This is the tenth installment in our ongoing serial story, The Time Traveler’s Scheme. In the previous section, Davea reaffirmed her absolute devotion to her cause while Melina learned more about her new companion Gravity Barnes.
To read this story from the beginning, click here.
Melina had forgotten how much of a mess her studio apartment truly was. Pizza boxes and takeout menus strewn everywhere atop quantum mechanics papers and textbooks on string theory. A pile of dirty laundry she hadn’t yet made it to beckoned her from its tragic, dark corner. She was able to grab a bedsheet and toss it over the unwashed unmentionables before Gravity could get his eyes on it. But there was something just as embarrassing sitting in plain sight.
“‘When the Flowers of Passion Bloom’ by Beverly Morelove,” Gravity read out loud with the metallic pink and blue text in hand. “This is a real thing? This is an actual book by an actual person? This dude on the cover looks like he could punch through time with all these muscles. No need for me here.”
Melina could feel herself blushing and she practically dove for his arm attempting to snatch away the old paperback with little success. Gravity was already flipping through the dog-eared pages furiously, landing on a particularly juicy passage.
“And she felt in that moment that he gaze upon her in the light as a truly beautiful and vivacious woman. It was as if no other man’s eyes had ever befallen her before. It was all such a sensual awakening. Her supple and ample bosom heaved at the very thought of his touch, and her breath quickened has he took his cool hand and –”
Melina finally struck his arm and snatched the book out of his hand just in time before he could complete the line.
“Come on!” Gravity protested. “I wanna know what happens. Where was his hand going? It could have been moving to the desk to pick up a pencil and help her finish an equation or hitting his commlink to order a pizza. I bet he was just going to give her a hardy handshake, just like a gentleman should for a woman with an ample bosom. I need answers, Dr. Penrose!”
Melina walked to her tiny closet and tucked the novel out of sight beyond some boxes praying this social nightmare was complete. “Melina. Do not call me Dr. Penrose again! And no, you don’t need answers. I need real answers, okay?”
Gravity’s laughter was finally beginning to subside when he pointed to a blueprint sketch an artist had helped Melina with a few months prior. He tugged at the paper’s edge and excavated it from a miscellaneous stack of papers on a small drafting table. “That’s it, isn’t it? The first draft of it?”
“Of what?” she asked.
“Don’t be thick. Of the time machine,” Gravity answered. “The initial sketches of it, anyway. You were going to attach it to a wheeled vehicle originally, right?”
“Yes,” hesitated. “Yes, a small car, but the weight -”
“Yeah, the weight ratios were way off given the initial fuel sources you use. You’ll get there when you crack anti-gravity. Then you won’t need a car.”
She could feel her eyes widen. He was on to something. “I’m working on those equations now. Without gravity, I could make a vehicle as light and maneuverable as possible. It’d move like a little hummingbird through time and space.”
Gravity replied with a quick breath and a smirk. “Yep, something like that.”
“Where does a name like Gravity come from, anyway?”
“It’s a nickname,” he told her, pushing away from her small drafting table and back to the middle of the room. “Strong as an ox, but light on my feet. Like I had a homemade anti-grav belt built in me.” He flexed his biceps in an apparent demonstration.
“I’m not buying it,” Melina told him. “Story feels a bit apocryphal.”
Gravity immediately dropped his arms. “Well, like you said, we’re not on some kind of date or something – ”
“Date?! I never said -”
“You want answers on why I’m here, and I’m going to give you as much as I can.”
Resolved to the idea that this would be the best she could get out of him, Melina, still wet in her clothes, sat on the edge of the bed and waited for his response.”
“Alright. You sent me here from 2110 to help you determine who from the future is kidnapping children.”
“So I was right?”
He nodded, “Very much so. Someone is using your technology to carry out this campaign.”
“Okay, so why don’t I just design some type of sensor that would alert us -”
“Nope. Anything you do here and now will simply be reflected in their future planning. Whoever is doing this is likely from downstream.”
“Downstream?” she repeated.
“Yeah, that’s just slang we use sometimes to refer to the future. Down the timestream, or farther into the future than a current position in time we’re referencing.”
“Got it. So anything I try to do now they will just adjust to?”
Gravity nodded. “Yes, and they likely have an archive bubble, anyway.”
“Sorry. A computer that has a modified time engine connected to it. It encases the computing system and its A.I. in a modified warp field allowing it to see changes in the timeline without being affected. For instance, if we were to walk outside right now and cut down a tree outside, the future would see the effect.”
“But the computer could see that we made the change in history by chopping the tree down and know the tree lived in the original timeline. I get how this works, you know. I am literally writing the book on it.”
“And you’re doing it with such humility, Mel.”
“Melina,” she corrected him.
“Anyhow,” Gravity continued. “Older you believes that younger you has the forethought and insight to solve this. You’re early in your career and are really beginning to hit your stride in terms of creativity. We hit a series of walls in 2110 as well as the agents downstream.”
“Agents downstream? You can speak to agents in the future?”
“Yeah, listen, I’m not getting into all of that right now. Just know that future you sent me here to get your help because she thinks you can pull this off.”
Melina thought back to their encounter in the rain. “Wrong me.”
“You were supposed to be in 2078, not 2068. You said so yourself. Shouted it as a matter of fact. You’re a decade off.”
Gravity grinned in a way only a man that handsome could get away with and the average person not be immediately skeptical of him. Melina did not see herself as the average anything. “Well, see, that’s the thing. I’ve kind of have to take what I can get at this point.”
“What does that mean?”
“Preservation and protection of the timeline is key. So, to ensure agents stay on task, we’re only provided with enough fuel for the jumps we need to make. One jump got me here. I only have one more to get home once you and I figure this out. I’ve already contaminated the timeline, so I wouldn’t be allowed to interact with you again. So I’m here for the long haul, however long that might take.”
“So, wait. You could be stuck here for a decade until I’ve learned everything I need to in order to properly support you on this?”
Stern-faced and in a deathly serious tone he had yet to leverage with her, Gravity leaned in and said, “Or, and please hear me out on this: you could learn faster.”
Melina suddenly wished Gravity had turned out to be another boring chemist, after all.
Karen was exhausted but in the most satisfying way. Her baby girl would be safe. She’d barely made it to the couch before Larry came barreling down the stairs to check on the news. She slipped off her heels and settled into the soft synthetic leather of her seat.
“What did she say?” Larry was uncharacteristically animated. He collapsed onto the couch and Karen could practically feel the energy circulating around him.
“Honey,” she began with gently placing her hand on his shoulder. She gave it a soft squeeze. “She’s going to be fine. No trial, no jail. Everything should be wrapped up in a week. We should talk about her finishing out high school with homeschooling and college cred -”
Larry grabbed Karen tighter than she’d remembered in recent years and gave her a kiss that would have knocked her off of her feet had she not already been sitting.
Still embracing her, Larry pulled back and whispered. “That’s a wonderful thing, Karen. We’ll do whatever we need to take care of her. I don’t care. She’s going to be okay. That’s all that matters.”
Karen felt a tear fall. When was the last time she’d truly cried? The cracks in her pristine emotional armor were showing. “That’s not all. I owe both of you an apology. I should have never doubted you for a moment. Either of you.”
“Karen,” he chuckled, “our daughter walked into the room and told us the child she’d been babysitting had been kidnapped by a time traveler. Who in their right mind doesn’t question that? Hell, I’m an astrophysicist who’s dedicated his professional life on a theory that could prove time travel is possible, and I didn’t readily accept it. You have nothing to apologize for.”
She vigorously shook her head. “I’m a wife and a mother, and none of those instincts kicked in here. I should have felt it, felt something. I shouldn’t have believed she believed it. I should have known it truly happened.”
Pulling back and gently gripping her arms Larry replied, “I know, and it’s okay. But, honestly, honey, I’m not the one you should tell.”
Karen sighed. “I know,” she whispered.
As Larry stood Karen added, “I love you so much. You’re a wonderful husband and father. I feel like I don’t tell you that enough.”
“No, you don’t,” he smiled. Something had gotten into Larry Penrose today, and Karen liked it. He added, “I love you, too. You are the best mother and partner I could have asked for.” With that he quietly disappeared from the room in the direction of his study.
Taking a deep breath Karen prepared for something she’d done with few people in her life let alone her daughter: providing her with an apology.
“Melina, dear. Can you come here please?” Karen shouted. “I think you and I should talk.”