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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 38:
Time Crimes

"No," protested Charlie, "the time machine is mine." He continued steadfastly, "Grandours said that we had earned the right to use it."

Cordelia was upset by Charlie's words, and became red in the face. Cordelia was so angry that she could barely speak, but she managed to ask, "How do you know about Grandours? You couldn't possibly have met him. How do you even know his name?"

Feo was smiling pleasantly and she tried to calm Cordelia down. She intervened on the kids' behalf, and said, "Give them a chance to explain, Cordelia."

George said, "We passed the first part of the Test of Time."

"That's impossible," said Cordelia, who was scowling. She took out her time machine, pressed some buttons, and disappeared. When she reappeared a moment later, she turned to Feo and said in an astonished voice, "They're telling the truth! They passed the first part of the Test of Time. How could that be?"

"We just did it," replied Charlie matter-of-factly, but Cordelia didn't seem to be listening to him.

Cordelia said to the kids, "We came here to retrieve the time machine that you found, but since you passed the first part of the Test of Time, you'll be allowed to keep it. That time machine belonged to time criminals who lost it, and they want it back desperately. You must be very careful because some evil people will soon know that you have that time machine. I found out that you had it by reading the newspaper, and they will also. They are very dangerous and would do anything to get their time machine back."

"They already tried to get it," said Charlie, "Two of them broke into my room last night, but they didn't find the time machine."

Feo said, "You're very clever. Where did you hide it?"

Charlie said, "I didn't hide it. It was in my room the whole time. They just didn't look in the right place."

Cordelia said, "They must have read that newspaper article before I did. We'll have to protect you from them -- if we can."

"I should tell you who we are and why we're here," Cordelia continued. "Feo and I were born far in your future."

"We knew that," said Charlie with a knowing smile, "we saw your time machine at the field trip."

Cordelia was embarrassed at her slip. She paused for a minute and then resumed her explanation. "I am a paleontologist, and, like many paleontologists, archeologists, and historians, I use a time machine to travel to the past in order to study it first-hand."

Cordelia continued, "Occasionally, I return home -- that is, I go back to the future. The last time I went back home, everything had changed. The leaders of government and industry were people I had never even heard of, countries had different names and new boundaries, the names of the inventors of important things had changed, and so on. Somehow, almost all of modern history was different. If I hadn't been working in the past, I wouldn't have known about it -- no one else even realized that anything had changed. When I asked them what had happened to change everything, they said that nothing had changed and that I was crazy. The only people who realized that things had changed were the scientists who were at work in the past when it all happened.

"I should explain a little bit about time travel. It's very closely regulated by the time police. No one is allowed to travel in time without passing the Test of Time, and no one is allowed to change the past or misuse time travel in any way. The most severe penalties on Earth are reserved for time crimes.

"Unfortunately, no one in the future is even aware that a huge time crime was committed - only a few scientists know about it, and no one else even believes that anything has happened.

"Feo and I are here in eastern Montana because there is a temporal discontinuity in this time and place -- that means that time trips that originate from here in Montana in this time are barely traceable by the authorities. The time police usually monitor every trip through time, so if someone wants to avoid detection, this is the time and place to do time travel. The ring of time criminals must be based here and in this time to avoid being followed when they travel in time to commit their crimes. That's why we're here -- in order to look for these criminals."

Everyone was silent for a moment. Charlie was wondering which version of future history Cordelia thought was real - who did she think had invented the time machine -- Talon or Jane? Had Jane had successfully kept her time machine away from Talon? Charlie decided to try the direct approach, so he asked the women, "Who invented the time machine?"

Cordelia and Feo both stared at Charlie in disbelief. Feo asked quietly, "Why do you want to know about that?"

Cordelia ignored Feo, and said, "When I went to school, I studied a lot of history. I was taught that Jane Wadkins invented the time machine. When I last returned to my time, Talon Bilg was said to have invented the time machine. I looked him up on my own, unaltered internal computer records -- I found that Talon Bilg was born a thousand years after the time machine was invented, and he failed the Test of Time just a few years before I passed it. I believe that this man and his fellow criminals have purposely changed the course of history so that it better suits them.

"Unfortunately, we've been unable to find these criminals. Talon stole a time machine and had it altered so that it is less traceable than normal. Also, most time machines can only transport a single person, but Talon's time machine must have been reprogrammed so that more than one person can travel on it at once - that's how he kidnaps people and takes them away in time.

Cordelia smiled sadly as she finished her story, "Feo and I were trained to be paleontologists and look for fossils, but now we find ourselves having to look for criminals instead."

Alice asked, "Why don't you and your friends just capture Talon, take him to the future, and put him on trial?"

Cordelia was clearly annoyed at what Alice had said, and answered her in a very condescending manner, "Don't be ridiculous. We don't know where Talon is, or in what year. He might be here, but he could be anywhere or in any time. Second, the people in our time think that Talon is a hero and not a criminal. No one would put him on trial -- they would probably give him a medal and put us on trial."

Alice replied sarcastically, "Have you tried his house? He was there yesterday."

George added, " As to your second point, you can put him on trial -- we may have restored the future. I think we fixed it so that Talon couldn't steal Jane's time machine and then take credit for it."

Cordelia and Feo were astounded by what Alice and George had said. Cordelia said nothing, and Feo let out a nervous, high-pitched laugh.

Charlie, Alice, and George looked at each other in horror -- Feo's laugh was just like the cackling laugh of the woman who had helped Talon kidnap Jane.

Charlie thought that it must be her, but he had to know with certainty whether this really was the same woman who had so heartlessly tried to kill Jane. Then Charlie remembered that the kidnapper was missing two fingers on one of her hands. Unfortunately, Charlie couldn't see Feo's hands - she was sitting across the table from the kids, and she was holding her hands under the table.

Charlie had an idea. He took an apple from the fruit bowl in front of him and tossed it to Feo, saying, "Would you like some fruit?"

A suprised Feo caught the apple, and the kids saw that she was missing two fingers on her right hand. They now knew that she was the other kidnapper!

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