3.01: TALKING TO HERSELF
As soon as Carrie Waterson saw herself standing at the entrance to the restaurant, all thoughts of her trip to the washroom vanished. She now wanted to run over and smack herself in the face. Or run, and run, and keep on running. Instead, she stood there, heart racing. Fight, flight, or freeze… and Carrie’s hands clenched into fists, as she realized that she had picked the stupidest of those three stress options.
Here she was, a high school teenager, being hunted by people from the future. Yielding them the initiative? Not a good idea! On the bright side, the other Carrie over there – no, Elizabeth, Carrie quickly corrected herself, I’m the right one, I’m in my proper time, I get to be Carrie, she gets our middle name – looked to be about the same age as she was. But was that a trick?
Even as Carrie stared, Elizabeth beckoned her over. Present day Carrie took a step, then another – and by the time she reached the front door, she was almost charging through after her blonde double.
That was all Elizabeth had time to say, before Carrie had pulled back her fist and punched herself in the gut. “I’m not going to be you!” she asserted, as Elizabeth doubled over. She brought her hands up to slam down on Elizabeth’s back, but Elizabeth rammed forwards into her before Carrie could complete the manoeuvre, knocking them both down onto the pavement in front of the restaurant.
Carrie now wished she hadn’t worn a dress to her party, but she hadn’t exactly expected to be fighting anyone today. Least of all herself. Elizabeth, by contrast, was in a more practical T-shirt and jeans. She was also now on top, so Carrie tried to grab her and roll, to flip them both over. Except Elizabeth threw her weight back onto Carrie’s legs, pinning her down instead. Which did allow Carrie to sit up – and she still had her arms free. She tried to clap both hands together on either side of Elizabeth’s head.
Elizabeth also raised her arms, managing to block one palm, so Carrie only had the satisfaction of smacking her other self, an act which slightly dislodged her adversary’s hairband. And now Elizabeth was holding onto the arm that she had blocked, and so Carrie was left pounding her lone fist into Elizabeth’s shoulder.
“I’m not going to be you!” she repeated, a tear stinging at her eye.
“That might be for the best,” Elizabeth wheezed, as she caught her breath. “I’m getting a little beat up.”
“Don’t you even joke about it!”
Elizabeth finally managed to catch hold of Carrie’s other arm. “I know. I shouldn’t. I’m sorry.”
“My birthday,” Carrie said, feeling the fight go out of her as all her limbs were restrained. “You had to come back to ruin my BIRTHDAY?”
“Not ruin. I hope not ruin. I only wanted to point something out.”
“You couldn’t have left a NOTE?”
“No,” Elizabeth said, having the decency to look apologetic. “I couldn’t. We would ignore a note. Or second guess it. I had to tell myself – you – this thing in person.”
Carrie blinked her tear away. “Fine. What?”
“You mind if we discuss this somewhere other than laid out on the ground in front of a public restaurant? All it takes is one guy with a camera phone, and next thing we know, our picture is up on some selfcest website.”
Carrie flinched. “Self WHAT?”
Elizabeth released her arms, and when no attack was immediately forthcoming, pushed herself back off Carrie’s legs too. “I’d say be careful about the time travel research you’ll do this summer,” she sighed. “But sometimes I’m way too curious for my own good.”
The air on this particular evening in late March was cool and crisp, more so than usual. Though most of the snow had already melted, there was still a pile of it off in the corner of the parking lot, where it had been shoved by snowplows throughout the winter. The two Carries walked in that direction, moving far enough so as to be in the shadows. They didn’t need to go too far, as the only light in the area came from the street lamps and the restaurant windows.
Carrie rubbed her arms with her palms. Not only was she in a dress, she didn’t have her jacket. She also still needed to use the washroom. “So?”
“So,” Elizabeth repeated back. “Low key affair this year, no big party at Julie’s – instead, who’s in there, celebrating your seventeenth birthday with you?”
Carrie looked back towards the building. “Frank and Luci. Julie and Clarke. And Chartreuse.”
Carrie turned to her double. “Is this meant to be an echo fest?!”
“Chartreuse is the only friend in there who doesn’t know about the time machine,” Elizabeth pointed out.
“Yeah? So?” Carrie countered. “Are you telling me I should be swapping Chartreuse out for Corry, who does know? Because even though he helped me out with what happened last semester, and continues to stand up for Julie, he’s still a jerk.”
“No. I’m telling you maybe you should talk to Chartreuse.”
Carrie rubbed her arms again. “I can’t bring her back into this,” she murmured. “Not her, not anyone. You know that.”
“All I know is that Chartreuse, Laurie, Tim and Lee had never been temporally displaced, unlike the others currently eating with you in there,” Elizabeth countered. “But you – we – shouldn’t feel guilty about our time travel memory wipe having messed with those memories. We weren’t exactly in our right mind at the time.”
“It’s not only guilt!” Carrie countered. “If you’re really me, you MUST know that!”
Elizabeth slumped a little. “I guess I do. But are Chartreuse and the others really better off this way? Thinking that all those meetings were merely for helping Frank with a science project, researching the LaMilles, or taking down the man with funny mental powers who wanted to kill us?”
“Am I even having this conversation?! Elizabeth, if – no WHEN more people come back from the future, everyone who knows about my hidden powers is going to be in danger! I can’t help that for Frank and the rest, but those four you named? They’re free and clear. Why do I even have to explain this to you??”
Elizabeth pursed her lips. “Okay, yeah. But Chartreuse is different.”
“Because she wanted to come to my little party, after finding out about it from Luci? We’re not that close!”
“Maybe you should be.”
“Seriously?! You still haven’t told me WHY!”
“Think, Carrie! Chartreuse has powers too!”
Carrie found she was forced to think about that. Her toes curled inside her shoes, and she blew on her hands to warm them up. “What, you think Chartreuse already suspects?”
“I think you should to talk to her.”
“WHY? Her powers aren’t like my powers. Chartreuse gets impressions from people, and sees the future. I destroy solar systems.”
“We don’t destroy–”
“I destroy solar systems!” Carrie interrupted, louder. “You know this!”
“Fine, if we’re not trained properly, yeah we do!” Elizabeth retorted, raising her voice to match. “All the more reason to get our head out of the sand in the coming year, and start doing something about it!”
“And do WHAT about it?!”
“Talk to Chartreuse!”
“Why, because you did and it’s worked out OH so well for you??”
“Or maybe because I didn’t, and I regret it, since talking to her might have set me on a much better path!”
The two girls were nearly nose to nose at this point, glaring at each other, postures rigid and fists clenched. Neither version of Carrie was willing to give ground. Meaning it was perhaps fortunate that their argument was interrupted by a scream from behind the restaurant.
Both Carries turned their heads. “Oh hell,” Elizabeth said, wincing. “I forgot about this part.”
“Part? What part??” Carrie demanded.
“Someone just tried to run off with my time machine.”
“You left our time machine out in the open?” Carrie accused her.
Elizabeth shook her head, cursing her own stupidity. “No. I shoved it behind some cardboard boxes out back of the restaurant. Dealing with you while having that damn black box shoved under my arm felt stupid.”
“Yeah, this has really demonstrated your intelligence.”
“Oh, shut up.” Elizabeth hated that her past self had a point, when she was supposed to be the (marginally) older, more mature one. It’s not like the time machine would have screamed ‘time machine’ at anyone either, it looked more like a portable slot machine.
She met Carrie’s expectant gaze with silence. Carrie put her hands on her hips. “So, are you going to STOP this theft?”
“I already have.” The scream had reminded Elizabeth of how the next few minutes would play out. Sure enough, she’d barely finished speaking when her other self came around the corner of the building. One time machine under each arm.
Carrie didn’t look too pleased by this development.
“Hi Carrie. Elizabeth,” their third incarnation said with a hesitant smile, nodding at each of them as she reached their position. She was dressed identically to Elizabeth, which only made sense.
“Hi Buffy,” Carrie said dryly.
Buffy’s nose crinkled. She eyed Elizabeth. “I think I’m funny, but really, I’m not.”
“Would you prefer Betty?” Carrie snarked.
“Hell no,” Buffy and Elizabeth retorted as one. Elizabeth hadn’t read much in the way of the Archie comics, but she knew enough to not want to be linked to a nice blonde girl-next-door persona by name. Besides, if they were going to pick another name derived from “Elizabeth”, Buffy had better pop culture connections.
Carrie’s smirk became a frown. She pointed at what Buffy was carrying. “I take it one of those is mine, the other is Elizabeth’s?”
“Logical, yeah?” Buffy remarked, looking thoughtful. She thrust her hip out to the side, motioning for Elizabeth to retrieve that particular time machine. Elizabeth obliged her future self.
“So,” Elizabeth sighed. “Now I have to take this machine, Carrie’s, back to our home, leaving it under the bed. After which I take the older device which is there now, back in time to about three minutes ago. Whereby I can retrieve my own machine – that being the one Buffy has here – becoming Buffy and returning this present day machine back to Carrie’s room, using myself, now.”
“That’s making my head hurt,” Carrie groused. “Literally.”
She wasn’t kidding. The permanent dull ache in Elizabeth’s own head, the one which had become a sort of ‘background noise’ ever since the awakening of her temporal powers? It had increased over the last few moments to a level that was… not more painful exactly, but impossible for her to ignore. But then, hadn’t that been part of the point behind this trip? Seeing what she could accomplish with time travel?
“Just go,” Buffy suggested. “Close out the loop.”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth agreed, after pressing the heel of her hand briefly to her temples. “You two keep talking here.”
She began to jog off, her athletic strides quickly taking her away from her doubles. She only heard Buffy ask, “So where were we in our talk?” and Carrie’s retort of “I was wondering if you were here trying to change my past” before she was out of earshot.
It occurred to Elizabeth after a few minutes of running that getting home in five minutes versus forty-five minutes really wouldn’t make much of a difference in terms of the eventual outcome. Except in terms of how tired and sweaty she’d be. So she slowed to a walk, muttering “Where’s a convenient skateboard and automobile tow when you need one?”
Elizabeth hefted the time machine at her side. Hopefully she’d be able to set Carrie’s version of the thing properly. Frank had been more focussed on demonstrating how the machine could be set to return back to their present, versus a second trip here to her birthday. Actually, it was a pity she had to use Carrie’s machine at all; the one she currently held had to be set for the right day and time already!
Her walk stopped altogether.
Why couldn’t she simply take this machine?
Her headache flared up larger, making her grimace. “ASIDE from you,” she addressed it, bringing her hand back to her head. “I mean, come on, it wouldn’t be my first paradox.”
Way back before her power “awakening”, she had dropped off an apple at Frank’s place, then later picked it up, only to time travel back, and then drop it off. Bootstrap paradox. And this was no different. She had now given herself a time machine – which she could use to time travel back, and then hand it off to herself.
In fact, this sequence was actually more sensible than the apple had been, seeing as it had the potential to be perfectly temporally consistent – an identical time machine existed in this present, under Carrie’s bed.
So what if she didn’t swap them?
Her headache was becoming an incessant pounding, but now that she had this idea, her curiosity wouldn’t let her drop it. The point behind this trip hadn’t really been to talk about Chartreuse – it had been more to see what she could do with time travel. And she remembered the conversation on her birthday, more or less, so that wasn’t changing anything – it had to be this subtle paradox which had been poking at her subconscious through the summer. Right?
So could she do it?
Elizabeth fished her spare coin out of her pocket. When time travelling, you always carried a spare coin from the present – there was random variance to the time machine, meaning that you could land a day, or even a month off of your intended target. It was rare, but annoying.
She looked up and down the street, then retreated back into the shadows of a nearby house that had no lights on. Once there, she fell to her knees, set the time machine down onto the ground in front of her… and dropped the coin in.
NOW she had a migraine.
But at this point, it would either work, or it wouldn’t, right? Before she could stop herself, she’d reached out and yanked down on the lever.
The sensation of the temporal void sucking at her was familiar.
The sensation of the ice pick sliding into the side of her head was new, and hurt like nothing she’d ever felt before. It was even worse than the time she’d been shot.
She screamed. Loudly.
But then the headache was gone, reduced to the normal dull ache, and as her scream died out, Elizabeth realized that she was no longer where she had been. She was still kneeling, but out in back of the restaurant. There was a man a very short distance away, holding onto her own time machine, the one she hadn’t just used. He was looking in her direction, his eyes wide. A cigarette fell from between his lips.
As soon as he realized that she was looking back at him, he dropped the device back down onto the cardboard boxes where she’d formerly concealed it, and sprinted for the back door of the restaurant. Obviously eager to get away from the screaming blonde girl who had appeared from out of nowhere. Had he been rooting through the trash while on a smoke break? Elizabeth (Buffy?) supposed it didn’t matter.
She shakily pushed herself back to her feet, then picked up the now ‘impossible’ time machine sitting before her. With it braced at one hip, she went to get her own machine back, managing to pick it up too. Once she had them both in hand, she marched back around the corner of the building, heading towards the shadowy figures of her prior selves.
Carrie didn’t look too pleased by this development.
“Hi Carrie. Elizabeth,” their third incarnation said with a hesitant smile, nodding at each of them as she reached their position. She was able to distinguish them because she was dressed the same as Elizabeth.
“Hi Buffy,” Carrie said dryly.
She crinkled her nose, and eyed Elizabeth. “I think I’m funny, but really, I’m not.”
“I was wondering if you were here trying to change my past,” Carrie retorted.
Buffy didn’t immediately respond to her. In fact, Carrie briefly wondered if “Buffy” was back to being “Elizabeth” now, but decided that way madness lay. Her body double ultimately sighed. “You know I can’t answer that. If I say I did talk to Chartreuse, you won’t. If I say I didn’t talk to Chartreuse, you will.”
“The whole ‘I’m not going to be you’ rant as you beat me up earlier?”
“Oh.” Carrie rubbed her arms again, trying to stay warm. “Meaning you’re going to leave me with the illusion of free will, even as I do what is presumably written in stone for you?”
“Effectively,” Buffy admitted. “Sorry about that.” She glanced down at the time machine she was holding. “Though, here’s the thing. Some stuff that SEEMS to be written in stone? Can be reinterpreted.”
“How in hell do you reinterpret being a temporal weapon?” Carrie shot back.
A pained look settled on Buffy’s face. “Yeah. That is our question, isn’t it?”
Carrie slumped. “Yeah,” she agreed. “More to the point, I guess we both know that there’s a future ‘us’ out there, who is part of some upcoming war… and who is not liking that, from her perspective, we’re the ones disrupting her past. Possibly her very reason for existing.”
“And she’s gonna come for us,” Buffy continued, voicing the thoughts they’d been having for months. “She has to. The question is, will we be ready for her?”
“HOW? How does one even prepare for a battle with oneself?!”
“I don’t know,” Buffy admitted. “Just… talk to Chartreuse.”
Carrie stared. “You really think she can help? Or could have helped?”
“I think… we need all the friends you can get.”
Carrie sighed. “This is so messed up.” She let out a long breath, then bowed her legs in a bit. “Worse, I still REALLY need to use the washroom.”
Buffy smiled, gesturing back at the restaurant. “Go then.”
Carrie frowned. “For serious?”
“I’ve said my bit, we’re done here.”
Carrie hesitated, feeling like there was something more she should say – but nothing came to mind. “Fine. Time travel safely,” she concluded, before running back to the warmth and relief of the nearby building.
The time travelling Carrie, aka Elizabeth, aka Buffy, walked around the side of the building and sat down. She knew she couldn’t leave yet. Because Carrie now knew why she’d had those residual effects after talking to herself on this day. And while she had no idea if remaining in this time period would help to spread the effect out a little more, she had decided that leaving too fast would be irresponsible.
Her headache flared up a couple minutes later. She swallowed. She tried to remember what had happened back then, on her birthday. Her birthday. Yeah, she couldn’t have picked the day after? It had to have been the day itself, the night she’d been out with friends? “I can be such a jerk,” Carrie whispered. Hell, she might very well be her own worst enemy – literally.
The headache became an incessant pounding.
One of the problems with time was how it tended to mute one’s memories. On her birthday, she hadn’t remembered it getting any worse than this. She now recalled collapsing to the floor at the sink in the restaurant bathroom. She also recalled twisting her palms into her temples, choking back sobs until the feeling subsided. But it had only been a severe headache.
Except it hadn’t been – she knew now it would get worse. Ice pick worse.
NOW she had a migraine. Carrie braced herself.
Yet whether it was the knowing that it would happen, or the fact that she was spatially removed from the trigger event… for whatever reason, it didn’t feel like an ice pick to the skull, and so she managed to keep from screaming. Still hurt like the devil though.
Then, nothing. Background noise. Life as normal.
With a shaky hand, Carrie reached into the pocket of her jacket for the tools that would allow her to reset the time machine. “Shielding,” she murmured aloud. “My next session with Chartreuse, we’ve gotta talk mental shielding.”
Less than five minutes later, only one Carrie remained in the present. She would not use the time machine again for several months, not until her senior year of high school.
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