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If you think about it, it's kind of funny for an atheist to have the power of God. It's also funny that I'm one sentence into this narrative, and I'm already way ahead of myself. I guess I'd better forget everything I've learned about reality layers, chronotons, and hyperbubbles and try to remember the basics of chronological storytelling. I am, after all, an historian. Oh, maybe not by choice, to be sure -- I always wanted to be a Vigilante. Never really had the stomach for the new pulverizers, though. Maybe I was brainwashed.
I'll tell you who wasn't afraid of the pulverizers, though: the Patrolmen. Hardly a day went by when you didn't read about some poor fool who had challenged the Patrolmen by committing an offence within the gun's range. Of course, what passes for an "offence" nowadays is enough to make an historian laugh -- we who remember vividly the days when saying "God damn it!" would earn you a demerit in Sister Winters's moral values class instead of sending your pieces to hell in about fourteen different handbaskets.
That's where it all started for me, actually, in Sister Winters's class. Arthur was there, too...
"God damn it! That hurts!"
We were 13, Arthur and I, and still he hadn't learned not to take the Lord's name in vain in front of a hardcore nun like Sister Winters. The phrase "tough-as-nails" didn't even begin to describe her. Once, she punched poor Shelly Hurston in the throat because she saw what she described as "a suspiciously sinful-looking bruise" there. Sister Winters's Amazing Hickey Cure is what we called it; in fact, it was just a sixty-three-year-old-woman's-fist-sized bruise smashed on top of the first one. That was when we were 11, and Shelly still couldn't turn her head too far to the left on this day. But what was she going to do about it? Her parents had called in political favors all the way up to the Archdeacon of Schools, and they weren't about to raise a fuss and risk losing the scholarship they had weaseled out of the system for her.
But, anyway, Arthur had felt responsible for Shelly ever since, mainly because he had been the generous provider of the "sinful-looking bruise." Shelly had never tattled on him, either, which, in those days, was grounds enough for us to consider them a couple.
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The only way most of us found out about these concepts was from kids like Arthur, who had older, usually unnamed sources who had described to him in graphic detail what was actually involved in "having a Baby." Then Arthur would tell the rest of us, who would overtly giggle, wince, or make jokes but inwardly, we'd think, "Oh! That's what it's for!" I had always assumed Arthur's sources were his parents, but after I had met them, I had doubted it. They still treated Arthur like he was a four year old. I did eventually find out who was telling Arthur all about sex, but I'm getting ahead of myself again.
Arthur was teaching me one of these lessons as we whispered conspiratorially in the back of Sister Winters's moral values class while she droned on about Proverbs something-or-another. It was the first day of class in 2100 A.D., and I think Arthur was determined to get the first whipping of the century. He liberally threw around terms like "masturbation" and "blowjob," and he did it loudly enough to embarrass some prudish girls sitting in front of us. They snitched; Sister Winters took out the plastiwood meterstick and smacked Arthur's bare ass in front of all of us.
She paddled him for a good five minutes. After every strike, he would shout, "God damn it! That hurts!" and she would strike him again.
Sister Winters was still paddling Arthur when Father Halcyon walked in. He announced in a full, attention-demanding voice, "Turn on your screens. Something terrible has just happened."
Arthur pulled up his trousers and mumbled something unsavory as he snapped on his holoscreen. A 3-D, real-time representation of a science laboratory appeared in front of my desk as well, and everyone listened to the dramatic voice-over.
"Scientists at the University of Chicago, after seven long years of research and setbacks, have announced that they have finally broken into what Dr. Saul Turgid refers to as ‘that most mercurial of dimensions: the timestream.'
"Dr. Turgid successfully propelled a bowl of goldfish three minutes into the future, making the somewhat confused fish the world's first time travelers. After the successful demonstration, Turgid had this to say--"
Here, a stocky but tired man appeared on the holoscreen and recited what seemed to be a well-practiced speech: "Not only does the timestream allow us access to the future, but it is also possible to access the past. My invention will be an incredible boon to historians, sociologists, anthropologists, archaeologists--"
Father Halcyon snapped off the holoscreen connection. "This is what has become of society, children." He spoke like a disappointed parent, but one who was determined to straighten out his deviant child using whatever means necessary. "This is the world you will have to live in ... the world of my visions." Somebody groaned. We all knew about Father Halcyon's recurring dream, the one he'd been having since we were in the first grade and time travel was still a twinkle in Dr. Saul Turgid's eye. Despite the fact that Father Halcyon pounced on every supposedly negative development in society to torture us with his long-winded, rambling vision of a decaying, decadent world where morality was a distant memory and God had been killed by mere mortals ... despite all that, we all knew Father Halcyon was going to spew out his paranoid rubbish again. To tell the truth, I didn't mind, and I even shushed harshly at the boy who had groaned. We were scheduled to have a quiz, after all, at the end of our moral values class; if Father Halcyon would ramble for about ten minutes, we wouldn't have enough time to take it.
I remember thinking that exactly: "we wouldn't have enough time." I think that was the last time-naive statement I ever made.
As Arthur and I walked home from school, Arthur pushing his bike and me kicking a small chunk of concrete that had broken loose of the sidewalk, we heard a distant crack of thunder, though the sky was cloudless. It blew apart the awkward silence between us, a silence that had started when Father Halcyon had told us of Dr. Saul Turgid's time travel success. Arthur was unusually reserved, as if the time travel experiment somehow affected him. I didn't understand it at the time, but within a couple of minutes I would know far too much for my own good.
Our confusion upon hearing the thunder was replaced by fear when a pillar of smoke appeared in the distance at what we approximated was Arthur's house. "Holy shit!" Arthur said too maturely, too aware of what had happened. Somehow, he knew. He knew exactly what had just happened. He raced away on his two-wheeler, forcing me to run after him, though I quickly lost sight of him. It wasn't until about five minutes later when I staggered onto his rubble-strewn front lawn with a dagger in my side and a fire in my lungs that I saw him again.
The house Arthur had lived in for 10 of his 13 years was little more than a smoldering crater. Pieces of the foundation were still recognizable -- there, there's the corner of his basement where we once fried off our eyebrows with a chemistry set, though Arthur's father had long since thrown that away since, as he put it, we were playing way too damned close to the water heater and he didn't want his house blown up. Over here, a badly deformed but still recognizable drawing of God on the wall, or at least that's who Arthur had said it was even though it looked like a creature with a celery stalk for a hand to me. It wasn't there any more, but I remember the picture that had been just above and to the left of the wall drawing, a picture Arthur had drawn of Satan and me at a diner. I never did get a straight answer out of Arthur on that one, but he insisted that it captured my essence. Satan was asking the waitress for a "chalice of java" while I, in my own cartoon bubble added two years after the initial drawing (and in a different color marker) was saying, "Go get it yourself, you lazy Prince of Darkness." I forget what the story behind the picture was, but I remember thinking it was hilarious.
I could have stayed lost in memories forever about that house, my second home, but the charred corpse sprawled on the front lawn next to the curb by the remains of the mailbox jolted me back to the present. I grimaced as I felt the burning bile rise in my throat, but I wanted to act tough around the throng of adults milling about in the street so I fought it back down. Scanning the scene for Arthur, I noticed a Patrolman herding him into a squadjet. Arthur's arms were immobilized by the paralysis cuffs, and his face was swollen and bloody like he'd been severely thrashed. "What the hell's going on here?" I demanded.
A hulking Patrolman turned and sized me up as a potential threat, a puny 13-year-old pretending to be an adult, and clubbed me with the butt of his pulverizer rifle. When I woke up, I was in the back of the squadjet with Arthur, my arms pinned and useless. My head throbbed, constricting my red vision in time with some unknown beat. A disorienting wave of vertigo swept me away from my body, and I no longer had any control over whether I vomited, so I at least made the effort to splash it onto the Patrolman's shoes. My reward was another clubbing, and I didn't wake up until I was in jail.
The cell wasn't cruelly uncomfortable, which surprised me considering I had always been under the impression that prisoners were the scum of society and deserved to be treated as such. Now that I was one of them, for reasons I didn't understand yet, I was glad my imagination was much worse than the reality of the situation. The mattresses were comfortable, though they smelled of sweat and some soapy odor I couldn't quite place. There was a toilet which was clean enough for my purposes, and we even had a sink with a mirrored vanity cabinet above it. I was alone in the cell, though there was an extra bunk and plenty of room for someone else. To be honest, the cell was larger than my room at home and offered more luxuries, but there was the negative side in the form of the glowing electrobars preventing me from ever leaving.
Before I had completely gained my bearings, Arthur was dragged into the cell, even bloodier than before. His nose looked to be broken in no less than three places, and his right eye was swollen shut. A large clump of his blond hair had been ripped out, along with a sickeningly large portion of his scalp. He tried to smile weakly at me as the guards left, but the gap-filled grin was too much for me to bear. I started crying.
"What the hell is their problem? Why are they beating you to within an inch of your life? They act like your house's explosion was your fault!"
"To them, it is," he replied, spitting blood. A strand of pinkish saliva clung to his lower lip, swaying as he spoke. "Sort of, anyway. I was -- am, I guess -- a member of the Drugbusters."
Drugbusters. The name derived from Marx's "opiate of the masses" concept. The Drugbusters sought, if not to outright eliminate, then to heavily moderate the effect organized religion could have on society. Of course, the government didn't have much of an opinion of these so-called "antichrists," but ever since the Religious 70s back in the 21st century, no political leader has had much of any opinion that opposed a church. It made sense, in a way, because crime was at its lowest rate since the 1950s, I'm told, but many people didn't like organized religion butting into their government and have been actively opposing the government since then. Thousands were jailed for refusing to pay taxes, others for organizing anti-religion demonstrations (it didn't matter which religion; all were a nuisance in the eyes of the Drugbusters). Amazingly, there had never been a violent confrontation between the Patrolmen and the Drugbusters, though, which was confusing me.
I didn't know what to say. That explained a lot of things: why Arthur was so rebellious at parochial school, where he learned his sexual lessons from...at the same time, though, it didn't explain anything. Why blow up Arthur's house? I asked him if he knew.
Tears trickled down his bruised cheek, and he finally managed to choke out, "I was meeting some of the organizers after school in my basement, but a Vigilante recognized one of them and called it in. I don't know how the Patrolmen knew, but we were planning an assault on Dr. Turgid's time travel laboratory."
"Doesn't time travel help your cause, though? I mean, you saw how upset Father Halcyon was about it. The churches don't like the idea of being able to tamper with God's perfect universe, or whatever. This time travel thing is just what the Drugbusters should want to happen...right?"
Arthur shook his head, though almost imperceptibly. Maybe his neck was damaged, too. "The same government that authorized the Second Prohibition and Compulsory Prayer Acts authorized the time travel experiment. They're looking for a way to control the people further. What better way than to travel back in time and fix problems before they start?"
"Isn't that a problem with their ‘tamper with God's universe' idea?"
"Yeah, but it's the government. Who expects logic?"
"So now the government will oppress us retroactively? Sounds like a big waste of time, so to speak. They can oppress us just fine right now."
"We might not have to worry about it. The Patrolmen Interrogators were trying to intimidate me, so they forced me to watch a holovid of Dr. Turgid's first time travel experiment on a human. Some death row inmate volunteered for the job, said it was better than being burnt at the stake. Anyway, they tried sending her back to the moment she axe-murdered her infant son and two visiting playmates--"
"Sure. Psychos can be women, too, you know."
"Well, sure, but--"
"Anyway, they sent her back in time...and something went wrong. All the power grids shorted, fused together, and she was trapped. She never made it to her destination, and they couldn't pull her back."
"So she's dead?"
"They think so. Or else she's trapped in the timestream, which will probably kill her. Even if, somehow, there's a human-friendly environment in the timestream, she'll still have to deal with processing four-dimensional images into her three-dimensional brain, which will probably make her head explode."
"But, except for avoiding anal rape in the showers now, I don't think we have much to worry about."
I had to ask him what he meant by anal rape, but he had plenty of time to explain it. We weren't going anywhere.
Well, the next fifteen years were pretty uneventful for us, except that we were transferred to a prison proper instead of the little jail we had stayed in that night. But the rest of the world didn't fare so well. Things started hitting the fan and spraying all over the globe.
Arthur and I didn't have a clue what was happening in the outside world. After being transferred to Glock Penitentiary, we were separated. I only saw him three or four times during the entire 15 year span we were locked up, nor did my parents ever come to visit me. They were deeply ashamed that their little boy had been associated with the Drugbusters, even though I technically hadn't been. Guilt by association was enough for the Patrolmen, though. I mean, what can you say about a society that would lock up two 13 year old boys for 15 years?
Yes, that means we got out. Arthur and I were 28 now, and he had taken to wearing a full beard. It made him look older than he really was, though he still wore his hair long. His nose hadn't healed correctly and was bent up all to hell, but it added to his intimidating character. He was rock-solid now. I was a little bit more muscular, too, but nowhere near as mountainous as Arthur had become. The face that peeked out from behind the beard and long hair had a weathered, cowboy look to it, which made his piercing, ice blue eyes even scarier.
He had the look of a haunted man.
He admitted to me, a few years back, that his family had been home when his house was bombed, but he never wanted to talk about it. You wouldn't have guessed by watching the holovid that his family -- innocents -- had been caught in the blast because the government did an excellent job covering it up.
On the last day of our incarceration, neither of us had any reason to believe we were being released. That's because, technically, we weren't "released" so much as "sprung out." Both of us received an unexpected visit from Father Halcyon.
He was a lot older now. The past decade and a half had aged him about 50 years, but he wielded that pulverizer like an expert. As I hesitantly climbed through the gaping hole blasted out of the electrobars, Father Halcyon spattered a couple guards with pulverizer blasts that tore open their torsos. "Father--?" I began, but was cut off by his earnest plea to get my ass moving.
Somehow the old man and I muscled our way into a prison van, and I was surprised and happy to see Arthur behind the wheel in a prison guard's jumpsuit. The engines whined and we skimmed over the gate to join the thousands of other hovervehicles whose drivers were blissfully unaware of our daring escape.
"We're not being followed," Father Halcyon reported, relieved.
"Of course not. Broken vehicles won't run."
"You sabotaged--?" Father Halcyon made a dismissive gesture. "Doesn't matter. I've done far worse today. May the Lord have mercy on my soul."
"Father? Why did you break me out of prison?" I asked, attempting to grab hold of something before the situation spun completely out of my ability to grasp.
"Arthur made me--" he began.
"A lot of things have happened while we've been...away," Arthur interrupted fluidly. "Do you remember Dr. Saul Turgid?"
"Vaguely," I said uncertainly.
"He invented time travel."
"Oh yeah, he's the one who lost that woman in the timestream."
"Well, she was found," Arthur said, barely slowing down for my interruption. "Or, more accurately, she came back. Nobody's sure what happened exactly, but she changed. Remember how I mentioned that her brain would probably explode."
"It did. And what replaced it was a vast supply of fourth dimensional energy made up of particles called chronotons. As her new source of power, these chronotons allow her to think into the past or the future and make changes with the speed of thought. Fortunately, she doesn't seem very adept at this ability, or is wary of using it."
My mind whirled. "I'm -- wait. I don't understand. What's any of that got to do with any of this?"
Father Halcyon took up the explanation as Arthur concentrated on avoiding a mid-air traffic accident. "You see, the once-death row inmate came back with limitless energy, as far as we know, and she knew she could use it to her advantage. She swiftly toppled the government and claimed herself as the leader.
"That was 12 years ago. Since then, she's steadily become more and more bored."
"Bored?" I asked. "Twelve years ago? How come nobody told me about this?"
"We were in jail," Arthur said matter-of-factly. "I didn't know about it either until Father Halcyon approached me a few months ago. You see, we've got a plan to set things right. But I wouldn't do it without you. We need your help."
I sighed. "What do I have to do?"
"Wow, this sure brings back memories."
"Yeah. All of them bad." Arthur sat down in his old classroom as Father Halcyon unrolled some old-fashioned paper layouts of some government installation. I still wasn't entirely sure what was happening.
"It all goes back to my vision," Father Halcyon recited. "I dreamed that night, oh so many years ago, that a great power would arise to challenge this world, and that many would accept this evil man with open arms. I had always assumed it to be the Antichrist, but this present danger has nothing to do with heaven or hell. The timestream is an unknown, an unexplainable element. When I realized this time-traveling woman was the man in my dreams, I knew she had to be stopped. She is interfering in a universe she wasn't meant to exist in. Now, many people fear her and think she was sent from God, or Satan, it doesn't matter which. She is a punishment, sent to teach us a lesson about tampering with the unknown elements in the universe. In my vision, I rise up to challenge this person, and I emerge victorious, but I cannot do it alone. I needed Arthur."
"Only a man hardened by the world and disillusioned by God would have the courage to stand up to her."
"Where do I fit in?"
Arthur fielded this one. "Because I trust you. You're the only person on this godforsaken mudball that I do trust. I may not have much to live for, but I don't want to be a martyr for anybody."
"Who said anything about martyrdom?"
"It's in my vision. Didn't you pay attention in school?" I averted his stare sheepishly. "The downfall of the evil being is dependent upon a sacrifice. One of you will die so that I may vanquish the beast."
A lump in my throat quickly filled my entire upper body, and I couldn't speak. I had never felt so important before, but, at the same time, so cowardly. I didn't want to have anything to do with his plan that could get me or my best friend killed. But staring into Arthur's confident eyes relaxed me. They seemed to tell me not to worry; everything would be fine. Neither of us was going to let the other one die.
And I believed him.
"Okay. What do I do?"
Arthur and I spent the next several weeks planning a three-man assault on Dr. Turgid's former installation. Since the successful time experiment, the time traveling conquistador had locked him away and destroyed all his records so no one would ever be able to duplicate her feat. However, as Father Halcyon reported to us intermittently, the time-travelling woman was one of the laziest, most apathetic beings alive. Perhaps she was always like that, perhaps it was due to the illusion that she had all the time in the world (which, as far as we knew, could have been true). She had used the threat of her power to conquer the government, but, since then, had had nothing to occupy her time. She had taken to moping, sitting around all day, watching the holovid, or simply thinking fourth dimensional thoughts. She embodied the spirit of, as the 20th century band Nirvana described, "Oh well, whatever, never mind." Except, in her case, it should probably be changed to "Oh well, whenever, never mind."
As we chiseled out the details of our plan, Father Halcyon burst through the door breathlessly. "I just heard a rumor that Time Patrol Detective Kralor has been put on the case." He was, of course, referring to our breakout. We had had Patrolmen and Time Patrolmen looking for us since that day, though so far we had been lucky. (The Time Patrol, as you might expect, is a special division created from the Patrolmen by the time traveler to protect the secrets of time travel. Perhaps the government was anticipating our raid on Dr. Turgid's lab?)
"Kralor? That's bad news," Arthur mumbled. He looked at the extensive layout of notes he had taken and spread over the table, gathered them all up, and tore them into pieces. "We're going to have to start all over now."
"What?" I asked, dismayed that all our hard work was being destroyed. "Why?"
"It's too obvious. We could have slipped it by anybody but Kralor."
"How do you know this Kralor person?" I asked.
"He was a hardass even back when we were kids. He should be about middle-aged by now, so he'll be a wiser, crotchety old hardass now. He's bigger, faster, and smarter than any of us, or all of us combined."
"He's personally squelched three rebellions against the time traveling woman...single-handedly," Father Halcyon chipped in. "He has over four hundred kills and two thousand captures...all convicted. I thought I'd better tell you so you can devise some double feints into your plan."
"What? Why?" I asked. "Wouldn't we be better off sticking to our plan? It's a good plan!"
"It's too simple," Arthur reiterated. "He'd see right through it. Unless he knows we'd think that, in which case he would expect double feints..."
"We can't start second-guessing ourselves," I said. "We should stick to the original plan."
Arthur considered. "We'll work it out. Either way, we strike tomorrow."
"Down this corridor! We're almost there!" Arthur charged a squad of Patrolmen, pulverizing them with six quick shots from his pistol. I lagged behind him slightly, feeling about as useful as the time I had come staggering into his driveway to find his house replaced by a smoking hole in the ground and Arthur being arrested for his involvement in the Drugbusters. Father Halcyon had long since disappeared from sight behind me. I had informed Arthur about that, but he insisted that we keep moving. To stop meant risking Kralor's wrath when he caught up to us.
Our footsteps echoed in the labyrinthine corridors, but my heart was echoing louder in my head. I felt an odd sense of detachment, like I was in my body, but not controlling it. I felt like a part of Arthur then, a third arm or something. Whatever he did, I followed. Wherever he fired, I added a potshot or two of my own for good measure. Unfortunately, I forgot to cover our backs.
Three Time Patrol Officers emerged from a side corridor we had just passed and clipped my hip. I spun and fell, quickly regaining my equilibrium enough to fire on target. The three officers dropped dead, but by the time I struggled to my feet and starting limping through the halls again, Arthur was gone.
Father Halcyon caught up to me. He had a large hole burned through his robe, though he seemed unharmed. Both Arthur and I had warned him not to wear the impractical garment, but he had insisted on its ceremonial significance, or some such nonsense. Arthur and I, meanwhile, had outfitted ourselves in almost identical knock-offs of Time Patrol Officer outfits, and we had nearly been able to waltz right into the compound had that pesky guard not asked to see my ID one more time. When I had made the fake, I had been planning to bleach my hair but had forgotten about it as we prepared to leave. The guard called my bluff and we had run for it.
Now, Father Halcyon was regretting his decision. "Why didn't you convince me to dress in cognito?"
"Shut up, Father," I said, not in any mood for witty banter. I was missing a chunk out of my hip, and my head was beginning to spin from blood loss.
"You're going to have to move faster than that," Father Halcyon observed as I hobbled along the corridor. "Kralor was two sections behind me last I checked."
I laughed weakly, trying to keep a positive outlook. "Well, you did say one of us had to die, right? I'll just plop my lame ass down right here and try to take as many of them with me as I can."
"No, you won't," Father Halcyon scolded. "Come on. Now's not the time. Pull yourself together, and we can make it. We're only six doors away from the main lab where, I suspect, Dr. Turgid is being held prisoner. We must release him if we have any hope of conquering the time traveller."
As I limped toward the goal, I heard the charging footsteps getting louder behind us. Father Halcyon opened the door for me. I pulled out my pulverizer rifle and aimed down the hall. I ordered him inside the lab. "Don't be silly son. You're injured. Get out of harm's way."
"Father, I'm here to protect you from dying. Get in there." I fired off a couple warning shots down the hall and heard the troops scatter. Some return fire plugged harmlessly into the corridor wall. "Father. Now."
He pushed me inside with these words, "I have been Chosen to fulfill a mission for God. I don't think I have anything to worry about."
With that, the corridor outside exploded, and I was flung into the lab and bounced off the opposite wall. Arthur had removed all the guards posted around Dr. Turgid and was explaining to him the importance of their mission. He stopped in the middle of convincing Turgid to help them as a way of avenging his own fifteen-year prison term, and Turgid was about to agree when the explosion hit.
As I shook off the exploding suns in my vision, I heard a feeble voice plead, "I'm...I'm the Chosen One...please don't, I have a mission...I'm an old man, please..."
A gruff, no-nonsense voice replied, "And you're not getting older." Father Halcyon's scream aborted because of a pulverizer blast.
"Oh my God," I muttered. "I failed."
"We're still here," Arthur pointed out. "Father Halcyon was our sacrifice. We're going to make it. Look. Dr. Turgid has a working model of his time machine all prepped and ready to go."
"Halcyon was an idiot," Arthur blurted. "A bumbling old man who overestimated his own importance. He didn't know what I knew all along: that he couldn't be the Chosen One. You and I are basically godless souls, though we don't admit that out loud for fear of punishment."
"Okay," I conceded.
"So why would God want us to be the sacrifices? He doesn't want anything to do with us! No offense." Arthur, strangely, sounded a bit drunk to me.
"I'm the Chosen One! Don't you see?"
"No, not really."
"He prepared me for this moment by making me hate Him and this world He created. He wants me out of here, but doesn't want to see my ugly mug in the afterlife, either. So, to fulfill Halcyon's crazy dream, he took the pious old man himself. I'm supposed to slip into the timestream and correct reality."
"Why you? Why not me?" I was near tears. I knew what Arthur was saying, and I didn't want him to leave.
"You're the witness. You have to remember all this."
"How will I?"
Dr. Turgid interrupted. "The time vortex will punch a hole into the timestream, but the resulting backlash causing a hyperbubble that extends about five meters around the device. Anything within the hyperbubble, theoretically, will be unaffected by the correction of the reality layers' realignment."
"The time travelers' intrusion into this world has altered the flow of history as it was meant to occur. A second reality has been superimposed onto the first one. Arthur can correct it with one, simple correction to the timestream. And my machine is ready to go."
"An amazing coincidence," I said suspiciously.
"Don't you see?" Arthur said, helping me to my feet. "This has been planned all along. Not by us. By her!" He pointed to his left, where a closed door suddenly fell inward.
There stood the time traveler. Her hair flowed in some fourth dimensional wind, and as she walked, a echo of herself trailed and preceded her. Just looking at her made me dizzy, and I had to turn away. As I did, I saw Kralor step into the lab after clearing the rubble out of the way.
None of the vicious rumors I had heard about Kralor did him justice. He was much more monstrous than I had imagined. His shoulders barely cleared the four foot opening of the door, and he had to duck to step through. His arms were the size of cannons and probably weighed about as much as my whole body. His pulverizer pistol was still smoking from Father Halcyon's execution. "Freeze," he commanded in a surly, gravelly voice.
I raised my hands and stood next to Arthur, who was poised to dive into the time vortex. All he waited for was Dr. Turgid's activation of the machine. Turgid flipped the switch.
"Hold it," said the time traveler, speaking into my head, and around it and through it simultaneously. Her voice echoed before she spoke, after she spoke, as she spoke.
Everything she did was beautiful and painful to witness. The time vortex was activated, and Arthur and I were within the hyperbubble. We could move freely. Bizarrely, all action outside of the hyperbubble was frozen, except for the traveller, of course. Dr. Turgid had been just thrown clear of the hyperbubble by the pulverizer blast frozen in his skull as it tore his head apart. I had to look away in disgust.
"What's going on?" I asked, scared, nervous, excited, happy and sad. I don't know what I was feeling or, perhaps more accurately, what I wasn't feeling.
"This has been the design all along," Arthur said simply, taking the time travelers hand. "She's tired of this. She wants to stop. She doesn't want to exist any more, not with the painful knowledge of having killed her own son."
"Then why the charade? Why not suicide?"
"Energy can't be destroyed," Arthur said, smiling mischievously. "Don't you remember anything from school?"
"Will I remember anything?" I wondered, knowing what was going to happen.
The time traveler nodded and touched my forehead. It was searing heat and brittle cold at once, paralyzing me. Arthur and she, hand in hand, jumped into the time vortex. As his body echo faded, I noticed that he had a bowl of goldfish in his hand...
Everything was instantly changed, and, as the only person in the hyperbubble, I'm the only one who noticed. The time machine, of course, vanished. As a result of the failed goldfish experiment, which Arthur had so cleverly interrupted, the time machine was dubbed a failure and all funding was cut. Everything was as it was before.
Except Arthur. He had been removed from the universe. I never saw him again. But I'll never forget that final glimpse of him that was frozen and seared into my mind.