Agatha tightened one last bolt on the metal cacophony before her, before sitting back and wiping one oily wrist across her brow to remove the accumulated sweat. She squinted as the sour solution dripped into her vision, then removed her gloves and goggles to rub her eyes properly. As her vision cleared, Agatha stood up and placed her hands on her hips, admiring the machine before her.
“Finally...” it was a gentle whisper. A whisper that had behind it days and weeks and months worth of toil and trial. Agatha peered down, flipping a single switch on, before standing back up again.
From the machine began a deep, soft hum, and a gentle vibration began to shake it. The noise and vibrations increased in power, prompting Agatha to take several steps back, better allowing the machine in its entirety to enter her full view. The most notable aspect of the creation was the seat, like a recliner, in the middle of it all. Surrounding it were little constructions and panels of metal and glass, forming a half-eggshell shape about which the seat was nestled. Upon these panels were buttons and levers poking and prodding inward, most of which currently in what appeared to be an “off” position. The outside of this shell was mostly a collection of wires running around it, all emanating from a massive hulking obelisk of titanium affixed to the back of the outer eggshell nest. This component, which managed to nearly touch the ceiling of the garage, was the source of the hum, and several status lights dotted its edges.
“I can't believe it...” Agatha was aghast, her own knees weak. “After so long... I--”
A set of footsteps ever so slightly lifted Agatha out of her revelry. She turned and smiled as Demi arrived, carrying a paper plate of chips atop a textbook. Once Demi laid eyes upon the machine, her black lips parted, and she dropped the plate and books to the ground as she began to run in Agatha's direction, accidentally stomping several of the discarded snacks as she took great care to avoid getting her leather jacket caught on any of the discarded tools and stacks of building material that peppered Agatha's basement.
Demi's goth aesthetic was undeniable. Her bouncy, curly hair was arranged about her head like a silky bird's nest, with care and precision. Several decorations and clips sporting occult emblems and mythological symbols adorned the ornate 'fro. A strand of this hair fell down between her eyes that was perfectly white, though Demi insisted to anyone who asked that this strand in particular was a birthmark. Nevertheless, it brought about a striking contrast against Demi's own skin of deep umber, accentuated by a dab of pink blush on both cheeks, a touch of purple eyeliner, and lipstick that was the color of the night. Her clothing was similarly moody and atmospheric. Though typically one to wear more extravagant attire, Demi deigned to don merely her black leather jacket when working at Agatha's if only to avoid potential catastrophe of ruining her more flouncy garments on the sharp edges. Beneath this was a black tank top blanketing a fairly endowed chest, above which laid a silver pendant with the Aquarius symbol emblazoned upon it. A Lolita-styled tutu and fishnet thigh-highs were the icing on this outfit, and her black boots and frilly lace gloves were the cherries on top and bottom, displaying to all that gazed upon her a generally filled-out, demure young woman with a taste for the macabre.
The differences between Demi and Agatha became more apparent as the two approached each other in their triumph. Agatha was all business, abandoning any pretense of fashion in favor of a pair of denim overall shorts overlaid atop a faded white hand-me-down t-shirt, the top slice of the “Hooters” logo just barely peaking above the brim. A utility belt was wrapped around her waist, finally complete as Agatha placed the wrench back into its proper spot. Her hair was dirty blond in most senses of the words, a storm of strands that lacked the shape-up and care of her contemporaries, and a pair of goggles outlined her forehead. Agatha too wore boots and gloves, though they were less attuned for style, and more attuned for, say, shoveling animal refuse for an afternoon if need be. The only hint Agatha gave that an onlooker was not staring at the newest farmhand, was dingy white lab coat she wore above everything else, imbued within it the history of a thousand sleepless nights tinkering and toiling at all different manner of experiments.
Demi approached Agatha and the pair embraced, Demi careful not to smudge any of her makeup on her companion. “So you mean we...” began Demi, her own voice breathy and artificially distant.
They let go and Agatha pumped a fist. “Hell, yeah. First place science fair is as good as ours!”
“Shut, up,” said Demi, allowing the mask of detachedness to slip as a bright smile came to her own face. “This is incredible!” screamed Demi, finally examining the machine first-hand. While she had definitely done her fair share of tightening, screwing, and drilling, she would be the first to admit that Agatha was most of the brains behind this project, even if Demi's family supplied the sometimes hard-to-get materials necessary, such as depleted plutonium.
The machine hummed louder and louder as the pair admired their triumph.
“So... you wanna test it first?” Agatha asked, gesturing to the open seat.
“M-me? It's basically your baby. Why would I test it first? Besides...” Demi looked down at her clothing. “I mean... look at me. I don't think I'll be well-received in the 16th century looking like this. For a few reasons.”
Agatha laughed and grabbed Demi's shoulder. “And you really think I'd be any better? They'd probably string me up and throw me in a mental institution for wearing men's clothes.” Then Agatha adopted a serious expression. “In that case... let's go together.”
Demi raised her eyebrows. “Together? There's only one seat.”
Agatha waved it away. “It's one of those old recliners from the 80's. It's definitely big enough to hold the both of us. Plus...” Agatha paused. “I would never want to explore the secrets in the vastness of time without my best friend by my side.”
Demi blushed as Agatha took her hand, beaming at her. “C'mon!” Agatha clambered her leg over the outer border of the machine, taking Demi by surprise as she attempted to follow. Squeezing in tight next to Agatha, Demi could only remain still as Agatha tinkered with the many buttons and levers on the console, her tongue stuck out in focus as she said to herself, “Hmm... five... minutes oughta do.”
A screen popped up on the front console, and the characters “5 M” shone through.
“There we go! Let's get comfy!” said Agatha, pulling the single seat belt over herself and reaching across Demi's lap, followed by the click. The panels began to shift, an extra mechanical whir causing them to transform and unfurl, creating a thin top layer to complete the egg shape.
Demi's heart palpitated as she and Agatha were now stuffed impossibly close together, about to embark upon possibly the first journey of this type in the history of mankind. “Uhh... I uhh...”
“If you have any doubts, speak now or forever hold your peace!” shouted out Agatha, followed by a laugh. Demi could only stare back at her, a look of indeterminate fear on her face as she gulped and leaned her head back, smushing her hair against the old decaying leather of the seat. The machine shook and rumbled, the expertly tightened building material having no hope of ever budging at all.
Then, Demi was struck by a horrible thought.
“Wait!” she yelled out, prompting Agatha to turn to her.
“What is it?”
“Was 'M' supposed to stand for 'Minutes' or 'Millennia'?”
Even with their faces inches away from each other, the disappointment present in every part of Agatha's expression was easy to identify. “Demi,” she began. “Please tell me you didn't calibrate the 'M' for 'Millennia'.”
Demi could only shrug as the fear forced a halfhearted reply from her into the air, “Well, is it really an adventure if a few things don't go wrong?”
Agatha hadn't the time to respond, as one final lurch of the machine marked the beginning of their odyssey, punctuated by a burning but not-unbearable heat, a freezing but only nigh-debilitating cold, a slew of conflicting physical sensations and desires, and a brilliant bright light greeting them in the midst of an encroaching and all-encompassing darkness.
The only thing left in the spot that once occupied it was a smell of burnt rubber. The time machine was gone.
The community was in a generally pleasant mood. A comfortable wind, a portent of the coming winter, wafted through the clearing. Bearded men garbed in mammoth pelts returned with their fresh kills – some deer, some rabbit, and some bison, which required a crew of two or more to transport safely – while the women bundled up the leftovers with carefully-wound bundles of straw. Nearby, several children were experimenting with one of the extra slings, competing to see how far they could get the rocks to proceed. The foliage bent to these early settlers as they continued to prepare for the nomadic journey that would await them.
A chill descended. Static was in the air. Several of the men stopped in their tasks, looking up. Outwardly, all seemed well... but the seasoned hunters and gatherers knew when things were amiss. It was a necessity to survive in such a primal era. They gripped spears. A sensation, an electrical, alien one, made their hair stand on end. This was not normal.
A crack tore open the sky just over the nearest ridge. The trees closest to this rift were ripped from their roots, flying into the ornate portal that ruptured the spacetime continuum in a seam that could span the Mississippi River. People saw, pointed, shrieked, and ran in a daze as the gale swirled, carrying away several of the less fortunate tribesmen and women into the portal as they were no longer bound by the planet's gravity. Those that remained hugged rocks, trees, or the grass itself, covering their heads, unable to comprehend what was happening as some giant black, stone-like... thing ejected itself from the portal, a massive contraption, descending to the Earth with a fiery halo surrounding it as it compressed the air that it encountered. Crying was rampant, and birds tried in vain to fly away before their light bodies succumbed to the maelstrom.
The object made contact, sending a shock-wave through the land that drove those still struggling in maintaining balance to their knees. The portal closed with a CRACK, and hot steam emanated from the oddly egg-like structure that reached hundreds and hundreds of feet into the air, utterly outshining the tallest coniferous plant that made this valley its home. The winds settled, the screams gradually decreased in volume and frequency, and the remaining nomads adopted personas primarily of curiosity, with abject terror a close second as they looked up at the mysterious device.
The burning sound of the capsule opening caused many of the settlers to cover their ears, crouching and lowering their profile. Some didn't crouch, and instead continued to stare. Those individuals would see as the compartment fully distended, and two... incredibly odd human beings were revealed. Scaled to the size of whatever it was that had transported them, they had to be at least three hundred feet tall. While this tribe had not standardized units of measurement, they needed none to understand that this was not something that humans typically were able to do. Beyond that, their hair and clothes was far more complex and mystifying than any of the nomads had ever witnessed in their times on this Earth.
“Ahhhhhhh... Damn, I was getting cramped in there!” yelled out the one of pale skin, in a gutteral, alien dialect that caused those hiding among the trees with weaker constitutions to dig their heads even further in the sand. But still there remained those that continued to peer, to look, to gaze.
“Now,” the same white woman said, “We should be in the same place we were before, just... long ago.” She stepped out of the time machine, her knees and shins rubbing through and flattening the pines before her. The woman glanced down before putting a hand above her eyes and staring out over the horizon. “Hm... weird... Not seeing much. A lot can change in five millennia huh. Demi, you see anything? Demi?”
The giant woman turned around to see her companion, garbed in the oddest of black clothes, hobbling out of the time machine, clutching her stomach. This other one shook her head even as the universal human feeling of nausea washed over her. She swallowed her bile down, then in her doubled-over posture took a good look at the ground beneath her feet. Her eyes widened, and the dark-skinned woman reached down to pull a cluster of trees from their roots with ease.
“Aggie... l-look,” she said, gaining the attention of her companion and planting the uprooted trees in her hands. The fair-skinned giant looked down at them, and her eyes widened as well. She applied a pair of odd spectacles from her forehead to her eyes.
“That... can't be right. These can't be trees.” The woman scanned the ground, and her partner walked up beside her, carving vast footprints into the ground with each descent of her black boots. “Because if these were trees, that would mean...”
They squatted down and peered, their big wide eyes finally locking with the beings on the ground below. There, beneath them, some hiding, some praying, some simply staring, were the remains of the tribe. No matter who gazed back up at them, the looks on their faces were of nothing but incomprehensible fear. Fear of something impossible. Something that didn't exist. Something that flew in the face of everything these early humans were meant to know about the world.
And the both of these giant women screamed. A scream that absolutely ruptured eardrums and could be heard for miles upon miles upon miles in each and every direction. The pair got up and took great care to tip-toe as well as they could around any remnants of the human settlement before embarking back into the mysterious egg-like contraption with a metal rock on the back.
“Take us back, take us back, take us back!”
“I'm trying, give me a second!”
The machine sealed itself once again, locking their visitors inside as another portal opened up in the sky. Knowing what this meant, the remaining natives dove to the strongest trees and rocks they could reach, and held on for dear life as most everything unbound was pulled into the cyclone of wind and electricity. A burning heat fell upon everything...
And it was gone.
The massive construction was gone.
As Agatha clambered out of the machine, all she could think of was how grateful she was to her past self for installing a “Back” button. The garage was exactly the same as when they left it, and Demi could safely say she had never ever been happier to lay her eyes on the dusty workshop her friend spent so much time in.
“UGH!” sighed out Demi as she followed her friend to the solid ground of the familiar timeline. “What in the ever-loving fuck just fucking happened?!”
“I-I-I don't know!” shouted Agatha, turning the machine off. Its ever-present whirring allowed the pair to converse in relative silence. “I... maybe I miscalculated! Forgot to carry a seven, o-o-or the coordinates were off--”
“Coordinates?! Agatha, we were the size of god-damned skyscrapers! How the shit is that supposed to work?” said Demi, stomping her foot and crushing the still floor-bound chips.
“Maybe...” Agatha's face twisted, and she adopted a neutral expression. “I know what happened.”
Demi raised an eyebrow.
“It's the radiation. When we went to the past, the radiation combined with the massive energy output made our atoms expand outwards at greater speeds than usual... A minor bug. We can knock this out in no... time,” said Agatha, looking over Demi's shoulder as she smiled nervously.
Demi eyed her friend. She knew exactly what Agatha was thinking, and how unsure she was at truly being able to knock this out before the science fair at least.
“Right,” said Demi, turning around and finding herself slamming face-first into Ms. Jones.
“O-oh! I'm sorry!” she said, looking slightly up at the glaring woman upon whom Demi just smeared what was left of her makeup.
“Now, I know you and my daughter are... 'friends', but I will not be having you teach her such... awful swears,” she said, reaching down to pick up the dropped book. “Or leaving your trash on the floor like this. I told you to deliver the food down here, not throw it on the ground!”
Demi took the book as Agatha stepped forward, throwing on her most apologetic face, “S-sorry, Mom! I'll try to wrangle her in a bit better!” Agatha suffered a sinister glare from Demi, but tried her best to ignore it. “Anyway, I'll pick up the chips.”
“You better. Just be glad I tried to keep the bookmark. Now, I think you'd best finish your work and leave. It's getting rather late,” finished Ms. Jones as she ascended the basement stairway.
Ironically, had Ms. Jones not arrived, the tension would've still been thick enough to cut with an obsidian-edged blade. Her departure allowed Demi to take her first good, deep breath in what felt like hours, even though it had only been a few minutes.
Agatha grabbed a broom and dustpan and began to sweep up. “She's right, you should go. Don't worry, we can talk about this tomorrow. Just... get some sleep.”
Demi nodded. She struggled to hold the textbook and zip up her jacket, but she managed. Tossing a wave at her friend – which was fortunately reciprocated – Demi stepped up the staircase and exited the basement garage.
Finding herself in the living room, Demi was struck by how quiet it was. How quiet all of it was. The incident. It was, logically, she knew, quiet. To her at least. And probably to Agatha.
She didn't know what made her do it. But Demi decided to take a quick glance at the page that Ms. Jones had so lovingly saved for her as she picked up the history textbook.
The book fell to the floor once again.
Demi fell backwards, only saved from falling by the placement of a particularly hefty bookshelf.
“What was that?” called out Agatha.
“N-n-nothing! I'll tell you later! See you at school!” Demi's voice was uncharacteristically quivering. She collected the books and left outside, trying to remove what she read from her mind. She tried as she stepped off Agatha's porch. She tried as she sped down the chilly street. And she attempted even as she reached her own house, stepping inside, and walking upstairs to her bed.
But try as she might, what she saw could not be excised. It had not been imagined, and the chances of it having been misunderstood were negligible.
There in the book, like the works deep beneath the catacombs of Cantabria before them, was a cave painting. An anthropological artifact to be sure, meant to give readers of this local history textbook an idea of the indigenous tribes' animistic beliefs. But Demi need not be an archaeologist to decipher what the image of two colossal figures, one light and one dark, compared to dozens and dozens of smaller humans bowing at their feet, represented.
And still, that wasn't the worst part.
The worst part was that, deep down inside, that painting...
Demi liked it.