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April 15, 2024

Castaways, Part 2

By Tyler Willson

Ted finally located the pertinent manual. It was an old manual, which meant that it was heavy. When the world finally declared itself paper free, technology still had some catching up to do. The cold fusion power pack that powered the electronic book weighed a good fifteen pounds in an earlier model like this, which made it a perfect door stop. Ted picked it up off the floor and thumbed the power button as the door it was stopping swung shut. The capacitors made a high-pitched whine as they energized, and the logo of the Inter-Dimensional Travel Authority flashed briefly across the screen, followed by a table of contents. Ted tapped his finger on the heading for the section labeled: "Emergency Procedures" then scrolled down to a chapter labeled: "Passengers not arriving at destination portal". The heavy device hummed briefly then displayed a multicolored flow chart. The first shape on the chart was blinking. Bill read it out loud: "If you suspect that a passenger has been trapped between portal doorways by a closure on either end, immediately contact the watch supervisor."

Ted and Bill groaned together. "The Boss!"

Bill and Ted straightened nervously when The Boss entered. He was a large man in a large tweed suit with a large walrus mustache. His name was Percy, but he had found long ago how such a name inspired scorn and disrespect from underlings, and so he insisted on being called simply "The Boss".

"What is it? This had better be good." The Boss grumbled as he sat down in Ted's seat. Ted glanced at Bill, who glanced back. After a few seconds of silently attempting to convince the other to speak first, The Boss snapped impatiently. "Listen you two incompetent flunkies. In case you just called me down here because you enjoy my company, let me remind you that it is the fourth quarter of the inter-dimensional full contact ping-pong finals, and my team is behind by three points. If I am missing the end of this game for a social call..."

Ted finally lost the silent contest of wills and blurted out the situation in one long panicked breath. "Bill sent two passengers into the portal after the destination was already closed, and then closed the portal behind them. We have two castaways, and they have been in the tunnel for almost fifteen minutes already! It wasn't my fault, Bill..."

The Boss interrupted him. "Castaways? On my watch?" He glared balefully at the two frightened men, his walrus mustache twitching in anger.

Glen was struggling to stem the tide of his panic. He searched his memory for any and all information he had ever heard about the science of traveling via inter-dimensional wormholes. He had no idea how the wormholes were formed, just that it took an inordinate amount of energy. The only thing that kept coming to mind was the story of the insane scientist, finally emerging after a hundred years, physically untouched by time. Nothing else came to mind. He supposed that he would simply have to wait and hope that the IDTA would eventually come to their rescue. They couldn't fail to notice two missing travelers could they?

As he pondered his situation, he suddenly felt something grasp his ankle and simultaneously heard Madeline's voice in his head again. But it had changed. No longer was it the shrill and vicious harpy. Now she was terrified, and her voice was pleading, and repentant. "Oh Glen! I found you again. Please don't leave me alone again. I can't take the numbness, or the silence! Please don't leave me again!"

Glen grimaced, but resisted the urge to kick himself free of her grasp. "Madeline, calm down. It won't be long before someone notices that we are missing and they will get us out of here. Why do you think they make you give them portal passes? So they can make sure everyone who goes into one end comes out the other." He felt Madeline's mind calm a bit, and decided to keep talking to keep her calm. "Any minute now, we will be sucked out through the other portal, and we will be in Bermuda, enjoying the beaches and waves and sunshine and..."

Madeline interrupted him. "I'm sorry, Glen."

Nothing she could have said could have silenced him as effectively. He couldn't remember the last time he had heard her so much as admit to being even slightly mistaken. "Sorry? For what?" he asked. His mind was suspiciously searching for whatever treachery she might be hiding behind those unexpected words.

"Oh for goodness sake, Glen! Why are you so suspicious? What could I possibly gain by asking forgiveness? You are such a..." her voice halted mid-thought as she felt the rising desire in Glen's mind to kick her hand from his ankle and sever the mental link again. "No! Don't leave me alone again! You are right! I have been manipulative and shrill! I have been a shrew, a harpy, a... a..."

"Not the woman I married, that's for sure." Glen finished for her. His mind wandered through their seven years together, and he felt her watching as she transformed from the cheerful, happy woman he had first fell in love with to the bitter, haughty person who seemed to take pleasure in torturing him. "Why?" the single word inquiry echoed through their minds. Glen had tried to ask the question so many times before, trying in vain to discover how he might repair their relationship. Always before the question, no matter how diplomatically phrased, would spark an argument that ended at best with a taut silence. Now, the instantaneous nature of their communication and the fear Madeline felt at being left alone again lent this simple question a weight and clarity that Glen had never before been able to give it.

"Why?" Madeline answered and instantly a stream of memories from her mind began flowing through their collective consciousness, answering his query more completely than words could have ever done. He watched himself through her eyes as he rose through the ranks of the police department, earning awards and getting promoted. He also watched Madeline struggle alone through her nursing studies, spending many nights alone with her textbooks and medical diagrams. He saw her graduation day, when she received her diploma and felt the sadness she felt knowing that he was not there, but was instead on a stakeout in a bad part of town. He felt the sorrow and loneliness change into anger and bitterness. He saw her saving lives everyday, just as he did in his job. But he also saw doctors and patients alike who treated her as a maid in a hotel. No awards, no acclamations, no promotions. He saw and felt her disgust as she watched the live coverage of the hostage crisis on the TV. He felt the nausea in her gut as his carefully placed bullets killed the men holding the hostages and finally understood that it was not pity for the men who died, but fear for the man who so unflinchingly took their lives. And the fear that he might some day do the same to her.

Understanding began to dawn on Glen. He could see now how neglectful he had been of her, and the effects of that neglect. Just as clearly Madeline now understood how her reaction to that neglect had pushed him further into his work, alienating him rather than drawing him out as she had intended. He finally saw her last desperate attempt to draw him back to her, and understood that this trip was that last, best effort. If nothing changed over the course of their three weeks together without the pressures of work, then she was prepared to end it.

Before stepping into the inter-dimensional portal, Glen would have welcomed such an idea. Now, after having re-lived the good times, and understanding the part that his own selfishness had played in the near demise of their relationship he felt only sadness. "How come we couldn't figure this out earlier?" he asked.

Madeline's thoughts answered plaintively: "You wouldn't listen, I couldn't hear."

Bill quickly broke under the weight of The Boss' angry glare. "They came late, and I was still gathering the portal passes. The lady was a real..."

"Shut Up!" The Boss snapped and snatched the manual out of Ted's surprised hands. He tapped on the screen angrily for a few seconds, and then tossed it towards the trashcan. "This thing is out of date! Where is your up to date manual? We sent a new one out just three weeks ago!"

Ted quivered in fear. "We looked, Boss, that is the only emergency procedures manual we could find."

The Boss harrumphed, his mustache actually moving up and down in frustration. "No matter. The procedure is elementary. If you had been paying attention last week in my training session you would already have solved this problem and I would not be missing my game! All you have to do is reverse the direction of travel, re-open the portal and ..."

Seeing Ted's blank stare, he shoved him roughly out of the way and began tapping on the control panel. Glancing at Bill he snapped: "You better get down there quickly. You are going to have two very confused travelers emerging from the portal in about thirty seconds. Offer them a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the universe and send the bill to my office. That is if they are still sane. You better get security to go with you in case they aren't." Bill nodded and ran out the door, leaving Ted and The Boss alone.

The Boss turned and started walking away. He paused just before leaving the office and turned back aiming a beefy finger at Ted. "And you better get an updated manual and memorize it before your shift ends, or don't even bother coming back for the next one."

As Bill sprinted up to the portal door accompanied by two security guards he could see the man and woman sitting on the floor outside the portal doorway. They were holding each other, and it seemed as if the woman was sobbing. The man held her tenderly, rubbing her back and making soothing sounds. Bill slowed to a walk and approached cautiously, not sure what to expect. The man looked up at his approach, and Bill began to stammer an apology.

"I'm sorry for any...uh... I mean the IDTA would like to apolo... umm well, you see to apologize for your inconvenience we want to offer you..." The man waved his hand dismissively and turned back to his wife. He helped her to her feet, and they walked away together up the terminal walkway. Bill sighed with relief and went over to the control panel for the portal door. He tapped on the control panel and closed the portal and then shut down the power to the wormhole generator. Reaching beneath the panel he threw a switch that closed a steel mesh gate across the doorway. Then checking the time on the overhead clock, Bill saw that it was now exactly twenty minutes past quitting time. He turned and walked away, up the terminal towards the office.

Unfortunately Bill completely failed to notice the oddly shaped creature that had followed Glen and Madeline through the portal gate. It was crouched beneath the row of seats in the waiting area. Long razor sharp claws glinted in the dim light of the terminal. Its malicious green eyes followed Bill hungrily as he walked away.

-- Tyler Willson

Originally appeared 2009-06-15

Article © Tyler Willson. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-02-27
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
1 Reader Comments
poky bum
05:33:23 PM
I like it, but what is up with Bill and Ted? Do I know them from somewhere or is this deja vu? Love you!
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