Monday, May 11, 2015

Five Timelines and a Ghost

Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds posted it was time for a sub-genre boogie. Out of a list of twenty literary sub-genres, we are to select two from a hat or other random number selection methods, and merge them together.

My random number generator gave me a Haunted House and Time Travel.

I just want to say this up front: I make no guarantee that this result is fit for human consumption. Probably NSFW as I channeled my inner cuss-monster. Mostly because I wasn't finished swearing at the random number generator.

And the only things that came to mind were the movies Ghostbusters and Timeline, and I realized I have had little exposure to either of these sub-genres. Over 400 movies stacked on my shelf and maybe three of them fit these elements. So this will either help me or hinder me. I'll let you decide which.

Anyway, we have 1500 words, which I know is 500 more than Chuck usually gives us, but I could easily have used more. I apologize for throwing you in the middle, but here's where the action is. Just go with it.

Without further ado, I give you:  Consequence and Convergence

“Get those lines in place!” Kate’s handheld radio screamed with Matthew Jenks’s voice. 

A different voice responded, “North side anchored.”

Jenks’s voice returned. “East-side?”

Hold your horses, Jenks! Kate thought, skipping a keyed reply as she foisted hurricane -rated straps through the eye of the anchor. The pulleys made things easier, but it was still a seventy-pound draw and Kate’s muscles burned through her arms and shoulders, unaccustomed to the physical labor. Of all the days to be short-staffed, equinoxes and solstices were the worst. And this vernal equinox was a stark raving bitch.

The farmhouse twisted, struggling to maintain integrity against the forces that raged war against it. A slate tile from the gabled roof stripped free, catching Kate’s cheek as it spiraled to the ground, throwing her off-balance. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” She scrambled to reclaim her grip on the straps, feeling the fire of friction as they slipped through her elk-leather gloves. 

Collier – shirtless, again – ran from the north-side of the farmhouse and slid in beside her, raking dirt in a rooster tail. Kate welcomed his solid weight on the lines. “Where the hell’s Manu?” she asked.

“Dunno. Your Danny’s working the Rift, trying to splice – Whoa! This fucker’s strong!”

“No shit, Sherlock,” she scowled.

Seizing the wild strap, he dug his heels into the berm of the anchor and leaned back, grunting from effort, the veins of his arms bulging. “Now or never, Kate!”

With the slack Collier provided, Kate maneuvered the knot with much more authority, shackling the lines to the anchor.  “All right, she’s fastened.”

Kate and Collier’s radios both crackled with Jenks’s urgent voice, “Status, Kids?”

Collier panted, clutching his knees, as Kate keyed the voice-out, “East side anchored.”

“Brady?” the radio asked. “Brady, come in! We need that south-side secured!”

Kate took a deep breath and one last tug to check the knots. Collier heaved a sigh. “Worst equinox ever,” he said, and broke into a run for the south station. Kate was fast on his heels.

The south-side straps flapped loose in the wind like writhing snakes, slamming the pulley casings into the side of the farmhouse. Kate felt her heart in her throat. Both Manu and Brady? Where the hell were they?

Collier leapt, muscled arms outstretched like a flying squirrel, and plucked the lines from the air, making it look easy. Kate dove for the anchor and snapped the locking bar into place. Collier tugged and pulled, Atlas carrying the world, to get her the lines. Without verbal cues, they repeated the routine. When the straps were anchored, Kate radioed the report.

The farmhouse still strained at the straps, but once anchored, the struggle lost most of its strength. A rushed job, the team hadn’t had much time to set things up properly, and with the turbulence of three converging timelines trying to rip the house apart, the situation was far from stable. 

Jenks stood at his computers when Kate returned to base station with Collier. Kate expected to see Manu and Brady behind the blast shield, bruised maybe, but gearing up for the sweep of the farmhouse. It was just Jenks though, with Patel on the tuning forks. Patel flashed her a glance. “You’re bleeding.”

“Damned shingle,” she said, wiping her cheek. The overlapping timelines folded and fractured, distorting visibility. Kate toggled the settings for the blast shield but saw little improvement. “You see Manu anywhere? Or Brady?” Kate asked, straining to see through the haze.

Jenks growled from his computer screen, “I think they got sucked into the house. Manu said something about a stowaway or a trapped girl before he disappeared. Running tracers now, but there’s a lot of interference.”

“No way this is just a T-3,” Collier said, tone full of skepticism. “It feels more like five timelines.”

“Check the readings yourself,” Jenks pointed at his computer screen. 

“I haven’t trusted that software’s readings since the crack-house incident in Baltimore.” Collier folded his arms, challenging. “It tell you where the epicenter is yet?”

Jenks made a face but said nothing, and typed at his keyboard so fast Kate thought the keys would catch fire. Turbulence howled around them, and Kate felt tremors starting in the earth. “Hey Patel,” she turned, “we in over our heads or what?”

“Always. Radio Belekov,” Patel chirped from his forks. “See where he is on that splice.”

Kate flicked her look of pleading deference to Collier. She wasn’t ready to talk to her husband yet. Collier shot her a knowing smile and fished his radio from its belt holster. “Danny,” he said, keying the mic, “Ravi’s asking for status.”

A minute of solid static replied. Collier changed position, divining a better signal and gaining words. “--got the splice to the minor, working the major now. Patel got a song for me yet?”

Collier spun, the question repeating in the look he gave Patel. Patel waggled a hand. “A solid almost,” Collier replied.

“Okay. I’ll be ready. Oh, tell Kate I’m sorry I’m an asshole.”

Kate snatched the radio from Collier’s hands, fueled with venom. “The term I used was ass-hat and I’m not ready to forgive you yet.”

Jenks tossed a curious look over his shoulder. “Trouble in paradise?”

Kate groaned. “Do yourself a favor. Marry the girl next-door. This long-distance, crossed-time bullshit wears thin most days.”

“The girl next door is already married.” Jenks’s computer screen lit up with a waterfall of code. “Thank you Gorgeous! Epicenter is top of the staircase.”

“It’s always the top of the staircase.” Kate handed the radio back to Collier. “Since Manu and Brady aren’t here, you and me get to go wading in the dark.”

Collier turned pink. “So many ways to take that, Kate.”

“Oh for—“ she held up her left hand, “married, remember?”

“Whose fault is that?” Teasing her sparked a light in his eyes and she hated him for it. “Oh come on, you know you left yourself open for it.”

Jenks broke up the exchange. “Do I need to remind you that Manu and Brady are probably trapped in that house?”

Collier tossed her a time-hazard, reflective suit from the prep box and she flipped him a bird. It made sense at the time. He laughed, suiting up. “I’m surrounded by ass-hats,” she muttered.

The farmhouse roared and crackled as another tremor passed beneath them. She zipped up the suit just as Patel shouted “Eureka!”

“Got a song?” Kate asked.

“All five notes.”

Collier clapped Jenks’s shoulder. “See, I told you this wasn’t a T-3.”

“Yeah, no one likes a smartass.” Jenks shrugged him off. “Watch for Manu and Brady. The tracers still haven’t located them. My guess is that they’re both too close to the epicenter of this whale to get a reading.”

Kate zipped up the suit and engaged the tracking cuff, its vibrations against her pulse both annoying and reassuring. Patel handed two pre-programmed tuners to Collier, one of them Collier passed along to her. “Lower frequencies first,” Patel reminded them, though it wasn’t necessary.

“Thanks,” Kate said, securing the tuner to her suit. She waved her cuff. “Jenks, you picking us up?” 

“Loud and clear. Take her slow and steady, but hurry it up will you?” 

Jenks was full of contradictions. Kate sighed and fell into Collier’s shadow, using him as a turbulence shield. Time screamed as they punched through the fractured folds, the history and future of the house fighting for dominance. Though he was less than a foot in front of her, Collier began to disappear in the haze. She picked up pace and gripped his belt. There was no way she was going to lose track of him.

Visibility plunged to zero as the epicenter sucked all the light from the surrounding space. Collier inched Kate forward, and she could hear the faint ripple of his echo-location sensor. They found the staircase and climbed. She felt the moment they crossed into the eye: the turbulence dissipated and visibility returned, air fled her lungs and her suit breathed for her. It was a sensation she never quite got used to. 

Collier stopped short. “Shit, you seeing this?” his whisper echoed around her.

She peered out from behind her living turbulence-shield. A specter stood suspended a foot above the landing at the edge of the stairs. “No way! The epicenter is a ghost? How is that possible?”

“It’s not. Bloody fucking scientists! Who in their right mind looks at time travel and thinks, no way that could go wrong. Let’s punch a hole through time and hang the consequences.”

“We’re not Ghostbusters, Collier. How do we fix this? And where are Manu and Brady?”

“Idiots probably thought they could un-stick Casper and ended up in the wrong time zone.”

Jenks’s voice crackled through Kate’s radio. “Patel says there’s a sixth timeline converging. You making any progress?”

She keyed up, “Engaging tuners now. Let us know when Patel cracks the last frequency. But Houston, we gotta problem.”

Okay so that's what I've got. Feel free to leave a comment if you like, or not. It's fine either way. Thank you for stopping by!