Xavier felt better as the dawn crept under the cabin. At least he had a plan now. He would test the machine. Once. If the others didn’t return he’d go home alone. He and Abcedif would put their heads together–Xavier would insist on being involved this time–and Xavier would return for the others with a machine he could count on. Will Yula and Tenner last that long? Will they be arrested? Xavier wished he’d studied more about the time they were in. He hadn’t known what to expect. He hadn’t counted on a person like Scott. Next time, you’ll learn more. You have to know everything.
Steadman gathered the men in front of the sheriff’s office. There were four more to find now. Beck and Johannsen had called in on their walkie-talkie. They were cold, hungry, lost and wanted coffee but they were all right at their mountain campsite. Steadman didn’t know about the other two: Gault and the girl. It hadn’t been cold enough to kill them, Steadman guessed, but Steadman knew Gault was unpredictable and if he wasn’t able to make a fire, Gault and the girl might be in trouble. As the men stomped their feet and sipped coffee from styrofoam cups and stared down at the map on the pavement, Steadman cursed himself for his stupidity at launching the whole operation.
Rain fell softly. It was a warm, tropical wetness that you could smell as well as feel. Scott looked to the east, where the sun began to show over the horizon. He and Yula had made love again, and fallen asleep in each other’s arms.
“Yula!” he whispered intensely. “Look!”
A great arc stood in the distance, spanning the distance between mountains. Red on top, violet on the bottom, yellow, green and blue in the middle.
Yula gasped at the sight.
“Oh, Scott!” she cried, the tears rolling down her cheeks. Scott and Yula stood slowly, afraid if they moved too fast the rainbow would disappear. He placed an arm around her shoulder and they stood that way, staring at the vision for a long, long time.
Xavier filled the generator with gas from the can. There’d be enough for one test and the actual event. It has to work. Xavier connected the leads from the generator to the device.
Gault slipped into the woods, leaving Kerry sleeping soundly on the ground. They’d talked through most of the night, arguing mostly, and Gault wondered if he’d had enough sleep to do what he had to do. Kerry had been unreasonable, wanting to talk about their relationship, as if that mattered at all. I’m facing prison, Gault had wanted to scream. If I don’t kill Scott Felton.
“Look!” Yula shouted.
Scott ran up and looked in the direction she pointed, over the ridge, in the direction of the cabin. A great boom of thunder nearly knocked them down. Then came flashes, horizontal flashes. Lightning high in the morning sky.
“He’s done it!” Scott screamed over the deafening thunder that followed.
That must be what Scott was talking about, Steadman said to himself in the front of the patrol car, heading up Ontario Road. And you didn’t believe him, even after you saw the pictures.
“What the hell’s that?!” Harvey Leonard exclaimed from the seat next to Steadman.
Tenner woke with a start. He had realized in the middle of the night he wasn’t going to make it back; his stomach wouldn’t let him. Now he was fully awake, on his feet, the shotgun in his hand, with the realization he had a half-hour of hard hiking ahead of him.
Yula and Scott ran, retracing their steps from the night before, desperate to get back to the cabin, forgetting to care who saw or heard them. But despite their speed, they knew they were hurtling toward their inevitable separation.
Gault saw the flashes in the distance and knew they were his salvation. They’ll be blamed for the bomb. You had nothing to do with it.
Kerry woke at the blast and instantly knew Gault was responsible. Downhill, she told herself. Go back to town, back to Berkeley, forget him. But the trail he took was so evident from his rushed exit, she had to follow it.
“It works!” Xavier screamed. “It works!” He jumped up and down, danced and screamed victory.
Yula stopped. Xavier? Scott caught up to her. His chest heaved with pain from the running, his brain pounded in his ears. But over it all, he heard it too. Xavier!
“He’s happy!” Scott screamed. “He’s happy!”
She was in his arms and they were whirling out of control.
Steadman heard the screaming too, as he stepped out of the patrol car. Where’s it coming from? The cabin?
“Let’s go!” Steadman shouted and the others followed him up the trail.
Xavier started to cough. Not now. Just a minute longer. They’ll come and we’ll be gone.
Branches whipped Kerry’s face. She thought she heard Gault running ahead of her but she couldn’t be sure. As long as you’re moving away from the sun. Make it back to the road anyway.
Yula and Scott charged out of the forest. Xavier stared at them as they ran to the cabin. His joy was replaced by worry.
“Where’s Tenner?” he asked.
“He ran off,” Yula managed to get out.
“He decoyed the others,” Scott added.
“It’s ready,” Xavier said, pointing to the machine.
Yula caught Xavier’s next thought: we’ll go without him.
“We have to wait!” Yula protested.
“I don’t know if it’ll work!” Xavier shouted back.
Sweat rolled down his forehead. Is it fear or the fever? Maybe both.
“Then we have to wait!” Yula insisted. “It may be his only chance.”
“They’ll be here soon,” Scott said gloomily.
Xavier stared at Yula. You don’t even love him anymore, he accused in his mind.
“We can’t leave him here!” Yula shouted.
“Stand there, woman!” he ordered, pointing to a spot next to the device. Yula shook her head. “We’ll wait until the last moment, but then we have to go,” Xavier insisted.
Yula swallowed hard. She looked at Scott.
“Do as he says,” Scott almost choked.
Yula whimpered and moved next to the machine. Scott went to her.
“Get away,” Xavier ordered but Scott ignored him.
He looked into Yula’s eyes. They kissed. Xavier started to cough.
Scott backed away. Xavier knelt next to Yula, his hands on the switch of the gizmo.
There were birds in the air, a little breeze, even a few drops of rain. The three of them looked at each other, waiting for separation.
“We’ll wait for Tenner,” Xavier repeated, his fingers itching to pull the switch.
Steadman could see the cabin through the trees. He checked to be sure his shotgun was loaded. He couldn’t see anyone, but the trees were thick there.
Gault spotted the cabin. He grinned. Gunfight and when it’s over, you’ll be a hero. They won’t look further.
Tenner stumbled and fell. You’re so close. To home. The future. Tenner felt his stomach contracting again, but he wouldn’t let it. He swallowed hard and made it to his feet.
Kerry saw the cabin ahead. She knew the way from there. You’re going to make it. And never get involved in something like this again.
There he is, a stationary target. Perfect. Gault raised the rifle.
Yula heard something, or sensed it, from the east. She squinted into the sun. Tenner!
“No! Stay here!” Xavier screamed.
But she was already running to the tall man at the edge of the woods.
Who is she? Don’t kill her. Get Scott Felton. Gault Scott turn to him. Right between the eyes. Scared little rabbit.
Yula stopped. Not Tenner. Someone else. With a rifle.
“Stop!” she screamed.
Tenner reached the edge of the woods. He could see the cabin ahead and Yula between him and the building. She’s shouting at you. No, not you. Over there. Tenner turned.
Gault stood, his rifle at his shoulder.
There was a long moment as Tenner registered the import of the image. Fighting his stomach, Tenner moved one leg ahead of the other, until he was galloping, screaming, but the man with the rifle didn’t move.
“Don’t shoot!” Tenner screamed, leaping onto Gault. The rifle spat flame in the air. Tenner’s fist smashed into Gault’s jaw. Gault cried out in pain and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
Scott marched forward. He would be brave now. He would fight if he had to.
Kerry emerged from the forest to see Gault and Tenner flailing their fists at each other. The rifle was on the ground, inches away from Gault’s grasping fingers. Kerry rushed forward, stepped on his hand and picked up the rifle. Heavier than you thought. She aimed it at the two fighters.
“Stop! Right now!” Kerry ordered. But the two didn’t stop. Just like men–kill each other for no reason. “Stop, I said!”
Yula came up and grabbed Tenner’s foot.
“Come on!” she yelled and pulled him from the fray. “We’re ready!”
Tenner stumbled away from Gault. Gault would pursue, but Kerry circled around, the rifle aimed at his stomach.
“Let them go!” she ordered.
Scott wrapped his arm around Tenner’s waist and Yula pulled his arm over her shoulder. They ran that way, back to the machine. Scott stood Tenner next to it. Yula held him up.
“Let’s go,” Tenner mumbled. “Please.”
“As soon as he’s out of the way,” Xavier replied, referring to Scott.
Scott started to release Tenner, then changed his mind.
Steadman and his men came out of the trail into the clearing.
“Let me go with you,” Scott said suddenly to Yula. The words surprised Scott as much as they did Yula. “I want to go with you.”
“To the future?”
“Yes! To the future!”
It was the answer to everything, Scott suddenly realized. The grin on Scott’s face spread from one ear to the other.
Yula shook her head. She spoke slowly, earnestly, with kindness.
“You won’t like it. All the things you love, including love itself–they are all gone. You’re better off here, doing what you can to make sure the future won’t be that way. It’s not inevitable.”
Scott saw the truth in her eyes. Trust her. She’s doing it for you. She loves you. Do what she says.
“Stay where you are!” Steadman ordered, his shotgun aimed at all three. “Hands in the air!” Do it! Please! “Or we’ll have to shoot!”
Scott released Tenner, and backed away from them all. Xavier’s hand hovered over the switch on the device.
“Not yet,” Yula whimpered.
Steadman’s men prepared to fire.
“I’ll come back,” Yula whispered to Scott.
“No, you won’t,” Scott choked. “You’ll go back further, to when you can get better samples.”
Yula’s eyes told Scott he was right.
“You have a job to do,” Scott went on. “And so do I.”
Tears glistened at the corner of Yula’s eyes. When one tear escaped, Scott’s finger reached for Yula’s cheek. He touched the single drop and placed it on the red of her lower lip. Yula’s tongue emerged and tasted the salty wetness. Scott backed away.
Xavier hit the switch.
Scott didn’t realize immediately what was happening. Tenner’s face contorted, his limbs contracted and released with the electricity surging through. Xavier screamed the scream of the damned and it seemed to Scott that every bone of Yula’s body showed through the flesh.
Scott waited for them to disappear. No one had mentioned the pain associated with the procedure. Scott marveled at their dedication, to undergo this pain. Beyond childbirth, it occurred to Scott.
“Shut it off!” Xavier screamed.
“Please!” Tenner shouted.
“Scott…” Yula called, the sound barely hissing through her contorted lips.
Only then did Scott realize something was terribly wrong. He leaped for the generator.
“Freeze!” deputy Jack Steadman shouted.
Scott whirled, facing the crowd at the edge of the clearing, their guns pointed at Scott’s face. Scott turned back.
The sparks flew off the electrodes of the generator. Scott smelled the smoky, choking smell of burning flesh.
Scott watched them go. It was quick, less than a second, but the process burned into Scott’s mind like a decade of grief. The electricity surged through Yula’s body, touching every molecule, every cell, sending it forward to a frightening, certain future. She told him he’d hate it there and Scott believed her. But watching her disappear like that, it was all Scott could do to hold himself back from leaping forward, grabbing her, holding tight. His molecules would mingle with hers to be re-formed two hundred years ahead. You would be together, wouldn’t you? In the instance of her disappearance, Scott felt once again the pain of loss, repeated over and over through a lifetime. Alone again, as in death, Scott told himself when she was gone.
Steadman lowered his weapon. Scott was telling the truth the whole time. They are from somewhere else. Someplace in the future.
“Holy damn,” Harvey Leonard hissed. The other men backed away.
Kerry stood next to Gault. They’d seen it all and understood nothing. Gault was no longer worried about the mill, or himself, or the chance he would go to prison. He’d seen something beyond that. What was it?
“Are those people…dead?” Kerry asked.
“I don’t know,” Gault admitted for once in his life. “I don’t know.”
Scott moved to the place where they’d been. Six small craters marked where their feet had been. A larger one signified the spot of the gizmo. Heavy wires, burned at the end, stretched back to the still-chugging generator. Scott wiped his eyes, looked to the lawmen, walked to the generator and switched it off.
Beck and Johannsen wandered into the clearing. They stared at the statues standing there: Gault and Kelly, Steadman and his men, Scott alone. Beck looked to Johannsen. Johannsen shrugged.
(NEXT – The final chapter)
copyright 2007 Brenda H all rights reserved