Let’s Do the Time Warp, Again
In which Dodger witnesses the near impossible
The device gave a soft and steady chirping sound as one of the lights at the top flashed a bright red. That was about all it did.
“What is happening?” the doc said from across the field.
“It’s making a chirp,” Dodger said. “And flashing. Nothing else.”
“Good. That’s very good. Now hold onto it tightly, Mr. Dodger. This is going to be a bumpy ride.”
Before the doc could repeat himself, the box set to rumbling and shaking between Dodger’s palms. It was all he could do to hang onto the thing, but hang on he did. Meanwhile, the sky over the field went gray as a sudden storm gathered between Dodger and the net at the other end. It was odd to see such dark and heavy clouds focused on such a narrow spot, while the rest of the sky shone with a beautiful clear day. Lightning cracked and popped, arcing across the clouds while thunder rumbled and rolled. Thankfully, the elephant seemed unperturbed by the whole affair.
Henry on the other hand, was more than perturbed.
“Is this supposed to happen?” Henry shouted. The boy swayed on his feet and looked about ready to bolt from his position.
“Yes!” the doc shouted under a loud crack of thunder. He held his CROSS out from him, surely measuring the flux in time across the field. “Hold your positions! Something is happening!”
Dodger reckoned that might have been the understatement of the century, as there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that something was indeed happening. The device shook and shuddered in Dodger’s palms, threatening to leap away as if it could race across the meadow on its own. He held it firm, having to bear down on it with both hands, shoving the thing under one arm to keep it from getting away. The clouds grew darker and darker, pulling a shade of inky blackness over the hundred or so yards between the stationed participants. A fierce wind kicked up, howling over the small space as thunder roared between lightning cracks.
“Is this the same as before?” the doc shouted at Henry.
“Yes!” Henry shouted in return. “Exactly! It’s why I was forced to land!”
“Very good!” The doc hopped down from the Rhino in his excitement. “Oh, yes! Here she comes now! Hang on everyone!”
With a near deafening crack of lightning, a huge, bright and jagged opening appeared not two dozen feet in front and above Dodger. It looked as though someone had ripped a large tear in the clouds, and was pushing something through. By means of this opening there came into sudden being the very aircraft in Henry’s hand drawn pictures. Dodger could best compare it to some of the gliders he had seen in flight some years before, but this one was obviously no glider. It ran of its own accord, powered by a loud and roaring engine that nearly matched the thunder in its ferocity. The huge propeller spun in a dizzying speed at the front of the monstrosity, providing enough lift to keep the whole works off the ground. Off the ground, that was, and moving right toward Henry.
“It worked!” Henry shouted. The lad was so excited to see his Jenny again, he seemed to have forgotten the damned thing was flying straight toward him.
“Henry!” Dodger shouted. “Get down!”
At the last possible moment, young Henry dropped to the ground, allowing for the craft to sail over him and head right for the net. Those on net duty were ready for the thing, and caught the flying craft up with impressive speed. The net held, thankfully, tangling up the propeller and bringing her engine to a complete stop. But this did little to slow the craft. Something continued to drive the thing onward. Whether it was the momentum built up from the flight or just some time delay effect of the device, Dodger had no earthly idea.
Boon, Brian and Baby did their best to hold the net intact, but under the strain of the aircraft, their best was quickly becoming not good enough. Boon’s heels carved twin furrows in the dirt as he bore down on the net and found himself pushed away for his efforts. Baby dug in deep as well, only to find herself shoved farther and farther away from Boon. The net stretched to the limit between them, and all the while lightning continued to pop and crackle, most of it emanating from the trapped Jenny and shooting straight into the LAD. Duncan tried to get into the net, so he could loosen the device, but between the stray lightning strikes and the forward drive of the aircraft, the man couldn’t seem to find a good opening.
“They are losing her!” Dodger yelled.
“We need more weight!” Boon shouted.
“Mr. Torque!” the doc shouted. “Go! Whatever you do, don’t let that craft escape.”
“Aye, sir!” Torque shouted. With the fluid grace of a world class ballet dancer, Torque raced across the field, catapulted over Henry, then landed at the base of the net, snatching it up by the lower half. He planted his heels into the dirt beside of the LAD, ramming his feet into the soil in order to provide an anchor for the others’ efforts.
“Pull, Torque!” the doc shouted.
“Pull!” Henry cried.
With Torque’s help, the aircraft finally began to show signs of slowing down. Enough so that Duncan was able to slide his protected hands between the now electrified net and remove the device. He pulled the workings free and held them high in one hand.
“Got it!” Duncan shouted, and tried to back off of the struggling trio.
Despite being shed of the other half of the device and her engine stalling, the craft continued to push forward as though nothing had changed.
“Get out of there, Duncan!” Dodger yelled.
“I’m trying!” the man shouted. “This damn glove is caught up!”
“You need to get the device away from the Jenny!” the doc said.
“Hold on,” Boon said, and reached out to pull the man free.
“Don’t!” the doc yelled.
But it was far too late. Boon reached out and grabbed the flesh and blood man by the waist, trying to yank Duncan free. The instant his metal hand landed on Duncan, a massive streak of lightning shot out from the net and struck the faded breastplate of the huge machine. Boon released the net as well as Duncan, tossing the man away from danger just as the strike raced up the arm of the PAUL. The machine stretched arms wide, face lifted to the sky, as the lightning turned a familiar bright blue and engulfed Boon from top to bottom.
“Get away from him!” Dodger shouted. “All of you!”
Duncan managed to back up a few yards before he scrambled to his huge feet and burst into an all out run. Brian had already begun to maneuver the elephant away from the dangerous scene, dropping the net and spurring her into a half trot across the field. With every else’s shares of the net released, the Jenny surged forward, dragging Torque along the ground. Instead of releasing the net and fleeing like the others, Torque followed his master’s original command and held on tightly. He also reached back and grabbed onto the LAD for support. The moment he did, the lightning arched away from Boon and pulled Torque into its electrified grip. Torque finally released the net as he too was swallowed by the blue lightning.
“No!” the doc cried. He made as if to run toward the butler and Boon, but young Sarah managed to hold the doc back by all but tackling the man. The professor sank to his knees with Sarah straddling his back, tears racing down his horrified face.
The pair of metal men went rigid from crown to sole, shimmying and shaking from the massive shock of the now blue lightning. Somewhere in all of this, the Jenny finally came to a stop, dropping like a stone down an empty well and landing with a resounding crash behind the mechanical men. With this, the dark clouds over the field receded, and the storm came to an abrupt stop. The lightning strike faded from the machines, slowly dissipating from each slumping metal framework with a haze of blue smoke.
Everything fell still as a haunting silence filled the meadow.
The professor tried to get to his feet again, but Sarah held him down. Damn but the child had good instincts. Al taught her well.
“Doc,” Dodger said. “Stay there. Let me have a look first.” Dodger sat his half of the device on the ground and jogged across the field toward the still smoking mechanical men. He went to Torque first, not out of preference, but because the smaller man was easier to inspect. Heat radiated from the smaller metal frame.
“How are they,” the doc said.
“Hard to tell,” Dodger said. He yanked a bandana from his back pocket and wrapped it around his hand before he reached out and touched Torque on the shoulder. He shook the metal man a few times.
The clockwork man remained slumped forward, immobile.
“It seems safe enough,” Dodger said.
“Get off of me you feral monkey child!” the doc shouted as he wiggled under Sarah’s weight.
“Let him up,” Dodger said.
The doc rolled out from under Sarah’s hold, and got to his feet before he rushed across the field to join Dodger. He moved about in a worried dance, patting his hands together as he shifted his worried gaze between the pair. “Oh, dear. Oh, dear, dear, dear. I should’ve never involved them. If I had only known. Too much metal for such a lightning storm.”
“You couldn’t have known it would be that bad,” Dodger said.
“I should have known. I should have been prepared. I thought the rod and net would protect them. This is my fault. My fault.”
“Doc,” Dodger said as he laid a heavy hand on the grieving man’s shoulder. “Get yourself together. Weeping and wailing won’t fix ‘em.”
The doc closed his eyes, drew a deep breath to steady his nerves, then nodded at Dodger. “Of course. We must collect ourselves in times of distress. First things first. Henry, you and Duncan see what is left of your craft.”
“Who?” Henry said.
“Will do,” Duncan said, returning to the group and his normal size. He handed the other half of the device to the doc. “Here you go, sir.”
“Thank you,” the doc said.
“Who is Duncan?” Henry said as Duncan took him by the arm and led him to the fallen Jenny.
“I’ll explain later,” Duncan said.
The pair went to inspect the net as the doc returned his attention to the mechanical men.
Brian and Baby returned from her safe retreat, lumbering into the field once more. “Slow down, hon. Slow down.”
“I see you’ve lost control of her,” Dodger said.
“Not so much lost control as regained her trust. I think the collar was disabled during the whole lightning storm. Is there anything we can do to help here?”
“Start heading back to the camp,” Dodger said. “It will take you much longer to return than us.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” the doc said. “Go. We will meet you back as soon as we can.” As the elephant shuffled away, the doc continued to walk around the pair of slumped machines, tapping his chin in thought. He stopped and snapped in the direction of the Rhino. “Sarah! Bring me my tools. Quickly.”
She retrieved the doc’s tools from the Rhino and ran to his side, eager to help out. “Do you think you can fix them?”
“We shall see, young lady. We shall see.” The doc also wrapped his fingers in a handkerchief before he reached out to press on Torque’s breastplate. It popped open with a click, revealing the machine’s manual input keypad. The doc pulled the keyboard out and set into the inner workings with a screwdriver, twisting this and tightening that.
No response came from Torque.
“Oh come on you hunk of junk,” the doc said. “I know you’re still in there.” The doc pressed a few more buttons, and shifted a few more bits, but nothing happened. He shed the handkerchief as the machine cooled down enough to touch barehanded, which he did, pressing button after button on the keyboard.
Still no reaction from Torque.
“You think you can leave me like this?” the doc shouted. He slammed his fist against the keyboard. “You think you can just lay down on the job and desert your duties you worthless pile of scrap metal? If you think you can abandon me in my hour of need, you have another thing coming!” The doc snatched a wrench from the tool belt and used it to strike the clockwork man against the head.
A loud metal twang echoed across the field.
Dodger was just about ready to jump in to pull the man off of the machine before he damaged it any further in his remorseful rage. Before Dodger could intervene, someone else managed to keep the doc from striking the clockwork man again.
That was Mr. Torque himself.