Previously: An accident with the time machine placed Luci’s consciousness into Frank’s body. They can communicate while unconscious, and are looking for a way to fix things.
PART 3.23a: TIMELINE FOUR 1
Luci/Frank managed to suppress a sigh, poking her/his fork into her/his plate of cafeteria fries. “Repeating that back to us isn’t going to make it any less true, Carrie.”
“Right, okay.” She thought for a moment. “On the bright side, if both essences are available, we have a shot at disint… er, UNintegrating the two of you. Right?”
Luci/Frank shook her head. “I was late to school today because I wanted to keep at the equations. So far, it doesn’t look good. Did you and Glen have any luck talking about the machine itself?”
Carrie shook her head back. “I stayed on the phone with him as long as my dad would let me, but the only scenario we can think of is to have your body – that is, Luci’s – available on the other end of the wormhole when you emerge from your initial trip. You know, when you first got, uh, fused. Granted, it presumes Luci’s essence will be able to find itself – yourself – and then, for the sake of self-consistency, it will require that the resulting version of Frank travels in time, to our present. Where he pretends he’s Luci. Which would be what you’re doing here.”
Luci/Frank wrinkled her nose. “Okay, but since I know I’m NOT pretending, we know THAT plan won’t work,” she reasoned.
“Aha, but how do I know you’re not just *pretending* to not be pretending?” Carrie countered, waggling her finger. Luci/Frank glared. Carrie lowered her hand. “Fine. If it’s any comfort, the longer this goes on, the bigger the temporal headache I seem to be getting. I might not last until your future arrival date.”
“My own body might not last either!” Luci/Frank noted. “When I checked on myself this morning, my body’s pulse was even weaker than last night. Besides, what do we tell my parents, that I went on vacation to Florida??”
“Point,” Carrie yielded. She pressed a hand to her temples. “I suppose we might jump in time ourselves, to meet your temporal exit THAT way – except Glen’s not sure what a time trip would do to Luci’s body in it’s present state. But at this point, the only other alternative might be…”
Luci/Frank swallowed her/his forkful of fries as Carrie trailed off. “Might be what?” s/he asked.
Carrie sighed. “A time-share of my temporal self. Luci, know that I won’t let things end for the two of you this way. I promise that much.”
Her tone had become very serious. “Carrie, can you even control your temporal self yet…?” Luci/Frank pressed, trying to read into her expression.
“No. But if it’s within me to do it, I’ll find a way,” Carrie said. Her grip tightened on her soda can. “Somehow, I’ll find a way to fix things.”
“Luci! LUCI!” Frank called out.
Luci blinked as she felt the palm slapping at her cheeks, and with effort, she managed to focus on the image of Frank above her. “Oooh,” she moaned. She propped herself up on one arm, realizing she was lying on the grass of their dreamscape. “It… it happened again, didn’t it…”
Frank nodded. “That’s the third time, and the second time tonight. I don’t like it. When you go transparent like that, it’s as if you’re… fading away. You’ve got to hang on, Luci! We’ll figure a way to get you back where you belong!”
Luci shifted her focus back to the blue sky. “Frank, it’s been four days, and in terms of saving both of us, we’re back to square one.” She paused. “In fact, I don’t know if you realized, but I – that is, our body – it blacked out in class today too. If Chartreuse hadn’t caught me…” She swallowed. “I don’t want to die, Frank. Not like that.”
He grabbed her by the shoulders. “No one’s said anything about dying. We’ll find something! We always do.”
“Frank, seriously? Even with Glen’s input, we still don’t know half of the science we’re dealing with!” She pounded her fist into the ground. “It’s time to face facts, we’re running out of time! I’m… I’m simply going to die, and there’s nothing we can do about it!”
“No!” Frank countered. “You are NOT! Not so long as I’m here!” He pulled her into an embrace, and Luci hugged back, hard. Then, after a moment, she worked to change her body. And before Frank had a chance to react, he was holding a twenty year old.
“Frank, don’t,” Luci said as she felt him pulling away. “Please, don’t. If this doesn’t work out… I want something to take away with me. Something good, like the time I looked like this, and I told you my feelings. In fact, since we’re only in a dream, you could even–”
“Luci, stop,” Frank protested. He ceased trying to pull away but refused to meet her gaze. She saw him biting his lip. “We both know this is more than a dream, it’s… I don’t know, a mind link. So don’t tempt me this way. It’s not right. When you’re back in your own body, then… then maybe.”
Luci remained in his arms for a moment before reverting back to her normal appearance. “Maybe?” she said quietly, as they separated their embrace. “Tell me Frank, if I do get back, will we really be able to have a healthy relationship?”
“Well… why not?”
“You know why,” Luci said quietly. “The memory you saw. The one I’ve spent years repressing.”
Frank’s face fell, and he looked down at the ground. “I wasn’t going to bring that up again.”
“You didn’t have to. The more I struggle to hold onto myself, the more that particular mental block crumbles away.” She paused, then closed her eyes. “Fine, let’s do this. How much did you see?”
Frank sighed. “He touched you. He…” His tone became harder. “Your parents should never have let you use the pool next door!”
“Were my clothes still on?” Luci continued, feeling a strange calmness come over her. She reopened her eyes.
Frank was staring, horrified. “Of course they were. You don’t mean…”
“Okay. You really did only brush the surface.”
“Oh dear God, Luci!! You mean he… that is… he didn’t… DID HE?!”
The young girl shook her head. “Oh, he didn’t go THAT far, if that’s what you’re thinking. Linford touched. He had me touch back. He took a couple pictures. We never…” Her voice trailed off as she began to feel sick to her stomach.
She shoved the emotion aside, deciding instead to focus instead on the facts. The way she always did. “I was seven at the time. Barely four months out of the orphanage, and I didn’t want to cause any trouble. I didn’t want to get sent back, to be… rejected. The way I always had been, for mouthing off and being a know-it-all.”
“What–” Frank’s voice cracked. He tried again. “What happened to this pervert?!”
Luci shifted her gaze to the horizon. “I’m not sure… when Linford moved away at the end of the summer, I finally got up the nerve to tell my parents about it. Mom and Dad, they raised an uproar and got me some counselling, but the perpetrator himself, he didn’t leave any forwarding address.”
She sighed. “Ultimately, we Primroses decided to move too. It’s how we ended up in this town. And ever since coming to live here, I’ve tried my hardest to forget. I wanted to move on, and to… to overwrite those memories with some happier ones.” She slumped. “Pity I never got the hang of social interactions at school.”
“Oh, Luci…” Frank reached out to put an arm on her shoulder, but she shrugged him off, stepping away, looking at the ground.
“Wait, let me finish. Let me do a thorough analysis.” She swallowed hard. “So… this has become a case of classic displacement. Linford to Linquist. And even though I know they’re both different people, and maybe Linquist isn’t as bad, they both did things to me, without my permission. Which is why, deep down, I can’t feel truly comfortable so long I know that they’re somewhere out there. Experimenting. Hence, my obsessive vendetta with the logbook when it turned up.”
Luci spun back to face Frank, a tear running down her cheek. “But it’s worse than that. The more I find myself facing up to those truths here, the more I feel that my desire for a loving relationship with someone has been largely motivated by the desire to overwrite those bad memories. So… was ours a romance of convenience? Did I truly love you, or did I pick you because you were my best shot? Is it possible our relationship has been doomed from the start?”
Frank took a step back as if struck. “If… if that’s honestly what you believe, then… I suppose we both have some serious thinking to do.”
Luci started to turn away.
“BUT,” Frank continued, “That doesn’t change our current situation. Boyfriend, best friend – those sorts of distinctions are unimportant right now! You’ve told me what you believe, so let me tell you what *I* believe. Namely that someone with your strength of character wouldn’t let her life be dictated by the actions of some perverted BASTARD. That’s not the Luci I know! That’s not the Luci I fell for! And moreover, that’s NOT the Luci who is going to come out of our current situation feeling even stronger than she was before! Okay?!”
Luci couldn’t stop the tears from coming, but for the first time, she didn’t feel like they made her weak. “Thank you, Frank,” she choked out. “I only hope you’re right. And that I don’t die here. That maybe, one day, we can figure out our–” Her voice caught. Again he moved towards her, and again she waved him off. “Wait, stop, I’m about to–”
She fell to her knees and threw up all over the grass.
“Oh, Luci,” he murmured, wiping a tear away from his own eye as he reached out to gently stroke her hair. “My poor, dear Luci… don’t despair, I’ll get you through this… no matter what it takes.”
It was exactly one week after the initial incident that saw the four of them gathered together again in Frank’s basement. Carrie, Glen, and Luci/Frank. Or rather, Carrie mentally amended, Frank/Luci. Because according to Frank, Luci’s essence had grown so weak that he’d had to retake control of his own body after waking up that morning.
“It won’t work, you know,” Glen declared, folding his arms as he leaned back against the wall.
“It will,” Carrie countered. She ground her palm into her throbbing temple. “It has to.”
The trouble was, Luci’s own body wasn’t faring much better than her ‘essence’, having become cold to the touch. On top of that, the e-mails Luci had been writing for her parents, trying to explain her continuing absence from town had been less than convincing. A police investigation was already underway. So if this effort didn’t work… well, Carrie wasn’t looking forward to the temporal repercussions.
Glen shook his head. “I’m telling you, it’s a bad plan.”
“Look, if you don’t have anything useful to say, don’t say anything at all!” Carrie snapped.
“Actually, Glen is correct when he says that this is liable to kill at least one of us,” Frank/Luci rasped.
“But you said there’s a chance, right? I mean, despite having to take control, Luci’s essence is still inside you?”
Frank nodded slowly. “Ohhh, yes. She’s still in here. She just hasn’t been able to articulate since last night. I…” He winced and clutched at his stomach. “I r-refuse to let Luci give up so easily.”
“Which isn’t helping you any,” Glen observed. “You’ve been getting weak and feverish throughout the day. If I didn’t know better, I’d say your body has started fighting against her. Perhaps treating her essence like some kind of virus.”
“Oh, shut UP, Glen!” Carrie fumed. “As long as there’s still a snowball’s chance in hell of this working, we’re doing it!!” She looked around the room. “All right, it’s almost exactly one week since the incident. The machine’s set for a one hour jump, I’ve jammed the tweezers in where you said, and that metal rod is long enough for you to reach the fuse box, to access the extra power. You’ve got a coin to use, so… let’s light it up! Okay?”
Frank/Luci nodded weakly and slipped off the chair to crawl over next to Luci’s body. He slipped his arm around her, reaching out to brush some hair off her face. “I said I wasn’t going to let you die,” he murmured, smiling sadly. “So you can stop arguing with me.”
Carrie’s eyebrows knit at the oddity of that last sentence, watching as Frank placed Luci’s limp palm on the handle of the time machine. He then dropped the coin into the slot, and slowly brought the metal rod into position.
-Book 3 ends on Friday. Care to vote? Or comment? Tell me you’re not bored…