The plan is relatively simple. We send a small team of four through the portal into the past—after hours, when we are confident no one will be working. The team will consist of Cleaner and myself, along with two of his security guys. The rest of the time travel group will stay in the present. The goal will be to get in and out without making contact with anyone except my mom.
If all goes according to plan, I’ll convince her to give us access to the research and, hopefully, give us some ideas on how to get the program jumpstarted. If for whatever reason, that doesn’t work, we’ll make a second attempt at a later date to steal the research.
We’ll bring back whatever information we procure and have our team reconstruct it to create a new working prototype. With that, we’ll then build a large-scale machine that can easily be broken down and transported to Mars.
The small odds of success are not lost on me, or the team. A lot has to go just right, and eventually, we need to convince the President to be on board. There is just no way we can sneak a spacecraft to Mars to begin terraforming and colonizing it without getting noticed.
Cleaner has found the security logs from around the time we are traveling back to. These logs contain passcodes for the soundstages, which will allow us to get in and out of any building on campus without sounding any alarms. He was also able to reconstruct the security protocols of the time, which gives us an idea of where the members of the security team will be and what they will be doing around the time we’ll be crossing over. It won’t be exact, but it’s better than going in completely blind.
Once we cross over, Cleaner and I will find my mom. The security cameras are a concern as we have no idea how to circumvent them without first getting to the security building. By then we’ll have already been caught on tape. Luckily, the video feeds are not monitored in real time. Security inside the Studio has always been tight, leaving little room for any kind of security breach. The video is only played back if and when there is a reason to do so. In my ten years here, that’s only happened a handful of times.
If we can get in and out without anyone knowing, then there will be no reason for anyone to review the tapes. And since there is no record of a security breach in the days leading up to my dad’s disappearance I can only assume we were—and will be—successful at our stealth. But just in case, Cleaner and I are wearing masks to avoid any possibility of being identified, as slim as that possibility is.
The two security guys will stay in the soundstage to guard the portal and make sure we have a clean exit. They will be dressed in the standard security garb of the time, which hasn’t changed much in twenty years. Neither of them worked at the Studio during this period, so there is no danger of them being recognized.
If someone shows up at the soundstage while Cleaner and I are out, they are to use all their powers of persuasion to convince the person to leave. The problem is how to do that without raising suspicion. Nothing strange ever got reported, so we either came up with something good or such an encounter never happened. This, in itself, gives us some peace of mind. I guess if it happens they’ll think of something that works.
“Is it too late to back out?” GoPro asks.
“Yep. It’s this or prison for you,” Brooklyn tells him. “I wouldn’t worry about it though; you’ll make someone a nice prison wife.”
“Charming,” Allyson admonishes in a motherly voice.
It’s almost midnight, and we are all anxious for what we are about to do. It’s not unheard of for someone to be working late or coming in early. Based on the security and entrance logs of the time, Cleaner determined that our best chance of not being seen is between midnight and 3 a.m.
The tricky part is going to be getting to my mom without waking up my dad. That will be left to me, and I hope I’ll be able to tap into some kind of motherly sixth sense that will let her know I’m her son, not some intruder.
Shortly after midnight, Greaser opens the portal. Everyone is commanded to maintain absolute silence for as long as the portal is open, regardless if we see anyone on the other side or not. Greaser manipulates the opening large enough for the four of us to pass through side-by-side. We debated whether to keep it smaller but ultimately decided that when it comes to returning, there is little margin for error. It’s best we keep the portal open wide.
Cleaner and I stand directly in front of the portal, flanked by his two security guys on either side. We wait, look, and listen, making sure it’s all clear.
Cleaner gives us the thumbs up. In unison, we step through. I lean over and drop a small piece of tape onto the floor to mark the portal opening. I plan on removing it as we exit, but if for some reason it gets left behind it should be taken for a random piece of trash.
Cleaner and I quietly make our way to the other side of the building. We walk past the machine that Greaser said is the early version of the Continuum & control station. It looks like neither but has hints of both.
Turning back, I see the two security guards standing like sentries, guarding the passageway. I give them a look that says, “what the heck are you doing?!”
“Try not to look like you’re guarding something,” Cleaner says to them. “Look like you’re supposed to be here.”
They glance at each other than casually start milling about the building, looking at all the research equipment. I’m starting to wonder if they can pull this off.
“They’ll be fine,” Cleaner whispers as he gently pulls my arm. “Let’s go.”
We stop in front of the exit door, listening for anyone who might be on the other side. Just as Cleaner is about to push it open, we here shuffling and then a click as the electronic lock disengages.
Cleaner and I press ourselves flat against the wall on either side of the door just as it opens. We both suck in our guts, hoping not to be caught out of the corner of the eye of the person entering.
Luckily the man appears distracted. He smells of freshly smoked cigarettes and is talking to himself as if replaying an argument in his head. Cleaner’s security guys look like two thieves caught in the act. They are in full view as the man walks toward them, yet he doesn’t seem to notice. I can only imagine what the team on the other side of the portal is doing back home as they watch this unfold.
Halfway across the room the man looks up and sees the two security guys. He then looks to his right and left, giving Cleaner and me a good profile view of his face before he turns back to address the intruders. “What are you doing here?” We hear him say to them.
Cleaner gets my attention, points to the man and mouths something, which I cannot see due to the mask covering his mouth. I lift up my hands making a “what?” gesture. He lifts his mask off his face and tries again. “That’s your dad,” he enunciates deliberately.
I turn to look but only see the back of his head. Cleaner and I stay in position watching as he talks to the two security guys. We can’t quite hear what is being said, but they appear to be convincing. My dad continues to engage them in conversation as he works. He walks around the machine, fiddling with dials and levers, studying it, and pulling off and reconnecting various wires.
Cleaner and I are unsure what to do. The mission is clearly aborted, but now we need to figure out how to get home without being noticed. The security guys are doing a surprising job at keeping the man—my dad—engaged. Cleaner and I sneak over into one of the side offices, out of sight, so the security guys can talk my dad into leaving. Unfortunately, it’s not working. He just keeps chatting them up while he works, like they are old friends.
My dad seems to know exactly what he’s doing, not referring to any notes but diving right in, making adjustments to his creation. He walks over to the wall and grabs what looks like a gas can and brings it back over to the machine. It strikes me how much things have changed. Twenty years ago the machine ran on gas, where today we have an abundance of electricity. My dad begins pouring gas into a tank hidden in the middle of the machine. This has got to be the most oddly constructed machine I’ve ever seen. It’s no wonder that Greaser’s version turned out completely different.
Pulling the can out, some gas spills on the floor. My dad sets the can down and grabs a rag and something else that I can’t make out from a nearby workstation. On his way back to wipe up the spill, he accidentally kicks the can over. The next thing I know the rag is on fire and gets dropped into the puddle of gas. A trail of flame races to the machine. Dad quickly moves away, pulling the two security guys with him.
Everything happens so fast that Cleaner and I have no time to react before the machine is completely engulfed in flames. We start racing toward it to put the fire out, but the next thing I know we are both knocked back by the force of an explosion.
I stand up as black smoke fills the soundstage and makes its way out of a hole blasted through the side of the building. Pieces of the machine are scattered all around us, fire everywhere. Cleaner is already up and running over to the other three.
This was not part of the plan! The only thing we can do is leave as quickly as possible. Cleaner helps his guys up as I pull the tape off the floor marking the portal entrance. “Let’s go,” I shout. “We have to get out of here, now!”
Cleaner checks on my dad to make sure he’s ok. He helps him up, but a bit roughly. I step through the portal and am back safely on the other side. I turn to see Cleaner and his two security guys follow me through, dragging my dad with them.