The Best Laid Plans
Natalie J E Potts
The forest was still. It gave no hint of the abomination that was about to take place. The smell of ozone seeped into the clearing as the trees around it began to twist. Sparks rained from the air, sending the sound of crackling through the forest. The clearing squeezed in on itself further, sparking even more wildly. With a final boom the twisting void snapped back into place, bringing with it two young men, who appeared to be holding hands.
"Whoohoo!" The shorter man called out, letting go of the small gadget he and his companion had been holding. He stepped back and ran both hands through his tangle of blond hair.
"Like taking candy from a baby!" the larger man said as he pocketed the small machine he was holding. He looked around with a broad grin planted firmly on his face before turning his attention back to his other hand. He measured the reassuring weight of the duffle bag he held. "What are you going to do with your half, Cameron?"
"What do you think Iím going to do, Brett? Buy myself a big-arse house, an un-environmentally friendly sports car and a date with a different, beautiful woman every night!" Cameron suddenly stopped speculating about his new fortune and stared at something behind Brett. A flash of trepidation passed across his face. It was not lost on the larger man.
"What is it?" Brett said, trying to read the smaller manís body language.
"I donít think we are in the outskirts of Sydney."
"What do you --?" Brett turned to look where Cameron had his eyes trained, moving just in time to see a large, striped marsupial turn tail and run. "What the hell was that?"
A small, baleful cry from below made Brett look down. His size 11ís had come down on the tail of one of the creatureís young. It crooned desperately for its departed mother. Brett looked back up at Cameron, making no effort to move his foot.
Cameron feigned an unconvincing expression of calm. "I told you before we left that time-travel is not an exact science."
"What is that?" Brett said, pointing at his foot.
"It might be a Thylacine," Cameron confessed.
"Thylacine, my arse, thatís a Tasmanian Tiger!" Brett yelled, scaring the small beast into silence. "Where, exactly, are we?" Brett demanded.
"It looks like we may have touched down a little further away than we originally calculated."
"How much further away?" Brett puffed his chest out in a subconscious threat, forcing a small tuft of ginger chest-hair through the v-neck of his tee shirt.
"Well," Cameron looked at the struggling animal under Brettís foot again. "Maybe away is the wrong word." He looked back up at Brett, trying to decide on how much of the truth he should tell. "Maybe ago is a more appropriate term."
"How far back did we go?" Brett said through gritted teeth.
"Well, I think the last known Tasmanian Tiger died some time in the 1930ís."
"We've gone back over a century!" Brett massaged his temple as a headache spontaneously erupted. He dropped the duffle bag he was holding, ignoring the yelp as he pinned the squirming, striped cub under the bag. "We have seven million dollars in genuine, polymer, hologram-encrypted, used cash, and you are telling me that they will not be in circulation for at least another sixty years!"
"Well, the two and five hundred dollar notes will not be printed for at least another one hundred years," Cameron bit off the end of his sentence. In retrospect, he realised, it was not to his advantage to point this out.
"We were meant to go back five days! Five days, Cam. Enough time to get away and change identities, thatís it!"
"Look, Brett, I told you that this was risky when we hatched the plan and you agreed to it."
Brett grabbed the time machine out of his pocket and threw it at his friend. "Well, fix the damn thing to take us to the right place!"
"I donít know how to fix it. Iím a Zoology/Psychology major. Itís my flatmate who built the damn thing! Sheís the physics major. So unless you want to tell me how you feel about what is going on, I canít help you."
"You arenít much of a psychologist if you need me to tell you how Iím feeling," Brett said coldly.
Turning the little machine over in his hands, Cameron looked beaten. "Even if we did know what to do," Cameron said, more to himself than to Brett, "itís programmed by an external computer." He looked up at Brett. "And unless you have a laptop in that bag of yours, I doubt there are any computers around yet."
"So you have put us in a place where our money is useless, at a time when our grandparents arenít even born yet, where extinct creatures run around like pests? Good work, Cameron."
Cameron looked back down at the little machine. "Worst case scenario, we could always use the return button."
"Return button?" Brett repeated. "You didnít think to mention that before? Letís do that."
"There are risks with the return. Not to mention that we will be going back into the bank, where right now there are thirty security guards with guns raised and testosterone levels that are off the chart."
Brett let out a deep breath. "Okay, what are the risks?"
"There is a 10% chance of coming back inside out," Cameronís delivery was flat. "And we would have to go back naked or risk having our clothing fusing with our bodies. In testing they found that the mice merged with any non-living things that they tried to transport with them. And even then, sometimes their own fur fused with their skin."
"Fused?" Brett sounded horrified.
"Yeah, you know, becoming one and the same." Cameron was starting to get annoyed.
"So assuming we survived the return we would re-appear, naked, in front of everyone we have just terrorised."
"And we would have to leave the money back here, we couldnít risk melting to it." Cameron added. "Itís non-corporal, far too dangerous to travel with." Brettís look of confusion snapped Cameron out of scientist mode. "Inanimate," he elaborated, "it could kill us on the return."
"So," Brett smacked his lips, "we would be naked, back at the bank, with no money and guns pointed at us." He nodded to himself as he pictured the sight the two of them would make. "Hereís another plan. How about we bury the money, go back, not turn inside out, tell them what happened, then dig up the money and give it back?"
"We could try that," Cameron considered, "but we would still go to jail for the robbery." He lifted the time machine, "and if anyone considered this a weapon when we pulled it out during the heist we could be accused of armed robbery. Thatís twenty years."
"Iíve got to think about this," Brett said, lifting his hands to his temple to massage his headache again. "Okay," Brett said curtly. "So we are going to work out where we are, bury the money, hope that they don't build a mini-mall on it, and go back?" He didnít look convinced. "There has to be a better plan."
A sudden snap from across the clearing drew their attention. A young girl in a hoop skirt was creeping out from her hiding place beneath a tree-fern, where she had been privy to their whole performance. On being spotted she decided to run. Without thinking Brett took off after her.
"Brett, No!" Cameron called out after him, but it was too late. Brett had rugby-tackled the girl to the ground, his hand clamped over her mouth in an attempt to muffle her screams.
"What the hell do you think you are doing?" Cameron said as he ran over to them. Brett was squirming in obvious pain as the girl gave up on screaming and opted for biting instead.
"We had to stop her," Brett said, wincing, "she would have told everyone about us."
"And by the time they came back we would have been gone," Cameron said. "Look at her, sheís just a little girl, who would have believed her?" Cameron kneeled down next to her and looked into the large, green eyes of the child. "Donít worry sweetheart, we wonít hurt you," he attempted to soothe her, with no apparent success. He took stock of himself and Brett and realised what a frightening sight they made.
"Iíve got an idea," Brett said between pained breaths. "Youíve done psych, canít you hypnotise her or something? Make her forget any of this happened?"
Cameron was about to protest, then realised the brilliance of the plan.
Brett went on, as more pieces fell into place. "You can also ask her where we are, it will make finding the money a lot easier when we come back."
The little girlís large eyes flicked between the two men as she tried to understand what was happening.
"Okay sweetheart," Cameron said, trying to soften his voice. "I wonít hurt you, I just need you to promise me that you wonít scream if my friend takes his hand away. Can you do that for me?"
The little girl nodded and Brett cautiously removed his bloody palm, she remained silent.
"Great, thatís great," Cameron reassured her. "Whatís your name Sweetheart?"
"Amelia," the girl whispered, not wanting to risk speaking any louder for fear of the big man holding her.
"Amelia, thatís a pretty name," Cameron said, smiling at her. "Now Amelia, I need you to relax." He took off his Saint Christopher pendant and held it up for her to see. "I want you to keep your eyes on the charm..." The necklace became a pendulum, the vivid green eyes following its monotonous arc.
"This is never going to work," Brett whispered.
"Shhh," Cameron said, "Have you got a better idea?"
The shower of sparks was still glowing on the marble floor when the men reappeared. They looked at each other with excited smiles.
"Not inside out!" Cameron said eagerly, "Got to be happy with that!" He peeled his fingers from the time machine, the top few layers of skin having merged with the metal. Cameron looked back at Brett with concern. "Howíre you feeling?"
"Fine, just a bit of an itch."
They both looked around expectantly.
"This is not the bank," Brett stated the obvious.
A small group of people had gathered around them looking very confused.
Brett carefully pulled his elbow from his hip, which had joined in transit, then peeled his fingers from the machine before realising that he had no pockets to put it in.
"Brett," Cameron said quietly, getting his friendís attention. "What do you notice that is just a little bit weird?"
"Cam, I think the easier question to answer right now would be what is NOT a little bit weird? Look at me!"
"Seriously, Brett, what do you notice?"
"Cam, weíre back in a building that looks normal enough to me. If you are going to complain that the men with the big guns are not around, youíll get no sympathy from me."
"Thatís not it, look at these people." Something was clearly worrying Cameron.
Brett absently scratched at his side and looked around the small group of people who had stopped gawking and gone back to their own business.
"They look normal enough to me, whatís the problem?"
"Brett, we have just appeared out of thin air, and we are naked, yet no one seems the least bit concerned." Across the large room a massive door hummed as it slid open. Four men walked in, all carrying briefcases, but only two were dressed.
"What the hell?" Brett said. He looked back at Cameron.
"Come on," Cameron started walking towards the door, "letís get out of here. We need to get you back to the lab."
"Shouldnít we try and get some clothes first?" Brett said.
"Iíve got a feeling we donít need to worry about it. Besides, itís not so big that your hand canít cover itÖ" Cameron was stopped mid sentence by the sight that met them on the other side of the door. The street they were on looked exactly the same as the street they had walked down that morning. The only difference was that bank they had robbed before was now on the other side of the road. That and the fact that there were naked people sprinkled throughout the crowd.
Having the same thought, the two men turned to see what building they had just walked out of. The edifice towered above everything else. They could make out a giant relief etched on its side. It appeared to be two human forms holding hands, looking down at the point where their fingers met.
"Excuse me," Cameron said to a passing, clothed woman. He did not trust himself to be able to talk to a naked one. "What is this building?" A look of surprise crossed the womanís face and for a moment Cameron wondered if the English language had deteriorated along with peopleís propensity to cover up.
"Thatís Shadforth Tower," she said as if it were obvious. "Canít you tell by the logo that itís a Shadforth building?"
Brett made a small barking noise, before doubling over in apparent pain. When he stood up he was clutching his waist, looking very uncomfortable.
"Bless you," Cameron quickly said, looking concerned. "That hay-fever of yours seems to be getting worse," he added.
The woman stepped back from them, as if preparing to make a run for it.
"Whatís a Shadforth?" Brett managed to say, in an attempt to re-engage her. He received an even more perplexed look from her.
"Who," she corrected him. "Angus Shadforth. He was the youngest multi-millionaire tycoon of the late 90ís. The story is legendary, you must know it?"
Brettís blank face indicated that he did not.
"Angus Shadforthís grandmother sent him to Melbourne to make his fortune. Within twelve months of arriving he was one of Australiaís wealthiest men. He started more companies than anyone before or since him. Surely you must have heard of him?" The stranger was starting to get suspicious.
"The logo," Cameron interrupted, "what does it mean?"
"They are the angels," the lady said in the same disbelieving tone, as if waiting for the candid camera crew to jump out of a bush down the street any moment. Realising that the men were still not comprehending, she went on. "The angels who appeared to Amelia Shadforth," she tried to explain, "the ones who told her to send her grandson to the mainland to make his fortune." Cameron and Brett exchanged glances. "Are you guys Kiwis?" the woman finally asked, trying to understand their ignorance.
"Yes, yes we are," Brett said. "Thank you." He waited until the woman had walked out of earshot and then looked back at Cameron. "Nice work on the hypnotism. Little Amelia wonít remember a thing eh?"
"That was one of your brilliant plans, if youíll remember. Besides, who was the idiot who decided to bury the bag in front of her?"
"Thatís because I thought you had taken care of her!" Brett could not help but raise his voice. A few passing people cast disapproving glances in their direction.
"Itís not all bad," Cameron said, "at least nudity is fashionable. And we still have plan B."
"Drop your weapons and put your hands on your heads." A man yelled from behind them. The boys turned to see an overweight security guard wearing nothing but a holster, hat and boots.
"Thatís just great," Brett whispered, throwing the time machine to the ground. "Canít wait to see where he pulls his handcuffs from."
Across the road, another five men ran out from the bank in matching hats. It was clearly a uniform of sorts.
"This day is just getting better and better," Brett grumbled, turning sideways and putting his hands on his head.
"Quiet!" the guard demanded as he stepped in closer. Behind him the other gun-toting, naked men stepped out to cross the street, but were forced to pause as an impossibly stretched limo cut in front of them. The car stopped and the driver, naked save for his shoes and cap, jumped out and ran down the side of the car to open the door.
Cameron noticed the flags on the front of the car bore the same angel logo of the building that they were standing outside. The guard must have noticed it too as he forgot his quarry and turned to see who was getting out.
A small, but elegantly dressed man climbed from the limo. He held out a dark green duffel bag as if it was a contagion and his driver dutifully relieved him of it. He walked over to where Brett and Cameron were standing.
"I didnít believe you would be here," the small man said. "But when I saw the bank alarm had been tripped, I had to see for myself." The man turned to the guard. "Your money is in the bag, this was all just a misunderstanding and you will follow it no further."
The guard took the money from the driver and for a moment considered protesting. "Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr Shadforth, sir," he finally spluttered.
The well-dressed man turned back to face the two boys again, dismissing the guard. Cameron recognised the deep, green eyes; a gift from his great grandmother.
"It was the serial numbers," the small man said. "We knew which bank they went to and when, so it was just a matter of time. Of course it is only the five hundreds left from the original money, we couldnít use them until last year." He beamed a perfect smile, "but by then I had plenty of those of my own." He bent down and picked up the time machine, looking at it as if it were some ancient treasure. "My family owes you a lot," he said, still looking at the gadget. He glanced back up at the boys. "So, let your freedom be my gift to you," he smiled the crafted grin again, surreptitiously pocketing the time machine, "as well as this small token of my familyís appreciation."
He held up his hand and the driver delivered to him a second duffle bag. He handed it to Brett who quickly pushed it under his arm. "I trust this is compensation enough," he said with a wink. Brett nodded dumbly, too surprised for speech.
"Er, Sir," Cameron asked hesitantly, "whatís the deal with the nudity?"
Mr Shadforth grinned mirthlessly, as if pained by an unpleasant memory. "My great Grandmother became quite liberated I guess you could say. No doubt after her experience with the two of you." He looked the two boys up and down and for the first time since their return they felt embarrassed by their state of undress. "You must remember my Father owned most of the TV stations in the country by the time he was 25. He had inherited his Grandmotherís tastes for clothing, or more to the point lack of it, and forced his opinions on the world."
He looked the two boys up and down again with disapproval, just in case they had missed his previous unspoken accusation. "Mr Brett, Mr Cameron," he said before they could speak to him again, "be sure to spend it wisely." He nodded at the bag before turning on his heels to disappear back into the depths of the car.
"So we didnít need plan B after all," Brett said, indicating the bag of money.
"I told you it was a stupid idea, I canít believe you did it." Cameron looked at Brettís side. "Does it still itch?"
"Nah, it just kind of tickles. But I think weíd better get it out soon." Brett pulled the bag away to inspect his side. Two big eyes looked back up at him from the striped, furry patch on his waist. "Iím just glad I thought to cut its claws before we left."
© 2006 by Natalie J E Potts
Bio: Ms. Potts says, "My previous publishing credits include Antipodean SF and Aurealis. I have worked in everything from Air Traffic Control to Zoology and always find myself coming back to speculative fiction."
E-mail: Natalie J E Potts
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