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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 37:
In the Year 2345

The vehicles came to a screeching stop just before hitting Charlie, George, Alice, and Jane. The cars were only inches away from them. They were standing on a strange-looking roadway in Cambridge, England, and the sun was setting in an overcast sky. They had stopped traffic, and people peered at them through the large glass windows of their vehicles.

Jane pointed to an area near the roadway and said urgently, "Go over there, but be careful. The cars automatically stop, but there have been accidents."

They made their way to the side of the road, and traffic resumed. People stared at them curiously through their windows. Apparently, walking anywhere near the roadway was unusual.

Jane pointed to a nearby platform, and they walked to it. When they stood on it, an empty car came to a smooth stop at their feet and the door slid quietly open. Jane entered -- Charlie, George, and Alice followed her in. When they had all taken seats in the surprisingly roomy car, the door slid shut. A soothing voice came from nowhere and said, "Destination, please?"

Jane stated her address, and the car moved onto the motorway. Jane said, "We must stop that horrible man from kidnapping me."

Charlie said, "That's going to be difficult. Talon's a big guy. I don't think we could stop him - plus, he might be armed."

Alice told Jane her idea, saying, "Since you're rescued already, we could just take the time machine away from your house and hide it. That way, Talon will think he's succeeded in kidnapping you, but he won't get your time machine. Then, tomorrow, you can go ahead and announce the time machine just as you had planned."

Jane thought about Alice's idea for a few seconds, and then nodded her head. "We could do that. I'll bring the time machine to my best friend's house - It'll be safe there."

It was dark when the car pulled in front of a small house surrounded by plants, trees, and bushes. When the door slid open, Jane and the kids left the car and walked towards the house. Jane picked up the side of the doormat and removed a key. She silently opened the door and gestured to the kids to be quiet.

As then entered the house, a voice called out from upstairs, "Who's there?"

Jane and the kids quickly went into the hall closet and closed the door gently behind them. Through the crack in the door, Charlie could barely see a woman walk down the stairs and into the entry. It was Jane, but she looked a lot healthier and happier.

After looking around for a minute or so, the healthier Jane went back upstairs.

They left the closet and followed Jane downstairs to her laboratory. Jane collected the shoebox-sized prototype of her time machine and a few folders that were nearby. They went back upstairs and left the house.

Just as they were closing the front door, they noticed two people on the sidewalk one house away. The man's bright red hair shone in the light of the streetlamp. Charlie whispered, "That's probably Talon -- we'd better hide."

They hid behind a large bush that was near the front door, just as the couple turned down Jane's front walk. It was Talon, but the woman who was with him was obscured by his shadow.

Talon rang the doorbell and took something dark out of his pocket. After a few seconds, Jane answered the door. The woman with Talon started laughing - it was an irritating, cackling laugh. Talon hit Jane on the head with a large gun, and she fell to the ground. Talon said, "Help me pull her inside. If I shoot her here, everyone will hear."

"No," the woman said, "If we kill her, the computer in her head will alert the police and we'll get caught. I'll dispose of her properly."

Talon asked, "What are you going to do?"

She said, "I'll dump her in the past -- in a place where she'll die quickly and her body will never even be found."

"Where?" asked Talon. "And when?"

"She'll die in the time and place I hate most in this world, that horrible rain forest in the 1700s from the Test of Time. That's where I lost two fingers to a miserable crocodile." She held up her right hand to remind Talon. Jane and the kids could just barely make out her deformed hand, but they still couldn't see her face.

She continued, "A delirious woman in her nightgown and slippers won't last an hour in the rain forest at night." She took out a time machine, put her foot on Jane's limp body, and pressed some keys. The two of them disappeared. Almost instantly, the woman re-appeared, but the unconscious Jane was gone. The kids realized that Jane must be in the rain forest in 1799.

"She's been dead for centuries," said the woman, smiling.

Talon and the woman entered Jane's house and began their search for her time machine. Jane, Charlie, George, and Alice left Jane's house and walked down the street.

A car came up to them, and Jane entered it, saying, "Thank you for everything you've done. I owe you my life. You can go back to your own time now, I'll be fine now. I'm going to a friend's house, where I'll be safe."

Charlie said, "Goodbye. It was great meeting you. I really like your time machine!"

Jane waved as her car drove off, and Alice said, "Let's go home now - I'm tired."

Charlie took out the slip of paper with his home's latitude and longitude on it, and he typed them on his time machine. He then punched in the date. The three kids linked arms, and Charlie pressed the red key. The mist swirled around them, and when it cleared, they were back in Montana, and it was daylight. But they were downtown.

"We've got to figure out the latitude and longitude of your house, Charlie," suggested George, and they walked slowly to Charlie's house.

Alice commented, "Do you think we'll ever find out if Jane gets credit for her time machine, and not Talon?"

"Probably not," said Charlie, shaking his head. It was a very unceremonious ending. They had just changed the course of history, and no one knew about it except Jane. They couldn't even tell their families or friends.

When they were on Charlie's block, they noticed a strange car in the driveway. As they went in Charlie's front door, Charlie's sister Kate said, "There are two women waiting for you Charlie - they're in the dining room. If you're in trouble, I'm telling Mom and Dad as soon as they get home."

"I'm not in trouble," said Charlie, but he wondered why two women could possibly be visiting him. He just hoped it wasn't about using the time machine again without supervision. Just in case, he quickly took the time machine off his neck and handed it to George. George quickly stashed it in a pocket of his jeans.

Charlie, George, and Alice entered the dining room and saw Cordelia, the paleontologist from the field trip, and another woman that they didn't recognize. Cordelia looked anxious; the other woman was very pretty and was smiling pleasantly. They sitting at the dining room table facing the kids.

Cordelia gestured to the other woman said, "This is my friend, Feo Gancho. She's also a paleontologist."

Feo said, "I just read the article in the newspaper about the field trip. Congratulations, Charlie and Alice -- you two are local heroes. That was the best T. rex find in years."

They all sat at the dining table. Cordelia and Feo sat facing the kids. A bowl of fruit was on the table. Cordelia said, "I read something particularly interesting at the end of the newspaper artlcle. Your mother is quoted as having said that you recently found a small, red, triangular computer. You're quite a lucky guy, Charlie. Can I see that computer?"

Charlie wasn't prepared for this, but he was relieved that she wasn't there because of their unsupervised trip to help Jane. He unconsciously felt for the computer hanging on the shoelace under his shirt. It wasn't there, of course, but Cordelia had noticed what he had done. She said sternly, "I'd really like to see it, Charlie. Now."

Charlie stalled by asking, "Why do you want to see it?"

Cordelia began to get angry and said abruptly, "I know what it is, Charlie, and it's not yours. You must give it to me right now."

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