PART 41: RESCUE EFFORTS
The wind blew through the empty field, bending the long grass back. A few clouds floated by overhead as the sun approached its highest point in the sky. There was no one around for kilometers – miles, even.
Which is when, in the wink of an eye, three individuals appeared, along with a bunch of equipment. There was a brown haired boy with glasses, a tall blonde, and a redhead. Only the first of them was conscious. As such, only he was able to cry out in horror before all of them plummeted metres – feet, even – from the air down towards the ground.
Clarke pressed a hand to his forehead. “Corry, that language isn’t going to improve the situation.”
“Falling bloody well HURT,” the redhead fumed. “Damn it Dijora, you didn’t say we’d arrive in free fall. Good thing I DIDN’T let my sister go on this trip, she’s liable to have ended up with a broken leg for gods’ sake!”
“Clarke’s right, calm down,” Frank said, taking deep breaths to try and steady his own nerves.
They were all regaining their bearings in the middle of the empty field where they’d fallen. “Obviously there was a little spatial problem with altitude that we didn’t account for,” Frank reasoned. “But the long grass cushioned us, and I get the impression no one sustained any injures above some bad bruises.”
“This from the guy who didn’t half land on a BIKE,” Corry fumed. He flexed his arm, then rubbed his shoulder. “Little altitude problem, my ass… I’ve half a mind to force you to take me back home right now.”
“You mean back home to Miami?” Clarke asked. “Since that is where you’re living at this time, right?”
That remark finally shut Corry up, as he turned to regard the black box which had facilitated their arrival. Frank picked it up, turning it so that Corry could see the digital readout.
“A week before Julie’s birth,” Frank observed. “Alternately, four days before she gets hit by an ambulance and dies. Let’s hope it’s enough time to track her down and prevent that.”
“Son of a bitch,” Corry muttered at last. “It really has happened, hasn’t it. We’ve traveled through time.”
Frank nodded. “We have.”
Clarke turned away from the both of them, starting to sift through the rest of their supplies.
Corry rubbed his chin. “Damn. I’m not sure I truly believed it until now. Even after getting that letter.”
“You thought you were lying to yourself?” Frank wondered.
“No, no,” Corry said, shaking his head. “Bringing up my history with Julie convinced me I was serious. It’s more that, writing the letter out myself, right after receiving it? Sort of took the edge off. Made it feel like it could be a prank.” He tugged his earlobe. “Why couldn’t we simply bring the original back in time with us again?”
“Because until you wrote it out, there was no original,” Frank reminded. “If the letter we have with us now had been the same one we received, it would have been created from nothing. And we couldn’t risk adding that kind of paradox, not on top of all the other temporal problems we’re dealing with at the moment.”
“Oh yeah, right,” Corry said, irritation creeping back into his tone. “Just like Tim had to obtain fresh copies of the required documentation on his end. I don’t know, it still sounds like a big waste of time to me.” He sighed. “And what was that other note Luci gave to you?”
“I don’t know,” Frank admitted, glancing towards his backpack. “I’m supposed to give it to Julie.” He frowned, remembering that conversation.
“I don’t understand,” Frank protested. “What’s the point of this?”
“The point,” Luci said, tapping the envelope edge first on his chest, “is that without Laurie going along, you’ve become an all male team.”
The asian girl shifted to tapping the envelope on his forehead. “Think, Frank. Julie might be a little intimidated by that.”
“Julie? She’s in charge of half our school, Luci. Nothing intimidates that girl.”
“WAS in charge,” Luci reminded. She reached out for his arm, using it to pull out his palm before slapping the sealed letter down into it. “Humour me. Call it a feeling. Give this message to Julie.”
“Oh well,” Corry said, scattering Frank’s thoughts. “On the bright side, I can’t feel my writers’ cramp any more – due to the pain in my shoulder!”
“You know, Corry,” Clarke said, moving close to them once more. “Me and Frank are here to save someone’s life. Someone who is very important to me. If you’re only tagging along because you didn’t want your sister to be here, maybe you should wait in a hostel somewhere for the next few days. We can circle back to pick you up again before we go.”
“Hmph,” Corry grumbled. “Thanks, but no thanks. At this point, I’m not letting either of you out of my sight.” He raised his hands defensively off Clarke’s expression. “Look, I AM here to help, okay? After all, as much as I dislike Julie, I know things. Plus the thought of her being in this twisted little suicide plan you’ve described… I can’t let that go. No one should end up like that. No one.”
“So, Clarke, how did our supplies fare?” Frank asked of the taller boy, hoping to change the subject.
“We got lucky,” Clarke replied, turning to him. “A dislodged chain and a couple bent spokes, nothing I can’t fix. The compass is also fine, and between that and the maps we have, we should be able to find shelter in a nearby town before sundown.” Clarke shifted his gaze to the black box. “What about the time machine, Frank?”
“Good question,” he realized, reaching out to grab the lever and pop the lid off. On the bright side, there was no smoke. On the down side… “Clarke, get me the small toolkit out of my pack,” he requested worriedly, putting the machine down and crouching over it.
“Uh oh,” Corry said as Clarke complied. “Another little ‘calculation problem’?”
Frank didn’t reply right away, instead spending the next several minutes carefully poking around the wiring. When he finally looked up, he suspected his face was pale. “I’m sorry. I should have known,” Frank apologized. “I should have realized.”
“Realized what?” Clarke prompted. “What do you mean?”
Frank took in a deep breath. “Remember how we figured on the time machine only being good for two, maybe three trips? Well, a sixteen year trip alters the recharge time, and puts more strain on the whole assembly which in turn…”
“Cut to the chase,” Corry interrupted. “What’s the situation?”
Frank swallowed. “The time machine is broken again,” Frank stated. “And I don’t have the right materials to fix it here. So even assuming we rescue Julie… there is no way for us to return.”
Luci sensed Laurie’s presence behind her even before the redheaded girl sat down next to her in the school library. She chose not to acknowledge the arrival. Not even after Laurie had cleared her throat twice.
“Okay,” Laurie said at last. “You want to be alone all lunch then.” She rose.
“Wait,” Luci sighed, reaching out for Laurie’s arm and missing. She looked up from the empty spot on the table where she’d been staring for the last half hour. “Stay.”
Laurie twisted her fingers together. “But if you’re upset…”
“Better you talk to me than Chartreuse,” Luci said, returning her attention to the tabletop. “I’m guessing she sent you over.”
“Chartreuse did figure the two of us had something in common right now, what with it being both my brother and my longtime crush on the trip with Frank,” Laurie admitted. She hesitated, then sat back down. “That’s what’s on your mind, right? Whether they’re okay?”
“What’s on my mind,” Luci began slowly, “Is that we’ve failed. Again. We doubled down on our bets, and we failed. AGAIN.” She reached up to grab her twin tails in her hands, yanking hard on her hair. “HOW? What did I miss? Why is this still happening? How do you normal people LIVE with the agony of knowing you can fail so SPECTACULARLY?”
“Whoa! C-Calm down, Luci,” Laurie pleaded, reaching out to touch her shoulder. “Sure, it’s Monday, but it was going to take the guys a few days to reach Julie in the past.”
“Yes. In the PAST,” Luci reiterated. She turned to fully face the redhead. “Laurie, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but if they were coming back… they would be here already. They left Sunday night. They were going to return on the same day, so that Frank could call the police if he had to. Except now it’s Monday! Over twelve hours later.” Luci clenched a fist. “They’re not coming back, Laurie, and it’s all my fault. I never should have let them leave.”
The redhead swallowed. “Maybe they set that machine wrong? They could come back tonight instead.”
“I don’t think so,” Luci countered. She pulled the creased paper out of her pocket, shoving it back at her companion.
Laurie unfolded the sheet. “It’s that article Clarke talked about,” she realized. “Describing Julie’s accident with the ambulance. So?”
“So don’t you see?” Luci said. “If the others had been successful, we would know right away. That article would never have been WRITTEN sixteen years ago. No, something has gone wrong.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Something has gone very, very wrong, and for all my supposed intellect, I can’t figure out what. Let alone what to do about it.”
There was another long pause. “You will,” Laurie decided.
“You will figure it out,” Laurie concluded. “You’re smart, Luci, you’ll figure it all out. So don’t give up hope. Okay?”
“Please?” Laurie said more insistently. “Please, Luci? Because if this is beyond you, I don’t know where else to turn, and I… I want to stop thinking about it. Okay?”
As she continued, her voice started to become more desperate. “I have to think it will work out, so I want to stop thinking about it, but all I can see is Chartreuse wondering about what they might be doing, and you being so worried and upset, and Chartreuse also being worried not only about them but about you, and about me, and I only want Frank and Clarke and Corry to be okay, so please can’t we all go and have some french fries for lunch and not think about this for the next little while, please, please, PLEASE Luci can we stop thinking about this now??” The redhead began to choke on her words.
Luci looked up again. She was momentarily taken aback by the tears shimmering in the corners of Laurie’s eyes, instinctively reaching out to touch Laurie’s arm in imitation of the redhead’s earlier gesture.
“I…” Luci stopped, not sure what she could possibly say that was reassuring. Maybe an apology would be enough. “All right,” she decided. “I’m not giving up. Let’s go get some fries.”
The two of them met up with Chartreuse by the library doors. Their resident mystic had been fidgeting with some multicoloured crystals, but upon seeing Luci and Laurie approach, she quickly put them away and offered up a halfhearted smile. The three of them proceeded towards the cafeteria.
Before they could arrive, Tim rushed up to meet them. “L-Luci. L-Laurie. Chartreuse,” he said quickly, trying not to stumble over his own words, having become short of breath once more. “Thank g-goodness. We, we’ve got to get out of here!”
“Why, Tim?” Chartreuse prompted.
“P-P-Police,” Tim forced out. He took in a long breath. “I saw them going into the main office, and they were s-saying something about an anonymous t-tip concerning the attack on C-Carrie. They w-wanted to question Frank, p-plus any students who were close to Julie.”
The three girls exchanged a quick glance. “Perfect,” Luci murmured. “Just perfect.”
As expected, it wasn’t long before the disappearances of Frank, Clarke and Corry were remarked upon. The three time travellers had covered for themselves the previous night by leaving messages stating that the three boys were sleeping over at each others’ houses – just in case. But now?
Chartreuse figured it wouldn’t be long before an investigation traced their missing friends’ whereabouts back to the same group of students who had met at Frank’s the previous day.
Thus, after Tim’s warning, the group had all fled to the local cafe. Skipping their afternoon classes. From there, there’d come up with a plan.
Tim had agreed to take Laurie to the library. Extra research couldn’t hurt, plus in all the excitement of Sunday, they hadn’t ever clued Lee in as to what was happening. As such, and assuming he was working there later on, he might be the only one left who could afford to be seen out in the open. Meanwhile, Chartreuse and Luci had elected to go to the hospital.
“It’s all about Carrie, after all,” Chartreuse concluded as she looked at the floor indicators inside the hospital elevator.
“Hm?” Luci said.
The elevator doors opened and the two girls stepped out onto the floor which housed Carrie’s room. “It’s all about Carrie,” Chartreuse repeated. “I mean, you know, she found the machine, she does paradoxes, she’s supposedly in trouble because of changes to the past… like, why her, anyway? There’s gotta be some answers with Carrie.”
“The thought did occur to me,” Luci admitted. “Unfortunately, unless Shady calls again, we’ve got no one around to ask. Carrie herself is in no condition to talk. Or at least no condition to make sense when she does talk.”
The two girls reached Carrie’s room, Luci giving a tentative knock on the open door. Mr. Waterson looked up from his bedside vigil and offered back a tired smile through his two week old beard. No police, Chartreuse noted. Good sign!
“Hello there, Luci and… Chartreuse, is it?” Carrie’s dad asked.
Chartreuse nodded back. “Totally. We thought we’d stop in right after school to, you know, see how Carrie was doing,” she said.
The older Waterson turned back to his daughter. “No improvement, I’m afraid,” he said sadly. “Still unresponsive, with the occasional period of incoherent babbling.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Luci said. “But it means she’s not getting any worse, right?”
Mr. Waterson rubbed his neck. “Yeah. But considering they still don’t know what the trouble is, it’s hard to take comfort in that. Though the police are still following some leads on the shooting – they were by earlier, and said that Carrie’s friend Julie might have had something to do with it. That maybe she’s run off somewhere now to hide out. Can you believe that? I don’t suppose either of you know anything about it?”
Crud. Chartreuse looked to Luci, who winced. “No,” Luci said slowly, almost painfully. “We can’t help you there.”
“Oh well,” Carrie’s father sighed. “Still, it’s fortunate you came by. I don’t want to leave Carrie alone, but I need to use the restroom… please stay with her until I get back, all right?”
“Of course,” Chartreuse assured him, stepping into the room.
Mr. Waterson gave his daughter’s hand a final squeeze before standing up and releasing his hold upon her. “I’ll be right back,” he said. The pink haired girl took his place in the chair, reaching out to take hold of Carrie’s hand herself.
“Chartreuse… do you think YOU can reach her? Mystically?” Luci asked, once Mr. Waterson had departed.
Chartreuse bit her lip. “Whenever I’m here, I always hope I’ll get an impression or something from her. But still nothing.”
“Can you force it?”
Chartreuse turned and blinked at the younger girl. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. Supposedly, she has powers. You have powers. Maybe you can… interface? I know, I’m grasping at straws here, but straws seem to be all we have left.”
Chartreuse looked back down at the blonde cheerleader. She was reminded of her classmate’s condition during the vision quests she’d done the previous week. There would come a point this week when Carrie would start twitching, convulsing, gasping for air, and then… then Chartreuse had pulled away, not wanting to know more. Unable to bear seeing more.
But Luci was right. They had to know more. For instance, was there some way of pinpointing exactly when Carrie’s condition would deteriorate? Would that give them another avenue to follow? “Carrie’s an Aries, right?”
“I don’t know,” Luci admitted.
Julie had thrown a birthday party for Carrie the past two years. “Pretty sure she’s an Aries,” Chartreuse concluded.
She reached back into her backpack, pulling out a small, smooth grey stone. She placed it into Carrie’s hand, wrapping the blonde’s fingers around it. Luci watched in silence as Chartreuse leaned over the bed, closing her hands over Carrie’s before shutting her eyes and concentrating.
“Ohm, ohm, oh my,” Chartreuse murmured quietly. “Spirits… tell me more about Carrie’s condition.” She swallowed. “Please.”
“Chartreuse!” Luci shouted. The asian girl was right up in her face, and Chartreuse flinched away out of reflex. Only to discover that Luci was holding her by the shoulders, having apparently yanked her away from Carrie’s body.
“Wow, what?” Chartreuse said, trying to regain her balance.
“I don’t know. You tell me,” Luci stated. “What was all that counting about?”
“Counting?” Chartreuse said in confusion. Wait, when had Luci moved close enough to grab her anyway?
“For the last minute and a half, you’ve been standing over Carrie with your eyes glazed over, counting backwards from 208 in one second decrements,” Luci stated. “It was REALLY starting to freak me out. When you wouldn’t answer me, I decided I didn’t want to let you hit zero.”
Chartreuse furrowed her brow, thinking back. She’d been leaning over Carrie, then… what? What had she even been thinking about? “I have no memory of counting,” Chartreuse admitted. “Are you sure?”
“Chartreuse – why would I lie about something like this??”
“I don’t know.” Chartreuse looked back towards the blonde lying comatose on the bed. “Carrie didn’t move or anything, did she?”
“No,” Luci replied. “In fact, the both of you were essentially motionless. Are you sure you don’t know what you were counting down to? Because it’s now about sixty seconds away.”
“No idea,” Chartreuse replied, reaching out to retrieve her stone from Carrie’s hand. Yet, no, that wasn’t exactly true… Chartreuse could now feel an overwhelming sense of impending doom. Somehow, Carrie’s deterioration was imminent. Yet how did she know that? And what was going to be the cause?
“Excuse me,” came a male voice. Chartreuse turned to see a hospital orderly. “I have to take another blood sample,” the man stated.
Luci moved aside with a sigh. “So, we’re back at square one then?” she asked.
Chartreuse was only half listening. Her attention was zeroing in on the thirtysomething orderly with the longish, dark hair as he readied his needle.
Lightning quick, her arm flashed out to grab him by the wrist and twist his arm away from the bed. He gasped and turned to her, a look of shock on his face.
As soon as their eyes locked, Chartreuse knew.
And Shady knew that she knew.
“Luci, get help,” Chartreuse ordered.
The man jerked himself out of Chartreuse’s grasp and sprang for the door. She launched herself after him, too late to grab hold, knocking the wind out of herself as she fell on the ground.
Quickly stumbling to her feet, Chartreuse dashed into the hallway in pursuit of the fake orderly. The one who had been about to kill Carrie Waterson.
Some sixteen years before the attempt on Carrie’s life, two adults had been having a small difference of opinion. “I tell you, the baby’s coming,” the woman snapped.
“All I asked was ‘are you sure’,” the man countered, helping his wife put on her coat. “Because I don’t think your water broke.”
“Nnnnngh… look *DEAR*, if *I* need to have the child *YOU* want, *YOU* are going to drive me to the damn hospital when *I* damn well tell you to do it. Understood?!”
“Okay, okay,” her husband soothed. “Calm down, we’re off to the hospital.” He quickly moved to help his pregnant wife out the front door, locking it behind them.
Seconds later, a vortex opened in their home. It deposited a black box and an unconscious girl with long, naturally curly brown hair, which was still damp from a recent rainstorm. Their future daughter.