This was the biggest day of my entire life. And not to mention my future, which would include the past as well so go figure. I was calm. A numb calm. But even though my heart was beating at a normal pace, my arms couldn’t get with the program. They were out of control with shaking and I had to keep them tucked away in the pockets of my jacket, so my mom wouldn’t see them.
She was crying. Of course. And Que was laughing at me. Probably. I’m already an awkward person when it comes to the daily goodbye, now it was a big deal goodbye and I had no idea how to act. Everything I did, I felt like I was doing it wrong and that it wasn’t appropriate for the situation. Should I cry too? No, that’s too serious. Should I joke with Que? No, that’s not serious enough.
I gave them each a hug. And when Que wrapped me in and held me hard, that got to me. And then I teared up not by choice.
“See you in a hundred days,” I said, wiping away at my bottom eyelashes. “Or I guess I don’t know when.”
“Eh, it’ll be instantaneous for us,” Que said, shrugging like it was no big deal.
My mother gave me another embrace. “I tried to pack thermal regulated underwear in your bag, but the security found it and confiscated it.”
“Mom, it’s fine,” I mumbled and pulled away.
Dr. Greggs came up and gave me a quick hug. I was even more surprised about this than Que. But I was touched that he cared about me enough to do it.
“I want to let you in on something special,” he said holding me by my shoulders. “All time travelers do this, so it’s only tradition that I pass this along to you. When you go into the incoming portal, make sure you’re looking at the outcoming portal. You will be able to see yourself returning from the past.”
“Is that true?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.
“Do it and find out,” he said happily. That was one of the things I loved best about Dr. Greggs is that he loved the little nuances about time travel and geeked out just as much as I did.
I hugged my mother another time. Honestly, if the professionals hadn’t come to take me away, we would probably still be hugging. The little worrywart of a woman. I laughed to myself about it, until they brought me to the observing room, and I saw the technology for the first time.
There were two giant steel columns where we would go in the portal. And two giant steel columns where we would hopefully come out. Each column was at least three-stories high and had dark burn marks on the sides that faced each other.
I had seen a lot of videos and run a few practice trials with Dr. Greggs. But seeing the soon-to-be portals in person for the first time was the most intimidating moment of my life. No joke. I mean, I thought presenting to the council was bad. Now, that seemed like a Sunday stroll through the park.
The personnel strapped a parachute to my back. Dr. Thorne was getting his strapped on, his face was looking extra tight and grouchy that fine beautiful morning.
“Alright,” Dr. Greggs said, helping the others strap me in. “Now, it’s no different than how we’ve practiced in the VR. They’ll turn on the boomerang portal and you’ll get a running start right to the input channel. Then as soon as you’re through the other side, you’ll be falling. You’ll have to deploy your parachute. The portal will dump you right over a cliffside in 1958 Liverpool.”
Dr. Greggs grinned wildly and patted me on the shoulder. I drew in a deep breath. Talk about a dramatic entrance. They could have put the portal any discreet old place. I don’t know why hanging it a hundred feet in the air over the sea was going to help anything. I guess to keep innocent pedestrians from accidentally getting sucked into the future.
As soon as they had my parachute on, I examined the straps. “Wait, this looks authentic.”
“Yeah,” Dr. Thorne said with no emotion.
“Well, is it?” I asked my voice squeaking.
“Yeah,” he repeated
“Are you kidding? I’m not using a 170-year-old parachute!”
He looked at me with no sympathy at all. “You got the body armor, didn’t you?”
As I blinked my eyes got big. Okay, but body armor wasn’t going to keep me from drowning. Or getting tangled in some tree for the next hundred days.
They obviously weren’t going to give me a choice, so I retightened the straps and hoped for the best as I entered the sterile room. My heart was pounding in my throat as if I were about to puke it up, still beating, onto the clean floor. Was I dumb to do this? Was this a mistake? I mean, probably.
Somewhere in the anxiety, I rolled through the five hundred things that were about to go wrong with this mission. Number One: I could never come back. I mean, that one traveler that went to the middle ages didn’t. Maybe the portal malfunctioned, and we didn’t know it. Oh my Galactica, number Two: I get lost in time and space because of a portal malfunction.
Um, Number Three: Lennon could find me repulsive and I have to shoot him. Number Four: Lennon could be fine with me, even like me a little bit and I still have to shoot him. Number fifteen: I contract some horrible old timey disease. Number forty-seven: Non-metastasized water. Number Eight Hundred and Eleven: Viruses.
Up at the window of the observation room, my mom, still crying watched me step toward the giant metal tongs where the portal would open. I tried to push those hundreds and hundreds of anxieties away, but they were choking me and dragging me back out of the room. I felt like a young child about to ride their first real rollercoaster and find themselves at the front of the line crying and not wanting to get in.
“Markers at their place. Fifty-three degrees. Twenty minutes. Twelve-point seven seconds North. Three degrees. Eight minutes. Twenty-six point one degrees West. At zero four, zero, zero. Tuesday, May 20th, 1958.” A female robotic voice announced.
I want to get off! Let me off!
“Opening portal in t minus ten minutes.”
Okay but seriously.
I took a couple of steps backwards as the countdown continued. You could hear the poles charging on either side. The wall behind them started to distort. The tiles were bending slightly, as if it were a wall of water.
“Four… Three… Two…”
I held my breath.
The air made a cracking sound. Which really freaked me out worse than before. I don’t know why I had always pictured a loud resonating “bwomp” or a high-pitched whir or something. But that’s not what a portal ripping into reality sounds like. It honest to Galatica sounded like an old metal ship breaking apart. A screetchy clinky kind of sound. Well, that’s the best I can describe it, I guess. Because it was completely otherworldly and jarring. The unpredictability was almost a confirmation that something was about to go horribly wrong.
The portal ripped open the air right in front of me. An immediate heat wave blew through Thorne and I, blowing my hair over my shoulder. A blinding light filled the room. It was like staring into a hole filled with molten lava.
“Opening successful. Portal stabilizing,” the female voice reported. “Prepare to enter. Stabilized in T minus 27 seconds.”
On the other side, in between those poles, a second portal began growing. There was the boomerang. The place that we would return from. The safe haven.
I could actually hear my breathing; it was so fast and heaving. I stared into this searing pit. I had honestly thought I would be able to see Liverpool through the other side. Or something. But no, there was nothing. No comfort of making it through. No promise of another side. Nothing. And I was supposed to run and jump straight into it.
I could see Thorne eyeing the portal. Beads of sweat balled on his nose. Even he was nervous. Oh, Galactica. We were going to die.
“Portal stabilized in ten… nine…”
I grit my teeth. If something were truly wrong, Thorne would tell them to shut the program down. I was with an experienced time traveler. The first time, I might add, that I was actually grateful that they had done that for me.
I closed my eyes and tried to prepare myself. My calves twitched and tensed ready for the run.
Run. That’s all. Run and jump. As soon as you get there, you’ll see yourself come through the other side. You’ll know it’s all going to be okay.
“Two… One.” The return portal had stopped growing.
“Go!” Thorne grunted and tore off toward the light.
I didn’t think anymore. I couldn’t. I zipped off right by Thorne’s side. My feet slapped against the floor, I panted and shoved my way through the intense heat. My eyes jumping back and forth from the entrance to the exit portal.
C’mon Emmeline. I begged the return portal. I ran harder and faster. Pushing and pushing myself and gaining speed. C’mon Emmeline. Where are you? Come back for me! Come back home!
I got to the prongs and leapt with all my heart, Thorne right by my side. As I leapt, I kept my eye on that return portal. I kept my eye watching for myself to come back through. To return safely.
As soon as my foot touched the light, I was overcome with the strangest feeling. Everything was moving in slow motion, including me. Time had slowed by 80%, and my body was still in mid jump. Thorne too was slow motion mid jump, but I couldn’t turn my head to look at him. I couldn’t move as fast as my brain was going. My consciousness was still working the same speed as it always had but my body wasn’t.
My head was still facing the exit portal. And that’s when I saw it. Two headlights with a big thick metal grill in between. I could hear my own slow-motion exhale as a grey vintage truck began to roll out of the return portal, the big front wheels rotating in the same slow motion. The bottom of the windshield had just come into view and suddenly everything blinked to black.
I was falling. Fast. To a sand bank not too far away. I let out a low-pitched yelp and felt around for my rip cord. As soon as I had a hold of that old metal ring, I yanked it as hard as I could. The parachute deployed as rough as I had yanked, pulling me around like a loose-leaf paper
In only a few seconds I had slammed into the sand bank and my chute dragged me skidding right into the river. The water was icy cold on my shins and I couldn’t help my bellowing grunt through clenched teeth. My fists rolled tight into balls and I brought them up by my chest.
The water tinkled and lapped innocently around my legs. A chill wind stung my cheeks. I almost broke my neck looking into the dark sky, trying to find the portal we had just come through. But there was nothing but clouds, and a tall clay cliff with an empty road at the top.
Incredible. A portal to another world hung high in the air, invisible and undiscoverable.
Thorne knelt on the beach, all business, packing his parachute away into his backpack. I tried to make my way over to him, but my parachute, had sunk into the muddy river and was threatening to pull me back down. I had to sashay to get to him. The weight was too much, and I fell onto my knees. The prickling ice river soaking my stupid skirt up to my thighs. I growled and slapped the water, which didn’t make me feel any better. It only splashed more freezing water onto my face.
Thorne acted like he couldn’t care less about whether or not I made it through safely. He was still setting into action, getting things ready for whatever. I marched my way onto the beach and ripped off my parachute.
“Don’t leave that here,” he said like a scolding parent. “That’s a military parachute. Someone could find that and accidentally change history.”
I rolled my eyes and reeled in my soaking wet parachute. Water spilled out of it by the bucketful and washed all over the sand of the beach. I did not pack my parachute into my suitcase with all my dresses, no, thank you. My skirt was already soaked so I held it awkwardly by my side as the air stabbed into my freezing legs.
“Thorne,” I said coming into full process of everything that had just happened. “Something’s wrong.”
Thorne had his parachute packed neatly into his briefcase and snapped it shut. “Buses don’t run at four in the morning, so we’ll have to travel on foot until the sun comes up.”
I stared at Thorne incredulously.
“Didn’t you hear me? Something’s wrong,” I said. “When we went through the portal, I didn’t see us coming back through. I saw… a truck or something.”
Thorne stood but still didn’t respond to the crisis at hand.
“Do you think that could happen?” I asked. “Do you think that a car could accidentally fall through the portal? I know there’s a road right there.”
Thorne gave this itty-bitty glance at the cliffside and picked up his briefcase. “We need to focus on the mission at hand. We shouldn’t worry about the return.”
He trekked off across the beach and I had to run to catch up. How could he not care? How could he not worry about being potentially stuck in 1958 forever? How could he not be worried about this mysterious truck that was blasting through the return portal? I was sick out of my mind. Practically beside myself.
I ran alongside Thorne. “How would we get back? If we jumped through the portal are we going to get run over? What would even happen jumping through with a truck in there already?”
“You don’t know what you saw,” he said. “A lot of travelers claim to see things through the return portal. You’re watching time bend it could be anything. Seeing yourself is a myth.”
My heart was still on the verge of popping. But he was experienced and unphased. And seeing a truck in the portal was so weird that it must be true what he was saying. Time must have bent funny.
I followed Thorne off the beach shaking of my unsettled feeling.