Kemp smiled at Deloris. “This is it, doll. Today, we put our work to the test. We prove that time travel is possible.”
“Or not,” she retorted. “I keep telling you that I don’t have a good feeling about this. I don’t think we’re ready.”
The red-headed man with three-days of unshaven, orange scruff scoffed, “This is science, baby. We don’t have room for feelings or thoughts. Only data and cold, hard facts.”
“Yes, but those cryptic messages that you keep receiving back through your ‘time machine’ sound more like a Nigerian scammer than someone from the future. I keep telling you I got a bad feeling about this. We should let someone know.”
“And let them get all the credit? No, way! I worked hard for this. But don’t worry, as soon as I get back, we’ll let the higher-ups know. Okay?”
“And what if you don’t come back? Or what if something worse happens?”
“Oh, c’mon, Deloris. For crying out loud. Why do you have to be such a pessimist? Can’t you just be positive for once? Especially on a day like today. Sheesh.”
The dark-haired woman’s eyes flashed fire and fury. But she bit her tongue and frowned. She turned back to the console so he wouldn’t see her wipe away the hot tear brought by his scathing remark.
Kemp sat down at the opposite terminal and began typing furiously away at the keyword while humming a tune off-key. She had once thought it cute. Now, it irritated her.
Deloris regretted ever bringing this idea to Kemp in the first place. He had seemed like such a nice guy at the time. But the man had changed as their work progressed.
The man walked over and stood under the portal. He shoved a lock of red hair from off his forehead. Checking the wires to make sure everything was connected properly.
Kemp began taking over the project like it had been his idea in the first place. He became more arrogant and bossy with each progressive discovery. Never mind that it was her ideas that brought about each breakthrough. But he never acknowledged that it was her input that got them to where they were.
Deloris watched as he moved to the monitors to make a few final adjustments.
She couldn’t believe that she had once been in love with Kemp. At least not this version of him. Deloris had seriously considered walking away many times, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of taking credit for her ideas and everything she had done.
Kemp came back to his terminal and threw himself in his chair with a smug, satisfied grin. He typed furiously away again.
No, Deloris had a better idea in mind. Once this time machine worked, she would go back in time and warn herself not to let Kemp in on the project. And she would bring herself the blueprint so she could accelerate the development process.
Finally, Kemp spun around in his chair and announced that they were ready to begin. She nodded in agreement. Still lost in thought.
Deloris wondered briefly how she would manage without him. There were things that she needed him for. Granted, the ideas were hers even though he was the one who actually executed them. But why did he have to be such a douche and take all the credit?
“Earth to Deloris. Are you there? Are you ready? It’s go time, woman. Let’s get a move on it, woman.”
She scowled at him. “Of course, I’m ready.”
“Sheesh, girl. You don’t have to be so touchy. What’s wrong with you today?”
Deloris bit her tongue. She would definitely go back in time and remove him from the project. She could find some other person to take his place. It was a time machine, after all. She could go back as many times as she needed until she found the right person.
The thought crossed her mind that he might come back with her idea and try to remove her from the timeline. She would have to act quickly. As soon as this thing worked today, she would send her past self a message three years earlier. The day she met Kemp.
“C’mon, D!” Kemp said right behind her ear.
Deloris jumped. She hadn’t been paying attention and seen him come up beside her.
“Oh, that’s cute. You’re just doodling my name on that paper. You surprise me sometimes, Deloris. I thought you were angry at me.”
Kemp didn’t wait for a reply. He rushed over to stand in the portal.
“Okay, I’m ready when you are. Fire away,” the man ordered.
Deloris fingered the keyboard. Prepared to start the process. But then paused.
“We never talked about when I should send you?” she said.
“Just send me back five minutes into the past,” he said impatiently.
“But wouldn’t we have seen you already? You should have appeared five minutes ago.”
“Of course not, babe. Because you haven’t pushed the button yet.”
“But in the future, I have.”
“Well, you obviously haven’t. Otherwise, I would already be here.” Kemp retorted.
“Maybe the machine doesn’t really work the way we think,” she said thoughtfully. “I really don’t think we should open this time portal without some security measures in place.”
“C’mon, woman. Not again. We’ve gone over this a million times. Let’s just get on with this already,” he sighed in exasperation. “Nothing can go wrong. We can always go back and undo this if something goes wrong.”
“We really need to inform the board.”
“They won’t let us proceed and tie us up for another ten years. Don’t you want to find out what happened before you were born, and what will happen in the future?”
“We need to get some security guards in here.”
“Why? Do you think I’m gonna come back any crazier than I already am?”
“We need to have an emergency crew in place.”
“Nothing is going to happen. It’ll be fine. The messages have been telling us exactly what to do till now. That’s how we made it this far. If we don’t hurry up, they might get tired of waiting and send their messages farther back in time to someone else.”
“Yes, but what if those messages weren’t really from our future selves?”
“Oh, c’mon, lady. Don’t start now. You’ve never brought these questions up before even though you’ve considered them. You want this just as badly as I do. Why are you bringing them up now? Sheesh. C’mon. I’m the one that’s putting my neck on the line here. And I’m prepared to accept the risk. All you have to do is push the button. Just go ahead and push it already!”
Kemp’s voice increased in volume and frustration.
“No!” Deloris replied firmly. “This was my idea, and it’s my project. I’m not going to let you ruin it.”
“What? Your project? Since when? We both worked on it together. And your idea? What are you talking about? I’m the one who told you about my discovery of these Flashing Roumbernites deep in those French caves that I discovered. Before I ever met you. I showed you my team’s research about its effects on time and space. Before I even knew you existed. So, if you think that your bright idea of harnessing all my previous research means you own this project, you are completely mistaken, buddy. Now, push that button already and send me back in time.”
“You just happened to travel to France? Just happened to go down into some mysterious cave that you’ve never revealed its location? And just happened to discover Flashing Roumbernites?” Deloris spat.
“Yes. Of course,” Kemp replied.”What are you insinuating? That the messages told me where to find the Flashing Roumbernites? That would have been impossible. We didn’t start receiving messages until after we found it.”
“And until I came up with the time travel idea,” Deloris pouted.
“No, we received the first message before you came up with that idea,” he growled.
“No, it’s not,” she whined.
Kemp sighed in exasperation. “It’s easy to prove. We can go back and look at my journal. I’ve recorded every important idea, detail, and even there.”
The man stomped down from under the carved ring of Flashing Roumbernite. He stormed over to his computer and pulled up his logs. Kemp clicked through various links and scrolled down the page.
“Look here,” he gloated. “I found it. Dated January 23rd.”
He scrolled down a bit more before reading out loud, “A mysterious item materialized out of nowhere beside the Flashing Roumbernite today. As we discussed the strange event over dinner, Deloris suggested that someone might be using it to contact us from the future. Our initial hypothesis is that we might be able to harness its strange properties to contact whoever sent this and eventually be able to connect with them. She is such an intelligent woman. I love the way her mind works.”
“Really?” Deloris asked.
“Really, what?” Kemp replied.
“Do you think I’m an intelligent woman? Do you really love the way my mind works?”
“Of course, doll. You know, I do. Why would you even doubt that?”
“Because you never tell me those kinds of things? You don’t tell me how you feel about me. About us.”
“What? Oh, c’mon. Sure we have our ups and downs. But you know I love you. I’d do anything for you.”
“Sure, babe. Why else do you think I listen to your crazy time-traveling ideas and work my tail off to make it actually work?”
Deloris shrugged, “I don’t know. You don’t listen to me and make fun of my ideas. You do things your own way.”
“I do what it takes to make things happen. Most of the time, I know that what you are suggesting won’t work, but I understand what you want, and I get the end result you want. So, I get the result you want, even if I don’t do it the way you’re telling me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
“Well, it makes you seem arrogant and better than others. You make these snide remarks that make me want to cry.”
“Oh, grow up, girl. That’s just the way I am. You should know that better than anybody. That’s the way I am with everyone.”
“But I’m not everyone,” she pouted.
“I know, baby. Or course not. Come here.”
Kemp reached out and gave her a long hug. She buried her face in his shoulder. Relief and joy washing away the anxiety and resentment that had been building up over the past few weeks.
Deloris took a deep breath and wiped the corner of her eye before looking back up.
“Thanks, Kemp. I needed to hear that,” she sighed softly. “I didn’t think you liked me anymore.”
“Of course, I like you. I love you.”
“Really?” she asked again. Pleading for assurance.
“Of course. I keep saying that. What do I have to do to prove it to you?”
“Don’t initiate the time portal. Not till we get make sure this is what it really seems.”
Kemp scowled and threw himself back in the chair, “I thought you’d want something easy. Like a diamond ring. Look, I already bought one. Just so you know. I was going to give it to you as soon as this project was a success. C’mon. We’re so close.”
Now, it was Deloris’ turn to sit back. “What? You really bought me a ring? You want to marry me?”
“Yes, doll. You’re the only woman I’ve ever wanted to marry. We think so much alike. We can do great things together. We belong together.”
“Fine. Just to wrap up this phase of the project. For the record, though, I don’t like this. ot one bit. I don’t think we should do this. I have a bad feeling about this. I still think we should wait.”
“Duly noted, my dear. Just one more quick experiment, and then we’ll take some time off to document and publish our research. We’ll be famous. After we’ll get married in Greece. Honeymoon in Bora Bora. When we get back, we’ll pick up where we left off. Everyone will know what we are doing. That’ll give them time to set up security measures in place. How does that sound?”
“Yeah. I like it,” Deloris replied with a smile. “I guess we do have to prove that our theory actually works. Otherwise, no one will believe us. Worse, we’ll just be the laughing stock of the scientific community.”
“I love the way your mind works there, little lady. But don’t worry. This will work.”
“No, we have to be realistic and acknowledge that it might not work the way we think. Or that we might not even get it right the first time. It took Thomas Edison ten thousand tries to create the first light bulb.”
“Stop being such a pessimist,” Kemp growled. “Think positive. Besides, old Thomas didn’t have someone on the other side telling him how to create his light bulbs. I think we stand a much better chance of success. C’mon.”
Kemp jumped up and bounced around like a young boy on Christmas day. It made Deloris smile. Maybe she was just being a pessimist. It had almost cost her a future wedding. If he hadn’t taken the time to say all this now, she would have changed the past as soon as he got back.
Deloris breathed a sigh of relief as she settled back into her seat. She waited for Kemp to get into position.
“I’m gonna ask one last time. You sure you want to go through with this? We can run some other tests first.” she asked.
“Yes. I am absolutely positive. We’ve already discussed this. Any other test has so many variables that we wouldn’t be sure of the results. The only way to be certain of the outcome is for one of us to actually experience it.”
“Fine,” Deloris sighed. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I won’t,” Kemp said, flashing his super charming smile.
It was what she called his fake smile. She knew it was just as nervous as she was, even though he acted so positive and upbeat. He didn’t fool her any.
“Okay. We’re ready,” she said.
Kemp gave her two thumbs up.
“Three. Two. One,” Deloris counted down before pressing a large, red button to initiate the portal.
Just as the instructions they received in their previous message had stated, a soft glow began to fill the portal around Kemp.
But something else she didn’t expect began to take place as well. Long bolts of blueish-white light began to flow out in all directions. It frightened her.
Deloris stood up to get a better view of what was going on but then cowered back down when the beams moved in her direction.
“What’s going on, Kemp!” she shouted with her voice quavering nervously.
Frightened, Kemp didn’t move. He stood absolutely still. Waiting for things to calm down.
“I think you’d better shut it down, Deloris,” he thundered. “Something isn’t right.”
“What do you think I’m trying to do!” she replied desperately.
Deloris typed furiously to close down the program. But nothing seemed to be working. She tried to shut it down manually, but that didn’t work either. She was growing increasingly nervous.
She looked up to where he was pointing. The power source. Deloris ran over and unplugged the system. Nothing happened.
“It’s not working,” she shouted.
“Hit the circuit breaker panel like I showed you,” he ordered.
Deloris ran over and flipped all the smaller switches. The lights and computer monitors began going off one by one. What that was done, she flipped the main breaker.
All the lights were out. The computer monitors off.
And yet the portal area within the Flashing Roumbernite continued to glow softly. The electrical field around it hummed softly. The bolts of light continued to flow and move around the room as if searching for a place to connect.
Kemp seemed to be safe within the portal, but Deloris had to dodge a roving beam moving in her direction.
“I think you’d better get in here with me, where it’s safe, Deloris.”
He stretched out his hand in her direction. She hesitated a moment but then reached out her hand to move toward him. Shuffling her way through the glowing darkness. But as she got closer, Deloris realized that he was fading away in front of her.
“Kemp! What’s going on?”
“I think it’s working, babe. I’ll see you in the past. Five minutes ago.”
“If that’s the case, why didn’t you appear five minutes ago, Kemp?”
“Because I haven’t gone yet, woman,” Kemp replied in an exasperated tone of voice. “Just give it time.”
And then he was gone. Fading away softly until she could no longer see the slightest trace of Kemp.
The bolts of flowing, bluish-white light grew shorter and smaller. They disappeared. Then the soft glow of the portal faded away.
There was only silence. The room completely dark.
“Kemp! Are you there? Can you hear me?”
A few moments. Five minutes. Forever.
But Kemp didn’t return. Not then. Not five minutes in the past. Not five minutes in the future.
After what seemed like an eternity, Deloris stumbled back through the darkness. Fumbling for the circuit breakers. Flipping on the main switch. Then one by one flipping on each of the other smaller breakers.
One by one, the lights came back on. One by one, the computer monitors flickered back into view. One by one, the computer systems whirred back to life. As if nothing had happened.
Everything looked just as it had a few minutes earlier. Except that Kemp was no longer there. Kemp was gone.
Deloris wanted to turn the portal back on. She wanted to jump in herself. To go after Kemp. Find him. Rescue him. Bring him back. Marry him in Greece. Go on that honeymoon in Bora Bora.
She resisted the urge. That would be foolish. No telling where Kemp had gone. No telling if he had gone anywhere. Maybe he had just dissipated into nothingness.
There was no telling if their controls actually worked. Maybe he was a thousand centuries in the past trying to avoid becoming a dinosaur snack. Perhaps he was a million millennia in the future watching time unfold. Or maybe he had just gone to a different dimension.
Well, not time to cry over spilled milk. Kemp had been a bit of an arrogant dork most of the time anyway. She’d figure things out with him if she ever saw him again.
Right now, she had to figure out a way to do some damage control here. She quickly shut down the security cameras and deleted the feed for the day. No sense in leaving it up for anyone else to see.
If she took credit for this idea, she would be responsible for Kemp’s disappearance. And if she said it was his responsibility, Kemp would get the glory if he returned someday.
Deloris sat down at her computer and began to type furiously. Putting her new plan in place.
Suddenly, the portal began to glow again. A bolt of blue light flickered and spanned the room. It buzzed and crackled overhead. Growing in intensity.
A dark form took shape in the portal. Then another. A musty scent filled the room. Deloris covered her mouth and coughed.
“Kemp! Is that you?” she exclaimed.
As they took form, she could see that they were men. But neither was Kemp. They were both larger and stronger. Both had long hair. Each held a long sword, unsheathed at their side.
But the strangest thing about them was that their eyes glowed a bright bluish-white. Almost the same hue as the bolts of electricity coming from the portal.
“Where is Kemp? And who are you?” she demanded to know.
“Kemp,” the taller of the two men growled with disdain as he stepped out from the portal. “Was that the name of the whiny, little man.”
Deloris noticed blood dripping from the edge of his sword. Her eyes widened in shock.
Her voice quavered as she asked, “Are you from the past or the future?”
The men looked at each other and laughed.
“Silly human thinks time travel is possible,” the larger man said to his companion with a laugh.
“You sent the messages. You said you were from the future. Helping us.” Deloris asked in confusion.
“I told you humans are gullible, Tanyl,” the larger spokesman said.
Tanyl guffawed loudly. “You were right, as always, my friend. This is going to be like taking candy from a baby. I can’t believe this was so easy.”
“Who are you?” she demanded, still shaking her head in shock.
She reached for the phone and dialed security. Tanyl, the shorter man who had appeared, reached out the edge of his sword and flicked it away from her ear.
“I think this is how they communicate, Alwin.”
“Let’s get what we need and leave for now. We’ll gather our troops and prepare the invasion. Now that the portal is open, we can come back when preparations are in order.” Alwin said.
“What of her?” Tanyl asked.
“Let her join the one she calls Kemp,” Alwin replied.
Tanyl raised his sword as if to strike her. Deloris’s mind whirled, trying to come up with an escape plan. She refused to die here like a loser. She stood to her feet and lifted her head defiantly.
“Take me with you. I created this portal. I can help you create others. To other locations in our world. Give you more access points. Our world is large. I can make your invasion easier. If you only enter through one portal, other countries will have time to gather and fight you. Push you back. You should come through multiple points of entry.”
“Silly, human. I wouldn’t trust you for a second. We already have a plan set in motion. We will infiltrate your world. Your kind will never know the Nemderians have arrived.”
She scoffed. “You underestimate us. You caught me by surprise, but my leaders know everything. They will soon know about you unless you have someone like me that understands how they think and can teach you our ways.”
“I think we should take her with us! She could be useful.” Tanyl said, lowering his sword to his side.
“No, it could be trickery. This human has the look of one who plays dumb to fool us. Yet all the while, she plots to overthrow us.”
Tanyl groaned and threw up his hands in exasperation, “You say that about everyone, silly.”
They began to jabber in a strange language. Deloris let them argue it out for a bit.
“Why would you help us and betray your people?” Tanyl finally asked as if willing her to convince his partner.
“Well, if Nemderia is going to attack us and kill us all, I want to be on the winning side, of course,” she replied as sincerely as she could.
“See,” Tanyl said, lifting his arms to his side as if proving a point to Alwin. “She is an intelligent woman. And she can help us.”
“Fine,” Alwin growled. “Bring her along. But I still don’t trust her. And if she does anything sneaky, I’ll cut her head off myself.”
Tanyl smiled at her. “Come, let us go and make preparations. We have much to do.”
They stepped toward the portal. A Nemderian on each side of her. She looked directly at the cameras in front of her knowing they were not recording. She had shut them off. Knowing that no one would see the feed or do anything about it. Hoping that she would be able to stay alive long enough to escape and return home.
The portal glowed softly. Bolts of light flowed out around the room. And then they were gone. The computers whirred busily. The monitors glowed brightly. The only evidence anyone had recently been there were a few drops of blood under the portal and the musty scent of the Nemderian warriors who had taken Deloris still wafting in the air.