Part 0 - Prologue - The Scientist and the Widow

Year 2170

Dr. Jeremiah Trace hurriedly walked down the hallway towards his secure lab. Trace was a tall and thin man with curly blonde hair that seemed to reach out in all different directions. His brown eyes took a momentary inventory of his outfit, true to form, he had a red collared shirt untucked from jeans with part of the collar hiding beneath his lab coat and the rest of it peeking out between his coat and hair. As he rushed down the hall in excitement, his blue converse shoes squeaked as they moved through the sterile environment. He was accompanied by Dr. Charles Sheppard, a shorter man with dark eyes and short dark hair. His face had a 5 o’clock shadow but the rest of his appearance was impeccable. He wore a black suit with a red tie and his white lab coat seemed more like a royal robe rather than a lightweight coat. While Trace scurried down the hall, Sheppard glided down the hallway, in no hurry to reach their destination. To Trace’s surprise, Sheppard could still keep up with the taller scientist’s long strides.

Truth be told, while Dr. Sheppard was a respected colleague in the time travel experimentation department, no one truly trusted him. He always seemed private and there were rumors of a scandal that occurred a few years ago but it had been wiped from all records and from public memory. All that Trace truly knew is that both scientists had been working towards a common end of better time travel measures but from different avenues. While Trace worked on traveling to different parts of time, Sheppard wanted to bring the past and future to the present. But, like most things Sheppard did, it was all talk. No results. Not to mention, who wanted the past in today’s timeline? It wasn’t just the risk of paradoxes adversely affecting the time stream but the common belief that this was the only truly enlightened generation. Why bring a barbarian into our world? Was the common belief.

Trace shook himself back to the present as this was his day after all and Sheppard’s shady past or far-fetched experiments meant nothing. He shook his head to catch the tail end of Sheppard’s longwinded review of today’s test experiment.

“Now, as previously mentioned, you are authorized for a one-time mission, and you will be allowed 1 hour. No more. You will take notes and observe. Do not get involved. That should be your objective. Your primary objective.”

“Primary objective is non-interference? I feel like that’s rather weak. Shouldn’t it be something like learn from our past to better our future?”

“Hardly,” responded an unamused Sheppard as he slowly turned toward Trace. “Your smart-ass comments will not move me to change my role in providing your final checklist before leaving. Honestly, I can’t believe that you got permission to run your own experiment. No lone scientist has been allowed to travel through time before, we’ve always been in team structures. If something were to go wrong, you could be stuck traveling through time and never able to come back home.”

“Well, if it was a television show, I might have a partner who could talk to me. Guide me through each episode’s mission or plot. You know, like ‘Quantum Leap?’”

Sheppard groaned and rolled his eyes at Trace, “I will never understand your obsession with television. Particularly 20th and 21st era television.”

“C’mon Sheppard. Aren’t you fascinated by the past? What were their dreams of the future? How have we maintained those dreams, bettered their dreams? What did they imagine to be the ‘new and coming thing?’”

The two men came to what looked like a dead end at the hallway limit. Both men placed their hands against the wall which allowed a keypad to appear out of the wall. Once both men entered individual code, they took turns entering into a passageway which did full body scans. Once complete, a computer voice played overhead confirming each man’s identity and allowing them to pass through to the other side.

Once they were through the security station, Sheppard picked up the conversation. “How many dreams never came into fruition? Or worse still, how many were corrupted? Would they be appalled or sorrowful if they saw our current society and we didn’t live up to their expectations?” Sheppard smiled slightly as though enjoying his role of devil’s advocate.

“Ever the optimist, Charles,” Trace sighed. Sheppard always sucked at hypotheticals.

“That’s Doctor Sheppard,” growled Sheppard, annoyed with the lack of respect from Trace.

Trace could have allowed himself to be offended by Sheppard but as he finally neared his laboratory, he could feel the electricity of excitement move up from his trembling fingers up and through his arms as he finally passed through the last set of doors that led to the dark passageway. Trace looked down at his hands as they visibly shook with nervous impatience. Trace looked up to see Sheppard watching him with raised eyebrows. Trace broke into his most impish grin.

The narrow room that they were in was usually where they parted in the morning. Trace would go forward to his small lab and Sheppard would go right into his laboratory. But today, this day, they both went straight into Trace’s office.

Trace’s lab was quite small. There was a raised platform on the far side of the room and a desk immediately in front of the door. Around the room were a few smaller tables littered with various metal instruments, leathers, electrical gadgets. All pieces to the greater puzzle. The walls were littered with historic newspaper clippings, maps of the night sky, and a few classic television posters.

Sheppard ran his hand gently across one of the tables as he surveyed the laboratory. He then turned to face Trace before mocking, “My aren’t you in need of spring cleaning.”

“I have never understood that phrase.”

“Clearly,” responded Sheppard churlishly before sitting at the computer. The chair creaked under Sheppard’s weight as the chairs were rarely utilized. Trace could rarely stay still for longer than two minutes together, much less sit in his chair for any extended time. But the chair seemed to settle under Sheppard and even allowed him to roll it back and forth as he adjusted the height of the chair. Once the chair was adjusted, Sheppard logged into the computer and began the VLOG. “Is he intentionally moving slowly or am I so excited that time has stopped for me?”

As Charles opened the appropriate program and began to prattle away on the computer, Trace grabbed what looked like a leather bracelet. He began the process of latching it into place and entering the various codes to turn on the electronic apparatus.

“Today is the first session with the first test. I am here with Doctor Trace who will use his portable time travel wristband–“ Sheppard paused and looked back at Trace in disgust, “Do I really have to say that mouthful every time? Can I say PTTW or PTT for short?”

“Just as long as you don’t call it a POS.”

Sheppard’s mouth curved in mock amusement before continuing, “I reserve that description for you. Anyway, aren’t you supposed to get undressed? That’s what Karina had to do with her orbs.”

“That’s old technology. This is more compact, better protected, and does not require any kind of de-clothing. Besides, I’m not convinced that was ever really an issue. I think Karina was just an exhibitionist in addition to being a liar. I mean telling people she was from 5503?” he gave a sarcastic snort.

“Or maybe she just had a crush on her subject to make herself more exotic and from an inconceivable point in time…what was her subject’s name again?”

“Brisco County Jr.”

With a smirk of apathy, Sheppard turned back to the VLOG signaling that he was finished with any discussion of Karina. “As a reminder, we have set the PTT to a series of various dates and times in history that are of low significance. This will enable us to collect data from that era to better our understanding without sacrificing the sanctity of time.”

Trace agreed, “To that end, we have chosen a small town of Hard Rock in 1913 to be our first and only test today. The date, time, and location are programmed into the PTT and I just have to hit these buttons to be on my way.” Trace raised his arm to demonstrate for the camera.

“It looks like my name is catching on,” was Sheppard’s sly reply.

“Well, I call it ‘Christopher’ or even ‘Sexy’ when no one is around.”

“You would be that arrogant.” Just as Trace laughed a man’s angry and pained scream came howling from the next door lab. Trace jumped up and began rushing towards the door.

“How can we hear that?” demanded a shocked Charles.

“I have had to divert power from several nearby labs. I guess that includes sound dampeners,” Trace tersely stated. “So maybe the rumors were true,” thought Trace as he began to rush towards the door.

Charles swiveled in his chair and attempted to block Trace’s path but instead Trace shoved the rolling chair as hard as he could out of his way. “Was it Trace’s imagination or had the man’s face gone ashen?”

Trace burst through the door and back to the small hallway’s middle ground between Trace and Sheppard’s labs. But before Trace could barge into Sheppard’s lab, a long-haired man with a brown beard came running out of the lab in a hospital gown with blood covering his knuckles. As the two men stared at each other, a sudden eruption of light encircled both men. Trace looked around him, he had not hit the start button or even properly latched the leather contraption on yet. “Why was the test starting?” He then looked at the other man and noticed that the ball of light was engulfing him as well. Just before both men disappeared, Trace saw it on the other man’s wrist. A PTT of his own. And then both men were both gone.

Left at his chair and alone, Dr. Sheppard pulled a cigar out of his lab coat pocket and lit it. “Well,” he sighed. “That was unexpected” before sighing and exhaling a large puff of smoke.

- - - - - - - - -

1913 - Hard Rock

Lenore Raymond Lonefeather brushed a dark lock of hair from her eyes. “James?” she called. No answer. “Where was her boy?” She smiled to herself as she smoothed her dress. Her “boy” was 18 years old this week. “Where had the time gone?” And he was already a man. At this thought she frowned. “It was too soon for James to be the man of the house.”

Lenore sighed and looked around the room at her late husband’s possessions. “Lord Bowler” to the world but “James Lonefeather” to Lenore and her son. Today was the last day to make decisions about which of James Sr.’s things would stay at home and which of Lord’ Bowler’s things would be going to the Bounty Hunter Museum. Some things were easy – bounty posters would go to the Bounty Hunter Museum. The china would stay at home. But other things like his bowler hat or gun – shouldn’t they stay at home? Stay with her son, James Jr.?

She got a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Since becoming mayor she had stopped fashioning her hair as a white woman and allowed herself the freedom to wear her hair with her beautiful voluminous curls. Although today she had it slicked back with a scarf to ensure that she could focus on each item carefully rather than have hair fall into her sightline. “Today is going to be an emotional day,” thought Lenore as she looked at the piles of objects scattered around the room.

At this thought, her son James walked into the room. Tall and strong like her husband but unlike her husband, he kept his hair short and refused to carry a gun. While he dressed as any other man of the time, he was a quiet man. He seemed more interested in reading, in drawing, and in building things. His father had always said that he wanted James to grow up as a man of means and influence and not a farmer or a bounty hunter. Bowler had always stated that he had worked hard to create the best world for his family so that they could go beyond Bowler’s own upbringing and life. James had taken that charge to heart and was working towards his college entrance exams.

James leaned casually his tall and thin form against the door frame and asked, “You called?”

“Yes, I have been informed that I can no longer delay this decision.”

James gave a half-hearted shrug. “I’m sure you can ask for more time.”

“Alright. I don’t want to think about this anymore. I want this over with. I want to figure out what our new normal is.”

James sighed and looked at his feet for a moment before rubbing his right arm with his left. “It’s only been 6 months since Papa’s death. You can take more time.”

Lenore closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. “Please just help me with this.”

To that James nodded and slid onto the floor next to a box. He immediately picked up his father’s hat and intentional put it on askew before asking, “What do you think, Ma? Is it me?”

Lenore had a slight laugh and stated, “Not quite.”

To which James stood back up, picked up his father’s long boot knife and placed it between his teeth as though he were a pirate in one of his father’s stories. The more that he would stomp around, the more that Lenore had to laugh until her sides hurt. James slid the items off and sat down next to his mother and wrapped an arm around her.

“It’s been too long since you have laughed, Mama.”

At that moment, he picked up a picture on the floor nearby and stared at it for a few moments. He turned the photo around for Lenore to see, it was an old photograph of Bowler, President Cleveland, and Brisco County Jr. James placed it back on the ground before softly consoling his mother, “I’m sure that he meant to stop by.”

Suddenly, a light erupted nearby. Both Lenore and James jumped up with James moving to protect his mother by standing in front of her. Then the light died down to reveal a man standing in the middle of the room. James looked to see a pale shaking man in tattered and blackened clothes as though he had just survived a fire. Just as James observed the blackened clothes, the ends seemed to spontaneously catch fire.

Trace opened his eyes to the smell of smoke and began to cough incessantly. It looked like he was in the middle of some office move with a young man and older female, presumably his mother, staring at him open mouthed. Trace continued to look around the room. Either his PTT moved him across time and space or it moved him to some kind of movie set… either way it was at least marginally successful. He raised his hands in excitement only to notice that the ends of his sleeves were on fire. “Oh shit!” cried Trace.

Trace looked around the room but there was not enough space to drop and roll so he hurriedly took off the PTT which was barely hanging onto his arm. Trace looked for a safe place but the room looked to be a mess, so he threw it at the young man and shouted over his shoulder, “Guard it with your life” as Trace ran outside. Trace threw himself on the ground and began to roll around. When he was sure the fire was put out, he jumped up and began to shout a celebratory yell, “It worked! We don’t need to use bulky orbs for traveling anymore! It’s a success!”

“That will be enough.” The woman from inside the house had followed him outside and was holding a gun pointed at Trace’s head.

“Wait. Wait! You don’t have to be afraid. But I gotta know what time this is?”

“It’s daytime! That’s what time it is! And I have plenty to worry about. You appear out of nowhere in the middle of a grieving widow’s house and start a fire?”

“Ma’am I did not start a fire, I caught fire – “

“And then you start demanding what time it is?!?”

“For the sake of science, I have to know what date it is? Not just what time but the date and the year!”

“You need the year?” Lenore asked incredulously. “What kind of drunk magician just appeared at her house?” “What’s your name?”

“Well…” Trace struggled to remember what the protocol was if he was found. Obviously, the location was a bit off. He was supposed to land outside of town but then he wasn’t sent out in the correct place, his launch pad. His mind was scattered between the confusing incident at the lab, the man wearing his technology, landing in the incorrect place, the fire, and now a name?

“I’m a doctor.”

“Doctor who?”

“I think you mean a doctor of what?”

“You are really going to correct the grammar of an individual holding a gun at you? Do you have a death wish?”

“No! I mean no disrespect. The fire threw me off – “

“The fire threw you off? You almost set fire to not only my house but the remaining possessions of my late husband – but I should excuse you because you were thrown off your story?”

Trace held his hands up high in surrender. “How was he going to calm her down? What if he caught fire again?” He needed to get away from this gun. He needed his PTT. He needed a peaceful place to figure out what would be his next step. Just then a loud and familiar bang occurred, along with a blinding light that pierced through the windows from inside the house.

“Oh my God! He triggered the PTT!”

“James!” Lenore ran back inside but the room was empty. The whole house was empty. She ran back outside only to see an empty lawn. The stranger had disappeared as had her son.

Lenore was left alone.

Add comment