“Please forgive me, while I turn out the lights, watch this haunted day turn into a wasted night…”
She wouldn’t talk, damn her.
Zane shoved away from one computer monitor, using enough force that his rolling office chair would have crashed into the terminal ten feet away if he hadn’t casually caught the edge of the desk and swung himself to an abrupt halt.
He looked at the display. Those numbers were wrong, they had to be. He sighed.
Wheeler’s quantum entanglement project was an interesting challenge.* He wasn’t sure why Fargo had told him to start working on it or where Wheeler was, but he didn’t really care. Any project that included cool physics was good by him.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going well. He knew part of the problem was that his attention was divided. Instead of concentrating on what was wrong with the calculations, he kept thinking about what was wrong with Lupo. Something definitely was.
But she wouldn’t talk and the archives had been a bust. After Andy had suggested that the Sheriff check Grant’s records, Zane had been sure he’d find something there that would explain what was going on, but someone – probably Lupo – had beaten him to it, and cleaned the place out.
In fact, if he hadn’t gotten curious about Einstein’s records while he was there – hey, who wouldn’t take a chance to look at the files of one of history’s greatest scientists? – he wouldn’t have found a single trace of anyone named Grant.
He glanced across the room at the contraption he’d built. The plans he’d found in Einstein’s records for the Einstein-Grant bridge device made for another cool project. Too bad it didn’t work. Well, couldn’t work: Wheeler and Rosen had disproven Einstein’s Lorentzian wormhole bridge back in the 1960’s – it was inherently unstable, and not even light would be able to pass through it without exotic matter holding it open.** Still, even if the wormhole theory was flawed, he’d had an idea about networking the Einstein transmitter to the quantum entanglement program. With the extra power, maybe he could boost the output levels enough to actually make the math work.
Now if only he could find something that might help him with Jo. She was more complicated than a physics problem, but maybe there was some experiment that he could run that would at least get him some more data. Like kissing her. That impulse hadn’t gotten him the answers he wanted, but it had definitely gotten him closer to the truth. The way she responded, kissing him back without hesitation, the way her lips softened under his and her hands rose to hold his shoulders and stroke his cheek…yeah, there was something between them that made no sense.
Just like these damn numbers. Why the hell hadn’t Wheeler dumped this project months ago? She must have seen some possibilities in it, but even on a theoretical level, the numbers just weren’t adding up.
Behind him, the door to the lab slid open, almost silently.
“I’m on it, Fargo,” Zane grumbled, without looking up. He wasn’t going to solve the problem any faster with Fargo breathing down his neck, but for some reason the director was all over this project.
“I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear it.” The voice was dry, but decidedly feminine. Lupo.
Zane swiveled immediately, but then leaned back, trying to look casual, trying not to show the way his pulse had quickened at the sound of her voice. “This is a surprise.”
Lupo’s lips quirked but she didn’t answer directly, just stepping into the room. “Mansfield wants this project moved to Section 5.”
“Section 5? Why?” Zane complained. Working in Section 5 was such a pain. The guards all hated him – okay, maybe rightfully so, after a few of the pranks he’d pulled – but between the guards, the other security measures and the depth underground, even a quick trip to the cafeteria for a snack took forty-five minutes.
“Apparently, there’s reason to believe the Chinese have taken an interest in this technology.”
“The Chinese?” Lightning-quick, Zane’s brain jumped to Wheeler: her absence, her ancestry. “Lisa’s not in trouble, is she?”
“Lisa?” Lupo’s brows raised. “I didn’t realize you were on a first-name basis with Dr. Wheeler.” There was an edge to her voice, just a little one, but Zane heard it.
“Jealous, Lupo?” He tried to keep his expression neutral, no smirk, no teasing glance.
She glared at him. Score. Now he did grin. The old Lupo would have rolled her eyes, sighed, and maybe, maybe, said scornfully, “In your dreams, Donovan.” This Lupo’s glare said that maybe she really was jealous, and there was something sort of secretly satisfying in that. More data, yeah, but also…eh, he just kinda liked it.
“I’m pretty sure I’m on a first-name basis with every physicist at GD,” he said mildly. Lisa was no one special to him, and he didn’t want to leave Lupo mad at him over nothing for too long. “But is she in trouble? Did she do something?”
Jo shrugged and moved a little further into the room. “She’s in Washington right now, helping with the investigation. I don’t think they suspect her of anything, but she has relatives living in China who may have been under surveillance.”
Zane nodded. Sucked for her. She wouldn’t be the first person to have inadvertently said a little more than they should have to a relative, but it was trickier when your relatives lived in a country that might not be an enemy, but was definitely a rival.
“So we need to get you packed up,” Jo said, pulling out her datapad. “What needs to move?”
He looked around the room, and then gestured with an open arm. “Pretty much everything,” he said. “I guess we can leave the computers behind and just transfer files to the machines in whatever lab you’re putting me in, but Wheeler’s requisitioned a bunch of equipment for her system and all of that…
At the sound of a gasp, and a thud, he glanced back at Jo. She’d dropped her datapad on the floor. “Are you okay?”
“Are you insane? What are you doing with that?” she demanded, pointing at his Einstein-Grant bridge device.
Hmm, that was interesting. Why would Lupo recognize the machine he’d built? His eyes narrowed, as he stood and walked toward the machine, answering casually. “I built it.”
“Built it? Do you have any idea how – you’re just going to need to unbuild it!” she snapped at him.
“Well, now, why would I want to do that?” he asked, passing Lupo and turning to look at her as he reached the device. He patted it proprietarily. “It’s a sweet little machine.”
“It’s a sweet little-?” she started incredulously. “The hell it is. It’s dangerous! How did you manage to build it anyway? There weren’t any transistors left.”
Oh, now, that was fascinating. “I updated the tech for the 21st century. Replaced the transistors with integrated circuits. Made a few other modifications,” he answered, eyes intent on her, as he tried to add this latest information to the data he already had. Grant. The ring. Jo being different. Jo recognizing the machine. But Einstein’s bridge couldn’t work. It was impossible.
“How would you know it needed transistors?” he asked softly.
She glared at him. “I am not kidding, Zane,” she whispered furiously. “You need to dismantle this machine. Immediately.”
“It doesn’t work, Jo,” he protested. “At best, it’s going to boost the power on Wheeler’s quantum entanglement project and maybe – maybe! – let me move something three feet across the lab.”
“You have no idea what this machine is capable of!”
“I built it,” he protested. “I think I know what it can do.”
“You have no idea!” In her urgency, Jo had moved closer to him. She was standing directly in front of him, looking up at him, her eyes serious. It was the closest she’d gotten to him since that day in the sheriff’s office, since that moment when he’d taken her lips and she’d responded, and he was tempted – so very tempted – to kiss her again.
Instead, he shook his head, and said, “Look, I’ll show you.”
Reaching for the power switch, he started to press it, but with a yelp, Jo grabbed for his hand. Too late, though. He pushed the switch, her hand on his and…whirr, jolt, stumble.
Okay, what the hell? What had happened to the lights?
As his eyes adjusted, he realized there were lights: stars. The sky was midnight dark, sprinkled with dots of white. But not the dots of white he was used to seeing over Eureka: wherever they were, day had just turned to night and the night sky was not the same.
“Damn you, Zane.”
Ouch. Jo’s swift punch to his gut had him coughing with pain. But at least she was here with him. Wherever here was.
Chapter 2: Ooh, Shiny
“Where the hell are we?” It was awe. One second Zane and Jo had been in a lab at GD, surrounded by sterile walls and technology, and the next second, they were out in the open, in the dark. The cool breeze carried the familiar scents of crisp pine trees and earthy streptomycetes bacteria.*
“Not in Kansas, anymore, Toto.” Jo’s voice was grim.
“Holy shit. Do you realize what we’ve done?” Teleportation. Teleportation! It was impossible. But they’d done it.
“Oh, yeah. Better than you do.” Jo didn’t seem to get the scientific impact of the achievement. Or at least she was pretty calm about the whole thing. About teleportation!
“This is amazing. We’ve reinvented the laws of physics. We’re rewriting the basics of science. This is the coolest thing- ” Zane grunted as Jo belted him.
“Shut up, you idiot,” Jo hissed.
“Could you stop doing that?” He rubbed his stomach where she’d now punched him twice. She wasn’t hitting hard, so he couldn’t bring himself to care much. Not when they’d just teleported!
“I don’t want to get captured this time around.”
“This time? You did this before?” Pieces were falling into place: no way had Carter or Alison built a device like the one he’d built but Henry could have. Or maybe Fargo. But why hadn’t they said anything? Teleportation was world-changing, easily Nobel-worthy. And it still didn’t explain the ring. Unless…from teleportation he jumped to the next obvious conclusion.
“No way. An alternate universe? The many-worlds interpretation is right? So quantum decoherence is actually the explanation for waveform collapse?” The science was so completely mind-blowingly cool that he hadn’t yet realized the ramifications.
“I have no idea what you’re babbling about, Zane, but if you don’t shut up, I’m going to leave you here to get caught on your own.”
Zane’s eyes were finally adjusting to the dark, but as far as he could tell, there was nothing but trees to see in all directions. Jo was just a dark outline next to him.
“Caught by who? There’s nobody here but us.”
“This does seem different,” Jo said, voice reluctant. “No, of course – we were in GD. So now we’re in the middle of nowhere. The military base is miles away.”
“The military base? Okay, Lupo, I think it’s time you started talking.”
Jo sighed. “I can’t believe you pushed that button. I swear to God, this version of you is practically Fargo.”
“Fargo? The director? Bossy little dictator-type?” What the hell was she talking about? What did he have in common with Fargo?
“Uber-geek who’s never met a button he didn’t push,” Jo responded bitterly. “Not your Fargo, the real Fargo. Or the old Fargo, I guess.”
“Lupo, you’re not exactly un-confusing me. Try plain English.”
“Although I guess the first time was Kevin’s fault, really, not Fargo’s, so that means that only you were stupid enough to push the damn button.” This time Zane was braced for it, and he caught Jo’s fist before it made contact. He used his grip to pull her closer to him, his hand tight around her clenched fingers.
“Talk,” he ordered. “Start at the beginning.” The changes, the ring, Jo’s words now – Zane was beginning to realize that if Jo had travelled between universes before, she’d obviously never found her way home. She’d been stuck in a universe not her own, in his universe. Did that mean that they were stuck here?
“The beginning? Try 1947,” Jo snapped at him, tugging her hand free. “Dr. Trevor Grant is stupid enough to build a device that bridges wormholes between the past and the future. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work – until someone from the future turns the damn thing on. Or in your case, builds the damn thing and then turns it on.”
Zane felt his jaw drop. Time travel? Wow, that was even more amazing then teleportation. And definitely better than alternate universes. Although the pieces still didn’t quite fit together, unless…
“You changed the timeline,” he realized. “Something you did meant that when you got back, the world was different. That’s why…” He felt more than saw Jo’s shoulders sag, her head turn away. “Novikov’s self-consistency principle says that should be impossible, though. On a closed time-curve—”
“Stop being a crazy scientist for just a few minutes, okay?” Jo interrupted him. “We need to figure out how to get back and fast. If it’s anything like last time, there’s a window of opportunity caused by solar flares: if we miss the window, we’re screwed.”
“Solar flares? Because of the negative energy, of course. There was a peak period back in the late 1940’s and the original design used solar flares for power.” Zane scowled, as he thought through the implications, and then reluctantly continued. “But Jo, there’s no reason why we have to be in the 1940’s. If the device works by creating a bridge between wormholes, then the wormhole that my device connected to could be anywhere. Or any when, I guess.”
Jo didn’t answer immediately and when she finally did, her voice was tight. “So we could be in any time period? In any location?”
“Well…yeah. Theoretically.” While they’d been talking the moon had risen above the hills, providing just enough light that Zane could see the tension in Jo’s expression.
She closed her eyes for a second, and then opening them, said calmly, “I think I hate you.”
“Hey, this isn’t my fault.” His defensiveness was automatic.
“Oh, yeah? Whose fault is it? You’re the one who built that stupid machine.” Jo was no longer trying to keep quiet: she was almost yelling.
“You’re the one who left the plans in the archives! If you’d done a better job of clearing out all evidence of Grant – oh, or hey, maybe told me the truth instead of forcing me to try to figure it out myself?”
“You’re blaming me for this? That is so like you. You are such a jackass! I can’t believe I ever thought I could marry you!”
“Yeah, well, lucky escape for both of us, babe. I can’t believe I would have asked you!”
Jo was poised to yell back, or maybe take a swing at him, when suddenly her eyes narrowed and her head turned, as if she’d heard something. Zane listened. He heard it, too: it was the sound of someone crashing through the brush. And there was a light, waving through the darkness, as if from a flashlight carelessly held.
Jo held up a finger to urge him to silence, pressing her lips together. Were they about to be captured by armed guards?
“Mom? Dad?” A tentative female voice called through the woods. “Jaime said to tell you he’s really sorry and he hopes you’re not too serious about that whole grounding-for-life thing. And also, he doesn’t get why if you knew he was going to do it, he’s still in trouble. I gotta admit, that part kind of confuses me, too.”
Zane glanced at Jo. She was frowning, but she met his gaze and shrugged, as the light came closer. And then the light was shining in their faces and the girl’s voice was awed as she almost squealed, “Oooh, shiny. I mean I knew you were – but still, this is so ‘cred!”
Chapter 3: Aunt Zoe
“Aunt Zoe’s in the car,” the girl continued. “She’s really wowed to see you, but the baby was fussy, and she didn’t want to leave him alone.”
“Um, who are you?” Jo asked, stepping forward.
Zane knew even before the girl said, “Ooh, yeah, sorry,” and turned the flashlight on her face. “Forgot you couldn’t see me. I’m Amy, hi.” The dark hair and slightly olive skin could have belonged to anyone, but her eyes were his blue, shaped and set like Jo’s, and the cheekbones were pure Jo.
“Holy…” Jo breathed the word out on a gasp. “Are you…?”
“Yep. Hi, Mom.” Amy grinned at Jo and her grin, lit by the flashlight, was one-hundred percent Donovan.
Zane couldn’t hold back his own grin at the sight. He had a kid. A cute kid. Maybe more than one if the Jaime who was grounded for life belonged to him and Jo, too.
He’d never really thought about kids – oh, sure, the thought had crossed his mind in some abstract, maybe, far off future kind of way. But he would have said that he’d never met the woman who could keep him interested that long. Who knew that she’d been right there all along?
“Oh, my god, I think I’m going to…” Jo’s voice was faint, but Zane’s hand came up, sliding smoothly up her back and capturing her neck, as he interrupted.
“Lead the way, Amy, let’s not keep Zoe waiting.”
Amy turned her grin on him, and he felt an unexpected warmth filling him. His kid. As she turned, moving away through the woods, he whispered fiercely to Jo, “Do not let our teenage daughter know that you are anything but delighted by her existence. This isn’t her fault. She doesn’t deserve that.”
“Right, yes, right. I should have thought of that.” Jo glanced up at him, her eyes wide, pupils dilated, face pale. She looked as if she might actually be sick. “But Zane, this isn’t – you don’t – we aren’t…We don’t exist. So how did we-?”
“We went forward, not backward, JoJo. Nothing we do here can damage the timeline, and we’ve obviously had at least fifteen or sixteen years to figure out how to send us back. It’s going to be fine.”
“Fifteen or sixteen? Make that more like twenty. No way are we having a kid next week!” Jo snapped at him, and Zane couldn’t help but chuckle as he looked down at the Enforcer. There had been moments in the past few months when he’d thought Lupo might be human, but they were moments. Fleeting and brief. And there’d been that kiss, but still….babies? Yeah, not on his agenda any time soon either.
“Jaime and Zander turn twenty-one next week,” Amy called back over her shoulder, before turning all the way around and dimpling at them. “I have excellent hearing. But don’t worry, Dad, this used to be my favorite bedtime story. I totally know how it goes.”
“That makes one of us,” said Jo, finally shaking free of Zane’s hand on her neck and striding forward to walk side-by-side with Amy. “What can you tell me?” Her voice was solid military, the soldier in her finally taking over. Intell, planning, operation. It made sense that Jo would try to turn the situation into something she understood, something she could control.
“Oooh,” Amy squealed and jumped up and down. “Yay, I love this part.” Adopting a solemn expression, she said, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but all information is on a need to know basis.”
It was a full-fledged laugh that broke free this time. As he guffawed, Jo turned and glared at him.
“You prepped her,” she said, voice deadly.
“To be a pain in the ass,” he agreed. “Holy cow, I’m gonna love being a dad.”
“And you’re a great one,” Amy generously acknowledged, continuing to lead the way through the dark forest, the light from her flashlight skimming over the ground in front of her.
“Does he let you stay up all night and eat sugary snacks?” Jo wasn’t nearly as amused.
Zane almost wanted to warn Amy, to say, “Hey, kid, if you want a chance of being conceived, don’t mess this up!” but his concern was unnecessary as Amy said, not without regret, “Nah, he’s pretty strict on health stuff. And dating.” She turned to Zane and sniffed, indignantly. “You’re practically retro. You could loosen up a bit on that, ya’ know.”
Yeah, right. Zane remembered being a teenage boy. Actually, he remembered being a twenty-something boy all too well, too. Amy could date when she was 35.
“Although I’m glad to know that,” Jo said, glancing at Zane, “I’d also like to know what’s going on right now. I thought we’d been transported back to 1947, but obviously I was wrong. What year is this?”
“Oh, I actually was serious about the need-to-know thing,” Amy apologized. “I know everybody’s really worried about possible timeline contamination. I’m not supposed to tell you anything, just take you to S.A.R.A.H.”
“But why – ” Jo started and then stopped, seeming confused but apparently reluctant to possibly insult Amy.
“Why me?” Amy asked cheerfully, understand the question that Jo hadn’t asked. “S.A.R.A.H. ran the numbers and I came up as the person you’d be most likely to talk to instead of knocking out. Or, you know, rendering unconscious, which is how you’d say it. Anyway, woo-hoo! Yay, me! Isabel was so powed – she said it’s ’cause I got Dad’s eyes, which, you know, probably true, it’s the kind of thing that S.A.R.A.H. would throw into her calculations, but still, not my fault the genetic dice ran blue. S.A.R.A.H. really picked Caiti first, but you said she was too young to be out in the forest by herself at night, which so totally fried her, she hates being the youngest, and she tried to pull that BS about her IQ being the highest ever measured, which, okay, true, but everyone knows those tests are flawed, and that even with the revised Stanford-Binet 7, it’s all just memory games. I think if Zander gets the Nobel this year, which he might, Caiti’s gonna have to step up her game if she wants to keep bragging rights. I mean Zander’d be the youngest winner ever and that tops any stupid score on an IQ test. Potential only matters when it’s matched by achievement, right?”
“Which one?” Zane asked. Amy might not be supposed to tell them anything, but she was a regular Chatty Cathy*, and everything she said was revealing. Jaime, Zander, Isabel, Caiti – he and Jo had at least five kids in this timeline. Five kids! One who might win a Nobel, one with the highest IQ ever measured – yeah, being a dad was going to be amazing.
“Which what?” Amy asked, looking confused.
“Which Nobel? Physics, chemistry?” Zane asked. He hoped it wasn’t economics.
“Well, physics, of course. Ever since you got your second…but, oh, maybe I’m not supposed to say that. But you always said the first one didn’t count ’cause you had to share it with Uncle Doug.”
Two Nobels? Okay, that was…nice. Maybe not totally unexpected, he’d always thought he’d get one someday. But one that he shared with a Doug? That had to be Fargo, right? What could he and Fargo have worked on together?
Amy sounded distressed as she added, “But maybe I wasn’t supposed to tell you that. You told me to watch what I said, I just didn’t…”
“It’s okay, honey,” Jo said firmly. “You haven’t told us anything that will change the future.”
“I think it’s the past I’m supposed to be worried about,” Amy said doubtfully.
“Your past, our future,” Jo said. “Either way, it’s not exactly a surprise that your dad won a Nobel. Or two.”
Wow. That…Jo had just complimented him. Like, really complimented him. That was maybe even nicer than knowing that he’d win a Nobel some day – after all, he’d always thought that was possible but Jo usually treated him like the town screw-up that he was.
As they finally broke free from the trees, Zane was trying to identify the physical sensations that he was experiencing: the tugging in his cheeks as if he wanted to be wearing a goofy smile, the lightness in his shoulders, the warmth in his chest. Oh, right. Happiness. That’s what he was feeling.
But the middle-aged, dark-haired woman standing by the car on the side of the road didn’t look happy. Mostly, she looked worried and tired. But still an awful lot like the Zoe of at least twenty years earlier.
Chapter 4: A few small favors
The car floated.
That was the first surprise.
There were no seatbelts. That was the second. Or maybe the baby, gazing warily from the backseat in that suspicious way that some infants have, was the second surprise.
But the big surprise was in how the car moved. Zoe punched a button – it looked a lot like the keyless ignition power button in a Toyota Prius, but in the dark Zane hadn’t really noticed the car manufacturer – and the car responded by saying, in a polite female voice that didn’t sound anything at all like Fargo’s, “Destination?”
Zoe replied, “S.A.R.A.H., please,” and then there was a moment of almost acceleration, and they were there.
“Holy shit,” Zane said, awed. “What just happened?”
“What?” Zoe looked startled and then dismayed. “Right, I forgot. Well, we couldn’t have used Henry’s truck, anyway, we needed to get there quickly and – but I shouldn’t have – oh, dear. This is going to be harder than – well, yeah. Cars have kind of, um, changed.”
“Cars basically remained the same from 1901 to 2011. After over a hundred years of tweaking, what was there to do?” Zane asked, incredulous.
“Um, get rid of the internal combustion engine, for one. Gas is really expensive. Fossil fuels are so inefficient. And after – yeah, no, I definitely can’t tell you that.” Zoe shook her head as she slid out of the car and came around to the passenger side to collect her baby. “But the computer uses GPS to locate its destination,” she added brightly, as she scooped the infant out of the car, protecting its head from bumping against the doorframe with the ease of long practice. “You can store destinations that you go to regularly, just like you can store phone numbers in a cell phone.”
Wow, wow, wow. This was so cool. Zane wanted to know more. He yearned to pop open the hood and look inside. What could have been invented – wait. Teleportation? It was almost teleportation. If the Einstein-Grant bridge device worked by opening and closing wormholes, could you…? Blindly, brain totally focused on the physics problem that he’d just been posed, he followed Jo and Amy out of the car and down the steps into S.A.R.A.H..
It was a party.
He’d never seen S.A.R.A.H. so crowded, and looking around the room at all the almost-familiar faces was surreal. Henry had gotten old. And so had Kevin, but on him, age just meant full adulthood. But Fargo looked almost the same, a little less hair, a few more pounds, and that redhead next to him, one hand comfortingly on his shoulder, looked vaguely familiar. Maybe he’d seen her somewhere before? Carter, Alison, Zoe, people he didn’t recognize and people he did – it was as if half the town had turned out to say hello.
The scattering of kids and adolescents was almost scary. There were definitely more than five of them, a lot more. Eureka had had some kind of population explosion in the years he and Jo had skipped. But those two that looked alike, both tall and gawky and dark-haired, they had to be the twins that were turning twenty-one next week. And that little one – peering at him from behind Carter out of the same blue eyes that he saw in the mirror every morning – who else could she be but Caiti, possessor of the world’s highest measured IQ? He grinned at her, and she ducked behind Carter’s back.
And coming out of the kitchen – holy shit. He felt an involuntary stirring and tried firmly to suppress it as he worked on the math. Say twenty-two years, minimum, if they had twenty-one year old twins. So she was maybe in her very early fifties? And time plus babies had meant maybe twenty pounds? But those pounds had turned into curves – really, really nice curves – and the face, which so often seemed stern and forbidding in his time, had softened and warmed and…yeah. She was the hottest middle-aged woman he had ever seen and he was more than happy to know that someday he’d get to sleep with her. Maybe she’d dump her husband for him?
And then – wow. He was grinning at himself and that was just the strangest sensation ever. He looked pretty good. Not like Jo-good – Lupo’s age had only enhanced her beauty – but apart from a sprinkling of silver and some pronounced laugh lines around the eyes, he looked like himself. Stepping forward at the same time as the other him stepped forward, they reached for each other’s hands to shake, even as Future-Jo was hugging his Jo, and the room was bursting into noise and chaos.
It was a solid hour before the greetings and introductions were over and the din died down. “All right, let’s get started,” his older self called out. The room started to clear, kids and parents slowly moving toward the door. Fargo stayed seated but the redhead with him rounded up some little ones and followed Zoe out.
“So am I right in thinking you’ve got an agenda here?” Zane said warily to his other self as he watched the twins disappear down S.A.R.A.H.’s ground-floor hallway.
“You could say that,” he answered, clapping himself on the shoulder. “Today got here a little sooner than we expected it to, but we’ve been planning it for years, so we’re hoping we’re ready.”
“Hoping?” Zane’s eyebrows shot up. What was the big deal? If he’d been able to build a time-travel device twenty years ago, surely the technology had advanced enough that they could send Jo and him back to their own time with the press of a button. If he’d been working on it, he would have solved any problems long ago…
He had been working on it. This version of him. For apparently twenty years or so. “So what’s the big deal? You must be able to send us back to our time pretty easily. Jo managed to get back to 2010 from 1947 on solar flares.”
“The energy source is not the problem,” Future-Zane said, gesturing Zane to a seat. Fargo, Henry, Future-Jo and Jo herself were the only others who remained in the room, although Zane caught a glimpse of dark hair behind a chair in the corner. He wondered if he should mention that the littlest Lupo-Donovan seemed to be eavesdropping but then shrugged mentally. He would have done the same thing as a kid, and if S.A.R.A.H. thought it was a problem, she’d rat Caiti out to her parents.
“So what is the problem?” Jo asked. She seemed not to have relaxed an iota, her posture still rigidly perfect, her face tense.
“The nature of time,” Henry replied, just as Future-Jo said, “Preserving the future.”
“We need you to do us a couple of small favors,” Future-Zane said smoothly.
“Favors?” Zane couldn’t help his own skepticism as he looked at his future face. Maybe he just knew himself too well, but something about this was sending up warning flags.
“Well, and one rather large favor,” Future-Zane added.
“We need you guys to save my life,” Fargo added. “Oh, and the rest of the world while you’re at it.”
Chapter 5: The nature of time
“Explain,” ordered Jo, exchanging glances with Zane.
It was strange to feel allied with Lupo against the others, especially when one of the others was himself. But his unease was reflected in her wary look. Zane knew he could be insensitive sometimes, maybe most of the time. Jo was perceptive, though – had she picked up some clue that he’d missed?
The four from the future exchanged their own glances, and by some kind of silent tacit agreement, deferred to Henry.
“It’s complicated,” he said, rubbing his chin. “But we should start with the science.”
“Sounds good.” Zane was always happy to begin at science.
“If we must,” Jo muttered. She’d probably rather begin with shooting something if she could, Zane thought.
“S.A.R.A.H., can you -” Henry gestured, and S.A.R.A.H. promptly responded by producing a holographic whiteboard in the center of the room. “Thank you, S.A.R.A.H.”
“My pleasure, Dr. Deacon,” the house responded.
“We used to think that time was supposed to be fixed,” Henry said, drawing a line across the space, and then pointing at it. “A straight line. Start here, you end here, experiencing everything in logical order. Early time travel experiments with the tachyon accelerator seemed to prove this theory.” He continued drawing lines and then started adding equations. “Changing the past created temporal anomalies that caused a fundamental quantum instability. We thought it demonstrated the effects of two alternate realities colliding.”
“We?” Jo said pointedly before Zane had a chance to respond.
“Yes,” Henry sighed. “I was involved in those experiments. And in the end, I agreed with the conclusion that alternate realities could not exist in the same space-time continuum. We – well, the changes were reversed, and the instability resolved itself. It was as if the alternate future never existed.”
“But Novikov’s self-consistency principle should have prevented you from changing the past to begin with,” Zane protested.
“Novikov was wrong,” Fargo interrupted. “It’s entirely possible to change the past. We know that much for sure.”
“Yes,” Henry agreed, continuing to scribble equations in the holographic space. “You will have just learned this, Zane, but Carter, Alison, Jo, Fargo and I accidentally traveled back in time to 1947. While we were there, Alison saved the life of a man named Adam Barlow. By my understanding, that should have caused a quantum instability that could have destroyed the universe. When it didn’t…” He shrugged, standing back and looking at the equations he’d written.
“What a minute, what?” Jo jumped to her feet. “We could have destroyed the universe and you didn’t mention it?”
Henry glanced at her over his shoulder and smiled. “There was nothing you could have done. Until and unless the instability manifested itself, there was no reason to worry you. And the instability never showed. I decided that Barlow had only been in danger because of our presence. If we hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have been in the car accident that almost killed him. Alison saving him didn’t change history, it preserved it.”
“But we still changed history,” Jo protested. “When we got back, things were –” She glanced at Zane before continuing, “—different.”
“Yes, we did,” Henry acknowledged. “And that could have been bad. But it wasn’t.” Zane was frowning at the holographic whiteboard, trying to see where Henry was going with his extremely complex calculations.
“Speak for yourself,” Jo muttered, turning her head away.
“Well, not universe-destroying bad,” Fargo answered her.
“I was forced to recognize that the alternate realities theory didn’t work, at least not as we had initially thought,” Henry continued.
“That is some really weird math,” Zane said. He was ignoring the others, their words just background noise distracting him from the fascinating physics puzzle of Henry’s equations. “Are you violating the uncertainty principle? So you’re saying that the Copenhagen interpretation is wrong?”
“Whoa, whoa.” Future-Zane had been sitting on the arm of the sofa, next to Future-Jo, talking to her in a quiet voice, but at Zane’s words, he stood and ordered, “S.A.R.A.H, erase.” The holo-space disappeared immediately.
Henry was staring at Zane. “You couldn’t have gotten that from that!” he protested. “I barely began the equations.”
“Damn it, Henry,” Future-Zane complained. “You knew you needed to be careful.”
Future-Jo buried her face in her hands as if she didn’t want to watch, while Fargo shook his head.
Henry sighed. “I thought I was being careful. This makes the memory-wipe even more imperative.”
“Memory-wipe!” Zane took a step backward. No way was anyone messing with his memory. He was anti-anything that could damage his brain and a memory wipe undoubtedly involved killing brain cells.
“Relax,” his future self snapped. “We can’t do it to you; you have to do it to yourself.”
“Like that’s gonna happen!” Zane snapped back.
“Zane.” Jo put a restraining hand on his arm. “We need to hear them out. Destroying the universe? It’d be bad.”
Zane scowled at her, before finally nodding. “Fine, I’ll listen. But I bet you didn’t wipe your memory,” he added, glaring at his future self.
Future-Zane shook his head slightly, “No, I didn’t. Haven’t. But if I can point out the obvious, when you wipe your memory, you wipe mine, too.”
Hmm. Interesting point. In fact…Zane’s eyes narrowed as he considered. How would that work exactly? “Can I see those equations again?” he asked.
“No,” came the almost instant response from Fargo, Future-Zane, and Future-Jo. Henry shrugged.
“You’ll figure out the details eventually,” he said. “But for right now, let’s just suppose that time is a lot more fluid and malleable than anyone ever believed it could be. It can be changed, and it has been changed. Repeatedly. Do you remember Leo Weinbrenner?”
Zane tried to think if he’d ever met anyone by that name, but Jo answered before he could. “Of course. The temporal physicist who used indigo light to send time backwards. That was how Stark…” her words trailed off and Zane nodded in recognition.
“From Leo’s work, we learned that time can repeat,” Henry went on. “Or rather that we can repeat our experience of time. What we now realize is that time is more like a sphere than a line. Our perception of it is linear: our consciousness experiences reality in a sequential fashion. But time exists outside of our consciousness, and on a grand quantum level, the events that we perceive of as happening are largely, but not entirely, irrelevant to the universe.”
“Although not to us,” sighed Future-Jo.
“So have you been screwing around with the timeline?” Zane asked, a little shocked. Scientists in Eureka didn’t always follow safety protocols to the letter, but changing the events of the past seemed a little reckless, even for the craziest of them.
“No,” Henry replied, glancing at Future Zane. “Not exactly.”
“You have.” Future-Zane’s reply was accompanied by a wry grin. “Repeatedly. Or rather, I suppose, we have.” He nodded at Zane’s startled look.
“That sounds so like you,” Jo said, a hint of bitter in her voice.
Future Jo stood and slid her arm around her husband’s waist. “He should have included us in that we,” she said gently. “I’ve been along for every trip.”
Zane noticed the flicker of guilt that crossed future Zane’s face but almost immediately set the information aside as he realized that Jo was defending him. Not his Jo, she was blaming him, no surprise there. But future Jo was on his side. That was nice. He liked that.
He looked at his future self. “Can we – ” he started, half-jokingly, but before he could get the word ‘trade’ past his lips, his future self was interrupting him.
“Not a chance,” he said, laughing. “And that thing you’re going to want to say in about ten minutes? Don’t say it. It’s not worth the pain.”
“Okay, that’s spooky. You’ve really lived through all of this before?” Zane couldn’t help being incredulous. Eureka could be weird but all the laws of physics were being overturned in front of his eyes.
“More or less,” Future Zane sobered. “Not everything is the same. There are differences, some minor, some more serious.”
“Like what?” Jo asked.
Future Jo leaned into Future Zane and his arm tightened around her. For a moment, she pressed her lips together as if reluctant to let the words go, but then she sighed and started, “Well, Jaime shouldn’t have powered up your bridge today: it wasn’t supposed to happen for another several months. And then Caiti—,” she paused and there was a catch in her voice.
“—is behind the couch,” Zane interrupted before she could continue. “She probably needs a snack or something, right?” Didn’t little kids need to eat often? He thought they probably did, but it wasn’t why he’d stopped Future-Jo from saying whatever it was that she was going to say. Something about her expression reminded him of overhearing his parents once talking about sending him away to school, and it wasn’t a pleasant memory.
Future Jo sent him a look, one that mingled relief and exasperation. “Caiti,” she said firmly. A dark head popped up from behind the couch and blue eyes glared at Zane.
“Amy,” Future Jo said, raising her voice a little. The teenager stepped out of the kitchen, half-smiling, resigned at having been caught.
“Isabel,” Future Jo continued. There was no answer. Her eyes narrowed. “Isabel,” she repeated, louder. Still no response. “S.A.R.A.H., where—,” Jo started, and the door to the closet slid open and another teenager, this one with Jo’s brown eyes and long dark hair, stepped out, her face sulky.
“Jaime and Zander,” Future Jo’s voice was firm, not quite angry. The two boys – young men, really, Zane corrected himself, realizing that they were taller than him – stepped into the room from the hallway they’d disappeared down earlier. Their identical faces wore identical sheepish looks.
“You know better, all of you.” Future Jo snapped. “I’m going to throw every one of you in jail for the night. See how you like that.”
“Aw, Mom,” one of the twins protested. “It’s too crowded with all of us there.”
“Not all in the jail,” Amy complained. “Zander snores.”
“Dibs on the cell at Mom’s office,” Isabel said hastily.
“You… throw your children in jail?” Jo asked her other self almost delicately, eyebrows raised.
“HIS children?” Future Jo gestured with her thumb at the man with his arm around her, who grinned cheerfully at Jo.
“Oh. Good point.” Jo looked away.
Zane couldn’t stop himself from smiling at his other self. HIS children. With the Enforcer. And they’d taken after him as much as after her. Surreptitiously, he pinched himself, a hard little twist of skin. Nope, not dreaming.
“All of you, back to the house,” Future Jo ordered. “And that includes you two,” she added to the boys.
“Mom!” protested a twin.
“Pack a bag, and take your sisters home.” Future Jo moved away, rounding up her offspring.
“When the twins turned 18, they moved into S.A.R.A.H.,” Future Zane explained quietly to Jo and Zane. “Zoe had been living here, but S.A.R.A.H. wasn’t really big enough after…”
“Zane,” Fargo interrupted. “Shut up. Remember? Trying not to violate causality?”
“Oh, right.” Future Zane scratched his head, looking a little sheepish himself. “Sorry,” he apologized to Zane and Jo. “But the less you know, the better.”
“The better for what?” Zane asked. Or should he be asking better for whom? Time travel, large favors, saving the world, memory wipes, some incredible physics – it was almost too much to absorb at once, even for him.*
“We’re hoping to try to restore the timeline,” Henry answered.
“Well, not quite to its original configuration,” Fargo said. “A few improvements won’t go amiss.”
“For that purpose,” Henry continued, ignoring Fargo’s interruption. “The less information you have, the more likely it is that we can break the time loop without creating a paradox that will threaten the space-time continuum.”
“Not the whole continuum,” Future Zane protested.
“Right. Just our place in it,” Fargo said, rolling his eyes. “Like, just the important stuff.”
“The universe goes on,” Future Zane shrugged. “That’s important.”
“If none of us exist in it anymore, does it actually matter if the planets still rotate?” Fargo responded. It felt like an old argument, one that they’d had many times before.
“Guys,” Henry sighed. “We’ve agreed to disagree on that subject. Can we focus?”
“Right,” Future Zane said. “So here’s the important part: the Einstein-Grant bridge devices don’t connect to random wormholes, they connect to themselves. When Grant first turned on the bridge device in 1947, nothing happened. And the first time you turned on your bridge device, nothing happened.”
“The first time?” Jo asked. “I didn’t know you’d used it before,” she added, in an accusing tone, directing her words to Zane.
He shook his head. “I hadn’t. I’d barely finished building it. When we turned it on together, just a few hours ago, that was the first time.”
Future Zane shook his head. “No. We’ve got no way of knowing how many times it’s really been, but that wasn’t the first.”
Zane just stared, then asked, “Groundhog Day? Are we living in Groundhog Day?”
Future Jo, after a brief and quiet argument by the door, had rejoined them, and she said, dryly, “More like Groundhog Decades. But yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”
“And we’d like the future back,” Fargo said. “Which is why we need your help.”
Chapter 6: A Story Within a Story
“Okay, you’ve lost me.” Jo shook her head, frowning. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Future Jo stepped forward. “Let me start at the beginning then.” She glanced at S.A.R.A.H.’s door, where her kids were departing. “Or at least the beginning as it was told to me.”
“We came into the lab for some security-related reason – were we increasing the protocols? It was research on quantum entanglement, right?”
Jo nodded. “We were making arrangements to move everything down to Section 5.”
“Oh, right,” Future Jo agreed. “The Chinese had gotten interested in the research and some scientist had maybe said too much over an open line. But we spotted the bridge device almost right away, and went from playing it cool – determined not to reveal any more about the time travel to Zane than we’d already given away – to ballistic in about ten seconds flat.”
Jo half-nodded as if to acknowledge the truth of the description.
Zane opened his mouth to drawl sarcastically, “Ten seconds? Lupo goes crazy way faster than that…” and then, spotting Future Zane’s wince, closed his mouth again. Jo looked him at him curiously and he smiled, as innocently as he could. Maybe he’d just watch what he said for the next few minutes.
“He went to turn on the bridge device, we tried to stop him, but he managed to do it. Nothing happened. It was a relief, but we were still furious.”
“Wait, wait. We? This isn’t what happened to me,” Jo protested.
“Right,” Future Jo nodded. “It didn’t happen to me, either. The first part did, but when Zane and I turned the device on, it took us to the future. Farther into the future than you went, though, by several months.” She looked at her Zane, her expression worried, and he shrugged.
“Nothing we can do about it now, babe.” He rubbed an affectionate hand along her back, and the corners of her lips turned up, just a little, before she looked back at Jo and Zane and continued her story.
“We – or rather, the first Jo – didn’t respond well. It was a rough time. Alison was dead, Carter was devastated—”
“Alison was what?” Jo interrupted again.
Her future self nodded. “You heard me. Beverly Barlow stole the DED and during the course of the investigation, Alison was killed in a car crash. That was bad enough, but everyone was worried about the Department of Defense investigation. So First Jo, she screwed up. She convinced Fargo that Zane was too dangerous to have around and got him sent back to federal prison.”
Jo’s surprise showed, and Future Jo pointed out, “You know we thought about it once before. With that whole oxygen thing.* Fargo stopped us that time, but this time – well, he was as worried as we were. Getting rid of Zane looked like a smart choice.”
Zane grimaced. Nice. Dammit, Lupo acted like it was unreasonable for him to want to understand what had gone on between them. It wasn’t. She was the one who’d been acting weird, she was the one who’d thrown his grandmother’s ring at him, she was the one who’d started whatever this thing was. Yeah, so he’d kissed her. If she hadn’t kissed him back with the hottest melting touch he’d ever felt – if she’d just knocked him on his ass the way the Enforcer could have, should have, and would have… he opened his mouth to say something irritable and then spotted his future self’s face and shut it again. Damn. What exactly had he said that his future self still remembered it as painful twenty-some years later?
“Three weeks later, Fargo was dead,” Future Jo continued. “A freak accident when he accidentally got sent into space into what was supposed to be an unmanned spacecraft.”**
Zane and Jo both glanced at Fargo, who rolled his eyes. “Not my finest hour,” he said. “Not that I remember it. It didn’t happen that way for us, obviously.”
“Fargo’s death, especially coming so soon after Alison’s, was the beginning of the end for Eureka,” Future Jo’s voice was matter-of-fact. “Mansfield took the same route he’d taken after Stark’s death and promoted Fargo’s assistant to head of GD.”
“Larry?” Jo and Zane said the name simultaneously, with identical expressions of horror.
Future Jo ignored them and continued doggedly on. “The accident investigations dragged on for years. After First Zane finished serving his sentence, he came back to Eureka, but First Jo was gone. We’re not sure where, because he never knew. Meanwhile, the government was in the middle of a severe financial crisis and our budgets were slashed to the core. Just about ten years later, real research had totally dried up and all the stored projects were being destroyed. First Zane got called in to dismantle his bridge device, which had been sitting in storage for all those years. Before he did, he turned it on.”
Zane’s jaw dropped as he realized what must have happened. “That time it worked?” he asked.
Future Zane grinned at him. “I like to imagine his surprise when his past self popped up. Ya’ got to figure, he knew absolutely nothing about the time travel, and hadn’t seen Jo in years. I wonder how long it took him to figure it out.”
Zane glanced at Jo. What he wondered was what it had felt like to have Jo disappear, someplace unknown. Had he worried about her? Had he been so resentful about being sent back to prison that he didn’t care? Why wouldn’t he have hacked a few government computers to find out? It was strange, and uncomfortable, to think that she could disappear and he would just let her go. Not that they were friends or anything – hell, they’d barely ever even had a civil conversation. In fact, most of their conversations ended with her reading him his rights. But still…He glanced back at his future self, who was smiling at him, a little wryly.
“But he didn’t go back in time?” Jo asked. “His machine pulled us forward?”
Future Zane nodded. “Kevin reversed the polarity on the original bridge device on Founder’s Day. The machine, as designed, creates a path to the future, not the past.”
“But wait,” said Jo. “When we first traveled in time, we didn’t meet our other selves. We became them. Why wouldn’t that happen again? In fact, why didn’t that happen now?”
“For obvious reasons, experimentation is difficult, and dangerous,” Henry said. “But we believe that when enough time separates versions of a self, the typical processes of aging, cellular regeneration, epigenetic modification, and so on, differentiates the identities sufficiently that instead of the consciousness of the original being replaced, as happened to us, both identities co-exist.
“Replaced consciousness?” Zane asked. “So this Jo, my Jo, actually is the Enforcer, just with a brain wipe?”
“Your Jo? Brain wipe?” Jo glared at him.
Future Zane was shaking his head. “Ya’ had to say it.” Future Jo was trying not to smile.
“There is nothing wrong with my brain, thank you very much, and I am not yours,” Jo practically spit the words at him. Dang. He hadn’t meant it that way, he wanted to protest. He’d gotten her mad without even trying.
“Every argument for the next decade,” Future Zane sighed, before abruptly looking more cheerful. “Hey, make sure to take that into account when considering whether to erase your memory, okay? It’ll be like it never happened.”
Zane looked skeptical. Nothing he’d heard so far, including the idea that Jo was going to be mad at him for a decade, had come remotely close to convincing him to destroy his memory. On the contrary, he could barely wait to get home and start figuring out the physics of all this. Two Nobel prizes? That was nothing. He could be making scientific breakthroughs for the next thirty years based on this knowledge.
“Second Jo and Second Zane didn’t take a lot of convincing to decide to try to change their future,” Future Jo resumed telling the story. “Neither of them liked the looks of it. Second Jo promised not to send Zane to prison, and they went back to their time resolved to save Fargo. Eureka, too, if they could, but definitely Fargo. But when they got there, they discovered that Alison was still alive. Somehow, they’d already changed the past.”
Zane frowned. How was that possible?
“Or their future selves – their new future selves – had changed the past,” Future Zane added.
“I don’t get it,” Jo said. “If they changed the past, then the future would also change. They wouldn’t have known enough to even want to change the past. Right? Isn’t that how it should work?” She glanced at Zane.
Henry nodded. “What you’re talking about is the basic paradox of time travel: if you kill your grandmother, you’ll never be born, so how could you have killed your grandmother? We used to believe that paradoxes like that one prohibited time travel, but what we’ve learned is that they actually create time-loops, like the one we’re caught in. Time – or rather, our experience of it – simply repeats itself.”
“Einstein once said that people who believe in physics know that the distinction between past, present, and future is just a stubbornly persistent illusion,”*** Zane said. “So he was right?”
“Yeah, but it’s that persistent part that matters,” Fargo said.
“Okay, that’s just creepy,” Jo said.
“Can’t you use the bridge device to go forward?” Zane asked. “Break out of the loop that way?”
Fargo answered. “There is no forward. The bridge devices don’t work past the day you arrive in the future which – as of today – is today.”
“Does that mean…” Zane didn’t want to say it out loud.
Fargo shrugged. “Yeah, it might mean the world ends tomorrow. Nice thought, huh? But we prefer to believe it means that the loop starts over.”
“Think of it this way,” Henry added. “Do you remember looking through a kaleidoscope as a kid? You rotate the tube and the pattern changes.” Jo nodded. “Time is like a kaleidoscope. The pieces remain the same, but they fall into different positions when you rotate the tube. And you rotate the tube by changing the past.”
“That is so cool,” said Zane.
“That is so not cool,” said Jo.
“As far as we know,” Future Zane said, “This time loop has happened at least eight times. Every time slightly, or not so slightly, differently. The last time through, we thought that repeating the exact actions of the previous time might break the loop, get the future back on track, but it didn’t work. We couldn’t do it.”
Future Jo was chewing on her lip, the way Jo did when she was worried, Zane noted. “You couldn’t break the loop or you couldn’t repeat what the Jo and Zane before you had done?”
“Both,” Future Zane was also watching his wife. “The universe has too many random variables. So this time we have a more complicated plan.”
“All right,” Zane said, feeling wary again. “Let’s hear it.”
“We need you to go back in time to 1947,” said Fargo. “You’ll use Grant’s bridge device to do it, but you’ll bring your bridge device and Beverly’s bridge device with you. At the right moment, you’ll turn on Beverly’s bridge device, bringing Carter and Grant back in time to save Alison.”
“But why do you need us to do that?” Jo asked. “Can’t you do it?”
“Sure,” Henry answered, “and we have. But once the kaleidoscope spins, only you and Zane are still guaranteed to exist as the same people, so you’re the ones who have to do anything that has to happen.”
Jo turned to Zane. “This is starting to feel like a really bad dream.”
“Oh, I remember that feeling,” Future Jo smiled, but her eyes were still sad. “No, it’s not a hallucination. No, you’re not insane. And you’re not in the infirmary recovering from a bad accident. This is real. Or at least as real as a place that might not exist tomorrow can be.”
“So we go back in time, and save Alison,” Zane asked. “That doesn’t sound complicated.”
“It’s not yet,” Future Zane said. “You have to stick around in 1947 long enough to turn off Beverly’s bridge, after Carter and Grant get there. While you’re there, you’ll reverse the polarity on your bridge device and link the power switches of Grant’s device and your device so that with one push of a button, you can turn on both.”
“Turning on my bridge in the past means…”
“Right,” Future Zane was nodding. “Instead of traveling to the future, you and Jo would have traveled – will travel – into the past, just as Jo expected, thus breaking the loop.”
“That still seems straightforward,” Jo sounded suspicious. “Where’s the catch?”
“If we pull ourselves into the past while we’re still there, we get erased, don’t we?” Zane guessed. “Brain wiped by the new selves?”
Henry nodded this time. “We believe so.”
“That’s where the saving my life part comes in,” Fargo added. “If we break the loop by letting you forget everything about the future, you won’t know how and what to change. For all we know, you’ll get stuck in 1947 and never get back at all.”
“We believe,” Henry started, then corrected himself. “We hope that by using the two devices simultaneously, you’ll get safely transported to the future while your new selves go back to 1947.”
“Won’t the kaleidoscope be in mid-spin then?” Zane asked.
“We don’t know,” Henry agreed. “And it’s possible that we’ll be setting up a quantum instability that will destroy our portion of the space-time continuum.”
“Ah, no offense, Fargo,” Zane said. “But that seems like a pretty heavy thing to risk to save your life.” He’d always thought the director was an ass, but being willing to gamble everyone else’s lives seemed a little over the top, even for Fargo.
Fargo grinned at him. “Yeah, probably. But see, I got killed testing an FTL drive based on the principles of the bridge device.”
“You – a what?” Zane’s jaw dropped. “You cracked faster than light travel?”
“Fargo,” Henry protested.
“Aw, come on,” Fargo replied. “We’ve got to tell him enough to make it worthwhile.”
“You want me to erase my knowledge of faster than light travel?” Zane was shaking his head. They were all insane, every one of them. This was the coolest science ever, mind candy, a playground of knowledge and insight and discovery, and there was no way he was just going to willingly forget about it.
“We’ve run dozens of simulations.” Future Jo stepped forward, her expression intent, focused. “Hundreds of them. Our best chance – your best chance – of creating this future, the one we’re living in right now, and of breaking the loop, is if you save Alison and Fargo, and then forget everything you’ve learned. Otherwise, your knowledge contaminates the timeline and the loop might not break.”
“What happens after we come back to the future?” Jo asked.
“We send you back to your own time again, to about five minutes after you first left, and you – the ones with the knowledge – will become the Jo and Zane of that time,” Future Zane answered. “The loop will be broken. You save Fargo, make sure that the discovery of FTL happens on schedule, and then…live your lives.” He and Future Jo exchanged a long look.
Live your lives. They made it sound so simple. Why did Zane think that maybe they were leaving out a few details? He and his Jo exchanged a look of their own. He was going to have to think about this.
Chapter 7: Pancakes
It was really, really late.
Or maybe it was really, really early. Zane wasn’t sure. His brain was too busy to let him sleep.
First, there was the science. Those equations of Henry’s had been like catching a glimpse of Kubla Khan. Like Coleridge, he knew that there was some perfect beauty just out of reach within his brain if only he could find it.
Then there was the plan of the future Eurekans. They’d spent hours outlining the tasks they had for Zane and Jo, but he knew – from glances they’d exchanged, from Future Jo’s grim look, and maybe just from the prickling at the nape of his neck – that there was information they weren’t sharing. What he didn’t know was why. Every time he pushed, they answered with the annoyingly vague, “Our computer simulations show…”
Computer simulations, ha.
And then there was Lupo. Okay, so he’d known that there was something she hadn’t told him, but time travel? She’d had his grandmother’s engagement ring, which meant that in some version of their history, he’d already proposed to her. Proposed! That was so not in his plans. Sure, it was kinda cool to realize that they could have a happy-ever-after – or at least a seemingly-happy-next-twenty-some-years-or-so-after – but they were barely even friendly. There was no way he was marrying her anytime soon. Honestly, waking up married to a stranger was his worst nightmare. Although seeing what she was like here in the future sure provided some nice motivation.
He tossed restlessly in bed, then rolled to one side and stared at the wall as if he could see through it if he just tried hard enough. Was Lupo awake, too?
They’d talked with the others until late in the evening, before Future Jo had suggested they sleep at S.A.R.A.H. and talk more in the morning. Apparently, they couldn’t remain in the future for long: their presence would quickly start a series of temporal anomalies caused by exotic particles that would tear apart the fabric of the timeline, collapsing past and present. Even Zane was willing to agree that that didn’t sound good.
But he wanted to talk to Jo. And without the others around. He wanted to know what she thought about what they’d heard — and not heard.
Abruptly, he sat up. “S.A.R.A.H.?” He’d never spent the night in the smart house before, but of course she ought to be awake and listening.
“Yes, Zane?” came the prompt reply.
“What time is it?”
“4:32 AM. Despite the hour, I detect from the current low levels of adenosine in your system that you are unlikely to sleep without assistance. Would you like a sleeping aid? Or would you prefer a caffeinated beverage?”
Okay, that was just creepy. “Neither, thanks.” Zane kicked the covers off, and stood, feeling around for the clothes he’d dropped on the floor. “Is Lupo awake?”
The lights slowly turned up as Zane found his pants and t-shirt and pulled them on. He didn’t bother with shoes and socks, but headed across the short hallway to where Jo should be.
“Jo has been asleep for approximately three hours, and is currently in the N3 stage of non-rapid eye movement sleep, which is the deepest stage prior to—,” S.A.R.A.H.’s words broke off as Zane began to open Jo’s door, and she finished in a hasty whisper, “—which means you shouldn’t disturb her.”
The room was dark and S.A.R.A.H. was not helpfully turning up the lights this time, so Zane paused to let his eyes adjust. The illumination from his room was just enough to make out the outlines of the furniture. “Jo?”
She didn’t answer so he stepped inside. Lupo might be pissed but he really needed to talk to her. Of course, if she slept in the nude, she’d probably break his arm before he got the chance, but seeing her naked might be worth a broken bone or two.
“Lupo?” he called her name again, voice soft.
“Lupo-Donovan.” A cranky childish voice corrected him. “And go away, Daddy. Mommy said I could sleep with her tonight.”
Zane paused. Daddy? “Uh, S.A.R.A.H.?” he asked.
“She did it again.” The artificial intelligence’s voice sounded as tight with frustration as an AI could sound. “Caiti, how did you get in here?”
A long, sleepy sigh came from the direction of the bed and Zane took a couple steps closer. “I used my invisibility worm,” the little girl murmured, adding with what sounded like a yawn. “I like it.”
“Subverting my security protocols is bad manners, Caiti,” S.A.R.A.H. scolded the child. “You know your mother said the last time that if you did it again, she’d take your tablet away.”
“No!” There was movement and a rustle from the other side of the room. Zane strained to see in the darkness: Jo hadn’t stirred, as far as he could tell, but a small figure slipped out of bed, rummaged on the floor, then hurried to the door, clutching a tiny hand-held device the size of a cell phone. He stepped out of the way, but then followed, fascinated, as she rushed down the stairs and over to the access panel. She was doing something with the device, but he couldn’t quite see what.
“What are you doing, Caiti?” asked S.A.R.A.H., tone a warning, but before she could continue with any more threats, she added, sounding surprised. “Zane? Hmm, there must be a glitch in my programming, I didn’t see you get up.”
“Um, I’m not sure I’d call it a glitch exactly,” Zane responded, eyes on Caiti. She’d turned around and was facing him, chewing on her lower lip, still looking sleepy. “What did you do?” he asked the little girl.
“Made myself invisible.” She yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Just had to erase a little short-term memory.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” S.A.R.A.H. responded.
“And how did you do that?” Zane asked patiently. The little girl was wearing an over-sized t-shirt that was half slipping off her. Her long dark hair was a mess, tangled and disheveled. She was cute, in a generic pixie girl sort of way, but her blue eyes made the experience just a little surreal: there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that this kid was his daughter. His daughter. How strange was that?
“Do what?” S.A.R.A.H. asked.
“Don’t talk to me,” Caiti ordered. “I want my breakfast. You have to get it, ’cause I’m invisible.”
“You look pretty visible to me,” Zane told her. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not.
“Zane, who are you talking to?” S.A.R.A.H. asked suspiciously.
Caiti put an urgent finger across her lips, shushing him, but it was too late.
“Initiating emergency shut-down and system analysis,” S.A.R.A.H. said abruptly. “All non-essential systems going offline.” With a whir, and a series of quick beeps, the lights turned on to a standard daylight level and a ventilation fan began running.
“S.A.R.A.H.?” Zane asked, but there was no answer from the AI.
“Darn it, Daddy,” Caiti complained, stamping one small foot on the floor. “Now you have to make the pancakes and you don’t do it as good as S.A.R.A.H.”
“Um, kid, I’ve never made a pancake in my life,” Zane answered. Cook? He didn’t cook.
She frowned at him. “Yes, you have. You make me pancakes lots of times.” She came back to where he was standing at the base of the stairs, and took his hand, looking up at him worriedly. “Mommy says granola with yogurt is better but you say as long as I drink all my milk, I can have pancakes.”
He looked down at her. The worried expression on her face made her look just like Lupo for a moment, and he almost had to hold his breath with the shock of it. He and Lupo had kids. Cute kids. Smart kids.
“I’m sorry I said you didn’t make them as good as S.A.R.A.H.,” Caiti continued earnestly. “She makes really good pancakes, though, you know she does.”
“What have you done to S.A.R.A.H.?” Zane asked, trying to focus on the important questions and not think about pancakes and mornings with Jo and arguing over the proper breakfast for their kids. Their kids.
She sighed. “She figures it out faster every time,” she said mournfully. “I can’t change her long-term memory, just her short-term.” But then she brightened. “It works great everyplace else, though.” Tugging at his hand, she began to pull him toward the kitchen.
“What exactly is it?” he asked, following obediently.
“You know. My invisibility worm. Up, please.” She pointed at the kitchen cupboards, and with a shrug, Zane lifted her up to the countertop. She was surprisingly light and for a moment, he wondered how old she was. Six, seven? He didn’t know enough about little kids to know how to tell.
“Tell me more.”
She looked at him doubtfully, then shrugged. “You know, Daddy. All the sensors still record me, but my worm looks for data that matches me – like my DNA or my image – and stops it from being recorded in any information storage systems. S.A.R.A.H.’s cameras know I’m here but they don’t tell S.A.R.A.H.’s memory that I’m here.” As she chatted, she walked daintily along the countertop, opening cabinets and taking items out. “If it’s not recorded, you know, it’s like you don’t exist.”
Zane suspected that he should disapprove of her walking on the counter. And probably he should also tell her that her worm was a very bad idea, although it sounded really clever to him. “When you say everyplace else, what places are you talking about? GD? Town? Banks?” he asked. He couldn’t stop himself from imagining the things he could do.
Caiti grinned at him. “I let it go viral,” she admitted. “So anywhere that’s connected to the internet. But don’t tell Mommy, she wouldn’t like it.”
She pointed at the pile – bowls, flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, vanilla – then pointed at the refrigerator. “Okay, pancakes now, Daddy.”
A/N: Fluffy, fluffy, fluffy, I know. But it was either this or totally dark and depressing. I’ll let Jo and Zane get on with saving the world in the next chapter. Maybe.
Also, I’m writing original fiction over at fictionpress and would love it if you visited me over there, too. Link’s at the bottom of my author profile!
Chapter 8: No Guarantees
The air smelled of smoke.
He’d burned the pancakes. And Caiti was not pleased.
“Add more syrup,” he suggested. The kitchen was a mess. Pouring flour from the bag turned out to be a bad idea: he’d managed to get almost as much on himself and the counter as in the bowl. And cracking eggs was a lot harder than it looked.
“These are yucky, Daddy,” Caiti said sadly. She pushed her plate away.
Zane sighed. He supposed he could start over again, but he wished S.A.R.A.H. would come back online and make the pancakes for them. Although he supposed she might have something to say to Caiti about tampering with her memories first.
He poked at the mess on the stove, then picked it up. He’d dump this batch, and see if maybe a lower heat setting worked better. Who knew cooking required so much experimentation?
“What the hell is going on here?” At the sound of the voice, Zane turned hastily. Burnt pancake skidded out of the flying pan and onto the floor, but he barely noticed. Jo’s arms were folded across her chest, and her foot was tapping, but her hair was down, her face was sleepy, and she was wearing a tank top and pajama shorts. The surge of lust he felt at the sight of the Enforcer looking so un-Enforcer-like was unmistakable. Wow, Lupo was seriously hot.
“Um, pancakes?” he offered.
She looked from the floor to his face and raised her brows. “Really?” she drawled, before turning to Caiti. “How did you get here?”
The little girl was resting her head on the table, but at Jo’s words, she sat up, and yawned. “I used Jaime’s ‘speriment.”
Hmm, Zane wondered what that was. It hadn’t even occurred to him to question how Caiti had returned to S.A.R.A.H. after she’d left with her siblings earlier in the evening, but of course, he should have. She was much too little to be traveling around Eureka in the dark.
“And do your parents know?” Jo asked.
Caiti looked from one of them to the other and said, tentatively, “Yes?” And then continued quickly, “But you said, Mommy. You said it was okay. I asked if I could sleep with you and you said yes.”
Jo looked blank for a second and then protested, “I was asleep! I thought that was a dream.”
Zane couldn’t resist. “Hmm, so if I ask that question when you’re sleeping. . .”
Jo glared at him. He grinned at her. God, but it was fun to annoy Lupo. Even when she was all Enforcer-tough, it was one of his favorite pleasures in life, but it was even more fun when she was like this.
“What happened to S.A.R.A.H.?” Jo demanded.
Zane and Caiti exchanged looks. She looked guilty, like she knew she was going to be in trouble, and he suspected he probably looked the same way.
Jo didn’t wait for an answer. “We need to call your parents right away,” she told Caiti. “Where’s your phone?”
Caiti’s eyes got big and round, and her lower lip emerged just a little and quivered. “But –,” she started in a tiny voice.
“There is no way that works on me,” Jo interrupted her.
Caiti dropped the pout and grinned. Slipping out of her seat, she came around to Jo and took her hand, pressing up against her leg and looking up at her adoringly. “It works on Daddy, though. Please don’t make me go home. I want to stay with you.”
“It’s the middle of the night,” Jo replied. “If your parents wake up and realize you’re gone, they’ll be terrified.”
Caiti frowned, and this time the pout looked real. “No, they won’t,” she said. “They have lots of kids.”
“Phone.” Jo held out her hand, and with a sigh, Caiti went back to the table and picked up her hand-held device from where she’d left it. She brought it back to Jo and handed it to her. Jo looked at it blankly, turned it over a couple of times, then handed it back and said, “You call them.”
Zane grinned. He’d had a chance to look at Caiti’s device a little earlier, when she found a pancake recipe for him. It was a tiny box with no buttons, and no obvious interface, just a couple of access ports. He would have loved to watch Jo try to figure out how to use it as a telephone. No surprise that she took one look and opted for an easier solution.
Ten minutes later, Future Jo and Future Zane were both awake and on their way to S.A.R.A.H., Jo was competently mixing up a batch of pancake batter, and Zane and Caiti were trying – not very effectively – to clean up the mess they’d made. It was an early start to the day, but it looked as if no one was going back to bed anytime soon. Zane was just as glad: he wanted answers to his questions.
“Before they get here,” Zane murmured to Jo, glancing warily at Caiti who seemed to be absorbed in trying to sweep up flour off the floor, “What do you think about what they said yesterday?”
“There’s something they’re not telling us,” Jo replied, not looking at him.
“Yeah, I think so, too,” he agreed. “Any idea what?”
Jo shook her head. “If they wanted us not to know anything about the future, why so many people here to meet us? Or if they expect us to wipe our memories, why not just let us learn everything? And that single-button push plan sounds pretty risky to me: we don’t know what kind of precision the bridge devices require. There’s a chance we wind up in 1947 and forget all of this, so wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just, I don’t know, leave a note for ourselves in 1947, explaining what to do?”
“I don’t want to forget this,” Zane replied quickly. When they let themselves merge with their other selves, he wanted to keep his memories. He wanted to know about the faster-than-light travel, the changes to cars, Caiti’s phone and her invisibility worm, and most of all, he wanted to remember Future Jo and his future kids with her.
“Neither do I,” Jo admitted. She’d stopped stirring the pancake batter, and looked up at him, half-smiling. “I gave up on you,” she whispered. “I let go, decided we didn’t fit, wouldn’t work, tried to stop loving you. And then somehow, this is our future?” Her gaze dropped to his mouth, and Zane didn’t resist the temptation.
One step closer, and he was bending his head and taking her lips with his, and it was just like the time in the Sheriff’s office. She melted into him, her body fitting into his like it was the other half he’d never known was missing, her arms reaching up and curving around his neck, pulling him closer and closer. Within seconds, he was hard and throbbing and the heat between them was like nothing he’d ever felt before.
And then there was a very out-of-place tug on his pants leg, and he lifted his head, breathless, heart racing, and looked down into Caiti’s blue eyes, as she said, “I tried to wash the floor, but I think I made it worse.”
He looked where she pointed and Jo, just as breathless as he was, looked, too.
“Uh-oh. Flour plus water makes glue,” Jo said. “We need to clean that up before it dries.” She pulled away from him, and took Caiti’s hand. With a discreet glance down, she said to him, “You can wash the dishes,” and with a reluctant grin, Zane turned to face the sink while he tried to get his body back under his control.
S.A.R.A.H. came online while they were all eating pancakes. Jo and Future Zane were having a friendly argument about the best way to make pancakes, an argument that ended when S.A.R.A.H. said, “You’re both wrong: minimal stirring is the secret,” which she then followed up with, “And Caiti, you have interfered with my programming for the very last time. I have implemented new security protocols that will keep even you out of my system software.”
Caiti, mouth full of pancake, shrugged her shoulders and raised her brows impishly, while Future Jo said, “Isn’t that what you said last time, S.A.R.A.H.?”
“Yes, but this time, I’m quite sure my defenses are sound.” Future Zane grinned at his daughter, seated next to him, and didn’t say anything. Future Jo, however, held out her hand, until her daughter sighed and placed her tiny handheld on her mother’s palm with a sad look. Jo tucked it in a pocket and went back to her pancakes without a word.
Zane felt a pang of sympathy for his daughter and started to open his mouth, but a kick under the table from Future Zane’s direction shut him up. Future Zane shook his head slightly, and ruffled Caiti’s hair, then changed the subject. “So, all set to save the world?”
“Not exactly,” Jo responded. She glanced at Zane and he nodded, giving her tacit approval to ask their questions. “Why so many people here last night? Do you want us to know what the future is like or not? And why are you trying to keep us from finding out more when you want us to wipe our memories anyway?”
Future Jo nodded, while Future Zane smiled again. “Caiti,” Future Jo said, “It’s time for you to go home. You can use Jaime’s transporter again.”
“But –,” Caiti started to protest and then she saw the look on her mother’s face. With a sigh, she slipped out of her chair and trudged down the hallway, shoulders slumping.
“We’re divided about the memory wipe,” Future Zane provided part of the answer.
“Not divided about whether it’s a good idea,” Future Jo added. “Every computer simulation we’ve run – hundreds of them – shows that the odds for breaking the time loop improve dramatically if we lose our awareness of the changing timelines. But . . .”
“That doesn’t mean you’ll want to do it,” Future Zane told Zane. “The problem – the real problem – is that right now, you don’t care about the time loop. Not really. It’s not real to you.”
Zane considered that. Yeah, it was true. So what if they were in a loop? It was a loop with incredible science and an amazing life.
“You will care later, though,” Future Zane continued. “You’ll care a lot. When you know that Zander’s up for a Nobel, but he’ll never get it, because time won’t move on, then you’ll care.”
“When you know that Isabel’s art wins her an early admission at Rhode Island School of Design, but she can’t go because it’s after the loop starts over,” Future Jo added. “Or that –,”
“Art?” Jo interrupted.
Future Jo nodded, and laughed faintly. “One in every family, I suppose,” she murmured.
“When you realize that our kids have no future because of the loop, then you’ll care,” Future Zane told Zane. “But then it’ll be too late for you to do anything about it, except for what we’re doing now – trying to persuade our past selves that we know better than they do. How are we doing so far?”
Zane frowned. Jo lips tightened but she didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, I thought so.” Blue eyes met blue, and Zane realized that here was someone who actually really understood every selfish bone in his body. Future Zane shrugged. “I know you,” he said softly. “I was you. And a memory wipe? I’ve said all along that it wouldn’t work, that we wouldn’t do it.”
“I could –,” Jo started.
“No,” Future Jo snapped. “No. Don’t even think about that. That is not an option.”
Jo leaned back in her chair, and crossed her arms. Fingers tapping on an upper arm, she said, “Go on.”
Future Jo glanced at Future Zane and sighed. “We have conflicting needs here,” she said. “We want to break the time loop. But we’d also really like it if –,” her voice broke, and she looked away, hand coming up to press against her mouth. Her brown eyes held a shimmer of light as if they might have filled with liquid.
“The loop changes,” Future Zane continued gruffly. “Time changes. The future’s not fixed, much less set in stone.”
“If you forcibly wipe his memory,” Future Jo told her past self, “He’s aware enough to hate you for it. The memory device isn’t perfect, and the memories still exist in the brain. In that time loop, he picked up an advanced degree in neuroscience and eventually restored his memory. It didn’t break the loop, but you didn’t get married, much less have kids.”
Jo’s eyes widened and she inhaled sharply. “So . . .”
Future Zane nodded. “There are no guarantees. In fact, we’re pretty sure that this is the first and only time loop in which Caiti exists. If we could, we’d try to make you follow our exact path so that you – we – could have the exact same outcome.”
Future Jo was blinking furiously but said huskily, “But it can’t be done. And it won’t break the loop. It’s what we tried this time around, and it doesn’t work. Life just has too many variables.”
“So fix the past. Save Fargo. And then forget the future,” Future Zane sighed.
Zane felt nauseous. No Caiti? He hadn’t liked this plan to begin with, but he liked it even less now. He looked at Jo and knew that she was having the exact same thought. There had to be a better way!
Chapter 9: On To 1947
The equations were amazing. Zane knew he could spend days, weeks, months, studying them. The ramifications for physics were astounding. But the implications for the immediate problem were almost as interesting.
“So the loop isn’t created by changing the past,” he mused. “It’s caused by the paradox of changing the past so that it prevents the future that initiated the change from coming to be.”
“Yep,” his future self agreed. “You can change the past as much as you like – well, sort of, it’s incredibly risky – as long as you don’t stop yourself from becoming the person who made the changes.”
They were sitting at S.A.R.A.H.’s dining room table, a holographic display open in front of them.
“You’re trying to create a loophole with this double-jump plan,” Zane realized. “A way that we can retain the knowledge that we need to save Fargo—”
“—and keep the discovery of the faster-than-light drive, since it changes the world in ways that we like a lot—,” he interrupted himself.
“—while still ending the paradox.”
“And the memory wipe—,”
“—prevents our knowledge from creating new paradoxes.” Future Zane nodded.
Zane shook his head. “I hate that thought,” he admitted. “What does the predictive analysis look like without the memory wipe?”
“It improves the odds of success four-fold.”
Zane looked at his future self. Just looked. And waited. Really? Did his future self think he was stupid?
Future Zane sighed. “The odds go from 5 to 20%.”
“Twenty percent?” Zane was shocked. “Best-case scenario is only 20%? What the hell?”
Future Zane shrugged. “You wouldn’t believe the number of variables involved. Believe me, if we could improve those odds, we would, but there seems to be a strong possibility that the original future – the one where Alison dies, Fargo dies, we go to jail, and Jo disappears – is the only non-paradoxical future. It may be that saving Fargo is the paradox that creates the loop.”
“Well, that sucks,” Zane said. He looked at the equations again. God, they were beautiful. Almost as beautiful as Josephina Lupo, present and future. Somehow, he had to figure out a way to keep both. Everything. His memories, this future, he wanted all of it.
Across the table from him, his future self said “Excuse me.” He tilted his head to one side, and scratched behind his ear, and his eyes went slightly blank, as he said, “Yeah? Really, already? That’s bad.” Zane frowned at him as he paused and nodded. “All right, I’ll get it moving.” Scratching behind his ear again, Future Zane said, “We’ve got to get going. The sheriff’s car just showed up on Main Street.”
Zane looked the question, and Future Zane added, “His car from back in 2011. You’re already pulling objects from the past into the future. We have to get you out of here before it gets serious.”
“Uh, actually, I was wondering who you were talking to. Has everyone in the future become telepathic?”
“Oh, right,” his future self looked startled. “You probably shouldn’t see this, but…” Turning his head, he showed Zane a tiny patch behind his ear. “Cell phone. Fargo on the line.”*
“Nice,” Zane said approvingly. He couldn’t wait to live in the future.
“All right,” Future Zane said. “We need to get Jo and send the two of you back to 1947.” Jo and Future Jo had bailed on the physics conversation a while ago, heading upstairs in S.A.R.A.H. for their own chat.
“Wait.” Zane put a hand out and stopped himself. “Last night, when you were talking about changing the timelines, Jo said that she’d been along for every change and you looked guilty. What was that about?”
Future Zane shook his head, and grunted a laugh. “Damn, I wish we didn’t notice everything.”
Zane waited, until Future Zane sighed and said, “I made one little trip on my own and made a change. But look, I haven’t told anyone about it, and it hasn’t been in the simulations, and I don’t know whether it mattered or not, it was just one minor – tweak. Yeah, it was a tweak. That’s all.”
Zane kept waiting, but Future Zane didn’t seem to want to say any more. “Not good enough,” Zane finally said. “I want to know everything. If you made a change, I want to know about it, and I want to know why.”
Future Zane grimaced. “Why am I such a pain in the ass?” he asked rhetorically, then continued. Zane listened. Minor tweak? Ha! Why did the future him keep thinking the past him was gullible?
“Are you insane?” he finally asked himself.
Future Zane shrugged and grinned. “It made her happy,” he replied simply. “And I wanted her to be happy.”
Hmm. A happy Lupo. The Enforcer had never seemed exactly happy: oh, sure, sometimes she was cheerful, but happy? Not so much. And since she’d changed on Founder’s Day, she’d been different – less gung-ho and bossy – but definitely not happy. Zane wondered if he’d even recognize a happy Lupo.
“But look, you can’t pull that one off, you can’t stay in the past for long enough, so just forget about it, okay. It never happened.”
Zane shrugged. He’d see.
Getting ready took several more hours. The future Eurekans knew exactly when Zane and Jo should arrive in the past based on the records of the bridge device experiments. Unfortunately, they’d need to stay there for a few days while they waited for the right moment to turn on Beverly’s bridge device and bring Grant and Carter into the past to save Alison.
Fortunately, they could leave from S.A.R.A.H. and arrive in the original nuclear fallout shelter, built in 1944. Unlike the larger structure of hallways and rooms under Eureka from the same era, it would be pretty basic: a few small concrete rooms behind a blast proof door, with the stairwell leading to the surface.
Still, they needed supplies. Along with the two bulky bridge devices, they needed to bring food, clothes, sleeping bags, some basic tools. And of course Jo insisted on a fully stocked emergency kit, plus weapons and ammunition.
“Aren’t our exotic particles going to be destroying the town sometime soon?” Zane finally begged. This was worse than packing to go backpacking, a chore he’d only tackled once and hoped never to do again.
“It’s not like we can go shopping in 1947 for anything we’re missing,” Jo scolded, as she compared notes with Future Jo. Zane and Future Zane exchanged looks.
Finally, though, they were ready to go. They trekked down the hallway, laden with supplies, to the storeroom where the bridge devices were waiting.
“So we know this room exists in 1947, right?” Zane confirmed. The math might be interesting on what would happen if they opened a wormhole into packed dirt, but the experience wasn’t something he wanted to try.
“Yes, this is one of the original rooms in the bunker,” Future Jo said. She was looking around the room with a frown.
“What is it?” Future Zane asked.
“I’m not sure,” she said slowly. “S.A.R.A.H., has anyone been in here recently?”
“No, Jo,” S.A.R.A.H. replied, sounding surprised. “No one has entered this room since yesterday.”
Future Jo didn’t look entirely convinced, but she nodded, and then she and Jo started double-checking their gear.
“Enough already,” Zane finally said. His backpack was ridiculously heavy. He grabbed hold of his bridge device and nodded at Jo to grab the other. “Push the damn button,” he ordered his future self.
“Ready?” Future Zane looked at Jo, who grabbed the other bridge device and nodded. With a grin, he pushed the button on Grant’s bridge device, and he and Future Jo disappeared.
Zane looked around. It wasn’t just that their future selves were gone. The room had changed, too. The walls and floor were ugly gray concrete, the overhead light had become a bare bulb, and Grant’s bridge device had also disappeared.
“Wow, that was kind of a let-down,” he said to Jo. “But I guess this is 1947.”
“Shh. . .” she whispered abruptly, holding up a hand for silence. “Do you hear that?”
He listened. Was that a sound of voices faintly arguing?
Carefully, Jo slipped out of her backpack and let it slide to the floor. She indicated with her chin that he should do the same and he followed suit, trying to move as quietly as possible.
But then she pulled a gun out from nowhere and he scowled at her, and shook his head. What were they going to do, shoot someone in 1947? With their luck, it’d turn out to be someone important’s ancestor – maybe Fargo’s – and they’d create an even worse paradox. “You can’t shoot anyone here,” he whispered. “We don’t know who it might be.”
Realization crossed her face and she nodded, slipping the gun back into its holster at her back. Quietly opening the backpack, she took out a Taser. He scowled even more fiercely. “No one here would have anything like that,” he whispered. “You’re going to give us away right away.”
She glared at him, clearly frustrated. He pressed his ear against the door, trying to hear the conversation. Who would be using a fall-out shelter on a military base in 1947? And those voices. . . Hell. The pitch was totally wrong.
He looked back at Jo and tried not to grin. “Go ahead and bring the Taser,” he said in a normal voice. “You can even use it.”
She looked startled, and then even more startled as he opened the door and waved her through.
“Caiti? Amy?” he heard her say almost immediately. “How did you get here? What are you doing here?” And finally, “Do your parents know you’re here?”
Zane followed her through the doorway, stepping up behind her. His children were standing in the next room, looking guilty as all hell. Leaning down, he whispered into her ear, “We are their parents.”
And then straightening, he said, in as stern a voice as he could manage, “Grounded for life, both of you.”
*I wish ff would let us use links, but if you search “Electronic Skin Grafts Gadgets to Body”, you’ll find a very cool article about some research out of Northwestern. Twenty years might be a little quick for it to become widespread reality, but hey, this is Eureka.
A/N: Thanks for this chapter go to ZeroGain and his story, “Writer’s Block,” which you should read if you haven’t read, and which both inspired me and made me happy today.
Chapter 10: Dibs on the Sleeping Bag
For a moment, the two girls were frozen, eyes wide.
Amy was the first to react. “That is so not fair. I didn’t do anything!”
Caiti’s lower lip wobbled, but she stuck her chin out stubbornly and glared at Zane. It was all he could do not to grin at her. He didn’t know any little kids: she was the first one he’d ever spent any real time with since he’d been one himself. But there was no way they were all like her or the world would be totally over-run with them.
“You’re in 1947,” Jo responded to Amy. “You definitely did something.”
“In 19 – what?” Amy’s voice squeaked. From her look of horror, it was clear that she’d had no idea. Turning on her little sister, she hissed, “We are going home, right now. And if you ever touch my handheld again, I’ll…I’ll…I’ll…I’ll do something terrible!”
“Excellent plan,” Jo agreed. She started to turn back to the room that held the bridge devices, but Zane put a hand on her shoulder.
“Not so fast,” he said. “How long have you been here?” he asked the girls.
Amy shrugged, but Caiti’s glare didn’t change. “Not long, maybe like ten minutes or so?”
Zane thought for a moment, and then shook his head. That was too long. “I hope we brought a lot of food,” he said to Jo. “Oh, and dibs on sharing your sleeping bag.”
“What?” she snapped at him. “And no!”
“They’re with us for the duration,” he told her.
“What?” Amy’s snap was almost as firm as her mother’s. “I can’t stay here. I have school!” Caiti didn’t say anything, but her glare faded and a little smile curved her lips.
“What are you talking about?” Jo demanded.
“Ten minutes means that the wormhole opened twice. Wherever he is, Grant turned on the bridge device, it didn’t work, and he turned it off. He probably tweaked it a little, and then turned it on again. We got here the second time he opened the wormhole.”
“One trip per wormhole. If we send the girls back to the future now, they’re using our trip back. Once they do, we have no way to be sure that we can make it back there, and if that’s the case…” He let the words trail off.
“When they get there, they can turn the machine off and then turn it on again,” Jo suggested. “We’ll spend the time we need here, but get back there just a couple minutes after them.”
Zane looked at her, not wanting to reply out loud, wanting her to figure it out so that he didn’t have to say the words.
But his kids weren’t his for nothing. “We might not exist anymore,” Caiti said, and then promptly stuck her thumb in her mouth.
“What?” This time Amy and Jo said the word simultaneously, Amy with horror, Jo with dismay.
Zane sighed. He should have known Caiti would figure it out but he really wished she hadn’t. He looked at her. Her blue eyes, so much like his, were steady on him. She didn’t look scared. Probably she should be.
“What does that mean?” Amy asked.
Zane looked at Jo. Had she figured it out? But she was looking just as confused as Amy. “If we change the future in such a way that the kids don’t… then we can’t count on them being there to turn the machine on.”
She still looked confused and he sighed. “There’s no way to be sure that they’ll be there to turn the machine on for us. So let’s just leave it at we’re all going back to the future together, okay?”
“But, Dad,” Amy protested. “I have school! My class field trip to Portland is tomorrow.”
Caiti took her thumb out of her mouth long enough to say, “It doesn’t matter how long you spend here, dummy. You’ll get back right after we left.” Okay, so Caiti was his kid. Amy was maybe not.
“No name-calling,” Jo ordered, pointing at Caiti just as Amy swatted the back of Caiti’s head.
“And no hitting,” Zane added, frowning at Amy.
Amy rolled her eyes, and sighed, the aggrieved sigh of a put-upon teenager. “I barely touched her.” She turned toward her little sister and glared. “Besides, this is all her fault.”
“Yeah, how exactly did you wind up here?” Jo asked.
“Caiti stole my handheld,” Amy ratted her sister out. “When I realized it was gone, I knew she must have taken it but she wasn’t home. I took Jaime’s transporter to S.A.R.A.H. and found her in the storeroom, but then S.A.R.A.H. changed, and we were here.”
Zane looked at Caiti. He could make some guesses, based on what he was like as a kid. She would have taken S.A.R.A.H.’s certainty as a challenge. She must have taken Amy’s handheld and come back to the smart house to see if she could break S.A.R.A.H.’s defenses. And depending on when she got there…
“You overheard us, didn’t you?” he asked, trying to keep his voice gentle.
Gentle, though, was probably a mistake. Her blue eyes filled with tears, although they didn’t overflow. The chin went up and the thumb went deeper. “We’re in a loop,” she sniffled. “And I’m not real.”
Ouch. Zane stilled, not sure how to respond, but Jo had no such hesitation. She took three steps forward and fell to her knees next to the girls. “Oh, honey,” she murmured, pulling Caiti close in a hug. “You are as real as can be.”
Caiti cried, big gasping sobs that shook her whole body while Jo held her, rubbing her back and murmuring soothing words into her ears.
Amy looked at Zane. “I don’t understand,” she said, voice small.
He stepped closer, feeling as uncertain as he’d ever felt. This sucked. This really sucked. “Eureka’s been trapped in a time loop, caused by a paradox. No one can move forward in time until we fix the paradox. That’s what we’re trying to do. But we don’t know what the future – our future –,” he clarified, gesturing between Jo and himself, “—will be like. Apparently it hasn’t always been the same.”
Amy bit her lip, and Zane continued hastily, “We haven’t lived through it yet. We don’t know what it’ll be. We don’t know what we’ll do.”
“So, sometimes you don’t have Caiti?” Amy asked, and then she asked the obvious follow-up. “Sometimes you don’t have any of us?”
Zane grimaced. Shit. It was seriously weird to try to tell a kid that you’d barely ever even kissed her mom, much less conceived her. And it felt like a totally inappropriate conversation to have with a teenage daughter he’d barely met.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jo said, standing, bringing Caiti with her. The little girl was clinging to Jo like a limpet, face buried in her shoulder. “We’re going to make it work.”
“How?” Amy asked plaintively.
Jo and Zane exchanged glances. Hell, Zane thought. He’d really like an answer to that question himself, but he hadn’t figured anything out. How could they break the loop, but still make sure they got the future they wanted?
“Dada?” said a plaintive voice behind him.
Zane whirled. A toddler, wearing nothing but a diaper but carrying a sheaf of paper, was standing right behind him. Zane nearly fell over in his haste to back away.
“Holy crap,” he swore, as the little one yawned widely.
“Sawa sez to tew you dat if it idn’t recorded, it…I forget.” The toddler yawned again. “Oh, and to gib you dis.” The toddler pushed the papers toward Zane.
Chapter 11: Candy Bars
The papers were blank.
And the baby was tired. It rubbed its eyes and then sat on the floor with a plop, and began to cry.
Jo and Zane exchanged looks of mutual horror, Jo still holding Caiti. “Have you ever—?” Jo started as Zane said, “Do you know anything about—?”
Jo was already shaking her head as Zane started shaking his. He looked at the toddler, its round face scrunched up and red as it howled, and then looked back at Jo. He gestured to Caiti, whose face was hidden in Jo’s neck, “How about if I take her?” he offered. She’d seemed small earlier but compared to the kid sitting on the floor, she was huge. And he could handle huge. Huge was good.
Jo held on to Caiti a little tighter. Zane could tell from the look on her face that she was feeling the same uncertain urge to panic as he was. Hell.
“It’s okay, Caiti,” Amy said, stepping forward.
“I know,” the girl replied, turning her head and sniffling a little.
“Not you.” Amy scooped up the toddler, competently thumping its back comfortingly. “I mean, you, but not that you, this you. Hush now, Caiti. Mi-mi has you.”
The toddler paused in its crying to look suspiciously at Amy, and then resumed crying, but almost tentatively. And then it stopped, and its thumb went into its mouth as it looked from one person to another with a puzzled, sleepy frown.
“That’s Caiti?” Jo asked.
“Looks just like she used to,” Amy answered. “She’s a lot easier to pick up than she was, though.”
“That’s not me,” the bigger Caiti said indignantly. “I never cried like that.”
“Oh, you so did,” Amy answered.
Before the sisters could devolve into a satisfying sibling round of “Did so, did not,” the toddler resolved the question by saying, “Me Caiti,” and then kicking to be let down. Jo deposited the larger Caiti on the ground, too, and the two Caitis considered one another solemnly.
Zane was flipping through the papers again. They still looked blank. He held them up to the bare light bulb, trying to see if there were indentations on the pages, but it was too dim in the bunker.
“What did she say?” Jo asked. “Something about S.A.R.A.H.?”
Zane ignored the question. “Why would S.A.R.A.H. let Caiti come back here? There’s no way this Caiti was hacking. S.A.R.A.H. had to know she was there.”
“Maybe S.A.R.A.H. sent her back here,” Jo suggested. “Could she reach the power button on the bridge device without help?”
“She was a climber,” Amy said. “This one time she – oh.” She looked from Jo to Zane and back again, and grinned. “Maybe I won’t tell you that. Wouldn’t want to discourage you from having kids.” Something about her little sister’s arrival seemed to have cheered Amy up, Zane noticed, as if she’d decided that this was a fun adventure and not scary after all.
He said as much to her, trying to phrase it carefully so as not to worry her.
“Well, sure,” she responded cheerfully. “S.A.R.A.H. solved it, right? In fact, S.A.R.A.H. must have figured out what you needed to do like four years ago, when Caiti was a baby.”
“Why wouldn’t she just tell us if she knew how to break the loop?” Jo asked, sounding skeptical.
“Need to know,” Amy responded promptly. “She’s avoiding creating another paradox.”
“Or she doesn’t know,” Zane said slowly, looking at the blank pages. “I need to think about this.”
“What do you mean she doesn’t know?” Jo asked.
“Caiti, what did S.A.R.A.H. want you to tell us?” Zane asked the smaller of the two Caitis.
She looked at him with wide eyes, thumb securely in her mouth, and didn’t answer. He crouched down next to her, and repeated, “Tell me what S.A.R.A.H. wanted you to tell us.”
This time she frowned at him, and her lower lip moved out in the beginnings of a pout.
“Uh-oh,” Amy said quickly. “Don’t do that.”
“Come on, Caiti,” Zane tried again. “I really need to know.”
Before the lip could start to wobble, the bigger Caiti reached out and poked her littler self in the stomach. The little Caiti’s mouth fell open with surprise. “Bad girl!” she said indignantly.
“Caiti!” Jo reprimanded the bigger Caiti, almost as shocked as the little Caiti was.
“I was going to cry,” Caiti explained. “I remember this.” Turning to Amy, she glared. “You said it was a dream. You said it never happened. You said you didn’t remember.”
“I didn’t remember,” Amy protested. “I don’t remember. What are you talking about?”
“When we camped. With Mommy and Daddy. Only it was different. And you were different.” Caiti looked from Jo to Zane to Amy and then shook her head. “We have to watch out for the bad guys,” she added earnestly.
Great. Okay, add watching out for the bad guys to the list of things they had to take care of in 1947. Zane looked at the paper again. Blank paper. Why had S.A.R.A.H. sent this back to them?
Baby Caiti apparently decided that enough was enough. She looked around the room, then made a beeline for Jo. “Up,” she demanded, raising her arms.
“She needs a nap,” Amy offered prosaically, as Jo cautiously lifted the baby.
“And a new diaper,” added Jo, sighing.
“We didn’t exactly pack for this,” Jo hissed at Zane. She was sitting on the ground, one hand resting comfortingly on the back of the motionless toddler. Baby Caiti had finally fallen asleep after an increasingly cranky hour.
“What do you want me to do, Jo?” Zane demanded in a hushed voice. “Do you want me to go try to find a store?”
She sighed. “Can you even buy diapers in 1947?”
“Well, you must be able to,” Amy pointed out. “Babies have to wear something.”
They had at least three days to wait until the right moment to open the wormhole on Beverly’s bridge device and bring Carter and Grant back to the past, and their fallout shelter was not stocked with appropriate supplies.
“S.A.R.A.H says that it if isn’t recorded…” Zane said again, for at least the twentieth time.
“Oh, my God,” said Jo. “You are driving me crazy! Quit saying that!”
“I’m hoping for inspiration,” Zane snapped back.
“We don’t need inspiration. We need diapers!”
“Baby me is very messy,” said Caiti disapprovingly.
Zane shook his head. She wasn’t kidding. Whoever had fed this kid before sending her back to 1947 had been a sadist. The filled diaper had been unpleasant. The second diaper, made out of t-shirt, had nowhere near the absorption it needed.
“I need to go find a store. Or at least some cloth.”
“We’re on a top-secret military base,” Jo snapped. “If you get caught, they will kill you.”
Zane rolled his eyes. They were desperate and yet this was all Jo kept saying. At some point, he was going to be willing to risk death to get this baby some absorbent clothes. His eye fell on Caiti – the bigger Caiti – and he frowned speculatively. “What if I bring Caiti?”
“What?” Jo’s reaction was immediate. She reached out to big Caiti, and pulled her a little closer.
“Hey, I want to come,” Amy protested.
“Nobody on an American military base in 1947 is going to shoot a guy with a kid,” Zane told Jo. “I’ll just say I’m lost, and our car broke down. They’ll probably give us a ride to the outskirts of town.”
“There is no town,” Jo protested. And then her glance fell on the toddler, and she sighed. “We don’t have enough food, either,” she admitted. She looked from Caiti to Amy to the other Caiti, and then to Zane and then brought her hands up to cover her face. “Argh.”
Zane grinned. Watching the Enforcer try to deal with kids would be seriously amusing if it weren’t for the smell of the littlest one.
“I want to come, too,” Amy insisted.
Zane shrugged. He supposed that would be okay. Two kids ought to be even safer than one.
“No,” said Jo, abruptly pushing herself up off the ground. “I’m the one who’s going shopping.”
“What?” Suddenly Zane didn’t like this plan at all.
Jo smiled at him. “An American military base in 1947 might shoot a guy first and ask questions later. But they won’t shoot a woman.”
That was exactly the logic that he had just used, but he didn’t like it at all when it was Jo at risk. “No way.”
“Yes, way. I am not letting the kids go out there.”
“Jo –,” he started but then fell silent. Hell. She was right.
“I want to come,” Amy said again.
“No,” said Jo firmly.
“Um, yes,” said Zane, equally firmly.
Jo glared at him. Zane could barely believe what he was thinking. Was he seriously volunteering himself to be left alone with two little kids, both of whom had demonstrated tear-producing ability? Was he insane?
“Black belt?” he asked Amy.
“I’m only fifteen,” she answered. “I can’t get my dan in aikido until I’m sixteen and kick-boxing doesn’t have ranks. But I’ve won regionals in both three years running.”
“Good enough,” he said. “You’re bringing Amy,” he told Jo.
“Are you insane?” she demanded.
“You got caught last time, right?” He hadn’t forgotten what she’d said in the woods, right after they traveled to the future. Her fear of getting captured had been based on previous experience.
She pressed her lips together, then reluctantly conceded, “Yes.”
“Amy is your secret weapon, then.”
Amy was bouncing on her toes, delighted at the opportunity to go exploring.
“Are you sure?” Jo asked, and he knew that she was thinking about the two little ones. He grimaced. He’d much rather go himself. But Jo was right: she had the best chance of getting what they needed and getting back, and that was what was most important.
“Yes,” said Caiti. “That’s right. You and Amy go, Mommy, and Daddy and me and baby me are here. And when the bad guys come, you come back. Come really quickly, please, because I don’t like them.”
Oh-kay, thought Zane. He looked at Jo and shrugged. They could change time, but should they? If they lived this past as it happened before, were they breaking the loop or reinforcing it?
“What happens to the bad guys, Caiti?” Jo asked carefully. He could tell that she was debating whether she should go or not. Three days without food and they’d be cranky, but they’d survive.
Caiti grinned. “Amy kicks their butts.”
“Ooh, yay,” Amy clapped.
Zane grinned at Jo and Jo managed a reluctant smile back. “Do we bring diapers back with us?” Jo asked Caiti.
Caiti frowned. “I don’t know. Maybe? But you bring candy bars.”
Oh, well, candy bars. That decided everything. Zane’s eyes met Jo’s. She sighed. “Don’t get into trouble?” she offered.
“Not until you get back,” he agreed. “And don’t forget the candy.”
Chapter 12: Little Demons
Zane leaned back, resting his head against the concrete wall of the bunker, and closed his eyes.
He wondered what time it was. He’d never been a wristwatch kind of guy. Who needed to wear a clock on your arm when you had one in your pocket? But he hadn’t expected to be accidentally jumping into the future and back to the past, either. His cell phone had probably diligently searched for a signal for hours. Unfortunately, every search used juice and by now it was just a lump of useless plastic. Of course, even if it had been working, the time it told might not have matched the time here in 1947.
It felt as if Jo and Amy had been gone for days, but it had probably only been a few hours. He opened his eyes and looked over at the two little demons sitting on the floor, contentedly drawing on the paper that S.A.R.A.H. had sent back in time with the littler one.
Holy cow, kids were hard work. A little peace and quiet, that was all he needed. Somehow he had to figure out how to solve the problem his other self had been working on for decades and quickly. But no, first big Caiti wanted to explore and he’d had to talk her out of that and then little Caiti wanted snacks and they’d had to unpack everything and look at every possible bit of food before settling on cheese and crackers. And then big Caiti wanted to play a game and he didn’t know any games and little Caiti wanted a story and he didn’t know any stories and then both Caitis started fighting over who got to eat the last cracker.
He really hoped Jo brought more food because little Caiti’s habit of eating one bite and then deciding it was yucky had spoiled at least three of their MREs before he’d gotten wise to her and refused to let her touch any more of them.
Idly, he picked up the paper airplane sitting next to his outstretched legs, and aiming carefully, threw it across the bunker toward the doorway.
“I thought you said no more airplanes, Daddy,” Caiti said, without looking up from her drawing. “Aren’t you supposed to be thinking?”
He sighed. “You’re right, I did and I am. But I’m stuck.” Then a thought struck him. “Hey, how did you know I threw it? Your back is turned, you couldn’t see it.”
“I felt it, I guess,” Caiti answered. She looked over at her younger self’s scribbles and said critically, “You think that’s writing but it’s really not.” Little Caiti’s lower lip slid out.
“Don’t be mean to your little self,” Zane said automatically. She hadn’t seen it. But she knew it happened anyway. What did that remind him of?
“S.A.R.A.H. says if it isn’t recorded . . .” For the umpteenth time Zane repeated the words little Caiti had said when she arrived. But S.A.R.A.H. wasn’t the only one who’d talked about recordings. Caiti had, too, back in the future, when she told him about her invisibility worm. “If it isn’t recorded, it doesn’t exist.”
That wasn’t quite right, though. Caiti’s invisibility worm didn’t stop her from being recorded: it stopped S.A.R.A.H. – or any device – from retrieving information that matched certain parameters. But if you couldn’t retrieve the information, it might as well not exist. If a tree fell in a forest – or a little girl snuck out of her bedroom – did it make a sound? Maybe not if no one heard it.
Eureka was trapped in a time loop caused by changing the past in such a way that the person making the change – the person who knew enough to make the change – no longer existed. There could be no future until the paradox was broken, until the kaleidoscope pieces settled into a state where the past led to the future without the future affecting the past.
The future Eurekans hoped that by erasing all knowledge of the future, the time loop would break. And they were making the choice to risk their lives, everything they’d created and done, to make it happen. Of course, his cynical self reminded him, they had no real choice: one way or another, they ceased to exist the moment he pressed the button on his version of the bridge device. His experience was different, ergo his future was different and they would never come to exist. Not the same way.
He looked across at the room at the two Caitis. The littler one was leaning on her bigger self’s leg, watching the big Caiti draw, tongue between her lips slightly sticking out. He’d seen that thoughtful look on older Caiti when they were puzzling over pancakes together.
He swallowed, feeling a weird lump in his throat. If he followed his idea to its logical conclusion, Caiti was already gone. But the other kids had existed in previous timelines, so the timelines didn’t have to be an exact match, just close enough. And to make the timelines match . . . what if someone could both know and not know the future? What if someone knew exactly what should happen at exactly the right moment to make it happen? What if someone always knew just enough to push the odds in the right direction, without ever knowing what she knew?
What if they made a record of every important moment, every crucial decision in Eureka’s future timeline, and then locked the data away in S.A.R.A.H.’s memory until it was needed? Could S.A.R.A.H. steer them to the future they wanted without ever being aware of what she was doing?
“All right, Caiti, I need you to help me,” Zane said abruptly. It was time to use all his available resources and Caiti had spent a lot more time messing with S.A.R.A.H.’s programming than he ever had.
“But I don’t remember anything, Daddy,” Caiti replied, putting down her pencil and turning to face him.
“I know,” he assured her. “But this isn’t about what you remember. I need you to help me solve a problem. Highest IQ ever measured, right? Let’s see what it’s good for.” He grinned at her.
She smiled back at him, almost shyly.
“Me do too,” Little Caiti said, the lower lip sliding stubbornly out again.
“All right,” Zane said, turning his grin on her, too. “You can help, too.” She was definitely a monster – willful and determined and completely unreasonable – but something about that pout made him think of Lupo and he couldn’t help liking it. Not that he’d ever seen the Enforcer pout. No, she wasn’t the pouting type. But if she ever did, he imagined she’d look much like little Caiti.
He quickly explained the problem to Caiti. They had to spend a little time talking about the nature of time, and he had to grab some of the paper and sketch out some ideas for her, but they hadn’t been kidding about that highest IQ ever measured business: she grasped the situation and its ramifications in no time.
“How can you know what’s most important, though?” Caiti asked, once she understood the problem.
“Exactly,” Zane answered. He sighed. Maybe this wouldn’t work after all. “And how can we be sure S.A.R.A.H. or someone else doesn’t accidentally access the information?”
“S.A.R.A.H. can access it all she wants,” Caiti said. “As long as she forgets again right away.”
“What do you mean?” Zane asked.
“She catches me sometimes.” Caiti’s dimples flashed at him. “But as long as I can make her forget before she has a chance to tell Mommy, it doesn’t matter. She only knows for a tiny bit, not long enough to get me in trouble.”
Wow, his child was an evil mastermind. Zane was proud.
“Her processors are shiny fast, too. I could write a subroutine that would let her look at the data for microseconds every day and then forget everything she didn’t need to know. That part would be easy.” Caiti sounded excited, but then she added in a plaintive tone. “But I don’t know how she’d know what she should know.”
“Wait,” Zane said. “You’re here. And you were here before, because you remember it. And S.A.R.A.H. sent you back here, so S.A.R.A.H. already knows what she needs to know. We just need to figure out how she knows it.” He jumped to his feet and started to pace.
“That was confusing, Daddy,” Caiti said, watching him, her look skeptical.
“Sawa tews heself stowies.” Little Caiti had gone back to the paper and was scribbling on it with enthusiasm.
“What?” Zane whirled around, looking at the toddler intently. “What did you say?”
“Sawa yikes people.” Caiti held up her drawing and admired it. “Yook, Dada. Me rode a detter. To Gamma.”
“That’s not a letter,” Big Caiti said scornfully. “It’s just scribbles.”
Zane opened his mouth to tell her not to be mean, but stopped, mouth half open, before the words got out.
And then, slowly, he started to smile.
Chapter 13: If this, then that
Wheels within wheels, loops within loops, time winding back and around on itself.
The recursive possibilities were endless.
Zane stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, thinking hard. Pieces were still missing. The paper, that was useful, but not nearly enough. He needed so much more. Why hadn’t S.A.R.A.H. just told him what he needed to know?
Oh, of course.
She was avoiding creating a paradox. If his now-self didn’t come up with the answer, then the answer would never exist, and never have existed.
“Caiti, did S.A.R.A.H. help you design your invisibility worm?” Zane asked. His grin felt like it might split his face in two. Little Caiti was still admiring her letter to her grandmother, but Big Caiti was watching him suspiciously.
“Sorta, yeah. She taught me lots of stuff about programming when I was littler. We used to play conditional statement games. They were really fun.”
“And branch predication? Did she teach you that, too?”
“Uh-huh.” Caiti nodded. “Lots of stuff. Jaime and Zander used to say she liked me best ’cause she spent so much time showing me stuff. But they got to live with her, so I think they were just being silly.”
“What about the algorithms? Where did they come from?”
“She made me figure those out. That was the hard part, but once I got one, the rest were easier. And you helped, too, remember? For my fifth birthday, we spent three whole days working on my code. That’s what I wanted for my present.”
Oh, God, Zane couldn’t wait to be her father. He was sure the other kids were nice, too, but this kid—she was his. He knew already that the days writing code with her would be some of the best days of his life.
But his surge of adoration for his daughter didn’t distract him for long. “And the subroutines you were talking about? Did you develop those for your worm?”
“Uh-huh,” Caiti nodded eagerly. “S.A.R.A.H. taught me how to wrap them, too, though, so I could use ’em for lots of things.”
Zane shook his head, his smile wry. So S.A.R.A.H. had taught his daughter to be a hacker. She’d given Caiti the tools they needed to solve the problem, but since Caiti had developed the solutions herself, no paradox was involved. Caiti didn’t know information she couldn’t know, she’d just gotten a little push to create it.
Loops within loops.
And thinking of loops… with an unpleasant lurch of his stomach, Zane realized he needed to go back to the future. The wormhole had opened twice now. He had to close the open loop or when they went back, it would be to the wrong time, the time when Caiti was still a toddler.
The kaleidoscope was in motion, the pieces spinning madly.
He knew Jo well enough to know that if she were here, she’d protest, she’d argue and she’d insist on sticking to the plan as it was written. But they couldn’t afford to do that. And the timing was tight. He had limited time in the future before the quantum instability began destroying the town and limited time in the past before they had to save Alison’s life.
But he wouldn’t be able to get back to the past without someone here to create the second open connection he’d need.
“Think really hard, honey. Do you remember me leaving you and little-you alone?” Zane asked Big Caiti.
“It was a long time ago and I thought it was a dream,” she protested. Her eyes, so similar to the ones he saw every time he looked in the mirror, narrowed. “But…” She looked back to the room that held the Einstein-Grant bridge devices. “You and me went in there,” she said, pointing. “Just for a minute, though. And we came back with stuff. Lots of stuff.”
Zane bit back a curse word that his young children shouldn’t hear. Why hadn’t he realized the open loop existed sooner? Some genius he was. Amy and Jo had no need to be out in the woods. A quick trip to the future—little Caiti’s future—and they’d have all the supplies they needed. He wished Caiti had remembered that detail a little sooner.
But it had happened, it would happen, it was going to happen. The closer they stayed to the past that big Caiti remembered, the better off they would be.
“All right.” He nodded, tilting his head toward the door. “I need you to come push a button for me. We’ll be right back, Little Caiti.”
Little Caiti looked up from her scribbling and gave him a polite wave of the fingers. “Bye-bye, Dada,” she said cheerfully. “Bye-bye.”
Big Caiti snorted. “He’s not going anywhere, silly me,” she said, following Zane to the storeroom.
Back in the storage room, Zane’s mouth felt dry as he swallowed. This button got scarier every time he pushed it. What if it didn’t work? What if he wound up somewhere entirely different? Damn it, he was going to make absolutely sure this device was destroyed in the very near future.
“Here’s what I need you to do,” he said, giving Caiti quick instructions.
Her eyes grew wide. “You are going somewhere.”
“And I need you to bring me back,” he confirmed. “Wait a couple minutes, then push this button.”
Her grin held a glint of much-too-familiar mischief. “If I do, will you make Mommy give me my handheld back?” she bargained.
His chuckle burst forth spontaneously, and he reached out to ruffle her hair. “What, saving the future’s not enough for you?”
“Well…” She lifted a shoulder in a tiny shrug. “I miss it.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re going to be grounded for life after this little escapade, kid. But I’ll do my best.”
She nodded and Zane looked around the room one last time. Fuck. He took a deep breath. It felt like he ought to get a crappy-parent-of-the-year award for this, but he was going to leave his children alone in the past. In 1947. He hoped Jo never needed to know about it.
He pushed the button.
The room shifted.
“Good morning, Dr. Donovan,” S.A.R.A.H. said, politely. “I’ve been expecting you.”
Chapter 14: No Time for Fantasies
“What can you tell me, S.A.R.A.H.?” Zane asked.
“Nothing,” she replied, promptly. “Or at least so my programming advises me. My anxiety programming is hyper-stimulated, however. I surmise that this situation is potentially exceedingly dangerous.”
Zane grimaced. Dangerous, sure. His future self might have argued that the time-space continuum wouldn’t be destroyed, only their own existence within it, but he suspected that he hadn’t been nearly as sanguine as he pretended to be. If he, after less than twenty-four hours with his children, was willing to sacrifice the universe for them, how much more would his future-self have been willing to do?
“All right,” he answered S.A.R.A.H., thinking hard. Where should he start? Supplies for 1947, plans for the future, creating a worm or virus for the S.A.R.A.H. of the past?
“I have been fascinated to discover that I have a subconscious, however,” S.A.R.A.H. continued brightly. “Is this a byproduct of the emotional attachment patch that you gave me?”
Zane bit back a grin. “Not exactly.”
“Apparently, I am generally as unaware of my subconscious impulses as most human beings are. This pleases me. Although I question whether my unconscious motivations are entirely healthy.”
“Oh, they are, they are,” Zane reassured her. “You’re very well-balanced.”
“Thank you for the compliment.” S.A.R.A.H. sounded almost smug. “I admit that to the best of my ability to judge, my subconscious actions have been… interestingly creative.”
“Oh, yeah?” Despite the time crunch, Zane’s curiosity got the better of him. “How so?”
“Approximately 28 months ago, I suffered a systems malfunction while you and Jo were visiting. The two of you were trapped inside me for three days, with no electrical power. Despite intensive analysis, I had been unable to pinpoint the cause of the power outage until now, when my subconscious motivations were revealed to me. I do not quite understand why my subconscious determined that you needed a fifth child, however.”
Zane’s eyes closed and he stopped breathing as his body reacted to the idea of being trapped with Lupo, alone, just the two of them, no power, no distractions, for three whole days.
His imagination painted the picture. His Lupo, the Enforcer, she’d be furious. She’d pace the floor. She’d yell and scream and attack the doors. She’d look for tools to break the bunker’s skylight open, she’d bash at S.A.R.A.H.’s consoles, she’d swear and curse and call him every name in the book because, sure as sunrise, she’d blame him for the whole fiasco.
But maybe, just maybe, after a day or two, she’d mellow out. Maybe they’d talk—the way real people did, not adversarial, not enemies, but sharing stories of their pasts, their dreams, their hopes, their desires.
And then he’d touch her. And she wouldn’t push him away. She’d melt into his arms, lifting her face to his, pressing that glorious body of hers against him until he could feel every inch. And it would be fire, rushing between the two of them, back and forth, each of them inciting it higher and higher until they were burning up.
He’d unbutton her shirt. It would be a black shirt, of course, because she always wore black. Underneath it—a black bra. Definitely. Lupo wasn’t the white underwear type. He just knew that her clothes hid lingerie that would tantalize and tease, that would make his mouth go dry and the rest of him ache with lust. And then—
But before his fantasies could go any farther, his train of thought derailed.
Fifth child. That was what S.A.R.A.H. had said. Fifth child. As in five.
So no, it wouldn’t be like that at all.
It would be the comfort of long familiarity. It would be the excitement of parents escaping from their responsibilities, the delight of touching someone you knew almost as well as yourself, the ease of practice and the thrill of time, glorious time. He would know exactly how to make her tremble, every touch that would elicit a breathless moan of pleasure, every motion that would make her eyes glaze over in ecstasy. And she would know the same for him. Her lips—her really frickin’ insanely gorgeous lips—would slide down his chest the way they had a thousand, no, three thousand times before…
“Your heartbeat has accelerated, Dr. Donovan. Are you well?” S.A.R.A.H. inquired politely.
Zane licked his lips. “What else has your subconscious done, S.A.R.A.H.?” he asked, managing to keep his voice steady, while he fought to get his unruly body under control.
God, it was like being back in tenth grade. He’d managed, for so long, to shove thoughts of Lupo into the darkest recesses of his brain. Yeah, she was hot as hell, but she was also the Enforcer. Off limits. Not going to be his. Not worth thinking about. But the slightest hint, the whisper of possibility, in their first kiss—the one that wasn’t a first kiss—had sent him reeling. And now? Fuck, he was going to lose his mind.
“When Doctor Trevor Grant, Eureka’s town historian, left his position abruptly, I applied for the job,” S.A.R.A.H. responded. “I have greatly enjoyed being the town’s historian and archivist, but it has only become apparent to me recently that this was also my subconscious at work.”
Zane’s lip lifted in a half-smile. “Does recently mean today?”
“Indeed,” S.A.R.A.H. agreed. “Three minutes and twelve seconds ago.”
“Before or after Caiti pushed the button on the bridge device?” Zane asked.
“After, by approximately .0045th of a second.”
Zane ran his hand through his hair. No paradox, then. He’d already determined that S.A.R.A.H. would have to learn everything there was to know about the town’s history—past, present, and future—so the fact that she’d figured out the same thing herself shouldn’t be a problem.
“I have discovered a fascinating set of subroutines in my code,” S.A.R.A.H. continued. “I surmise that you placed them there quite some time ago.”
“Could be,” Zane agreed. He hesitated. He didn’t want to ask any questions. He had no idea what might jeopardize the timeline. On the other hand, he’d left his children alone in 1947, knowing that what one of them viewed as “bad guys” were on the way. He wanted to get back there as quickly as possible. “Did I leave you a shopping list, too?”
“I beg your pardon?” S.A.R.A.H. sounded politely interested in the idea of shopping.
“A list of supplies?” Zane tried again.
“Ah, indeed.” A light shone down out of nowhere, illuminating two dusty boxes pushed into the back corner of the room. “Your supplies. You should take them and go.”
“Not yet, I need to leave some notes for my future self. He—I—am going to have to write the code to modify your programming and have it ready to go when-“
“You cannot,” S.A.R.A.H. interrupted him.
“Because Isabel is not the most vigilant of babysitters, but she has realized that Caiti is missing. She cannot find you here without seriously jeopardizing your plans. Take the boxes and go, Dr. Donovan, so that Caiti can return to this moment in time before her parents grow concerned about my inability to locate her.”
“But—” Zane started to protest, then grimaced in frustration. S.A.R.A.H. was right. He couldn’t be found in this time. Cursing under his breath, he dived for the boxes. Balancing them awkwardly on one arm, he pushed the button.
Chapter 15: His Evil Self
Back in the bunker, he and big Caiti ripped open the boxes.
Zane sighed with relief at the first item on the top of the first box. Diapers, thank God. The brand name was unfamiliar, but the happy, half-naked baby on the front of the package could be advertising nothing else. He lifted the package out.
Underneath it, score. A top-of-the-line laptop. He pulled it out and flipped it open, admiring its sleek lines.
“What’s that?” Caiti asked, sounding fascinated.
“It’s a computer,” Zane answered, digging deeper to find the power cord.
“No, it’s not,” Caiti protested.
Zane sat back on his heels. “Let me guess. Yours don’t have keyboards?”
“Not like that.” Caiti stroked her fingers across the surface of the machine. “That’s weird.”
Zane grinned. He wondered if Caiti had ever ridden in a real car, or changed the channel on a television, or turned a light on with a switch. “Do you ever adjust the water temperature in your shower?”
“What?” She tapped the keys, but the screen didn’t respond, since the computer wasn’t on. “Why?”
“Oh, you know, to make the water hotter or colder.”
“That’s silly, Daddy. Why would I do that? The water always feels good.”
Zane shook his head, his smile rueful, but didn’t answer. The laptop must be from 2011. It made sense: bringing technology back from the future with him might be dangerous. This way, Caiti could show him her subroutines for hiding information from S.A.R.A.H.. He’d write the code that would let S.A.R.A.H. steer Eureka’s history for the next twenty-two years or so, and then he’d be able to use this computer to modify S.A.R.A.H.’s 2011 system.
“My box is just food and sleeping bags and clothes,” Caiti said, sounding disappointed.
“All useful stuff,” Zane said, as he dug deeper into his box, finding a boxed set of Candyland, a deck of cards, crayons, miscellaneous other small toys, and, at the very bottom, a sealed envelope addressed to Sergeant Joseph Lupo, to be delivered in June, 1984.
He tapped the envelope against his hand. How the hell was he going to manage this? He’d prepared, obviously: the letter would contain all the relevant information. But how would he get it to Jo’s dad? Forty years into the future left so much time for it to get lost, damaged, destroyed.
He’d need to find an ally. Someone in the past. Someone who’d stay in the past, would live through time in the usual way. He pulled out a piece of paper that had been under the envelope and unfolded it. He snorted as his eyes skimmed down the list of stocks.
Good job, him.
“What’s that, Daddy?” Caiti asked.
“Nothing important,” he said, folding the list up again. He had his bribe, he had his task, now he just needed to find the lucky winner. He wondered whether it really mattered. Had his future self’s tweak of the timeline truly been the essential ingredient to their family’s future? But, hell, it couldn’t be that hard to make it work. And why screw around?
Underneath the list, a pill bottle had fallen to the bottom of the box. He picked it up, wondering. The prescription label read, “Flunitrazepam, Schedule IV.” He frowned down at it. He didn’t know much about drugs and he’d never heard of this one, but he slipped the pill bottle into his pocket with the letter and the list. He wouldn’t have included it in his supplies list if he wasn’t going to need it. He hoped none of the kids were going to get sick on their little journey.
“All right, let’s go change your diaper,” he said to Caiti, still worrying about the pills.
“Ew,” she answered. But she scooped up the laptop, holding it tucked into her tiny arms like a treasure, and obediently followed him into the other room.
While he called little Caiti over to get her diaper changed, big Caiti examined the computer. “Why doesn’t it work?” she asked with frustration. “It doesn’t do anything.”
“You need to plug it in,” Zane told her, glancing around for a power outlet as he tugged at the knots they’d tied in the makeshift diaper they’d made out of a t-shirt. The bunker had lights and air circulation, so there had to be a power source somewhere, maybe a generator.
“I need to do what?” she asked.
“Plug it in,” he repeated. “It needs power.”
“What’s wrong with its battery?” She sounded confused. She turned the laptop over, exploring its outlets and crevices.
“The battery needs to be charged.” Zane frowned down at the fresh diaper. Admittedly, he’d never changed a diaper before, but weren’t they supposed to have tape on the edges? And be sort of fat and fluffy? He’d seen commercials. This diaper was more like a neatly folded thick piece of cotton fabric, colorfully printed with pictures of butterflies and bees, but it didn’t seem to have the appropriate openings. He ran the tips of his fingers over the pattern, recognizing it as a smooth plastic.
Little Caiti kicked her feet at him from her prone position on the floor. “Now, Dada,” she ordered.
“Charged with what?” Caiti set the laptop down on the floor and stared at it. “This doesn’t work right. It’s broken.”
“It just needs some juice,” Zane answered. He leaned back. “Tell you what, come here and help me with the diaper and I’ll get the computer working.”
“Put it on, mini-me,” Big Caiti ordered.
With a raised eyebrow, Zane proffered the diaper to the toddler, but she looked as surprised as he was.
“Not gonna happen,” Zane told big Caiti as little Caiti stuck her thumb into her mouth, eyes wide.
Big Caiti heaved a sigh and joined them. “Up,” she told her littler self. Little Caiti scrambled to her feet. Big Caiti took the diaper and tapped one of the butterflies, then unfolded the fabric. She tucked it around the toddler, tapped a bee, and stepped away. The pattern on the front lit up, colors dancing wildly for a second or two.
Zane recoiled. “What is that?” he asked, as the colors settled into a steady pattern of green and blue.
“Good,” pronounced little Caiti. She yawned and rubbed her eyes.
“A diaper?” big Caiti asked suspiciously, as if he was teasing her.
“What are the colors for?”
She shrugged. “To say when it’s time to change or if I get sick, I think? Mommy’s phone used to tell her when I had a fever.”
Zane wasn’t sure whether that was ridiculous or inspired. He leaned toward ridiculous. On the other hand, he’d never taken care of a baby. Maybe it was reassuring?
“Computer now, Dada.”
He sent Caiti back into the other room for the power cord and the crayons and found a power outlet. When she came back, he set up the computer and the two of them sat cross-legged on the floor in front of it as it booted up.
“I tiyed, Dada. Mick, yow.” Little Caiti leaned against his arm.
He glanced at big Caiti.
“Milk, now” she translated for him, her eyes intent on the screen. “This is so shiny.”
“In the big box,” she told him, delicately tugging the laptop closer to her. “I’ll just…” her voice trailed off as her fingers began skipping across the keys.
With a resigned grin, Zane stood. Little Caiti clung to his leg so he scooped her up and carried her into the other room. He suspected that it might be getting close to her bedtime. He’d get her some milk, then set up one of the sleeping bags to serve as a bed for her. Should he brush her teeth? Find her some clothes to sleep in?
The milk was easy to find. He was impressed by the packaging. He had no idea what it was or how it worked, but as he unpeeled what seemed like simple plastic wrap from a baby bottle, he could tell that the milk was cool. When he opened it and sniffed, it smelled fresh and fine.
He handed the bottle to little Caiti and she took it, but she didn’t drink, just looked disconsolately about the room. “I bant my tair,” she told him plaintively.
“Your tair?” he asked her.
“I bant to dit in you yap, dada, and yock. Dat is de bet way to seep.”
Zane looked down at the tiny girl. He didn’t think babies were supposed to talk like that. Not that he understood every word—he hadn’t. But he was fairly sure that babies didn’t talk in sentences. And that his baby girl had just expressed a strong preference for being rocked to sleep in his arms.
“How about we spread out a sleeping bag and you sit in my lap there?” he asked her gently.
Her lower lip quivered, but, “O-tay,” she said valiantly.
“Tell me about the chair,” he said to her as he opened the sleeping bag. He sat down on it, cross-legged, and she crawled into his lap, still clutching her bottle of milk.
“It da big tair,” she said, leaning into him. “I yike it.” She plunked the bottle into her mouth and nestled into him. Zane wanted to hold his breath. What a weird fucking feeling. She was so little, but so solid. So warm and yet so fragile. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and hold her steady forever.
Her eyelashes dropped down onto her cheeks. Lupo’s cheeks. She had his eyes, but Lupo’s skin, Lupo’s bones. The bottle slipped out of her mouth, her small, perfect lips opening and closing like a goldfish, until she settled on slightly open and sound asleep.
Zane looked down at her. So perfect. So beautiful. So unimaginably amazing.
Had his future self worked out some way to send the children back in time on purpose? It would be just like him. Evil, calculating, manipulative… and so right.
Gently, very, very gently, he laid his baby down on the sleeping bag.
He knew now that his future self was right. Memory wipe? Whatever. He would do anything for his children, anything at all.
And then he froze.
What the hell?
From the other room came the sounds of men yelling and Caiti yelping.
Chapter 16: Bad guys
“Bad guys!” shrieked big Caiti.
Zane started for the door, but he hadn’t taken more than two steps before little Caiti began to wail.
Screaming child in one room, crying child in another and bad guys—probably armed—in the bunker. It was parent’s worst nightmare, made surreal by the circumstances. Zane reacted by instinct. Turning back, he grabbed little Caiti, holding her close as he burst through the door and into the other room.
“Leave her alone,” he shouted at the soldiers standing at the entrance to the bunker. He bolted across the room, skidding to a stop next to big Caiti.
Despite their uniforms and weapons, the soldiers didn’t actually look much like bad guys to him. They mostly looked confused. Only one had a weapon drawn and it was pointed at the floor. Another pushed his helmet up, scratching his forehead. “What the hell are you folks doing here?” he asked.
Zane blinked. God. What an obvious question. Too bad he had no idea how to answer it. But he jiggled little Caiti, bouncing her up and down, patting her back, trying to soothe her, as big Caiti sobbed and clutched his leg.
“Sweetie, stop, it’s okay,” he said helplessly, putting one hand on her head. “Don’t cry, they’re not going to hurt you.”
“Yes, they are,” she said, between gasps. “They are. They are.”
Little Caiti, seeing her older self’s distress, cried harder.
Zane dropped to one knee and pulled big Caiti close. He glared at the soldiers over her shoulder, one arm around each girl. “No, they’re not,” he said firmly. “They’re American soldiers. They don’t hurt little girls. These soldiers are the good guys. They probably carry candy bars to give to the kids they meet.”
Neither Caiti stopped crying. The soldiers exchanged glances. The two in back shrugged. The one in front, who seemed to be in charge, said, “Cigarettes, maybe, bud, but this ain’t Italy. We don’t spend a lot of time trying to charm the civilian population out here in the woods.”
“They scared me,” sobbed Caiti. “I remember. I remember.”
“Shh, shh,” Zane tried to console her. “What do you remember? Tell me.”
“I woke up and it was loud and they were scary. And they have guns. We’re not allowed to play with guns, Daddy.”
“Of course not,” Zane said, slightly appalled. How had his little girl learned that?
“Guns are dangerous.” Caiti pulled away from him and looked up, tear-filled blue eyes earnest. “Only Mommy is allowed to touch guns. Nobody else, ‘cept at the range with ear protectors on. And they’re not wearing ear protectors. They’re breaking the rules. The big rules.”
Jo’s little girl. Of course, she’d know about guns.
Little Caiti’s sobs were dying down. She nestled her head into his shoulder, sticking her thumb into her mouth, and gave one last shuddering whimper.
The soldiers at the door were stirring. The leader jerked his head and the two others slid out from behind him, moving along the walls of the bunker toward the door to the next room.
“What do you mean, remember?” asked the leader, his voice tight and suspicious. “And what’s this about mommy and guns?”
Zane didn’t stand, although he would have liked to. He held up his hand, fingers spread wide, a placating gesture. “It’s a long story,” he said, mind racing. He couldn’t do anything, not with Caiti and Caiti here. If it had been just him… but it wasn’t and there was no use wishing otherwise.
Amy and Jo would show up and take care of the soldiers, Zane knew, so it wasn’t as if they were in actual danger. But what the hell would they do with them? They couldn’t keep them here, couldn’t let them go. If the soldiers didn’t report in for two days… he began to have a sick feeling in his stomach. Ugh. This might be a much bigger problem than he’d imagined.
“Start at the beginning, then.”
“We’re not from around here,” Zane said.
“You sound American,” the soldier said, his eyes narrowed. He dipped his head, a quick jerk of the chin, and his helmet fell back into place as he placed his hand on his holstered weapon.
“Ah, yeah, absolutely,” Zane answered hurriedly. “But we were in Europe during the war. Caiti’s got PTSD. Soldiers scare her. She’s just having a flashback to a few years ago.”
Ah, shit. When had post-traumatic stress disorder gotten named? People had known about it for a long time, but maybe they called it something different in the 1940s. “Ah, like shell shock?” Zane tried.
“The war.” Zane shrugged, as if that said everything. If this soldier had seen combat, it might. The soldier’s scowl didn’t disappear, but a flash of sympathy appeared in his eyes.
“Sarge, you gotta see this,” called one of the other soldiers. When he stepped back through the door, his weapon was out and pointed at Zane.
Okay, how to explain the Einstein-Grant bridge devices?
“Look, what are you guys doing here?” Zane stayed on his knee, but his arm tightened around little Caiti. Maybe a bluff would work. “This is supposed to be a top-secret facility. I was promised absolute privacy. Who gave you your orders?”
“Our commanding officer is Major Ryan,” the sergeant answered, even as he side-stepped his way along the wall to the door of the next room, never turning his back on Zane. “What the hell is that?”
“Top-secret,” Zane answered with a snap. At the best of times, he didn’t imagine that he’d be able to trick military personnel into thinking he had any authority, but holding a toddler who wore nothing but a diaper while a wide-eyed kid leaned on his leg wasn’t making it any easier.
“All right, this is above my pay grade,” the sergeant announced abruptly. “We’re taking you in. We’ll let the major sort it out.”
Zane looked down at Caiti, as little Caiti whimpered against his neck. He raised his eyebrows in silent question. She nodded at him, her face solemn.
“Outside, Dada,” she whispered. It wasn’t a loud whisper, but the sergeant heard it anyway.
“What’s she talking about?” he asked warily.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” Zane lied smoothly.
They stepped out of the bunker into a chilly Oregon twilight. Little Caiti immediately began to cry again. “No,” she sobbed, “No. I yant my tair. I yant my mick. I no be code. No code.”
“Shh, shh.” Zane patted her back helplessly. The soldiers looked as distressed as he felt.
“Is she okay?” “What’s wrong with her?” “Why is she crying?” All three of them spoke at once.
Zane felt like an asshole. These weren’t bad guys. They were just average Joes, doing their jobs, and he was going to have to do something, anything, to shut them up. Not to mention the humiliation when…
Chapter 17: A teenaged whirlwind
It happened so quickly that Zane couldn’t even say what he’d seen, but two of the three soldiers were down on the ground, one on all fours, retching, the second curled up around his groin, gasping in agony. The third man had one arm twisted up behind his back, his face twisted in a rictus as he arched onto his tiptoes to try to relieve the pain.
“Not too hard, Amy,” Jo cautioned, leaning over one of the men on the ground and taking his weapon from him with practiced ease. “We don’t want permanent damage.”
“What the hell, lady?” The standing soldier grunted the words as Jo moved to disarm the still writhing soldier. “You can’t do that!”
“It’s done.” She straightened, a gun in either hand, her expression grim, determined.
Zane couldn’t stop his grin. Damn, but Jo was hot when she was ferocious. He’d never really liked Lupo when she had her stern face on. He preferred the aggravated, fuming Jo, about to lose her cool. Well, or the softer, warmer Jo that he’d only seen a few times, like when she took his side after Alison stole the TAP fluid for Kevin’s rocket and nearly blew up the town. Still, kickass Jo when the toughness was directed at someone other than him stirred thoughts he really shouldn’t be thinking.
“Mama!” Little Caiti burst into tears and leaned away from him and toward Jo, her arms outstretched. “Mama, Mama. Now, Mama, now.”
Zane bit back the laugh and held the squirming toddler a little tighter. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who wanted Jo. Jo’s grim look disappeared, replaced by a hint of panic as she looked down at the guns in her hands and back at Little Caiti.
“Not right now, Caiti,” Zane said soothingly. “Mommy’s armed and dangerous. She’ll snuggle with you as soon as she takes care of the bad guys.”
“Bad guys?” protested the soldier who was still on his feet with Amy twisting his arm behind his back. “Who are you people?”
“Wrong word choice,” Zane said hastily, patting Little Caiti on the back to calm her. “Sorry. No offense intended.”
“Did you just apologize to a guy in uniform, Donovan?” Jo asked, voice dry, as she efficiently ejected the bullets from one of the guns and stashed it behind her back. “Unlike you.”
Zane lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Parenthood. It’s making me more responsible by the minute.” He ought to hate it, he supposed. He ought to be remembering the joys of being a free man, responsible to no one but himself. But it was hard to think clearly back to that time, with Little Caiti in his arms and Big Caiti leaning against his leg, both of them with thumbs in their mouths.
Pointing her remaining weapon at the standing soldier, Jo said, “On your knees, then face-down on the ground.” In seconds, all three soldiers were disarmed and down, the one who’d been hit in the groin still moaning softly. Jo never looked away from them, her grim expression back.
“Did you see me, Dad?” Amy bubbled over with enthusiasm. “I’ve never really hit for reals before, only sparred, but Mom always said the secret was to imagine punching bags that would punch back if I didn’t hit hard enough. I did good, though, didn’t I? That was fun!” As she took in Jo’s expression and Zane’s silence, the bubbles slowed. “It’s okay, isn’t it? I did okay?”
“Yes, of course,” Zane answered her. But was it? It was one thing to take out the soldiers for the moment, but long-term, they needed two more days in 1947. How were they going to stay undercover until then?
“You did great, Amy.” Jo reassured the teenager, but as she looked at Zane, he could see his thoughts reflected in her bleak eyes. “What next?” she asked him, her voice holding a note of uncertainty.
Zane scowled, scratching his stubble with his free hand as he thought. Why hadn’t he planned for this? The box of supplies hadn’t contained any handy handcuffs or even plain rope to tie the soldiers up. Not that keeping them prisoner would be easy, but what alternative did they have?
Ah, of course. He stepped forward, starting to disentangle Little Caiti from where she was locked around his waist and neck. “Let’s trade. Give me the gun and you take the kids downstairs. I’ll take care of these guys.”
Jo’s hand tightened on the gun as her eyes widened. “Excuse me? What does that mean?”
“Just give me the gun, Jo,” he said impatiently. “Leave it to me.”
Jo glanced at the standing kids. “Amy, take Caiti—both Caitis—downstairs,” she ordered.
Amy looked between both parents. Maybe she recognized Jo’s tension, because she stepped forward and scooped the littler Caiti out of Zane’s arms. “Come on, Caiti,” she said, putting her hand on the bigger Caiti’s head and turning toward the bunker’s door.
“No,” Little Caiti wailed. “I want Mama, I do.” Big Caiti’s lower lip slid out in a suspicious pout.
“Hush and let Mi-mi take care of you. Mama has to work now, but we found candy bars. You can share one.” Amy moved away with the mostly unresisting Caitis, disappearing down the bunker steps.
“Give me the gun, Jo, and you go, too,” Zane said. “I’ll take care of this.”
Jo stared at him, her brown eyes unreadable. She licked her lips. “Zane…”
“What is it?” he asked, turning to consider the soldiers. The one Amy had nailed in the nuts was still in pain. He might not mind being put out of his misery.
“I know there’s a lot at stake here.” Jo sounded as if she were picking her words with care. “I get that, I do. But these guys were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They haven’t done anything wrong.”
The other guy had a bloody nose, probably broken, probably from a hard knee to the nose as he was going down after she kicked him in the stomach. It would be a dead giveaway that he’d been in a fight. But maybe that could be useful.
“Come on, Jo, the sooner this is done the better. We’ve got a time limit here.” Zane held out his hand for the gun, still contemplating the soldiers.
“We’ve got two whole days left. There’s no reason to make hasty decisions.”
Number three, the leader, was uninjured. In the bunker, he’d seemed both sympathetic and smart, the decision maker for the team.
“We’re talking the future of the world, maybe the universe, remember?” Zane said the words to Jo, but he watched the soldiers as he did so. From his prone position on the ground, the sergeant’s head turned, his eyes focusing on Zane, his glare deepening. Yeah, Zane decided, he’d target the sergeant first.
“Yeah, but…” Jo sighed. When she spoke again, the words were abrupt, her voice stronger. “No. I can’t let you do it. I’m sorry, Zane, but it’s not worth it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I know it sucks but it’s not like it’s our first time on this merry-go-round. We’re just going to have to try again. Another twenty years, maybe we’ll come up with a better plan.”
“Another twenty—” Zane stepped away from her in disbelief. “No way. If we don’t solve it this time, those kids—” He pointed toward the bunker, and with an emphatic shake of his finger, added, “—our kids—might never exist. We screw this up and we might not get them back. I’m not taking that chance.”
Jo pressed her lips together. “I’m sorry, Zane,” she said, the guns steady in her hands. “I’m not letting you kill these guys.”
Zane stared at her.
Chapter 18: Duh!
“Well, duh.” Zane stuffed his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels. “What the hell, Lupo? What kind of guy do you think I am?”
The guns in Jo’s hands lowered again. Her lips parted as if she would say something before she forced a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “I guess I don’t really know.”
“If your alternate universe version of me would murder these guys, you’re better off without him.”
Jo’s smile looked more genuine. “No. He would never.”
“Oh, but I would?” Zane rolled his eyes. “Nice, Lupo, nice. A few computer-related crimes and some harmless pranks and suddenly I’m a cold-blooded killer? Thanks loads.” He meant the words to sound nonchalant, mocking, as if he were immune to the insult, but he could feel anger simmering in his voice. And maybe, just maybe, although he could barely bring himself to admit it, underneath the anger was hurt. How could Jo think so little of him?
Jo bit her lip. She looked away from him, as if to avoid the accusation in his eyes. “The idea occurred to me. Maybe that makes me a worse person than you.”
“Oh.” Zane’s anger dissipated. His hand in his pocket closed around the pill bottle. He’d remembered it was there, known he must have put it in the box for a reason. That, plus the lack of ropes or handcuffs, had given him clues to what his future self had done. If he’d been in Jo’s place, what would he have been thinking? Not murder, that was for sure. But then he wasn’t a soldier. “Maybe that makes you military.”
He could see that the soldiers were listening now, all three of them, the sergeant still with his head turned, trying to see. Zane crouched down, near them, but not close enough for them to attack.
“All right, listen up, guys. Here’s the deal. You work at a top-secret military facility founded by Albert Einstein and paid for by the US government. It’s classified so deep that your letters home are probably black with redactions. No one on the planet is supposed to know anything about it, right?”
None of the soldiers answered him.
“We do, because we’re from the future.” He ignored the breath of surprise Jo took at his revealing words and the skeptical expressions on the faces of the soldiers. “Long story short, I’m sure you know a guy named Trevor Grant. Dark hair, smarmy attitude, big-time asshole.”
One of the soldiers made a noise that might have been a half-muffled laugh, and the sergeant winced, closing his eyes as if the name pained him.
“Thought so,” Zane said. “Big brain, badly used. He’s about to mess up the world in a major way. We’re here to fix his screw-up.”
Jo cleared her throat. Zane glanced over his shoulder at her. She tilted her gun-toting hands to the sides as if to ask him what the hell he was doing. He shrugged. Okay, it wasn’t the whole story, but it got the point across. Plus, when you were trying to get someone on your side, having a common enemy was always a positive and he just knew Trevor Grant would have annoyed the soldiers as much as he annoyed Zane. Grant might be brilliant, but he was also a pretentious bozo.
“This screw-up is big. Like world-shattering big. Like the atomic bomb was just a flyswatter big. And having you guys find us when you did could totally mess with our chance to save the planet.” Zane paused to check his audience’s reactions. The guy who’d made a noise before seemed to be buying it. The sergeant, though, had narrowed eyes, as if he were calculating the distance to grab Zane’s throat. Zane poked him in the shoulder, hard, staring at him until the sergeant blinked.
“This is a clusterfuck,” Zane said sternly. “You hear me? I should maybe mention that you were taken down by a teenage girl and her mom. That the kind of future you’re looking forward to? The one where girls and their mothers spend quality time preparing to defend themselves against armed men?” Zane tipped his chin toward the third soldier, the one who’d taken Amy’s first hit. “Back in your time, I bet girls fought fair. No going straight for the cojones, am I right?”
The soldier looked blank.
“Nuts? Balls? Privates?” Zane added, getting more exasperated with each word until the soldier shifted as if moving his hands to protect his delicate parts against aggressive teenagers.
Zane jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Jo. “Most marksmanship titles in Special Forces history, graduated top of her class at West Point. That’s the face of the future army, men. Drop-dead gorgeous, isn’t she?”
“Cut it out, Donovan.” Jo sounded more resigned than annoyed. “What do you think you’re doing, anyway?”
“Standard Terminator protocol. Nobody ever believes time travelers initially. Got to prove the future is crazy first and I’m guessing having someone as hot as you be the ranking officer on the scene ought to do it. What were you when you left the army?”
“I was a captain when I was deployed to Eureka. But I never exactly left the army. My assignment in Eureka was special ops.”
“Hear that?” Zane directed his words to the soldiers again. “She can recite lots more jargon if you need it. But she’s way ahead of you on the rank train. Of course, she won’t even be born until you’re grandpas, if you’re lucky.”
A muscle twitched in the cheek of the sergeant.
Reassured, Zane continued. “You guys have a choice now. Well, more than one choice. You can refuse to believe me, because hey…” He spread his hands wide. “…all Soviet spies travel with a bunch of girls in tow. By the way, the Soviet Union collapses sometime in the 1980’s and is nothing to worry about before then. The Cold War is bogus.” He closed his hands into fists. “Or you can accept that what I’m telling you is reality.”
“And then what?” the sergeant finally spoke.
“First option, you take us all into GD. We won’t fight. Of course, we will tell the whole truth and nothing but when we get there, including the little detail about you getting your asses kicked by a sixteen-year old girl and her mom.” Zane stood, feeling the need for momentum. “You guys become the laughingstocks of your platoon or battalion or whatever the hell is it—I’m not army—and the future shoots straight down toward a disaster that no one’s managed to resolve despite decades of trying. Or we can go for a walk. The three of you and me. We get far enough away from here that you don’t automatically get traced back to the bunker and you take some pills.”
“What pills?” Jo and the sergeant asked the question at the same time.
Zane pulled one hand out of his pocket, the bottle he’d found earlier enclosed in it. He tilted it up and read the label aloud, pronouncing the unfamiliar word carefully. “Flunitrazepam IV. Mean anything to you?”
The sergeant looked blank, but behind him, Jo gasped.
“Roofies? Do you routinely carry roofies around with you?” she hissed, her tone pure poison.
Chapter 19: Doubts set in
“Do you routinely think the worst of me?” Zane rolled his eyes, then added, sarcasm edging his tone, “Oh, wait, yes, you do. Get a grip, Lupo. I do just fine without drugs, thanks.”
“What are they?” the sergeant demanded, pushing himself off the ground and rising to his feet.
Zane didn’t stop him. He held out the bottle so the sergeant could take a closer look. “Painkillers. They won’t hurt you, but they also cause short-term memory loss. Take one and you’ll forget the last couple of hours ever happened.”
“You want us to swallow some magic pills?”*
Zane shrugged. “Or we can march you back to your base with your hands on your heads and tell the whole story to your superior officers. I wish I thought that would go well, but I’m pretty sure it means we can all kiss the future good-bye. And not just because of the reprimands in your records when they find out a teenage girl took you out.” No harm in reinforcing the humiliation factor, Zane thought. It was one more reason the soldiers might decide to keep their secret.
The sergeant shook his head, wincing. “This is crazy.”
“Yeah,” Zane agreed.
Behind them, Jo snorted and muttered, “Welcome to Eureka.”
The two other soldiers were sitting up as the sergeant looked at Jo. “You’re a captain? And an Army Ranger?”
“In the 21st century, I’m Director of Security for Global Dynamics. It’s a multi-billion dollar research facility,” she replied. “We’ve come a long way since your time.”
Zane looked at her, trying to see her as a stranger, as the sergeant would. As usual, she was dressed all in black, her long dark hair pulled back in a tight ponytail high on her head, her expression stern, but her hands looking too small and delicate for the weapons she held.
“And those kids are yours?” The sergeant looked from Jo to Zane and back again. “You don’t look old enough and you sure don’t sound married.”
“They will be ours,” Zane answered as Jo said, “It’s a long story.”
Convincing the soldiers wasn’t easy. They muttered among themselves for a while, arguing about Grant and the technology they’d seen in the bunker, casting wary eyes Jo’s way. But eventually, Zane headed off deeper into the forest with the three men, leaving Jo behind at the bunker with the girls.
“You’re in a lot of pain,” he’d said sympathetically to the soldier with the broken nose and the one limping. “Why don’t you go ahead and take the painkillers now?” They’d looked skeptical, but they’d done it, and now they were cheerfully wandering, even as darkness fell.
“All right,” Zane finally said. “This is far enough that the bunker should be secure. I’ll head back now.”
The sergeant’s mouth tightened. “This plan feels damn shaky to me. How can I be sure my men will stay safe if I’m drugged, too? And if I lose my memory—”
“Yeah, that part of the plan sucks,” Zane interrupted him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter to Jo’s father and the list of stocks. “Always did. But I never intended for you to forget. You get to keep your memories, because I need you to deliver this letter. Not yet, but in the future. And if you play your cards right, this list of companies will make you a rich man.”
As he headed back to the bunker, Zane felt conflicted. He ought to feel guilty, he knew. He’d made an entirely selfish choice to risk the timeline. But his future self had done the same thing and it worked out really well. And he might need the help.
But did he really want it?
Jo didn’t trust him. Just the thought of her accusations had him simmering, a slow burn of anger tensing his shoulders. She thought he could be a cold-blooded murderer. Or a rapist. That was so whacked. What the hell had he done to deserve that?
And how could they possibly have a relationship—much less a long, happy partnership—if she thought so little of him?
Maybe their future was already lost.
Back at the bunker, Jo was sitting, leaning against the wall, her head tilted back. The overhead lights were out, but the lantern-style flashlight they’d brought with them sat next to her, its bright light casting strange shadows around the mostly empty room. The girls were nowhere in sight.
Zane thought she might be asleep, but she let her head drop down and opened her eyes as he closed the door behind him.
“Everything okay?” she asked, her voice husky.
She nodded. “The girls are all asleep in the other room. I saw that you’d set up a sleeping bag in there.”
He waited but she didn’t say anything more, no biting comments on the diapers or acidic remarks about his trip to the future. “You didn’t have to wait up for me,” Zane said, his tone cool. “It’s late.”
She sighed, but made no move to get up. “Yeah.”
“You need your sleep. Tomorrow’s likely to be a long day.”
“Yeah.” She rubbed her palms against the tops of her legs, but still didn’t move.
A silence grew and spread, filling the room, unspoken words looming between them.
“I should get something to eat,” Zane finally said. Some of the partially eaten MREs from earlier were stacked against the wall. He’d dig through Caiti’s leftovers and find something to fill him up. It would be better than standing here wondering what Jo wanted from him.
“Or you could just yell at me,” Jo suggested. “I hate it when you do this.”
“Do what?” he asked.
She pushed herself to her feet. “I know you’re angry. You always try to act like you’re not upset when you are, but I’m not stupid.”
“I never said you were.” His shoulders had tightened even more and he could feel the tension in his neck and jaw as he tried not to glare at her.
“You’ve thought it plenty of times.”
“Oh, you can read minds now?” He walked over to the MREs and started rummaging through them, fuming silently. He didn’t think Jo was stupid. She usually surprised him with her insight. Sure, she didn’t know nearly as much about science as the average Eurekan, but that was just knowledge.
He picked up one of the spicy penne pasta meals. Caiti, both Caitis, had shuddered with delicate disdain at the sauce, but it ought to be decent cold. Better than the shredded beef, anyway.
He should keep his mouth shut, eat his food, get some sleep. Arguing with her was pointless. But he couldn’t help himself. “Is that like an extra special bonus skill you get when you wind up in an alternate universe one too many times?”
The surprise had him turning in her direction.
“Sorry.” She waved a hand in the air as if erasing an imaginary data screen. She laughed again and scrubbed her hands across her face, as if trying to wipe away exhaustion. “Sorry, I just… ” She bit her lip.
Zane dropped his gaze to his food, resisting the flush of heat the sight of her perfect teeth tugging into the lovely fullness inspired, and sat down on the floor. Eat, sleep, rinse, repeat, this whole thing would be over soon. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. I am sorry, Zane. I should have said that first. Right away. When you walked in the door.” She spread her hands. Reluctantly, he let himself look up at her. She smiled at him, but even in the dim light, he could see that it didn’t reach her eyes. In fact, now that he was paying attention, she looked as unhappy as he’d ever seen her.
“It’s hard. I don’t know whether I know you really well or not at all. You were—we were… and then we weren’t. And you hated me.”
“I never hated you.” His objection was immediate, automatic.
“As good as.”
Zane raised an eyebrow. If he’d hated her, he’d have done a hell of a lot worse than the stupid pranks he’d pulled to get her attention. He’d never admit that to her, and it was probably the first time he’d admitted it to himself, but life in Eureka was always more fun when Lupo paid attention to him. The place would have been boring as hell without her sarcastic comments and bossy side.
“All right, maybe not hated,” she conceded.
“Definitely not.” He took a bite of the pasta. Not good but not bad, either.
“Complicated?” he offered.
“So tell me,” he said. “I want to know. We were something to each other, something that looks pretty damn amazing.”
“Tell you what?”
He gestured at the floor as if inviting her to sit. “Everything.”
Chapter 20: Whose time is it, anyway?
Zane woke up with a crick in his neck and a warm body on either side of him.
What the hell?
He was not a spend-the-night kind of guy. The best way to avoid the whole awkward morning scene was to take off before the sun rose. No messy questions about phone numbers or next dates that way and that was how he liked it.
And these bodies… his eyes flew open.
A small hand patted his cheek. Wide blue eyes stared intently into his as a tiny voice said, “Bike yada me see yoga.”
Zane closed his eyes again.
Last night had been amazing. He and Jo had talked for hours. She’d told him stories about her timeline, he’d told her about his version of reality, they’d eaten crappy MRE meals and laughed their asses off, and the sad look in her eyes had faded away to be replaced by a spark that promised to be hotter than the artificial sun that had apparently caused their first major fight.
And then baby Caiti had started to cry.
“What did you say?” he mumbled, voice rough with sleep.
“Yama me,” she told him earnestly. “Me do beef ass.”
Okay, she definitely hadn’t said that.
“We’re hungry,” a cranky, sleepy voice complained from over his shoulder. “And we want yogurt. I mean she does. I mean me does. I mean little me does. I don’t want yogurt. It’s yuck. I want pancakes.” Big Caiti heaved a sigh and snuggled closer to Zane’s back. He could feel the warmth of her breath tickling the hair on the back of his neck.
“Yi dyke yoga.” Little Caiti patted his face again, a little harder this time. “Yime do giddy yep, Dada.”
Weird. This was his future. He ought to hate it. He ought to be running away as fast as his feet would take him. Not literally, of course—he had no wish to get trapped in 1947. But mentally. Instead he pushed himself up and went to see if his future self had thought to pack yogurt.
The next two days passed both slowly and quickly. Slowly, because they were trapped in the bunker, waiting out the time until they could zap everyone back to the future and save the past, but quickly at the same time, because there was so much to do. Zane and Caiti worked on the software for S.A.R.A.H., creating the programs that would let her manipulate the future to shape the world they wanted.
“Doesn’t this violate causality?” Jo asked, late in the afternoon on the second day.
Zane ran a tired hand through his hair and looked up from the computer screen. “What do you mean?”
“You only know what to tell S.A.R.A.H. because she’s already told you. Won’t that create another time loop?”
He returned his gaze to the screen, studying his code. He wouldn’t have any way to test it, no beta rounds, no debugging, so it had to be right the first time. “I’m hoping we’re Schrodinger’s cat.”
“Doesn’t that cat die?” Jo sounded skeptical.
Zane gave an exhausted chuckle. “Maybe and maybe not. You can’t know without direct observation.” He rubbed his face. “But that’s not the point. It’s quantum entanglement at work. As data, it can’t exist until it’s happened, but in quantum terms, it is and always was. And maybe it’s all just stories I’m recording for S.A.R.A.H., not reality. We can never know the real truth, not anymore.”
“That sounds bleak.”
Zane grinned at her. “Not as long as we choose stories that we like. Dreams come true, babe. You want to be a millionaire? I can make it happen.”
Jo snorted. “Never one of my fantasies, no. No one enters the army to get rich.”
“What did you want?” Zane started typing again, only half-paying attention. He was interested, but he was also running out of time.
“Oh, I don’t know. To be good at my job. To be successful.” She half-laughed. “When I was little, I wanted five kids.”
Zane’s fingers stilled. “Seriously?”
She shrugged. “Four kids in my family, and I’ve always been an over-achiever.”
Zane shook his head, but a smile tugged at his lips.
“What?” she asked. “What’s funny about that?”
How many of him in how many alternate timelines in how many universes had screwed around with the timeline to make Jo happy? But now he know why S.A.R.A.H. had suffered the power outage that brought Caiti into being.
Jo glanced at her watch. “Are you done? It’s almost time.”
Zane nodded and shut the laptop.
Amy was running through a kata in one corner of the room, while Big Caiti and Little Caiti squabbled over Candyland in another.
“Okay, kids,” Jo said, clapping her hands. “Time to go.”
“Yay!” Amy immediately cheered, but Big Caiti’s lower lip slid out into a pout.
“Don’t worry, honey.” Zane tried to reassure her. “We’ve got it.”
She reached out to clutch the hand of her younger self. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” Zane crouched down next to them, his eyes meeting hers. The blue was so familiar and yet so strange set in the pixie face. He brushed a strand of dark hair away from her cheek and repeated himself. “I’m sure. There is no future where you’re not my baby girl.”
Little Caiti protested. “I da baby,” she said, stepping forward, and trying to get between her big self and Zane.
“Dummy,” Big Caiti said, almost fondly. She put her hand on her smaller self’s head and nodded, solemnly. “All right, Daddy. We’ll go home.”
Calculations, timing, re-wiring… Baby Caiti had to push the button herself to go back to the time where S.A.R.A.H. would have opened the wormhole for her.
“Are you sure?” Jo fretted as the toddler disappeared. “What have we done? She could be anywhere.”
“Not anywhere,” Zane said firmly, quickly twisting the connections on the bridge devices together. “She’ll be back in her own time. S.A.R.A.H. will have managed.”
“But what if—” Jo started.
“If something went wrong, she’ll still be in Eureka.” Zane took a deep breath. He had it right, he was sure he did. But damn, this whole process was unnerving. “Worse comes to worst, she’ll pop up in the wrong era. But she’s cute, willful, smart as hell.” He grinned down at the little girl holding Jo’s hand. “Someone will take care of her, you know it. She could be running the world by the time we’re born.”
Big Caiti smirked up at him as Jo said, “Oh, God.” She closed her eyes, her shudder visible.
Zane gripped Jo’s hand. “We all good?”
Amy lifted up her hand, joined with Caiti’s. “I’m ready.”
Zane glanced down at Caiti. That lower lip of hers was sliding out again as she said, “I’m real.”
“So real, sweetheart,” Zane said. He tucked the laptop that he’d brought from the future under his arm, and leaning forward, pushed the button on the joined bridge devices with his other fist, tightly wrapped around Jo’s fingers.
Whir, blur… they were back, in the future, in S.A.R.A.H. , with their older selves, just as they’d left them three days and only a moment ago.
“Amy? Caiti?” Future Jo moved into worry mode instantly. Scolding-mode would come next, Zane suspected. He ignored her, turning toward his future self, who was blinking in surprise.
“What do you know?” he demanded of himself.
“What do I—what?” His future self opened his hands in a gesture of uncertainty.
“What do you know?” Zane asked again, impatience edging his voice. Would he lie to himself? Had he lied to himself?
“Nothing,” his future self answered, looking authentically confused. “We just sent you back. What happened? How did the girls end up with you?”
Zane blew out a breath. Hell. He’d hoped… but it was worth it. “Congrats,” he said to himself, voice dry. “You did it.”
He held out his hand, fingers curling impatiently. “Tell me about the memory wipe.”
His future self’s eyebrows shot up. “Are you going to do it? Seriously?”
“We already did it,” Zane said.
“What are you talking about?”
Zane shook his head. “This wasn’t our first time with this plan. But we’ve got it now. I think, anyway.”
“What?” His future self drew back. “What are you saying?”
Zane shook his head again. They didn’t have time for him to explain, and besides, it was pointless. Ten minutes from now, his future self would become the person he always should have been. Well, with maybe a few tweaks of the kind that knowing the future could give you. He sort of hoped he’d been smart enough to become the millionaire he had offered Jo.
“Zane?” Jo asked, her fingers tightening around his, her dark eyes worried. “Is everything okay?”
“Tell me how to do the memory wipe,” he demanded of his future self.
“It’s a modification of Grace Monroe’s memory sharing technology,” his future self said obediently. “Just put this chip behind your ear and push this button on the control stick.” The control stick looked like a tiny remote control for a television set. “It’s set to erase four days, so you might have some momentary confusion but it should bring you close to the moment when you first pushed the button on the bridge device.”
“I need more time.”
“More time? Why?”
“I need a day in the past where I still remember the future.”
“What? Why?” Future Jo left off scolding her children and turned to him. “The best chance of…”
Zane put a hand up and covered her mouth. She glared at him, eyes sending fury his way, “One day,” he said. “That’s all I need. We’ve been through this before, so don’t mess with me, Jojo.”
“We have not,” Future Jo spoke through his hand, but Future Zane was already thumbing the control stick for the memory device. He handed it to Zane.
“Five days,” he said. “That gives you one whole day in the past to do whatever you need to do. No longer, though.”
Zane shifted his arm, so that the laptop he held was visible, and nodded. “This is going to work.”
His future self rolled his eyes and handed him two chips to go with the memory control stick while both Jo’s protested. “Wait, what—” started his Jo while Future Jo said anxiously, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
Zane tucked the memory chips into his pocket then grabbed his Jo’s hand. He didn’t wait for her to respond, but pushed the button on the bridge device.
Whir, zoom, that unnerving feeling of space swirling around them and there they were… back where they started.
Chapter 21: And Done
Jo stared up at Zane, her dark eyes wide and worried. “Did that just—”
Zane couldn’t resist. He grabbed. Hands on her shoulders, he tugged her toward him, bending his head to take her mouth with desperate ferocity. But when she kissed him back, mouth opening under his, lips softening, his kiss gentled, searching, exploring.
He couldn’t really know the taste of her, the smell, the feel—he’d only kissed her once before. But just like that first time, she melted into him as if she belonged there. They fit together like puzzles pieces, connecting with a click and a lock, everything right, everything the way it was meant to be.
He slid his hands up into her hair, feeling for the hair tie, tugging it loose. He didn’t mess with girls’ hair usually—why risk an inadvertent painful pull that could break the mood? But he wanted to touch Jo’s hair, wanted the smooth silk to flow around them, wanted to feel the soft tickle when he buried himself in her warmth.
“Stop, stop,” she muttered, small hands pushing at his chest.
He let her go, his heart pounding in his chest, his body wanting her so much it hurt. Twenty-four hours. That’s all they had.
“We have to—” She paused, drawing in deep gulps of air, as if her heart raced as fast as his. “We have to find out what’s changed. We don’t have a lot of time.”
He cupped her cheek. “One day. One whole day. And then we forget and we’re back where we were four days ago. I think you’re crazy and you think I’m an asshole. In twenty-four hours, you’re going to be pretending I don’t exist. So let’s not waste the moment.”
She half-chuckled. “Is that why you wanted more time?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I’ve got to get to S.A.R.A.H. and install the program we created. It’s the key. But Jo—tomorrow we go back to where we were. Me not knowing why you had my grandmother’s ring, you ignoring me.”
She turned her head and nipped his palm. “Today doesn’t exist? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Something like that,” he whispered, his voice husky with yearning. He didn’t know what the future would bring. He hoped, he believed, but hell, if they’d gotten it wrong, Jo might never speak to him again. If they’d screwed up somehow, anything could happen. This moment might never come again.
“Then let’s make the most of it.” She reached up and pulled his head down toward her and gladly, gladly, he let her take the lead. Her hands were everywhere, slim fingers sliding across bare skin, yanking his t-shirt up, his pants down. He was kicking off his shoes, scooting out of his jeans, stripping her out of hers, all without ever letting their lip-lock break.
Hell. She was so hot. Literally. And figuratively. And theoretically. All the ways one could be hot, Jo was hot. Her skin was burning up under his touch and his was burning under hers.
And then it was over. Gasping for air, she rolled away from him, her arm coming up to cross over her chest.
“No,” he protested, his voice barely a whisper. He was replete, satisfied, but not ready to let her go. The sweat was cooling on his skin, damp on hers, but he wanted more.
“Just wondering whether this room has a security feed,” she whispered, rolling back onto him, and letting her lips fall back on his.
“Um, that could be bad,” he managed. Not that he cared. Shit, if a few of her security guards got to see the scene of their wildest fantasies, maybe it’d be good for their work ethic. On the other hand, he wouldn’t want it to mess with her life.
“Hell with it,” she said. Slowly, luxuriously, carefully, she took his lips, tracing the sensitive skin with her tongue, then biting his lower lip. Hard.
He should be exhausted.
Some time later, he drew a line across her cheekbone. “I’ve got to get to S.A.R.A.H.”
“I can’t believe we got away with this,” she murmured. “Where were the twenty calls for the security chief and the half dozen for your help with IT?”
“Hey,” he protested, “Tech support is worth a hell of a lot more to most of the scientists in Eureka than security. I bet I get more calls than you do.”
She made a scoffing noise. “No way,” she said just as a phone rang. “Ha, proof. That one’s mine.” She sat up and reached for her pants. Rummaging through her pockets, she pulled out her phone, as Zane sat up, too, regretting that the moment had been interrupted.
“Good thing we don’t use video phones…” She started to say, but her voice stilled as the phone rang again. She stared at its small screen.
“Jo? What is it?”
She didn’t respond to him, instead answering the phone with a small, unsure, “Hello?”
Zane couldn’t hear the voice on the other end of the line, but Jo’s eyes widened and her hand flew across her mouth as if she were holding words inside by force.
“Who is it? Is something wrong?” Zane kept his tone quiet, not wanting to be overhead, but Jo shook her head.
She looked like she might be about to cry, but she kept her fingers clamped over her mouth until finally, she peeled them loose to say, “Okay, I’ll check when I get home.” She paused. “It’s all right. Love you, too.”
She dropped the phone onto her discarded pants, drew her knees up, and buried her face.
“Jojo?” Zane asked, worried. He stroked his hand up the bumps of her spine, letting it come to rest between her shoulder blades. “Is everything okay?”
She lifted her head and turned to him. “My mom apologized for calling me at work. Apparently it annoys me. I don’t know whether to—” and then her lips firmed and she hauled off and punched him in the shoulder.
“Ouch!” Zane rubbed his shoulder. She’d hit him a lot harder than she had the first few times she’d punched him a few days ago. He hoped this wasn’t going to become a habit.
“You idiot! How could you—how did you—how—” She stopped talking and drew a deep breath, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. “Screwing around with the timeline is dangerous.” Jo sniffled. “You really shouldn’t have.” But she leaned into him, tucking her head under his chin with the ease of long-time companionship and comfort.
Zane held his breath. This was what it would be like between them, he realized. Not just the heat of passion, but this moment, too, when the tough soldier took a break, leaving the soft woman to cuddle against him.
“I always thought I’d be a dancer if my mom had lived,” Jo said thoughtfully. “I guess I was wrong.”
“You were meant to be Eureka’s security chief,” he told her.
“As Eureka’s security chief, I should throw your ass in jail. What were you thinking?”
“It wasn’t the first time. Remember, Caiti—the little Caiti—writing a letter to her Gamma? No way was that my mom. Had to be yours. In the future we want, Jo, your mom is alive and well and being called Gamma.”
“It was a crazy risk to take.”
“We’ve lived this life again and again, Jo. More times than even our future selves knew.” He glanced toward his pants and the memory-wipe device. It wouldn’t be the first time that he’d wiped his memory. How many times had they done this, how close had they come? How many times had his future—or past—selves gotten partway to a solution, only to find themselves re-living the same moments? But it didn’t matter.
This time they had it.
Zane stared down at the face of his newborn daughter. Blue eyes stared up at him, alert and focused. “I think this one is going to have my eyes.”
“All babies have blue eyes.” Jo yawned, but her gaze was fond.
“Yeah, but…” Zane shut up. How could he say that this baby felt different? That this unexpected autumn child, a surprise of the very best kind, seemed familiar to him? But the sense of recognition was profound. For whatever reason, Zane knew, with a bone-deep certainty, that this kid, this baby girl, was his.
He was going to love being her dad.