Wherein Brown the ghost visits a ghost town.
[Last time: Brown’s old lab buddy, Ray Carpenter, whisked the time traveler to safety aboard a passenger train.]
Carpenter took me to a nondescript town named Gorlock located somewhere in Nevada’s high desert. It was the kind of place that grew up around a natural spring back in the wagon train days, and from the looks of it died unceremoniously when Ike’s interstate system cut the place off from the motoring world. A sun-bleached dinosaur guarded a Sinclair station that had been closed since 1973, if the pin-up calendar visible through the dirty windows was to be trusted. Main Street was a boarded up block of family shops bearing names like Rosemary’s Diner, Mejia’s Tack and Feed, and Sammy’s Clothing. Gorlock was a place out of time, like me. The difference was that nobody cared.
But it seemed that everyone cared about me. According to Carpenter, my story had gone “viral,” which sounded like a polio outbreak to me. “In a way it is,” Ray told me. “Once something like this goes viral, lives can be destroyed.”
“I don’t see how,” I said.
“These days news travels fast, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s accurate. In fact, the more unbelievable it is, the more likely some people are to believe it.”
He was right. Ray showed me article after article on his pocket computer, each one about me, nearly all of them referring to me as “The Time Traveler.” Of course, they all assumed that I was from the future; after all, if time travel had been invented in the past, why didn’t they know about it?
“We didn’t know that we were successful until I saw you on TV 60 years later,” Ray explained. “That day in the lab, all we knew was that your capsule vanished. The military was sure that we’d atomized you. The government demanded that the program be shut down, and the lab and all documentation be destroyed. Back in the early ’70s when the nut jobs started sniffing around about Area 51, the military went so far as to burn down the National Personnel Records Center to erase all of our military records. The loonies had no idea how close they were to revealing a truth, but they were too goddamned focused on aliens.”
Ray was telling me all of this while we were walking through the abandoned interior of Gorlock Hardware. Stray sunlight glimmered on bins filled with nails, nuts, bolts, and screws. Hand tools still hung from pegboards. An enterprising fellow could take a feather duster to the place, unlock the door, and be open for business if not for the lack of customers.
We continued onward to the cellar. “What about Wainwright?” I asked.
“Pragmatic to the end. As upset as he was that he might have atomized you, Doc knew that if we were that close to breaking the time barrier somebody else must be close behind. The military may have shut down his program and destroyed the evidence, but they couldn’t destroy his mind. He was hellbent on completing his research, so he took the whole thing private. Unfortunately, a heart attack took him before the new lab was even up and running, and most of the secrets of that capsule of yours died with him.”
With that, Carpenter eked out a little smile and opened the door to a broom closet located in the cellar’s far corner. It was like he’d opened the door to Oz. A cavernous underground laboratory stretched beneath all of Gorlock, all bright lights, smooth concrete, and gleaming steel. The din of construction mingled with the murmurs of hundreds of busy voices. In the middle of it all rested a thoroughly modern version of my capsule.
“Welcome to Wainwright Labs,” Ray said. “Sixty years of research and development, and you are our first certified success.