PART 16: AND LOGICAL MIND
“Uh… time machine?” Frank answered uncertainly. His dad had returned to the sitting room and his mom was in the kitchen, but he kept his voice down regardless.
“Yes,” Luci stated. “And please don’t bother trying to cover it up. I overheard you discussing it with Carrie a few hours ago.”
“A few hours ago? But…” Frank stopped. Could Luci have been hiding near the library records room?
“Having trouble remembering where you were a few hours ago?” Luci inquired, half-smiling. “It’s fine, I was yielding to your own time continuity. A few hours ago for you and Carrie, it was late August. One month ago. Now, while you’re obviously feeling a bit time lagged after having been then, and in the 1950s before that, I’d appreciate being able to see your data on the time machine before this day is out?”
“Ah.” Frank decided he couldn’t be feeling more off balance had Luci simply shoved him down onto the floor. Well, at least she hadn’t opted for that literal option, the way Carrie would have. “Luci, why don’t you come down to my lab?” he finally offered.
A little over a month ago, in the ravine out back of Carrie’s house, two teenagers were arguing.
“Admit it Frank, you screwed up,” the blonde insisted. “Could happen to anyone. Late August, late September, easy mistake. Granted, annoying as all hell, and better not happen again…”
“Carrie, I’m telling you, I set the circuits for… wait, of course, I know what happened,” Frank realized. “Remember how this machine has an inherent random element to it? We’re not so much setting a date as rigging the game. And this time, we didn’t hit the jackpot.”
He rubbed his chin. “Honestly, I’m a bit surprised it hasn’t happened more often. Maybe I’m getting better at setting it. Or the odds are more in our favour than I figured.”
Carrie rolled her eyes. “Oh, GREAT. Any MORE good news?”
“Carrie, I – we – are still trying to understand this machine,” Frank reminded her with a sigh. “It’s not possible to have time travel down to a fine science in the span of a week.”
“No kidding. Still can’t pick an arrival time, still seem to have no clue about the geography…”
“Wait, did you hear something?”
“Don’t interrupt! And now, even some of the stuff we supposedly know, we still can’t control?” Carrie groused. “Frank, we can’t keep doing this. Have you noticed how this is messing with my circadian rhythms? And presumably yours too? Today I woke up, spent a few hours in the present, spent four hours tooling around in ’55, back to the present for over three hours researching in the library, followed by another four hours or so in ’55. Now we’re doomed to spend more time in August while the machine charges. I’m going to need supper and sleep when we reach the present, no matter what actual time of day it is when we get there.”
“Well what do you want me to say?” Frank shot back in exasperation. “It was your idea to go back to ’55 again!”
“Yeah. Well… the good we did there is starting to feel more like a hassle,” Carrie sighed. “Paradox be damned, how come our future selves haven’t at least come back from sometime in December to tell us more? It’s so irresponsible of us.”
“Has it occurred to you that it’s because we’ll run out of present day coins before December?”
Carrie’s gaze snapped back to him. “No,” she admitted, her voice tight. “How many more do we have?”
Frank ran a hand back through his hair. He wished he hadn’t brought that up. “Ten,” he admitted. “Actually, nine, thanks to this detour. Unless you have more?”
“How many will you need for your testing?”
Frank tried not to meet her gaze. “We can probably find more by buying stuff… I got three as change this month.”
“No, Frank,” Carrie reached out as if to grab his shirt, but then seemed to think better of it and pointed at him instead. “You HAVE to keep some coins around for MY trip. The ones I had got used up, poking those holes in your timeline theory.”
“No ‘but’s, Frank,” Carrie said firmly. “In fact, let me give you a deadline. Seven more days of tests, and then I’m going back. By myself if I have to.”
“I’m serious, Frank,” Carrie said. “At this rate, we’ll never do anything. This is where it ends. One week.”
Frank sighed. ‘Perfect,’ he thought to himself. ‘Just perfect.’
Back in the present, Luci followed Frank down the stairs to his basement. “So, was that you I heard in the bushes back then?” he asked her.
“Of course,” Luci answered. “I was sitting in the park when a flash of light caught my eye, so I went into the ravine to investigate. Granted, I couldn’t hear your whole conversation, and I slipped away once Carrie started rattling off ‘Barenaked Ladies’ tunes, but I caught enough to be able to piece the rest together over time.”
Frank rubbed the side of his head. “Just how much DO you know then?”
“I know that you and Carrie recently came into possession of a time machine,” Luci began. “It had already happened by the math test a couple Fridays back, given your reactions to each other on that day. Moreover, when I called your house that evening, I was told that Carrie was there. On a hunch, I then phoned her house, and she answered. Meaning at least one Carrie was out of her proper time.”
“Good catch,” Frank said, looking startled.
“Simple logic,” Luci countered. “You two weren’t even trying to cover your tracks. I then decided to come by your house last Sunday afternoon. Which is when I saw Carrie arrive with what I can only assume was the time machine. At the same time, I learned indirectly, via Clarke, that Julie was becoming interested in your activities. Which should hardly come as a surprise, given her ties with Carrie.”
Frank nodded. “Yes, the… Julie angle was pointed out to me.”
“If you’re referring to the mysterious phone call you received, that was from me.”
“What?” Frank said, startled anew.
Luci allowed herself another smile. “I used electronics to simulate a male voice. I wanted to warn you about Julie without involving myself directly. Which seems silly, until you realize that the conversation I’d heard was still to come in your future. A future where I hadn’t been mentioned, so I didn’t want to risk a possible time paradox.”
“Ah! Thank goodness, someone who finally understands the danger of paradox,” Frank said, letting out a sigh of relief. “Except… wait, if that was you on the phone, do you know anything about a shady man in some woods two years ago?”
Luci stared. “Pardon?”
Frank shook his head. “Never mind, another puzzle which I thought had been connected to the call – guess not. Okay, so what made you realize that today was the day to come and tell me all of this in person?”
“A simple matter of figuring out when that August incident would catch up with you,” Luci explained. “I already knew, based on some of what Carrie had been saying, that it would occur on a late September day when you both spent some time in the library. Observation and occasional discussion with Lee and the librarians revealed today as being that date. Hence I waited until I was reasonably sure you’d already taken your time trip to the ‘50s, and I come to you now before any other time puzzles can turn up to complicate matters.”
“Luci, you amaze me,” Frank concluded. “You know, with your ability to deduce all of this, it’s surprising that you can still have occasional difficulty with your academics.”
Luci hesitated, deciding to sidestep that comment. “So, you currently have a problem. Several problems, really. And I’d like to help you out with them, unless you have an objection.”
Frank nodded slowly. “A fresh perspective on all this might be exactly what we need,” he admitted. “Though I should really consult with Carrie before I say anything.”
Luci felt the side of her mouth twitch. “Carrie’s probably busy, she wouldn’t understand our technical details, and I seem to recall her saying something to you about a deadline,” she fired back.
“Er, well, true,” Frank replied. “But all the same, she did find the machine and introduce me to the situation two years ago… plus she has a personal stake in this.”
“Wait, HOW long ago?” Luci said, for the first time caught unawares. “But that means… no, of course, that makes more sense now,” she continued, vocalizing her own thoughts. “She didn’t go to you because you had been researching time travel. You’d been researching time travel because of a past encounter with her.”
“Essentially,” Frank admitted. “Is our connection becoming that obvious?”
“Only if you’re paying attention. But it won’t be long before even casual observers notice that something’s up. Carrie’s acting different. You’re acting different. What was up with that evasive act you pulled in the hall last Thursday?”
“Oh. That technically wasn’t me,” Frank said sheepishly. “I was testing the time machine later that night and it dropped me back right in the middle of the school. I was lucky it was a few seconds before the bell signifying class change, as opposed to after, otherwise someone could have seen me arrive.”
“But you can’t keep relying on luck that way,” Luci protested. “Otherwise, sooner or later, someone else is going to work out what’s going on.”
Frank spread his hands out in a gesture of helplessness. “There’s not much I can do about that. We’re only in Grade 11, Luci… heck, age wise you should be in Grade 9. We’re not equipped to understand the technical details of a time machine at a glance. We need more data. Unless you’re suggesting we get some adults involved?”
“Not necessarily. But I gather that some of your time traveling problems are due to an inability to set direct co-ordinates in space-time?”
“Then why not integrate your own clock and map into the device?”
“I can’t integrate new circuits into a device I don’t understand in the first place,” Frank objected. “I might blow the whole thing up.”
“Possible,” Luci conceded. “But I don’t think that will happen if we take precautions. After all, most good programmers have some sort of error handling in their applications, so that when a particularly stupid, or at least ignorant user tries to use their system in the wrong way, the entire program doesn’t become corrupted.”
“That’s a software thing. This is more of a hardware thing,” Frank observed.
Luci shrugged. “I don’t see why the situation can’t be a parallel. Making our own circuits will even prove less risky in the long run, as more control will allow you to avoid startling people by appearing out of nowhere.” She drew in a deep breath. “Also, no offence intended, but if you execute a program twenty times without understanding it, why do you think you’re any more likely to understand on the twenty-first execution?”
“I guess there’s that.” Frank smiled. “Sound logic. But, do you really think it’s possible to integrate a map into the device?”
“I won’t know that until I see it up close,” Luci pointed out. “Besides, a clock would be safer to attempt at first.”
“Oh? How do you figure?”
“Think about it. We’re already dealing with time, so it shouldn’t be too hard to pin down more specific co-ordinates. Whereas spatially, our Earth is spinning. It’s also rotating around the sun. Our galaxy rotates, taking our solar system along with it. The galaxy moves through the universe. Where we were at 8am last month probably isn’t even remotely close to where we are now. Hence if the device is somehow targeting our town, we don’t want to mess with that.”
Frank opened and closed his mouth. “Good lord,” he finally remarked. “Of course, you’re absolutely right. That never occurred to me.” He peered more closely at her. “Luci, you’ve been giving this serious thought all month, haven’t you.”
“Well, yes,” Luci admitted. She could hardly deny that at this point. “I mean, I’d hate for something bad to happen to you while you’re fooling around with this thing.”
Frank continued to stare at her, surprise and admiration on his face, and Luci realized her cheeks were becoming warm. The anxiety she’d felt approaching Frank’s house was back.
“Look, uh, the time machine then?” she requested quickly, tugging idly on the end of one of her twin ponytails.
Frank looked upstairs, then over to a sheet in the corner of the room. “Oh, sure, why not,” he relented. “You seem to have earned as much.”
He walked over to the sheet, pulling it away to reveal what had to be the time device. “As long as you don’t let this work interfere with your school studies. You know, I’ve always thought that if you were to apply yourself a little more, you could significantly improve your grades. Even get them as high as mine.”
Again with the grades. Luci opened her mouth to indicate that she didn’t want to improve her marks, that she didn’t want to be seen as smart any more, that she was tired of not fitting in anywhere… and it was only with effort that she curbed her natural desire to be blunt.
She took in a deep breath instead. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she heard herself say feebly.
Frank set the black box time machine out on his lab table, then glanced over at the clock on the wall. “We’ve got enough time for me to cover the basics. You can always come back tomorrow.”
“Right,” Luci acknowledged, tearing her gaze away from Frank and over to the table. She worked at reestablishing her sense of inner calm. “What have you learned so far?”
Julie ran her hands back through her hair before leaning her forehead in against a filing cabinet.
To this point, she had figured on there being two reasonable ways of dealing with a time machine. The first being to somehow get it away from Frank and Carrie, and hence remove their advantage from them. Julie had effectively rejected that plan.
After all, even assuming that she could get her hands on their device – which seemed unlikely given how any intelligent owner should have the ability to see that coming – would she be able to understand it? Her grades were good, but not that good.
And before she could destroy the thing, some Frank or Carrie in another time period would likely try to reclaim it. Worse, they would have to do so by targeting her directly, rather than indirectly, as seemed to be the current situation. She didn’t need those sorts of complications.
Which brought Julie to the second way of dealing with this information, namely using its existence to her own advantage, instead of allowing the advantage to be theirs.
“That’s feasible,” she murmured, trying to reassure herself. “It’s easier to predict reactions, over actions. Particularly for Carrie.”
Julie pushed her way back off the filing cabinet, reflecting briefly upon her selection of Frank as the first “sacrifice” of the year. The choice had been arbitrary; if she’d decided to go after someone else, would all of this have happened?
Then again, had Frank been setting her up all along, by annoying Carrie? Was she even now playing into his hands??
‘Stop,’ Julie thought. ‘Second guessing to THAT extent is the direction of madness.’ She turned and looked back down at the rough revisions she’d made. Her one year timeline, now compressed down into one month.
It would work. With Carrie’s allegiances in doubt, Corry Veniti would be the key. By involving him and his twin sister in just the right way, the guy would almost certainly set out on some all out attack against her.
Julie grimaced. On the one hand, she hated going that far. There would probably also need to be an ultimatum, something she had really hoped to avoid. But desperate times called for desperate measures. These last two years, they couldn’t have been for nothing!
Julie left her play room and went back upstairs – she could deal with the finer details of her plan later. Neither Jeeves nor Mimi seemed to be about; the silence in the big house was almost oppressive.
She made her way to the kitchen and pulled Mimi’s meatloaf out of the fridge, where she’d asked the household maid/cook to leave it a few hours ago. Popping the dish into the microwave, Julie sank down into a stool at the kitchen counter and finally allowed herself to relax somewhat.
‘What if you fail?’
That annoying thought took the opportunity to fully assert itself. After all, failure was always a possibility where Corry was concerned.
Interestingly, at that point, Julie realized that she might as well try to obtain the time machine. By any means necessary. Because while mucking about in one’s own history sounded rather reckless and foolhardy, it would surely beat the present.
Besides, Frank and Carrie were messing with history now, and they didn’t seem to be experiencing any side effects. Not that they’d ever go as far as she would…
‘Okay,’ Julie reasoned. ‘I should expend some effort in an attempt to learn more about the time travel device. Should that be possible, without stretching myself too thin.’
Julie abruptly realized that the microwave had been beeping at her for the last several minutes and she hurried to rescue her dinner.
Luci walked home, lost in thought. She could see now why Frank had been reluctant to add anything to the inner workings of the time machine. It WAS a rather complex piece of machinery.
The more complete back-story he had given her worried her to some extent too. Were there mysterious people from the future observing them? Or could secret government agents be keeping tabs on things?
Setting that aside for the moment, Luci was reasonably certain that – with Frank’s help – she could incorporate more reliable circuitry into the device. That would solve a lot of the existing problems. Meaning, as long as nothing terribly unexpected happened in the next little while…
“Luci!” came a voice from ahead.
The young girl looked up as she approached her house. Another teenager stood there, wearing many colourful bows in her pink hair, along with a multi-coloured dress to match. What didn’t match was the worried expression upon her face.
“Chartreuse?” Luci countered, more than a bit surprised. Aside from being in the same homeroom, the two of them never spent any time together. For good reason. Their personalities were hardly compatible.
Chartreuse took a step forwards, absently fingering the little meditation crystal hanging around her neck.
“Luci,” she repeated a bit nervously, a tinge of fear evident in her voice. “I’ve sensed that there is a war coming.” She paused dramatically. “And I think we’ll, like, need your help to deal with it!”
ASIDE: Commentary 8 is up.