This is the eleventh installment in our ongoing serial story, The Time Traveler’s Scheme. In the previous section, Daeva and Tinsley discovered that space-time was breaking apart, and Melina, now completing her Ph.D., learned a little more about a mysterious stranger named Gravity, who came from the future.
To read this story from the beginning, click here.
Shivering, Melina stared at Gravity. “I still don’t get why you’re here.’
“Why don’t you dry off, and I’ll tell you.”
His words brought Melina back to reality. She was soaking wet and freezing. He must be cold, too. “What about you?”
“Could you find me a towel? My clothes are designed to dry instantly, but my hair won’t.”
She giggled. Forty-two years from now, men would still dress in motorcycle jackets, jeans and boots, but the fabrics would apparently be completely different. Throwing him a towel from her heap of clean laundry, she dug her sweats out of the pile of dirty clothes on the floor, and went into her tiny bathroom. She changed and pulled her curly hair off her face with a hair band. Her stomach rumbled. She’d been so deep into her calculations that she’d not only forgotten her date with Louis; she’d forgotten to eat.
“Are you hungry?” she shouted.
She opened the door. “All I have is canned spaghetti and carrot sticks.”
Once they were seated with their plates, she asked, “I don’t suppose you’re my future husband.”
Gravity started at that, then laughed. “Remember, you’re in your sixties then, and I’m—“
“Right. I guess that was a stupid thought.”
“And don’t get any ideas about now, either. Getting involved with you would completely mess up the timeline.”
“Who said anything about getting involved?” Although he was awfully handsome, especially now that his cheeks were a bright red under all that stubble. She giggled again. “What is the elderly me like, anyway?”
He blushed again. “That’s off limits.”
“Oh, really? I wonder why. And what’s your relationship to the future me?”
“I work for an international agency charged with policing time-travel. I took a few classes from her to learn the physics.” He ducked his head and scooped a huge spoonful of the awful spaghetti onto his fork.
And you think she’s pretty wonderful. Glad to know I’ll still be attractive at 65.
After stuffing the mess on his fork into his mouth, taking a big swig of beer, and choking it down, he set his plate aside and looked her straight on, his dark brown eyes serious. “I’m here because we believe Jeffrey Jamison was returned to this timeline.”
Melina’s heart nearly stopped at his words. “What? Are you serious? Jeffrey?” In her mind, he was still two years old, a soft little kid who liked to snuggle on her lap.
“Very. We don’t know where he is, but we’re pretty sure when. If we can find him, he may be able to lead us to the criminals who abducted him, the very criminals who risk tearing space-time to bits.”
“What do you mean: tear space-time to bits? You said something about that earlier.”
“Apparently, changing history has a price. One we may all pay. Space-time’s fragile. More fragile than anyone realized until recently.”
How horrible. She stood and took her plate to the sink, trying to understand the implications, wondering if she should avoid developing a time machine altogether. If she didn’t, would that fragment space-time even more? How did it all work, if he could talk to people downstream?
He must not have realized how confused and worried she felt, for he brought his plate and fork and set it on top of hers. “You can help me find Jeffrey. You, your father, and Eran Jamison.”
“Eran’s too young to do anything, and we’re busy. Besides, you were supposed to arrive ten years from now. ”
“I’ll make the best of it.”
The heat from his body pulsed into her as they stood side-by-side, rinsing their dishes, and it was all she could do not to touch his muscular arm, to beg him to ruin space-time with her, just for the night, but instead she set her plate in the drainboard and returned to her chair, then slipped out of that and lay down on her bed. “I can’t take all of this in. I’m exhausted.”
“Then let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow, I want to meet your father.”
He’d surprised her again. “You’re sleeping here?”
“Where else? It’s one-thirty in the morning. I don’t suppose you have an extra blanket so I can roll up in it on the floor? I’ll just move some of these papers and pizza boxes out of the way and make a spot.”
Relieved that he wasn’t planning on squeezing into her twin bed with her, she yawned. “I’m a grad student. Extra blankets? Not likely. I do have a coat. It won’t cover much of you.”
“Don’t worry then.” He picked up the first pizza box and set it on her kitchen counter. She scrambled to her feet and helped him clear a spot, making a pillow out of a sweater. He fell asleep almost instantly, and, after trying to unscramble his words about the nature of space-time, she soon followed.
Daeva hiked along the trail which led to the top of Mount Kilika, the highest peak in the Tek’ti-ar Mountains, and a trail which, in another lifetime, she’d apparently backpacked with William Setty. I need your wisdom Will. Why aren’t you here?
The dusty path stretched endlessly in front of her, growing steeper, the odd Mulleywood trees twisting their way towards the sky on either side of her, their dark shapes mirroring the tortured thoughts which filled her brain. She’d come here to clear her head and calm her spirits. Tinsley would hardly speak to her, after her pronouncement that they could watch the universe burn, and he certainly wouldn’t provide her with the information she needed to kidnap the astronaut’s son. He’d even convinced Vareese that it shouldn’t tell her anything. And if it wasn’t safe to travel through time, what were they going to do in a few years to build their force? She’d planned to bring lots of starving children through time and space, who would be so grateful to be saved that they would worship her, Tinsley, and their leaders.
Suddenly, she snapped her fingers. Of course. Will drowned before she was born. She could go back in time, abduct him before the accident and return him immediately after it would have occurred. If he never drowned, he would live his life exactly the same, and he’d come here and fall in love with her.
She turned and ran back towards her car, her black braid flapping up and down on her back.
The commlink on Larry Penrose’s wrist buzzed. He tried to ignore it, because he was in the middle of analyzing data from NASA’s newest warp drive experiment. Everything looked so good that there had to be a mistake somewhere, he just couldn’t find it. Had they really finally managed to send a machine faster than the speed of light?
The watch buzzed louder, then his secretary knocked on the door. “Your daughter is here to see you, and she has a young man with her. You’ll need to meet them outside the gate. He doesn’t have a security clearance.”
With a sigh, he nodded. Re-doing the analysis would have to wait. It was probably just as well, as he was too close to his first analysis to find any mistakes he might have made. He shut down his computer, lifted his jacket off the hook on the wall, closed and locked his door. Best to wait until he redid the calculations to make an announcement, but the smile on his face would have told anyone who saw him that something amazing had occurred. Luckily, he didn’t encounter anyone.
His car met him at the side of the building and took him past the guarded entrance to the compound. Melina was standing by the side of the road, waving. He pulled up next to her.
“Why didn’t you call?” he asked.
“I did, at least three times, but you never answered. Is it good news?”
He nodded. “I hear you have someone with you.”
“His name is Gravity. Dad, we need to talk somewhere where we can’t be overheard.”
He thought for a second. Any place in town would have both human and electronic ears. “Up in the hills. The Yancy trail. Follow me.”
“My car’s just over there.”
“I’ll wait until you’re behind me.”
Half an hour later, they parked, and the three people got out. Larry looked Gravity over carefully, wondering if this was his daughter’s newest boyfriend. Melina had such a soft spot for well-built men with handsome features. As always, he wished she’d be more interested in intelligence and communication skills than looks.
“Take off your wristwatch and leave any other electronics in the car,” Gravity said. “You never know what has two-way listening capability, even when all gadgets are turned off.”
Larry wasn’t comfortable with that plan. He didn’t know this man; anything could happen out here. Without their commlinks, no one would know where they were. “Mr—“
“I go by Gravity.”
Melina put a hand on Larry’s arm. “Dad, this is important. You have to trust him.”
But Larry wasn’t buying it. “Why should I?”
Melina reached up on her toes and whispered into his ear. “Because he’s from the future. I swear it.”
Against his better judgment, Larry stripped off his commlink, set it on the passenger seat, and told his car to wait for him.