In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Kerr and the others leave Victor's body back at Stravinsky's Tavern while Sebastian tries to explain their mission: to foil a recently discovered plot by the insidious Klavdia Klangfarben which will involve a certain amount of time traveling. Meanwhile, Man Kaye, director of SHMRG's "Operation Fate Knocks at the Door" receives a text from Klangfarben which he relays to his easily irritated CEO, N. Ron Steele.
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I had no idea how far we might be beneath the surface of the... well, whatever you called small-e "earth" here in Harmonia-IV, but It felt like we'd been walking down some big inner-city parking garage, one with those never-ending spiraling driving lanes. Xaq wondered what it’d be like in a wheel-chair when the person pushing you let go.
If this wasn't disorienting enough, getting out of here was going to be even more exhuasting. These people had the technology to travel back in time, but didn't they ever hear of anything like an elevator?
With every concentric spiral, the more intense the light from the walls' glowing photonmium became. What originally was pale blue had become more greenish, then pinkish, the lower we got. Reaching the bottom of the spiral, where things finally flattened out, the light was more a distinctly darker amber color, making it a little harder to see as clearly.
Sebastian wasn't sure why, whether it had anything to do with the way air pressure affected the photonmium, as Cameron suggested, or if they just used different rocks with different colored crystals in them, which is what Xaq was thinking. No other building he was aware of went this deep, so he really had nothing to compare it to.
Zoe realized she wasn't as tired as she might have expected, either. Despite looking like it was made out of stone, this flooring was a lot more ductile than she at first assumed, easier on the feet.
We weren't done descending, however. The unmarked side-hall Sebastian led us into turned out to be a long, gently sloping ramp uncomfortably disappearing into distant infinity. How much further before the photonmium turned so dark we couldn't see at all? Would it become a kind of black light where anything white we were wearing glowed eerily in the dark?
More to my concern was the impact of our being this deep. Sebastian didn't think it was anything to worry about but then he'd never heard about any other Living Person who'd been down this far.
Considering deep-sea divers wore pressurized suits to protect themselves, my unscientific mind was wondering whether we would explode or collapse into the human equivalent of a black hole, a grain of sand that weighed a ton.
Sebastian laughed but told us not to worry, even though his corporeality would be different enough from ours to leave me feeling dubious.
"Here we are," he said, stopping us short.
It was a simple door labeled "The Device Room." It could've said "Boiler Room" and we might just as easily have walked past it. Looking around, Sebastian tried the door – it, too, was unlocked – and we went inside.
A hexagonally shaped room, it was already lit which was odd for some place that was usually off-limits.
"What is this room," I asked him.
It wasn't very fancy. A couple of free-standing shelf units stood in the center, shaped like a speaker's podium, one of them with a door left hanging open. There was also a counter-top with a large open book on it. Three of the room’s walls had doors in them, each marked with the name of a century, one for the 18th Century, for the 19th Century, and for the 20th Century, each painted in a stylistically appropriate script. The other walls were blank.
Sebastian checked the book.
"She's already been here."
"Who?" Zoe peered over his shoulder.
"Dr. Klavdia Klangfarben."
That name sounded familiar, somehow, but I couldn’t figure out where I knew it from – perhaps a performer I’d covered for the magazine, or a student at one of the universities?
"Well," he said, pointing at the last line of the book, "she's going back to December 12th, according to this, but it doesn't say where or what year."
"So, what do we do now?"
"What's this?" Cameron found a post-it note inside the open desk's console unit.
- - - - - - -
Xaq thought it looked like a limerick, though not like any he'd ever seen before.
"And you know about limericks how, young man?" Zoe peered down at him.
"Not very helpful to leave us only the day... and then this..." Cameron handed it to me.
I wondered why she put anything in the sign-out book at all and didn’t just steal the device, but Sebastian explained you had to sign it out because it was the book that unlocked the console on the device desk.
"Technically," he said, "if you screw up, then somebody can come back and look for you, That's why there are two units."
"Great. That means we don't have any back-up."
This wasn't beginning to sound very promising.
"Then who'll sign out the other one: you?"
"Oh, not me, I'd get into trouble."
"And I won't?"
"You're already in trouble, Trespasser," Sebastian smiled, "a little more isn't going to matter, much."
"But how do you know what to set it for?" Xaq's voice dripped with uncertainty.
Sebastian explained in order to release the unit from the console, you have to write on the pad where you're going. "This was Klangfarben's humorous way of following the instructions without being obvious."
"Oh, come on, Sebastian, you know as well as I do that's pretty obvious..."
"But she'd have no idea she's being followed. Why bother being cryptic?"
"Is there a possibility the police here would have gotten wind of this?"
True, Sebastian thought, the police – all of them, Zipples – would never have a clue: by the time they'd figure it out, it'd be too late.
"Is this why you sent me a message, Sebastian, not to let us know where Victor was but to foil Klangfarben's plot?" (Did I sound annoyed?) "But you've got the composer himself, here: couldn't Bach and a few policemen go back and rescue himself, himself?"
"You know how composers are with technology, T.R. You could hardly expect Bach to pull this off. Besides, if she succeeded, he would cease to exist."
Like this was going to be any easier for me.
"Well," I said, "here goes..."
Cameron and Zoe watched me as I signed the book: Dr. T. Richard Kerr – December 12th, 1705, Lübeck.
The front of the other shelf-unit popped open. Sebastian reached in and retrieved a small black box with gold trim the size of something you could keep a cell-phone in.
"That's it, that's the Time Machine?"
Xaq wasn't the only one disappointed. I assumed it would be big enough for five people and contain a bunch of wires and electrodes, dials and meters which, after a lot of fancy crackling and sizzling, would transport us through Time and Space.
On the lid was a gold-embossed letter B. Of course, Klangfarben took the A Unit.
"So, you know how to use this, Sebastian?"
"Oh, yes – they're very basic." He didn't seem at all concerned which I found mildly reassuring, considering my own technophobia.
He carefully opened the box and held it out toward us.
In fact, it was more like a cell-phone, only a little bigger, with an old-fashioned clock-face on it.
"It's not called a 'Time Machine,' like you say," he explained to the boy. "We call it merely 'the Device.' To be specific, it’s a Time-Device."
"Even a pocket watch would, incidentally, be a time device, so... how does it work?"
"Let's say you drive up to Bach's house to take him out for dinner. Bach sees your car and asks you, 'How does it work?' So you're going to explain the physics behind energy and motion and the combustion engine? I don't think so..."
"Alright, alright – how do you operate it?" So much for reassuring...
Sebastian took it out of the box, turning it around as he spoke. It didn't look much more complicated than some phones I've seen recently, some little knobby things on the side, some read-out screens on the front. There were no numbers and no hands and though it looked like a watch from the 1800s, it was new enough to look completely digital. Where the 11 and the 1 should be were little colored lights, one green and one red. Simple enough, you hit the green one to go and the red one to stop.
"It's battery-operated but the charge is limited – that's why you could only go to one place at a time. You'll have to come back here to recharge the unit – but then an hour is enough to do that. Unfortunately, after a certain number of trips, the charge doesn't hold as long. These units are not designed for frequent use."
The problem with the battery was, while most of its energy was expended during actual travel time, if you overstayed at your location, you might not have enough juice to get back correctly. While the uncertainties of quantum physics made such time-travel possible, the operator is also at its mercy: a weak battery on the return trip could mean you'd end up somewhere else rather than your return destination, maybe even a different era.
"So when the red light begins to flash, check the home field in the electro-parameters window and hit the green light."
He handed it to me and continued, "Oh, right – it attaches to your skin by a special magnetic force, so as long as your plasma-source is circulating, it shouldn't fall off."
"For you, it's blood. Ours is a little different, but basically works on the same principles."
"Uh huh..." There was another topic of conversation, I could tell.
Cameron looked at it closely, clearly fascinated. For him, it was the ultimate iPhone, unlike me, who saw it as a formidable adversary.
"How do you set the destination and return parameters?"
Good question: I'd been wandering that myself.
"That's why there's supposed to be someone to monitor the control room."
"Hah... So, then, how do we do this?"
Sebastian, fidgeting with the date-time-location dials, handed it to me.
"Come on then," I said, handing it to Cameron, "it's Back to Bach!"
Cameron pressed the green button: a few electrical impulses later, we were gone.
= = = = = = =
To be continued…
- Dick Strawser
The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.