Excerpt from QUANTUM TIME THEORY
NED HUSTON'S CHRONOVERSE
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Excerpt from QUANTUM TIME THEORY
By Professor Simon J. Worthy
Southeastern Illinois University
The Journals of Time Traveler Dexter Vann
I never used to believe in Time Travel. Now I search for evidence of it—and hope I don’t uncover any. I want to believe in the journals, but I also hope they’re just made up.
The 24 transcripts that comprise this volume were found in a barn in Gallatin County, Illinois. They were discovered inside a metal box of rather odd construction. I have done little editing of them myself, but they appear to have been extensively edited by someone previously.
If the transcripts are to be believed, they were originally recordings, though it is not clear on what type of device they were recorded. It may have been a simple tape recorder. Or it may have been something called a Subvocalizer (it is unclear at present whether a Subvocalizer is a recording device or only an attachment to a recording device).
Although they purport to be a recorded journal, the transcripts display few of the natural characteristics of a recorded account. There are none of the stops and starts, the repetitions, the fumbling of actual speech. The rough edges of the spoken narratives have been smoothed, and there are traces of a literary influence. They have not merely been transcribed, which makes me wonder whether they were edited by an older, mature Dexter Vann—or someone else entirely. If they were edited by him, why hasn’t he added to them or commented upon them? Why are they still unfinished?
Most of the transcripts we do have are incomplete. They end mid-sentence or mid-thought. Nor do the transcripts give us a complete account of events in any of the Realities depicted. We merely get a glance into his world and his life.
I put the transcripts in order myself, numbered them, and identified them by Reality number and Season based on inferences and details in the texts themselves. I have also supplied a title for each account. Other than that, I have made few alterations, yet the transcripts seem to tell a complete story—the story of how the Vann family Adjusted to living in a world of constant change.
The Time Travelers have their own terminology and use words in a different sense than their meaning in the vernacular. I have capitalized such terms and defined them in a Glossary at the end of this book.
I have been hunting for more journal transcripts ever since I found the fragment I have used as an Introduction here. The countryside of southern Illinois seems to be littered with them. I have been collecting as many as I can get. I find them compelling, but you must decide for yourself whether they are genuine.
Reading these journal entries is like wandering through the open door to someone’s deserted home. No one’s around to object, yet you can still feel like a trespasser. But you linger anyway. The furnishings are just so interesting you can’t resist exploring.
I wish I could say there is no danger in perusing these accounts, but who knows who you may be running afoul of by viewing them or what Directives I may have violated by publishing them.
Read them at your own peril.
WHY IT SUCKS TO BE A TIME TRAVELER
A Fragment of a Journal Entry from the Concordance Season
By Dexter Vann
I don’t want to be a Time Traveler. None of us do—not even Amos and Cooper, who were already Time Travelers when we started. I hate Time Travel.
If you’ve been listening to these journal entries from the beginning, you understand. But in case this happens your first, let me explain why.
Reason Number One: Because I want to have a life. I want a career. I want a community. I want stability. I want to own more than I can carry. I want to live in a world that’s not constantly changing.
Reason Number Two: Because you go nowhere. Only to the Void of the Fourth Dimension to escape Changes in Time. You can’t Visit the Future because nothing’s there. You can’t Visit the Past because you could screw up History and WIPE PEOPLE OUT OF TIME. Travel to the Past is illegal, and only greedy scumbags do it.
Reason Number Three: If I can Travel through Time, then greedy scumbags can, too, and they don’t give a damn about you or me or anyone else. They’ll use Time Travel to get rich and won’t care how much they screw up everyone else’s lives.
Romantic, my ass. Time Travel is NOT romantic. There’s nothing romantic about living in a world torn apart by constant change. Over a trillion people have died because of Time Machines. And that’s just so far.
Sure, life in the Timeflow doesn’t seem so dangerous at first—when the threats are only coming at you one at a time. It takes several Seasons to realize all the hundreds of ways you can die.
Because Time Travel is not just aggravating--
It’s a Death World.
SHAWNEETOWN (Illinois) 37°41′54″N 88°8′13″W—The City That Should Have Been—a boom town on the Ohio River, founded in 1748. For years it was the largest settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. It had the first bank and for years the only bank in the western territories. Big things were expected for Shawneetown, the only city besides Washington D.C. to be platted by the U.S. government. But its development was set back repeatedly by catastrophic floods. In 1830 visionary city planner Timothy Raveller undertook a mammoth public works project to raise the street level by sixty feet with a drainage system beneath it, and the flood damage was averted. The city’s growth continued unchecked. Historically, the Gateway to the West, it eventually became the headquarters for the Intertime Government. In the 2010 census its population had reached 3,561,239.
---From The Time Traveler’s Guide to the Chronoverse
BROTHERHOOD OF TIME
I’ve just got a call from Amos. Someone’s made another Change in the Past, and there’s a Timestorm coming our way. I’ve got forty minutes to get to our Safe House, or I’ll I get torn apart atom by atom. If I want to Survive, I need to take Shelter..
But get this—Amos wants us to meet at the Brotherhood Lodge. His Time Machine is located there.
What can I say except this is how it actually happened?
If you’ve ever been to Shawneetown, you know I don’t want to go to the Brotherhood Lodge. Nobody does. Mind you, I don’t believe the stories about the Lodge. I’m not gullible. The police have been in there and have searched the place lots of times and have found nothing, absolutely nothing wrong.
It’s just a house.
So what if trespassers vanish? Or go insane? So what if they’re never the same afterwards? I don’t believe in haunted houses. Not even a three-story Victorian mansion with a turret, eight gables, and a mansard roof. And a wrap-around porch. And a spiky black wrought-iron fence.
So people avoid it. So what? Yeah, I’ve heard the stories about whirring sounds and flashes and beams of light inside the house late at night. They’re just stories.
They say people go in who never come out. Other people come out who never went in. Your skin crawls and your hairs stand on end if you get too near the gate—like you’re about to get struck by lightning. Strangers come to visit at all hours. But Locals aren’t welcome—not inside the fence.
I don’t believe in all that crap.
But I still don’t want to go to the Brotherhood Lodge. Would you?
Knowing Amos, I figure he’s a member of the Lodge, so I guess that makes us guests and nothing bad will happen to us. Right?
But that doesn’t solve anything—because when I get to the Lodge—when my ride drops me off at the curb down the block—I find another problem.
The Chupacabras are one of the dozens of gangs that have sprung up all over Shawneetown since the last Change in Time. They’re like anger personified. There weren’t any gangs in Reality 250, but here in glorious 251, poor people of every stripe have their gangs now. Mean, violent, nasty sadists. You get the picture.
Well, they’re all over the sidewalk and the easement and the dewy grass all the way up to the fence, which is halfway to the house. There are at least two dozen of them between me and safety.
The Chupacabras like to claim territory—including anyone passing through it, and they like to cut people’s faces to mark their property. And if you don’t play along with them, they’ll carve you up.
Amos said we probably wouldn’t like these Changes that have been made in Time, but this Reality 251 is ridiculous. Seriously messed up. Someone’s going to have to do something about this, set it right. But not me. This isn’t my mess. I’ve got my own life and my own problems. I don’t want any part of this.
Timestorms, gangers. It’s as if someone’s out to get us. But who would do something like that?
There’s gun control now in Reality 251. So the gangers all have knives—switchblades. Some of them are lunging at each other in mock combat. Others are flinging their knives at a target on an old oak tree or sitting, sharpening their blades with small whetstones. Those blades are so sharp my eyes have nicks in them just from watching. The air is full of jabbing and slashing and flying knives. The glint of steel sparkles across the lawn of the Brotherhood Lodge like glitter.
The Chupacabras wear white t-shirts, baggy pants and red bandanas. Their gang mark is the scar on their face—vertical for members, horizontal for outsiders. They’re a huge obstacle in my way. I don’t want to have to deal with them.
But hey, I’m an engineering student. I can solve this problem. I just need to find a way into the Lodge without going through the gang.
Engineers are practical. Problem solvers. Creative but realistic. Reality’s just a set of tinker toys to them. Engineering is the best career a person could have—because Engineers make a difference. They make the world a better place.
I notice a sidewalk leading from the side of the house to the fence on Jackson Street. I figure there’s a gate there, and I can avoid the gang, so I walk down to Gallatin and circle around and come to the side of the house from up Jackson. I’m right about the gate, but I discover it’s locked.
Give me a break! Why have a gate if you’re going to keep it locked? What’s worse, when I touch the gate, my short hairs stand on end like a hissy cat’s, and I’m sweatin’ ‘cause of all those bullcrap stories. And if that’s not bad enough, the gangers notice me, and a couple of them start in my direction. I’ve attracted their attention because I’ve entered their territory. They know I’m an outsider—I’m not dressed like them. I’ve got on my usual jeans and cowboy boots, a white shirt and a vest. I look like Wyatt Earp with a backpack.
That’s right—Wyatt Earp, the gunfighter. The Marshall who got things done in the old West. The problem solver.
I notice there’s an intercom with a button on the fence by the gate, so I give the button a push and wait. I’m calculating whether to run and how soon—when finally I hear something over the intercom. A high-pitched voice cackles in a strange accent. “Is what it?”
It takes me a moment to figure out the speaker means “What is it?” What kind of crazy dialect is this? How am I supposed to respond? So I say what Amos told us to say.
“Dexter Vann here to see Amos Vann.”
The voice says nothing, but there’s a click, and the gate swings open an inch. So I push it the rest of the way and walk up the sidewalk toward the house. I hear the gate automatically clang shut behind me like I’m in the slammer, and when I look back, I see two gangers on the other side, staring at me like I’ve butted in line ahead of them.
“Don’t stay over there, Clyde,” the tall one with the moustache says. “Come rumble with the Chupacabras.”
“Yeah,” says the short one. “We’re not going to hurt you. We just want to mark you. Get out of there. People who cross that fence are as good as dead.”
They could climb the fence if they wanted, but they stay back from it. They don’t even test the gate to see if it’s locked. They’ve heard the stories. But they’re not as nervous as I am—they’re still on the safe side of the fence. I turn and back away slowly and stumble over a pile of raked leaves.
I consider turning back, heeding the gangers’ advice. After all, they make a good argument. But I’ve always had this feeling that I’ve got to keep plugging along. Because people are depending on me. Who, I don’t know. Not my brothers and sisters. They don’t need my help. No one’s ever depended on me but me.
As I walk around the side of the house, I catch glimpses of faces peeping at me from curtained windows on the upper floors. They appear and disappear so quickly I end up blinking and wondering if I saw anything at all.
There’s a breeze from the southwest. It’s a cloudy day but warm for November, and I can smell the odor of cornbread from the vendors downtown on Poplar Street. They’re getting ready for the lunch trade.
Climbing the front steps, I find there are chairs on the porch, so I take off my backpack and sit in one of the rockers to wait for my brothers and sisters. That’s as far as I’m willing to go into the house alone. That seems to me the prudent thing to do. Given its track record, would you go in there?
I spot my younger brother Zeke across Ash Street for a few seconds, scoping things out on his motor scooter. He’s smart, so I know he’s noticed the side gate. So when he zips out of sight, I figure he’s going to wait for the gangers to leave the side gate and enter there, which is the reasonable and rational thing to do.
The problem is my brothers and sisters are not reasonable. Or rational. They have to do everything THEIR WAY. So I know they’re not going to use the side gate or listen to my advice. They’re too brash to do anything in an ordinary way and too stubborn to let anyone push them around. They push back. So I know there’s going to be trouble today—lots of it.
You’d think there’d be no way to get through the Chupacabras unharmed. You’d think your only option would be to go around them. But you don’t know my brothers and sisters. They don’t do things the ordinary way—they’re extraordinary. That’s the reason my middle name is “brother of” (as in “Dexter brother of [insert name of sibling] Vann”).
It all started with my oldest brother Amos. He’s huge. He’s always been the biggest kid in his grade. And the smartest. And the most forceful. A born leader. Some people are like that.
But it ain’t easy having them as your brother.
We’re all smart in my family. We’re achievers. We had to be. Because we’ve had competition. From the very beginning. All our lives we’ve had to compete.
My oldest sister Amanda has been fighting with Amos since birth. Vying for attention. Sharpening her weapons. Honing her skills. Is it any wonder she’s intimidating? And stubborn? She won’t budge an inch. You’ve got to understand it’s not her fault she’s the way she is. She had to become that way.
So when she shows up at the Lodge, she’s not scared of the gangers. What are any of them, compared to Amos? She doesn’t consider them her equals. They don’t have her intelligence. They haven’t developed her killer skills. She’s a top executive at Shawneetown Bank. The Shawneetown Bank. And she hasn’t risen up the ranks by accident. She’s clawed her way up.
So a few low-class gangers are nothing to her.
She arrives in a limousine, no less. When she gets out, I see she’s wearing a gray suit and sunglasses and carrying a briefcase. She looks pretty normal—at first glance. Like an ordinary mother and businesswoman. She doesn’t style her hair or wear much makeup. She dresses in fancy suits like a banker. She seems like a hundred other bankers and working women. But you’ve got to remember Amanda is big. And she can be nasty. Once she gets riled at you, and you see those flashing eyes and hear that sharp cutting voice, there’s no fire-breathing dragon you wouldn’t rather be with. She’ll singe you. She’ll burn you to a cinder.
But she’s my sister. She’s family. She’s a big time banker, and I’m proud of her, and I don’t want to see her get sliced up by a bunch of Chupacabras.
Between her and me are two dozen ugly nasty mother huggers, and they ain’t in no mood to be nice. Amanda needs to go around them. She needs to avoid them.
I point to the side gate and wave my arms in warning, and I make slashing and stabbing gestures and point to the gangers, but she doesn’t pay me any mind. She just waves to me like she’s departing on a cruise ship.
Yeah, the Lusitania.
She’s not going around them—she’s gonna go right through them. She’s not going to let anyone intimidate her or stand in her way. She’s the nerviest person you ever met. All my brothers and sisters are.
She marches right between the gangers and starts walking up the sidewalk toward the house. She’s not scared. She’s used to dealing with obstreperous people. I’m afraid she’s going to end up with her face carved up, but the gangers keep their distance. She has the air of authority after her years working at the bank. They don’t know the consequences of meddling with her, and it makes them hesitate. They seem confused.
I see a ganger step in front of her and say something, but she gives him a sharp remark, and he backs off. Amanda is used to giving orders. She knows how to motivate and persuade people—in other words, manipulate them. Sometimes she can even push us around, and we already know her tricks.
Gawd, I can’t believe it. She’s got them mesmerized. They can’t understand her. They’re letting her intimidate them.
Another ganger approaches her, and she barks something at him, and he retreats. She’s almost to the fence when the biggest of the gangers gets in her way, but after a conversation, he too steps aside, and Amanda starts through the front gate—it’s unlocked—and up the sidewalk to the porch.
Well, I’m cussin’ and I’m struttin’ and I’m frettin’ on that porch. But I should have known she’d get by them. She’s that intimidating. A whole army of Chupacabras is nothing compared to her.
“Hi, Dexter,” she says when she reaches the porch. “Is Amos here yet?” She takes off her sunglasses and looks at the door to the Lodge and sits on a rocker beside me and starts checking her cell phone. She’s oblivious to the gauntlet of pain she just crossed.
Okay, I’m impressed—maybe even a little jealous. I’m too upset to make a comment. So I sit down and say, “I’m the only one here so far. Zeke’s going to arrive any moment.”
But Houdini doesn’t show up.
The person who does show up next is my older brother Barlow. He’s third in line in the family, but he’s never been satisfied with coming in third. It’s a big family, so it’s easy for a person to get lost in the crowd. That’s what’s made us all the biggest bunch of show-offs you ever saw in your life.
We don’t show off like we used to. We’re mature now. When you grow up with seven brothers and sisters, you have to show off sometimes, but you learn to use it strategically, so the rest don’t gang up on you. But these gangers are bringing out the worst in us. Because they’re shameless show-offs, and it’s ticking us off. Someone needs to teach them a lesson.
My parents never paid us much attention. They expected us to excel. We had to raise ourselves, really. You can solve that problem yourself. You’re smart enough to figure it out. Don’t be such a baby. We had to earn their attention, and even then we didn’t always get it.
My brother Barlow grew up with a lion and a tiger. He hasn’t been safe his whole life. There was no place for him among the giants. He’s larger than Amanda now, but as they were growing up, she was always bigger than him and Amos bigger still. Worst of all, he couldn’t compete mentally with his older brother and sister. So he developed himself physically. He learned to dodge and elude them, outrun them, outlast them. He couldn’t get any attention at home, so he got attention at school. He became an athlete. A champion. He developed physical skills—and he developed character.
He became a super show-off.
We all are in my family. We have to be. How else were we going to get any attention with all the competition? So when Barlow arrives at the Lodge, I know he’s not going to avoid the Chupacabras. He has to showboat. But he’s no banker. He’s a cop, and the gangers hate cops.
He climbs out of a police car on Ash Street in his jeans and t-shirt like he’s undercover—but he’s about as inconspicuous as a fairytale giant. He’s the biggest of us, after Amos. Six-eight and solid muscle. Dark-haired with chiseled features. You can tell he used to be an athlete right away, especially if you see him move, quick and smooth like a jungle cat. His knee injury doesn’t show much except on x-rays, but it’s kept him out of the pros. That’s why he’s a cop instead of in the NFL.
Does he go to the side gate? Of course not. I gesture at the side gate just like I did with Amanda, but it does no good. As the police car drives away, he sprints up between the gangers toward the fence, dodging them like the star halfback for Shawneetown U, weaving this way and that, stiff-arming the ones who try to grab him. They all begin to chase him, and he runs them to one side of the yard and then the other.
I’m out of my chair—I’m cringing because I don’t want to see him get hurt. I know he can outrun them, but there are so many of them and only one of him.
As the gangers lunge at him, he hops aside or jumps over them or flips them with one of his judo moves. By the time he gets to the gate, they’re all on the ground—but getting up fast. They’re finding wet grass and leaves are slippery as ice.
This is more than I can take. But I’m not the only one who’s had enough. Amanda’s mad—mad at him for upstaging her—and she stands and starts yelling at him. “Barlow, stop fooling around and get up here. Stop tormenting those gangers.”
He just grins and comes through the gate. You know the gangers want to come after him—they rush the gate—but they don’t have the guts to cross through. Not after hearing all the stories. That short fence is the Wall of China to them.
As Barlow’s walking up the porch steps, greeting us, I hear a noise from the side of the house, and I stand and look over the railing to see one of the cellar doors open outward, and my younger brother Zeke climbs up the steps and emerges into the light like he’s risen from the grave. He’s tall like the rest of us, and he wears black-rimmed glasses like Amos, but that’s where the resemblance ends. He’s skinny and pale like an undertaker rather than tanned and athletic. All the impressive stuff is inside his head.
His I.Q. is so high it can’t be accurately measured. He had to be that smart to get by in this family. If he weren’t, he would have totally disappeared. Nobody would have been able to see him with the rest of us in the way. He doesn’t talk a lot or try to make a splashy scene. He knows better than to compete with us. He’s kind of shy and retiring. But he knows how to show off. That’s for sure.
I know he’s aware of the side gate, and he’s only come this way to flaunt how brainy he is. He’s found the smartest way in, the safest way around the gang. He’s already ahead of me in school at Shawneetown U, but now he’s showed me up again. Okay, he’s rubbed it in. We get it. Enough is enough. But Barlow hasn’t caught on to his game yet, so he says, “How’d you get down there?”
Amanda gives him a look of annoyance as if to say Don’t encourage him!
Zeke gets an ah-shucks grin on his face. “There’s a passageway from the old subterranean tunnels.” He has that crafty smile now, and it’s making Amanda furious. He’s upstaged her, just like Barlow. He sets down the bag he’s carrying—a striped laundry bag with all his heart-keeps in it. Amos told us to bring our keepsakes with us—that’s why I’m wearing a backpack.
Barlow frowns. “How did you know that?”
Zeke shrugs with a sly look on his face. He doesn’t respond to the questions with obvious answers. He doesn’t even bother to say, “Duh-uhh.”
“Hello, Dexter. Hello, Amanda.” He sizes up the situation and takes a seat on the porch railing and gets out his phone.
A big noise comes from down on Ash Street, and we turn to stare. It’s one of those ganger cars with the big tires and the end jacked up and no muffler. It’s lurching down the street, and we see some ganger chick jump out the side and come running toward the house like it’s time to burn down the Alamo.
Zeke and Barlow and Amanda turn away from her to look at their phones, but I notice the newly arrived ganger is running up the sidewalk toward the gate. And then through the gate. I stop rocking and stare. What the heck? This one isn’t afraid. Hasn’t she heard the stories? Doesn’t she know where she is? She comes all the way up to the porch, where she pauses and says, “Buenas dias” to us.
She has heavy make-up, a violet morning glory in her dark hair, a sleeveless blouse, gang signs on her arms, and a small vertical scar on her cheek. She smells of tortillas. And she’s wearing one of those white Mexican dresses with an apron decorated with designs in black, yellow, and red. She’s a complete stranger to me, but Barlow recognizes her and calls her name.
It’s Belinda, our sister.
Holy crap! This ganger—Belinda? There’s a general intake of breath on the porch, and Belinda walks up the porch steps and takes a chair and starts fanning herself like it’s a hot day to her. “Ay chihuahua.”
“Belinda,” Amanda says, “when did you become a ganger?”
“Oh, muy long ago, muy long.”
But it’s been only two weeks since we saw her last, and she wasn’t a ganger then. We’re used to seeing her in a t-shirt and jeans, with a spiky butch haircut, not like this.
A ganger! I can’t get over it. Why is she doing this? I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but can there be any doubt here? She’s joined a frickin’ gang.
Okay, maybe she’s got her reasons, but that’s not what it looks like to us. And we’re the ones who know her. This is just another in a long series of bad moves on her part. Terrible choices. Embarrassments to the family with humiliation all around.
I want to ask her why. We all want an explanation. But I know she’s not going to give us any, so I don’t ask. She deflects all of Amanda’s questions.
Belinda had to grow up in Amanda’s shadow. Amanda was class president, an athlete, on the honor roll. Belinda’s never been as big as her or as popular or as smart. Amanda didn’t want to share the spotlight with her brothers much less a sister. She’s always been Belinda’s biggest critic. Compared to Amanda, Belinda’s an underachiever. She’s never fit in.
Belinda’s always wanted to be an artist, and she majored in that at Shawneetown U. But no one thinks that’s practical, so Mom and Dad have been riding her to change majors so she’ll have a fallback in case art doesn’t work out. So first she switched to Anthropology (!) and then Fashion Design. But now she’s sold one of her canvasses for nine hundred dollars, she’s met some gallery owners, and she’s going to have a show at the end of December. I can’t tell you if she’s any good or not because she won’t show her paintings to us.
So when I see her with these gangers, I’m thinking she’s gone back to Anthropology, only she’s doing it now instead of studying it.
“Are you doing research on the gangers, Belinda?” I ask her.
She just looks at me. “No, I am one of them.”
That makes Barlow mad, and he growls, “Why don’t you try being one of us?”
She glances at him and says, “I’ve done that already.” Like she’s finished with us. But here she is.
Some ganger guy calls to her from the fence, so she goes down and starts talking to him and kisses him through the bars. His name’s Ramon Sanchez, and he’s the Latin lover type with a small moustache and hair cream. He looks all lovey-dovey, and it’s clear she has some thing with him. I guess Belinda’s added acting to her talents because she’s really hamming it up with this ganger guy—she’s known him for less than two weeks, but you’d think this was the love of a lifetime the way they’re carrying on, like it’s West Side Story or something.
Barlow becomes sullen and sits facing the other way as he rubs his sore knee, and the rest of us exchange glances. He and Belinda have always been best buddies like they’re twins or something despite the five-year age difference. He never approves of her boyfriends. He doesn’t think they’re good enough for her—and they never are.
When Belinda comes back to the porch, Amanda says, “You know that guy probably won’t Exist anymore when we get back from our Time Machine ride.”
“I know,” Belinda says. She doesn’t even look at Amanda. She just sits there, staring into space, but he’s still at the fence, watching her with shining eyes and holding onto the bars like he’s on death row, which I guess he is.
I feel sorry for the gangers. These are part of the bunch Amos calls “Bystanders”—people who didn’t Exist before the last Change in Time and won’t Exist after the next. They’re temporary—and therefore unimportant. They don’t know how transitory they are—how could they? But I wonder if at some level they sense it. Is that why they’re so mad—not because they’re poor but because they’re doomed?
“Hey, whatcha doing’?” my little sister Cartmell asks us, climbing up the porch steps. She’s only thirteen, and she’s still got her blonde curls. She's dressed in her school uniform—a new white blouse and a plaid skirt with suspenders—and wearing her Hello Kitty backpack and her red shoes, the flats with the buckles, she calls them her "ruby slippers." They're supposed to bring her luck during our ride in Amos’s Time Machine.
Cartmell’s different than the rest of us. She’s smaller—I think she always will be. She has blonde hair instead of brown. And blue eyes like Dad. The rest of us show off by necessity, but she comes by it naturally. She has a real talent for it, and you don’t even know she’s doing it most the time. She’s an artiste. She knows how to disappear from sight—then suddenly she’s the center of attention. Everybody likes her. She’s the superhero of likeableness.
We’re all looking at each other in consternation because we didn’t even see her get off the bus. She’s too young for the stunts she pulls, and they’re going to get her into trouble.
“How’d you get through the gang?” I ask her.
She giggles. “Felipe Sanchez let me through.”
Felipe Sanchez? We glance at each other again, all of us except for Belinda, who’s got a look of chagrin on her face.
“How do you know him? “ Amanda demands.
“Belinda introduced me.”
Amanda glares at Belinda like she wants to bite her head off. Cartmell’s Amanda’s ward since Mom and Dad died, so Amanda’s responsible for her.
“It’s not my fault!” Belinda cries. “She followed me to Ramon’s. It’s your own fault she doesn’t have enough supervision. What was I supposed to do? Introducing her to the gang was the only way to keep her safe.”
Well, we can all tell a big fight’s brewing, but we get distracted by the sound of Cooper’s motorcycle instead. He makes a big production out of his arrival, parks on the far side of Ash Street, and starts to stroll toward the house like he’s walking the red carpet. He’s got on his usual loafers and jeans and leather jacket. He’s the handsome one of the family, with the high cheekbones and cologne and the perfectly styled hair. He’s the most popular one in the family, too. He can charm you sockless.
Cooper had to grow up in Barlow’s shadow. He’s had to watch his older brother hogging the spotlight all his life. He’s not as big as Barlow and not as athletic. So he’s had to find other ways to get attention. In other words, he’s a bigger show-off than the rest of us combined.
Barlow’s always been a role model, a shining example to me of why to be good. So Cooper’s done his best to be an example of why to be bad.
Several gangers are swarming around his motorcycle, because he left his keys in it, and they’re fighting over who gets to steal it. Cooper doesn’t care. I wonder if he’s acting. He was an actor at Shawneetown U, but he mainly does stunt work in the movies now because he likes taking risks. Gambling, skydiving, drag-racing, base jumping. Anything for a kick. And he’s so lucky he’s usually unscathed afterwards. Usually. He’s still alive, anyway.
He steps forward casually, unafraid, like he thinks he can run the ganger gauntlet by sheer luck and bravado. He knows all the rest of us have showed off on our way in, so he’s got to out-do us. He’s got to show off even bigger than us. He’s got to show off so big it puts us to shame. Like he thinks this is a contest.
Amanda lets out a low strangled cry as the gangers line up to surround him. “Oh no, he’s going to do something harebrained.” She leaps to her feet, and so does Barlow. And even Zeke stands up. Daredevil Cooper has captured his audience. But whatever he was going to do gets cut short because our oldest brother Amos arrives, wearing some weird purple suit, and Cooper halts in the street, then backs up.
You’d think, since Amos invited us and he’s the one who belongs to the Brotherhood, he’d be the first one here. But he’s stubborn and contrary himself, so he’s got to be the last to show up.
He pulls up in a brown government car with little flags on it with a motorcycle escort. Men in suits and sunglasses climb out of the car and take up position on either side of him, but he waves them off and turns his deeply tanned face up to the house and gives us a wave. His black-rimmed glasses make him look intelligent, and his smile reveals his compassion. But if he’s not smiling he’s as menacing as the devil himself. And he’s big, bigger than Barlow and more intimidating too.
Cooper hangs back. He knows better than to try to interfere with Amos’s grand entrance.
So Amos makes his way forward, the motorcade drives off, and it’s just him and the gangers down at the street. I notice the face on his wristwatch is flashing just like three weeks ago. Like Cooper, he’s not carrying any belongings.
Well, everything’s gonna hit the fan now.
In the distance I can see clouds gathering like some storm’s brewing. It’s moving in fast—suddenly everything’s all gray above us, there’s the feeling of change in the air, in the wind that’s suddenly kicked up.
Seeing Amos all alone, the gangers like their odds. They’re determined not to let anyone else pass them. It’s a matter of honor. If he wants to get by, he’s got to do it their way. He’s got to give them tribute and respect—and make it clear they’re in charge. He’s got to let them mark him.
But Amos is the biggest of us and the oldest, and he’s more stubborn too. So he pulls a revolver from under his suit coat and waves the gangers off.
A revolver! How’d he get around the gun control laws?
Most of the Chupacabras back away, but there are still a few who aren’t intimidated, and they stand their ground. One in particular steps forward and says, “You aren’t going to use that, and we both know it. So why pretend? You wouldn’t—“
And BLAM! Amos fires, and the ganger goes down. The rest of them scatter, except for one who hesitates, at least for a moment. But that’s not fast enough for Amos, so BLAM! Another ganger goes down. We jump and cringe at every gunshot. I catch a whiff of gunpowder in the air—it smells like the taste of burnt match heads.
I’m in shock. I’m totally floored. I knew Amos would make a scene. But not like this.
Amos replaces his revolver inside his coat and walks up the sidewalk unopposed. No one’s even near him. They’ve all cleared out. As he steps over the bodies on his way up the walk, he barely looks at them—he doesn’t care. They’re Bystanders. They don’t count.
Cooper falls in behind him. He’s given up on the showing off contest because there’s no question now who’s top dog.
Barlow’s all worked up and meets Amos at the porch steps and says, “Have you gone crazy, Amos? You can’t shoot people down like that. When the authorities get here—“
Amos climbs onto the porch and stares Barlow down. “I am the authorities.”
And Barlow stops in mid-sentence, his mouth hanging open. And he stops talking because he’s got nothing to say. He’s completely run out of words. We’re all speechless. Amos has thumped the words right out of our mouths.
The wind’s really picked up. It’s blowing like crazy, and there’s trash flying through the air. In the distance I can see an ugly black cloudbank building up with lightning bolts raining down from a knot at the front. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Amos surveys us and does a head count. “You’re all still alive. I’m glad to see it.”
Still alive? He’s not referring to our narrow escape from the gangers. He’s already forgotten about them. So why wouldn’t we still be alive?
“Come on,” he says to us. “Let’s go inside.” So he’s the first through the door into the Lodge, with the rest of us trailing behind him. When we get inside, we discover Amanda’s husband Pete and her two kids Jackson and Jessalyn are already here with their luggage, ready for another ride in a Time Machine. Maybe you think they were braver than me for coming inside the Lodge—I’d say more foolish.
Barlow’s duffel bag is inside the Lodge too. He dropped it off earlier in the day. Amos told us to bring whatever we don’t want to lose—all our mementos. I feel like a refugee. But why haven’t Cooper and Amos brought anything with them? Have they sent their stuff ahead somehow as cargo?
A hooded Monk in a brown robe points us to the left. We continue down a long hall to an ornately carved wooden door with a small brass plaque on it, reading "999."
"What's this?" I ask.
"The Safe House." Amos does a special kind of knock on the door. And pretty soon the door opens like the hatch in a submarine, and a guy in a hooded brown robe peers out.
"Oh, it's you, Prefect. Please come in." I can smell the odors of hot tamales inside—Amos promised us lunch.
"Oh boy, this is going to be fun," Cartmell says, stepping through the bulkhead. Zeke laughs. He's almost as excited as her.
We pass through a vestibule as small as a closet and find ourselves in a rectangular space with old carpeting, a worn couch, stuffed chairs, a false fireplace, and heavy brown drapes. It looks like the living room in some old folks home and smells like it too.
My face wrinkles up like a shar pei. "I thought you were taking us to a Safe House," I say to Amos.
"Yeah, Amos," Cartmell says, "where's the Time Machine?"
Amos gestures at the room. "This is it."
I look around. My face won’t unwrinkle. This dumpy room—a Time Machine? This is nothing like the space-age Timecraft we rode in on our first Trip.
"You've got to be kidding," Barlow declares,
"Nope," Cooper says. "This is the Safe House." He plops into one of the old stuffed chairs natural-like as if he owns the place.
Barlow starts to laugh. Zeke frowns, and I feel let down. Is this some stupid lesson Amos is trying to teach us? About gullibility or something? I actually believed he was serious!
"Take a seat everyone," Amos says to us, "and get comfortable." He walks over to the biggest chair in the room and sinks into its deep cushions and squeezes between its arms like an adult in an elementary classroom. The smell of tamales has vanished, replaced by the odor of musty old furniture.
"Some party this is," Amanda complains. "Aren't we going to have lunch?" She didn’t want to come. She’s an important banker, and she regards this Time Travel stuff as a waste of time.
"We’ll lunch," Amos tells her, "after our Trip."
Amanda crosses her arms like an Indian chief.
Barlow sits on one of the chairs and bends down and looks beneath it. "Hey—this thing is bolted to the floor."
"All the furniture is attached to the floor," Amos informs him.
Cartmell sits on the couch and lets out a cry of surprise. "There's seatbelts on this sofa."
"All the chairs have seatbelts," Amos tells her. "You'll need them when we leave the Time/Space Continuum, because there's no gravity in the Void." I can hear a hum of an engine warming up to a whine.
So maybe this is a Time Machine—just a lousy one. For lousy Trips. We already know about the Void, of course, from our last Trip. Time Travel, space travel, it’s all the same thing. But this Room 999 seems a strange-ass kind of Time Machine to me.
Moving over to the wall, Amos draws the curtains aside like a game-show host to reveal a flat-screen TV between two portholes. "At first we'll be moving sideways from the Present rather than forward or backward," he tells us. "We aren't really going anywhere, just leaving the Present and coming back, after a few things have been Changed.”
We’re all glum and dismissive at that point. None of us want to be here. What a letdown! But when we get out into the Void, we have the time of our lives. We—Not again. Really? I’ve gotta go. Maybe I can finish this up next time.