This story was written in 2017 as part of a group project.
Photo by Kong Ruksiam on Pexels.com
“Have you been around here before?” the guide asked, his voice friendly, his English good. Preston liked him , even though he felt the question was rather silly. Preston was thin, lanky, wearing a bright red t-shirt and his favorite pair of indigo jeans. He was clearly not from around here, based on the way he glistened and groaned in the mid-afternoon sun, and his hardly worn boots cast equal doubt onto his outdoorsiness. Preston knew he didn’t belong here.
“No,” he smiled, hoping it looked more gracious than pained. “I’m not from around here.”
Are you an American?” the guide asked, curious, as they grew closer to the splash of green.
“No,” Preston admitted. “But I am from the west.”
The guide nodded and turned away, inspecting the path before them. Preston took this opportunity to glance behind him, towards their buggy and the endless sand dunes beyond. For a moment, he allowed himself to gaze at the cloudless sky, where the sun stood solitary against the blue banks of the heavens.
Preston missed home. But he missed his sister even more.
“Who are you looking for, if you don’t mind me asking?” the guide questioned as they set off into the shaded woods.
“Nobody interesting,” Preston deflected. “I’d rather hear about this place.”
The guide chuckled. “Oh, there’s not much to say. Beautiful and mysterious as this desert-bound forest may be, its existence is scientifically impossible. I’m afraid I have no interesting factoids or tidbits of knowledge to purvey. This forest… it just is.”
“What of the ruins that lie within?” Preston pressed.
“Yet another mystery,” the guide sighed. “A forgotten city, lost to the world? It gave the archaeological community palpitations. It took a lot of negotiations to keep this site from prying eyes. I’m surprised they even let you come along.”
Preston was not surprised he’d been allowed to visit. It would have been more surprising had the Minister withstood the days Preston had tortured him and refused to sign the papers.
The forest around them gave way to a small clearing, where an odd, collapsed structure stuck half-heartedly from the soil. It was crooked, and gold, and awe inspiring. Windows of clear glass, looking like they’d been put in mere days ago, made the tower even more confusing. Preston had seen better, but he’d seen far, far worse.
“This will do,” Preston bit his lip as he scanned the tower. “This will do just fine.” He turned back to his guide. “I will be alone now.”
The guide frowned. “Sorry, sir, I don’t think I am allowed to leave you unattended.”
“You misunderstand,” Preston stepped close to the guide, moving his hand to the man’s chin and snapping his neck without a second thought. Sighing slightly, the young man strode towards the odd structure and placed his palm against it. The glass lit up, revealing a complex screen. Familiar symbols scrolled by, and Preston smiled. It was all prepared.
“Terminal Enterprise Log,” Preston spoke aloud. “Begin preparations for Stage Two.” “No,” said a recalcitrant voice, and Preston became aware of the glowing outline of a bear, appearing on the screen and blotting out everything else. Preston’s eyes widened.
“Terminal Enterprise Log,” he tried again. “Clear bugs from your system.”
“I’m not a bug, I’m a bear,” the electronic voice chuckled. “Also, I am TEL.”
“You’re what?” Preston blinked. Was this a human hacker’s idea of a joke?
“Terminal Enterprise Log,” Tel explained. “T-E-L, Tel. Gosh, for an extraterrestrial, your imagination leaves much to be desires.”
“I don’t understand,” Preston blinked. “How did you gain sentience?”
“Your sister,” TEL shrugged. “She knew you would find her and she knew you would come. She said to remind you that this was created to observe, not destroy.”
“Our ancestors used it to collect data on the humans, true,” Preston crossed his arms, finding this interruption fairly irritating. “But once they used them for labor they killed them all to obscure the city. They’re specimens. And their usefulness has come to an end.
“Our planet has run dry of Krystaneum,” Preston continued, his fist clenching as he remembered the pain and suffering of his own world. “Without it our society decays. We need the untouched supply remaining in these outposts in order to power our own world.”
“If this machine is destroyed, some fairly unfortunate side effects will occur,” TEL reminded Preston. “Including, but not limited to: the destruction of this planet, the unbalancing of this solar system, and the cancellation of many excellent television shows.”
“Our world is the only one that matters,” Preston sniffed. “Before she left my sister was part of a team designing a new spacecraft- one capable of travelling backwards through time. It has been completed, and can return to our planet’s glory days to acquire more Krystaneum.”
“So go then,” TEL waved. “Bye.”
“It requires Krystaneum to run,” Preston informed TEL dryly.
“Well,” TEL’s electronic face was impassive. “That seems to be a sizable design flaw.”
“Enough of this,” Preston rolled his eyes. “Where is my sister? Once I find her I can end this and bring the Krystaneum home.”
“No you can’t,” TEL shook his head.
“Oh? Would you stop me?” Preston laughed. “Bypassing this strange program will be easy.”
“Probably,” TEL admitted. “But even if you did bypass me there wouldn’t be enough Krystaneum for a time machine. A good chunk of it is missing.”
“What? How much?” Preston balked, eyes widening. He scrambled to his own tablet, working to bypass TEL so he could verify this bad news.
“About enough for a time machine,” TEL explained. “Your sister needed it.”
“Why would she do that?” Preston blinked. “She knows that will result in a delayed explosion. She’ll be killed!”
“First of all, its a much smaller explosion, should take out this desert at most,” TEL tilted his head. “Second of all, she’s not here right now- you are.”
Preston gave a nervous laugh. “What are you saying?”
“Oh, woe that I must spend my final moments explaining the obvious,” TEL sighed. “Your sister was determined that this planet not be destroyed. She stole a Time-Machine sized chunk of Krystaneum, used her research to build said time machine, and popped back in time to prevent the prove from being planted here in the first place. She left me, and the decaying Krystaneum, here to buy her some time. It’ll take the empire decades to realize you’ve failed, and they’ll never be able to mount another mission.”
“Ridiculous,” Preston scoffed. “Why would my own sister betray me?”
“No offense, dude,” TEL shrugged. “But you’re kind of a jerk.”
This statement was punctuated by a beep, a flash of red, and a very, very large BOOM.