One Crowded Hour
He appeared disturbingly harmless for having just appeared in her living room.
Certain she'd locked the outside doors, Reven Murdok looked up from her book and stared.
He didn't look like a burglar, she thought, still too shocked by the abruptness of the event to really register that she should be scared, or screaming, or both. Maybe it was because the disgruntled expression on his face reminded her of her classmates' petulant whining when Professor Hadley surprised them with a pop quiz.
He looked harmless. Like an overgrown kid who'd forgotten to shave. His jeans were baggy and hung low on his hips, reminiscent of the ghetto style of a decade ago. The sweatshirt that he wore sported a logo that she didn't recognize and draped casually across broad shoulders. The days' old growth on his raw-boned cheeks and the artlessly messy sweep of his hair told her he'd probably just rolled out of bed.
Which didn't explain why or how he was standing in her living room.
"Excuse me?" She finally found her voice. "Who the hell are you?"
He blinked owlishly at her, looked at the floor, looked at the furniture, looked at the ceiling, and then let out a long-suffering sigh. "Don't tell me I've broken it already." He squinted at his hand. "Maybe it's defective?"
Sighing, he made a vague and what she was sure was an obscene gesture, although it wasn't one she recognized. She finally noticed the remote control in his hand. Why would he break into her house with a television remote?
"Defective," he said. "It means something that doesn't work."
"Oh, that's cute," she retorted.
He frowned at the word "cute." Typical male, she thought. Write the comments off if they're not masculine enough.
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, cute. Lucky for you, I passed sixth grade, so I know what the word 'defective' means. Now would you like to explain why you're in my house before I call the police?"
Realization dawned. "What year is it?" he demanded.
And he belonged in a psych ward. Even better. Her hand was edging toward the phone before he got the question out of his sulky mouth.
"The same year it was yesterday. And the same year it's been for the last six months." Her fingers were only centimeters away from the phone. A few more seconds and it would be in her hands.
He saw the movement and his frown deepened. Pressing a button on the remote control, he muttered a sharp expletive when nothing happened. He shook it, slapped it against his palm, and pushed it again.
"Look," he said, "I know this is going to sound mental, but yesterday for me was June 14, 2174."
The phone was in her hand. "You got the June 14th part right," she said, snatching it up and sprinting for the closest lockable door.
He caught her just before she managed to slam the door. But rather than be subdued, she rammed the phone into his face. He jerked back and just barely avoided it.
"That's enough of that," he said firmly, and plucked the phone from her grasp.
She snarled at him. "What do you want? I don't have anything valuable."
He glanced down at the phone. "You've mint condition antiques," he said, waving it in front of her face.
"That's brand new!"
"Not in 2174, it isn't," he retorted.
She yanked her arm out of his grasp and covered her face with her hands. Then she peeked up at him. "If you leave, I promise not to call the cops." They regarded each other uneasily. "Or the mental hospital."
Rolling his eyes, he set the phone down on a nearby end table and showed her the remote control in his hand. "I'd be more than happy to leave, but this seems to be broken, and I have no other method of transportation."
"You have feet," she said helpfully, pointing at them just to make sure he knew they were there. "Try walking out the door."
Another sharp expletive punctured the air. "I don't live in this century!"
"Sure you don't."She lunged for the phone again, but he snatched it out of the way before she could wrap her fingers around it.
They glared at each other.
Finally, his shoulders slumped. "I'll make you a deal. You help me get out of here, and I'll never bother you again."
Reven considered this and dismissed it. "And how will I know you won't do the same thing to poor Mrs. Johnson next week? Or terrorize some other defenseless college student tomorrow? I don't even know your name!"
"It's Sebastian," he offered absently. "But don't call me that. What's yours?"
She stared at him in bemusement. "This feels like a very bad romantic comedy."
"All of your romantic comedies are still in 2-D. Of course, they're bad. Are you going to tell me your name or not? Because 'hey, girl' just doesn't have the same ring to it, and I need a screwdriver."
"I—" The randomness threw her, but she regrouped quickly. "I don't have any orange juice."
"Not that kind of screwdriver." He tossed her a dirty look.
"Oh, for the love of God," she muttered. "Okay, fine. I'll tell you my name if you promise to leave if we can't get your, uh – remote control – to work."
He eyed her coolly. "It's a time machine, and if you can get it to work, I'll give you the bloody moon."
"Are you British?"
"Not quite. Do we have a deal?"
They contemplated each other for a moment, then Reven nodded decisively. "Fine. I'm Reven, and if I'm not to call you Sebastian, what should I call you?"
"Bastian will do," he said. He held the time machine out like a peace offering. "Take a look?"
She accepted it gingerly. It was slim, sleek, and black. It also had more buttons than a shuttle navigation station. Biting her lower lip, she flipped it over. A 3-D map of her apartment shimmered on the flat surface. No matter which way she rotated it, the image stayed the same. "I thought you said it was a time machine."
Scowling, he took it back from her. "It is."
"Then why is it showing my apartment?"
"Because it's also a map, and I'm in your apartment."
"Oh." She scratched her neck, then snatched it out of his hands again. "What do these do?"
He pointed to the top button. "That one activates and deactivates voice recognition. The one beside it is the 'set' button. Those ones right there allow you to program the day, month, year, hour, minute, second, nanosecond—"
"Nanosecond?" She raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"Yes, a nanosecond is a billionth of a second."
She made a face at him. "I know what a nanosecond is, thank you very much. I was just surprised that it's that accurate. "
He assessed her as if to decide whether she was lying and nodded slowly. "Sometimes I forget how primitive past societies actually are compared to ours."
"You're not winning any points here."
He smirked at her. "Then it's a good thing I wasn't trying." He pointed at the next row of buttons. "That one is supposed to freeze time – I guess it's sort of like a pause button – and that one rewinds. The next one fast forwards. Kind of like the DVD players you see in museums. Do you have those in this century yet?"
She pointed wordlessly into the living room, where the DVD player sat innocuously in her entertainment center. "We also have running water and indoor plumbing."
"Oh, splendid." He seemed to miss the sarcasm.
She sucked in a frustrated breath. "Where is the battery?"
His head snapped up. "The what?"
"The battery?" He stared at her, not comprehending. "The power supply?" she tried again.
He squinted at her. "Are you kidding?"
Indicating the thin slats at the top of the time machine, he said, "It's powered by water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane gases, just like everything else these days. Er, in my time, rather."
"Those are the three main causes of global warming," she stated.
"I think I would know the causes of global warming better than you."
She sneered right back at him. "What are they then?"
He didn't even have the grace to look abashed. "Water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane gases."
"Of course," she said. "What was I thinking?"
The responding expression that crossed over his face was not complimentary.
"Let me see it again, please." She held out a hand. When he reluctantly placed it in her palm, she peered at the slats at the top, tilting it so that the light shone part way into the grooves. A gray, putty-like substance lodged at the bottom. "Is that supposed to be there?"
"What?" He leaned closer so that he could see. "What is it?"
She switched the angle so he had a better view. "I think your power source is clogged. Is that gray stuff supposed to be there?"
"Bloody hell. It is clogged." He took it out of her hand and cursed – or at least that's what it sounded like from the vehemence in his voice. She didn't actually recognize any of the words.
"Are you sure you're not British?" she asked again.
He barely spared her a glance. "Britain doesn't exist. Well, not as a country. It's more like a province."
She blinked. "What about the United States?"
"Also a province. Do you have a toothpick?" When she continued to stare at him, open-mouthed, he said, "A toothpick is this little device—"
"I know what it is!"
"Then stop gaping at me like a gutted fish and go get one!"
Her jaw set, she stalked into the kitchen and yanked open one of the cupboards. Removing a toothpick, she whirled around only to find him a few steps away. He took it out of her grasp with barely a murmured, "thank you." Seconds later, the toothpick was in two pieces in his hands.
More cursing. She took it away from him. "Let me do it before you give yourself a coronary."
With some reluctance, he relinquished control. Ten minutes later, she'd gotten half of the gunk out of the time machine, but it apparently wasn't fast enough for Bastian.
"Stop breathing down my neck."
"Wouldn't have to if you'd hurry up." But he sounded slightly mollified by the fact that she'd gotten anywhere at all.
Thirty-five minutes later, she handed it back to him. "Try it now."
He accepted it and then warily pressed a button, cringing slightly as though he expected it to explode. Less than half a second later, he was on the other side of the room. The grin that stretched across his face lit up his pale blue eyes. "It worked!"
It kind of freaked her out that she hadn't seen him move. He must have used the pause button.
"Good. Now please get out of my house."
The light in his eyes dimmed. "Killjoy." He raked a hand through his already messy hair. "Well, thanks for the help. Don't take this the wrong way, but I hope I never see you again."
"Oh, the feeling is mutual," she answered cheerfully.
He nodded sharply at her, then pressed a series of buttons. Seconds later, he'd disappeared.
Not entirely certain she hadn't just dreamed the last hour's events, Reven went back to her book.
Maybe her fellow grad students were right – too much studying did make you go crazy.
This was supposed to be a one-shot, but it's decided to appear in several short parts instead. It will be done soon and updated frequently until it is -- they just started screaming at me to write, and here I am. DisEn will be along relatively soon, but this insisted on coming first.
M&M - don't forget that you both still owe me.
I hope you all enjoy!