Previously: Julie broke up with Clarke. Carrie hoped Frank or Luci could rig the time machine for an automatic run. Hank Waterson wrote a short story about the Chosen Bunny.
PART 3.22a: DO YOU MIND? 1
Frank’s basement lab was empty; the lights were off, and all was quiet. There was a brief explosion of light, and then all was quiet again – though now Frank’s body was lying on the ground. It sat next to a black box that resembled a cross between a computerized slot machine and a cash register.
“Ooooohh,” he groaned. “Frank, what caused that?”
The teenager struggled to sit up, moving to rub his eyes, his hands hitting his glasses. The dark haired boy paused, then reached up to pull the glasses off. He lay there for a moment, staring at them in shock.
“What the hell?”
Having spoken again, Frank reached a hand up to his throat. Then, slipping his glasses back on, he pushed himself up to his knees and took a look down at his body. “Oh my God,” Frank choked out. “Oh God, no, oh no, no, no… wh- what’s HAPPENED to me?!?”
Frank’s body swayed unsteadily for a few seconds before dropping back to the floor and falling unconscious.
“Hello,” Mrs. Dijora said pleasantly, opening the door. “How can I help–”
“He’s with me!” Carrie said, dashing down the hall behind her. The blonde teenager grabbed the arm of their visitor, tugging on it. “With us, that is,” she clarified. “We’re all still finishing our extra curricular project in the basement and we need Glen’s help! Now!”
“Oh,” Frank’s mother responded, nonplussed. “You know Carrie, if you’d all started this project earlier in the week, you wouldn’t have this sort of problem on a Thursday night. Because regardless of what Frank’s contribution is, I want to have him back upstairs in time for dinner. Which will be within the hour.”
“Um, yup, I’ll let him know that,” Carrie assured, while dragging Glen towards the basement door. “Now c’mon Glen, this is really TIME sensitive stuff!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Glen said, a hint of a frown appearing on his features. He looked back at Mrs. Dijora. “Er, I’ll keep my coat with me,” he assured her, having not had the time to pull both arms from the sleeves.
Frank’s mother watched in confusion as the two teenagers slammed the basement door shut behind them. “Teenagers. Everything’s life or death for them,” she decided, heading back into the kitchen.
“All right, what’s this about?” Glen questioned as Carrie hopped down the stairs ahead of him two at a time. “Your call sounded urgent.”
“You have NO idea,” Carrie retorted. She jabbed a finger at something just outside his field of view. “What the hell did the time machine DO to her?!?”
Glen moved down to the point when he could see where Carrie was pointing. His frown deepened, and he quickly moved to kneel down next to the unconscious body on the floor. Yes, unconscious – Luci still seemed to have a pulse. Meaning he didn’t know whether this was the event he’d been waiting for, or not.
“How long has she been like this?” Glen asked.
“Twenty minutes. Half an hour maybe,” Carrie said. “You sure took your sweet time getting here! I even debated calling an ambulance, but the tingling in my head says this is something temporal.”
“I got here as quickly as I could,” Glen countered. He rolled Luci’s body slightly, stuffing his wadded up jacket under her head before lifting one of her eyelids. Her eyes didn’t seem to be focused on anything. Problematic. He needed more information.
Glen glanced around the room. “You said your time machine was involved. Where is it?”
Carrie swallowed. “It… it vanished. It took Frank along with it. Which is kind of the other reason I didn’t want to get Frank’s parents all worked up with an ambulance.”
Glen slammed his palm on the ground. “Carrie! I WARNED you about the danger of using it for more time trips, I TOLD you to destroy –”
“We WERE destroying it!” Carrie yelled back, hands clenching into fists. She bit her lip. “Kinda.”
Glen stood. “How do you KINDA destroy something?”
Carrie’s face took on a pained expression. “We… we were going to send the machine on auto-pilot a couple of months into the future. As a fail safe. So it would be available later. I even thought, hey, it’ll get Frank and Luci working together again, so that maybe I could leave the time group on a slightly better note than… than…” She threw her arms out to the sides. “Look, I made sure they were being careful, and that they weren’t arguing about their relationship or anything!”
“They were still messing with something they couldn’t hope to understand!” Glen fumed. He stared at her for another long moment. Carrie didn’t seem as distraught as he might have expected. So it probably wasn’t time yet. “Fine, what’s done is done. If we want to have a chance of fixing it, you’ll need to describe to me exactly what happened.”
Carrie looked past him towards Luci’s prone form. She swallowed again, then closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Okay. The two of them were completing an analysis of some of the circuits. To see if there was any failsafe to prevent activation, should no person be touching the lever directly. Frank was reaching down inside the device – he said something looked a little funny – and he asked Luci to hand him the tweezers. She was in the process of doing so when the machine let out a whine, there was a bright flash of light, and then…” She reopened her eyes. “Then Frank and the machine were gone, and Luci was left there on the floor unconscious. After five minutes of trying to bring her around without success, I called you.”
Glen pursed his lips, then moved towards the lab bench near Luci’s body. After a moment of looking around, he reached out and grabbed a set of twisted, blackened tweezers off the floor. “Are these what Luci handed to Frank?” he questioned.
Carrie shrugged. “How should I know? Probably.”
Glen frowned. “Well, they’re metallic.” He paused. “That’s bad. I’m sorry, Carrie… I’m not sure there’s anything we can do for Luci.”
“What are you talking about?” she protested. “Luci’s body is still here, she’s still breathing and everything, we simply need a way for her to wake up!”
Glen sighed again, rolling his eyes heavenwards before turning back to his future companion. “All right,” he decided. “I was hoping to avoid such direct talk of future technology but… Carrie, exactly what do you people know about how these portable time machine units work?”
Carrie crossed her arms. “Well, they require a coin to activate, and the date on the coin corresponds to the year of arrival. Meanwhile, the place of arrival is determined by who is holding onto the handle, which has some sort of DNA sensing technology integrated into it. Though it seems that a trip to the future might involve not changing location at all, if you don’t have a counterpart there. So there’s also some built in homing device to target Earth, maybe.”
“Mmm. Yes, that’s about right,” Glen said, with grudging respect. “Though since the device goes along with you, the travel to a time with no counterpart takes it’s toll. More universal calculations, more circuits engaged, more power, more chance for burnout too. That’s on top of the normal proportional recharge, all part of the reason why not many such units were made.”
“Okay, so how does any of this relate to what happened to Luci?!”
Glen tossed the mangled tweezers aside. “It has to do with how the time machine manipulates the wormholes.”
Carrie blinked. “Worm… holes? Frank’s said something about them, but I never really bothered with trying to follow the science…”
Glen made a quick circuit of the room, grabbing a pencil and a sheet of paper that someone had started making notes on. “Wormholes,” he repeated. “Even in this time I know there’s been discussion on the subject.” He drew two circles, close to the opposing long ends of the sheet.
“Earth,” he said, pointing at one circle. “Alpha Centauri,” he continued, pointing at the other circle. He folded the paper over so that the far ends of the page were touching, and the circles overlapped. “Wormhole,” he concluded. He jabbed the pencil up through the paper at the Earth circle, the tip emerging through the circle he had denoted Alpha Centauri.
Carrie rolled her eyes. “Yes, the classic demonstration of using a wormhole to get to a far away place a lot faster than running along the length of the page itself. I HAVE seen that before. But what–”
“It works with time too,” Glen cut back in. He unfolded the sheet and drew a long line connecting the two holes. “1950,” he said, now physically writing that in over the first hole. “2000,” he continued, denoting the second hole. “Same principle. You want to travel from 2000 to 1950? The machine homes in on 1950 using the metallic substance you input, refines based on the traveler’s DNA, then creates a temporary wormhole that will fold space-time appropriately to transport the individual.”
Glen folded the paper over again as he spoke. “Once space-time is sufficiently warped, the device sucks you through,” – he pushed the pencil all the way through the hole – “then allows this universe’s timeline to snap back into place,” – he released one end of the page to let it straighten out – “all accomplished in a blink, before there’s any far reaching effects. Like miniature black holes or the like.”
Carrie observed Glen quietly for a few seconds. “So??” she said at last. “Lovely demonstration, but I STILL don’t see how that relates to why Luci is–”
“Oh for goodness sakes Carrie, can’t you at least humour me and PRETEND to have the mental discipline of your future self?” Glen snapped, before he could stop himself.
Her jaw clenched as he tossed the paper aside. “Sorry. But look, this latest issue is obviously related to how those portable time machine units control what matter gets pulled through the wormhole. Everything within a certain radius can’t get yanked in, or you’d be travelling with the ground you’re standing on.” There was a brief silence. “Do you see the problem now?”
“Sure,” Carrie said tightly. “Somehow the machine makes a point of registering anyone touching the handle, or any person touching that person, but ultimately rejects other biological matter within the same radius. Clever.” Her eyes were drawn to the tweezers. “Oh, wait. Are you saying…”
She hesitated, so Glen decided to complete the thought. “Yes, if the people going through are not in direct contact with the handle – or, less safely, with each other – the time machine might start closing the wormhole on them early.” He paused. “Best case, some people don’t go on the trip. Worst case? Depending on how badly you’re linked? You could end up on the other end of a time journey with only half a person.” Glen shook his head. “So, do you finally understand what happened here?”
-Do YOU understand? Any comment? This is the first time I’ve tried to go into the actual mechanics of time travel… and it’s why I can’t market this as Hard SciFi. I’m no physicist. But hopefully I invented something plausible.