PART 39: RECOVERY MODE
Corry Veniti tapped his pencil on the page before him as he contemplated the conversation he’d had with his sister. Despite telling her to put the whole Carrie/Julie situation behind them, Laurie’s mannerisms had suggested to him that she wouldn’t be able to do that.
Truth be told, the unanswered questions were gnawing at him too. He’d never been fond of mysteries relating to Julie. How was it no one at school knew what had happened to her? Could she have been kidnapped by someone? On account of those flyers he’d printed? Was her disappearance his fault?
“Stop that,” Corry admonished himself. “This isn’t my problem. It’s HER problem.” He reached out to resume the play of Beethoven’s fifth. Then stopped it again minutes later. “I brushed Laurie off too quickly though,” he decided. “I should have done something more to distract her.”
Making up his mind, Corry rose from his desk, leaving his chemistry unfinished. However, as he reached his sister’s bedroom, he heard Laurie exclaim something which sounded like “TIME machine??”. Chartreuse’s voice followed, mentioning “tricky special stuff”.
With his hand raised to knock, Corry instead found himself leaning in closer to the door, to catch more of whatever was going on. He didn’t like what little he heard. He decided to challenge Chartreuse about it as soon as he had the chance.
“We have to talk,” Corry repeated icily. “Now.”
Chartreuse eyed him uncertainly. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably, you know, wrong,” she ventured.
“I think you’re creating some sort of time travel delusion for my sister, so that she feels better about whatever’s happened with Carrie and Julie,” he said. “And while I’m all for improving her mood, I don’t think now is the time for such silly, mystic games. Particularly if they’re as “risky” as you seemed to be implying.”
The pink haired girl’s nose crinkled up. “How do YOU know what I was implying? I mean, I know you look out for Laurie, but are you seriously, like, bugging her room now?”
“What? No, hearing you was an accident,” Corry said defensively. And a bit too loudly; he lowered his voice as he moved closer to his sister’s friend. “I was merely coming to Laurie’s room to speak with her, and overheard some of your talk. Don’t change the subject. What nonsense are you getting my sister mixed up in?”
Chartreuse shifted her weight from foot to foot. “Ummm… okay, so… it is kinda like what you think, except there’s no nonsense here,” she yielded. “There really is a time machine. Sort of.”
“It’s, like, missing.”
Corry stared. “You must think I was born yesterday.”
“Oh, not at all,” Chartreuse assured, perking up. “Since if you were, we wouldn’t be able to use your family DNA to travel back to recover Julie.”
Corry felt taken aback by her sudden certainty. “My what?”
“Okay, it has to do with spacials and…. you know, is it too late to say this was part of a Home Ec project?”
“Yes,” Corry replied, frown deepening.
“Figures.” She licked her lips. “Thing is, Luci, like, explained this part better.”
“What do you mean recover Julie? Is this one of her plots?”
Chartreuse opened her mouth, then closed it, then crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “Know what? Not gonna tell you,” she decided. “Not here, not now. After all, you have, you know, a blind spot where Julie is concerned.”
Corry felt his hands curling into fists. “Then you’re not going to say anything more to Laurie either. I’m nipping this H. G. Wells nonsense in the bud! She’s upset enough as it is without your–“
“Corry, do you seriously think I’m trying to hurt Laurie here?” Chartreuse interrupted, visibly frustrated. “You know I care about her as much as you do. Thing is, without her help… it will cost the lives of two other people.”
“Don’t overdramatize,” Corry scoffed. “Now, I know Laurie looks up to you, and values the time you spend together, but really – at some point you have to stop deluding her with your mystic ramblings.”
Chartreuse stamped her foot. “Okay, first of all? Laurie values her time with, like, everyone to some degree. Not only me, and perhaps certain people even more than you may realize. And secondly? Merely because YOU don’t believe in something, that doesn’t make it a fantasy. I’m speaking the honest truth here, Corry!”
Corry peered a bit closer, to gauge her sincerity. She definitely seemed serious. Except the stories she was weaving – they were nonsense. “Even assuming I believe you,” he decided. “Your plans seem far too dangerous.”
“Yeah, well, you know, life can be like that. Besides, if Laurie wants to help someone, she’s going to do it. No matter what EITHER us has to say.”
“Unless she’s not given the option.”
Chartreuse winced. “Corry…”
“From this point forwards, whatever you have to say to Laurie about this matter goes through me first,” he decided. “I will then decide whether it’s worth passing on. Understood?”
Chartreuse must have sensed his unwillingness to compromise, as her gaze dropped down to the floor. “Okay,” she sighed. Then she looked back up at him. “But, you know, think about this – what if I AM right? And what if, because of you, we do nothing, and people die terrible, needless deaths? How will you feel then? And how will Laurie feel when she learns about what you did?”
She strode away before Corry had a chance to formulate any sort of reply, fleeing downstairs to the kitchen. He watched her go with a frown. Time machine? Family DNA? Needless deaths? Ridiculous.
So where had Julie disappeared to? “She’s not my problem,” he asserted aloud, clenching his jaw. “Not. My. Problem.”
Lee shuffled home from the library, lost in thought. No matter which way he turned things around in his head, he couldn’t figure out what Clarke and Tim wanted with that old black box. It had been, what, two years now since his mom had grabbed it at the LaMille yard sale? So why were they asking about it today? And what did they mean, saying it could save lives? This was all very strange.
Oh well. Clarke had said he could explain it, after getting the okay from some other people. So Lee had said he’d get the box to them, after which they’d gone their separate ways.
‘Which is good,’ Lee reflected as he trudged across the railroad tracks. ‘Since I don’t think many people have bothered to figure out my exact address, and I’d rather keep it that way.’ He proceeded further into the poorer section of town, finally stopping at an old two story house with a faded nameplate on the mailbox that read: ‘King Residence’. Taking a deep breath, Lee entered the house and called out, “I’m home!”
“LeeLeeLeeLeeLeeLeeLee,” came the excited voice of a young girl. Moments later she came tearing around the corner, jumping up into his arms. “Missed you,” she concluded, innocently batting her eyelashes as she stared up at him.
Lee couldn’t help but smile as he looked down at her. “Hi Soh,” he said, giving her a quick hug. “And how’s my favouritist youngest sister?”
“I’m okay,” Soh said brightly as Lee let her back down to the floor. “We did finger paintin’ in class today an’ I made a palm tree.” She giggled at her own joke.
“Well, I’m sure you did a wonderful job,” Lee assured. He glanced up. “What have you done with everyone else then? Playing a big game of hide and seek?”
“No, silly,” Soh declared, blonde pigtails flicking back and forth as she shook her head. “They’re all upstairs. ‘Cept momma, she’s cookin’.” The young girl lifted her hand, counting each person off on her fingers. “Granmamma’s sleepin’, Sing’s readin’ her books, an’ Faye, well, she’s sulkin’.”
Lee’s heart sank. If the oldest among his younger siblings was sulking now, it meant only one thing: their father had cancelled out on them for dinner. Again. Poor Faye, she’d never been the same since the divorce. “And how about you, what are you doing?” Lee inquired genially, pushing those thoughts back out of his mind.
“Colourin’,” Soh said happily. “Come on, comeseecomesee, I’m even stayin’ inside the lines this time, kinda.”
“Maybe a little later, okay?” Lee said, reaching out to pat her head. “I should check in with mom first.” He winked. “And hey, don’t be too worried about those lines. Hate to see you become a conformist.”
“Silly,” Soh reiterated. “I won’t be no confar miss.” With that, she turned and skipped back into the dining room area. Lee headed for the kitchen, where his mother was stirring something in a pot on the stove.
“He’s not coming then?” Lee said, leaning back against the doorframe. It wasn’t really a question.
“No,” his mother admitted, turning to flash her only son a tired smile. “He’s not. His excuse this time was work, keeping him out of town, but Faye’s blaming me as usual. Maybe you can talk with her?”
“I can try,” Lee said. “But not before dinner, I’m afraid. I told some friends I’d bring them something important. I’m only here to grab it.”
“Oh? Then if you’re going out again, can you pick up your grandmother’s medication?” his mother asked. “She was grousing about needing a refill when I got home today.”
“I guess so,” Lee said, scanning over the food on the counter. Looked like spaghetti again. Third time this week.
“You won’t have to use your own money either,” his mother added. “I was paid yesterday, so there’s some cash on top of the fridge.”
Lee nodded, moving to retrieve a couple of bills. “That reminds me, I might be able to work some extra hours at the library in the coming week,” he remarked. “Think the extra income would be of use?”
“Well, your father IS supposed to be sending us another cheque soon,” his mother answered. “But if it’s late again…”
“I’m SO sorry about this, Lee…”
“Hey, no big deal, used to it by now,” Lee said dismissively. He smiled and moved in to give his mother a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll try not to be gone longer than another hour. Keep some sauce on the stove for me?”
“Will do,” his mother assured.
Lee proceeded out of the kitchen and upstairs; he then pulled down the additional flight of steps leading up to the attic, and continued up to his room. It didn’t take long for him to find the old black box – he knew it had been here somewhere, though he hadn’t realized it had been his end table.
He moved his lamp off the circular panel and picked the object up, turning it around in his hands a couple of times. He absently pulled down on the lever. Nothing happened. “Well, okay, if it’s that important to you guys,” he muttered. “Not like I store tons of stuff on it anyway.”
“How is Carrie?”
“No change,” Luci sighed as she approached him. “Though that does mean no worse. Any sign of Lee yet?”
“Nope,” Clarke replied, turning to glance around the main area of the hospital. “But this is where we agreed to meet, so I figure he’ll be along any minute.”
Luci nodded, turning to look around herself. She frowned. Then took a step back to lean against the wall.
“Luci? I’m sure Carrie will pull through,” Clarke offered up. “She has that sort of personality.”
Luci looked up at the tall blonde again. “Hm?”
“You look worried,” Clarke said. “I’m assuming it’s from seeing Carrie?”
“Oh! Right. Except no. That is…” Luci pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m worried about Carrie, but I have some other things on my mind today too.”
Clarke cocked his head to the side. “You mean like whether we’re going to pull off this whole crazy rescue operation?”
“Yeah…” Luci paused, then reached out to grab Clarke’s shoulder, maneuvering him away from the people nearby. “Maybe I need to talk to someone who’s not Frank,” she decided, glancing briefly back over her shoulder before looking up to meet his gaze. “Clarke – are we doing the right thing here?”
Clarke frowned. “You don’t think we should save Julie?”
“Oh no, it’s not that,” Luci corrected with an immediate shake of her head. “Not even Julie deserved to die this way. It’s more… what if we’re all being manipulated into doing it?”
“Manipulated?” Clarke repeated back, raising an eyebrow.
“Exactly. Think about it,” Luci continued quietly. “This ‘Shady’ guy who spoke to Frank may now be manipulating things – by staying out of them.”
“You already lost me.”
“When Carrie first got her hands on the time machine, Shady didn’t step in with any tips, or helpful pieces of information,” Luci elaborated. “Carrie had carte blanche to do as she liked. Then after she was shot, okay, he made the one call to Frank, but otherwise he has done nothing. This, despite his apparent power to “push” his will onto others. Now, Frank thinks it’s because Shady likes free will, but what if Shady’s been employing some sort of reverse psychology? Maybe he’s the one behind everything, and by trying to save Julie, we’ll end up playing right into his hands!”
She fell silent. Clarke seemed to consider her argument. “Except,” he reasoned, “by that logic, we’d have to second guess everything we do. And even then, if other people are second guessing our second guessing… well, er, it’s all kinda pointless in the end. Right, Luci?”
“I… guess?” Luci wrung her hands in the air. “Yet I’M the one who insisted to Frank that he wait on calling the police – and I can’t even go on the time trip we’re all organizing. So what if I’ve made a mistake? Like I did with Carrie’s personality and Julie’s reactions and what if Frank gets HURT, all because of my stubborn resolve?” She dropped her eyes to the ground. “I know, I know. Silly thing to worry about.”
Clarke reached out to place a hand on Luci’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s not silly at all,” he reassured. “In fact, you’re finally making more sense. I’m thinking you’re not used to being wrong much?”
Luci flinched. “I… it’s atypical, yes.”
“Me, I’m wrong a lot,” Clarke said easily. “And usually, it’s not a big deal, so I keep trying – or if it’s real important, and I’m not sure? That’s when I rely on others to take care of it for me. Heck, sometimes, to score the basket, you have to know when to pass the ball.” He smiled, and patted her shoulder. “Don’t second guess yourself, Luci. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure Frank’s kept safe for you.”
Luci felt her cheeks getting warm again. “I-I’m not ONLY worried about him, y’know…”
“Whoa, there y’are,” Lee said, choosing that moment to make his appearance. “Thought you’d be outside, but then I realized, wait, it is a bit cold for that. Oh, hey short stuff, you involved in this with the high guy too?”
“So to speak,” Luci said. Her attention was immediately drawn to the device in Lee’s hands. “So you DO have it,” she breathed.
Lee held out the black box. “Yeah, this what you were looking for?”
“That’s it,” Clarke confirmed off of Luci’s reaction. She accepted the device, turning it around in her hands a few times. She tried pushing and then pulling on the lever, but nothing happened.
“As I said, it’s broken,” Lee noted.
Clarke nodded. “That’s fine. You want to come with us then? The truth about all this might blow your mind.”
“I can’t,” Lee apologized to them. “Family errand stuff at the pharmacy. Can we delay the big scoop ’till Sunday? Or whenever works for you?”
He watched as Clarke turned to Luci, who shrugged. “We probably don’t need Lee,” she admitted. “But then who knows what we’ll find in this thing.”
“I will be working at the library again tomorrow,” Lee reminded them. “So you can find me there if you have questions.”
“Okay then,” Clarke said, reaching out to shake his hand. “Thanks very much, Lee.”
“Hope you save those lives you were talking about,” Lee said, shaking back and flashing them both a grin.
“Come on Clarke, let’s get this to Frank’s,” Luci said, already moving off. “Time is of the essence.” Clarke nodded, and the two of them turned to leave the hospital.
Lee watched them go, wondering even more now about this whole affair – but family came first. More to the point, he had to think of a good way of talking to Faye, once he got home.
How was he supposed to explain to her that it wasn’t their mother’s fault dad didn’t visit more often? The man had been trying to distance himself from the family ever since Soh, the fourth King child had been born… but Faye couldn’t see it.
Lee shook his head and walked for the hospital exit. And stopped. Something had caught his eye. He scanned back over the crowd inside the waiting area a bit more closely, his gaze finally settling on a man who was sitting near the door. His quarry immediately pulled his newspaper back up in front of his face, but not before Lee got a good look.
‘That was the same guy from the library,’ Lee realized. ‘The weird cultist who wanted that information on the LaMilles. Huh, so he can dress normal. But why would he be hanging around the hospital now? Is it related to Clarke and Tim… and that box?’
Lee pretended to scan the area a bit more, then shrugged and turned away, hoping to present the illusion that he hadn’t seen whatever he’d been looking for.
‘I’ll mention this to one of those guys the next time I see them,’ Lee decided. ‘Because I’m starting to understand what they mean by this being a big deal…’
Frank rubbed the side of his head. “So, you all want the good news, or the bad news?” he asked.
All the teens that Chartreuse had once dubbed ‘time trippers’ had gathered back in his basement lab, where they had finally managed to pry the lid off the time machine with a crowbar.
“Let’s have the good news,” Clarke said. “About time we had some.”
“Well,” Frank began, looking up from his inspection. “I should be able to reconnect the lever mechanism to the top panel, making the time machine physically functional again.”
“A-And… the bad news?” Tim asked.
“With regard to actually activating it, there’s a couple of rather important circuits missing. Now, I THINK we can replace them too, the same way we did in October…” Frank let out a long breath. “Except the information for doing it was on those sheets of paper Julie grabbed before she left. So we’ll be working from memory.”
“You think Julie took out those circuits on purpose?” Luci speculated. Frank could only shrug.
“Then of course there’s the WORSE news, which is that Corry’s not going to let Laurie come quietly,” Chartreuse moaned. “I’m SO sorry about him finding out, guys. Though, you know, even I’m starting to have second thoughts about Laurie’s involvement.”
“Our work is cut out for us,” Frank said dryly. He cracked his knuckles. “But it’s still Saturday night. We have twenty four hours. So, unless any of you think you’ll be able to assist with repairs on the machine? It’s best for you – and your families – that you go home, and get some sleep. I’ll do what I can overnight, while you all think about Corry. We can regroup tomorrow.”
“I’m staying,” Luci asserted. She continued on before Frank had a chance to protest. “Since I CAN assist with repairs, and more to the point, you’ll need to get some sleep tonight yourself, Frank. Don’t want you traveling into the past tomorrow night without having slept.”
“I guess,” Frank yielded. “Okay. Let’s meet back here tomorrow at noon. Alternatively, if you have any new ideas, or me and Luci make better time on the repairs, we can get in touch.”
The matter was settled shortly thereafter. Not only at Frank’s house, but also in a discussion taking place at the Veniti residence.