Racing the Clock

As Cinder raced through the front doors, toggling the netlink in her head to call for a hover, she clutched the beaker to her chest like it was the most delicate, most precious thing in the world. Of course the beaker, being made of glass, was a bit delicate, and its contents were rather precious. Not to herself, of course, but to her sister Peony. In fact, it would be worth a lot to a good number of people, were they to learn about it, for this beaker supposedly contained the cure for the Letuomosis that thousands of people, including Peony, were dying of. That is, of course, assuming that Queen Levana was telling the truth about it when she offered him the sample this beaker came from, as a "gesture of good will". Despite everything in her that cried out not to trust the Lunar queen, Cinder had to believe that this cure was real, that she knew Kai's people would test it for its authenticity, and a bargaining chip (for that's ultimately what this was, her key to the throne of the Eastern Commonwealth) would end up worthless if it were proven fake.

Thankfully the hover showed up quickly, as she knew from what Dr. Erland had told her, the fourth stage of Letuomosis didn't take long, which meant that Peony didn't have that long to live. She didn't know exactly how long, nor did she want to think about it, but no sooner did the thought cross her mind did the netlink in her head pull up the related information. Apparently most people who enter the fourth stage of Letuomosis die in less than an hour, with the very young and elderly showing even less resiliency, and Peony was very young.

Distracting her from this morbid information & the countdown that had started in her head was the arrival of a second hover, and Cinder could not help but to stop and compare the two despite the anxiety pushing her to hurry on to her sister. Whereas the first hover looked much like any other, only with certain signs of wear her cybernetic eyes were able to detect, the second one reminded her more of the gasoline-fueled beast currently hidden back in Adri's garage, though they looked nothing alike. While her car was a sickly yellow-orange color, this one was more of a shade of gray, and its angles were more sharp than those of the dome-shaped exterior of her vehicle. Regardless, Cinder had come to the conclusion that this second vehicle had to be a car and not a hover, albeit one that had a lot of work done to it to convert it into its current state, as she could see through the windshield to the person gripping the steering wheel as it settled to the ground, the tires (from whose hubs the vertical propulsion had been coming from) rotating into a vertical orientation as it landed.

When the door on the driver's side opened upwards, reminding Cinder of the hatches she's sometimes seen on her built-in netscreen, the young man steeped out, and his attire made him stand out as much as his vehicle did. At first the bright orange vest he wore looked much like a life jacket, which was odd in of itself as they were nowhere near the water, and besides there was much more efficient means of life preservation developed for those who still ventured out to sea. However, her net link corrected her as it pulled up information on the garment referred to as a puffy vest, a sort of supplementary sleeveless overcoat which had went out of fashion since it was last worn in the late 1900's and the early 2000's of the Second Era. Still, he had a serious set to his eyes that drew her gaze to his as he said, "Get in, miss. I can take you where you need to go."

The hover's pilot looked as irritated as he sounded as he stepped out onto the hover's ramp and yelled at the young man, "Hey, bug off! I was here first! You can just take your….heap and find yourself another fare!"

Cinder glanced again at the young man's car, which did indeed look like some giant had smashed it to pieces before someone went and welded it back together, before she looked back at the young man and said in an apologetic tone, "I'm sorry, but he was first, and I am in a bit of a hurry."

"Linh Cinder!" the young man cried out as she started to turn towards the hover, and she froze at the sound of her name being spoken by a complete stranger, "That hover will never get you to the quarantine zone in time."

Cinder turned back towards him, her eyes wide in shock and confusion, as she asked, "What? How did you…? Who are you?"

"There'll be time to answer all of your questions later," the young man told her in a determined tone, but if you wish to save the life of your sister Peony then you'll ride with me."

Cinder looked at him uncertainly for a moment, not knowing if she trusted this man who seemed to know so much. However, the orange light that indicated that someone was lying hadn't come on once, and she did want to save Peony, so before she knew what she was doing her legs had carried her over to his car and she'd lifted open the passenger door before throwing herself into the passenger seat.

Once settled, she saw that this vehicle was even more different than her vehicle on the inside than it was on the outside. While it had a stick shift like her own car, the main dash had analog radial gauges that indicated its speed, fuel level, etc., & if the speedometer was any indication to go by, then this vehicle cold go over 210 km/h (she didn't think her own car could go that fast even when it was new.) Above the center console was a different sort of display, one that displayed what appeared to be dates using what her netlink told her was a rather primitive 14 segment display, but the labels underneath each display made no sense to her. "Destination time"? "Present Time"? "Last Time Departed"? What did it mean?

"You may want to close your door and fasten your safety belt," the young man told her as he did so himself, drawing a length of fabric across his body and fastening the metal slider on it into a socket next to him. As soon as Cinder managed to do so as well by copying what he did, the young man pressed some buttons & pulled a lever, and Cinder reflexively gripped the arm rest on the door beside her as she felt the car lurch under her. Then her eyes widened as she saw they were rising up into the air much higher than most hovers go normally, reminding her more of netvids she'd seen of starships than anything like the movement of cars or hovers.

When the car, or whatever this was, lurched forward and began to accelerate, Cinder heard a ping in her head. Her display showed an incoming message from Adri, and as anxious as she was about why she'd be trying to reach her now, Cinder was more concerned with what she'd gotten herself into. Dismissing the message, she turned to the young man driving and did her best to keep the nervous tension out of her voice as she asked, "What's going on here? Where are you taking me?"

"I already told you," the young man replied simply, "I'm taking you to save your sister."

Cinder waited for her indicator to tell her that he was lying. When it didn't, she asked him, "But what are we in? A car? Hover? Spaceship? What is it?"

The young man glanced over at her, and she thought she saw a glimmer of doubt in his eyes as he said, "I don't think you'll believe me."

"Try me," Cinder countered with a stubborn set to her jaw.

The young man took a deep breath, as though he were steeling himself to answer a difficult question. However, before he could say anything, Cinder was startled by the sudden blare of sirens behind them. Looking through the window at the attached mirror that served as this vehicle's rear-view display, Cinder cursed when she saw that they were being pursued by a number of the New Beijing's Police Department's flying vehicles. The young man cursed as well as he looed out at his own mirror, then he glanced over at Cinder and asked, "You weren't just contacted just now by your step-mom or anything just now, were you?"

"She had tried to call me a bit earlier, but I was somewhat too distracted to answer," Cinder answered him, "Why? You don't think that…?"

"Linh Cinder! You are in violation of the Cyborg Protection Act and have been labeled a runaway cyborg!" a robotic voice blared out from one of the pursuing vehicle's loudspeakers, "Set your vehicle down and prepare to remand yourself into custody to be returned to your legal guardian!"

"Dammit! So much for taking you directly to your sister," the young man exclaimed, "Hang on!"

Cinder felt her stomach lurch as the young man jerked the wheel and pressed the accelerator down closer to the floor, briefly increasing the distance between them and their pursuers before they increased their speed to match. Using her netlink to pull up their GPS coordinates, Cinder found that they were now heading in the opposite direction of the quarantine zone where Peony's time was rapidly running out.

"Where are you going?" Cinder asked him in a frantic tone.

"Sorry about the detour Cinder, but we've got to lose these dogs you stepmom has sicced on us," the young man apologized.

"What?" Cinder asked in confusion, then she pleaded with him, "But my sister, Peony, she's dying!"

"I know, but we won't be in any position to save her if they catch us," the young man explained in an apologetic tone, "At best we'd be spending what time she has left with them questioning us. Don't worry, though. I've got a plan to lose these robocops and arrive back at the quarantine zone in plenty of time for you to deliver that cure to her."

Cinder was beginning to think that this guy had too high an opinion of himself, and that by choosing his vehicle over the hover she'd lost any chance she had of saving Peony's life. Before she could say so, however, there was a brilliant flash of light before them and a sound like an explosion just before a vehicle appeared in their path, heading straight for them. It happened so fast that, by the time Cinder had screamed and covered her face, they and the other vehicle swerved to just miss one another. Though she had only seen it for about a second, Cinder could have sworn that other vehicle looked just like theirs.

"What was that!?" Cinder exclaimed in shock.

"The plan," the young man explained succinctly.

Looking once more in the side mirror, Cinder saw that their pursuers had been caught just off guard by the appearance of the new vehicle as she had been. After what seemed to be a long minute of confusion, one of the pursuing vehicles broke off to go after the one they narrowly missed hitting. The other four, however, remained solidly on their tail.

The young man, looking at the mirror on his side, smiled as he said, "Perfect!"

Cinder looked at him in disbelief as she asked in a harsh voice, "What's so perfect about it? We may have lost one, but the others are still hot on our heels!"

"Not for much longer," the young man told her, then he leaned towards a control pad near the center display as he asked, "Now we just need to find a save place to refuel real quick, so when did your stepfather bring you home?"

"Say what!?" Cinder asked, confused as to why he would be asking her such a personal question at a time like this.

"Your stepdad, when did he bring you home?" the young man asked her again patiently, "The date?"

She may have been questioning a lot of what she knew about herself, ever since Dr. Erland revealed to her that she was really Lunar and not originally from Earth as she had thought. However, that particular day she knew was real, as it was one of the happiest times of her life, and so it only took Cinder a moment of thinking to recall it as she said, "December 22, 120 T.E. But what does that have to do…?"

The young man paid Cinder no heed as he entered something on the keypad. Then, as he finished, the date on the electronic display above "Destination Time" changed. It looked as though he had calculated the day she'd given him as if the dates had continued from the Second Era, but then she realized he must have made an error in his math as he was a year off.

"That should be far enough," the young man commented almost to himself, then he glanced over at Cinder with a mischievous smile as he said, "Now brace yourself, and try not to freak out too much."

Before Cinder could ask him what he'd meant by that, the young man pressed the accelerator clear to the floor, the needle of the speedometer rising quickly as the sirens fell behind. As the needle neared 140 km/h, bolts of light began shooting past them on all sides, and Cinder became convinced that the police were trying to shoot them down (even though she had never heard of them possessing a weapon that looked like that). When the world before them exploded in a flash of light with a loud boom, Cinder covered her face and screamed, convinced that they were about to die.

When she never felt the heat from the explosion she'd expected, Cinder peeked between her fingers and gasped at what she saw. Although it was hard to make out through the numerous error messages her netlink kept showing her, which she just as determinedly cleared away, she saw a city below them that looked very much like her own New Beijing. However, while it had been sweltering hot as she'd left the palace, Cinder could feel the cold even though the closed windows as they flew through a gentle snow shower falling on the city.

Looking around her in stunned disbelief, Cinder saw through the corner of her eye the young man smirking as he said in an amused tone, "You know, for someone who looks like they could rip my head off with one hand, you sure scream like a regular girl."

Cinder was to stunned to respond to the young man's comments properly, instead fumbling for the proper words as she asked, "What the…? Where the hell are we?"

"We're in the airspace above New Beijing, but that's not the question you should be asking," the young man answered her with a smile, "The proper question is, 'When the hell are we?' "

" 'When'?" Cinder asked him in confusion. In response, the young man smiled at her, then tapped the center digital display, bringing her attention to the date shown on the display marked "Present Time". With a shock, she realized that it wasn't showing today's date anymore. Instead, the date shown there was now matching the date that was entered in the "Destination Time" field. Her head swimming, Cinder asked him, "You mean to say…?"

The young man nodded as he answered, "It is now 7 am on December 22, 119 T.E., approximately one year before your stepfather brought you home from….where it was that he'd got you. Nobody will be looking for us here"

Cinder felt like she wasn't following what he was saying. Once her netlink managed to recalibrate itself, however, it confirmed the young man's claim of the date, as well as bringing up various related theoreticals as well as a number of similar works of fiction, including an old novel by H.G. Wells. Before she could ask him about what her netlink was suggesting, the young man pointed down towards the ground and said, "That looks like a good place to set down."

As they descended into an alley, Cinder didn't notice anyone around to notice their approach. When her driver opened his door and stepped out, she could tell why: it was freezing outside! Her brain interface link was hard pressed to raise her internal temperatures back to normal levels as she opened her own door, following him towards the trash bins in front of them and asked, "I don't get it. You made a time machine….out of that beat-up old car!?"

"Actually it was Doc Brown who made that car into a time machine, and it was brand new back then," the young man clarified as he sifted through the trash bin, "I merely pieced it back together after I got it smashed to bits by a train."

"You…" Cinder started to ask before she trailed off, feeling that she was undergoing sensory overload. Then she shook her head and tried again, "Just where did you come from? Who are you?"

"That's right, I never did properly introduce myself before," the young man said in realization, closing the trash bin lid and wiping his hand vigorously on his pants before extending it towards her. When she took it, the young man shook her hand firmly as he said, "The name's Martin McFly, but you can call me Marty. Nice to meet you, Linh Cinder!"