Chapter 2, 42: Time And Again
Chris sat back on the seat. He had to do what? The sheer impossibility of the job sat there in front of him, it seemed. He didn’t even know how to turn the time machine on! Behind him in the darkness of the old Cadillac’s cabin, Kumi/Morning Glory stifled a last sniffle. Chris couldn’t believe how brave she was being. Her mother might turn out to be the person behind the release of the Apocalypse Plague.
Or, Doctor Konoye’s alternate self in that parallel dimension that Rose came from might be the one who had already released the Plague there. Or both. Alternate dimensions were confusing, just like time travel. He hoped his next adventure involved something easy. Space. A rocket ship, a blaster, maybe some star whales. That would be cool.
“Chris,” came Battlecomp’s smooth, cool voice, “We’re running out of time. You have to get going.”
“What do I do?” Chris asked.
“Just put the Fleetwood in gear and turn around. I’ll do the rest.”
“Time loop. We need to send someone back into that little knot you kids tied in the timeline back in the Thirties, and that pretty much means people whose timeline runs through it in the first place.”
Chris fired up the car and backed hauled the wheel hard, pulling out onto the road. As usual, the midnight-black asphalt of the Lythrum road was strangely visible through the gloom. Chris wondered if he were getting used to the Evening Land. And then he was driving on a dirt track on a desert. A huge, yet strangely faint red sun glimmered on the horizon. It was dim, so dim that even though he was driving straight into it, he found himself flipping up the visors that Kumi must have dropped for privacy. And it was really dim, not like the strange clarity of vision through dusk of Lythrum. The temperature in the car seemed to drop a few degrees.
“Where are we?” Chris asked.
“Loezen. Never mind,” Battlecomp said, tersely. “I . . . excuse me. We’re in another high Assiatic dimension. It’s like we’re staying on high ground until we drop right down into the time knot. Problem is, high magic is unpredictable, and this place is much more dangerous than Lythrum.”
Chris felt his breath catch as he scanned the horizon for tentacled terrors and giant squid heads. “Kumi?”
“I don’t like this place. The plants feel trapped.”
“Plants can’t move.”
“That’s what’s so scary.” She grunted, and Chris heard a mechanical knock, followed by a whistling wind on the back of his neck.
“Do you think you should roll down the windows here?” He asked.
“I’m putting them back up,” she answered. “Here.” Her slim hand came around the corner of his sight. It was holding a dusty green leaf with a weird twist in it and a little seed-like thing.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
Another flicker, and they were driving on a rutted track through a meadow. Chris hastily geared down, but they still went rolling over the horizon in the time it took him to slow from 15 to 10mph. Weird. They must be on some kind of asteroid or something, but one with normal gravity. And now that they were over the horizon, he could see a sailing ship hanging in the distant air. “High Assiatic dimensions are weird,” he said.
“You can say that again,” Battlecomp answered.
“How long before we’re down somewhere a little more sciencey?” Kumi asked. “Also, what the Hell are we doing?”
“Remember that document your Mom was looking for that time? The one that was supposed to protect Chinese Bar Slough?”
“The gist of it, anyway. ‘Something something, you’re not allowed to bulldoze through the sandbar and let the water from the slough mix with the lake, signed, some law-talking dude; Date, so long ago that Madonna was cool?’”
“Try, ‘Bing Crosby,’” Battlecomp said.
“Who?” Chris and Kumi asked, together.
“Sigh,” said Battlecomp. “I said, ‘sigh.’” Elvis Presley came on over the radio, singing “I Want You/I Need You,” and Kumi slipped through the crack between the front seats, her hair once again falling over Chris’s face as she worked her way down into the passenger’s seat.
There was a long moment of silence, as Chris wondered how long they could drive over this asteroid before they came back to the spot they arrived at. “So Chris is supposed to find this piece of paper, haul ass back up to the Twenty-First Century, pop into the courtroom in Osoyoos at the last minute, give it to the judge, and stop the bulldozers?”
“Conveyance,” Chris said. “Mr. Washington says it’s probably a conveyance that confers some kind of reversionary interest to the land. Logging rights, water rights, maybe even title. Anyway, we can just point out that the current owner can’t do anything irreversible until it’s sorted out.”
“And it hasn’t been seen since 1944.”
“But your Grandpa might know where it is.”
“But he’s dead.”
“Yeah.” Chris was surprised how much the thought hurt.
“So we’re going back to 1934 to talk to him.”
“To the one point in that year when we know that he’s out of the country. What are we going to do? Drive from the Okanogan to Hong Kong?”
“Or just wait for him to come back. It’s time travel,” Battlecomp pointed out. “Chris has friends who’ve lived for a year or two in the past.”
“Cousins, too,” Chris pointed out.
“But, but…. I can’t even cook!”
“What?” Chris said.
“Well, cookies and grilled cheese sandwiches and sphagetti sauce. And my special Ichiban is pretty good. And I tried to make sushi once. . . ”
“I’m not ready to live on my own!”
“Neither am I,” Chris said, mainly to be agreeable. He honestly hadn’t thought about it that way. “Maybe there’ll be a time travel foster family. Or Battlecomp will be like My Mother the Car.”
“Or Mr. Belvedere,” Kumi suggested. “You know, the butler who looks after us. Except a computer car robot butler.”
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” the computer muttered.
“What the car said,” Kumi summarised. “I don’t think this has been thought through as carefully as it could have been.”
“No, it has been thought through,” Battlecomp said. That month in 1934 was when the Plague timeline diverged from ours. We can measure these things. It’s the key nexus, and the only people who can go back are the kids who went there first time. You know the lay of the land, Chris, and you’re a seasoned time traveller. That’s why your uncle chose to send you. Ms. Konoye’s presence is a charming bonus.”
“Why, thank you, Mr. Battlcompvedere. Do your super-duper science-type instruments say why 1934 is the key nexus?”
“No,” Battlecomp said.
“So we have to figure out how history changed, and, like, do the opposite?” Chris asked. “Isn’t that always going wrong on TV. Like, you kill Hitler, and then it turns out that his next door neighbour is just like Hitler, only worse?”
“That’s Hollywood,” Battlecomp said. “This is real life.”
Kumi snorted, as though she were trying not to laugh, then explained. “No, this is Total Drama Island. We passed the turnoff to real life a long time ago now.”
“Besides,” Battlecomp said, “Your choices aren’t likely to be the drivers here. Parallel universes are ones where history turned out differently. There’s nothing that says why that happens. It’s certainly not all down to time travellers interfering. It could just be something that happens.”
“Are we going to be okay in 1934?” Kumi asked. “Didn’t your aunt get lynched by the Klan a few months later?”
“Most unlikely,” Battlecomp said. “Lynchings were rare in Washington State by 1934, and women were rarely the victims in any case---“
“No, it happened,” Chris said. “But the whole thing was weird. It turns out that she was marrying a rich White guy from Philadelphia, and even before that, the family was trying to hide the fact that she was one of the biggest land heiresses in the valley. No wonder the FBI got involved. If we were going back to the spring of 1935, I’m sure we’d end up solving the mystery and finding out that it was the last guy you’d expect who really did it.”
“And I would have got away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids,” Kumi said, in a fake Scooby Doo bad-guy voice. “Why is it always about real estate?”
Chris tried his own fake voice, drawing it out like he was saying something profound. “Because they aren’t making any more of it, young lady.”
“Isn’t the Tokyo Airport built on reclaimed land?” Kumi asked.
“Well…” Chris started.
“And when they built that tunnel under Boston, didn’t they run into actual ships that had sunk to the bottom of the harbour?”
“And the whole point of draining Chinese Bar Slough is to build a duty free store where the ponds used to be.”
“They’re not making much of it any more,” Chris clarified.
“So will we be okay?”
“Oh, sure,” Chris said. “We’ll just pretend to be Indians. We’ll be invisible as long as we stay out of the way.”
“Um, okay,” Kumi said. She did not sound impressed.
“Oh, don’t you start pulling the redneck thing, now.”
The Cadillac transitioned in silence, to a world that …didn’t make any sense. It was like trying to squint at the face of your phone when your eyes were still sleeping, and you might be dreaming anyway, if that made sense. There was light, and shapes, and weird swooping angles, but they didn’t mean anything. The one thing he could make out was a green light centred on the windshield. Chris hoped that he hadn’t run over some kind of green light thing.
“Welcome to the Sixth Dimension,” Battlecomp said.
“You mean that place where Tesseract got her powers?” Kumi asked. “Isn’t it full of scary alien invaders?”
“No,” Battlecomp answered. “It has freaky alien invaders, but also plenty of very nice people. And a gift store. Although we won’t be stopping, because you won’t be able to figure out how to put on one of their T-shirts.”
"Ha ha,” Kumi pointed out. “The invaders made her even weirder than a regular math PhD.”
“No, it’s hilarious,” Chris said, fighting down the urge to panic. “Almost as hilarious as running into stuff because I have no idea where the heck I’m going. Will my sword work against science mind control, or is it just magic?”
I’m projecting a green light on the windshield, Chris,” Battlecomp said, calmly. “Just drive to keep it in the centre of the screen, and we’ll be fine.”
“I hate to nag, but what I am saying is that even regular math PhDs are weird as hell. I do not want those dudes in my brain, thank you very much,” Kumi continued.
“You’ve got a potty mouth, Ms. Konoye,” Battlecomp said, primly.
“What, ‘Hell’ is a swears now? Where are we? Kansas?”
“No, the Sixth Dimension,” Chris pointed out. “Apparently, it’s like Kansas. They don’t believe in evolution, but it’s six dimension evolution.”
“I was just pointing out that you are a lot more profane than Chris, and he was---“
“—Raised in a trailer park,” Kumi chanted along with Battlecomp. “You sound like my Mom, Mr. Battlecompvedere. That was back in 1975. They probably didn’t swear very much in those days.”
Now it was Chris’s turn to snort. The truth was that he had been watching his mouth around his aunt and uncle so long that he’d forgotten how to swear. But he didn’t want to admit that that was why to Kumi. It wouldn’t be cool.
“Anyway,” Kumi continued, what about the whacky alien invaders that invaded my team-mate’s brain and turned it into a brain-pinball machine where you can watch while the ideas shoot around in her head banging bells and lighting lights until they end up going down the gutter to Crazytown?”
“You play pinball, Kumi?” Chris asked, impressed.
"Sure do. And pool, too."
“That’s so cool.”
“You really think so?”
“Everything you do is cool.” Chris couldn’t believe that he’d said that.
“No, you’re cool.”
“Blech,” Battlecomp said. “I take it back. I don’t like soap operas after all. And it looks like your brain is safe, Ms. Konoye. We’re in the exit to 1934.”
Again, the weird, flickering, transitional light flared, and they were in 1934. Instantly the Fleetwood turned into a battered old Model T. The temperature in the cabin fell to the cold, damp chill of a rainy Okanogan fall morning, and rain began spattering the wiperless windscreen, obscuring the gravel road in front of them just as the wheel went into a pothole. Cold rain fell on his elbow, which he had instinctively perched on the open window sill of the driver’s side door. The Ford’s nonexistent shocks made it feel like a crater. There was something in Chris’s lap. He looked down. It was a pair of old-fashioned aviator goggles. One lens was cracked. Just like, he figured, the driver’s side window was probably broken.
With a sigh, Chris pulled over to the side of the road. He’d ridden a jalopy or two in his time, on the Res, by no coincidence, and he knew where this was going. As soon as he had come to a stop, he threw the parking brake on and began to put the goggles on. He was concentrating on that so hard that he nearly jumped out of his skin when Kumi said, “Hello.”
He looked out the window. His sister was standing there.