A month later, and neither Sergio or Kat had seen any signs of the supernatural since their first night in Greenfield. A lot of other things happened, though. Lance helped Sergio find a job, and they both spoke with Norma, a real-estate agent, about getting a house. She was a sweet lady, almost too sweet, and Sergio couldn’t help the feeling that she would stare at him or his wife when they weren’t looking.
The house itself was small, and obviously missing a lot of twenty-first century amenities that they were both used to, like air conditioning and a washing machine. But at least they had electrical power, and Kat almost freaked out when she saw the quaint, little rotary-dial phone.
Sergio spent his days working for Tom, a big guy who was happy to outsource most of his work to Sergio so that he could rest and have a beer. It meant that Sergio basically did the work for both of them, but he honestly didn’t mind much. Tom was not an overbearing manager, giving Sergio the freedom he needed. He spent most of his time repairing old cars and farm tractors. Or at least, they were old compared to what he was used to. He enjoyed the work, actually. It brought him back to his younger days experimenting with his dad’s old vehicle in Argentina.
But seeing as Tom’s shop was the only mechanical repair shop in town, people often came with other mechanical problems, everything from a toaster that wasn’t working, to problems with the machinery at the granary.
That was where Sergio was headed now. A fellow had called in with a request for a mechanic to take a look at their new tech. The granary had recently purchased a large amount of grain-drying equipment and no one there appeared to have any clue how to set it up.
And so they called for Tom, who sent Sergio.
To be honest, he didn’t have the faintest clue how some of this machinery worked. He was a mechanical engineer, but his specialty had been in robotics parts. He knew nothing about farming. But given the era they were living in, most of the machinery was so simple that it didn’t take him long to find the problem. It was easy work, and that was enough for now.
He arrived at the granary and shook hands with a man called Joel, who had called him in.
“I thought Tom was coming himself?” Joel frowned as Sergio parked the truck.
“He has…other things on his workload. I’m his new employee. Well, new for the last few weeks that is.”
Joel looked him up and down. “We don’t get many new people around here. You sure you’re up for the job? Lot of this equipment is pretty high-tech.”
Sergio grinned. “Believe me, I’m an expert at the high-tech stuff.”
“I don’t recognize your accent, whereabouts are you from?”
Sergio pursed his lips. He hoped this part wouldn’t make a difference. “Argentina originally, but I’ve spent most of my life here in the States, on the east coast.”
Joel considered that. “Hmm. Well if you can help out with the equipment I guess I don’t care where you’re from. I’ll show you to it.”
He brought Sergio to a small clearing where a bunch of shiny new parts lay spread out on the ground.
“We’ve typically dried our grain by laying it out on the ground, which works well enough.” Explained Joel. “But this here machine should, in theory, allow us to dry four times as much grain in the same time.”
Sergio surveyed the equipment and swallowed. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how it went together. He was sure he could figure that out. But these pieces were so huge that it was going to make the assembly much more complicated.
“Can I have some of your men help, with the heavy lifting I mean?”
“Of course, you can have all the help you need. Just tell them what to do and they’ll do it.”
Sergio liked Joel, he seemed a reasonable fellow, and low on his prejudices. Grabbing a few tools from the truck, Sergio began to get to work. He soon identified the major components in the drying equipment and, with the help of a few men, began piecing them together.
It was long work. The sun was high in the sky when Joel finally called for a break. Sergio wiped the sweat off his forehead and gratefully went inside the small barn next to the granary for a drink of water and a moment to lie against a wooden post and shut his eyes.
He was tired, but in a good way. He smiled as a few of the workers patted him on the back. They were making progress and that encouraged everyone working on it.
Taking a sip from his drink, he leaned his head back and took a deep breath. Maybe he and his family could live a normal life here, despite the time jump. This wasn’t so bad.
A shadow in the rafters caught his attention. Sergio squinted, wondering if he had just imagined it. But no, there it was again. A small, dark ripple of light. It appeared almost like the way light was distorted on a hot road, except darker. As Sergio looked closer, he could see it had the outline of a person. But there was no one up there.
He blinked, and the shadow disappeared. What had just happened?
The apparition troubled him as he got back to work. It was the first abnormality he had seen since they arrived a month ago. He had just begun to think that maybe life would get back to a semblance of normal. Too optimistic it seemed.
He heard a loud grumble as a tractor started up near him. He kept at his work without looking up. One or two of the farm hands were frequently out on the tractor or another piece of motorized farming equipment. This farm was surprisingly well equipped for such a small town, and one in the nineteen-forties at that.
The noise grew louder, and a voice called out, “Hey, who started the tractor!”
Sergio looked up then. The tractor was moving right for him, fast!
And there was no one driving it.
Before Sergio could react, two hands pushed him hard. He fell just out of harm’s way as the tractor rolled by the spot where he had been working.
“Yagh!” the man who had pushed Sergio cried out as the tractor barrelled into him, crushing half the man’s body.
Sergio only stood there, horrified. If he had stood there a second longer, it would have been him.
But the needs of the man soon pushed any thoughts of his own survival away. He had to get this man to a hospital.
The thrum of the motor brought Sergio’s thoughts in another direction. The tractor was still moving, with no one on it. But instead of moving straight ahead like he expected. It began a slow turn.
Sergio bit his lip. This was not a normal tractor malfunction. There was something guiding that machine, and it wasn’t human. He thought back to the shimmering dark mirage he had seen in the barn. Could the two instances be related?
The tractor was coming back around, heading for Sergio again. By this time, the handful of remaining workers were shouting and hurrying to help the injured man. But the tractor was coming right for them.
On a hunch, Sergio moved away from the injured man. As he suspected, the tractor turned so that it was on course to hit him. At least he could draw it away from the others.
Sergio from a year ago would have been freaking out. But after facing killer drones, monsters, and secret murder agents from another dimension, a rogue tractor seemed like nothing at all. Still, he felt his heart pump as it approached.
He readied himself. This was going to be tricky.
The tractor roared as it reached him, but lucky for Sergio, the lumbering machinery couldn’t react as fast as he could. He spun out of the way as the tractor arrived. Then before it could turn, he leapt onto the side, barely managing to stay atop the thing as it moved.
The air was cold all of a sudden. He thought he could see his breath in the brief seconds before he lodged himself in the driver’s seat. They were in the middle of California. Never mind being the month of February, it never got cold here.
But Sergio quickly forgot about that. The tractor was beginning to sway from side to side, as if trying to throw Sergio off. But thankfully, Sergio had a good grip, and the tractor wasn’t capable of making sharp turns.
He had never been on a tractor before, but Sergio quickly figured out how to turn the engine off. He turned the keys and the tractor sputtered, kept rolling for a few yards, then died.
Sergio breathed a sigh of relief. He was almost certain turning the tractor off would not work, given the odd way it was already behaving. What would he have done if the engine kept running?
The air grew warmer again, which further comforted Sergio. But his comfort was short lived as he ran back to the granary and found the man who had saved him earlier. The others were standing around him, hats off, looking solemn.
“He was too far gone.” muttered Joel. “We couldn’t save him.”
“I…I’m so sorry.” muttered Sergio. He couldn’t help but think this was his fault. The tractor had pursued him after all. Perhaps if he had been more vigilant.
“Don’t be. It’s not the first time our equipment has acted up.”
“You mean, this had happened before? A tractor spontaneously starting itself?”
“Well I don’t know if it ever got this bad, I honestly can’t remember. But we’ve seen plenty of weird crud around here, that’s for sure.”
“What was his name?” Sergio asked. He needed to know.
“Ah…” the man paused almost like he didn’t know. “Trevor, that was it. Good man. He’ll be missed.”
He said it so matter-a-factly that Sergio almost called him out on it. But no, seeing death affected people in different ways. It was not Sergio’s first time seeing someone die. He wouldn’t judge someone for seeming unabashed.
“I think that’ll be all for today.” Joel continued. “Why don’t the rest of yous head home, enjoy the comfort of your wives if you have ‘em. Nothing like someone dying to give you a fresh perspective on life and living. I’ll tend to Trevor.”
Sergio frowned. Joel had said all of that in an emotionless, monotone voice. Maybe he really didn’t care. “Um…okay I’ll just come back tomorrow then to finish the job.”
“I appreciate that.” said Joel. He was still looking at Trevor, lying on the ground.
“Okay then.” Sergio turned and went back to Tom’s truck, which he used to drive back to the shop. From there he walked home, which was only a few blocks away. While he walked, he tried to clear his head. It was still spinning from everything that had just happened. And the weird part was, it almost felt like a dream, like it hadn’t really happened. Should he pinch himself? Wasn’t that what people did if they thought they were dreaming? But no, who did that anyway?
Before he knew it, he was back at the tiny home that he and Kat had bought. It was a quaint little place, but brand new. And it had a nice “homey” feel to it, a warmth that made it feel good to return home.
He opened the door, and Kat emerged from a back room, holding Alice. “You’re back early.”
“Yeah…” Sergio mulled over how he was going to tell Kat what happened. Knowing her, she might not take it very well. But in the end, he realized that he couldn’t hold back. Word about Trevor’s death would spread quickly in a town this small. Better Kat found out from him. “There was an accident at the granary.”
And he told her everything, even mentioning the strange apparition he had seen in the barn. Kat listened carefully, not interrupting, but concern slowly wrinkling her face.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” she said when he finished. “But do you really need to go back tomorrow?”
Sergio nodded. “Whatever this thing was, I don’t think it’s limited to farming equipment. I mean, you were there when we first arrived, you saw those…things. There’s something not right here.”
Kat had nothing to say to that. She just kept bouncing Alice up and down in her arms. The girl was looking sleepy. Sergio smiled at his daughter. She was the reason for all of this. Not just for getting them sent back in time, and for all of their troubles with Invergence, but for increasing the love that he had for his family. She made it all worth it.
“Lance came by today.” Kat said, changing the subject. “He said he has a few toys he wants you to look at. He can pay for them too.”
“I’ll check with him tomorrow.” Sergio didn’t really care about the pay. They still had their Argo Force cash and checkbook that somehow regenerated all the money they needed for whatever time they lived in. But he enjoyed working on some of Lance’s projects. Some were a bit outlandish, but others were legitimately fun. The last time he had gone to visit, Lance had set him working on a thermometer that could measure your stress levels. The thermometer had been over three feet long. It was very Doc Brown of Lance, if Doc Brown had also been a detective and master of multiple martial arts.
“You know, I was thinking about Lance.” he told Kat. “I know the guy is a bit eccentric, but he’s also a good fighter. You’ve seen him.” Kat nodded, but she was frowning. Best to get this over with. “I was thinking, maybe we could train with him a bit, learn a few defensive moves, you know? It might help if we have another tractor incident.”
“How is martial arts going to help you fight a tractor?” Kat looked at him shrewdly.
“I mean, bad example, but I just think it wouldn’t hurt.”
“I don’t know, Sergio. I don’t want us to be fighting…whatever this is. I don’t want to be looking for trouble.”
“We wouldn’t look for trouble, obviously.” Sergio said. “I’m just saying we should be prepared.”
“I’ll think about it.” Kat said. “But no roaming the streets like a superhero or anything.”
“I…what? What gave you that idea?” Sergio laughed. Unfortunately, the idea had occurred to him. He would have to hide his drawings for a potential superhero costume. If certain members of Argo Force got to have a nice suit and cape, why couldn’t he?
Kat gave him a look that suggested she knew exactly what he was thinking, but shrugged. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. But we can talk about this later. I need to put Alice down for the night.”
Sergio got to his feet. “Let me do it. You’ve been with her all day.”
Kat relaxed in her chair, her shoulders slumping. “Would you? I appreciate it. She’s been upset all day. But I just fed her before you arrived so she’s sleepy.” Kat returned to bouncing Alice up and down in her arms.
Sergio gently took Alice from Kat, trying his best not to disturb her. Sadly, Alice woke and began crying in a tired sort of way, not full wails, but a soft discomfort. Sergio did his best to comfort the girl, but it turned out she needed cleaning. So he changed her diaper and was pleased when Alice’s mood changed. She smiled as she looked at Sergio and put her arms out indicating she wanted to be held.
Sergio picked his daughter up, holding her and rocking her. She was starting to get heavy, now that she was over a year old.
“Once upon a time…” he found himself saying. “There was a young man, named Luke Skywalker. And he wanted more than anything to get away from the boring life he had as a moisture farmer on a desert planet.”
He knew Alice was still too young to understand his story. But that didn’t stop her from looking at him, listening to the sound of his voice. Besides, this was Star Wars, which technically wouldn’t exist for a few more decades. So in the absence of the actual films, Sergio was duty-bound to make sure his daughter was familiar with the saga.
“One day, he met two little droids. Those are like robots that are really smart. Or at least, R2-D2 was really smart, the other one worried a lot.”
He continued telling the tale, but only got as far as explaining that Ben Kenobi was really Obi-Wan Kenobi before Alice’s eyes were shut. Sergio placed her in the small crib they had purchased a few weeks ago, and stood there observing his daughter for a few moments, watching the way her chest rose and fell as she slept. At risk of waking her up, he leaned over and gently kissed Alice on the forehead.
Ghosts or no ghosts, he was going to protect this girl as best he could. He would do anything to recreate moments like these. Quiet, special moments. They made all the fussing, the diaper cleaning, and all the bad days worth it.
Smiling to himself, he closed the door to Alice’s room, and went next door to be with Kat.