Fervor

Click here for the first series (Frenzy).
Click here for the second series (Flurry).

April Fools

Nine months ago, my adoptive fathers were in hot pursuit of a madman who was threatening the safety of everyone in the Kansas City Metropolitan area. They actually seemed to think he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, but was trying to help the world, and didn’t think through the consequences of his actions. He has a special temporal power, as do many other people throughout time and space. He can open microscopic tears in the spacetime continuum, which are mostly only large enough to allow tiny particles, and waves, through. With this, he can alter his environment, by sharing it with some other environment, from some other time. He created a summer snow that the city was not prepared for. As far as I know, no one died from this, and even if they had, their deaths would have been erased from history, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong. My fathers ended his reign of terror in the city, by somehow going back in time and preventing it from ever happening at all. Ace hasn’t given me the details, saying only that I would understand when I was older. I usually hate when adults say this, but the way he says it, it’s not dismissive. I think he literally means only Future!Me will have all the facts.
Unfortunately, in retaliation for what my dads did to his little global warming experiment, the madman enlisted the help of some friend of his, and created an exact duplicate of the entire metro. There is a second version of nearly everyone within the blast radius, running around some nearly inescapable pocket dimension. Only a few people were spared duplication, but that doesn’t mean they have it easy. My other dad, Serkan remains the one and only, but he is now stuck over on the other side, and I’ve been worried this whole time that we would never get him back. Ace was with him when they finally caught up to their enemy, who in one last desperate attempt to prevent our collective happiness, set off a powerful explosion. There were two magical jackets capable of crossing the dimensional barrier, each of which can only carry two passengers at a time. One of them caused the explosion that sent Ace, a new friend of his, and the friend’s son, I guess, back to our side. The problem is that, not only did Serkan not make it through—and may even be dead—but the other jacket was damaged.
The man with them apparently imbued the jackets with their power, but was not able to fix the surviving one right away. He claims to have been working on the issue since Ace hired him to get Serkan back, but it has been so long, and still nothing. I know I should be patient and compassionate. After all, he’s raising two versions of the same baby, pretty much on his own. Yet I can’t help but think that, with each passing day, week, month, my father gets one step closer to being lost forever. Time is not kind to people in our world. It jerks us around, moving us through the stream in the wrong direction, and forcing us to places we don’t want to be. The longer he stays there, the less time we can spend together, and that’s not fair. I wish I could do something to help, but I’m just a dumb teenage anachronism. I was born in 1959, but Serkan and Ace accidentally brought me with them when they tried to get home a couple of years ago. Like I said, time moves differently for people like us. But my coming here was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I will always be in those men’s debt for taking me out of a horrible life in the 1970s. I have to have both of them. I don’t know what I would do if we never find Serkan. I just don’t know.
Ace is knocking on my door, even though he knows he’s not supposed to. We had to start going to family therapy right away. Here I was in the future, surrounded by technology, cultural norms, and topic references that I didn’t get. The only people who could take care of me were willing to do that, but it was a complex situation. They had only just met each other—as sort of a love at first sight, brought together by time travel, kind of thing—so I was just another complication. Anyway, of course we couldn’t tell the therapist absolutely everything, and I think she picked up on that, but she gave us some good advice. She said that I need to adjust to living in a new country, which was what we claimed had happened. In order to feel comfortable here, I need to be able to spend time alone, and not bombarded by constant attention. Together, we decided on a rule. For one hour after school, I am to remain alone in my room. I’m meant to sit quietly and reflect, or even meditate, but I usually just put on my headphones, and catch up on a half century of movies and television. We’ve come a long way since Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Hawaii Five-O, and Ironside. Now we have Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Hawaii Five-0, and Ironside.
Ace is still knocking. It’s not loud, but it’s persistent, and annoying. It’s his way of being cute. “What!” I finally yell through the door. “This is Paige’s Hour!”
“I have a surprise for you,” he says, fairly quietly.
“Let me guess...you’re gay.”
“Ha-ha. I’m pan, you know that. No, it’s an actual surprise. I think you’ll be happy.”
“I’m never happy.”
“You once were.”
“For, like, a second, when Serkan was here,” I argue.
“That’s the surprise,” he barely says before I’m one more arm day from tearing the door of its hinges.
“Really?” I look over his shoulder. “He’s back?”
“I...guess I should have worded it more carefully. He’s not back, but I am going to get him. The jacket is fixed. Jupiter sent it via courier, and it will be here soon.”
What the hell? “He’s having a one-of-a-kind interdimensional portal opening piece of highly volatile equipment sent via courier?”
“It’s someone from the tracer gang,” Ace says in a reassuring voice. “It’ll get here.”
“If that’s true, then I don’t doubt it, but why isn’t Jupiter going to take the jacket himself? He’s the one who built it. He’s the one who destroyed it, and he’s the one who fixed it. This is his mess. He owes us.”
“He has to stay for his son.”
“You have to stay for your daughter.”
“I promise, I’ll be back. And I will be with Serkan.”
“Why don’t you promise that Jupiter will be back instead?” I suggest. “If you’re that confident.” I think I have him now.
He sighs at my rebellious attitude. “I’m confident in my ability to complete this mission, not his.”
That...is sound logic, and I can’t argue against it. I switch to my mature face. “You get him back. You find him, you come back, and you bring him with you.” He doesn’t say anything as I’m trying to muster my courage. “But if you can’t find him, or if there’s nothing to find, you still better come back.”
The doorbell rings.
“I promise.”
We head down the stairs together, and open the door to find none other than the infamous Slipstream herself. She was not just any member of the tracer gang, but its founder. She was instrumental in the creation of the New Gangs of Kansas City by protecting the original Gunbenders, and starting a movement of anti-gun violence by promoting a form of martial arts that emphasizes the well-being of everyone, including one’s enemies or attackers. She did more for aikido than The Walking Dead ever could have hoped for. She’s pretty much my hero, and she’s standing at my door.
“Hi,” Slipstream says.
Oh my God, she just spoke.
“I’m Bozhena, and I’ve been sent to deliver this.” She hands Ace a package, wrapped in that ol’ timey brown paper, tied up with twine.
“You introduced yourself with your real name?” I ask.
Slipstream smiles. “That ain’t my real name; not anymore. I’m just trying it out. A friend got me wondering whether I should hate it as much as I always have.”
I’m speechless.
“That was what you were looking for, right?” Slipstream-slash-Bozhena asks.
Ace opens it up, and reveals the special jacket. “This is it,” he confirms. “Thank you so much.”
“Do you wanna stay for tea?” I offer as she’s trying to leave. I’m such an idiot. Why would I ask that? Dear God, send me back through that Stonehenge portal. I’ll take my abusive birthparents over this humiliation.
“Uhh...sure,” my idol says. She actually said yes. I wanna go live and announce that she said yes to all my friends online, of which I have none since my birth certificate is fake news, and they don’t allow that sort of thing anymore. “If it’s all right with your dad, that is.”
“Fine with me, I trust you. I do have to go. He starts whispering to Slipstream, but isn’t really trying to keep me from hearing. “You can leave anytime, though. She can spend a little time alone, and the babysitter will be coming soon.”
“Da-a-ad,” I groan. “I don’t need a babysitter.”
“But you love Mireille.”
I try to play it cool with Slipstream. “She’s not my babysitter, we’re friends. She’s only, like, three years older than me.”
Slipstream doesn’t make me feel like a child. She smiles genuinely. What a cool chick.
“All right, play nice,” Ace says, determined to embarass me. “I’m going to grab a few provisions, then be gone. I’ll be back by end-of-day tomorrow.” He kisses me on the forehead. “I love you.”
“Love you!” I call up to him as he’s walking upstairs. “Leave a note in the usual spot if you get trapped in the past!”
“Will do,” he says. We actually have that. It’s an old tree stump that we check regularly for messages from ourselves, or each other. We’ve not seen any yet, but all three of us know the protocol, and only us three.
I realize that a stranger just heard me casually mention time travel to my father, but instead of covering, I act like it’s totally normal. I don’t mind being a mystery to her.
She stays longer than I ever thought she would, and when Mireille shows up that evening, we decide to throw an old-school slumber party. We watch movies and eat popcorn. That’s really it. We don’t braid each other’s hair, or talk about cute boys, which is good, because I’m not interested in boys. I keep expecting they’ll offer to give me a makeover, but actually make me look ugly, then take pictures and shout, April Fools, but it never happens. We just laugh about how I’ve never seen the Captain Marvel trilogy, then we fall asleep on the couches. We wake up the next morning to an explosion from the other room. Mireille cowers in fear, while Slipstream tries to protect me from whatever that was. But I know it’s my fathers, back from the other dimension. I slip under her arm, and race around the corner, but I don’t see Serkan, or Ace. Instead, it’s two random women. This feels like the beginning of something that’s not perfectly great.

Five Woman Band

“Who the hell are you people?” I ask of these two women who just appeared in my house, and wrecked the place. I don’t feel bad about, they’re not supposed to be here.
Slipstream easily catches up, and creates a human barrier between me and the strangers.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” One of them holds her hands up defensively. “We’re not here to hurt anyone. We must have missed our mark. We were meant to land somewhere in the middle of Kansas, since Springfield doesn’t exist anymore.”
“What do you mean, it doesn’t exist anymore? My great uncle was born there.”
The strangers give each other a look. “She must be a chooser.”
“I was born in the 1960s,” I explain, because I just don’t give a fuh.
“She must not have been in the timestream when the city started disappearing,” the other postulates.
“Well, I’m glad we ended up here, instead of a house full of humans. That would have been hard to explain.” She presents her hand. “My name is Hogarth Pudeyonovic. This is my partner, Hilde Unger.”
“Paige.” I tilt my head towards my new best friend. “This is Slipstream. What year is it for you?”
“It should be 2025. We were on another planet.”
“Oh.” I’ve never heard of people going to other planets, but nothing surprises me anymore. “Yeah, it’s 2025. “By the way,” I say to Slipstream, “some people have special temporal powers.”
“I gathered,” Slipstream replies. “I’ve seen some things that make a bit more sense now.”
“Well, this isn’t awkward,” Hilde says after a silence.
“Yeah, I guess we should leave,” Hogarth says. “Sorry for invading your...” she trails off as she’s looking around at the mess they made made. It looks like a mad scientist generated a miniature tornado that broke free of its containment field. “We somehow have to fix this, even though I doubt I have any money...since it was all tied to the Springfield Central Bank.”
I shake my head. “We live in Countryside, we’re rich. Don’t worry about it.”
“No, we’ll find a way,” Hogarth insisted. “Come, love. We have to find jobs, and figure out what we’ve missed these last eight years.”
“Universal basic income,” I say before the two travelers could leave the room.
Hogarth stops. “What was that?”
“It’s actually a negative income tax,” Slipstream clarifies. “If you don’t make enough money to live on your own, the government subsidizes your income. If you do, you get nothing, and if you make more than enough, you pay taxes, just like before. President Clinton pushed for total universal basic income, but had to make a compromise with the Republicans. The new system started at the beginning of this tax year. If you don’t have any money, you would qualify, except...”
“Except that we don’t qualify for anything, because we don’t exist. Even if the records rewrite themselves, now that we’re back on Earth, we’ve been missing for the better part of a decade. Neither one of us has an identity.”
“The Forger,” I remember.
“Who?”
“A family friend, Detective Bran was telling me about the guy who gave him a new identity; an actual one, not just fake papers. He can rewrite your whole history. He might even give you money to start off.”
“There’s a guy who does that?” Slipstream asks me.
“There’s someone for everything,” I say, prideful of what I know about the world.
“Did this detective tell you how to find the Forger?”
I frown. “No. But I can ask him. I never went to his place, but he told me he lived at...uh, the Leon?”
“The Ponce de Leon?” Slipstream asks, impressed. “That place is pretty swanky.”
“He’s rich too.”
“You don’t have to help us,” Hogarth says with a worried look on her face. “We came here by accident, so you have no obligation to us.”
I smile. “If there’s one thing my dads taught me, it’s that a person in a position to help someone else..has a responsibility to do just. Bran protected me when I was in danger of a winter-making maniac, even though he didn’t have to. That’s what being a human is.” I step into the hallway.
“Is this all true?” Mireille asks me.
“Mireille,” I exclaim. “I, uhh...forgot you were here. But I guess there’s no rule that stops me from telling anyone this stuff. Did you hear everything?”
“Pretty much. You’re going to the Ponce?”
“We are.”
“Well, Slippy travels on foot, you can’t drive, and these two don’t have a car.”
“Oh, that’s true.”
“I’m glad I bought that SUV,” Mireille says. “Let’s go,” she offers the whole crowd.
Slipstream balks at the larger-than-necessary vehicle. “It’s not even two miles away,” she half-complains as we’re climbing it. I imagine she never takes motorized transportation, except maybe to get to the airport, or maybe not even then.
Five minutes later, we’re parking next to Mendoza Park, and walking the rest of the way to the condominium. We take the elevator up to what’s probably the most expensive unit in the complex, and knock on the door.
A woman answers, and she looks exhausted. “Yeah? Can I help you?”
“Um, we must have the wrong apartment,” Slipstream apologizes. “We were looking for, what was the name?”
“Kallias Bran,” I reply, upset. “I know he lives here.”
“Paige?” The woman squints her eyes at me. “Holy shit, it’s little Paige.”
A giggling kindergartner runs straight into the woman’s hip. “You’re it!” she cries.
“Brooke, pause on the game. We have company. Please, come in,” she says cordially. “I think you’re in the right place. When they gave this to me, they called it the Bran Safehouse. I didn’t know what that meant.”
“How do you know a fourteen-year-old girl?” Slipstream questions protectively.
“She wasn’t fourteen last time I saw her.”
“She’s a time traveler,” I whisper to Mireille.
The woman offers Slipstream her hand. “I’m Leona Matic, and I am from the future.”
“Told ya,” I say.
“Why are you and your daughter in a safehouse?” Slipstream continues the interrogation.
“She’s not my daughter. I had to take her when her mother...disappeared. I brought her to this time period, and I’ve been waiting for further instructions.”
“Where’s Kal?” I ask her.
“I have no idea,” Leona says seemingly truthfully. “The Repairman just set me up here and told me all he knows is that I’m meant to wait. Maybe I was waiting for you. I don’t suppose any one of you would be related to an Angelita Prieto—oh, you wouldn’t remember her. Goddammit! Or does the corruption have an effect on the past? How does this work?”
“I..don’t know,” Slipstream answers tentatively.
“Prieto was my mother’s maiden name,” Mireille says quietly. “My father’s French, but she’s Spanish.” She looks down at little Brooke, who is cautiously attached to Leona’s waist.
Yet another woman suddenly appears in the middle of the condo. A bubble of warped spacetime that was surrounding her dissipates. “Good, you’re all here. You have no idea what it took to get Mrs. Voss here to be your babysitter.” She gestures towards Mireille. “She can take care of Brooke while the rest of you are working.”
“My last name’s Travert,” Mireille says, confused.
The new woman chortles. “Right. For now...”
“What’s the meaning of this.” Slipstream; ever the leader, and protector. “You act as if you brought us all together.”
“I did,” she says. “I assembled a team of ragtag elites to take me on.”
“Take you on?”
“Well, not me. Past!Me. I like to call her Asshole!Jesi.”
“What are you talking about?” Hogarth asks.
This Jesi person prepares herself for a story. “In the other timeline, I killed a bunch of people with a virus from the future that I did not understand. I was trying to inoculate the human race, so they wouldn’t be affected by it later, when the virus shows up naturally. But it mutated, and got out control. I need you to stop me from making that same mistake again. Bozhena, I convinced Jupiter to have you deliver the transdimensional jacket to Horace, so he could go get Serkan back, and you could meet Paige.”
“The what jacket?”
Jesi continues, “Hogarth, I brought you and your lovely assistant here so you could provide the Book of Hogarth.”
“The what?”
This time, Jesi stopped. “The Book of Hogarth. Your book, that you wrote? It codifies the principles of time and space? Shit, do you not have the book?”
“What book are you talking about? I didn’t write any book.”
Jesi pinches the bridge of her nose. “Jesus Christ. I need to figure something out. You didn’t actually write anything. You...birthed it, for lack of a better term. I thought you’d find it on Durus. Well, you’re just gonna have to find it now. You can do that tomorrow.” She gestures to Leona. “Leona’s gonna need it in the future, so it’s kind of important, okay?” She’s looking pretty frazzled. “Okay, um. Let me rework the timeline to account for that hiccup. I would have contacted you earlier, but you two were still on Durus, and Ace was still here. We don’t need him in our way. Miss Travert, please stay here with Young!Brooke. I’m sending the rest of you someone who can help. She probably won’t be part of the band permanently, but she can lead you to the Book of Hogarth.” She opens a new mostly transparent bubble, and disappears.
“We’re not gonna do what she wants us to do, are we?” Hilde sounds confident.
Never do anything without having an answer why,” Leona recites, like it’s her credo, or something.
Hogarth is staring at the space that the cryptic woman from the future was once occupying. “When I was about Brooke’s age, I witnessed a group of older children being pursue by a giant monster. It’s what inspired me to build my machine, so I could study the portal they disappeared through.”
“I remember you telling me about that,” Hilde says, taking Hogarth’s hand.
“There were ten children. One of them was named Jesimula Utkin. Everybody called her Jesi.”

Zero Dimension

As foretold, a new woman appears through a portal after we wake up from having all shared the unit in the Ponce. At first, she doesn’t seem to speak anything but German, but then she rewires her brain before our eyes, and introduces herself as Ida Reyer.
“Have you been told why you’re here?” Slipstream asks.
“No particulars,” Ida answers. “I’ve been asked to help you find something.” She pulls a compass out of her pocket, and presents it to them. “This can find virtually anything, across time and space” She tilts her head inquisitively. “This is usually the part where people reach out to see the compass for themselves.”
“We’re all adults,” Slipstream says, making me smile.
Hogarth does seem the most interested in understanding the thing. “How does it find what you want? Do you tap your slippers three times, and wish upon a star?”
“Not in so many words,” Ida answers. “No, but it would take me years to teach you how this thing works, and months for you to learn, if I were to just let you use it at your leisure. There are multiple layers, see?” She lifts the face of the compass, revealing more needles underneath. Then she lifts that face, and another face below that. Then she swings them out, and turns them in all sorts of directions. She even flicks one of them and lets it spin, claiming that it would never stop as long as the universe is ivory beige. “It can take you anywhere, and anywhen, and it can show you anything.”
“So, if we asked you to find a book, you could do so with that compass?” Hilde proposes.
Ida sports a neutral frown, and lays the compass on a table. She places her palm on top of it, and takes a breath. Upon flipping her hand over, the front cover of a book that’s suddenly there follows, leaving the compass now sitting on the title page. “You mean, like this one?”
Leona lifts the book, and reads the title, “Hotspots: A Look into Places of Great Power on Earth, and Beyond. No, not this one.”
“Hm,” Ida says. “You should keep that, just in case.” She claps her hands together. If I wasn’t awake before, I am now. “All right, so if you’re not looking for that book, then which one are you looking for?”
“It’s called the Book of Hogarth,” Hilde tells her.
“Heh, that’s a funny name,” Ida snorts.
“It’s my name,” Hogarth explains awkwardly.
“Right, well...you lost your own book? Why don’t you just...print off another copy?”
“I don’t remember writing it. I mean,” Hogarth has clearly been in the world of salmon and choosers for awhile now, but this is personal, and she’s having a hard time accepting it. “I mean, I evidently didn’t so much as write it as I guess I just made it come into existence.”
Ida keeps her mouth open, like she’s on the precipice of saying something else, but then she just looks amongst everyone in the group, almost as if waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out and give her a high five. “Are you talking about a cypher book?”
“I have no idea what that means.”
“Did you make it when you were a child?”
“Jesi didn’t say anything about that. She said I birthed it.”
Ida threatens to nod her head perpetually. “Those things are rare. Entire timelines go for thousands of years of human struggle without anyone ever making one. The first time, I think, was an actual cave drawing.” She starts pacing the room like a bee giving directions to a flower. “You basically have to cut into the fabric of the continuum, and focus the collective mass of the cosmic background radiation into a single point the size of a planck length, as observed within the zero dimension.”
“Uhh, what?” I ask, looking to the adults for answers, as Hilde looks to Hogarth, who doesn’t get it either.
“I’m an astrophysicist,” Leona says, “and I don’t understand that.”
“I’m just regurgitating something someone told me once,” Ida clarifies. “The point—pun intended—is that if you wrote a cypher book, it potentially holds the answer to literally any and all questions in the universe. We have to find it. Where did you live when you were a kid? Only children write cypher books.”
“Springfield, Kansas,” Hogarth answers, dreading having to explain that whole thing again.
She apparently doesn’t need to. “Okay, well we’re not going to be able to go there, and it possibly explains what happened to that city in the first place.”
Mireille walks into the room. “Umm, Leona? Is Brooke allowed to have—”
“No,” Leona interrupts. “Brooke, what did I say about lying?” she yells out.
“To!” Brooke shouts back from out of view.
“Brooke!”
“Fine! I know where you hide them!”
Leona shakes her head. “I moved them, don’t worry. Sorry,” she apologizes to the group after Mireille leaves.
“All right,” Ida says. “I have an idea. If you wrote a cypher book, then you should be maintaining a permanent quantum entanglement with it. It may have even made you immortal.”
This perked up Hilde. “Really?”
Ida shrugs. “Or it’ll die when you die, or you’ll die if it’s destroyed. Who knows?”
“What’s your idea?” Hogarth asks, not wanting to think too much about her own death.
“Just hold the compass. Maybe it’ll take you there.”
Hogarth holds out her hand reluctantly, fully prepared to whine about how stupid this feels, but she never gets the chance. As soon as her fingers touch the compass, it clamps down on her hand. She tries to get it off, but it holds on tighter. The back of the compass opens up, and flips down to grab her wrist. The opposite side does the same. No matter what Hogarth does—or how much we try to help—the compass is determined to take over her. It continues to open up, and climb up her arm, unfolding as many times as necessary to accommodate her whole body. There is no way this much stuff exists in such a small thing. It must be bigger on the inside, because in a matter of seconds, Hogarth is completely covered in this bizarre steampunk armor cocoon.
“Can you breathe?” Hilde asks in a panic.
“Yep,” Hogarth says, trying to keep herself from panicking too.
“Ida, what the hell is this?” Slipstream demands to know.
Ida is even more freaked out than any of us. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen it do this. I have to call The Weaver.”
“Who the hell is the Weaver?”
“She built the thing,” Ida replies. She turns around to walk away, then stops.
“What? What are you waiting for?”
Ida cautiously turns back around. “I need the compass to contact her.”
“Oh, shit.”
“Does it hurt?” Leona asks, as calm as ever.
“I literally don’t feel anything,” Hogarth replies from inside her cocoon. “Like, I can’t be a hundred percent certain I even still have a body.”
“We have to get her out of there,” Hilde states the obvious.
“How would we go about doing that?” Slipstream asks, looking to Leona.
“Why are you lookin’ at me?”
“Aren’t you a scientist?”
“I’m not a mechanic, and I don’t what this is.” She gestures to the cocoon.
“Well you’re the most qualified here, so maybe you could give it a think? What about a blowtorch? Or...a screwdriver?” She examines the armor, hovering her hands centimeters from it, like she’s performing reiki on her girlfriend, but she’s really just afraid to touch it. “Acid.”
“Those are all bad ideas,” Ida says. “Too dangerous.”
“I know,” Hilde agrees. “I’m just brainstorming, and I can’t think straight, because I’m scared.” She looks back at Hogarth. “Are you still doing okay in there, Piglet?” She waits patiently. “Piglet?” She carefully reaches up, and touches the part of the compass armor that’s roughly where Hogarth’s cheek should be. It caves in, like the sand of a castle. “No,” she murmurs. “No, no, no,” she continues as the structural damage causes a chain reaction, and more of the armor crumbles into millions of pieces. She never screams or cries. She just stands there, stunned and helpless, as the love of her life falls apart, leaving behind only a perfectly intact magical compass, and a book.
“This is it?” Hilde questions. She reaches down and pulls the book from the sand ashes of her loved one. “This is what we wanted? She had to die just to get this goddamn useless thing?” She pulls arm back and hurls the book across the room. Hogarth catches it  with one hand, like a pro baseball player.
Hogarth looks different, though. She’s much older, ragged and dirty, and she’s missing an ear. She sneers at the book in her hand. “This damn thing. Ain’t brought me nothin’ but trouble.”
“What happened to you?” Hilde asks, still in shock.
Future!Hogarth casually hands the book to me as she’s heading for Hilde. “Careful...” she dips her girl, and plants a passionate kiss on her face. “Spoilers.”
“How long has it been for you?” Ida asks out of profesional curiosity.
“Too long,” Future!Hogarth answers as she’s reaching down to pick up the special compass. She points it to the middle of the room, and squeezes, like it’s just a television remote. A beam of light shoots out of it and forms a portal. A group of ladies is standing on the other side of it. One looks like she could be related to little Brooke, and another is Leona. Yet another version of Hogarth is there too. She walks through the portal as Future!Hogarth is walking towards it. “Bye, Felicia,” Future!Hogarth says, feigning hostility.
“Bye, Vicki,” Young!Hogarth replies with equally fake animosity. “See you in the red forest.”
The portal closes, and now there’s only one Hogarth. “Well, this is a bit awkward. I’ve been through quite a bit since the cocoon. Sorry to scare you, but I’m fine.”
“You were missing an ear,” Hilde pointed out.
“That hasn’t happened to me yet. I don’t know why it does, but it doesn’t matter right now. The point is that we have the book, and we can...”
“We can what?” Slipstream prodded.
“We never did find out what the point of this thing is, did we?” I ask. I’m flipping through the pages. I recognize some of the words as English, but not all of them are. There are some other languages, and some are symbols that I’m familiar with at all. There are lots of graphs, and charts, and figures. Some pages have meaningless scribbles, while others are completely blank. This is a book only insomuch that it contains pages, wrapped in a cover.
“We can deal with it tomorrow,” Slipstream says as our leader. “This day has been a crappy one, and I think we’ve had enough.”
“Agreed.”

Clinica Titanica

Famous female explorer, Ida Reyer, shaken from having thought she was gonna lose her precious Compass of Disturbance—which I had a feeling was more powerful than we could imagine—left the apartment, looking for an exit portal to somewhere quiet where she could make sure it was okay. Hogarth offered to take a look at it for her, convinced that what happened to her before was not going to happen again, but Ida was not so confident. She wasn’t really a part of this, and she felt she needed to get away from all of us as soon as possible. That’s understandable. Meanwhile, Hogarth was busy with her own situation anyway. She needed to have a good long conversation with Hilde, away from everyone else. I could hear them raise their voices every once in awhile from the other room, but it never seemed to get too heated. From what I gathered, Hogarth had just spent some time in the future, and in fact multiple points in time. Whatever the compass had done to her, it continued to have an impact on her relationship with the timestream, forcing her to jump around aimlessly. Since this involved Hilde, and people Hilde knew, Hogarth couldn’t say too much about what was going to happen to them, which must have been frustrating.
I asked Leona how she felt about all this, since she too could be seen on the other side of the portal that FarFuture!Hogarth opened. Leona just shrugged, revealing that it wasn’t the first time she’d encountered something like that. “Avoid alternate versions of herself,” she said. “Rule number four.” I also learned from her that she had created a whole list of time traveling etiquette, which were apparently in use amongst people like her throughout time and space. She typed up a copy of the list for me so I could keep it for reference. We spent our time last night looking through the Book of Hogarth. I’m no scientist, so I was having trouble understanding it, but she is, so she should have at least had some semblance of what it all meant. She admitted to being lost with it, though.  We worked on it for hours, looking for any clue as to how to decipher it, but anything she could interpret as meaningful was also somehow over her head. There was some pretty high level multidimensional math going on in there, whatever that was. As Slipstream was ordering me to go to bed, since I’m still a little baby, Leona appeared to be experiencing some revelation about the book that I was not given the opportunity to hear until the morning.
“Time,” Leona says simply over breakfast.
“Yes, it’s weirder than we thought,” Slipstream responds. “What about it?”
“That’s exactly right,” Leona continues. “Time isn’t linear. Make a mistake? Go back and fix it. Want to see what your great grandparents looked like when they were children? Easy. Need more time? Well,  that can be done too. But there’s one thing about time that can’t be manipulated, despite the fact that time and thought seem to enjoy a particularly close relationship.”
“What’s that?” Hogarth asks as the one person there who could truly follow Leona’s logic.
“Learning,” Leona says. “Learning still takes time. You have to practice, and reinforce, and you have to be patient.” She holds up the book. “This thing doesn’t just give you secrets. You have to earn the right to understand them, and that takes real time. It changes. Not before your eyes, but I’ve looked at a page, flipped to the next one, and then flipped back, to find it different. I still don’t understand it, but it’s changed. It’s adapting to my level as a reader, and scholar.”
“So only smart people have any hope of figuring that thing out completely?” Hilde supposes. “I guess I’m out.”
“No, it doesn’t take intelligence. It takes time. Yes, Hogarth and I may need less time, but that goes for anything.”
“How much time do you need to identify what we’re meant to do with the book in the first place?”
“That’s impossible to say,” Leona tells her while preparing to take a drink from her juice, “as I’m sure you surmised before I even answered that question.”
“All right,” Slipstream says. “I’m still not sure what we’re here to accomplish at all, so I guess take the time you need. My main job is to take care of Paige until her fathers come back.”
“No, it’s not,” I argue calmly. “Mireille was my babysitter. You just stumbled upon this.”
“No, that woman said I was placed here to be on the team, or whatever. And...”
“And what?”
“And she wasn’t the only one. Someone I trust implicitly encouraged me to help with this,” Slipstream says vaguely.
“What exactly did they tell you?”
Slipstream looks between me and the book. “He said to turn to the next page in the book of my life. I didn’t emphasize those words; he did. It was a clue.”
“That could mean anything,” Hogarth points out.
“It means this,” Slipstream begins. “We’ve all been asked here to stop some virus. We were asked to do this by the future version of the woman who is apparently responsible for it, in this weird 12 Monkeys sort of situation. I don’t know what this book can do for us, but I know I have to help. Not all of you know who I am, of what I’ve done. But I hesitated when I was asked to help rid this city of gun violence. I didn’t see the vision right away, and I actually charged for my services. I regret every roadblock I put up that stunted the effort, because I think Kansas City is better for having achieved what it did. My experiences over the last several years have taught me that when something needs to be done, you have to assume that no one else is going to do it. We’ve been putting one thing off throughout this whole thing, and I think that’s a mistake.”
“What have we been putting off?” I ask.
“We need to find out who the present day Jesimoo—uhh, help me out here.”
“Jesimula Utkin,” Hogarth says.
“Right, her. We need to do recon on her. Who is she? Where is she now? Is she already in the process of releasing this virus? Has she already released it?”
By the time she finishes her sentence, I’ve already pulled out my phone and run a simple Google search. “Jesimula Utkin,” I start. “Founder of CEO of J.U. Mithra Labs. It’s a small pharmaceutical research outfit, based in Independence, Missouri.”
“Oh, God,” Hilde says. “Not Independence.”
“What’s wrong with Independence?” I ask, not having grown up around here.
“Don’t worry about it,” Slipstream says, shaking her head.
“Well, either way it’s about a half hour away,” I say, having mapped it.
“Okay.” Slipstream stands up. “I’m leaving in thirty minutes. Anyone can come help...except for Paige.”
“Ha,” I scoff. “Your friend told you to turn the page. I’m the Paige Turner. He never said anything about leaving me behind.”
“You’re a child.”
“I’m sixty-six years old.”
“Paige,” Slipstream scolds me.
“Fine, I’m fourteen, but—”
“She’s coming,” Leona said, inexplicably my advocate. “I’ve been doing this a long time. If someone as powerful as Jesimula Utkin wants her to be involved, she’ll be involved. Things get worse when you resist. If you leave her here, she’ll end up somewhere we don’t want. So keep her close.”
Slipstream continues to doubt, but is on her way to changing. “It’s just recon,” I remind her.
“I guess you wouldn’t be the first VIP I’ve been charged to protect. Twenty-nine minutes.”
We pull into town an hour later with no plan. We park in a grocery store lot next to J.U. Mithra Labs, and sit there. When I ask what we’re waiting for, Slipstream reminds me that we’re just doing recon. I think we should go in and check it out, but Leona is hard at work, studying the history of the company. While they do conduct clinical trials, they don’t just take anyone off the street. You have to apply online, and that’s only after first being approached by one of their representatives, usually at a career fair. It’s all very secretive. If one of us walks in there, they will not be doing so with very good reason, and will immediately come off as suspicious. I get antsy after hours of waiting, though, so if no one is going to actually do anything, then I guess I have to. That’s what Slipstream just taught us with her big speech in which she came this close to acknowledging the title the newspaper gave her: Champion of Kansas City.
I’m sitting in the middle seat, so I can’t just slip out, but I can lie about having to go to the bathroom in the store again. I try to sneak out the back exit as soon as I get in there, but then I start thinking about how people like me in movies always use the bathroom excuse, yet rarely do those same people ever actually have to pee. They spend the rest of the film running around in their adventure, but never do they have to stop for real. It’s an innocuous thought that should have been fleeting, but it manages to make me have to pee, so I turn around and take care of that first.
Hilde is waiting for me when I finally do make it to through the door. “I saw what you were going to do,” she says with a smirk. “I realized I had to go soon after you left, so I wasn’t stalking you, or anything.”
I look around. “Why didn’t you call the others?”
She looks around too. “Why would I do that? Five people walk into a clinic and ask for directions, and the receptionist finds it strange that half of them didn’t just stay in the car, so they get arrested. Two people walk in asking for directions, and it seems normal.”
“You’re helping me?”
“I’m the next youngest one here. I know what it’s like. Let’s go, before they close.”
We cautiously cross the void between the store, and the laboratory. I think about rolling on the ground like a secret agent, but it’s not necessary, and I know I’ll regret it later.
We walk into the building just as the receptionist is leaving. “Uh, can I help you?” he asks us in a robotally fake chipper voice.
“We were just looking for the interstate.”
“I can tell you how to get there. We should go, though.”
A voice comes on the intercom, “this is your final warning. All nonessential personnel, please exit the building.
“We really do need to leave,” the receptionist said. “They’ll be locking the doors.”
Departure imminent,” the voice says.
The receptionist suddenly stiffens up, and his eyes glazed over. “I must go,” he says in an even more robotic voice. He does an about-face turn, and leaves, as do a couple other people who appear to be in their own trances. We hear the doors click locked behind them.”
Departure in thirty seconds,” the voice announces.
“What does that mean?” I ask Hilde, but of course she doesn’t know.
“Get me in this building!” Slipstream shouts at Leona and Hogarth from outside. They either saw us come in here, or started getting worried. The two geniuses have opened up the security console, and are trying to unlock the doors. Sparks fly out of it, and knock them back.
Initiating memory field,” the voice announces. Light radiates from the walls of the building itself, and spread out. As it covers my three friends, they act drunk and confused, and stagger towards the parking lot.
Prepare for departure,” the voice says finally. The space outside the building warps as my friends instinctively stumble back away from it. But then they start walking towards it again, quickly going right back to where they were. Then they suddenly leave, walking backwards. The few workers who just left come back in, also rapidly walking backwards, but they’re not really inside. They’re just briefly occupying the same space as we are. We’re not going back in time so much as time is reversing, and it’s doing so faster and faster. We watch traffic moving backwards, days being unlived, and buildings being unbuilt. Weeks become months, become years, become decades, become centuries. The city disappears, and we’re left in the middle of nowhere.
Reintegration imminent,” the voice informs us.
We stop, at some point in the past, before the area was settled.
“Titan,” I whisper, because soon after I was transported from my original time period of 1971 to 2023, I started immersing myself in as much time travel fiction as I could find.

Monkey Boots

Hilde and I turn around when we hear people behind us. A man and woman are standing a few meters from us in the lobby. They’re wearing extremely outdated garb, and looking around. “Hello,” Hilde says, as brave as Slipstream. “This might be a strange question, but what year is this?”
The man looks at his timepiece. “We were to understand it would be 2030.”
“That’s five years in the future,” I point out.
“It would be five hundred and twelve for us.”
“You were trying to go to the future?”
“Well, we weren’t really trying,” the woman answers. “We’re salmon, so it just happens to us. The math checks out. We should have jumped today.”
“Let’s go outside,” Hilde suggests, “before the other people in this building find us.” We step out and see nothing but trees and plants. The air is crisp and fresh, completely free from human pollution. We’re standing next to a wall of lavender. “I don’t think it’s 2030, or 2025. I think you’re still in...uh”
“1518,” the woman says. “By the Julian calendar.”
“That’s exactly what year it is,” another woman says, having walked out from the building. “Who are you people?” It’s a younger version of Jesimula Utkin. Is that good or bad?
“Paige,” I respond, not wanting to antagonize her just yet, or let on that we know something about her personal future.
“Hilde.”
“Laura.”
“Samwise.”
“Samwise?” Jesimula questions? “Like in Lord of the Rings?”
“Uhuh.”
“What year are you all from?”
“2025,” Hilde says. “We hitched a ride in your magical building.
“1994, originally,” Laura answers for the two of them. “I think your building interfered with our latest attempt at a salmon jump.”
“I think your salmon jump interfered with our building,” Jesimula counters. We were trying to get to 1491.”
“I think the powers that be wanted this to happen. That explains the time pigeon we received, telling us to come to these coordinates.”
Jesmula breathes to center herself, then redirects her attention to the two of us. “What were you doing in my building?”
“We were just looking for directions. We have nothing to do with this,” I lie unconvincingly.
“That’s bullshit. If you weren’t time travelers, you would be freaking out right now. Who are you? Are you trying to stop me?”
We don’t say anything.
“Answer me!”
“Yes,” I finally say truthfully. “We’re trying to stop you. We have witnessed the future you look forward to,” I say untruthfully. There’s no reason to bring Future!Jesi into this. “It does not end well. You should return, and cancel all of your plans. Try doing something good for the world.”
“I am doing something good for the world. I have no clue what future you saw, but I assure you that I have nothing but good intentions.” She gestures to her building. “This facility is in a unique position to study diseases and potential cures across all of time and space.”
“Have you never worried about cross-contamination?” Laura asks.
“We do,” Jesi affirms. “Which is why you four being here is such a problem. You’ve breached our safety protocols. Maybe it is you who creates the virus that spreads through the future you claim to have seen.”
“We didn’t say jack about a virus,” Hilde remarks.
“I guessed, based on the purpose of my company.”
“The virus isn’t from the past, it’s from the future. Everybody’s future.”
“Are you sure?” Jesimula asked, suddenly dead serious.
“Yes.”
“Who told you this? How did they know? When in the future did it come from? Be specific.”
“We don’t have specifics,” Hilde says to her. “We can tell you only that we can’t tell you everything, because it violates a rule of time travel.”
Jesimula shakes her head. “That’s not gonna fly. You’re all going to the hock until we get this sorted out.”
“You have your own jail?” I question.
“You don’t?” she asks rhetorically.

We spend a few hours being watched in the J.U. Mithra jail cell in the basement before the ad hoc guard gets tired of it, and leaves. As soon as the door closes behind him, we hear the flapping of wings from the floor, along with bird coos. “They must be studying bird diseases, or something,” I guess.
“I don’t think that’s it,” Samwise says.
I lean forward as the flapping and cooing continue, until a bird suddenly appears from the stones, as if they were nothing more than a hologram. It nearly takes off my face as it flies around, bewildered by the abrupt emergence into close quarters.
“Catch it!” Laura whispers loudly.
I try to go for it, but it’s way too fast. Then Hilde stretches her arm out, and the thing just lands right on it, like it’s finally found home.
“Are you a wizard?” I ask her.
“I have some falconry experience, believe it or not,” she answers as she’s unraveling the note attached to the pigeon’s leg. like it’s no big deal. “Birds just know this.” She clears her throat, and reads the note, “Paige, take a picture of the wall outside the cell. What the hell?”
“Should I do it?” I survey the group. They all just shrug, so I take out my phone, and snap a photo of the wall, because it sounds innocuous. Immediately afterwards, another version of me appears in front of the wall, shocked and confused. Shocked as well, I look back down at my phone and tap the little thumbnail to open the photo I just took. I get a strange sort of burning sensation in my eyes, and then I find myself on the other side of the bars, looking at the past version of myself. I then watch as she looks down at her phone, and disappears to close the loop. “What in the world just happened?”
“Have you never done that before?” Laura asks me.
“No.”
“I thought you were a time traveler.”
“I was a stowaway. I’ve never done it myself. I didn’t know I could.”
“Hilde,” Laura says, “show her the note.”
“My God, it’s in my handwriting,” I realize when Hilde hands it to me. I flip it over. “And it’s written on the back of my receipt for coffee this morning.”
“Yikes,” Samwise says, “you just bootstrapped yourself.
“I beg your pardon, I’m fourteen.”
“No, I mean if you don’t write that note, you may inadvertently create a temporal paradox.”
“You mean another paradox,” Hilde reminded him. “The bootstrap itself is already one.”
“What boots are we talking about?” I’m getting a bit angry being left out of this.
“It’s an ontological paradox,” Hilde starts to explain. “If you write that note, then the only reason you wrote it is because you’ve seen the note come to you from the future. But the only reason the note came to you from the future is because you wrote it.”
“So...?” I ask patiently.
“So, who came up with the idea to write the note? You didn’t. You’re only gonna write it because you know you’re supposed to. There’s no actual cause. It just comes out of nowhere.”
“They do that on 12 Monkeys all the time,” I bring up. “They meet someone one day who talks about having seen them years ago, so they go back further, to that moment years ago, and meet them again...for the very first time.”
“Yes, well that works because it’s a piece of fiction,” Hilde says. “This is real life.”
“Is it, though?”
“Just write the note,” Samwise says with his foot down, “and let’s get past this.”
“Well, how do I get that pigeon back here?” I ask as I’m taking the present-day receipt out of my pocket, and starting to write the note.”
Samwise and Laura give each other this look before she starts to answer. “Okay, well, it’s a little weird—and neither of us knows why it works this way—but you have to find a podium, or a podium-like object. Then you have to stand over it, and say, if he or she does their schoolwork seriously; does well, takes school.
“It’s not even a real sentence, but that’s what you have to say,” Samwise adds.
“It might not be a pigeon,” Laura says. “It could be an owl, or a dove, or even a finch. Any one of them can take your message to wherever and whenever you want them to.”
I look around the room. There is no podium-like thing around, and certainly no podium.
“You might have to go somewhere else,” Hilde suggests.
“No, this is stupid. I can write the note anytime. What I need to do is get you three out of there.” I look around again. “The keys are usually on a hook on the other side of the room, just outside of reach of a rope made out of clothes tied together.” As I’m scanning the walls, we hear movement on the other side of the door.
“The keys aren’t gonna be in here,” Laura warns. “But you need to go. Get yourself out. Use another picture, if you have to.”
“I’m not leaving you,” I argue.
“Paige!” Hilde starts to say, but then the guard comes back in the room. “Run! Now!”
“Hey!” the guard shouts.
I turn to run, but I don’t get far. Something pokes me in the back, and I suddenly can’t move a single muscle. My phone slips out of my hand, and I fall to the floor. All I can see is my Blue Marble homescreen. My eyes start burning again, and before I know it, I’m on the ground, outside again. The pain has subsided, and I’m able to stand back up. I get into a crouch and gather myself before looking around. I see tall buildings, and old cars driving around. The people, their clothes, and everything around me; it all just screams 1970s. At the very least, I can safely say I’m no longer in the early sixteenth century.
A woman kneels down and helps me up. “My God, are you okay?” she asks in what sounds like a British accent.
“I’m fine, I just need to get back,” I tell her as I’m scouring the ground. “My phone. Where’s my phone?”
“Back at your place, I would imagine,” the woman says. “You couldn’t take it with you.” She laughs.
“Oh crap, I wasn’t holding it. I have to be holding it!”
“Okay, it’s okay. Where are your parents? Do you know where you’re staying? I assume you’re not from South Africa?”
“This is South Africa?”
“Quite.”
“What year?”
“Paige?” I hear a sickening voice I am all too familiar with. “Is that you?”
I close my eyes, and slowly turn around, hoping this is all just a nightmare. When I open them, however, I find that it is not. It’s just my nightmare come to life. Standing before me is my awful birthmother. Behind her is my just as bad birthfather.
“It is you,” my mother says in awe. She almost looks like she’s about to break down in tears of joy, but I know her too well. 
“It’s nice to meet you,” the woman who was helping me says with her hand open. “My name is—”
“Paige Turner!” my mother scolds me, ignoring the woman. “It’s been over a year. Where the shit have you been!”

Escape from 1972

“My God, young lady, you look like a whore!” my mother shouts for all the world to hear.
“I beg your pardon,” the woman who was trying to help interrupts, but she’s still being ignored.
“What are you wearing? Why do you look so old? Where did you go?”
I’m fourteen years old, which is only about a year older than my parents expect me to be, but I guess their memory is of me as a twelve-year-old, which is a fairly big difference in a young lady’s development. I’ve had to grow up pretty fast because of the terrible conditions I started in, and when Serkan and Ace took me out of that life, it wasn’t like I started regressing, or anything. I’m still rather mature for my age, and my time in the 21st century has only made me more independent. These two people here may have conceived and raised me—though, there’s no way of knowing whether we’re related to each other, because I’ve yet to see proof of it—but they don’t control me anymore. I scoff at her, and try to walk away.
There’s got to be a way out of here. Okay, let me think. I seem to have the ability to travel through time and space using photographs. That would be fine if I had a picture of 2025, or 1491, but I lost my phone with tons of options from the former, and camera technology didn’t exist as far back as the latter. Hell, I would take it if something could take me back to sometime in the 2020s, as long as it was before the day that I left. No, I’ll even take a week or to after that. Thinking about it even more, I realize that all I really need is a way to get out of what I see now from a shred of newspaper blowing on the ground that it’s no sooner than October of 1972. I would need to find something more current to get an exact date, but that matches up with what I remember about when the famous Blue Marble photo, which I’ve been using as my phone background, was taken.
“Don’t you walk away from me,” my mother spits. By now the other woman has slipped away, not wanting to interfere too much in other people’s lives. I think in the future, people will be less forgiving, because they’ll never know when they’re being watched by video cameras, designed to record social behavior. For the most part, however, a 1972 mother is free to discipline her child however she sees fit.
“Do you have any pictures?”
“What?”
“Like in your purse,” I press. “Or dad, in your wallet? Do you have any picture of me as a baby? Or of anything?”
She’s noticeably thrown off by this, and interprets it as an attack on her character, which it partly is. I’m just looking for a way out. “Well, no, but...”
“Did you look for me? Did you send out a photo of your missing daughter? Or did you just go back home?”
“We haven’t been back home since you disappeared,” my father finally says. He never hit me, but he stayed quiet when my mother did, and maybe that’s just as bad.
“Oh my God, are you still on your ancestry tour? Christ, I had my blood tested. We’re not part African. That was just what your own father told you to excuse himself for being a racist piece of shit. We are British or Irish, though, so you got lucky with that one.”
“Now, you listen here,” my mother begins.
I scoff again, but much louder, as I’m rolling my eyes, and turning away. She grabs my arm. “Let me go.”
“I am your mother, and you will—”
I don’t let her finish. I just narrow my eyes and take a quarter step towards her, my arm fully within her grasp. “If you don’t let me go right now, you’re gonna find out how good 1970s South African medicine is.”
She’s never been scared of me before, and she’s never been scared of anything more than me right now. She releases me, and lets out a whimper so faint, I can’t be sure I didn’t imagine it.
I take a moment to calm down, and try to be as cold as possible. “I left you in Stonehenge because I was done being treated like two chalkboard erasers. I have gone on to see wonders, to meet wonderful people, and to learn new things.” I realize I can’t say anything about being a time traveler, but as I’m speaking, I’m also realizing no time traveler I’ve met has actually said anything about some Time Patrol. Maybe I can tell them the truth, and no one will care. I don’t think I have to, though. “I left because it was best for me, and for you. You never wanted kids, and only did so because you were indoctrinated into a society that expected it of you. I’m pleased to announce that you have fulfilled your obligation. I may have escaped a few years sooner than you expected me to, but I think we all knew it would come to this. I’m not calling the cops, or seeking a journalist to tell my story about your abuse, but I’m also not going home with you. This is my life now, and that is yours. I need to find a newsstand, or maybe a library, so I can make my way out of this country. If you pursue me, in any capacity, I’ll make Lizzie Borden look like Cindy-Lou Who. Are we on the same page?”
They don’t say anything, and I just walk away, not sure who’s more scared of me; my father, my mother, or myself. I do find a newsstand, and discover that it’s the seventh day of December. The latest paper from the states is from the first of the month in New York. I feel like my best option is to at least get back to the states. I don’t know of any time travelers that lived in this time period, except for Detective Bran, who is still a child at this point, but the U.S. still seems like the safest place to go. I pay for the paper, and choose the first headline I see with a picture: Storm Caused Traffic Mishaps.
Maybe that wasn’t really the best one I could use, because I’m suddenly standing in freezing cold weather in late Fall. Several cars are stopped on the wrong side of the road—that is, as long as I’m not still in South Africa. I hear honking and screaming, and the sirens from a trooper. He gets out of his car, and starts rounding up help from other drivers, to get the cars back where they belong. Even though it’s cold as hell, I still have no idea what I’m going to do, so I might as well help too. I get behind one of the cars, and prepare to push. The big strong men also getting ready to push look at me funny. “Call me Rosie the Riveter,” I say to them. One of the men trying to push another car takes off his heavy coat, and gives it to me, which I don’t see as an affront to my feminism. Together, we all get them up the hill, and out of the way. I try to return the coat to the man as he’s getting ready to leave the scene, but he just winks and says I should keep it. He’s older than me, but I don’t get any creepy vibes.
As strange as it must look for a teenage girl to be wandering the highway alone in the middle of the day in November, nobody else gives me any trouble, or offers to help. There’s no telling how long these people were stuck in traffic, but surely they’re all just in a hurry to get home. It was probably mentioned in the article from the paper, but I didn’t bother reading it that closely, and I couldn’t take it with me, because it was run a day in the future. I start walking down highway 20, headed towards civilization, thinking about what I could have done better, confident that I made all the best choices with the cards I was dealt. Goddamn it’s cold, though. If I’m going to be a time traveler, I need to start thinking about not going anywhere without a bag of essentials. I need to keep things like water and cash with me at all times, but the first order of business would be a coat. I stick my hands in the pockets, and find what feels like a piece of paper. I take it out, hoping whatever it is isn’t important to the guy who gave me the coat. It’s a photograph.
At first everything seems normal to me, but then I realize that photos these days aren’t printed on paper like this. You would need a personal computer to do it, which is impossible. Even if you didn’t, the picture itself doesn’t look like anything that exists today. I don’t even know what it is, but it looks like something out of a science fiction movie. I flip the paper over, where it reads, Giant Magellan Telescope, April 4, 2025. “Holy shit!” I can’t help but exclaim out loud. That’s a few days, off but I'll take it. I look behind me, half-expecting the coat’s owner to have followed me there, but the afternoon rush is over, and I’m alone. Worried a time pigeon might come and snatch the picture from my hand, I concentrate on it until my eyes start burning, and I make the jump to the future. Man, that’s a lot easier that I would have thought. In movies, it takes superheroes days to master their powers, if not longer.
I stand and marvel at the telescope for a good long time before someone realizes I don’t belong there, and escorts me off the premises. I discover that I’m in Chile, so I make my way to the nearest internet café. I tell the woman working the counter that I just need a minute to look up directions, and she gladly activates a computer for me to use, free of charge. I try to run a search of J.U. Mithra Labs, but none exists on the internet, which is strange, because I feel like I’ve seen one before. Maybe it’s a weird timey-wimey thing. No matter. I just need a picture of Independence, Missouri, and I’ll figure the rest out later. The most recent I find is a photo that a Local Guide took of some temple with a crazy spire on top, from the fourth of April. Perfect.

Swingin’ on the Flippity-flop

I’m about to get myself as far from the temple as I can when I remember that I never did send that time pigeon to my past self. I’m meant to summon one to me using a special phrase, spoken over a podium, and surely this place has one. I sneak in the building, fearful that a mormon is about to catch me. I’m not worried they’ll kick me out for trespassing; I’m worried they’ll try to convert me. I saw the Book of Mormon, I know how this works. I see several people walking the halls as I’m slinking around, and a few of them notice me, but none of them bothers me, which is a great relief. I make my way to the sanctuary, or whatever it is they call their worship space. Thank Lord Xenu no one’s in here, because I’m about to do something strange.
I stand at the podium, but take a moment to recall the words that Laura taught me. I take one more look around, before repeating the line, “if he or she does their schoolwork seriously; does well, takes school.” A pigeon appears literally out of nowhere, and waits patiently for me on the podium. I remove the coffee receipt from my pocket, and prepare to write a note to myself. I can’t remember exactly what I read before, but that’s probably for the best. It’ll be more natural if I just write what I feel. Paige, take a photo of the wall outside of the cell. There, that’s both cryptic and clear. I tie the note to the pigeon’s leg, and shove it into the air. It disappears through a portal.
I hear the sound of papers falling to the floor, and look over to see a man wearing a white button-up shirt and black tie, staring at me in awe. He falls to his knees. “It’s a miracle,” he exclaims. “You have returned as proof.”
I walk down the steps, and approach him, and he bows his head. “Stand, my child.”
He stands up, and regards me with reverence and admiration. “Are you a new prophet?”
“Let me see your phone.”
“My phone?”
“Yes, your phone.” I’m using a gliding voice to impersonate this holy creature he believes I am. “Did you take any photographs earlier today?”
“I...I did. You know this.”
Closed time loops are confusing and dangerous things, but if the man says he’s seen me, then I better go prove him right. I have him open his camera roll, and show me the latest one. “Why did you take a picture of a stump?”
“The workers were meant to remove the whole tree,” he answers. “I was planning to send it as proof that they did not complete the job.”
I make my eyes burn, and travel into the photograph, back in time a few hours. I’m standing on the trunk, arms outstretched like a welcoming messiah. The man from the future drops his arms down in shock. “How did you do that?”
“You will drive me downtown,” I order him.
He has so many questions for me, but I just tell him that he will understand everything when he is ready. I make him buy me a burner phone, then take me back to J.U. Mithra Labs, which has not yet slid back to the 15th century. Someone’s left a window on the second floor in full view, and if I were more like this guy, I would pray that no one was in that room. “You’ve been trained how to spread the good word?” I ask him as I take a quick photo of the window.
He stutters a bit. “Uh...yes, I’ve memorized thirty percent—”
“I don’t care about that. Just go in there and try to get whoever you see to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts, or whatever. Be as loud as you can. We want the whole building coming down to hear what you have to say.”
“Yes, prophet, he says. Then he eagerly leaves the car, not even asking what I’m going to do.
I take one last look at the window, only to see myself up there, giving me a salute. “This is going to have to take some getting used to. First order of business once this is all finished is finding a way to store in one place every single photo that has ever been taken, or will be taken, in the history of mankind, so I can go when and wherever I want withing running into myself. Shouldn’t be too hard.
As the mormon—which I think he probably doesn’t want me to call him—is providing a nice distraction, I lean against the wall, and jump through the photo I took moments ago. I then step over to the window, and give Past!Me a salute. Then I hide out there for the rest of day. Just before the building goes back in time, I take one last photo of a strip of shops in the distance.
I’m about to go down and free my friends from the basement hock, but then I remember that this did not happen in the original history. I have to preserve the timeline as much as possible. In fact, I may not be able to change the past at all, no matter what I do. Maybe my life has all been written, and I’m just fulfilling my destiny, with free will being nothing more than an illusion. Armed with these deep existential ponderances, I wait out there for another couple hours, surprised with every passing minute that I go unnoticed. But then someone comes in.
It’s a security guard, but not the same one. He sizes me up real quick, then hands me his electroprojectile gun.
“What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Protect yourself,” he says, as if I should already know.
“Why would you help me?”
He takes a mobile device from his pocket, and shows it to me. “This is live security feed from the basement. There are your friends, and here you are on the outside of the bars. Don’t worry, I’ll erase this, but you might want to get back down and free them soon. I’ll escort you down there.”
“Again, why are you helping me?” I ask him as I’m following.
“I had a partner once; Kolby Morse. He went to work for the good guys, and I chose the bad guys.”
“It sounds like you regret it,” I say once we’ve reached the bottom of the stairs.
He shakes his head, and points to a door on the other side of the hallway. “I don’t at all. I’m deep undercover.”
People keep helping me, as if they have foreknowledge of my future. The mormon, I guess, actually did have such knowledge, but who is this guy? And who was the man who gave me the telescope picture? I don’t have much time to think about it. I hear the first guard shout, “hey!” to a past version of me. As I’m opening the door, I see myself fall drop my phone, and crumple to the floor. Then I pixelate and disappear, on my way back to 1972. The guard is staring at me in shock, so before he has time to figure out what to do, I raise the gun, and shoot him in the chest, to give him a taste of his own medicine. I then notice a tiny little screen on the back of the weapon, and discover that there are two kinds of projectiles. I switch it to the tranquilizer darts, so I can put him down without him causing any more problems for awhile.
“It’s been ages for me,” I say to my friends as I’m removing keys from the guard’s belt. You’ll never guess where I’ve been.”
“Well, we’ve just been here,” Laura says, “swingin’ on the flippity-flop.”
“Doing what on the what?” I ask.
“Never mind.”
I unlock the gate for them after only a few tries. Why are they still using physical keys when everyone has a perfectly good phone? “Come on. I took a picture of the future, so we can all get out of here.” I open the photo of downtown Independence, and hold it up in front of us, like I’m taking a selfie.
“Wait,” Laura stops me. “This might not work for us.”
“Yeah,” Samwise agrees. “The powers that be have a plan, and they may not let us out of our time period, until it’s...time.”
“You have to promise,” Laura says out of concern. “Promise that you won’t come back for us if it doesn’t work. We belong here.”
“It’ll work, so we won’t have to worry about it,” I say dismissively, and raise my arm again.
“Just promise,” Samwise insisted.
“I promise. Now let’s go before they send someone else.”
They were totally right. Despite the fact that Laura and Samwise were between me and Hilde, the latter is the only one who manages to come through with me. I wasn’t even touching her at the time. The evil group of unseen overseers have too much control over time and space. After we take of this Jesimula Utkin problem, I intend to go after them next.
“You’re back,” the mormon boy declares. Goddamn, is this guy in every one of my pictures, or what? “Did I do well?”
“You did it perfectly,” I say in my prophet voice. “Now do one more thing for me.”
“Anything, mistress,” the creeper says.
“Take off that outfit...not literally” I cry as he immediately starts trying to remove his clothes.
“I just mean stop being a mormon, because the religion is total garbage.”
“What should I believe instead?”
“There’s only one real higher power in the whole universe,” I announce, starting to drop my persona.
“And what is that?” he asks.
“Yeah, what is it?” Hilde asks.
I snap a pic of the empty lot in the distance where the laboratory once stood. “Time.” Hilde and I look at the photo, and teleport back to the parking lot, where our friends are standing around. They look lost and confused. “It’s a long story,” I say to them. “But we’re back, and we have some pretty good intel.”
“Story?” Leona asks.
“Intel?” Slipstream asks.
“Who are you people?” Hogarth asks.

Out of Action

While Slipstream, Hogarth, and Leona showed no signs that they could remember anything about their lives beyond their childhoods, they were also receptive to mine and Hilde’s help. If we couldn’t find a way to make these people trust us, I don’t know how we could have helped. We went back to the Bran safehouse, and took care of them as best we could. At first, we thought a good night’s rest would be enough to get them out of this, but they woke up just as lost as before. Then we thought we might be able to jog their memories with a few context clues, but there was only so much we could do. Slipstream was easy. We knew where she lived, where she hung out, and who her friends were. None of it helped, of course, but the tracer gang insisted she stay with them just the same. Hogarth was the next easiest, but was still without hope. Hilde tried to remind her of the time they spent together, but since their hometown no longer existed, we couldn’t show her familiar objects. Not that it mattered, because this wasn’t working anyway. There was nothing we could try for Leona, since none of us really knew her. Baby Brooke seemed to think they hadn’t known each other for that long, so theirs wasn’t a strong connection.
On the third day, nearly out of ideas, Hilde and I decided to try something crazy. One thing I’ve gathered from this time traveler underground is that if you don’t know who might understand you, there was a word you can use. Salmon are a special class of temporal manipulators who have no control over their—well, you couldn’t really call what they have powers; it’s more like nonlinear time happens to them. I don’t really quite understand why it is they’re called salmon, but it’s a really good buzzword. Normal people will just think you’re talking about fish, but a time traveler will easily figure out that you’re trying to communicate with them secretly. Unfortunately, since there weren’t any possible travelers around, all we could do was put out a local advertisement, and hope that someone relevant happened to see it. It took days for it to work.
While Mireille was babysitting one regular child, and three two grown-up children, Hilde and I hung out all day at Mendoza Park. We’re sitting on the edge of the fountain on the fourth day since the memory loss when a young woman in sunglasses sits right next to us. We think she’s here for us, but there’s no way to tell. She takes out her phone. “Hi, mom. Yes, I can go to the store after work.” She turns to face us, and slides her glasses down the bridge of her nose. “I’ll pick up some of that good salmon from the bulk store.”
“Oh, thank God,” Hilde says. “We’ve been waiting for you for two days.”
“One and a half,” I clarify.
“Well, we knew something was strange when someone noticed you put out an ad just to ask whether the fish in Cleaver Fountain were salmon,” the woman says. “I’m Agent Cabral. And you?”
“Paige Turner. Hilde Unger. Who’s we?”
“I run an international coalition of intelligence agencies,” Agent Cabral says. Does she not have to keep that a secret?
“Let me guess, the government found out about people with time powers—”
“Hardly,” Agent Cabral interrupts. “We have a few choosers and salmon field agents, but we don’t revolve around them. What can we help you with?”
“Someone erased our friends’ memories,” Hilde explains. “She might have gotten some drug from the future, we don’t know. I just want my girlfriend back.”
“Are you sure it isn’t due to quantum blending?” the agent asks.
“What is that?”
“Was it a drug, or did the person manipulate reality to make them forget? There’s a big difference in how we solve this.”
“But you can solve it?” I ask.
“If it’s a drug, I know someone. If it’s because reality’s been jacked up, probably not. My organization does not have the same resources it once did. We’re probably on our way to shutting down.”
“Let’s assume it was some drug, and go from there,” I suggest.
“Okay. Follow me.” She stands up, and leads us to a more secluded part of the park, covered by trees. She takes out her phone again, and makes a real call this time. “Ashlock? Three to beam up.”
I feel something tugging on my chest, and pulling me backwards. I’m suddenly standing in what looks like the living room of a house that someone has remodeled for small business use. I’m having trouble reclaiming my balance, and a man is pointing a weapon at us.
“Stand down, Kolby,” another man says. “I obviously invited them here.”
“We don’t know who these two are,” Kolby states.
“These two children?” the other guy asks. “I think we’re safe. I trust Ecrin’s judgment.”
“Your name is Kolby?” I ask.
“Yeah.”
“Kolby Morse?” I add.
He lowers his weapon. “You’ve heard of me?”
“I met your partner in J.U. Mithra Labs,” I tell him.
Kolby clears his throat. “Please don’t talk about him. It’s not safe.”
“Of course.” I turn to the other guy, and give him my hand. “You must be Ashlock. I was to understand you could help with our friends’ memory problems?”
“Uh...not me,” Ashlock says. He looks over at Ecrin Cabral. “The doctor is on a mission in 2022 Maine right now. She’ll probably be back in an hour. In the meantime, Kolby made sandwiches.”
As hard of a man as he seems to be, Kolby makes a complete 180, and starts to smile proudly. “And avocado toast.”
“So what is it you have goin’ on here?” I ask with tofu sandwich in my mouth.
“We help people,” Ashlock answers.
“Help people with what?”
“It’s a complicated system, but basically I send our field agent to the body of someone in the past to help them, and people around them.”
“You could even say you...put right what once went wrong?” Hilde prodded.
“Yes,” Ashlock says with a grin. “A friend of mine came up with the idea, and he says that show inspired him.”
“Do you only send one person into people’s bodies?” Hilde asks.
“I can only send Quivira. She’s the one with the power to possess others. If I want to send someone else, they have to go back as themselves. We do it this way so we don’t have to convince the humans to trust us when we try to make things better.”
“And the doctor?”
“She can go back as herself,” Ashlock explains, “because she carries credibility. She’s a psychiatrist, and a physician, which we find to be vital to the success of our operation. You’ll meet her, but probably not Qui—.” He suddenly stops and stares into space. His eyes dart back and forth, and his lips move a little, like a child learning to read.
“What’s he doing?” Hilde asks.
“He’s talking with someone in the past,” Kolby replies. “It’s kind of creepy, but you get used to it.”
“He’s both Ziggy, and Al,” I note.
Kolby keeps smiling, and goes back to his lunch.
Ashlock comes out of the trance. “Hammer will be here soon. She says I should action the three patients here, so she can examine them at the same time.”
She wants you to do what with them?” Hilde asks, thinking she should be offended.
“That’s just what I call my power. It’s what I did when I summoned you to me. I pull you out of one time and place, and land you somewhere else. In this case, it’s time travel without the time. They call me The Action.”
“Who calls you that?” Kolby asks, obviously already knowing the answer.
“I prefer Ashlock,” I remark.
Ashlock isn’t pleased, but Kolby is. “Most people do,” he says.
After we finish eating, Ashlock sends us to our unit in the Ponce de Leon, where we retrieve Hogarth and Leona. Hilde then goes to the tracer gang headquarters alone. It takes her so long to presumably convince Slipstream’s friends that we’ve found a way to help her that a Doctor Mallory Hammer comes back from the past before they return.
“Pleased to meet you,” Dr. Hammer says.
“Do you need to rest?” Kolby asks protectively.
“I’m fine. They do have beds in 2022. Anyway, are these my patients?”
“These two are,” I say. “The third is on her way.”
“Okay, we’ll start without her. Privately.” She leads them to the examination room, which was probably once just a bedroom, while I wait here. Before she leaves, she asks Ashlock to check on her primary patient, so he goes down to the basement. While I’m not told specifically to stay out, it’s clear that the basement is a no-go zone.
Ecrin has to go upstairs to make a call, so now I’m just alone with the security guard. “Was he doing okay?” he asks of me.
“Who?”
“Elder. My partner.”
“I thought we couldn’t talk about him.”
“Not around others, but you can tell me what you know.”
“His name was Elder?”
“Yeah. Elder Caverness. I’m guess this means you didn’t spend much time with him?”
“Few minutes,” I lament. “He doesn’t seem the happiest where he is, working for the woman we’re trying to stop right now. He’s doing okay, though...convinced he’s exactly where he needs to be.”
Kolby nods. “That sounds like him.”
“I think he misses you. Do you ever see each other?” I ask.
“Radio silence, by design. Please don’t mention him to anyone else. His mission is too important.”
“Of course.” I zip my mouth closed, locked it up, and break the key in half with my bare hands.
Ashlock comes back upstairs, having actioned Hilde and Slipstream here. He escorts the latter to the backroom, then comes back to wait with us at the table.
A half hour later, Dr. Hammer comes out alone. “I’m sending samples to the time lab. I can’t expedite the testing, because there may be a temporal component to the drug itself, which could be distorted if it’s not measured in linear time. I’m fairly certain I know what it is, though. It resembles something I encountered a few hundred years from now. I think it came from another planet. The person who did this is serious business. Once I help your friends with a broad spectrum counteragent, you should all stay away from her.
“They can’t do that,” Kolby says, having completely warmed up to them.
I look at him, then back to Dr. Hammer. “The mission is too important.”
“Well, I can insulate you from the effects of the memory loss, but the formula also requires realtime, so it wouldn’t be ready for about a week.”
“That’s okay,” Hilde says. “We don’t think it’s her main weapon, or a weapon at all. We think our friends were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Thank you for everything,” I say graciously. “All of you.”
“We’ll get your people fixed up, and on their way,” Ashlock says, standing up. “Ecrin will take you back home the long way ‘round, so you know where we are. Come for avocado toast whenever you want.”
“Thanks again,” I say. Then I add, “The Action.”
He smiles.

Time Slider

We all go back to the Bran safehouse to rest and regroup. Dr. Hammer said that the treatment she provided would slowly return the three patients’ memories. The brain doesn’t handle well the sudden onslaught of memory. Evidently things like this have happened before, and when proper precautions are not taken, the subject can totally freak out. Remembering all the bad things one has done, and that which has been done to them, always outweighs the good things. It doesn’t seem to ever do irreparable damage, but it’s always safer to bring them back more gradually. This left them with two options; either for Hilde and me to move on with the plan without help, or to wait until the others were ready. The first one wasn’t going to work, since we didn’t really have a plan, so now only one option. Well, still two, because it wouldn’t be a bad idea just to let it all go, and leave it to the professionals. As confident as I feel as an independent person, I do know that I’m still just a kid. What can we do?
Theoretically out of an attempt to answer that question as nothing, Jesimula Utkin shows up the next morning after breakfast with her private security. I recognize one as the guy who shot me with a taser gun, but I don’t see the one who helped me get back at the first. I feel like I should be worried he was found out, and suffered consequences. That makes me responsible.
“It took me longer than it should have to find you,” Jesimula says. “I guess that’s why they call it a safehouse.”
“So, we’re not safe anymore?” Slipstream asks. She now remembers a fair better chunk of her life. It’s not anywhere near enough to really know who the rest of us are, but she recalls the hero she became to help rid this city of gang violence, which makes her the leader here again.
“Yeah, that sounded bad,” Jesimula admits. “We got started all wrong, and I’m here to clear the air. I spent years working on my company. I wasn’t drawing up profit schedules, or commissioning the most lavish of offices—as you saw with our fairly drab two-story brick building. My friends all went above and beyond to make their organizations high-end cash cows. I just wanted to cure the world, but I can’t do that if just anyone can walk in and out as they please. I personally vetted every single one of my employees. When we slide through time, we dismiss all but essential personnel, and we use a trick I picked up in the future to erase specific memories. We can do this because they each underwent comprehensive medical testing.
“When you showed up unannounced, we were not ready for you. We don’t know how your respective brain chemistries work, and you were too close when we released the memory blocker. We need to be able to slide out of any time period without alerting the locals to it. There’s a reason why we chose to set up shop in that part of Independence. It’s kind of dead, so there aren’t a lot of people around, and those that are, are usually far enough away to avoid the full force of the memory field. Like I said, you were a mistake. We give most people an uncontrollable desire to leave the immediate area, but you were too determined. That is a contingency that we are currently working on, so it does not happen again.”
“What do you mean when you say you’re trying to cure the world?” Leona asks. She now possessed almost all of her memories. What Hammer learned by consulting with other choosing ones was that Leona had before experienced memory manipulation, which apparently makes it easier to remedy.
“There’s a cure for what ails you,” Jesimula answers. “It may not be from now, and it may not be on this world, but I promise you that it exists. There’s this blue flower on Orolak than turns everything around it blue, wherever you plant it, and it can...anyway—it can do amazing things, as can others, and we can get those to the people who need them.”
“And they’ll all be very grateful to you for it,” Hogarth points out. Hers was the worst memory of all, but her love for Hilde negated all that. She knew how she felt about her, and she didn’t have to remember what they had been through to trust her. “They might even give you a little money for it.”
“It’s 2025,” Jesimula says with a sour face. “Capitalism reigns. It won’t in the future, but I’m not trying to cure people in the future. People expect to pay money for value. If I gave it away for free, they would reject it. I actually did try this. Then I went back in time and rewrote my own history, because it does not work; not in this time period. However, I have a special team, just like any other company, who know how to price. We charge just enough to get people to think it’s worth it, we have a discount program for the less fortunate, and we donate what we don’t use for upkeep to free clinics. I don’t know who told you I’m the bad guy, but I really do have good intentions.”
“Yes, good intentions,” Hilde begins to say.
“Road to hell, yeah, I’ve heard that. Life isn’t so simple.”
“Are you here for nothing more than an apologia for your business model?” Slipstream asks, trying to get to the point.
Jesimula glances back at her security detail. “I’m here for an offer.”
Join me, and we can rule the world together!” I mock.
“It’s not like that,” Jesimula says. “We could use a couple more scientists, and Miss Horvatinčić, there is suddenly an open position on the security team.”
“You seem to know a lot about us,” Hilde notes.
“More than they know about themselves, I would suspect,” Jesimula agreed. “I think we’ve established that I do my research. If you think that I’m destined to do something wrong with that research, we would all be better off with you by my side. I don’t want to keep fighting you if it’s just going to end to disaster. If you know something, then let’s act on it.”
“We don’t know enough,” I finally speak up. “You would have to shut the company down. I mean, even if we stop what we already know is going to happen, maybe your new path leads to something worse. You could go back to the cretaceous period, and awaken some ancient fungus. It doesn’t matter how many safety protocols you come up with, there will always be leaks and accidents.”
“Why don’t you help me with that?”
“What?”
“You could find the loopholes.”
“Weren’t you listening to me?” I ask. “You can never be one hundred percent safe. This whole operation is too risky.”
“Plus, she’s fifteen,” Slipstream argues.
“Fourteen,” I correct her.
“Even worse!”
“So, you’re young, so what? I can fix that for ya,” Jesimula says, casually and seriously. She hovers her open palms in front of my temples, and forms a warped spacetime bubble around me. I suddenly feel myself being stretched and altered. I grow a little taller, my boobs get bigger, and my face feels rougher and wrinklier. I can’t see anything while it’s happening, though, and by the time I can reopen my eyes, Slipstream is midbattle against Jesimula’s security team. Hogarth and Hilde are right next to me, presumably having tried to break through the time bubble.
Leona is holding Jesimula’s arms behind her back, like a cop trying to make an arrest. “Put her back!” she orders.
“No,” Jesimula replies plainly.
“Put. Her. Back,” Leona repeats.
“No, you let me go, I’ll finish it. She’s still younger than I was planning.”
“You planned this?” Hilde growls.
“I got the idea from your daughter, and her friends.”
“What are you talking about?” Hilde questions. Does that mean she doesn’t have a daughter, or that she doesn’t know what Jesimula knows about that daughter’s future?
“You’ll see...” Jesimula teases.
Slipstream is finished putting down all the guards, so she takes tiny Jesi by the shoulders and presses her against the wall. “You’re going to fix this.”
Jesimula is not at all intimidated. “I offered you peace amongst us. I expect you to come around eventually, and I won’t return to this time period until you do so.” She tilts her head and smiles, then she disappears, evidently not needing her hands to use her powers.
Slipstream turns around. “Tie them up with their own zip cuffs. They’re going to help us. Paige, I promise we’ll figu—” she stops short, and freezes, trembling slightly, but violently. She suddenly falls hard to her face.
Behind her, Jesimula is bringing her leg back down to the floor, having kicked Slipstream in the back. She’s pointing a weapon at the rest of us. “Get up!” she orders her men.
They struggle to their feet, and gather around her. “I know this doesn’t help how you feel about me, but we all make mistakes, as you pointed out, Older!Paige. I believe you will one day forgive me.” She creates a bubble around her and her people, and slides them all out of time.

Sandlot

I’m standing in front the mirror, staring at myself. I still look like me, but also not really. This isn’t the first time I’m seeing the new me, of course. I got some good hard looks yesterday, soon after Jesimula Utkin rapidly aged me, but I just can’t stop. We discussed it a little, and estimated that I was maybe twenty years old at this point. A part of me feels violated, but I can’t honestly say that I’m upset about the results. I’ve always been mature for my age, so maybe this is my outside finally reflecting my inside. My biggest problem always been people not taking me seriously, and this could solve all that. Then again, she technically stole six years of life that I could have lived. If I’m to die at the age of eighty, I’ll now have only experienced seventy-four years of time. Perhaps later on, once I’m starting to feel self-conscious about my wrinkles, I can call Jesi back, and have her do the same thing in reverse. Hell, is there any reason she can’t just keep doing that for me? If this doesn’t prove that immortality is possible, I don’t know what will. Maybe there’s a limit, I don’t know. I would at least like to live to be two hundred. I guess that’s just an arbitrary choice, though. No, this is all stupid anyway. It was difficult enough to explain why my father, Serkan was only five years older than me. Now I’m meant to be the older one? Then again...
“Paige, we’re going to get you fixed,” Slipstream says to me when I try to start brainstorming over breakfast. There aren’t supposed to be such thing as a bad idea.
“I thought this was a safe space. I don’t need you yelling at me,” I complain.
“She wasn’t yelling,” Hogarth says.
“No, she’s right,” Slipstream says. “I’m sorry, Paige. Your feelings are paramount here, but I want you to understand the ramifications. You can’t go back to high school, so your only option would be to get your equivalency. It may not be right, but employers perceive that to be an inferior education. This is all assuming someone can create for you yet another identity after the first two, because everyone beyond this room, other than your fathers, thinks you’re fourteen.”
“That’s a lot to assume, yes,” I counter, “but it’s not as bad as assuming we can get Jesimula to reverse this. Everyone needs to be prepared for the possibility that this is my life now.”
“Oh,” Slipstream says as she starts to tear her toast into little strips—there’s probably a story behind that behavior. “I’ll get her to reverse what she did. Don’t you worry none ‘bout that.”
“What are you going to do?” Leona asks.
“I’ve already called my tracers. We’re taking a little field trip to Independence. I don’t want you to have to come with us, Paige, but you’ll have to be closeby.”
“No, you can’t involve the tracers,” I say, remembering something Serkan told me back when.
“Why can’t I?”
“It’s the tenth of April.”
“So...?” She doesn’t know why that’s significant, nor should she.
“Serkan starts to run with you today,” I explain. I don’t want to say too much about what I know of these people’s futures, but this is important.
“I thought he was stuck in another dimension,” Slipstream says.
“I’m not talking about that Serkan,” I tell them. “I’m talking about the original Serkan; the one who doesn’t know a thing about time travel yet.”
“Isn’t he still a minor?” Leona asked. “New Gangs are only for adults.”
“The tracer gang makes exceptions for Frenzy winners,” I clarify.
“Is this true?” Leona asks Slipstream.
She doesn’t answer right away, but keeps her eyes on me.
“Slip,” Leona presses.
“Yes,” Slipstream finally says, eyes still on me. “It’s true, even before I met Paige here, we had our eye on Serkie. He’s a force.”
“If he doesn’t go on probation in your gang starting tomorrow,” I begin, “after today’s audition, everything he does after that is ruined. You wanna talk about reversing, this decision could prevent me from ever coming to the 21st century. Jesi releases a virus, Keanu freezes the real Kansas City, dogs and cats living together.”
“I get it,” Slipstream says shortly. “Your father has to join the gang. But the longer we wait...”
The longer we wait, what?” I ask. “The unobtanium in my quantum injector solidifies, and there’s no longer a way to reverse the time polarity? I can wait a few days. History can’t. And remember, just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it’s not history.”
Slipstream considers her choices, but ultimately relents. She recognizes what’s top priority here, so she finishes eating, and heads out to the gray district, so she can meet my future father, and close the time loop. We all have to make it to July 17, 2026, which is the day after the ninth annual City Frenzy, before we can stop worrying so much about altering the timeline.
For an hour after Slipstream leaves, I’m once again in front of  the mirror. I’m not just staring at myself anymore, like a creepy ghost-child in a Japanese horror flick, though. Little Brooke the other day discovered a magical closet behind one of the normal bedroom closets that’s the size of a clothing store, maybe even larger. I’m trying out new clothes. This is more than just a safehouse for time travelers. The clothes I normally wear are pretty loose, so they don’t fit too badly, but I still need something better.
I’m currently wearing a cute little blue dress with a daisy pattern when I hear a voice behind me. “That looks perfect on you.”
“Jesimula,” I say with a sneer.
“You can call me Jesi.”
“We’ve decided you need to put me back as I was.”
“Back as you were?” she echoes. “As a scared thirteen-year-old girl in 1972?”
“Not that far back,” I correct with a roll of my eyes.
“I see, so you’re looking for the ideal?”
“I’m asking you to reverse everything that you’ve done to me; nothing more, nothing less.”
“Is that really what you want, or is that what your friends told you that you need?”
I don’t hesitate. “It’s what I want, and it’s what is right. If I want you to change my age, I’ll ask for it, which is what I’m doing right now.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. It would be unethical for me to send you on this mission as a child. I had to age you up.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but what you did is already unethical. You’ve violated my body, for one, and you haven’t even matured me. I’m still a minor; the difference now is I can pass for an adult. Barely.”
“I don’t see it that way. Don’t you want to know what the mission is?”
“It doesn’t matter, because I’m not doing a single thing for you.” I know it’s dumb as soon as I say it it, because I obviously have no choice. Jesi is here on behalf of her own agenda, and it’s irrelevant what anyone else wants. I dart my eyes toward the exit, but she’s blocked it.
She almost frowns when she notices, but does not doubt her plan. She sprays some sort of odorless, tasteless something in my face. Then she creates a bubble around me, and disappears. I expect everything around me to start changing, but it doesn’t. I’m stuck in the bubble for about twice as long as the clinic was last time, and when it finally dissipates, and lets me out, I see that the closet is still just as it was before. It must exist in some other dimension, because I seriously doubt Jesi created a bubble for me that didn’t do anything. I cautiously walk over towards the door, and open it up.
Before me is a darkened and empty hallway. On the opposite wall, however, is a bright light. At first I think it’s just a lamp, or something, but then my eyes adjust, and I can see the truth. It’s the sun. It’s the sun as viewed from space. I step closer and admire the view. Yeah, I’m definitely in the future. I can’t tell whether I’m in a ship, a space station, or something I can’t even comprehend, but the sunlight illuminates a few structures to the side of me that all look exactly the same. I suspect that I’m just in another one of whatever they are. Oh, and there’s also a little planet below called Earth.
I can hear what sounds like sand being sifted to the side of me as the lights inside the hallway turn on. I look over and see a figure forcing itself out of the wall; or more like part of the wall is becoming something else. Tiny little pieces come together to form the general shape of a human being, and eventually rearrange themselves into more and more detail. In the end, there’s a person standing there. “Our sensors indicate that an entity has suddenly appeared in this sector. What is your designation?” she asks of me.
“Paige Reaver-Demir.”
“Species.”
“Human.”
“Species of human.”
“Uhh...regular?”
“You are short for a regular human.”
Not really. “Am I?”
“You clothes, anatomy, and wonderment in your surroundings better resemble the average teenage human girl from early 21st century.”
I don’t say anything.
She lifts her head to examine me from a slightly different angle. “Right. Well, you are not authorized to be on the bubble. I can return you to anywhere on Earth that you would like.”
“Um, does Kansas City still exist?” I ask, knowing whatever this thing is, she already has the whole woman out of time thing figured out about me anyway.
“It most certainly does,” she replies. Then she starts walking down the hallway, expecting me to follow her.
We board a small ship, and drop down to Earth. I ask to land on the edge of civilization. I don’t tell her this, but I want to do some recon before I run into anyone else. Jesi wants me here, and she’s not a good person, which means I shouldn’t be here. I could hardly ask her to let me go to, like, a moon of Jupiter, or something, though. The only thing I can do is investigate.
“Wait,” I stop the sand entity before she takes off. “This may sound strange, but—”
“It’s April 10, 3117, by your calendar.” she interrupts.
“Oh. Thank you.”
“What the hell am I doing here?” I ask out loud after the sand creature flies away.
“You’re helping me build this fire,” a young man answers from several meters away.
Startled. “What?”
He stands from his crouch and draws closer, but not threateningly. “My parents put me in this program that teaches you how to do things the way people used to. Maybe you know how to start a fire with nothing but these tiny pieces of wood?”
I look down at his fire, and at the box of matches he’s holding. “How did you know I would be here?”
“I didn’t,” he says, laughing. “You just fell from the sky, like an angel, right on top of my solo lot. I was going to ask how you knew I would be here.”
If all Jesi wants me to do is help this poor kid light a fire, then I guess it can’t be too bad. Then again, this could start a fire that ravages the entire continent, for all I know. I decide to risk it. I step over and take the matches from him, and prepare to light the fire. “What the hell is this?”
“It’s my woodpile,” he says, like I’m the stupid one.
“Where’s your tinder?”
“My what?”
“Have you been trying to light these big sticks and logs?”
“Bigger sticks, bigger fire,” he starts off confidently, but clearly starts questioning his own logic by the end of the last word.
“Oh, dear. Let’s go get some bark. You got a knife?”
“Yeah.”
I have him shave tinder strips off the bark, then place the remaining pieces of top to act as kindling, so we can get the fire going. “Start small, and let it grow. You can’t just light the whole thing at once.” I pull a log off, and toss it across his camp lot. “This one is wet, it’s useless.” I continue the lessons, as needed, until we have a pretty good fire going that will be able to sustain itself for a good long time. “Did they teach you anything, or just throw you into the deep end on day one?”
“They threw us into the deep end on the second day,” he says.
I laugh, but realize that he isn’t. I think that his instructors literally threw him into a pool of water. Science and humans had both presumably advanced so much that people weren’t even swimming anymore. Not knowing how to light a fire from a match is one thing, but swimming should be an essential skill in any time period.
We watch our creation for a few minutes, at which point I abruptly turn around. “Kay, byeee.”
“Wait, can’t you stay?” he begs. “I’m supposed to make mores.”
“You mean s’mores?”
“See? I still need you.”
I suppose I won’t be able to get home until Jesi shows up, and sends me back through one of her sliding bubbles. “I guess I can stay a little while longer, Smalls.”
“My name is Asuk. I told you.”
“You’re killin’ me, Smalls. We make s’mores, but then I have to go.”
“Great.”
I help him with his cute little history project, then I proceed to stay with him for almost an entire year.

Fever

Asuk fell in love with me pretty much as soon as we met, though he would never admit to it. When I tried to explain that I felt nothing for him beyond friendship, I realized that I didn’t understand it myself. I had actually never felt anything like that about anyone, and always figured that I just hadn’t yet met the right person. Before you get any ideas about me, I’m no sociopath. I experience empathy for others, and I care what happens to them, but I have no interest in romantic or sexual relationships. This was unheard of in the 1970s, and my life in the 2020s was so consumed by time travel, that no one had the chance to explain it to me before. Asuk understood completely, though, because in his day, all sexuality stigmas have been almost entirely erased. He said that I was asexual, and provided me with some resources to help me figure myself out.
After we made s’mores that first night, I agreed to stay with him that night, because he was afraid of being alone in the dark. He said that his camping lot was located in a region of Earth purposely left uncontrolled by weather satellites, but admitted the satellites contributed so much to the global climate, that it was still not all that unnatural. While the weather wasn’t as perfect as it was for most of the surface, it was a decent night on its own. I woke up the next morning, and waited for a sign. I allowed myself to wait until noon o’clock central for anything that would point me in the direction that Jesi wanted me to go, but nothing happened. And so I said my goodbyes, then I pulled up my phone, where I kept several photographs I took of April, 2025 Missouri, so I could return in a case such as this one. Unfortunately, I was unable to go anywhere. I could feel a slight burn in my eyes as I stared at one of the photographs of Cleaver Fountain, but I couldn’t actually travel there. I swiped through all of my dozens of saved photos for one that would work, including the scans I made of the pictures from my childhood camera. I only ignored the ones that would have taken me back to 1971. Anywhere is better than there. Nothing worked, but I kept trying...for about a week. Then I gave up, and surrendered myself to the time period. From then on, I only attempted to travel back in time about once a week, just in case whatever was preventing me from traveling wore off.
I stayed with Asuk and his family, who were living on Earth for that month. They were nomads, though, like so many others, and whenever they moved somewhere else, I would go with them. I spent some time on Mars and Venus, both of which had, through miracles of science, become just as habitable as Earth. We went back to what I now know is something called a dyson bubble. Basically giant stations were suspended between the sun and Jupiter, allowing more solar energy than ever before to be harvested and used to power the worlds. We also lived in habitat domes on two moons of Jupiter, which by the way, was now a freaking sun. Somehow, they turned Jupiter into a star, and no matter how many times my new friends tried to teach me how it was done, I couldn’t understand it. I don’t even understand why they did it, other than for the possibility of some of the larger of these moons to have their own atmospheres. Asuk’s family was planning to move to a different star system—and leave me behind, because I didn’t feel comfortable traveling that far from home—when disaster struck.
A mysterious pathogen spread throughout the entire system, infecting every biological species of some particular level of complexity that went over my head. It possessed an alarmingly long incubation period, which meant it transmitted out of control from person to person before anyone realized what was happening. The system was placed in quarantine, but experts believed these measures to have been far too late. Lightspeed ships were virtually unreachable while traveling at relativistic speeds, so the damage was done. Every organic human within a thousand lightyears would be infected, with little hope for a cure. Of course that meant it would take a thousand years to run its course, but all entities not created, or fitted, with artificial parts, would be dead by then. The oldest purely biological person living today was a hundred and thirty-two years old. The pathogen itself did not cause death, nor symptoms that could not easily be remedied. What it did was prevent someone infected from procreating. If the people working the problem were unable to solve it, normal humans would be wiped out. This is what Jesi wants to bring back to my time, and I have to do anything in my power to stop it, even if it means staying here for the rest of my life; even if it means dying today.
“Maybe we should go,” Asuk says. “Maybe you should come with us.”
“Where?” I ask him. “To Teagarden?”
“Why not? It’ll only take twelve years.”
“We’re still in quarantine.”
He brushes this off. “Eh, in a couple years, they’re gonna discover patients on Proxima, and the quarantine won’t mean a damn thing. They’ll let us go, because it won’t matter anymore. Besides, I know a friend who can get us a darkburster.”
“Like from the twenty-second century? Didn’t they figure out how to detect those? Isn’t darkbursting impossible now?”
“Intentional obsolescence. They could detect darkbursters, but they don’t scan for them, because they don’t think anyone would be crazy enough to use them.”
“Because people who used them died half the time.”
“I’ll take those odds.”
“I won’t,” I say. “I’m not getting in a darkburster, and I’m not going to Teagarden. I’m perfectly fine here.”
“On Rhea?” Rhea is a large Saturnial moon that was considered too small for terraforming. It was instead gutted, and turned into the largest single-processor computational apparatus in the known galaxy. While the dyson bubbles are ultimately larger, they’re each composed of disparate parts, so they don’t count. Few people actually live on Rhea, but it’s a cool tourist attraction. We’re currently staying in what I can’t help but call a space motel.
“No, just here in general. I like moving around with you guys, but if I never go back to my time period, I’ll still want to be near Earth. It will always be my home. I won’t go past the Oort cloud.”
Asuk yawns. “Well, I suppose I have a couple years to change your mind, unless you would reconsid—”
“I’m not stepping foot in a darkburster.” Darkbursters are ancient ships capable of interplanetary travel without being picked up on sensors. But they resulted in too many deaths, and are fundamentally pointless these days. If you want to go somewhere, for the most part, you can. You really just have to ask.
“Preach, sister!” comes a voice from behind me. I turn around to see someone standing there with a hazmat suit on. There’s a glare on the face part, so I can’t see who it is until she moves slightly.
“Jesi.”
“This is a special suit,” Jesi says. “It doesn’t just protect me from germs, but also from this time. It’s basically shields me against everything, but it comes at a price. I can’t use my power while it’s on. I created a latent time bubble to get me here, but now I’m stuck.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad. The world is probably better off with you in one place.”
“Not so fast,” Jesi says. “I can’t take us back, but you can, and you will.” She holds up an injection gun. “I give you this, and your powers return. Then you take us both back home. Easy peasy..little queasy.”
“I’m not doing that.”
“Why not? Don’t tell me you’re in love with this kid?” Jesi gestures towards Asuk.
“No,” Asuk laughed a bit too hard.
“I’m not taking this pathogen back to 2025. Why do you wanna destroy the human race? Lemme guess, so choosers can start fresh, and bring about a new dawn?”
Jesi shakes her head at pathetic little me. “The pathogen is rampant in this time. We still don’t know where it comes from, but we know how it spread. Paige, it came from multiple places at once. It was this onslaught of slow and unavoidable death. It probably originated on another planet.”
“Sounds tasty,” I spit.
“You’re not getting it. There’s a reason I’m in this suit, and it’s not so I don’t get infected. I mean it is, but not because I’m selfish.”
“You’re not?”
“I’m not! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! I’m trying to save the world!”
“By destroying it, I get it.”
“No, you don’t.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m going to tell you a story. About a man.”
“What man?”
“His name...was Mateo Matic.”
“Never heard of ‘im.”
“I’m not surprised, he was erased from the timeline. Not even his wife remembers him.”
“Who’s his wife?” Asuk asks. He always loves a good story.
“Her name’s Leona.”
“Whaaaat?” I question overdramatically.
“It’s true, but that’s not the point. The point is that he once accidentally came to the year 3118. He picked up the pathogen, and then he took it back to 2025.”
“So he’s here right now?” Asuk asks.
“I just told you, he was ripped out of time.”
“Right.”
“You seriously like this guy?” she asks me.
“Get to the point!” I shout.
“This all happened in a different timeline. The reason you’re here, Paige, is to replicate what happened to him.”
“Yeah, I understand. You want me to destroy the world.”
“Christ, Paige, will you get off that? No. You’re one person, and you’ve been living here for the last several months. The disease has mutated since it first came about. It’s begun to focus on conserving energy, rather than spreading. When you go back to 2025, no one is going to become sterile. They might get a little fever, but they’ll get over it, and will be stronger for it. They’ll continue to evolve over the millenium, and by the time they get here, the pathogen will do them no harm. All of this will be erased. This guy here, if he’s even ever born, will not even know you existed.”
“That might be what you think will happen, but I have it on good authority that your plan does not work,” I counter.
“Oh, you mean the other version of me?” she asks. “Yeah, we spoke. Bringing you here was her idea. This is what fixes it. This is what fixes everything. Paige Turner Reaver-Demir, you are about to become mother of a multitude.”
“I don’t want that. I don’t believe this will work. I don’t trust you. Or her.”
“That’s fine,” Jesi says, confidently casual. “You’ll see, though, and you’ll be glad. Asuk will too, though he won’t know it.”
“Aha!” Asuk cries with glee. “You do know my name.”
“That’s what you took from this?” Jesi asks rhetorically.
I stare at Jesi, biting my bottom lip. I can tell that she knows what I’m going to do, but I still have to try. I spin around, and bolt for the exit, but something hits me in the back. Goddamn, I wish people would stop doing that. Next time it’s gonna be a knife. Next time, someone is going to literally stab me in the back. But for now, I fall to the floor. I’m not knocked unconscious, or anything, but the pain is enough to keep me down so Jesi can catch up to me, and force the power suppressor antidote upon me.
“I just won’t jump!” I scream as I’m flipping over. “I just won’t!”
She giggles. I know you don’t have that much control. She takes a fist-sized device out of a bag that I somehow know to be an icosidodecahedron. She drops her hand, and lets it hover a meter over the floor. Light explodes from its faces, releasing a sea of nearly a hundred projections, strewn all about the walls. Each one is a photo of a different part of Kansas City, and each one is strobing like the dance floor at a discotheque, overwhelming my senses. My eyes start to burn, so I look away, but they continue to burn. I try to close my eyelids, but somehow that hurts my head even more. I’m looking at a picture of Plaza rooftops when my power overcomes my will, and I jump hopelessly back to the past.

The Trinity is a Paradox

A kind woman is helping me up from the hot pavement of a rooftop parking lot. As I’m trying to recover from the lightshow, I see Jesi running down into the garage, still wearing her hazmat suit, and freaking out a couple walking back to their car. “Should I call the police?” the woman asks me.
“They couldn’t do anything,” I say. “She’s too powerful.” I remember what’s just happened, and scramble away from the woman. “Oh no, get away from me, I’m sick!” I look around, as if it would be possible to see the pathogen spreading through the air, or more ridiculously, that if possible, I could do anything about it.
“Hey, it’s okay,” she says to me calmly. “We’ll get to a hospital and figure this out. What exactly is it that you think you have?”
“They called it anthrolysis.”
They, who?”
I can’t answer that question, because I’m determined to keep time travel a better secret, and she picks up on this.
“Everything is going to be all right. I’m Carol Gelen. What’s your name?”
“Paige. Paige Turner.”
This somehow seems to catch her off guard. She reaches into her back pocket, and opens a sheet of paper. “I received this in the mail. Not an email, but the old fogey kind. I thought it was strange that a new bookstore would open after nearly all others have closed in recent years. I couldn’t pass up the offer for one free softcover book to the first fifty people who show up to its grand opening, though.” She hands me the flyer. “I figured it was a prank, because I can’t find a store by that name anywhere. I came back up here to leave.”
KC Page Turner Book Emporium,” I read. “Jesi, you bitch,” I mutter.
“This wasn’t me.” Jesimula Utkin has appeared next to me. She sounds sincere. “I’m Alt!Jesi, from the other reality. I’ve just learned what this is. The Prestons have it out for this woman’s children.”
“I don’t have children,” Carol corrects her. “I only have a daughter.”
“In this timeline, yes.”
The fear in Carol’s eyes. She pulls her phone out of her pocket, and almost drops it, trembling like a newborn fawn. “Hey Thistle, call Leona.”
“No,” I say out loud, absorbing some of Carol’s fear into my own eyes as she’s confirming that her daughter is still alive. “Please tell me that’s a more common name than I knew.”
Jesi frowned at me. “Technically it’s a different Leona than you know. The one at the Ponce is far older.”
“I saw you teleport,” Carol says to Jesi after hanging up. “I thought I was seeing things when Miss Turner here did it, but obviously not. What is going to happen to my little girl?”
“She will be fine,” Jesi assures her. “Well, maybe that’s not the best word to use, but she will survive, and she’ll become a hero. She meets a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and has two wonderful children. You actually met your grandchildren, as did your late husband, you just didn’t know it.” That was shockingly generous of Jesi to say, and it seems to be helping Carol feel better.
“But I’m still going to die?” Carol asks.
“It’s like it’s already happened,” Jesi confirms
“No,” I say. “We can stop this. Send me back.”
Jesi frowns at me again as she’s taking out her phone. “Okay Thistle, call Ophir.” She waits a second. “Fifi. Emergency evac to KU Med in realtime. One patient. The human.”
“She doesn’t need a hospital; she needs a reset,” I argue.
A man appears, picks Carol up like they’re newlyweds, and disappears again.
“Arcadia and Nerakali are not going to let this go. Mrs. Gelen died in the other timeline, and I don’t deign to understand why she has to die in this one, but I do not question them.”
“How is that possible? You don’t back down.”
“From them, I do. Anything more would be suicide. I’m sorry, Paige, but the only thing  we can do for Patient One right now is keep her comfortable until she dies.”
“At least take her to Doctor Hammer,” I suggest. “She might stand a chance at fixing this.”
“That is precisely why I didn’t involve Hammer. I’m trying to tell you, it’s hopeless. Her fate has been decided.”
Now I’m getting angry. “Yeah, decided by you! You can blame others all you want, but this was your doing, and you will have to live with yourself.”
“Not if I erase my own memories. I can do the same for you.”
“No,” I say, seething. “I wanna remember how much I hate you.”
“I think you’ll one day forgive me. Afterall, I’m the reason you just saved the world. Yes, someone died, but omelettes and eggs, right?”
I’m getting angrier. “People! Are not! Omelettes! Carol was a human bei—is. She is a human being!”
“In this analogy, Carol would be the egg, and humanity would be the—”
“Argh!” I scream. I invoke my memories of watching football with my dad. He doesn’t actually like sports all that much, but gambling on games with the power to vaguely recall the future is how he makes his money. I pull my arms in, and lower my head, so I can barrel right into her, like a...uhh...linebacker? Jesi’s nearly over the edge when a pair of hands tugs me at the waist. She’s still about to fall to her death when a second pair of hands saves her just in time. But it’s the same pair, and both belong to me. Two other versions of me just stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life.
Second!Paige regards Third!Paige with surprise. “In the other timeline,” Third!Paige explains, “you pull First!Paige off of Jesimula, but it’s too late. Jesi ends up tipping over.”
I can’t speak.
“One thing you’ll learn, First,” Third!Paige says to me, “is that sometimes you can change the past, and sometimes you’re just completing a predestined loop.”
I still can’t speak. Part of me is in shock from encountering two other versions of myself, and the rest is still vengeful against Jesimula Utkin.
“The question now,” Second!Paige begins, “is what do we do with the three of us?”
“Easy,” Jesi says. “You have to do a physical blend.”
I finally feel up to joining the bizarre conversation.“What is that?”
Choosers tend to not like there being alternate versions of themselves running around,” Third!Paige starts, “so they join together, and form a new person.”
“This new person has the combined memories of the originals, which is why I’m not so sure we should do it,” Second!Paige adds. “Both of us remember killing Jesi, and I don’t want you to have to go through that. Besides, blending brains is bad enough, but quantum merging two bodies is said by some to be more painful than childbirth. I’ve never heard of it being done by three people.”
“Irrelevant,” Jesi says. “It’s immoral to remain apart. Jupiter Rosa is the only exception.”
“You’re one to talk,” Second!Paige says to her.
“The other Jesi and I will be quantum merging soon, I promise you that,” Jesi claims.
Third!Paige faced Jesi more straight on. “You should go before a fourth version of us has to come back in time, and save your life again.”
“I have business on the plaza,” Jesi responds, looking at her watch. “Fair warning, I’m only sliding a few minutes into the future. Be here, or be somewhere else.” She forms a temporal bubble, and disappears.
Second!Paige looks at her watch. “We should get going anyway. The rest of the team is going to be worried about her.”
“We can’t show ourselves to them,” Third!Paige reminds her.
“I know,” Second!Paige agrees. “Which means we don’t have long to settle our affairs, and say our goodbyes.”
Both of the other Paiges take sunglasses out of their respective pockets, and place them on their faces, completely in sync, like they practiced it ahead of time. Second!Paige puts on a funny hat. I guess we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, which three triplets at somewhat different ages would do. We climb the stairs in silence. Once we’re back down on the street, I look back up to the roof, and see Jesimula Utkin creepily staring at us. I watch her for a moment, then turn away, and follow myself down the block. The disguises seem to be working, because nobody gives us a second look as we stroll the plaza.
“Why do we have to say goodbye again?” I ask of them.
“Jesi’s right in that we shouldn’t be seen together,” Third!Paige explains, “or interact with each other in the long run. If we’re each to survive independently, then we should do so, well...independently.”
This was sound logic, and I couldn’t figure out how I felt about. These two are me, and I could learn so much from them. They almost feel like my sisters, and I don’t to part from them. But yes, it would be uncomfortable and confusing for our fathers, and I don’t want them dealing with that. It’s already bad enough that I’m now one of their peers.
Second!Paige sighs deeply. “Our biggest hurdle is which of us gets to go back, and which has to go somewhere else?”
“How would you even get there?” Third!Paige asks her.
“I would...” Second!Paige tries to sound like she knows what she’s talking about, “make contact.”
“With whom?”
Choosers.”
“You know many choosers?”
“Someone could take me there.”
“Someone, like Ophir Adimari?” Third!Paige questions.
“Yeah, maybe,” Second!Paige argues.
“I have something better,” Third!Paige says. She removes what look like two phones from her back pockets. I assume they’re not really phones, though. “I found Ophir after Jesi died by my hand for the second time, and asked him to take me back there. I had spent years not wanting to try to change history again, thinking it would  only end in disaster, knowing that only Asuk could help me through it. Our fathers were great, but I felt such shame every time I looked at them, I couldn’t bear it. Going back to the future helped immensely, but at a terrible price. Ophir, Jesi, Keanu, and all their friends are horrible people, who don’t do anything for free. Ophir wanted too much from me, so I came back to fix it all, but not before I made these.” She hands one device to Second!Paige, and the other to me.
“What are they?” I ask.
“Photos. Hundreds of millions of them,” Third!Paige answers. “There’s one photo for very day of eight thousand years, in a couple hundred strategic locations around the world. It can take you all the way to about five-thousand B.C.E.”
I examine the device itself, without even turning it on. “They all fit on this one thing?”
“That baby holds eight petabytes, and I’ve used almost all of it. For reference, a petabyte is a million gigs.”
“How did you find pictures before the camera was invented?” Second!Paige asked.
Third!Paige smirks. “I used a time traveling camera, that someone else invented. It doesn’t matter, the point is that those are yours. First!Paige, you’ll stay here, and continue your life. Jesi isn’t likely to be done with you, and her friends have their own nefarious projects going on. Keep a lookout. Second!Paige, you can be the one to go see Asuk, and his family. As you know, this is a different timeline, so they won’t have any clue who you are.”
“Where will you go?” Second!Paige asks graciously.
Third!Paige’s smirk grows larger. “Hey Glasses, telescope mode.” The lenses of her sunglasses turn a deeper black. She looks up, and looks around at the sky, until she settles on one point. “How about Tau Ceti?” Then she disappears.
“Did she just go to a different planet?” I ask. “How is that possible? She wasn’t looking at a photo.”
Now Second!Paige smirks as she’s flipping through her camera roll. “You don’t need a photo. You just need to see where you’re going.” She disappears too.

Retourner

Despite the best efforts of the doctors, Carol Gelen, Leona’s mother, succumbed to death shortly after being admitted to the hospital. Over the course of the next two weeks, the 2025 pathogen spread all over the world. Patients experienced the usual symptoms of a cold,  including a fever, but with some markèd differences. Normally, a pandemic like this would indeed result in deaths. Everyone is affected differently, but the very young, the very old, or those particularly susceptible to to the symptoms, would not all be able to handle it. Yet, everyone in the world seemed to be affected the same way, regardless of their immune system. It was almost like it had been programmed to protect its hosts until it died off, but if Jesi had done that, why would she have not bragged about it. And if she had been capable of it in the first place, why did she not just do something in the future, where it came from, and leave the 2025 populace out of it? One interesting component of this—which separates it from all other cold-like diseases—is that no pregnant woman was able to give birth while infected. It is believed no child was conceived during this period either, but data that would support this hypothesis was hard to come by, so the idea was relegated to anecdotal evidence. All in all, presumably from having been so close to patient zero at the earliest stages of outbreak, Carol was the only death known to have occurred as a direct result of the disease. Doctors couldn’t quite explain why, though they suspected someone like me existed, so I was able to get away with murder.
As soon as I had the chance, I pulled the version of Leona that I knew aside, and confessed my sins. She nodded, and waited patiently for me to finish, then she hugged me, and said that it wasn’t my fault. She didn’t blame Jesi either, apparently because she knew exactly who Arcadia and Nerakali were, and that they really were responsible. “I suffered for my parents’ death a long time ago, from my perspective,” she told me. “I’ve mourned them, and I know it can’t be changed. I’ve already seen enough of the timeline be altered, and I do not think it wise to try again. What happened, happened. Do not apologize for your role. If it had not been you, it would have been someone else. The Prestons can’t be reasoned with.” Not long after that, Garen Ashlock, a.k.a. The Action, sought Leona out at the Bran safehouse. She and Slipstream were sent on some secret mission in the future, and only the latter returned. Slipstream promised that Leona was not only safe, but exactly where she belonged. Afterwards, she left the group as well, and returned to her life as leader of the tracer gang. She and Leona never recovered all of their memories, specifically the ones in the early days of this Jesimula debacle, but for the most part, they were both back to their old ways. A few days after this, Hogarth and Hilde received brand new identities from The Forger, and chose to use them to abruptly leave Kansas City, and start new lives. Now it’s just me, Mirelle, and little Brooke. We moved out of the safehouse, so someone in need could use it, and came back to my house.
We’re nearing the end of the month, and I’ve nothing to do. It occurs to me recently that I’ve missed a great deal of my schooling, with no intention to return. When I was living in the future, I did as everyone else at that point in history, which was generally not working. Work in this time is a necessity, but not so in a post-scarcity world. People still have responsibilities, but really only if they want to. If, for instance, you want to help build a space station, then you go through an evaluation to make sure you’re qualified. There aren’t any formal education institutions there, though, so if you want to learn something, you go do it yourself. People spend their days enriching their lives by enjoying time with their families, having fun with hobbies, or learning new things. While I didn’t think I would be there long enough to commit to some society improvement project, I did partake in this education. In only a year’s time, because of the efficiency of this tailor-made program, I basically have the equivalent of a high school diploma. Going back to crappy 21st century school just seems like a waste of time. My fathers, if they ever come back, or are even alive, will surely understand. Afterall, I’m an adult now, right?
There’s a knock at the door. I jump up to grab it, thinking Mireille is busy entertaining Brooke, but she’s already taken care of it. Hilde is standing on the porch with a man, and no Hogarth. “Can we come in?”
“You can,” Mireille says, “but can he?”
“He has good references,” Hilde assures her. “He’s here to help.”
“Help with what?”
Hilde’s eyes dart up to me, standing mid-staircase. “Help with Paige.”
Mireille looks back up at me as well. “Come in, then.”
I walk downstairs, and follow them into the living room. “What’s going on?”
“Paige, this is Merton Casey,” Hilde announces. “He can put you right.”
“What exactly does that mean?” I question, suspicious of both of them.
“He can reverse your aging. Hogarth and I have been...networking. We finally found someone who can make you the age you’re meant to be.”
“What if I don’t want that?” I ask.
Hilde nods patiently. “We thought you might feel that way, so we brainstormed ways to convince you that this is for the best.”
“And what did you come up with?”
“Nothing,” Hilde says. “You know the advantages and disadvantages of being a twenty-something with the mind of a young teenager. I honestly can’t tell you which you should choose; I can tell you what I would choose.”
“You would go back,” I nod understandingly.
“No,” she says solemnly. “I’m the product of rape. My mother and I spent so long running from my birth father that I don’t know where I was born. I don’t even know if my mother remembers, wherever she is now. Children are vulnerable, as my mother could have told you when she was eleven.” She waits. “I would have jumped at the chance to grow up, so I could protect myself like she couldn’t, and I wouldn’t have regretted it. But you’re not me, or my mother, and your fathers aren’t my father. They deserve to raise you.” She finally exhales.
“Thank you for telling me that. I’m always here for you.” I take a moment. “Okay, I’ll do it. But don’t make me fourteen. I’ve lived a whole year since then. I’m fifteen now.”
Hilde looks to Merton for guidance, who shuts his eyes and nods slightly. “Now, from what I gather, this is going to be different than when Jesi did it. He’s going to have to get...” she trails off.
Merton looks away in shame.
“He’s not deaf,” Hilde starts over. He doesn’t talk, because women often need his services, and it’s not...great for him to have to do that. He actually doesn’t like doing it at all, and each time has scarred him a little more.”
Now I’m getting scared. “What does he have to do?”
“Jesimula’s power works by altering the passage time within an alternate temporal dimension. She basically made time move faster for you while you were in the bubble, without worrying about things like food, water, and sleep, which you would need to age in the real world.”
“Okay...?”
“Mister Casey, on the other hand, has to...physically alter your age. He has to touch you, uhh...like, everywhere.”
Merton plants his face in his palms, and mumbles something.
“What was that?”
Too young,” Mireille says. “That’s what he said, too young.”
“You agreed to this, Merton,” Hilde reminds him.
Merton rubs his closed fist on his chest.
“I don’t want you to be sorry,” Hilde says to him. “I want you to ignore your instincts to stay away from a minor, and just pretend that you’re a doctor.”
Merton stands up, and shakes his head. He rubs his chest again, and starts to back away. A woman suddenly appears, and places her hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Merton. I’m going to make an exception for you. No one will ask you to do this ever again, not while you’re in Sanctuary. Would you like that?”
He tears up and nods graciously.
“Okay, I’ll be there soon for orientation.” The woman somehow makes Merton disappear.
“Dammit,” Hilde whispers, not mad at Merton for not being able to do it, or at this woman for stopping him, but still mad. “Now we have to go find Jesi.”
“No need for that,” the woman says, literally rolling up her sleeves. “I can do it for you. Besides, it was about time I meet my baby sister.”
Hilde and I look in the general direction of Brooke, who is apparently napping in the other room.
“No, not her,” the woman says. “Paige. My name is Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. Horace Reaver was my father.”
Was?” I echo nervously. “Is he dead?”
“Oh, heavens no,” Meliora swears. “He’ll be back with Serkan soon. I used the past tense, because he was my father in a completely different timeline. He doesn’t remember me at all. I still consider us sisters, though. I hope one day, you can as well.”
“You used two other last names,” I say. “Are you also related to Leona Delaney, and the infamous Lincoln Rutherford?”
“Yes to the first; a different version of Leona was my mother. The second was my foster father in that timeline. He actually contacted me when he realized what Miss Unger and her girlfriend were doing.”
“How would he know?”
“He knows everything.”
I can barely speak. “Leona and my dad were...together?”
“You kinda had to be there,” Meliora says. “I can explain when you’re younger. Are you ready?”
I lean back against the chair. “Do it.”
Meliora does have to touch me a lot to reverse my aging. She presses on my breasts to make them slimmer, on my head to make me smaller, and on my limbs to make them shorter. She rubs her fingers down my face to youngify it, and taps on my throat to change my voice. It only takes a moment, but once it’s done, I feel like a new person. “You’ll need rest,” she instructs me as her watch is beeping. “We got this done just in time. “You don’t need to tell them about me until you catch each other up on more important things.”
“Tell who?” I ask.
There’s a flash of light from the empty original laundry room, which we don’t use, because it’s in a weird location. Three men fall out of this light, and crash onto the floor. It’s Ace, Serkan, and some guy wearing a mask. Mireille helps Ace up while I’m taking care of Serkan. Meliora is gone.
“Dad, dad, you’re back!” I exclaim. I only realize now that we never decided what I would call which of my fathers. We always just know who I’m referring to based on context.
“Paige, I’ve missed you,” Serkan says, embracing me.
“What have you been doing this whole time?” I ask him.
“It’s not even been a month for him,” Ace explains. “We’ll get into that later. Your dad needs to rest and recover. K-Boy, can you run to the pharmacy for us? You know what to get.”
The masked man stands up for himself, and nods deliberately, like a Power Ranger. Then he runs off at superhuman speed.

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