TT3.53: Mental Strain

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3.06: MENTAL STRAIN

MiniBannerJulie stared in silence at the shadows on her bedroom ceiling. For some reason, she was reminded of those Rorschach inkblot tests, the ones psychologists used to help check a person’s sanity.

How sane was she?

The regular counselling sessions with Dr. Golden had helped her to deal with emotional issues like love and trust, it was true. But she couldn’t explain to a regular psychologist about the attempt to kill their unborn self, by time traveling back to the week of their birth. Speaking of that to anyone, aside from the other time travellers, was liable to get her locked up. Or worse, put Carrie in additional danger. No, Julie would have to keep it to herself.

Maybe forever.

“They’re all here now,” Clarke said from the doorway.

Julie sat up. “All right then. Let’s talk time trips.” She swung her legs off the bed, stood, and headed past him, out the door.

“Jewels, are you sure you’re up for it?” Clarke asked, falling into step behind her. “They only called us this morning about the meeting. If it’s too fast–”

“Don’t worry,” Julie said, cutting him off. “I’m not about to wrestle the machine away from Carrie in order to finish what I started last year.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

Catching Clarke’s tone, Julie paused on the stairwell to look back up at him. “Right.” She smiled, trying to project a confidence she didn’t feel. “Look, Phil, it’s fine. Really. If Carrie, Frank and Luci want to discuss resuming time travel, I’m good with that! Sure, it might bring up memories, but me and Doc Golden, we did talk about suicide. I’m more grounded now. What I do, it’s for me, not to please people like my parents, yeah?”

“Yeah. Still…”

“More to the point – I need this,” Julie continued. “It’s been ten months since those events, and a part of me is starting to doubt whether it all truly happened.” Her lips pursed. “And I… well, I’d rather not simply dismiss the sacrifices you all made to save me.”

Clarke looked at her for a long moment before smiling back. “Okay then,” he replied. “Let’s see what’s up.”

Her visitors, Carrie, Frank and Luci, all rose from their chairs as she entered the LaMille sitting room. “Julie,” Carrie began. “Hi… look, I want you to know right up front that if you feel at all uncomfortable with what we’re talking about, you have only to tell us and we’ll head out of here with no bad feelings.”

“Noted. Let’s get to it,” she countered.

Carrie nodded, glancing over to Frank and Luci. Frank shrugged. Even Luci looked hesitant. Julie set her jaw. “Look, guys, I may be a little frayed around the edges, but I’m still Julie LaMille. If you’re going to walk on eggshells around me, I’m going to damn well throw you out. Did you interrupt my Sunday morning to talk time travel, or didn’t you?”

“We’re thinking of using your house here as a base of operations,” Luci spoke up. “For storing the coins, and as a jumping off point for time trips, rather than Frank’s home. Or Carrie’s.”

“My parents and Carrie’s father already think something’s up after last year,” Frank added. “So that’s not ideal, particularly if I reappear in my kitchen. But your place isn’t that far from Willowdale Park, and so with either that park or the point of departure being some sort of geographic failsafe, your home is pretty convenient.”

“The mansion is big, mostly empty, and me accidentally turning up in here at any point in the last couple years wouldn’t really be remarked on,” Carrie added.

Julie shifted her gaze to the small black box, currently lying on the floor beside a chair. “You ARE thinking of making more trips then.”

“We have a few present day coins,” Frank admitted. “And if we don’t start soon, that is before January, we’ll be stuck in the present again. So yeah.”

“Carrie thinks that actually doing some time travel might help her to understand more about what she is and isn’t capable of doing on her own too,” Luci added.

“In fact, I took my first trip of the year yesterday,” Carrie stated. “Back to my birthday.” She rubbed her temples. “It was… educational. I think the time has finally come for me to put up or shut up as far as these temporal powers go.”

“Your powers,” Julie remarked, leaning back against the wall. “Then you’re thinking of invoking them too?”

Carrie began to pace. “I have to,” she sighed. “Chartreuse has convinced me that the only real way to ensure that what happened last year at the hospital never happens again, is to achieve some sort of balance with whatever’s inside me. To get a sense of what that even looks like, I’m gonna need to take more time trips. With and without the machine.”

“Incidentally, Carrie’s powers are another reason to bring the two of you in on this now,” Luci said, nodding towards Clarke, who had thus far remained silent. “We’re the five originals. The only ones – aside from Corry – who remember what Carrie is capable of. Thus the only ones who might notice, should things start to run off the rails.”

“Chartreuse would notice too,” Carrie murmured.

“Except she doesn’t REALLY remember last November,” Frank countered. “You had to tell her.”

“She would notice.”

“Look, my point was that Lee, Tim and Laurie wouldn’t, despite also once knowing about the machine,” Luci said.

“I think you’re straying from the point,” Clarke broke in at last. “You’re saying you want to use Julie’s house as a base of operations? What about the surveillance cameras on the property? What about Jeeves, who lives here too?”

“As Carrie said, the place is big, we should be able to avoid Jeeves,” Frank countered. “And the surveillance on the property will work in our favour. We merely need to learn enough to circumvent it, after which it will pick up on any outsider who’s trying to get at the time machine.”

“Like I did, when it was unguarded at your place,” Julie observed.

Frank winced. “Um. Kinda, sorta.”

Julie crossed her arms over her chest. “So, does this mean I’ll get to do more time travel?”

“Not at all,” Frank assured. “We’ll only need your permission to come and go from the house, from this point going forwards. Along with information about the surveillance and such, in case we arrive in some room with an active camera.”

“Because the time machine centres on the DNA of those taking the trip, remember?” Carrie agreed. “So, if we happen to arrive before we leave, we could potentially be here without coming through the front door. Don’t be freaked out by our comings and goings, that’s all.”

“Well, what about your point of arrival in another time period?” Julie challenged. “I’ve spent so much time in the mansion these last three years that any time trip I take is likely to keep me here. I could be an asset to you that way.”

Carrie exchanged a glance with Frank and Luci. “Julie… are you saying you WANT to go on another time trip?”

“I do,” Julie said, without hesitation. “I won’t make it a condition of using the place, but what’s wrong with me coming along?”

Julie surveyed the expressions of the others. Carrie looked surprised, Frank confused, Luci remained inscrutable and Clarke… he simply looked worried. “Jewels… I’m not sure you realize what you’re asking.”

“Oh, come on Phil,” Julie countered, giving him a playful punch in the arm. “All summer you were telling me I needed to get out more. A trip in space, a trip in time, what’s the difference?” She looked at the others. “Besides, I swear, I’m not going to use the opportunity to try anything self-destructive!”

“I don’t know, Julie,” Carrie said, her expression starting to mirror Clarke’s. “Time travel can be dangerous. And we might not limit ourselves to the past, we could also travel as far forwards as December.”

“Though last time we tried a future trip, we almost got run over,” Luci recalled.

“I don’t care,” Julie asserted. “I want to time travel.”

“But why?” Frank protested. “What’s your motivation?”

Julie clenched and unclenched her hands. “Seriously? Don’t you guys get it? I’ve only been on two time trips. And the second one doesn’t count, since it was only Clarke taking me into the cafe to establish an alibi for the shooting. No, whenever I think of time travel, it always brings to mind that first trip, with the gun, and the h-homeless woman and… and m-my p-parents…”

Damn it. Julie forced herself to draw in a long breath, digging her fingernails into her palms. She had to keep control here, or they’d never let her go anywhere. “So, yeah. I hate that. I hate it, I hate it, and yet I can’t stop thinking about it! What’s more, something which has really been starting to eat away at me through my counselling sessions is the realization that, had our situations been reversed, I… I probably wouldn’t have lifted a finger to help any of you!”

She stood straighter, shifting her gaze around the room, to each of them in turn. “So, know what? I vowed that if the opportunity presented itself where I could help you time trippers in return for what you did, I’d take it! More, that I’d go on another trip through time, one I could potentially look back on with pride, not distaste or horror! So, yes, obviously you can use the mansion, but I want – I’d LIKE more than that. Everybody, I want to time travel again!”

“Jewels, careful!” Clarke shouted out, reaching out to grab her arm. She looked down. One of her nails had broken through the skin of her palm, releasing a small trickle of blood. She swallowed.

“Whoopsie. Ah, I’ll just get a bandaid. Talk amongst yourselves,” Julie said, before hurrying out of the room.

***

Clarke watched her go before turning back to look at the others.  “You know, I wish you’d talked this over with me first,” he sighed.

“I guess we should have,” Carrie admitted, her eyes still on the doorway. “Julie’s never quite seemed that… passionate about anything though. Not recently anyway. She’s been quite subdued at school.”

“Her former followers, which is to say half the school, are out to get her when Corry’s back is turned,” Clarke countered. “The other half, Corry’s original camp, give her the silent treatment – wouldn’t you be subdued? Don’t forget, her family situation has been kept out of the public eye. Heck, even though WE have the information, well… have you ever truly forgiven Julie yourself, Carrie?”

“Of course! She pulled that trigger only because she was being influenced by a crazy man from the future.”

“Not merely the shooting. Julie did some other cruel things to you.”

He saw Carrie shift her weight back and forth uncomfortably. She had to be recalling the betrayal which had involved drugs in her locker and two weeks of detention. “Yeah. I know she was under some personal pressures then too,” Carrie yielded. “I do TRY not to hold such things against her.”

“So, if you’ve forgiven her, why don’t you spend more time with her?” Clarke asked pointedly.

Carrie shrugged. “I… I guess I never thought about it. I’ve had more than a few issues of my own to deal with these last few months, you know!”

“Okay Clarke, let’s get your input now,” Luci broke in. Having resumed her seat, she leaned forwards in her chair. “Quickly, before Julie returns. Do you think she can handle a time trip?”

“I… maybe?” Clarke said. “I must admit, I didn’t know she felt this strongly about the subject myself. But I see where she’s coming from – a part of her wants to forget about that trip. However, if she does that, she’ll lose this connection she has to all of you. And I don’t think Julie wants to do that, not now that she’s finally beginning to understand concepts like love, friendship and self sacrifice.”

“We’ve made a bit of a mess of things today then,” Frank realized, also resuming his seat. “Perhaps we should call the whole thing off.”

Clarke reached back to rub the back of his neck. “Perhaps? But you don’t want to do that permanently, or you could break Julie’s heart. Outward appearances aside, she is in a fragile state. You can’t set her up this way, and then drop her. Her feelings, when she expresses them these days, they tend to go all out.”

“What would you suggest then?” Carrie asked.

“Continue to involve her,” Clarke decided, after a moment’s thought. “In that respect, using this place as a base isn’t a bad idea. Even a time trip has possibilities. But not solo. And not now. You have to make sure not to bring her along too fast, and don’t take her condition for granted. Julie isn’t the same person she was last year.”

“Who am I supposed to be then?” Julie asked as she reentered the room.

Clarke flinched, not having heard her approach. “I was telling them how far you’ve come in terms of your therapy,” he said quickly. “Since the last time you time traveled.”

“Oh!” Julie nodded. “Is it okay for me to go on the next trip then?”

“Actually,” Luci said. “We’ll need to hold off on trips for a while yet. We don’t have that many present day coins. The issue today was more having a fixed point in time when we all knew what was going on. Right?”

“Right,” Frank agreed. “We’ll need to keep an eye out for more coins minted in our current year before taking any trips.”

Clarke took a half step back, firing off a quick smile to them from behind Julie.

Julie pursed her lips. “Why wait? If this is now a fixed point in time, someone could simply time travel back TO now, from some point later, once there are already more coins in our possession. At which point our future selves can simply hand the money over to our present day selves.”

“Huh,” Frank mused. He glanced to Carrie.

The blonde shook her head. “Sorry, we can’t, because we won’t,” she rejected. “It’s not that it’s a bad idea, and it’s hard for me to explain exactly, but since we apparently haven’t done that, we’re not going to. It’s like… our present is their past. Puts the onus on us. Who knows what will happen in two months time? Maybe we’ll forget, maybe the machine will break down…”

“Couldn’t you foresee those sorts of events though?” Clarke wondered.

Carrie began to look uneasy. “Maybe. Chartreuse thinks so. But I’m reluctant to test it.”

“You know what though? We might be able to generate more coins via causal loops,” Frank realized. “Carrie has done it before with information. Telling herself something, then going back in time and saying it again, when she was the only source. She even generated an apple out of nowhere last September. Couldn’t we do the same thing with coins?”

Carrie began to rub her temples again. “Yeah, that’s… not the best plan. For one, I’m still not clear about how I managed the apple. For another, the very act of using the machine would burn up the coin we get, meaning it can’t be used elsewhere anyway.”

“So use two coins,” Luci countered. “We’ll put them onto a table in the morning. That evening, someone can use one one coin to travel back in time five minutes, picking up both coins. Then use one of THOSE to travel back a further five minutes, again picking up both coins. We keep repeating the process, getting an extra coin each time until finally–”

“My head explodes,” Carrie interrupted, shifting from having her fingers on her temples to pressing her palms there. “Gods, entertaining that thought physically HURTS! Much more than the usual background static! Damn it Luci, that’s not how time travel works… if it’s my destiny to pick up the coins thirty minutes ago, I won’t be able to pick them up five minutes ago. They’ll be gone! Besides, I think temporal random variance would have a thing or two to say about the attempt.”

“It IS an interesting new paradox though,” Frank reflected. “If we use a coin to time travel, and then on that trip we take the coin away before it’s used, could we actually go on the trip?”

“Frank… not helping with the headache,” Carrie said, gritting her teeth.

Frank frowned. “You’re not about to make things fly through the air, are you?”

“Shall I get an aspirin?” Julie asked.

“I doubt aspirin would do much,” Carrie sighed, after shooting Frank a look. “I have had pains like this before. I think when my powers awoke, they imbued me with some sort of temporal conscience. That’s part of the reason I’ve avoided discussing time travel philosophy with people this year.”

“Really?” Luci asked. “I thought the issue was that you had trouble making sense out of it.”

“That too,” Carrie yielded. “Though I have tried to do more research. Being tied to a destiny and all.”

“Well, if time trickery is out, you could simply get more money,” Julie decided. “Given that some percentage of all money out there has current year coins, more money leads to more useful coins. In fact, by knowing the future, you can win money at anything from lottery numbers to betting on sporting events.”

Carrie began to rock back and forth. “Wait.”

Frank snapped his fingers. “Or there’s the stock market! With the time machine we could invest today in something that we know will rise substantially over the next week and–”

“SHUT UP!” Carrie shrieked, collapsing back onto the couch.

Everyone turned to stare. The blonde took a few slow breaths, her eyes closed and her palms against her head. It took at least ten seconds, but finally one blue eye reopened. “For crying out loud people, were you SERIOUSLY trying to make my head explode there?!?”

“Carrie, a lottery wouldn’t need to involve you at all,” Luci pointed out. “We’d make the trip ourselv–”

“STOP!” Carrie drew in her next breath through clenched teeth. “Look. News flash. Apparently it doesn’t matter whether you do it, whether I do it, or whether the neighbour’s cat does it. Playing with the normal flow of time that way? It’s like an ice pick right here!” She jabbed her finger at the side of her head. “Though, Gods, TALK has never done this to me before… why now, all of a sudden?!”

“We’ve never talked about it seriously before,” Frank speculated. “This is the first time we’ve brought it up with an intent to actually follow through.”

“Lovely,” Carrie said, dropping her head between her knees. “You know what? I’d better have some damn good mental shields in place before these time machine devices actually get invented! If not, idle chatter like that is liable to make me lose my friggin’ mind and go on a homicidal rampage as a preemptive strike.”

Frank visibly flinched, but only Clarke and Luci noticed.

“You know,” Clarke offered. “You’re all missing the obvious. If it’s merely more money you need… Julie already has money. Quite a bit. She can withdraw a bunch of rolled coins and search for more of the type you need.”

Luci frowned. “Seriously? I figured Julie’s parents would have cut her off.”

Julie nodded slowly. “True, they did, but I have my own account,” she admitted. “I’m not stupid, I made sure there was one they couldn’t touch. Plus there’s still a few electronic tidbits lying around, which I bought to help with taking over the school, and they have value. Even without access to my parents’ funds, I’m probably better off than ninety percent of this town’s population.”

“Plus you could always travel back a year or two and sneak out extra funds then,” Frank mused. His gaze jerked back to Carrie. “Or would that be another temporal violation?”

“It’s hard to tell, I’m still throbbing from the lottery remarks,” Carrie grumbled without looking up.

“There may have been a couple of times when funds went missing,” Julie granted. “Though I’d have to think about it. In the meantime, I can withdraw $100 in coins… but sifting through them will take time.”

“We are in no rush,” Clarke assured.

“That’s actually a really good plan,” Frank agreed. “It wouldn’t involve wasting what few coins we have now on any attempts to get more.”

“Great,” Carrie said. “Because I think my head has had more than enough of talking about time travel for today.”

“You sure you don’t want some aspirin?” Julie asked. Carrie gestured vaguely in response. “I’ll get some,” the brunette decided, hurrying from the room.

Clarke watched her go before turning back to the others. “Thanks guys,” he said sincerely. “Helping this way, it will mean a lot to Julie. While keeping her safely in the present.”

“Least we can do, after neglecting her this long,” Frank reflected. “Somehow I never thought we’d be of much help during Julie’s therapy.”

“A person always needs friends,” Clarke countered. “And it’s not like she can spill our whole story to her psychologist.”

“Here’s the last big question then,” Luci stated. “Is it truly safe for us to leave the time machine here? Where Julie can access it?”

Clarke furrowed his brow. “Um. That is a good question,” he acknowledged. He thought about it. “Maybe not, but if we–”

He was interrupted by the sound of a loud scream from down the hall. Julie’s scream.

***

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