PART 15: WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES
Luci Primrose woke up and reached over to her night table, flipping on a light. The sunlight had not yet begun to filter though her tiny basement window, however the clock indicated that morning had arrived. Stretching to help shake off the lingering sensations of sleep, the young asian girl threw back her covers and retrieved her page-a-day Mensa calendar. Tearing off the next sheet, she scanned over the new puzzle, reflected on it briefly, then picked up a pencil and scribbled in an answer. After which she looked at the date itself. “Saturday. End of September,” Luci murmured aloud. She smiled. “Means I should finally be able to talk with Frank about the time machine,” she concluded.
“Jewels, I’m starting to worry about you. Seriously.”
“I’m not crazy!” the brunette snapped. She paused to glance around the library foyer, to see if she had attracted the attention of anyone standing nearby, before lowering her voice. “Frank Dijora must have a time machine,” she insisted. “It fits the facts! But I can deal with this, as long as I kick things up another notch.”
“It’s not your conclusion, but rather the obsession which is worrying me,” Clarke clarified. “Is whatever Frank and Carrie are doing really so important?”
Julie stared up at him as if he’d suddenly grown a third eye. “More than anyone else, you know how I’ve spent a couple of years working up to what I have now. I’m not about to let a damn geek waltz in and disrupt my plans, time travel or not!”
“But why, Jewels? What goal is this important to you?”
Julie set her jaw. “Come on, Phil,” she said, starting to walk away. “We need to figure out what we’re up against.”
Clarke followed after her. “Okay, okay,” he said, recognizing the signs that he’d pushed her as far as he could. For now. “Though I must confess I’m not sure how we do that in a library.”
“Either Frank or Carrie – or both – will travel into the distant past at least once in the near future, as indicated by the fact that we found Carrie’s hairband,” Julie explained as she reached the stairs and started to descend. “Ergo, there might be records of their activities in said past. And if we can find irregularities in old newspaper headlines, it could provide a clue as to what their future motives are.”
Clarke frowned. “What makes you think they have any specific motivation?”
“What makes you think they don’t? At the least, Carrie’s being evasive, implying their goals somehow clash with mine. I must obtain further information, or I cannot accurately predict what they’ll do next!”
“And you’re sure they’re working together?”
“In some capacity, obviously,” Julie said. She paused, waiting until a library patron had walked past them. “The real question is whether Carrie’s a willing participant or an ignorant pawn – perhaps Frank’s time machine comes equipped with a mind control device. Regardless, I cannot presently trust her. Fortunately, with my transmitter now in place,” she concluded, fishing the small receiver device out of her pocket, “I’ll at least know where Carrie is.”
“She’s here in the library,” Clarke said.
Julie looked closer at her receiver. “No, she seems to be at Frank’s house. I’ll have to ask about that later.”
“No, she’s here in the library,” Clarke reiterated, placing a hand on Julie’s shoulder to halt her advance. “I’m pretty sure that’s her up there in the records area.”
Julie shifted her gaze to the room ahead of them. “You’re right!” she gasped, grabbing Clarke’s hand and pulling him back into a row of nearby bookshelves before they were seen. “And was that Frank in there with her?! How could they beat me here? And what’s Carrie’s hairband doing back at Frank’s house?!”
“There could be two of her again,” Clarke offered.
“Good point,” Julie acknowledged. “Perhaps I should call Frank’s place to–” She stopped speaking as the signal from the transmitter vanished off her screen. It was now totally blank, as she had previously deactivated the sixty year old device they’d obtained last Thursday.
“Hm. Low battery?”
“No,” Julie said, shaking the receiver. “Damn it! The thing’s brand new, how can it be… of course!” Julie smacked her palm against her forehead. “How stupid can I be? If Frank really has a time machine, he has access to the future! He must have learned about the tracking device!” She let out a quiet curse. “No wonder they seem to be two steps ahead of me. They’re probably in the library now to destroy certain records before anybody can find them!”
“Jewels… stay calm…”
“Perhaps it’s even Frank’s future self who invented the time machine,” Julie reasoned, ignoring Clarke’s plea. “But, by coming back here to change things, he might not yet realize how much he’s revealing to me. If I’m careful, I can still recover from this!”
Julie snapped her gaze over to Clarke. “Phil, do me a favour? Stay here and let me know what Carrie and Frank do? I have to go back home and adjust my timelines.”
“But don’t you think you’ve been working too hard already?” Clarke protested. His words fell on deaf ears, as Julie had already spun on her heel and was heading back towards the stairs. He watched her retreating form with sadness in his eyes.
Luci drummed her fingers absently on the tabletop. Would Frank be in the library already? In order to avoid running into him there, how long should she stay at the cafe? “Everything all right?” asked Theresa, interrupting the young teenager’s thoughts.
Luci blinked up at the waitress and smiled faintly. “Yes, the sandwiches are fine, thanks.”
Theresa nodded. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you then.”
Luci started to nod, but instead asked, “Aren’t you tired of saying that to people day in and day out?”
Theresa laughed lightly. “No, not really,” she admitted. “The responses do vary – this job is an interesting study into human nature. For instance, many people have similar problems, and yet I find each individual is also unique in their own way.”
Luci tilted her head to the side. “Unique how?”
“It depends. For you, the first thing that leaps out at me is your eyes,” Theresa admitted. “They show such… intensity. And intelligence. Plus it’s like they’re both green and blue at same time. Quite a remarkable effect, really.”
“I’ve been told that’s genetic,” Luci acknowledged. “Though being adopted, I don’t know for sure.”
Theresa nodded. “A first for me, anyway. Of course, maybe I’ll eventually become jaded and cynical… but when I stop seeing customers as individuals, it might be time to move on to another line of work.” She smiled. “Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it. Let me know when you’re ready for the bill.”
This time Luci nodded, and Theresa moved off. The waitress was an observer, Luci reflected – a trait the young girl could readily identify with.
“You know Frank, I’ve been thinking,” Carrie remarked as she plunked down another large book full of old news accounts. “Why can’t we go into the future to figure out what the outcome of all your time experiments will be? After all, we’re looking for records of what happened in 1955 to help Beth. We should be able to apply that same principle to ourselves.”
“The machine only travels into the past,” Frank reminded, without even looking up from his own book. He wondered idly what it was Carrie had against silence.
“Correction, it travels to whatever period you have coins for,” Carrie rebuffed. “We should be able to travel as far forward as December 31st of this year!”
Frank did look up at that. “True,” he conceded. “But, okay, say I go into the future and do as you say. That means there is now no need for me to do any testing. It invokes a time paradox, whereby I’ll have the results without ever doing the experiments.”
Carrie shrugged. “Having the results doesn’t mean you can’t perform the experiments. In fact, we’d be prepared for the outcomes, and at the same time, we can put the information to better use elsewhere!”
Naturally, her tone implied that ‘better use’ meant dealing with her missing mother. “Carrie, knowing beforehand might mean we do something which nullifies an experiment, or results in there being a completely different set of results,” Frank protested. “We can’t trust data for tests we haven’t seen!”
“Sure we can, your future’s unchangeable, right?”
“Data obtained that way could still be faulty.”
“You have no sense of adventure!” Carrie argued.
“You have no sense of responsibility,” Frank fired back.
“You have no sense of fun!”
“You have no sense of paradox!”
“You… shut up!” Carrie said, giving Frank’s shoulder a shove. He fell off his library stool. “You have no sense of balance,” she declared triumphantly.
Frank closed his eyes and counted to five. “Is there some reason you always have to get your way?” he asked.
“I don’t always have to get my… uh…”
Frank reopened his eyes and looked back up at her. She was frowning, her lips drawn in. Could it be she was actually reflecting on her actions? He stood back up, deciding to press the advantage. “Look, Carrie, this time travel stuff is more complicated than you’re making it out to be! Take the apple for instance.”
“What apple?” she grumbled.
“Last Sunday you caused an apple to appear and disappear at my house. You dropped it off early in the day, then picked it up later in the day, only to travel back and drop it off. I honestly haven’t been able to figure out where it came from. I tried duplicating the experiment this week, and well… I couldn’t. So, can you identify where the apple originated?”
Carrie’s forehead creased. “What are you going on about? I’d been thinking about having an apple, and you had one. If it wasn’t yours… well, I don’t know. It must have come from somewhere.”
“But it didn’t,” Frank insisted. “That’s my whole point, it originated and vanished with you. A sort of temporal paradox. In a similar vein, your information passing with respect to your trip to the day of the fire alarm bears scrutiny. How did you learn of my theories? Because of your future self. But how did your future self know? Because they heard it when they were your past self. So where did the information truly originate?”
“Frank, stop, you’re going to give me a headache.”
“I’m trying to show you how complicated time travel can be! Honestly, you need to consider your actions more carefully. It’s almost like you have some… some affinity for these causal loops.”
Carrie pressed a hand to her temples. “Fine, good for me then,” she sighed. Her gaze fell back down to the book before her. “Though wait a minute… could we apply one of these paradox loops to our research here then? After all, there’s no need to look up all this stuff on 1955 when I mostly remember what I’ll already say! Right?”
Frank’s eyebrow twitched. “Carrie, you missed my point. We want to AVOID these situations, not create more of them. Besides, I’M the one who has to convince Beth of the situation. And unless I see proof with my own eyes, I’m not going to be convinced, let alone be able to convince her.”
“But since I remember most of what you said to her, I could write out… hey, wait, here’s a paradox for you,” Carrie said, brightening. “What if we were to decide NOT to go back to 1955. Never becoming our future selves! What would THAT do?”
A pained expression crossed Frank’s face. Getting Carrie to think about time paradox might not have been so smart after all. “One I don’t even want to start thinking about,” he concluded. “We are going back, Carrie, and we are learning this stuff through research. Keep checking the newspapers. Please?”
“Oh, fine,” Carrie sighed. “Though I wish they’d digitize this stuff already. At the very least, next time around I should make sure to mention to my past self where I found the references to Peabody’s trial. I mean honestly, shouldn’t two angels being involved have drawn a little extra attention?”
Frank winced. “Actually,” he began tentatively. “Now that you’ve brought that up, I, er, have been a little worried about us being portrayed in that manner.”
“Uh-oh,” said Carrie suspiciously. “Is this going to turn into a quasi-religious debate? Because I’m not sure I want to go there…”
Luci entered the library a little later that day and made her way downstairs towards the section where old records were kept. At long last, things seemed to be coming together nicely, both in her own mind, as well as in what was going on around her. She hoped the trend would continue. “Yo, short stuff!” came a voice interrupting her thoughts. “What brings you by the book nook?”
Luci turned to see her classmate from school, the one who always had somewhat unruly hair, stacking books nearby. “Hello Lee,” she responded. “Actually, I was wondering whether Frank was around.”
Lee scratched his head. “He was here earlier on in my shift. Him and the track tease. They may’ve left by now though. If I spot the math whiz again, should I mention you’re on the prowl for him?”
“No, I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Okee-dokee, no problemo,” Lee affirmed with a grin. “Hey, speaking of math, how’d you do on that last test? Only pulled off a 73 myself, think I rounded too much on the circle questions.”
“81,” Luci countered. Which had been the mark she’d been aiming for, by making those few mistakes. Not that she was about to admit that to anyone.
“Whoa, good show! Spend much time studying?”
“Enough,” she answered. “Look, Lee, I’d rather not talk now.”
“Oh, okay,” Lee said. “I’ve gotta get back to shelving these self-help books anyway… hey, maybe I can make up a big sign for ’em that reads ‘Help Yourself!’. What do you think?”
Luci smiled. “Whatever makes you happy, Lee.”
“Nah, more like whatever makes the librarians happy,” Lee concluded, shrugging at Luci before turning away. The young girl merely shook her head slightly before continuing towards the rear of the library, hoping that the record books Frank had been using had not yet been re-shelved.
“Carrie and Frank were in the library for at least three hours,” Clarke reported. “Based on what they left out, they were researching this area in the mid to late 1950s.”
“The ’50s?” Julie said in surprise. “That far back? What could possibly be of interest to them from that time period?”
Clarke shrugged. “No way to know. The town itself was barely a town back then. I think it originally sprung up from being a convenient place for a railway station or something.”
“Huh. Well, maybe Frank was looking for a good time period to leave my transmitter; he didn’t count on my still being able to find it. Anything else to report?” Julie pressed. Clarke shook his head. “Then you could have told me this over the phone,” Julie concluded. “Why come here? Are you about to get on my case again about how I’m pushing myself too hard?”
“Apparently I don’t have to,” Clarke indicated. “Honestly, would it be so bad to declare a break for the rest of the afternoon? We could go to the cafe and share a hot chocolate.”
“I can’t afford any downtime now,” Julie said brusquely. Perhaps seeing his expression, her voice softened. “Though… maybe once the worst of this is over, I’ll take you up on the offer.”
“And when is the worst of this over?”
“Less than two months.”
Clarke sighed. He considered pressing the point that Julie should relax, but he knew Julie, knew her moods, and knew that continuing this argument would only serve to push her away. Moreover, this might be a good opportunity to press another point. “All right,” Clarke relented. “But if you’re about to go to work on some big plans taking up the entire month of October… can’t you at least tell me why?”
“Because,” Julie simply replied. Clarke stood quietly, waiting for more. Julie opened her mouth again, perhaps to give another typically evasive retort, but then her lips closed. She turned away. “Phil,” she continued at last, “Have you ever had anyone tell you that you were worthless? Insignificant? Someone who could never amount to anything in this world?”
“No,” Clarke responded, quite taken aback.
“Good. Count yourself lucky,” Julie stated sharply. With that, she strode out of the sitting room, not even pausing as she concluded, “Jeeves can show you out.”
The brunette quickly retreated back down to her ‘play room’, collapsing into the lone chair she kept there. She was annoyed with herself. Why had she said that to Phil? Was she weakening under his constant barrage of questioning? Julie shook her head. No – she hadn’t revealed anything, and now he would get off her back for a while. Which was what she wanted. Right?
Julie shivered. For one alarming moment, she wasn’t sure what she wanted anymore. Her gaze turned to the wall that had the map of the school on it. “Damn them. Damn them all,” she whispered. “I’ll have my way, I will…” Her gaze shifted to the lower drawer of one of her filing cabinets. “You’ll see. You’ll see, damn you,” she finished. Her hands balled into fists.
Less than a minute later, Julie sat up. Quickly wiping her cheeks dry, she began shuffling back through some of the papers that had been holding her attention less than an hour ago.
Luci walked up the driveway of Frank’s house feeling equal measures of confidence and anxiety. The anxiety annoyed her; Frank’s house wasn’t currently being watched, Frank was (probably) home, and Carrie was (probably) not around. There was no logical reason to be nervous. Unless you factored in how this was liable to be more than a random study session… with someone two years her senior. Shaking her head in annoyance at her own inner turmoil, Luci rang the doorbell.
Frank’s father answered the door. Luci elected to wait by the doorway as he went to call upstairs for his son. When Frank appeared, he looked a little tired – no surprise – and maybe even a little worried. Though his expression cleared when he saw her. “Luci!” Frank said in greeting. “Er, what brings you by here? Were we supposed to talk math?”
“No Frank,” Luci said. She checked to make sure neither of his parents were within hearing range before continuing. “I’m here to discuss the time machine with you.”