Setting it Up
In which Dodger is given a simple task
It didn’t take long for Dodger and Ched to help Boon out of the cargo section—a feat made possible by the recently adjusted roll back walls and roof.
“I need to also ask a favor of you, Ched,” Dodger said as they finished up. “Well, not so much a favor for me as for Lelanea.”
“She need me to fetch her clothesh?” Ched said without hesitation.
Dodger started, surprised by his question. “Well, yeah.”
“No problem. I’ll go out later and find ‘em.”
“Won’t be the first time,” Boon said. “Will it, Ched?”
The pair laughed; a sound Dodger was pleased to hear, considering Boon had been so emotionally unattached lately.
“I take it this happens a lot?” Dodger said.
“Not often, but enough,” Boon said.
“I can’t shaysh I blame her,” Ched said. “Musht be annoying alwaysh looshing your underthingsh like that.”
“I’m sure it is,” Dodger said. “Can I ask you two to do me another thing?”
“Shure,” Ched said. “I obvioushly don’t have my own thingsh to get done. Ashk away.”
Dodger chuckled. “Are you being sharcastic or jusht a shmart ash?”
Ched grinned in that eerie, skeletal way of his. “Whatcha want, sharge?”
Dodger looked past the driver and the PAUL, making sure Sarah was out of earshot. She sat on the folded out steps of the meeting cab, waiting for Dodger to get done setting Boon free of the cargo cab.
He lowered his voice and said, “Can you help me make sure everyone keeps Sarah from knowing we have Kitty here? I mean, she knows we have someone, but I don’t think she knows exactly who, and I would like to keep it that way.”
Ched saluted Dodger as means of accepting his orders. Boon nodded, the PAUL’s head dipping down and up in a show of solidarity.
“Thanks,” Dodger said. “Ched, you go and keep an eye on our guest. Boon, I need you to help Torque fill out this list.” Dodger passed off the paper to the PAUL, then left the pair to their work. He took the young and oblivious Sarah back to the circus to find something for lunch before the experiment began.
To Dodger and Sarah’s surprise, Feng had commandeered the circus kitchen, and already cooked up a feast for the entire double crew. Dodger gobbled down his portion with undisclosed glee, as did everyone else. The mystic ended up being the toast of the afternoon, with everyone agreeing he was the king of the kitchen. This upset the existing circus chef, until Feng promised to teach the man his own secrets.
Once everyone had their fill, Torque brought around the Rhino with the few things the doc required—a long box with no label, one of the doc’s tool kits, his medicine bag and a tank of water. Boon arrived as well, drawing a number of ohhs and ahhs from the excited circus crew. The elephant stood to the same height as the PAUL, leaving Dodger to wonder just what the professor had in mind.
“I suppose we have everything we need,” the doc said, carting a load of rolled up parchments to the Rhino and tossing them in the back. “Mr. Williams returned with the perfect spot and everyone else is ready. Shall we disembark?”
“I reckon so,” Dodger said.
The doc, Torque, Henry and Duncan climbed into the Rhino as Brian mounted the elephant. Boon set out, leading the group in the direction Duncan instructed. The elephant followed, in her slow shuffle. Dodger supposed the pace pleased the doc, considering the man hated to take the Rhino above five miles an hour. This meant it would take them about an hour or so to reach a spot far enough from the camp. A long ride, but bearable thanks to the company.
“Aren’t you coming?” Dodger said to Feng.
“Oh, no,” Feng said, who stood by Bigby, watching the group get ready to go. “I should sit this one out. Too many variables for the likes of me, if you get my meaning.”
Dodger didn’t really, but he nodded all the same. “Will you be all right without the device?”
“I should have enough time to last a few hours. Just get back as soon as you can.”
“Will do.” Dodger pushed Sarah toward the mystic. “Sarah, you stay here with Mr. Feng.”
“I want to go with you!” Sarah shouted.
“I need you to stay-”
“Here,” Sara said over him. “I know. Stay here. Be quiet. Sit down. Do as I say, not as I do.” She stuck out her lower lip and balled her little fists. “I never get to have any fun.”
Dodger’s heart went out to her.
Apparently, so did the doc’s. “If you promise to stay in the Rhino, you may accompany me as my guest.”
“Really?” Sarah said.
“Yes. Now promise me.” The doc patted the seat beside him in the Rhino.
“I will! I promise!” Sarah climbed into the vehicle next to the doc and bounced up and down on the bench.
“Doc?” Dodger said. “Do you think this is a good idea?”
“No,” the doc said. “But I have had worse ideas. Now, enough stalling. Let’s get on with this.”
With a groan, Dodger set to pedaling, steering the Rhino around the elephant and falling in place next to the giant PAUL. Boon waved at the vehicle, to which Sarah and the doc waved back. If it weren’t for the mechanical man, or the elephant trailing them, or the oddity of the crew, then one might think of this as a pleasant afternoon ride. And hell, why couldn’t it be that as well? After all, no one deserved a pleasant afternoon ride more than the doc himself. This thought comforted Dodger as he pedaled onward.
“Here, Sarah,” the doc said, passing Henry’s time traverse box to the child. “Hold this for me. I need to work on it a bit.”
Sarah took the box with glee, and asked all sorts of questions as the doc began his work with the thing. The ride ended up taking a little over an hour, long enough for the doc to finish his tinkering on the device. It was also an hour of Henry describing his Jenny. A set of motionless wings, a screw propeller system, and something called a diesel engine made up the bulk of the unbelievable craft. Dodger had a hard time believing something like that could fly, but he also knew from his time with the doc that nothing was impossible.
Dodger stopped the Rhino at the edge of a lovely meadow, about a good three miles or so east from the camp behind them. Everyone piled out of the vehicle just as the elephant arrived, lumbering into the meadow, trunk feeling around, seeking someone to hug no doubt. Brian slowed her down with a few words, and the others gathered around the doc for instructions.
“This should be exceedingly simple,” the doc said. “I have altered the makeup of this half of the device, which should attract the other half when activated. That is the theory at least.”
“If it’s that simple,” Henry said, “why the need for them?” The young man motioned to PAUL and Baby.
“Because I hope your Jenny will return at rest, as when she disappeared on you, but I worry she will return in full flight, just as she was sucked into the time loop to begin with. I asked for Boon and Baby to accompany us as weight. Torque, the net please.”
“Yes, sir,” Torque said. The mechanical man fetched the long box from the Rhino, opening it to reveal a familiar object.
“Is that the net you caught Lei Gong with?” Dodger said.
“The same,” the doc said. “I surmise if this net is strong enough to catch and dampen a high powered weather demon, then an aircraft full of lightning shouldn’t be a problem.”
Dodger couldn’t agree more. “That’s very clever, sir.”
“I thought so as well. I also had Torque remove one of the LADs from the Sleipnir, to attract the lightning away from the net.”
“Again, sir, very clever.”
“Doubly clever? Why, thank you, Mr. Dodger. Now, here is what I need from everyone.”
The doc laid out his plan, which consisted of the elephant and Boon acting as deadweights on one end of the field with the net stretched between them, with the LAD driven into the ground between them to attract the bulk of the expected lightning. Dodger was to activate his half of the device from the other end of the field. Henry was to stand in the middle, acting as a different kind of lightning rod, one for the oncoming rush of time. According to the doc, the Jenny should materialize near Henry and head toward the net and hopefully stop there.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Brian said from his perch on the elephant’s back, “but Baby won’t like this. She’ll run at the first sign of lightning.”
“It’s true,” Henry said. “She hates thunderstorms.”
“Oh dear,” the doc said. “I worried as much. Well, I suggest we use that collar for its intended purpose until we are done.”
Brian furrowed his brow and looked down at the still attached collar. “You mean this thing those dog men were using on her? No way. I won’t let you.”
“It’s perfectly harmless when used in temporary doses. We will remove it once we are finished. As for the lightning from the craft, as long as you hold the handles of the net properly everything should be safe. The LAD will wick away the majority of the electricity and neither you, Baby or Boon will be in any danger. On the other hand, if we don’t get the rest of the device off of that aircraft, young Henry here will suffer a much worse fate.”
“I don’t want her hurt. But I don’t want Henry hurt either.”
Baby reached back and patted the man on the head with her trunk, nuzzling him gingerly. It was as if the elephant understood the pressing need, and was giving her okay.
“You promise this collar thing won’t hurt her?” he said.
“I can assure you of that,” the doc said. “If you just remove the disruptor, she will take commands from the first person to speak to her. Make your commands simple and clear. Understood?”
“Simple and clear.”
The doc motioned for everyone to move back. “Stand back, she might suffer a bit of confusion during the transition.”
Everyone took a few steps back as Brian walked the elephant further into the field. When he was a good distance from the others, he pulled the small disruptor from her left ear, where Duncan had placed it, then waited. Thankfully, the elephant didn’t go into the same rampage as before. Instead, she stopped all movement, standing stone still, as if awaiting his command. The doc waved his hands, encouraging the man to say something.
“Walk forward!” Brian shouted.
Baby complied, taking a few steps forward until Brian commanded her to stop.
“Excellent,” the doc said.
“What can I do?” Duncan said.
“You have the most important job,” the doc said. “If all goes well, I will need you to get the second half of the device from the Jenny before it disappears again. I suspect your sizing will come in handy. As will these.” The doc handed Duncan a pair of long, black rubbery gloves.
Duncan took the gloves with a smirk. “What are these?”
“Shock proof gloves. You will have to actually reach into the net to remove the device, so you need extra protection.”
“So I put these on and just get the thing off of the, um, Jenny?”
“Yes. Get it off and away. A dozen yards or so should be plenty of distance to disrupt the connection.” The doc unrolled one of the parchments he brought along, revealing a drawing of Henry’s aircraft named Jenny. “Here is the craft, and here is where the device should be. On the right wing. Get it off and get away. Don’t worry about the aircraft, it can be repaired.”
“Hey, that’s my plane you’re talking about,” Henry said.
“Which I can fix,” the doc said. “But not if we don’t stabilize it in this time line. That’s where you come in, James. Just get that device of off the aircraft any way you can.”
“I can do that,” Duncan said. He activated his belt as he crossed the field toward the elephant, growing to an equal size as the PAUL in preparation. The three giants joined one another, spreading the net between them as Torque drove the LAD into the ground beneath them.
“Wider!” Henry shouted. “Her wingspan is forty three feet.”
“Wider it is,” Brian said and moved Baby further out to spread the net.
“Dodger,” the doc said, “take the device to that end of the field.” He passed the box off to Dodger.
“Yes, sir,” Dodger said. “How do I work it?”
“I’ve included a switch at the bottom there. Just flip the switch and the device will do the rest. I hate to ask you to do this, but should something go wrong, well, let’s just say you are much quicker on your feet than I.”
“Understood. And you know I don’t mind helpin’, doc.”
“I knew you wouldn’t.” The doc smiled up at Dodger for a brief moment before turning his attention to the young man. “Now, Henry, you go to the middle there, and wait. You shouldn’t come to any harm. Just hold still and let the device attract the aircraft to you.”
“Okay,” Henry said and trotted off to the middle of the field.
“Young Sarah and Torque and I will watch from the Rhino. That will be the safest place.” The doc grabbed Sarah by the hand and walked her away. “Everyone get into place! It’s time.” He gave a little giggle. “It’s time. That’s very amusing.”
Boon and Baby grabbed both ends of the net, and set themselves up at the far end of the field. Duncan took point behind them, waiting for the aircraft to materialize. Dodger stood several yards away, his half of the device in hand, ready to activate it. The doc grabbed his CROSS then settled onto the roof of the Rhino, along with Sarah. Mr. Torque stood to one side, passively watching the proceedings.
“In your own time, Mr. Dodger,” the doc said.
Dodger looked down at the device, drew a deep breath, then flipped the switch.