The Professor nodded, “Me too, but right now we’re just seeing where this goes.”
In the bathroom The Kid checked every stall. Satisfied no one might eavesdrop he activated a set of subdermal LEDs implanted in his arm. He quickly typed a message, and sent it out via an antenna in his hand. A moment later the LEDs blinked signaling the reception of a message. He tapped the flickering icon on his forearm. The screen displayed a brief message:
Received. Proceed to stage 1. One Line.
The Kid deleted the message, and went back into the saloon. Smoke clouds crept all around, hazing the view. Poker players on one side of the room kept phasing out of sync with the current time as cheats kept jumping back a few seconds to get a few dollars ahead. A lone guitar player sat on a stool plucking notes. On her leather jacket she wore a patch for the Flying Daggers, air cavalry from the 1902 world war. The Kid winked at her. She gave him the finger as she bended a note.
Sitting back with the trio The Kid remarked, “Certainly are friendly here.”
The trio all rose.
The Kid asked, “What’s going on?”
The Professor said, “We got a job right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Katie headed toward the door, “No time like the present.”
The trio made it outside long before The Kid. Catching up to the Professor he asked, “Shouldn’t we prep? I mean, go over the details.”
Seamus scoffed, “Too much thinking. Could lead to second guesses.”
“No reason to hesitate, right?” The Professor glanced at The Kid. He didn’t care for the smirk he got as a reply, though it did little to change the plan. While The Kid was in the pisser doing whatever, the trio decided the best move, for the time being, would be to just keep moving, make The Kid operate at their pace. With any luck that’d cause him to stumble, and the trio might catch a glimpse of what was really going on.
The lot outside Rose’s Thorn hosted a veritable cornucopia of History’s greatest vehicular hits. From the car that killed James Dean to the Memphis Bell to a chariot supposedly pulled from the Red Sea, and even the first Jupiter orbiter, every mode of travel throughout human history resided in Rose’s parking lot. One ship in particular caught no one’s attention. People walked by without a second glance, or on the rare occasion anyone looked back they snorted in disdain. The Kid did both, strutting right past the ship then doing a grim double take when he saw the trio boarding the Mirna Loy.
Pointing at the rusty u-boat The Kid said, “This?”
Katie shouted from the boarding ladder, “Don’t be an asshole.”
Sighing The Kid followed them aboard.
Traveling timelines, better known as rift running, is not for the faint of heart. It also isn’t for the sane. Most rift runners spend their careers piloting chrono-ferries straight to an asylum. There’s something about seeing all of time, how it unfolds and implodes, rips itself apart, spins into nothing that ignites creation, and the way a paradox erupts resulting in colors which last mere seconds – the mind can only handle so much even if it is beautiful. But for all the chaotic, cataclysmic wonder of time, for all the seemingly inevitable madness of experiencing it, Flynn Dwyer couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life.
On his forearm Flynn sported a tattoo 12-13-2576. Many speculated it pertained to a date, perhaps even when Flynn would fall out of a rift straight into a mad house. It wasn’t unheard of. Rift runners in various degrees of mental disorder peppered asylums throughout history. However, though reluctant to elaborate on the tat, Flynn flatly denied such interpretations. As he liked to say:
“I’ll be the first to make it out of this brain intact. Mark my words.”
When The Kid went to introduce himself Flynn bit off his own finger and spat it at The Kid.
Before anyone could say anything Flynn said, “Just imagine what I’ll do to you.”
The whole group felt a flash of queasiness as timelines shifted. Cackling, Flynn watched his finger rematerialize. The others screwed up their faces in confusion.
The Professor asked, “What are you laughing about?”
Flynn chuckled, “Inside joke. What can I do for you?”
“We need a ship,” The Kid said.
Flynn sighed, “Oh, I don’t think I’m going to like this one. Don’t think I’m going to like him at all, at all.”
Katie said, “I know the feeling.”
Putting a hand over his mouth, yet speaking loud enough for everyone to hear Flynn remarked, “He speaks when nobody’s spoken to him. Very narcissistic – ooo, everybody wants to hear from me. Of course you need a ship. What for?”
The Professor said, “Wrangling a filament.”
Flynn’s eyes lit up, “Then what are we waiting for?”
The rift runner ran to the bridge flipping switches and spinning dials along the way. Slapping a control panel caused the whole ship to shudder in a way no one would ever describe as assuring. Lights sputtered to life along with holographic displays. The anti-gravity engines soon hummed, and Flynn hummed along with them. He spun a wheel wildly causing the old sub to lurch into the air. He said:
“So, where-when to?”
The Professor asked The Kid, “You know how to work a chrono-nav?”
The Kid nodded. Flynn grabbed him by the arm, firmly escorting him to the proper control panel. The Kid punched in the coordinates for the phantom filament. Mirna Loy groaned a moment as she accelerated through the air. Flynn activated a view screen. A camera mounted at the front of the ship showed the road ahead.
Activating the rift generator Flynn winked at The Kid, “I love this part.”
The world on screen warped, bulging and cracking as it stretched. The cracks bled out an array of brilliant metallic colors which wrapped around and blended with one another. Snarling arcs of green and red lightning whipped from the growing rift as space and time tore open. The arcs slapped at the u-boat as if they were time's own tentacles, grasping at the foolish intruder of its domain. Then, without warning, the rift exploded open swallowing the ship in the process. The Kid flinched. Katie backhanded him in the balls.
“What the fuck?”
She shrugged, “That’s what you get for flinching.”
The Kid staggered to a porthole. Outside raw time flowed by, a kaleidoscopic array of electrified neon fluid somehow every color at once. As The Kid stared into hazy liquid time, images began to take shape. He saw a child grow up to be a senator; three mathematicians debating the best kind of chocolate available in London circa 1881; two Einsteins having sex with a dolphin; the first live birth of a computer by a human being; and the rise of an empire of highly intelligent ants. Turning away from the porthole The Kid felt nauseous and disoriented.
Glancing at him out the corner of his eye Flynn remarked, “You puke on my floor, you going out with it. Flush ya right out into the rift.”
The Kid said, “I’m fine.”
The Professor said, “You look a little green. Maybe you should take a rest.”
Katie said, “Do as you’re told.”
The Kid stormed off to find a bunk. Seamus watched the hall. Once he got out of earshot she signaled the others.
Flynn asked, “Who’s the new guy?”
The Professor shook his head, “That’s what I’m trying to find out.”
“Yeah, well, I assume you’re aware he got a computer in his arm.”
“How do you know?” Katie asked.
“When I grabbed him, dragged his ass over to the controls, I felt it.”
The Professor asked, “Can you set your gear to catch any transmissions, any signals coming from Mirna or going to her?”
Flynn gave him a Ya-Kidding-Me look, “You know I can.”
“Then do it.”
Katie said, “I say we stick his hand out a porthole. Let him rip apart a few dozen times until he talks.”
The Professor shook his head, “I want to play this subtle for the time being. There are much easier scams than this. I got a bad feeling something is up. Something big.”
Alone in a bunk The Kid sent out a message: En route to stage 1. A few moments later he received the reply: Good. Continue at all costs. One Line.
Flynn intercepted it all. He showed it to the Professor who did his best not to look grim.
Katie said, “One Line?”
The Professor said, “We’re in trouble.”
PART 3: One Line