Melina tossed her book bag onto the ground, even though her mother constantly corrected her for the action. Opening the fridge and finding nothing of interest, she huffed and slammed the door shut.
“Was the fridge that mean to you, dear?” Her father seemingly appeared from thin air.
Melina didn’t acknowledge him and pushed past to the cabinet to get a glass for water.
“Mel, you can’t give me the silent treatment forever.”
She placed the glass on the counter and turned to face her father. “You more than believe me, Dad. You know time travel is possible. You proved it.”
“Proving a theory is mathematically viable, and building a working vehicle capable of moving matter through space-time is a totally different thing, Mel, and you know that.”
“But I saw her.” Melina’s eyes welled with tears. “I saw her with my own eyes!”
“What did you see, honey? Why do you have to believe it was a time traveler? You demand that the world believe you, yet you have absolutely no evidence to support your theory.”
“But I feel it in my gut. I can’t explain it, but I just know I’m right. I know what she was.”
Larry removed his glasses and stared directly into her eyes. His tone was much harder and sterner than Melina had ever remembered hearing before. “You gut, my child, is not science. You cannot rail against the lack of scientific value in psychiatry while simultaneously following no real scientific method of your own. We Penroses aren’t perfect, but we certainly aren’t hypocrites.” Melina’s posture relaxed, her shoulders slumped, and a single tear fell against her cheek. Her father’s hand landed gently on her shoulder. “I know you what you believe, and yes, I know in theory we have potentially proved that time travel could work through a modification of my warp theory, but creating a unified theory of general relativity and quantum field theory….Well, it’s much, much more than gut feelings. It’s hard data, it’s quantitative evidence.”
Melina’s head sank. “But that will take time, Dad, and Jeffrey is somewhere out there wondering why his parents or I haven’t come to take him home yet.”
Larry lifted her chin with a finger. His hands were like ice against her skin, but his gentle embrace was comforting. “Finding him is not on you, Mel. Neither was his kidnapping. I know how responsible you likely feel but none of this is your fault.”
“So what can I do now? How can we move forward?” she questioned. “People are calling me crazy. People think I had something to do with his disappearance. Kids at school will mock me every chance they get.”
“You dig into your studies. Dig into your work, your own life, and make the best with what you have. You demand to be heard and you show the world evidence that they won’t be able to turn away from. ”
She nodded. “But it’s going to take forever.”
Larry smiled warmly, “It’s going to be okay. After all, if you’re right, you have all the time in the world.”
It was 2:45AM local time. Daeva was safe for now, comfortable in the solitude and warmth the summer night afforded. She sat quietly in the dark in the Hummingbird watching the youngest Winton daughter peacefully dreaming. She wondered, for a fleeting moment, what might appear in Camille’s precocious mind as she slept. She lived such a charmed life it seemed. So happy, so carefree. Daeva remembered what life like that was like. Funny how it was decades away from ever taking place, but it still seemed like an eternity ago to her. Then she wondered how bad the repercussions could be if she just tried, just once, to go and warn her father and change the future for the better. Tinsley always told her the inflection point would be too great. The deviations to the new timeline would rip apart space-time. She could only fight for an unknown future. She couldn’t completely change the past. She thought of William Setty, and realized for the first time that perhaps her brother was right.
“Vareese, are you there?” she asked.
The Hummingbird’s console began to glow. “Of course, Daeva.” The A.I.’s tone held comfortable familiarity even though it was flat and even. “How can I assist you?”
She hesitated for a moment, running her fingers through her long and thick raven hair, then finally replied, “Setty. William Setty. Are there any files on him? Photos maybe?”
Vareese sighed. “There are several photos and notes on him. And there are two video messages. One you made for him if something were to happen to you. The other he made for you in that regard.”
“He recorded a message for me? Why hadn’t you told me about it?”
“I had strict instructions from Mr. Setty not to unless you somehow recalled his existence and specifically requested the information.”
She wiped her face with her hands and blew into them. “Show me a picture,” she ordered.
A two-dimensional image of a dark skinned man appeared. He was the most handsome man she’d ever seen: strong jawline, neatly trimmed hair, big brown eyes, and arms thick like tree trunks. His smile had a devilish jokester quality to it, his bright white teeth peeking through his lips. He wore a short-sleeved shirt like many of the settlers of Gardotian-56 due to its tropical climate. She couldn’t place the feeling, but she sensed she’d known him a long time. No, she’d loved him for a long time. The thought was intriguing as much as it was terrifying. “What are the other photos like?”
“Shots of the two of you together, some with his friends hiking the Tek’ti-ar Mountains, more candid photos like this.”
She knew that trail well. She loved hiking those mountains. “I took a lot of them, didn’t I?” she asked.
Vareese was silent. Vareese rarely went silent when asked a question.
“You took all of them,” he replied. His flat tone had been replaced by an air of sadness, of empathy.
“Play the video message.”
“Daeva, ma’am, couldn’t this wait until – ”
“Play the message, Varesse, now!” she snapped.
William was in a brown flight jacket. He looked to be on the bridge of a flyer, a shuttle capable of off-world travel and very short space flight. He face was relaxed, but there was something about his eyes that seemed worrisome. She couldn’t place it, but she’d seen that look before.
“Hiya, D.” William’s image beamed as he said the words. He seemed so happy to speak to her. “I know,” he paused for a moment laughing to himself then continued, “I know this is probably really strange for you. Really strange. Here’s a guy speaking to you whom you’ve never laid eyes on. I know Varesse, and probably Tinsley, have explained the situation by now, so I won’t belabor the point. You were someone that was very, very important to me. And I’m pretty sure you felt the same way,” he grinned again. “If I’m not there now, and you have no memory of me, it means the past was changed. I no longer exist and maybe never did. The change in the timeline, however, may have left some residual effects. You may have some inexplicable gut instinct that what I’m saying is true. You may feel as though you’ve known me for some time even though we’ve technically never met. I don’t know. Regardless, I wouldn’t be standing here recording you this message if some portion of what I’m saying wasn’t true.” William moved closer to the recording device. He looked around the room, and, apparently confirming he was alone, he continued. “What I need for you to understand is none of this matters. If I’m gone, I’m gone. We knew this was a possibility. That’s why we recorded these messages for one another. Don’t shed tears for me. I didn’t suffer, there was no pain. Focus on why you’re doing what you’re doing. Remember your father, remember his legacy. You will make his enemies pay. They will feel every ounce of your vengeance. No matter what Tinsley or anyone else tries to tell you. Don’t let them stop you! Fight, my love. Fight and win. If not simply for your father, then for me as well.” His intensity subsided and with a final long pause he finally added, “I love you with all my heart. Godspeed and be well.” The image blinked off.
Where her resolve had been shaken only moments ago, now her spirit was hardened, galvanized. She knew what she was doing was right. The ghost of the man she apparently loved had just told her to make his sacrifice matter. He was willing to put his very existence on the line for their cause. That was enough for her. She wiped her face again and gathered her thoughts. Finally, taking one last deep breath, Daeva opened the door to the Hummingbird and entered the silhouette filled bedroom.
They weren’t sure how to tell the President. The senior agent adjusted her blazer and blouse and told her team to quiet down. “This isn’t a democracy. It’s my place to inform her, personally, and that is what I’m going to do right now. Continue your work.”
She walked out of the eggshell colored room down the tight, regal hallway to the moderately sized outer office adorned with its intricate wooden trim and elaborate decor. She stood for only a few minutes before the inner door opened to the main office. She was ushered through the threshold by an older thin gentleman with pale white skin and thinning white hair to match. A slew of military generals and admirals from all the branches stood by with smartpads and grimaces of concern while a few of her men and women stood near the glass doors to her left which led out to a small patio. Their eyes remained locked out towards the perimeter. When the door she’d entered finally closed a hush fell across the crowd of senior elites. She didn’t waste any time getting to the point. She cleared her throat and spoke as clearly and confidently as she could, given the circumstances.
“Madame President, we’ve conducted two complete sweeps of the residence as well as both the East and West Wings of the White House. Camille is not on the grounds. I’m afraid it appears as though your daughter is officially missing.”
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