Good Morning, Operatives

Thunderhorse and Doc are enjoying breakfast in the lounge. Thunderhorse is wolfing down a bowl of Space Puffs and beer while Doc enjoys a coffee, croissant, and cigarette. Thunderhorse snorts in laughter at the TV as Bugs Bunny once again gets the better of Elmer Fudd.

Dr. Ritenrong comes into the room with the Judge's overcoat. He looks exhausted, but pleased, as if he finally solved a problem.

"Good mornin', Steve," says Doc, surprised at the professors presence. He's usually locked away in his lab all day. "You're looking much better today."

"Good morning, gentlemen." Steven lays the data on the coffee table before he joins them on the large, semicircular couch. "Thank you, Doc. I am feeling good."

"How's work on the Autopilot going?"

"He's dead," Dr. Ritenrong replies remorselessly.

"Dead? How did that happen?" Doc asks.

"I tried to rewire his cranial unit to accept larger memory chips, but I overloaded the circuit and his brain shorted out. Unfortunately, I don't have a spare."

"Can we get by without an Autopilot? I mean, can you fly the ship on your own?"

"About as well as a bus driver can fly a passenger jet. Most of the systems can be automated by the computer, but in case of emergency, we're boned."

"Er, how likely is that?" Doc asks, becoming more concerned.

"Well, there's no orbital traffic in this era, so that removes most of the risk. However, there's always a chance of solar storms, meteors, and space pirates. Right now I'd say the chance of emergency is about 1 in a million. In my experience, those odd are not good. But there' s nothing we can do about that. The real problem is that I can't maneuver the ship through the asteroid field."

Doc almost chokes on coffee. "Sorry, why would you want to do that?"

"Asteroids are great for wormholes. Craters on asteroids are created and destroyed everyday. I've got a detailed mapping of the entire asteroid belt and a computer program that can predict almost every impact that has or will occur. Turns out, there's a portal to nearly every era in the asteroid belt. The tricky part is getting to them. Without careful maneuvering, we could hit one and damage the ship, or worse, change the outcome of the impact time-line."

"Okay, so where or when are we going that we need to go into the asteroid fields?" Doc asks. Dr. Ritenrong's wandering sense of conversation is always confusing and somewhat aggravating.

"Oh, we don't need to go into the asteroid fields. We can just orbit the solar system faster-than-lightspeed for a while to go back in time, or near-lightspeed to go forwards. That takes a while, though, sometimes months. I think we'll just leave the ship in 1835 and go into the pipe."

"Go where?" Doc asks again, frustrated. "Wait a minute, what pipe? The corncob pipe?"


"You got it back? How?"

"Not yet, I haven't." He checks his wristwatch, which is more like a bracer with a computer on it. "Give it five minutes."

"Okay, how will you get the pipe back?"

"It was so simple I couldn't see it. I get so hung up on taking care about not altering the course of history in any unpredictable ways, I sometimes forget how much control I actually have over the course of events. Please, finish your coffee. I need the cup."

Doc looks at him curiously. He gulps down the last sip and extends the cup towards the professor. Steve produces the Q-TIP device from his lab coat.

"I spent forever trying to trace the jacket's route through history, only to realize that it's in my hands. I've determined that the jacket is only about a hundred days old. The Judge and Captain went into the wormhole in the pocket about 180 hours ago. So they will emerge from the jacket 2,220 hours before the pocket is destroyed."

Dr. Ritenrong pulls a small, square device from his lab coat pocket. On one side of the device is a sticky tack, which Dr. Ritenrong adheres to the coffee cup. On the other side is a stopwatch display, which Dr. Ritenrong programs for a 2,220 hour countdown. He puts the cup on the table. He dips the Q-TIP in it, and clicks the button on the top. It sounds just like a pen clicking.

"Okay, the charge is set. Let's give it a minute or two, so we have time to get back in the cup."

"Let me get this straight," Doc says. "We're going into the coffee cup, which will take us three months into the future."


"Then we tear open the jacket pocket, which breaks the wormhole."


"Then we re-enter the coffee cup to arrive back at this time, where the Judge and Captain Daniels should be arriving."

"If my calculations are correct, yes. And I am very diligent about my calculations. I've run some tests already. When I first got the jacket I put in a tracking device, hoping to find it somewhere on Earth, in case they went backwards in time because I just got frustrated and tore open the pocket. But the tracer just showed up this morning, putting the wormhole's temporal zenith at about 90 hours ago."

"Doesn't that mean that the jacket is definitely going to be destroyed in three months? Why do we need to go into the coffee cup? Can't you just put a detonator on the jacket its self? Or just wait around three months and then tear it open?"

"I suppose so. In another causality chain perhaps that's what I did, and that's how I got the tracer back. But I figured a demonstration of the Q-TIP was in order."

Almost exactly on this cue, Doc, Steven, and Thunderhorse leap forth from the coffee cup. This is quite a shock to the Doc and Thunderhorse who were, until this exact moment, really enjoying their relaxing morning.

"Flaming teats of Loki!" Thunderhorse yells, throwing his cereal to the floor as he jumps up from the couch.

Standing Doc waves tentatively at himself. Sitting Doc waves back.

Dr. Ritenrong stands up. "That's our cue. Let's go." Doc and Thunderhorse approach the coffee cup cautiously. The Thunderhorses stare at their mirror images, trying to intimidate each other as they circle around each other, trading places.

New Doc takes the seat Original Doc was sitting in, saying "Watch out for the stool."

"Thanks," says Original Doc.

Original Dr. Ritenrong lifts his leg like he's going to stomp on the coffee cup. As he puts it down, he shrinks away into it, disappearing. Doc and Thunderhorse look at each other. Thunderhorse goes next, following Steve's procedure. He, too, disappears into the coffee cup as an expression of both surprise and fear washes across his face.

Doc goes next. He puts his leg down into the coffee cup. The coffee cup becomes a huge tunnel as the universe balloons around him. Immediately, the other side appears, as if he simply stepped through a doorway. The world beyond is giant, but shrinking. He steps right out the other side, right off the edge of a bench in Dr. Ritenrong's lab. He stumbles and hits his shin on a stool.

Doc collects himself, his shin smarting but okay. The Judge's jacket is lying on the bench next to the coffee cup. The time bomb on the cup is counting down the remaining few minutes until the cup shatters. Dr. Ritenrong is already here, working quietly on a robotic head in the corner. He waves a quick greeting at the party, and returns to work. The Host is also here, waiting with a broom and dustpan.

"Okay, here we go," Dr. Ritenrong says as he picks up the jacket. He turns the jacket pocket out and gives it a yank. It doesn't budge. "Some good stitching on this. Here, Thunderhorse."

Thunderhorse takes the jacket. He yanks hard, grunting. The pocket resists little and is quickly torn away. He hands the jacket back.

"Alright. That's it. Let's go back." Dr. Ritenrong says. He climbs back up on the bench and steps into the coffee cup. Thunderhorse again follows him, and Doc after.

Once again, the universe grows huge as he steps into the cup. This time is easier, now that Doc knows better what to expect. He steps gracefully from one end of time to another, arriving back in the lounge where he, the Thunderhorses, and Dr. Ritenrongs are meeting each other again.

"Flaming teats of Loki!" Thunderhorse yells, throwing his cereal to the floor as he jumps up from the couch. Again.

Doc waves at his sitting self. The Old Doc waves back.

Old Dr. Ritenrong stands up. "That's our cue. Let's go." The Thunderhorses do their little mirror dance as they trade places.

Almost without thinking, Doc says "Watch out for the stool." Then, almost experimentally, he adds "That first step is a doozy."

"Thanks," his former self replies. They that were step into the coffee cup, on their way to becoming those who they are now.

The jacket still rests on the coffee table. There's no sign of Judge Olden and Captain Daniels.

"It changed," Doc says.

"Hmm?" asks Steven.

"Before I said 'Watch out for the stool.' This time I added 'that first step is a doozy.' It changed."

"Yeah, that happens all the time. We never return to the timelines from whence we came. It always changes. Changing the future often has just as much effect on the past as changing the past has on the future. It's usually something benign like that. I've got to take those anti-causal effects into my calculations all the time. It can be a real bitch."

Dr. Ritenrong calls in the Host, who arrives promptly. He hands the android the coffee cup. "Please take this to my lab and keep it in secure-store until, oh, say five minutes before the timer goes off."

"Of course, sir." The Host complies and takes the cup away.

Doc, Thunderhorse, and Ritenrong sit on the couch and watch cartoons for a while, although they watch the jacket more than the TV. They wait expectantly for the slightest sign.

Thunderhorse is easily distracted by the TV. Doc picks up the manual for the clone-o-mat and reads, intermittently glancing at the jacket. Steve stares at the coat intently.

Half an hour later, the pipe falls out of the pocket, followed by a gold pocket watch and some coins. Dr. Ritenrong springs to his feet and picks the stuff up off the floor. He's practically jumping for joy.

"We've got it!" he says, waving the pipe above his head. "I'm going to start my calculations immediately! If the other two show up, just shove them back in the jacket. Get them back on their timelines!"

"But the ship burned and sank, we can't send them back to their deaths," Doc says, but Dr. Ritenrong had already ran out of the room.

Doc ponders what to do. He goes back to his room and straps on his pistol. He grabs Thunderhorse's axe and brings it into the media room.

"Here. Just in case they want to start trouble." Doc says. Thunderhorse nods. Doc goes back to reading, trying to put the butterflies out of his stomach.

The manual is technical and difficult to follow, but engrossing. Two hours later, Thunderhorse is asleep on the couch, snoring loudly. The TV is playing a history show about the American Revolution. Doc had almost forgotten about Judge Olden and Captain Daniels.

But suddenly they're here, falling out of the jacket pocket like sacks of potatoes. Thunderhorse awakens with a start. Doc stands and offers a hand to help them up.

"Welcome aboard, gentlemen," Doc greets them. Captain Daniels accepts his offered hand and allows Doc to pull him up.

The Judge chooses to struggle to his feet on his own. "Where the HELL are we?!" he demands.


ERR said...

Decisions, decisions. Don't waste much time getting them into the jacket (if that's the way to go) or they won't end up back on the boat...

Doc said...


Fuck 'em. Stuff them in the jacket and send them on their way. I never liked the self-righteous judge anyway. With any luck, they will find a timeline with a life-raft. These are the first people I've screwed in history, but I'm sure they won't be the last.

Have I got anything handy that floats that I can give them and I don't have to order on the duplicator? May as well give them a sporting chance, even if they are from Michigan.


Doc said...

Although, if they didn't go in on time, for whatever reason, they might make for interesting characters to have around. A crooked self-righteous minister/judge, and an uncouth Militia Captain with a grudge. We are recruiting after all, and nothing says adventuring fun like snakes on a plane.

Just a thought.


Doc said...

Sorry I've been away. I'll keep up better, I promise.


Doc said...

And should the captain and the judge give us any trouble, don't be afraid to rough them up a bit and then call the security robots.

And remind them that President Jackson thanks them for their support and looks forward to their vote this coming election.