Parallelogram: Chapter 01
By E. L. Zimmerman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
His body thumped deep into the cushions of his pilot's chair, Chrononaut Frank Parker instinctively pulled back on his pilot's stick, completing the emergency shutdown of the TimeSphere's main drive system. To his right, the computer terminals sparked viciously, fireflies dancing across their hot metallic surface, as he felt the Sphere beneath and all around him crash down on solid earth.
Immediately, as always, he heard the electronic whine of the disabling, overstressed computer and drive systems as they disengaged Time Relevant Activity. Without a doubt, the whine filled his bleeding ears.
"Despite ... what they tell me," he muttered achingly, his body still trembling from the rush of time travel, "that ... never ... gets any easier."
Letting go of the drive shaft, he reached up and unbuckled himself from the chair.
"Never ... gets any ... damn easier."
Standing, his legs quivering, he stretched his arm out, found the emergency release catch, and yanked the lever down for the door release. Angry hydraulics hissed, and he was greeted by a faceful of steam.
"Can't they ... fix that?"
Instantly, the hatch sparked, and the door blew open.
Despite the irony, Frank Parker knew he only had so much time. He understood even his moments - perhaps especially his moments - had unique limitations. He trusted that the information he had brought back with him about the Heston Tower bombing had to get to the NSA as soon as possible if the disaster was to be diverted ... before it happened again.
He smiled. Time travel always had that effect on him.
On the ground outside, Parker stood upright slowly and squinted briefly up toward the brilliant sunlight, shading his eyes with his hand. Then, he slowly closed his eyes and breathed deep fresh air.
"That never gets any easier," he repeated.
Opening his eyes, he looked around at the forest he had put down in. The TimeSphere was at the base of a great valley, but, grimacing, he could just make out the telephone poles lining what must have been a rural road at the top of the hill.
"Never any easier."
About a half mile down the road, he found Finkle's Gas and Grill. He slowed his run and studied the setting briefly. Seated out front on an old style rocking chair was an elderly black gentleman dressed formally in gray slacks, a striped dress shirt, and suspenders.
"Hello, there," the man called, raising a hand.
"Right back at ya," Parker yelled, waving.
Quickly, he trotted up to the raised platform and stopped in front of the man.
"Are you Finkle?" the chrononaut asked.
"I sure am," the man replied. "This here is my place."
"Go figure," Parker snapped, panting, leaning down to clutch his knees with his hands. He was exhausted, but a mission was a mission. "Did you name this place after yourself, or did it come that way when you bought it?"
"I inherited it," the man explained, rocking ever so slightly. "From my father. He inherited it from his. Third generation family business."
"Did you see those lights?"
"Lights?" the chrononaut asked.
"Well, you can running from the direction where those lights went down."
'The Sphere,' Parker reasoned.
"Yeah, I saw," he agreed. "Up close and personal. Uh ... a helicopter ... yeah, a helicopter went down ... just over that ridge back there."
"A helicopter?" the man asked, raising a curious eyebrow. "Around here?"
"Yeah," Parker insisted, trying to sound convincing, "a helicopter." He glanced up at the man, and he realized immediately by the business owner's expression that he was skeptical. "It wasn't a big helicopter."
"It sure made an awful sight."
"Yeah," Parker agreed. "It does that from time to time."
"A helicopter, you say."
"I saw it with my own two eyes," Parker insisted, reaching up with one hand off his knee and pointing to his eyes. "It was in flames. The pilot managed to put it down safely."
"I guess that explains the blood," the man said.
"The blood on you."
"What?" Parker asked. Then, he remembered that the more prominent side effect of time travel was slight bleeding from his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Pulling up his sleeve, he wiped at his face, wondering how much was still showing. "Oh, yeah. Yeah. A power unit erupted in the helicopter ... in the back ... where I was."
"You weren't the pilot?"
"No," Parker answered. "The pilot's hurt. I need to use a telephone."
Nodding in the direction of the corner of the gas station, the black man said, "Phone's over there. Dial zero and have the operator ring you through to the local emergency services office. I'm sure someone will be on their way out to help with your friend."
"Thanks," Parker said. "Thank you very much."
Quickly, he trotted over to the pay phone, despite his body's aching protests. Standing, he grabbed the receiver. Dialing quickly the telephone number that he trusted would give him a secure line, he waiting and listened to the ringing, inhaling and exhaling slowly, until someone picked up the phone.
"This is Talmadge," Parker heard.
"Talmadge," the chrononaut replied, suppressing his panting. "This is Parker. We have us a conundrum."
"I beg your pardon?"
Gruffly, Parker repeated, "Conundrum. Look, I'm out in the middle of nowhere in some backwater country. I'm bleeding as usual, and I said we have us a conundrum!"
"Who is this?"
"What do you mean?" he tried. "What do you mean, who is this?"
"Just what I said," Parker heard, Talmadge's voice sounding angrier than usual. "And would you like telling me just how in the hell you got this phone number?"
End of Chapter One