Well, Happy New Year, folks. Here are the last two chapters of The Time Machination.
"So...that's pretty much it," Roger concluded.
"Really?" RJ asked, caught off-guard by the abrupt end to the story.
"Yes. I don't think he missed anything," Beatrice said.
RJ slowly rose from the patch of plasticrete that he had been sitting on.
"So...when is this little lizard guy going to get here?" he asked dubiously.
"Well...it looks like he was supposed to be here twenty minutes ago," Roger said, glancing at his watch.
"You don't think something might've happened to him, do you?"
Beatrice stepped inside the Raphus' cockpit and pressed a button on the radio.
"Leapin' Lizard, this is Tera. Do you read me?" she asked.
For a moment there was static, then Bohica's thin voice responded:
"I read you loud and clear, Tera."
"What's taking so long, Leapin' Lizard?"
"Sorry -- I ran into a couple of snags coming out of the chronostream, but everything's okay now. I'll be there soon," Bohica replied.
Beatrice acknowledged Bohica's answer, then rejoined her husband and son outside the ship.
"Well, he said he's on his way," she said.
Roger and RJ both nodded. The trio stared out at the darkening sky. The quiet twilight seemed to smooth the jagged angles of the ruined city, making it seem a tiny bit less sad-looking.
After a few minutes punctuated by awkward attempts at starting another conversation, a bright pinprick of light suddenly appeared in a gap in the clouds. It slowly grew larger and brighter, and Roger could soon make out several other lights following it. It was an ominous, yet strangely beautiful sight. In fact, it looked almost like a cluster of falling stars.
Soon it became clear that these weren't meteorites, but spaceships with their headlights on. Roger recognized the lead ship as the one Bohica had picked out for himself back at PlanetAid's fortress, and many of the ships trailing it seemed familiar as well.
Bohica's ship dropped lower and lower, with the ships behind it following its every move. Eventually, Bohica's ship touched down on a large, bare stretch of pavement. Once all the other ships had landed as well, the Bohica's ship took off again, but this time, the rest of the ships didn't follow it. Bohica's ship then sped towards the Supercomputer tower's landing bay, and Roger, Beatrice and RJ barely had enough time to move out of the way as the ship made a tidy, but slightly unsafe landing just a few feet away from the Raphus.
"Well," Bohica said as he hopped out of his ship, "This does look pretty bad...but not quite as bad as I'd feared. Most of the equipment I brought with me should help with the more urgent problems this planet has, but -- "
"Hello, Bohica," Beatrice said coolly.
Forced to put his speculations on hold for the time being, Bohica greeted Roger and Beatrice, then introduced himself to RJ, who stared at him skeptically.
"So you're the guy who's going to help us?" RJ asked.
"Well, indirectly, yes," Bohica said. "That is -- I've made most of the preparations for restoring this world, but it will take more than a single individual to do the actual restoring."
RJ nodded solemnly.
"Although..." Bohica said, "There is something that might get a lot of our work done for us very quickly."
The three humans stared expectantly at Bohica.
"Well?" Beatrice asked.
"Er...I don't think you're going to like it," Bohica said, glancing nervously at RJ.
"Try us," RJ said.
Bohica shook his head and stared at the ground for a moment.
"The Supercomputer," he said.
There was a long pause.
"But...when I took down Vohaul, I formatted that thing," Roger protested. "There's nothing on it anymore."
"True," Bohica said slowly. "But you know, Mr. Wilco...one thing I learned very early on in my profession that every computer -- no matter how large or powerful it might be -- is susceptible to viruses."
He slowly reached inside a pocket in his lab coat.
"And another thing I learned is that any scientist with more than two functional neurons to his name..."
He withdrew his hand, which was now holding a small, flat, square object made of black plastic, with one side of it sheathed in a tiny metal sleeve.
"...would be sure to have at least one backup of his system available."
Roger and his family gaped at the object delicately clutched in Bohica's fingers.
"But...but how?" Roger eventually managed to stammer.
"I do have a time machine," Bohica reminded him. "I travelled back to pre-Vohaul Xenon, found a backup disk for the Supercomputer and made a copy of it for myself."
"Hey," RJ said, waving towards the wall of the Supercomputer, "You're not talking about starting this thing up again, are you? Because I think that's a really, really bad idea."
"I understand your reluctance," Bohica said, "But this computer doesn't have to keep operating indefinitely once we've got it up and running again. If you really do want to pull the plug once and for all once we've gotten this world back to the way it was before, I'm not going to stop you...but we'd all be fools to not take advantage of this technological marvel."
RJ stared dubiously at Bohica, then at the ravaged city many feet below.
"Well...all right," he slowly said after several moments of silent reflection, "But the minute that thing starts acting funny, I'll personally shut it down with this."
He made a menacing gesture with his weapon, then remembered that he was still holding a time gun. He shuffled awkwardly for a moment, cheeks reddening. Bohica glanced uncertainly at RJ, Roger and Beatrice, then shrugged and began speaking again:
"Since this Supercomputer was able to control the weather on this planet, it should be able to repair the atmosphere in just a few days, especially since it doesn't seem too damaged. I'm not sure what it has in the way of toxin removal technology, but the machines I've brought should be able to do whatever it can't.
"I also collected genetic material from nearly all of this planet's native life forms on my trip to pre-Vohaul Xenon. After the Autotiller force-seeds the soil with the various plants I gathered and the vegetation reaches an optimal level, we can thaw out the other organisms that I've got in cold storage, give them a little time to acclimate to their surroundings, then turn them loose. And of course, the nanites should help reconstruct most of the buildings and structures once we've extracted the data about them from the Supercomputer."
"Well...all right," Roger said, still not entirely sure he shared Bohica's confidence. "So, when do you plan on rebooting this thing?"
Bohica suddenly seemed to wilt a little. He glanced nervously at the faces of the three humans, but said nothing.
"Bohica..." Beatrice asked, using the tone of voice she had used with RJ in his younger days when she suspected that he had done something wrong, "What did you do?"
"I admit that I...well...got a bit too eager," Bohica stammered. "While you three were talking, I opened a rip that dropped me inside the Supercomputer, and once I was able to find a working disk drive, I..."
Three pairs of startled, astonished, and mildly alarmed eyes were now locked on Bohica. He fell silent and started to turn a shade of greenish gray. Roger suddenly became aware of a low, constant hum filling the air that hadn't been there when he and Beatrice had landed.
"You restarted this thing already?" RJ said slowly, his voice low.
Bohica didn't respond.
"Do you realize what you might have DONE!?" RJ shouted.
"I understand your concern," Bohica said nervously, "But please -- try to look at this rationally: the Vohaul Virus is gone. There's no trace of it left in this machine. Also, it wasn't the Supercomputer itself that did all this damage -- it was the virus. And like it or not, unless you want to start your civilization over from the Stone Age, this computer may be the only way of getting your world back on its feet...and already, it seems to be working very well."
Bohica looked out the bay entrance, staring upward.
"Perhaps you might not have noticed...but there's been a change in the weather."
Roger followed his gaze, and suddenly realized that the thick canopy of clouds that had covered the entire sky was dissipating, revealing irregular patches of deep blue, star-speckled sky. The air seemed to be noticeably less pungent as well, and there was a fresh, cool breeze blowing through the bay doors.
RJ stared pensively at the sky.
"So...you're sure nothing can go wrong?" he asked.
"Without any new viruses infecting the system, I'd say we stand a fighting chance," Bohica said. "There is always the possibility of some setback, but hopefully, things should go well,"
"Then why do you sound so uncertain?" RJ demanded.
"Proclaiming that absolutely nothing can go wrong with a major endeavor has been demonstrated to increase the likelihood of things going wrong with said endeavor by up to 1000%. It's a subset of Murphy's Law."
RJ stared blankly at Bohica.
"You're not serious, are you?" he asked.
"I'm very serious," Bohica replied. "This theory has yet to be disproven in the many years since it was first postulated...in fact, I observed at least six distinct variations of the 'nothing can go wrong' sentiment when my former colleagues were preparing to operate on your father...and I'm sure you've heard how successful that plan turned out."
RJ continued to gaze at Bohica for a moment or two, then shook his head. After several seconds of contemplation, he turned to face his now not-dead parents. The shock of realizing that they weren't dead still had yet to subside. The mental breakdown would have to wait until later, though. Right now, there were much bigger problems to deal with.
"Well...I'd better get ready to start looking for survivors," he said quietly. "There's a cache of food and supplies hidden in an ancient sub-basement near here, and if there are any rebels still alive in this city, I'm sure they'll need both of those things. After we've gotten a good number of people assembled, we should start looking for the people who escaped to other planets, and possibly get some more help from them."
He holstered his time gun and walked towards the large orange patrol shuttle once piloted by the Sequel Police. After clambering into the cockpit, it didn't take long for him to figure out how the shuttle worked. As its engine began to rumble, RJ waved good-bye to his parents, promising them that he would be back soon. Then the shuttle sped out of the bay doors and was soon out of sight amidst the dark ruins.
Roger turned to Beatrice. She was standing motionless, looking out at the skeletal cityscape, and Roger suddenly noticed that she was crying.
"Hey, don't worry, Bea," he said gently. "I know it looks really bad now, but we'll make it better somehow. It may be hard, but it can't be impossible...especially now that we've got help."
He moved closer to her. Then, to his surprise, he realized that she was smiling.
"My little boy," Beatrice said, her voice trembling with joy. "My little boy, a member of the freedom fighters! I...I can barely believe it!"
"Oh...yeah. I know," Roger agreed. He glanced at his right hand -- the one which he was about to place reassuringly across Beatrice's shoulder -- then quickly hid it behind him.
Bohica looked at Roger and Beatrice, tried to come up with something to say that would lighten the mood but also would stay well within the boundaries of good taste, but eventually gave up. He quietly informed them that he was going to find a safer place to park his ships, then shuffled back to his shuttle. Soon, he too had departed.
"What are you thinking?"
Roger stared up at the sky. By now, it had cleared enough for him to see many of Xenon's largest constellations. There was Ositha the Comet-Rider, Norell the Overachiever, and Margot and Riley the Platypuses.
"Nothing," he eventually replied.
Beatrice wasn't convinced. She looked up at the stars, then back at Roger.
"Roger...you're not thinking of going somewhere, are you?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
Beatrice stared at him, astounded.
"No, wait," Roger said quickly. "Don't get me wrong, Bea; I'm going to stay here and do as much as I can to get my planet back to the way it was. Once everything is okay, though..."
Voice trailing off, he looked back up at the stars again and sighed wistfully.
Beatrice was tempted to ask Roger what on Xenon would make him want to leave his home world, after spending so long trying to return to it. But no...this was no time for bickering. Perhaps she never would truly understand him, but this was no longer a problem that would keep her up at night. It was just another idiosyncrasy of his that she would have to get used to.
She thought about the many people whose professions required them to remain several light years away from their spouses for weeks, months or even years. As unpleasant an ordeal as this was, it wasn't as heartbreaking as it had been in the early days of interstellar travel, a time when married couples (or triples, quadruples, etc., depending on the species and/or traditions of the individuals in question) spent the majority of their waking days in one another's company.
Though this custom had long been associated with matrimony, as the average lifespan of Xenonites grew longer and longer, so did the rate of divorce and domestic violence. After many decades of scientific research, the ancient saying "familiarity breeds contempt" was determined to have a sizeable grain of truth to it, and it eventually came to pass that the idea of married couples spending time apart on a regular basis was not only suggested, but flat-out encouraged. Much to the chagrin of the older citizens and many of the self-proclaimed "Traditionalists", this new trend quickly took hold, and in the years that followed, the number of divorces and spousal abuse cases (as well as various neuroses associated with married life) began to decline.
For the most part, Roger and Beatrice's marriage followed the "Together But Apart" ideology fairly closely. Beatrice's job kept her away from Roger for days at a time, and once RJ was old enough, Roger was more or less free to do his own thing (which was usually staying at home watching old Holovision shows). Still, the last few years Beatrice had spent travelling from planet to planet with Roger weren't as mentally scarring as the research had suggested. Despite the worry, the fear, the frustration, the hopelessness and that unpleasant incident with Zondra, she didn't feel traumatized by being in Roger's company for such a long stretch at a time. In fact, she felt almost as if she could live alongside him for a few more years.
However, even though he was her husband, first and foremost, he was Roger. Roger Wilco. A janitor who had saved the galaxy, yet had remained an unsung hero for most of his life, a simple-minded yet inexplicably cunning, unlucky but fortunate, loveable (but perpetually enigmatic) guy. As much as it pained Beatrice to think it, she realized how unfair it would be to keep someone like Roger perpetually at her side. Besides, no matter how far he wandered, thanks to the tracking device he begrudgingly agreed to have reinserted, she would still know where he was.
"Well..." she said quietly, "If you really do want to go somewhere else...I won't hold you back."
Roger looked at Beatrice in mild surprise.
"Really?" he asked.
Beatrice nodded, and Roger grinned meekly.
"Just promise me you'll try to keep in touch," Beatrice said. "And please...let me know when you're going."
"I will," Roger said earnestly. "I'll even try to visit you and RJ when I have the chance."
Beatrice nodded again and smiled. As Roger returned his gaze to the night sky, he began his inevitable reflection on the various events that led up to his current spatial and temporal location.
Though Xenon was still in pretty bad shape, the thought that it would eventually look better than it currently did was somewhat reassuring. However, the thought that most of Xenon's people (and most of the galaxy) would never know about the role Roger played in Vohaul's defeat and the planet's restoration was slightly less positive. Still, as unfair as this concept seemed on the surface, it didn't seem to bother him as much as it might have a couple of decades earlier. If Keech Kwidnunk had been privy to what Roger was currently thinking (and was capable of speaking rationally), he might have reflected on how, given what he had discovered about Roger's nature, it seemed perfectly reasonable that while the universe itself was intimately familiar with Roger, at the same time he was completely unknown by nearly all of its inhabitants.
Perhaps he never would regain the fame he had once had, but that didn't seem to bother him as much now. Perhaps there was a grain of truth to what Kwidnunk had said about his obscurity keeping him safe after all: Being presumed dead as well as obscure would probably make Roger far less likely to run into crazy scientists, evil geniuses he had unknowingly wronged, or (he fervently hoped), borderline-insane aging fangirls.
He faintly recalled the question he had asked his son in the same location he was currently occupying, both several decades and several hours ago:
Why wasn't I available in this time? What happened to me?
After all these years, he finally had the answer to that question. His absence in Space Quest XII wasn't because he was dead -- it was because he was somewhere and somewhen else, unknowingly keeping his past self safe from Vohaul's detection. Now that he had finally returned to his home world --
Roger's train of thought came to a shuddering halt. He had the sensation that he was being watched. Strangely, though, it wasn't a frightening feeling, but a familiar one. He looked up at the stars -- even though he knew that such a gesture was pointless, since the thing he was looking for existed all around him and spread out into infinity -- and spoke with his mind:
"Don't worry. You don't need to watch me anymore. I think I should be all right from now on."
Something beyond the stars seemed to stir slightly. A quiet, bemused sigh seemed to reverberate through every atom in Roger's body. Then, a voice audible only to him said:
"Well, don't come crying to me if anything else goes wrong, Wilco."
Though Roger was a little irritated by this reply, he resisted the temptation to respond to it. Instead, he said:
"Well...thanks again, universe."
For a moment, there was nothing but silence. Then, Roger thought he heard a faint, distant voice reply:
"Happy trails, Pantload."
Roger continued to stand on the landing pad as the night lumbered on, gazing out at the city and the stars. Beatrice remained by his side, and Roger was so deep in thought that he didn't realize her hand was on his shoulder until she was kissing him. As he gingerly returned her embrace, he was suddenly seized by a feeling of triumphant elation.
He had won. The future he had been dreading for so long had come and gone...and he had survived it. Beatrice was also alive...and she was still beautiful. Xenon had gone through a pretty hard time, but not only was it still there, but there would soon be lots of people (and one slightly neurotic reptile with a collection of highly advanced machines) to aid in its recovery. He would definitely stay there to do whatever he could to help, but after that...
...after that, he was free. Though the conversations he had had with the universe had been brief and pretty unenlightening, he was now more eager than ever to start exploring it again. With an unburdened mind and a newly restored body, the urge to travel the stars in search of strange creatures, exciting worlds and intriguing tourist attractions burned more strongly within him than ever. Perhaps he could find the Aluminum Mallard again. Perhaps he could visit some of the less dangerous planets he had explored in the past. Perhaps he could simply look up some old friends.
But before any of that happened, he had an incredibly large mess to help clean up.