The Time Travel Situation: Part Six

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

“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.

Well there it is, the end of The Time Travel Situation! There really were many things that I enjoyed about writing it, but honestly I spent a great deal of my time trying to beat it back down from ballooning into something much larger than I’d originally intended. And this is not the only story that I’ve had seen get bloated of late. Pretty much all of my recent stories have run away with me for far longer than I’d intended for them to.

But this hasn’t always been a problem for me. In fact I’ve had plenty of stories that were far shorter than what I’d intended as well. In fact one of the most difficult things for me when writing a story seems to be keeping things to the length that fits them best. I’d like to share a bit more of my experience with that in my next post, and perhaps I’ll learn a few things that I can bring into my next story on Thursday.

The Time Travel Situation: Part Four

Photo by Guillaume Meurice on Pexels.com

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

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?”

Part Five
Part Six

On Monday I shared about chaotic stories, ones that make use of a huge cast of characters, or noisome settings, or quickly-shifting themes and objectives. I spoke about how these tales can still remain coherent by remaining true to some central idea, and in the case of The Time Travel Situation the central idea is trying to stop all of these changes to history.

It’s not a particularly strong through-line, though. It’s not as if the time bandits have a central villain to serve as the story’s primary antagonist. Each jump to another place in time essentially resets all of the tension, with little carrying from one stage to the next. The through-line is only providing a reason for these time-hops to occur, and that is enough for my needs.

The other thing I mentioned about chaotic stories is that some tales embrace the chaos, simply wanting to take you for an entertaining ride without concerning themselves with telling a meaningful narrative. The Time Travel Situation falls far more firmly under that category. It’s central purpose is to present children playing pretend, no more and no less. I might briefly incorporate relationship drama between Mavis and Nell and Patrick, but that’s only an entertaining aside, not an indicator of deeper character development to come. Nor does Blackbeard’s betrayal have any more nuance than it initially appears to. It is a straightforward piece of cheating, used as a convenience to get the the children out of their promise to him.

This is something that happens in stories all the time, by the way. The hero will be held back from utterly destroying the villain because of some promise or sense of duty. Of course they could renege on those promises or duties, but then they would be immoral. This conundrum is then resolved by the villain doing something deceitful, something that either removes the hero from the obligation of their promise, or allows them to destroy the villain in an act of self defense.

It’s a bit contrived, to be sure, and can certainly be overused, but let’s take a look at a few examples of this in other stories with my next post. Come back on Monday to read about that, and then see the next chapter of The Time Travel Situation on Thursday.