PART 29: GROWING PAINS
”Dear Diary,” scrawled Luci’s mechanical pencil. ”A lot has happened the past 24 hours. Enough to make me feel like it’s spanned six years. Which… it has, in a way. It’s funny. And a good example of why you need to be careful about what you wish for, lest it come true. I hope writing things down here will help me to make sense of it all.’’
The pencil stopped moving across the page at that, fingers spinning the writing implement around idly. “It’s not like there’s much else I can do now,” came a soft voice. The voice belonging to twenty year old Luci Primrose.
Luci shook her head and leaned forward to continue writing, only to have one of her long ponytails slip around her shoulder and hide her arm under a mass of dark hair. She irritably grabbed at her tresses, flinging them back out of the way. “I should braid it, like Chartreuse does,” Luci grumbled. Then her lips pursed.
“I wonder, if I hadn’t considered having longer hair in my future – would it have been altered differently?” she mused aloud. “That seems likely… I should be happy it didn’t grow out everywhere. And that the dress in the back of Mom’s closet actually fits me. And that…” Luci looked back down at her diary. “Ugh, let’s go back to the beginning.”
The twenty year old resumed writing. ”It all started yesterday afternoon,” she scribbled. ”Typical Saturday to start November. Finished my homework, then went over to Frank’s house to put the finishing touches on our repairs to the time machine. Carrie was there too, being annoying. What else would one expect?”
“Anything I can do?” Carrie asked, bouncing up and down on her heels.
“You can stop asking that every two minutes,” the young girl responded.
The fourteen year old peered into the open black box sitting on Frank’s lab bench – the box being the time machine device Carrie had found back in September. “Frank, are you getting a reading there yet?”
“Not yet,” Frank said.
“Hmph. I only want to help,” Carrie pointed out.
“Help by being quiet,” Luci proposed.
Carrie fell silent for another sixty seconds before speaking up again. “I have been looking over the circuit stuff you guys wrote out for the machine, you know,” she said. “The resistors, capacitance and all that. I may soon be capable of setting the device myself. I am trying here.”
Luci almost responded, ‘yes, you’re very trying’, but she bit her tongue before the words could come out. Things had been easier last month, with Carrie making verbal attacks and literally smacking people upside the head. Luci had years of experience in defending against aggression.
But no, ever since that incident with the drugs in her locker, Carrie had developed some sort of “rapport” with Frank and was thus being “nice”, so Luci couldn’t justifiably provoke her rival for his spare time. It was getting really hard to figure out the blonde cheerleader; Carrie had even switched sides from Julie to Corry in terms of school politics.
“Carrie, there really isn’t much more to be done at this point,” Frank chimed in. “After Luci makes these final modifications, we’ll be set to go.”
“Okay, I’m just saying, I want to help,” Carrie reiterated.
“Which is good,” Frank said. “But right now, you’re being distracting.”
“Okay, okay,” Carrie said, raising her hands in surrender. “Backing off.” She turned her attention back to the schematics on the nearby table, still glancing over her shoulder at them every now and again.
Breathing a silent thanks to Frank, Luci made a few more delicate adjustments. “That should do it,” she murmured, stepping back.
“I’m getting something,” Frank confirmed. “It’s… yes, hallelujah, we have power!”
Luci brushed off her hands, smiling happily. “Excellent. I can’t see how these new circuits would overheat the device like before, and it should now be possible to incorporate an item that displays exact time of arrival. Give or take three minutes, nineteen times out of twenty.”
“You’re done?” Carrie asked, coming back over where they were working. “We can do more time traveling now?”
“After running a few tests,” Frank reminded her.
“Oh. Testing, right, sure,” Carrie said, making a face. “Uh, I can try to help with that too?”
“First things first,” Luci decided. “Let’s double check what we’ve done so far.” She reached out for the present day quarter sitting nearby, plunked it into the time machine, and peered back down inside the device. “Hmmmmm,” she concluded.
“Hmmmmm? What’s hmmmmm, good hmmmmm, bad hmmmmm?” Carrie asked, trying to look over Luci’s shoulder.
“Frank, the machine’s not lighting up the same way here,” Luci said. She moved aside to allow him to look.
“That’s funny,” Frank confirmed, glancing into the device then back to the voltage meter he had hooked up. “Yet I am getting a power reading. In fact, the charge is increasing.”
Luci again looked into the black box. “I don’t understand. This should have worked fine. It must have something to do with how we reconnected the assembly to those mystery electronics inside the handle.”
“Maybe. I’d still rather not probe too deeply into those,” Frank said uneasily. “Since that handle controls the time jump. You didn’t, I don’t know, reverse any positive or negative connections, did you?”
“Frank, please,” Luci said, shaking her head. True, he was better at hardware than her, but she was above such a basic mistake.
“Maybe it’s something to do with a transistor?” Carrie piped up.
“No, Carrie,” Luci sighed. She paused. “Wait a minute, these wires don’t seem to be fully connected…” Grabbing a pair of tweezers, Luci reached in to gingerly nudge the ends closer together.
There was a flash of light, and the next thing Luci knew, she was on the floor, halfway across the room.
“Luci! Luci, are you okay?” Frank was saying, tapping her hand.
Luci briefly squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head to clear it. “I’m fine,” she said, slowly maneuvering herself into a sitting position. “Feeling a bit tingly, that’s all. What happened?”
“There was a big flash and you shot back a few feet,” Carrie explained. “Guess you touched something you shouldn’t have.”
“It could have been some sort of residual static charge,” Frank guessed. “Though if so, it was pretty big.” After helping Luci back to her feet, Frank returned to the time machine. “It’s no longer lit up. Strange!”
Luci shook her head again, trying to shake off the tingly sensation. “Strange indeed. I’ve no idea why the machine’s acting this way.”
“Maybe we’d better look back over those technical notes we were writing up.”
“The technical notes AGAIN?” Carrie said in horror. “But it’s already after five o’clock! Not that I mind,” she added hastily as Frank and Luci turned to her. “It’s only, well, I should tell my dad I’ll be sticking around a little longer than expected, yeah?”
“Wait, did you say it was after five?” Luci turned to look at the clock. “Mom asked me to pick up a few things at the grocery store this afternoon. I’d better go do that… but I can come back here right after. I don’t need to have dinner with my family, I can grab a snack.”
Frank shrugged. “We could probably do with a bit of a break anyway. Go pick up your groceries and have dinner, Luci. Contact me after seven if you want to come back and spend another few hours on this.”
Luci nodded. “I’ll be back, count on that. I want to figure out where we went wrong,” she asserted. The young asian girl turned and headed for the stairs.
“I don’t really need a break,” Carrie remarked. “So I can stay long enough to help you tidy up a bit.”
‘You don’t need a break because you didn’t DO anything,’ Luci thought. She turned around to say something of the sort, but Frank spoke first.
“Okay Carrie,” Frank relented. “If you’re dead set on being helpful, want to give me a hand coiling up these wires?”
Luci watched as Carrie nodded and moved next to Frank, smiling at him. A smile Frank returned. Luci’s grip on the stair banister tightened marginally. ‘If only I were a few years older,’ she thought. ‘Then I’d mean more to him.’
The tingly feeling refused to go away.
Gripping her pencil a little harder, the twenty year old Luci reached out with her free hand to take a sip from her nearby glass of water. Then she resumed writing.
”So anyway, I went to the market, picked up a cauliflower, some ground beef and a few oranges. It was on my way back home that things first started to get out of hand…”
Luci shuddered as she walked. The tingling sensation seemed to be growing worse. She decided she’d better send Frank a message as soon as she got home, it could be a bad sign. Of what, Luci wasn’t sure, but given the unknown factors they’d been playing with in their reparations…
Luci froze. Her stomach lurched, her fingers spasmed, and she dropped her bag of groceries onto the ground. A solitary orange bounced out, rolling down the street.
Reaching out to lean against the building next to her, Luci heard a buzzing noise in her ears. She squeezed her eyes shut. She gasped for breath. Something was happening to her, something she didn’t understand, couldn’t understand. She opened her mouth and cried out, the world around her inexplicably shrinking, like she was being pulled away, to another time…
The feeling passed. Luci re-opened her eyes, breathing hard. Everything around her looked the same. What on earth had that been about? Seeing her bag of groceries on the ground, Luci stooped down to retrieve it, but she misjudged the distance and fell to her knees.
She realized then that her jeans felt too short and too tight, particularly around the hips. Her bra was also too confining and her hair… her hair had grown out, past her shoulders.
“What’s happening to me,” Luci whispered, looking her body up and down. “I… I’ve aged a year or more…” She quickly made the connection. “It must relate to the machine. I’ve got to get in touch with Frank!”
A pair of feet stepped into view, and Luci looked up into the face of a man with wild, white hair and wide, staring eyes. Eyes which were currently fixated upon her. They accompanied an expression of complete and utter astonishment.
“I saw what you did,” the well dressed male said. “Don’t think I didn’t see what you did.”
“Please,” Luci croaked out. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not like that. I need to make a phone call… help me up…” She extended a hand in the hopes of receiving some support.
She didn’t get it.
“You’re one of THEM,” he cried out. “You inhuman monster. I’ll kill you myself!” With that, he backhanded her across the face.
Caught off guard, Luci fell to the side, misjudged again where the ground was, and knocked her head on the pavement. The last thing she heard before succumbing to unconsciousness was the man muttering, “I knew they had to slip up eventually.”
Luci turned. “Taimu!” she said in delight. Setting aside her pencil, Luci leaned down to regard the small black cat which was currently cocking its head curiously at her. “You still recognize me even though I look a lot older, right Taimu?” Luci said.
The cat seemed uncertain. It kept its distance, flinching back as Luci extended a hand. However, Taimu didn’t run off either. Continuing to size Luci up, he finally allowed her to scritch behind his ears. “I’m still the same old Luci inside,” Luci explained softly. “But something unusual has happened to me. You may never see fourteen year old Luci Primrose again.”
Taimu began to purr softly. Luci smiled. “If only everyone was as understanding. Unfortunately, I might have to go elsewhere to start a new life, to avoid curious people poking and prodding at me.” She shuddered. “I hope I don’t run into Professor Linquist again any time soon.”
“Mrow?” the cat vocalized, tail twitching.
“You don’t want to know,” Luci assured her feline friend. Pulling away from Taimu, Luci resumed her seat, picked up her pencil and spun it idly around her fingers once more. Then, taking a deep breath, she continued to write.
Luci regained consciousness only to find herself tied to a chair, bound hand and foot. Moreover, she didn’t seem to be wearing the same clothing, she was dressed in some kind of hospital-style gown. She forced herself not to panic. One thing at a time. At least it didn’t feel like the outfit was open at the back.
Looking around, she saw that she was inside a sparsely furnished one room cabin structure, and was at present facing the rear wall. There was a table nearby with a loaf of bread sitting on it, making Luci realize how hungry she was. How long had she been knocked out? There was daylight filtering in through a window somewhere, so possibly all night.
Luci tried to twist her body around to see what was behind her, only to have the man who had accosted her out move into her field of vision. He now seemed to be wearing a lab coat overtop of his button-up shirt and pants.
“Good, you’re awake,” Luci’s abductor said, mouth twitching slightly. “Had to keep you unconscious until now, hope you don’t mind.”
“Who are you?” Luci asked hoarsely. “Where am I, what’s going on?” She needed a glass of water.
“Tut tut, I’ll be asking the questions,” came his reply. He looked down at a sheet of paper. “You are Lucille Isabella Primrose, correct?”
“I prefer Luci,” Luci responded. He’d taken away her ID. Great. Worse, she was having trouble concentrating, and her body was tingling. She wondered fleetingly if she had a concussion, only to remember these sensations matched how she’d felt before getting knocked out. In fact, Luci now realized that she’d had another strange growth spurt while unconscious. Perfect. “Can… can I have some water? My throat hurts.”
He peered at her. “Yes, all right, that might be all right.” He backed away and Luci heard a fridge open. When he returned, he poured some water from a bottle between her lips. That helped her feel a bit better. “However, you’d best be co-operative now,” he asserted.
Luci stared at him, fighting the impulse to scream. “Why have you brought me here?”
The man waggled his finger. “That’s not co-operative.” He threw the bottle away into a corner of the room, making Luci jump, then began to pace back and forth. “I’m not the one tied to the chair, so I’m the one who gets to ask the questions. It only makes sense.” He crouched down before her. “Now. Tell me, who are your parents?”
Luci sized up her opponent. He didn’t seem completely stable, and she wasn’t in much of a position to bargain. “Amy and Greg Primrose,” Luci answered.
“No,” her captor fired back irritably, jabbing a finger at her. “I’ve been doing some checking on you. You’re adopted! So, who are your REAL parents?”
“How the hell would I know?” Luci countered.
He nodded. “I knew it. Your true parents are aliens.”
Luci flinched anew. “A-Aliens?”
“Oh yes.” The man began to rub his hands together. “That’s how they do it, you see. They leave their children on doorsteps and in orphanages, in the hopes they’ll be adopted, and brought inconspicuously into society. Very clever, very hard to trace. But I knew I had to come across one like you sooner or later. This was the most likely town for it!”
Oh God. The guy was definitely a few chips short of a motherboard. “I assure you, I’m not an alien,” Luci said, struggling to keep a neutral tone. “Being an adoptee doesn’t mean someone’s an alien.”
“I know that,” he retorted. “I’m not stupid! But you’re more than an adoptee. You look like an 18 year old to me today. Yet yesterday you looked to be a 16 year old disguised as a 14 year old. A little difficulty controlling how people perceive your form, hmmmm? What’s your REAL age?”
“I… I’m fourteen,” Luci yielded. “Something strange has been happening to me, physically. But it’s not because I’m an alien. Come on, you’ve got to believe that.”
He looked her up and down again, scrutinizing her closely. Too closely. It made Luci feel very uncomfortable, not only owing to her restraints, but also due to the ‘new’ body she seemed to be in. She would apparently blossom quite nicely in her later teens.
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” he concluded. “Yes, you shouldn’t have said that, you’re making my life so much more difficult.”
Luci shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“Aggggh,” he grumbled, pulling back and rubbing the sides of his head. “It’s your DNA, don’t you see? I took a sample of genetic material. It’s in a state of temporal flux! That’s what I don’t get, I don’t get that, it could mean you’re a victim as opposed to a collaborator… so should I kill you, or not? Hm, wait, okay, tell me, were you recently abducted by aliens??”
“Not before you.” Luci immediately wished she could call that retort back. “But what do you mean my DNA is in temporal flux?” she continued, hoping to divert his attention. “How could you possibly determine something like that?”
An off-kilter smile spread across her captor’s face. “Oh, I have methods,” he remarked. “After all I’ve been looking into alien visitations ever since… hey, you’re asking questions again!”
Luci attempted a shrugging motion. “Sorry,” she said, averting her gaze.
“Don’t you turn away from me!” With one step he was beside her, grabbing her chin, turning her head back. Luci gasped. “Your eyes, your eyes are most interesting to me, actually. Different colours. That, I think, might be significant.”
“Please, let me go,” Luci whimpered, starting to lose control over her emotions.
“Mmmm. Nope, nope, can’t do that I’m afraid. See, it’s important I know about you for sure, one way or the other.”
“Then how can I convince you I’m human…?”
He stared at her silently for a moment before letting go of her chin. Reaching into a pocket of his lab coat, he pulled out a scalpel. “You can allow me to have a direct look at your brain.” He turned the scalpel around in his hands. “Alas, at this point, I fear that’s the only way to be certain.”