PREVIOUSLY: Frank has realized they are in the future of “Timeline Three”, where he died, and Carrie left town with Glen.
PART 89b: TIMELINE THREE
“You’re wrong,” Luci said dismissively.
“But it’s the only thing that makes sense,” Frank protested. “We have to help Mindylenopia get back in time. That’s what restores our timeline!”
“No! If you remember her being there, Mindylenopia will go back without your help,” Luci reiterated, with exaggerated patience. “The same way she must have managed it before your arrival in this future.”
Tim glanced back and forth between the seventeen year old Frank Dijora and the forty seven year old Luci Primrose. He and Laurie had tacitly decided to keep out of the conversation during the time it had taken to order, and then receive their food at the cafe – but the two of them had been at an impasse for some time now. He decided had to say something, otherwise they’d have no idea where in the future to go next.
“R-Run through it for me,” he suggested to Luci. “However they teach it in schools these days. Explain to m-me why Frank’s wrong.”
Luci looked at him, then set her meal aside and flipped over her paper placemat, reaching for the small container of crayons next to the ketchup bottle. “We don’t teach this in schools. But here.” She drew a long yellow line, the length of the page. “Timeline one, with the alien artifact. Damn it!”
The asian woman tapped the end of her crayon against the side of her head. “Look, forget I mentioned that last bit. Either way, that timeline’s gone.” She dropped the yellow crayon, picking up the red, and drawing overtop of the majority of the line she’d already placed there. “Instead, timeline two, where Carrie exists as the ultimate temporal weapon. Able to end it all, unless the Temporals get what they want.”
“We knew this much already, Luci,” Frank said. “Carrie once explained it to Chartreuse, after which it was explained to us.” Tim noticed Frank was using the same tone of exaggerated patience that Luci had used.
“Fine! Gone,” Luci said, glaring at him as she dropped the red crayon and grabbed a black. She drew overtop of the last part of the red line, and just as the red had obscured the yellow beneath it, the black obscured the red. “Timeline three. Came into existence when we sent back– what did our younger selves call him?”
“Shady?” Tim offered.
“Shady, right, with a mission of activating Carrie when she might be a little more reasonable. Or, well, destroying her if it turned out she was not. A mission which succeeded, when Shady managed to hit on a lynchpin point.” She intentionally met Frank’s gaze. “And for what it’s worth, I spoke out against the latter option. But we’re fighting a war here. Trying to save as many lives as we can.”
“How do you know it was you who spoke out?” Frank countered. He pointed at the placemat. “Before Shady went back, the timeline was red. How do we know it was you who said something in that timeline two, versus the black timeline we seem to be in now?”
Luci leaned back. “Hmph. Excellent question, actually,” she yielded. “On the one hand, there is no red timeline any more – aside from here, between Elaine Waterson’s appearance in the past, and the lynchpin at Shady’s alterations,” she noted, tapping the line where the red was visible. “So your question is irrelevant. On the other hand… yes, it’s theoretically possible that it wasn’t me. That it was someone else. Individuals still have the free will to screw things up locally, as the Temporals sometimes put it. Still, safe bet someone did it. Might as well say it was me, since I’m the one who has a memory of doing it. Okay?”
“And so now, with M-Mindy?” Tim asked, before the two of them could start arguing again.
Luci dropped the black crayon onto the table with a shrug. “Given how Shady’s mission failed to fix things in our favour, Mindylenopia’s said she intends to go back next. I don’t know much more than that. As an apparent Temporal defector, she tends to keep to herself. Our resistance movement doesn’t call her, she calls us, that sort of thing. Which suits us fine, as the less she knows, the less likely any of us will be in trouble if she switches sides again.”
“But now we have to help Mindy get back,” Frank insisted. “To restore our timeline, where Carrie seeks us out as friends. Where I don’t die.”
“No!” Luci jabbed her finger at the black line. “You. Do. Not. Exist. Yet.”
“Then who. Are you. Arguing with?” Frank challenged.
“Agh! I am not having this conversation. Literally, not having it, because look, once Mindylenopia goes back, you… damn it, I shouldn’t have used the black there…” Luci began to colour over the black with a blue, pressing hard, trying to make the black vanish beneath it. “You WILL come into existence in this blue ‘timeline four’. But that will only happen if you lie low now, and don’t screw up our timeline three!”
“That doesn’t explain how we can be here now,” Frank insisted. “The only way we’re here is if it’s to create the blue timeline four in the first place!”
“STOP that!” Luci threw the blue crayon at him. “DAMN it Frank, I have thirty years of temporal theory behind me here, whereas you’re a bunch of teenagers who don’t even know how to access a present day restaurant menu. Why, why are you doing this to me? Why can’t you simply allow me to be happy that you’re alive again, after all this time?!”
A tear blinked out of the corner of Luci’s eye, causing a hush to fall over the table.
“I’m sorry,” Frank apologized. “I wasn’t thinking about that.”
“Obviously.” Luci swallowed. “You know what, Frank? You’re part of why I went into the medical profession. Because of how I couldn’t save you. Back when Carrie insisted that you rewire the time machine for an unmanned jump… and it all blew up in your face. And I couldn’t save you.”
“Oh, Luci… don’t be like that. I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.” Frank winced. “I guess we were even going out at the time?”
“More or less. Damn it, Frank…” Luci repeated. She drew in a shaky breath, then grabbed a napkin, using it to blow her nose. “And I SWORE I wasn’t going to do this…”
“Luci, Gods, I’m truly sorry, I didn’t mean to spark the memories you must be experiencing.” He reached out for her. She waved him off, but then seemed to reconsider, grasping his hand.
“It’s fine,” Luci said. “Besides, I doubt this conversation will have gone this way once Mindylenopia goes back. Understand? It’s like you said, regarding my memory of objecting to Shady’s final option. Once this weird anomaly resolves itself, we’ll remember having discussed the weather, or how to rescue your Carrie, or something else. So it’s fine.”
“Except…” Tim kind of hated to break up their moment, but he couldn’t help but notice what Luci had done. He reached out to tap at the coloured timelines. “L-L-Look. Our blue timeline four exists, and yet so does your future black timeline three.”
Luci looked down. “Only because I didn’t get a chance to colour in all the way to the end.”
“Right. Something stopped you.” Tim looked sidelong at Frank. “D-Didn’t something like this h-happen with Julie?”
Frank eyed the placemat. “You mean when she sort of killed herself, except how she didn’t because of how I went back with Clarke and Corry? I’m not sure it’s quite the same thing… but you might be onto something. Luci?”
Luci started to look vaguely ill. “No. Oh no.” She released Frank’s hand. “The temporal waveforms in the past. If they haven’t reached us yet… but no, how could they NOT reach us? The only person who could prevent this temporal system from collapsing down into a single time frame by now would be…” Her voice trailed off.
“Carrie Waterson?” Frank speculated.
Luci nodded mutely.
“S-So which Carrie is m-mixing us up?” Tim asked. “Our Timeline Four Carrie, or your Timeline Three Carrie?”
“They’re SUPPOSED to be the same Carrie,” Luci said bitterly. “Damn her ability to paradox. If she’s directly involved, that changes everything.”
Frank tapped his finger on the timelines. “More to the point then, is this being done so that we can get Mindylenopia back to our present year, setting all of this in motion… or is it being done so that we’ll screw up Mindy’s ability to leave on schedule, which might make us disappear?”
Luci shook her head. “There’s no way of knowing. None.”
A clattering sound brought Tim’s attention away from Luci and Frank, and back towards the fourth person at their table. Laurie had dropped her fork down into her empty plate. Her head was bowed, forcing the redhead to look slightly upwards to stare at them. “You all talk and talk and talk – but you haven’t even touched on the most important thing yet,” she murmured.
“What’s that, Laurie?” Tim asked gently.
Her shoulders tightened. “If Mindy gets sent back… she’s going to be banished by Carrie. Meaning she’ll lose her mind, screw with Linquist and Julie, indirectly put that girl Beth in danger, and then finally get herself killed on our last trip.” She shook her head, and her gaze lifted. “So you’re talking about sending someone on a trip to be tortured, and then to die, merely for our own benefit! How can you even be saying that’s an option?!”
No one at the table seemed to have an answer for her.
They went out to meet Mindylenopia. Partly it was from a hope that she would know why her future self had given them the phone number, but mostly, Frank had argued that doing so would maximize their options. Because if they were, indeed, supposed to help Mindy get back in time, there was no way they could do it without being close to her.
“She had to mean the Fallowfield train station,” Luci said, as she drove. Or rather, as the car drove itself according to her instructions. Frank had given up on understanding all the future technology. “We’ve used it as a transfer point before. Mindylenopia must have avoided being specific with you on the phone in order to be sure that she was getting someone with true connections to our resistance. Versus random loons or some kind of sting operation.”
“How m-many people know about the whole resistance thing?” Tim asked.
“Not many,” Luci admitted. “Granted, we like to believe that it’s bigger than we think. After all, it’s not like we can have regular meetings. Since Temporals could force out any information about when they might be, using their mental powers, and thus catch lots of us at once.”
“Why did your group decide to trust Mindy then?” Laurie wondered.
“Ohh, we didn’t. Not at first. Even now, we’re not sure if she’s a plant, gathering intelligence. But she’s too good of a technical asset to pass up. She can also obtain things, like the present day coin we gave to Shady – that’s the one you ended up with, I guess. There’s not a lot of coin currency around at all now, let alone this early on in the year.”
“Speaking of coins, do you know anything more about how Mindylenopia will get back?” Frank asked.
Luci paused. “Okay, yeah, I guess you need to know that too. Portable time machines? They’re dangerous and geographically unstable, not to mention hard to obtain covertly, so unless she’s managed to secure parts to make her own, we figured Mindylenopia was angling for the stationary temporal station in town. Those can target their own building on the jump, instead of DNA, but they’re highly fortified structures. I’d call that a suicide mission most days of the year, except tomorrow is Carrie’s birthday, so…” She shrugged.
“Wait, how d-do stationary temporal stations work?” Tim asked.
“Very well, thank you,” Luci said dryly. “Next question?”
She refused to give them any further information about futuristic technology, or her own personal life, reasoning that it could become a problem once they, presumably, became able to travel back to their present. So, as with Clarke, the trip lapsed into an uncertain silence.
They reached the train station with ten minutes to spare.
“I probably shouldn’t get out,” Luci remarked. “After all, I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you. You should be the only variables.”
“I don’t want to go either,” Laurie admitted. “Not if it means I end up helping to cause what we know happens to Mindy.”
Frank nodded. “I can respect that. Tim?”
“I’m still in. For now. You might need a t-translation.”
“True.” He looked out the car windshield. “Here goes nothing then.”
Frank emerged from the car, followed by the shorter blonde boy, and the two of them walked over to the seemingly deserted train station.
NEXT: Fight the Future
ASIDE: That ends ARC 4.3 (“Complicated”), moving us into the final Arc for the entire story (“Terminated”). Hope you’re enjoying! More future versions of the characters will appear, feel free to speculate on that or the plot – and maybe vote for T&T?