PREVIOUSLY: Beth is replacing Carrie in the present, as a time machine is rebuilt. Laurie was taken on a time trip.
PART 84b: CROSSING PATHS
At Frank’s remark, Luci looked up at him, then followed his gaze towards Beth. Their stand-in for Carrie was back at school this Friday, after two days out “sick”. Beth seemed to be adjusting surprisingly well to the present, all things considered. She had just stopped en route to their table in the cafeteria, in order to talk with the pink haired mystic. Luci considered that fact – it wasn’t the first time the two had spoken. “Why not?” she answered him.
Frank frowned. “People might start to talk. And if Carrie’s not actually here to defend herself against rumours…”
“Defend herself against what? A relationship that we’re pretty sure was forming anyway? For all we know, us being here together, there’s rumours concerning our old relationship too. Besides, before Glen, Carrie used to spend time with both us and Chartreuse. So, since he’s gone, why wouldn’t ‘Carrie’ resume talking to our group again?”
“Okay, well, that’s another thing. Did Glen really leave?” Frank countered. “I got an email from him yesterday.”
Luci pursed her lips. “Yeah. I got one this morning. Vague ‘watching you’ stuff though, and according to the school, his ‘parents’ pulled him out – I think he must have timed those emails to send off in advance. Before he left with our future travellers last Sunday. To keep up appearances.”
“Or Glen could be hiding out in town,” Frank countered. “And covering it up with his powers.”
Luci shrugged. “Maybe. So what if he is? Frank, at this point, I’m done with my second guessing. It’s given me nothing but grief. We have to trust our future selves.” She glanced back at Beth. “As to Chartreuse, look at it from her point of view. In the span of a weekend, she lost her potential girlfriend, and Laurie, her best friend. If hanging with Beth is her way of coping, I don’t think we can fault that.”
“Right… right,” Frank sighed. He ran his fingers back through his hair. “And the busier Beth is, the less she might be prone to exploring our ‘astral plane’ too much. Which is good. I’m just worried that we’ll end up missing something.”
“You need to take a break from time travel analysis for once,” Luci decided. “Don’t follow anyone. Don’t look up articles about Mindy in old newspapers. Don’t watch temporal television. Just relax.”
Luci tapped a finger against the cafeteria table. No one was paying attention to them, and Chartreuse seemed to be in the process of passing a crystal around Beth’s head, so maybe now was as good a time as any to bring it up. “Besides, when the time machine’s done, I plan to go back with you. So you’ll have extra support there.”
Frank flinched. “What?”
“The later time trip will include Mindy, and possibly Glen, yeah? The only way you’ll catch everything is if you have someone with you who can speak Temporal. Now, me and Tim have been putting together a rudimentary dictionary, but in a pinch it makes more sense to have one of us there in person. We’re also the experts in the temporal gun, as Carrie herself pointed out in her letter.”
“But Mindy said only four people could go…”
“And your double wasn’t there at Julie’s!”
“Meaning I was off guarding the new time machine. Frank, the only people who we can be sure WON’T travel back are Glen and the Venitis.”
Luci reached out to touch Frank’s palm. “Look, it’s an option we should consider. Okay? Not worry about! Only consider. And, ah, by the way, my intention to go is based on a concerned about all our futures thing, not a romantic thing.”
Frank blinked. “Sure. Er, did I give off a romantic signal?”
Luci shook her head. “No. I’m hoping I didn’t, by touching your hand here.”
“I didn’t clue in. You’re the observant one, not me.”
“Right.” Luci exhaled, pulling her arm back. “Okay, last card on the table. I’ve now been wondering if I broke up with you in part because you died in an alternate timeline. I… I feel kinda bad about that.”
“Oh?” Frank half smiled. “Well, don’t. I mean, so what if you did? In this timeline we had a good run, we both had issues to deal with, and in the end, we’re still able to talk about it like we are now. I think, if we couldn’t, that would somehow be the worst thing.”
Luci nodded, and found she could smile back. “Okay then. End of the second guessing – and of the obsessive temporal stuff, yeah?”
Frank hesitated, but finally nodded in reply.
“Heya Frank, Luci,” Beth chirped as she joined them. “I don’t care what Chartreuse says – have either of you tried adding ketchup to this poutine stuff they serve here? It tastes really good that way!”
Luci’s smile faded. She wondered whether they could truly steer Beth through another couple weeks of approximating Carrie… and despite her own assurances to Frank, whether a failure to do so correctly would result in temporal issues before the trip back in time became possible.
Corry watched as Beth joined Frank and Luci, then resumed poking at his cold pasta with a fork. “Anything?” he asked absently, when he sensed the person sitting down across from him.
“No,” Julie answered. “Megan’s a cipher.”
He made a face. “Yeah.” Corry tossed his fork aside. “We should have anticipated that Megan would blame me for Laurie vanishing to attend that ‘camp’. There was no advance warning.”
“We had bigger concerns. Amusingly enough, Megan’s suspicions are not wholly unjustified.”
“Yeah, funny!” Corry said bitterly. “Trouble is, it means my telling Megan to ‘go for it’ might have screwed things over, rather than fix them. She doesn’t trust that I’m passing on Laurie’s true message. I should have pressed my sister for more information.”
Julie shrugged. “Might be nothing to it. ’Go for it’, could simply refer to a new story Megan’s writing.”
“Yeah, or it could be a plot to mess up the school. One that Laurie hadn’t clued into.” Corry picked up his fork, only to drop it again. “Geez, how could my sister think anyone but her would be a good choice for encouraging Megan? Laurie’s the one who should be here now. Not me. Why did I let her go?! I mean, she’s so naive, so innocent, so… so…”
“Corry,” Julie said quietly, reaching out to take his hand. “Laurie’s fine.”
“I know that! You think I don’t know that? Of course I know that. Who do you think I am?” He tried to pull away but Julie held fast.
“You’re someone who cares about his sister, and who’s realized in the last couple days that he’s no longer there to protect her. But part of you knows your sister had to one day be free to make her own decisions, right? For good or bad.”
Corry opened then closed his mouth. “Goddamn it,” he grumbled at last. “We should have at least sent someone aside from Frank. Like Clarke. Sure, she’s over him, and I wouldn’t want to mess that up, but he does think a bit like her. And he’s more streetwise.”
“Corry.” She squeezed his palm. “Me and Mindy are working as fast as we can… and as soon as the time machine is completed and activated, Laurie will be back.”
The redhead sighed and kicked his foot out at a table leg. “I know. You don’t have to remind me.”
“Don’t I?” She smiled. “Look on the bright side. You’re starting to appreciate your sister’s ability to connect with people on a level that you can’t.”
“Hey, I never said Laurie didn’t have good qualities.” He briefly squeezed Julie’s hand back before pulling his arm away. “I guess there’s also a part of me wondering how I would be treating her running off if I were on the outside. Like Megan is.” He shook his head. “Do you think that sometimes, there’s stuff going on that truly is none of our business?”
Julie lifted her eyebrow and gave him a pointed look. It served to remind Corry about his flyer about her from last year, not to mention her own hushed up parental situation.
“Ah. Dumb question,” he answered himself. “Better question – what about this ‘go for it’ thing with Megan? Should we keep prying, or is THAT none of our business?”
“I think we should monitor, in case it becomes our business… but you’re not wrong. Inserting ourselves into it can only make the situation worse.”
“Mmm. I guess you’re right.” Corry toyed with his fork for a moment, then finally had some pasta. “Okay then, to change the subject, Carrie’s double, this Beth… how will Frank and the others locate her in the past? Is your team working on that, as well as fixing the machine?”
Julie’s brow creased. “Actually, that’s kind of another funny thing… we don’t have to work on it. You remember how Frank gave us a rundown on his first encounter with Beth? And how she and Carrie traded clothes?” Corry nodded. “Well, soon after that, Phil wondered if I hadn’t left a small tracking device on what became Beth’s hairband over fifty years ago…”
Clarke walked into the central cafe and hesitated, not sure if he should find a table or simply wait to chat with Theresa/Mindy. He decided to do the former. She brought him a hot chocolate moments later, then waived him off as he pulled out his wallet. “On the house. My shift’s done in ten minutes, see you outside.”
Although the first snowfall of December hadn’t stayed on the ground, it was cold enough that the hot chocolate was appreciated. At the same time, Clarke made sure not to leave Mindy waiting outside, heading out as soon as he saw her. She immediately set out for the LaMille mansion, jamming her hands into the pockets of her jacket.
“So… what did you want to talk to me about?” Clarke asked, after a few minutes of walking.
Mindy chuckled. “I’ve acquired the necessary parts for retrofitting the time machine. I had to tell Julie about it, since we’re storing it all at her place – and she insisted I tell you too. Funny enough, I agreed. Not merely because of your potential expertise, but because I think it will be educational.”
There was a playfulness to her tone that Clarke couldn’t figure out. “Educational? How so?”
“In that you’ll finally have a secret you can’t talk to the others about. Since Frank and the rest of them can’t know. Not yet. The more people who know, the more temporal danger there is.”
“Theresa… Mindy… really? More secrets?”
She stopped walking and turned to him. “Yes, really,” Mindy asserted. “Because first, Glen might still be in town. I want to make it difficult for him to prepare counter-measures. But more than that, the only thing I can think of that would send us back to ourselves unprepared? Is a future incursion. And the fewer people such an incursion can target for information about what’s going on, the better.”
“What happened to time travel is predestined?”
“Oh, I’m sure we’re going back,” Mindy said. “The question is what wreckage we leave in the present – what we leave for Carrie to have to fix. I figure we should minimize that. That said, if you’re not willing to help? I’ll understand. This will ultimately be your decision.”
Clarke sighed. “I guess I’m willing, but why did Julie even think I could help? I’m not so technically minded.”
“To answer that, I need a more firm commitment. In now? Or not until the end?”
Clarke looked up the street towards the LaMille mansion. He couldn’t turn away, not if Julie was offering this olive branch. “I’m in now.”
Mindy’s smile returned. “That’s good. Because you’ve taken tech classes, including auto shop, right?”
Megan Falls wasn’t sure exactly what was going on with the seniors. She only knew that Carrie Waterson was somehow at the centre of it. The blonde had been acting flighty ever since the talent show, and Glen’s subsequent disappearance. It was like she was a changed person – yet also someone reverting to old habits, by hanging around those other students of her clique again. Who were, Megan decided, sheltering her. Even Carrie’s father had rebuffed her when she’d tried to drop by cheerleader’s house.
Megan was having no more of that.
On the Tuesday of the last week of classes before the winter break, she got some of her associates to corner the rest of Carrie’s entourage, ensuring her meeting wouldn’t be interrupted. Then she got Kim to personally escort the blonde to the library.
“All right, Waterson,” Megan began, after waving Kim off. “I want to know what’s going on. The truth.”
Carrie glanced left and right, as if looking for an exit. “We’re talking in the library?” she offered.
Megan glared. “Don’t give me that. You know what I mean – it’s your whole ‘changed person’ routine over the last few weeks. The prevailing rumour is that you ‘found God’! Well, as an authority in this school on God, I don’t buy it. At all. So either you tell me the truth, right here, right now, or I’m going to make things VERY unpleasant for the rest of your friends.” She smiled, placing her hands on her hips. “Starting with Chartreuse. So what’ll it be, Carrie? As always, the choice is yours.”
NEXT: Powering Up
ASIDE: Care to indulge in the weekly vote? Or idle speculation?