Dipping once again into the pile of “Stories I meant to write decades ago,” this is actually an idea I had way back in the ’80s, but it took several decades for the key element of the climax to come to me. Now, the material is maybe a little dark given how young I was at the time, but keep in mind that I had just come off of Captain Power. Also, the original idea was a jukebox musical, but that doesn’t translate well to prose.
Rick set Lauren down on the couch and checked her eyes. They’d already turned gray. Fine silver lines had started to trace paths along her temples. “Who is she?” Daryl asked.
“A friend,” Rick said, “But not for long if we don’t do something.” He found one of the two android weapons on the table where he’d left it earlier, took out the power rod. “This is how they did it. They call it a sillicizer. It changes organic matter into…” He trailed off.
Everyone else just watched in confusion as Rick crossed to the time Machine and opened a panel on STEVE’s housing. He placed the silvery rod into a test tube mounted to the inside of the panel and closed it. “STEVE,” he said. “Use your sample analyzer to invert the molecular structure and create a reversal agent,” he ordered.
STEVE looked up at him with no expression from the rounded screen. “An-na-na-na-lyzing,” the computer stammered. “Scan process will ta-ta-ta-take one-one hundred trillion cycles. All cir-cir-circuits busy.”
“She’s getting cold,” Daryl said, checking Lauren’s pulse. “Do we have that kind of time?”
“No chance,” Rick said. “I have to go back. They must have an antidote.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Casey said.
“She saved my life. I have to do something. Besides, we can’t just leave her here. If she changes, she could–” His eyes moved around the room, landing on the bin of parts. “I have an idea. STEVE, prime the time machine.”
“Un-un-un- Error. Circuits are busy. Do you w-w-wish to cancel the current job?”
Rick looked flustered for a moment. “Oh. Okay. Right,” he said. He walked around to behind STEVE, opened a different panel, and started rapidly hammering on a keyboard inside.
“What is it?” Casey asked.
Rick kept typing. STEVE’s image vanished for a second then reappeared. “Circuits r-r-ready. Starting time machine warm-up.”
“The professor was a genius,” Rick said. “STEVE is amazing, even by today’s standards. But he’s still an ’80s computer. Single threaded, single tasking. He can only do one thing at a time. But when I rebuilt him I used a modern CPU to run his program in a virtual machine. So I can add a simple task scheduler to run multiple jobs in parallel. It’s a little bit of a kludge, since STEVE’s program doesn’t have any access to the task scheduler, but it should work for now.”
STEVE’s eyes followed Rick closely as he returned to the parts bin and began quickly plugging pieces together. A coil of wire. A large bar magnet. A wah-wah pedal. “What are you doing?” Casey asked.
“I’m going to threaten them,” Rick said. “I’m going to march right into the robot headquarters and make them give me the antidote.”
“I thought you said they took over the whole world,” Daryl said. “You can’t just take them on.”
“Not a lot of choice,” Rick said. He stepped close to Daryl and looked down at Lauren. “I’ve got something they need. Something they’ve waited a long time to get their robot pincer hands on. Hopefully I can make a deal.”
“T-T-Time machine ready,” STEVE chimed.
Casey shook her head. “Don’t do this. It’s too dangerous.”
Rick kissed her cheek. “I have to do this.” She frowned, but looked over to Lauren on the couch and gave a grudging nod.
She slipped off her ring and placed it in the socket on the time machine. Rick did the same. As the time machine started to light up with purple energy, Casey returned her ring to her finger. Rick instead slid his into a clip on the device he’d built and pressed down the pedal. “Fifteen minutes,” he said. “If that’s not enough time…” A quick glance at Lauren confirmed that she was changing rapidly.
Casey struggled to find a response. “Stay safe,” was all she could choke out before a violet ribbon stretched out from the emitter on the time machine to Rick’s ring, whisking him twenty years into the future.
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