Gabe arrives in 2022 to repair a Time Gate under the Mayo Hotel.
Approximately 1900 words.
The Time of His Life
Gabe's Timepiece shrilled, and the temporal field pressed against him in a swirling rainbow of colors. Jump jeebies prickled his skin and roiled his stomach. Tortured sonics rose in pitch as the field faded, and the Art Deco tiles that lined the walls of the underground bunker shimmered beyond the Timepiece's shroud. The jump ended in a final pulse of light and sound, leaving him standing alone in the shadows.
A single bare bulb illuminated the chamber. Black and white terrazzo chips glistened on the floor, contrasting with crimson and cream geometric wall tiles. A jagged crack gaped in the wall in front of him, and water dripped from the ceiling into a dank puddle at his feet. Gabe drew in a deep breath, and shuddered at the chilly, musky air. He dropped his satchel to the floor and stroked his Timepiece, which was camouflaged to look like a mobile phone. The device confirmed the space-time coordinates of his arrival. He was in the right place, about forty feet under the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the year 2022.
He reached out and ran practiced fingers over a particular spot on the wall. The tiles squirmed to life, and glowing, runic text flowed across them. Gabe chewed his cheek as he studied the readout. Just as he'd expected, the recent earthquakes had damaged the Gate. It looked like his repair job was going to take longer than expected.
The data dump confirmed this bunker hadn't been used in nearly eighty years. History trickled into his head from his synchrochip before he squelched it--something to do with a temporal named J. Paul Getty, whoever that was. It didn't matter for his work here. He couldn't imagine why Timekeepers Operations bothered to keep these high-capacity cargo Gates open, especially in backwaters like this place. Still, maintaining them gave him a job, and a damned good one.
Plenty of time tomorrow to get to work. He swiped at his mobile phone and scanned the map. A path lit up, running through twisty corridors and up narrow stairs to a utility tunnel for the renovated hotel. From there, it should be easy enough make his way to the apartment Timekeepers kept on the twelfth floor. He picked up his satchel and pushed into the darkness.
A narrow flight of stairs led to a rusty, steel door. It creaked open, and he stepped into a dark tunnel. This one wasn't nearly as opulent as the one holding the Gate. He triggered the flashlight app on his phone and examined the space. Instead of elegant ceramic tiles, brick walls rose to an overhead arch, and steam pipes lined one wall. A thick layer of dust covered the concrete floor. No one had been here in years. He checked the map, and followed the corridor to another rusted door, then up spiral stair. Dust puffed at each footstep.
He paused at the landing, stopped by yet another steel door. The map showed an active service tunnel on the opposite side. He pressed an ear against the cold metal and listened. Silence.
He frowned and pulled a needle gun from his satchel. Damn it, he was a repairman, not a Timekeeper. Chicago Control should have sent an agent with him if they thought his mission could be compromised. They'd know, after all. Instead, they'd given him a needle gun, like he was supposed to mow down any poor local who was unfortunate enough to stumble across him.
Come to think of it, why didn't they just send him to the apartment in the first place, instead to these catacombs? Idiots. It was almost like they were setting him up.
Screw it. He put the needle gun back in his satchel. He wasn't about to kill an innocent local, no matter what Control's orders were.
He twisted the knob and pushed. The door creaked open, sending echoes cascading down the tunnel. Wincing at the sound, he stepped into the corridor.
Despite what the map in his Timepiece said, this tunnel was as dark and dusty as the one he'd just left. More grime carpeted the concrete floor, and cobwebs hung from the overhead wiring. The light from his app only illuminated twenty feet or so, but on his left a faint light shown from a cross-tunnel, perhaps a hundred feet away. After that, his way would be clear to the entry to the basement of the hotel, and then to his apartment.
It was early evening local time, maybe eight o'clock or so. He'd even have to time to hit the clubs, maybe hook up with a local for a quickie. His work guaranteed that he'd be gone in days or at most weeks. No commitments, no heartache, no trouble. Plenty of time to light the fire of romance, but then he'd disappear, like smoke in the wind, before any messy complications dug their hooks into him.
God, he loved his job, despite the assholes in Control.
A self-contented smile bent his lips as he turned into the cross-corridor and bumped into a man clad blue jeans, a black leather jacket, and wearing a knitted hat. He carried an electric lantern that sent crazy shadows bouncing off the walls. The guy's eyes bugged out and his mouth made a little "o," exposing gleaming white teeth.
The guy was good looking, but this wasn't the kind of encounter he'd just been fantasizing about. Ice stabbed at Gabe's stomach, and he almost wished he still held the needle gun. Training kicked in. He hardened his features, dropped his satchel, and snapped, "What are you doing here? Access to this corridor is restricted." The Timekeeper manual said to take the offensive with locals and be the first to ask questions. It always worked. Well, almost always.
The man held up his hands. "It wasn't marked no trespassing. I'm just exploring, not hurting anything."
"Let me see your ID." Gabe held out his hand.
The man frowned, but dug in his rear jeans pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened it and held it up. "My name's Jeff Clement. Who are you? Do you work for the city?"
"Please take your ID out of your wallet, sir." Gabe held out his hand and waited. The manual said to establish dominance with little humiliations.
Jeff scowled at him and seemed about to speak, but then pulled an ID from his wallet.
Gabe inspected it. "You live at 2010 South Delaware Place?" The guy managed to look sexy even in his driver's license ID photo. Gabe lifted his gaze to the man's features. Young, not yet thirty. Stubble darkened his craggy features, and smile lines crinkled at the corners of his eyes. Blue eyes. Gabe thought he could lose himself in those eyes.
"I live there. So what?"
Gabe heaved a deep breath, broke eye contact, and handed the license back. "Mr. Clement, the hotel doesn't like people prowling in these tunnels. Liability, issues, that kind of thing. I'm sure you understand."
"I'll sign a waiver." He frowned and glanced down the hallway that Gabe had just vacated. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I'm a consultant, here to inspect and repair some infrastructure." That much was at least true. "Tell you what. I'll make a deal with you. I won't report you."
"That's big of you. What kind of deal?"
"Would you be interested going to dinner with me? Maybe tomorrow evening?"
Jeff's features darkened. "Are you hitting on me? Who did you say you are again?"
Gabe's face heated. He'd forgotten this was Oklahoma. The "Bible Belt," according to his synchrochip memories. The guy was hot, but he was more likely to be a raging homophobe than a romantic partner. Gabe stuck out his hand. "Gabe Hawkins, here. You said you were exploring. I thought maybe we shared an interest in the history of these tunnels."
Jeff gave him a wary look, but then took his hand and shook. "Underground exploring is a hobby of mine." His gaze rolled over the walls. "There are all kinds of rumors about secret tunnels down here, and at the airport, too."
"I've heard those. I did some research when I got this job." That was true, too, if you counted the synchrochip. Probably not what Jeff meant by research, of course.
Jeff shined his flashlight down the tunnel at Gabe's back. "There's only one set of footprints in the dust behind you, leading this way. You must have found another entry into the underground--one that's off the maps."
"There are more ways in and out of here than are on the maps." He pointed back the way Jeff had been walking. "I'm not familiar with the way you came in, for example. Maybe you can show me?"
"I'm more interested in how you got here." Jeff's eyes narrowed. "I'll show you what I've got if you'll show me yours."
Gabe's trousers tightened at the idea of a show-and-tell with Jeff. He twisted his hips and hoped it didn't show in the dim light. "Maybe at dinner, tomorrow? Tonight, I'm beat and I'd like to get to my company's apartment upstairs."
Jeff swept an appraising gaze over Gabe's body. He lingered on the crotch before lifting his eyes to bore into Gabe's. "Your company keeps an apartment at the Mayo? That's pretty ritzy."
Was he blushing? With Jeff's baggy blue jeans, it was hard to tell if there was a physical reaction, but still--maybe this encounter would work out after all. "I've only just arrived." He hefted his satchel. "Not even unpacked yet. Is this place supposed to be fancy?"
"You didn't know? J. Paul Getty lived here, back during World War II. They've renovated it with all the glitz from before, and modern conveniences layered on top."
Getty again. The synchrochip dumped data into his brain. Oh. Getty was rich. For some reason that was impressive in this era. Go figure. "Well, I just stay wherever my employers provide. Good to know this place is nice." He nodded down the corridor behind Jeff. "Really, we should get out of here before someone notices. I'm not sure I can cover for you with the hotel management if we're caught down here."
"But you have permission to be here?"
"I'm under contract, like I said. I'm supposed to be here."
"Maybe we could team up? Business partners, nothing else. Then we could explore. Together."
"I'd like that." Yeah, Jeff was definitely blushing now, and that tent in his jeans wasn't from the thrill of exploring dusty old tunnels underneath Tulsa's streets.
This assignment was off to a great start.
A deep growl rumbled through the tunnel and the ground shuddered under Gabe's feet. A subway? Could be. Sometimes there were gaps in what the synchrochip downloaded. Just as "fracking" and "earthquakes" tumbled into his mind, the ground heaved and the floor buckled. Jeff's lantern clattered to the tiles as he stumbled against Gabe.
The two fell back into the tunnel Gabe had just exited and slammed to the ground. Gabe's head jarred against the floor and pain slashed through his skull.
The overhead lights in the main tunnel flickered and went out, leaving just the slant of illumination from Jeff's lantern. The ground lurched again, and the roar of collapsing rock filled the corridors. Dust clogged the air and burned Gabe's eyes.
As quickly as it struck, the quake was over.