PART 4: FLIGHT ATTENDANCE
Carrie looked skeptically at Frank’s excited expression. “You’ve figured out how the time machine works,” she repeated back
“Yes,” Frank continued eagerly. “My goodness, it’s so obvious… you say people don’t check the dates on coins. What if the machine DOES? Remember how I said it wasn’t until my second coin that the machine gave the option of jumping the century mark? That second coin, I saw it was from the 1990s. That silver box in the device, what if it has some way of identifying when a coin was minted?”
He reached out to grasp her hand, so she flinched away from him. “Think, Carrie,” he insisted, “when you dropped your first quarter into the time machine, was it from two years previous to your present? From the year of my present?”
“Did I not JUST say people don’t check dates on coins?” Carrie retorted in annoyance. She frowned. “Though, it certainly could have been. As I was wondering if the quarter would be a waste of money, I noticed it had one of those silly minted designs on it, from a recent year. But it was dark, so I’m not sure…”
“Okay, working theory. As long as I have a quarter from my present with me, and you have one somewhere in your purse at my lab, we’re home free.” Frank broke open his roll of quarters and started to look through them.
“But that’s a really stupid way to build a time machine,” Carrie objected. “In order to travel into the future, you’d have to have money that hasn’t been minted yet. It’s… uh, not scientific,” she concluded, deciding to reuse his earlier objection.
“Actually, travel to the future has never been the problem, we do that naturally,” Frank responded, his attention now on the coins. “There’s even some mathematical sense behind this manner of travel. I mean, theoretically, the machine has got a four dimensional grid – what better way to pinpoint the year aspect than with the money minted and used at the destination time? The only thing you have to do is remember to bring along a quarter from your departure era… like this one!” Frank held up a coin triumphantly.
“Yeah, okay, so you’re saying it’s a fluke that we’re here? Not at all related to the time machine reading my thoughts about my mother?” She didn’t like it. Her reasoning had been MUCH more elegant.
“Right. There’s randomness built in, so I figure the machine must have chosen one of the two quarters I fed in to land us here. Though you may be right in some sense, since my theory doesn’t take into account the physical plane – the other three dimensions on said grid.” He shrugged. “Remember, my initial inspection assumed that the machine contained time circuits. I wasn’t aware of any spatial alteration occurring during temporal displacement.” He started picking through the quarters again.
“Right, sure,” Carrie affirmed, abandoning comprehension for the moment in favour of what she hoped was a distracting smile. “So, what about that drink?”
Frank didn’t even look up. “Hold on, I want to finish checking these dates… hey, this one could take us back to 1972!”
Carrie stared, her expression morphing back into annoyance. She was being ignored in favour of COINS? Of all the guys in the world to have as a time traveling partner, how had she wound up with him? She raised her foot.
“Ow! Geez Carrie, I think I preferred it when you were just slapping… hey, where are you going?”
A little over 90 minutes later, both Carrie and Frank were standing near one of the entrances to the terminal’s departures area.
“I’m still not sure this is a good idea,” Frank reiterated. He cast an eye towards the position of Carrie’s feet as he continued. “There’s a lot of things that could go wrong.”
“Shut up, Frank,” Carrie said tersely.
Honestly, she was starting to understand why she’d never hung out with geeks. Subtle finesse was completely lost on them. At least Frank had finally gotten around to buying a drink. And now she was now going to save her mother. So things were going to be all right.
Carrie glanced at the clock. As she remembered it, their family dinner had gone a bit later than expected, so her father had simply driven by the airport, dropping mom off. For the last time. Carrie shivered involuntarily once again. That had to change.
It would change. Her mother had just walked in.
Carrie stumbled forwards a few feet, away from Frank. “Mo– Mrs. Waterson?” she called out. The woman with short blonde hair, wearing a business suit and carrying a suitcase, turned in her direction. At the attention, Carrie’s knees felt weak and her throat felt dry. It really was her… oh God…
“Do I know you?” her mother inquired with a trace of annoyance in her tone.
“Yes! I mean… n-no… I-I’m…” I’m your daughter… “I’m from the firm. Your firm. The firm sent me, I’m an intern.” Carrie realized she wasn’t vocalizing too well, but being presented with her mother, ALIVE… she could swear the hammering in her chest was audible throughout the terminal.
In some sense, she was three years old again… mom looked exactly as she did in the pictures Carrie had. Was there a chance her mother would be able to figure out that Carrie was, in fact, her daughter? Who had come back to save her life? Wait, she’d said something! Questioning why Carrie was here?
“There’s bad weather in Bermuda,” Carrie blurted.
Her mother blinked in surprise. “What ARE you going on about, girl? I doubt they’d call the documentary that, it’s dealing mostly with historical facts.”
Carrie realized belatedly that her mother had asked about more specific news pertaining to the assignment.
“No, I mean there is bad weather in Bermuda. You’ll have to delay and get Florida checked out in the plane. The plane checked out in Florida!” Oh God, she was muffing this! Now her mother was looking at her funny.
“Are you sure I don’t know you?” Mrs. Waterson continued.
Carrie’s heart got caught somewhere in her throat. There it was. Recognition. On some level, her mother KNEW. Maybe Carrie could drop the pretence and just explain what was going to happ– “You’re the intern Bob hired, aren’t you. Is he still gunning for this assignment? Look, you tell him I don’t have time for his stupid gags, I have a plane to catch.” She turned away.
“N-no,” Carrie gasped out, reaching for her mother’s arm. “This is no joke! Please, listen, mom–” she stopped and clapped her outstretched hand back onto her mouth. That had torn it. Though, at least her mother had turned back.
“What did you call me?”
“I…” Well, she might as well say it now. “M-Mom. I’m… t-this will sound crazy b-but… I-I’m your daughter…”
Her mother stared. “You’re my daughter,” she repeated. “Right. My daughter is three years old, kid.”
“I-I’ve grown up,” Carrie continued, feeling tears welling up in her eyes yet again, damn it all. “And I’ve come through time to tell you that y-you can’t go on this plane trip or else you’ll d-die!”
So much for the well thought out plan. It was like the mere presence of her mother had turned her into a gibbering preschooler again.
Elaine Waterson peered more closely at the person claiming to be her “daughter”. She supposed there was some passing similarity between them. But time travel? Dying on this trip? Nonsense. She would be up for promotion after this job, if it went well… it HAD to be that jerk Bob, trying to mess things up for her. Time to make her intentions towards her co-worker quite clear.
“Okay, girlie. You go back and tell Bob to stop screwing around in my affairs like this,” she declared. “In fact, you tell him that if he persists in pestering me like this, then by heaven he may wish he’d never been born!”
Elaine turned to walk away again.
She had no way of knowing that, to the sixteen year old, it was like a knife had been plunged directly into her heart.
Behind the blonde woman, Carrie’s vision blurred as she tried to choke in a breath. Taking a step forward, the teenager wondered if she was about to grab onto her mom’s leg and sob, or grab onto her mom’s shoulders and shake her until she listened. Before she could do either, someone else blocked the way.
“Hey! You Waterson?”
Elaine turned once more – another kid hassling her. Where were they all coming from?
“I beg your pardon?” This one with the glasses looked younger, and she got the impression he hadn’t slept well in the last day or so.
“I said, you Waterson? You fit the description I’ve got but, uh, so have the last five women I’ve asked.”
“Who wants to know?”
“Urgent message. You’re supposed to catch some plane out of Florida for Bermuda, right? Well, the weather’s not going to be good down there tonight, so–”
“Yes, thank you, I already got that message,” Elaine Waterson interjected icily, glancing back at her previous annoyance. Oddly enough, that girl was simply standing and staring at the two of them, openmouthed.
“Oh, her? Never mind her, whatzisname sent her… you know, the one with the weird complexion, has that thing happening with their head…”
“Bob?” Elaine attempted to verify. He did look kind of weird in that toupee he wore.
“Er, yeah, that’s the guy. Anyway, apparently he was going to give you this news in some outrageous fashion, so that when the guys down in Florida reiterated it, you’d flip out at them. But they don’t seem to be answering our calls, so the information has gotta go through you. Hence, uh, I’m here to see it does.”
Elaine Waterson narrowed her eyes. Not totally out of the realm of possibility, though that was a pretty roundabout way for Bob to try and get her in trouble. “So then who–”
“Look, all I want to do at this point is give you the whole message. I’ve got better things to do, and you’ve got a plane to catch.”
She sighed. “Yes, all right, make it fast.” He’d reminded her that she still had to check in and get through security… but might as well hear him out, just in case. Her curiosity was piqued.
“You’re authorized to hold up the Bermuda flight until tomorrow morning and fly out then. Book a hotel, whatever. Also, tell the pilot to look over the plane. Last week there were rumours of trouble with that aircraft… get someone to make sure the whole plane is running safely.”
“Indeed,” Elaine Waterson replied dryly. Check over the plane for safety? It hinted at what openmouthed-“daughter”-girl had said… but did that validate it, or indicate some elaborate ruse? Was there a punch line coming? “Anything more?”
“Yeah. Coming from me and not the people you work for, I suggest that in future, your family gain a better understanding of how pointless it is to engage in needless acts of physical violence.”
“I beg your pardon?” Carrie’s mother exclaimed in confusion, not even noticing she’d said it in sync with the blonde teenager who was still standing nearby.
“Just seeing how well you’re paying attention,” he continued swiftly. “That stuff about Bermuda sunk in yet?”
“Yes,” Elaine said, peering more closely at the boy, to try and ascertain both his motives and his sincerity. “But can you prove what you’re saying somehow?”
The kid adjusted his glasses. “Look. If this wasn’t on the level, don’t you think I’d come up with a better story? Think about that. Then… do whatever makes you happy.” With that said, he turned and walked away.
Elaine Waterson almost called after him to ask for real verification, before realizing she didn’t even know who the kid was. Then, as she watched, the boy picked up a nearby black box of some sort and walked right out of the terminal. Strange. This whole thing was strange! Bunch of childish nonsense… yet if so, why?
In one sense the guy had been right. Bob would have had either a better story, or an outlandish one – like what the first girl had tried feeding her.
Anyway, she had a plane to catch. She’d consider things during the flight. Sparing a final glance towards the first teenager – had she moved in the last few minutes? – Elaine headed for the flight check-in desks. After all, if she missed this flight, she didn’t think she’d have much of a future to look forward to anyway.
Carrie felt paralyzed. She started questioning the very existence of the last ten minutes, as the thoughts in her mind continued to try and bind together cohesively. Her mother was gone. She had blown it. But Frank had caught the rebound? Frank?!
“I thought you didn’t want to get involved,” she finally managed to say.
A couple people looked in her direction, and Carrie belatedly remembered that Frank had already walked out of the terminal. Feeling mildly embarrassed AGAIN (damn that Frank), she dashed out in pursuit. Over their drinks they’d agreed on a place in the parking lot to activate the time machine, and that’s where she found him.
“I thought you didn’t want to get involved!” Carrie reiterated as she ran to where Frank was closing the device back up.
Frank smiled and shrugged. “Things didn’t seem to be going well. You looked like you were about to make a rather bad scene, after which you’d probably have insisted on giving everything another try using the time machine, right? This seemed like the best way to avoid getting into the realm of bad paradoxes.”
He scratched the back of his head. “Besides, I’ve been wondering – should I join the business club, or the improvisation club at school? What do you think?”
“You’re in the business club,” Carrie shot back. “Come on, seriously – you told me we wouldn’t be able to change anything. World Wars and all that.”
“Okay, so maybe I was wondering about that too.” He frowned. “Was my improv really so bad? Granted, I was only going based on what you’d suggested, but I think she bought it.”
“I… maybe.” Part of her didn’t want to admit how much of a disaster it had been before his assistance. Not to mention the fact that he’d still been willing to help her out after their constant disagreements. Usually when a guy displayed that sort of resilience, he wanted something more from her, but with Frank she didn’t get that vibe.
“Still, in the end, Mom didn’t seem sure,” Carrie pointed out. “You should have pushed the point.”
He shook his head. “Saying more, I’d have messed it up for sure. For that matter, you share certain traits with your mother. What would you be more inclined to believe: A vague tale with hints of truth to it? Or a more complete story containing an obvious untruth?”
The blonde grimaced. He was using logic again… which seemed sound. “D-Do you think it worked then?” she asked, unintentionally softening her voice.
“I don’t know,” Frank admitted. “You know your mother better than I do.”
Carrie looked away. “No. I’m not so sure about that,” she admitted, biting her lip. “Somehow… my mom wasn’t what I expected. She seemed more driven. More severe, even.” Carrie slumped. “That’s not how I remember her.”
“Oh. Well, you were only three. Maybe she acted differently at home.”
“Maybe.” There was a rather long pause, as Carrie wrestled to get the next few words out. “Thank you, Frank. I guess I couldn’t have faced her alone after all.”
Frank nodded back. “No problem,” he asserted, smiling again. Carrie proceeded to slap him lightly across the cheek. “Ow! What the heck was that for?”
“The roundabout comment you made about acts of physical violence,” Carrie concluded, taking a second to appreciate the irony behind her reaction. “If Mom had connected it to my yammering about being her daughter, it could have blown everything!”
Yet she really didn’t feel as angry with Frank about that as she felt she should be. She had even regressed back to simple slapping as a way of keeping the guy at arm’s length.
“Well, apparently THAT part of the discussion never got through,” Frank grumbled in reply. He turned to the time machine. “So, putting that aside, are we ready to go back to the present?”
Carrie nodded, deciding to drop the matter. “Your present, my past,” she reminded. “Did you set an exact destination?”
“As best as I could. These are less than ideal circumstances – and we still have no idea about the spatial grid. So I guess we’ll go with your theory and try to concentrate on my basement lab. At least, I can’t think of any better ideas.”
Carrie nodded, pleased to see that he was acknowledging her contribution. “Okay,” she affirmed. “Let’s do it.” Frank pulled out the properly minted quarter. The two teenagers then moved to a position where they could both grip the handle of the device. Frank counted down.
There was the vaguely familiar flash of light and the sensation of being sucked into a void. Frank felt himself lose consciousness as before, but it came back to him with the sensation of very COLD water rushing all around.
He inhaled through his nose, regretted it, and fully surfaced, choking and flailing in what fortunately turned out to be the otherwise calm waters of a lake. Some nearby splashing made him aware of Carrie’s presence.
“This is SO not your lab!” Carrie shrieked. “What were you thinking about, taking a swim?”
Frank coughed out the rest of the water. “I was thinking about my lab,” Frank countered in an equally annoyed tone. He felt his clothes weighing him down. “Maybe there’s a flaw in YOUR theory!”
He hoped the time machine was waterproof. The time machine… he wasn’t holding the handle any more. “Carrie! Are you holding the time machine?!”
“No, I got a BIT distracted by our landing, why?” Carrie retorted. It sunk in. “Oh hell,” she swore succinctly, immediately diving below the surface.
Frank joined her, but had more difficulty on account of his glasses. Fortunately the water wasn’t deep, and it was relatively clear, but even so it took over five dives to locate exactly where the device had landed. Carrie’s athleticism was put to good use in retrieving it.
The two teenagers then headed for the nearby shore, towing the device along. Ten minutes later, they emerged from the water and lay down, gasping on the grass at the edge of a wooded area.
In fact, it was woods all around here, Frank realized as he looked around. Remarkably tranquil too… like they were in some nature park, miles from civilization. Which was rather problematic. Forehead creasing, Frank sat up and looked over at Carrie to say something to this effect… whereby the words froze on his lips.
She was DEFINITELY sixteen. He’d remarked on it before, when she’d jumped him to start off this whole escapade in the ravine, but now, as she lay there on her back, in the very wet T-shirt which he’d leant to her…
“So, where do you figure we are?” Carrie demanded as she regained her breath and sat up as well, grabbing a handful of her hair to wring out.
Frank quickly averted his gaze. “How could I know?” he snapped back, feeling flushed. “Near a lake in the middle of a forest somewhere.”
“I can SEE that much. Stick another quarter in the machine, we’ll have to try again.”
“I, uh, didn’t find another one from the current year,” Frank admitted, shifting his position to check on the digital readout for the device whilst reaching into his pocket for his coins. “So unless we want a one way trip to the past, I don’t…” his voice trailed off. “Oh damn.”
He looked back up. “Carrie… some of my tools and all my change must have fallen out while we were diving.” He swallowed. “No matter where or when we are? We’re stuck here.”
ASIDE: Second commentary post is now up.