The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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Team Building

Present Day

“This is like every nerd’s dream,” a voice acknowledged from beyond an area in Professor Altman’s lab, shortly followed by the sound of an object clattering to the floor capturing the attention of the two other people in the room.

Brackston spun around in his chair as Layla swiveled her head quickly to look in the direction of the sound, the two settling their eyes on a sheepish gentleman standing next to a table filled with scraps, one of the pieces of scraps laying on the floor.

Rolling his eyes slightly, Brackston stood from his chair as he made the decision to face the man himself. The man had only been here twenty minutes and Brackston was trying to decide if the man was really going to be a good fit for this time that Professor Altman was building.

They needed a soldier, and while he couldn’t argue yet if the man was a good one or not - he could argue that Carter Reyes was a stubborn smartass determined to prove his point, even if it meant mucking up things he shouldn’t.

Sighing heavily, Brackston shook his head as he stared at Carter, who’s sheepish expression turned into a bit of a smirk at Brackston’s presence.

“You have to stop poking and prodding things,” Brackston stated firmly.

Carter shrugged his shoulders slightly, stuffing his hands into his pocket. “What? It’s not like I’m poking a live grenade. This is all just useless junk-”

“-that could possibly blow a hole into time and tear apart reality as we know it? Listen, nothing in here is useless. It all serves a purpose,” Brackston explained, his eyes falling on Carter. “Including you.”

Carter snorted at the young man’s comment, a small grin crossing his face. Despite being uncomfortable with the situation of being forced into this mission, Carter could tell that he was going to like the young scientist.

“Right, I serve a purpose…” Carter began, following after Brackston as he returned to his office chair. “To boldly go where no man has before! To step into a hunk of junk and embark on a perilous journey…”

“That hunk of junk is named Philip,” Layla reminded him, her gaze focused back on the computer.

“Yeah, and he doesn’t appreciate you degrading him,” Brackston added.

It was Carter’s turn to roll his eyes, his head glancing between the monitors to take in the sight of this Philip, the janky looking time machine with a jagged design that the two students spoke of.

It was only yesterday that he was told he was being placed on an assignment that would require his skills. Fast forward an entire day and he was beginning to wonder if the people that placed him here were playing some sort of cruel prank for his attitude.

These two students were convinced that with the help of their little team, they’d all be able to take off to any past point in history and protect those times from being altered in any way. To make the story even more unbelievable, the Professor and his students believed that the Whittaker Foundation was the organization that was going to mess things up.

Carter didn’t know what was harder to believe - the fact that time travel existed, or that an organization determined to make the technology of the future available today was out to rewrite history.

He thought about making a comment on the strange machine, his lips parting to do so before he was interrupted by the sound of a door slamming shut.

Every head in the lab turned to glance towards the doorway, the two students remaining tense before their shoulders relaxed at the sight of Professor Altman exiting the narrowing hallway that eventually entered into the lab.

Carter recognized the professor from countless news headlines, both good and bad - and in the short period of time he spoke with the man the day prior, he wasn’t certain if he had an opinion about him yet. He knew one thing for certain, everyone in this lab was crazy for inventing such impossible devices.

Shaking his head, Carter had contemplated turning his attention back to trying to figure out the supposed time machine when another figure stepped out of the hallway, one that quickly caught his eye.

His mouth fell slightly open in surprise at the familiar sight of a woman he hadn’t seen in a decent amount of years, his eyes locked on her as she made her way into the room. She seemed focused on digging through her purse until she realized she was about to walk into someone, her head lifting in such a way that it caused her dark black locks to sway as she glanced.

Lula was bothered that she had almost plowed into someone in her attempt to find her lip balm in her purse, her lips parting to extend an apology to the gentleman before her. However, her words caught in her throat when she was met with the recognizable pair of bright blue eyes that belonged to a man she never imagined crossing paths with again.

His brown hair was neatly trimmed and styled, though a few strands were falling out of place no thanks to the fact that he tilted his head to get a better look at her. She noticed that there was a slight stubble that was barely obvious against his tanned skin, her eyes taking in the way it accented his jawline.

It only took a second to realize that there was still an audience watching as the two were staring at each other so deeply, the realization encouraging the two to make the scene less awkward.

“Carter Reyes,” Lula began, clearing her throat as she attempted a smile.

“I didn’t know you were going to be roped into this nonsense,” Carter blurted out.

Lula chuckled softly, shrugging her shoulders as she nodded in the direction that Professor Altman was pretending to ignore them, though she noticed a smirk on the professor’s face. “I’m an old friend of Professor Altman’s. He said he was in desperate need of a historian.”

“Why? Because science nerds know nothing about history?” Carter scoffed.

“Actually, it’s more accurately to keep stubborn ass, trigger happy soldiers with anger issues like yourself from killing people who aren’t supposed to die yet,” Professor Altman piped up, giving Carter a stern glare. “Lula will be in charge on these missions, she is the one that is going to keep you and our final member in check.”

“Final member?” Carter questioned, his eyebrows furrowing together as he glared at the professor brushing by.

“No offense Mr. Reyes, you’re not exactly enough muscle. I wanted to ensure that I had two trained people on this team to protect and watch out for you all. Two people with the skills to watch another’s back so that in case something goes wrong, there’s a back up,” Professor Altman explained.

Lula frowned at Professor Altman’s statement, her eyes flicking up to take in the scowl that lingered on Carter’s expression. Though it had been years since she had met up with Carter in person, she recognized that scowl enough to know that he wasn’t entirely thrilled with what the professor had said.

“What could possibly go wrong on this mission?” Carter challenged, wondering what details had been spared by the professor and his students when he arrived here.

The professor stopped in about part way towards the time machine, his head turning slowly to take in the firm way the soldier was staring at him, waiting for answers. He contemplated giving him more details when an unfamiliar, deep voice with an accent echoed through the lab.

“If Whittaker is our target, then there are countless things that could go wrong,” the new voice said, drawing everyone’s gaze to where it echoed from.

Two seemingly unfamiliar people entered Carter’s vision, a woman in a nice business suit and long hair that was as black as Lula’s. She stood next to a man that towered over her short frame, her stare locked firmly on the man as they made their way towards Lula, Carter, the two students, and the professor.

The towering man quickly caught Carter’s stare, the soldier observing the man as he awkwardly approached the group with the woman. The man’s hands were stuffed into the pockets of his leather jacket, his body tense as his eyes darted around the lab skeptically.

Unlike the woman, Carter thought the man felt familiar - almost as if he had seen the man before in passing. He studied the man closely as they came to a stop before the group, his stare remaining as the woman began to speak.

“Everyone, this is Ivan Hayes… he is a former employee of the Whittaker Foundation. He worked in security before and will be doing so again as a member of this team,” the woman explained, staring between each one of him before pausing on Lula. “You will view him not only as your bodyguard but as a valuable asset in figuring out Whittaker’s angle. Use his skills wisely and don’t toss him on the sidelines.”

Lula glanced up at Ivan with uncertainty, squirming slightly underneath the man’s distant stare that only softened when he noticed she felt uncomfortable. “If he’s an important role to this team, why would you think we’d toss him aside?”

“Because Ivan Hayes was wrongly convicted of a crime that many believe he caused,” Professor Altman’s voice interjected, the man startling Lula as he appeared at her side. “A crime that he believes Whittaker is responsible for framing him for. Seeing as what happened here in my own lab, I can’t help but believe that Ivan Hayes and I are both pawns in Whittaker’s big game.”

As those words left the professor’s lips, Carter’s eyes narrowed as his body grew tense as he put together who exactly this Ivan Hayes was. Judging by the way Ivan’s face grew neutral as Carter stared up at him, he had a feeling that the man knew exactly what Carter was thinking.

“You’re the man from my hometown who went to prison for killing three people while driving intoxicated,” Carter grumbled, turning to face Professor Altman. “You really expect me to trust a criminal to watch my back?”

“I expect you to accept him as part of your team,” the woman spoke firmly, her tone drawing Carter’s gaze back.

“And who the hell are you?” Carter snapped back, his arms crossing over his shoulders.

“Agent Simone, Homeland Security,” the woman stated, her soft eyes locked on Carter. “Professor Altman brought me on to help secure the final asset. Who you will work with, Carter Reyes. It is just as the professor stated, there’s a possibility that Ivan Hayes is an innocent man wronged by a corrupt organization.”

“Possibility?” Carter scoffed, squaring his jaw. “That’s reassuring.”

“About as reassuring as your pleasant attitude,” Ivan spoke up for the first time in a few moments, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

“Enough,” Professor Altman intervened, glaring between the two. “You both need to keep yourselves in check. I catch any word from Lula or Brackston that you two are fighting for authority, I will bench you both and find new bodyguards. Understood?”

Ivan nodded as soon as the professor finished speaking, though Carter was hesitant at first to make any movements. With the unnerving feeling of all eyes on him, he let out a barely audible growl as he gave a brisk nod. He wasn’t certain that the professor believed him but he decided to move on, stepping away from the group.

“Your mission is simple…”

“Right, because time travel is simple,” Carter grumbled under his breath.

Professor Altman shot him a disappointed glare, one that encouraged Carter to shut his mouth. Content that no one was going to interrupt again, the professor continued. “Whittaker’s daughter left a message when she stole the machine. Lula and I believe that Whittaker is going to target Albert Einstein.”

“Albert Einstein?” Ivan repeated, his head tilting confused. “Why him?”

“There are a number of reasons,” Lula began, swallowing hard as everyone turned to glance at her. “Killing him off could mean that Whittaker could claim they discovered all the great things that Einstein did. If they’re already as powerful and corrupt as Professor Altman fears they are, imagine what they’ll be ‘discovering’ all these new things.”

“So, they’re looking to rewrite history to stroke their ego?” Carter groaned, rolling his eyes. “How original.”

“That, or I have another theory entirely,” Professor Altman stated.

“Well, please do enlighten us, professor,” Carter mumbled with mock interest.

At this rate, the professor was either too wrapped up in processing his theory or he was ignoring the stubborn soldier entirely, for he fell into a deep silence as he pressed hands together.

This left the lab in an uncomfortable silence, one that made every soft little noise throughout the lab painfully obvious.

Finally, after a few agonizing moments in silence, the professor lifted his head as he parted his lips. “I promised the Whittaker Foundation that I haven’t been able to deliver. Things kept delaying the process and they grew impatient. My fear is that they might use Albert Einstein to make what I’ve failed to accomplish a reality.”

“You think they might abduct him?” Brackston, after remaining quiet for so long, spoke up. This was a concern that the professor had not voiced to either him or Layla before.

Professor Altman nodded grimly, staring at the group seriously. “It’s possible. And what’s even more alarming is that we have no clue when they might target Albert. They could kidnap him as a child or-”

Alarms suddenly blaring throughout the lab cut off the professor, the echoing sound causing Lula to jump and both Carter and Ivan to stand on edge, almost as if an attack was about to take place.

“What the hell is this?” Carter snapped at the professor, watching as the man raced over to Layla’s side.

The professor could see that the woman was tapping on her keyboard frantically, her eyes darting across the screen as she tried to get an answer as to why the alarms were going off.

“Eve has taken off and landed somewhere,” Layla explained, pausing as a series of letters and numbers flashed across her screen. “The machine touched down in New York City. April 2, 1921.”

“Albert Einstein’s arrival to New York,” Lula butted in, her eyes darting back and forth between Professor Altman and Layla. “He spends some time in America, an event that is important to our history-”

“-then you must go,” Professor Altman stopped her, glancing nervously at the four members he had chosen to head out on these missions. HIs heart raced as he thought about what he was about to do, about the lives he was about to alter with this one act of trying to protect the innocent.

It never truly hit him until now that these people may not return as the same people that left here. Although the thought terrified the hell out of him, he knew that sacrifices had to be made to protect what was important and that he’d pay for it all when the time came.

His lips pressed together, he gripped Brackston reassuringly on the soldier as he stared between the other three members he recruited.

“You must go and you must protect history. I have no clue what might happen when you get back there, I have never sent anyone to interact or intervene with past moments before. So, whatever you do… keep your interactions as minimal as possible and more importantly… be careful.”

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