Regrets and Regressions (Time Traveler Series, Vol. II)

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Falling Through Time (oil on board, 8×6″), cover image for “Regrets and Regressions”.

Judy and I have been working on a sequel to “A Narrow Slice of Time” over the past year.  This new novel is another time travel adventure, but has a modern noir atmosphere.  It features characters from the first book, mainly employees of GURUTECH.

GURUTECH is a time travel company founded by physicists and monks from Kerala, India.  It’s stated mission is:  “Changing the past to make a better future.”

One of the protagonists, a dive bar singer, takes a trip to a moment in his past to make one small change.  Vincent Garber succeeds in radically altering the course of his personal history, but his new life brings him confusion and even greater difficulties.  His troubles spread to GURUTECH, and it becomes apparent to everyone involved that the survival of the company rests on answering one question:  what kind of man is Vincent  Garber?

I’ve just completed the third round of edits and rewrites and am ready to upload it, per Judy’s final approval, to Amazon.  We’ll get a dummy book printed for one final editing run, and then we’ll put it up for sale.

Now that’s it’s nearly finished, I get an odd feeling akin to the emotion of sending a child off to college.  Freedom looms, but I’m not quite sure what to do with myself now that this responsibility is over.

The tentative title is, “Regrets and Regressions”.  Below is a sample from the third chapter.

Then there was blackness. A sliver of light appeared in the far distance and he began to rush toward it. The sliver grew larger and brighter as he approached. He shot through its center and began to spiral down to a green and blue planet, to America, to Pennsylvania, and his feet touched the earth in a small wood. He could see the back of Granny Florence’s house in a clearing directly ahead of him.

He skirted her yard and trotted to the country road that ran in front of her house. There was a filling station with a phone booth on the opposite side. He crossed over and pulled the doors shut on the booth, fished a quarter out of his pocket and called the fire department in Reading.

“Yeah, I saw a leak in a pipe coming out of a storage tank at the BrassTech foundry, the one south of town along the Schuylkill River. Yeah. I called them, but they told me to mind my own business. There’s a pool forming—it’s yellowish orange—Yeah. It’s gonna run down into the Schuylkill if the leak isn’t plugged. My name? Hey, I’m an employee there. I need the job. Yeah, well, if you need a name for your form, call me Chuck Bupkis. That’s right. Don’t get mad at me. Do something about that spill before it’s too late. Gotta go. It’s been swell.”

Vincent hung up and stood by the road. The house looked deserted, but he knew his granny was inside. He crossed back over, but no one answered when he lightly rapped on the aluminum frame of the screen door. He heard snoring inside.

Granny lay on a couch in the back parlor, a scarf wrapped around her silver hair. She wore a summer shift printed with yellow daisies, saddle shoes and white socks. A rivulet of drool eased from the corner of her mouth, and Vincent was shocked by the plainness of her face, the lumpiness of her body, the fragility of her bony arms and birdy legs. And he realized that his sweet memories of her were based on her warm smile and the tenderness of her hugs.

He had told the monks that he was going back to warn her that her young grandson would grow up to become a brat, a little punk who needed careful supervision. Vincent would quote Bible passages and pretend to be a preacher who had the gift of spiritual insight. He would prove his abilities by predicting that she would break her ankle going down the icy front steps of her porch the coming February, and that young Lester would stop stuttering once he entered the third grade. When those events transpired she would believe his prophecies and take care to keep her charge close at hand when he turned fourteen.
But he had no intention of doing that. He wasn’t sure if that would work, or if the old woman would be capable of remaining vigilant long enough to prevent him from running off to Philly. No, he’d have to go to the source.

He found seven year old Lester Fenstermacher playing in a creek near the hen house. The chickens clucked as Vincent passed by, and the scrawny little boy turned to look at him. He had a frog in one hand and a stick in the other, and his calves and feet were smeared with mud. He looked like a hick.

“Whatcha doin’ there, young fella?” Vincent asked the boy.

“G-got me a frog. I’m g-gonna roast it on this stick and eat f-frog legs.”

“D’ya think that Mr. Frog is gonna like that?”

“Tough luck for h-him, good luck for m-me. Who are you? Are you a stra-stra-stranger? I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

“I’m a ghost. I used to be your Great Uncle Jimmy.”

“You are not. You’re not a ghost. You’re s-solid as a rock.”

“We’ll see about that…I got something important to tell you.”

“What?”

“You gotta stay in school, grow up smart and work hard, and you must never, ever run away from home—especially from your Granny.”

“W-why would I do that? I like Granny.”

“When you turn fourteen you’re gonna be a little fool. Watch yourself. Don’t run away.”

“You’re crazy, mister, and I don’t think that you’re a g-ghost, and you’re not my Great Uncle Jimmy.”

“I look just like Jimmy. Look me up in the family album. You’ll see.”

“No, I won’t!”

A warning buzzer went off at the base of his skull, and Vincent knew he had just a few seconds left. He took a step toward Lester, and Lester backed away. The little boy was getting frightened.

Vincent said, “I’m going to go soon, but there’s one more thing I’m gonna tell you.”

“What?”

“Being a singer sucks.”

“W-what?”

“Show biz is no kind of life,” Vincent said.

“But Granny says she likes my singing. I’m good at it-tit.”

Vincent knelt so that his eyes were level with Lester’s. He said, “Being good at something doesn’t always make you happy. And if you do become a singer, I’m gonna come back and haunt you. You won’t like that.”

Little Lester opened his mouth to argue, but his words caught at the back of his throat. The strange man who claimed to be his dead Uncle Jimmy vanished, but not all at once. At first he shimmered: his skin, hair and clothes became shiny and flexible like clear plastic wrap. Then he became a spectral image that slowly faded in the bright sunlight.

Lester stared at the spot where the ghost had just knelt before him. He was rigid with fright. He dropped frog and stick and walked slowly forward in a daze. He placed his foot inside the shoe print that dead Uncle Jimmy had made in the mud bank, and he began to cry. The frog hopped away.

His Granny Florence called from the house: “Lester? Lester! Where are you boy? It’s time you came in and had your bath. Lester!”

Lester wiped his nose on his sleeve and ran to her.

R-nnn-Argh

DSC_0184 (2)R-nnnn-Argh, oil/canvas,  30×40″

I completed this painting last week after putting in some intensive work this summer.  I completed the first stage in 2012 (monochrome underpainting), but had no time or will to consistently work on it the last four years.

I used a fairly painstaking method in the second and third stages:   glazing and scumbling colors over the monochrome underpainting (like tinting a black and white photo).  At times I put off painting because it seemed too daunting to finish, and I regretted trying something new (an old master technique applied to photo-collage subject matter) on such a large scale.  I realize a few years back that it would have been a lot smarter for me to do this as portrait on a smaller canvas in partial homage to Jim Nutt’s latest series.

I abandoned R-nnnn-Argh for a year after finishing the background figures and landscapes.  I felt exhausted just looking at it.  The central man’s face seemed like an endless terrain when I first began to work on it, and I remember the tedium of painting waves and the folds in the fisherman’s shirt.

I recently began to work on it again, and to actually enjoy the process.  The only thing that slowed down the final stages was the heat in my studio.  In the summer, my air conditioner fails to keep the temperature under ninety degrees after 1 p.m., and I have to quit when I start to feel the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

If you’re trying to decipher the imagery, try reading Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Man Who Was Used Up”.

Last night I pulled out another long term project:  “Higgins Didn’t Make It”, a faux science fiction painting.  I hope it won’t take me as long to finish this one, but I believe that I started it in 2013.  Time to get it done.

Higgins Didn't Make ItHiggins Didn’t Make It

Chapter 3: Narrow Slice of Time

In which our misguided and overly belligerent heroine experiences the process of time travel, and in which our gentle readers discover Aubrey’s true purpose for taking her trip.

Aubrey felt confused, but was not overly upset.  She was afraid of the two monks who had carried her off from the reception area, but did not mind being afraid of them.  And here they were walking beside her as she glided on a gurney down a dimly lit corridor and into a brightly lit room filled to bursting with oddly shaped bits of equipment.  She felt like smiling at her two companions, but she doubted that they would notice as they kept their stern eyes in their stern faces focused straight ahead.  Perhaps they were eunuchs.

They had treated her indifferently when they carried her from the reception area into an examination room, wrestled her down onto a table, and injected her arm with a hypodermic needle.  The shot had at first heightened her senses before a wave of passive tranquility had washed through her, and she had seen, while she still was able to struggle, that the monks took no more notice of her body than they would a slab of rock or a wooden plank. She knew that some men got excited when they treated women roughly—her ex-husband  had—but she had felt no sexual energy from them as they held her down on the table and waited for the drug to take its full effect.  She had writhed and squirmed on her back and had screamed filthy words into their ears, but they just kept their faces blank and their breathing calm and even.

The brightly lit room with the odd equipment looked like a stripped down operating theater to Aubrey.  A man in orange surgical scrubs and mask stood near a tray covered with metal instruments.  He held a computer chip up to the light above the tray and studied its surfaces.  She blacked out when they gave her another injection, and woke with a mild headache and a dull pain in the back of her head. The skin of her scalp felt like it had been pulled taut.  She did not like her pain and discomfort, but disliking something felt all right.  The two monks wheeled her out of the room and they entered another hallway.  They glided past men and women who were dressed in black and gray, and some others who wore yellow uniforms and carried clip boards. The yellow uniforms were pleasant to look at.  The yellow was buttercup yellow.

She tried to sit up to take a better look around her when she had stopped gliding and had come to rest in a large room with glass enclosed booths along one wall, but found that she could only move her eyes.  A large, silver machine loomed over her on her left side, and she vaguely remembered its shape from a diagram in a brochure.  Something about time…the brochure talked a lot about slices of time.  Time could be cut into thin shavings as salami could be cut into slices. Or was it bread?  A loaf of bread and a slice of salami made a sandwich in time but she did not feel particularly hungry.  The monks opened the side of the machine…it looked like they had lifted a giant, rubber-lipped mouth up and off the side of the silver thing, and they slid her inside the opening behind the mouth.  She realized that she had come here today to be eaten by a machine, and while that bothered her, it did not bother her all that much.  They closed the door on the hatch and she felt a tightening around her arms, ankles and forehead.  A gentle light bathed the interior of the chamber, and while she should have been suffering from claustrophobia, she felt soothed by the closeness of the white walls.  They glowed softly as if lit by moonlight.

She heard a hissing sound and felt puffs of air on her cheeks.  Her thoughts became clearer and she remembered why she had come here today.  She was going to kill her ex-husband before he became her husband.  She had told the gurus that she was merely going to give him a piece of her mind, to deliver some choice words that she had been saving for him after their divorce.  But he had got himself killed in a bar fight two years after the papers came through, and she never had a chance.  She told the monks that she needed closure, but that was a lie. The baldies would not have nodded and smiled if she had told them the truth:  she was going to kill Jeff before he got a chance to ruin her life with his threats and beatings and verbal abuse.  She was going to kill him before he got a chance to desecrate and destroy the sweet, loving girl that had once lived inside her.

Thoughts of vengeance usually raised her blood pressure and created a burning sensation in her chest, but now as she lay in a white chamber inside a silver machine she felt calm and tranquil.  Killing Jeff was just something she would do today.  She had cleaned her kitchen, drove with Bill to the Hall of Time, had fought with monks in orange robes, and was resting calmly inside a time machine.  Killing her ex would just be one more item on her to do list.

The hissing stopped and Aubrey faintly heard the sound of voices outside the machine.  A click sounded in her ear, followed by a squeal of feedback on a speaker embedded in the ceiling above her head.

“Aubrey, Aubrey Piazza.  Aubrey,” said a deep bass voice.

“Yes?” she whispered.

“It’s time for your journey.  It’s time to travel.  It’s time to close your eyes and focus them on a point on your forehead in the center of your brow.  Focus.  Focus your eyes.  Focus your eyes on the third eye.  Follow your breath, in and out, in and out.  Om and aum, in and out…om and aum, in and out,” said the disembodied voice.

“Om and aum,” Aubrey whispered as she closed her eyes.  She followed her breath, om and aum, and stared with closed eyes at the point in the middle of her brow.  She felt a tingling sensation in her forehead.  The tingling sensation spread to her head, her neck, down her torso and legs until it curled her toes.  The sensation grew more intense and pulsed from the top of her head down to her toes and back again in rapid cycles…It felt better than sex…it felt…

A chorus of chanting voices erupted from the speaker and reverberated inside the chamber.  The intensity of sensations and the rapidity of the cycles grew much stronger, and Aubrey began to fear that she would fly apart if things went any further.  The chanting sounded like her om and aums, but had variations in pitch and rhythm that seemed to build a living, pulsing unity of vibrating movement within her body.  She opened her eyes when the power of the cycles sent shimmering waves down the length of her and she felt as if she were no longer solid.  She briefly hoped that the process would stop before it was too late, before she disappeared.  The last things she saw were the chamber pulsing in fluid waves around her and the sight of her toes dissolving into nothingness.  Darkness descended on her mind and she became nothing.  Nothing and everything…she was no one and all things.  She was nowhere and everywhere.  She was everything everywhere.

Then she saw a point of light in front of her and she sped faster than thought to it like an arrow seeking its target.  She pierced the point of light and began to spin downward in slower and slower spirals to a green and blue world that looked achingly familiar, like home.  She felt her feet touch earth, and her body began to slow the swirling dance of its molecules, to gel and solidify from her feet up to her head.  Her hair whipped around her eyes and ears for several more seconds, and then her body, her self came to a standstill.

She was standing in an alley behind a dumpster.  A maroon pick-up truck was parked at the rear of a bakery.  The fading, mud smeared bumper sticker on the tail gate read “Romney/Ryan:  Take Back America.”

Here’s a link to the Amazon page where the book is posted:  https://www.amazon.com/Narrow-Slice-Time-Traveller/dp/1533577420/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467562477&sr=1-1&keywords=a+narrow+slice+of+time

 

 

Chapter 2: Narrow Slice of Time

(A second set of characters is introduced.)

Control Tech Brooke Marlow sat in a booth in Transportation Suite Rama and studied the layout of the next scheduled trip.  Her supervisor had warned her that the mission was of vital importance and that she should triple check the time/destination coordinates against the setting of the vibration chamber.  Any misalignments during the transport could mar the insertion of the traveler into the correct slice of time.  Brooke sipped a cup of jasmine tea and hummed to herself as she inspected the readouts on the panel in front of her.  When the charts and graphs satisfied her, she got up with her cup, grabbed a clipboard and wandered over to the silver metal chamber in the center of the room.  It was fifteen feet long and resembled a sperm whale minus the fins:  the end with the readout screen was broad and bulky; the body of the chamber tapered to a flattened, rectangular box at the other end.  A horizontal, oval hatch in the center of the “whale’s” side opened up on a narrow chamber big enough for one person to lie in.  A hard pad served as a cushion for a reclining body, and arm, ankle and head straps were attached to the white walls of the interior.  The walls were made of a flexible, plastic material that softly gave way when pressed, and quickly regained its original form when the pressure was released.  Brooke compared the numbers on her clipboard to the numbers on the readout screen.  All was in order, as usual.

There was nothing more to do until the sedated traveler was delivered into the suite, so Brooke took her place back in the booth and pulled out her copy of the Bhagavad Gita.  She was not an avid reader of scripture, however.  She had hollowed out the center of the book and taped a paperback romance novel inside.

At breakfast Brooke had reached the part of the story where Dixie, the beautiful and mysterious heroine, had just met Buford, a handsome Confederate general. Brooke found the passage where she had left off, checked the departure time once more on her control board, and began to read intently.

Brooke suspected that Dixie would soon find herself locked in the embrace of Buford’s scarred but manly arms. As she read Brooke discovered that the young belle was really a northern spy sent to seduce General Buford.  Dixie was directed by her superiors to spurn her suitor’s advances while further enticing him.  Whenever he drew near she opened her shawl to reveal the fleshy curves of an ample bosom prominently displayed by her low cut gowns.  Her mission was to befuddle and emasculate her victim before he commanded his troops against a new Union offensive in northern Virginia. Unfortunately for the spy the general’s tragic mien (he had lost a lot of men in battle) and bewilderment (her behavior had been most contrary) had softened her heart, and Dixie found herself longing to respond to his advances, to embrace him and kiss his lips.

Dixie met Buford one moonless, but starry night on a bench in a formal garden behind the governor’s mansion, and gradually gave way to her rising passion.  Buford, a true Southern gentleman, took three pages to get her clothes off.  The author followed with a detailed account of their consummation of a love so noble, so pure, and so sexually aroused that war and suffering could not dim its brilliant intensity.  As the entangled, preternaturally limber couple attempted a maneuver that defied gravity and violated basic rules of hygiene, Brooke gripped the book tightly with sweaty hands.

Brooke heard the shoosh of the automatic door opening behind her, snapped the book shut and slipped it back into her Gita.  She spun around in her chair and saw Donald Rutherford standing in the doorway.  He was dressed in his official historian’s uniform of black and gray.  Tall and gaunt, solemn and slow moving, Donald was not the type of man that Brooke found attractive. The transportation techs referred to the history officers collectively as “the undertakers”, and Donald’s expression this morning was suitably grim.

“Mr. Rutherford!  You startled me!”

“Sorry to interrupt your spiritual meditations, Brooke.  I’ve been sent down review the trip with you,” he said.

Brooke blushed and pushed the book of scripture from her lap into an open uniform bag that lay on the floor at her feet.  The Gita fell open upon landing and the cover of the romance novel was revealed.  A lurid illustration of a Confederate officer holding a scantily clad woman presented itself. The burning plantation in the background mirrored the fiery passion shared by the foreground couple.  Donald swooped down and plucked the book out of the bag.

“Hmmm.  I don’t recall this illustration.  Is that Arjuna dressed in drag?  Isn’t Krishna holding him a little too tightly?  I bet this is a new translation.  It’s got a much different…atmosphere…than my copy at home.  Can I borrow this?  I’ll get it back to you.  I just want to compare this text with the one in mine,” he said.

“No, sir.  And please keep your hands off my personal belongings,” said Brooke.

Donald tossed the book into the bag, and Brooke angrily zipped it shut.  She looked up and saw a patronizing smile directed at her.  He apparently found her amusing.

“Please wipe that smirk off your face, Mr. Rutherford.  You may spend all of your spare time with your nose in a history book, but don’t act like you have the right to judge other people who do not share your taste in reading material.”

“Do you think that it’s a good idea to talk to me in that manner?”

“Yes, sir, I do.  Mr. Downing is my superior, not you.”

“Well, I apologize if I seemed to be judging you.  I just was surprised to see you reading something like that.  I thought that you were the sort who read serious novels and poetry.”

“I do, but sometimes I like something a little more…simple and direct…”

“I see.  Try a western next time,” said Donald.  His smirk returned.

“I’m curious about this next mission. Could you tell me why everyone is so worried?  What’s the big deal? And what’s with the cupcake?  That’s a pretty odd mission objective,” said Brooke.

“You know all of that is classified.  I can’t tell you anything beyond what’s laid out in front of you right now,” he said.

“But you know something.  I’ve seen little groups of historians whispering together in the hallways.  You all seem nervous about this one. I’ve heard rumors that there’s a spy in the central ashram, and that some of our recent missions have been sabotaged.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Jenna down in Static Records says that the time line has been fluctuating along multiple paths during recent trips, and that it hasn’t all been the fault of our travelers.  She said that the new time line keeps snapping back to fit the static line, and that we’ve wasted four trips in a row.”

“I think that you and your friend should stick to your jobs and not worry about things outside your areas of expertise.”

“Jenna thinks that Existentialists have a new model of the Tabula Rasa in production, and that they’re blocking our attempts to disrupt its development.  Is it true that the Existentialists want to wipe human history clean?  Or do they just want to erase all the religions?” Brooke asked.

“You need to learn to keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears focused on the job at hand.  It’s not your business to know anything more, so take my advice and stay out of matters that do not concern you,” he said sternly.

“Oh come on, Donald.  All this concerns me.  All this concerns you,” she said with a slight purr in her voice.

Brooke stood up and approached Donald slowly. Her curiosity had been piqued and she was determined to find out what he knew. If the Existentialists had come up with a new and potent means of disrupting GURUTECH missions she might soon be out of a job.  She had heard, oddly enough, that the dry historian thought himself a lady’s man, and that he fancied brunettes with short hair, long legs and intelligent minds.  Brooke knew that she fit that description and wondered if her glasses enhanced her powers of attraction.  It might be fun to pump him for information while setting him up for a fall.  She never wanted to see him smirk at her again.

Brooke smiled at Donald, gave her hair a little toss and edged nearer to him. She hoped that she was being the right sort of obvious; men could be impenetrably thick when it came to reading her signals. The look on his face was hard to decipher, but his lips twitched involuntarily.  She gazed at him steadily.  She knew from experience that she could will the weak ones into a temporary state of submission.

“Donald, would you be interested in getting something to eat after work tonight?  I know a place near the Olde Bookery on Colonial.  We could browse a bit after dinner and get an espresso…what do you say?”

“Uh…”

“My apartment is right around the corner from there.  I’ve got an antique copy of The Stranger that I’d like you to see.  Do you read French?”

“Uh…”

“And a book of old daguerreotypes from the nineteenth century.  You’d be surprised by the subjects they photographed back then.”

“Uh…”

“Uh yes, or uh no?”

Donald stammered and looked very uncomfortable.  Brooke was almost touched by his befuddlement. His black eyes had a certain softness in them that she had never noticed before, and she began to find the line of his jaw attractive.  But before Donald could give her an answer, the door to the Transportation Suite swung open and two monks guided a stretcher into the room.  A middle-aged woman with auburn hair was strapped down to the gurney.  Her eyes were fixed in a glassy stare.

“I’ve got to look at your diagrams.  Now!” said Donald.

“Keep your shirt on, Mr. Rutherford.  They’re right here.  You’ve still got at least ten minutes to look them over.  They’re bringing in the chorus for this one, and that’ll take them time to get everything in place,” Brooke said.

Donald stepped around Brooke and began to pore over the diagrams on the console.  He could feel the heat of her body as she leaned in beside him to watch the charts and graphs march across the display; she answered his occasional questions about unusual spikes and accents in the temporal flow chart.  Her soft, low voice both soothed and distracted him.  The smell of her perfume was lilac.  They lightly knocked heads when he straightened up, and he fumbled his way around her after bumping against her hip. He tripped on her bag and nearly fell. He straightened up and paused in the doorway of the control booth, tugged at the lapels of his jacket and adjusted his tie.  He had reestablished his sense of personal dignity, but found that he could not look Brooke in the eye.  Donald focused on her pink, glossed lips instead.  They slanted upward on each side of her mouth in shiny, mocking curves.

“The mission charts, the graphs…it’s good…uh, it all looks fine, Brooke.”

“I’m sure it does, Donald.  Pick me up at seven.”

Chapter 1: A Narrow Slice Of Time

Here’s the first chapter of A Narrow Slice of Time in which our misguided heroine takes the first step on her haphazard journey in time.

2036 (Standard Timeline)

Bill Plum and Aubrey Piazza climbed the steps to a gleaming, white building that resembled a knock-off copy of the Taj Mahal. The cylindrical towers on either side of the faux mausoleum were made from a material that looked like marble when viewed from a considerable distance. A sign carved in bas relief above the central, arched doorway was inscribed with the corporate logo:  GURUTECH.  The letters had the lilt and tilt of Sanskrit.

Aubrey was a hard faced, large boned, somewhat muscular woman of forty.  Her auburn hair had a few streaks of grey near the temples.  She wore tan slacks, a black silk blouse with a plunging neckline, and leather sandals. Her sunglasses were very dark, and her eyes were concealed by the reflections on the surface of the lenses.   She had deep grooves on either side of her down turned mouth, and when she paused as she spoke she sometimes twisted her lips and grimaced as if she were sucking on something distasteful.

Bill was a nondescript rabbit of a man.  His doughy face was dominated by a large, barrel shaped nose that skewed slightly to the left. His midsection sagged over his belt and his shoulders rounded forward.  His suit was gray and rumpled, his hair mouse brown, and his black shoes scuffed.  He had the neglected appearance of an aging bachelor, a threadbare man who had exhausted his meager promise long ago.  Bill pulled Aubrey aside before they reach the entrance.

“Did you study the packet, Aubrey?” he said.

“Yes, of course I did,” she answered.

“I know that you don’t believe in their mumbo-jumbo, but they won’t let you take your trip until you satisfy them.”

“Why do you keep after me about that?  I studied. I’m not stupid.”

“Tell it to me again.  I helped you pay their fee and negotiate your errand.  I don’t want to waste my time and money.”

“It’s always about that, isn’t it?  It’s all about the cash.”

“Yes, dear, it is.  Recite.”

“Jesus, what a pain…GURUTECH was founded in 2028 by a bunch of swamis from Kerala who enlisted the aid of a theoretical physicist from Stanford University named Fleming Anderson.  Together they discovered that all moments in time exist simultaneously; they’re stacked like slices of bread.  Every narrow slice of time has its own vibration signature and, and…and then they go on about string theory, Heisenberg, fluid time and gravity constants, mumbo jumbo Einstein, blah, blah, unified field, blah.”

“Correct so far.  They won’t expect you to totally understand the physics, but I would leave out the blah, blah, blahs if I were you.  Go on.”

“Right.  If a person can attune their own personal vibration signature to the signature of a particular time period, they are instantly transported to that moment. Then there’s something about a law of affinity and spontaneous attraction.  That part always sounds like a pick up line to me.”

Aubrey.”

Bill.  Stop fussing.  I’m not going to say that to the techs when I walk through that door.”

“Continue.”

“Most people cannot attune their personal vibration signal, or PVS, or maintain it long enough for the transportation to occur.  GURUTECH’s engineers developed a wave mirror chamber that echoes and enhances the chance vibrations that are synchronous with a distinct time period.  The person gradually comes more and more into alignment with their target destination, and within an hour they find themselves in Ancient Rome or 20th century Europe.  They are allowed limited engagement with the events of the target time period, and must return within seven minutes.  A chip embedded in the base of their skull acts as a portable enhancer and causes the traveler to fall into a trance at the end of seven minutes.  A warning buzz in the ear alerts the traveler to their imminent departure.  Traveling back to one’s own time is easier because the traveler is naturally in synchrony with their own period.  The transportation goes much more easily, however, if the traveler assumes the correct mental posture just before the portable enhancer goes off.”

“And you’ve been practicing that, I hope?”

“Yesss—you’re such a worry wart.  Yes, I’ve been practicing.  You close your eyes, center them on the magic spot in the middle of your forehead—“

“Stop calling it that!  Third eye.  Be sure to call it the third eye!”

“Yeah, yeah.  Then I watch my breaths.  I say Om when I inhale and moo when I exhale.”

“Stop being such an ass.  Om and aum.  Om and aum.”                                                                           “Don’t call me an ass.  Can’t you recognize when I’m telling a joke by now?”

“This is serious, Aubrey, very serious.”

“Yeah, yeah…Are you sure that it was okay to tell them about what I plan to do?”

“Yes.  Telling your ex-husband what a jerk he is, or was, or will be will not significantly alter the present. The man had literally no impact on anyone but you.  But remember to carry out your assignment too.  You have to buy the last vanilla iced cupcake from that shop near your old apartment.  That’s vital.  And it’s part of the price of your ticket.”

“Messing with Jeff’s head is okay, but it’s vital that I buy a cupcake.  That’s weird.”

“Vanilla iced cupcake with pink sprinkles.  The gurus know what they’re doing.  Carry out the deal as stated in the contract or they might send you to medieval Germany at some random moment.  They don’t like it if you fail to carry out your part of the bargain.”

“Are we done now?”

“Yes, dear.  You know it’s not just about the money.  I care about you and I’m worried that something bad might happen.  Promise me that you’ll be careful and do as you’re told.  Please don’t lose your temper and do something rash.”

“Stop talking and let me get on with this.”

“It won’t really help, you know.  The satisfaction will be momentary, and it won’t improve things in this time.”

“Bill, at my age I’ve learned that all satisfactions are momentary.  You and I have proved that over and over.  Last night was another example.”

Bill sighed and let go of her arm.  They climbed the last few steps and entered a doorway to the right.  A sign above their heads told them that they were entering the Hall of Time.  The smell of sandalwood incense overwhelmed them as they passed inside. Orange robed monks and nuns walked about with quick, light steps, entering and exiting through arched doorways on either side of the hall.  The men had shaved heads, and the women wore light scarves that covered their hair. Bill and Aubrey walked down the long, marble-floored hallway until they reached a reception desk.  A few armchairs upholstered with a shiny, orange material were placed in a semicircle off to the left.  When she studied the chairs closely Aubrey saw that the cloth was stitched with magenta threads that formed pulsating, interlocking patterns. The receptionist wore a fixed smile on her face.  Her lips curled serenely, but the slight clench of her jaw gave her an air of willful determination.

“Namaste.  Good morning.  Welcome to the GURUTECH Hall of Time.  What is the nature of your business?”

“My name is Aubrey Piazza.  I’m scheduled to make a journey today.”

“Ah, yes.  I have you down on my roster.  Forgive me for not recalling your name.  We have had many travelers the last few days.”

“Don’t worry about it.  What’s next?”

“You will have to fill out some paper work: some forms giving us final clearance, a legal statement freeing GURUTECH from liability in all instances save technical failure, and a form declaring that your present physical and mental state is sound.”

“I thought that I already signed off on that.”

“Oh, no.  Many of our clients make that assumption when they begin training.  Those forms just cleared you for the training program.  These forms are for the actual trip.  And after you’ve finished with these there’s a short test that tells us whether you have studied the process and are aware of the parameters of your mission.  Please take a seat over there and use the touch screen attached to the arm.  This should only take about twenty minutes.”

“Seems like a lot of paper work for a seven minute trip.”

“You may back out of our arrangement if you wish, Miss Piazza.”

“I’ve come this far.  I might as well go through with it.”

“We would be most pleased if you did, Miss Aubrey, as our technicians have devoted a great deal of time and effort in making your dual mission safe, comfortable and full of purpose.”

Aubrey took a seat in the nearest armchair, swung a padded arm over her lap and booted the touch screen embedded in the arm.  Bill watched her type in her answers until he heard the receptionist cough politely.

“Sir, will you be traveling today also?”

“No, I just wanted to make sure that Aubrey, Miss Piazza, was taken care of.”

“She will be fine, sir.  Her trip has been planned meticulously, and our technicians will watch over her with great care.”

“Yes.  I remember you telling me that when I went on my mission.  That didn’t go as planned.  Did your technicians watch over me?”

“It’s Mr. Plum, is it not?  I believe that I have seen your face before on memos received from our legal department.  Your complaints about your experience have been taken into consideration, and your journey is now used as a case study when we train new technicians.  We are pleased that you made it back to our time and that the errors that you introduced into your time line were insignificant and easily erased.  I trust that your trip to Magdeburg was not too unsettling.”

“Magdeburg!  Do you know what that was like?”

“Yes, Mr. Plum.  All employees of GURUTECH are given a simulated experience of our default destination.  There were many choices that we considered during the Thirty Years War in Germany.  The 17th century in Europe was rife with wholesale slaughter, religious persecution, famine, pestilence and aimless destruction.  We narrowed our selection down to the Fall of Magdeburg as it was an event so utterly chaotic and disastrous that no amount of interference by our travelers could significantly change the flow of time.  Such moments in time are rare, Mr. Plum.  We regret any discomfort that you experienced there, and hope that the basket of fruit and bottle of brandy we gave you on your return relieved your anxiety in some small way.”

“I spent four weeks in a psych unit having the emotional scars erased.  I still can’t go to a barbecue.  My memories of that place are nearly gone, but I know that it was total hell.”

“Yes, sir.  Many of our default travelers describe Magdeburg with those very words.  If you wish to file another formal complaint about your experience, I can ring this buzzer and two of our most considerate monks will escort you to our public relations office.”

The receptionist pointed to a buzzer on her desk with her index finger, and looked over her shoulder in the direction of two burly men in an office behind her.  Bill raised his hands in supplication and took a step back from the desk.

“No, no.  I don’t want to make a complaint.  I just want to make sure that Aubrey—Miss Piazza is taken good care of.”

“Your concerns will be noted in our log.  Perhaps it is time for you to wish Miss Piazza a successful journey, sir.  Will you be here tomorrow in case Miss Piazza needs assistance following her return and processing?”

“Yes.  Do you still have my number on file?”

“Yes, sir.  We know all about you.”

The receptionist smiled as she said these last words, but there was no warmth in her expression.  Bill took another step back and turned in Aubrey’s direction.  She waved the back of her hand at him to dismiss him, and Bill stammered out a weak, “Good luck,” before hustling away.

“I’m ready,” Aubrey said to the receptionist as she finished her last entry.  The receptionist transferred Aubrey’s forms and the completed test to a screen on the reception desk; she maintained her fixed smile for the most part, but frowned occasionally as she clicked buttons on the keyboard and touched icons on the screen.  At one point, as the receptionist carefully studied a form, she reached for a phone, but hesitated and withdrew her hand.  She glanced up at Aubrey with doubt in her eyes as she reread a passage several times, and then scrolled through all of the documents one more time.

“Why yes, Miss Piazza.  You are ready,” she finally replied.  She gave Aubrey her cold smile and waved to the burly monks in the office behind her.  They stepped forward and Aubrey was surprised to see that they wore pistols in the orange sashes around their waists.

“What’s with the hardware?” she asked the receptionist.

“Bon voyage, Miss Piazza,” said the receptionist.

The two men rapidly came up to Aubrey and stood on either side of her.  The one on the right took a gentle hold on her elbow and began to lead her toward the office.  When she jerked her arm out of his grasp and tried to pull away from them, they simply picked her up by the shoulders and feet and carried her end to end as if she were a rolled up carpet.

“Bill!” she screamed once before disappearing behind the doors of the office.

 

 

The Results

The Results

An acrylic painting with a faux sci-fi theme:  teleportation through time.  A Victorian girl is plucked from her own place and time and arrives very much against her will in a modern lab.

Text:  They focused on the child.  She was the key to understanding the results of their experiment, the flaws in its design.  Ms. Roberts agreed to act as the decoy.

Thought bubble:  Where’s the needle?  She must not escape!