The six remaining Searsonauts go back inside, shaken by the depths of their crime.
“We can’t keep doing this,” says Mac. “There has to be a way out.”
Howard stops, and turns on him. “Is there? We don’t even have a way to get back!”
You all freeze, sweating in the vertical sun of the Florida summer.
“But… Dr. Smøps is coming for us,” says the goat, nervously. “Right? He’ll just open the Searsgate… right?”
You look around – the squawking gulls, the baking asphalt, the weird 1950s hearse that’s parked here most days even though you’ve never seen the driver – and realize this might be it. You might be trapped here, in 2009. And you’re all about to be out of jobs.
“Curses,” says Mr. Burns.
“Wait!” says Madison. “I just thought of something! Reaganomics, you still have Dr. Þicc’s wallet, right?”
“I’m not sharing,” says Reaganomics, cagily.
“He was trying to steal the plans for the Searsgate! If he had them, we can build our own.”
Reaganomics Lamborghini stares at her, then fishes through the ruffles of his shirt for the wallet. Sure enough, folded up real small, are the schematics for the Searsgate. It also includes the list of parts, all of which can be salvaged from Kenmore appliances and assembled with Craftsman tools. This is doable.
You can go home.
You get back into the store just as Rick is clocking everyone else out for the night on the Windows XP kiosk.
“Oh hey, guys,” he says, “perfect timing. Let me just open this window back up, and-”
Reaganomics drops him with a Vulcan neck pinch. You wave goodbye to the others, who are already out the door, and then drag Rick’s limp body to the security closet.
“Who is it?” they ask when you knock. “You’re all supposed to go home.”
Madison gives the nod to Goat, who headbutts a hole in the door. You hear confused swearing inside, but it quiets down when Reaganomics tosses in a can of Sears Knockout Gas.
“This is the way to deal with working people,” says Mr. Burns, bobbing his head in approval. “We should have done this at the beginning.”
You have seized control of the Lunapool Sears. Outside the rolling gate, you can see the rest of the mall is dark. Time to get to work.
You need the magnetrons from a dozen microwaves, the copper tubing from 15 refrigerators, 20 gallons of kerosene, the power cord from an electric stove and the motor from a lawn mower. The last piece you need is the electron gun from a CRT TV set. You’re worried Sears won’t still be selling those in 2009, but nope, you totally are: A pink tabletop set with Disney Princess branding.
Eight hours later, spent listening to muzak you don’t know how to switch off, you’re done. Standing 20 feet tall in the loading bay is a lumpy ring girdled in cables and tubing. It looks like some methheads tried to recreate the Large Hadron Collider.
“There is no way this thing works,” says Reaganomics, taking a drag off a cigarette. “I’ll test it.”
Madison throws a rope around him, and goat yanks on the starter cord until the engine turns over. The ring begins to spin, and a shimmering disc forms within it.
“Pull me back when I yank,” says Reaganomics, and steps in.
Reaganomics shoots out the other side and faceplants in mud. He pops his head back out and inhales deeply.
Immediately in front of him are a group of people holding guns. They are also covered in mud. Behind them is more mud. The world is mud, dressed with barbed wire. From the sounds of it, everyone on Earth is firing a gun at the same time.
Reaganomics and the people with guns stare at each other for a second.
“What year is this?” asks Reaganomics, slowly.
The mud-covered figures look at each other, uncertain.
“I’ve heard of this,” says one of them, whisper-shouting over the gunfire. “A battlefield angel! It’s come here to save us!”
They all lower their weapons and look at Reaganomics with newfound awe. Far behind them, an artillery shell thumps into the mud and explodes with a loud hiss. None of them turn around.
“Uh,” says Reaganomics, and jerks the rope a bunch of times really fast. The soldiers watch as he’s yanked back through, and the portal irises shut.
“Is that… a good sign?” says one of them.
Behind them, someone screams “Gas! Gas! Gas!” They all sigh and put on their masks.
“Did it work?” asks Madison hopefully, as Reaganomics falls back through and hits the floor.
“Oh my god, no,” says Reganomics, making a mud-angel on the concrete. “Do not go in there.”
“Maybe we should adjust the…” Mr. Burns squints at the stolen blueprints. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow this. Where are the vacuum tubes, again?”
Just then, Bridgette walks through the door. You all stare at her. Reaganomics sits up, peeling his mud-covered clothing off the floor with a shwluk sound.
“What on earth are you all doing in here?” she says. She’s standing right in front of the Searsgate. If she turns around, you’re all fucked.
“Teambuilding?” says Howard Possum, in a small voice.
“My office, now.”
In her office, she stands you against the wall and assesses you.
“Come on!” she says, and you realize you’ve never seen her angry before. “Corporate is coming here today! This is our last chance to save this store. Doesn’t that mean anything to you guys?”
“I think the mud is starting to harden,” says Reaganomics quietly. “Help.”
“Well, it matters to me,” she says. “I’m a single mom! Do you know how hard it is to be a single mom AND save a Sears?”
“Very hard?” says Madison.
“Very hard. So here’s what we’re going to do. You three” – she points to Howard, Madison and Mr. Burns – “are going to change the lights in the outside sign. Right now it says EARS. Whatever else happens, we’re fixing that. You two” – Mac, Goat – “go get the bulbs. They’re in the way back.”
The two groups leave, and Bridgette sits down at her desk. She opens her laptop and sighs.
“Excuse me,” says Reaganomics, now fully encased in a hardened shell.
“Shh,” says Bridgette.
In the supply closet, Mac wrings his hands.
“This is my last chance to go straight,” he says. “After I got out on parole, this time-travel gig was the only position I was qualified for. I’ve gotta do this right.”
Goat noses through some boxes, located the replacement fluorescent tubes. “Same. Is there any chance you’d let me return a socket set from 2003?”
Mac looks up. “What? No way, that’s against store pol-”
Mac Crocodile has died. He was a SEARSONAUT (VANILLA TOWN).
Goat brings the bulbs outside, where the others are setting up the scissor lift they need to reach the sign. Howard Possum is in the basket, and Mr. Burns and Madison are checking the hydraulics. Overhead, the sky is even more ominous than before. Ominouser.
“I got the bulbs,” says the goat, holding them in his mouth.
“Excellent,” says Mr. Burns. “Then we won’t be needing you anymore.”
“Madison, could you kill this goat please? I’m far too frail and rich.”
Howard hears some scuffling behind him, but doesn’t think much as he examines the basket controls.
D. Goat has died. He was the UNSATISFIED CUSTOMER (SERIAL KILLER).
“I think I’ve got it,” says Howard, just as it begins to rain. Madison climbs into the basket, and Mr. Burns passes up the lighting tubes. “Boy, we better hurry.”
The scissor lift is excruciatingly slow. Howard leans over the edge and waxes philosophic, while Madison takes out a knife out of her fleece boot.
“Boy, this sure has been a trip, huh?” says Howard. “I can’t wait to tell Ma and the others about all the things I’ve seen here in 2009. A whole store for M&Ms, can you believe that?”
“Uh-huh,” says Madison, testing the sharpness.
“And those chicken wings at the 7-Eleven! Those sure are mighty tasty. And that gas station on the other side of town sure was something.”
The blade is sharp enough.
“I think I’m going to miss it,” says Howard, with an air of finality. You’ve reached the same height as the word SEARS on the outside of the building. “Here, help me get the cover off.”
He turns to Madison just as she lunges, lightning crashing overhead. Howard squeaks and dips to one side. She hits the edge of the basket and turns back, snarling.
“You!” says Howard. “You’re one of them!” The sky opens up.
“Death to Sears,” hisses Madison, and strikes out. She catches him in the arm, and the cascading rain turns his sleeve pink with blood.
“We trusted you!” says Howard, slapping her away. “We need to save this place!” A swing with the blade, but he leans back over the railing. “Think of all the people who count on us!”
She drops the knife and steps forward, grabbing him by the front of his shirt. “I made $7.25 an hour,” she says through gritted teeth, and pushes him over the edge.
“SSSEEEEEAAAARRRSS-” Howard yells, and then there’s a terrible thud as he hits the parking lot. Mr. Burns looks up.
“Is that all of them?”
Madison looks around. “Yeah. Let’s go. Before people show up.”
Howard Possum (Hohodor) has died. He was a SEARSONAUT (VANILLA TOWN).
They run back inside, leaving the bodies of Howard Possum and the goat where they fell. The anoles skitter out of the undergrowth on the edge of the parking lot and, for the last time, take the bodies away.
Back inside, Madison re-checks the Searsgate schematics, flips a couple of wires that were crossed, and turns it back on. The two of them step through the portal, which closes moments later as the lawnmower engine gives out. The ring tips over with a crash.
Vernon, unlocking the outside door, steps in and stares. “What the hell is this thing?”
On June 29, 2018, Dr. Smøps has just realized that the Searsonauts have no way to get home. But it turns out not to be a problem, as a shimmering vortex appears in his office and knocks over his ficus.
“Did… did it work?” he asks, and Madison and Mr. Burns step out.
“Nah,” says Madison. “Enjoy your crumbling retail empire.”
Mr. Burns flicks a nickel at Dr. Smøps, and he and Madison leave to collect their paychecks from JC Penney.
Wolves win. The Searsonauts were defeated, and the Lunapool Sears was doomed as soon as Corporate showed up and saw the sign said EARS.
Back in 2009, Bridgette doesn’t cry as she packs up her desk. She’s just given everyone else their pink slips, and sent them away. She doesn’t even want to cry. But some part of her, deep, deep down, wishes she did want to cry. Wishes she didn’t think of it as a weakness.
She locks all the doors, turns off all the lights, and clocks herself out at the Windows XP terminal by the door. A team will be here in the morning to take everything away. And she’ll be sent somewhere else, to try to save another Sears. Maybe this time, it’ll go better.
In the darkened, sheetrocked room that was once her office, Reaganomics Lamborghini finally rocks far enough back and forth to tip himself over. He hits the floor and the shell of mud shatters, freeing him.
“Ahhhhh,” he says. “Ahhhhahahahah, I did it. I’m alive! I’M ALIVE!”
He runs out to where the Searsgate is, then thinks better of it. Instead, he loads a dolly up with as many plasma TVs as it can carry and heads out into the darkened parking lot.
Sure enough, the Sears truck is still there, and the keys are still behind the visor. The engine turns over on the first try, and Reaganomics smiles. He has wheels, and about $10,000 worth of TVs that will be junk in five years when LCDs take over. All he has to do is hook up with some contacts on the coast and lie low for the next nine years. He’s bounced back from worse than this.
He turns on the radio, puts the truck in gear, and rolls out onto the highway.