“Where are we Professor?” Larry asked.
“Exactly where we should be, just take a deep breath,” the Professor responded.
“It smells like tobacco,”
“Correct, we are in one of the famous Tampa cigar factories. Judging by the sound of the steam powered machines, I would say the program put us at the time-period we were looking for. However, I will double check that.”
The Professor reached in his side pouch, pulled out a small square box and opened it. Inside was a complex set of dials, gauges, and a mini computer screen.
“This can’t be right; the transport station has never been this far off.”
The Professor put the lid back on the box. shook it a few times, then opened it again.
“What’s wrong, Professor?”
“Well, on hundreds of missions the program has always been exactly right, and there have been a few that have slightly missed the mark. However, that is steam powered equipment I am hearing so we should be in the early 1900’s,” the Professor explained.
“Right, so?” Larry asked.
The Professor showed him what was on the screen in the box.
“2018? How is that possible?” Larry asked.
“I don’t know, but it appears the damage is far worse than we first thought. It appears we have gotten here none too soon,”
The Professor began to look around the room trying to find any clues as to why the program could have been more than a hundred years off; or more importantly, how steam power was still being used.
The Professor and Larry had been sent by the TimeLine Authority and were official TimeLine Agents. The TimeLine Authority, sent the two of them to investigate an increase of time variance signals from this location and from what was supposed to be the early 1900’s.
This agency had been established to, as its name implied, keep the worlds time line in balance and thus history and the future intact.
“All the suspect signals we were receiving seemed to be originating from this cigar factory,” the Professor stated as he continued to take scans.
The Professor being a well-seasoned TimeLine Agent had been on many missions where the time line had been altered, but these circumstances had him concerned. Senior Agent, Bernard Kingsley had earned the title “Professor,” because of his uncanny ability to figure out cases, without having many clues.
The Professor took out another piece of equipment to double check a few things. He walked over to where there were stacks of crates. They were all fastened with galvanized screws.
“Well, they didn’t use these back then,” he mumbled.
“Professor, would you look at this,” Larry called to him.
The Professor walked over, and Larry showed him a newspaper from the desk. The date on the paper was Monday, February 5th, 2018. The headline read,
“Famous Cigar factory celebrates one hundred and sixteenth-year anniversary with record sales.”
“Agent Turnbuckle, my friend, it appears we might be in the right place and the right time after all,” the Professor said with a smile and a wink.
Larry had no idea what the Professor was talking about, but he had come to learn that when the Professor had that kind of smile on his face he was on the trail of an adventure.
Larry, only a two-year full-fledged agent, had shown enough promise, that the Professor had asked the director to allow him to come on this assignment, despite it being above his assignment grade.
“Okay, let us review our story. I own a chain of hotels and restaurants in Canada. I am interested in featuring their cigars in my establishments. I am going to request a tour of their factory. During that tour, let us see if we can learn how this industry stayed in business.” the Professor instructed.
“I don’t understand,” Larry admitted.
“It is quite simple, for many different reasons the cigar industry all but went away from this town in the late 1900’s. It had been in a terrible state of decline. The fact that steam power is being used would seem to indicate that perhaps those later years never arrived. If this factory never lost momentum in sales or production, it is safe to say that someone or something has been able to put time on hold,” the Professor said with raised eyebrows.
Larry just stared at him.
“Professor, why would someone want to manipulate time, just to keep a cigar factory in business?”
“That cannot be the only reason. Come on agent, we have a mystery to solve.” the Professor said, as he grabbed Larry by the shirt sleeve.
They managed to make it out of the factory through a back door, without being seen. They came up through an old alleyway and onto the main street. The street was busy with activity, both cars and pedestrians. Tall factory buildings dotted the landscape, and the smell of Latin food was in the air.
Fourteenth Street, which ran in front of the factory, had a constant flow of traffic. There was something odd about the cars, not only were they more modern looking than what they should have been for that era, they were all powered by steam. Not the bulky boiler type, but a sleek modern design.
The Professor was dumbfounded. The two of them now started paying closer attention to the buildings as they went by.
“All these store fronts seem to be of the right design and material for this era, but those cars, are nothing like I have ever seen before,” the Professor mumbled.
It was Larry that noticed it first. On the glass door of each of the store fronts was a bright white sticker, on which the words were printed, ‘Living Better by Steam’, and on the bottom corner was the logo of a Baldwin Steam Locomotive.
“Professor, look at this!”
Larry pointed out the sign.
The Professor shook his head in disbelief. As he was looking closer at the stickers; he noticed in the reflection of the glass a car parked on the street in front of the shop. Turning around, he walked over to get a better look at it.
It was a beautiful shiny black sedan. On the outside of the engine compartment was an insignia, it was a big locomotive and a capital B with a circle around it.
“Fascinating,” the Professor mumbled.
He had just started to reach in his pocket to take a scan of the car when he heard,
“Is there a problem, sir?” came a deep voice from behind them.
They both turned around to see a large policeman, staring at them, beating his Billy club in his hand.
“No officer, I was merely getting a closer look at this intriguing insignia,” the Professor answered cheerfully.
“Oh really? Do you expect me to believe that you have never seen the insignia for the Baldwin Special before?” I walk this beat daily, and I have not seen anyone simply admiring a Baldwin insignia,” the officer said patting his Billy Club a little harder in his hands a few times.
“Honestly, not up close. You see we just came down from Canada, and…”
“Well, that explains a lot, you ole boys up there still have the older Baldwin Sidewinders, don’t you? The officer asked in a more relaxed tone.
“Right you are officer, still using the old Sidewinders, don’t have the specials yet,” The Professor replied with a nervous laugh.
“Since you boys are visitors here to Tampa, let me give you a bit of advice. You don’t go a staring at a southerner's car, you don’t go near the boat docks at night, and don’t you dare go bragging about your hockey teams.”
“Very good, yes, thank you so much for the tips,” the Professor said politely with the tip of his hat.
The officer tipped his cap in return and strolled off mumbling about tourists.
“This is going to be an interesting day,” Larry said.
“It sure is. As messed up as the timeline is right now, I am sure it will get more interesting as the day goes on. Come on, we aren’t going to find any more clues out here.”
The Professor took the lead in going up to and in the front doors of the cigar factory. They were greeted by a steam powered automaton.
“Good Day gentlemen, how may I be of assistance to you?” he asked politely.
It took the Professor a moment to recover. In the Professor's time there were plenty of AI’s in use, but there was no record of sophisticated automatons, especially steam-powered ones in the 1900’s.
It took a few moments to respond. The Professor discreetly took a few scans of the automaton. Several things about him fascinated the Professor. Besides no record of any kind of automatons in this period, this one was the most human looking one he had ever seen.
The Professor cleared his throat,
“My name is Professor Bernard Kingsley. And this is my aide Mr. Larry Turnbuckle. We are visiting here from Canada. I am the proprietor of several properties, and I wish to speak to the owner of this fine establishment,” the Professor said quite professionally, or so he thought.
“I am sorry sir, but Mr. Newman is out of town, and even if he was in town,”
The automaton’s explanation was interrupted by a voice from one of the offices.
“Henry, you don’t have to be quite so factual all the time.”
A young man came out wearing brown pants, a white dress shirt, brown suspenders, and a brown bow tie.
“I am sorry gentlemen; Henry is still new here and doesn’t quite have the southern hospitality down yet. That will be all Henry, I will see to our guests needs.”
The young man dismissed the automaton and continued the conversation with the Professor and Larry.
“Now gentlemen, let me see if I heard this correctly. You are Professor Bernard Kingsley, and this is Mr. Larry Turnbuckle, was that correct?
“Yes, it is, but sir, who are you?” the Professor asked.
“Oh, how rude of me, I am Edward Newman III. My father owns this factory and six other smaller ones. He is away on business in Cuba right now, so he is unavailable. Now, did I hear right that you are a property owner in Canada?” Mr. Newman asked.
“That is correct, I am the sole proprietor of the Empress Hotel, the Hotel Vancouver, and the Fairmont Railway Hotels. I am always striving to give my guests the absolute best,” the Professor stated proudly.
“As you probably already know Professor, when it comes to cigars, our brands are world famous.”
“Yes, Mr. Newman, we have heard a lot about your products. We have traveled south to see where this product is manufactured, the quality controls that are in place, and to see if we can work out a deal. If we are satisfied, we will exclusively offer these cigars to our guests,” the Professor explained.
The young man thought about this for a moment.
“Professor, if you and your aide would like to return tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, I would be happy to personally take you on a guided tour of our factory,” Mr. Newman offered.
“Mr. Newman that is acceptable, we will return at eight. In the meantime, could you recommend an eating establishment for our evening meal?” the Professor asked.
“Gentlemen, as Tampa is known for its cigars, Ybor City, our Latin quarters, is famous for its food. You must visit the Columbia,” Mr. Newman recommended.
The Professor thanked him, and he and Larry left the factory.
“What do you think?” The Professor asked Larry.
“Well, he seemed sincere, he did not appear nervous, and he did offer us a tour,” Larry responded.
“Good observations, but remember time criminals are smooth operators, especially those who have been at it for a while. Be sure not to let your guard down.”
As they strolled along the street, the Professor took indiscriminate scans of certain objects, making notes on how the streetlights and traffic lights had small self-contained steam generators. All the trolleys were steam powered as well as the airships that filled the sky above them.
As they turned onto the street that the restaurant was located, there was a mixture of pedestrian traffic and more steam-powered automatons. All the automatons were just as; if not more sophisticated than the one they met at the tobacco factory. The Professor again directed several scans directly at the automatons.
They walked a few blocks and entered the restaurant. They were greeted by yet another automaton and directed by him to their table.
“Professor, how are we going to find who is behind all this by eating in here?” Larry asked in an impatient tone.
“One thing you must learn Agent Turnbuckle, is that those who disrupt the order of things, to this degree anyway, seldom stay hidden away. I do not believe the young man at the cigar factory is the main one involved either. That is not to say that he is completely innocent.” The Professor paused as the waiter took their order.
“We know that more than likely the source of that disruption is hidden away in the cigar factory, but the one behind it will be well known, and more than likely well loved, by the whole town. So, keep your eyes open and enjoy your meal,” The Professor said with a grin.