PART 30: SEARCH AND RESCUE
Luci dropped her pencil to flex her fingers slightly. She glanced down at the floor but Taimu had wandered off somewhere else. Noticing the clock, she realized her parents might be back soon. Her foster parents – they had left a note upstairs indicating that they were out looking for her. As to her real parents, who knew? Maybe they really had been aliens.
Luci grimaced. Geez, what was she thinking? “Let’s get through the rest of this,” she decided. The twenty year old scanned back over what she had written. “Though it looks like I’ll need to backtrack first.” She resumed her writing.
”However, something I didn’t know at the time: When I didn’t show up for dinner, my parents contacted the Dijoras and the Vermilions. Then later in the evening, the police. A search was started, which as of Sunday morning, included Frank, Carrie and Chartreuse, all out looking for me.”
“We’re getting nowhere,” Carrie stated.
Chartreuse ventured a smile at the blonde. “Not true. We, like, know that Luci made it to the store, and that nothing happened at the store. So whatever happened, happened after.”
“Brilliant,” Carrie said dryly. “Peered in your crystal ball this morning, I see.”
“Carrie…” Frank said.
Carrie sighed in exasperation. “Okay, I’m sorry, but come on. Wandering the streets is not helping us at this point. We need a plan of attack. For instance, wouldn’t it be great if we could travel back in time a day to see what happened in person?”
Frank coughed. “Too bad we don’t have access to a working time machine,” he said, looking pointedly between Carrie and Chartreuse. “Oh, um, offering to help us look around was very nice of you, by the way. It’s appreciated,” he added to the more heavyset girl.
Chartreuse adjusted one of the bows in her pink hair. “Hey, least I can do, you know? Luci’s my friend too. Still, I fear Carrie’s right. This doesn’t seem to be, you know, helping. Maybe we should, like, directly question people around here?”
She reached out to tap the shoulder of a man passing by. “Excuse me, sir, do you know anything about…”
The words froze on Chartreuse’s lips as her hand made contact with him. A wave of emotion blasted through her, making her snap her hand back with a gasp. She stumbled and might have fallen if Frank hadn’t caught her.
The wide-eyed white haired man turned. “What? Are you saying something?” he inquired.
“No. Nothing. Carry on,” Chartreuse gasped, trying to regulate her breathing. He blinked at her a few times, glanced at Frank and Carrie, then shrugged then continued on his way.
“Okay, what was THAT little drama about?” Carrie inquired, after the pedestrian had moved off a little ways.
“That guy, the one I tapped, who came out of the library – he knows something about what happened to Luci,” Chartreuse explained breathlessly. “I got this sensation that somehow, he, like, knows where Luci is.”
“What? Where is she??” Frank asked.
“I don’t know. This was an impression thing, you know, not a vision thing,” Chartreuse said, still trying to regain her equilibrium. “Don’t ask him though. Something’s off. It’s as if he knows WHERE she is but not WHAT she is, if that makes any sense.”
Carrie peered closer at Chartreuse. “Oh yeah. Lots of sense happening here.”
“You have to believe me! I mean, remember back when I, like, knew about the drugs in your locker?” Chartreuse reminded. Carrie flinched back.
“Okay, it’s our only real lead so far,” Frank concluded, looking up to see the man turning the corner. “Come on, quick, before we lose him.”
”So they followed him, out towards the wooded area north of town,” Luci continued. ”They lost him there, trying too hard to be unseen I suspect, and at that point split up to relocate him. Just my luck that Carrie was the one to stumble upon his cabin.”
“You can allow me to have a direct look at your brain.” He turned the scalpel around in his hands. “Alas, at this point, that’s the only way for me to be certain.”
Which was when Luci heard a door behind her burst open and a familiar voice shout out, “Freeze!”
The man was instantly on his guard, crouching slightly. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“I’m… the one telling you to freeze,” Carrie’s voice said. “Luci, is that you?”
“Oh please, tell me you have backup,” Luci groaned, her eyes fixated upon the twitchiness of her abductor. She watched as he circled around towards the right, sensing that Carrie was moving in from the opposite direction. Soon they were both in her peripheral vision.
“Luci?! What has he DONE to you?” Carrie gasped as she finally got a good look at the asian’s eighteen year old body.
“Waiiiiit, wait, wait,” the man said. “Are you another of THEM? Come to take this one back to the mother ship?”
Carrie quirked up an eyebrow. “Um. Yes, in fact, I am one of them.”
“Carrie!” Luci hissed. What the hell was she hoping to accomplish by provoking an insane person? The blonde merely waved her off, intent on her original target. The crazy man.
“I should have known,” he said, growing visibly agitated, beginning to wave his scalpel around in the air. “I won’t let you win. I’ll kill you all!”
“But wait,” Carrie continued. “I am not here for this girl. I am defecting! That’s why I’m here now, to warn you – there’s thirty of the others tracking you down at this very moment. You’ve got to get away, before it’s too late.”
His mouth twitched. “You’re lying.”
“Yeah, they’re counting on you thinking that. It means they’ll finally be rid of your interference.”
His eyes flicked back and forth. “I… I can take them.”
“Yeah, they’re counting on you thinking that too. Geez, get going while the going is good! Here, I’ll help you gather up your notes.” She moved backwards.
“Hey… DON’T you TOUCH those!”
With both Carrie and her captor now out of view, Luci only heard him running, a loud THWACKing sound, and the noise of someone falling onto the floor. Then, heavy breathing. Luci squeezed her eyes shut. “Damn it Carrie, why don’t you think before you act?” she whimpered.
“Because if I did, he might have your brain in a jar by now,” Carrie panted. Luci blinked her eyes back open as she felt her classmate start to undo the ropes keeping her in the chair.
“Carrie! What… what just happened?”
Carrie finally caught her breath. “Fortunately, our friend here had a lot of notes, which make for ‘heavy’ reading. But what did he do to you, Luci? You look older than me!”
“This wasn’t his doing,” Luci explained as Carrie undid the last of the ropes, allowing her to rise to her feet. “It started before I saw him. This has something to do with the time machine.”
She could now see the rest of the room, including the apparent owner of the residence face down on the floor, a heavily bound book by his head. There were a number of papers scattered about.
“The time machine? You’re from the future?” Carrie said in confusion.
“No.” Luci took some tentative steps towards the prone figure as she fought to regain her sense of equilibrium. “It’s from when I touched those wires yesterday. In fact, I’m still tingling… this guy seemed to think my DNA was in flux.” As she said that, Luci stumbled and fell, but she was close enough now to reach out and grab a few of the loose sheets.
“Well, I hate to tell you this Luci, but this guy is a first class NUT. We’d better get out of here before he wakes up. I’ll call in the police and let them deal with him.”
Luci shivered slightly as she saw what had to be a lot of her vital statistics listed on one of the sheets she was holding. She wondered what had happened while she’d been unconscious. Still, it was the name at the top which quickly caught her attention.
“Report by Professor Linquist,” she said slowly. “I know that name.”
“Linquist?” Carrie frowned. “Yeah, wait a second. That’s the guy who lived in the LaMille mansion. Before they came to town.”
“I think you’re right. Wasn’t he supposed to be a reputable scientist?”
Carrie shrugged. “He might have won a local award or two, but the guy was a mysterious loner, meaning only slightly less whacked than he appears now. I mean, deciding to sell your mansion, in order to live out of a cabin in the woods? Hardly an upwards career move.”
Luci stared at the page. “But…” Then she froze as her stomach lurched. Oh no. Collapsing onto all fours, the buzzing noise returned.
Luci squeezed her eyes shut, gasping for breath, crying out in pain and confusion as her surroundings shrank and her body experienced another time jump forwards.
When the feeling passed, the first thing Luci became aware of was Carrie shaking her shoulder and calling out, “Luci? Gods, Luci! What the hell happened? Are you all right?”
“The tingling. It’s finally stopped,” Luci realized.
“Okay, that actually sounds bad. Come on, we’re going to see Frank,” Carrie decided. She must have taken off her jacket, as she now draped it over Luci’s shoulders. “I’ll carry you if I have to. Though… maybe not, you’ve gained some weight with your age. But still, come on already!”
“We have to gather up all the papers about me first,” Luci insisted. “I don’t want anyone else to have this information.”
She grabbed for her ID and personal effects, then any sheets which seemed to relate to her in any way. Carrie helped her scan through the pages.
“Why are you helping me here anyway?” it occurred to Luci to ask, wishing the pounding in her head would subside the way the tingling had.
“Because you’re another of Frank’s friends,” Carrie answered. Papers dealt with, she helped Luci back to her feet, grunting a bit with the effort. “Also, I’ve learned it’s not good when bad things happen to semi-decent people. Now, pull yourself together and let’s get a move on! Oh, by the way, Chartreuse is around here too. We’ll have to pass you off as your own long lost cousin, okay?”
Luci stared at Carrie, trying to wrap her head around that response, before nodding and allowing herself to be led out the door. Carrie filled her in as they headed out of the woods.
”In retrospect, Carrie’s actions were nice. In a Carrie-esque way. Is it possible some of my prior opinions of her were coloured by her associations with Julie? And her apparent grudge against me, which came out of nowhere after that as-yet-unexplained missing second day of high school?”
Luci nibbled briefly on the end of her pencil. She shook her head. ”Anyway. Carrie sent a message to Frank. We all got back together, and then, to let me regain some more of my strength, Carrie and Chartreuse went off to handle talking to the police. This left me alone with Frank… all alone, with him sixteen, and me four years older than that.’’
Her grip tightened. ‘’That’s when everything went horribly, horribly wrong.”
“Okay, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” Frank said. “Both you and Luci were kidnapped by this Linquist guy, but you managed to escape?”
“Not quite,” Luci admitted. “That was Carrie’s story for the benefit of Chartreuse.”
Frank grinned. “It had the flavour of one of her stories. Is this why you wanted me to wait here with you?”
“Yes. You see… Frank…” She took a deep breath. “I am Luci.”
Frank nodded. “A future Luci.”
“No. There was an accident with the time machine yesterday,” Luci explained. “When I touched those wires it did something to me, something that’s caused me to age rapidly a total of three times now.” Frank frowned and took a step closer, looking Luci up and down more carefully. She blushed mildly at the scrutiny. “Frank, I wouldn’t lie to you about this, honest.”
Frank coughed, stepping back again. “Sorry. But that’s kind of crazy – what do you think could have caused this?”
“It might have something to do with a genetics trigger in the machine,” Luci said tentatively, holding up the pages she’d retrieved. “That Professor Linquist, he’d picked up on the fact that there was a temporal signature fluctuating inside me.”
“Really?” Frank took the pages from Luci and scanned the top sheet. “Then do you think there might be a way we can use this information to change you back?”
Luci stared. “Change me… back?”
Frank looked back up. “Well, sure. You don’t want to stay in the body you have now, do you?”
Luci licked her lips. “I… I don’t know. Why… what’s wrong with the body I have now?” she murmured.
“Well… nothing I guess,” Frank admitted. “It’s just not you, right?”
“On the contrary, there’s every possibility that this is how I’m going to look in six or seven years.”
“In six years, sure,” Frank agreed. “But inside you’re still fourteen. Er, aren’t you?”
Luci looked down at herself. “Inside… I’m not sure how old I am,” she said softly. She turned away. “Frank, I’ve always been an outcast. Too smart for people my age, and too young for people of comparable intellect.”
She brushed some of her long, black hair back off her shoulder. “So this, it could be a blessing. My chance to fit in. The tingling inside me has stopped, so I don’t think I’ll get any older. So… so why can’t I continue my life from here as if I’m twenty?”
She spun back towards him. “I mean, the time machine could have just matched my physical age to my mental age, right Frank? RIGHT? Maybe that’s what it did. Because look at me. LOOK at me! In this body, I can be taken seriously. No more condescending remarks from older people, no more students whispering about me behind my back. I can start living life anew.”
Frank stared at her for a long moment. “And what of fourteen year old Luci?” he said quietly. “The one who’s gone missing, the one who has a lot of people worried? If you stay at your current age, you can’t reveal who you really are, you must realize that. Think of all the questions it will bring up.”
Luci looked down at her feet. “So I’d have to move away. It’s fine, I’ll leave a note for my parents, and there aren’t that many people who will miss the old Luci.”
“I’d miss her.”
Luci smiled. “Frank, don’t be silly… I can visit. You’ll know it’s me.”
“No, I mean I’ll miss the Luci I used to know. The one I could study with. The one I could chat with over a juice.”
“But I’m still that Luci, only better. Older,” Luci asserted. She reached out to pull Frank closer to her. “In fact, I… I can be even more to you… like this…”
Frank’s gaze slipped down. He quickly jerked his head back up to look her in the eyes. “It’s all right,” Luci murmured. “I don’t mind if you look there. In fact, I… I’ve wanted to be close to you like this for so long.”
Frank’s eyes widened. “Oh, Luci…”
“In fact, I think I can finally say it. Frank… I love you.” With that, she leaned in and kissed him.
He didn’t react.
Then he pulled away.
A single tear splashed down onto the page of Luci’s diary. She pushed herself away from the desk. “This writing is NOT helping,” Luci realized. “It STILL doesn’t make sense.”
Slamming the book closed, she stood and hurled herself back onto her bed, grabbing one of her pillows and hugging it to her chest. Her now too large chest. “Why?” she whispered. “Why did I do that? I suppose I thought I could live out my fondest dream… Except…”
“Luci, this isn’t right.”
She stared at him. Trying to understand. “You think I’m too old for you now?”
“Yes. I mean no. I mean you’re… you’re not my Luci.”
“Frank, I really am her. And my feelings are real.”
“Luci… I can’t. This is too weird. Y-You’ve just experienced something traumatic, w-we have to analyze that first…” He took a step backwards.
“I… I’m just going to have a look at these notes, okay? I’ll see if there’s anything I can do about what happened and I’ll… I’ll let you know if I come up with anything. Okay?”
“No… no, don’t be like this. Please don’t…”
“Luci, to me you’re still fourteen.”
“But Frank, I do love you!”
“I can’t handle that right now. Not like this. I… I’m sorry, Luci.” He turned and ran.
Luci threw her pillow across the room. “WHY?” she screamed, seized by an uncontrollable rage, her tears starting to flow freely once more. “I’d just escaped from a lunatic, everything was getting better, we’d kissed… MY DREAM WASN’T SUPPOSED TO END THAT WAY!”
Taimu, who had just peered around the door of her room once more, let out a yowl and backed away as he was almost hit by her second pillow. Luci didn’t even notice. Curling herself up into a ball, she simply cried. And cried. And cried.
“It’s not fair,” she choked out. “It’s not fair. I’m the right age now, it wasn’t supposed to end like that….”
It eventually occurred to her that she must present quite a sight, a twenty year old girl sobbing uncontrollably in the basement bedroom of her parents’ house. With them out looking for her. Worried about her. Yet she couldn’t stay here. Not now. She swallowed hard, wiping at her cheeks, as another thought occurred.
“Physically, I’m twenty,” she whispered. “Mentally, I’m at least that old. But emotionally… emotionally am I still fourteen? Is that the problem here? And what about socially? I mean, what’s the point of being a brilliant scientist, if you have no friends to share your accomplishments with?”
She rolled her gaze up to the ceiling. “Gods, becoming this age… somehow, it’s lost me everything. Even Frank. I’m going to have to run away… and I don’t want to. I want to stay here! To be myself again! Oh God, whatever am I going to do?!”
Before her tears could flow again, her phone rang.
It was Frank.
”Dear Diary. Well, I look fourteen again. Go figure.
”It’s only ballpark fourteen, of course, as randomness dictates that I may be months off either way. It wasn’t calculated so much as it was an apparent correlation between some readings off of Professor Linquist’s scans, and power readings we’d recorded the other day off of the time machine. Which led to, you guessed it, going through that whole tingly physical ordeal again, merely in reverse. JOY.
‘’I skipped school on Monday so that no one would notice my age regressing, stuck it all out in Frank’s basement – after giving my parents a call to tell them I’d gotten away from the Professor and would see them once I’d worked through some issues. Adding to the confusion, when the police went out to Linquist’s cabin, the guy had vanished. They didn’t find any evidence of his bizarre activities either. Hopefully he left town, and we won’t run into him again.’’
Luci spun her pencil.
”Now. On to the important stuff. The relationship gates are open between me and Frank – and neither of us quite know what to do about it. Frank said he thinks of me as, “a close friend, it’ll take time to sort the rest out”. I admitted that I went a bit overboard, and can wait on him for an answer. Particularly now that I’ve realized making myself older won’t solve anything. In fact, I think he asked Carrie about me today… she gave me a funny look when I left his place. Good! Let her wonder about me for a change.”
Luci smiled at the thought, but it faded quickly.
‘’Actually, about Carrie… I remember writing once that no good would ever come of her hanging out with Frank. That my separating them would be for the best. In that, I may have been… mistaken. I’m starting to realize what a positive influence he’s been on her, while she, in her own way, has been pushing him towards becoming more decisive. It sounds weird, but we might both have Frank’s best interests at heart. Ugh. Could be trouble for me, long term… but hey, I got in the first kiss!”
Her smile was back. ‘’To reiterate, what they say is true. Be careful what you wish for, lest you get it.” Luci set her pencil aside and closed her diary. But then she stopped, re-opened the book and riffled through to her last entry, taking up her pencil one last time.
”P.S. : Since Linquist was apparently correct in his temporal analysis of me, where did he get the rest of his so-called data concerning “aliens”? Not that I believe I’m an alien, but the guy WAS once a legit scientist. Stands to reason that there was some truth to his ravings. Right? Meaning… the origin of the machine is extra terrestrial…?”
Luci stared down at the page silently for a moment, before shaking her head, closing the book once again, and reaching up to switch off her desk lamp.
They had a fully working time machine less than three days later.
See the accompanying Commentary Post for ARC 2.1