I‘Twas a rainy November night. Autumn was on her way to the Technophilliac Museum after reading an article in the news about a newly developed prototype of a time machine placed there. Autumn figured ‘twould be worth a healthy sum, so she planned to steal it.
Of course, she knew the place would be infested with security, so going through any of the doors or noisily breaking any of the windows would be untenable.
The best plan Autumn could conjure up was going through the vents in the ceiling; and so she did: After climbing to the top by stepping on trash bins and then window frames, she tied one end of a rope to a metal bar on the ceiling and the other end around her waist for an easy return. From there, she merely had to slide in the vent, a map she downloaded off the museum’s website in one hand and a flashlight in the other.
When she came to the first grate, she looked through its slits to see what room resided below. There she saw a security-uniformed man sitting on a toilet—though still fully clothed, for some reason. He sat there without even seeming to move to breathe, staring blankly, as if he were guarding it rather than using it.
Seeing nothing to gain there, Autumn moved on, purging all questions burrowing in her mind.
She stared down into the next grate and saw a tall blue hunk of plastic with a bulbous transparent glass front revealing the faded image of indecipherable doohickeys scattered around its insides.
She extracted her screwdriver and unscrewed the grate open, carefully placing it next to her in the vent to avoid creating needless noise. Then she poked her head out the vent just enough to check if the area was safe from dangerous eyes. When she confirmed that it was, she tried carefully sliding down the vent hole, only to get stuck in midair. The rope’s length had been exhausted.
Luckily, she brought a pair of scissors—along with an assortment of other useful items—for emergencies like this. Though ‘twould make escaping much harder, Autumn decided she didn’t have much of a choice.
The main problem she had was trying to find the rope behind her with her scissors, unable to see behind her. But after only a minute or two of fumbling, she chomped the blades against the rope; after a few more heavy chomps, the rope ripped, plunging her stomach-down against the hard linoleum floor five feet below with a loud Whomp!
The hard fall had temporarily stunned her, but she shot back to her feet when she heard muffled footsteps outside the door. Ignoring her smashed ribs and chin, she picked up her flashlight and searched for a hiding spot. Unluckily for her, the place appeared empty—save the time machine in the middle, of course.
With the footsteps growing even louder, she rushed over to the time machine and tried pulling on the bulbous door; only it wouldn’t budge. ‘Twas then that she noticed a red oval button next to the bulb and pressed it, causing the door to slide leftward into a slit in the time machine with a soft zip.
She slunk inside and frantically started pressing buttons in hopes of reclosing the machine’s door. Meanwhile, the door to the room opened, revealing a large yellow circle of light. From behind it she could see the remnants of the light reveal a hard, boxy face with tufts of hair on the top and sides under a gray security hat.
Haven’t I seen him before? Autumn wondered.
She didn’t have enough time to answer that thought. Just then the glass door of the time machine closed again. Suddenly, she felt a metal clasp cover her mouth and nose, pushing her back toward the chair while a leather belt wrapped around her waist. The clasp around her face blocked air from reaching her nose and mouth. After a few minutes of futile struggle, she eventually lost consciousness.
IIAfter what felt like the longest sleep she’d ever had, Autumn’s heavy eyes gradually blinked open and saw a plastic bulb around the front of her; through it she could see a room dimly lit by outside sunlight. Suddenly, she felt the clasp and belt release her and witnessed the glass door open. She stumbled out the machine, dizzy and still fuzzy on how she got here.
Autumn stood absentmindedly in the middle of this dusty room for a while, gazing around at everything, and yet registering nothing in her mind. The night’s events gradually began to solidify.
She figured they must not have found her and, as she hid, she fell asleep until she awoke now, likely in the middle of the afternoon based on what she could see through the dusty windows.
For such a costly museum, this place sure is a dump, she mused as she looked around the room again with clearer eyes, seeing rusted metal and broken plastic everywhere.
She looked back at the time machine and wondered how she was going to get such a large contraption out without being spotted. Though the area seemed eerily empty, she assumed it couldn’t possibly be any less occupied than it was last night. Carrying it up into the vents was certainly not an option; besides, she summarily saw that the rope was now gone.
She opened the door and peeked out the long hallway: It looked just as empty. Then she stepped out and carefully tiptoed down it, peering through every turn only to see more empty hallways. She continued this route, going down two sets of mahogany spiral stairs, until she reached a large set of double doors. To her surprise, ‘twas unlocked; and when opened, it led outside over a set of short white steps.
Autumn scratched her head in confusion until she finally decided that it must be Sunday or a holiday and some idiots just forgot to lock the doors.
But then wouldn’t they still have security? Autumn thought.
Well, I’m certainly not going to go all the way back so I can stand around not knowing what to do, Autumn thought; so she dragged out her cellphone to call Edgar.
But when she tried calling, she found that her service was dead.
Bah, must have forgotten to pay the bill, Autumn thought as she stuffed it back into her pocket.
All she could do now was walk over to Edgar’s to contact him personally.
But on this trek she thought something seemed… odd about the city. The buildings all seemed different than how they looked last night—although due to the dark drizzle last night, she didn’t exactly get a clear picture of them. They seemed larger than any she’d ever seen in Boskeopolis, while the cars passing her seemed smaller, quieter, and not smelling so much like gasoline. But what truly caught her attention were the lines of highways slithering all around above. She couldn’t understand how she could’ve possibly missed that. What, did she think ‘twas truly huge lamp posts in the middle of the street?
She held her forehead as she tried to remember, but ‘twas all still static.
She surmised that it must’ve poured hard last night, too, since the streets were covered in thin rivers up to her ankles. Every step she took made a little splash. And despite the sun being completely smothered by gray smog, it felt warmer than she’d expect from late fall—not exactly summer heat, but noticeably warmer than last night.
Suddenly, she heard a commotion. She swung her head to the source and saw, to her shock, Edgar being carried away by an angry mob. Autumn rushed over and pulled Edgar away from them.
“What do you guys think you’re doing?” Autumn shouted.
Edgar’s eyeholes lit as Autumn pulled him into her arm, blocking him from the others.
“Step out of the way, Madame. Don’t you know who this man is?” one of the women in front said.
“I’m quite certain I do,” Autumn said; “though I know I don’t know you. If you have a problem with me—as I’m guessing you do—you can address it to me.”
Autumn could feel Edgar shivering in her arms. When she looked down into his eyes, she could see wide bewilderment. She couldn’t blame him. He even appeared to have a few tiny cracks in his skull, and was a much yellower tint than she remembered.
What did they do to him? she thought, feeling the bile suddenly rise in her throat.
“Then you know that he is an accomplice to the most dangerous machine in the city.”
Autumn made a few subtle steps backward, and then suddenly turned and bolted, carrying Edgar in her right arm as a large football.
This didn’t please the crowd at all, who proceeded to chase after them with raised fists and shouts, “Get back here!” only to lower them in distraught surprise when they didn’t see Autumn and Edgar stop.
One turned to the others and asked to the general world, “Hey, why aren’t they stopping?”
“They’re bloody rude, that’s what.”
The rest of the crowd simply shrugged.
Autumn twisted around every curve through the streets, which became somewhat easier once she returned to familiar ground on the eastern side. Well, somewhat familiar. Autumn faintly recognized it as Mahogany Street, though many of the buildings looked different: some olding and decrepit, some utterly replaced. But ‘twas still similar enough that she knew where she was going, at least.
This was when Autumn began to get suspicious. ‘Twas one thing for an area she’d hardly been in to be unfamiliar, but she knew what was clearly Mahogany Street shouldn’t have changed so much in only one night.
What happened so long since I was in that time…
And that was when she figured it out.
But she didn’t have time to confront Edgar about it, still not feeling safe until they were completely hidden.
When she remembered where they were nearing, she headed toward their hideout, an abandoned storm drain hidden behind bushes and long grass—conspicuously longer grass now—a few blocks from the Fred-Mart on Acorn Avenue. She slid them both inside and waited near the hole, close enough to glance out it, but not close enough to be seen. As they waited, they took the opportunity to breathe deeply, having expended almost all of their energy running for so long.
After ten minutes, Autumn felt safe that they’d lost the mob.
Autumn turned back to Edgar and whispered, “What year is it?”
“Um… twenty-one hundred, I think. Why? How did you get your body back?”
“Wait, say that again? What year?”
“As in two thousand and one hundred?”
Edgar nodded. “Uh huh.”
“Well, that explains a lot,” she muttered. “And I suppose the Technophiliac Museum is shut down, which was why ‘twas empty when I left.”
“Uh… I wouldn’t know. Uh…”
But Autumn interrupted him with a grunted curse. “Shit… Wait. What am I thinking? If it’s shut down, but still has its valuables, that only makes robbing it easier. Hell, it technically wouldn’t be robbery anymore; just discovering unclaimed goods.”
Autumn scrutinized the ground as she pondered the possibilities, only to look back up at Edgar when she remembered something.
“Um, Autumn… That is you, isn’t it? You’re truly Autumn.”
Autumn looked up at Edgar with a puzzled look. “Of course I’m—Oh…” She frowned as it came to her. “I’m dead in this time period, aren’t I. Yeah, I’d be over a hundred by now. No way I’m living this long.”
“So, who are you, then?” Edgar asked. Then he added quickly, “If you don’t mind me asking, of course.”
“I accidentally fell in some time machine and ended up here.”
“What year was that? When you fell into the time machine, I mean…”
Autumn paused, wondering why Edgar wasn’t more suspicious of this wild claim.
Then again, it is a hundred years later. Who knows what technology they have now.
Not enough to rise Boskeopolis from the dump it always was.
“Last time I checked, ‘twas twenty thirteen.”
Edgar gasped. “So it is truly the normal you!”
He rushed forward and wrapped his arms around Autumn. She rubbed her hand along the back of Edgar’s head, frowning awkwardly with the abrupt feeling of constriction in the pit of her stomach.
“So… why was that angry mob chasing you?” Then she chuckled. “Did you get in with an even crazier woman?”
“Well…” Edgar hesitated.
Autumn nudged him. “Come on. I’m a thief. I’m hardly going to judge you for anything.”
Finally, he sighed, and said, “Those people… weren’t happy with the way you’ve been treating the city…”
“Me? I thought I was dead.”
Edgar backed out of their hug and said, “Um… I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure? Did I go missing? Surely I must’ve died by now—I’d be over a hundred elsewise. But I still want to know what happened. How successful was I before I disappeared?”
Edgar hesitated and glanced out the passageway hole into the city.
Then he said, “Follow me.”
IIIThey quietly crept through the city, keeping in the long shadows cast by the dim, cloudy sky, in case anyone was still after them. The went far off east, through Wasabi Woods all the way into the Mustard Mountains, until they saw a large canyon behind thick stones. Inside this canyon was a giant gray boxy machine with a long black oval over its front.
More important, ‘twas surrounded by a river of gold, silver, and every jewel Autumn could identify—rubies, sapphires, topazes, emeralds, bloodstones, opals, crystals, dragon coins, diamonds, pearls, and more. Autumn’s eyes widened when she saw it.
“Wow, is this all mine?”
“Yes,” Edgar answered. “And, um… that thing is… it’s you.”
“That thing in the middle…”
Edgar pointed at the giant machine in the middle.
“I’m a robot?” Autumn asked, bewildered.
Autumn turned to him. “How?”
Edgar exhaled sadly. “About sixty years ago you had an accident… You were exploring the Cinnamines for treasure and something happened to make it explode. I was able to preserve your brain, though. Uh, as the years went on scientists were learning how to develop more and more complicated robots, and one of them promised he would be able to revive humans whose brains were still intact by putting them in a machine. I, uh, agreed and so you were revived.”
Autumn gaped at Edgar, but found it difficult not to believe him. It isn’t as if Edgar’s the type to yank my bone—and everything I’ve witness so far seems to connect. After all, if time travel, why not this, too?
Because this meant literally replacing my physical self with an object.
“And then what?” she asked.
“Well, your body was more powerful than the average human’s and you used it to get more wealth much more easily. Then you paid scientists, or threatened them, so that they would make you even more powerful until you… well, became an unstoppable machine.”
Autumn looked back at the machine. “It doesn’t seem too unstoppable now.”
“Well… now her—your, I guess—energy is heavily depleted. She needs to be recharged… But nobody will recharge her; and since she now can’t move, all she can do is attack anyone who gets too close. But everyone else stays out of her range.”
Autumn looks back at the machine rubbing her chin disconcertingly.
“So that’s me?”
“Well, it’s what’s left of your brain. I, uh… I think it might have been damaged during the accident.”
Suddenly, a thin sliver of pink light appeared in the long black oval near the top of the machine. It slid left and right as the tail of a rattlesnake ready to strike.
A distorted, stilted, mechanical voice called out, “I hear voices. Show yourselves.”
Edgar slipped out from behind the rocks. “It’s, uh, just me, Autumn.”
“Edgar. Good. Have you found a technician for me?”
“Um… not yet…”
“Edgar, you know there is not much time left. I would hope you are not planning to let your partner die just like that.”
“Um… no. Of course, not,” Edgar squeaked.
“You are taking a long time, though. If you cared about me, you would try harder.”
Edgar looked down shamefully at his feet. “I know…”
But then Edgar was jolted when he felt a hand yank him back a little.
“Psst, Edgar. You’re not really going to fall for such a shotty attempt at pity, are you?” Autumn whispered.
“I heard that,” the machine’s robotic voice thundered. “Who is there with you, Edgar?”
“Um…” Edgar began, but Autumn lightly pushed him aside as she stood out from behind the rocks.
“It’s me, Autumn,” she said.
“That is impossible. I am Autumn.”
“No, you’re my damaged brain in a metal contraption,” Autumn replied. “How could you end up such a failure? I built my success on clever theft and you further that legacy by being nothing but an insipid thug extorting people for money, relying on some robotic superpowers you weren’t even capable of acquiring yourself. And now you simply sit there and try pitying people into helping you bully them more. ‘Twould be better to let yourself die than live in this kind of disgrace.”
“Silence, meat sack,” the machine replied as its thin pupil reddened.
“Watch out!” Edgar shouted as he dived at Autumn, shoving them both behind the rocks while a large violet laser beam blasted behind them.
“Thank you,” Autumn muttered as she returned to her feet.
“Edgar. Why are you helping that fraud, backstabber?” the machine asked.
But he was interrupted by another tug on his robe, pulling him back behind the rocks.
Autumn whispered to him, “Don’t bother answering it—it’s not as if it has any leverage to threaten you. Let’s just leave so we can get on to important business.”
From behind the rocks they could hear the machine’s voice boom, “Edgar, I hope you are not going to abandon me for this fraud, are you?”
“Don’t fall for its bull, Edgar,” Autumn whispered. “It’s just trying to use guilt. It’s one of the most obvious of tricks.”
Edgar hesitated, glancing back and forth between the machine Autumn a few yards in front of him and the fleshy, yet much too young for this time period, Autumn standing right next to him.
“I… I don’t know what to do,” Edgar whimpered as he held his blank-faced skull in his hands.
“I see what you have become now,” the machine said. “I thought you were my partner, but clearly I was mistaken.”
Autumn looked around awkwardly, not sure what to make of this scene. She couldn’t help noticing Edgar next to her staring down at the ground holding his left arm as if he was literally injured by those words. Age seemed to weaken Edgar, who now looked more crumbly, shaky, and dirty than the Edgar Autumn remembered from the past.
Yet again Autumn pulled Edgar back to speak with him. This time she held him much more closely in her arm, lightly rubbing his shoulder.
“Listen, I know it’s been a long time, and you probably feel attached to the fake me over there, but that thing’s hopeless. Can’t reason with it. If that thing was me once, whatever that me was has already died.
“Now the true me is still here, you might notice—one that knows enough about herself to know that she would rather die than act as this machine has been doing so recently.”
Autumn stood up and walked away, her eyes still on the contraption behind her, in case it tried one last hit against her.
Edgar sighed. “I guess you’re right…”
“Do not listen to that imposter, Edgar. You know for a fact I’m the real Autumn. You saw me put in this machine and everything. This fraud, on the other hand, only appeared just recently.”
But Edgar shook his head.
“You were Autumn, but I can see that the other is right: You have already died. I’ve known this for years, but denied it. The Autumn I know would never commit the things you’ve done.”
He turned and followed Autumn.
“Edgar. Edgar. Come back here. You cannot just leave me here to die. You are an atrocious partner.”
Edgar cringed as he heard each word, but continued beside the flesh Autumn all the same. Said fleshy Autumn, for her part, also cringed, though for a different reason: ‘twas like watching a movie of herself when she was eight.
That thing’s not me. I can’t be me. I wouldn’t act like that… No.
Finally, they gained so much distance against the machine that its monotone rants dissolved into incomprehensible whispers, and then finally to nothing at all.
“So, is the machine dying?” Autumn asked.
“No,” Edgar said with a heavy sigh. “She… it will still have a few years of energy left before it… shuts down.”
“And is it always on alert?” Autumn asked.
“Yes,” Edgar said, and then turned to Autumn. “But don’t worry. She can’t hurt any of us as long as we don’t go near her.”
“I know,” Autumn said.
Edgar hugged Autumn’s right arm. However, this didn’t register much with Autumn, who was too busy staring up at the sky, biting her lips as she concentrated on a tricky debate she was having in her head.
IVThat night, Autumn stayed with Edgar in the abandoned sewer, as she did in her own time. But instead of sleeping, Autumn could only lie there on her back, staring up at the dark concrete ceiling.
Finally, after much debate, Autumn sighed and sat up, gently moving Edgar off her, and climbed back out into the city.
Autumn wandered through the mostly-vacant city. Even if it weren’t, she didn’t feel particularly afraid of anyone attacking as they did against Edgar earlier that morning; after so long ago, she doubted anyone remembered her appearance, even from when she rescued Edgar.
Besides, the highway, which seemed to stretch all the way west-to-east, left so many shadows along with those of the buildings that she doubted anyone could see her even if any were around.
Eventually she again reached the canyon where the machine stood, having memorized the path they went as they left.
She poked her head out from behind the boulders and whispered, “Psst! Metal box!”
“I am Autumn, you imposter,” the machine answered immediately. “How dare you return, knowing that an inch closer I could obliterate you?”
“An inch closer that I will not make,” Autumn said.
The machine shifted its pink pupil left and right furtively before saying, “And yet that inch and more is necessary in order to procure my treasure.”
“That should not be a problem in a few more years,” Autumn said.
“But you can’t wait that long, can you?”
Autumn narrowed her eyes as she stared at the machine, its pink pupil still slithering around its black eye. She then gazed around her. The area was empty, including the sky, which was a starless black abyss.
Autumn turned back to the machine and asked, “How would you like to make a deal?”