We are stranded. Lost in time. Between a future then and a present now. Limited sensory perception. No ESP. Real or imagined.
Faces flash by. Expressions in flux. Recall partial. Memories scrambled.
First Jeremy then Barbara G. Followed by Melissa and Corin. I watch as April, the hairstylist, teleports in.
A mirror hangs suspended from nowhere.
Three-way views: straight on, profile left, profile right. They overlap and collide.
Stray video images float by. Hazy and undefined. They drift through an alternate reality.
portraits… in motion
First one face then another. Each mounted atop the same contorted torsos. Casually clothed. But stylish. Everyday chic.
Gorman never actually left.
No, I’m here. Still.
yes, I am…
But everything is changing. Suddenly and gradually. Both simultaneously.
Life becomes interchangeable. And isn’t. Neither by choice nor design… Ginny and I get separated. Just happens.
Two time-travel capsules. Identical vessels. A singular autopilot. Parallel settings. Full synchronization.
Sudden and inexplicable. An untoward event struck home.
NOT FACTURED IN
Digital malfunction. An uncoupling. Most likely the software. How totally bizarre. Earlier all systems checked. Both 100% goes. No longer.
Now, the other capsule. Increasingly off course. Seeks an unknown destination. In time. Radio silence. Radar static. Visual blur. Nothing from Ginny. Nothing from Savvy. The two together.
Can’t be! Ginny is my one and only. My love. My partner. Forever, my reality.
Savvy, forever short for Savanah, a controlling AI presence. Her sister Abilene the same. And now, I find myself alone with Abby. Traveling with her virtual self. A passionless presence.
Our capsule the same as theirs. Abruptly veers. Into a different direction. Not really. Time simply stands still.
Or so it seems. Amid the void. A gap in communications.
A HAUNTED BEAT
Then we hear it. A solitary beep. For an elongated second, then another. And another. The beeps repeat. Regularly. Creating a rhythm that echoes within my ear.
I listen intently. And lean forward for eye recognition to switch on the Solar Time Coordinates (STC).
I silently start to spell F-i-r… Then blink to click Firwood on. As I mouth 20-35.
First a map in mid-air. Next a holographic image. Others follow.
There’s the old, paneled fire station. A robotic orb swiftly circles above. With heat, smoke and ash sensors. It meticulously fans out across the landscape.
The automated post office facility appears only a touch out-of-date. Same for the conveyor-belt-driven buffet next door. The last day for both. Next overcome with ash.
Suddenly I see us. Yes. Ginny. And me. Her eyes peer off to the side. On something or someone. Someone watching the two of us.
A man. Or a woman. Holographic illusions. Perhaps. Not really sure. Can’t tell.
pump and zoom
I replay the sequence. Sharpen the focus. Pump up the pixels and zoom all the way in.
Nothing shows. Whomever or whatever has vanished.
I scan the area. No luck. That person, nowhere to be seen. I now have someone by my side. His or her breath heating my neck. To almost burning it.
Suddenly, I spot our original time lab. Hard to believe. My left hand slices the air on deciding to venture inside.
There, our old capsule is visible dead ahead. Current STC system comes alive. A video blur in chromatic 3D. Time to zoom in. Zoom and comb through.
Both the village and its inhabitants return. Memories everywhere. Abby holds firm. She clasps my shoulder, squinting to see more detail. Glean a closer look.
“That Melissa there?” I ask, trying to decipher a holographic cloud.
“You mean Naomi,” replies Abby, opting for Melissa’s real name. “Close. Very close. But different eyes. Distinctly so.”
“Yes, hers are much deeper.”
“What’s that gray plastic crate.” Asks Abby, digressing.
“You tell me,” I demand as both our desultory thoughts wander further astray.
Her curiosity having piqued. Abby sucks in her gut. Her diaphragm pumps a deep breath. In, then out, repeatedly. Fingers tightly clenched.
“There…” She zeros in. “That one in the corner… On the floor.”
My eyes steady. They scan and scroll.
Abby randomly digs deeper. Into a virtual assortment of personal belongings. A haphazard lost-and-found. It fills the crate.
A faux tortoiseshell hairbrush. Matching nailbrush. A plastic dispenser of mints. Ones that must be totally dried out.
Abby gently but firmly shoves me aside. She grabs the controls. Directs the scan. Mouths five syllables. Voice commands then kick in.
“Anything else?” Frustration declares: “Has to be.”
A SEARCH GAME
“Hello.” The voice identical to Jamie’s. Our contact back at the base. “Please tell me what you’re looking for?”
“Hello, you!” replies Abby. “It’s my sister’s purse. Sentimental… But irreplaceable.”
“Sure,” agrees Jamie. Or his voice double. “Tell me how it looks.”
“Small. A clutch. A removable shoulder strap. Appears leather.”
“But it’s not.”
“No. A tight mesh.”
“What color?” Jamie has already begun his scan and zoom.
“Try green,” I proclaim, listening to Jamie reprogram.
He keeps zooming in deeper. Unsuccessfully. “Sorry. Nothing green. Nothing mesh.”
“Has to be here,” Abby insists.
“Are you sure?” Jamie refocuses intently. “I do have two reds and one gold.”
“No, definitely green,” she persists. “Sage… green. Try that cabinet!”
“Wouldn’t be there,” interjects Jamie’s double. “Absolutely couldn’t be.”
Abby’s eyes are scorching as she focuses and virtually reconstructs the cabinet. Doors first. Then drawers fly open.
Nothing at first. She empties one after another in a futile search.
“Has to be here.”
“Why?” I ask, unconvinced.
fling it all
“My sensor picked it up.” She begins to fling everything, one item at a time, up over her shoulder. Into the air. Each sails high.
Seems so futile.
Abby then suddenly exclaims: “Stop! That’s it!” She edges closer. Her eyes locked on an inanimate object. A small handbag sage green in color. Savvy’s handbag.
The remote molecule gun together with Abby’s presence provide the recognition to unlock all the STC systems in the lab.
Now just need to reconnect with Ginny. And Savvy. Reunite with the pair.
Abby clenches her sister’s bag as tightly as she could.
Her eyes lock on mine. My thoughts begin to unravel. Deconstruct. They aren’t responding. Reacting to an outside force.
hear her thoughts
Abby had gains control. I feel her thinking. Her manipulations. I have to break free.
I watch her lips relax into a smile. A sense of self satisfaction as I struggle to block her out.
Her smile grows smug. Looks that kill. I keep my eyes on hers. Distracting. Pretending to follow her thought. Her command. I smile back.
“OK, Abby. What next?”
With our eyes still locked, my hand reaches over undetected to grab the molecule gun. But my mind outwardly silent as it utters “Don’t!”