Story: The Traveler

Title: The Traveler
Rating: G
Archive: Eventually at Writingwkbk
Notes: I wrote this in response to a challenge issued on October 3rd by me to a fellow writer. It was supposed to be finished a month ago, but life got in the way. Finally, last night, I had an inspiration in the form of a crazy dream, and here we are.
Oh, and: Hockey, Dr. Who, The Dresden Files, Greek Mythology, and the Periodic Table. I hope this makes for an interesting combination.
Previous Challenge Stories: Sunday Speakeasy by CurlyViking and The Visitor by Lireda

~~~

The Traveler had everything she needed, but she sat at the kitchen table, riffling through the pockets of her old worn duster just to make sure. Chalk, check. Both Derringers, check. A packet of rations, just in case, check. Small bottle of water, also just in case, check. Ball peen hammer, check. Cell phone, check. Finally, once everything was in order, she carefully picked up the little leather pouch and tucked it away in her right front pocket, where it would be easy to both grab and easy to stow away again.

Gathering up the duster, she carried it with her through the little house on Cuthbert Lane, and placed it by the door with the rest of her “equipment,” before turning to head down the little hall that lead to the tiny master bedroom where her husband still slept. In the hazy light of the late-autumn morning, she pulled on her favorite pair of leather traveling pants, and a t-shirt, easily sliding into warm wool socks and her thick leather army boots.

She allowed herself the same moment she always did before traveling: a long, lingering stare at the expanse of her husband’s broad, lean-muscled back as he lay, face first, in their bed, one arm stretched over her vacant spot. Stealthily, she moved through the room, and perched, as delicately as she could, on the edge of the bed, before leaning over, precariously balanced, to place a kiss on an old scar on her husband’s bare shoulder.

“Don’t go,” came her husband’s scruffy, sleep-addled voice. The request didn’t sound like a whimpered plea, but was simply filled with his ever persistent need to see her safely out of harm’s way.

“I have to, Joe,” she said wearily, hating that this old argument was interrupting her sacred ritual.

“I know,” Joe said, as he gently turned to face her, rolling onto his side. The sheet that he had only half-heartedly draped across himself slipped a little, revealing more of his washboard stomach, and the auburn trail that lead to places south. “But I don’t have to like it.”

The Traveler allowed herself a smile, and a moment to lie back down in bed and press her back against his chest. As always, Joe’s arms easily wrapped around her and held her firmly. “It’s an easy one this time,” she assured him.

“No drooling aliens? No flesh eating zombies? No machine gun toting robots?” he asked, placing a whisper of a kiss on the top of her head.

“No aliens. No zombies. But maybe a machine gun toting robot or two,” she half-joked. The dream of poor Joni Potakken had come to her late that morning, in all the vivid detail as all the other dreams. Though Joni had been missing for over a year, the dream had only just come to the Traveler. She knew putting off the mission would mean death for Joni.

Joe made a kind of noise that meant he didn’t appreciate the humor, but gently buried his face against her throat. “You tease me, ma biche,” he mumbled, as he squeezed his arms around her a little tighter.

Josef,” she said quietly, but kept her tone firm. If she wasn’t careful, all his French-Canadian accented words would convince her that she could just stay in bed with him where it was relatively safe. “I have to do this.”

Joe sighed but complied as he released his grip and rolled onto his back. “I know,” he repeated. He kept his eyes on the Traveler as she sat up again, and turned to face him. “Soyez sûr.

The Traveler gave him her best smile and leaned down to kiss him good-bye. “I will. I promise. If you could please make up the guest room before you leave for practice that would be helpful.” She added as she got up and walked back down the hall to the front door. There, she carefully pulled on the duster, buttoning it up to her neck, and her ratty blue fedora. She picked up one of Joe’s old hockey sticks, and her rainbow umbrella. Pausing, she glanced at herself in the mirror and let out a tiny laugh. She would never get used to how silly she looked in these clothes, but they were all necessary.

“Jesus, Athena,” she muttered to herself, sure the goddess could hear her. “You couldn’t bless a trench coat and a pair of Jimmy Choos?” As always, there was no response, and the Traveler had no choice but slip on the little gadget behind her ear, muttering a small thanks to Hephaestus for making it. Pushing the little switch on the gadget, the Traveler watched as the perception filter flickered on and turned the coat, and fedora invisible. Now she simply looked like a girl in leather pants and a t-shirt.

Her neighbors would still look at her funny, but at least she felt slightly less ridiculous.

With Joe’s salary playing in the AHL, they could easily afford something better than the tiny two bedroom cottage in the rundown neighborhood surrounding Cuthbert Lane. There was a garage with an apartment upstairs on the left side, and a house with several cars up on blocks on the right. The house on the other side of the garage/apartment was the worst of all. Not only had the grass not been mowed for at least the past three years, but the abandon-looking abode was home to several foster children who were living there only so the “parents” could collect money from the government. Every night before she went to bed, the Traveler prayed to her patron goddess for a dream to go and rescue those children, but it never came.

The run-down house however was the reason she lived here on Cuthbert Lane, instead of some nice condo closer to the city. And sadly, the owner’s lazy house and yard maintenance habits helped her cause. As she walked around behind her own house, and through the thick weeds behind the garage, she could see the crates and pallets she’d put behind the run-down house to hide the little tear there. The “parents” were having a garage sale, selling off spit-up stained baby clothes their “children” no longer needed, and the crowd in front of the house would distract anyone from venturing behind it.

Pushing the crates aside, the Traveler narrowed her gaze so she could see the tiny little flicker of light in mid-air. From her pocket, she retrieved the leather pouch and untied the thong holding it closed. Reaching inside, she pulled out a handful of the fine, powdery palladium, and tossed it at the little sliver of light. Silently, the little sliver turned into a burst of light barely contained by the shelter of the crates. As the Traveler began to mumble the ancient Greek incantation, flashes of different scenes inside the burst quickly darted across the screen of light until the one she had seen in her dream of Joni Potakken came into view.

Turning off the perception filter, the Traveler held out her arms and looked at the scene before her. Thousands of people sat in stands clustered around an enclosed arena surrounding a shark-infested lake. They all wore brightly colored jerseys and caps representing a hockey team the Traveler had never seen. The boards surrounding the lake of water were made of metal, dented and rusty, and the seats the people sat on were stone grey. Even the faces of the people seemed downtrodden and lowly; the bright colors they wore seemed garish against an otherwise gloomy scene.

The Traveler focused and concentrated, as the fabric of her magic duster and fedora shifted and swirled around her until she was wearing the same jersey and cap as the spectators. Like always, a tiny jab of panic struck the Traveler, and she felt around the jersey until she could be certain her supplies were still within reach. The duster was still there, it only looked different.

The hockey stick and umbrella however didn’t shift, and she took it on faith that they wouldn’t look out of place. Stepping into the light, the Traveler turned and threw another handful of palladium at the opening, forcing it to close behind her, until just a flicker of light could be seen once more. Glancing around, she noticed she was standing inside a doorway leading out onto the concourse, where vendors would normally be selling stale popcorn and warm beer. Instead, there were only guards dressed all in black, holding small automatic weapons that didn’t really look menacing, but the Traveler didn’t make the mistake of assuming they couldn’t kill her. The guards didn’t seem to notice her, however, so she shifted to the side, standing behind a row of seats filled with gloomy spectators.

An all too perky announcer came on the loud speakers then to announce the beginning of the third period. None of the spectators cheered, but the silence was cut-off by a loud electric buzz as lights flashed a laser grid above the water. Images of hockey ice appeared, and solidified before the Traveler’s eyes and she watched in horrified awe as a transport carrying chained human hockey players drove out onto the newly formed ice.

As the prisoners were being unloaded, the announcer’s voice came back on the loud speaker. “All right, ladies and gents! Here’s a reminder of your Prison Hockey Rules! All prisoners who fail to score a goal, prevent a goal, or otherwise fail at their duty to their teammates will be sacrificed. Any injured players, too, will be sacrificed. Any spectator cheering for the Prison team will be sacrificed.” There was a pause again as the now-empty transport drove off of the ice, and the Prisoners shuffled over to their bench. The Traveler noticed there was no coach, no trainer, and no water provided for the Prisoners.

A moment later, the announcer came back onto the loud speaker once more. “All right, ladies and gents! Let’s give it up for the Pellanger Popo!” Another team, dressed in flawless blue and white jerseys, matching the ones the spectators wore, skated of their own freewill onto the ice. The crowd half-heartedly cheered, as the new skaters flew around the boards, throwing pucks and t-shirts up into the stands. No one picked up any of the objects that were tossed. As the Popo made their way to their bench, the Traveler saw how much better they were treated. Several coaches stood behind the bench, with at least a handful of trainers, and water bottles, fresh, clean towels, and even padded seats awaited.

“If this is the future of hockey,” the Traveler muttered, under her breath, “May Hades take me before I see it.” Ignoring the oddness of the spectator’s lackluster reception, the Traveler scanned the Prisoners to see if she could catch a glimpse of Joni Potakken. It didn’t take her long, spotting him slowly skating, half-limping toward the face-off circle. He was already injured, and she knew it was only a matter of time before he was “sacrificed.”

As the game started, the Traveler drew in a steadying breath, and shuffled along the back wall to her destination. In this degraded world, some things still resembled her own. A small glass box clung to the wall near one of the other entrances, and inside was the little red handle that would signal fire. Glancing around to make sure none of the guards were looking, the Traveler opened her rainbow umbrella, and hoisted her hockey stick. With as much force as she could manage, she brought the stick down against the glass box and shattered it. Reaching inside, she quickly pulled down the little red lever, and the fire alarm bells followed immediately.

Panic quickly ensued. Spectators flung themselves up into the isles, attempting to over-take the guards who tried to keep them all at bay. A sprinkler system came down out of the ceiling and immediately began flooding the place with rain-like water. The Popo fled down their tunnel, and the Prisoners scrambled to get back to their bench as the electrical system that made the artificial ice began to fail.

The Traveler flicked her will out at Joni Potakken. She wouldn’t be able to send him a direct thought, but if she could just get his attention, maybe he would understand. It had worked a few times before, with more perceptive rescues. She focused on his sad, terrified eyes, and desperately pushed that little bit of magic out toward him, like a hand reaching out. Finally he looked up at her, and she mouthed the words, “Come to me,” as slowly as she could.

Luckily, Joni Potakken was perceptive. He pushed off with his good leg and skated over the sluggish, quickly disappearing ice toward the boards. He managed to climb over the rough metal, and up a few stone steps before the crowd got in his way. The guards were managing to hold the crowd in, and it wouldn’t do. The Traveler shuffled her way toward the entrance were she’d come, and without looking flung her hockey stick into the crowd. One of the spectators grabbed it quickly, and brought it down hard onto one of the guards’ head. The guard merely staggered backward, but it was enough. With the line broken, the spectators began shoving their way past the guards and out of the building, clearing a path for Joni Potakken.

“Who are you?” Joni demanded in a thick Finnish accent as he made his way up to the Traveler.

“There’s no time for that now, Joni,” she insisted. “Let’s get you home,” she added as she dug out the little leather pouch containing the palladium.

“Home,” Joni said wistfully, glancing back to his teammates and the wretched place he’d been missing to for the last year. “Really?”

“Well, back to the States, at least,” the Traveler responded as she threw a handful of the fine, silvery dust at the flicker of light once more. “We’ll figure Helsinki out later, ok?”

Joni stared in awe as the light grew, revealing the dimness of the crate-made hiding spot in the over-grown backyard on Cuthbert Lane. He had no idea what was going on, but before he could ask, the Traveler was shoving him through the opening. As he fell through, the chaos of the place he’d been faded away behind him. The Traveler followed, and before he could make sense of where he was now, she was throwing more dust at the opening, and it closed as quickly as it had opened.

“Hah!” the Traveler said. “No stragglers this time.”

Joni pushed himself out of the dirt, and dusted off his torn, bloody hockey jersey. “Who are you?” he asked again, dazed and confused.

“My name’s Addi Michaud. I’m the Traveler,” she said, guiding him out of the crate-alley into the weed infested yard. “Long story short, you fell into a rip in space and time and ended up in that horrible place and Athena, goddess of Wisdom and Strength employs me to travel through those rips and save people like you.”

“I… you… Athena?” Joni mumbled, furrowing his thick brow.

“Yeah, you don’t have to understand it right now. You’ll be staying with my husband and I for a few days until the details of how we’re going to get you back home and cover all this up come through. My husband, Joe, is a hockey player, so you’ll feel right at home with us.”

“Joe?” Joni asked, frowning. “Josef Michaud?”

“That’s the guy. Good memory! I don’t know if I’d be remembering my own name after a year in that place.” Reaching up Addi clicked on the perception filter again, and waited until she was once again wearing the t-shirt and leather pants combo. “Oh, here,” she said, digging in her pocket for her cell phone, and holding it out to Joni. “Call your mom. Her number is in there. She’s very worried. Tell her that you’ll explain everything to her later, but that you’re safe and with friends.”

Joni still looked confused, but flipped open the phone and dialed his mother’s phone number. The Traveler waited until Joni began speaking in quiet Finnish before she guided him through the backyard to her house, unlocking the door. It was late now, almost evening, and Joe was in the kitchen cooking up a huge mess of his famous baked ziti. The Traveler watched as Joni stepped past the threshold, closing the phone and breathed in the scent of the delicious food.

“Home,” he said quietly as he handed the phone back to the Traveler. “Thank you,” he added, as tears welled up in his deep brown eyes.

Addi reached up and patted Joni on the back, giving him her best smile. “C’mon. You’ll be wanting a shower, and I’m sure some of Joe’s clothes will fit you. You’re safe now.” She always felt awkward accepting a thanks from one of the rescues. Athena had charged her with this mission, and given her the tools to do so. All of this was Athena’s work, not hers.

And it just wasn’t in her nature to take credit.

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