W8 The Future Shock - Part Two - The Trials of Maggie Hark

August, 2004

I went about leading a fairly uneventful life (in regards to time travel, that is) for the time being. August rolled around, a year from the first encounter, and one morning I woke up to a message on the internet from none other than Zane Figiam. It cryptically foreshadowed an event that would require me to make a “small sacrifice of time” by traveling to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He wrote that the “portal” was closing and that I would be required to travel alone by the end of August.

Future Scholarship of the Future

Completely ignoring everything my parents taught me about talking to strangers, I checked into dates and let Zane know that I'd be able to come. The next Monday I discovered a manila envelope in front of the mail slot as I was heading out for work. To my surprise, it held not only a signed letter, a certificate of some sort, and photograph of me, but a round trip plane ticket to Minneapolis as well. Now, I am not one to turn down the offer of a zany adventure. In the coming days I got everything in order, took Friday off early, and flew to Minneapolis.

As I stepped out of the gate, I looked around for a sign or clue. Nothing was obvious until I reached the baggage claim, where I spotted a man holding a large sign that read “VELOCITY GNOME”. He was perhaps only a few years older than myself, wearing a large green sweater and a John Deere hat, neither of which looked to be from the future. “Gnome?” he asked as I came up to him, and I replied simply, “Yes.” I asked him his name as we shook hands. “You may call me.. the Gatekeeper,” he said. “Gnome, we are not safe here. We must leave immediately.” He clasped his hands in front of him in a very unnatural way, and held them there as we traveled through the airport.

We made small talk about the future until arriving at the garage. The Gatekeeper led me to a very run-down Lincoln Towncar. He held open the door for me, and I climbed in the backseat. The interior was nearly falling apart. Junk was everywhere; a MC hammer tape laying at my feet, empty Red Bull cans on the seat, a Dungeons and Dragons sticker affixed to the back window. The Gatekeeper clicked on a portable tape recorder that was wedged in between the front seats, and said, “They are evaluating us.” I attempted to ask him questions about my upcoming quest during the drive, but he was quite evasive on that topic. I gave up for the time being, and just enjoyed the ride.

A Crossword Puzzle

About ten minutes into our trip, he began to rummage through junk on the passenger seat. He produced an envelope and handed it to me without taking his eyes off the road. I ripped the top with my thumb, and unfolded the paper within. It was entirely blank on both sides. Confused by this, I suddenly recalled that Zane had asked me to bring a blacklight. I fished through my backpack, pulled out the light, and shined it on the paper. “Gnome,” it read. “Give this password to your driver: EARTHSLIDE. –Zane.”

I looked up at my driver and spoke, “Earthslide.” His eyes flashed at me in the rear view mirror, then he silently opened his glove box and retrieved a second, thicker envelope. “Do not open this until you are inside the hotel. You have done well, My Gnome.” Ten minutes later, we arrived at a Hampton Inn. “Punctuality is your friend,” the Gatekeeper said. “Meet me at this exact place at 9:45 tomorrow morning, after signing out.” I agreed and moved to shake his hand. Instead of returning the shake, he clasped my hand and bowed.

I opened the envelope immediately once arriving at my room. It contained two papers: a hint sheet, and a crossword with cipher. With the help of friends on the internet, I was able to complete the puzzle in several hours. The result was a password of “001425”, which I was to speak to my driver the next day. He would then, supposedly, bring me to Zane and his associates.

A Crossword Puzzle

The next morning was cheerful and sunny. I washed up, and checked out. The trusty Towncar pulled around the corner as I exited the hotel. The Gatekeeper stepped out, wearing a chauffeur's hat. “Did you have a good night's stay?” he asked. We left the hotel, and after relaying the password to the Gatekeeper, took the scenic route through downtown Minneapolis to our destination. “You will meet Zane there,” he said. “As well as Shags, your right-hand man. Take this recorder as well, and record your conversation. I will wait for your return.”

I left the car, and headed to the restaurant while looking around for any sign of Zane. I told the hostess that I was there to meet a party under the name “Zane”. She led me outside to where a kid my age was sitting alone at a table. “Zane?” we both asked each other at the same time. “No.. what? Zane told me to meet him here,” I said. “Who are you?”

“Shags, but my real name is Tyler. Zane told me to meet him here. Are you Velocity Gnome?”

“Yeah. My real name is Kolin. So Zane is meeting us here? Are you with them?”
“No.. are you?”

“No. What the hell? What is going on?”

We sat back down and proceeded to go over what had led up to us meeting at the restaurant. Tyler said that he lived five hours away from Minneapolis, in Clearwater. Zane had contacted him a week earlier, and he took the bus there, on a similar quest to mine. The only thing we seemed to have in common was both being members of the Something Awful forums on the internet, but that led to no more clues.

After we had went over our stories, it was near 10:45, and Zane hadn't shown up. Halfway through our meal, though, the waitress came to our table and presented us with an envelope. “GNOME AND SHAGS #1” was written on the front. I opened it, and held it between us to read. The letter explained that we were to solve several puzzles that day. We would have to work together, and eventually reach a “treasure from the future”. The first hint was that we would have to face a robot, with a clue hidden in its clothing.

Finishing the letter, we were a bit more confused than before. “Why do I have to be the right-hand man?” Tyler joked. I was just glad to have company along on my adventure.

Future Scholarship of the Future

After breakfast, we headed back towards the car. The Gatekeeper recognized my new companion immediately. “Shags!” he cried. “I am glad you were able to make it!” “Uh.. Yeah.. heh,” Tyler replied, less than enthusiastic. He didn't seem to want to play along, like I had been. Once inside the car, the Gatekeeper gave us gifts. To me, he handed a small memo book and a pen. He gave Tyler a small video camera, and two tapes. After looking these over, I told the Gatekeeper, “Take us to the first trial.”

“Yes, my Gnome.” He said gently, and pulled out of the parking lot.

Tyler was fiddling with his camera, and took some footage of the Gatekeeper and myself. “You look different than you do in the future,” the Gatekeeper said to Shags. We spent the rest of the ride looking at the scenery, and glancing at each other, wondering where we were headed.

As it turns out, the destination was a Chuck E. Cheese's in a mall. The Gatekeeper dropped us off, let us know that he'd be waiting on our return, and drove away. I turned to Tyler, and proposed the idea of doing small “introductions” on video for record, before going to find the first clue. He agreed. Tyler held up the camera, and I gave a brief introduction, and synopsis of what had led us to where we were. Afterwards, I did the same for him, from his perspective. Now satisfied, we continued into the Chuck E. Cheese.

Future Scholarship of the Future

We immediately got to work, scouring the building for robots. The most obvious was the variety of games, but the only one shaped like a robot not only didn't have clothes, but he also did not have the clue. We made our way to the back of the restaurant area, eventually, and found what we were looking for behind a curtain. Chuck E. Cheese is famous for its terrifying animatronic dancing characters, and sure enough, an envelope was sticking out of one of their pockets. “Let's go open this outside,” I told Tyler. He recorded as I pulled several papers out of the envelope. The note, which I read aloud for the camera, was accompanied by a magic eye puzzle and graphic calculator instructions.

The Gatekeeper, as promised, arrived as we finished reading the clue. “Good work, Gnome and Shags!” he said, opening the door for us. Tyler immediately got to work inputting the program into his calculator, while I tried to make out the magic eye picture. When executed, the program drew an apple with seeds, and a cake. After a bit of anagramming and puzzling, we figured out that this meant the next clue was at Cedar Lake, which we asked the Gatekeeper to take us to. As we headed towards our next destination, I was able to see an abstract figure with “SCULPTURE” written under it in the magic eye drawing. We saw the very same sculpture after a few more minutes of driving, and yelled “Stop!” as we were about to pass it.

Future Scholarship of the Future

Tyler and I ran over to the dragon-like sculpture. Nothing interesting was visible on the outside, but as soon as we ducked under it, we spotted a second envelope stuck to the underside. I pulled it off, opened it, and dug out the contents. Besides the usual note, a “Pirate Treasure Map” was also included. It detailed a maze-like trail with a big red X at the end. Coordinates were written at the bottom, to give to the Gatekeeper. “X: Awesome. Y: Square root of 9 times robot. Z: Ultra 64”. Amused, I handed the paper to the Gatekeeper as we stepped back into the car. Without a word, he started the engine, and we pulled away from the lake towards our final destination.

After the longest drive yet on our adventure that day, we pulled into a State Park in St. Paul. The Gatekeeper asked “Will you be needing a shovel?” as I exited the car. I said yes, because really, who doesn't need a shovel sometimes? We turned on the camera and walked towards the only discernable entrance to the forest ahead. Some picnickers looked at us strangely as we passed, since two guys with a shovel heading into a forest isn't exactly a normal sight. We smirked, and continued down the path.

Future Scholarship of the Future

It stayed true to the map, and we eventually arrived at our destination: the big red X between two trees. Tyler put down the camera to scope out the area as I prepared to dig. I stepped down hard on the shovel, and it hit something hard. “It's here!” I yelled. I unearthed a large black metal locked box. Inspecting it closer, I realized that there was no key. “How the hell are we even going to open this?” I asked.

I looked up to find Tyler pointing a phaser at me.

“You've gone far enough, Gnome.”

“WHAT!?” I yelled back, confused and amazed.

“That's right. Shags is dead. I killed him and took his place. You're just Zane's little errand boy. I'm Maggie Hark! I won't let you succeed.”

“You’ve gone far
enough, Gnome.”

“You can't do this! You won't win!” I dramatized, trying to figure out what to do.

“I will take THIS,” Maggie said, grabbing the locked box. “You will not live to see tomorrow. However, in accordance with future code, you get a saving throw…”

He pulled out a twenty sided die, raised it above his head for a moment, then threw it along the ground towards me. The camera still rested next to his feet, recording everything. I picked up the die, and asked him “…What is the saving throw versus?”

“Versus phasers,” he answered.

I rolled the die around in my fingers, then tossed it towards him. He bent down to grab it, keeping the phaser pointed at me. “AAARGGH!” he screamed, looking at the die. “You live this time, but this isn't the end!” Maggie dropped the locked box, but grabbed the video camera. He let out a laugh, and ran away down the path. I stood there for a bit, alone in the woods in Minnesota, more confused than I had ever been in my life.

After collecting myself, I picked up the box and shovel, and returned to the parking lot. Maggie was nowhere in sight, however the towncar was right where it should be, with the Gatekeeper standing tall beside it. He cordially opened the door as I drew near, and as I ducked to enter the backseat, I saw another figure already seated. He slowly began to clap.

“Good work… Gnome.”

“Zane!?” I asked.

“Yes, yes”

“I assume you are aware, then, of what has transpired?”
“Yes. Maggie has escaped, but not forever.”

I couldn't remember what Zane looked like exactly from a year ago, but I was sure it was him. He had a bit of a nerdy look, with longer-than-normal hair, and an ill-fitting green “Futurettes” t-shirt, which appeared to be a basketball team.

We spoke of the future, Armageddon, and my role in preventing it as the car sped along the highway. He said I was the leader of the resistance in the future, and I had prepared these trials for myself in the past, to be better fit to lead all humanity. Maggie, as it turns out, was a cyborg that had supposedly murdered Shags/Tyler and taken his place for the adventure. I had been lucky, he said, to have escaped from such a deadly foe.

The Locked Black Box

Our car left the highway at the airport exit. We pulled up to the drop-off area, and Zane turned to me. “Gnome, you have done well today. You have saved the future. I must leave you now, but do not forget the things you have accomplished today. Goodbye… my father.” The Gatekeeper helped me get my things from the trunk, and I turned around to look at them one last time from the sidewalk.

Zane suddenly poked out through the window, and yelled “My Father!” while making a throwing motion. A tiny key flew through the air, and by luck landed in the crook of my arm. He quickly ducked back into the car, and they sped off.

I walked into the airport, checked in, and sat down at the gate. As expected, the key fit in the locked box perfectly, and I swung the top open. Quite a few items were arranged delicately to let them all fit in the box; A VHS tape, a Robocop 3 Super Nintendo videogame, and several other small paper items. Most notably, however, was another scrapbook, similar to the original one from a year ago.

Flipping through the scrapbook pages, it became clear that it was going to be just as confusing and bizarre as the original one. There were no hints, and no information as to who had planned the entire event. After the once-in-a-lifetime experience I had just been through, though, I was alright with that.