With their heads hung in defeat, the Timeswimmers traveled back to their pyramid base in the year 9,999 BC. Dagmar Pumpernickel stretched her arms over her head.
“Man, that high speed time warp felt like it took four months,” she sighed.
“Looks like it’s time for plan B,” said Anorak, looking into the distance. “Planning. Marie, is it time to fire up our old predictive algorithm again?”
“Way ahead of you, Sonny,” said Marie Curie, her hands around a book-sized switch in the off position on a machine that would need a room of its own if it weren’t lying out in the open on a tropical beach. Anorak wheeled himself to its opposite side and grabbed an identical switch. On the count of three they lifted in unison, and the contraption sprang to life with what sounded like train wheels. Up top, four bags of brightly colored chemicals began to drip down tubes and combine in a vial. The mixture bubbled and steamed, setting off a maze of gears. The gear furthest down knocked a perpetual motion machine, which sent a magnetic ball flying into the center of a ring of magnets spaced apart just far enough that they hadn’t come together. The pulse of their combining turned on a toy train whose cowcatcher severed the rope holding up a marble fist, which finally released to press the “on” button of a seismograph.
“Expertly handled, Marie!” said Anorak.
“Oh, give yourself some credit too dear,” said Marie Curie, picking up the paper which rolled out of the machine.
“Ain’t that one of them earthquake monitors, like they showed us in sixth grade?” asked Dagmar. “What for?”
“We’re measuring the seismic activity in ODAR’s bases throughout the 1940s and 1950s,” said Marie Curie.
“Why start from scratch when we can get the Earth to do half the job for us?” explained Harriet Tubman.
“Look at this graph,” said Anorak, holding up part with a sudden spike in activity in the middle of calm. “Polvo, New Mexico. December 21st, 1945.”
“Four days before Christmas? That’s suspiciously dramatic,” said Xander, leaning in and squinting. “Ladies and lovers, I think we’ll have company there!”
One not-so-drawn-out timewarp later, Xander opened up the time rift a foot off the floor of a fluorescent-lighted hallway. Dagmar wasted no time vaulting off of Peanut, landing in a ready crouch. Xander’s muscle memory took over, causing him to kick down too forcefully. He stumbled and fell, clutching his knee, groaning.
“Ha! Not so easy now, is it?” said Dagmar.
Anorak rolled up to Xander with haste, pulling him into his arms. “Darling, are you alright? Do you need me to carry you?”
“Ugh… No, there’s no need. I’m alright now,” said Xander, looking into Anorack’s eyes.
“Cripes, it’s like even when I win, he wins,” muttered Dagmar.
The sound of broken glass caught their attention. Across the hall, a disheveled Jack Wyatt looked back and forth between them and the bottle of green moonshine at his feet. He only seemed to get more frazzled when the group made eye contact with him.
“At ease, young man,” said Anorak. “We come in peace.”
“Sso are you… aliens… then?” said Jack.
“Heck no! We’re the Timeswimmers!” Xander said, jumping to his feet, suddenly not acting like someone who just busted his knee. “We’re a swashbuckling band of time defenders, always ready to send evil to Davey Jones’ Locker! Using bullets!”
Jack stared at them with narrowed eyes for a moment, then broke the silence with an outburst of laughter, burying his face in his hands. “Alright, so you’re a band! Got it. I don’t know why ODAR hired a gimmicky novelty band to play off our collapsing careers, though. You’d think they’d go with something a little more somber.”
Xander growled under his breath. “Could a gimmicky novel band do THIS?” he said, opening the rift back up. The other Timeswimmers scattered before the vacuum of time whisked them away, indignantly shouting Xander’s name all the while. Jack put up his arms protectively. Realizing the harm he’d done, Xander resealed the rift in a panic. The sudden release of pressure knocked Jack to his feet. “Ok, so that was a terrible decision, but–”
“You think?!” Jack cut him off. “You can’t just spring this on me! I’ve had just two years to come to terms with time travel being real, and I kind of had to piece how that works together by myself because this place doesn’t respect me enough to tell me everything, one of my coworkers recently died at the hands of his own wife except maybe it’s not his fault, time travel is weird like that sometimes, and I just lost my job! I don’t need to deal with time pirates right now!”
“I never said we were pira–”
“Be quiet while I deal with this! Alright, so…” Jack heaved a sigh. “A group of invaders with weird science I don’t know about got in here somehow, and that boatload of absinthe I just drank is making me think…”
“Mm, nah, that’s definitely the smell of green moonshine,” said Dagmar.
Jack let out a defeated groan. “You said you’re here to vanquish evil or whatever right? Alright, do your thing, there’s nothing left for me here anyway,” he said, lying down.
“Hey, hey! We Timeswimmy-types don’t tolerate perfectly adequate-seeming people wallowing in self pity!” said Dagmar. “You don’t even like ODAR, do you? It shouldn’t be a problem if we go vanquish your evil boss, yeah?”
“Hmm…” muttered Jack. Slowly, he lifted himself to his feet, dusting himself off. “I can’t argue with that. The name’s Jack Wyatt. How can I help you lunatics?”
“That’s the spirit!” said Xander.
“Ey, buddy, glad you want to help out, but…” Dagmar furrowed her brow. “Did you just speedrun the five stages of grief?”
Harriet Tubman hit stop on her time stopwatch. “Yep! A new record!”
“Sick!” said Dagmar.
“We’re looking for the nearest earthquake, Jack,” said Anorak.
“Earthquake…? Ah, no, you must be thinking of the overloaded Rainbow solar collector that’s about to rip a hole in timespace,” said Jack.
Dagmar blinked in surprise. “Yeah, that sounds right up our alley!”
“Dr. Grissom just told me about it. There’s two of them, so she went off to take care of the one Maraczek’s in charge of, and she told me to warn his partner Lambert at the other one.”
“Perfect! Let’s split up, gang!” said Xander.
Jack said, “Isn’t that what adventurers say before they get, I don’t know, mauled by space vampires or something?”
“Ha! Yes, but they say that because they don’t know any better,” said Xander.
“He says it because arbitrarily raising the stakes is like axle oil for the plot, and we don’t have all day,” said Harriet Tubman.
“What…?” Jack murmured.
“I think ‘Dr. Grissom’ was somebody we met last time, which means she’s probably a main character. I’ll look for her,” said Xander.
“I’ll join you,” said Anorak.
“You two aren’t just trying to have a couple’s solo adventure, are you?” asked Harriet.
“No time for questions! Wyatt, which way did Dr. Grissom go?” asked Xander. Jack pointed down the hall and to the left, and the boyfriends rode off behind a corner.
Dagmar, Harriet, Marie and Jack left the building through a door at the end of the hallway, running in order to get out of the lightning and rain as soon as possible.
“Hey, ma’am? I’ve got two questions for you, if you don’t mind,” Jack said between breaths.
“Don’t see why not,” said Harriet, thunder crackling in the distance.
“Are you… are you Harriet Tubman?”
“Sure am! In my timeline the Timeswimmers swooped in and helped me end slavery ten years earlier than it otherwise would’ve ended by hurtling all slave owners into the vast expanse between dimensions, so I decided to join them and see what else we could set right.”
“Amazing! So did you guys, like, kill Hitler?”
“Working on it! We’ve killed seventeen of him so far, and only three of them were robots.”
“Good luck! So, my other question is, um…” Jack cleared his throat. “About what you said about ‘the plot’... Are you guys… fictional?”
“Well, it’s not just u–” Harriet felt the eyes of Marie Curie on the back of her head. In her periphery she saw her shake her head slowly. “I mean, yep, just rolled in from Fictionland!”
“I heard what you said before that! It’s not like it was under your breath or anything; It was pretty clear. Does that work where you come from?”
“Literally every time.” Harriet Tubman sighed. “Look, I’m not trying to make your existential crisis any worse than it already is. Maybe when we’re done we can talk about this.”
“Then let’s get this over with.” Jack swung open the doors of the station and yelled, “Lambert!”
Victor Lambert turned away from his machine with a startle. “Jesus Jack, a little warning? And who are these people you’re bringing into my station without asking first?”
“These ladies say they’re the Timeswimmers and they’re here to vanquish evil, or something like that. They walked out of a giant portal made of water in the middle of the hallway,” said Jack.
Victor was about to question him about that before he noticed that two of the women in his company appeared to be Harriet Tubman and Marie Curie. Time travel it is. “So, you’re here to help them?”
“Actually, they’re joining me on a quest to warn you that Dr. Grissom had to travel back in time to prevent Marachez’s station from overloading with electricity and destroying the town. Should be fine as long as we can keep anything terrible from happening here, too.”
A distant explosion sounded like it came from the other end of ODAR.
“That’ll be the boys now. Nice job, guys!” said Harriet.
“What do you mean ‘nice job’?! Aren’t you defenders against evil or something?” said Jack.
“Yes! I thought we agreed that meant blowing up ODAR?” said Harriet.
“You did pretty much say that when you were lying on the floor in despair,” Dagmar added.
“You brought these people to my machine – my magnum opus that’s incredibly dangerous if it’s not handled by either me or Ivan – without knowing their motives?!” said Victor.
“Listen…!” said Jack, raising his index finger, but he put it back down when he couldn’t produce an adequate justification. This was worse than the time he’d hid an entire family of English Sheepdogs in his father’s shed just because his high school best friend said they needed somewhere to stay for a few days and thought it would be funny.
Dagmar opened the door to gaze at the facility they had just left. Bricks were falling off of it, and the overhangs of the entrances were collapsed, and yet there it still stood. The fact that it wasn’t currently being slurped up into the void suggested that time-space had not, in fact, just been ripped a new one. “It didn’t work!” she shouted over her shoulder.
“Maybe it just needs a little symmetry,” said Harriet. She knelt down and put her hands on the floor. “Haaaaaaaaa…” The ground shook. A train engine sounded off in the distance.
Jack grabbed Victor by the arm and started to drag him towards the door. “We have to get out of here!”
Victor broke his hold and scrambled to collect scientific papers strewn around the room.
“Lambert, quit messing around! You don’t need those!” said Jack.
“I have to preserve my work! This will revolutionize energy for everyone!” said Victor.
“Come on, your inventions belong to the US government now! They’ll never give up the rights, and if they had the power to keep an entire town a secret, you know they’d have the power to shut you down!”
Victor dropped the papers he’d collected on the ground. As if he were just closing up shop for the day, he walked to the door and locked everyone in.
“What do you think you’re doing?” asked Jack.
“You’re right. ODAR took advantage of all of our brilliance so they could take credit for themselves, and we let them. I’m glad you’re here, Timeswimmers! They deserve every bit of destruction you can dish out! Hit me, magical train!” said Victor, arms outstretched in bravado.
“Stop the train!” cried Marie Curie.
Harriet called it off, but not before the front of the Undergound Railroad burst through the wall. “What’s the hold up, Marie?”
“Just look at that man’s wild eyes! His arrogant stance! The way he just broke out into a motive monologue! He is clearly a Time Villain, and he just told us to keep going,” said Marie.
“Gasp! No! Horror! You mean to say we’ve been acting like Time Villains?!” said Dagmar.
Victor grabbed a wrench off of a shelf and approached the machine. “If you won’t destroy this town, I’ll do it myself!” Marie Curie jumped in his way. “Don’t make me hurt you! If the French government tried to take credit for your breakthroughs in radioactivity, wouldn’t you try to create a hole in reality potentially destroying life as we know it too?”
“Of course not! My boy, think back to the moment time travel was discovered!” Marie urged.
“Two years ago? The town was restructured to accommodate making that the center of our biggest projects, but that didn’t affect me much personally since everyone here relies on the energy we provide anyway. I guess that’s what you get when—”
“Think back to the exact day!” said Marie.
“Um… October 29th? We heard some breakthrough had been discovered and changes were ahead, but I wasn’t authorized to know what was going on at the time…” said Victor.
“The exact hour!”
Victor scratched his head. “Like… 11 AM? I think? Wait, are you stalling me?”
“I don’t want to hurt you either, son,” said Marie.
“Ha! What’s a frail old woman like you gonna do?” said Victor.
Marie gave Victor a gentle smile. “Honey, you’ve got a big storm coming.”
Thunder crashed. “...So I noticed.” Victor lunged at her with the wrench, but she caught his arm and released a concentrated blast of radioactivity onto him with her free hand. He let out a yelp and fell to the ground in a fetal position.
There were harsh thumps at the door as Xander Time struggled to break in, accompanied by Anorak and Sally Grissom, who was carrying a passed out Ivan Marachez on her back. They all had burn marks on their clothing, with the exception of Arorak, whose futuristic bodysuit was designed to resist flames in case of being held up at flamethrower-point.
Xander said, “Stop! Stop whatever you’re doing! We’ve all been acting like–”
“Time Villains! We figured that part out,” said Harriet.
“Lambert too?!” Sally ran over to her collapsed coworker, gently placing his partner on the ground beside him so she could check on Victor. “How could you do this? And you call yourselves heroes?”
“This wasn’t how we expected this part of the story to go at all! It’s like we’re being pulled along by some higher power who thinks a group of two dimensional comedy characters will just naturally unfold a sensible story if they let us loose,” said Dagmar, boring directly into my soul.
Xander dropped to his knees and shouted to the heavens, “Why, Slauthor? Why didn’t you write an outline?”
“No need to wail!” said Marie. “I know what we need to do. Xander, set our coordinates to some time before October 29th 1943 at 11 AM!”
“Woah! The writer actually managed to set something up this chapter?” said Dagmar.
“Why that time in particular, Marie?” asked Anorak.
“We need to blow up ODAR before they invent time travel. That way, they can never become Time Villains,” said Maire.
“Brilliant! Xander, we need to make it a close call. Otherwise, the plot will just throw us some curveball to keep the stakes high without our input,” said Anorak.
“Got it. Setting us for an hour before the invention of time travel!” said Xander.
“Let’s hope this fic gets its final installment at some point!” said Dagmar.
The Timeswimmers performed a segment inspired by Mozart’s The Magic Flute , and they were off again.