Tommie Powers and the Time Machine
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Episode 1 – Graduation
Tenth Grade, what a trip! Tommie and I were soulmates in those days. I think our names were the reason we bonded, as we both have girl's names. I could call him Tommie, and he could call me Millie without getting mad about it. His mother was the only other person who could call him Tommie, and she did all the time.
At least he has a mom. I think if I had a mom, I would be okay with letting her call me Millie.
He hated it, though, and tried in vain to change her. No dice, she was old and set in her ways, I suppose. She was over thirty! His aunt and a few other old folks called him Tommie, too, but his mom hurt the worst. They could have saved him a ***k ton of teenaged angst if they had just called him Tom.
If anyone else called him Tommie or called me Millie, we would gang up and gar-run-tee they wouldn't do it again. So his proper name was Thomas Jefferson Powers, which has problems too. So, everyone who didn't want a broken nose called him 'Cap.' That was short for 'Capital T.'
Sometimes I called him 'Atomic Powers,' but that was just wordplay. If I got upset with him, sometimes it became Thomasina, but he was less tolerant of that. 'Tommie' was what he hated—just like I hate Millie. That's short for Milner. Milner Fitzgerald Smith. What a handle! M.F. Smith! See, it can get even worse than Millie. Who gives a baby a name like that?
No one knows who my parents were—fire station abandonment as a newborn—left on the doorstep with a note which forever tagged me with the mark of shame and made me the subject of scorn. Kids can be brutal.
Anyone who knows me calls me Twit. It's not a name; it's an acronym—Top Wizard in Technology—it's my online handle. So Cap and Twit, that's us—we both are seriously into computers. I am the software wizard, and he, the hardware. Tenth-grade wizards; we had an almost supernatural way with the machines.
Our skills came in handy when we found the Time Machine.
I guess I'd better tell the story straight; I can see by the look on your face I've jiggered your boggle circuit too much already.
Hang in there, and I will tell you the real story of Tommie Powers and the Time Machine. Every word is the truth, so help me.
So, here we were at the end of the Tenth Grade. Graduation was next week, and we had our summers all planned. Doc had arranged for summer internships for us at a local Cybersecurity firm. We both owe Doc, and I don't mean just for the jobs. He had taken the two of us under his wing. We were lost souls in High School, nerdy and unpopular, with girls' names. He saved us. Doc taught us about physics and chemistry, but that was just his day job. On the weekends, he taught us about Science Fiction and a lot more things we never imagined.
Everybody called him Doc not because of his academic degrees, but because he genuinely was a Doctor—the town Optometrist. Saturdays and summers, he fitted eyeglasses from a small office above the bank.
Small towns, right?
Doc's office was full of lawyers' bookcases packed with books. Of course, many were Science Fiction novels, but he had books of every stripe. Hundreds and hundreds of books, and Doc knew every single one by heart.
Doc knew everything! If it was in a book, he had the book and had it memorized. He was funny like that. He had a head stuffed with quotes on every topic and could talk for hours on the story's hidden meaning, surprising plot twists, and even the authors' private lives.
His books were much better than those in the school library. He had the uncensored Huckleberry Finn, for example. It's shocking what school librarians think they need to hide from us kids. If they thought Huck was scandalous, they better never hear how we talk when they're not around, I guess.
Doc ran a small lending library out of his optometry office, lending his stash to anyone who asked. Not that he was reckless, he kept meticulous records of who borrowed what book—and they always returned them. People respected Doc.
So, there we were, Cap and me. Tenth-grade done, graduation ahead, and exciting jobs waiting—all thanks to Doc. We were lucky, and we knew it. It was Friday, and we had a little celebrating to do.
Cap and me were playing Half-Life in the school's Computer Lab. If Mr. Story caught us, he would have been upset. In hindsight, Mr. Story was a good teacher but lacked Doc's passion. He didn't earn his student's respect the way Doc did, so we called him by his initials, 'OBS,' behind his back, sometimes expanding the TLA using words that I won't repeat. Okay, the first two were usually "Old Bag," you can guess the rest. Yeah, kids are uncivilized. This was High School; I believe I said that already. It wasn't that anyone hated Mr. Story, just that he didn't earn the respect that Doc did.
We owe Mr. Story at least as much as we do Doc, as his computer lab profoundly impacted our lives. But he was dour, crotchety, and never laughed, whereas Doc was always joking and enjoyed life.
Mr. Story took his lab seriously and would have had a fit—he considered games a waste and particularly disliked Half-Life. We didn't care, though; we were done with him for the year. Nonetheless, it was probably best that Doc caught us in the lab after school hours and gently shooed us out before we got in trouble. Playing computer games in the school computer lab after hours? Man, nobody wants a criminal record like that following them through life!
So, two teenage boys, cast out of the Computer Lab, had time on their hands and nothing to do, nowhere to go. What could possibly go wrong?
Episode 2 — The UFO Cave
Last fall, this flying saucer crashed on a farm outside town. That's what everyone said it was, but a bunch of Army guys came and gathered up the wreckage and hauled it away—telling us it was a weather balloon. Nobody believed them, of course, but they hauled it all away, so we couldn't prove a thing. But even though it was all hauled away, the place where it crashed has become a hangout. Not because there is anything to see, there isn't, but people like to hunt for any piece of scrap that the Army might have missed, any trace that a real flying saucer was there. But, of course, no one has ever found anything.
Not until we found the Time Machine, that is.
Here we were, time on our hands, no place to go, nothing to do after Doc kicked us out of the computer lab. So we decided to ride out to see the flying saucer!
Two-up on Tommie's dirt bike beats hours on a bicycle, and walking out to the old Porter farm is out of the question—we'd still be walking. So Tommie's parents bought him a dirt bike for his birthday, and I let him haul me around when we go on adventures.
I hate being a passenger; I want a dirt bike too. If this summer job works out, maybe I will have the money to buy one.
Today is not the first time we've visited the crash site, but it is the first time we spotted the little cave.
I guess you can't call it a cave. It was too shallow, and, well, it didn't look like a cave. More like, it's a hole in the hillside as if a crashing UFO poked a hole in the side of the hill leaving a carved-out depression.
I can't believe we never spotted this before. Possibly it's a trick of light and shadow, but it didn’t look natural. It was late when we arrived, and the sun was low, and the shadows were long. The breeze blew, the bushes moved, and Bang! —there it was. A hole poked in the ground, just big enough to crawl into—and being kids, well, that's what we did.
We did have enough sense, or luck, to have a flashlight; Tommie's dad had put one in the bike's toolkit.
"You go first," Tommie said.
"Why me? You go first," I said.
"Listen, Twit; I'm the one with the bike. So, if something happens to you, I can go for help. But, if I go first, and something happens to me, we're both stuck."
"I know how to drive your bike. I can go for help too."
"Yes, but I've got the key."
"So, give me the key before you go in."
And that's how I came to be the first to crawl into the cave.
It wasn't a bottomless cave, but there was enough room to turn around. So after I didn't disturb a bear, pig, or a raccoon or get snakebit, Tommie crawled in behind me. It was too small for comfort. We were good friends, but not that good.
After a few minutes of exploring the cramped space, sifting the dirt with our fingers looking for any scrap of extraterrestrial metal, we were ready to crawl back out. But, as I tried to slide past Tommie to get pointed toward the entrance, my hand brushed something hard, but not like a rock—metallic and smooth; it was some kind of box.
"Hand me that flashlight, will ya?"
"What for, you can see the entrance. Crawl toward the light. I need it to get past your fat a**."
"Nah, man, I got somethin here, gimme that light."
Well, being Tommie, he didn't hand me the light, but instead, he tried to turn around, so he faced the object too. He managed to both step on my hand and kick me in the, uh, well, he kicked me while doing so. I fixed him, unintentionally, as when he kicked me, I spasmed and let out a fluffer-doodle that echoed like a firecracker in the confined space and caused him to gag.
"Argh! Millie! Sheesh, did you have to do that?"
"Sorry, Thomasina, that's what happens with a man-cramp. You're the one who kicked me."
"Whew! My eyes are watering. This had better be worth it. Whatcha got?"
The thing was buried deep; I had only touched the corner. The dirt was hard-packed, and we didn't have any tools but our fingers. So we tried to dig it out but couldn't.
"Crawl out and get me a tire spoon from the bike's toolkit, will ya?"
"You go get it."
Sigh. Do you see what I have to put up with?
"It's your bike and your toolkit. I need something to dig with."
"Let's both go."
"I'm afraid we might lose it if we don't keep an eye on it. It's dark in here."
Grumbling, he tries to turn and get pointed in the right direction and crawl out. This time he knees me in the ribs. Again, I grunted but this time held my tongue and my flatulence.
Of course, he took the flashlight! You don't know dark until you're in a cave with no flashlight. Fortunately, a little light filtered in from outside thru the hole, although nighttime approached, and it was getting dark out. We didn't plan this expedition very well. In a cave that no one knew existed, after dark, out in Porter's field constitutes a perfect example of bad planning.
After only a short eternity, Tommie returned with the tool. That at least made the digging possible, but it was by no means easy. It was a moonless night when we crawled out of the cave with our treasure.
We had scarcely gotten out of the cave when we heard a low rumble. It began low but grew, and then a swoosh as a massive cloud of dirt and dust welled up from the cave. When the air cleared, we shined the flashlight around where the cave entrance had been. It was gone. The cave had collapsed in upon itself.
We looked at each other wide-eyed, awed by how near we had come to being crushed in the collapse.
Episode 3 – The Doohickey
"Ooh snap!" said Tommie.
I said, "I guess the f**kup fairy came out to play." I have a pure heart, but oh, my mouth is a troublemaker. I try to limit myself to one F-bomb per hour and then only when alone or with Tommie. Adults are so critical.
"It was a near miss, that's for sure."
"Near miss? That was a near HIT!! We almost became a statistic. Tomorrow's headline is still flashing before my eyes. 'Two local teens mysteriously disappear near local UFO crash site.' It woulda made the national news, I bet."
“Did we cause that?”
“I dunno, but I think maybe our digging around in there and taking the gadget out might have been a factor.”
We spent the next several minutes in stunned silence. Then, regaining a measure of calm, we looked the device over and decided it definitely was tech—something electronic packaged in a metallic briefcase-like case, though it lacked a briefcase handle. It was smooth, with rounded edges, and it wasn't even scratched or dented from being buried in the ground. I considered it a miracle we hadn't scratched it up while digging it out.
We spent several minutes figuring out what it was and how we would get our new toy home on Tommie's dirt bike. Unfortunately, we failed in both efforts. We didn't know what it was, nor a practical way we could carry it—another example of bad planning. Without a luggage rack or bungee cords, or even rope, this wasn't going to be easy.
Finally, we decided I must simply hold it, press it between my belly and his back, hanging onto it with both hands; a poor option, as one bump or sharp turn and I might drop it. Or fall off the bike. Of course, I could hang on myself or hang onto it, but doing both simultaneously, well, let's say the pucker factor was high.
The ride back to town was a lot slower than the ride out to the farm had been. Despite Tommie's slower driving and careful bump avoidance, we had a couple of close calls. Somehow I held onto the smooth, rounded case and did not fall off the bike.
So, we're in town. Where do we take it? The foster family I currently stay with isn't receptive to "my junk," as they call it. Okay, one old computer. Sheesh. You'd of thought I'd brought the whole junkyard home. But, Tommie gets away with a lot more; he turned the family garage into a hardware lab and has dozens of old computers in various stages of disassembly. So, one more "piece of junk" shouldn't be noticed. We hoped. Unfortunately, his parents are starting to complain and demanding he clear it all out. If they see us dragging in our treasure, they will ask questions we'd rather not answer.
Still, we didn't have anywhere else to go, so we did.
"You take the thing around back. I'll go in and run interference. Mom will be asking a million questions about where I've been so late. Then, in a minute, I'll open the back door," Tommie said.
Parents worry so. We had done this sort of thing before, and Tommie is the artful dodger when deflecting his parents’ concerns. Tommie's dad won't interrogate him as his mom does, but we were later than expected. So naturally, she demands accounting. Moms instinctively worry; I suppose it's genetic. I don't have that problem. I don't think my foster family cares or even notices whether I come home or not.
It was more than a minute before Tommie appeared at the back door. Then, cracking it open, he says, "Pssst!"
"Good. Bring it in here. We'll stash it under the bench for tonight."
"Let's look it over first. Turn on the light."
"No, better not. Mom is upset, and it's late. Tomorrow's Saturday, we can examine it better in the daylight. Besides, Doc will be in his office, and we can ask him about it if we need to."
So, we stashed our mysterious new toy under the bench, and I headed home. It was late, even later than I thought, and the house was dark. I crawled in my bedroom window and went to bed.