A/N: This chapter is dedicated to one Marlene, a new friend I met at a mutual friend's birthday party. Talking to her got me so excited about writing again, that I churned out this new chapter in record time – record time for me anyway. And special 'thank you's to Great Farki, Shade40, and TheSeer for their helpful and insightful reviews! Hope you enjoy!
One Crazy Old Man - Circa 2300 A.D.
Doan built a nest of blankets around his granddaughter. She did not resist, which was in itself a bad sign. She usually fought off bedtimes with every little ounce of her fiery temper. And when that didn't work, she usually resorted to sweet talk or bribery.
Tonight Mai was silent. She just looked up at him with wide shining eyes. He could not meet her stare for more than a few seconds. He knew that his own eyes contained far too much reality. He didn't want her to have to face the truth yet – maybe tomorrow, but not right at this moment. At this moment, he just wanted to comfort and protect her. So he stroked her back and caressed her hair. Eventually, her eyes closed and her breathing slowed.
Doan continued to lie beside his little girl. He watched her sleep – she looked peaceful, all traces of her fear gone while she dreamt. He knew that he should return to his own daughter. That she needed him now, but he didn't think he could stand to watch his last daughter slip away. He was being terribly selfish.
He forced himself to his feet and headed out of his domicile toward Sura's. The corridor was crowded with all the inhabitants of the Arris Dome. They just sat in scattered groups waiting to hear news. He avoided making eye contact with any of the others, unable to meet the sympathy and shared pain in their gazes. Thankfully, no one spoke to him.
Before any time had passed he faced her door and once again found himself frozen, just before the threshold. Doan's throat constricted painfully. He couldn't do it. He had already lost too much.
Someone gripped his shoulder in reassurance. He looked up to face the young woman, Marlene. She didn't say anything, but she gave him a small understanding smile. It was all the encouragement he needed.
"Thank you," he said gently and turned back to the door. Before he could activate the door handle, it swooshed open of its own accord.
A blood-streaked Marle stood on the other side. She held out an infant to him – a baby that was very much alive. Doan stared in astonishment. This was the first living child in six years. There had been three others since Mai that had been less fortunate.
"Asha," the blond girl stated as she brought up Doan's arms to hold the baby. He found himself smiling in amazement through his tears.
"Sura?" he asked, dreading the answer.
The blonde girl shook her head sadly. His eyes watered again instantly, but he had been expecting the news so he managed to mostly control his grief. He tried to focus on the baby girl - this Asha, this miracle. She needed him. He would grieve for his own daughter later.
He carried the baby out to the other residents. They gathered around babbling energetically to one another and congratulations to him. Their excitement was catching.
"Marlene," Doan turned purposefully back to the dusty woman, "In the supplies that our guests brought up, there were some dehydrated fluids. Try to find a formula, but any protein supplement is better than nothing." She nodded and ran off.
"Tavers!" Doan turned to another man, "I want you and your brothers to see if you can find some poly-plastic containers. Something we can drill holes into."
"What for?" he asked.
"For planting seeds!" Doan exclaimed causing the sleeping Asha to burst into screaming sobs. Doan smiled.
"What a good set of lungs you have!" He cooed at her, "You will need those to survive here little one."
"That, she will," Tavers said as he left in search of containers.
Doan rocked the baby trying to sooth her. The people around him were still huddled close, but now they were interacting excitedly with each other – not just trying to reach the baby. Even the strange young trio that had brought hope back into their lives were huddled together discussing who knew what. He looked up toward them when he thought he heard one say "Proto Dome". If they needed to get to Proto Dome, Doan would just maybe be able to repay some of their kindness.
"Doan? Here's the mixture," Marlene had returned with the protein concoction already prepared, "I think this one will be gentle enough for her to digest and there's a lot of it down there so I think it will last for a long while if we reserve it for her alone."
"Excellent," Doan said. "Here, could you take her for a few minutes? Feed her and then try to get her to sleep." She nodded and then turned a delighted smile to the still sobbing infant. Doan watched her go with his newest granddaughter for a moment then turned back to the strangers. Marle was crying and the redhead was comforting her so he approached Lucca instead.
"Proto Dome?" Doan repeated. The helmeted head swung up, clearly startled, and nodded in response.
He gestured for her to follow him back to his own domicile. He entered silently and put a finger to his lips as he pointed to the sleeping Mai, to indicate that Lucca should take the same care. He wanted the girl to sleep as long as possible – no reason to bring her the pain of loss any sooner than necessary.
He turned to the terminal in the corner and brought up a satellite view of the eastern half of the continent. And then pointed to a domed structure some six hundred miles east of here.
"Proto Dome," he said. Lucca nodded. He moved his hand much farther West to another structure that was barely still standing, "Lab 32." Again the girl nodded her understanding.
Then he pulled up another picture of himself from decades ago. He sat astride the jet bike lent to him by the crazy old man. He hadn't thought of the old geezer in years and this was the second time in as many days.
The half-day hike to Lab 32 had done nothing to calm Doan's temper. His legs and shoulders alike screamed in protest of the physical labor. This equipment was heavy! And he was not an anti-grav lift! What was it good for anyway? The world was long since dead and this would continue to be true no matter how much men like his uncle and Belthasar denied reality.
No, Doan knew that this trip was a complete waste of time and resources. And he would be subjected to another passionate lecture, and Doan didn't care what the old man had to say! He had no interest in healing broken worlds. He was supposed to be spending the afternoon with Elin! His uncle had promised he would have the afternoon free! At least, he was finally here and didn't have to haul this heavy equipment across a couple dozen miles of open plain on the way back.
Doan allowed the lab case to thud to the floor.
"Be careful with that boy!" Belthasar chided him from the other side of the research station, "That is sensitive equipment."
"Now listen old man!" Doan began heatedly, "You didn't just haul that scrap heap across 26 miles!"
"I think you'll decide it was worth it."
"I doubt it," Doan said sullenly. The elder just smiled in a knowing way that irritated Doan immensely.
"Come, you've brought the last pieces. Bring them with you and let me show you what they are for," he gestured for Doan to follow him. Doan reluctantly complied.
The garage was filled with all sorts of contraptions, but Doan's attention was completely centered on the blue and gold vehicle that Belthasar was installing parts to.
"What is it?" Doan asked.
"It's a jet bike!"
"How is that possible? The jet-bikes haven't worked in generations. We don't have any fuel to power them."
"I modified it," Belthasar explained calmly. Doan snorted.
"It will be finished tonight. I was hoping I could ask for one more favor from you."
"What would that be?" Doan asked noncommittally.
"I need you to go out and collect rock and soil samples. I would like to test them. The more you can gather and from more locations and the more spread out, the better information I can get from the results." And the old man unrolled a map – a map on paper no less! He pointed out his targeted locations to the young man.
"These are too far! I'll probably die of exposure before I make it to two of these, Doan objected.
"I wasn't going to make you walk boy!" Belthasar scolded and tossed him a medallion. Doan looked at it puzzled.
"That is what the bike is for. Do this for me and I will share what I learn with you.
"What's there to learn from soil? It's dead!"
"No, it isn't. It's just poisoned. If we learn what's wrong maybe we can do something about it and we can grow food again."
"You're going to cure the whole world?" Doan replied skeptically.
"Don't need to cure the whole world. Just enough to grow food on."
"I actually agree with my father on something. You are crazy."
"Tell you what. Go and get me those samples, come around once a week for lessons just to humor a vain old man that wants his knowledge preserved, and you can keep the jet bike."
"You have yourself a deal! Where would you like me to go first?"
Doan was suddenly struck by how lucky his friendship with Belthasar had been. Not only had that bike let him escape with the love of his life whenever the dome became too restrictive – the knowledge he had learned might very well save their lives today. He had always assumed that learning the life cycle of various plants would be completely useless – even a few days ago he would have made the same assessment. But now, he knew which vegetables would harvest the soonest and which ones would come back every season, and which ones were a longer time investment. He stared at the picture of him and Elin sitting on the bike. In this moment, he was immensely grateful to both his uncle and the old man in a way he hadn't really ever been before.
"Jet bike," he pointed to the bike in the picture and then back to Lab 32 on the map. She nodded again. She understood – the bike was in the lab. Doan opened a drawer and pulled out the medallion. He held it up and pointed one more time to the bike. This was the key to make the bike work. And he handed it to her. She grinned.
"Theenk yo," she said as she took his offering.
"Thank you," Doan insisted, "and good luck!"
"Momma?" Mai was sitting up in her bed. Doan moved to sit beside her stroking her hair.
"Mai, your mother is…" he paused uncertain as to how to explain. "Your mother is not coming back." Doan found his own tears finally escaping.
"No!" the girl objected. She leapt from the bed and ran out of the room.
Doan then turned back to Lucca. He gripped her hand once more hoping she understood all his appreciation.
"Good luck," he said again through his tears. She smiled. And then he turned to search for his first granddaughter.
"Mai!" Doan called. He found her sitting against the wall outside of her own quarters with her knees held to her chest. He sat down beside the forlorn child not saying a word. He put an arm around her and brought her close, but she pulled away.
"Mai, I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but it will be okay. Things are going to get better," Doan tried to reassure her. The girl continued to stare resolutely into dead space.
Doan continued to sit with her saying nothing. He understood that the loss had finally caught up to her. She needed to grieve, but she could not. The loss of her mother was too much – everything felt pointless. Doan understood, because he had been there just yesterday. The world had lost its color for Mai, but Doan would help her to find it again. There was always reason to hope.
"Well ladies, shall we be off to save the world?" Crono asked, eager to get moving. As long as he was doing something, maybe he wouldn't be quite so aware of how hungry he was. He knew they had exactly one meal left so the sooner they got to Proto Dome and out of this time period the better!
"Who are we kidding?" Lucca said sarcastically. "We can't even keep ourselves fed!"
"Don't be so pessimistic Lucca!" Marle chided. "Anything is possible if you're determined."
"I'm not being pessimistic," Lucca objected. "It's realistic. You know I'm with you guys 'til the end, but that doesn't change the fact that we're trying to accomplish an impossible task with no resources."
"So it's business as usual then?" Crono threw in amicably. Lucca and Marle both laughed.
Their laughter quickly faded once the trio left the dome, exposing themselves to the harsh sunlight that barely broke through the ash that seemed to continually fall from the sky. Visibility was much worse today, than it had been when they arrived.
"Which way?" Marle asked. Crono turned to Lucca who was digging through her bag. She pulled out a magnetic compass. He smiled with pride – Lucca was always ready for just about anything. If they did manage to save the world, it would be because of her despite all of her nay saying.
"We need to head east to Lab 32. It's about twenty miles away. But there's a vehicle there that should make the rest of the journey to Proto Dome a lot faster."
"Lead the way," Crono said always trusting Lucca's navigation abilities more than his own.
Belthasar glared at the four-vector matrix that represented a massive object traveling at relativistic speeds. There was no way for mass to break the light-speed barrier. So he needed to convert the mass into energy and back again – into dark energy preferably, because dark energy already had a tendency to move faster than light and therefore backwards through time. He had thought he had already solved this problem, but his proto-type had only been able to detect and collect the required tachyons. It could not manipulate them into the stable reaction that he needed to create a temporal flux.
Belthasar reviewed the differential equation again. He had been on to something he was certain. He scribbled out some calculations, the same calculations he had completed time and again. As always, the math checked out. So why didn't the contraption work? The old man let out a wheezing sigh. Maybe Mel had been right. Maybe he was dreaming and it simply wasn't possible. He pushed the work away from him in frustration.
He forced himself to stand and begin the arduous journey across the hall. Such a feat took far too much effort these days. His slow paces were punctuated by the occasional violent cough. The burning sensation in lungs and throat never left him anymore, but he had become accustomed to the pain of breathing ash.
Maybe that was the problem. As much as he hated this world he had grown accustomed to it. He sat down to eat the already prepared meal and took a sip of piping hot tea – where did that wonderful blue creature find herbs to make such a flavorful tea? He continued to eat through the bland, but edible food, while still re-working the problem in his head. And then he dropped his spoon in as an idea occurred to him.
He bolted out of his chair and charged back into his workshop. He immediately regretted the burst of movement as he was overcome with a violent coughing fit and slight chest pains, but it didn't matter if he could get back to work.
He realized that his problem was that he had been thinking about the process of moving from time to time in the wrong way. It wasn't a journey from one location to another – it was more of an inter-dimensional jump. This new approach would change the equation drastically. He plugged his four-vector into the new equation and worked out the new calculation. The result was beautifully simple! Relatively speaking anyway. He didn't need to change the mass into energy. He needed to put a shield around the entire vehicle and then take it outside of real space-time!
You told me I was dreaming Mel. But I did it! I actually did it. After thirty years of trying, Belthasar could go home! He reached for the extra parchments to draw out the necessary plans. And another coughing fit overtook him. He moved his hand to his mouth as a particular violent cough sent convulsions down his torso. When he pulled his hand away and it was wet with blood. Never a good sign.
He laughed bitterly, which turned into more coughing and he fell from his chair clutching his throat and chest in pain, his vision swam around him. He had finally figured it out and he was going to die before he ever saw his home again. And he hadn't even managed to write down the solution for the Nu. No one would even benefit from his research. It wasn't fair. But life rarely was, at least not in Belthasar's experience.
Belthasar came to in the arms of a beautiful young woman. A sparkling sea green pendant dangled from her neck.
"Schala?" Belthasar whispered in shock, trying unsuccessfully to bring the girl's face into focus. Now he was certain he was dead, "Is that you?"
"Easy old man. Try to stay still," she urged gently. She seemed to glow. Suddenly his breathing became easier. "You need to rest. Lucca, do you have any of those tonics left? I think I need a supplement." She was speaking to someone behind him.
"Do you just want one?" another girl asked.
"Oh Schala," he brought up a hand to cup her face. "I have missed you so,"
"Here, drink this. It may be a little bitter," she directed. Belthasar thought it strange that he would still have to suffer through healing potions in the afterlife, but he swallowed cooperatively anyway. The world stopped spinning, but it still refused to come into focus. It was much darker than Belthasar thought it should be. Dark and dusty.
"Did you see the Blackbird, Schala? Or the Ocean Palace? I designed and built them both," he reminisced.
"The Blackbird?" she repeated absently. "Does it fly?"
"Yes, it soars high above the clouds," tears suddenly threatened to overflow as he remembered the beautiful kingdom that was once his home. The Blackbird allowed him to see the beauty of the entire continent all at once.
"Marle, can you understand him?" another unknown voice questioned her.
"Yes. Can you not?" she asked surprised. "He's speaking the common tongue," she added.
"Marle, I have no idea what he's saying, but it's not common tongue," the boy insisted. The boy didn't know about the link? Strange. Even the earthbound could link. He was about to say as much, but he couldn't keep his eyes open.
"Is he…?" Lucca questioned.
"No," Marle replied adjusting the man on the pallet trying to make him more comfortable, "He's just asleep, though I don't know how much longer he'll last. He's in pretty rough shape."
"How did you understand him?" Crono asked again.
"How did you not? I swear he was speaking Guardian common. You really couldn't understand him?" Both her companions shook their heads. She shrugged. "I have no idea then. I just did." Marle turned her attention back to the ailing old man wondering if she dared to give him another dose of aural healing.
"Marle, we can't stay here," Crono said gently. "We have to keep going."
Marle knew that he was right. And if she wasn't going to stay for Mai or Asha, she certainly wasn't going to stay for this old man who had obviously lived a long life. But it seemed unfair that she be faced with such a situation again so soon. Knowing what she had to do didn't make doing it any less painful.
"Yes, I am aware. But why don't I stay here and do what I can, while you two find this jet vehicle thing. Just come right back and get me once we're ready to go."
"Why don't we just rest here?" Lucca offered. "According to the maps Doan showed me, this is the last time we'll have shelter. And we've traveled well into the afternoon. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. Let's find the bike. But we should stay here the night.
"Sounds fine to me," Crono agreed shrugging his indifference.
"So do what you can Marle," Lucca suggested. "You'll get to sleep off the exhaustion." She hesitated and then went over to her pack and pulled out another vial. She handed it to Marle.
"I don't think another one would do him much good just yet," Marle objected. "We should save them."
"No, this is a little different and it's for you." Lucca insisted. "You've been trying to do too much. It's an ether. I take these when I get really into a project and want to keep working. It's like instant adrenaline. You can't take too many of them or you'll get addicted, but they'll keep you awake for awhile. Take it after you've finished your healing."
"Thank you Lucca," Marle said sincerely.
"We'll be back in a bit. I don't think this bike will take long to find," Crono added.
Lucca and Crono had been through the entire complex, or what was left of it. There seemed to be in the center of the facility where the walls and ceilings were still intact. The labs on the outer parts were partially or completely exposed to the elements. They hadn't found anything. Or rather, they had found a lot! Broken equipment, cooking utensils, mysterious contraptions and devices that Lucca could not identify, wires and tools, beakers and chemicals, microscopes. But in all of that, they couldn't find the bike.
They had encountered one door that was sealed off. Just like the one they had found when they first arrived in this forsaken future. Lucca paced back and forth her hands balled into fists glaring at the golden crest on the door.
"What if it's behind this blasted door? What if it isn't here anymore at all?" she screeched. "We have to go 600 miles! Assuming we could make about 25 miles a day, which as we start to literally starve will get tough."
"Lucca," Crono tried to interrupt.
"That means it takes four days to go a hundred miles. And we have to go SIX hundred. That's 24 days of non-stop travel. With no food and little water – we won't make it! We're better off going back to Bangor Dome and trying to go back to Guardia forest.
"But then, what if the guards are still there searching for you? Or all of us, for that matter. I guess we're all criminals now. We're screwed!"
"Lucca!" this time he had a hand on her shoulder.
"What?" she demanded, whirling around to face him.
"Stop panicking," he said firmly. "It only makes things worse."
Lucca burst into tears and Crono had his arms around her within seconds.
"I'm sorry," she sobbed harder into his chest. "I've just never been so terrified."
"It's okay. You and I, we'll figure things out – we always do," he said more softly rubbing her back as he held her.
"I mean come on, you broke me out of prison a few days ago!" he added after a few minutes. "And a few days before that we successfully infiltrated a secret Mystic compound. And that's just in the last week alone!" She was smiling.
"That doesn't include the time you half carried me home after I had broken my leg, or the multiple science related fires we had to suppress, or the time we got lost in the forest for three days."
"That was completely your fault!" she accused him sitting up and throwing a light punch at his shoulder. "It was not my idea to go hunting on that 'game trail' to bring back a surprise dinner for Master Chiva."
"Yeah well," he shrugged. She let him just hold her for several minutes.
"I just want you to know that this doesn't make me feel any better," but it did. She felt calm and relaxed. It didn't feel like the world was going to end anymore, even though it already had.
"It doesn't?" he asked. "You could have fooled me."
She shook her head insistently. "All of the things that we've been through is just evidence that the two of us are accident prone and walking miracles for even still being here. Our bad luck is bound to catch up to us eventually."
He laughed. "I suppose so." He stood up and pulled Lucca to her feet. "Come on, we should go find Marle so she doesn't start thinking something has happened to us. We'll keep looking for the bike after a break."
The old man finally seemed to be breathing easily. His pulse also seemed stronger. Marle sat back relieved, but also completely exhausted. Her stomach grumbled unhappily. And starving as well, apparently.
She took a look at the vial of clear liquid Lucca had left her and pulled off the stopper. And immediately jerked her head back. The stuff smelled awful! She eyed it suspiciously. But Lucca wouldn't try to poison her. At least, she hoped not. So she downed the ether in one gulp. Her face puckered up at the bitter taste. Once recovered, from the awful aftertaste she sat back and let her eyes close.
She didn't want to be here. She didn't want to be constantly faced with the starving and the dying. Or with a desolated land without birds or flowers. Or with problems that she just couldn't solve. And she was tired of never having a full stomach.
But she didn't want to go home either. Where could a displaced runaway princess go? Suddenly she felt incredibly isolated and alone. She hugged her knees to her chest. Where were her friends? What was taking them so long?
Her legs and arms were suddenly tingling. Marle absently rubbed her arms trying to sooth away the prickling sensation. Her actions did nothing to relieve the sensation. She glanced down at her arms – there was no evidence of a rash or irritation, or insects crawling along her skin. But the sensation was spreading. Even her face began to itch.
She jumped to her feet. She couldn't stand staying still with her skin crawling. Movement helped to distract her from it if nothing else. She would look for Crono and Lucca. It didn't take long to find them. She heard their voices from the next room. She crossed the threshold of the open door eager for some friendly faces.
"H..." Marle began, but bit back her words when she saw them. Crono held Lucca, obviously comforting her. Marle felt very much like she was intruding on an intimate moment so she backed up, and made a silent retreat back to her patient.
By the time she reached the old man, her eyes were already watering. She tried to fight back the tears, but she failed. She felt even more alone than she had previously.
She jumped when a hand took her own. She looked down at her patient.
"Don't cry princess," he said with eyes barely open. "I never could stand to see one as lovely as you cry…" He trailed off as his head lolled back into sleep.
"I will try old man," she said. How did he know she was a princess?
She didn't really have a good reason to be crying anyway she told herself. Sure, she was estranged from her father, she was trapped in an apocalyptic future, Crono was with Lucca, and she was exhausted and starving. No, she had absolutely no reason at all to cry. But her body wracked with silent sobs anyway.
She heard her two companions approaching. She hurriedly wiped the tears away even as she turned her back to the door buying a few extra seconds to regain her composure.
"Marle!" Crono called, "Marle, we have ba… Marle? You okay?"
"Yeah, fine. Just tired," She forced herself to turn and smile. Situations like these made all her lessons on social etiquette and facial control worth it.
"How's your patient?" he asked, buying her explanation.
"He seems to be stable for the time being. He woke up for a moment, but didn't stay conscious. I'm not sure I can do anything more for him. I am completely drained."
"Did you take the ether?" Lucca asked.
"I did! What is that stuff?" Marle asked with more energy. "It makes your skin crawl! And then you just can't stay still!"
Lucca laughed, "Yeah, sorry for not warning you about that. It's just a concoction of various stimulants. My mother says the sensation arises because the ether stimulates blood flow. When your blood vessels start to widen to allow this it becomes… well, itchy. But it's usually worth it if you need to get something done."
Marle wasn't sure if she agreed with that assessment.
"So, did you find this vehicle?" She asked looking at both of them. They hesitated before answering. That meant the news was not good.
"No, not yet," Crono finally said.
"Maybe we should head out on foot," Marle suggested. Her stomach twisted itself into another knot. Was there ever any good news in this place?
"No, that's probably not a good idea. Proto Dome is not close by," Crono explained. Lucca was staring at her feet. "We're better off staying here an extra day or two looking for it. And we were really only looking in the core of the building where the walls were still intact. We'll look again when it's light out again. I'm sure we'll find it," Crono said keeping his voice light and unconcerned. Marle did not feel reassured.
"In the meantime, we should get some rest," he finished. Lucca and Marle both nodded their agreement.
But Marle couldn't sleep. Her mind whirled with too many thoughts of Crono and Lucca, of marching across an endless forsaken land. What if they couldn't find the vehicle? Would they have to go back? That would be a mistake. Just the thought of going back filled her with dread. She knew the Chancellor was there waiting.
Lucca usually woke up slowly. But this morning when she opened her eyes she faced a large round blue object hovering just inches above her. It blinked! She screamed even as she jumped to her feet.
Crono was up with sword drawn. At least you could count on him to wake up when you truly needed him.
"What are you?" Crono asked the strange creature sheathing his blade.
"I am Nu. I am awaiting the wise one's final program code," the blue bulbous creature responded in monotone in seemingly perfect Guardian Common.
"Are you a robot?" Lucca asked excitedly.
"I am Nu," he said simply.
"What's a Nu?" Crono asked. At that moment the old man shot awake screaming. All three time travelers leapt towards him and pushed him back down on the pallet.
"Easy, easy," Marle said trying to calm him down. He gripped her shoulder and pulled her close.
"You must not climb Death Peak," he said urgently looking at her straight in the eyes.
"We won't climb Death Peak," Marle reassured him.
"Hey!" Lucca exclaimed. "I can understand him! We could understand the Nu as well."
"Later Lucca," Crono chastised.
"You wouldn't make it very far anyway," the old man said more to himself. He calmed down instantly. "It has to be the right time," and he fell asleep again. Marle sighed. Lucca felt a moment's sympathy for the princess. She seemed to have her work cut out for her in this era. She turned back around, but the strange creature had vanished.
"Where did that thing go?" Lucca asked. Crono shrugged and the two of them began searching the room.
"Lucca!" Crono called. "Over here!" Crono had found a hatch in the floor. Together they lifted the heavy door up to reveal a staircase down to some kind of cellar.
"Marle, we'll be back in a second! I think we've found something."
Lucca followed Crono downstairs to find the Nu rummaging through shelves of supplies. But Lucca barely paid him any notice, her eyes were on the grey tarp covering a large object.
"Crono," she gestured for his attention as she tore the tarp away to reveal the very motorcar that they had been searching for. She jumped in and the medallion Doan had given her started vibrating. She pulled it out and it was glowing – so was a button on the center console. She pushed it without thinking and the vehicle revved up.
"It still works!" Crono exclaimed.
Lucca got out of the vehicle and moved towards the front and began looking for a way to pry off the front panel. She wanted to see how this thing worked.
"Lucca, what are you doing?" Crono asked urgently.
"I'm trying to work out where this thing gets its power," she explained still completely engrossed in the machine in front of her. Crono stepped forward and restrained her arm.
"Lucca, don't you dare start taking this thing apart," he grinned at her dismay.
"We should leave as soon as we can. Since we've run out of provisions time is of the essence. Plus, we can't risk you not being able to put it back together," he insisted.
"Oh ye of little faith," she retorted.
"I'll go get Marle and your pack. We should leave immediately."
"You mean we should eat!" Lucca countered.
"What? I thought we were out of food. Have you been holding something in reserve?"
Lucca shook her head. "We are. But what do you suppose all that is?" she pointed to the Nu who had prepared a tray with three plates with what looked like toasted bread with jam and three steaming mugs. Crono's eyes lit up at the site.
"Marle's going to be thrilled! We can have a feast fit for royalty!" he grinned.
"It's so fresh!" Marle exclaimed taking another bite of the sticky confection. It wasn't quite fruit, but it was closer than anything she expected to find in this time. "How is this possible? It's like magic."
"Don't question good fortune," Crono mumbled though his very full mouth.
Marle tried to eat slowly to savor every bite, but the meal was devoured much too quickly. Soon she had resorted to picking up crumbs off her plate and licking them off her fingers. The tea was surprisingly flavorful and it settled in a warm comforting way as she drank it.
"I guess it's time to be leaving," Lucca suggested when they had all finished their plates.
"Let me check on the old man one more time," Marle stood up and left the kitchen.
"Good bye old man," Marle said standing over her sleeping patient. He seemed to be resting easily. She took his hand in her own and squeezed it. "I hope you find peace," she whispered into his ear. And then she rejoined her friends in the cellar.
The Nu seemed to have opened one of the walls and they had a clear path to drive the jet bike. The blue creature held out a bundle to Marle.
"Thank you Nu," Marle said as she accepted his offer.
"I exist to serve," it replied with little emotion.
"That thing must be some kind of robot," Lucca commented.
"Doesn't look like a robot," Crono countered, "Are we ready?"
Marle nodded sadly, while Lucca checked her bag to make sure she had all her tools and gave Crono a thumb's up.
"Then let's be off. We have a long way to go."
"I want to drive!" Lucca shouted running to the driver's seat.
"Sure," Crono agreed, climbing into the back to let Marle have the front. "But it's my turn when you get tired."
Belthasar bolted upright out of bed. He needed paper! He ran to his desk and began scribbling out his plans furiously. He pen froze mid-word. How was he alive? He had been certain that he had been finished. He put his hand to his chest. There was almost no pain! He was breathing easily! How was this possible?
He vaguely recalled three young smiling faces. No! That couldn't be it. Young people! So healthy and optimistic! It was an impossibility! Must have been a dream. The Powers that Be interfering in his life seemed infinitely more likely. Which meant his restored life had to have a purpose!
He turned back to his work, writing frantically. "Nu!" he called over and over even as he worked. But the creature did not appear. Suddenly concerned, Belthasar stormed from his bedroom to the workroom still calling for his creation. Where was the dratted creature?
"Nu!" he shouted out even louder, "It's time for you and I to get to work! We have quite a bit yet to finish. We'll be the masters of time travel yet!"
He came into the kitchen and his eyes were immediately drawn to the large dining table. There were three place settings on the table.
"Yes master?" The blue bulbous creature queried as he came up from the cellar. Belthasar tore his attention away from the baffling table.
"Nu!" Belthasar said excitedly, "I made a breakthrough! I can finish your program!"
A/N: I apologize if this chapter seemed a little too similar to the chapter before, but as you all mostly likely know this little side trip is kind of important!
Thanks to all who read! And a double thanks to anyone who takes the time to review. Such feedback is ever so very much appreciated.
Only one more chapter in the future! And then the chapters should start coming a lot faster as many of them are already mostly written! Yay!