This is the next installment in our serialized story, The Time Traveler’s Scheme, in which Daeva is steal children in order to form a loyal army, and Melina and Gravity want to stop her. In the last section, we saw Gravity explaining that they believe Jeffrey Jamison, one of the stolen children, may have escaped back into the past somehow. Daeva thought of a way to save the life of the man she once loved, and Melina takes Gravity to meet her father, the famous physicist Larry Penrose.
To read the story from the beginning, click here.
Larry, Melina, and Gravity walked single-file along the Yancy trail with Gravity in front and Larry taking up the rear. They wound through live oaks, then switchbacked up a hill covered in brown grass. Gravity stopped when they reached a flat spot. “Far enough?”
“Yes,” Larry said.
They sat on the grass in a semi-circle, looking out across the valley below.
“Here’s the deal,” Gravity said, “I work for The Northern Hemisphere Intelligence Service, The NHIS.”
“Never heard of it,” Larry said.
“Yes, well that’s because the Northern Hemisphere has not yet been united. That will happen twenty-three years from now.”
“Really?” Skeptical to the core, Larry wondered if Gravity was one of those crazies who hung around the Caltech campus where his daughter studied.
Gravity didn’t seem to catch the sarcasm in his voice, or else he didn’t care, for he continued. “We were contacted last week—that’s in 2110, in my time—by an organization from the year 2357. They are looking for a woman whose time-travel is affecting all of space time.”
“Dad, the woman they are looking for is the one who took Jeffrey Jamison and Camille Winton.”
Gravity cleared his throat. “The thing is sir, she’s changing things so much that space-time is fragmenting.”
Larry went absolutely still, his worst fears realized. His joy at finally achieving warp drive drained away as he considered the implications of cracked and broken space-time.
Melina’s soft hand on his arm interrupted his dark thoughts. “Dad. We have to help capture her.”
“And just how do we do that?” He couldn’t imagine what to do, other than stopping his daughter’s thesis project. But that was no good. Someone else would come along and figure out time travel. She might as well be first.
“With a history-saving computer,” Gravity said. “You daughter already has the concept partly-sketched out.”
Larry’s thoughts raced. If they could save a record of history even when the line of space-time changed, what would that mean? Physicists had often wondered if at each instant all possible time-lines split off, so that in one line you got married while in another you stayed single. In one future you were hit by that car that ran a red light and in another future it missed you by a hair. Did it really work that way, and, if so, could you somehow see the path you didn’t take from the one you did take?
Melina squeezed his arm. “Dad, if we have this computer, we will know if this woman or anyone else comes from the future.”
He turned to Gravity, something still not making sense. “Sounds great. But why the secrecy?”
“Sir,” the bearded young man answered, “it’s very important that these criminals don’t know we have this computer. We’re pretty sure they’re combing history, looking for very special children to steal. We don’t know why, but we are certain that they will be more cautious if they realize their actions can be observed.”
Larry stood. “How do we do this in an interconnected world? Where practically every thought is recorded?”
“Sir, you’re going to be famous. Warp drive will let humans explore the universe. You can build your own lab.”
Daeva strode towards the workshop, determined to try again to persuade Tinsley to give her the coordinates for Will Setty’s drowning. She reviewed her arguments in her mind as she walked. What could one more trip hurt, a trip where a kidnapped child would be returned to his parents only a few hours after he disappeared? They needed Will’s experience and wisdom, if they were to win. Tinsley’s insistence that they couldn’t risk another trip was maddening. How could anyone figure out where they would strike, or where they were coming from? Gardotian-56 was a little-known place, far from any of the important planets.
In the distance, the doors to the hangar clanged. She stared as the Hummingbird rolled out and began roaring down the runway. What was going on? She ran towards her ship, but it was gone with a crack as it switched into warp drive.
Her commlink beeped. “Message from Tinsley. I have gone to save Will Setty. It’ll wreck havoc with spacetime, but you’re right, we need him. No promise that this’ll work. It could change his entire life, or he could still drown on a different day.”
Tinsley. She couldn’t believe he was brave enough to attempt this. He’d never wanted to fly the Hummingbird, let alone grab a sleeping child from his bed. What convinced him he needed to do this? What if he got caught? She’d be alone on this planet with a bunch of four and five-year olds, their teachers, and a few support personnel. She didn’t have half Tinsley’s technical expertise. She’d be helpless without him. He’d better return, the idiot.
For ten days, Daeva fretted about her brother. On the eleventh, she woke up next to her lover, the same man she’d slept next to for the past four years. Only a faint whiff of the past remained in her mind, a slight suspicion that Will hadn’t existed the day before. It wasn’t until Tinsley landed the Hummingbird a week and a half later that she learned how much his little venture had twisted spacetime.
Before Tinsley even opened the door, he sent her another message. “Did it work? Is Will here?”
“What do you mean? Of course he’s here. Isn’t he always?” But her stomach tensed. What had Tinsley done? Why had he asked about Will? Something wasn’t right, and that sensation she’d had earlier returned.
Tinsley slid out of the ship and walked slowly towards her, a stiff walk she recognized from her own trips. No matter how much one tried to exercise on the machine, it just wasn’t enough. Why hadn’t that damned Melina figured that one out?
“Get Will,” he said. “We need to look at what’s happened to spacetime. I may have sealed its doom.”
“What do you mean?”
“You won’t remember, but I went to save Will from drowning. It worked, and he’s here, but in the process, I may have braided spacetime.”
“Uh, Tinsley, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I know. Let me get inside and I’ll explain.”
Dr. Melina Penrose stared with satisfaction at her and her father’s newest invention, a computer which could keep track of history despite any changes to spacetime. Her father had managed to leverage his success on the warp-drive into enough funding that they could build an underground laboratory in the Nevada desert, completely cut off from the usual communication networks. Supposedly, they were building and testing a time-machine with the money. Instead, they’d developed this other device.
Now they just needed to test the machine against a real-world event, but how were they going to do that? It could be years before another child was abducted, or some other spacetime altering event occurred. She wondered if Gravity knew something he hadn’t told her. Something that would happen in the year he meant to land in, or shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, she was ready for another project. Logically, she should finish building her time machine. But was it ethical to build one now, when they knew the eventual impact of such a machine on the structure of space and time? And what would happen if she didn’t? What about that future that Gravity came from? Would he suddenly vanish? Would it still exist in the time-line that occurred before he came into her life? It was all rather confusing. None of her calculations had been able to answer these questions. The real nature of space and time remained a puzzle, one which most physicists were certain could not be solved.
Gravity entered the small room, and turned on the wall screen, which showed a forest of oak trees swaying in the breeze, the blue sky above them. “I don’t understand how you can sit in this cave for hours at a time.”
Melina swung her chair around, away from the glowing sphere of the history-saving machine. “I get too engrossed in my work to notice.”
“Your father went home an hour ago.”
Home meant an apartment she shared with her father about a half an hour car flight from the lab. It was a dreary spot, and Melina tried to avoid it whenever possible. Gravity had his own place, a little house she’d never seen.
“Gravity, tell me. What happens if I never build a time-traveling machine?”
“No one knows.”
“Will you vanish into thin air?”
His blue eyes locked onto hers. “I might. Why are you thinking like this?”
Biting her lip, she swung her chair around to her desk, picked up a pencil and tapped it. She really didn’t like the idea of Gravity disappearing, even if he wouldn’t give in to the attraction between them. He remained one of the sexiest men she’d ever met. “If I never build the machine, then this woman will never steal a child, and spacetime will never fragment. Right?”
“You’re the physicist. I honestly don’t know what will happen.”
“I hope you would still be here.” Her voice came out sad and a bit bitter. Why wouldn’t he sleep with her?
He put a hand on her back. “Look, I know how you feel about me. You’ve told me enough times, but I can’t get involved with you. We’d both regret it.”
“They should never have sent someone so handsome.”
He kissed her cheek.
That was enough to drive her crazy. “Just once before you leave?”
“You’re a cold fish.”
“I didn’t come here to argue with you. I came here to tell you that Eran Jamison sent a new list of over five thousand possible abductees.”
“What?” That was exciting, if frightening news.
“Yes. She found multiple reports of machines appearing and taking large numbers of children out of war zones.”
“She never found reports of that before.”
“It’s our lady. I’m sure of it. This hadn’t happened when I left the future. It’s something new.”
Adrenaline rushed through her. “Send me Eran’s information. I’m going to see what our history-saving machine has to say.”