This is the seventh installment in our ongoing serial story, The Time Traveler’s Scheme. In the previous section, we saw Daeva returning from the past with the daughter of the President of The United States, Camille Winton. We also saw Daeva’s interactions with her abducted charges, and the problems she’s having with Jeffrey Jamison.
To read this story from the beginning, click here.
“Daeva,” Tinsley said, when he reached the playroom, “we need to talk.”
She said goodbye to the children and followed him outside and down the path to their own compound. He entered her house, a smallish brown place patterned after a Southwestern home she’d found on the computer when she was thirteen. As always, the home’s soft rounded corners and earth tones struck Tinsley as bizarre, given his sister’s determination to take back their father’s kingdom and kill those who’d killed their father, but he kept his mouth shut. Every person, including himself, was a mass of contradictions.
His sister dropped onto her rust and tan couch and sighed. “What havoc did I reap this time?”
“You and your machine were seen again.” Tinsley took a matching armchair across from her.
“I warned you that the daughter of the President of the most powerful country on Earth would be guarded twenty-four hours a day.”
“So what?” She folded her arms and glared at him. “No one knows where we are. They don’t even have time travel yet. That dumb Melina won’t figure it out for awhile.”
“You’ve gotta stop taking the children of famous people.”
“I will.” Just one more. The son of that astronaut. He’d make an amazing pilot. Tinsley didn’t know about him, not yet. “Speaking of which, Camille needs surgery tomorrow if we are going to prevent her heart failure.”
“It’s all set.”
She wiggled impatiently in her chair. “I’m hungry and tired, Tinsley, so get to the point.”
“You almost started a world war.”
“But I didn’t?”
“No. Congress was certain the Chinese or one of the Middle Eastern countries had kidnapped Camille. They wanted to attack everyone all at once.”
She grinned. That would have been cool.
He shook his head. “It isn’t funny. If war had broken out, it could have changed everything.”
“What? Maybe Dad wouldn’t have been deposed?”
He stood and folded his arms. “My Galaxy, you’re so cocky. What if we hadn’t been born?”
Her grin disappeared. He was right. He always was. “Okay, so tell me, mister knows-it-all, what kept the U.S. from going to war?”
Tinsley regarded his sister with an exasperated look. “Because you made the papers, with your machine. The head of NASA phoned the head of National Security and told her about Jeffrey’s abduction and the possibility that you’d come from the future. That gave everyone just enough breathing room to calm down and approach the other countries.”
“Whew. What else?”
“They couldn’t catch you, of course, but they could increase funding for the development of a time machine.”
“Big deal. What possible difference could that make?”
He shook his head and pulled himself out of the soft chair to stand over her. “I can’t believe you think you can lead a coup, if you can’t even follow the threads of this conversation without me spelling out every last detail for you.”
“That’s why I need you. Come on, Tinsley. Don’t be a jerk. Tell me the rest. It’s too late to undo this anyway.” She sat up straight.
“It means that Melina Penrose got her machine four years earlier than before and it’s much snazzier.”
“I gather she hasn’t caught up to us, or we wouldn’t be here.”
“Right. She’s out there, though. I found some evidence that she’d gone back to try to catch you when you went for Charles Lindberg, Jr. I’m not sure how she figured that one out, since she doesn’t have access to an archive bubble.”
Daeva shuddered and stood, then walked to the fireplace, where she picked up a poker and stirred the cold ashes. “What else?”
“The extra research money which would have gone into Camille Winton’s genetic defect wasn’t allocated until her sister died, but we expected that. Not much else that I can determine.”
Setting down the poker, Daeva whirled back around. “Well, I’m not afraid of Melina Penrose. And we almost have our top team in place. Except … ”
Tinsley looked over at her, surprised. His sister did not usually speak decisively. “Except what?” He asked.
“Except for two things, and they’re related. We need more allies our own age. And Jeffrey Jamison is not working out.”
Understanding exactly what she was saying, Tinsley said, “You can’t undo his capture.”
“Sure I can. I can’t overlap myself, but I could return him only seconds after I took him.”
“Melina and Eran would see you.”
“So what? They wouldn’t stop me. They’d be too surprised to see the ship appear and have Jeffrey tossed at them. And no one would believe their tales of appearing and vanishing machines.”
“Hmmm. Maybe. I don’t know how precisely we can time your landing. And it’s obvious Jeffrey is older. It also doesn’t guarantee that he will still drown and the Haverson floatation device will be invented. What if he’s too upset to go to that birthday party after all of this trauma?”
Daeva drew a line on the floor with her foot, as if the answer lay there. “I’ve already considered that. But Will Setty left me a message, and I realized that I remember him, if only faintly. We need him.”
Tinsley narrowed his eyes. Had Daeva recalled the love she’d had for Will in that other timeline? Did she want to have that? And how could she possibly remember him, when she’d never met him?
Still, he had seen in the archive bubble what a great strategist Will was in the now-destroyed timeline. Daeva was right about how much he could help them. “Okay. Let’s think about it. Now, go eat. Cook made a wonderful Kippo stew.”
That won him a big smile. Daeva loved their cook’s recipe for Kippo stew, made from a native Gardotian- 56 bird which tasted better than the chickens they’d imported. “I’ll come find you after I sleep.”
Out in California, a physics graduate student named Melina Penrose saw the news reports and nodded to herself. The ship which had taken Camille Winton might be a little different than the one she’d seen eight years previously, but there was no doubt it was the same abductress. She wondered why those particular children? What did that woman want with them? And when and who would be next? Or had been next?
Her watch buzzed, and she glanced at the caller’s name. It was Eran Jamison. She hadn’t spoken to Eran, who would be twelve now, since the night Jeffrey disappeared. Curious, Melina answered.
“Have you solved it?” Eran asked, without even saying hello. “Mom is beside herself to think she was wrong about you. She wants to help in any way she can.”
“Wait, Eran, what are you talking about?”
“I know you’re working on time travel. Your dad showed it was possible, and you’re figuring out how to do it. Now you have to find Camille Winton, too.”
“Slow down, kid. It’s true that I’m writing my thesis on time travel, but I don’t exactly have a machine designed. It’s a hard problem.”
“I know. I’m going to help you when I’m older. We’ll build it together.”
Melina laughed a little bitterly. It had taken her until last week to find the right parameters to create a machine that could go anywhere in space-time. Her thesis advisor was double-checking her result, but Melina was certain it was correct. Soon, she’d have her doctorate, and hopefully a job at NASA.
“Hey, kid,” she asked, uncertainly, “can you do something for me?”
“Get on the internet and make a list of all of the famous children who’ve disappeared in the past two hundred years. Make a file of everything you can find out about them.”
“Great idea. I can use it for a history project, too.”
After hanging up, Melina grabbed her coat and raced out the door. She needed a way to keep track of original events, with these people coming from the future and changing things, and it needed to be a machine so secret these people from the future would never know it existed. “I need to go to my father’s office,” she said to her watch. By the time she reached the curb, an autonomous car waited at the curb. Stepping inside, she sank into her thoughts, equations whirling past her eyes, figuring out the mechanics of a history-saving bubble. Her father would know how to do the rest.
The Law Offices of Maguire and Carroll took up half the upstairs of a brand new office building in Menlo Park. Pushing open the glass door, etched with leaping dolphins, Karen Penrose took a seat on a leather couch and waited for their lawyer. The receptionist offered her a choice of espresso drinks, tea, or bottled water, but Karen didn’t much feel like drinking anything. She was only here for one thing, and that was Francine’s opinion of the case against Melina.
After a fifteen minute wait, the receptionist said, “She’s ready for you. Go on back to the second conference room.”
Karen had been here enough times to know the way. She pushed through a second glass door, this one etched with antelopes, and strode down the hall. Of course, Francine Carroll wasn’t there yet. Ms. Carroll always made her wait at least ten minutes in the chilly room. This time, Karen had brought a warm sweater and worn jeans and socks with her boots, to ensure she wouldn’t freeze.
The antique mahogany table and comfortable leather chairs reminded her of the reason she’d hired this firm; they nearly always won. The wealth on display in the room was evidence of that fact, although it also declared that they usually dealt with business law, not criminal cases. Francine had only taken it on as a favor to Karen, who’d been her college roommate. If the case grew sticky, she’d pass it over to a firm with more experience in litigation.
After twenty minutes, Francine bustled in and set a stack of papers on the table. “Melina’s lie detector came out whistle-clean. I passed on her psychiatric evaluation from Dr. Adler to the D.A.’s office. He attributed her behavior at her first visit to the shame and anger she was feeling after her arrest. Her second and third visits went well. He determined that she’s an overly-bright teen, socially awkward, but otherwise normal. And who isn’t socially awkward at that age? He also determined that she has a strong sense of what’s right, and that it doesn’t include kidnapping. They’re going to drop the case, I am almost certain. They have absolutely no evidence against your daughter, other than the Jamison boy’s disappearance.”
Karen breathed a sigh of relief. “How soon?”
“Not sure. I haven’t given you the best news, though. The D. A. insisted that Eran be interviewed by a specialist in children’s testimony. Her parents were furious and tried to fight it, but in the end they were forced to allow it. Her account of events was almost identical to Melina’s.”
“So flying saucers are real?” Karen half-grinned.
“Or time machines.” Francine’s face was grave, despite the flippancy of her words. “I believe the charges will be dropped within the week.”
“Good.” She frowned. “Melina will still have it rough at school. Even though she’s a minor, the case is so odd, it’s been headlines for weeks.”
“Not much we can do about that now. If I were you, though, I’d get her into college as soon as possible. One thing Dr. Adler left out of his report, but he told me over the phone – she’s bored with middle school, and that never bodes well.”
Nodding, Karen stood. “We have her signed up for two college classes in the fall. Math and physics.”
“Put her into an online high school for the rest. She can go at her own pace, and she won’t have to deal with social idiots.”
“But she needs to be around her peers.”
“I’ve met Melina. She’s emotional, but she’s in many ways more mature than most teens. Maybe she can go to chess club, if she needs to be around kids her own age.” Francine stood. “Good to see you, Karen. I’ll let you know how this plays out.”
Karen hugged her. “See you at book club on Thursday.”
“Don’t forget that I’m on a diet. Don’t you dare bring chocolate chip cookies again.”
Two days later, the charges against Melina were dropped. The Jamisons took jobs at a research institute in Argentina, refusing to even say goodbye to Melina’s father, with whom they had worked for over a decade. Melina felt awful about the break with them. She tried to contact them, every way she could think of, but they ignored her attempts to reach out.
“Let it go,” her parents urged. “Maybe with time, they’ll heal enough to realize this wasn’t your fault.”