The Time Egg
She woke up from the dream to find her pajamas saturated. She had been sweating profusely for an indeterminable amount of time.
Were she not so disgusted by the dampness, she would have mused on how fitting it was to go from the swimming sensation of the dream world to a pool of her own making upon waking. But even common folk don't want to wake up in a sweat-drenched bed. The Crown Princess of Guardia certainly isn't going to bear it.
Muttering "ew, gross!" and the like all the while, she stood up, peeled out of her nightgown, tossed it onto the bed, ran to the adjacent washroom, and threw on her bathrobe. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror overlooking the washbasin.
There were massive bags under her eyes, which were more red than white. Her hair was trying to go in every cardinal direction at once. Right now, she looked nothing like a princess.
She had been having that dream again.
Every night for the past week, it had been the exact same dream. She is inside Lavos. The inside of Lavos, shaded that sickly, unnatural dark green, seeping, glistening with some mysterious fluid. The walls pulsating with the regularity of breath. She watches herself walk forward. To Lavos. There's a noise, like a human voice, behind her, but she can't make it out. So she keeps going forward. She's late to the battle, and her friends are locked in mortal combat with the Lavos Core. Things are going badly, so she rushes to the battle. She pulls out a crossbow and begins pelting the Lavos Core with bolts, reloading and firing at a rate only possible in a dream world, until she hears someone crying out in pain. She notices that as each bolt plunges into the core, that voice yells ever louder, each bolt amplifying the agony. It isn't coming from the core. It's coming from behind her. It's the voice that is familiar but she cannot place. As the ichor leaks from the Lavos Core from the countless wounds she has inflicted with bolts from her crossbow, she hears herself shout out to finish the Core off for good. Her friends muster themselves together for one final assault. Frog levels the tip of the Masamune and springs forward. Robo leaps forward from the other side and begins firing his fist back and forth rapidly, like a piston. Lucca kneels and takes aim with her high-powered pistol, The Wonder Shot. As it hums to life, warming up to critical mass, the bestial Ayla shrieks and barrels forward. And as they all come in for simultaneous blows to extinguish the Core once and for all, she hears the sound that rends her very soul.
"WAIT! HELP! SAVE ME!"
The voice is crystal clear. It's Crono. Dear, sweet, noble, selfless Crono. She gasps, and she watches as her friends simultaneously slash, pummel, blast, and punt the Core into a lifeless paste. And in that instant, Crono's voice is abruptly silent.
She turns around to where the voice was coming from, but Crono isn't there. Standing defiantly, sneering at her, the pale skinned wizard Magus.
"Where is Crono?" she demands.
"He's gone," Magus replies, unsmiling. "It's too late now."
Then she screams, and she wakes up.
And cries in the washroom until the nursemaid hears her and comes in to try and console her.
The events of the past two weeks conspired to give it the feeling of being an eternity. This wasn't just the result of extensive time travel, either. That was a part of it, of course. Marle, a.k.a. Princess Nadia Guardia, had gone to the beginning of time, the end of time, and a plethora of temporal points in between. It all began when Lucca, the young technological genius of Guardia, built something called a Telepod for exhibition at the Millennial Fair. Princess Nadia – under the alias of Marle, the girl from out of town – made her way to the town square intent on trying out the invention herself. Whatever teleportation was, it was certain to be infinitely more exciting than sitting around the castle being an idle future head of state.
How right she was.
When she got in, the Telepod malfunctioned. Later, they figured out the magical properties of her pendant, the family heirloom she wore around her neck constantly, had altered the Telepod and created what Lucca termed a "Time Gate" which propelled her 400 years into the past. Eventually her new friends made their way back in time to rescue her…after she was mistaken for her distant ancestor Queen Leene, confidently locked up and guarded in Castle Guardia by the castle guard while the real Queen Leene remained in mortal danger. Which put Marle in mortal danger. She even dematerialized and literally ceased to exist for a few hours, until Lucca and Crono arrived to rescue Queen Leene and save two royal lives, with the help of a talking, sword-swinging frog.
And that was barely even the beginning.
Marle, Lucca, and Crono ended up traveling back and forth through the entire history of the world, befriending a proto- human primate with the heart of a lion named Ayla, a bold knight turned into a bipedal frog by an arrogant, malicious wizard named Frog (though his real name was Glenn), and strangest to her of all – which was saying something – a humanoid robot from the dismal future they dubbed Robo. Together they wandered across years, centuries, aeons, heeding the call of adventure and taking on the minions of evil to save the human race's past, present, and future. They crushed the Reptile Empire and paved the way for hominid hegemony over the Earth. They vanquished that same arrogant wizard and his legions of beasts, turning the tide against the ancestors of the mystics and saving the Kingdom of Guardia in the time of Queen Leene, helping Guardia win the battle that, in their time, was the root of the Millennial Fair Celebration. They combed the scarred, bleak, heatless globe of the future so that the survivors might have food, and they shattered the genocidal robots bent on wiping out what remained of the human race. And when, after that, when they returned to the present day, they always arrived at the point they left. To everyone but them, nothing had happened at all. The shocked onlookers at the town square breathed sighs of relief when, after about a minute of panic, that pretty young new in town girl emerged on the right telepod, intact, flanked by the bespectacled inventrix and wild haired boy who disappeared shortly after her.
Had it really been only two weeks since it all started? It seems so much longer.
And, in truth, it was. All the time travel did have an effect, though no human eye could ever detect it. Princess Nadia was different. She was older, albeit only a little, than she should have been. Only two weeks had passed in the present timeline, but in fact their journey had been much longer. In those two weeks, they had lived six months. Literally.
Lucca had considered explaining this to the princess, but she clearly wasn't in the mood. Neither was Lucca, for that matter. They both missed Crono deeply. Especially Marle. Lucca could see that. Crono was a good friend to her, but it was obvious he was something more to the young heiress to the throne. Oh, how she wailed when Crono disintegrated in front of their very eyes. Later, when they came to in a little village hut that stood on the outskirts of all that remained of the Zealian Empire, and Marle discovered that Crono's demise was not merely a bad dream, she wailed again.
It was the most heart-wrenching sound Lucca had ever heard. Including the agonized shrieking of her mother, on that fateful day when her mother's legs were…
Lucca didn't want to think about THAT right now either.
"So much tragedy in life," she reflected, and scribbled into her diary. "Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, it seems that the only constant in human life is suffering. I've been all over the world, and all over Time itself. Suffering everywhere. It's miserable to think about. I don't know how we as individuals keep going sometimes. I suppose its because there's nothing else. Bad as life can be, it's better than the only other alternative."
Tears began to well up as she thought of Crono.
"All we have is a few years of life, and the only certainty is that one day, it's going to come to an end, no matter what you do, say, or try. Something will get you and all your friends in the end. It's up to us, then, to make the brief time we have as good as we can, for ourselves and for others. Take away as much of the sting of life as we can. I suppose that's why I dedicated myself to science. My mother's accident made it all so clear to me."
She couldn't bring herself to write anymore.
"How are you coping, Marle?" she asked out loud. "How are you coping, Mrs. Tiempo?" Oh, Crono's poor mother...before she could even possibly know what her son was getting into, she had lost him.
It was at that moment she remembered they still hadn't told her.
Toma was an adventure, world class. He traveled the globe. As such, he had seen many strange things. Things which others would consider bizarre, freakish, and unfathomable were Standard Thoroughfare for this world-weary treasure hunter. He had been shocked and surprised so many times by unusual sights that he was almost numb; his capacity for being surprised all but gone.
Nevertheless, he scarcely believed his eyes when he saw an anthropomorphic amphibian walking towards the Great Northern Ruins with a stone slab that had to be incredibly heavy tucked under its left arm.
So he called out to it, to make sure it wasn't just an illusion.
The frogman made no reply.
Toma looked down at the mug in his right hand reproachfully. "I've had way too many of you go in me. Frogs walking on two legs and carrying tombstones around. That's just too much. No more." He threw the mug down and tried not to think about how many times he had thrown it down in the past only to pick it – or one just like it – up by week's end.
Toma decided to tail the frogman into the ruins, disregarding all the horrific tales of monstrosities and supernatural beings that resided within.
"Just imagine the riches in there," he told himself. "Maybe that's where the famed rainbow shell resides."
He followed the frogman, taking care to keep a safe distance behind, lest the frogman discover he was being followed. Each step took Toma nearer the entrance to the ruins, and each step also drained him of a little bit of his passion for adventure. When he saw the frogman enter, it brought home to Toma the gravity of exactly what he was doing. Few people who went where that frog just went and he was about to go ever came back, and those precious few were almost to a one gravely traumatized from the experience. Was this really a wise course of action, or had he thrown down the cider too late?
"Too late now, Toma," he chided himself. "You've committed this much, might as well go through with it."
With that he stepped through the portal and was almost immediately plunged into a darkness that seemed too sudden in its oncoming to be merely natural. He could not repress a sudden gasp of surprise. He checked himself quickly, lest some thing be alerted to his presence.
What was that noise? Did he imagine it, or did he truly hear some inhuman voice cackle?
He drew the short sword from the scabbard at his side, even though he resigned himself to the theory that it was unlikely to do any good against whatever was inside here. Still, it was better than nothing. He moved down the dark corridor after the frogman as quickly as he could without sacrificing silence of motion.
Up in the distance, he heard the distinct sound of stone sliding reluctantly against stone. Concluding that it had to be the frog man moving the tombstone around, he crept forward in the direction of the sound, hoping that dripping sound was just leaking water, and not venomous drool dripping from the fang of some ghastly beast creeping along behind him.
Toma was alone, and so he had not the slightest qualm about being honest. He was scared.
After what seemed to be a century, Toma came upon an antechamber, without incident. There, in the center of the room, set alight by some unseen force, was the frog man, propping up the headstone approximately three meters to the left of another, larger headstone.
He held his breath, observing the frog in silence from his crouched position at the lip of the archway.
Then, it spoke.
"Alas, Sir Cyrus, thou art joined by another fine swordsman," it said between loud croaks.
Toma did not yet dare emerge. The frogman continued.
"May thy fine warrior spirit fare well, wherever thee may be, Sir Crono. I doth salute you. Thou were an powerful ally. And a good friend."
The frogman then began to make the strangest sound. It was a strangled, bleating noise. Could the frogman be crying?
Toma began to wonder exactly who this Crono person had been, that this beast would mourn him so.
The door to her room creaked open, and the nursemaid entered. Princess Nadia rubbed the area around her eyes until it was dry, and shuffled out of the washroom.
"Good morning, your majesty."
"Hi, Helen," she replied, her lack of enthusiasm readily apparent. "I had the dream again."
Helen nodded and proceeded to strip the sheets off the bed, whistling a gentle little tune. Marle sighed and retreated back into the washroom.
"Maybe you're ill, Princess?" Helen called out?
"No," came the reply. "No, I'm okay." She said, but she hesitated just enough to betray her statement. "There's just something…on my mind."
"Care to talk about it?" Helen asked. Immediately after she uttered the words she wondered how she possessed the nerve to do so. People in her place didn't offer such favors to royals until and unless said royals solicited them. She cringed for a second before relaxing. Princess Nadia wasn't like that. She did a lot of things atypical of her position.
"No, I don't. Please, just wash my sheets" came the reply from the washroom.
Marle resumed examining herself in the mirror. Her face reflected her bittersweet state. The euphoria of destroying Lavos and liberating the planet and all life from its parasitic domination was constantly tempered and often squashed by the pangs of despair over Crono's death. She and her friends had done something truly great, but she was incapable of fully appreciating what they had done. At what cost victory? Was it truly worth Crono's life?
She knew in her head that it was. One person, no matter who they are, is only one person, and cannot possibly compare to the entire range of life forms that live and have lived throughout time. Crono would agree. But her soul wouldn't. Crono was unique, he could never be replaced. Nothing could ever be the same without him. Life appeared to go on, but in truth, it had stopped, and something new had started in its place. Something similar to life, but sickly deviant. An insulting parody of what life had been like before he sacrificed himself to Lavos for their sake. For her sake.
She would never have asked him to do such a thing for her. Nothing was worth this price to her.
She would have reached out and pulled him back, would have done something, anything to pull him out of harm's way, if she had possessed any strength after that ill-fated assault in the bowels of The Ocean Palace. But she had none, and could only watch helplessly as he stepped in front of that hideous, bulbous, eye-like red portal set in the center of Lavos, raised his sword, and stood his ground for the final time.
He was gone before she could even call out his name and plead with him to stand down. He melted into a multicolored powder, and just simply sifted away before her eyes. Not a trace was left of him.
She couldn't repress it anymore. She began to rant to herself, no concern for whether anyone could hear.
"Oh, Crono. You selfish boy! Why did you do such a stupid thing! How could you do that? How could you leave me here, alone? Why didn't you retreat? You know how I felt! Why…"
Marle's head sank into her hands and she began sobbing.
"It isn't fair. You can't be gone. You just can't. Not like that. Just vanishing into nothing. You have to be out there, somewhere. Somewhere in time. I'm sorry we didn't come look for you. Please be okay. I know you're out there."
She had to go find him. There had to be a way. There just had to.
And she knew of only one person who could find that way.
"Helen, are you still there?" she called out.
"Yes, your majesty."
"When you're done with that, come back here. I'm going to write a letter I want you to deliver."
"As you wish, your majesty."
Marle walked out of the washroom and towards her dresser. She pulled open the top drawer, grabbed a parchment, quill pen, and a bottle of ink. She sat down and began to write a personal letter to Ms. Lucca Bunsen.
Malinche couldn't move.
Her father had hissed at her to hide behind this mound of rubble and keep quiet, so that was precisely what she was going to do until her father told her otherwise. On some preconscious level, she picked up the urgency and desperation in his voice, and she instinctively hid. She was still too young to know how to understand this feeling, much less describe or express it to others. Obediently, she crouched down behind the rocks.
She was too young to fully appreciate the mortal danger of the situation. For her, this was simply something daddy had to go and do sometimes. Every six days daddy went out to find food. She always wanted to go, of course, because she wanted to be with daddy, but every time, daddy sad no. It was too "dangerous" whatever that meant.
This time, he had relented.
"You'll have to learn how to do this eventually anyway," he said, and the day after her seventh birthday, she went with her dad to forage for food for the first time.
She didn't know it, but she lived in a dismal, dreary, dying world. It was all she had ever known, naturally, so to her it was normal for the sky to be a dark, smoky gray all the time. The wind always howled and blew hard. It was always cold outside, and you had to wear lots of clothes. It was normal for food to be rare and hard to get.
The old people, like Uncle Doan (he was actually her great uncle), told her stories of what the world was like a long time ago, long before she was born. It was very different. The sky was a color called blue, and it was bright, and something called the sun shone brightly as it flew across the sky every day. And plants used to be all over outside, not just in a few plant pots underneath the incubator light inside the domes. The ground used to be green with something called grass.
Malinche liked Uncle Doan's stories, and she always tried her best to imagine the world he talked about, even though she couldn't. It was too far beyond her life experience.
She lived on the dying earth, the time after the Day of Lavos which virtually all civilization and most life, too. What was left of humanity had to huddle together for shelter in gigantic domes, the skeletal remains of the species' high technology past. Now they were little more than simple caves, and humanity was forced by circumstance back to the hunter-gatherer era. Hunter-gathering fell to those who were brave and physically able had to venture out of the domes, into the cancerous world, in the faint hope of finding something edible. Usually, it was recently dead mutant, or dying, in which case the brave soul finished it off and lugged it back home. Mutants were a double-edged sword; hardly a healthy thing for human beings to eat, and their flesh caused as many health problems as they solved. But there was nothing else, and so there was no objection to mutant meat. It was that or starve to death. So people ate mutants.
Mutantkind had adapted to the wasteland. They needed only token exposure to sunlight, which was all that could leak through the thick clouds that now enveloped the planet. Gases toxic to humans were essential to mutant life. Oxygen was their useless exhalant. Even on a dying world, it seemed, nature found a way.
Humans, however, the most adaptable species the planet had ever hosted, could not survive for long in the elements. The artificial environments of the domes they had once created for maximum convenience were now essential. Fallen mostly into ruin and disrepair, they still barely functioned just enough to provide hospitable territory.
But they didn't provide food. Food lay outside, in the lethal elements.
Malinche remained silent and waited for her father to signal it was okay to come out.
And she waited.
And she waited.
Nothing seemed amiss to her as of yet. Daddy was usually gone a long time when hunting for food. It probably took a long time to find something. Her faith in her father's ability to return was absolute in that way only a child can manage.
However, her father, Montez, was in very serious trouble. He knew it instinctually, even before his brain formed the conscious thought of "I'm in real danger." It was instinct that commanded him to order his daughter into safety and silence.
They had come across a pack of decidedly not-dead mutants. A half-dozen Octopoids lingered in the ruins of Lab 16 ahead of him, looking very hungry themselves. He himself ducked behind a pile of rock and rubble, hoping they could not sense him, or his daughter.
No such luck.
He heard them make excited gibbering noises, and they began to squeal. With a rush, they began to set upon him.
He raised his makeshift club in preparation for one final stand. There were six of them and one of him. Very difficult. Victory was not in the cards, but an escape for himself, and his daughter, was possible. If he had time to craft a plan of attack…
Too late. The first was upon him! He shifted his weight to the side, evading its charge and letting it propel itself into a nearby rock. It slumped to the barren ground in a daze and struggled to balance on its tentacles, but a vertical swipe of Montez's club ensured such an event would never happen. The impact shattered its skull. One down.
They came in waves; two from front, three from behind. He howled as one attached to his leg and began to rend his flesh with its teeth and suck the lifeblood from him. He lashed out at the two in front of him. One dodged and fell back but he made solid contact with the other, driving it off and knocking it nearly unconscious. His back exploded in pain as one Octopoid lashed into him from behind. He spun around wildly and struck the fifth, causing it to shriek and recoil in pain. He then bashed the Octopoid on his leg several times until it twitched, released, and fell dead, but not before it had savaged his leg.
He tried to limp away from the back, but with his greatly reduced ability, the three remaining Octopoids regrouped for another attack. His swings grew desperate now, and many missed, leaving him exposed to their horrid teeth and constricting tentacles.
Malinche knew something was wrong when she began to hear her father scream, but she had no idea what it could possibly be. She did understand one word, though.
She had absolute faith in her father. He always returned. So she had no reason not to follow his order immediately. She broke cover and began to run back to Arris Dome, fully expecting to see her father again.
Unfortunately, her foot found a stone and tripped over it. She fell to the ground, hurt, and began to cry. Which drew the attention of the Octopoids. Two of the three broke off and chased after her. Montez managed to strike a desperate blow against the third that left it dead, but the damage had been done. He was now gravely wounded, his blood seeping from both legs, his left arm, and several points around his torso, and a gash across his temple. It took almost all that he had to prop himself up against the rubble in a sitting position.
He watched helpless and horrified as the two Octopoids chased down his now hysterical daughter. He shouted "No!" defiantly, but in his state it was barely more than a whisper.
Then, through his blood and his tears, he saw a miracle.
It was over before he could fathom what had happened, but twin laser bolt blasts from an unknown source felled the Octopoids and left them lifeless, cooking heaps on the pale ground. A figure then emerged, rotund and golden. It clicked and whirred and made several beeping noises. Then it turned in Montez's general direction.
It blasted the Octopoid Montez had knocked out earlier, finishing it off for good just as it began to come around.
It was an R-series humanoid robot, and, improbably, it had just saved his daughter's life. It walked over to him, and beeped at him.
"You are injured. Can you stand?"
Montez lay there, shocked, battered, and confused as to why one of the robots would act to save a human life. Everyone knew the only good robot was a dismantled one.
"You need medical aid. I will return you to Arris Dome.
Montez almost vomited as he was hoisted up in a sudden jerk, and brought to rest over the robot's shoulder. He was too weak to resist. He should have been afraid, he knew. But somehow, in the hands of this killing machine, he felt somehow safe. Perhaps it was because he knew the Octopoid attack had condemned him, perhaps it was the way the machine had saved his daughter from his fate. But for whatever reason, a smile came over his face as the blackness came…
Malinche sat silent in shocked wonder as the robot approached. She then screamed when she saw her bloodied, unconscious father, but, being young and untouched by the constraints of adult thought, the robot brought no fear to her eyes the way it did to her father's.
"Your father was attacked by Octopoids. More will come. You are not safe out here. Where is your home?" the robot inquired.
"Arris Dome," she replied honestly.
"Let me take you home," the robot offered.
Malinche agreed, and the robot gave her a ride on its other shoulder.
R-66Y was not like the rest of his series. He did not share their genocidal anti-human programming. He had been offline for ages, a rusting hulk, when the program had been distributed. He had also been repaired and brought back to functionality by a human. Said human, and her friends, then took him on a journey across Time. He had experienced things they had not and would not ever experience. How could he not be different?
He. That was another difference in R-66Y. Most robots were its, but R-66Y was a he, and he identified himself as such. He also identified himself by a name, rather than his serial number. It was the name his repairer and her friends had given him, before they, too, proceeded to become his friends, and his mentors.
His name was Robo, and he was friend to all humans.
Robo's friends taught him so much. One of them, the wild-haired young man, showed Robo what it was like to act heroically and selflessly, and to sacrifice for friends. Robo learned the lesson well.
Consciousness flickered back into Montez's maimed form as the trio approached Arris Dome. Robo sensed it.
"We are almost home, sir."
"Where is…my daughter?" he asked, desperately.
"Daddy?" Malinche asked, hearing her father's voice.
A wave of relief swept over Montez, knowing that his daughter was okay, thanks to, of all entities, this bizarre example of the R-series robot.
"Why…are you helping…us?" Montez forced the question out of his weakened body, despite its painful protest.
"I am Robo," it replied. "I am friend to all humans. A human once saved me. She became my friend. I am not like the others."
Montez, in his altered, hazy form of awareness, could somehow sense this was the truth.
"Thank you," he managed to say.
"Thank you, Robo!" Malinche said, with much more life.
As they approached the dome, father and daughter both promised Robo they would repay his kind act.
Lucca was headed for the kitchen downstairs when she heard the knock at the door. She jumped at the sound. Having been but recently thinking about Crono's mom and the fact that she had still dodged the issue of telling her the truth about her son and what had happened to him, she immediately feared that was who was knocking at her door.
It doesn't have to be her, she told herself. There's a bunch of people it could be. It probably isn't her.
However, even a mind as science-oriented as Lucca's was subject to irrational fears. What would she tell the woman? She'll have to be told the truth, eventually, and Lucca was still dreading being the one to tell her. She liked the lady, but she had never been too comfortable with her, and certainly didn't want to have to be the one to break bad news to her. Especially this bad news. That was why she'd been putting it off for a week.
With trepidation she moved towards the door to answer it. She cautiously opened the door ever so slightly, just a crack, just enough to peek out and see who was there.
Lucca breathed a sigh of relief when three people – two men wearing the uniform of the Guardia Castle Guard and an older woman who looked like a typical nursemaid or some other house servant – waited on the other side of the door.
Not that castle employees, particularly soldiers, were a very welcome sight to her, either. Despite becoming good friends with no less than the crown princess of the kingdom during their time travel adventures, she had good reason to be wary around castle guards. After all, she had broken into the castle prison to bust Crono out of jail, which necessitated inflicting incapacitating wounds on a score of guards. They were unlikely to forget or forgive, regardless of her pardon by royal fiat.
"Hello?" Lucca enquired.
"Does Ms. Lucca Bunsen live here?" the lady asked.
Lucca hesitated to answer, reading the guard's faces for some sort of clue, any clue, as to what the ultimate purpose of this visit was.
"My mistress, her majesty Princess Nadia, has given me a letter to deliver to a Ms. Lucca Bunsen," the lady continued. "These guards are merely my protective escort. Please don't be alarmed by them. This isn't anything official. She wishes to see you privately."
The lady stuck the letter into the small opening.
Cautiously, Lucca took it.
"I'm Lucca," she announced, half expecting the door to immediately be kicked wide open and the two guards to storm in, followed by a half dozen others heretofore unseen. But no such event happened. She opened the letter and read it silently.
Dear Lucca, Please come to the castle at once. I need to talk to you. This is a rough time for me, and for you too I'm sure. I need a true friend right now, and I think of you as my best friend. You are the only person I can really talk to right now. Please hurry. My nursemaid Helen will escort you.
It wasn't necessary for Marle to state what she wanted to talk about. It was obvious. They both missed him horribly.
"All right," Lucca announced. "Give me a minute to get ready."
She opened the door wide.
"Please come in," she offered formally. "I'll be ready in a minute."
Lucca went upstairs and got changed into her one piece of formal wear, a dully yellow dress (most of her wardrobe was more "work-friendly") that she knew didn't really suit the nature of the meeting to come, and grabbed a pad of paper and a pen on the way down.
She scribbled out a brief note for her parents and left it on the kitchen table, feeling it might be a good idea to leave behind a trail of where she was going. Just in case.
*** *** *** *** ***
Lucca, Helen, and the two escorts arrived at the castle gate, which was immediately opened for them. They crossed the threshold into the main hall.
"This way, please," Helen informed Lucca. "Her majesty's chamber is in the inner right tower. The stairway is beyond this door."
Lucca actually already knew this, but kept quiet. It would be rather suspicious to advertise having that knowledge. The truth was she had made numerous visits to the castle recently, and had been all over it. She likely knew were everything was as well as or better than some of the staff.
Those numerous visits were 400 years ago, but the changes to the interior of the castle were simply superficial responses to the march of time. The structure was the same, naturally. It was, after all, the same building 400 years older.
She and Crono had been enemies of the state for a brief period in modern times, having allegedly kidnapped Princess Nadia, but during their time travel they and Marle had ended up in Guardia in the year 600 and become known as heroes and saviors of the kingdom. They had rescued Queen Leene from her kidnappers, turned back the forces of the evil Wizard Magus at the Battle of Zenan Bridge, and later stormed Magus' castle itself, defeating him with the aid of a legendary sword wielded by a courageous knight named Glenn who just happened to be a bipedal frogman – the result of a curse by the same Magus. Such valorous deeds had made the foursome eternal friends of the court of Medieval Guardia, with an open invitation to visit the castle at any time. During their several visits, Lucca had become quite familiar with all the stairwells, pathways, towers, and barracks.
So, while she ostensibly followed Helen the nursemaid into the main hall and the familiar spiral staircase on the right that led up the tower to Princess Nadia's quarters, Lucca knew exactly where she was going, and had to make a conscious effort to stay behind her guide.
They came to the chamber door and Helen knocked.
"Princess Nadia!" she called out. "I have returned."
Lucca heard Marle's voice reply from within.
"Is Lucca there too?"
"Yes," the nursemaid replied.
"Let her in," the princess directed, "and leave us in private, Helen."
Lucca noted that Helen looked somewhat surprised at the privacy provision as she opened the door and directed her into Marle's room. Lucca stepped in and Helen dutifully closed the door behind her, remaining outside. Lucca stood near the doorway until her friend the princess emerged in a somber black gown, looking very downcast.
"Hi, Lucca," she said quietly. "Please sit down."
Lucca took the nearest seat available.
"How are you holding up, Lucca?" Marle asked.
"Okay, all things considered," Lucca sighed. "I really miss him though. I still can't believe he's really gone."
Tears welled up in Marle's eyes.
"I still haven't told his mom," Lucca said, hanging her head. "I know I should, but…I suppose part of me doesn't want to admit…and in telling her, I'd be doing that."
"It isn't fair!" Marle exclaimed, beginning to cry.
"I know, I know," Lucca said, abandoning her own concerns and now trying to console her friend.
"It can't be this way," Marle protested.
Lucca began to cry too.
"He was so wonderful, and sweet…" Marle continued before being cut off by her own sobs.
"He was a good friend," Lucca managed with closed, tearful eyes. "I don't know how I'm going to tell his mother."
"Don't," Marle suddenly blurted out with surprising strength and authority.
Lucca looked up. "What do you mean?"
"There has to be a way to bring him back!" Marle whispered, still tearful. "That's why I asked you here, Lucca. I want to try and get him back."
Lucca stared surprised at her friend. She knew Marle was bereaved, but this was delusional.
"What?" Lucca asked.
"There has to be a way to get him back, somehow. We travel through time, change what happens, somehow. We've done it before, Lucca. I want to use the gate key. I want to get him back."
The desperation in her friend's voice unnerved Lucca. What she was asking for, surely, was not possible. But Marle was possessed of some blind faith that there was something they could do. This was a bubble Lucca hated to burst.
"Marle, listen," Lucca started, awkwardly. "I miss him, too. I do. But, there's nothing we can do. I wish there was, but he's gone, and as much as we don't want to accept that, we have to. We can't change—"
"We can!" Marle interrupted, "There has to be a way. I know there is. If we go talk to Gaspar, I'm sure he can help us."
"Marle…" Lucca countered, "It's not possible. It was hard enough to lose him once. I don't want to relive that moment. I…I can't bear to watch him die again."
"Nothing is impossible!" the desperate princess continued. "If there's one thing I've learned from your machines, and our adventures, it's that nothing is impossible. Get the Gate Key, Lucca. We can talk to Gaspar, and he can tell us what to do, and then we can bring Crono back. If he lived once, he can live again. It's just like when you saved Queen Leene from Yakra, or when we saved Guardia from Ozzie and Magus! It can be done! We've done it before! Come on, Lucca."
Part of Lucca wished she could possess Marle's faith and optimism, but mostly she pitied her friend. She was blinded by grief, and she was only hurting herself more by clinging to this fantasy that could never be fulfilled. As for herself, she didn't want to let this desperate dream of Marle's get her own hopes up. It was hard enough for Lucca to accept that her childhood friend was dead. This only made the whole ordeal worse.
"Marle, you're only making it worse, for both of us," she said, softly. She was about to continue her thought when the words stuck in her throat, as she glimpsed at the red, tear-streaked face of her friend, now sneering with anger.
"What's wrong with you?" Marle demanded. "You're just giving up! Shame on you!"
Lucca, suddenly on the defensive, protested. "But, there's nothing we can do."
"Yes there is!" she continued, getting angrier.
Marle was very angry with her friend. She was giving up on her. She was giving up on Crono. How could she do that and still call herself Crono's friend? The mix of her emotions left the princess frenzied. Anger, grief, desperation, hope, all fused together, and compelled her to play a card she normally preferred to leave buried deep in the deck. She stood up to the full height of her frame, stood over Lucca, and exploded with a statement she immediately regretted.
"You have to help me! As your princess I order you to help me go back in time and get Crono back!"
Marle immediately clasped her hands over her mouth and sank to the floor at the feet of her friend and began to sob. She was shocked by her own actions, more so even than Lucca was. She had just threatened Lucca with using her status to bully her around, and Marle was immediately sorry and began to apologize profusely.
Lucca, for her part allowed herself to slide out of the chair, onto the floor, next to Marle. They both began a fresh flood of tears as they sat on the floor of the room, doing nothing but crying and leaning on each other's shoulder for what was only 5 minutes, but seemed to be an aeon.
"I'm sorry, Lucca. I'm really, really, really sorry," Marle exclaimed. "I just…I just can't…"
"I know, I know, it's okay," Lucca sobbed back.
"I need to try, Lucca. We need to try. I'll never forgive myself if I don't. Maybe it sounds stupid to you, but I can't accept that we've done all we can, yet."
"No, it isn't stupid," Lucca replied. "It's not stupid at all."
Something had at last clicked in Lucca's brain. She understood now, what was going on in Marle's head, and why she couldn't let go of Crono just yet. In a way, it made sense. It wasn't merely blind irrational grieving after all. It certainly couldn't hurt to try, she decided.
"Let's try it, Lucca," Marle implored. "Please."
"All right," Lucca answered.
If they tried and failed, that would be the end of it, and then maybe they could both sleep without guilt if not without grief.
If they failed, not when they failed. Something in Lucca's outlook had been changed. Perhaps her friend's faith had transferred to her after all.
The drums thundered in the background. Scores of people jumped up and down, dancing wildly. People shouted excitedly. Jurassic Pork Soup flowed in abundance, as did the new treat, "strong juice." The people of Laruba Village no longer had any reason to hide, and so they had come together with the people of Ioka village to dance and drink and celebrate the new era.
A select few remained skeptical and nervous. After all, the skies were starting to get gradually darker, and each day seemed to be a bit colder than the day before. That mysterious red star had crashed into the planet far away, and there was the strange phenomenon of the sweet water well running dry. But overall, most people were enraptured in a craze of revelry, because the reptiles had been defeated.
Chief Ayla and a handful of her friends – who all wore very strange-feeling and oddly colored hides – rode on friendly Dactyls from the north to Tyrano Lair, the fortress of the Reptiles and their chief, Azala. They invaded the fortress and destroyed it, along with Azala and his Reptile Army. What little remained of the Tyrano Lair after Chief Ayla and her strange friends conquered it was smashed by that same mysterious red star that had struck the earth. The Empire of the Reptiles was no more; it was utterly destroyed. None of the people of Ioka and Laruba knew it yet, of course, but the gradually cooling temperature, tough as it would be for they themselves to weather, would ring the death knell for large reptiles. With this, the Age of Primates had begun.
Even lacking this foreknowledge, the people knew it was time to party, because for the first time, they were free of the fear that the reptiles had always instilled. No more raiding human villages. No more having to live in hiding. No more was mere survival the only attainable goal. A great shadow had been lifted, and the hominids could now aspire to something more.
But first, time to party.
So party they did. Ioka people, Laruba people, reunited and one giant happy family, dancing with each other, shouting excitedly, enjoying "strong juice" which some Iokan had accidentally invented when he let a bunch of grapes ripen a little too long before squeezing. The word "fermentation" had not yet been invented, and the process was still being uncovered. But it tasted good and made the drinker feel funny in a good way, so everybody enjoyed it.
Brog, the grand old man, chief of Laruba Village and the oldest human at the party, climbed up onto the big rock in the center of the party ground, and shouted loudly.
He commanded such respect that the revelry stopped on a dime. Music, dancing, drinking, eating, everything and everyone stopped and looked at him silently as one.
"Today, big celebration!" he began. "Reptiles all gone! Now we strongest animal on planet! So we have big party."
A massive cheer broke from the crowd.
"BUT!" he shouted, immediately bringing the crowd silent again. "Tomorrow, hard work start. New things happen. Very strange. We must study. Adapt. Change to them. New world now. New challenges. We meet them?"
"We meet them!" the crowd shouted in unison. More than a few people began to hoot and holler of their own accord, but they too stepped back in line when Brog began to speak again.
"Now, we honor big heroes. First, we honor Bakus! He make new Strong Juice!"
Bakus, a young adult human with inordinately large quantities of body hair and a giant gash of a scar across the side of his head to forever remind him of the Reptile Empire, walked up out of the crowd and onto the big rock with Brog.
"Bakus," Brog shouted, "You make new treat. You very smart. How you make strong juice?"
Bakus' cheeks ran pink. "Me? Me lucky. Not smart. Forget about grapes, leave them out too long. Start smell funny, but I like grape juice, so I crush anyway. Drink juice. I feel weird. But good. Taste different, but still good. Strong Juice!"
The crowd roared its approval.
"Thank you, Bakus," Brog said. "Now, we celebrate big hero. Chief of Ioka Tribe. She find strange friends, go to Tyrano Lair, beat Reptiles. She greatest hero of all. She very strong. Save us all. Ayla!"
The crowd produced its loudest, mightiest cheer of the night, and began to chant the name of the bravest human of all.
But Ayla did not appear when her name was called, and the revelers began to make muted, puzzled noises to themselves.
"Where Ayla?" Brog asked. "Kino! Where Ayla? We honor her now! Why she not here? Go find Ayla!"
Kino knew Ayla best, and was by far the most likely to know where the great chief had gone to during the party. Kino was the man Ayla liked best. She had always told him that if she died, he would be new chief. But she hadn't died, she had fought the Reptiles and won – no human had ever beaten the Reptiles in a major fight, and she had won the biggest victory of all, almost single-handedly destroying Azala and his giant super weapon, the Black Tyrano, in individual combat. She was very strong, perhaps the strongest human there had ever been.
"And she like Kino best!" Kino thought to himself triumphantly as he walked away from the party. Yes, now that she had lived, and was the greatest hero, and saved all people, she would be concentrating on the normal duties of being chief. She would probably even go through the Ceremony with him. Then they would make the future chief. The thought pleased Kino, and he began to dream up a list of names for the future chief he and Ayla would make. Maybe name him Bakus, after the man who invented Strong Juice. Or would he name him Kinoki – "Son of Kino?" So many choices…
Kino then remembered with a start that he had a job to do, and he began to concentrate on finding Ayla and bringing her back to the big party. He decided to check her hut first, primarily because it was nearest by, and if the music started up again, he would still be able to hear it.
It also turned out to be the right choice. As he pulled back the hide flap and entered, he saw her, kneeling on a Kilwala- skin rug. She was staring intently and silently at the wall in front of her, and she was running her fingers over the wall in a strange fashion. Periodically, she took her hand off the wall and dipped her fingers down into a bowl of something like a liquid but too thick to be any liquid he knew. Then, she began running her fingers on the wall of the hut again.
Kino walked into the hut and stood behind her.
"Ayla!" He shouted. "What you do here? Everybody at big party! Celebrating heroes! You greatest hero of all. Chief Brog of Laruba Tribe, he want to honor you on big rock at party ground! Why you not there? Why you here?"
Ayla turned around angrily. Rage flashed in her bright brown eyes. She frowned and snarled at Kino as she stood up.
"Kino be quiet!" she shouted, forming her hand into a fist and bopping him solidly on the top of the head with it to drive home her point. "Ayla doing something special. More important than party. More important than fool old man!"
"What more important than party?" Kino asked, tenderly rubbing the top of his head.
"Look!" Ayla shouted, pointing at the markings she had made on the wall. The gummy fluid she had dipped her fingers in and smeared on the hut wall was a ruddy red color. She had painted a series of red streaks that came together at a broad base. Below that, in a darker, almost black pigment, she had sketched out the outline of a human body, with crude facial features.
"You know who this is?" Ayla demanded of Kino.
Kino recognized it immediately. With jealousy evident in his tone, he bowed his head and mumbled "Crono."
"Yes!" Ayla answered. "It Crono. Crono very strong! Ayla not beat reptiles without Crono and Crono's friends."
"You like Crono best," Kino admitted, slumping his shoulders. His body language said more to Ayla than his words.
Ayla pounded him on the head again.
"Kino need learn respect!" she growled. "Crono very strong. Save Ayla's life. After fight with reptiles, Ayla and Crono fight big thing, Lavos. Lavos very strong. It beat us first time. Almost kill Ayla. But Crono stop Lavos. Crono die protecting his friends, so they can try again. Then they beat Lavos."
Kino stood in silence.
"Ayla not be here with Kino without Crono," Ayla said, dropping the hostility from her voice."
"Crono dead?" Kino asked. He had to check himself as he asked. In truth, he was pleased to hear it, initially. He wasn't so sure that Ayla didn't really like Crono better. The thought of Ayla liking another man better made Kino very sad, and at first he was relieved to hear his rival was dead.
But when he saw the look on Ayla's face, Kino couldn't smile. He could tell that Ayla was very, very sad; sadder than he had ever seen her. He didn't like seeing her sad, and though he feared and loathed what her sadness probably meant about her feelings towards Crono, Kino knew he had to console Ayla as best he could.
"Kino sorry," he said. He turned to the drawing on the wall of the hut. "Thank you, Crono, for saving Ayla's life. Kino always remember you."
Somehow, in the act of thanking the drawing, Kino no longer felt so hostile towards the man with the wild red hair. Kino didn't want to think about life without Ayla, and if her life had truly been in danger and Crono had saved it at the expense of his own, then Kino truly was grateful. He realized that Ayla meant more to him than his own happiness. Maybe she did like Crono best of all. Kino couldn't really blame her. He had seen little of Crono, but it was enough for him to see he was a mighty warrior, much stronger than Kino was.
Kino finally admitted to himself that he would never be able to compete with Crono. Kino bowed his head and turned away from Ayla and her drawing. He didn't want Ayla to see that his eyes were getting wet. It would only be more proof that he was not strong like Ayla, and like Crono.
"Kino go back to party now," he announced. He didn't really feel like going back to the party, though. He was going to go back to his hut, and sulk.
Kino was never very good at concealing his true feelings, thoughts, or intentions, and this time was no exception. Ayla could sense that something was amiss with Kino, and she could guess what it was.
"Kino, stay," she spoke up suddenly. Kino stopped dutifully at the flap, and shuffled back over to Ayla, though still keeping his head down. "What wrong with you? Why Kino cry?"
"Kino not crying!" Kino protested, but Ayla could hear it in his voice.
"You still think Ayla like Crono best?" Ayla asked.
Ayla raised her fist and prepared to hit him yet again over the head for persisting in being so stupid, but stopped at the last second, realizing that the strong approach wouldn't make things any better. She opened her hand and grabbed Kino around the shoulders.
"Kino, listen," she said, softly. "Crono was good friend. Strong warrior. Great ally. But no more. Crono not from here. Come from very strange place. Too weird for Ayla. Ayla never able to like someone so strange. Crono was only good friend and ally. Ayla still like Kino best. Kino believe?"
Kino made no reply.
"Kino no believe Ayla?" she asked, raising her voice. "Kino no trust Ayla? Why? When Ayla ever lie to Kino?"
"Crono better warrior than Kino," Kino moaned. "Crono strong, Kino not strong. Ayla draw Crono picture, never Kino picture. Crono better than Kino. Ayla should like Crono better than Kino. Make sense. No like, but it make sense. Kino understand."
Ayla couldn't figure out what she was more: angry, or sad. She had only drawn Crono's picture on the wall as memorial to a great warrior who had fallen in battle, nothing more. It was a gesture not of love, but of respect. She really did like Kino best, and never thought about making the future chief with anyone else. But Kino no longer believed that to be the case, and she could understand why. Kino was always overly sensitive and insecure about his lack of strength. He was not a bad warrior, but there had always been someone better. Maybe she had paid too much attention to Crono. Kino was the only man who wasn't completely afraid of Ayla. Women were not usually warrior-strong. Such women usually scared men, as they were used to being the one who was strong. Ayla was different. She was very strong, not only stronger than all women, but all men as well. Men didn't know how to deal with that strength. Few dared approach her like they would any other woman. Kino was not fearless, but he had overcome his fear enough to try and court her like she was an ordinary woman, and that was why she had always liked Kino best, in spite of his frustrating confidence issues. But now he was slipping away from her.
"Kino," she said with a softness she rarely permitted the world to see, "Ayla like Kino best. Always will. Draw Crono only because Crono good warrior, and he die. Deserve memorial. Ayla no think Kino take it any other way. Ayla sorry. Erase picture if it bother Kino."
"No," Kino replied. "Crono deserve picture. Kino sorry. Kino act stupid. Kino stupid as well as bad warrior."
"Kino good warrior!" Ayla retorted. "Not best warrior, but plenty good. Better than most. Braver than most. Who else dare court Ayla? Who else that brave?" She smiled at Kino, trying very hard to rebuild his fragile confidence.
"Kino no deserve Ayla," Kino lamented.
Sometimes, when she most wanted to smack Kino, when he most deserved to be smacked, she couldn't do it, because it would only send him deeper into his mood. This was one of those times.
"Kino no need deserve Ayla!" she yelled. "Not about deserve. Ayla like Kino. Ayla like Kino best. Kino like Ayla best?"
"Yes," Kino answered.
"That all that matters!" Ayla pronounced. "Now, Kino stop being sad! We have party to go to!"
She smiled at Kino as she pulled him upright. She wiped the tears from his eyes before she realized that her fingers still had moist pigment on them. She left humorous streaks of brownish red paint underneath his eyes.
"What so funny?" Kino asked.
"Ayla forget about color on fingers," she confessed. "Leave marks on Kino's face." She immediately put her fingers to her own face and deliberately made matching color marks under her own eyes. "Now we match. Go to party now?"
Kino nodded, and finally broke into a tentative smile.
Now Ayla had something else to celebrate.
Princess Nadia felt a little guilty about "borrowing" a nun's habit and sneaking out of Castle Guardia. But only a little. It would be difficult to explain exactly what she was planning to do, and impossible to convince her father or the chancellor to allow her to leave the Castle, especially not when she's "so depressed these days, Nadia, are you sure you aren't ill?" and especially not for the sake of Crono, who they still considered an Enemy of The Kingdom.
It was just easier all around to dismiss Lucca from the Castle, with the knowledge that she would sneak out and join Lucca at her house in a few hours.
Marle dispatched Helen to procure the disguise and began to make the other necessary preparations herself, moving with a passion and inspired sense of purpose that would have dispelled any notion of her being sick and depressed had there been a witness to it. Now she had reason to hope. She and Lucca were going to get Crono back. Somehow.
Apprehensive as she descended from her room two hours later, dressed as a nun, she rehearsed her cover story should anyone stop her. She was going to the site where the new Cathedral was being built, about a mile from Castle Guardia. She could not afford to get caught now! Lucca was waiting on her. And…Crono was depending on her.
She made a beeline for the main gate without incident. At the main gate, however, two castle guards stopped her. Her heart seemed to make an attempt at leaping up and barreling out of her mouth.
"Excuse me, sister," one of the guards said. "Where are you going?"
Marle drew her breath in as she spoke. It sounded like the opposite of a nun, but she couldn't think of any other way to distort her voice. "I'm headed to the site of the new cathedral."
"What's wrong with your voice?" the first guard asked.
"I've been ill recently," Marle explained.
This seemed to satisfy the first guard, but the other persisted.
"You really shouldn't go there all alone," the guard warned. "It's easy to get lost in North Forest. Why don't you let us summon an escort for you, sister?"
"Not necessary. I have all the protection I need," Marle answered, holding up the rosary to illustrate her point. This was a difficult and painful way to talk, Marle thought. She hoped she wouldn't have to say any more; her throat was beginning already to pay the price of her deception.
"All right," the second guard said with obvious lack of faith. "Suit yourself."
"Lower the gate!" the first guard bellowed.
The gate lowered. Marle had to concentrate on suppressing the urge to shout and jump as she hastily made her way out of the castle.
*** *** *** *** ***
"I had to send the Epoch back to its own time. I've already messed around with temporal paths enough as it is, who knows what keeping The Epoch here would cause to happen. It would just be too big and conspicuous around here."
"But you still have the Gate Key, right?" Marle asked hopefully.
Lucca grinned. "I've been working on something better."
"The problem with the Gate Key," Lucca explained, "is that it only works when there's a gate to open. And the gates aren't constant or stable. We would only be able to go where the gates take us." She paused, and her tone dropped. "And they could close behind us, leaving us stuck who knows where."
Marle nodded gravely.
Lucca continued. "The Epoch wasn't dependent on gates. It's time travel capability was self-contained."
"But we don't have the Epoch anymore," Marle interrupted, "because you sent it back to its proper time?"
Lucca winked at her friend. "Well, yes. But not right away…" her voice trailed off as she smirked.
For the first time in a week that seemed like an eternity, Marle smiled too. "Lucca, what did you do?"
"The Epoch is such an amazing machine, Marle," Lucca explained. "I just couldn't bear to simply send it away without examining how it works. I'd never forgive myself if I passed up a chance to study such advanced technology. Even if it does make a mess of the march of time."
Lucca turned around and, with a triumphant shout of "Ta-Da!" wrenched the black sheet off the workbench, revealing a large tablet-shaped mechanism. Jutting out of the top like a broadsword embedded in a stone, Marle saw the familiar Gate Key.
"I call it the Time Engine," Lucca explained. "Its design is based on a device called a "Temporal Drive" inside The Epoch's engine. I hypothesized that there had to be something in The Epoch's engine that generated a temporary gate for it to fly through. I reviewed Balthasar's design plans and notes, and they confirmed it. My Time Engine works much the same way as the Temporal Drive. It's heavy and cumbersome, unfortunately, but at least it's portable."
"Amazing!" Marle exclaimed. "But how did you get Balthasar's notes?"
"I took The Epoch to Balthasar's lab in the future. Then I did some research, and took The Epoch back to our time – with my own copy of Balthasar's data. All the required materials exist presently – some are just more difficult to find. But once I had collected them all, it was just a matter of following the directions," Lucca grinned. "After giving the Time Engine a few test runs and discovering it worked, I entered a simple little program into The Epoch so it would return to the future on autopilot."
"You did all this work," Marle gasped, "what kept you going?"
"I don't know, Marle," Lucca answered. "I guess I just wanted to figure it out. I like a challenge…"
Lucca fell silent as she looked at her friend. She knew what was going through Marle's head, who she was thinking about. It struck Lucca as being amazing; she had made this tremendous effort to duplicate time machine technology, but had she done the work for the work's own sake? The more she thought about it, the more surprised she was at how quickly she had resigned herself to the finality of Crono's death, all this time in the wake of the ability to travel through time; the means to altering that which has already happened. She of the scientific mind had been presented with a material fact and been beaten. Her friend, Marle, the emotion-minded, had maintained a faith Lucca herself had not been capable of, even though she now realized that all this time she had been working on something to justify the faith. As it turned out, Marle wasn't the one who had been living in denial.
"I don't know why, but I honestly never thought about what we could actually do with the Time Engine once I finished it."
Lucca shook her head in disbelief of her tunneled vision.
"How does it work?" Marle asked, now very excited. "It makes a door, and then we go through?"
"Essentially, yes," Lucca replied. "It can generate a gate with much more regularity and uniformity than the naturally occurring gates. So we know exactly where we're headed. Or in this case, exactly when we're headed. We just turn this dial on the side her to select an era…"
"Just like the dial on The Epoch!" Marle screamed excitedly.
"Exactly! Only once we select a general era with the dial, we can fine-tune the time with this keypad over here. To get a specific day, or hour. As far as I've been able to test, it can be accurate down to minutes. Then, once we've set all that, we press this button here, and it projects a gate. We turn the gate key up here, and that unlocks the gate, and we go through!"
"Great!" Marle shouted. "But how do we get back?"
"Simple," Lucca answered. "We just repeat the process, only we enter in the data for our time on the dial and the keypad. Which," she said smugly, "I happen to have marked on the dial right here." She pointed out the double-notch in the dial that marked the present year, 1000, on the time dial.
"Which marking? This one?" Marle asked. She quickly noticed a series of notches on the dial, two of which were right next to each other, the others more spread out at varying intervals.
"The double notch," Lucca clarified, pointing to the two marks that virtually touched. "These others are, as close as I could approximated from the dial on The Epoch, our friends' times. Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to test these notches for accuracy, or determine anybody's precise temporal point on the keypad, including ours. However, we should be able to get close enough."
"Can we get to the end of time, Lucca?"
"Well, theoretically, all we would need to do is turn the dial all the way to the right," Lucca replied. "The keypad shouldn't matter in regards to The End of Time." Lucca's voice dropped. "But...I can't really predict what will happen. The End of Time is different."
Marle nodded, understanding. "Well, okay…"
"Are you afraid?" Lucca asked.
"Yes, a little," Marle admitted. "But I've got to go. We can't give up on him forever just because I'm scared."
A moment of contemplative silence fell over the room. Still, neither Marle nor Lucca heard the sound of the front door being opened downstairs.
"Okay," Marle announced. "I'm ready. Let's go to the End of Time!"
"All right," Lucca said just before heaving and gasping as she picked up the heavy slab of the Time Engine. "Turn the dial all the way to the right, as far as it will go."
Lucca was about to flick the power switch when there was a knock at the door. Marle's head turned. Lucca immediately grunted and heaved the Time Engine onto the workbench and frantically threw the black sheet over it.
"Just a minute!" Lucca shouted. Before Marle could ask why she was covering the invention up, Lucca gave the answer in a muted whisper.
"I don't want to spread the secret of this technology around to any more people than I absolutely have to. I've made a severe alteration to history by introducing this future technology into our time…who knows what it will change. But maybe, if I can keep it to myself, all this knowledge will be buried with me, and the secret of time travel will be hidden until whenever Balthasar discovers it."
There was another knock at the door. Lucca and Marle exchanged an anxious glance, immediately thinking the same thing. Hiding the Time Engine was a must. What about Marle? Had her deception become uncovered already?
"Who is it?" Lucca called out uneasily.
A voice beyond the door replied, "It's me, Gloria…Mrs. Tiempo Crono's mom." Lucca nearly jumped out of her skin.
"What are we going to do, Lucca?" Marle asked in a whisper. "Are you going to tell her?"
Lucca lowered her head. "I have to," she sighed. "We can't put it off anymore. Who knows what she suspects right now?"
"It'll break her heart!" Marle whispered. "If we used the Time Engine, we could go get Crono back, then come back to now, with him! She'd never have to be told…"
Lucca shuffled to the door and limply hurled her arm at the doorknob and pulled the door open. Crono's mother Gloria stepped through softly, with a very worried look on her face.
"Oh, hello! I haven't seen you in a while," she said, noticing Marle. Marle waved briefly before turning her head away, because she was starting to cry. "You're a friend of Crono's, right?"
"He hasn't come home in a week!" Crono's mother lamented. "I'm worried. I'm afraid something really bad has happened to him. You're his friends, haven't you seen him? Didn't he tell you where he was going?" With every word, the desperation and fear in her voice amplified, and Marle knew that what Lucca was about to say was only going to make things worse.
Lucca took a deep breath. Working on the Time Engine had exhausted her, deprived her sleep, and had required the abandonment of all other projects. It had required hopping back and forth between now and a future world still desolate and painful to look at, but it still wasn't anywhere near as hard as what she had to do now.
"He's…" Lucca started.
"What?" Gloria asked fearfully.
"I'm sorry it's taken me so long to say this," Lucca said, "I've been dreading this, putting it off."
Gloria's eyes widened.
Lucca hesitated. She looked at Marle to solicit support, but found none. Marle was overwhelmed by her own feelings, pulled back to the surface by seeing Crono's mother in the same state.
"We…he's...missing," Lucca finally blurted out. "We don't know where he is. We're going to go look for him."
"Why's she crying?" Gloria demanded, suspicious.
Lucca concluded there was no way around it; she would have to leak the secret of time travel to assuage her.
"The truth is, I made this machine that can travel through time. The three of us have been using it. But Crono got lost. Now we're going to go look for him. I've been working on improving our time machine this week. So we can bring him back."
Crono's mom looked confused.
Lucca blurted out, "Don't worry, he's okay. We'll get him back."
"Is he really okay?" Crono's mother asked.
"Yeah," Marle interrupted.
"We're sorry for worrying you so," Lucca said. "We just didn't know how to tell you, and we didn't want you to think anything happened that didn't. Everything's going to work out okay." Lucca turned around, and unveiled the Time Engine for a second time. "This is how we're going to find him."
"Please hurry," Crono's Mom implored.
"We'll bring him back to right now," Lucca answered. "It will take a while for us, but to you it won't seem long at all. I don't know if that makes sense, but please, believe me."
Lucca labored to lift up the cumbersome time machine. She switched on the power and turned the dial all the way to the right. For the end of time. The Engine began to make a great deal of noise. "Twist the key to the right, Marle!" Lucca shouted over the noise. Marle walked over and turned the key. Immediately the two girls and the Time Engine began to be engulfed by an ever-expanding hemisphere of pale blue light.
"Hold on to the engine!" Lucca instructed Marle as the pale blue sphere of light swallowed them and the Time Engine.
Lucca turned to Crono's mom. "Oh, and please don't tell anybody about this machine, okay?" She forced a smile.
"Okay," Gloria promised. Then everything within the blue hemisphere disappeared before her eyes, and she was left alone in the upstairs room.
From Lucca and Marle's perspective, everything outside the hemisphere faded and blended into a white wall, and abruptly disappeared. Marle and Lucca exchanged glances.
"You didn't tell her the full story," Marle remarked.
Lucca winked as she answered, "Sometimes, you just have to help people have a little faith." Marle looked puzzled.
"Thank you, Marle."
PART 2: REBIRTH