Author: Stealth Noodle
Summary: One year after the defeat of Lavos, Lucca discovers that not all of the changes she and her friends made to history were beneficial. And trying to set things right is going to cost her more than she ever imagined. WIP
Disclaimer: Chrono Trigger and all its attendant goodies belong to Square-Enix. I'm just playing in their sandbox.
Author's Note: This fic is based solely on Chrono Trigger and isn't meant to fit into the continuity of Chrono Cross (or Radical Dreamers, for that matter). But for the sake of consistency, I borrowed a few appellations from the sequel-- namely, "Zenan" as the name for the continent with Guardia and Porre on it and "Ashtear" as Lucca's surname. I may end up working in a few other homages as I go along, too.
"Do you ever wonder how everything happened without us?"
Lucca set down her screwdriver and looked up from her latest robot. Marle had been chattering intermittently for the past hour or so, providing a not-unpleasant background hum while Lucca worked, and this was was the first question she'd asked that seemed to require an answer. Pushing her glasses up, Lucca shrugged and said, "Define 'everything.'"
A snore answered her from the area near the grandfather clock. That had been Crono's napping spot for as long as Lucca had known him, and the two of them had passed countless afternoons like this, talking only when Crono woke to eat or be her guinea pig. It was an easy, comfortable arrangement, smooth and worn like a favorite pair of gloves, and the only change now was the presence of Marle perched backwards on a chair. Perhaps that made her some kind of embroidery on the gloves. Lucca had never been good with metaphors.
Drumming her fingers on the desk, Marle said, "Well, like when we all met and ended up back in the Middle Ages. Who was supposed to save Leene before?"
"Just some soldiers, I think," Lucca replied, turning her attention back to her uncooperative invention. The Coffee Mate 2300 was supposed to ferry Lucca's empty mug to the kitchen, fill it, and return with a piping hot serving of energy, but all it had managed to do so far was stack mugs upside-down in the doorway. It was more a piece of performance art than a productivity aid.
Marle shook her head. "Okay, maybe that's a bad example. But what about when we helped Ayla beat the Reptites? I mean, could she really have saved Kino and taken down the whole fortress by herself?"
Well, she'd found at least part of the problem. Lucca appeared to have cross-wired a few things, which was precisely why she needed a steady supply of coffee when she worked. "She must have," Lucca pointed out, beginning carefully to separate the wires. "Otherwise, where'd you come from?"
Marle giggled. "Okay, you got me there. But I can't really remember how history went without us in it. It's like..." She paused. "It's like I know I learned about it, but I don't remember what it was."
Lucca grinned. "That's because you didn't actually pay attention to your lessons, Princess."
Feigning offense, Marle bounced an eraser off Lucca's helmet. "That's kind of true," she said, "but it's still freaky. Like all the old memories are being--"
"Overwritten?" Lucca suggested. "When you change the past, I guess you have to change, too." Certain that all the wires were in order, she closed the hatch in the robot's back. "I know what you mean, though. I tried a while ago to remember what it was like walking through the desert where the forest is now, and everything's fuzzy. Like it's just something I read about."
Marle shivered. "Creepy, creepy, creepy," she said, hopping off the chair and walking over to see how Lucca was faring with her invention. "Can he get through the door now?"
The robot's other quirk was its difficulty in navigating the route from desk to kitchen, part of which was due to the amount of floor clutter that had to be avoided on the way. No doubt it would have been easier to build a permanent track for it, but Lucca's mother would have none of that in her home. "We'll find out," Lucca said, giving the robot an affectionate pat as she stood. The Coffee Mate 2300 was just tall enough to reach the kitchen counter, putting its head at a perfect patting altitude, as Marle had been the first to note.
"Okay, then," Lucca said in her Voice of Accomplishment, "could you wake up Crono? I don't want him to miss science at its finest."
Marle giggled with vicarious excitement and shook her boyfriend's arm. He yawned and stretched as he got to his feet, asking, "Is it gonna work this time?"
Lucca grinned. "Of course! Look at who made it!" With a triumphant flourish, she flipped the little black switch on the robot's side and stood back.
The Coffee Mate 2300 whirred to life, rolling forward to where Lucca had left an empty mug on the floor. One of its mechanical arms angled down to retrieve its quarry, then rose to hold it overhead. Beeping, the robot made a three-point turn toward the kitchen and wheeled its way forward. Lucca's grin broadened as she cracked her knuckles in anticipation of victory.
From the kitchen came the sounds of liquid being poured. And poured. When the sounds didn't stop, the three teenagers investigated and found the Coffee Mate 2300 emptying an entire pot of coffee over an upturned mug.
Lucca gave her invention a baleful look as Crono and Marle laughed.
"Back to the drawing board," she muttered, turning off the robot as the last of the coffee puddled on the floor. Crono carefully pried the pot from the mechanical hands and set it back on the counter as Marle wiped up the spill.
"Well, you're getting closer," Marle said brightly, following Lucca back into the living room. "Remember when he crashed into the china cabinet and your mom looked like she was going to strangle us?"
Lucca unscrewed the robot's hatch with a little more force than was necessary. "How could I forget?"
Apparently sensing that this was the wrong line for the conversation to take, Marle wandered over to the bookshelf as Crono settled back into his corner and began snoring again. No one could fall asleep as quickly as Crono. It was almost a talent.
Lucca glared at the mechanical guts before her, then sighed and got back to work.
"A Comprehensive History of Zenan Continent," Marle read aloud, pulling one of the few non-scientific books from the collection. The three of them had thumbed through it in the weeks after their adventure, looking for mentions of themselves and their friends, but their enthusiasm had waned when the volume proved to be dense, dry, and unillustrated. Despite Lucca's intentions to buy other history books, she had never gotten around to it. She felt almost guilty reading them, as if she were spying.
For a while, the only sounds in the room were pages turning, metal scraping, and Crono snoring. Perhaps not even Marle could provide a running commentary on A Comprehensive History of the Zenan Continent. The tome was less a collection of facts than a rambling discourse on the author's theory of history.
"Hey, Crono," Marle said suddenly. He blinked his way back to consciousness and ambled over to the desk where she was flipping through the book. "Lucca, you too," she added. "I can't believe we missed this before!"
"I can," Lucca said. "No one can get through more than a page of that thing without passing out." A little reluctantly, she set down her tools and made her way over the desk. Marle's finger was planted in the center of a page, so Lucca twisted her head around to read the words.
"The medieval period was an era rich in folklore and superstition, precious little of it rooted in anything so solid as physical evidence, but such is the character of an age as yet untouched by industrialization," began the text. Lucca skimmed, stopping when a familiar name caught her eye: "Perhaps the most curious case is that of the village of Sandorino, the destruction of which in 758 AD achieved near-mythic status through the influence of rumor. Although an official investigation counted the disaster as nothing more than a tragic accident, popular sentiment inclined more to tales of ghostly apparitions and supernatural flames, perhaps in an effort to explain why none of the population survived to bear witness. Ballads on the subject were widely performed for decades after the fact, only slowly losing favor as new 'mysteries' arose in the form of pre-industrial advancements."
Crono looked up sharply. "No, I remember this one," he said. "Sandorino was evacuated after a landslide."
"That was before we saved the forest," Lucca pointed out.
Marle looked horror-struck. "You mean we caused this?"
As Crono tried to calm his girlfriend, Lucca pursed her lips and tried to remember. On the one hand, she half-recalled passing notes to Crono during their history classes as the teacher tried to make an ecological point about Sandorino. It wasn't that exciting, really; the encroaching desert had turned the Denadoro Mountains into a dangerous region for mudslides, and after an usually rainy spring in the early eighth century ended with part of the village buried, Sandorino had been abandoned by royal decree. But there was another memory competing for space, a strong impression that she and Crono had been passing those notes while the teacher lectured about the mysterious fire that killed everyone in the town one night, residents and travelers alike. She also remembered thinking that all those stories about it were bunk and that someone's cow had probably kicked over a lantern.
There had been only a handful of deaths in the landslide, mostly people living on the northeastern outskirts who had no warning that several tons of mud were about to crash down on them. The fire was another matter entirely.
"We have to fix it!" Marle's palms smacked against the desk. "All those people-- it's horrible!"
Crono nodded. "But how?"
Noticing that they were both giving her expectant looks, Lucca shook her head. "Remember how the eras work, guys? I can't get us back to 758 AD. Unless you want to go back to 601 and wait around, we're out of--" She cut herself off as realization struck. "Wait! Robo's still--"
"Planting the forest," Crono finished, looking quite pleased with himself for catching her train of thought.
Marle cheered. "You're a genius, Lucca!" she said, catching her friend up in a bone-crushing hug. Lucca wriggled out of it.
"Look, we don't know for sure that this is gonna work," she said, recomposing herself. But Marle was already heading for the door, Crono in tow.
"Epoch's still behind the square, right?" he called over his shoulder.
Lucca interposed herself between her friends and the door. "Hang on, guys. We don't know if this is going to work. We don't even know if--"
Crono had always been quick to figure out what was bothering her. "Of course he'll be there," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I don't get how it works, either, but it does."
Marle glanced from one friend to the other until comprehension lit her face. "Oh..."
Gently brushing off Crono's hand, Lucca said, "You guys don't mind if I go alone, do you? I mean, the Epoch hasn't run in a while, and I may need to spend some quality time with the engines..."
Ever since the near-disaster involved in retrieving Crono's mother from the prehistoric era, the three had agreed (at Lucca's insistence) to an "emergencies only" rule regarding use of the Epoch. So far nothing had been mutually approved as an emergency, and the time machine had remained peacefully hidden in the forest behind Leene Square. Lucca had never worked up the nerve to invent a critical reason to interfere in the future.
"Not at all." Marle beamed at her. "Enjoy your reunion."
Lucca paused as her hand closed around the doorknob. "This might not work, you know."
Crono clapped her on the back. "Then we'll think of something else. Go see Robo."
A smile flickered over Lucca's face as she left the house, pausing only to thank her friends.
Not much had changed. Of course, there were probably sentries posted around the kingdom to keep an eye out for Mystic guerillas, but Lucca was more concerned with flying stealithy to Fiona's field than watching Guardia deal with post-war security. Crono and Marle wouldn't have been concerned with who saw the Epoch streaking through the sky, but Lucca felt a certain paranoia about interfering with history now that the future was safe. Such small actions created such big ripples.
Says the girl who's trying to save an entire village, she thought wryly. But if she'd caused the problem in the first place...
A flash of gold caught her eye as she cleared the Denadoro Mountains. Palms sweating, she maneuvered the Epoch over an area that didn't appear to be cultivated yet and landed, then popped open the hatch and climbed out.
"Robo!" she called, running to him. As he straightened up from working on a sapling, she launched herself at him in a hug that would have tackled a human being. "I missed you," she said before he could respond, then broke the embrace and grinned. Timeline be damned. This was worth it.
"Lucca!" Robo's joints clinked as he bowed. "It is good to see you again. Have you been well?" When she nodded, the bulbs of his eyes dimmed and relit twice, indicating a puzzled blink. "Is something wrong? Data indicates that you planned to pick me up in three hundred and ninety-nine years."
She'd left enough paradoxes behind her in her adventures without creating a new one in Robo's memory banks. With what she hoped was a casual smile, Lucca said, "I did. Or will, from your end of it. So how've you been holding up?"
Robo rotated the top half of his head to indicate the seedlings peeking out from the ground around him. "I recently transplanted these from their pots. It will take many years before this forest will be able to sustain itself, but my power supply should last long enough to see them on their way."
Lucca nodded and took a deep breath. "Can I ask you for a favor?"
"Certainly. What is your request, Lucca?"
She hesitated for a moment, watching the tiny saplings tremble in the breeze. "Robo," she said at last, "how long will your power supply last before you have to go on stand-by?"
Something in him whirred. "Precisely, or would you prefer an estimate?"
"A year is fine."
Robo bowed slightly, the closest he could come to nodding. "I have enough reserves to last me until 716. It is my estimate that this will be sufficient time for the forest to establish itself."
The beginnings of panic gnawed at Lucca, but she pushed them down as she asked, "And if I could repower you now?"
He blinked again. "You made sure I was fully powered before letting me stay here. If you repower me now, I will have enough reserves to last until 717."
"I see." She suddenly felt cold, despite the summer sun.
Robo looked as quizzical as anything without facial expressions could. "Lucca, did you not have a favor to ask me?"
She bit her lower lip. Why worry him about it? With a smile that she hoped covered up any other emotions, she said, "I just want you to promise not to tell the future me that I visited. I don't want to set up a paradox or anything."
"Of course, Lucca."
When the silence became awkward (for her, if not for him), she took a step back towards the Epoch and stared at the ground. "Robo, I..."
I want to stay and talk, but I have to get back to Crono and Marle and prevent a tragedy. I want to come back here again and again and help you plant this forest. I want to know there's a future you who remembers me.
She was terrible at good-byes. Although the presence of Robo in the Middle Ages and in her memories seemed proof enough that the new future had a place for him, she still had moments when she wondered if the Robo she had sent back through the Gate had vanished into impossibility. Of course, their entire journey was built on paradoxes, and things seemed to be holding up well enough, but she'd never found the courage to visit the new future. She didn't think she could handle finding a Prometheus who was never Robo.
But why was she treating this as a good-bye? Maybe if she kept herself out of sight of everyone else in this era, it wouldn't hurt if she visited a few more times. And she could see Frog again, too, as long as she was in the area. She just had to be careful not to say anything to Robo that might affect the fight against Lavos. If that was awkward, well, what about her life wasn't awkward most of the time?
She wondered briefly if Frog ever came by to see Robo. If such meetings occurred, they obviously weren't breaking history. Maybe it was time to let go of the paranoia and visit her friends every now and then. Crono and Marle wouldn't be hard to convince of that idea, at least.
Letting the idea settle in, she gave Robo the brightest grin she could manage, waved, and said, "I'll come back to see you again soon! Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"
"Lucca, I am not certain what that command means."
Her only reply was a laugh, and she hopped back into the time machine, setting the dial for her home era as Robo waved at her. As she felt the Epoch jump out of time, she let her smile melt away, then sank back in the driver's seat and sighed heavily. This was a good time for sighing, she felt.
Of course she didn't regret visiting Robo. If anything, she regretted not visiting earlier, a decision she admitted had as much to do with the fear that somehow, impossibly, he wouldn't be there as with her concern for keeping the timeline intact. Seeing him rolled a boulder off of her heart, and this, at least, qualified as good news.
But she still had to deal with the bad news. Sandorino was doomed.
There had to be another way to work things out. If the Epoch stayed in one piece, she could, theoretically, repower Robo in forty or so years, but that plan seemed uncertain at best. While she could make a number of small repairs to the Epoch, so much of the time machine was based on the life's work of a certified mad genius that even she couldn't grasp everything that was going on under the hood. But there was no way to travel to a time that wasn't already an era...
Except for that Red Gate.
It had bothered her ever since the initial euphoria of saving her mother's legs had worn off. Why her? Why that moment? Regardless of whether Lavos was responsible for the other Gates, the alien parasite had obviously had nothing to do with letting Lucca correct one of her life's regrets.
The Entity whose existence Robo had proposed seemed a likely candidate. If Lucca had to admit the possibility that fuzzy, wish-fulfilling, spiritual mumbo-jumbo had any merit, she might as well admit the possibility that the planet itself, the thing suffering most from the parasite, could form enough of a will to meddle in history. And if such an entity had wished to reward Robo for bringing life back into a desert, it might have sensed that what he wanted most was to make his friend Lucca happy. Surely a planet would be able to muster the energy needed to dig tunnels through time.
Well, it wasn't that much more ridiculous than being able to shoot fire from her hands.
Lucca pulled herself out of her musings when she realized that the Epoch had been hovering over the forest for some time now. Annoyed at her own absent-mindedness, she steered the time machine back to its hiding place, disembarked, and paused. Oh, what the heck?
Feeling very silly, she rested a hand on the nearest tree and said, "Um, Entity? About that thing with my mother... thanks." She paused. "Listen, you probably know we killed Lavos. Assuming you exist outside of time, that is, which I guess you'd have to do to be able to manipulate Gates. Assuming you exist at all. So if you do, I've got another favor to ask. I want to save Sandorino."
There was no reply. Well, what had she expected? Annoyed at her bout of childishness, Lucca started to walk back to her house, only to change her mind and return to Leene Square. She didn't want to break the bad news to Crono and Marle just yet. Not until she had a back-up plan.
Leaning back against the supports for Nadia's Bell, she cupped her chin in her hand and settled in to think.
Way to be brave, Lucca, she thought, trudging home after dark. Crono and Marle would probably have assumed she'd decided to spend the night in the Middle Ages, so she had an evening to think of something. It didn't do for Lucca the Great to be caught without an idea.
The house was quiet when she let herself in and slipped upstairs to her room. No sense in waking her parents; they had long since grown used to her coming and going at all hours, and they tended to trust that she could take care of herself. Marle had expressed more than a little jealousy over this arrangement.
Closing the door to her room, Lucca took off her helmet and sat down at her desk, brushing away a stack of books to make a workspace. She flipped on her lamp, took out a fresh sheet of paper, and began to gnaw thoughtfully on one of her pens. Dinner could wait.
No matter how much she'd studied it, time travel gave her a headache. It wasn't like engineering, where everything lined up in neat equations and cause-and-effect came down to the inviolable physical laws. History was a mess of people doing stupid things for even stupider reasons, and even the best predictions fell apart in the face of human behavior.
The idea she was currently mulling over, that of entrusting orders to evacuate Sandorino before 758 to King Guardia XXI, had the disadvantage of depending on a long chain of people to pass on and obey seemingly baseless commands. She didn't see her plan making it past a generation.
For the sake of completion, she wrote, "Orders for old king?" and drew a heavy black line through it. After tapping the pen against her chin for a while, she added, "Teach modern firefighting in 601?" That earned a double strikethrough.
The ideas were not flowing. With an impatient sigh, Lucca leaned back in her chair and stared at the ceiling. Guess a nap couldn't hurt...
Her ears pricked. Lucca couldn't tell if she'd fallen asleep or only drifted for a while, but she was definitely awake now. And there was definitely a noise coming from downstairs, a tiny crackling of energy that she had to strain to hear. Actually, it was less like hearing than feeling, but Lucca was wary of that line of thought.
This disturbance was familiar, though. A year ago, it had led her into the darkness of the forest, where a spherical rip in space and time had hung patiently in the air.
Lucca scarcely remembered to grab her helmet before she rushed downstairs.
And there it was, hovering like an electric eye in the center of the kitchen. Blue light flickered over the walls and gleamed from the sink and refrigerator. Lucca had to stop to catch her breath.
"Well, I'll be damned," she said at last, taking a hesitant step forward. "Er, thanks. Entity. Planet. Whoever you are." She made an awkward attempt to bow. "Uh, give me just a minute, okay?"
Dashing back to her room, she pulled her old Gate Key out of her trunk, along with the Wondershot. It never hurt to be prepared, after all. Holstering her gun, she ran back downstairs and faced the Gate, feeling the energy pulse over her.
No sense delaying. Gritting her teeth, Lucca raised the Gate Key and stepped into the scarlet vortex.