- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Seattle, Washington 2001
Considering he'd recently acquired the power to manipulate time, Scott Ramsey figured it was pretty ironic that he was running twenty minutes late.
He scooped up the black and white cat edging perilously close to the hot coffeepot and dropped him down onto the floor while popping the last of a toasted English muffin into his mouth. He downed the rest of his black coffee, snatched his car keys off the countertop, and turned to find Rowdy, a fat, cantankerous tabby, mauling his black canvas duffle bag.
"Aw hell. Get away from there!"
The cat did a half-gainer followed by a backward somersault and tore off into the living room. Scott reached for his bag. "You're due for stew, kitty cat," he warned.
"I catch you sizing that fella up for a pot, and he won't be the only one floating around among sliced potatoes and peas."
Scott looked up to see his grandmother shuffling into the kitchen wearing her yellow quilted robe and floppy white slippers. Despite the heated argument they'd had the night before, he managed a tight smile. "Good morning, Grandma."
"He plays with your things because he likes you so much," she said, heading for the counter.
Scott examined the frayed nylon handle of his duffle bag. "Thank God he doesn't hate me." But the minor bites and scratches on the bag were nothing compared to the declining condition of his running shoes. No matter where Scott hid them, that damn cat always seemed to nose out his expensive Nikes.
"Why are you still here?" his grandmother asked, pouring herself a cup of coffee. "It's almost eight-thirty."
Scott eyed the crafty, ninety-three-year-old woman."I overslept."
"I told you paid too much for that alarm clock."
"Somebody snuck into my room last night and turned it off."
"Really?" she replied innocently.
"And I doubt it was one of the cats."
"Oh, I don't know," she said, turning toward him. "Cleo turned the television set on just the other day."
Scott tucked his bulky duffle bag under his arm. "I think human sabotage is definitely afoot."
"Are you implying that I turned it off?" Her wrinkled eyes widened. "Me? A poor, defenseless old woman who isn't even capable of living on her own, much less operating a complicated device such as an alarm clock?"
"Grandma," Scott said patiently. "We decided this issue last night."
"No, you decided this issue last night."
"I looked over the brochures and gave you my answer. It's not a good idea."
"And who died and made you the boss?"
"Grandfather," he replied.
"Bah." She sipped her coffee. "He was an old fool leaving you in charge of all my money."
"He was only trying to make things easier on you. At the risk of my sanity," he added dryly.
"Well, living with you this past year has certainly been no picnic. Put yourself in my place for a moment and imagine how you'd feel taking orders from someone who used to get a kick out of tinkling on your rosebushes."
Scott broke into a smile. She had a point. "I'm just trying to look out for your best interests."
"I am not a child, Scott Jacob Ramsey."
"Turning off my alarm clock because you lost an argument isn't exactly mature, Grandma."
"Neither is watching Saturday morning cartoons, but you still do that."
Scott let out a long sigh, wondering if this issue was ever going to be dropped. "Grandma, I made this decision with your best interests at heart. What if something happened to you in that place and there was nobody there to help?"
"I will have a roommate," she replied imperiously, as if that solved everything.
"Patricia Hollenbeck is ninety-five years old, weighs eighty pounds -- if she weighs an ounce -- and has arthritis in every joint of her body. I highly doubt she'd be effective in an emergency."
"There's an emergency call button in every room, Scotty, and always someone in the front office."
"Strangers, Grandma. You'd be looked after by strangers. How would I know they're treating you with dignity and respect?"
"You mean as opposed to how you treat me here?" she replied with a martyred glimmer in her faded blue eyes.
Scott stared at her for a moment, and then smiled and shook his head. His grandmother had always been a free spirit, and he could understand why this meant so much to her. But he'd promised his dying grandfather that he'd look after her -- and all six of her cats -- in her final years, and he wasn't going to back out on the obligation now just because she'd gotten a wild hair about moving out on her own. "My answer is still no."
"Bah," she said, waving her hand at him. "You're as stubborn as your grandfather was." She shuffled back toward her bedroom with her coffee. "Someday you're going to find yourself a wife to lord over. I just hope that day comes before I'm moldering in a cold, dark grave."
"Don't hold your breath," Scott grumbled without thinking.
She turned back to give him a narrow-eyed stare. "What's wrong with you anyway? How come you don't have a steady girlfriend to occupy your free time?"
"Because I'm too busy placating my dear old grandmother," he said playfully.
But they both knew there was more to the matter than that. Scott was pushing thirty, and everyone he knew was married -- or had at least played the matrimonial game once. But he was still standing on the sidelines, waving all the eligible women past him while waiting for that one magical lady to come along.
His friends all said he was crazy, that the perfect woman didn't exist, and that eventually he was going to have to settle for adequate. But Scott wasn't a settling kind of guy. As far as he was concerned, if the perfect woman for him didn't exist, then he'd be single for the rest of his life. In the meantime, he had his hands full with his cantankerous grandmother.
He checked his wristwatch. "Christ, I've gotta get going." He grabbed another English muffin from the open bag on the counter.
"You running another of those mysterious tests today?"
"Yeah. But I'll be home in time to make supper."
"Bring home burgers. With extra--"
"Extra pickles, I know. You oughta lay off those things. They could be the reason you're such an old sourpuss."
She gave him a blank stare. "Aren't you lucky, Scotty. It seems you've inherited your grandfather's remarkable sense of humor as well."
"See you later, Grandma," he said as he headed through the living room toward the front door. "And I suggest you keep Rowdy out of my bedroom. The next time I catch him makin' love to my Nikes, I'm gonna make a hat out of his furry little butt."
"Captain Ramsey, you're exactly thirty-seven minutes late."
Scott looked up from the security officer seated at Hangar 23's identification desk and smiled at Colonel Roger Tayback, the officer in charge of Project Stargazer. "I had a slight problem waking up this morning, Colonel."
"Get a fur ball stuck in your alarm?" the man asked, his lips twitching. The colonel was well aware of Scott's living situation.
"Not exactly. My grandmother is now resorting to terrorist tactics to get her way."
The colonel smiled broadly. "That Heloise is quite a card."
"Yep. Quite a card..."
"Ah, Captain," the colonel said, stepping forward to throw an arm over Scott's shoulders. "As my mother always said, 'Enjoy 'em now, 'cause things'll only get worse as they get older.' "
"I think she was probably referring to children, sir."
"Hell, that's true," the man said with a boisterous laugh. "And if Heloise gets any older we'll have to get a burning permit to light her birthday candles. But I'm sure my sainted mother's advice works even in this situation, Captain. You gotta be firm," he said, clenching his fist. "Set limits. Let 'em know who's boss from the get-go."
Scott nodded, although he was having a hard time visualizing his grandmother allowing him to limit her on anything.
"Try takin' television away. It always worked on Roger Junior."
"Cruel and unusual punishment, sir," Scott replied. "One night without Wheel of Fortune and the woman would crack."
"Likes that show does she?"
"Likes it? When the People's Choice survey comes out in TV Guide, my grandmother writes in Pat Sajak as her favorite dramatic actor."
The colonel laughed and stepped away. "Like I said, that woman is quite a card. You ready for today's transport?"
"I'm looking forward to some time away."
"Good. Good. 'Cause I hear it's gonna be a doozy."
Scott gave the man a steady look. "I'm not going to get my eyebrows singed off again, am I?"
"That little problem's been completely corrected with the addition of the coolers. And that nasty bout with the tree has been corrected with the implementation of an advanced directional device. Don't you worry about a thing."
"And that little thing about me being stranded without an oar on the last mission?"
The colonel smiled. "All taken care of. You see how this is working, Captain? You help us find the glitches, and we make sure you go down in the history books."
"Well here's hoping I don't have to disintegrate before you find your next big glitch."
The colonel was still grinning when Pete Averies, one of the computer engineers on Project Stargazer, walked up to them. "Hello, gentlemen. Scott, you hear the big news?"
"I was just about to tell him," the colonel replied. He stole a glance at his watch. "But I'll leave that honor to you, Averies. I'll see you in five, Captain."
"So what's the news?" Scott asked Pete as the colonel walked away. "The big guy seems downright perky today."
Pete, barely containing a smile, rocked back on his heels. "They're planning to attempt a future shoot next month."
"You're kidding. I thought they'd determined it implausible."
"Judging by the information you've been bringing back they're starting to think it might be worth a shot."
"Worth a shot to them. Who's the poor guy they're going to send?"
Pete grinned. "You."
"Me? Well, don't I feel blessed."
"Ah, everybody knows the entire success of this project can be laid at your feet, Scotty boy. You may not have invented the technology for Stargazer, but if it hadn't been for you, the know-how would have been worthless. Nobody else had the balls to actually step into that chamber. Nobody" -- Pete poked him in the chest -- "but you."
Nice sentiment, Scott thought, but he wasn't so sure courage had anything to do with it. It was probably glory-seeking stupidity that had brought him to this point. "You're not gonna get weepy on me, are you, Pete?"
"The guys and I were thinking about getting you a nice card."
"Captain Ramsey," a sexy female voice said over the intercom system. "Please report to the transportation lab... Captain Scott Ramsey."
Both Scott and Pete glanced up at the speakers high above their heads. "Man," Pete said. "I gotta meet that woman."
"She probably looks like the bad side of a hyena."
"With a voice like that, I can always close my eyes and feel my way around."
"Hey, where's the game tonight?" Pete asked as the two of them headed toward the second-floor stairs.
"Joe's. And you better be there. You're into me for thirty bucks."
"Uh-huh, and if I recall correctly, you're into your sweet old grandmother for twenty-five. "
Scott laughed. "She told me to keep it. Says I should use it to buy myself a decent haircut."
"You know, I gotta hand it to you, Scott. Having my grandmother around all the time would drive me stark raving mad."
"I'm not as sane as I look, Pete. She actually came to me last night with brochures for Oak Haven. She's gotten it into her head to move in there with a friend of hers."
"Oak Haven? Isn't that a retirement community?"
"I hear some of those places treat their residents pretty lousy."
"Oak Haven's supposed to be a pretty nice place. Wouldn't mind checkin' it out myself in another sixty years."
Scott grunted. "I can see it now. You, hobbling along, chasing after little old ladies with your oxygen tank dragging behind you."
"So, are you going to let her go?
"My grandmother doesn't need Oak Haven. She's got me."
"That's awfully decent of you, Scotty boy, but has it ever occurred to you that you might not be so great? I mean, we're not talking about living with one of the guys, here, we're talking about a ninety-year-old woman who doesn't exactly share your same interests. Hell, you don't know the first thing about playing shuffleboard."
"So you're saying I should trust her care to some orderly armed with a bottle of sedatives and an enema tube?"
"If that's what she wants."
"I don't think she knows what she wants. That's why I was left in charge."
Pete paused and turned to him at the bottom of the steps. "So you told her no?"
"Of course I told her no."
Pete broke into laughter. "Welcome to granny hell, my friend."
"Thanks, Pete," Scott said dryly as he headed up the stairs. "I always appreciate your support."
"See you later today!" Pete called after him. "And bring cash to the game! I'm feeling lucky -- and I don't take checks!"
Scott gave him a quick wave before turning down the long hallway toward the transportation lab.
"Three minutes before liftoff," Colonel Tayback called to him from the lab's doorway. "Let's move it along, Captain."
The usual three scientists were waiting for Scott in the lab to run the usual last-minute tests. They swarmed around him in their white lab coats, their expressions tense with concentration. To date, Scott had never seen any of them laugh, and he was on a constant mission to get one of them to crack a smile.
As his vital signs were being checked, he turned to one of them and said, "Hey, Girney. What do you have when you've got two little green balls in your hand?" Doctor John Girney didn't respond.
"Kermit the Frog's undivided attention."
The man didn't even flinch, and Scott began to wonder if a sense of humor was something they extracted in exchange for a Ph.D. "Everything's stable," Girney said to the other two with him.
"All right, Captain," Tayback said. "Let's make this one pristine. Dr. Girney, would you like to explain things to our test pilot?"
The tall, Nordic-looking man nodded. "Our target today is Georgia, 1862."
"The Civil War," Scott replied.
The colonel leaned close enough to whisper, "That's where the dart landed this morning."
Girney handed Scott a gray satchel. "Put this in your duffle bag. Inside is everything you'll need for your tests this afternoon. Now, remember," he added, "the first thing you do when you arrive is observe your physical condition."
"If I so much as burp I'll be sure to take note of the moment," Scott replied as he unzipped his duffle bag and pushed the satchel down inside.
"When you arrive, write down any and all observations," Girney continued without missing a beat, "no matter how insignificant they might seem to you. Do you have any questions?"
"Yeah," Scott said. He looked up and gave the man a serious stare. "Do you guys want a stool sample this time?"
There was a moment of utter silence in the room, and then the colonel broke into laughter. "He's kiddin', fellas. He's just kiddin'. Holy Christ, you boys really need to invent yourselves some sense of humor."
Scott and the colonel were still chuckling as they followed Dr. John Girney to the transportation cubicle. "We've corrected the high-intensity noise you've been experiencing," Girney said.
Scott pulled the foam earplugs out of the front pocket of his jeans and tossed them to the colonel. "Guess I won't need these anymore then."
"And we've strengthened the portal," Girney added. "It should come back for you in exactly six hours without a hitch." He pushed a button and the chamber door slowly swung open, releasing a frigid blast of air that hit Scott full in the face.
"And if it doesn't come back for me!" Scott shouted above the roaring of the coolers.
"Then sit tight like you did the last time!" the colonel replied. "We won't strand you there, son!"
Scott nodded, hoping that promise wouldn't have to be tested again. He hadn't exactly enjoyed his overextended stay in the open wilderness of 1921 Colorado.
"Godspeed, Captain!" the colonel shouted. "We all have every confidence that you will make this mission as successful as the rest!"
"See you at 1800 hours!" Scott shouted back.
And then, wearing nothing to protect him against the cold but a long-sleeved shirt and a faded pair of jeans, Scott stepped down three metal steps and into the transportation cubicle for Project Stargazer's fourth mission.
The heavy metal door swung shut behind him, sealing him in, and he walked to the center of the brilliantly lit, cylindrical room. Now it was up to him to step through the computer-generated time-portal.
It was times like this when Scott felt like a pig being led to slaughter. He was certainly taking a big risk every time he strolled through this door. But he wouldn't die, he couldn't. His grandmother would never forgive him if he did.
In fact, she'd probably bury him in the backyard just so she could berate him every morning over coffee.
He took a tighter grip on the handle of his duffle bag and, feeling the adrenaline begin to pump through his veins, walked forward. A strong magnetic pull began to affect his body. His skin started to tingle. A feeling of exhilaration overcame him, and all the air was forced out of his lungs. Then, in the blink of an eye, his heart stopped beating and his mind went blank. In that instant Scott Ramsey was pulled away in a cloud of atoms and scattered through time like dust on the wind.
Copyright © 1995 by Suzanne E. Witter