Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Talladega Experiment

<< < Chapter Eleven > >>

  “Is it goin’ hurt?” asked Isaiah, as he lied back, looking up at the classroom ceiling.
the black doctor stood at the sink by the window, washing his utensils under the water tap.
  “Don’t worry none,” said Dr Carter, as he turned off the tap and put on some gloves. “You’ll be sleepin’. Y’ don’t feel nothin’ then, do ya?”
  “One time, bug bit me when I wwhiteas asleep,” said Isaiah, he glanced down at the grey hairs on his bare chest, with a dotted line drawn in white marker on his brown skin. “Woke me up. If I’m gettin’ cut, won’t I wake up?”
Dr Carter sighed as he put the utensils on the desk beside the table, and filled a needle with a clear liquid.
  “Stop frettin’, y’hear?” he said, as he gave the needle a flick, and squeezed it, letting out the last of the air and a small droplet. “When I’m done, you’ll feel better than ever.”
  “Levi says his new leg hurts sometime . . .” said Isaiah, his voice quivering as he looked at the long needle. “Is this gonna hurt?”
Dr Carter injected Isaiah’s arm and waited, staring at the man until his eyes closed. Then, sighing with relief, he took his scalpel and cut along the line in the man’s chest. Quickly mopping up the blood with a small sponge, Dr Carter turns and picks up a sternal saw, a device which looked similar to a power drill, but with a small, inch-long saw instead of a drill. With an unsettling whirring sound, the doctor walked back over to Isaiah, activated the saw and began cutting through Isaiah’s exposed sternum. After a minute of carving into bone, Dr Carter turned off the saw and placed it back on the desk behind him. He reached into Isaiah’s chest and grabbed the piece of bone. It wiggled, but didn’t move. Carter glanced at the saw, shook his head, then gritted his teeth and yanked out the sternum with a crack. He then dropped the bloodied bone into the nearby wastepaper basket, and picked up his scalpel once more. Cutting into the pericardium, he peeled back the skin exposing Isaiah’s softly beating heart.
  “There’s the little devil,” he muttered to himself. Wiping sweat off his brow with his wrist, Carter turned around and picked up a small, round, segmented metal ball as big as an apple with several copper wires and clear, plastic tubes hanging off of it. He picked up a small, cylindrical, blue crystal from the table and slotted it into the ball, and as soon as it clicked into place, the little ball began pulsating, rhythmically contracting and expanding in his hand . . .

As the Lift rematerialized, landing with a thud, and the groaning of the temporal engine fell silent, Anise was hugging the Duke, her head resting on his chest.
  “We’ve landed,” said the Duke.
  “Okay,” she said.
  “Are you?” he asked. And he moved some of the hair out of her face with a finger, so he could see her eyes. She looked up at him. He was a head taller than her, so she had to crane her neck to look into his eyes, standing so close to him.
  “I am now,” she said.
Edison cleared his throat. A little sheepish, Anise let go and took two steps back.
  “So, where are we?” asked the inspector.
  “Good question. I have no idea, but we’ve travelled back in time a few dozen years,” said the Duke. “Shall we?”
The Duke gestured to the door, and Edison headed outside. The door opened automatically, and Edison stepped into a small wooden room filled with smoke. But, rather than char and burn, it smelled like hickory. There were metal hooks attached to two metal crossbars in the ceiling, and by their feet in the corner was a small, metal pot, seated on a stone step.
  “Okay, now, what is this?” asked Edison, as the three of them stepped into the cramp confines of the Lift lobby.
  “I have no idea,” said the Duke, he closed the door behind him and opened a secret panel above the metal pot, locking it with his key. “This timeship’s defensive system is programmed with an extensive library of exterior shell configurations. As a type seventy-two, it’s limited to those with an interior, but I couldn’t tell you even half of them.It’s designed to blend into any time, in any place upon over two-radix-nine million planets, so as not to arouse suspicion.”
The Duke opened the door of the Lift only to have the prongs of a pitchfork pointed aggressively in his face.
  “What in the hell are you?” said the farmer, an old black man with a perpetual frown and a Southern, American accent.
The Duke glanced looked at the rusty prongs of the fork. They weren’t very sharp, but they were sharp enough to impale a trespasser.
  “I’m a scientist,” said the Duke. “And I don’t want to be skewered.”
  “So, what’s this, then?” said the farmer, taking a step back, he gestured at the roof of the Lift. “I ain’t got a smokehouse. Where’d it come from?”
  “Is that what it is?” said the Duke, genuinely intrigued. “A smokehouse . . . I thought it might’ve been an outhouse.”
  “An’ all three of yer were in it?” said the farmer with a raised eyebrow.
  “It looked bigger on the outside,” said the Duke with a shrug. “Can we come out now?”
The farmer still looked suspicious, but he lowered his pitchfork. The three stepped out of the Lift.
  “I’m the Duke,”said the time lord, with a courteous nod.
  “Levi,” replied the farmer. He held out a hand. The Duke did the same and Levi grabbed it in a firm handshake. “So, you’re a scientist, are you?”
  “I dabble in the study of time and space,” said the Duke.
  “Y’all any good with machines?” he asked.
The Duke reached into his pocket and retrieved his laser spanner.
  “I could turn a telephone into a teleporter,” said the Duke.
  “Then, could you lend me a hand?” he said, lowering the pitchfork “Perhaps you could fix this?”
Levi bent down and grabbed the hem of his left trouser leg, and hitched it up to show his ankle, but when he pulled down his long, grey sock, there wasn’t a leg underneath. Instead, where his leg had been, there was a blocky looking metal box. which had a few scratches on it. The side of it was dented.
  “Now, that’s weird . . .” muttered Edison.
  “What seems to be the problem?” asked the Duke, kneeling down in front of the man.
  “I can’t move the foot anymore, it’s the ankle.” said Levi. “The doc’ said he didn’t have time to help. I checked the hinge and drive chain, but the damned thing just won’t move.”
  “I can’t fix it here,” said the Duke. “We’ll need a flat surface of some description. A table or a bench?”
  “Of course, this way.” he said, picking up his pitchfork. The Duke held back as Levi lead the way out of the field.
  “Correct me if I’m wrong,” the Duke said quietly, “but, that technology looks to be beyond this era of human development.”
  “Definitely,” said Anise.
  “Then I think we’re in the right place at the right time,” said the Duke with a smirk.
They headed to closer down towards the farmhouse, and into a shed nearby. Once inside, the farmer threw his leg up onto the worktable, and the Duke hunched over to work on it.
  “What happened here?” asked the Duke, as he reached under the dented ankle-guard to find three taught, green wires.
  “Thresher ran over it,” says Levi. “It’s the damned leg’s. I was drivin’ ‘n’ it got caught on the pedal. When I tried to wrench it out, it stood up, I got thrown off me seat.”
  “Well, it’s crushed these wires,” said the Duke. He scanned the wires with a green ray from his spanner, then singled one of them out and stripped one of them with a thumbnail.
  “How did you lose it in the first place?” asked Anise “Didn’t run that over, did you?”
  “Nah, infection,” said Levi. “They reckon it’s bedbugs, or a field mite. Toes went numb, and I couldn’t move it right. But, the doctor made it better.”
  “The what?” said the Duke in a low growl.
  “The doctor,” said Levi, “Doc Carter.”
  “Oh,” said the Duke. He cut and twisted the wires together, then used his spanner to solder them together, and reseal the rubber insulation. “There; take it for a test run.”
The Duke stepped back and Levi swung his leg back over onto the ground. He took a few steps, and the leg moved naturally, as though it were his own, just made of metal.
  “Well, I’ll be,” said Levi, as he grabbed the Duke’s hand in a firm handshake. “Ya’ll are good. Thank yer, greatly.”
  “You’re welcome,” said the Duke. “I’m always happy to help.”
  “Hey . . .” said Levi, looking at the Duke. “Uh, I don’t mean to impose, but . . . d’you reckon you could help out some o’ the others?”
  “Other what?” asked the Duke.
  “Other people what Carter fixed,” said Levi. “The Doc’s busy with his work, but if you can repair a leg, surely you could fix an arm, right? If it’s not too much trouble.”
  “On the contrary,” said the Duke. “I insist that you show me these other . . . ‘prosthetics’.”

After Levi fetched his hat and put on a coat, he and the timeship trio headed down the road and into town. Anise was a little annoyed when Edison explained that cars were not commercially available yet, but the four of them travelled a quarter mile down the road on foot. As they went, Levi explained the infestation that had taken the town. Almost all of Talladega was at risk to a parasite which caused spots on the skin, numbness and hair loss on the extremities, before paralysis, deformity and eventually disability. Luckily, Doctor Carter from the local university offered to replace their disabled limbs with some that the school had developed. It had allowed their farming community to thrive, even in the midst of disease.
In town, they walked into some kind of street market, several carts were set up with makeshift shade cloths, and farmers stood out front, offering people vegetables, flour, eggs & smoked or salted meats. What stood out was that more than half of the locals were African American. And some of them seemed to have machinery where body parts should have been.
  “Ralph!” Levi called, as he approached a cart loaded with eggs and plucked chickens. The three walked over, but Anise and Edison both jumped when Ralph turned to look at them. He was a plump, bald man, and he looked cheery, but his left eye was missing, and in its place was a silver orb with a red laser-iris.
  “Levi, what brings you?” asked Ralph. “We’ve got some large googs, y’want ‘em . . .”
  “Not right now. First, I’ve got some new visitors. Pommies,” he said, indicating the Duke, Anise & Edison. “Duke here reckons he can fix yer eye.”
  “Oh, yeah?” said Ralph. “How much?”
  “Entirely,” said the Duke with a raised eyebrow.
  “Nah, I mean, what will it cost me?”
  “It won’t cost you anything but a moment of time,” said the Duke, stepping forward. “What seems to be the problem?”
  “It’s gone blue,” said Ralph, gesturing at it. “Everythin’ I see is blue.”
  “Da ba dee-” mumbled Anise, before Edison elbowed her to shut her up.
The Duke stepped closer. On Ralph’s head, behind the occipital bone of his artificial eye, was a square, metal panel, and trailing to the back of his head were what looked like veins, but there were scars where they’d been stitched closed. The Duke scanned it with his laser spanner.
  “This is . . . part of your brain?” said the Duke. “Well, it appears as though the display has worn out, from continual use. But I can reconfigure the resolution . . .”
The spanner buzzed as the Duke adjusted it, and then Ralph flinched as the laser-iris went dark.
  “Hey! It’s gone black, I can’t see!” he yelped, stepping back.
  “It’s rebooting,” said the Duke as he grabbed his head, frowning, and applied the spanner to his head again. “One moment, and . . .”
The laser-iris turned on again, bright red.
  “Oh my God . . . I can see.”
  “It wore out because it’s been working all day and night,” said the Duke. “I’ve set it to deactivate when your other eye closes.”
  “What?” said Ralph. He blinked his eye, and the red iris went black, switching on when he opened it again. “Dear gods, it’s better than ever. I might finally get a good night’s sleep!”
He jumped at the Duke, grabbing him in a hug.
  “You’re welcome,” said the Duke, with a slight smirk.
  “Can y’all help some others?” asked Levi, as he gestured to the rest of the market. “A lot of our parts have worn down . . .”
  “Of course,” said the Duke, Ralph let go, and the Duke stepped forward, holding his laser spanner. “Anyone else with broken technology?! I have the means to fix it for you!”
Some of the people looked up, and the Duke noted, most of them had mechanical prosthetics.
  “For Free!” chimed in Levi.
Before he knew it, a crowd started to form.
  “Form a line! Form a line!” yelled Ralph, and Edison stepped forward to organize the foot traffic. At the front of the line was a little girl with brass fingers.
  “‘Scuse me, sir, my thumb ain’t workin’.”
  “Here, allow me,” said the Duke, kneeling down and taking her hand in his.

Dozens of people came forth. Samuel, a man with metal arms which had grown weaker from overuse, which the Duke tightened; a named Bertram with a reinforced spine which was stiff, that the Duke reprogrammed; & Simon, a man with a mechanized voicebox who got a nasty shock whenever he drank a pint, until the Duke repaired the frayed wiring. The Duke was happy to help, but he was bothered by the prevalence of scars, aching stumps and simple mistakes in the construction of these otherwise advanced machines.
Several of the other cyborgs had perfectly functioning parts, and after the Duke had repaired the broken, some of them asked the Duke to give them a check-up, while the rest stood to the side to watch, hoping to learn how to self-maintain their parts.
  “Where can I get a spanner like that?” asked Ralph, as the Duke kneeled to scan a woman’s slightly rusted kneecap with a green laser.
  “I’m afraid they don’t make them like this anymore,” the Duke said, softly, before turning to the woman. “This is fine, Miss Cotton, but I suggest a coat of paint so it won’t oxidize further.”
The Duke stood up when another man stepped up, with a few grey hairs in his beard.
  “Excuse me? You’re Duke, sir?” said Isaiah, frowning and scratching his chest nervously.
  “Yes,” said the Duke. “I’m helping repair any broken prosthetics, can I help you?”
  “I don’t know . . .” said the man. he unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a rectangular plate, held in the middle of his chest with screws, which, by the look of the stretched, twisted skin underneath, seemed to be screwed into the flesh, all the way to the ribs, and the skin was red, torn and sore-looking.
  “What in the name . . .” muttered the Duke, stepping forward. He scanned the plate. “How old is this?” he asked.
  “I got it last night . . .” said Isaiah. The Duke looked shocked.
  “What’s that?” said Anise.
  “An access panel,” said the Duke, “ . . . to this man’s artificial heart.”
  “Can you help?” asked Isaiah.
  “Well, the device is functioning properly . . .”
  “It hurts,” says Isaiah. “It hurts when I breath . . . and it’s beating so fast.”
The Duke placed his hand to Isaiah’s chest, and he flinched to the touch.
  “You’re overheating,” said the Duke, dropping his hand. “Anise, come here a moment, will you?”
  “How can I help?” Anise asked, stepping closer. The Duke placed one hand on the side of her neck and waited a few seconds. “ . . . his heartbeat is almost twice as fast as yours.”
  “What does that mean?” asked Anise, blushing.
  “I’m no expert, but I’d guess that he has a fever,” says the Duke. “you need a medical officer, not me.”
  “I can’t find Doc’ Carter,” says Isaiah, “and we got no other doctors in town. Please, Mister Duke . . .”
The Duke frowns and rubs the back of his bald head as he thinks.
  “I could scan you with the ship and see what the medical database has on file. It’s on the field which belongs to Levi.”
  “Fair walk from here . . .” says Isaiah. “I’m already short of breath. Could I come by tomorrow?”
  “Of course,” said the Duke. “Drink plenty of fluid, and I’ll do some research this evening.”
Isaiah nodded and slowly shuffled away, buttoning his shirt as he left.
  “We’re staying the night?” asked Edison.
  “We’re staying until I find out what’s causing this technological anachronism,” said the Duke under his breath, “and I want to know more about this ‘Doctor’ Carter.”
  “Do you have a place to stay?” asked Levi.
  “We can remain in the ship?”
  “You talkin’ ‘bout that smokehouse?” asked Levi.
  “Well, it’s not really a smokehouse . . .” said the Duke.
  “No no, for all you’ve done for us, I’ll give you feed, bed and shelter. We’ll probably get another few years out of these parts, thanks to you,” said Levi. “Come back to my place, we’ll feed you good.”
  “Walking?” Anise sighed, to Edison. “It’s times like this when I miss my Pinto . . .”
  “Don’t worry,” said Edison. “Next time, we’ll get the Duke to take us to a time when jetpacks have been invented . . .”

The Lift crew followed Levi back to his home. The whole way, Levi was asking the Duke about fixing his leg, meanwhile the Duke was quizzing Levi about farming machinery, and Levi explained equipment such as a thresher or a horse-drawn reaper. At Levi’s farm Janice, his wife, had prepared gumbo for dinner, she was annoyed at the unannounced guests, until Levi showed her his working leg and insisted the Duke join them for dinner; in thanks, she set the table for five. They fetched bread and cheese to make the meal large enough for all of them and ate while Levi told his wife all about how the Duke had fixed the Talladega townsfolk.
After dinner, Anise and Edison helped set up two rooms for guests, while the Duke headed for the Lift. Levi followed him out.
  “So, what’s this smokehouse, if it ain’t a smokehouse?” asked Levi. “I heard a grindin’ and when I looked, yer hut was there.”
  “It’s a ship,” said the Duke. “My ship.”
  “A ship?” said the farmer, as they stood before the smokehouse-Lift once more, lit by the fading sunset. “So, what does that make you? British Navy?”
  “I suppose you could say that,” said the Duke, stepping into the smoke-filled lobby. He mumbled under his breath as he opened the hidden panel “It’s incorrect, but it’s easier to explain than the truth . . .”
The Duke opened the door and stepped into the console room. Levi followed behind and stepped inside. When he saw the glass column and pseudo-Roman architecture of the domed ceiling, he whistled. The Duke smiled as Levi craned his neck to look up and around at the large room.
  “Not bad,” said Levi, standing by the door.
  “ . . . not bad?” said the Duke, his smile dropping. “Most people act more . . . disbelieving.”
  “Why?” asked Levi. “I saw it with me own two eyes. What’s not to believe?”
  “Open-minded. I like that,” said the Duke, heading over the the console. He headed to one of the panels and started typing into a holographic keyboard, covered in circles.
  “So, is it like a duck-blind,” said Levi, glancing at the still-smoking lift lobby.
  “A what?”
  “Y’know, a huntin’ blind. You make a hut, cover it in somethin’ so it blends in, then ducks’ll come up, and you can shoot ‘em.”
  “Why would you do that?” asked the Duke.
  “So they come close. They get scared o’ people, so you hide yourself and your scent.”
  “No, I mean to say, why would you shoot ‘ducks’?” said the Duke.
  “To eat,” said Levi. “Do they not eat duck in England?”
  “I suppose not,” said the Duke. “But I certainly don’t shoot ducks.”
  “Well, no, but it’s a bit like a people-blind, isn’t it?” said Levi.
  “I don’t shoot people, either,” said the Duke. “I’m not a hunter.”
  “But you’re a soldier,” said Levi.
  “I am not a soldier!” barked the Duke. Levi was taken aback.
  “But . . . you said so yourself. British Navy,” said Levi. “Aren’t you?”
  “Oh, yes. Of course . . .” said the Duke, and he seemed to stare into the distance. “I don’t fight anymore. I left the battlefield. I hate war . . . I turned my back on it, to be a leader.”
He deactivated the holo-keyboard and walked over to Levi. “We’re done here.”
  “That’s it?” said Levi. “Is this what you brought me to see?”
  “No, I was just scanning you with the computer, to find out everything I can about your prosthetic,” said the Duke. “It’ll run it through the information system overnight.”
  “Alright,” said Levi, turning for the door. The Duke led him out, opening the wooden smokehouse door for him.
“Oh, one last thing,” said the Duke as Levi stepped outside. “Where exactly did you get your leg from?”
  “From Doctor Carter,” said Levi.
  “Yes, I know that, but where might I find the good doctor?” asked the Duke.
  “Talladega College,” said Levi. “The campus is a few streets from market. it’s huge, you can’t miss it.”
  “Alright. Thank you, Levi,” said the Duke. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
  “Goodnight, Duke,” said Levi, heading off to the farmhouse.
  “Good night . . .” said the Duke. He watched Levi stroll away home, but as soon as he was out of sight, the Duke locked the console room entrance, then ran off into the night.

The Duke stepped onto the lawns of the college campus, he could barely see through the darkness of the young night as he took the laser spanner out of his leather jacket. The device made a soft buzzing sound as he scanned it left and right, but flashed bright blue as he pointed it to a redbrick building in the distance. It flashed blue every time the laser scanned in that direction, and so he set off towards it.
At the entrance, the Duke grasped the handle, but the door was locked and wouldn’t budge. Glancing around, the Duke reprogrammed his spanner and pointed it at the latch. A searing red laser shot into the crack in the door, cutting through the lock. The Duke opened the door, still smoking, and fetched the sizzling latchbolt from the door’s strikeplate. He pressed the metal to the latch again, and welded it in place with the red laser. By the time it was re-attached, the metal was red-hot and the Duke snapped his hand away.
  “Drat!” he yelled as he shook his burnt fingers to cool them. Then, blowing on his fingers, he unlocked the door. It was a bit stiff, but the lock mechanism still worked. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him, checking his spanner again with the flashing, blue light as he walked. He made his way down the dark hallway and after a few minutes of searching, the Duke came to a door which set off the blue light indicator, so he pocketed his laser spanner and opened the door.
The classroom had several rows of desks, but they were all pushed together and covered with equipment. What caught the Duke’s eye was the desk at the front of the room, it was bare except for a small cushion near the edge. The Duke inspected the desk closely. It was perfectly clean, but there was a wastepaper basket beside the desk filled with bloody rags, latex gloves and other equipment. The Duke then turned to the equipment on the student desks.
Amongst the bolts, wires and spare metal parts, there were some whole body parts. A polished, metal nose; a hinge that twisted and bent like a kneecap; some structural bands that looked disturbingly like a ribcage & some dismembered, metal fingers.
  “Unlucky tadger . . .” murmured the Duke as he picked up a brass pelvis with rattling hip joints. “But how did they build you? The material is local . . . but this circuitry looks familiar.”
The Duke scanned the device, and looked it over when he heard a snuffling, grunting sound. Immediately, he dropped the device and looked around the room. The sound came from under the window, where there was a terrarium with sand in the bottom and a strange looking animal inside. The Duke approached the glass box beside the sink, and found a nine-banded armadillo. The Duke scanned the animal with his laser spanner, as he did, the creature squeaked and curled up into a ball, showing some patches of pink on its armour.
  “Just like a gila lizard,” said the Duke.
  “What’re you doin’ in here?” said a stern voice.
The lights turned on, and the Duke turned to see a black man with glasses standing in the doorway, a frown on his face and a cardboard box of metal parts in his hands.
  “I didn’t realize anyone was here. What is this?” asked the Duke.
  “That’s an armadillo,” said the man. “How did you get in here?”
  “I came through the front door. Are you Doctor Carter?”
  “I am,” he said, stepping inside and placing the box on a desk. “Look, you can’t jus’ come in here, this is private property.”
  “I do apologize, I just wanted to know more about what you do here, I was looking for you. What are you doing so late at night?”
  “Late delivery,” said the doctor. “Look, who are you?”
  “I’m the Duke of Rathea, and I’ve been hearing a lot about you, doctor.”
  “A duke?” he said. “What is this, some kinda royal oversight? This ain’t Britannia’s business.”
  “I never said it was, I’m just having a look,” said the Duke. “If I may, when I was younger I had rather weak legs, it was a real bother. I wonder, could you give me some new knees?”
  “Definitely not,” said Dr Carter.
  “No?” said the Duke. “Not even a tin toenail? Are they expensive?”
  “No, I’m afraid these enhancements are not ready for commercial application.”
  “How could that be the case?” asked the Duke. “Everyone in town seems to be ‘enhanced’.”
  “They’re not commercial product. This town’s been chosen for human trial, as they are combattin’ a wastin’ parasite, they’re prime candidates for transplant,” said the doctor.
  “No one in town mentioned that this was an experiment.”
  “No one in town knows. The subjects haven’t been told, so they won’t skew results,” said the doctor. Seeing the concerned look on the Duke’s face, he continued. “For participation, they have free medical check-up, and they can keep their enhancements after the experiment is over with.”
  “Right,” said the Duke. “So, who builds these enhancements?”
  “Private military contractor,” said the doctor. patting the cardboard box. “Now, if that’s all, I have a lot of work to do . . .”
The doctor gestured towards the door.
  “One last thing,” said the Duke, gesturing to the desks covered in parts. “Who are all these parts for?”
  “Nobody, yet.” said the doctor. “We’re still locatin’ subjects to test them on.”
The Duke nodded and walked to the door. As he passed the box, the Duke glanced at it and saw a logo printed on the cardboard. It looked like a simplified symmetrical four-leaf clover symbol, oriented like a plus sign. Doctor Carter lead the Duke out of the classroom and walked him to the front door, locking it behind him.
  “Experiment . . .,” muttered the Duke as he headed away from the campus and back to his ship. “Then the question is, who proposed this experiment? And why in Talladega?”

The next morning, Anise and Edison woke to find Janice, Levi’s wife, in the kitchen cooking up eggs.
  “Sleep well?” she asked. The others yawned in response, Anise tugging at her tangled mess of hair. “Can ya’ll head up to Duke’s smokehouse? Ask him if he wants eggs.”
  “I’m sure he does,” said Edison.
They headed out of the farmhouse and made their way up the field, past several haybales, towards the smokehouse.
  “Duke!” Anise called. “It’s time for breakfast!”
They opened the door, entered the smoke-filled lobby and Edison banged on the faux-wooden panels hiding the sliding doors. They slid open.
  “Come in, come in!” said the Duke. The pair of them entered to see the Duke standing to the left of the console. There was a whiteboard behind him, with some kind of circuit diagram drawn with swirling lines, and he was furiously typing on a holographic keyboard.
  “Duke? We were wondering what you wanted for breakfast,” said Edison.
  “Leprosy!” announced the Duke, marching over to his companions.
  “That doesn’t sound appetizing,” muttered Anise, yawning.
  “I scanned our friend Levi with the computer. I was trying to identify the prosthetic technology, but I also scanned his biology,” he said, transferring the holographic screen to the console in front of them, it a small cluster of wiggling, red rods. “Everyone claims that the townspeople are being infested by a parasite. But they aren’t, it is in fact a bacterium, which causes leprosy.”
  “Alright, so, it’s a bacteria. So what?” said Anise. “They’re lepers, that explains them losing limbs.”
  “No, it doesn’t,” said the Duke. “This database confirms that this infection, alone, doesn’t cause loss of limb. Merely numbness and skin irritation, it alone doesn’t cause limb loss. Moreso, the majority of humans are naturally immune to it.”
  “Leprosy is not necrotic,” said Edison. “That’s a common misunderstanding.”
  “Alright, leprosy . . . how does this explain the robot parts?” said Anise
  “Oh, that’s another matter,” said the Duke, walking over to the whiteboard and tapping its surface. “I thought I recognized this circuitry, but I was looking at the big picture . . . I needed to step a little closer, and look at it from a different point of view.”
the Duke stepped closer, so his nose was nearly touching the board as he looked it over.
  “And what did that tell you?” asked Edison.
  “Cyber-technology,” said the Duke, looking to his friends. “Do you remember Hawaii?”
  “Definitely,” said Edison, “that’s the first time we worked together.”
  “Of course . . .” said the Duke. “Well, I saw that technology up close, I know it intimately. The anachronistic technology here has the same circuitry. It took me so long to recognize it because the materials used were different, but that’s easily explained if they are reverse-engineering this prosthetic technology from cyber-technology, using homeworld metals.”
  “So, their limbs are alien technology?” said Anise.
  “Alien-inspired. But, manufactured by some kind of private company; I don’t know much about them except that they are represented by this symbol.” The Duke flipped a switch, and the four-petaled plus-flower logo appeared on the screen.
  “Alright then, so, they’re making alien cyborg parts,” said Anise. “But, what does that have to do with leprosy?”
  “Everything,” said the Duke. “Despite what everyone believes about the good doctor, he’s not helping these people out of the kindness of his heart. This is just an experiment, to test the prosthetics. But, to test them, requires a lot of volunteers willing and able to replace their body parts. The leprosy is merely an excuse, a tool used by the doctor and his people to provide them with a steady stream of patients.”
  “You’re saying they infected them deliberately?” said Edison.
  “Yes, and worse. Even at this point in your history, you have the ability to prevent the spread of leprosy and manage its symptoms to prevent permanent damage; yet this entire town is infected, and despite being monitored closely by this doctor, they suffer blindness and severe mutation,” said the Duke. He switched off the holographic screen and stood before his companions. “I believe that Doctor Carter, and this military organization, not only infected people with leprosy, I believe that they have exacerbated it; weakened people’s immune systems so that they are more susceptible to it, and allowed for secondary infections and maltreatment - deliberately - to the point of limb loss and organ failure . . .”
  “That’s insane,” said Edison.
  “Oh my god,” said Anise. “So . . . Ralph? And Levi? Clara, the little girl?!”
  “All of them, mutilated,” said the Duke.
  “We have to tell them!” said Anise. She grabbed the Duke’s hand and pulled him to the door.

Levi’s face fell, the egg on his fork cooling as the Duke paced back and forth at the other side of the table, speaking quickly.
  "But how can that even be?” said Janice. “Benjamin Carter is a doctor. How could he infect us with parasites?”
  “It’s not a parasite, it’s a bacterium. A ‘germ’,” said the Duke. “And I believe it has been spread by the doctor during your medical examinations. That’s why the affliction has spread through this town, but no other.”
  “But why would they do this to us?” said Levi. “Why us? Why Talladega?”
  “I don’t know,” said the Duke. “All I know is that they’re here now, and they’re allowing these infections to disfigure you, so you can be used as test subjects.”
Levi dropped his fork.
  “What are we gonna do?” he said, staring at his plate. “I can barely believe it . . .”
  “We’re gonna tell ‘em all, that’s what we goin’ do,” said Janice, jumping up from the table. “Everyone’ll be at church, we can go and tell the whole flock.”
  “Good,” said the Duke. “That will make things easier. How do we get to this church?”
  “First, you sit your butt down,” said Janice.
  “Pardon?” said the Duke.
  “I don’t care if the world is endin’. You’re gonna eat a good meal, and put on some good clothin’ before you step in God’s house.”
The Duke glanced at his companions with a raised eyebrow.
  “Come on, Duke. I’m hungry, anyway. And the town isn’t going anywhere,” said Edison.
The Duke sighed, then sat down before a plate of eggs.

After breakfast, The Duke, Edison and Anise returned to the Lift to get changed, while Janice and Levi left to make their way on foot. Anise disappeared into the Wardrobe while the two men headed to their quarters. Edison was the first to reappear in the console room, wearing a white singlet, with a beige, dress shirt over the top, he did up the buttons as he waited for the others.
After a few minutes, the Duke stepped out, and Edison couldn’t help but drop his jaw. He was wearing a some kind of hooded robe. Underneath he wore an outfit which looked similar to a karate gi, worn by martial artists; but it was made of a silky material; and instead of a belt, a thick, golden rope wrapped around his stomach many times to cover his midriff like a cummerbund. Over the top of this was a hooded robe that hung loosely around him, it was the colour of sand and made of a kind of soft burlap, and around the hem, lapels & cuffs, were swirling, decorative patterns stitched with white thread.
  “Oh my god,” said Edison. “What are you wearing?”
  “This is the ceremonial Bei’sianu Lightseer robe,” said the Duke. “I was told we were going to a ‘House of God’.”
  “Yeah, but a Christian one. You look like a . . . desert monk.”
  “As the Duke of Rathea, I am also the holy leader and head of the church. This is what I am ordained to wear during religious rites.”
  “Good grief . . .” said Edison, shaking his head. “I was right, you do believe in yourself.”
They were interrupted with a ding! as the elevator arrived. The doors opened, and Anise stepped out, wearing a white, sleeveless dress with a black band around the waist, white court shoes and a white hat with a white flower on top.
  “I can’t remember, are women supposed to wear hats in church, or . . . ? Duke, what the hell are you wearing?” said Anise, stopping short when she saw the Duke.
  “It’s a Poinciana Light dress,” said Edison
  “Bei’sianu robe.” corrected the Duke, stepping to the console. “And since we’re about to enter a holy building, you should both curtail the blasphemy.”
  “It’s just church, Duke,” said Anise.
  “It doesn’t matter,” said the Duke. “It is the responsibility of a time lord to respect the beliefs and practices of alien cultures. As my companions, I expect the same of you.”
  “I’ll be nice if they’re nice to me,” said Edison. “Religion let me down a long time ago.”
The Duke finished entering their new co-ordinates and grabbed the ignition lever.
  “I’ll be alright. Come on, time to go to church,” said the Duke, and he pulled the lever.

With a whir, a whine, a roar and a thump, the timeship rematerialized within the small, community church, shaped like a confessional booth, with two curtained kneeling booths on either side and a small, cross on the top. The centre door opened, and the Duke stepped out to see a rather confused looking preacher, with a mechanical arm. There were two other townsfolk, distributing hymn books amongst the pews who’d stopped to stare.
  “What in God’s name?” said the preacher.
  “Uh . . . traveling confessional?” offered Edison, glancing at the ship.
  “I apologize for the intrusion,” said the Duke. “We’re here to speak to your congregation, I am the Duke.”
  “Yes, I saw y’all yesterday. Thought you were a mechanic, not a miracle worker.”
  “I aspire to be a bit of both,” said the Duke. “We’ve come to speak with the people of the church, to help them.”
  “As much as I appreciate the gesture,” said the preacher, “we’re Methodist, not Catholic,”
  “What?” said the Duke. “I don’t understand, I am no ‘Catholic’, we’re here to explain what we’ve learned about the ‘parasite’.”
  “And how Doctor Carter’s involved,” said Edison. “If you’ll allow it.”
  “Ah . . . O’ course,” said the preacher. “After sermon, anyone can speak.”
  “I’m afraid this is more important,” said the Duke. “I’m here to help them save their bodies, afterwards you can tell them how to save their souls . . .”
The Duke walked down the centre nave of the church, and to the door. He pulled it open and stepped out to see several dozen people chatting patiently to each other, many of them with metallic parts all dressed in their Sunday best. He recognized many of them, including Levi and Janice near the back. Many turned to see him as his towering figure stood at the top of the steps leading into the church.
  “Everyone, please. I need to speak to all of you,” said the Duke, raising his hands and his voice to get their attention. “You have all been betrayed!”
Everyone went quiet.
“I have seen and spoken with many of you, while I was helping to fix your broken parts. After seeing the way all of you have been afflicted by this ‘parasite’, I now know who caused this! The same man that claims to help you, was the one that made like this. Doctor Benjamin Carter has infected all of you with leprosy!”
  “The doc’ has helped us!” yelled out someone from the crowd, the Duke recognized him as a man named Karl, who had artificial kidneys. “You to tarnish his good work?!”
  “Duke is tellin’ the truth!” called Levi, pushing through the confused crowd. “It’s why Talladega’s sick, but our neighbors ain’t. The doc’ came here, nowhere else!”
  “Thank you . . .” said the Duke. “I know that he has given you these parts, but he was the one that made you sick. He infected you, so that you would lose body parts, so they could test these devices!” The Duke walked down the steps, and looked at several of the people he had helped as he walked through them.
  “It’s why he let you fall into disrepair; it’s why so many of you are scarred from his surgeries & it’s the reason why, despite having the doctor’s care for a year, they are still no closer to a cure for this sickness . . . he doesn’t want you to get better, because they still have dozens more ‘enhancements’ to test.” The Duke stepped through to the other side of the crowd and he turned around to face them. “Even if you are still doubtful, I beseech you now. Come with me, and together we will all confront this doctor, and demand the answers you all rightfully deserve!”
The Duke stared down the people, looking for those that would listen; dressed in his Lightseer robe, he looked the image of a furious messiah judging his people.
  “Well, come on!” yelled out Janice, hitching her dress up so she could walk. “Don’t just stand there catchin’ flies in yer mouths! I want some gosh-dang answers!”
As she moved, so too did Levi. The Duke began walking and as more of their friends joined them; eventually over two-thirds of the congregation was following the Duke. Anise and Edison ran up through the crowd to join the Duke at the lead.
  “Good speech,” said Edison. “It certainly rallied the masses.”
  “Thank you” said the Duke. “I’ve given several hundred speeches in my time. Admittedly, I employed speech writers to find my words for me. But, I know from experience that it’s highly effective to seed accomplices throughout the crowd . . .”

The group of townspeople walked to the Talladega College campus, as they walked they talked amongst themselves about their doubts and fears; they spoke of the few that had died from botched surgeries and the way he ignored their disrepair. The Duke lead them to the same building he had broken into the night before, but the door was once again locked. He knocked against the door.
  “Doctor Carter!” he called. The people behind him were getting impatient. He reached into his robe to retrieve his laser spanner, but Levi pushed him aside.
  “Out of the way!” he said. He raised his cybernetic leg and kicked the door in. The Duke stepped back as the people, determined, followed Levi into the building. The Duke joined their ranks as they swarmed the building. Since every single one of them had been in that building before, and operated on upon that same table, they moved as one towards Benjamin Carter’s office. They stormed the room two at a time.
  “Who’re you?” asked Levi.
Near the window by the armadillo’s terrarium, two white men were standing, waiting. The two of them were wearing white, business shirts, rolled up at the sleeves exposing tattoos, business trousers and grey, pinstriped vests. One of them had a shaved head, with a scar over his right ear and the side of his forehead. The other had oily, black hair, tattoos around his neck and a thin, black tie. They both slowly turned to look at the townsfolk.
  “I must admit, I wasn’t expectin’ that,” said the skinhead with a slack Scottish accent.
  “What? Mob o’ cyborgs stormin’ the buildin’?” the man in the tie said, in an Irish accent dripping with sarcasm. “If you’re not prepared for that, what good are yeh?”
  “Where’s Doc Carter?!” yelled Levi.
  “Where are-rrr yeh, DOC-tor Carter?” Simon’s mechanical larynx buzzed. “You CAN’T hide!”
  “Where’s the rotten scoundrel at?!” said Karl.
  “Not very nice, are they?” said Skinhead, to his partner, smirking in a way that showed off his chipped, front tooth. “Doctor’s not in at the moment. Can I take a message?”
  “Where the hell is the doctor?!” yelled Levi.
The crowd was growing restless, when Ralph’s red eye fell upon the tables cluttered with prosthetics.
  “Damn it, Carter!” he yelled. He grabbed the table edge and four other hands one of them with a metal wrist, came to help him; the table turned over and the metal and wires clattered onto the ground. in a tangled, broken mess.
  “Hey! That’s company property!” yelled Skinhead. “Back off, you mongrels!”
  “Alright, break it up!” yelled Edison, pushing to the front of the crowd. “Calm yourselves, people!”
  “What in tarnation is goin’ on here?! yelled out Dr Carter as he entered the rear door of the classroom.
  “Your patients are rebelling, doc‘.” said Black Tie.
  “What you people doin’ here, causin’ a ruckus?” said Carter.
  “You!” said Levi, pointing an accusing finger. “You gotta lot t’ answer for.”
  “What in God’s name have yer done to us?” said Ralph.
  “God-damned BUTcher!”
  “What gives you the right!”
  “Why’d you do this to us?!”
The voices converged together into a uproar as the crowd’s temper rose.
  “SILENCE!” commanded the Duke. The sound subsided, more out of fear than obedience, the Duke’s teeth were clenched and his tall shoulders were rocking with each heavy breath. “We’re not here to make trouble, we’re here for solutions, damn it!”
  “Listen to the Duke,” said the preacher. The Duke glanced at the man, surprised that he had joined the crowd. “Righteous, not riotous. We are God’s people, not animals.”
The preacher moved to see the doctor, face to face.
  “What is this?” said Dr Carter.
  “We want answers,” said the preacher. “There’ve been a lotta claims slung today, I want to hear you explain ‘em.”
  “What ‘claims’?” said Carter, clearly annoyed.
  “Duke here says you done infected us all.”
  “With leprosy.” added Levi, frowning cruelly.
  “Leprosy?” said Carter. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. All of you, get out of here!”
  “Don’t you lie to us!” screamed Ralph. He looked like he wanted to throttle the man as he stepped forward, breathing like a bull about to charge. “I lost weeks of sleep because o’ this god-forsaken eye!”
  “Afore Duke fixed us, we all of us suffered!” yelled Karl.
  “Why haven’t you helped to cure the infection?” asked the preacher
  “No one in town is has a rotten elbow!” said Ralph, picking up one of the hinged prosthetics from the floor. “Are you making these for us, or us for them?! Why did you do this to us?”
The crowd advanced on him, but the doctor took a step back.
  “Get back, don’t touch me! Goddamned animals!” the doctor yelled. The preacher was taken aback at the outburst.
“All you useless bastards had to do was live your pointless lives, ignorant and stupid as always!”
  “How dare you?” said Levi.
  “How dare I?” said Carter, chuckling hysterically, sweat dotting his brow. “Look at you uncivilized apes! For almost two years, you didn’t even know why you were sick! That’s why I experimented on you stupid negroes!”
There was an eerie silence for a moment before Edison broke.
  “What the actual fuck?” Edison muttered. “You’re racist? That’s why you chose to infect Talladega? Because it’s a black town?”
  “And you didn’t even know!” he yelled.
  “Because we trusted you,” said the preacher. “Why would you turn on your Christian brothers?”
  “Leave God outta this, He helps them who help themself; but you people can’t even think for yourself! You need this ‘Duke’ to help you! If he hadn’t helped you, you’d be in church right now, prayin’ to be saved! And he only helped you because he feels sorry for you.” Carter pointed out the Duke in the crowd.
In the corner, the men in vests spoke to each other.
  “Did he say t’ Duke?” Black Tie whispered to his partner. “Does ‘at mean . . .?”
  “Double Delta,” replied Skinhead, he checked the pocket watch chained to his belt-loop, “that explains it.”
  “Why do you even bother to help these animals?” said Carter. “Do you think you’re one of these people, just because you’re black too? We’re better than this.”
The Duke frowned, confused.
  “Are you insane?” said the Duke, raising an eyebrow. “I’m not ‘black’. I’m nothing like these people, I’m from another world entirely; a different species. Colour is irrelevant. I am no more alike them than I am you.”
  Carter just looked confused. “What on Earth are you talking about?”
  “Exactly . . .” said the Duke, pointing towards the terrarium. “To put it in terms you might understand, I also empathize with the leprotic armadillo in that glass cage. Do you realize how confining that box is for her?”
Carter glanced at the armadillo, which snuffled and clawed at the dirt around its feet.
  “I t’ink dis endeavour’s gone bust,” said Black Tie.
  “Aye,” said Skinhead.
  “And who are you people?” said the Duke, pointing to the men in vests.
  “We’re out of time,” said Skinhead, checking his pocket watch again.
  “What are you doing here?”
  “Checkin’ up on our prototypes,” said Black Tie. “Carter said somethin’ fixed ‘em, turns out it was you . . . now dis experiment is invalid.”
  “So, you’re the ‘military contractors’?” said Duke.
  “Not exactly,” said Black Tie, reaching into his pocket. “We’re just two of the Eighty-Eight.”
  “Aye, and we ought to be goin’,” said Skinhead. “But first, we have to protect our investment.”
Black tie retrieved a device from his pocket that looked like an electric shaver, but in the place of blades, there was a circular, black button. He pressed the button, and several of the townspeople collapsed.
  “My leg! it stopped workin’!” Levi cried, trying to lift himself from the ground. More mechanical arms went slack, Ralph’s eye went dark. Spines went stiff and organs failed.
The men in vests walked to the door behind Carter.
  “Stop them!” the Duke yelled. But all of the townspeople had been disabled, or were helping one another.
  “Duke, help!” screamed Edison. The Duke turned, and saw Isaiah. He had fallen on the ground, and was going limp as he tried to breath, but couldn’t.
  “No, no no!” the Duke ran over. He scanned Isaiah with his spanner, and started adjusting it. “The crystal power core worked on a volatile circuit, that pulse cracked it!”
The Duke twisted a dial around the edge of the spanner and pressed it to the access panel, where it buzzed with green sparks. Isaiah suddenly inhaled deeply and desperately.
  “You’re okay for now,” said the Duke. He removed the spanner and Isaiah kept breathing. “That will only last for an hour. Don’t go anywhere.”
  “Thank you,” said Isaiah.
  “Is anyone else dying right now?!” said the Duke. Several others called him over, and the Duke carefully stepped over the fallen to give a jumpstart to Simon’s lungs. Then, he rushed over to Bertram, whose mechanical spine had failed him, and had hit his head when he fell. The Duke just shook his head. “I’m afraid I’m not a doctor . . .”
  “Carter is,” said Anise. The Duke’s jaw clenched as he stood up and looked at the doctor.
  “Come here!,” said the Duke. The doctor stood there, stunned, so the Duke marched over and violently grabbed him by the collar. “I don’t care if it makes you sick to your stomach! You’re a doctor, and you will help this man or, so help me sunlight, you’ll need a new spine!”
The Duke forced Carter to his knees before the patient.
  “Anyone else?” asked the Duke.
  “Nothing life-threatening,” said the preacher, holding the limp, prosthetic arm with his real one. “But what’ll we do? Are we all crippled, now?”
  “I can’t allow that,” said the Duke. “These farmers cannot work without their hands, limbs and joints; and people like Karl will die if I can’t get their organs to function soon . . . if you can keep an eye on your churchgoers, I have an idea to fix everyone . . .”
The Duke headed out the door the men of the Eighty-Eight had fled through.
  “Duke! Where are you going?” said Edison, jumping up to follow.
  “These people need a new power source for their crippled limbs, I’m going to find one. You stay here, and make sure Carter helps that man. If he doesn’t . . .” the Duke shook his head in disgust. “Make sure he does.”

The townspeople helped to lift one another off the ground, calmed each other and helped one another not to hurt themselves with the powerless, metal implants hanging off their bodies. Carter even managed to clean and stitch Bertram’s head wound, under Edison’s watchful eye, when they heard the grinding, wheezing, whirring sound of the Duke’s timeship. It was coming from the roof.
  “What is that?!” cried Dr Carter.
  “That’s Duke,” cried Anise. She jumped to her feet and ran outside. On the grass outside, she saw Lift, now a cylindrical, glass elevator with delicate, lace-like metal bands around the top and base. The Duke was standing outside, once again he was wearing his black, leather coat, and he was carrying what looked like a metre-high Tesla coil; a silver torus atop a pole wrapped in wires, sitting atop a box that looked like an alien microwave.
  “Anise, help me!” said the Duke, placing the device in the lobby..
  “What is that?” asked Anise.
  “This is what’s going to save Talladega, come and stand here,” said the Duke. Anise stepped into the lobby. “This is a wireless power generator. It can power the prosthetics, but it electrifies the air, so I need to put it on that roof. Come on.”
The Duke pointed to a hall with a small cupola on the roof. He opened the console room door at the back of the lift and walked to the console.
  “What do I do?” asked Anise.
  “I’ll fly us up, and you can put it in that little structure there,” said the Duke. “Hang on!”
The Lift door close, and they lifted up off the ground, steadily at first, but as they headed towards the hall, they tilted sideways and began to spin slowly.
  “Duke!” she called.
  “I’m trying to counter the lateral spin . . .” he said.
Anise clung to the walls as they flew over the large hall. They teetered a few metres away from the cupola, then hung in the air, slowly turning, as the Duke wrangled the controls. Eventually, they stopped turning, then the Duke started edging the ship closer.
  “Alright, put it on the roof,” said the Duke. Anise nodded and pressed the “< >” Open Door symbol. The glass doors slid back, and Anise picked up the device. It was lighter than she anticipated, but still required a lot of groaning and straining.
  “Closer, Duke!” she called. He cooperated and they manoeuvred closer. Anise lifted the device up and slipped it into the opening in the cupola. She let go and it rocked back and forth on its base before coming to rest upright. “Alright, what now?”
The doors closed and They flew back to the ground.
  “Hang on!” called the Duke, and they landed with a heavy thump! that made Anise fall against the wall. The Duke came running out the open door. “Are you okay?”
  “I’m good,” said Anise.
  “Good,” said the Duke. Then he opened the door and pointed his laser spanner at the cupola with the generator inside. It buzzed as he clicked a button, then the cupola flashed with spidery, purple sparks. There was a loud crack and fizzling sound as bright electricity flared. After a moment, the energy seemed to equalize and with a crack the visible arcs of power dissipated.
  “Is that it? Just like that?” said Anise.
  “Excuse me? It took me nine hours to build just that,” said the Duke. “But that’s nothing, the real excitement will be inside.”
The two of the headed towards Carter’s building, but before they could find his office, the crowd of Talladega cyborgs came out.
  “What happened?” asked Levi.
  “They all just started workin’,” said Isaiah. “What did you do?”
  “Wireless energy transmission,” said the Duke. “I sent my electric signal along the same wavelength as the pulse that shattered the crystal power core. Now your battery serves an antenna.”
  “ . . . what?” said Ralph, raising an eyebrow.
  “In simplest terms, so long as you remain within twenty-five kilometres of that building,” said the Duke, pointing to the hall. “Your limbs will work. I know that it’s restricting, anyone with artificial organs needs to remain, but it’s the best I could do under short notice.”
  “It’s a miracle,” said the preacher, offering a metal handshake, which the Duke accepted. “No one in town will belittle that.”
  “Just let everyone with missing limbs know, if they want to leave, they’ll need new prosthetics. Nothing mechanical. They will be crippled, but they will live.”
  “Duke, we may not understand how these limbs work, but we’re not stupid. We’ll figure it out.”
  “Alright, and don’t let anyone else use those prosthetics, the generator will only last one hundred years, then the parts will be useless.” said the Duke. Then he saw his companion with the Talladega doctor “Edison?”
The Inspector came forward, holding Carter by the arm.
  “Yes, Duke?”
  “Leave the doctor to these people,” said the Duke. “They deserve to serve their own justice.”
  “You guys should find a new doctor,” said Edison, letting go of Carter. “Preferably one who can treat the symptoms of leprosy. Then, even your ‘parasite’ will be a thing of the past.”
  “O’ course,” said the preacher, grabbing Carter with his mechanical arm, making the doctor whince. “Are yeh prepared to face your accusers?”
Benjamin Carter just seemed resigned to his fate.
  “I’m afraid that’s all we can do,” said the Duke. “The rest is up to you, so now we have to go. Come Edison; Anise.”
  “Thank all o’ you,” said Levi. “Feel free to come ‘round any time.”
  “Alright,” said Anise. “I’m glad we could help.”
The Duke smiled and nodded, then lead the three of them into the ship, and the door closed behind them. The Duke adjusted the controls to head back home.
  “Where did you go?” asked Edison.
  “Rathea,” said the Duke. “I scrounged some parts from the ruins and put them together to make a simple wireless power transmitter, then returned here, to a time after I left.”
  “Alright . . . but, there’s something I don’t understand.”
  “What’s that?” asked the Duke.
  “We came here, and we came just ran into the Eighty-Eight. Didn’t Anise enter the co-ordinates? What are the chances of that happening?”
The Duke got a grim look on his face.
  “There are three possibilities,” said the Duke, pointing to Anise. “Either the co-ordinates you entered were imprecise and the ship auto-corrected to a time that was anomalous. Or, we just got lucky . . .”
  “Pretty lucky,” said Anise.
  “Indeed,” said the Duke with a smile. “In fact, where would you like to go next, Miss Trevino? Since you haven’t lead us astray, thus far.”
  “Okay . . . could we go home?” asked Anise. “I’d like to plant my feet on home soil for a bit.”
  “Sounds like a good idea,” said the Duke, turning a dial and tapping a virtual interface.
  “Wait, didn’t you you say three?” said Edison, stepping beside the Duke. “The ship did it, we got lucky, or . . .?”
  “ . . . Or, the third possibility is that the Eighty-Eight are more far-reaching than I anticipated,” said the Duke, solemnly. “Their spread throughout your timeline could be so prevalent that encountering them at random is inevitable.”
  “Well, it’s lucky you checked up on Carter, then,” said Anise. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have actually seen them, or discovered that symbol of theirs’.”
  “That wasn’t exactly luck,” said the Duke, grabbing the ignition lever. “I just don’t trust doctors . . .”
Then the temporal engines came to life, and the Lift dematerialized with a grinding, wheezing, heavily mechanical sound as she slipped into the space between time.

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