Lost in Time

This tale is a continuation of the adventure to find our missing Aunt Matilda.
Read part one, where we search in Salem 1692 here.
Read part two, where we search in Space 2696 here.

The Tannhauser Gate vanished before my eyes and I was pulled apart, flung atom by atom across time and space. I could see the universe melting into chaotic abstract images. Streaks of pink and cerulean and emerald slid across my vision like rain.

Then my vision cleared and I was looking at the rain, reflecting the colors of the neon signs lining the alley I was lying in. I sat up and shook my head. I was wet and cold and had no idea where or when I was, but I was alive. I took a moment to hope the crew of the Arcadia could say the same.

I stood up and looked around. The alley was narrow, but was full of entrances to venues offering services advertised with buzzing neon signs, all with lettering I couldn’t read. I walked to the end where the street widened out and was amazed by what I saw. There were glowing skyscrapers that dwarfed any I’d seen in my own time. Each was a spire stretching into the storm clouds with lightning dancing around and between them. A steady flow of flying vehicles passed overhead at different altitudes. 

The squeak of brakes pulled me from my astonishment. A 1965 Lincoln Continental stopped beside me and the rear door opened backwards to reveal a sharply dressed man in a dark brocade suit. He leaned forward, the neon signs reflecting off his circular sunglasses. He stared at me for a long minute and I stared back, wondering if I’d just jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

“You are a stranger in this neighborhood,” the man said in a deep voice. “Ms. Webb would like to have a word with you.”

I decided to take my chances and got into the seat he offered me.

Aunt Matilda is lost in time - Cyberpunk

I rode in silence next to the man in the brocade suit watching the city skyscrapers slide past. After a few turns, we arrived in front of a tall slender building trimmed in vertical green neon. I was led through a lobby with a bank of payphones on one wall and an empty reception desk along the other. The elevator was sleek and mahogany with a clock at the back that was running too fast. 

The top floor felt more like an Egyptian temple than a skyrise penthouse. I had been under the impression it was nighttime while I was on the ground, but now the setting sun was streaming through the windows in this room above the clouds. A woman stood at the far end of the room in front of a long wall of clocks, both digital and analog, and all running at different speeds. She was tall and lean with dark hair and prominent bangs. My footsteps echoed as I approached and the ticking of the clocks grew louder and quieter as they moved in and out of phase. 

“Greetings. I am Ms. Webb” she said. “I must admit, I am surprised to find you in my city.”

“I am certainly surprised to be here,” I said.

Ms. Webb raised an eyebrow. “Is that right?”

“Yes, ma'am. I am just trying to find my Aunt Matilda. I ended up here after narrowly escaping an attack.”

“I see,” Ms. Webb said. She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked at me again. “I do not believe she is here.” 

“I was told I may need a Timesuit to find her.”

“A Timesuit? You must be quite far from home.” She paused to consider. “I can provide this. In exchange, there is a job I need you to do, something I am not in a position to do myself.”

Ms. Webb had instructed me to go to a theater and wait to be contacted by the person who would have the seat next to mine. I was driven there by the same Lincoln Continental that had picked me up from the alley, though without the deep-voiced man to ride along. 

The theater was ornately decorated in gold and maroon with people dressed in fine suits and dresses that made me feel like I had been transported to the 1920’s. I looked down and was surprised to find myself dressed to match. I hadn’t noticed my attire when I arrived, but doubted I had been dressed like this the whole time I had been here. 

I found my seat as the lights dimmed and the curtain rose. The production was one I was familiar with, but had never seen performed live. The scenes were so vivid that I was pulled into the story. When it was funny, I laughed. When it was tragic, I cried. I felt the pain of loss and the joy of victory and the longing for departed friends. It was so well performed that I felt like I was watching my own story unfold.

The seat next to mine remained empty until almost the end of the final act, when an unexpected companion claimed it. I looked over and was startled to see a white fox with glowing red markings around its ears, face, and eyes. 

When the final curtain fell, I rose to applaud with the rest of the audience. I had never seen a performance so moving before. As the lights came up, the fox put a paw on my wrist and said, “you are on a quest for Ms. Webb, correct?” 

I indicated that I was. 

“Then I am to take you to receive the item,” the fox said.

I walked alongside the fox through the twisting alleys and neon-drenched streets of the city. The rain had turned to drizzle and there was an element of fascination rather than dreariness about.

“You are a kitsune, aren’t you?” I asked.

“I am cybernetic,” the fox said. “You may call me Kagami.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kagami,” I said. “To wear a name is to have a spirit. Do you have the spirit of a kitsune?”

Kagami laughed. “My name means mirror, so I could ask you the same. What do you think, time runner? Do you have the spirit of kitsune in you?”

I smiled. “I don’t know about that. I set off on a journey to locate my Aunt Matilda, and now I seem to be as lost as she is. I don’t even know when or where I am. That doesn’t feel very cunning or clever to me.”

“Just look at the clocks if you want to figure out where you are,” Kagami said.

“But they all run at different speeds. What good does that do?” I asked.

“Exactly!” Kagami said. “We’re here.”

I looked up to see a green neon dragon scaling a vertical sign. “I hope you’re hungry,” Kagami said.

I was hungry, I noticed. “Very, now that you mention it.” 

We entered the restaurant.

The restaurant was fancy with dim lighting and live music being played by a jazz band in front of the windows. The tables were all set with fine linens and elegant stoneware. No one seemed to even notice that there was a fox sitting across the table from me. 

When the waiter approached, he said, “tonight we are serving our Traveler’s Special, featuring various delicious dishes from cultures around the world.”

I agreed to it, and the food began to arrive. There were appetizers, main courses, side dishes, and deserts. The selection was seemingly endless with flavors of sweet, creamy, smooth, buttery, rich, sour, umami, earthy, and fruity. I couldn’t have dreamed up a more delectable meal, and I doubt I’ll ever have one. The experience was heavenly, even if Kagami and I both ate too much.

The waiter arrived with a final serving platter. “Your dining expenses have been provided for by Ms. Webb,” he said. “She asks that you deliver this to a Mrs. Lovelace, who awaits you in the art museum.” He lifted the dome of the platter to reveal a small pyramid-shaped crystal filled with gold and turquoise with a violet orb suspended in the center.

My instincts told me to keep a low profile with it, and I quickly pocketed the curio, thanked the waiter, and made my way out of the restaurant.

“Ah, there’s Jacquard,” Kagami said, indicating the Lincoln that was once more waiting for me. We bid farewell and I entered the vehicle. 

The driver, Jacquard, was the man with the circular glasses and brocade suit who had greeted me earlier. He stared at me through the rearview mirror. “Do you have it?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

Jacquard smiled a gap-toothed grin and the car began to roll.

As we drove through the city, I felt a sense of foreboding growing. The scene gradually became grittier, the buildings falling farther into disrepair the longer we drove. The scenery changed from high-rises to mid-rises to warehouses and finally to a seaside shanty town that stretched on as far as I could see. The disparity of this area from the city was striking and heavy as I rode on. 

A pair of headlights caught my attention as we passed an alleyway, and I turned to see them pulling out behind us. Jacquard caught my eye in the mirror and said, “buckle your seatbelt.”

He didn’t even have to tell me once, but I pulled the strap on it tighter and took a deep breath. The car jolted from an impact to the rear bumper. I saw Jacquard grin again and then I was thrown back into my seat as he stepped on the gas to speed away. 

He weaved the Lincoln through the narrow streets and alleys of the shantytown, all the while our pursuers followed. We raced on and I held my breath. I knew that at any point I could bite down on my tooth which should trigger the time machine to pull me home. But, I didn’t want to take the chance after it flung me so randomly the last time I used it. That, and not when I was so close to finally getting my hands on a Timesuit. So I focused on breathing, and hoping. 

The car screamed through an intersection and around a corner as we headed for another part of the city. I took a glimpse behind us and didn’t see anyone. A few more blocks of rocketing through narrow streets and erratic turns and Jacquard said, “we’ve lost them… for now. Should be safe enough to get you to the museum.”

He sped on and a few moments later, we pulled up in front of a large building with towering stone columns. Jacquard turned to face me. “Second floor, to the left. Expressionists. Go!”

I opened the door and ran.

I ran up the two flights of steps outside of the museum feeling like I was training for the big fight. Upon entering, the reverence of the space was sobering. I slowed to a walk, but managed not to be distracted by the seemingly endless galleries. 

In the Expressionists gallery, I found a raven-haired young woman transfixed by a painting. She was the only person in the room, and so I slowly made my way over to stand next to her. The painting she was admiring was The Scream by Edvard Munch. I had never seen it in person and allowed myself to be transfixed by it as well. 

After an indeterminable amount of time, the woman asked, “does it speak to you?”

I considered my answer carefully. “Not always. Though, I’ve certainly had moments like this.”

“Moments,” she said, “where you suddenly remember that you’re a sentient being living on a rock that’s hurdling at unimaginable speeds through a seemingly infinite universe?”

“When you put it that way…” I said, feeling the pangs of anxiety stirring inside me, “yes.”

“But, when I put it that way, what could there possibly be to worry about?” She laughed. “I am Mrs. Lovelace.”

I introduced myself and she shook my hand. “I have something for you,” I said. “You should know we were chased because of it.”

“I believe we’re perfectly safe here,” she said.

I produced the object and Mrs. Lovelace’s eyes went wide in admiration. “That is among the finest MacGuffins I have ever seen,” she said.

I gave her a puzzled look as she took the object, wondering if MacGuffin meant the same thing here as it did where I came from.

“You have done very well, traveler. Ms. Webb will be quite pleased. You should return to her now. I believe she will have your reward waiting.”

With Jacquard’s help, I returned to Ms. Webb’s office and found her standing in front of the wall of mismatched clocks. She smiled as she recognized me. “Thank you for your service,” she said, and bowed to me.

I returned the gesture and she continued, “I must admit that I have misled you on the actual mission I was hoping you would accomplish for me. Nonetheless, you have completed it impeccably. The package you delivered was empty data, but along the way, you have provided me with knowledge I have long sought after. You see, young human, you have not landed in time or space as you understand it. You have landed within a digital world.”

I remembered what Kagami said about the clocks and it struck me. Of course! A world built for computers would have to track various clock speeds!

“As a digital sentience,” Ms. Webb continued, “I have always wondered what it would be like to be human. I have been watching you with all of my resources this evening, and I finally have insights into what it is like to feel as a human feels. You have shown me joy and sorrow, grief, fear, happiness, and even a glimpse into what things taste like. In exchange, I gladly keep my end of our deal.”

Ms. Webb gestured to a box on the table, and I opened it to find an intricately wired shirt that felt almost like nylon. It was sleek with a gorgeous patterning of connections that reminded me of this city.

“It is designed to be worn like a second skin, so that you may hide it beneath the fashions of whatever time you choose. It should be able to take you anywhere and anywhen. And if you ever run into trouble out there, remember that you have an ally in Ms. Webb.”

“Thank you,” I said. “This is going to be invaluable.”

“Where will you go next?” she asked.

I thought for a moment. “Somewhere peaceful for a little while. Just enough to find my balance. Then I’ll be back on the trail of my Aunt Matilda.”

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