PART 36: QUESTION EVERYTHING
Clarke stood staring out the classroom window for several minutes. At last, he turned to face Frank again. “I see why you preferred to tell me this in person,” he remarked. The two of them had agreed to meet that morning before classes started.
“You believe me then?” Frank asked.
Clarke considered the question, and ultimately shrugged. “You have no reason to lie,” he said. “It also helps explain why I couldn’t reach Julie last night. I didn’t really buy her parents’ excuse that she was asleep.”
Frank nodded. “So, what do you think then? Is there any chance that Julie was, I don’t know, coerced or possessed or something?”
“That,” Clarke said slowly, “is a very good question.” He thought for another long moment. What should he say? Julie had asked him – PLEADED with him – to keep quiet about her family situation. He couldn’t betray that. Not when Julie was no longer here to give permission.
“I can tell you this much,” Clarke yielded. “Julie had a lot riding on a discussion with her parents last night. If that went badly… I’m not sure what mental state she would have been in. However, Julie hasn’t even been thinking about Carrie since the two of them split, over a month ago. There was no reason to shoot her. Unless Carrie has done something to annoy Julie recently…?”
“Not as far as I know,” Frank said. “I mean, she did indirectly help Corry with research for his flyer.”
“Julie would have targeted Corry for that, and even then, non lethally,” Clarke countered. He tapped his foot on the ground. “No, I’m as puzzled by Julie’s actions as you are.”
Frank ran a hand back through his hair. “I see. Damn. I… I guess I thought this conversation was worth a shot. Thanks anyway.”
“You know, I appreciate how you didn’t jump in and persecute Julie,” Clarke added. “Most wouldn’t be half as kind right now.”
“Well, while I can’t forgive Julie for some of the things she’s done – this doesn’t add up. And since you’ve always been advocating on her behalf, I figured that had to mean something.”
“Thank you…” A thought struck Clarke, and he leaned back against the wall. “Though, hold up a sec, you said that after Julie shot Carrie, she took your time machine to try and undo everything. Right?”
“By erasing her own existence, that’s correct,” Frank confirmed. “I am sorry, Clarke.”
“Yet… I still remember her,” Clarke continued. “You still remember her. Carrie’s still in the hospital. Obviously Julie still existed. So if her intention was to wipe herself out, it didn’t work.”
“Which does fit with my timeline theory,” Frank noted. “It’s impossible for anyone to affect their prior self that way.”
“So if she can’t do it, why hasn’t she come back?” Clarke questioned.
Frank shrugged. “Maybe she hasn’t realized the problem yet. Or has no money to return. Or our machine’s random variance meant she’s stuck in the wrong time period. We have no way of knowing what happened.”
Clarke slowly shook his head. “But we HAVE to know, Frank, we’re now in Julie’s future. We should immediately know the results of her time traveling.”
“Er… okay, good point,” Frank yielded. “Well, it could be that the machine broke down… so she decided to take up residence in the past… and is currently living a new life somewhere else?”
“Even if that’s so, we should STILL be able to find out,” Clarke insisted. “Right? I mean, in historical records, newspapers, that sort of thing? Maybe Julie even left a message for us somewhere!”
“I… I suppose that’s logical,” Frank granted.
“That’s what I’m going to do then,” Clarke decided. “I’m going to research, and track Julie down! I’ll let you know if I find out anything.”
“Not a bad idea,” Frank admitted. “Okay… you can also talk with Luci, Chartreuse or Tim. They’re the other ones who know about the time machine.”
“Sort of a long story. Chartreuse related. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to tell it to you himself.”
“He probably would,” Clarke agreed. “Okay. One more thing – could we maybe keep on keeping Julie’s name out of this? While I look? Things are bad enough for her already.”
“I…” The first bell rang, warning students to head to their homeroom classes. “Yeah, okay,” Frank agreed. “Talk to you this evening then?”
“Right, until then,” Clarke confirmed. With that, the two teenagers headed off to their first class.
Hank Waterson dropped his daughter’s hand and rose to his feet as the nurse entered the room. “She’s still unconscious. Why is she still unconscious??” he demanded of the man. “Is there something wrong? She’s been in recovery for over two days now!”
The nurse moved to check on the instruments by Carrie’s bed. “Mr. Waterson, please, shouting at me is not going to do anyone any good.”
“I’m not shouting!” Hank paused before sinking back down into the chair next to her bed. “Fine, maybe I’m raising my voice. The thing is, I’m starting to get the distinct impression that you all know something I don’t!”
The nurse finished taking his reading and marked something down on a clipboard. “I assure you, Mr. Waterson, we are being quite transparent. Your daughter’s wounds have been treated and there’s every chance she will make a complete physical recovery.” He made some additional notes.
“Then why is she still asleep?” Hank protested. “Is she in some sort of coma? Are you giving her too much morphine??”
The nurse shook his head. “As far as we can tell, this deep sleep is exactly what it looks like. As to why she’s not waking up… I grant, that is a good question.”
“Is the fact that I don’t have a genetic history on her mother’s side of the family important? Is there anything there that might allow for Carrie’s current condition?”
The nurse sighed. “Possible, but unlikely. Mr. Waterson, why don’t you go home and get some sleep? I’m sure it’s simply a matter of time until…”
The nurse physically recoiled as Carrie’s eyes snapped open. Hank barely registered the man’s shocked expression, attention already back on his daughter. “Carrie!” he said happily, grasping her hand again. “Carrie, it’s me, it’s your father! A-Are you all right?”
Carrie sat bolt upright on the hospital bed, her eyes wide, yet unfocussed. “Time,” she repeated. “Time, time… I can see it, oh God, why can I see the flow of time…”
Hank exchanged a brief glance with the hospital official. Now the man merely looked nervous. “Carrie, stay calm,” Hank continued slowly. “Lie back, you’ve been through a somewhat traumatic…” Carrie’s unseeing gaze snapped over to him, bringing him up short.
“It’s all wrong,” Carrie continued. She started to shake. “This is the wrong timeline… you… you’ve got to fix it… please, you’ve got to fix this for me…” Her heart machine began to beep faster.
“I’m going to get someone,” the nurse decided, hurrying away.
Hank Waterson squeezed Carrie’s hand a little harder. “Okay hon, don’t worry, whatever it is, I’ll fix it. First, please lie back down.”
“No, no, no,” Carrie said, shaking her head. Tears began to well up in her eyes. “It hurts, it hurts, you’ve got to fix it now, please, PLEASE someone’s got to fix it NOW!”
“Okay,” her father soothed, not sure what she meant, but hating to see his daughter in such pain. “We can give you stronger painkillers. Don’t worry, the doctors have assured me you’ll make a full…”
“No, no, it huuuuuuuuurts!” Carrie sobbed, yanking her hand free from her father’s grasp and pressing both palms against her temples. She began to rock back and forth. “Change it back, you’ve got to change time baaaaaaaack… please pleeeeeease someone change it baaa-aaa-aaack….!!”
“Change what time back?” her father asked. “What’s wrong dear, where does it hurt? Your head?”
“Huuuuuurts…” Carrie sobbed. “Can’t change past, we can’t change…” She threw back her head and began laughing hysterically.
“Carrie… Carrie, honey, what’s wrong? What’s so funny?? How can I help you?!” Hank asked desperately. She didn’t even seem to hear him, she merely kept on laughing. He started to stand up, to try and get that nurse to come back.
Her hands had grabbed him by the lapels of his shirt before he realized it. Carrie now silently stared up at her father, tear streaks on her cheeks and a haunted look in her eyes. She spoke again. “There IS no NOW! But she’s NOT supposed to be DEAD! WE… MUST… CHANGE… TIME… *BACK*!!!”
And the glass of water next to Carrie’s bed inexplicably shattered into a hundred pieces. With it’s contents no longer confined, the liquid unceremoniously spilled out all over the tabletop and down onto the floor. Hank Waterson jumped at the noise, and with his attention diverted, it took him a few seconds to realize that his daughter had fallen unconscious once more, fingers still twisted in against his shirt.
“Dear God,” he whispered, gently lowering her body back down onto the hospital bed. “What… what was all that about??”
“It’s a mystery,” Frank decided.
“No, it’s not,” Luci countered. She reached out to point to the equations. “See, this chemical acts like a catalyst, that’s why we were able to observe the change.”
Frank blinked. “Oh, right. Uh, I knew that.”
“Yes, you did,” Luci agreed. “What’s wrong, Frank? You’ve never been this inattentive about your science homework before.”
He was unable to hold back a sigh. “I’m sorry, Luci. I suppose I can’t get my mind off of the whole time travel mess.”
Luci rested a hand on his shoulder. “Frank, there’s nothing more we can do about that. It’s been a week. Time to start thinking about living our normal lives again.”
Frank could scarcely believe she’d suggested it. “HOW?” he protested. “You know Carrie’s condition! The few times she’s been conscious, she’s been raving about time and disrupted timelines. And her physical state remains poor due to the apparent mental strain she’s under. Now, there’s got to be some connection between that and our time trips!”
“There probably is,” Luci acknowledged, her grip on him tightening. “But we have no way of knowing what it might be. Nor do we have the time machine, so telling anyone about our trips is liable to get us locked up in some psychiatric ward.”
“Along with Carrie, you mean,” Frank said dejectedly.
“No, Frank, I don’t mean that!” she asserted, pulling her hand away. “She’s not there yet!”
“She probably will be soon.” Frank slammed his own hand down onto his sitting room table. “Damn it, Luci, if only I hadn’t left the time machine out! Hadn’t let Julie get her hands on it! If we had it now, we’d be in a position to DO something!”
“And maybe we wouldn’t! And maybe you’d be dead! Besides, you warned me Julie was headed for the basement, I’M the one who let her activate the damn thing! So it’s my fault than anything!!”
“Don’t be silly, you…” Frank stopped as he looked over and finally registered the pain in Luci’s expression. “You’re feeling guilty too,” he realized.
“This surprises you?! Don’t forget, I also suspected everything was too perfect with Julie! Yet I wasn’t able to determine what was really going on! Now look where we are because of it.”
“But Luci, you couldn’t have predicted this,” Frank protested. “No one could have predicted this!”
“Maybe, maybe not.” Luci’s expression became a wry smile. “For instance, Chartreuse thinks she could have. And Clarke’s upset he hasn’t found anything yet, and Tim wonders if he should have been more involved, and trust me, Frank, there’s enough guilt to go around our little group already! Too much, if you ask me. Which is why I wanted to work on chemistry. Why I wanted to avoid thinking about it for a change.”
Frank looked back down at the science questions. “I see your point.” He swallowed. “But I don’t think I can do this. Not yet. I’m sorry, Luci – could we give it another go tomorrow?”
“I suppose,” she said. She offered up a small smile. “Please, don’t think I’m unsympathetic. I really wish there was something more we could try. But with no time machine, no information about Julie’s whereabouts, and no way for us to understand, let alone treat Carrie’s condition, we HAVE to move on. Otherwise… I don’t know. Maybe we will all go nuts.”
“I hope not,” Frank sighed. “Give me one more night though. To reflect. Inspiration could strike.”
Luci rubbed her thumb and index finger in against her eyes, finishing by pinching the bridge of her nose. Then she reached out to close their textbook. “Sure. And if it does strike, or even if you simply want to talk – you know my number. I-I’m here for you, Frank. Yeah? You haven’t forgotten about how I feel about you, right?” she added more softly.
“I haven’t,” Frank assured. “Thanks, Luci.” He smiled back at her, and the two of them hugged. Unfortunately, his expression held up only as long as it took for Luci to pack up her things and leave the Dijora household.
Frank was still frowning after dinner, as he lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. “Okay,” he asserted. “Tomorrow, I am going to time travel back to NOW, so that I have a time machine NOW that I can use tomorrow to time travel back to NOW.”
And … nothing changed. He wondered if Carrie could have made something like that work? “I don’t even know when we’d need to start changing things for her, even assuming we could,” Frank groaned, rolling onto his side.
His phone rang. He grabbed for it, wondering who would be calling – and for some reason, there was no data available. “Hello?” he said, answering anyway.
Frank frowned. It was an older male voice. Someone he didn’t recognize. “Yeah, speaking,” he confirmed.
“Frank, you need to tell the police about Julie LaMille.”
Frank was instantly sitting up. “Who is this? What do you know about Julie?” None of their group had said anything, and Carrie had never been lucid enough to give a statement. Officially, Julie was simply a missing person.
“If you don’t reveal the whole story about Julie, Carrie’s condition will continue to deteriorate.”
The man sighed. “Listen, Frank – you and your friends are playing with forces you don’t understand. Only by revealing Julie’s part in this can we set time back on it’s proper course.”
“Set time… proper course… are you from the future?!”
“Immaterial. Are you even listening? I don’t want to force the issue here, but I will if I have to.”
“You’re not making any sense!” Frank protested.
“Frank, you will now scratch your nose,” the voice interrupted.
“I will now scratch my nose,” Frank agreed, doing so. “But how does that even–“ Frank froze. He looked down at his hand. Why… why had he done that?
“Again, I don’t WANT to force the issue here. But I WILL if I have to.”
Frank swallowed hard. “W-Who… Who are you?”
A pause. “Let’s call me Carrie’s Guardian Angel. After all, I did manage to save her once before, when she took a time trip out into the middle of Algonquin Park. Without coins. Did she ever mention that trip to you?”
Frank almost replied in the negative – only to have all the pieces fall into place. June, two years in the past, one of their first trips, when they’d both been trapped in the woods, and Carrie had run into the guy with the nickel who had said ‘Guard it’. Was it possible? Could this be the same guy? “Maybe,” he realized.
“Fine. So, you will set the record straight concerning Julie?”
“ONLY if you answer a few questions first,” Frank retorted, hardly believing his own audacity.
Silence. Frank tensed. Had he blown it? But then, a response: “If I do that, you will do as I ask?”
Frank cleared his throat. “Yes.”
“Then I’ll allow three questions.”
“I’ll be nice and not count that as one of them.”
Frank closed his eyes. He forced himself to slow down and think. He had an opportunity here. But with a question limit, there was no point in asking anything which he might now be able to deduce.
First, this guy – Carrie had referred to him as a ‘Shady’ guy back then, and it seemed a good enough moniker – knew too much. Odds were good that Shady was another time traveller. Or knew someone who was. So, were others changing the past too? Is that why Carrie had talked about the wrong timeline? Or was it changes by Julie causing the problem?
Shady’s request implied the latter. Despite being suspicious of the messenger, he had to get more information about that first.
“First question,” Frank said. “What is it Julie changed in the past, which is causing Carrie to react in our present?”
Frank nearly dropped the phone, Shady’s response had been so cavalier. “Prove it!” he demanded.
“She died on November 9th, precisely three days before she was even born. I thought you might ask. You can look it up in the newspaper from her home town if you like, that’s where I discovered the information. They didn’t know the person was Julie, of course, she was simply listed as a Jane Doe.” The man chuckled. “Proof that time doesn’t like it when people attempt drastic alterations to their own histories. Ironic, in a way.”
Frank forced his emotions down. Two questions left, and he now had a lot of new information. New fact: Shady couldn’t time travel at will. If he could, why would he be looking things up in old newspapers? Further, his “ironic” implied that what was on the surface here contrasted with what was really happening… to the point of being a complete opposite. Could that imply that Shady was also changing history, more subtly?
“Are you still there?”
“I’m trying to parse the fact that you’re saying someone I know is DEAD,” Frank sniped. He got a sigh in response.
Okay, where to go with this? Well, if this guy could effect changes like making Frank scratch his nose, surely he could convince the police without Frank’s help. So why hadn’t he?
“Second question,” Frank said. “Since you can seemingly force your will onto people, why even give me the option here?”
“Mmph,” Shady grunted. Frank got the impression he didn’t like this question. “So, there are limits. Sure, I could make you tell the police yourself the next time you see them, but depending on how they react, you might end up coming across as a robot, or coerced or something. That would be bad. Besides, free will is important! It’s the whole reason I…” His voice trailed off.
“It’s the whole reason you what?”
“Is that your last question?”
Frank grimaced. “No.” Damn. Shady was getting canny.
So, Shady could influence individuals, but he didn’t necessarily have control over how things played out? Interesting. Not to mention a stronger case for him being behind all of this in the first place! Frank decided his last question had to be about Carrie. Shady didn’t seem to care that Julie was dead – did this ‘Guardian Angel’ truly care about Carrie, or was she a means to an end?
“Third question.” Frank paused to frame it in his mind. “How do you know for sure that Carrie will be all right, once the truth about Julie’s role in her injury comes out?”
Frank stared at his phone, but there was no immediate follow-up. He clenched his jaw. “That’s hardly an acceptable answer.”
More grumbling. “Carrie Waterson is having trouble rationalizing the sequence of events surrounding the awakening of her powers,” Shady said at last. “Because Julie was the trigger this time, and–”
“THIS time?” Frank interrupted. His certainty about a fixed timeline was eroding fast.
“Because Julie was the trigger,” Shady amended, “And because Julie was temporally displaced so soon afterwards, Carrie is experiencing a disconnect between present and past. My most reasonable hypothesis is that she now believes herself to be in the past too. So if we construct a present where Julie is a fugitive rather than merely missing, Carrie will be more grounded, and her disconnect can be resolved.”
“But you don’t know.”
“I said that already. There are a number of uncertainties here, including how far that– how far Carrie’s insanity has progressed.”
Frank bit down on his lip. “Seems like we should use time travel to prevent the shooting in the first place then.”
Shady grunted. “Okay, free information since it scares me to think that you might actually try something that STUPID.” He actually sounded worried. “You rewrite what has happened to this point, and Carrie will be faced with simultaneous futures, one in which her powers are awakening and one in which they are still dormant. The resulting temporal stress would destroy her mind. From the inside out. Taking this whole town along with it.”
“Oh…” Frank swallowed. “But what powers–”
“No more questions!” the man retorted. “Your turn to keep up your end of the bargain!”
Frank winced. “Fine Shady, I-I’ll tell the police – before next week!”
“Shady?!” the guy yelped. “What is WITH you teenagers and your labels? And you want to wait until– Look, Frank, you bear THIS in mind! Every MINUTE you wait is one MORE minute for your precious Carrie to slip further away. Understood?”
And the line went dead.
Frank collapsed back onto his bed. That whole conversation had been… surreal. Beyond insane. He had to write this stuff down, before he forgot. No, wait – better idea. Frank reached back for his phone, dialling another number with a shaky hand.
“Hello… Luci?” Frank said as soon as he heard the familiar voice on the other end. “There’s been a new development.”
See the accompanying Commentary Post for ARC 2.2