After a lengthy application process that involved background checks spanning lifetimes he had never experienced, Cal received his license. This took the form of a device that appeared to be a white pocket watch with no discernable features on the face whatsoever. With some time, he learned how it worked, mostly by reading the little instruction manual it had come with. He was a rare fellow in that way. With that license, Cal would be allowed to travel through space and time and experience all the wonders that such a privilege incurs.
His first jaunt through time was to discover whether or not his childhood dog, Gooey, had, in fact, gone to live on a farm while Cal had been in school one day or if he’d died in a bloody heap on the side of the road after failing to step out of the path of an oncoming tractor.
He did not delve into the secrets of his past after that.
When his work as an IT professional at a local advertising firm proved to be too dull, he would take a break out of his day to stroll through a Civil War battlefield in one plane of existence or another. Or he would go investigate the newest happenings in the Amazon. The evenings he spent on his own were passed watching the robotic Old West unfold before him or a particularly entertaining battle among the Greek islands.
When he was not alone, he was in the company of his beloved girlfriend with whom he had a pleasant and healthy relationship.
Shortly after he received the license, on the twenty-third of June, thirty-four minutes past five in the afternoon, she was struck and killed by the truck of a local beet farmer.
But I digress.
At this point, Candace Styles was cowering in the middle of Pike Street, screaming a shrill scream while the man who had dragged her to her death stood over her. He still had her arm clutched firmly in his hand.
As she cowered and screamed, the logical part of her mind, which had been shoved quite unceremoniously to a lesser region of her conscience, was struck by the lack of noise around her and the unsettling amount of time between her noticing the truck and the truck’s inevitable contact with her body. The illogical part of her mind in charge of panicking during dangerous situations continued its job with aplomb.
During one of those brief pauses when Candace took a breath, Cal took the opportunity to speak.
“Will you stop screaming? There’s nothing here.”
Candace, who’d closed her eyes to avoid witnessing her own limbs flying around her during the impact, was struck with the desire to inform this stranger that screaming was the proper response to her situation. However, when she looked up at him to point this out, she noticed that instead of five-thirty-four (or about that time, she was certain) in the afternoon, it appeared to be closer to nine or ten o’clock in the evening.
With this revelation, she stopped her noise-making and inspected her surroundings. It was then that she realized there was no longer a truck rushing toward her. In fact, the streets were quite empty at this point. She yanked her arm from of Cal’s grasp and stood so rapidly that she was struck with the sensation that maybe she was the one spinning and the earth beneath her was quite still.
“What’s happening?” she demanded once her inner ear regained control of the situation. “Where’s the truck? Why is it dark? Who are you?”
Cal was uncertain whether answering any of those questions would do any good. Having accomplished his fool’s errand, he realized that perhaps
Ten-thirteen in the evening, June the twenty-third.
The time and date were not the only pieces of information he gathered from the device. He felt it vibrating in the sort of way that suggested he ought to do something with it.
“Stop looking at your watch and tell me what’s happening,” Candace demanded.
Cal ignored her and set the watch flat on his sweaty palm, pressing the button at the top which normally would open the door. Rather than it’s original purpose, the button served to activate the device’s holograph system. The system projected a miniature version of a man, Brigstein, just above the white surface amidst a tiny, self-contained cloud of particles.
“Hello, Cal,” Brigstein said.
His smile was no longer present.
“Hello, Brigstein,” Cal said.
Both men ignored the fresh wave of noise that came from Candace.
“That was an interesting thing that you did back there.”
“This is already quite the mess.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“They’ll be after you momentarily.”
“They’re right to do so.”
In this instance, “They” is more commonly known as the Protectorate, at least amongst time and space travelers. Johnny Law. Time police. Hardly the people to irritate by disrupting the flow of time and exactly the people that Cal had crossed.
“You should bring her back now while you still have time.”
Cal hesitated to respond. He looked through Mini-Brigstein to Candace, who was staring at the hologram with the kind of bemused expression worn by most children when they’ve violently sneezed or hiccoughed for the first time.
“Cal,” Brigstein said.
Cal did not respond. He had a live Candace at last, but one that was supposed to be dead. She was in the wrong timeline. She didn’t carry a license. And now she was screaming at him, demanding to go home, to have this whole terrible situation explained to her. The noise was making it far more difficult for Cal to do any thinking.
Brigstein’s pacing resumed. He had an urgent expression, but before he could disclose whatever information he held, a sudden whoosh and crackle from behind distracted Cal even further.
Then another voice made up his mind for him.
“Calvin Brigstein, don’t move.”
Cal’s heart sank. No good ever came from an order like that.
Candace looked at the person behind Cal. Her expression fell before she could heap any abuse upon that person
Cal snapped his fingers shut over the watch, sending
“I said don’t move.”
Candace babbled something as Cal scooped her up and ran. He activated the watch. Just before the void engulfed them, Cal looked over his shoulder and saw the Protectorate Officer, a wall of a man in a dark gray uniform, aiming his unreasonably sized weapon at Cal.
“Great,” Cal said.
And the officer shot him.
Brigs stared at the offending version of himself. They were both identical except for the one standing outside his door had an unpleasant chest wound–judging from the location, it was accompanied by a punctured lung–that was bleeding profusely. As if coughing up blood onto one’s host were all the invitation needed, the ruined Calvin hobbled into the apartment with the help of a wide-eyed brunette. There was something familiar about her to Brigs.
She led the injured Calvin to a chair and deposited him there.
“What on Earth do you think you’re doing?” Brigs demanded.
“Guns!” the woman shrieked. “Guns, and blood, and that truck!”
“That maniac kidnapped me!”
Brigs glanced at the bloody Calvin and rolled his eyes.
“He’s not the maniac, ma’am. I’ve seen this one before. The only person he can hurt is himself.”
This observation served to reinforce Candace’s firm belief that she had somehow fallen into the presence of insane people or that she had gone insane herself. How else could she possibly find herself surrounded by copies of the same person?
“What do you call yourself, again?” Brigs asked, addressing the fellow in the chair.
“Cal,” he spluttered. A fresh rivulet of blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth to the floor.
“Oh gosh, I really wish you’d put him on the linoleum. I’m never getting this out of the carpet.” Brigs shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Fine, Cal. I’m Brigs. Now why are you here?”
“Got shot,” Cal replied. He used the sort of tone that suggested his intent should be fairly obvious.
“And you came to my apartment instead of going to a hospital?”
“In the neighborhood.”
Brigs looked at Candace. She had retreated to a corner where she was muttering to herself. He was about to move on to the unpleasant task of removing the bloody Cal from his apartment when is gaze landed on a picture on the wall. It was of his mourning roommate’s late girlfriend. He felt an eyelid twitched at the sight.
“Get out,” Brigs said. His voice was that dangerous sort of calm. “Now.”
“I need help.” Every word Cal spoke was ragged.
“Then tell me who shot you.”
Cal chose that moment to fall silent, partially because he was struck by the sudden whim to expire on Brigs’s carpet and partially because he knew that Brigs wouldn’t like the answer. He was under the impression that few people liked his excuses these days.
Candace didn’t share in Cal’s desire for self-preservation.
“This guy appeared out of nowhere,” she said. “His gun was gigantic. And he pointed it at us! And then . . . and then. . . . We wound up here somehow. And the guy was gone. And that one was bleeding.”
Brigs shuddered. “The Protectorate,” he said. “Absolutely not. I will not harbor fugitives.”
“Can’t find me,” Cal said, slumping a little lower in the chair.
“Of course they can find you. The only way they couldn’t is if–” and then Brigs fell silent. He gave Cal a searching stare. “You tampered with your license. I ought to report you right now.”
Brigs reached for his own faceless watch when a clipped, slightly British accented voice made him pause.
“I would appreciate you not doing that.”
At this point, Cal was seeing multiples of everything, so when he tried to focus on Brigs, he thought he was seeing four or five different versions of himself standing there. For a brief moment, his sight cleared enough for him to make sense of the image: Brigstein holding a gun to Brigs’s head. Then the sight split back into an orgy of confusion.
“There are three of you now?” Candace said.
“How did you get in here?” Brigs demanded. He pulled his hand out of his pocket, devoid of watch.
“That’s a ridiculous question, and you know it,” Brigstein replied.
“Found me,” Cal said. He looked at Brigstein with the sort of grateful expression that the mostly dead wear when they still think they have a chance.
“Be glad it’s only me,” Brigstein said. “You,” he said, looking to Candace. She had once again fallen into a state of bemused staring. “Take this gun and blow his head off if he does anything scary-looking. Especially if it involves his watch.”
Candace moved in slow motion, like she was expecting Brigstein to be pulling a trick. Brigs made no attempt to move in this time. He felt the barrel of the gun shaking against the back of his head. He found it prudent to remain still.
Brigstein then took the liberty of inspecting Cal. “My, this looks painful,” he said. He prodded around the wound on Cal’s chest, resulting in a pitiful gurgle from Cal. “I suppose if you’d listened to me, this wouldn’t have happened.”
If it weren’t for the large hole and his inability to speak, Cal would most likely have responded with some sort of snarky comment, but since he lacked any such capability, he had to be satisfied with a faint, pleading wheeze.
Brigstein smiled. “You act as if you’re dying.”
Brigstein pulled out his watch and pressed a small button on the side of the device. Rather than the hologram, this button created a green light which bathed Cal’s oozing wound. There was a small puff of dust from the watch that seemed drawn to the hole. Some minutes passed, during which the wound started to shrink. The skin seemed to mend itself, and the large bruise beneath faded. The rattle in Cal’s breathing disappeared, and he coughed the little cloud from his rusting mouth. The cloud returned to its hidden compartment without further action.
“There,” Brigstein said, stowing the watch. “Now will you stop being so dramatic?”
“Of course,” Cal said. He shot a dark stare at Brigstein and struggled to his feet.
“That’s what I like to hear.” Brigstein’s toothy smile returned, and he looked around the room. “Now, we ought to go before you get shot again. Candace, darling, if you’ll return my gun, I’ll take you home, and we can be done with this whole debacle.”
At the mention of Candace’s name, there came a frantic shout from somewhere else in the apartment. Surprised, Cal jumped and collapsed onto Birgstein’s shoulder, his face twisted with pain.
“Mark, you boob, you were awake this whole time?” Brigs shouted. “Call the police!”
Startled by the sudden shouting, Candace followed Brigstein’s instructions and pulled the trigger. Brigstein, however, had neglected to mention to anyone at all that the safety was on, so she did no more damage than to bruise the inside of her finger from pulling so hard. Brigstein leapt forward and tackled both Candace and Brigs to the ground. Cal, who had not regained his footing by that time, flopped over.
“I thought I was dreaming when I heard your voice again,” the absentee roommate called. “Candace, where are you?”
Mark, draped in an untied bathrobe and wild-eyed, staggered into the living room. He found nothing but a nasty blood stain on the carpet.
Due to the relative fragility of time and space as well as the minute complexity of the device itself, a traveler’s license only allows the holder to travel across one plane of existence at any given time. In essence, one can move about in time, or one can move about in space, but one cannot, which scrambling his own atoms or potentially tangling timelines, do both at the same time. It is for this reason that the four removed themselves from Brigs’s apartment to another nearly identical living space, sans Cal’s blood. It was, however, the same time of night, so the unexpected appearance of four beleaguered time travelers was met with surprise from the two additional versions of Calvin
The first version, who preferred to go by Kal, stood from the sofa, her hair disheveled and her eyes blazing. “The hell?” she demanded, glaring at the several masculine versions of herself.
The second, Calvyn, remained prone and wore the kind of expression one normally wears after being caught doing something shameful.
“Pardon the intrusion,” Brigstein said. In a neat motion, he plucked Brigs’s license from his hands and slipped it into a pocket. “We’ll be out of your hair in a moment.”
Brigstein then removed the gun Candace was still cradling with shaking hands and aimed it deftly at Brigs. Staring down the barrel of a .45, Brigs decayed into desperate pleading.
“Hold on,” Cal said, grabbing Brigstein’s arm and thrusting it down toward the floor. “You can’t just kill him.”
“I assure you that I can,” Brigstein replied.
“Uh, no,” Kal said, advancing on
Candace, who had been in the process of raising her hands and backing away from
“Oh my gosh, is it really you?” Candace said. “Kal, what’s going on here?”
At this point it will be helpful to mention that Kal is from this particular Candace’s timeline and happened to have taken the day off from work at a particular advertising company to visit with her, ahem, traveling companion.
“No, the question is what are you doing here?” Kal said. She glared accusingly at the three guilty versions of herself as she tried to calm the still frantic Candace.
“These criminals did it,” Brigs said. His voice was frantic as if he had only recently been threatened by several people with a gun. “They took that girl from her timeline.”
Kal narrowed her eyes further, if that were possible, and fixed what remained of her glare on Cal and
Instead of kindly doing anything of the sort, Kal raised said weapon and alternated between pointing it at Cal and
Kal’s face turned a rather unpleasant shade of red at this. She chose to brandish the gun more fully in
“Oh, please just take me home,” Candace wailed. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“Please, do oblige her,”
“I’m afraid you can’t do that,”
“Why not?” Brigs demanded. “They made this mess. They should fix it.”
“That timeline’s blocked off,”
“Go through the Protectorate,” Calvyn whispered.
“No,” he said.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?” Brigs said. “You’ve got to fix this. So fix it.”
“I mean exactly what I say. No. I’ve managed well enough without bothering the Protectorate. This can be done without them just as well.”
“And how are you going to do that?” Kal said with a rather nasty sneer. “You going to attack the block or something?”
Brigstein’s smile took on a dark twist. “Precisely.”
Brigs barked with the sort of laughter that usually comes from a madman who has just heard a particularly humorous spurt of nonsense. “You can’t do it. Destroying a time block is impossible.”
“Precisely,” Brigstein said. “And I’ve even found someone to help me.”
“No,” Kal said, stepping in front of
“But you already are.”
With those last sinister words,
“In a few
Kal snorted in disbelief. “You’re going to keep us away from the Protectorate?”
Brigstein twirled his license on its fob chain. “I have my ways.”
During the process of this whole discussion, Candace had been shifting amongst several different emotions, varying from confusion to frustration to unabashedly desperate hopefulness. Sensing that the discussion was drawing to its inevitable conclusion, she reached a hand out to Kal.
“Please,” Candace said, her voice just shy of a sob. “I just want to go home.”
Kal’s expression fell from cocky defiance to something grim. “I know, Candace.” Kal hesitated, having a clear internal struggle before she finally forced the words out of herself. “Fine. We’ll get her back, but if the Protectorate says word one to us, I’ll end you all.”
“I accept those terms,”
“Don’t be so glum,”
“Perhaps if you behave I won’t put a leash on you either,” he said, his voice nearly a hiss.
With a defiant little smile,
Paige Bagby is a lover of all things science fiction and fantasy. Drawing on her favorite authors like Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, she writes out of northeast Pennsylvania and looks toward a better future.