Professor Quentin finished his iced tea and wandered through the door at the back of the office, leaving Hazel and Manfred behind. Charlie followed the Professor with great curiosity.
“What are you doing, Uncle Quentin?”
"Oh, hello. I’m programming this platform for your parents – a flick here and a turn there, and then one ... two, that’s it, two dragons to travel. Now all I need to do is write to the high council.”
He turned and scrawled a message on a papyrus scroll.
“I wonder where I put the delivery concoction.”
“It’s on the shelves in the office.”
“Of course, of course,” replied Quentin, as he meandered through the doorway.
Charlie didn’t have much time. He raced over to the travel platform, repeating the same procedure he had just seen, this time for one ... two ... three. Next was the written message. He scanned the page, noting the two vertical lines indicating that this was a trip for two. Grasping the quill, he carefully dipped the nib in the ink and dabbed the excess on the sides of the jar. Then he meticulously scratched a third line parallel to the original two. It was done. Three dragons were confirmed for this voyage.
He stepped back as the adult dragons entered the room. Quentin rolled up the scroll and murmured an incantation while scattering the sacred liquid. Then in a puff it was gone, on its way to the high council. Charlie stood furtively behind his parents, secretly pleased at how well his plan was coming together.
The family of three left the institute that evening with a sense of excitement. Charlie looked back as they soared from the huge white cliffs on which the institute was perched. Its stone turrets and lofty walls were bathed in the orange glow of sunset. He could hardly wait to return. Then, giving a few strong flaps to keep up with his parents, they swooped towards their village in the ancient forest. The lights in the trees were glimmering in the twilight.
When they returned the next day Charlie charged ahead to meet Uncle Quentin, saying that he was going to the courtyard to catch dragonflies with Durga. However, Charlie did not go to the courtyard. As soon as the Professor went to greet his parents he darted through the door at the back of the office to the warehouse. He crouched behind the gear on the travel platform and covered himself with a blanket. It wasn’t long before his parents also climbed onto the platform.
“Charlie is in the courtyard with Durga,” said Professor Quentin, “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
“Best leave him there, he’ll only be frustrated if he sees us go,” Hazel commented. “He’s desperate to join us already, and he doesn’t even know that this is time travel.”
Manfred nodded in agreement. “Charlie wouldn’t understand that this trip might be dangerous. It may not be easy to maintain balance on this old machine. There's no way of knowing how it would react to any more weight. If we go off course, we could reappear inside a mountain!"
Time travel! Charlie could barely contain his excitement.
Manfred initiated the sequence and in a flash they were gone.
The platform came to rest on the terraces of Machu Picchu, causing the smell of ozone to saturate the air once again. The evening sun had already sunk behind the westerly mountains and the site appeared empty, save for a small group of humans who sat in a circle on the grass. Hazel smiled at Manfred. His scales may not have had the same youthful sparkle as they did before, but his eyes were as bright as ever. The two dragons disembarked the platform but were startled when a small package in amongst the gear drew a long breath, and sneezed.
Hazel, with a raised eyebrow, swiftly moved to lift the blanket and found a guilty looking Charlie hidden underneath.
“Are we really in the future Mom?”
“What are you doing here?” she bellowed.
“Mom, I had to come and see!”
“There’s not much we can do about it now,” said Manfred soothingly. “Stay near us at all times Charlie, this place isn’t safe. I suppose we’d better look for the Sun Temple.”
The Shaman Javier was holding a spiritual séance for a group of wealthy tourists who had guzzled enough cactus tea to lose most of their inhibitions. They were enthusiastically chanting in unison on the terraces of Machu Picchu when three shadowy figures swept overhead. Javier nearly collapsed in shock. These were unlike any hallucinations he had experienced before. His customers however, were delighted.
One particularly spaced out man nudged him, saying, "Hey man, this is some pretty good stuff you got here."
The dragons landed where the Sun Temple should have been. Except that it wasn't there. An empty patch of grass stretched out in its place.
"Are you sure this is the right spot?”
"I'm positive. It was right here. And now, nothing? This doesn't feel right, Manfred. No dragons and not even a temple. We have bad news for the Professor.”
“We should get back.”
A sudden strong smell of sulphur and ozone distracted the Professor from his notes. That pungent odour usually meant the imminent arrival of the travel platform, but this was inside his office. Something terrible was happening! The platform must be off course. It was supposed to land in the warehouse behind his office.
The floor rippled and twisted until the floorboards washed over themselves. They melted into a deep black liquid which spiralled and gurgled into a whirlpool. It smelled of brimstone and dread.
Professor Quentin watched in horror as the platform appeared directly above the whirlpool, with three figures aboard. In a split second it plummeted into the void, just as Hazel and Manfred leaped to safety. It was then that the unthinkable happened. Charlie didn't quite make it. Despite being grasped by both parents, his tail was caught in the travelling gear and it dragged him down into the coiling gloom.