TT3.57: Help Wanted

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3.10: HELP WANTED

MiniBanner“Lee, I’m talking to you.”

Lee jerked his gaze over towards Ms. Readman. “And I heard every word,” he assured her. “Unfortunately, my brain interpreted it as Spanish. Could you run it by me again?” A student sitting nearby let out a quiet laugh.

“Perspective drawing, Lee,” the art teacher said patiently, moving closer and indicating his empty page. “Are you having trouble understanding the assignment?”

“No, no, not at all,” Lee replied quickly. “Just spaced out for a moment, some things on my mind. I’ll get right to this.”

“Thank you, Lee, that would be appreciated,” Ms. Readman said wryly.  “Though do let me know if you’re having problems with your perspective?”

Lee nodded and watched his teacher continue her walk around the room. Letting out an almost inaudible sigh, he retrieved his ruler and began to mark down the requisite lines. A short distance away, Glen Oaks observed his classmate, a thoughtful expression on his face.

***

“Like, ohmigod!” Chartreuse breathed. “This is, you know, so totally cool! And Jeeves doesn’t even know about this place??”

“Obviously not,” Carrie said.

“Chartreuse, could you keep moving? We’re stuck in the passage,” Frank remarked.

“Oh! Sorry,” Chartreuse apologized, moving away from the door. Frank, Luci, Clarke and Julie all filed into the LaMille mansion’s secret basement lab.

“I’m still trying to tidy up and catalog the last of the stuff left in here,” Julie remarked. “But I haven’t been able to open that safe.”

“Maybe we should blast the thing open,” Luci suggested. She dropped her bag onto the lab table and then attempted to boost herself up as well, succeeding with a hand from Frank. “After all,” she continued, “it could contain information about this infernal code Linquist’s set up.”

Frank watched as Luci pulled out the scientist’s red logbook, along with her laptop and a number of notes she’d been accumulating. “I really wish you hadn’t brought that,” he admitted. “You’re becoming more than obsessed. Even your cat is starting to give you weird looks.”

“It’s all right, I know I’m close to a breakthrough now,” Luci assured him. “I’ve coded up a program to run an entire substitution cipher on what seem to be the key passages. In fact, by the time you return from your time trip, I bet I’ll have it all worked out.”

“That could be in as little as five minutes,” Frank objected.

“Or as much as an hour if we don’t get going soon,” Carrie countered. “Now, shall we go back over the plan?” She looked around the room expectantly.

“Seemed pretty clear to me,” Julie spoke up. “We go back into last week, watch for where Lee’s younger sister lost her necklace, and retrieve it for her. Thereby fixing up the King family situation in time for Thanksgiving dinner tonight, which will help restore Lee’s focus in class next week.”

“Oh, and I know Lee will appreciate it!” Chartreuse chimed in, clasping her hands together. “After all, if we don’t fix it soon, I think he’ll be spacing out for WEEKS, right through until American Thanksgiving!”

“How did you figure out that his sister’s necklace was the problem anyway, Carrie?” Clarke wondered.

“Glen told me,” the blonde admitted. “Apparently he overheard Lee telling Tim about it after one of Corry’s band rehearsals.”

Frank crossed his arms. “Yeah, hey, anyone else suspicious about how fast Corry let Glen take over as Sue’s replacement there?” he wondered.

Julie shook her head. “Not really. Corry’s been looking for an angle on the guy for a while,” she reminded. “By keeping Glen close, he can start to observe that much better.”

“Back to the plan, please,” Carrie objected. “I’m already concerned about multiple people time tripping with me, so I’d appreciate our heading out before I lose my nerve.”

“Carrie, it isn’t too late to change your mind,” Frank offered. “You could try doing one of your – what do you call them? – mental time searches into the past instead.”

Carrie waved him off. “No, I really can’t. Even setting aside the fact that I haven’t had time to get comfortable with that aspect of my power, I’ve never met Lee’s younger sisters. So I wouldn’t know how to centre on them in the first place.”

“Even so, you don’t have to actually participate in the trip. You could leave it up to the rest of us,” Clarke offered.

Again Carrie shook her head. “If we’re dedicated to the trip, I’m coming along. That way, if anything goes wrong, any headaches will hopefully centre first on the me who is out of time synch.”

“It’s all right Carrie, I’ll, you know, be there to monitor your condition,” Chartreuse assured her. She reached out towards Carrie’s hand, second guessed her own intentions, then entwined the fingers of both hands together instead.

“Meanwhile, I’ll stay cooped up here at the mansion with you both, coordinating things and keeping Jeeves from seeing us,” Julie said, a mite wistfully.

“As I assist Frank with the locket search,” Clarke agreed.

“Meanwhile, I keep the home fires burning in the present,” Luci muttered quietly as she started scrawling a new set of notes. “Are you going or not?”

“Yes,” Frank said. He bent down next to the time machine – which Carrie had placed on the floor – in order to complete final adjustments.  “Someone suggest to me the best time of day for arrival?”

“Lunch. Say noon,” Carrie stated. “Since while it’s true that Chartreuse was sick last Tuesday, which should displace us away from the school, Julie had also left the school grounds to eat that day. And I’d prefer having that extra insurance.” She looked around. “Remember, once we appear somewhere south of the school, we make for the ravine. Don’t talk to anyone!”

“Right.” Frank finished up, then closed the lid of the machine. “Is everyone ready?”

“We don’t all have to grab that thing’s handle, do we?” Chartreuse asked, stopping herself before leaning in next to Carrie. “It’ll be, like, awkward. Can’t I hold someone else’s hand instead?”

“Chartreuse, we’ve always made sure everyone traveling was in contact with the handle,” Frank countered. “Even when we had bicycles and all our gear coming back from Illinois last November. After all, you may not get transported otherwise.”

“May not? Meaning I might. You’ve never, you know, tried it?”

“Why screw up a perfectly good system?”

“Because some day you may need to transport, like, twenty people or something?” Chartreuse hypothesized. “I mean, we’re already up to five.  Six if Luci needs to come along some day.”

There was a pause. “Chartreuse has a point,” Clarke admitted. “The previous maximum was four, and it WAS kinda awkward with the bikes and everything.”

“But in the end, all the inanimate items got transported, right?” Julie mused. Clarke nodded in reply.

“Physical items, such as the clothes on our backs, may be treated differently from actual organic matter,” Frank protested.

“Well, I offer to be your guinea pig then,” Chartreuse decided. “I mean, the worst that can happen is I won’t be, you know, transported, right?”

“Unless you get lost somewhere in history,” Luci said idly, continuing her work atop the lab table.

Another glance was exchanged between the students sitting on the floor. “Look, this is ridiculous,” Frank decided. “We’ll test next time. Maybe with a small animal, or insects or something. For now, everyone make sure to hold onto the handle. Right Carrie?” He turned to look at the blonde, who had been silent ever since her initial objection.

“No,” Carrie replied. Then she looked up, and blinked as she realized everyone was staring at her. “Sorry, I mean no, I don’t think that Chartreuse would be lost in time,” she clarified. “Don’t ask me why I think that but I do. Though as to her ‘piggybacking’ on one of us… that, I don’t know. And she’s right, it would be helpful to know if that’s possible.”

Frank pressed a hand to his forehead. “Yes, but not NOW, correct?”

Carrie pursed her lips. “Perhaps not,” she conceded.

“But what if, on our return trip, I end up being chased by a horde of guys?” Chartreuse objected. “And I end up trapped in a dead end in front of a wooden barrier, and the only way for me to get away is to, like, reach through a knothole and grab Carr– touch one of you as you pull this handle??” Everyone turned to stare at her.

“I don’t think that’s likely,” Julie observed.

“It’s not impossible,” Chartreuse retorted defiantly.

Frank sighed. “Fine Chartreuse, if Carrie thinks it’s safe enough, and it will make you happy, you don’t have to touch the handle. But don’t complain if you get left behind!”

“Check,” Chartreuse said, giving Frank a thumbs up. Everyone reached out for the handle of the time machine, Chartreuse grasping Carrie by the shoulder instead. Frank dropped in a coin for their current year.

“We pull on three,” Frank said. “All right? One…. two…. three!”

***

Despite the fact that it had been almost a year since he had last used the device, the feeling of being sucked into a void still felt familiar to Frank. In the wink of an eye, the basement lab was gone, replaced by a new scene… that of a hallway in the high school. “Damn!” Frank cursed, as he shook off the aftereffects of the time displacement. “How did we end up here?!”

“Someone screwed up the geometry?” Carrie replied. As the only other seasoned time traveler of the five, she was the only other person still conscious – Julie, Clarke and Chartreuse lay on the floor, out cold.

“Impossible!” Frank countered. “According to everything we know, the device should have brought us to a point an equal distance away from the positions of our past selves! And as two of us were a fair distance from the school, there’s no way–”

“There is, if it–” Carrie began, before freezing and raising a hand to her temples, wincing in pain. “Oh no,” she muttered. “Oh no, no, not good…”

“Temporal change?” Frank questioned.

“What do you think?” Carrie snapped.

“Quick,” Frank said. “Let’s get everyone into that classroom!” They had apparently lucked out in terms of their arrival – the art wing didn’t see much traffic during lunch. But it wasn’t always deserted, the four students who turned the nearby corner testifying to that.

“We’re practicing for a play,” Carrie called out to them as the freshmen arrivals exchanged a confused glance. “Death of three salesmen.” The head cheerleader quickly dragged Chartreuse back into the drama room, Frank doing the same with Clarke, and both of them returning for Julie and the time machine respectively.

***

“Hey, Faye! I have that book you wanted!” came the voice of Azure Vermilion. Faye turned from where she was leaning back against the tree by the football field.

“And you bring it to me now, when I’m nowhere near my locker?”

“Oh. I wasn’t really thinking about that,” Azure admitted. “Should I bring it back later?”

“No, I’ll take it,” Faye sighed. “Lunch is close to being over, and once I have it, my sister will get off my back.”

“Okay. Hey, which of your younger sisters wanted this again?” Azure continued as she handed over the book.

Faye stared. “Sing,” she said, accepting the tome. “Soh’s barely in grade school, you really think she’s old enough to get into a detective story like this?”

“I guess not,” Azure admitted. She grinned. “Not that I’ve met either of them in person, Lee’s your only sibling I’ve seen. Heck, I’m not even sure where you all live, considering how you didn’t want me to bring the book around directly, but maybe some time later this month we could–”

“Are you trying to indulge me in conversation for a reason?” Faye snapped.

“Um, not really,” the blue haired girl admitted. “I only thought–”

“Don’t think so much,” Faye interrupted again. “I admit, I feel a bit of a bond between the two of us, because our parents share a bizarre sense of humour when it comes to naming their children. So hanging with you is more tolerable than it would be with any other Grade Nine student. But right now, I want to be alone. Understand?”

Azure opened her mouth to respond, but seeing the look on Faye’s face, apparently decided instead to nod and head back towards the school instead. It wasn’t until Azure was out of sight that the tall girl let out a sigh, and smacked the book soundly against her forehead a couple of times. ‘Way to make friends and influence people, genius,’ she reflected.

***

“It’s because Chartreuse wasn’t touching the handle!” Frank asserted. “We never should have let her experiment!”

Frank, Carrie, Julie and Clarke now stood staring down at the prone form of the pink haired girl, who was laid out on the floor of the otherwise empty drama classroom. Unlike Clarke and Julie, who had regained consciousness fairly rapidly, their resident mystic was still out cold.

Julie raised her hand. “I don’t think Chartreuse is still unconscious because of that.”

“Oh? Why not?” Carrie asked. Frank noticed that her mood had improved slightly. Getting away from the other students had seemingly eliminated her headache.

“Because I wasn’t touching that handle for the trip either,” Julie admitted. “When everyone else was pulling at once, I hesitated, and lost my grip. But I’d been holding Phil’s other hand. And I’m here, and I’m awake.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Frank protested, throwing his hands up in the air. “Is it because Chartreuse was sick on this day in the… wait a moment. Julie, neither you nor her were touching the handle?”

“Seems so,” Phil affirmed.

Frank leaned back against the teacher’s desk. “Huh. That could at least explain why we’re at the school. If neither girl was in direct contact with the time machine, perhaps they weren’t factored into the device’s spatial algorithm? We’d need to do more testing to be sure, but…”

“But maybe you have to be physically touching the handle in order to be used in the geographic triangulation!” Carrie finished. She smiled. “If it’s true, it will certainly solve a lot of mathematical mapping headaches! We’ll simply have to figure out where ONE person was, and then get everyone else to latch onto them.”

“Still doesn’t explain Chartreuse’s condition though,” Clarke reminded them.

“Well, she doesn’t have a fever,” Carrie observed, having bent down to feel the forehead of the other girl. “And she’s breathing fine, she’s just… out.”

“Change of plan then,” Frank decided. “We obviously can’t leave Chartreuse in the school, in case she’s discovered. But Clarke, you may be the only one strong enough to carry her. Can you and Julie get her back to the mansion, while me and Carrie get a bead on Lee’s sister instead?”

“I can do a piggyback,” Clarke agreed. “And Julie can get us in without tipping off Jeeves. But what about the two of you?”

“Yeah, I’m not thrilled with the idea of strolling the streets of the past with you, Frank,” Carrie said. “No offence, but if I end up doubled over in temporal pain, you’ll be less useful to me than Chartreuse.”

“Then I could go it alone,” Frank allowed. “But didn’t we figure it was better NOT to have anyone by themselves?”

Carrie sighed. She slapped lightly at Chartreuse’s cheeks. There was no reaction. “Fine, fine, okay. Clarke, give me that burner phone that you were going to use to communicate with us. I’ll go with Frank instead.”

Clarke fished in his pocket and handed it over. “Should we phone you if Chartreuse’s condition improves?”

Carrie grimaced. “No. We stick to the original plan of minimal communication. These phones are essentially double versions of themselves in this past timeline, even if the originals ARE stowed away in the lab and turned off. That worries me. Emergencies only.”

“Right,” Clarke agreed.

“New problem,” Julie observed. “Chartreuse is the one who was going to elaborate on what Lee’s sister looked like. Given how it was her own sister Azure who knew Faye, and thus the rest of Lee’s family.”

Their eyes drifted back to the unconscious girl. “Well, damn. Uh, I don’t suppose you’d have any information, Julie?” Frank said hopefully. “Rumour was, last year you had a file folder for everyone in the school.”

Julie shook her head. “Honestly? I never paid close attention to Lee, since he never ended up being a direct factor in any of my plans. Nor did I ever feel a need to blackmail him. He has more than one younger sister, of that I’m sure, but beyond that…” She shrugged.

“Lee does tend to keep to himself,” Clarke agreed. “Sometimes I’ve wondered why.”

“Well, his sister was ‘Soh’, right?” Carrie asked. “How many blonde girls who go to the middle school down the road would answer to a name like that?”

Frank winced. “Setting aside how walking up and asking young girls for their names could be misinterpreted,” he countered, “Don’t you think Lee would have spoken to our past selves already if he heard we were poking around? Which didn’t originally happen in our timeline. This was meant to be spy and retrieve, not some sort of inquisition.”

“Well, what DO you suggest?” Carrie said in exasperation.

“And was Lee’s sister with the necklace even named Soh?” Julie protested. “I thought Chartreuse had said something about Soh being in grade school, not middle school.”

“Grade school? The sister who lost the necklace was definitely in middle school,” Carrie countered.

“Looks like our plan has fallen apart,” Clarke decided. “Maybe we should simply abort, return to the present, and try this again, going to some other time.”

Frank made a face. “But that’s a waste of two coins!”

“Plus I’m not sure we want to leave now, pulling Chartreuse through time again until we learn what’s wrong with her,” Carrie said. She ran her fingers back through her hair. “Damn it! Okay, look. Me and Frank can still stake out the middle school. If we spot Soh, awesome, if not… we’ll re-evaluate at that point. We did build in a time buffer here. Chartreuse has around three hours to come to her senses. Still, don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

“That works,” Frank agreed. “Right now, it’s only…” His eyes widened, and he pointed over at the clock on the wall. “Oh no, look at the time, it’s–”

The school bell rang, signifying the end of lunch. And almost immediately, the door to the drama room opened and Glen Oaks walked into the room.

***

“Hey, Singsong, whatcha doin’?”

Lee’s second youngest sister jumped at the sound of the voice, accidentally tugging on a strand of her own hair. “Ow! Oh, um, not much, Gary,” Sing said, untangling her fingers from her long brown hair while simultaneously trying to hide the book she held in her other hand.

Her grade six classmate smirked at her. “Readin’ again, huh?  Didn’t hear the bell go?”

“Oh n-no, of course I heard it,” Sing lied. When HAD all these people started entering the school? She cast a glance towards the clock in the hallway.

Gary snorted. “Yeah, right,” he said, continuing past her down the hall. “Bet a bookworm like you don’t care about nothing ‘cept your books.”

Sing watched him go, the hand that had been twirling her hair now reaching up to finger the charm dangling off of her necklace. The one she’d received from her father for her birthday. “You’re wrong there,” the member of the King family murmured quietly. “You’re so wrong.”

The brunette girl put her book away and followed Gary towards their classroom, squeezing the charm between her fingers. Not knowing that before the day was done, she would be devastated by it’s loss.

***

Yes, time travel resumes in a time travel serial! Shocked? … No? … I know you’re out there, I can hear you breathing. Well okay, I can’t, but I might notice your click if you were to Vote for T&T on TWF.

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