See You Later
The trio met in the dark room that smelled of age-old dust and rotten eggs. There was no window to open to let in the light or to get rid of the smell. The only source of light was from the candles around them that cast flickering shadows on the damp, wooden walls. Someone had hung a blackboard on one of those walls, as if this miserable room was some sort of classroom. A Disco Kacheek was energetically drawing all sorts of complicated symbols and equations on the board, the chalk dust flying everywhere as he stopped to erase this and that. When he was done, he stepped back, obvious pride on his tired face.
The other two stared at the blackboard, their expressions blank.
"It's not that complicated once someone explains it to you," Gabe said. He adjusted his huge glasses and added, "It's just a matter of sending another person to a parallel universe through man-made time dilation. All we have to do is to rip open a hole in the space-time fabric, using the machine Dr. Sloth has so helpfully left, and keep a stable enough wormhole for a person to go through. Any questions?"
Arthur the blue Grarrl, who had managed to keep up with the conversation until now, made an effort to pretend that he understood. "Oh. So we... uh... just rip a hole in some fabric thing?"
"In a way we can actually understand," Lenna snapped. When Gabe looked at her questioningly, the Darigan Lupe said, "You're overloading Arthur's pea-sized brain here."
"Ah. Sorry 'bout that, big guy," Gabe said. "Okay. Let's try this again... now... how to put it in a simple way..." He began to speak very slowly. "We... go... back... in... time."
"Hey! That makes sense!" Arthur exclaimed. He stopped, his face lost in deep thought. "But how do we do that?"
"Oh, the woes of having a superior intelligence." Gabe sighed. "We're going to build a, say, tunnel back in time. You don't have to worry how, okay? You aren't going." His eyes flickered over to Lenna. The Lupe looked away.
Arthur looked even more confused. "Going where?"
"All right, all right," Lenna said. "Let's get him outta here before his brain does overload." As the Lupe shoved their confused friend out the door, Gabe sat down, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes.
"By Fyora," he said wearily. "I haven't slept a wink these past months."
"That's what you get for being addicted to coffee," Lenna answered. "Your energy peaks then drops like a stone." She sat down next to him. "So, are you sure it's ready?"
"Yes, hopefully," Gabe said. "I've double-checked... no... triple-checked everything. There's a huge chance that you won't come back, you know." The Kacheek looked at his friend. "We shouldn't toy around with dangerous stuff like this. I mean, I could get a robot from the Warehouse... send it through first so we can see if there is any way back and everything."
"Gabriel," Lenna said. "I've made up my mind."
"Look, there's a reason why Dr. Sloth abandoned this project," Gabe said. "I know you all think I'm pretty smart..."
"You're a genius."
"... But I can't prevent everything." His voice grew softer as he continued. "You... Arthur... you're the only family I have. I grew up in this Space Station alone and... I didn't know who to turn to until you guys took me in. You're more than family to me. I don't want to send you on a one-way trip." Gabe looked down. "Let someone else do this, all right?"
"You agreed." Lenna's voice became cold. "You agreed that when you finished repairing this machine that you wouldn't hold me back when the time came. This is something I have to do. It has to be me. You know that."
"Okay, I admit I said that," Gabe said. "But you have to tell me why you're doing this. Please, just one reason why you're going to risk everything on this one stupid whim..."
"It's not a stupid whim," she growled. "This is important! I have the chance now to change history!"
The Kacheek stared at her, dumbfounded. "What?!"
"Think of it, Gabriel," Lenna said. "Countless mistakes we could avoid. The evil... gone forever if we alter history!"
Gabe got to his feet, arms crossed. "Lenna, that's ridiculous! Even if you do somehow alter the course of history, there's a huge chance that you'll create a paradox that will destroy the entire universe! Haven't you heard the saying that history can't be changed?!"
Lenna looked away. "I don't care. This is for what's right. That's all that matters."
Gabe was silent. Lenna stood up.
"Get the machine ready," she said.
"That's not how you do it!" Gabe snapped. "You put this code here... and that code here... if you don't, you'll blow us all up! And if that was what you were planning to do, congrats, keep doing it." The Grundo, who had been working on the computers, grudgingly nodded. Gabe hurried down the stairs to oversee the other technicians. The air was unusually tight with tension. Everything had to be perfect or the machine could malfunction on them. The Kacheek shuddered as he remembered what had happened when they put a punchbag in there as a test. They had watched in horror as it fell silently to the ground, green flames greedily eating away its body. And it was all because some careless Neopet had put a space where there shouldn't be one.
"All right!" Gabe shouted, once he checked the last computer. "Is everyone ready? We will send the punchbag through first. It will be sent to one minute from now. Then, when it's deemed safe, we're sending Lenna through! All in one go! We only have enough power left to turn on the machine one more time! Understood?!" Everyone nodded. "Okay." Gabe took a deep breath. "Deploy the punchbag!"
Below the doors silently slid open and Lenna, with the punchbag in hand, made her way toward the cube-like structure in the middle of the room.
The time machine, comically shaped like a communication booth with bright lights glued onto it, beeped wildly as the Lupe opened the clear, glass door. She gently strapped the punchbag into the seat, stepped back, then gave a thumbs-up to Gabe.
"Man, I sure hope this works," Arthur said, standing next to Gabe, finger poised over the button.
"Same," Gabe answered. For a split second he thought of telling the Grarrl to shut it down. He didn't want this to work. Gabe shook his head and said, "Fire her up."
Arthur pushed the button.
The machine immediately went into a frenzy of flashing lights and the beeping turned into a high squeal. Lenna stepped back hastily, shielding her eyes from the brightening light. Everyone looked away and when they could open their eyes again, there was deathly quiet.
The punchbag was gone.
"Holy Meepits," Gabe heard Arthur mutter. The Kacheek looked down at his watch. The liquid display showed that it was 12:00:00.
"Wait for it."
The seconds ticked relentlessly down. Everyone was staring at the machine intently and not a single Neopet stirred. Gabe realized that he was holding his breath and forced himself to slowly let it out. "C'mon, c'mon..." Gabe said. He looked down at his clock. 12:00:50. "Any second now..."
There was suddenly a bang and smoke filled the air. The punchbag materialized from nowhere and fell on top of the time machine, its stupid smile grinning at them as if to say, Why are you all so serious?
Gabe's watch beeped. 12:01:00.
They all burst into cheers, congratulating each other on their success. Even Arthur, who was slow to catch on the importance of things, let out a huge roar of joy and stomped his feet in the excitement.
Everyone was celebrating...
... Everyone but Gabe. The Disco Kacheek looked down at Lenna, who had a big smile on her face. He could say that he had never seen her this happy before, and at that moment, knew that he had to let his friend go. He bit his lip and whipped off his glasses to prevent them from fogging up with his tears.
Lenna, who had looked after him like he was her brother... Lenna, who had been one of the few people who showed him kindness... was leaving his life. It was almost too much for Gabe.
"Hey, Gabe? Did something go wrong?" Arthur bent down to his eye level. "Why're you crying?"
Gabe wiped at his face. "I-It's nothing, big guy. Tell them to proceed with the plan, all right? Don't mind me."
"If you say so." The Grarrl turned around and shouted his friend's orders at them. As Gabe put his glasses back on, he could see Lenna's concern on her face. So she saw him cry. Crying like he was a little kid who had lost his mother.
"Sir? Lenna is on the radio," the Grundo technician shouted. Gabe reached up and activated the headset he was wearing.
"Gabriel? You all right, buddy?" The Lupe's worried voice crackled over the radio.
"I am not all right!" Gabe said. "Right now, I am the exact opposite of all right!"
"Calm down... don't throw a fit now. You gotta hold yourself together." He saw Lenna looking up at him seriously with her 'no nonsense' look. "This isn't good bye."
"How do you know that?" Gabe demanded.
He saw her smile. She adverted her gaze to the walls. "Well... I guess... I should say something profound now... so you can mock me when I come back. Look, Gabriel... I just want to let you know that I..."
"Hey, Gabe, the arrow's pointing at red," Arthur said, tapping him on the shoulder. The Kacheek looked at the energy readings and his pulse quickened. It was barely holding at a steady level. Lenna had to go. Now.
The Lupe was already strapping herself into the machine. "I know," she said. As Gabe turned to take some readings, he heard a loud crackle of static. "Gabriel?"
"See you later." She lifted her paw in farewell. Gabe raised his own paw in the same silent salute, a feeble smile on his face.
Then the flash of lights came, and the squealing. When it all subsided, Lenna had vanished into thin air. Had vanished back in time.
Gabe's paw dropped. "See you later," he whispered.
They soon moved out of the Space Station and returned to Neopia, taking the machine with them. All the files and research were carefully saved to many hard drives and disks before they left. In the log of the experiment, called Operation Time, Gabe simply wrote:
'23rd Day of Gathering, 12:01:00 NST. Experiment is a success and has been closed.'
Two Years Later
"According to the witnesses," the Starry Quiggle said, "they saw the Neopet frozen entirely in a block of ice, stuck in the stone. They haven't been able to get her out."
"Really?" the Kacheek asked. "Arthur, what do you think?" Gabe, or Gabriel as he liked to be called now, turned to his friend.
The blue Grarrl looked up from the book he was reading. "Sound interesting. Guess we should check it out. Where was it again?"
"Darigan Citadel," the Quiggle said. "It was unearthed while they were moving around some furniture in Lord Darigan's chambers."
"Oh. All right. We'll get right to it," Gabriel said. "It'll be a big help if you could lead us to it."
"No problem. Let me know whenever you're ready." The Quiggle walked out.
Gabriel sighed and leaned back in his leather chair, fiddling with one of his pens. Since Lenna had left, the Kacheek had painted himself Grey to match his constant mood. Although he managed to crack a smile every now and then, he was rarely happy. All he felt was a dull emptiness inside, gnawing at him. Still, he had his huge Disco glasses with him and wore them whenever he went out.
Since the project had dispersed, and there was no Lenna to tell them what to do, Arthur and Gabriel were lost at what was to happen next. They argued over the subject at meals before finally agreeing to form a company investigating oddities and mysteries.
At first, the Grarrl continuously bugged Gabriel if Lenna was coming back. As he was met with silence over and over again, he dropped the subject in a week. He understood. Seeing the the Kacheek would not talk to him, he took refuge in Lenna's library.
Arthur, who had been so slow and stupid, was picking up pace. He devoured more books now, becoming smarter at an alarming speed. In a month he was almost at Gabriel's level, able to understand most of the complicated equations he used to get lost in.
Gabriel peered over Arthur's shoulder. "Is that The End of the Tunnel? Pretty light reading compared to what you were looking at last week. What was that book? Advanced Kreludan Physics, right?"
Arthur didn't look up. "It's more... personal." He glanced at him. "No offense or anything, but... your presence is really... uh... depressing. Would you mind standing back a bit?"
"If that's how you want it," Gabriel said, a bit stung. Was he really like that? Did he send a bad aura out to others? "Are you going to come along on this one?" Arthur rarely left the office now, preferring to stay inside and read.
A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. "Dr. Gabriel? There's someone who wants to see you."
It was 4:30, their closing time. Why did some customers have to be so annoying? Couldn't they read the sign on the door? "We're closed!" Gabriel shouted. "Tell them to come back tomorrow!"
"Doctor, she insists."
"Who is this person?" Arthur closed his book, an irritated expression on his face. "We can't let anyone just storm in on us after business hours!"
The door swung open. An elderly Darigan Lupe, so old that parts of her fur were turning silvery-white, hobbled in with a cane, her milky eyes regarding them with such warmth that Gabriel almost regretted his harsh words. Net, the Speckled Skeith secretary, nervously trailed behind her, wringing his hands. "Doctor, I'm so sorry for the intrusion, but... I couldn't stop her."
They stared at each other for a long time, afraid to break the silence. Then the Lupe spoke.
Her first words: "Gabriel, Arthur. It's been a long time."
Her next words: "Why on Neopia did you paint yourself Grey?"
He heard Arthur gasp as recognition dawned over them. Gabriel felt the world spin around him and dizzily leaned against his desk. "L-Lenna?!" He managed to stutter.
"You were right, Gabe," she whispered. "You were right."
Lenna fainted at the feet of her shocked friends.
"She's not doing well, to tell you the truth," the Green Gelert doctor said. "Your friend is much too frail to be walking around. I'd say it's short of a miracle that she managed to make it to your office without any help."
Gabriel bit his lip. "Is it all right if we--?"
"Go in? Of course." The doctor opened the door, whispered something to the nurse, and then turned back to them. "You might want to say your good-byes while you still have time. She's in a fragile state and we'll have to move her to Faerieland very soon. A kind Faerie has volunteered to look after her." He and the nurse left.
"Man," Arthur said. The Grarrl kept his eyes on his feet. "I can't believe she actually came back."
"I know..." Gabriel took a deep breath. "You want to come in with me? Talk to her and everything?"
"Sure," Arthur mumbled. "Why not?"
"You shouldn't have wasted all your Neopoints to paint yourself Grey," Lenna rasped. She was too weak to move now and could only lie on her cot. It frustrated her, Gabriel could see it in her eyes, that she couldn't even sit up on her own. "It's ridiculous. Disco is more your color, anyway." She smiled feebly at them. "Arthur... why are you standing over there? Come closer. It's not like I'm going to bite you... not that I can..."
Arthur walked over, wheeling a wheelchair as well, a half-smile on his face. "Hey... Lenna. Nice to see you again."
"Same," Lenna said. She gave a whistling sigh. "You want to know where that cursed machine took me? It took me all the way back to the discovery of Tyrannia... I thought I could stop the war... save lives... but I couldn't. The villagers wouldn't let me get anywhere near them... they had never seen a Darigan pet before and kept me at bay... so all I could do was watch as the village burned down around me..." Lenna began to chuckle but it turned into a hacking cough. "Water," she croaked.
Gabriel helped her drink from her cup. "I guess you'd want me to say 'I told you so', huh?"
"'History... cannot be changed'... I learned it the hard way..." Lenna said. It was becoming difficult for her to speak, but she continued on. "Still, my failure did not... deter me... I was convinced that I would stop the War for Meridell from ever happening. I set out to assassinate Kass... but... I failed... the guards... they threw me off the castle and I barely survived. The... knights of Skarl found me and... locked me in the dungeon and forgot about me until... now... that was when... I went to find you..." She broke into another fit of coughs. "Why are you all... so... glum? Aren't you glad to see... your old friend?"
"We are," Arthur said, squeezing her paw. "We just forgot how to smile, I guess."
"Well, I thought I'd never hear those words from you," Lenna said. Her voice became so soft that Gabriel and Arthur had trouble hearing her words. "They're moving me... away... aren't they?"
"Yeah," Gabriel said. He felt a lump rise in his throat. "Hey, Lenna... I know you just came back, but... you're too weak to stay here. This Faerie... she's going to take you to Faerieland where you'll be safe and everything. She's waiting for you outside."
"Really?" Lenna whispered. "So that's why you brought a wheelchair..."
"We'll try to visit you as often as we can," Gabriel said, almost choking on his words.
The doctor walked in at that exact moment, followed by a Light Faerie. "It's time for your friend to go," he said.
Arthur helped the Lupe into the wheelchair, lifting her gently like she was a baby. He set her down with such care, like she was a fragile doll, and stepped back, blinking rapidly.
"Well... I guess... you guys will come... visit me often..." Lenna suddenly laughed. "Who... am I kidding? This... is... goodbye... so I'll say it... now..."
"No," Gabriel said firmly."This isn't goodbye. This is 'see you later'."
Lenna chuckled. "All right... then..." With great effort, she lifted a ragged paw. "See... you later... Gabe..."
The Light Faerie stepped forward and chanted a spell. Lenna and the Faerie began to glow with a soft light before spiraling upward, leaving dancing sparkles in their wake.
Silence enveloped them.
"She's gone. Again..." Arthur said quietly. Gabriel shook his head.
"No," the Kacheek said. "She'll always be with us."
If you're reading this, then I've made it into the Neopian Times! Thanks much to my guild and friends for their help! :3