PART 32: FREQUENT FLYERS
Frank fell hard against the pavement. As he collected his wits, he realized that his fall hadn’t been because he’d been hit by the van bearing down on them. It was because he’d been pushed by Carrie. She’d shoved him out of the way – but wasn’t next to him. Hearing the squealing of tires, Frank twisted his head around, expecting the worst. “Carrie??” he called out. The van had stopped right past where they’d all been standing. “Carrie!” Frank repeated.
“No need to shout, geez,” came Carrie’s voice. Frank was forced to turn again, now seeing that Carrie – no, TWO Carries – were sitting a short distance away, along with the time machine.
“Thank goodness!” Frank said. “And Luci? LUCI?!”
“Present,” came Luci’s voice. “Nice to be remembered.”
Frank now registered that she was lying rigidly on the pavement. She must have flattened herself down onto the ground, and had the van pass overtop of her. She seemed none the worse for wear; maybe breathing a bit harder than usual.
“I would have shoved you as well, Luci,” one of the Carries said, also sounding winded. “But you seemed to be reacting fast enough.”
The shorter girl pushed herself up. “Yeah, well, I’d have pulled Frank down with me, but you were already ramming into him.”
“Meanwhile, I had to tackle myself,” the second Carrie piped up. “I’m thinking I should get a thank you there?” She looked pointedly at her double.
The first Carrie brushed some hair back off her face. “Uh, yeah. Thanks,” she managed. A ‘hmph’ was her only reply. Frank wondered idly if meeting oneself was something a person could ever get used to.
“Vat yu crazy kids doin’?!” a new voice said. It was the owner of the van, who had now exited his vehicle and peered beneath it, obviously concerned that there might still be someone else there. “Any body hurt?”
Carrie – their version from the past, Frank decided, based on her clothes – waved her hand sheepishly. “No, we’re fine. Sorry, didn’t mean to cause trouble.”
“Won’t happen again. Please, drive on,” the other present day(?) Carrie added. She helped her counterpart to her feet. Frank also stood up, brushing off his hands.
The man blinked. “Vat you mean? Everything hokay then?”
The teenagers exchanged a quick glance, then replied all at once, saying phases such as “sure”, “oh yeah”, “great” and “no problem”.
“But yu know, is bad idea to play in road,” stated the driver. “Be more careful in future!”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be more careful while in the future,” Luci quipped back.
The van driver stared at them for another moment before shaking his head. “Crazy kids,” the driver repeated. He got back into his van and drove off, Frank idly noticing the licence plate read ‘LARS 02’. He then looked around to get his bearings. They were on his street, near his house.
“So anyway, welcome to November 12th,” present (yet technically future?) Carrie said. “Now let’s hurry up and get inside. You need to tend to your scrapes and bruises, plus it’s about to pour rain.”
They all headed off to Frank’s place. None of them paid any attention to the thirty-something male sitting in the parked car nearby.
“5:44,” Frank said. He closed the pocket watch and moved to put it back in the machine. “You past versions got that? That’s the time you all appeared here, so that’s the time when Carrie will have to save herself today after you all go back.”
“You were expecting us then,” the second Frank realized. “Which… makes sense. Good to know we’ll make a safe return trip.” He rubbed his forehead. “Though I’m having trouble understanding how we can be here simultaneously. I mean, it makes sense if we go into the past, making that the present, but now that our present is the future…?”
In Frank’s sitting room there were now two Franks, two Carries, two Lucis, one Chartreuse and one Tim. Past Luci cleared her throat. “Try thinking about why the pocket watch actually worked instead,” she offered. “That’s the part that’s blowing my mind.”
“This is going to be, like, a real weird conversation,” Chartreuse realized. “How do I even refer to you guys? Frank One and Frank Two?”
“The first time around we used middle names,” Carrie said absently. “That is, the time we did this when I was you,” she clarified, indicating her past counterpart. “I believe the explanation I gave was that it could become a useful standard for any other encounters? Any of us out of our time can automatically revert to their middle names.”
“That makes sense,” Carrie’s prior self agreed. “I don’t mind being called Elizabeth.”
“But, Carrie, you’re messing with causality now!” the time displaced Frank protested. “How does that idea even have an origin?”
“You know what? Screw it,” Luci decided. “This means I’m Isabella. I’m putting that out there now, lest Carrie manage to create a new middle name for me.”
Frank rubbed his forehead. “But… fine. So I’m, uh, Bernard.”
Elizabeth lifted an eyebrow. “Bernard?”
“My grandfather’s name,” Bernard explained with a shrug.
“I like Elizabeth!” Chartreuse observed. “Carrie, can I, like, call you Betty or Beth too??”
“No,” Elizabeth said, making a face. “Elizabeth.”
“Things are confusing enough already,” Isabella sighed in agreement.
“I’m already lost,” Tim admitted, speaking up for the first time. “I mean, why are we here anyway, since you guys indicated nothing came of this discussion the first time??”
“Because while nothing came of it when I was Isabella,” Luci explained, “that doesn’t mean that talking now won’t trigger a revelation a little ways along in our present, which our counterparts wouldn’t have known, having already returned to the past.”
“Besides, we already had this discussion, so we have to have it again,” Frank asserted.
“Oh.” Tim lowered his head down between his legs. “So do you really need ME here?”
Chartreuse reached over to pat Tim on the back. “Aw, hey, don’t sweat it. See it as, like, a whole new sort of experience! Besides, the discussion can’t go that long. Frank’s parents have to come home eventually, plus me and Luci have, you know, band practice later tonight.”
Bernard let out a breath. “Okay! Then in the interests of expediting matters… our arrival here in the future was obviously expected, so our reason for coming must also be known. What’ve you got?”
Carrie smiled. “That’s my cue!” she said, producing three identical flyers and handing them out to the three time travellers.
Bernard looked down at the sheet in his hand. There was a picture of Julie on top. She looked a little younger, and was wearing what looked to be some sort of school uniform, like from a private school. Indeed, as Bernard began to read he realized that’s exactly what her clothing represented. “This is information on Julie’s past,” he said in shock.
“Corry figured all this out?” Isabella asked, looking back up.
“Both figured it out, and then printed up something like 500 copies to spread around the school,” Luci confirmed to her prior self.
“Oh, this is PRICELESS,” Elizabeth said, letting out a laugh as she scanned over the sheet in her hands. “This stuff must have made Julie livid! Damn, it might have been worth the wait after all!”
There was a brief silence, after which Elizabeth found that everyone was staring at her. Even her future self. She brushed some hair back off her shoulder. “What?” she said haughtily. “Have we forgotten what Julie DID to me? She’s hardly the hero in our school soap opera!”
“Don’t try to fill the vacancy,” Isabella muttered.
Frank cleared his throat. “Look, Carrie’s… er, Elizabeth’s grudge notwithstanding, Julie’s reaction IS the main reason for having this talk,” he pointed out. “What do we have there?”
Carrie took a step towards the middle of the room. “You need context first. So here’s what I remember myself saying. Which was confirmed when Corry talked with me, so don’t you start into one of your time loop discussions, Bernard!” she added quickly, shaking a finger at him. Bernard raised his hands in deference to her.
Carrie started her explanation.
“Corry has actually spent years trying to learn more about Julie,” Carrie began. “Ever since Grade Nine. More recently, he was able to track down a girl named Tracy Irving – you can see her referenced there at the bottom of the fliers. Now, this Tracy used to be close to Julie, back when Julie was attending a private boarding school in England.”
“Wait, close? Close how?” Isabella wondered.
“A friend,” Carrie shrugged. “I guess how I was. Basically, we’re not the first school to have faced Julie’s quest for domination.”
“England? But Julie doesn’t speak with an accent,” Bernard mused.
“She’s not FROM there, her parents sent her away. Rich, remember?” Carrie countered. “Point is, Julie recruited Tracy to assist her in controlling her old school.” She began to pace back and forth. “But after a few months, Tracy was put off by Julie’s methods. Their friendship died. And that didn’t slow Julie down much… but what DID set her back was the actions Tracy took afterwards. When Tracy decided that Julie had to be dealt with. And asked to rejoin her.”
“Wait – was TRACY the wizard’s apprentice in Julie’s loyalty story to us??” Elizabeth asked. Carrie shrugged. Elizabeth frowned. “I feel slighted.”
“You know,” Chartreuse broke in, “I’m getting the impression that this Tracy has a fair bit in common with Corry. They both sound… kinda ruthless.”
“Could be how they finally found each other,” Carrie acknowledged. “The internet is funny that way. Anyway, long story short, Tracy begged forgiveness of Julie, she was let back in, and she formed a counter alliance within Julie’s ranks. If you look at paragraph three of that printout, you’ll see how Julie’s tactics have included coercion, bribery, even blackmail. Except people also join her voluntarily, so you never know who’s with her for what reason. And Julie makes a point of not revealing that information – or it was like that until Tracy. And now Corry.”
“Julie has some serious issues she should deal with!” Bernard gasped.
“Wait, I… I’m getting lost again,” Tim sighed. “Why did Julie even accept Tracy back? She never accepted you back, Carrie.”
“Younger Julie. Sloppier. Learned her lesson, and then took it out on me,” Elizabeth decided.
“Or maybe Julie underestimated this Tracy,” Luci proposed. “Blind to the fact that she could ever lose.”
“Wait.” Chartreuse tapped her fingers against her temples. “Corry obviously didn’t get HIS information from, you know, infiltrating Julie. So unless Carrie provided him with a LOT more stuff than Julie thought was possible, how did Corry, like, come up with the flyer?”
“Extrapolation,” Carrie said, before Elizabeth had a chance to speak. “Corry combined what Tracy told him with what he knew about our school now. After all, Julie’s methods haven’t changed outright. Corry was able to draw as many parallels as he could, and quiz me endlessly on some of the gaps. He got Tracy to send him that old picture, and then BOOM. Despite the flyer not naming names, Corry’s put Julie’s ranks into chaos, and has the whole school wondering who the real Julie LaMille is!”
Bernard spoke in the silence that followed. “Context aside, what of Julie’s reaction?” he pressed. “That’s part of the issue. Is she about to lose her mind and start attacking people?”
“No,” Frank answered himself slowly. “Her reaction wasn’t what any of us expected.”
Elizabeth shrugged. “I’m betting Julie simply denied everything, and made people doubt this Tracy person ever existed outside Corry’s imagination. Yeah?”
The five people in their proper time exchanged a glance. “No,” Frank repeated. “That’s just it. She not only confirmed what was in the flyer, she pointed out an ERROR Corry had made. It seems he had overestimated the number of her voluntary followers.”
The three time travellers stared back. “That’s CRAZY!” Isabella protested. “If even half of what I’ve seen written on this flier is true, practically every student is going to eventually turn against her!”
“Was Julie hoping for leniency?” Bernard guessed.
“We have no idea,” Carrie said with a shrug.
“Actually, I even heard Julie, like, voluntarily scheduled herself in for counselling sessions tomorrow,” Chartreuse added. “Something that had been recommended by the principal.”
There was a moment of silence. “Well, I guess we’re done with this time trip then,” Elizabeth concluded. “I got to see what was going to happen, you got to see travel to the future, everyone will live happily ever after, the end. At the risk of sounding trite, when do we go back?”
Isabella crossed her arms. “No. NO. I don’t like it,” she said bluntly. “It’s too perfect.”
“I agree, unsurprisingly enough,” Luci said. “However, Elizabeth does have a point. Wasn’t this the outcome we were hoping for? A nice, non-apocalyptic, non-gun wielding conclusion to everything? Hey, here it is, and we didn’t have to lift a finger to create it.”
“In fact, if you three try to lift a finger, this could turn into a disaster,” Frank pointed out. “And I don’t mean at the school. Consider the following: You change something, and because of that, Carrie is unable to save herself from the van at 5:44. It would at minimum change this conversation, and in the worst case, an injured Elizabeth could make for a nasty time… loop? Paradox? I don’t even know. Thus it’s in all our best interests to act like your trip never happened. I know I’m going to. Er, going to have that is.”
The three time travellers again exchanged a glance. “I’m right,” Bernard realized. “We can’t do anything to disrupt this future from happening. The timeline needs to unfold this way.”
“Lovely,” Isabella said, smacking her palm to her forehead. “Honestly Carrie, it’s always something with you! I guess that means we won’t be able to tell Chartreuse and Tim about any of this either.”
“What? Luci, I’m hurt!” Chartreuse protested. “Seeing as nothing’s going to come of this, why can’t I, like, know earlier?”
“You really think you can fake your way sitting through that explanation, when you would already know it?” Frank asked.
Chartreuse paused. “Welllll…”
“Chartreuse, if we leave it like this, it gets us out of the discussion in a consistent way,” Tim pleaded. “Please, right now that’s what I’m hoping for the most.”
“Okay then,” Chartreuse sighed. “I guess I can accept it. Though it means I’m now, you know, in on a secrecy conspiracy against myself.” She paused. “Come to think of it, that’s also kinda neat!”
“Did I at least take one of these fliers with me to study?” Isabella questioned. Her counterpart nodded, and Isabella pocketed the information.
“We might as well clear out of your way now,” Bernard decided. “I only hope that this future turns out to be as good as it looks.”
“You worry too much,” Elizabeth said airily. “Let’s not look the gift horse in the mouth, okay?” Five minutes later, after the time machine had been reset, Elizabeth, Bernard and Isabella pulled the handle to head back into the past.
“That’s cleared some of the clutter out of here,” Carrie observed, dusting off her hands.
Frank walked over to the sitting room window. “It was certainly a bizarre experience, meeting oneself that way,” he reflected, watching large droplets of rain splatter against the glass. At least it wasn’t snowing yet.
“It was pretty amazing I’d say,” Chartreuse noted. “You know, I think I’d like to try a time trip myself! If that’s okay with you guys, of course.”
“I’m just glad it’s over with,” Tim sighed. “Not only the time travel but also the mess with Julie. Maybe life can get back to normal now.”
Tim hesitated only briefly before smiling back at Chartreuse. “I-I’d like that,” he admitted. “And it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it! I mean, I did agree to come here. It’s only… it’s a lot to take in. It’s easier for me to handle social stuff when it’s just me and Clarke, I guess.”
“Time travel is overwhelming no matter who you are,” Frank remarked. He turned away from the window. “Before you all go, the logical question we need to ask now is – is there anything further to say about Julie’s reaction?”
No one spoke. Then Luci let out a sigh of resignation. “It doesn’t look like it, much as I wish that weren’t the case,” she said. “I mean, we all saw Julie today. She should have been incensed, and she wasn’t. She was smiling. Smiling in a weird, contented way, like she got what she wanted. My past self was right, it’s too perfect. We’re missing a piece of the puzzle.”
“It was her birthday,” Chartreuse pointed out. “Maybe Julie decided to, like, accept that the skeletons were out, in order to restart her life at sweet sixteen.”
“Maybe,” Luci said, unconvinced. “I guess I was holding out too much hope that, upon seeing our previous conversation from this side, something else would be triggered.”
“Yeah, well, I got nothing,” Carrie declared. “So we might as well wrap this meeting up.”
Chartreuse looked over at the clock. “Probably best. Me and Luci have, like, less than a half hour until band rehearsal. We’d better get a move on.”
“I don’t want to overstay my welcome either,” Tim said, standing up.
Frank pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. “All right then. Thanks for coming,” he concluded. “Also, Tim, Chartreuse, now that you know about the time machine, I see no reason to exclude you from any new incidents that come up. All we would ask is that you continue to keep the secret.”
“Of course,” Chartreuse agreed. “As long as you consider letting me time trip!”
“I’ll keep the secret,” Tim added. “But don’t feel you have to call me in. Keeping me updated through Chartreuse is fine.”
“Fair enough,” Frank said.
Everyone proceeded out of the sitting room.
“Oh yeah, Frank, there was an actual math question I wanted to ask you about,” Carrie remembered, snapping her fingers. “Can you spare a few more minutes?”
“Sure,” Frank agreed. “It’ll be nice to do something mundane for a change.”
Carrie pulled her notebook from her bag while the others retrieved their belongings and headed out the front door. With only a brief backwards glance, Luci joined Chartreuse under her umbrella in her walk towards the high school. His own umbrella open, Tim followed for a short distance before turning away to head for his own place of residence. Meanwhile, Carrie and Frank adjourned back to the Dijora sitting room.
At that moment, none of them felt particularly concerned about the future.
Ten minutes later, the gun went off.