Let’s Do the Time Warp
In which Dodger makes a new friend
“Monsieur Bigby,” the doc said, “may I introduce Feng. Feng, Monsieur Bigby.”
“Enchanté,” Feng said.
“Nice to meet you as well,” Bigby said.
“He’s also from the train,” Duncan said.
“Oh? I did not see you earlier.”
“Feng has been a little under the weather lately,” the doc said before Feng could answer. “He usually remains aboard the Sleipnir, but he heard there was a circus and decided to have a bit of a look.”
“He looks remarkable for a man that has been ill,” Bigby said.
“He sure does,” Duncan said.
“Thanks,” Feng said. “You don’t look so bad yourself. Here, Dodger, hang onto this.” Feng shoved the strange box into Dodger’s hands.
The heft of the thing surprised Dodger, and he had to act fast to keep it from falling to the floor. Dodger stared down at it with burning curiosity, wondering what kind of thing could bring Feng so close to normality, yet be so much smaller than the TAP. Speaking of burning, the box was unusually warm, as if it held a small furnace inside of the wooden frame.
“What is in the box?” Bigby said.
“I think we should ask the box’s owner,” the doc said.
Just as the professor spoke, the young man let out a soft moan as his eyelids fluttered. He glanced, bleary eyed, around the room and tried to sit up.
“Steady now,” the doc said, helping the lad up. “Don’t rush it. You’re still a bit on the weak side.”
“Wha …” the lad started with, but paused to lick his dry lips. “What happened?”
“You passed out and went into a little bit of a seizure.”
“A seizure?” He raised a hand to the back of his head, rubbing what must’ve been a tender spot.
“Yes. You also struck your head on the way down, but no harm is done. At least not as far as I can tell.”
“How do you feel?” Duncan said.
“Okay I guess.” The young man nodded to his boss man. “Mr. Bigby. Sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
“It’s quite all right,” Bigby said.
“I think I know what came over you,” the doc said.
The lad stared up in confusion at the doc. “Who are you?”
“Henry,” Bigby said, “this is Professor Dittmeyer and his friends. He is a doctor. He is here to help you.”
“Sure,” Henry said. “Funny way of helping, screaming at a guy like that.” Henry glanced at Dodger, or rather the box. “Where did you get that?”
“He gave it to me,” Dodger said, nodding to Feng.
“Well, it isn’t yours. Put it back.”
“I’ll put it back when I’m good and ready,” Feng said. “First you will tell us what time you’re from.”
“What are you talking about?” Duncan said, obviously confused by this turn of questioning.
“I am talking about what year this brat is from.”
The lad pointed to Feng. “See how he talks to me? He came at me making all kinds of demands. Yelling at me with no cause. It’s no wonder I had a seizure.”
“Listen, kid,” Feng said. “I asked you a simple question. All you had to do was answer me.”
“Asked? You shouted at me, you, you, you big bully!”
“Bully? Why you little squirt.” Feng pushed his sleeves up his thin arms, revealing a plethora of intricate tattoos. “I’ll show you bully.” He made his way to the cot.
“Gentlemen, please,” the doc said, holding Feng back. “This is no time for arguing.”
“We aren’t arguing,” Feng said. “We’re fighting. And I am about to kick some serious-”
“Feng!” the doc said all but pushing Feng across the room. “Get ahold of yourself. What has gotten into you?”
Feng’s ire softened as he put his hands on either side of his face and shook his head. “Whoa. Sorry about that, kid. I think it might be too much pent up time. Know what I mean?”
Henry lowered his face rather than answer.
“Your silence is as good as admission,” Feng said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Henry said, but he still wouldn’t look Feng in the eye.
“Come on. I know what a terrible burden it is to bear. All alone in this timeline. Everything seems so primitive. No one speaks like you do.” Feng sighed. The sound was full of regret. “The food isn’t the same. Neither are the women.”
Henry raised his eyebrows and nodded, almost reflexively, then winced as he realized he’d all but given himself away.
“Ah ha!” Feng said, slapping one hand against the other. “I knew it!”
“Don’t gloat, Feng,” the doc said. “It isn’t becoming of you.”
“I’m not gloating. I’m … okay, so I was gloating.” Feng swept his robe to one side and sat on the edge of the cot. He leaned back on his hands, staring down at the much smaller lad seated beside him. “Come on, son, spill it.”
Henry looked up to Feng, worry taking his delicate features. “How do you know all of this? Who are you?”
“I know things because I pay attention. Trust me when I say I’m not important. Who are you?”
The kid looked away, as if trying to gather his courage to speak again. “You’re right. I’m not from this time.”
“When are you from?”
Dodger whistled low.
“That’s impossible,” Duncan said.
“So is growing ten feet tall at the flick of a wrist,” Dodger said.
Duncan fell quiet at that. Dodger didn’t mean it as a dig, but the last thing they needed right now was an argument over what was possible and what wasn’t.
“Over fifty years in the future,” the doc said. “How so very different things must appear to you, young man.”
“When did you come here?” Feng said.
“A little over two weeks ago,” Henry said.
“How?” the doc said.
Henry shifted his eyes to the box Dodger held. Feng motioned for Dodger to bring the box to him. As Dodger handed it to the Celestial, the lad reached into his shirt and pulled forth a long silver chain bearing a small key at one end. Dodger caught the sight of a ragged and dirty bandage wrapped about the lad’s chest just under his shirt, which left Dodger to wonder what other kinds of injuries the poor kid suffered. Henry passed the chain off to Feng, who slipped the key into the lock and opened it with a quick click and pop. Feng slid the lock free and slowly pulled back the lid on the mysterious box.
Inside laid a jumbled mess of wires and switches and flashing lights. Dodger couldn’t make heads nor tails of the contents. It looked like how he imagined the inside of Mr. Torque must look, all wires and gadgets and gears.
The doc clucked his tongue as he leaned over the box. “Oh dear, what a complicated mess that is. It’s also missing a few vital components. The switch router and the binary conduits. Ah, and the main dampener cells, which would explain why Feng is wound tighter than a drum head. Wouldn’t you agree Feng? Feng?”
Feng sat with his eyes closed and his nostrils flared, breathing heavy and slow. He clutched the box tightly to himself so hard the blood fled from his knuckles leaving them as pale as death. He appeared younger than ever, his usual wrinkles tightening across his face as his white hair began to deepen to a dirty gray, ebbing toward a raven black.
“Feng?” the doc said, snapping his fingers in Feng’s face. He finally touched the mystic’s shoulder, to which Feng jerked awake from his trance.
“Here, take it,” Feng said, shoving the box at the doc. “It’s too much for me. Too much for anyone.”
The moment he relinquished the box, Feng returned to a semblance of normality. His sudden youth vanished, and he receded back into his elderly shell, returning to the aged mystic with which Dodger was familiar. He breathed hard again a few times and shook all over, like a dog shedding excess water after a long and deep swim. Once he was done, Feng gave a soft chuckle and grinned sheepishly at the doc.