Land of the Bizarre - Part Four
Jackpot. Alex stood in the doorway and stared at all of the equipment crammed in the makeshift lab. Even here, so far in the future, he recognized at least half of the assorted items scattered about the room. The rest of the equipment, while a mystery for now, wouldn't be for long. Alex practically frothed at the mouth as he walked through stacks of circuitry and piles of computer components. Even in all the madness of this trip through time, he'd found a place he could temporarily call home.
A peaceful silence filled the air, serene and calming on Alex's frayed nerves. Here among the clumps of unused wires, all his troubles would melt into an abyss of tranquility, freeing his mind from the insanity that crewed this ship.
"Son of an Elder!"
Alex, started at the muffled cry, spun out of reflex. His elbow cracked against a box of tools, knocking them off the table. A chorus of metal against metal assaulted Alex's ears, driving a wedge through his already pounding head and doubling the effect of his headache.
"Franky, that you? Hand me a welder, will you? Probably find it somewhere in that mess you just made."
The voice, still muffled, drew Alex's attention toward a terminal. Pulled away from the wall, the screen a pale gray, circuits poking out of the back--the terminal didn't appear to have any hope of recovering. The voice that emerged from behind it seemed to think otherwise, or the owner of the voice was stripping it for parts.
One look down and Alex decided he'd never find a welder in that mess. Heaving a sigh, he said, "No." His oasis was tainted. What did he expect from this future?
"Uh..." Alex's voice, a stranger indeed, put hesitation into the mystery engineer working behind the terminal. A moment later, a young girl rose from behind the terminal and eyed Alex. On the verge of her teens, the girl's dirty blond hair was pulled back loosely in a ponytail. Her small body, clothed in a simple jumpsuit, stood poised for attack like an animal preparing to protect its den. She brushed at a smudge of dirt on her cheek, succeeding only in further spreading the mess. "Who the eetee are you?" she demanded. "And why are you trashing my tools?"
As the girl knelt to clean up Alex's mishap, Alex said, "I was told there was a lab here where I might be of some use."
"Yeah, well, I don't need any help. So, goodbye."
"Do your parents know you're playing around in here?"
"What?" The girl's head jerked up, eyes slicing through Alex. "Playing?" she nearly shrieked. "I don't know who you think you are, but this is my lab, my equipment, and right about now the only job you're going to find here is janitorial in nature."
Alex made a mental note to be sure and never find himself transported to the future again. Just when he thought nothing could possibly get any worse, fate decided to prove him wrong. Well, he wasn't about to believe things had hit rock bottom, not anymore.
"Sorry," Alex said. "I didn't know." He started to kneel to help pick up the tools, but the girl snapped at him like a wild beast, molars cracking loudly. She's a little girl, Alex thought; why are you letting her do this? Because, she could very well be the queen of his oasis and he didn't want to piss off the queen. Assuming it wasn't too late.
"Damn right you didn't know, and now that you do, you realize what a tragic error in judgement you've made. So, keep your grubby little hands away from my tools. Take those prison shoes of yours, turn around, and march on out of here. Right now."
Alex turned to leave, shoulders sagged. Denied access to paradise--by a little girl no less--felt worse than he had ever expected it would. Two steps later, Alex turned back. Refusing to surrender to this girl, Alex stood his ground.
He couldn't believe he was about to try to reason with a teenager for the rights to do what he was born to do. Fate had terrible plans for Alexander Sterling, and now he saw that clearly.
"I said I was sorry," Alex said. "You startled me when--"
The girl found her welder. She stood, flicked a bottom near the bottom of the cylindrical device, and took a step toward him as a small but menacing blue flame rolled out. "Are you leaving? Yes or no--anything else will automatically qualify as a no, and then you'll have made me a very happy girl. I've always wanted to see what one of these things will do to human flesh."
Whether it was the tone of her voice, the look in her eye, or the flickering blue flame of pain, Alex stepped back. He hesitated, his eyes meeting the girl's emerald eyes. With nowhere else to turn, unable to allow his hopes of finding a way back to his own time and finding a refuge in the mass of computer equipment here, Alex blurted: "I'm from the past!"
"Wrong ans--" The flickering blue flame of pain forgotten in her hand, the girl returned Alex's gaze. She must have seen the truth in his eyes, or maybe the brewing madness that threatened to bubble over his sanity. She flicked the welder off and lowered it. "What did you just say?"
A reprieve, however momentary, gave Alex the foothold he needed. "The past. I come from the past. However, you can't tell anyone. Our secret. Okay?"
"You expect me to believe you're from the past. Even with those eeteeing Elders thrusting themselves into our lives, we don't have even the faintest of inklings on how to accomplish time travel. I doubt, seriously, that someone from our past has been able to figure it out."
"Then why is my flesh still whole?"
Caught off guard by the question, the girl snarled. She actually snarled. Alex blinked, disturbed. "Let's just assume for a second... let's assume you're not deeply disturbed and that, by some miraculous turn of events, you were able to travel to the future. Why do you want it kept a secret?"
A glint, Alex saw it. The slightest change in the girl through everything he'd seen of her into contrast. That was when he realized she stopped, not necessarily because she believed him, but because she wanted to believe him. His oasis appeared a lot closer now.
"Stop thinking about," the girl snapped. "Just tell me the truth."
"I don't know. You want the truth. The truth is simple. I don't know why I want it kept a secret, but I do. There's not much precedence for this sort of thing. Right now, I just feel most comfortable not letting people know."
"How'd you do it? Where are you from?" Before Alex could answer, she added: "Still assuming, obviously."
"I'm from 2004. As for--"
"What? Oh, you think you had me going, I'm sure. Even if you did, which you didn't, you eliminated it with that. There is no possible way--"
"It was an accident. Complete, utter accident that shouldn't have happened. I don't even know how it happened."
"You just keep getting more convenient by the second, don't you? Okay, ancient, let's say this is all true. What do you want here? You want to find a way home. Right? How do you expect to do that if you don't even know how you got here?"
"It's complicated. I don't know if you--"
"If you finish that sentence, past-boy or not, I will kick you in the balls so hard, your eyes will pop out and be replaced by them. I'll have you know I am smarter than everyone on this ship combined. Now, think hard before you continue."
Great. Playing the assuming game, Alex didn't find much comfort in this girl's proclamation about her intelligence. The last thing he wanted was to be in the conversation at all, much less be in it with a girl young enough to be his daughter.
"Well, Captain Chrono?" The girl glared at him. Her annoyance level rose too quick for Alex. He needed to bring her down--and fast.
Therefore, Alex did the only thing he could do. He told her everything, starting with his brother and ending with his arrival in this lab. He left out nothing at all. The truth sailed free and it actually felt better (for now) to tell someone.
When he finished the story, he leaned against the table. If this girl's intelligence was as high as she claimed it to be, he had no regrets telling her the truth. Perhaps she could help him. Allies were wonderful things, especially when he knew nothing about the technology of this time.
For the first time since meeting her, the girl smiled at Alex. In that instant, he saw the girl she might have been in a different time with a normal I.Q.
"I'm Bethany," the girl said, radiating.
The challenge already consumed her, Alex realized.To be continued...