by Bob Sorensen
Dave sat there for the next few minutes afraid to move, aggressively hoping the lights would come back on. But they didn’t, and the room stayed inky black, and without all of the large cooling fans running, deafeningly silent. If there had been crickets in the building, this would have been their cue.
Finally Dave stumbled over to the door, lighting the way with the faint green glow of his digital watch. The door refused to open and Dave started to panic until he realized with the power out the automatic opener was off-line. He used the manual crank hidden behind a small access panel near the floor. Once outside he took a deep breath, leaned against the wall, and slowly slid to the floor, his feet straight out in front of him.
“What do I do now?” he said, his voice echoing off the empty walls. The only sound was the faint buzz of the electric lights casting a harsh glare. Dave didn’t want to go back to the office. He was terrified someone would ask him where Stewie was, and he knew he was too rattled to lie.
Finally Dave decided to sneak out and go home to the empty basement apartment he and Stewie shared. When he got there, the place was too quiet and too empty. One of Stewie’s t-shirts was draped over the refrigerator.
Not hungry, Dave skipped dinner and went to bed early, but he spent the long night tossing and turning. Finally, at about five a.m., he gave up trying to sleep and went back into the office, deciding at least there he would be closer to the problem.
Dave spent the morning moping around his cubicle. Luckily, neither Gladstone nor anybody else bothered him because they would have known something was wrong. Dave hadn’t showered, his hair was sticking straight up, and he was wearing an old t-shirt, the one Stewie had given him for his sixteenth birthday. The freshly ironed collared shirt scheduled for today had been left hanging back in the apartment still fresh in its plastic wrapper.
Dave was having his third, or perhaps his fourth, anxiety attack of the morning when Zoe and Janna stuck their heads into his cube.
“Ouch,” said Zoe, “you, my man, have looked better. I mean the hair thing I can live with, but the greasy sheen needs work.”
Janna simply nodded hello.
Dave put down the paper bag he had been breathing into and groaned.
Zoe peeked over into the next cubicle and said, “So where’s Stewie? Sleeping in today?”
Dave decided he would try to act casual. He sat up straight and said, “I don’t know. He was supposed to be here. But he’s not. He must be somewhere else. You don’t see him here, do you?”
Zoe and Janna looked at each other.
“Whoa,” Zoe said. “It’s all right. We can catch up with him later. We just stopped by to see if you guys wanted to get a snack or something in the cafeteria.”
Dave slumped back in his chair. “Now’s not really a good time. We’re kinda busy. Stewie’s off on a... special project.” He leaned forward and whispered, “It’s very hush-hush.”
Zoe shrugged. “Sounds intriguing. Well, tell him we stopped by.”
Zoe left. Janna hung back for a few seconds. “I’ll see you at lunch, won’t I?”
Dave nodded weakly.
“Cheer up,” Janna said. “It can’t be that bad.” Then she reached out and pushed up Dave’s glasses.
Zoe called from up the aisle. “Let’s move it, girl. Gotta get back to the gulag. Make sure the bills get paid on time.”
Janna turned and walked out.
Dave put his head down on the desk. A new wave of panic washed over him. He started to moan and then suddenly stopped.
He picked his head up, stood, and slapped his hand on the desk top. He might have even laughed out loud. Loud enough for a couple of heads to appear over the cubicle walls. Dave ignored them and sprinted up the aisle.
He caught sight of the two young women by the vending machines. “Hey,” he shouted from down the hall. “Wait up.”
He ran up behind them and skidded to a halt, nearly crashing into Janna.
Zoe looked at him. “Wow, what’s up with you? Stewie spiking your coffee again?”
“You guys, you work in logistics right?” he asked between gasps.
Janna nodded. “Yup. Without us, nothing would get done around here.”
“You mean things like keeping the water running, stuff like that?”
Zoe nodded. “It’s pretty freaky. Last month the phone bill was over twelve thousand bucks. Before this summer, I didn’t know a place like this even got a phone bill.”
“What can you tell me about the electricity?”
“That’s my department,” said Janna. “At least it will be until September.”
Dave took another deep breath. “Why would the lights go out, say in an office or, maybe like a lab?”
Janna frowned, thought for a minute, then broke into a smile. “That’s easy. We may pay our bill to the electric company, but we charge each of our customers separately for our services. So if there was an office that did work for some client, we would bill them for the electricity.”
Dave grabbed Janna by the shoulders. “So what happens when the client stops paying us?”
“We shut down all the utilities to that office. Until another contract comes along. It saves us a bunch of money.”
Dave took another breath. “Who decides where and when to turn the lights off? And on?”
“Most of that is done automatically through the facilities management software, but some people have user id’s for the utilities database.”
Dave slumped. “I guess they’re pretty strict about giving those user id’s out?”
“Not really,” Janna shrugged. “They gave me one my first day.”
Dave looked up and down the corridor. He lowered his voice and whispered to the girls. “In that case, I have a favor to ask you.”
Zoe and Janna refused to do anything until he told them the entire story. The girls flipped between amazement at what the boys had accomplished and horror at the risk they had taken.
Zoe was particularly angry. “How could you have done this? Stewie, I can understand; he has no common sense, but you, Dave? I expected better.”
Dave didn’t have any real response. He answered meekly, “It seemed like the thing to do at the time.”
After finally calming them down, Dave took them to the Stone Ghost lab, but not before stopping off at his office and picking up a flashlight from the emergency supply closet.
He cranked open the door to the lab and let the two girls go in first. He followed with the flashlight. The three stood in a line while Dave swept the light across the darkened lab.
Zoe shuddered. “Are you sure Stewie isn’t already... you know... dead?”
Dave shook his head. “No, he’s fine. He doesn’t even know anything has gone wrong at this end.”
Dave looked at his watch “But in about 36 hours he’ll be in a certain empty field near the main stage, waiting for me to generate another wormhole to bring him back.”
Janna took the flashlight from Dave and walked over to the wormhole chamber. In the dark, it looked cold and menacing.
“What happens if we miss that appointment?” She shone the light in Dave’s face.
Dave squinted and used his hands to block the beam.
“Then we’ll never be able to find him again. He stays in 1969.”
Janna tossed the flashlight to Dave. “Then, I guess we’ll just have to get the power back up in here.”
They decided to wait until the last possible moment to bring the power on line. Janna was worried that if they did it too soon, someone would notice the drain and investigate. They walked through their plan a hundred times during the next day and a half, rehearsing the procedures until everyone knew them cold.
Finally, the time came. Dave, Zoe, and Janna were sitting in the darkened Stone Ghost lab, which was dimly lit by a couple of candles Janna had brought in.
Dave checked his watch and nodded to Janna. “It’s time.”
Janna stood up. “Good luck,” she said.
Dave stood up and grabbed her by the arm. “Same.” He leaned over and gave her a kiss.
He cranked open the door just long enough to let her slip out.
He turned to Zoe. “She has ten minutes to make this happen. Otherwise, I’ll never get the generator up in time.”
They sat quietly, staring at the flickering candles, neither saying a word.
Exactly ten minutes later, the lights flicked for a second and then came on and stayed on.
Dave and Zoe cheered. Zoe said, “I knew she could.”
“Get ready, ’cause now it’s our turn,” Dave said, moving over to the main server console. He began powering up systems. As the computers and other electronic equipment came on line, he yelled instructions to Zoe to throw a switch or reset a breaker. They moved quickly and efficiently through the procedures they had so carefully rehearsed, each knowing they would only get one chance.
Finally, the main display counter ticked down to zero. Dave hit the enter key and once again the wormhole generator sequence began. After a few long moments, while Dave and Zoe held their breath, the monitors indicated the process was finished.
Slowly Dave walked over to the wormhole chamber, crouched down and opened the door.
As before, there was the smell of burning rubber, but now it was mixed with a stranger, more pungent scent of sweat, cow, and a sweet aroma Dave couldn’t identify.
All of sudden a head popped into view, it was Stewie, with big red eyes, a goofy grin, and a three-day growth of beard. “Far out,” he said. “I’m back.”
Dave grabbed his friend by the collar and in a previously unknown show of strength pulled Stewie out of the chamber. Dave gave Stewie a big hug. Stewie stood there and grinned. Then he saw Zoe, who ran and jumped into his arms.
Dave started telling him about all their problems and what they’d had to do, and all about Zoe’s and Janna’s help. Then he caught himself. “So you’re really back? And you’re all right?”
Stewie shrugged. “Never doubted you for a minute, man. As always, came through in the clutch, didn’t you? Anyway, the whole thing was totally boss, and man, I’ve got some weird stories for you. But wait, I almost forgot.”
Stewie ducked back into the wormhole chamber and came out carrying the green duffle bag. Like Stewie, it was muddy, smelly and wet.
He reached into the bag and pulled out a cherry red guitar. A Gibson special, the SG. “Here’s Pete’s guitar.”
The next day, Dave and Stewie presented the guitar to Gladstone, who seemed markedly underwhelmed. After they had left the lab the night before, the four summer employees had decided it would be best if they didn’t go into the exact details of the origins of the guitar. They all agreed that their futures would be much less complicated if there was no mention of a time-traveling wormhole generator built after-hours in a highly classified government facility. Besides, the lab was already scheduled for renovation to make way for a new hush-hush Air Force research project.
A few weeks later, Stewie and Dave, both up to their necks in real résumé-worthy lab work, got a perfunctory thank-you note from one of Old Man Johnson’s minions acknowledging their minor role in providing a classic reproduction of a guitar from the late 1960’s. It turned out young Johnson preferred classic cars, not classic rock.
Dave and Janna started seeing each other outside of work. Dave found he could be quite the charmer when he wasn’t trying so hard. As for Stewie, he quickly became bored with the assignments that Gladstone gave to them and returned to his late-night expeditions into the corporate data base.
One day Dave and Stewie were working in their cubes, heads down, hard at work, when Stewie’s stomach started to rumble. It was almost lunch time. Dave started complaining about the crummy cafeteria food.
“I would kill for a slice of pizza like we get at that little joint near school. Too bad we can’t just pop over there for lunch.”
“Why can’t we?” Stewie said.
Dave sat up quickly. “Because it’s six hundred miles away.”
Stewie smiled. “That may not turn out to be as big a problem as one might expect. Actually, I found some interesting stuff last night. Here’s what I’m thinking...”
Dave stood up and ran from the cube, disappearing down the aisle in a full sprint.
Copyright © 2012 by Bob Sorensen