And so days passed. Days became weeks. Weeks became months. Jamal and I would go out hunting, though most of the time it was ALAN who caught our food. Doc would dissect it before we would eat.
Each day, I would take a shot from the Stabilizer. The pain would be excruciating, but it would have to be done. Slowly but surely my body started to get into shape. It was the first time I had been in one body for so long in years. It was kind of strange. But the good times couldn’t last.
“The buildup of instability in the Stabilizer is getting too big. I don’t know how much more it can take. We have to figure out something to do with it.” Doc held up the Stabilizer. It looked normal enough, but that didn’t really mean anything. You couldn’t see a quantum instability. “If we don’t, the whole thing could explode. We don’t know the damage it could do. The quantum energy could be catastrophic! It could destroy the future!”
“I don’t think we have to worry about that.” We all turned to the sound of the new voice. “Trust me. I just came from there. It’s fine.”
The woman that entered the cave looked to be in her thirties. She had light brown skin and shortly cropped black hair. She appeared to be wearing tight leather pants, a blue t-shirt, and a brown coat that was much too heavy for the prehistorical summer heat. I say ‘appeared’ because I noticed her swirling multicolored eye mod that made me think that her clothes were likely some futuristic material.
“‘Oo t’ ‘ell arrre yoo?” Jamal growled.
The woman laughed. “I’m going to assume it’s because of your strange new eyes you don’t recognize me. That and I’m something like 20 years older than the last time you saw me, but seriously, Dad, come on.”
Jamal’s reptilean jaw dropped. “‘Ahtilda?”
The woman curtsied. “In the flesh.”
“I don’t underrrstan’,” Jamal said as this older, stranger Mathilda walked toward him. “‘Ow? Ry?”
“Hold that thought,” Mathilda interrupted. She took from her pocket something that looked very much like a pen, then slammed it hard into Jamal’s skin. Jamal winced. I raised my gun. And the woman, she giggled. “Don’t worry. I’ve only just injected him with nanites.”
“You what?” I screamed as Jamal roared out in pain.
“I injected him with nanos,” the woman said matter of factly. “They’re going to restructure his skeleton. They’re going to make his jaw more pliable and his tounge more flexible. They’re also going to make his hands more dexterous. I mean, I love my dad and all, but that scooby-doo talking can get annoying pretty quickly.”
“And we’re just supposed to believe you’re Mathilda?” I asked. My gun still pointed at her. “We’re just supposed to trust you?”
“Tell your robot to scan me. No mods can beat a Jotun scanner.”
“But your nanos can corrupt his scanners,” I rebutted. Either she was Mathilda and that was why ALAN hadn’t alerted us or she already had him duped.
“True.” She seemed to be enjoying our exchange, as if it were a game. “Don’t tell me you don’t recognize me, Uncle Frank? Besides, who else would risk their neck coming to save your asses?”
“Wratch yourrr langrage young lady,” Jamal said, picking himself off up the ground.
“Jamal, she might not be…”
“She is,” he cut me off. “I know mry daughterrr. No matterrr how old she is.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Doc said.
“ALAN?” I asked.
“Confirmed. 100% match for Mathilda Sampson.”
I nodded. I still wasn’t entirely convinced, but I was willing to play along. “Ok. You’re Tilly. So now why don’t you tell me what the hell you’re doing here? Or more importantly how?”
“What I’m doing here? Isn’t it obvious? I’m here to rescue you,” she replied.
“What took you so long? Why are you here now and not earlier? Why didn’t you show up as soon as we got here?”
“Why now?” she echoed “Because this is when it happens. This is when I save you.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“There are rules that need to be followed,” Mathilda explained. “The universe depends on it. Time travel is serious business. We’re talking about cause and effect. Small changes can have enormous unexpected impacts. It’s the reason the Time Cops exist. Not even Freyja would dare break the rules. I’m here now because it’s the only time I could be.”
“So you can send us back?” Doc asked.
“Yes. I’m here to send you back to the future, so you can save me.”
“You can send us back to when we left?” Jamal asked eagerly, sounding amazingly like his old self. “You can send us back to Freyja’s castle?”
“I can.” Mathilda carefully chose her words. “But remember I can only do so much. Certain things must happen. Certain things I can’t change. I can only send you when I can send you. There’s a time you’re supposed to be there and I can’t do it any sooner. Time can only be bent so much.”
“But we can save you?” Jamal asked, his raptor face full of hope. After much too long, he was finally going to be able to save his little girl.
Mathilda smiled. “Not only can you, Dad. You will. You have to. But,” she added, “you have to do it now. This is the time.”
Mathilda squeezed her hand and with a flash we were in the future.
to be continued…