolling explosion lifted the entire structure high into the air. Even Blackbeard’s triumphant face became etched with shock as he and his raptors felt the ground fall out beneath them. All together the children, the pirate, the raptors, and the tons and tons of broken wood fell through the air and down into the ravine!

“Reset! Reset Reset!” Chase screamed into his walkie talkie as the train hurtled for the cliff edge. The engineer slammed on the brakes, but it was going to be too late!

“Not yet!” Mavis clenched his teeth, sprinting forward along the roof of the train.

“Patrick and Ellie are dead!” Nell sprinted after him. “And we’re about to be, too! What are you waiting for?”

“We still don’t know what the time bandit’s play is!” he shot back.

Mavis had nearly made it to the front of the train where a high-security car with metal shutters sat right behind the coal car. It was the perfect place to for a time-traveling interloper to be hiding something.

“Mavis, we can’t wait any longer!” Nell cried out, and she was right. Just ahead of them the front of the train was already careening over the edge! It disappeared from view as it plunged down to its doom, followed by the coal car, the high security car, and the first of the passenger cars. Nell and Mavis held one another close as they went flying over the edge, their ears filled with the screams of all the train passengers plunging to their deaths!

“Punch it!” Chase roared into the walkie talkie.

Nell and Mavis reached for the control on his chest at the same instant. A strange, crackling filled the air while time continued forward another second, and in that second the shuttered windows of the high security car flashed with the very beginnings of a strange, bluish, ion explosion. But before those shockwaves could ripple out, everything froze. A surge of electricity coursed through the remote activator, shocking both Mavis and Nell and breaking the device, but it had already done what it needed.

All at once time slammed backwards, scooting the train back out of the ravine, pulling all of the splinters up through the air and reassembling them into a bridge, compressing the explosions back into their dynamite sticks, lifting one bandit after another back onto the bridge as Blackbeard moved backwards through their ranks, and chugging the train in reverse through the smashed wooden barrier. Chase, Nell, and Mavis changed back into their modern clothes and stepped back into the Time Capsule. The Time Capsule lifted off the back of the train, went forward and Ellie, Patrick, and Blackbeard jumped backwards into it. The Time Capsule lifted high into the air, surveying the scene in reverse, all the way until it reached the moment when it first arrived. Time reverted back to its forward motion. Everything had been returned to its prior state…except for the remote activator. That remained a burned-out wreck in its station. This time there would be no second chances.

“Never mind that, Blackbeard,” Nell was tutting in response to his comment about ironclad ships. “We had a deal and you need to have your mind on the mission at hand.”

Suddenly everyone’s eyes roved about wildly as they remembered everything they had just been through. They all looked at each other in shock.

We had a deal!” Nell rounded on Blackbeard furiously. “You were supposed to take care of the mission!”

“You got us all killed!” Ellie added, hot tears splashing down her cheeks. “All of us! Even your own, slippery self!”

For the first moment the children saw something in Blackbeard’s eyes that they had not witnessed there before: remorse. The old cutthroat looked down sheepishly, not at all unlike a child caught in the wrong.

“Yer–yer right,” he sighed. “I messed things up something considerable before, didn’ I?” He regarded his boots a moment longer, then looked back up to the children sadly. “Iffen ye could find your way to give me another chance…I won’t be false with ye again.”

He held out his hand once more, this time without any spit in it. The children looked to each other, then each of them fit their small hand into his giant one and shook it.

“Alright,” Chase said. “So what’s our play? All we’ve figured out so far is where the time bandits aren’t.”

“That’s not true,” Mavis smiled. “Just before the reset I saw where an explosion coming out of the high security car. It was definitely futuristic tech.”

“Okay…” Patrick rubbed his chin. “So we land on that car with that Time Capsule, lock on, and pull it away with us through time. No problem.”

“Yes problem,” Nell shook her head. “Remember. This time the historical figures survive, which means they can’t witness something that will change the course of their lives. Like a flying time machine taking away a train car! We can’t get rid of some time distortions by introducing new ones!”

“Okay, so we break into the car and deactivate their bomb from the inside.”

“That’s better,” Mavis approved, “but still risky. We’ll be in close quarters, and we’re going in blind…but I don’t think we have any other option.”

“Then that’s what we do,” Ellie nodded.

“Yeah…and to your point Nell, we do want to be discreet…but , things are going to change here, that’s unavoidable. If we’re careful about it, though, it will be such small variations that they won’t make ripples of change throughout history. A small noise here, a little jolt there, everyone will forget about them by the time they step off the train and go about their lives as previously planned. The timeline will continue the same.”

“Fair point,” Nell agreed. “I think we’re ready then. How about Chase and I drop off in the passenger cars. We’ll keep an eye on the crows in the passenger cars while the rest of you take out the bomb.”

Everyone looked at each other and nodded.

“Alright, let’s get to it!” Mavis said, steering the Time Capsule down towards the train once more. “This is going to be tricky,” he grit his teeth as he phased the Time Capsule through the walls of the high security car.

“You can’t tether here!” Ellie exclaimed. “The Time Capsule is wider than the car. If we become physical we’ll smash it to pieces!”

“Trust me,” he said, calibrating the Time Capsule’s speed so that it maintained pace with the car. “Okay, Chase and Nell, be ready to take the wheel. I’m setting up a localized tether,” he explained, glancing up at the monitor before him. “Just a single burst that will connect a small section of the Time Capsule with the current moment. I’ll center it right…there” he pointed to a space of empty air right in front of the main control panel. “All of our air in that spot–and anything inside of it–will fall into the high security car. Starting the countdown now.”

“This is so Star Trek,” Chase grinned.

“No it isn’t, Chase. They don’t time travel in Star Trek.”

“They totally do!”

“Quiet! You’ve got to take the wheel now.”

Chase stepped up to the steering panel and Patrick, Mavis, Ellie, and Blackbeard moved over to the patch of space Mavis had indicated.

“Better hold on to me,” Blackbeard cooed to his raptors.

“The localized patch ends a foot off the ground,” Mavis warned the others. “So you’d better jump if you want to keep your feet.”

“What?!” Ellie shrieked.

“Jump!” Mavis ordered and they all leaped into the air. A surge of power coursed through the entire vessel, focusing itself on the area where the children and Blackbeard were now springing into the air. There was a dull popping noise as that patch of air was sucked out as if by a vacuum. Meanwhile, inside of the high security car there was a whoomph! as the extra air and the time travelers forced their way into that space.

“Yeah!” Chase cheered from the console as he and Nell watched their friends successfully enter the timeline.

“Nice,” Nell smiled. “Now get us to the back of the train and we’ll get into costume.”

And off they went while the rest of the crew began poking around the high security car. It was very dark, given that all the windows were shuttered and no lamps were lit inside. They could make out a massive, metal box in the center, though, which divided the car into four perimeter hallways.

“Ahh,” Patrick whispered. “It’s a safe. This is where they keep all the valuables that they have to transport.”

“But where be the time offenders?” Blackbeard asked the children in a low growl.

“Probably not here yet,” Mavis stated. “We’ve arrived before they showed up in this timeline.”

As if on cue there came a series of rapid popping sounds all around the room. Six of the time bandits burst onto the scene, each wearing the same armor as the ones from the other periods of history.

“Let’s get them!” Patrick surged forward.

“For history!” Ellie joined the charge.

Quietly, please!” Mavis added as he dove into the fray.

“At them, my beauties!” Blackbeard ordered his raptors and leaped to the battle.

All became utter chaos as arms and legs and heads and bodies flung about in a tumbling brawl!

*

“Excuse me, ma’am. Excuse me, sir.” Chase was walking down the aisle of the passenger car, dressed once more in period-correct clothing. He now came to the row that young Abraham Lincoln sat on and he couldn’t help but turn his head sideways to stare the man’s profile. Lincoln had his eyes fixed on the back of the person that sat in front of him, but his eyes were unfocused, as if he was lost in deep thought.

Bump!

Chase had not been paying attention to where he was walking and had just collided with a server coming the other way. Chase spun around just in time to see the man drop a tall stack of glass plates. He threw his hands out instinctively, barely managing to grab the stack out of the air before they shattered on the floor.

“Sorry!” he handed the plates back, then quickly moved away. He lowered to the nearest open seat, the one that Nell was already seated next to. “Whew, that was close, wasn’t it? You don’t think just that bump will have much of a ramification on the timeline, will it? Definitely would have been worse if the plates had broken though!”

But Nell wasn’t listening, she rotated backwards in her seat, attention locked on the conversation that Abraham Lincoln was now having with the man beside him.

“On your way back to Illinois, Lincoln?” the short, stocky man with vibrant, dark hair said to the future president.

“That’s right, Douglas.”

“To take up your law practice again?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Good for you, old boy! I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but the courts do suit you far better than the Senate ever did. Best favor I ever did was beating you in the elections!”

Abraham Lincoln sighed and looked away. “Well aren’t you gracious?” he asked sarcastically.

“Oh come now, Lincoln, there’s no shame in that! It’s just that some of us are born to interpret the law and others are born to write it. You’re the first and I’m the latter. There really wasn’t anything more for you to do in politics, anyway, you just have to play the role you’ve been given and be glad with it.”

Lincoln looked like he was about to retort, but then shrugged. “Perhaps you’re right, Stephen.”

*

“Blackbeard, over here!” Patrick called. He was hanging with all his strength to the back of one of the guards. Mavis had the same guard’s right arm pinned down, Ellie was restraining the left. Blackbeard dropped the guard he had been slapping silly and administered a massive haymaker to the one the children were grappling with, knocking him out cold. With that there was only two of the time bandits left, each of whom were entangled with Blackbeard’s raptors.

“Well this is going to be easy!” Patrick crowed.

“Reset!” one of the armored guards said to the other. “And bring in reinforcements!” The two remaining guards them trembled for a moment, then suddenly started moving in reverse. They’re bodies remained moving forward in time, but everything about them was happening backwards. Their armor became undented, their fallen comrades rose back to their feet, and they all returned to the starting positions where they had first arrived. Not only this, but there came another series of popping noises and six more of the guards arrived in the car.

“You just had to jinx us, didn’t you?” Ellie accused Patrick.

All of the guards surged forward. The children, Blackbeard, and the raptors tried to hold them off, but they couldn’t withstand the greater numbers. One of them pinned Mavis’s arms behind his back, another lifted Patrick high into the air, another held Ellie against the wall. Four of the guards restrained the raptors and another four…well…those four tried to restrain Blackbeard, but he continued thrashing around with them in a never-ending struggle.

Meanwhile the last guard pulled out a metallic briefcase and opened it. He began fiddling with its controls, configuring the bomb that rested inside!

*

“That’s their idea of being quiet?!” Nell hissed as she and Chase heard the ruckus coming from the high security car. “We’ve got to start a distraction!”

But as it turned out, there wasn’t any need.

“Oho there!” Douglas stood up next to Abraham Lincoln and pointed out the window to the highway robber that was riding out to stop the train. A moment later and the engineer turned up the speed, slamming everyone back into their seats. Several of the passengers screamed, and everyone was much too distracted to pay attention to the continuing thuds that sounded from the high security car.

“The engineer’s going to crash us!” Douglas exclaimed, gesturing to the wooden barricade.

“Everyone hold on to something!” Abraham Lincoln ordered, and a moment later the entire vehicle lurched through the wooden beams with a deafening crunch. Everything inside went bump! bump! bump! as some of those beams passed under the wheels of their car. Then came an even stronger bump, one that tipped the whole car sideways and was followed by a terrible grinding sound of metal on wood.

“What’s happening?!” a passenger shouted.

“Look there!” another passenger leaned out the window and pointed to the back of the car. “One of those blocks of wood is lodged under the wheel, we’re dragging it along.”

“If the wheels don’t have contact with the track then they won’t be able to make the turn!” another passenger pointed up towards a bend in the tracks just before the rails turned onto the bridge. “We’re going to derail!”

*

Blackbeard grabbed one of the guards and slammed him into the wall, knocking him out cold. But then came a trio of punches to his gut and even he couldn’t withstand all the abuse. He fell to his knees with a thud.

“Come now,” the guard who had finished assembling the bomb tutted. “There is no point in fighting against the inevitable. You’ll only bloody your lip and things will still come out the same. We are The Mass and The Mass is irrefutable!” And with that the guard pressed one last button on the bomb, starting a timer that began counting down from thirty seconds!

“You’re crazy!” Ellie strained against her captor. “You’re going to blow yourselves up along with the train?!”

“Actually, that won’t be necessary at all.” The guard nodded to the four who were restraining the raptors. Each of them touched a time-recall unit on their chests and disappeared with a pop, taking the reptiles out of the timeline with them. “All of us will leave, and you will remain with a bomb that you cannot deactivate. For you see, this bomb has already exploded, and that detonation is only traveling through time to meet the device where it currently resides.” He gave another nod and the guards holding Patrick, Mavis, and Ellie released the youth, then touched their time-recall units and disappeared with a pop. “So go ahead and look for a wire to cut, or a button to press. The deed has already been done, the detonation is irrefutable!”

*

“All of us are dead!” Stephen Douglas wailed in the passenger car.

“Out of the way!” Lincoln commanded as he pushed the man aside and leaned out the window in the back of the car. “We’ve got to get that block out of there.”

“Oh come off it, Lincoln!” Douglas scolded. “There’s nothing for you to do. You’re not a backwoodsman anymore, you’re a lawyer!”

“I’m not a backwoodsman or a lawyer!” Lincoln cried as he gripped the frame of the window, swung his legs out, and kicked the block of his wood with all his strength. The entire car shook and the piece nearly dislodged itself, but not quite. He gave another kick, and with a tremendous crash the car fell back onto the rail, just in time to make its turn. A flurry of hands reached out and grabbed the hero around the shoulders and hauled him back into the train, just as it turned from the cliffs and onto the bridge. “I’m Abraham Lincoln!” he declared as the car erupted into cheers. “And you couldn’t be more wrong about me Douglas. There is much I have left to do, even in your precious halls of government!”

*

The armored guard looked back to the quickly-dwindling time: 5 seconds left. He nodded to the other guards who were holding Blackbeard and they, too, disappeared into thin air. Only the one guard remained.

“As I said before,” he said as he touched his chest, “we are the Mass, and the Mass is irrefutable!”

“Only Blackbeard is irrefutable!” the old pirate snarled. Then he sprang to his feet and charged forward.

“It doesn’t matter, Blackbeard!” Ellie wailed. “We can’t deactivate the bomb!”

But Blackbeard wasn’t leaping for the bomb, he was aiming for the guard. He slammed the foe straight in the chest, just as the guard’s time-recall unit powered on. Blackbeard grit his teeth as he angled the two of them through the air, redirecting their fall so that they landed on the bomb just as the time recall fully energized. A slight ripple of blue light began to emanate from the bomb, but then it and Blackbeard and the guard disappeared with a pop, carrying the explosion to another moment in time!

Just like that…it was over. All of the children looked at each other with mouths agape.

“Did that–” Patrick spluttered in disbelief. “Did they–did we just pull that off?!”

Blackbeard pulled it off,” Ellie corrected. “I guess his honest streak won out in the end.”

“Yeah…I guess was wrong about him,” Mavis admitted. He shook his head with a smile. “Hey guys, let’s get out of here.”

Mavis activated his walkie talkie to report their success to the others. Nell and Chase quietly slid out of the passenger car and back to the Time Capsule. They picked up Ellie, Patrick and Mavis, untethered from that moment of time, and sent the machine flying back to the present.

“Well I call that mission a success!” Mavis grinned.

“Yep,” Nell approved. “Impossible as it seemed, we’ve tied off every last, little thing.”

“Well…not everything,” Patrick interjected. “We still don’t know where those time bandits even came from. How did they have better tech than us? Are they from the future? But then why would they be trying to mess up history? Seems liked they’d be destroying their own lives as much as ours!”

Right on cue a massive alien spaceship materialized right in their own bubble of time warp!

Humans!” a voice spoke through the Time Capsule’s speakers. “You have crossed us for the last time. The Mass is irrefutable!

Mavis looked to the other children in awe. He was about to bark out orders…but just then the school bell started ringing. Recess was over.

“We’ll have to pick it up next time,” Ellie sighed, and with that the adventurers scampered off for their backpacks.