Burt noticed his coffee had gone cold. He stood up, checked the fax machine and the old vacuum chute, and left his office for a refill. He walked past Gail in the Departures area, past the washrooms to the café and got a fresh cup. One cream, two sugar and he headed back. Back past the bathrooms and Departures.
His pace slowed. Something wasn’t right.
“What’s going on, Gail?” Burt said, looking around the Departures area.
“Absolutely nothing,” Gail replied, not lifting her head from where it rested on her palm.
“Yeah, I can see that. Why the hell not?”
“How should I know? Hasn’t been anyone through here in a while now. And Jasmine in Arrivals said their last travelers were through a while ago, too.” Gail looked down at her phone. “Yeah ‘Nobody in forever, going to the ladies’. That was 15 minutes ago.”
Burt looked up at the Departures board. Blank. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.”
“Yeah, me neither. Kind of spooky.”
“I’m going to go find Bonnie, you stay here,” he said, and started towards the elevator.
“Can do, boss,” she called after him, offering a mock salute with it.
Burt’s shoes echoed through the concourse. A handful of staff and no travelers. This was weird. He walked past the convenience shop and security gates and stopped at a door marked “Client Service Manager – Arrivals”. He knocked.
“Yeah,” came the response.
Burt opened the door. Bonnie the Arrivals Manager had her feet on her desk and was idly flipping through her phone. She glanced up. “Burt.”
“Bonnie… get your feet off the desk.”
“You’re not my boss anymore, Burt. What do you want?”
“Are you guys at all busy?”
Bonnie looked at him. “Didn’t you just walk through…”
“Fine, how long has it been since you were busy?” Burt’s impatience was obvious.
“Busy? A couple of hours. Actually, I don’t think there’s been anyone at all for about… 90 minutes?” she squinted, remembering.
“You haven’t had a new arrival in an hour and a half and you didn’t think to call anyone?”
“Who would I call and what would I say? ‘Hi, 911? We haven’t had a trav throu-“
“Ugh, don’t say trav, you sound like an idiot,” Burt interrupted.
“Hey, fuck you, Burt. Who did you call?” Bonnie was on her feet, pointing at him.
“Nobody, yet. I just found out. Get the other managers downstairs, right now.” Burt turned to leave.
“Because we have to figure out why there have been no new time travelers for the past 90 minutes and I don’t know how to do that.”
Burt stared at the phone. He had dug out the old emergency procedures handbook from the first aid office. He started calling the emergency contact numbers on the first page. Every one of them but the last one rang out of service. The last one rang busy for eight tries and then rang out of service.
“What the fuck does that mean?” Burt asked the phone.
He dropped the receiver. He glanced at the fax machine, its screen displaying “no dialtone”. He checked the tube chute – no pressure? Burt scratched his head, then left his office. Back on the concourse, Bonnie stood with the other two managers, Lisa and Dave. He walked up. “Uh, I think we might be on our own.”
Dave looked confused. “What do you mean on our own, on our own about what?”
Burt looked at Bonnie. “I called all the emergency numbers, and they’re all out of service.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” Bonnie asked, eye widening.
“Yeah, I don’t know.”
“Hey, on our own about what?” Dave asked again.
Bonnie’s turn. “We haven’t had a new time travel arrival in almost two hours and departures dried up without anyone noticing until now. We don’t know what that means. Burt just tried calling all the emergency contact numbers, and none of them answered. We don’t know what that means either.”
“Well, the numbers were out of service,” Burt corrected, and paused. “I don’t know if that makes a difference.”
Dave crossed his arms. “People should be coming here. We’ve got the Olympics in a couple weeks, a bunch of critters are in season…”
“Exactly, so why aren’t they here?” Lisa asked, speaking up.
“Maybe… they just found something cool and everyone’s there for now?” Bonnie offered. “Maybe we’re just out of style?”
But Burt shot her down. “No, that’s happened before. We just get a bunch of the cheapos who can’t afford the interesting stuff.”
“Maybe they built a competing Timeport on the other side of the world and everyone’s using that while it’s new?” Lisa suggested.
“No… we’d have seen the construction crews come through here. I didn’t. Did you guys?” Burt asked. The three other shook their heads.
“Maybe they’re finally shutting this whole crazy time travel bullshit down?” asked Dave. “Like a government moratorium or something?”
“If that were the case you would think the government would answer one of the ten government phone numbers they gave us to call if we had any questions,” Burt snapped. “Maybe they’re not coming because something very fucking wrong is happening.”
Bonnie waved a hand at him. “Okay, settle down, Burt. None of us knows what’s going on. Has anyone checked the internet?”
Dave pulled out his phone. “No bars, no wifi? What the hell?”
Burt and Bonnie looked at their phones. “Same here,” Bonnie said.
“And here,” said Burt, turning towards the Arrivals desk. “I’ll check the computers.”
“I’ve got a dinosaur phone, let me see what I’ve got,” Lisa said, revealing an ancient flip.
Dave dropped his jaw jokingly. “You still use a Razor? Okay Grandma.”
“I think you mean ‘Thank you, Grandma’ because I’ve got one bar! I’m calling my husband.” She hit speed dial and put the phone on speaker.
“Nothing on these pieces of shit!” Burt shouted.
“It’s okay, I have one bar!” Lisa shouted back. “It’s ringing!”
It rang. It rang and rang. “… our answering machine usually picks up by now,” Lisa said, brow furrowing.
It rang. It rang and rang. “I don’t like this.”
Finally, mid-ring, the phone cut out, no bars.
They stood in silence for a moment, looking at each other. Afraid.
“We have to go outside,” Dave said finally. Bonnie and Burt nodded. Lisa looked at her phone.
Outside explained everything, and nothing. The moon hung, shattered, in a red sky. Lazy drifting hunks of the former satellite could be seen clearly despite frequent meteors. Massive shapes hulked in the darkness of the occluded stars; tiny lances stabbing out at each other, more flashes, more debris. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon, obvious roiling and hints of funnels. But the sky couldn’t hold their attention.
Smashed across the landscape was a massive… thing. The four tiny people stood on the edge of good pavement at the mouth of the Timeport parking garage, utterly dwarfed by it. Fires burned everywhere, buildings half crushed under the massive… shape their eyes couldn’t resolve. It seemed to be moving, shimmering in the light of explosions and fire.
Dave fainted. Bonnie and Burt stood slack-jawed. Lisa screamed, and the… thing heard her. It stopped utterly still, the scintillations on its surface ceased. Then, suddenly, a shudder convulsed through the form, and small shapes began dropping off.
“GET BACK! GET BACK INSIDE!” the screams came from nearby. Bonnie and Burt looked to see a human shape, running towards them as it blew through the smoke. “GET BACK IN THE PORT!”
Lisa bolted through the revolving door. Bonnie sneered at her back, then grabbed one of Dave’s arms. “Burt! Help me with Dave!”
Burt seemed rooted, eyes wide, for a second longer, and then snapped out of it. He rushed over and grabbed Dave’s other arm, and the two dragged the unconscious form back into the Timeport, just as the stranger came even with them.
“I can fix this! I can fix everything! I just need to get to a return pad!” He was talking fast, visibly shaken.
Burt stammered, in shock, dropping Dave. “ahh ahh of course. Uh… I need to see your paperwork so I can help you.”
“NO TIME I don’t have paperwork I HAVE MY TTCHIT!” The stranger flashed his exposed wrist at Burt then snapped it back up his sleeve. “SEE?!”
“What is that thing out there? What happened?” Bonnie shouted at him, grabbing him by the jacket.
“ICANFIXITICANFIXIT just let me return I can return I can FIX IT!” he shouted, twisting free.
Bonnie stared at Burt. Burt looked back at her. “What do we do?” they both said at the same time. “Fuck,” Bonnie said a second after Burt said, “Shit.”
“LETMERETURNLETMERETURN!” The stranger was tearing at his hair. “CAN’TBEHERE SHOULDN’TBEHERE SHOULD RETURN LET ME RETURN!” His yelling had turned to screaming.
“OKAY OKAY FUCK” Bonnie screamed back. She grabbed the back of the stranger’s clothes and pushed him towards the Departures gates.
“Bonnie, what are you doing?” Burt called after her, finally coming around. “You can’t just let that guy time travel with no…”
“He says he can fix this, and he’s got a ttchit, so I’m sending him back to fix this,” she said, not turning around. She and the stranger jumped the security gate, setting off sirens and klaxons and flashing lights.
“Bonnie! Stop! We have to at least confirm when he’s going!” Burt started running towards them.
“Fuck that! He can fix what’s out there, he goes back!” She shoved the stranger onto a return pad. “Wave your arm over the reader!” she shouted, pointing at the pad’s screen. “DO IT!”
The stranger gave a little wave, scanned his ttchit and vanished. The world exploded in noise.
It wasn’t a sound so much as an imposition of a thought. Burt and Bonnie dropped to their knees, clutching their heads.
UNAUTHORISED ACCESS TO THE STREAM.
SECURITY TEST FAILED.
ILLICIT CHRONO HARDWARE IN USE.
Burt felt his face, and looked at his hand, blood. He was bleeding from the nose. He looked at Bonnie; so was she.
TIMELINE RESET 5
TIMELINE RESET 4
Bonnie looked at Burt, eyes wide “what the fuck is going on?” she screamed over the din.
TIMELINE RESET 3
TIMELINE RESET 2
Burt noticed his coffee had gone cold. He stood up, checked the fax machine and the old vacuum chute, and went to leave his office for a refill. As he opened the door, he heard the <shunk> of a vacuum chute message’s arrival. He turned back, set his cup coffee on the fax machine and opened the chute. He took out the message container, opened that as well, and unrolled the scroll of paper.
THIS TIMELINE HAS BEEN RESET
DUE TO FAILURE TO MEET MINIMUM CHRONOSECURITY STANDARDS THIS TIMELINE HAS BEEN RESET
FIRST CHRONOSECURITY FAILURE REQUIRES MANDATORY RECERTIFICATION FOR ALL FACILITY STAFF
THIS TIMELINE HAS BEEN RESET
RETRAINER WILL ARRIVE SHORTLY
STAFF TO BE RETRAINED AND RECERTIFIED BY 220@2:121:1&hg:()2 EASTERN DAYLIGHT TIME OR FACE TERMINATION & REMOVAL FROM THE TIMELINE
THIS TIMELINE HAS BEEN RESET
Burt rolled his eyes. “Another training session?” he thought, and left his office for a refill. “Don’t they know nothing ever happens here?”