Caught Somewhere In Time – Chapter 05
Location: LunaBase, Luna, Earth Orbit
Local Date: Friday, November 17, 2220
As Audrey started down the shuttle steps, Cole landed a few feet in front of her, catching her by surprise, and landing a little harder than he would have liked, but still only weighing one-sixth his normal weight while hitting the ground.
“Hi, Superman,” she said, without so much as smiling at him. “I think Lex Luthor just headed down the hall with Lois Lane.”
“I can talk to them later. I need to ask you a few questions though, and I don’t have much time left.”
“I don’t know what kind of things I can help you with, but I’ll do what I can.” Audrey always seemed very nice, but he knew she was Chan’s kid, so Cole never joked very much with her. He preferred to keep conversations to the point, so that she wouldn’t try to befriend him. Everybody seemed to do that, and Cole thought it suited her just fine. She came across as all business anyway, so what she said next didn’t surprise Cole at all. “I have luggage to deliver, so you can either help me, or you can talk while I work.” She stepped past Cole to the luggage compartment and opened it, lowering out a large crate labeled with Val’s ID and the lab’s address.
“I’ll take that one if you’d like,” Cole offered.
“OK, but it’s heavy,” she answered, neither looking at him for a reaction nor cracking her shell of professionalism. “That will allow me to gather the Admiral and my things.” She set her Tekboard down on top of it and shoved the heavy crate toward Cole, who realized it likely weighed twice as much as him, but seemed fairly light in the hangar. He set his board on it as well while he grabbed one of the wheeled carts that sat nearby for heavy items exactly like this. Waiting in silence for Audrey to collect the matching rolling suitcases that she and Chan always used, she finally walked over to help him push the crate onto the cart. Speaking over her shoulder as she started walking away with the Chan family luggage, she asked, “What did you need to talk about that couldn’t wait until we were in the lab?”
Cole hadn’t fully thought through how he planned to talk to Audrey, but now time grew short for this mission. He put his full body weight, not much at all really if he thought about it, into pushing the wheeled crate and it started rolling. It would take a similar effort in the Avenue he knew, the ratio between his weight and the crate’s being the same regardless of gravity. Audrey rushed ahead, so he called out, “Has Chan made any other staff decisions recently, besides Valentina I mean?”
She glanced over her shoulder and must have noticed that he started falling behind, so she slowed a bit and told him, “Nothing that I am aware of. The Admiral always leaves me out of those things, so I’m really not the person to ask. When we get to the lab, I’m sure he will have a moment or two to discuss it with you however.” She fell silent until she reached the lift to the main street. She pressed the button to call the lift and asked, “Was that your only question?”
“Well, your answer certainly makes the rest seem irrelevant.” Cole couldn’t think of any better way to say it, so after he pushed the crate into the lift and the door closed behind them he just blurted out, “I’ve been getting the impression lately that the Admiral isn’t happy with the progress I’ve been making on my work. Do you think he’s going to fire me?”
With the door shut, the lift seemed very full. The crate took up the majority of the floor space, and Cole stood in one corner of the back wall. Audrey placed one of her two suitcases between them, and one on the other back corner. She turned her back on the crate, facing the back door with only inches to spare, and looked like she spoke to the recently closed door when she said, “This is your work. Without you, there wouldn’t even be a project. I might still be stuck on Europa in the FTL test lab if we hadn’t come here to work on your project.” She turned to look over at him, her brow furrowed with a pouty sort of frown on her young face, “There’s no way he could fire you.”
Cole appreciated her honesty, and he knew honesty when he heard it. All of this running around and questioning, and he’d not gotten any closer to finding out what caused, or would cause, Chan to kick him out of the project. He started feeling a little defeated.
The doors opened and she stepped out as Cole leaned into the crate to start it rolling out of the lift and through the bank of elevators. At the end of the hall, they turned to head to the lab. “I appreciate you helping me with that,” Audrey told him. “I have no idea how much stuff Val would actually need, so I basically emptied her entire apartment into that. It’s easier to get it all in one trip than to go back down there to get the rest.”
“I suppose,” he said, concern or confusion creasing his forehead. Audrey could feel anxiousness and a sort of depression radiating from him, but he didn’t seem to want to discuss it. Cole was nice enough, but she didn’t want to be involved in his problems, and so kept quiet.
He remained her silent assistant all the way to the lab. Audrey opened both doors to the reception area and Cole rolled the crate into the room. When Audrey walked in, the computer greeted her, but ignored Cole. She thought that seemed strange, but didn’t ask about it.
Cole was kind of an odd duck, she thought. He always treated her nicely, although occasionally like a child, and almost never asked her for anything. Cole always just sort of seemed like he lived on his own little planet, mentally and emotionally apart from everyone else. For those reasons, she never spent very much time with him. Audrey pressed a button on a wall to the left of the main entrance and a panel slid open, revealing an opening large enough for the crate.
“Reception, please transfer this crate to the attic space in Valentina’s assigned apartment.” She grabbed her Tekboard off the top, and then Cole shoved the crate into the opening, wheels and all, and grabbing his own Tekboard off the top before Audrey pressed the button again to close the door on it.
“Is that what my attic is like?” Cole asked. “Portable I mean?” As usual, he was completely oblivious to anything that didn’t concern his work. She shouldn’t be surprised.
“Yes,” Audrey responded. “It’s the only way to get some large items into the rooms. I have to go into Val’s quarters and unload some of it for her.” She got the feeling that this new helpful Cole had more on his mind than just questions about staffing issues. She sensed that a mystery had presented itself and decided maybe she’d better sort it out, even if it meant encouraging him to hang around a while longer. “If you have any other questions, I can keep answering.”
“I think you’ve answered them all,” he lied. Cole wanted more information, but he didn’t know what exactly he needed, or how to ask for it.
“I doubt it,” she responded. “Why don’t you follow me a few more minutes and tell me why you waited to corner me while no one else was around to hear?”
Cole got a bad feeling suddenly. He couldn’t go back into the lab now; he’d have to go hide out and wait a little while for the other Cole to get fired. Besides that, he couldn’t just come out and tell Audrey the truth, which he knew would happen if he spent too much time with that girl. It seemed like she could get truth out of anyone. On the other hand, though, Dr. Corning already knew everything, so Chan would certainly find out one way or the other. His time was running out, and there were no other options left, at least not before it happened. Audrey held the door for him to re-enter the lab complex, waiting, and he felt like panicking.
Audrey followed behind him until they rounded the corner in the hall. She swept past him and then past Val’s door, leaving Chan’s luggage in the hall and pushing her own just inside her apartment next door. She stepped back to open Val’s door and walked inside, leaving the door open for Cole. When Cole walked in, he saw the blind was up. He walked over to the open window and looked out at the Earth hanging in the sky.
“Would you mind shutting those?” Audrey asked. “The view is more awe inspiring when you watch it emerge for the first time rather than just walking in and seeing it there.”
Val thought it seemed strange to see Cole and Audrey together in her apartment. The other Val would be coming down the hall any minute now, and would catch them there. Wait, no she wouldn’t. It didn’t happen that way before. And for that matter, the tapestry had been rolled down when she came into the apartment. So maybe this was right after all. She continued to sit in the time ship, mostly invisible outside her own apartment window, waiting for time to catch back up with her, wondering what went on in her room before she saw it for the first time.
“Sure,” he said to her, then to the room in general, “Close the blinds.” He watched as a tapestry unrolled downward, covering the entire wall including the window, curious to see what this one looked like. The rooms in the lab complex all looked identical, except the tapestries. The one in his room showed some of the constellations. Just before it lowered past his eye-level, obscuring the view of the Lunar surface, he thought he spotted a strange, smooth area of the ground outside, and a flicker of light. He didn’t have time to give it a second thought before Audrey began questioning him.
“So why did you come out to meet me at the ship while no one else was around? That is highly unusual, especially for you.”
“I told you before; I am worried that Chan might be thinking about firing me.”
She quickly began unloading a few suitcases through the attic door. Audrey rolled the first one over and set it at the foot of the bed. “I know, but that doesn’t make any sense. This is your project. Why would my father want to terminate you from it?”
Cole knew that in order for this conversation to go anywhere, he needed to lay out all the facts. Audrey would only probe until she had the truth anyway. “I don’t know, but he will fire me, in about a half hour.”
“How do you know?” A pause hung in the room, as she seemed to be considering something, and then she nearly guessed it. “Did you use the time machine to find out what is going to happen?”
“No,” he said, looking at his feet while she rolled a second suitcase to the foot of the bed. “I didn’t use the time machine until after I got fired.”
Audrey, who just started back to the attic door stopped stone still mid-step. She turned and looked him in the face, her expression totally unreadable. “You are from the future then? It actually works, the machine works?” A wide smile spread across her face, igniting a fire in her eyes. “If you were fired though, that means you stole it!”
“Actually, yes.” She rarely missed anything.
“You’re not the pilot though. I mean, I suppose you could fly it, but I thought that’s why we hired Valentin…” Her voice trailed off as she put it all together. “She stole it with you, didn’t she?”
“In a manner of speaking. It’s not her fault. She was trying to help me, and she didn’t know I had gotten fired. She only followed my orders,” he lied.
“That is spectacular!” Audrey laughed aloud, maybe for the first time that Cole ever remembered hearing. “I liked her before, but now I positively adore her! I always have thought this place needed to have a rebel or something to stir things up! Don’t tell the Admiral I said that though, OK?” She went back to unloading some of Val’s stuff.
It was Cole’s turn to laugh now. “Only if you don’t tell him I stole the ship.”
“How could he not find out? I mean, that ship is the culmination of all the work that has happened in this lab for at least the last few years.” She turned and grabbed a third, smaller bag out of the attic and headed toward the bathroom.
“If we return the ship a few moments after we steal it, then it’s really only borrowing without permission. Val is waiting for time to catch up and then she’ll land right after we leave the dock. The ship will be gone only a minute, two maximum.” He considered for a second what he saw moments ago out the window. Could that be her, waiting just outside this apartment? No, that would be too bold.
Audrey rummaged around in the bathroom putting a few things away when she called out to him, “So you travelled through time for what?”
“To find out why I was fired.”
She walked out of the bathroom and said, “OK, you travelled through time because you wanted to know why you couldn’t study time travel anymore? I hope the irony of this isn’t completely lost on you. I think this is amazing, personally.”
“So you don’t know why I was, I mean will be, fired. Do you?”
She looked him in the eye and said, “I don’t know why you will be fired. I’d fire you though if you stole a time machine you had no business taking. That’s just my opinion though.”
Cole felt like he’d been hit with a lead weight. Audrey’s logic didn’t make sense to him though. How could something like that even be reconciled? He took the time ship because he had been fired, so he couldn’t be fired for having taken the time ship. That would be a future event having ramifications on the past.
After studying the Effect for a while now, and even feeling it in action earlier and just down the hall, he at least understood it well enough to know that he couldn’t have affected his own past like that. It never occurred to him earlier, because it just can’t happen that way.
“We’d better go. I expect we’ll have company shortly.”
“Company?” Cole found himself almost completely lost in thought, trying to sort out Audrey’s idea, trying to convince himself that what she said didn’t make sense, despite the fact that it has been the only answer he’d received to his problem so far.
Audrey started for the door and Cole tailed right behind her. “I’ll see you around, maybe,” she said. She grabbed Chan’s luggage and reached around to shut the door behind Cole, who stood there, still dumbfounded. She stood, only a foot or so in front of him, and looked up into his face. “Don’t go getting yourself fired, Cole. It wouldn’t be the same around here without you.” She smiled at him, patted his arm, and walked down a side hall out of sight to drop off Chan’s luggage, presumably at his office.
Cole just stared after her for a minute, totally at a loss for rational thought. It simply couldn’t be as simple as that. This is time travel; this is profound ramifications on theories that have been in place for hundreds of years. His presence in the future cannot affect his past destiny. It goes against everything that science ever considered possible.
As he stood there, staring after Audrey, convinced he still missed something about the situation, he heard talking at the other end of the hall. Knowing there would be nothing good for him coming from that end of the hall, he turned from Val’s door and opened the next door beyond hers. He stepped into the empty apartment and began closing the door when he saw Admiral Chan and Val walking toward him down the hall.