In a primeval rainforest filled with beings that would eventually tread the earth again as rubber and oil, a dejected Ca’al mourned the loss of his mate to a rogue landslide. The mourning was brief as he was momentarily crushed beneath the foot of a large herbivorous lizard.
At nearly the same moment, the various Calvin Brigsteins and their effortlessly bemused Candace took their first steps into this same jungle.
“No one ever said anything about jungles,” he said. “I left my bug spray.”
“When exactly is this?” Cal asked.
“A little pit stop of mine,”
Cal attempted to give
“But how did the Protectorate find you so quickly?” Kal said. “If you’re so good at hiding, then explain that.”
“Who would do that?” Kal’s gaze cruised suspiciously over the assembled persons, probing for understanding.
At which point Brigs broke down and made a running leap for the undergrowth.
“You!” Kal, being more athletic and quite enraged, easily caught Brigs and threw him into a tree. He crumpled to the ground in a frightened daze. “You could’ve gotten us all arrested.”
“They’re criminals,” Brigs said. “And you’re breaking laws yourself, going and fooling around in your own alternate timelines. The lot of you belong with the Protectorate and far away from good versions like me.”
“You’d be arrested too,”
“They’d see that I had nothing to do with them.”
“You harbored us, as I seem to recall.”
Imagine for a moment a bull with an especially easily aggravated rage reflex. Now, if it pleases, imagine this bull was a punky time traveler who had just discovered her entire life was to be uprooted because of one man’s self-righteous attitude. Further imagine this woman whipping around to
Having imagined such a scenario, one would have an excellent vision of
“How dare you,” Brigs said. He reconsidered speaking when Kal’s scowl became directed at him once again.
“This could’ve been taken care of so easily,” Kal said. It is important to note at this point that she was nearly growling as she spoke and was advancing on Brigs much like a tigress baring down on a remarkably unsuspecting lamb. “We could’ve gotten Candace back where she needed to be, and we wouldn’t have had to mention the Protectorate. We’ve all got prices on our heads now because of you.”
Before the metaphorical tigress could make a much less metaphorical mess of
“Some of us are much more wanted than others,” he said, raising both hands in a peaceful gesture. “Now, I assure you that we’re much safer in this timeline than anywhere else, and I also assure you that the life of a time pirate isn’t nearly as unfortunate as you seem to believe. Before you do anything that few of us would regret, might I suggest that we take you and your companion off the grid and regroup? We can decide who lives and dies once we’ve all had a nice hot meal.”
“You’re going to cloak our licenses?”
“Precisely. If the Protectorate can’t see you, then they will be much less likely to find us here.”
“I wouldn’t drag my heels if I were you,” Cal said, piping up with his first productive words in some time. “They’ll already be trying to trace them.”
“Kindly bugger off.”
So Cal, once again the target of hateful stares, found his way to a patch a moss and busily took to looking through it. Behind him, he could hear the other versions of himself mumbling, and he assumed they’d begun their tampering. He took out his own license and inspected it. For a moment he was struck with a profound sense of
Then he relieved himself on the moss and felt significantly better about the whole thing.
Candace would be returned to her never-ending cycle of death.
And the remainder of the group would most likely dump Cal into a black hole while he slept.
A nice and tidy affair.
“Cal, when you’ve quite finished poisoning the wildlife,”
Upon returning to his place of shame, Cal saw that
Calvyn blanched. “This wasn’t your safe place?”
Kal’s face turned an even more unpleasant shade of red. “So we’ve been sitting out in the open this entire time?”
“Quite. But we’re leaving now.”
Brigs believed him and took to cowering for the time being.
“Now if you’ll excuse me,”
The hideout, as
The actual location appeared to be nothing more than a shallow cave at the bottom of a sheer cliff. Upon entering the cave, however,
The petals were black and shriveled with age.
Cal, unfazed by his traveling partner, entered the apartment and dropped onto the loveseat, nestling his forehead in his hands. The others, however, chose to stand at the door staring.
“Who are you?” Kal said, frowning at Brigstein.
“It’s better not to ask that question, honestly,” Cal said. “Just take it and move on with life.”
Candace, moving less like a person and more like an automaton, found her way to a distant corner of the apartment where she hunkered down and eyed the Calvin’s.
“Don’t look so dower,” he said. “We only have to break through a Protectorate blockade, and we’ll have this ordeal handled in a beat.”
“You know that technology better than any of us,” Cal said without looking up from the Persian rug. “It’s beyond our abilities.”
“It’s beyond your abilities,”
With that statement,
“Hacking the Protectorate is horribly dangerous though,”
“It’s the only way to get Candace back where she needs to be,”
Kal, who had been standing in silent
“You didn’t just happen to land in his timeline,” she said. “You were looking for us.”
Kal threw her head with frustration that bubbled over to her voice. “You can’t make him do anything. This could get us locked up for all our lifetimes.”
“Finally someone who sees reason,”
“Better things would have us never being involved with you
“I don’t understand why this is such a big problem.” Much to everyone’s surprise, Candace had spoken up in the corner. “Why is it such a difficult thing to take me back home? If you guys can go back and forth, then why can’t I?”
“Hm, ah, yes, well Cal, it seems like you have some explaining to do,”
“Oh I wouldn’t trust him if I were you,” Brigs said, casting an accusing finger at Cal before he could even look up from the ground. “He’s trouble.”
“Do you have any rope in this hole?” Kal said, looking over at
He waved a hand dismissively towards the sleeping area. “In the wardrobe, darling. Just don’t fray the ends.”
Brigs, sensing his alternates’ intentions, made a run for the door only to be cut off by a more than eager Kal. In a scene worthy of Benny Hill, the two danced around the apartment, Brigs screaming for help while the other leaped over seating and furniture to catch him. It was only when he got too close to Candace and she gave him a panicky shove to the ground that Kal managed to pin him to the ground and render him unconscious with a swift punch to the jaw. Without wasting a moment, she found the rope where
“He’s . . . not a good person,”
“I can’t say either of us are,” Cal replied. “Or maybe that’s just the kind of person Calvin
With that, Cal stood and walked over to where Candace was eyeing the tied up Brigs. Gratefully, she seemed to have lost the fear in her stance, but seeing Cal approach, she appeared to shift her weight onto her toes as if leaping out of the apartment and into the jungle
“I’m not going to cause more trouble,” Cal said, holding up his hands. “You want to know what’s going on, right?”
“You can tell me from over there,” Candace said.
“It would make a lot more sense if I showed you.”
Candace narrowed her eyes. “I don’t trust you.”
Cal nodded and looked down at his feet. “That’s fine. You come from her timeline, right? The female version?”
She shrugged and nodded at the same time. “Maybe? She knows me, and I know her. Doesn’t that mean we’re from the same place?”
“Listen, what does that have to do with anything?”
It was Cal’s turn to shrug noncommittally. “All I’m saying is that you aren’t my Candace, so you wouldn’t know me the way you know her. Timelines have a habit of keeping holding patterns, so the same people will tend to be in the same places at the same times even if they aren’t identical. It’s . . . complicated. But I can show you why I did what I did. If that will help you understand what’s going on.”
“Will you stop looking at me so strangely?”
Candace seemed to struggle with an array of emotions as she stared Cal down. Accept the offer from the man who makes her uncomfortable with his presence or
She threw her hands up.
“Fine. Show me what you want. It can’t be any worse than what’s going on now.”
“It’s going to traumatize you, just so you know. Like, existential crisis stuff. Because you aren’t supposed to be seeing the things that you are. I don’t think you ever are supposed to.”
“If I got this far, then I can handle your little sideshow.”
Cal gave her a look that suggested
Witnessing one’s own death had a way of changing perspectives anyway.
At this point, the laws of time travel became tricky for Cal. He’d made sure to promise
He’d originally been under the impression that he would have a much more heroic sensation than he had leading Candace up the service ladder of the drug store on the corner of Weston and Pike.
He checked his watch.
The twenty-third of June, fifteen minutes after five.
That was hardly enough time to delve into the depths of time travel with anyone let alone an emotionally distressed, unlicensed time traveler, but he’d give it an unenthusiastic go as was his wont to do.
“Why are we here?” Candace asked. She peered over the edge of the roof at the people below. “This is home.”
“No. This is my home. My original timeline. But I don’t know if I ever come back here.”
“You confuse me so much when you talk like that. Can’t you just tell me what’s going on like a normal person?”
“I guess. I’m a time-traveler. I use this watch to go through time and space. Like a tourist since I’m only allowed to watch. No touching.”
“You touched me.”
“I rescued you. And I caused a lot of trouble for doing it.”
Candace huffed and crossed her arms. “Why is this about you? I’m the one getting dragged around by psychopaths. I just want to go home to I can get back to my life.”
Cal put his hands in his hoodie pockets sulkily. “You wouldn’t do that. But you can think you would. Like it or not, I’ve changed your life. A whole new set of timelines surround you now. So you’d never be able to go back to what should’ve happened before.”
“There you go again, talking about that nonsense. I’ve had guns pointed at me, and people have been treating us like criminals. Just put me back.”
“I don’t want to do that.”
Twenty minutes after five.
“You saw the truck, right? When you were crossing the street?”
“The one you pushed me in front of?” Candace huffed and tossed her hair.
The way she stood and stared Cal down made him pause as the dozens of Candace’s he’d seen splattered on the side of the road flashed through his mind in a macabre parade. Some of them had smiled at him, mistaking him for their version of Calvin Brigstein. Some of them hadn’t even looked his way. All of them tossed their hair in that way that suggests there’s a spunky attitude hiding under that professional exterior. Emotion that had eluded Cal’s shriveled little heart for what felt like years started to trickle back in only to be swiftly smacked back into submission by Candace’s merciless backhand.
“Why did you do that?” Cal said. He touched his cheek as if to make absolutely sure it was still there.
“You’re ignoring my question. Again. If you’re not going to answer me, then take me back to that cave or whatever.”
Cal felt that pesky emotion bubbling up in him again as he looked Candace in the eye. Yes, that was hurt. Sad offense from the rejection of the woman whose life he was so determined to save. Perhaps speaking to her was just the medicine he needed to make a correction on his course of life. Maybe he could come back to his own timeline and resume living life as he should. If he hadn’t already fallen in with his own criminal self, that is.
“If I take you back to your timeline, then I have to leave you in the place where you would’ve been standing at that exact moment.”
Candace narrowed her eyes. “So I’d die. You pushed me in front of that truck. You’d kill me!”
“You were going to trip in that timeline. I tripped with you.”
“How do you know what was going to happen to me? If you hadn’t stepped in and started trouble, I could’ve been just fine.”
Thirty minutes after five.
Cal didn’t respond to this except to give Candace a sad look as he walked over to the edge of the roof. He scanned the crowd below and spotted his own head bobbing along the sidewalk. Next to him was Candace. His version of Candace.
“That’s us,” Cal said, pointing their alternate version out of the crowd. “Well. That’s the original me. That’s my version of you.”
Thirty-one minutes after five.
The two were holding hands as they meandered down the sidewalk, both dressed in their work clothes and looking quite pleased to be together. Cal wasn’t looking at the Candace standing beside him on the roof, but he could feel the weight of her eyes rolling beside him.
“So you kidnapped me to replace that one? What did we break up or something and you couldn’t handle it?”
Thirty-two minutes after five.
“No,” Cal said. His heart beat a painful rhythm in his chest as if his entire body was attempting to make him reconsider his presence in that particular moment. It reminded him of the absolute futility of his quest. It was just his lot in life to know that this all could not have been, but he just happened to be one of the versions where it was reality.
Thirty-three minutes after five.
The Cal and Candace on the sidewalk stopped at the corner of Weston and Pike, waiting for the lights to change so they could cross the street. A hooded figure approached the pair from behind, attempted to yank the purse from Candace’s shoulder. Cal took hold of her in as heroic a gesture as he could as she lost her balance trying to keep hold of her belongings.
Thirty-four minutes after five.
The would-be thief released his hold on the bag, ending with Candace fully losing her balance and flying out of Cal’s grasp and into the road. She stumbled into the path of an oncoming vegetable truck just in time to make acquaintance with the grill.
A mischievous little tear crept past Cal’s defenses as he watched himself collapse on the street beside Candace. The reaction on the street from the onlookers was immediate. The hooded person had disappeared.
“I could’ve saved you,” Cal said. Much to his pleasure, his voice was even despite the supreme discomfort writhing in his gut. “I should’ve. It’s my fault that any of this is happening.”
Cal shoved his hands in his pockets dismissively and started to walk back towards the service ladder.
“So I’m sorry I dragged you into all of this time travel stuff. Somewhere out there, you’re happy, and you’ve probably never met me. But I just wanted you to live. I’ve been looking for a timeline where this doesn’t happen to you, and I haven’t found it yet, and I thought that maybe if I could save you I could go back to normal and be happy again.”
He stopped walking halfway to the ladder and looked back at Candace. She was staring at him, her mouth
“Believe me, I’m sorry I saved you,” he said. “I know I’ll never be able to have this life back. But I was desperate. If you can forgive me enough to cooperate with us, we’ll put you back where you belong, and we can all forget this ever happened. You won’t have long to dwell on it anyway.”
When Candace’s only response was to close her mouth and nod absently, Cal gave a little sigh and nodded over to the ladder.
“Let’s stop and grab a bagel before we go back. I don’t trust any of the food
At this point, having witnessed Candace’s death and acquired breakfast foods, Cal returned to the apartment with Candace. To avoid running into themselves as they left the cave, however, Cal went five minutes into the future. Not too close but also not so far that
As the apartment materialized around them, however, Cal and Candace became distinctly aware of a sudden shift in tone in the room.
And most notably, Brigs was gone.
“You!” Kal roared, pointing an accusing finger at Cal. “Where have you been?”
Cal tilted his head to one side, as close to emoting as he would allow himself after his display on the rooftop. “We should’ve only been gone five minutes. I was explaining everything to Candace so she’d stop freaking out on everyone.”
“Calvin,” Brigstein said. His voice was tight as it usually was when Cal had done something to irritate him. It was becoming a more common occurrence these days. “Did you perhaps go to June twenty-third? You know the specifics.”
“You know when I went to.”
“Did you bother to check and see what the date was here before you left?”
Cal didn’t answer with the sort of silence that made it quite clear that he had not bothered to do any such thing.
“It was the twenty-second, you boob,” Brigstein said. “You’ve been gone for a whole day. And would you like to know what’s happened in that time?”
Cal shrugged in the direction of Brigs’s empty chair.
“I guess that one ran off.”
“The piece of garbage undid the knot overnight,” Kal said. Her voice was nearly a shriek as she advanced on Cal. “He stole my license. I don’t care what kind of criminals you two are. I can’t be out here without my license.”
“I assure you that you missing your license is the least of our concerns,” Brigstein said. “We’ll need to find him before he can inform the Protectorate of our location again. Cal, you have a nose for finding trouble. You’ll join me in the hunt.”
It was not a suggestion, and Cal knew better at this point than to argue.
“Will you come too?” he asked, looking at Kal.
“She shouldn’t,” Calvyn said, his voice a nervous squeak from the safety of the sofa. “She’s been woozy all day since she got hit. She might have a concussion.”
“We won’t need the help,” Brigstein said. “He seems to forget his place. I’ll remind him.”
He whipped out his own license and clicked a button menacingly. With that, the watch projected a small, cube shaped hologram. This was similar to the hologram that Cal’s license had produced except instead of a dangerously calm alternate version of himself, Brigstein looked down at what appeared to be a map of sorts. There were four red dots, three of which were assembled near each other. The observant in the group would note that those dots were the occupants of the apartment, meaning the fourth was their missing version.
“You can track us?” Kal said.
“I can do more than that,” Brigstein said. “Come, Cal. We’ll need to move quickly before he makes a mess for me.”
Cal, knowing full well that whatever Brigstein was leading him into would be unpleasant, heaved a sigh and dutifully followed the ever-smiling version out into the jungle. It was simmering outside.
“Don’t wander,” Brigstein said, following some invisible path through the overgrown foliage. “Or you’ll be eaten, and then I’ll lose my only source of entertainment these days.”
“You don’t strike me as being all that amused lately,” Cal mumbled, eyeing an oversized anthill as something’s writhing corpse was dragged into its depths.
“You’ll do well not to remind me.”
By all appearances, Brigs had made a mad dash through the jungles only to stop quite suddenly about a mile away from the apartment. Brigstein seemed confident in himself as he pocketed the watch and continued forward.
“You never did say why you needed a hideout,” Cal said.
“I certainly didn’t.”
“It’s an awfully dangerous place for you to spend time.”
Cal nodded and took the hint, doubling down on watching for more oversized insects and primordial beasts. So concerned with his own life, he hardly noticed the walk, and the pair had arrived at their peculiar destination in stupendous time.
“Now,” Brigstein said,” if you’ll keep your hands to yourself and keep calm this will all be over momentarily.”
Cal would’ve asked what Brigstein meant if he’d been paying attention to what was being said. Instead, he was more focused on the village before him. It was Amazonian in style, built into the jungle and by all appearances straight from the glossy pages of a National Geographic magazine. It would’ve been quite stunning to witness if it weren’t for the still moist skulls impaled upon pikes that seemed to ring the huts around. They seemed almost human.
Amidst the huts was a man, an irritated expression on his face and a bow and arrow clutched dangerously in his hands. He stared from Brigstein to Cal and back in understandable confusion as he said something that was beyond Cal’s understanding. A demand, he was certain.
Unflinching, Brigstein responded in language. A reply.
The man, a question?
Brigstein, a nod, and he held out his watch, clicking through some buttons to display a holographic video of a chimpanzee riding on the back of a very concerned looking miniature pony.
The man nodded as well and jumped with excitement, then called to what seemed like the jungle itself. He made a comment to Brigstein and pointed to Cal.
Brigstein waved a hand carelessly and uttered a solitary word.
The man nodded once more and waved the two forward into the definitely safe village. Brigstein went forward, confident and calm. Cal decided that remaining close to the person who spoke these villagers’ language was the wisest option.
“You’re very familiar with this timeline,” Cal said. People were coming out their abodes and pointing at the two as they were paraded through what appeared to be the village’s main path. Many of them joined until there was a trail of onlookers behind them. It was made all the more unnerving by the good number of them that appeared to have just left a rather undercooked meal.
“They treat me quite well here,” Brigstein said.
It was at this point that the parade arrived at what was clearly the center of the village. A makeshift throne of sturdy branches and tremendous leaves had been erected on a low platform of similar constitution. A ring of villagers surrounded the platform, arms raised in a praising gesture that wouldn’t be out of place in an ecstatic church service. The recipient of the worship was none other than Brigs, who sat huddled upon the throne, eyes wide and sweat stains spreading profusely all over his body. He clutched Kal’s license as if it would save him from the joyous cheers that surrounded him.
“Having fun, are we?” Brigstein said.
“You!” Brigs cried. “You didn’t have to wait so long to come find me. I’ve been trapped here since last night. Help me. They act like I’m a god or something.”
“King, actually,” Brigstein said. “Or rather, chief.”
“They tried to feed me something. Meat. I couldn’t tell what it was.”
“Did you eat it?”
“Then I wouldn’t worry about that.”
Brigstein clapped his hands and gestured at Brigs. He spoke, and whatever he said created a ripple of disgust in the villagers. What had once been praise turned to anger as they ripped Brigs from the throne and tossed him to the ground. Most of the crowd hurled what appeared to be abuse at him, and some spat, but none of them did any harm to the cowering man. Brigstein said something else, and the villagers cheered before returning to their business and leaving the three Calvin’s alone.
“You knew he was here all along,” Cal said.
It wasn’t a question.
Brigstein stared down at Brigs, his smile more unpleasant than usual.
“He needed to learn his lesson. What do you say? Will you behave from now on? Or shall I have them demonstrate where they acquired that meal they’d prepared for you?”
Brigs appeared to be on the verge of a snide remark, but something within him broke. He lowered his head and flung Kal’s license at Brigstein’s feet.
“Just take it. And take me back to the apartment. This humidity is killing me. I don’t know how you can keep wearing those hoodies.”
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.