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Chapter 43

The Past

Salt Lake City, Utah

I could now fully understand the meaning of catch-22 and didn’t much care for it. Some might say it builds character or, more importantly, defines it. Well, let me tell you no one in their right mind should have to stare down that tricky hand of fate because no matter how you slice it, you’re screwed.

I searched the ground for the shiny, metallic coin even though it didn’t have much use anymore. It was an ingenious piece of technology back in my time because it allowed me to fall through that cosmic tunnel and shave off a few hundred years. Unfortunately, the Chinese industrial espionage folks had been slacking on the job and were unable to steal the formula needed to get back to the future, or present, or whatever it was properly called – this was a whole new ball of wax to me.

The aqua blue vortex I had bravely stepped through upon twisting the coin and tossing it on the floor was less painful and less traumatic on my body than I had imagined it would be. Regardless, I still held my breath and closed my eyes, but had forgotten to take the necessary two steps forward needed to close the loop and deliver me into my new time zone.

I eventually realized this, stepped forward, and a wooded park materialized. It was totally surreal. In fact, it made the most realistic video game look like a water color painting on a very cheap canvas. A magnolia tree with brilliant purple buds like cotton balls stood a few feet away and I had the burning desire to reach out and touch one.

I dropped the fawning exercise and picked up my coin, suddenly missing the impatient eyeballs staring me down across the chop suey counter. Oh well, this was my new gig and I’d best get on with it.

A group of tall buildings filled the horizon to the east and I was thankful the program had delivered me to the proper coordinates. Now all I had to do was get to Crimson James’s house and either prevent Allison from traveling back with the theory or stop the bad guys from cutting her mission permanently short.

Number Nine and his cohorts had prepped me on the nuances I might encounter being in another time – a primitive time as they had explained and I half expected to see a dinosaur cut across the lawn in hot pursuit of a frightened Neanderthal – one that probably looked like Malton. While I would have enjoyed that experience, the better and more realistic part of me didn’t think a time period which had produced much of the technological embryos we now enjoyed in full development was that primitive.

But then I stepped toward a crosswalk and nearly got run down by a car barreling around a corner. It wasn’t so much that I had almost become a hood ornament as the fact that none of these cars drove themselves. I backed away from the street and pressed against the brick wall. To my surprise, all of the vehicles were being driven by people. Apparently, the driverless car had not yet been invented and I suddenly felt like an alien on a very strange planet.

Still nervous about crossing the street, a bell caught my attention as the nearest door opened and ushered out a happy patron. The girl walked toward me enjoying her drink and eyed me up and down before passing. I suddenly wished Number Nine and his crew had given me a proper set of clothes fit for this era. Although the fashion wasn’t extremely different, it wasn’t exactly the same either. I shrugged it off and thought a cup of coffee might do some good in calming my nerves.

Ten minutes later, I tossed the coffee into the nearest receptacle and worked my way toward the bus station. I was pleasantly surprised to find them automated and figured any hope of spotting T-Rex was out the window.

I tried not to let my imagination get the best of me and run wild with nostalgia, but the hypnotic hum of the electric bus lulled me into a daydream. It really was fascinating to see America back when it was still considered new. Of course it had been around for two or three hundred years, but it was still neat to witness. And I was certain that although fate was providing me with this unique opportunity, while simultaneously slapping me in the face, countless others would have gladly put themselves in my shoes just to experience what I had already seen in the short time I’d been here.

The neighborhoods leading out of the city were not unlike my own except for the houses being larger and having much more space between them. I guess age was another difference because everything in this time seemed brand new.

Twenty minutes later, I stepped off the bus, walked two blocks – very long and windy blocks I might add – and located the right street: Cambridge Lane. The houses in this subdivision were large, bigger than any I’d ever been in, so I assumed the great Mr. James was well off. I wondered what he had done, since not much was known about his life. Allison and her colleagues probably had the inside scoop but weren’t telling. We’d have to see about that.

The corner house had big wooden numbers plastered on the wall just above the garage that read 102. The house numbers moving up the street gradually increased and I estimated that Crimson’s was half-way up the block. However, just as I was about to move that way, a figure cut across the street, darted through Crimson’s front lawn, and disappeared along the side of the house.

“Allison!” I exclaimed and my heart started racing.

Seeing her forced me to recall why I was here and how this was not some nostalgic trip in time. I needed to warn her, I needed to help her, I needed to do something other than stand here thinking about what I needed to do, so I started to jog.

I didn’t get far.

Another figure, this one looking and moving much more like a man, also cut across the street and disappeared at the side of the house.

“Matt!” I said venomously and picked up the pace.

I moved along the side of the house and poked my head around the corner. The back door was slightly open and I could hear voices. Allison and Matt came into view as I tip-toed onto the expansive deck and peered through the kitchen window.

Allison was standing protectively with her back to a small desk area that had been chiseled out of the otherwise smooth kitchen wall. An old-fashioned laptop like the ones in museums, lay half open on the desk.

“I don’t understand,” Allison said, her expression a combination of fright and confusion. She looked pale as if bitten by a spider designed to slowly suck the life out of its prey.

“Since third grade in Mrs. Matteson’s class,” Matt explained from the other side of the room, near the kitchen table. “Don’t you see, I’ve always been in love with you.”

What the hell was he talking about, I thought. Allison hadn’t moved here until last year. What was this business about the third grade?

“But I was only in Salt Lake for a year and we never even talked,” Allison replied. “Or at least I don’t remember us knowing each other.”

Now I was thoroughly confused. I couldn’t tell if they were mixing up their time zones and places or both. Then I remembered that Matt’s father had taken a job in Utah when we were little and he and I didn’t really become friends until Matt moved back with his mother after his parent’s divorce. Had Allison’s father been stationed out here back then and, if so, had the two of them been in school together? Why hadn’t they mentioned it?

“Matt, you’re a real nice guy and you’re a friend of Trenton’s, but-”

“Was a friend of Trenton’s,” Matt interrupted vigorously. “I’ve hated him ever since the two of you hooked up. He had no right to take you away from me. He ruined all of my plans.”

Allison dropped another shade of pale.

“I don’t feel that way about you, Matt, and I don’t think I ever will.”

“Then you and that traitor deserve each other,” Matt spat. “So tell me, did you find the theory on that laptop?”

“Is that why you’re here?”

“You have no idea why I’m here. Did you ever think the government may have sent me to find the theory because they knew you and your loser library friends would fail?”

“I don’t understand ... are you saying you work for the government?”

“I’m saying hand over that thumb drive you just slipped into your pocket because I’m taking the theory back with me.”

Allison shook her head, which caused Matt to step forward, bad intentions written all over his face.

“Trenton!” Allison shouted as I lunged through the kitchen door.

I tackled Matt, but it was like hitting a brick wall. What the hell kind of steroids had he been taking? The guy I had wrestled on the basketball courts was surprisingly strong, but today’s version was ten times more solid. I wondered what kind of experiment had actually been going on in his secret lab. This combination of brains and brawn was nothing to be taken lightly and a healthy amount of fear surfaced.

Matt punched me and it felt like that car that had missed earlier suddenly found its mark. Allison screamed as I staggered back. Matt lunged, but I used his momentum to my advantage and threw him on the kitchen counter. He slammed into the wall, taking out all sorts of twenty-first century gadgets on the way.

Unfortunately, when he hopped off the counter, he brandished a large knife and came at me like a wild animal. I stepped back, grabbed the nearest object and smashed it over his head, stopping him in his tracks.

The laptop I had introduced to his skull, lay shattered on the floor. Matt, now kneeling and shaking off the sudden impact, glanced at the computer then at Allison’s pocket. Just as he was about to renew his attack, a knock at the front door interrupted.

We all calculated quickly, but Matt reacted first and stepped toward the kitchen door. It was then I noticed the thin gizmo wrapped around his wrist like an old-time watch. Before exiting, he suddenly threw the knife still clutched in his hand ... I froze, but it stuck in the wall next to my ear.

“Your days are numbered, Trenton,” he extolled and turned to Allison. “In fact, neither of you will make it back home.”

The doorbell rang and Allison and I exchanged glances. I looked back and Matt was gone.

“Tell me you snagged the theory before I destroyed the laptop,” I said.

“No, it wasn’t on there,” she replied. “Only the unfinished theory was.”

“Come on, let’s go before whoever is out there comes in.”

She nodded, still trying to make sense of the whole situation. I led her cautiously through the back door. We hopped the fence at the back of his yard, cut through his neighbor’s property and emerged on the street parallel to Cambridge Lane.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” she asked, stopping adamantly.

“I was hoping you might do the same,” I said, but sensed that was not going to be enough. “Let’s get somewhere safe first, okay?”

She nodded and we headed down the quiet, tree-lined street toward the main thoroughfare.

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