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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
A Felony of Birds

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Harris Tobias
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Harris Tobias
The Wizard's House

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Against a Diamond

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Michele Dutcher

The Grandmother Paradox

by

Roi Czechvala



His nose flared in disgust upon entering the 'Home'. The biting stench of antiseptic battling with the sickly sweet smell of stale piss permeated the entire building. Nurses brushed passed him in the drab halls. They made their rounds with cool businesslike efficiency. Apparently a kind word or cheery smile was not part of the protocol. The institutional green of the walls did nothing to improve his opinion of the place.

Approaching the door of what the brochure had referred to as an 'Active Lifestyle Senior Apartment', David watched as an elderly gentleman left his grandmothers flat. Though in her eighties, his grandmother was still active. More than once he'd noticed the signs of more than casual visitation; the toilet lid up, two wineglasses in the sink. He had noticed an empty foil packet in the garbage on one visit and fervently hoped that it had once contained only medicine. This however, was his first actual sighting.

He rapped a quick tattoo on the door and was shocked to receive a terse; "What the hell do you want?"

"Is that any way to treat your loving grandson?" David chided as he entered the room.

"David. If I would have known... I'm sorry, it's just that the damn staff are always butting in to your business. Particularly when you have visitors."

"I noticed. So, who was your gentleman caller?" he asked with a smirk.

She dropped her knitting in her lap. Colour rose to her cheeks. "Wipe that look off your face. He's just an old friend. He comes around from time to time to check up on me."

"Grandma, I didn't think you had it in you."

"I'm not dead. Besides, like I said, he's an old friend. You'd like him. What brings you here today."

"As if I need an excuse to see you." He walked over and planted a kiss on the top of her head. He looked around the cramped living room. She kept the place tidy, but it didn't hide the cracked plaster and peeling paint. He walked to the window which opened on a view of the staff parking lot and cafeteria dumpster. Turning away from the depressing view, he sat on the love seat beside her.

He picked up a gilt framed photo from the end table. It was a photo of him as a young boy. He was sitting on his mothers lap. His grandmother was leaning in from the side. It had been taken in front of the tiger exhibit at Busch Gardens when they had visited Florida. It was the last picture he had with his mother before she left.

"Have you seen Mom recently?"

"We keep in touch. She calls."

"What is it with you two?"

"What do you mean," she sighed. This was old ground for both of them. "We used to talk all the time. Besides, she has her own life."

"What she did was a long time ago. Hell, I forgave her a long time ago. Long before she ever showed up again and I was the one abandoned. You just had to raise me." The old woman said nothing. "She called the other day. She told me she wanted you to know..."

"I know."

"How could you know..., never mind. What happened between you? Don't you think it's time I knew? Why did she leave me with you? Where did she go all those years? What happened?"

"How many times have we been over this David? She'll tell you when she's ready. It's not my place."

"What do you mean it's not your place? You're her mother."

"Yeah, there is that," she said wistfully.

He knew better than to push the issue. She would get stubborn and clam up. Just like his mother. They were so much alike. He often wondered if that's why they didn't like each other’s company. On the rare occasions, when they were both together, the tension was nearly palpable. He rose and turned his attention back to the window. It had just begun to rain. "Lovely view. I'll bet on a clear day you can see the vents and the air conditioning units on the buildings down the hill. "

She knew the look. She could read his expression. "Don't start with me, David. I am not moving. I like it here."

"Don't fib to me, you hate it here. There are a lot better places out there. If it's a matter of money, I can help. At least come and stay with me, Grandma. This place is so depressing. I have plenty of room. I'll let you keep a cat. That's what old ladies like, right? Cats?"

"Don't be a smart ass." She rose and patted his cheek. "You always were my favourite grandson," she squeezed his hand.

"I'm your only grandson, Grandma. I'm a sad and lonely only grandchild."

"Thanks for reminding me. The dementia is starting to set in." His grandmother had a sarcastic streak. She was still as mentally active as she had been in college, though the wisdom that comes with age had severely tempered her left wing activism. "But no, I can't do that," she replied, enjoying their joke as always. "Besides. You don't want an old lady around, getting under foot and chasing all your girlfriends away."

"You're my only girlfriend, Grandma." He said, bending to give her a kiss on her cheek. Her skin was thin to the point of transparency. Blue veins showed through with vivid clarity. Wisps of coppery hair still glistened in a mass of white. "Besides, I'm too busy with work. I don't have time to date." He checked his watch. "Damnit, I'm sorry this is such a short visit. I have to get going. Today is the day we find out if your grandson is on the fast track for the Nobel. I wanted to see you before the experiment. I hope it works."

"It will, I know it."

"I wish I had your faith, Grandma."

"It's not faith, I just know my brilliant grandson, that's all," she said smiling. "Now go on and leave an old woman to her knitting."

"Okay, I'll come and see you tomorrow. I'll tell you all about it."

"Promise?" she asked.

"Butterflies, Dr. Jansen?" Caroline Picard asked. Dr. David Jansen's eyes rested a little too long on his lab assistant's figure. While there was nothing wrong with a professor dating a graduate student or doctoral candidate in this case, and many did, Jansen had felt awkward about asking her out.

When his friends asked, he told them he was better than those in the soft sciences who slept with their students as if life in academia was nothing but a Bacchanalian orgy. The truth of the matter was something entirely different. The pretty little red head with the pouting lips and lithe gymnast's figure intimidated the hell out of him. Something about her made him feel like a little boy. They had been seeing each other covertly for over a year now and she still made him just a little uneasy. Over the past two months, their relationship had become somewhat less covert. Though she had taken to wearing loose clothing; on her petite frame, her condition was fairly obvious.

"I wouldn't say butterflies," he replied, tearing his eyes from the soft curves beneath her sweater, "I would have to say it's something more akin to abject terror."

"Everything will be fine. What's the worst that could happen?"

"Oh, I don't know. Having my atoms ripped apart and being reduced to a swirling red mist. Materializing in the same spot as a wall that was there first. Suddenly popping into existence in front of a truck that is destined to occupy the same spot I am precisely one second later. I can think of even worse things if you like. Trust me, I have."

"You worry too much, Dave." The way she said his name sent a thrill coursing through him. He tried to ignore the feeling and set his mind on the task at hand. He walked around the apparatus, studying it with concentrated intent.

"Sixty years ago, this building wasn't here. It was just a huge empty expanse on the campus commons. Hell, it wasn't even part of the campus, just a cornfield or something. You'll be fine."

"You know, in the old movies, these things always looked so sleek. So... futuristic. They didn't look like..."

"... like a pile of reheated shit? Like an escapee from the recycling plant?" Dr. Ray Rowe finished his sentence for him as he walked up from behind.

"Like it had been cobbled together from old toasters, is what I was going to say, but somehow I think your analogy is more fitting. Well, Ray, this is it. Ready?"

"The question is, are you ready. You won the toss. Caroline. Has he been moping around again?"

"Like a little lost puppy," she replied, throwing a wink in Jansen's direction.

"I am just somewhat concerned that's all. Wouldn't you be," he said a little too defensively as he quickly averted his eyes from Caroline's. He suddenly felt ashamed.

"Excuse me you two. I have to warm up the crowd."

Lab technicians, grad students, even a few undergrads who had showed promise, and been granted a rare glimpse of the inner sanctum, began to slowly file in. The assembled group gawked at the gleaming metal monstrosity that dominated the otherwise neat and tidy lab.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Children of all ages. Welcome to Dr. David Jansen's Cirque de Physique. Since the day of that groundbreaking discovery at CERN nearly twenty years ago, our esteemed colleague and friend has devoted his life to its implications.

Today is the day. The fruition of his labours. Will Dr. David Joseph Jansen taste sweet victory over the space time continuum or will he know the bitter sting of humiliating defeat?" Polite laughter rippled through the room.

Caroline rushed to him. "Be careful," she said in a whisper, "You have a lot to come back to." She moved his hand to her stomach. She let his hand rest there before giving him a quick, chaste kiss. "I love you."

David muttered awkward words of affection, though inside he felt nothing but an icy emptiness. He regarded the contraption with growing unease. The day before it had merely resembled an aluminum port-o-john gone horribly wrong. Now, as he stood before it, it took on a menacing, malignant quality. The affect was not helped in any measure by the mist that bathed it. Pressure release valves leaked liquid nitrogen used to keep the super conducting magnetic coils chilled to temperatures found only in the depths of space.

David stopped at the opening of the device. He reached up and detached a small circular object from its surface and slid it on his wrist. As soon as it had parted company with the machine’s surface, green figures began to swirl about its circumference.

He entered the tight space, gave a wan smile and less than enthusiastic wave to the anxious crowd gathered outside and jabbed a green button flat with his thumb. There was a sharp report and brilliant flash of light.

David awoke to the cloying smell of marijuana mixed with patchouli. His eyes fell on a poster featuring a cartoon rendering of a short bald man in yellow robes and flowing white beard; one sandaled foot was outthrust. The caption below the figure admonished the viewer to "Keep on Truckin'".

He opened his eyes without moving. A primal trait. Make sure you are aware of your surroundings before exposing yourself to potential predators. Every morning since his arrival he awoke in a confused state that bordered on panic. Thinking over the recent events helped to settle his mind.

Where the building that housed the physics department stood in 2028, there had only been an empty field in the past. His chances of materializing inside a wall were slim. What hadn't been taken into account was the massive amount of work that had gone into shoring up the soil in preparation for the massive structure. What had been a ground floor lab in 2028 was ten feet above the current ground level.

David had appeared with a muffled "WHUMPF" as he violently displaced the air around him. At that same moment, gravity, that weak yet all-pervading force that made the universe possible, took over. Gravity did not particularly like David's sudden aerial appearance, but took this effrontery with a simple, quiet elegance. David fell the ten feet at a rate of 9.8 metres per second squared.

David's response to gravity was a far more pedestrian, "Shit." This exclamation was followed quite quickly by a moist crack as he landed awkwardly in a newly ploughed field.

A soft sigh drew his attention back to his present environs and the stunning beauty beside him. Soft auburn hair framed an angelic face. Her flawless skin was creamy white. A slight sprinkling of freckles dusted her nose and cheeks. He ran his hand across her full, firm breasts and down her taut stomach. Her eyes fluttered open. She smiled at him. "I love you, Dave." She grabbed him and squeezed gently.

"Hey," he said laughing, "I need those." He bent and kissed her softly on the forehead. He rose and began to dress. He had difficulty slipping his plaster encased ankle into his pant leg.

"You don't have to go. You can stay with me. What do you have there that you can't have here?"

He felt a flush of heat in his cheeks. A momentary pang of shame. "Nothing, Sweetheart, you know that. It is better here. Much better. For the most part anyway."

"Look, there's this guy in California I heard about. He's got a ranch in Death Valley. We could go there. We'd be safe there."

"Yeah. About that place, you don't want to go there. Trust me. Nothing good will come of that. I know."

"Yeah, you would. Won't you stay for me? For this?" She rose displaying her shapely figure and long legs to full advantage. Her unshaven armpits did nothing to curb the lust he felt.

"I want to, Beautiful. I want to so bad. But you know I can't stay. I have to get back. We talked about this."

"Yeah. I guess, but I didn't really think...," her voice trailed off. She bestowed on him a coquettish pout. "Come back to me. Promise you'll come back. Promise me."

"I will, Love. I promise. To this very day."

"Sure you will. You'll remember this very day." She pursed her lips in a very attractive pout.

"How could I forget, Beautiful? Besides, it's my birthday today. Or will be. In thirty years. I still can't believe that you believed me right away. I wouldn't believe me. You're too trusting."

"The evidence was quite compelling. Besides, I could read it in your eyes. Any day now men will be walking on the moon. Why shouldn't I believe that in sixty years there will be time travellers." She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his chest. "Please, come back to bed."

"I can't."

"Come back to me."

"I will. I promise you that."

"Not for me," she beamed at him, "for us."

"Yes, of course, I meant us." At first he did not understand. Comprehension sank in with the icy thrill of realization. His face became ashen. "Us? US? THAT US? It can't be... US? I've only been here three... It couldn't..."

"It only takes one time, Sweetheart, and it has been a lot more than one time," she cooed as she rubbed her naked body against him.

"But how, I mean it's so early, how can you... I mean..."

"How do I know? It's just a feeling. I just know. I asked my mother how she knew. She said a woman always knows."

"That's not very scientific."

"No, it's not scientific. It's life." She held his face, her emerald eyes stared straight into his. He felt as if they pierced his soul. "Promise me you'll come back."

"I promise."

Dave pulled a bracelet from his pocket. His locator, it would lock on the machine’s energy signature and guide him home. He depressed a stud on its face. The bracelet fell to the floor.

"Dave, are you all right?" Several men ran to the crumpled form of Dr. David Jansen.

"What happened? Did I... The experiment..."

"Nothing happened," Ray replied, as he helped his stricken colleague to his feet. "You entered the machine, everything went fuzzy for a moment, there was a bang, a flash of light, then you collapsed."

"So, it didn't work?"

"No."

"But I remember... It seemed so real..."

"Sweetheart," tossing discretion aside, Caroline ran to him, wrapped her arms around him and kissed him fiercely. "Are you okay, are you hurt?"

"I'm fine," he replied, pushing her away, half in annoyance, half in embarrassment. He pulled himself to a sitting position, his legs curled beneath him. He ran his hands through his hair. Ray pointed to his wrist.

"Hey, where's your locator?"

Dave rubbed his right wrist where the device that would ensure his return home had been. "I must have dropped it back at the apartment. I took it off, I..."

"What apartment? What are you talking about," Caroline asked.

"I don't know, it all seemed so real. Help me up, let me, OW," he gasped leaning heavily on Ray.

Caroline's hand shot to her mouth. "What the hell is that," she shrieked, pointing at David's plaster encrusted foot with her free hand. She backed away in horror.

"Oh," he said in an offhand manner, "I broke my ankle when I fell." Everything flooded back. "I BROKE MY ANKLE," he exclaimed happily.

"Nononono," were the last things they heard Caroline Picard speak. She fell backward over a cable that snaked around at the entrance to the device. Her hands shot out in an attempt to catch herself. Her palm smashed against the control panel. She crushed the green button flat. She did not hear the explosive sound. She did not see the flash. She merely fell.

"Mommy, can I have this?"

Carol , covered in cobwebs and dirt, scrambled up to her mother, arm extended. In her hand she held a round piece of dull silvery metal. Across its surface iridescent green letters, numerals and symbols flashed.

Her mother put down the trowel she'd been using to weed her garden and sat facing her little girl. She took the object from her daughter and examined it thoughtfully. "You've been in the attic again haven't you?"

"Well, maybe a little."

"Maybe a little," her mother repeated smiling and pulled her daughter close. She brushed away the webs from the same coppery mane that she herself possessed.

"Well," the little girl asked.

"Well what, Honey?"

"Can I have it?"

"Do you know what this is?"

"It's pretty," Carol replied. To a five year old, that was explanation enough.

"It was your daddy's. He left it for you."

"It was?" The girl’s eyes brightened.

"It sure was. And he loves you very much," she replied planting a kiss on the top of her head.

"Where is Daddy?"

"I don't know, Honey."

"What do the numbers and letters mean?"

"I don't know, but someday you will."

"I will?"

"Yup, someday." She held her daughter tight.

With a sound that resembled an explosion in a pillow factory, David crashed to the ground. He heard his ankle snap. The pain was not far behind. "Shit," he gasped, rolling on to his back. The drop had knocked the breath from his lungs. He struggled to breath. Turning his head, he saw that he had landed in a freshly tilled field. The freshly turned soil was soft and had gone a long way in breaking his fall. Letting the loose dirt slip through his fingers, he counted his blessings. "Could have been worse. Could have landed on a rock and broken my back," he mused philosophically.

As he lay on his back regaining his composure a light mist began to fall. The mist turned to rain. That in turn became a downpour. "Shit," David said again. Pulling himself together, he tried to stand. The pain shooting up his right leg made this all but impossible. He started to crawl.

Through the rain and mist, he recognized a few of the campus buildings. The Castle was closest to him. A gothic style brick building that held the administrative offices. He had spent many an hour there arguing for scraps from a budget that was increasingly being gobbled up by the ever expanding athletic department. "War Eagles," he thought ruefully, pulling himself through the mud.

He pulled himself across the intervening 300 hundred metres in just under an hour with plenty of stops for rest and in considerable pain. It was when he reached the administrative buildings steps that the enormity of what he had accomplished struck him. In his time, the steps were marble with an anachronistic wheel chair ramp. Here, the steps were of the same brick as the building with wrought iron railings. "I did it. I actually did it."

Every inch was agony as he hauled himself up the rough brick steps leaving a thick trail of mud. Using the railing beside the door as a crutch, he managed to pull himself erect. He began to feebly brush at the mud that covered him. He stopped and laughed at himself. At the futility of grooming. At the absurdity of the situation. At the impossibility of what he had accomplished despite the evidence all around that it was real. The laughter sent a wave of pain and nausea coursing through him.

Drawing on his last reserves of consciousness, he grabbed the massive brass door knocker and gave it three strong raps. Within moments he heard a flurry of activity inside. The door swung wide and a pretty young woman stood framed in the light from behind. She wore her red hair in a ponytail. Perched atop her nose were a pair of granny glasses, a tie dyed t-shirt was knotted at her waist. The lyrics of the Young Rascals People Got to be Free drifted out. Just before blackness overtook him, he managed to squeak out one word.

"Caroline?" He collapsed in a sodden, muddy heap.

Caroline found herself sprawled in an un-mown field of alfalfa. The long, soft grass broke her fall. Aside from a few bumps, bruises and scrapes she was relatively unharmed, though very confused. Shaking off a wave of nausea, she stood, brushed herself off and looked around at her new environs. Behind her was a seeming endless expanse of green dotted here and there with clumps of trees. The university was gone. The only familiar landmark was the Castle. For a building that was nearly one hundred years old, it looked surprisingly new. To her left and much closer was a large white farm house protected by an equally white picket. A red barn behind completed the Rockwellian tableau. It was to the house that she made her way.

She stumbled along lost in thought. The house turned out to be farther than it at first appeared. "Okay, this is some kind of fucked up right here," she said to herself.

It took longer than she would have thought possible wading through the grass and tripping in furrows, but finally she made it to a wide front porch that extended around both sides of the house. A light wood screen door opened on a foyer and a wide staircase was barely visible in the dim light beyond. Suddenly dizzy, she supported herself against the frame and knocked. The sound was a hollow echo in her ears. The porch began to turn slowly.

A plump matronly woman, her brown hair, streaked grey and pulled back into a bun, appeared before her. "Saints girl, what happened to you? You look as if you're..." The woman's words died in her throat as a wave of orange, chunky slush fountained from Caroline's mouth. She collapsed heavily to the wood planking, dry heaves convulsed her body.

The woman merely sighed, shook her head and made tsk tsk sounds. With little effort, she gathered the girl into her arms and marched into the house. "Pa," she called, "we have company. Help me make up Johnny's room."

"All right, Ma."

David awoke without opening his eyes. Something was wrong. This wasn't his bed, this wasn't his room. The air was tinged with the pungent smell of antiseptic. He listened. Nothing. He opened his eyes. It was dark. He sat up.

"Good, you're awake."

"AAAAHHHH," replied David.

"How are you feeling," asked the voice.

Dialling back his initial fright, he caught a whiff lavender. His mind raced to make sense of the unfamiliar surroundings. "Grandma? What am I doing here?"

"Nope, try again."

A light flickered on above the bed. Though barely brighter than a night light, its sudden brilliance temporarily blinded him. When he could finally see, his eyes came to rest on a familiar face. "Oh, Caroline. Thank God," he said with relief as he fell back on the pillow.

"Yeah. See, I want to ask about that. How do you know my name?" She leaned forward until her face was bathed in the warm glow of the bed lamp.

He turned to face her. "What have you done with your hair?"

She looked back with a quizzical look. Her hair hung straight. Not a hint of wave or curl. "Um, nothing. This is how I always wear it."

He pointed to her pink tinted granny glasses. "Why are you wearing glasses? Nobody wears glasses."

"They do if they want to see," she replied in a matter-of-fact tone.

"And why are you dressed like that?"

"What's wrong with the way I dress?" A glass beaded leather band was tied across her forehead. Crude wooden beads encircled her neck. Her breasts swayed free, unfettered by a bra beneath a tie dyed shirt.

"Nothing I guess, it's just that... Oohhh." Memories flooded back. The experiment. That hideous amalgamation of wires, magnets and condenser coils. The brief period of weightlessness before crashing to the ground. His excruciating crawl through a sea of mud.

"Son of a bitch, it worked."

"What worked," she asked.

"An experiment with spatial distortion. If I'm right, then the fabric of space time can be distorted, twisted...," he broke off and looked around the room. Above his head a naked incandescent bulb burned beneath a metal shade. From the ceiling hung two grotesque fluorescent tubes. They had been outlawed for years due to mercury content. The walls did not have the slight wavy pattern indicative of an undercoat of light emitting foam. "Never mind, you wouldn't believe me."

"Sure I would," she said standing up. "You can tell me all about it in the morning.” She looked at the clock on the wall. “I have to go now but I will be here bright and early to check up on you. You can tell me all about your experiment. And how you know my name."

She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. She reached out and brushed away an errant lock of hair from his forehead. "You know, you are kind of cute. Now that you’re all cleaned up." She surprised herself by leaning down and brushing her lips across his. "See ya tomorrow," she whispered. With a shy smile she was gone.

It was Carol's eighth birthday. "I wish Daddy could be here."

"So do I, Honey. I'm sure he does too."

"Was he in the war? Was he...," her question was left unfinished. Tears welled in the little girls eyes. Carol's mother was a scientist. A pragmatist. She never tried to shield her child from life. She let her daughter grow up believing in Santa, but as soon as her daughter began questioning, she answered honestly. When her daughter asked her about the disturbing images on the flickering black and white screen, she told Carol in a simple yet honest way about the war in Viet Nam.

"No no no, Honey. He wasn't a soldier. He was a scientist just like me. He didn't die in the war."

"Then why doesn't he ever come to visit?"

"I don't know. I don't think he can. But I am sure that he wants to and would come if he could. Now come on, Caroline, your friends are waiting downstairs."

"Okay Mom," with a sigh she looked at the odd bracelet with the green characters that danced across its surface. She replaced it in her vanity drawer.

Caroline awoke in a strange room. She turned her head to see a window framed in white lace curtains. A paper blind was halfway up and the window had been raised slightly allowing a light breeze to enter the room. Rain pattered against the glass.

Her body stiffened as the door to the room swung open. A large woman strode into the room with a grace that belied her size. "Good. You're awake. I have a few questions for you."

"I... uh... I don't know..."

"Hush now, child, I haven't said anything yet. First order of business. What's your name? Can't have a houseguest without a name can I?"

"Caroline. Caroline P..."

"Caroline. What a lovely name. Caroline. So Caroline, how'd you come to be on my doorstep?" The question was not probing. Just curious. As if strangers showing up in the middle of cow country was an unusual but not rare occurrence.

I... I really don't know. I was..."

"Never mind, dear," the woman cut her off. She assumed the girl was suffering a fever. She had felt warm. "Now then. Are you up to dinner? Most folk would think that after you emptied yourself like you did, that a nice broth would be all you'd want. Me, I know better. A woman in your condition wants food. Real food. And lots of it. Sakes, there I go. Where are my manners. I'm Mrs. Picard. Martha. You can call me Ma. Everybody does. Comes with the territory I suppose. Got seven myself. All boys. All off in the service 'cept the youngest of course. Jeremiah. There I go again. Are you hungry, Sweetheart?"

Caroline was at first overwhelmed by the torrent of words washing over her, but the kindly smiling face and unrestrained cheerfulness instantly won her over. "Yes, please."

"Good. Figured as much. I'll bring you up a plate. When you get to feeling better, we can talk. But you rest now. Plenty of time for chatting later." With a rustle of a patched gingham skirt, Mrs. Picard was swept from the room.

Staring at a small crack in the plastered ceiling, Caroline wondered what she would say. Mrs. Pi..., Ma, she corrected herself, was sure to ask her where she was from and what she was doing out in the country like this. Hell, she wanted to know too. Better to take things as they come and not worry about it. First she had to figure out just where she was.

David awoke to something warm and soft being pressed against his forehead. To his happy surprise he discovered that it was a pair of lips attached to a beautiful, fiery haired, young woman. "Good morning. How are you feeling?"

"Confused. What happened?"

"You tell me. You knocked on the door and collapsed. Your foot was twisted nearly off so we brought you here to the hospital."

"We?"

"A couple of other girls who work with me in the admin centre. Maggie's got a car. So, are you ready to tell me?"

"Tell you what?"

"How you know my name for starters, David."

"How do you know my name?"

"Driver’s License," she said. She tossed his wallet on the bed.

She sat on the edge of his bed. She looked confident. Cool and composed. She looked in charge of the situation. But she was nervous. He knew that. Her eyes darted back and forth, the way they always did when she was unsure of herself. Just as they had when he finally managed to wrestle up the courage to ask her out. But that wasn't her. This was someone else.

"You remind me of someone. Hell, you could be her twin. More than a twin. God, you're beautiful." Her carefully constructed facade broke as a nervous giggle burst from her mouth. Her cream white skin went nearly as red as her hair.

"Shut up," she said, as she tried to regain her composure. "Tell me about your experiment."

"You wouldn't believe me."

"Try me."

"Okay, are you familiar with m theory?"

"No."

"A Minkoski cube?"

"No."

"The unified field theory?"

"Only that physicists are trying to form a grand theory of everything."

"They aren't trying anymore."

"What do you mean, `anymore'?"

"The four forces have been unified and I proved it."

"And how, pray tell, did you do that," she asked, casually pushing a strand of crimson hair aside.

"Well, I'm here aren't I?"

"So am I. What does that prove?"

"You wouldn't believe me."

"You won't know until you tell me."

"I developed a time machine." His words rang hollow even in his ears.

"Oh."

"Oh? Just `oh'?"

"Well, I figured it had to be something like that."

David was shocked into momentary silence. He finally managed a single word that emerged in a strangled splutter; "What?"

"Well, there is your driver’s license. It says you were born in 1998."

"That's right. But it could be fake. I used a fake ID in college to get in bars."

She laughed. "Maybe, but the photo on the ID? Pictures don't appear to float above the license." She paused, a triumphant look in her eye. "Then there's the money."

"Yeah, it's pink. Money used to be green."

"No, no it's not that. That could be done at a print shop too. It's just that who would have thought to print money on plastic and mark it; `Property of the Imperial Bank of Japan: United States Issue'?"

"You seem to be taking this well. I would have thought that the idea of time travel, not to mention meeting someone who claimed to have done it would be... odd... at the least."

"Odd is not the half of it. I tripped with Tim Leary, that was odd. This is not odd, Mister, this is beyond fucked up." She began to get angry. "You know what's really fucked up? The tattoo."

"My Tattoo?"

"Yeah, your goddamn tattoo."

"What's wrong with it."

"It glows in the dark."

"How do you... oh... Well, see..,"

"AND CHANGES COLOUR."

"Oh that. Okay, they took chromatophores from squid and...," he stopped. Tears ran down her face. "Hey, what's wrong?"

"This is all too much. I just..."

He pulled her to him. Her tears soaked his rough hospital gown. He stroked her hair. He kissed the top of her head. He breathed deep the scent of her shampoo. He tried to ignore his growing desire for her. He knew it was wrong. Caroline, his Caroline was pregnant with his child and here he was with her doppelganger. He held her.

They made love for the first time in the hospital room.

Ma Picard appeared in the open door. "Done? Ready for me to take those dishes?"

"Yes, thank you. It was delicious."

"That's kind of you to say, but it was just fried chicken."

"I haven't had chicken like that since I was a little girl. It tastes just like my grandmothers. I don't suppose I could have some more?"

"Of course Sweetheart. As much as you want. Got to fatten you up, you being in the family way and all."

She blushed reflexively. "Does it show that much?"

"A tiny thing like you? It shows," she smiled kindly. "Where's your husband at?"

"My husband?" Caroline's face drained of colour.

Ma misread the look on her face. Her hand flew to her mouth. "I am so sorry. I should have realized. Did he have stateside duty? Oh no, he was called up. Is he... oh no. I always talk too much," she began to bluster self-consciously. "My husband is always saying I talk too much. I am so sorry, dear. I best hush up and get you some more chicken. I'm so sorry." Mrs. Picard stumbled from the room in tears.

She stormed into the kitchen and threw the dishes she carried into the sink. She began to cry quietly.

"How's our little foundling doing," Frank Picard asked without looking up from his paper. The front page announced the Soviet liberation of Crimea.

"I am so stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid."

"What are you stupid for this time," Mr. Picard joked. Setting his paper aside, he looked up to see tears streaming down his wife's face. "Ma, what's wrong."

"She's pregnant."

"Well anyone could see that. That's no reason to cry. Last time I checked anyway."

"It's not the baby, it's the husband."

Pa Picard's face went hard. "He's a deserter."

"No, he's not a deserter. He's dead. Had stateside duty, but got called up and now he's dead. I never should have said anything. You are always telling me I talk too much."

"I never said any such thing. Always putting words in my mouth is what I said. What about her family?"

Ma wrung her hands in a tea cloth. "Didn't say. Says she doesn't know how she got here. She's het up with fever. She'll be staying on a bit until we can reach her family."

"Yep. Guess so." Pa returned to his paper and a story on General Patton. "It'll be the Rooskies next," he muttered.

"Mom, stop crying. You’re embarrassing me."

"I'm sorry. I'm just so proud."

Mother and daughter walked hand in hand down the beech lined sidewalk of the campus. Mom wore business casual, the hem conservatively cut just below the knee, her daughter was cloaked in black commencement finery, sans mortarboard. From a distance, they could have been twins. Both petite and of athletic build. Flowing manes of copper hair crowned both and appeared as fire in the brilliant morning sun. It wasn't until one saw them up close that any difference could be noted. Even then, the differences were slight. Only a few strands of grey hair and fine lines around the lips separated the two. None would have guessed they were mother and daughter. A young man passed giving both women an approving glance.

"Valedictorian, skipped her masters and straight into her doctoral work at the tender age of twenty. What mother wouldn't be proud?"

"Yeah, well if you hadn't been such a slave driver over my studies..."

"And where would you have been if I hadn't stood over you with a whip in my hand," she laughed.

"Happily married with a houseful of children by now."

"You wouldn't want that." Her mother’s voice became wistful.

"No. I suppose not. Not a houseful anyway. Maybe one. A girl, I suppose. Boys are such a pain."

"You don't know the half of it," she sighed. "When do you meet your new boss?"

"Dr. Jansen? Next week, he just moved here from the University of Texas. I got a message from him last night. He says he wants to settle in and go over my work again before we meet. I hope he's not as much of a tyrant as you."

Her mother pulled her close, giving her a rib crushing hug. "I'm sure you'll get along just fine."

Ray helped David stand as he rummaged through his pockets for the key to his apartment. "I'll pick you up tomorrow, unless you want to rest up for a few days. Your ankle and all."

"I'll be fine. It's been three weeks since I broke it."

"For you it has. It's all pretty confusing. You want me to help you inside."

"Thanks, I think I can take it from here."

"Sure? Is there anything else I can do?"

"What? Do you want to follow me to the bathroom and shake it for me? I'm fine, Ray, I'm fine. It's just a broken ankle. I once had a bone sticking out of my arm when I was a kid. This is nothing. Go home and let me get some rest."

"Okay. If you're sure. Call me if you need anything."

"Ray, for the last time, I am fine. Thanks." He started to close the door.

"Ummm... Hey Dave?" Ray stammered, pushing the door back open. "Don't worry. We'll find her."

"Yeah, yeah. I know." His words sounded less than convinced. He closed the door. He looked around the apartment. There wasn't much of her there. She didn't come over much. They went to her place. He had to agree, her place was more comfortable. His was stacked with books, magazines and journals. "All nice and neat," he liked to point out to her. It was neat but not comfortable she reminded him.

Even though she rarely came over, he could smell her scent in the air. He stopped and breathed deeply. He was sure he could smell her. "It's nothing, my imagination. She'll be fine," he told himself, "Hell, we'll find her as soon as she got there. She'll be okay." He didn't believe it. He buried his face in his hands and cried.

Pulling himself together, he wiped his eyes and clumsily made his way to the bedroom. He stripped down to skin save for the nanomesh cast around his ankle. Rich with calcium and collagen, medinites would quickly transport these materials contained in the thin cast through his skin to knit the damaged bones. The Emergency room doctor had called in other nurses and doctors to view the anachronistic plaster cast he had arrived in. A few older members of the staff had seen plaster casts as children. The rest were only mildly intrigued by the crude medical artefact. David barely had to feign fatigue to dismiss their questions concerning its origins.

David collapsed in his bed, drained, exhausted, worried. He had just closed his eyes when the light to the master bathroom snapped on. In the doorway stood a female form. A naked female form. Her hair, backlit by the light, formed a fiery red halo around her head.

"Caroline," he called. She said nothing. She looked different. Her curves were just as sexy, but less defined. More rounded and full, less athletic to be sure, but still enticing. All of this ran through his mind, not making any sense. "Caroline," he repeated, "but how, I saw you..."

She turned off the lights and crossed to his bed placing a finger on his lips. "Ssshhh. No questions now." She bent and kissed him passionately. Arousal spread through him.

"I'm sorry. I can't. My ankle. It's still pretty sore. See, I broke it..."

"SShhhh. I know. Let me do the work," she laughed deep in her throat.

There was something about her laugh. Her voice. It sounded the same, but different in some way. Deeper perhaps? Raspy? Definitely hungry. The raspiness was unusual yet familiar. She climbed atop and straddled him. Slowly, she guided him inside her. They moved together, slowly, kissing deeply. Lost in the throes of passion, he hadn't noticed that she was no longer pregnant.

Panting, spent, she rolled off and held him tight. "I love you," she told him. "I always have."

"What?"

"I love you. More than you know." She gave him a quick, playful kiss and rolled off the bed. "Now get dressed. We have to go. You have to take me to the lab."

"Why?"

"Shush," she called from the bathroom, "just get dressed... and don't turn on the lights."

"Why?"

"I dunno. My eyes are bothering me."

"Okay." Even with the room lights off, there was still enough illumination from the lights on his entertainment console to allow him to pull on sweats.

He was slipping on a running shoe when she emerged from the bathroom. She wore a long coat and her hair was tucked under a ball cap. She grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet. "C'mon, Gimpy. I'll drive." She gave him a quick kiss and helped him to the front door. Before opening it, she pulled a pair of dark glasses from her purse.

Outside his apartment, the light emitting foam undercoat of the hallway walls had been muted from their normal full early evening setting. He cast a sidelong glance at her as she dug through her purse for keys. He thought it strange that he had never noticed the thin lines around her lips. Stranger still that he should notice in the twilit hallway when he had never noticed them in the brightly lit lab.

They limped to the parking lot in silence. With a grunt, he lowered himself into the passenger seat of her tiny iCar. "When did you get this?"

"When are you finally going to make an honest woman of me?"

"What? Where did this come from?"

"You never want to talk about marriage."

"I believe this is the first time the subject has come up."

"You always try to change the subject. Never mind." They drove on. She in stony silence, he, baffled and generally confused.

The gentle sway of the car on the curving highway had lulled him to sleep. "We're here," she announced as they pulled into the parking lot of the Hawking Centre.

He leaned heavily on her as they mounted the broad, red marble steps leading to the entrance. "So, would you care to tell me what this is all about and why it couldn't wait until tomorrow?"

"There will be too many people around asking too many questions. Besides I want to spend some time with you alone before I leave." She gave him a hard squeeze.

He almost asked her what she meant, but decided against it. She would explain if she wanted to. At least he knew that much about her.

He fumbled in the pocket of his windbreaker for his key and passed it across the dull black face of the reader embedded in the faux wood door frame. "Good evening, Dr. Jansen," the door greeted him in a cheery tone.

"Good evening," David answered reflexively, wondering, as he always did, why he returned the door’s salutation.

Entering the lab, David casually palmed the wall which immediately filled the room with bright but gentle light emanating from walls and ceiling. Caroline stood looking about. With a sigh she removed her coat. David saw that it hadn't been a trick of the light. Her body, while still shapely and enticing was indeed fuller. She removed the battered ball cap and let her auburn tresses fall across her shoulders and well down her back.

"What happened to your hair?" he asked, his eyes gone wide. Her once honeyed crimson locks were now lightly frosted with streaks of grey. She pulled the glasses off revealing her sparkling green eyes. Eyes that were now flanked by thin lines that radiated from the corners.

"Mom?" his voice barely reflected the shock and revulsion he felt. "Oh my god. I'm going to be sick."

She ran to him, took his face in her hands and kissed him deeply. He pulled away in disgust. "What the hell are you doing?”

"Sweetheart. It's not what you think. Not entirely anyway."

"Not what I think? What the fuck are you talking about. You're my mother. We just... I really am going to be sick."

"You always were melodramatic. Even as a little boy. Now pull yourself together." She gave him a hard shake. "Look at me. What do you see?"

"I don't understand..."

"LOOK AT ME. Tell me what you see?"

"I... uh... you're young. Younger," he stammered. "Younger than when I last saw you."

"Look closer."

He looked deep into her eyes. Anger, disgust and revulsion gave way to confusion. "Caroline?"

"That's right."

"But your name is Rachel."

“I started using my middle name when I had you."

"But..."

"Shut up. We need to set up the machine. I have to go back to late December 2005."

"That's impossible. The machine isn't that accurate. We'd be lucky to get you within five years of 2005, let alone a specific date." David's emotions were quickly shunted aside as the calculating mind of a physicist took over.

"I will get back to 2005. December 28th to be exact."

"How can you be so sure?"

"My daughter will be born nine months and three days later," she said flatly.

"You're pregnant? When did this happen?" A wave of nausea rolled over him as he realized he would not like the answer.

"About an hour ago." David's predictions of gastric distress turned out to be true.

He paused to catch his breath. He spat out the bile that clogged his throat. "Wait," he choked, "wait a minute. It was just after Christmas in 2005 that you left me with grandma and disappeared for... TWENTY FUCKING YEARS. Grandma's still pissed about that, by the way."

"Oh, she's not pissed, it goes way deeper than that. Resentment doesn't even come close. Hate? Maybe? Hell, I don't know. I know I hate her. Hate is visceral. Hate is not enough. Let's just say that I was upset that I couldn't know you the way she had. She wanted to keep me away from you, but she knew this was going to happen. You loved her. She loved you. I love you."

"Look, Caroline? ... I don't understand, I..."

She raised her arms to pull her hair into a ponytail. The sleeves of her sweater fell back. He noticed a familiar circlet of silver on her wrist. A bracelet that swarmed with ever moving green characters.

"My locator. How did you get that? I thought..."

"My mother gave it to me."

"I lost that. I mean, I left that when I... Okay. Look. Pretend I don't understand for a moment. Explain this to me in simple terms."

"Remember that playful little red headed filly that you left just this morning? Or rather back in 1968?"

"No, no..."

"Well, she told me that my father left it for me."

"No, no, no..."

"Yup, 'fraid so." She pulled her shirt up, exposing her breasts. She shook them. "Hi Daddy."

"STOP IT."

"Sorry, I don't know how to make it more clear." She made her way to the machine. "For what it's worth, I love you. I always have. I always will."

"Who are you?"

"Caroline... I think. Anyway, it's a family name."

"I love her. I loved her. I didn't tell her the last time..." His words broke off in his throat. "I love her."

"She knew."

"Wait. I love you."

"I know. You always have." She paused for a moment. "Hey, she loved you more than you know."

"Where did she go? Caroline. My Caroline."

"1945. Not far from here. She ended up on a farm. I don't know much really. Mom never talked about what happened to her. I just know that, `Your Caroline', as you say, left her daughter with the family that had taken them in and they adopted her."

"Who are you?"

She looked at him sharply. A cold hard stare. Her gaze softened. "Caroline, your Caroline. She was my grandmother." She smiled. "I was her...," she stopped short, her words catching in her throat. "... I... I'll be damned. I don't know. None of it makes sense. Not even now. Being with you... here..." She waved her arms taking in the lab. "I just know this. In nine months, I am going to have a daughter. She will become a physicist. Just like her father. She will fall in love with a wonderful man."

She entered the stainless steel chamber.

She pressed the button.

Ma Picard burst from the room yanking the door's hinges loose. "Pa, quick. Call Doc Taylor."

"He's just a horse doctor. What does he know about babies? Doesn't matter. It will be a half hour yet before Dr. Johnson gets here. Just call him. NOW." she ordered. No further words were necessary. If his wife wanted something done, Frank knew better than to argue.

Within ten minutes of hanging up the phone, Dr. "Doc" Raeford Taylor, D.V.M. was pounding on the front door of the Picard home. Frank opened the door. Doc Taylor wasted no time on pleasantries. "Where is she?" he demanded.

"Top of the stairs, first on the left." Dr. Taylor flew up the creaking staircase, Frank following close on his heels. As the doctor reached for the doorknob, he was stopped by tiny sounds from within. A baby's cry.

Frank drew up short. "What? What is it?"

"Sshh. Listen." After a moments confusion, Frank heard it as well. Both men smiled.

After a few minutes, Mrs. Picard emerged carrying a struggling bundle wrapped in a towel. Her eyes were red and her face wet from tears. She looked at each man in turn. Dr. Taylor stifled a curse and ran into the room.

Mrs. Picard looked at her husband and smiled through her tears. "I think we should name her after her mother." The tears started anew.

David watched Caroline disappear from his life for the second time that day. With a flash she was gone. He crumbled to the floor. He felt as if his mind had been kicked by some ethereal mule. One with big hooves.

With a harsh laugh, he began to pull his thoughts together. "It's not real," he thought. "None of this is real. It can't be. Have to cut back on the whiskey."

David reached into the pocket of his worn blazer. He found his keys. He laughed. A relieved laugh. He limped to the parking lot. The pain from his ankle convinced him that he was suffering some sort of temporal delusion brought on by his failed experiment. Why had Ray deserted him there?

In the parking lot, he found his truck just where he had left it that morning. "Get a grip on yourself. Ger a grip." He drove off.

A small copse had been deemed unsuitable for farming. It was low and rocky. A small stream cut through. Frank Picard used it as a spot to get rid of the rocks that managed to work their way to the surface of his fields every spring. At first he merely dumped them, but later when he needed time to think, time to be alone, he began to build a wall around the tight grouping of trees.

The wall was nearly complete when they laid Caroline to rest there. The ceremony was not lavish, the gathering not large. Mr. and Mrs. Francis J. Picard were in attendance. Their 12 year hold son, Jeremiah, stood solemnly beside them. Tears leaked from his eyes for the woman that had become his big sister and was now ripped from his life.

Never knowing her full name, they bestowed theirs upon her. Their parish priest gave words of solace and offered up the soul of Caroline Picard to God. Through tears, Ma smiled and cooed at the writhing bundle in her arms.

It was just past two AM when David was awakened. A soft warm body had slipped into bed with him. An arm, slightly lavender scented, snaked across his chest and worked its way down his stomach. A hand, surprisingly strong for its size, gripped him firmly. He rolled over. The light in the room was dim, but he knew he was looking into the deepest, greenest, most beautiful eyes in the world. She kissed him.

"I love you," she said.

Exhausted and sweaty, he laid back and smiled. She gave him a quick kiss, climbed off of him and padded to the bathroom. Hearing the water pound from the shower, he lost himself in thought.

`What the hell is going on,' he wondered. He reached down and felt his ankle. The last of the nanomesh fabric was still in place waiting to be absorbed. That was real He had broken his ankle. "So what the hell is going on," he said aloud.

"What was that?" Caroline's voice called from the bedroom.

"Nothing. Just thinking out loud." He rolled over to turn on the bedside light. He noticed the phial from the hospital on the night stand. The words hydrocodne/paracetamol were printed on the label. `Vicodin' he thought ruefully. "You have got to be kidding me. I OD'd." His laugh was loud and bitter.

"What's so funny," Caroline asked towelling her long red hair dry.

"Nothing, nothing. I love you."

"I love you." She dropped the towel to the floor and began to dress.

"You’re not staying?"

"I have to go."

"Where?"

She said nothing as she pulled on a light sweater. She dug into her pocket. She produced a small circular object. "I have to go to your lab. I have to get back. I have a lot to prepare for. September 4th, 1998 isn't a long way off, and I have to make the guest room into a nursery for my son." She placed the object on the night table. It was a silver bracelet. Characters like green fire swarmed across its surface. "You'll need this. Come and visit me." She bent and kissed him passionately. "I love you. I always have." She left.

An elderly couple sat on a loveseat. They held hands. Sometimes they talked. Mostly they just held hands. Neither one had said anything for a long while. Finally the old man spoke. "It's time for me to go."

"I know." She gave his hand a squeeze.

The old woman smiled up at him as he rose to his feet. He limped slightly on his right leg as he made his way to the door. "You could get that ankle fixed you know." She always told him that.

"I know. It brings back wonderful memories," he replied as he always did.

At the door, he turned. "I love you," he said. "I always have."

"I know."

Stepping into the hallway, he closed the door behind him. He saw a young man striding up the corridor. The old man turned in the opposite direction. He heard the young man rap out a quick tattoo on the door he had moments ago closed. He smiled.


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