The Maelstrom

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Chapter-1

Time is the most undefinable yet paradoxical of things; the past is gone, the future has not come, and the present becomes the past even while we attempt to define it, and like the flash of lightning, it at once exists and expires.

-Charles Caleb Colton

“No sir.” I addressed dad, as he sat at the head of the long mahogany table with his arms folded across his chest in annoyance and a scowl decorating his otherwise smiling face. The other board members darted their eyes between dad and me while staring surprised at the scene unfolding in front.

Realizing, my sudden outburst was uncalled for, I looked down at the empty sheet of paper placed in front of me, and began twirling a loose thread of my coat between my fingers. Discreetly sneaking a peek at dad, I realized, what I would now be suggesting would surely earn me some of his famous words of wisdom. Oh joy!

Taking in a deep breath, I began, “I don’t consider this a viable project in view of the…” I trailed off, mentally searching for the right words to address the situation, “…delicate nature of our field of work.”

I sighed loudly, waiting for the volcano to erupt and engulf me in flames, while the board members looked at dad with anticipating glances and hitched breaths.

Dad seemed to be lost in his thought-process and for a good minute stared into space, barely moving. The confused board members began gossiping among themselves regarding the recent development of events.

“Camelia,” Dad said softly, awakening from the trance, “You very well know it’s what Mr. Neville desires.” And with that, he handed over a paper to the person sitting next to him.

I stared at him in disbelief, not believing my ears. Mr. Neville had given such a ridiculous order! Has his brain ultimately caught up with his age?

As the head of our organization- the A-SATT, he is the big guy that calls shots around here. For people, he is an enigma, but personally, I am of the view that he is a grade-A procrastinator. As is rightly said- Takes one procrastinator to know the other.

He hardly ever comes to the building, scarcely interferes with the staff and NEVER gives direct orders, which might explain my exasperation and shock in the matter.

Still digesting the new piece of information, I hear dad say loudly, “So, I assume I have the board’s unanimity in the subject?” And looked over at each member who responded either with a curt nod or an occasional ‘yes.’

But when his brown eyes landed on me, I didn’t move a muscle, rather couldn’t. Clearly, I was against the recent order of the head, but considering every other member had acceded to the order; by the vote of majority the decision would definitely undergo and my sole refutation would go unnoticed and unresolved. So, as much as I despised the decision, I looked over at dad and with a small smile nodded my head in affirmation.

This seemed to have made his day. He gave me a wide smile and bidding the members a good day, ended the meeting. Walking out of the conference room, people greeted each other and curtly nodded at dad, who was still engrossed in piling away the loose sheets of paper that were disorderly sprawled across the table.

I quietly stood in the corner, away from the curious glances of the people leaving the room. Once I made sure everyone except for dad had left, I walked over to him and began helping him to stack the sheets according to alphabetical order.

“You do realize you don’t have to do this, right?” Dad said in amusement referring to the fact that I had already taken over the task of piling up the company notes, while he stood a few feet away from my working form.

But at the moment, I was in my own thought-overdrive, thinking about Mr. Neville’s latest order, that somehow, I had completely blocked out any external disturbance. It was obvious that what he had decided was a grave danger to the dignity of A-SATT, and if circumstances came to the worst, it would basically destroy the very foundation our organization was built on.

A-SATT was a carefully guarded secret for centuries. It stands for- The Association of Space And Time Travellers. The organization, in its early phase was called the Timekeepers, but over time, the system advanced, reaching a global scale which demanded a newer name leading to the heads of different branches to come together and create A-SATT.

I reached over to dad, with the stack of papers piled up on my elbow and handed it over to him, all the while dissecting the major turn of events. There were a million questions plaguing my mind, the instant Mr. Neville’s order was brought to limelight in the meeting and there was so much information that my brain could handle.

Unable to suppress my interest any further, I began venting out my pent-up questions with my voice rising an octave higher with each passing second, “Dad, what the hell was that? Why did Mr. Neville give us such a ridiculous order? Are you sure it’s good for us? Did you at least fight him against it? What’s for dinner?”

I stopped momentarily to gain my breath, but before I could continue my questionnaire, dad interrupted me.

“Camelia, do you seriously believe I would agree to send my only daughter on an S-ranked travel?” His question hung in the air as we made our way to his office, passing by the employees of A-SATT with their heads buried in computers, so engaged in their work to hardly notice dad’s presence and the loud clacking of my heels.

I went silent at his question with guilt consuming every fibre of my body. The only part of Mr. Neville’s order that I did like was the fact that my hard work here was finally getting acknowledged and he had agreed to send me on an S-ranked travel, although truth be told, it took me a good many fruit basket and ‘thank you’ notes.

I was tired of going on useless travels like the one to change the menu of a Mr. Smith’s wedding to not include raspberries, as an important guest invited to the party was allergic to it and would cause serious troubles to our timeline if he consumed the berries. And sadly, it was the most chaotic time-travel of my entire life of 21 years.

“That’s not what I am talking about.” I looked at him in defeat as he made his way over to the chair and sat down on it. “I am concerned about the other part of the order. Why would he ask me to accompany three other unknown guys who have absolutely no idea about the existence of A-SATT on an S-ranked travel.”

There was a slight urgency in my voice, which if you might consider was accountable. Time travellers were thoroughly trained individuals with years of experience. Sending in newcomers to an S-ranked travel was a dangerous gamble. There were a lot many factors to consider- They could disrupt our timeline or create paradoxes et cetera.

“Do you seriously consider that it’s in our best interest to open our big mouths to some unknown people who can then tell the world about our existence? You know how fragile time-travelling is, they could change the entire present if we are not careful.” I sighed in frustration, enumerating all the worst-possible outcomes to make dad drop the idea.

I looked over at dad who was staring blankly into space as if tasting each and every word that came out of my mouth and letting it sink deep into his brain. His features contoured with a sudden sense of wistfulness and confusion, while he stroked his chin with his left hand.

Suddenly waking up from his daydream with a newfound reason of hope and accomplishment, he looked at me in triumph and joyously announced-

“Chinese.”

A moment of silence passed between us both and I wasn’t very sure that it was my ears who had betrayed me or my cognitive functions. But before I could grill dad at his recent, irrelevant remark he quickly reiterated his statement.

“We’ll have chinese takeout for dinner.”

My nerves were already racked up with Mr. Neville’s recent affliction with insanity and now seeing dad taking after his boss’ footsteps was beginning to seriously piss me off.

It was unusual to notice that all of a sudden everyone around A-SATT had become susceptible to this fatal turn of events; and like a virulent strain of protein wreaking havoc, even dad seemed to have been afflicted by it.

As far as I can recall, I remember dad as a cautious perfectionist. There were even times when he had engaged in heated arguments with Mr. Neville on the course of a travel. But today he seemed unusually abject with Mr. Neville’s decision.

With the patience of a saint and all the calmness I could muster in my body, I replied softly, “This is not the time for one of your jokes, dad.” And gave him a pointed glance to indicate that his attempt to break the ice had unfortunately gone in vain.

Dad let out a loud sigh and ran his hands through his greying hair. At that moment I observed huge bags of dark circles had formed under his eyes and the restless shaking of his hands signified that he did not have a very peaceful night.

“It’s done.” He uttered in complete defeat. It appeared as if every fibre of his body revolted against him when he inaudibly muttered the sentence.

“They’re already here Camelia.”

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