Bill and Ted straightened nervously when The Boss entered. He was a large man with a walrus mustache. His name was Percy, but he had found long ago how such a name inspired scorn and disrespect from underlings, and so he insisted on being called simply "The Boss".
"What is it? This had better be good." The Boss grumbled as he sat down in Ted's seat. Ted glanced at Bill, who glanced back. After a few seconds of silently attempting to convince the other to speak first, The Boss snapped impatiently.
"In case you just called me down here because you like looking at me, let me remind you that it is the fourth quarter of the inter-dimensional full contact ping-pong finals, and my team is behind by three points. If I am missing the end of this game for a social call..." Ted blurted out.
"Bill sent two passengers into the portal after the destination was already closed, and then closed the portal behind them. We have two castaways, and they have been in the tunnel for almost fifteen minutes already! It wasn't my fault, Bill..." The Boss interrupted him.
"Castaways? On my watch?" He glared balefully at the two frightened men, his walrus mustache twitching in anger.
Glen was struggling to stem the tide of his panic. He searched his memory for any and all information he had ever heard about the science of traveling via inter-dimensional wormholes. He had no idea how the wormholes were formed, just that it took an inordinate amount of energy. He remembered the story of the scientist who had been trapped inside a wormhole tunnel and emerged a century later utterly untouched by time but irretrievably insane. Nothing else came to mind. He supposed that he would simply have to wait and hope that the IDTA would eventually come to their rescue. They couldn't fail to notice two missing travellers could they?
As he pondered his situation, he suddenly felt something grasp his ankle. Simutlaneously, he heard Madeline's voice in his head again. But it had changed. No longer was it the shrill and vicious harpy. Now she was terrified, and her voice was pleading, and repentant.
"Oh Glen! I found you again. Please don't leave me alone again. I can't take the numbness, or the silence! Please don't leave me again!"
Glen grimaced, but felt the instinct to help anyone in distress kick in.
"Madeline, calm down. It won't be long before someone notices that we are missing and they will get us out of here. Why do you think they make you give them portal passes? So they can make sure everyone who goes into one end comes out the other." Madeline's mind calmed a bit, and Glen decided that it would be best to keep talking to keep her calm.
"Any minute now, we will be sucked out through the other portal, and we will be in Bermuda, enjoying the beaches and waves and sunshine and..." Madeline interrupted him.
"I'm sorry Glen."
Nothing she could have said could have silenced his thoughts as effectively. He couldn't remember the last time he had heard her so much as admit to being even slightly mistaken.
"Sorry? For what?" he asked. His mind searching for whatever treachery she might be hiding behind those unexpected words.
"Oh for goodness sake Glen? Why are you so suspicious? What could I possibly gain for asking forgiveness? You are such a..." her voice halted mid-thought, perhaps in response to Glen's impulse to kick her hand from his ankle and sever the mental link again.
"No! Don't leave me alone again! You are right! I have been manipulative and shrill! I have been a shrew, a harpy, a... a..."
"Not the woman I married, that is for sure." Glen finished for her. His mind wandered through their seven years together, and he felt her watching as she transformed from the cheerful, happy woman he had first fell in love with to the bitter, haughty person who seemed to take pleasure in torturing him.
"Why?" the single word inquiry echoed through their minds. Glen had tried to ask the question so many times before, trying in vain to discover how he might repair their relationship. Always before the question, no matter how diplomatically phrased, sparked an argument and ended with a taught silence. However, the instantaneous nature of their communication and the fear Madeline felt at being left alone again lent this simple question a weight and clarity that Glen had never before been able to give it.
"Why?" Madeline echoed. Instantly a stream of memories from her mind began flowing through their collective consciousness, answering his query more completely than words could have ever done. He watched himself rise through the ranks of the police department, earning awards and getting promoted. He also watched Madeline struggle alone through her nursing studies, spending many nights alone with her textbooks and medical diagrams. He saw her graduation day, when she received her diploma and felt the sadness she felt knowing that he was not there, but was instead on a stakeout in a bad part of town. He felt the sorrow and loneliness change into anger and bitterness. He saw her saving lives everyday, just as he did in his job. But he also saw doctors and patients alike who treated her as a maid in a hotel. No awards, no acclamations, no promotions.
Understanding began to dawn on Glen. He had been neglectful of her he could see now. Just as Madeline now understood how her own actions had pushed him further into his work, rather than drawing him out. He finally saw her last desperate attempt to draw him back to her, and understood that this trip was her last, best effort. If nothing changed over the course of their three weeks together without the pressures of work, then she was prepared to end it. Before stepping into the inter-dimensional portal, Glen would have welcomed such an idea. Now, after having relived the good times, and understanding the part his own selfishness had played in the demise of their relationship he felt only sadness.
"How come we couldn't figure this out earlier?" he asked. Madeline's thoughts answered almost simultaneously.
"You wouldn't listen, you couldn't hear."
Bill broke first under the weight of The Boss' angry glare.
"They came late, and I was still gathering the portal passes. The lady was a real..."
"Shut Up!" The Boss snapped and snatched the manual out of Ted's surprised hands. He tapped on the screen angrily for a few seconds, and then tossed it towards the trashcan.
"This thing is out of date! Where is your up to date manual? We sent a new one out just three weeks ago!" Ted quivered in fear. "We looked Boss, that is the only emergency procedures manual we have." The Boss harrumphed, his mustache actually moving up and down in frustration.
"No matter. All you have to do is reverse the direction of travel, re-open the portal and ..." he shoved Ted roughly out of the way and began tapping on the control panel. "You better get down to the portal quickly. You are going to have two very confused travelers there in about thirty seconds. Offer them a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the universe and send the billing info to my office."
The Boss turned and started walking away. He paused, just before leaving the office and turned back.
"And get an updated manual before your shift ends, or don't bother coming back for the next one."
Ted nodded glumly and Bill quickly followed The Boss out of the office.
As Bill sprinted up to the portal door he could see the man and woman sitting on the floor outside the portal doorway. They were holding each other, and it seemed as if the woman was sobbing. The man held her tenderly, rubbing her back and making soothing sounds. Bill slowed to a walk and approached cautiously, not sure what to expect. The man looked up at his approach, and Bill began to stammer an apology.
"I'm sorry for any...uh... the IDTA would like to apolo... umm well, you see we want to offer you..." The man waved his hand dismissively and turned back to his wife. He helped her to her feet, and they walked away together up the terminal walkway. Bill sighed with relief and went over to the control panel for the portal door. He tapped on the control panel and closed the portal and then shut down the power to the wormhole generator. Reaching beneath the panel he threw a switch that closed a steel mesh gate across the doorway with a message that read: "Out of Order". Then checking the time on the overhead clock, Bill saw that it was quitting time. He turned and walked away, up the terminal towards the office.
He failed to notice the oddly shaped creature that had followed Glen and Madeline through the portal gate. Its malicious green eyes followed him as he walked away.
© 2009 Tyler Willson. All rights reserved