PREVIOUSLY: A fifty-year old Carrie has abducted her teenaged self. Characters have pursued her from their past… to the uncertain future.
PART 88b: FUTURE IMPERFECT
Wait, could she move? Was Elder Carrie losing her grip? Her fingers twitched, but no, that wasn’t enough, she was unable to pull away… a single tear trickled out of the corner of her eye, as Carrie Waterson, the future Temporal Weapon, surrendered herself to the inevitable. Her hands slipping into her jacket pockets.
Which was where she felt a hard object. Of course – it was the meditation crystal. The one Chartreuse had given her yesterday, or rather the day of the talent show. Carrie had brought it along with her, feeling like it might help her to feel connected to Chartreuse… and by extension all of the other people she had been hoping to protect. But she had failed them. She had failed them all. Even her parents.
Carrie’s fingers curled around the crystal object, aware that more tears were coming. Because here she was, at the mercy of her Future Self, being time shifted into Her Future… a future where Carrie would never see her parents, her friends, or that one ray of sunshine – her once possible girlfriend – ever again.
Oh no, now she was imagining Chartreuse’s voice in her head.
“Carrie, are you there?! We don’t, like, have much time, but PLEASE hear me, there’s something you’ve gotta do!”
Frank gently tapped at Laurie’s face until she murmured and her eyes blinked open. She immediately sat up, seemingly registering how he’d taken her out of the time car, to be laid in a field. “What happened?” the redhead gasped. “Did it work? Are we in the future?”
Frank nodded. “We… think so. The time circuits shorted out.” He looked towards Tim, who was pacing around the car. It sat a short distance away, in the same field. “Anything?”
Tim shook his head. “No sign that we were hit. But you’re right, the trip didn’t feel like the previous ones, and I thought I saw sparks through the windshield before I blacked out.”
Laurie looked back and forth between them. “What? Problem with the length of the jump? The fact that it was trying to orient on a future me? Something else?”
“No idea,” Frank said. “We’ve done even crazier things than what you’ve described, and never experienced a jolt like that. So I can’t explain it.”
Laurie shivered. “There’s patches of snow out here,” she realized. “This weather is is a far cry from Miami.” She peered through the dusk towards a nearby rural road. “But at the same time, it all seems weirdly normal, huh?”
Frank reached out a hand to help Laurie to her feet, which she accepted. “I’m guessing we’re back in Ontario,” he observed. “But there’s no way to be sure.”
Laurie began to brush herself off. “No, I meant, if this is the future that Glen and Mindy were talking about, the one with the temporal war, it looks normal instead of more… more… golly, I don’t know.”
“Post-apocalyptic?” Tim suggested, approaching.
“Different,” Laurie decided.
Tim chuckled. “W-Well, we have yet to look around. Though after four time trips, I see the car still hasn’t managed to arrive on a road… boy, s-so much for the practical aspects of a time machine vehicle, huh?”
Laurie smiled back. “We’re in the future. Maybe we can get a hover conversion, like in the movies.”
“Hah!” Frank said, smiling too. “I’ve never seen the sense in flying cars. Unless you’ve got something like an airport control tower, there’s no practical way to avoid mid-air collisions.” He turned back to the road, spotting a vehicle turning the corner. It was going to drive right past them. “Uh oh. I hope that’s not a future version of us.”
“H-Hide?” Tim asked. “Or ask for h-help?”
Laurie scrambled to get over to the side of the road. “Oh, they’re gonna see the car anyway.” She waved. “And I think that’s a tow truck!”
“Help then,” Tim concluded. He looked at Frank. “Because I d-don’t think we want to split ourselves up OR leave the time machine alone in the middle of this field.”
“Still…“ Frank grimaced, then sighed. “Okay, I yield. Let’s flag it down.”
They stood by the side of the road, the tow truck slowing as it approached. It probably would have stopped even if Laurie hadn’t been jumping up and down with her arms in the air. Frank barely had a chance to register the logo for ‘Sam & Al’s Garage’ on the door before it opened and a blonde haired man in his late forties or early fifties jumped down out of the cab.
“Hey,” the guy said with a wave, slamming the door behind him. He pushed a pair of glasses up higher on his nose and adjusted his cap. “Lucky break for you guys that I was driving by. What’s the… trouble… damn. Is that an old Chevy?!”
“Yeah. We’re not from around here,” Frank said. He wondered why the blonde guy’s voice sounded familiar. “Plus our vehicle might have sustained damage, so I’m nervous about starting it up. Could you maybe give it a quick once over?”
“Amazing. I haven’t worked on one of these since my senior year of high school,” the blonde said, letting out a low whistle. He walked over to run his fingers over the hood. “How did a bunch of teenagers get their hands on…” He paused, looking at them a bit more closely. His eyes gradually widened. “No. No, it can’t be you. This is impossible.”
“Clarke?” Laurie ventured. “Clarke, is that you?”
That’s when Frank caught the resemblance. Laurie was right. This man could definitely be Phil Clarke, over thirty years later.
“Laurie? Tim?!” The tow truck operator looked from the both of them over to Frank, and then took a couple steps backwards. “No! How can you all be here – looking like THAT? None of you ever… we never… what date are you all FROM?!”
Frank looked over at his companions. Could they trust this version of Clarke? Then again, did they have much of a choice at this point? “December,” he offered. He provided the year, and when it looked like Clarke was trying to do mental math, he added, “Your aforementioned senior year of high school.”
Clarke shook his head. “Impossible. That’s impossible. That’s…” He stepped forward, and reached out to poke at Frank’s shoulder, tentatively, as if wondering if his hand would go right through. When they made contact, Clarke recoiled, then turned and headed back for the truck.
“W-Wait,” Tim protested. “Clarke, we’ve landed in an unknown future, we need a hand here!”
“I have to make a phone call first,” he shouted back. The cab door slammed shut. Moments later, it lit up inside, as if Clarke had a very bright phone engaged where he was hunched over.
“Are we in trouble?” Laurie wondered.
“Clarke’s m-my friend,” Tim insisted. “Whatever he’s doing, it will help us.”
Frank was getting an uneasy feeling. “I hate to say it but… based on that reaction… maybe we don’t end up returning to our present? Or at least, not to our home town?”
“Why wouldn’t we go back home?” Laurie demanded.
Tim flinched. ”Because Clarke’s acting like he hasn’t seen us in thirty years,” he deduced. “Oh no. Does the present think we died?”
“Then again,” Frank continued, “maybe Clarke’s shock is simply the result of some Temporal wiping our memories. Meaning we’ll be unable to tell the present about this trip, and as such, we’re very unexpected.”
“So we CAN get home?” Laurie asked, wringing her hands.
“I thought a Temporal’s m-mental influence faded over time,” Tim objected. “Unless we WANT to f-forget, like Clarke’s sister. S-So why would we want to f-forget this?”
Frank winced. “I don’t know. Though Carrie’s memory wiping? That would last, from what we know of her impact on Shady.”
Tim frowned. “S-So you’re s-saying Carrie might end up tampering with our…”
“Know what?” Laurie interrupted. “Maybe we simply NEVER talk about this to anyone. Because all your talky alternatives sound awful.”
Frank exhaled. “Maybe that.”
Clarke looked out at them from behind the tow truck’s windshield, shook his head, and a moment later, the glow surrounding him disappeared. He reopened the door, adjusting his hat again. “Okay guys. Let’s have a look at that Chevy.”
“I-Is everything okay, Clarke?” Tim asked.
The blonde hesitated, then nodded. “It will be. And hey, call me Phil, all right?” He gave the group a tentative smile.
“So this car… it’s your time machine?”
“Yeah,” Frank affirmed. “Do you see anything wrong with it?”
Clarke poked his head back under the hood. Tim felt worried – based on Clarke’s reactions to this point, Frank’s theories about memory manipulation seemed valid. Because while Clarke remembered the Chevy, he didn’t seem to remember converting it into a time machine.
Then again, maybe when you got old, you forgot about a lot of childhood stuff? Except their temporal activities seemed like the sort of thing you’d remember. Unless Clarke hadn’t helped with the time machine car in their present after all… but then, what else could he have been doing at Julie’s for most of December? With a sigh, Tim decided to stop speculating.
“I don’t think the car’s about to explode when you start it up,” Clarke concluded. He straightened, and dropped the hood back in place. “Man, I miss having them this easy to diagnose. These days, cars mostly drive themselves, to the point where you have no idea what the issue is if they grind to a stop.” He pulled a rag out of his pocket to clean his hands. “Granted, as far the time machine pieces go, that’s beyond my understanding.”
“But don’t time machines exist now?” Laurie wondered.
Clarke shrugged. “Not in cars. And there’s no ‘For Dummies’ books about them. The technology is highly regulated, and to handle security leaks, the ‘net was flooded with misinformation, things designed to blow you up before you could ever manage to create a time distortion.”
“So time travel isn’t d-done by the general public?” Tim mused.
“Nope,” Clarke affirmed. “Not since… well… yeah, I probably shouldn’t be giving out future information. Even if…“ He glanced at Frank. “Damn, I am SO out of my depth here. But if you’re willing, I had hoped to bring you to someone who could help. She’s the person I phoned when I first realized who you were.”
“Oh! Is it Carrie?” Laurie asked.
Clarke visibly shuddered. “Hell no, not her. Not Carrie. You will know this person though. I think. Which is probably all I should say until we’re there.” He glanced at the Chevy. “You want to try driving it and follow me? Or shall I tow? I’d recommend the latter, since there’s room for everyone in the truck, and I wager this thing’s still running on regular unleaded gasoline. No point draining the tank.”
Frank rubbed his neck. “Tow then, I guess. Except where is this person you’d be taking us to? For that matter, where are we now?”
Clarke thought for a moment. “You’d realize soon enough. We’re a little ways outside Ottawa. That’s where we’re headed.”
Laurie did a double take. “Wow. Is Ottawa still the capital of Canada?”
Clarke nodded. “Yeah.”
“Hold on.” Frank pulled Mindy’s piece of paper back out of his pocket and looked at it. “That means we’re in the 613 area code. This string of ten digits… it could be a phone number.”
“Ten digits… an old school phone number?” Clarke said. “You’re just full of surprises. I mean, the system’s backwards compatible, so whatever you have should still work, but who are you planning to contact thirty years out of date?”
“I won’t know until I try it,” Frank admitted. “Can we use your phone?”
Clarke tugged on the brim of his hat. “Depends,” he said. “Will it get me in trouble?”
“I’ll hang up if it’s someone problematic,” Frank assured him. He looked to Tim. “But there’s a chance I’ll need your linguistic expertise.”
Tim nodded, closing the distance between them.
Clarke frowned, but reached into his pocket to pull out a small device. “All right. Phone,” he said. The bright light from earlier returned, and this time Tim saw that a holographic keyboard had been illuminated in the air. Clarke moved his fingers around the virtual image. “I’m keying in audio only, anonymous guest, location tracking off,” he noted. “Keep the call short. Not because I don’t have the bandwidth, but because I feel like we don’t want to be noticed.”
Clarke swiped left, and the keyboard image resolved itself into that of a virtual numerical pad instead. It included buttons to dial and hang up. “There.” He placed the small device into Frank’s palm, then turned. “I don’t even want to know what you say, so Laurie, care to help me position things for the tow?”
As Clarke went to join the redheaded girl, Tim looked down at the device, then up at Frank. “Who do you think will answer?” he murmured.
Frank eyed Mindy’s note. “I figure maybe it’s whomever helped Mindylenopia get back to the past in the first place. And maybe that person has information we need about Carrie – except maybe they only speak Temporal.”
“L-Lots of maybes,” Tim observed.
Frank nodded. “Translate if you can?”
Tim nodded back, and Frank reached up to tap experimentally at the holographic keypad, keying in the ten digits. After a series of clicks, there was a buzzing noise that Frank took to be equivalent to a ring. Almost immediately, a familiar sounding female voice came on the line, demanding, “Who is this and how in hell did you get the number?!”
They both recognized the voice, Frank’s eyes going wide. “Mindylenopia?!” he blurted out.
NEXT: Identity Crisis
ASIDE: In case you missed it, there was an amusing ‘April Fool Update’ yesterday, written by Michael F. Read that to get a sense of why Clarke wouldn’t want to contact Carrie here (even though his story is not in continuity, it’s semi-accurate). Commentary coming tomorrow, regular schedule resumes Tuesday, want to vote for T&T?