"Ladies and gentlemen," Dr. Phineas Jasper said dramatically, "I give you our latest invention, The Mobile Chronobubble."
"This is a tremendous breakthrough in time travel," Professor Andrej Turgenyev continued, "With this device; we possess the ability to traverse the Ultra Time Line at will." Dr. Rhada Nuveen, Director General of the Temporal Management Agency and the group of Time Agents listened with interest. The machine before them appeared to be simplicity itself; a thick round plate topped with a control panel on a strut and ringed with a waist high railing.
"It will launch from and return to the TAP Portal Stage" Professor Turgenyev continued, "In the interim it can be operated independently drawing power from a mini-fusion converter to energize the Probability Redundancy Generator coils." "What is it's range in the Time Stream?" Dr. Nuveen asked.
"Theoretically infinite," Dr. Jasper replied. "It's only limitation is the endurance of it's operators." Derek and Crystal exchanged glances. Things had been quiet as of late. The Rectifiers were lying low, no doubt plotting something that would cause major disruptions in the time line, but their activities hadn't been detected for weeks.
"Tests have been successfully conducted using small mammals by setting the controls to depart and return within one hour with no malfunctions," Dr. Jasper said. "Now we are seeking volunteers for test runs." "We'll give it a whirl, Doc," Crystal said as she and Derek stepped forward.
"Both Agent 24 and Agent 66... ," muttered Jasper. "This is ... um ... highly irregular. One person would suffice to..." "Sorry Doc, we're a package deal," Derek interjected. "We both go or find someone else." Doctor Jasper looked at Prof. Turgenyev, then at Rhada Nuveen for help and finding only shrugs said "I suppose it will be alright. Let me show you how to operate the Bubble."
Their first impression was one of eerie isolation as the bubble traversed the Ultra Time Line, or as the Time Techs called it the 'Mother Line'. They both had taken numerous trips through time via the TAP, but the transfer had been instantaneous; now they watched human history pass before them in living tableaus of peace and war, civilization and savagery, sickness and death, pomp and poverty, growth and decline in succeeding waves. Oddly, not a sound was heard as they were not in time, but passing through it.
They stopped briefly to watch a revolution or a battle as the Bubbles nav screen identified the date and the event they were watching. So intent were they that when the platform shuddered and the control display began flashing bizarrely it came as a shock that something was wrong.
"This control boards gone haywire," Derek said disgustedly.
"Can we raise headquarters?" Crystal said, steadying herself as the platform lurched.
"Our implants don't have the range and this thing is inoperable." "Are they tracking us from the Looking Glass chamber?" "No way to tell. We're on our own." "Where are we going, it's pitch black out there." "Gods only know, I guess we'll find out when we arrive." "What if we're lost in the Time Stream forever?" "I couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather be lost with." "I love you Derek." "I love you Crystal." They embraced and kissed as the Bubble emerged into an azure sky filled with fleecy white clouds. Flocks of geese flew by and the forests below them were a riot of brilliant fall colors.
"When we left it was spring, where are we?" Crystal said, looking about in fascination.
"We appear to be somewhere in the northeastern United States," Derek replied. "We may very well be in an alternative time stream." The control panel suddenly lit up. "This thing's working again, what the hell... ?" "Derek!" Crystal shouted, "There's a 'copter heading our way. I don't recognize the model and it's black with no markings." "Let's wait and see if it opens fire. I can make this thing do cartwheels if needs be, besides I don't think bullets will penetrate the Bubble. We're not in their time." The 'copter closed with them and hovered. A door in it's side slid open and two figures held up a sign 'Welcome Home', flipped it over to read, 'Follow us' and gave Derek and Crystal a 'thumbs up' gesture. The hatch closed and the 'copter flew ahead and hovered.
"Derek, those were odd looking uniforms on the men in that 'copter. Where are we?" "One way to find out," he replied. The Bubble moved forward and the 'copter accelerated ahead of it.
They flew for several miles over colorful forests, sparkling lakes, rushing streams and grassy meadows, but there was no sign of human habitation.
The 'copter dipped suddenly, dove toward the trees and disappeared. There was no plume of smoke, no gout of fire, it simply vanished.
Derek aimed at the spot where the 'copter disappeared and plummeted toward it; the trees rippled like heat waves and faded away. The Bubble emerged into what appeared to be a massive underground hangar filled with aircraft.
As the 'copter's rotors stopped, Derek landed near it, shut down the Bubble and they looked about them. The parked aircraft looked familiar, yet different somehow. An open top vehicle approached, its polished hood and body reflecting the banks of arc lights in the ceiling.
Four men were seated in a separate compartment behind the driver; two in uniform, two in suits. As they drew closer, the men's uniforms looked familiar, but there was something odd about them.
The vehicle stopped, the driver hopped out and opened the rear door. The men alighted with grins on their faces.
One in uniform said "Welcome back, we were becoming concerned when we lost contact. Did you have a malfunction?" "An anomaly, General," said one of the men in a suit. "The Time Skimmer worked flawlessly. Is that not so, Auguste?" It took Derek a second to realize he was Auguste. "Flawlessly," he repeated.
"And you, Marguerite, did Major Pilot Valjean perform his duties effectively?" "Yes, effectively," Crystal answered.
"Excellent. We will have a debriefing at 1500 hours in the conference room." "Sergeant!" the other uniformed man barked.
A squad of soldiers carrying sub-machine guns dogtrotted to the Bubble and formed a cordon around it.
"Follow my lead," Derek whispered to Crystal. He attempted to step from the platform, but stumbled, almost fell, then clung to the railing looking dazed. Crystal went to his aid, but also stumbled, sank to her knees and hung her head.
"It must be a delayed reaction to the stress of the journey through time," the other man in a suit said. "We must delay the debriefing until they have recovered. Take them to their quarters."
The car stopped at the door of a dome shaped building, the words 'Valjean, Auguste, Lt. Col., Test Pilot' stenciled on it.
"Your quarters, Colonel," the driver said.
Crystal stepped from the vehicle with Derek and the driver said "I was ordered to take you to your quarters, Major Seurat." "I will return there presently, Corporal," Crystal snapped, "You may go." "But, my orders ... as you wish, Major." With a purr from it's exhaust, the car rolled away.
Once they were behind the locked door, they swept the rooms for detection or observation devices and found none. The living quarters were Spartan, but comfortable. Uniforms, civilian clothing, shoes and boots were in a closet, toilet articles and personal items in storage baskets in the bathroom, but no pictures hung on the wall and there were no books to be seen.
Derek picked up a flat, rectangular tablet which illuminated and said "Subject." "History, American." "Not valid." "History, World." "Searching, History, World, era?" "Significant event chronology; 15th Century to present." "Searching, Subject found." Derek saw touch screen buttons and began scrolling the printing that appeared, Crystal reading with him. It was a totally different history than they knew. Some place names were familiar, some were not. After a time he lay the tablet down and they stared at each other. Several minutes later Crystal spoke.
"We cannot maintain these identities for very long. If we come under suspicion or the real Auguste and Marguerite show up, we'll be arrested and imprisoned. We may never get a chance to regain control of the Bubble and we'll be trapped here." "Agreed, I'll tackle those guards, you activate the bubble and we'll..." A knock at the door interrupted him.
"Auguste, it's Colonel Scudder. May I come in?" "Here goes nothing," Derek muttered and Crystal winked at him. "Of course you may, Colonel." The door opened and a stocky man with salt and pepper hair entered, insignia of rank gleaming on his khaki garrison cap. Derek and Crystal stood at attention.
"At ease, you two," He said with a dismissive gesture. "I'm glad you made it back in one piece. I know the brass approves of von Stromm and his inventions, me, I'm not so sure." "It was quite a ride, sir," Derek replied, waiting until the Colonel was seated before he and Crystal sat together on the couch.