Confrontation’s Hour

“What do you mean it’s no good?” Sam demanded. He swiped his tablet to life, a copy of the patent forms already open and at hand, just in case. It was scheduled to be filed for approval in six months time. He didn’t have much time to get his own filing in, bureaucratically speaking. “But the paperwork looked fine.”

The lawyer smiled, an expression that didn’t quite make it to her eyes, and said, “Technicalities, Mr. King. Ninety nine percent of the law is technicalities. Your paperwork isn’t quit right. I think you have the wrong set of forms. It happens more often than you might think.”

Sam glanced down at the filing date of the future’s forms and carefully switched his tablet off, a sense of foreboding creeping up his spine. “Do they change that kind of thing often?”

Another not quite sincere smile. “More often than you’d hope. The technical side of things is fine, of course. It’s bureaucratic things like the sections of law and regulations sighted, that sort of thing.”

“Right.” The sensation passed and Sam put it out of mind. More pressing matters were at hand, like whether he could afford to have the paperwork reworked or if it was better to just refile with another law firm when the paperwork changed format. If there was even time for that. “Well,” he glanced at the name on the desk again, “Sharon, what will it take to get it straightened out?”

She took her glasses off and pursed her lips, studying his papers with a thoughtful expression that Sam found a lot more attractive than her forced attempts at friendliness. “A couple of hours of work, at the most.”

“Well.” Legal counsel didn’t come cheap. “Maybe I can get back to you on that?”

Sharon set the papers aside, favoring him with a wry smile that seemed a touch more honest than the previous ones. “Tight budget?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“It’s a common problem.” She turned to her computer and started tapping through something. “Lots of entrepreneurs start out on a shoestring budget. If you weren’t filing in an up and coming field like memory metals you’d probably be better served doing the paperwork yourself. But there’s a lot of work going on there now, if you get caught in a legal snag – like citing the wrong regs or filing bad forms – chances are someone else is going to beat you to the punch while you try and get it straightened out. Can you meet for lunch tomorrow?”

The question took him by surprise. “I’m sorry?”

“You’re not the first part time inventor with a great idea who needs a little backing to get things wrapped up.” She glanced up from her computer. “We can put you in touch with venture capitol investors who will help you make it into the field, put together the resources you need to get the idea patented and even put you in touch with companies that might be interested in your intellectual property, if you’re not planning to use it yourself. If you’re interested I think I know someone else who would like to work with you. I’m offering to introduce you to him tomorrow at lunch. If that works for you.”

“Yes.” The word got out of his mouth before he could think it over, the kind of snap decision he knew he’d probably come to regret. But he didn’t take it back. It just compacted his schedule a bit. “I should be available to do that.”

For the first time Sharon gave a genuine smile. “Good.”

——–

A meeting in the middle of the day wasn’t a terrible pressure on his schedule but he’d have to keep it short. The Girl was still chasing him.

It had been two months and Sam was starting to get a handle on his advantages and disadvantages. He still wasn’t sure how The Girl was following him but he was pretty sure it was the girl he’d seen at the construction site that day. He’d caught sight of her twice since then, both times in fairly crowded places where he’d picked her out before she’d spotted him. He hadn’t seen her do whatever the transformation he’d seen before again but clearly she had some kind of tricks at her disposal. Twelve year olds didn’t follow you over hundreds of miles on their own and he doubted her parents were driving her all over Michigan looking for a small time lottery winner.

There was, of course, the ever-popular government conspiracy angle to consider, but he didn’t think even such a shadow organization would stoop to using middle school girls in their pursuit squads.

The relay was still his biggest advantage. Not just because it let him read the future’s news but because he was pretty sure something about the relay interfered with however she tracked him. She’d first caught up with him in Holland, a small town with a picturesque shopping strip along it’s main street. He’d ducked into a clothing store and pulled up future news to see if there was anything he could try to reduce the chance of a run-in only to see the girl go from moving purposefully to wandering aimlessly. Now he tried to keep a connection to the relay open when he was planning to be in one place for any length of time.

But he didn’t want to be on the run forever. He was going to need more information. He’d figured out a lot of improvements he could make to the relay in the past weeks and he was starting to pull information from almost two decades in the future. That was enough time to open up new advancements and techniques to him, some of which he planned on putting to work.

The really disturbing thing was, he knew he could never get away from The Girl entirely. No matter what kind of plans he put in place, he always saw his death coming one or two months in the future. He wasn’t sure what to make his own swiftly vanishing fear of his own demise. Some of the ways his death had been predicted were quite painful sounding but he’d apparently run out of the emotional stamina to get worked up over it. If he wanted to stay alive he had to do something about her. At the same time, he didn’t like the idea of fighting a child. The only answer available was getting more information.

Most of his future deaths involved dying with some collateral damage so, before he’d realized he could “hide” from The Girl using the relay, he’d set up a campsite in a remote nature reserve he could go to if it ever looked like he well and truly doomed so as to die with the least possible impact on other people. Once he’d gotten ahold of schematics for serious future tech he’d gone a step further. Unfortunately, even with all the safeguards he’d put in place he hadn’t come up with a way to survive an encounter with The Girl there. Best case scenario had been dying of blood loss from a missing arm.

Until he’d done some more digging and discovered that the research into prosthetics started by IEDs in the Middle East wars of two decades ago would bear serious fruit very soon.

Now, with an oldfashioned remote car opener in one pocket and a backpack full of advanced sensors, he was ready to go and take a crack at The Girl again. School let out in two hours. Should be enough time. A quick glance at the relay informed him that a new story had hit his future newsfeed. The headline said something about archaeologists and the lost city of Atlantis. Probably interesting but nothing that couldn’t wait. It’s not like Atlantis would matter for another twenty years. Sam switched off the relay and walked out the door.

——–

The campsite was starting to get dark, the tall pine trees casting long shadows in the late fall sun, late migrating geese bustling by overhead on their way to better climates. School had been out for two hours. The Girl was late.

Sam had wondered if she was trying to keep whatever dual life she lived a secret. It was a fair bet, even if the idea of a secret identity didn’t have much sway in fiction anymore. Social media had pretty much doomed it’s credibility around the turn of the century. But most stories where someone tried to live a double life didn’t involve the person aging a good ten years when donning their secret identity.

With an effort Sam pushed that kind of wool gathering aside. The Girl wasn’t obligated to walk into his trap. Or even spend every waking minute looking for him. The whole errand could prove a waste of time. What he really wanted to be doing was running diagnostics on equipment but he really needed it prepped and ready to go if she showed, so he couldn’t exactly field strip anything and start tinkering. He adjusted his weight on the tree stump he was using as a seat and waited a bit more.

Finally, as the sun was almost entirely lost in the treetops, he got to his feet, dusted himself off and headed towards his car. He could always come back and try again later. But it would have been nice to make decisions on the future based on whatever he could learn, and with the meeting with patent investors coming up he suspected those decisions were fast approaching.

Wool gathering again. It should have cost him, that time. The Girl was right there in front of him, appearing as if by magic on the trail by his car. She was wearing an ankle length skirt, purple jacket and bright blue backpack. Her hands were tucked around the straps of her backpack. Big, serious eyes stared at him from a head that seemed comically small in comparison. “Hi, Mr. King.”

Sam froze in his tracks, his own eyes just as comically overlarge as the girls but for different reasons. “Hi.”

Silence stretched out for a moment. “How do you know my name?”

“It was on the news,” The Girl said in a matter of fact way. “The day after the first time.”

“Of course.” Any kid with a phone and the desire knew how to find that kind of thing out. He had made the news, disappearing like he had after an unexplained “accident” at his old job. He just hadn’t expected her to do something so mundane after teleporting away from their last meeting. Not to mention inexplicably following him for two months. “Want to tell me what this is all about?”

“You’ve seen things you shouldn’t,” she said. “Seeing things changes them. And they have to be put back.”

She pulled her hands off her backpack straps and once again Sam caught the weird plastic pinwheel thing in it. It looked vaguely like someone had drawn a backwards S on a rectangle and then cut out the inside of the curves. For a brief moment a gleam of light drew across the shape, turning the backwards S into the figure eight of infinity. Then she slid her hand across the shape, splitting infinity and with a bang she changed.

Sam frantically pressed the panic button on his car remote.

Instead of setting of his car alarm it activated a set of improvised hard light projectors around the perimeter of the clearing and they built a solid cube of light around The Girl. Without looking to see what kind of results that got him Sam scrambled for the projector’s control tablet, which he’d hidden at the base of a bush near the tree stump he’d occupied a second ago.

Improvised from parts that weren’t what the original designers intended, his hard light projectors were not the futuristic defense technology the U.S. Nave would be experimenting with in two decades. They only had a small diesel generator for power and he had to constantly ride the circuit breakers to keep anything from overloading. He hard a soft growl of frustration behind him and the weird, crackling noise a sheet of hard light made when it contacted more conventional matter. No time to look back. Sam snatched up the controls for the generator and immediately started making adjustments, turning around while keeping one eye on the readout.

In the four or five seconds the process took The Girl Who Splits Infinity had spun out her own array of light – and Sam suddenly wondered if that’s what he was seeing, another set of hard light constructs – sending it through the cage she was in without apparent difficulty. It once again spun out in a shape almost impossible to decipher, though this time it contracted all around her like the legs of a spider instead of spiraling up into the sky. That was all Sam had the time to see before a blinding bolt of lightning leapt skyward from the shape leaving him half blind and deafened by the following thunderclap.

Without a second thought Sam turned and ran.

The Girl was powerful for sure, but she’d been rightly scared of guns. Unsurprising for someone who looked like she was twelve. He’d set up a plan to hopefully exploit that fact although he didn’t want to use it. But Sam King was not used to getting what he hoped for, so the generator was not just a generator. It also blew up.

That was the “unlock” button on the car remote. Because hopefully it was getting him out of a jam.

Sam came to lying flat on his back surrounded by small fires burning themselves out. The Girl was nowhere in sight. Pieces of debris were all over. He’d built an explosive by essentially burying a canister of gunpowder under the generator when he set it up but, being an amateur he’d apparently vastly overestimated how much powder he’d need. The generator was gone, a small crater of smoking concrete all that was left, and most of the brush in the area was gone. Sam tried to sit up but didn’t make it as a wave of wooziness overtook him. He looked himself over and realized he was missing his left arm. Of course.

Miraculously the car remote was still close by. He dragged himself over and hit the “lock” button. A second later a self-propelled prosthetic dragged itself out of its hiding place towards him. He weakly scooped it up and slapped the attachment side to his arm and winced as it began anchoring itself to his arm.

——–

In a daze and operating on less than two hours of sleep, brain locked in a stupor, Sam was very tempted to skip his lunch meeting entirely. But somehow he found himself outside the restaurant Sharon had directed him to, checking his gloves to make sure the new, clearly artificial hand he had was properly covered.

A large part of his brain still hadn’t accepted this as a permanent arrangement.

Worse, the thing was twitching at weird intervals. Like the hard light projectors it was made of modern parts, not futuristic ones, and they weren’t quite up to snuff. He hadn’t worked the kinks out yet. He stuffed that hand into a jacket pocket and headed in to find Sharon.

It only took him a few minutes, it wasn’t a big place. He wandered by walls filled with pictures of somewhere that seemed vaguely eastern European and took a seat at the booth where the lawyer was. She was alone, so whatever investor she’d invited hadn’t shown up yet. Sam hoped he wouldn’t have to make small talk, though he probably would.

Sharon was reading something as he approached but as soon as he was in her peripheral vision she set it aside and gave him her undivided attention. As soon as he was seated she pushed the papers in front of him. He stared at them, exhausted mind struggling to keep up. Sharon folded her hands and gave him an evaluating look. “Sleep badly, Mr. King?”

He started a bit at her accusatory tone. “Yes? It was a tough night.”

She nodded once. “Can I cut to the chase?”

“Shouldn’t we wait for your guest?”

Sharon ignored the question. “Tell me, Mr. King. Can you predict the future?”

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Hour of Transformations

The first thought that ran through Sam’s mind was that he knew why the news had said the worksite blew up. He immediately dismissed that, pretty sure that a twelve year old probably hadn’t brought a bomb to a half finished building. Something else must have happened. He just needed to find all his arms and legs, put them back on and figure out what it was.

A ringing sensation rose in his ears. Actually, they had probably been ringing since the blast he was just getting enough sensation back to notice it. His eyes swam back into focus and tried to make sense of the world again.

Unfortunately, the world stubbornly refused to be sensible. The girl Sam had seen right before everything went haywire was gone. Men on the jobsite were running around at the edges of his vision and probably shouting, although with his hearing the way it was he couldn’t be certain. The scene was dominated by a statuesque woman in a frilled dress with a sash running from right shoulder to opposite hip, then wrapped around her waist. On the sash, in front of her shoulder was a weird glowing shape and spiraling out from her raised right hand was a glowing pattern of lights that were bright enough that Sam couldn’t make sense of them.

Not that any of it really made sense.

The woman drifted towards him, her feet stepping lightly, although in the heels she was wearing she should have had trouble crossing the loose dirt ground at all. On second glance, Sam wasn’t entirely sure her feet were touching the ground so much as just in the same general area. A lifetime of science fiction about time travel flicked through his head, reminding Sam that messing with timelines invoked consequences the likes of which were often severe, if not fatal, and of superhuman origin.

“Hey!” Clark’s voice cut through the haze in Sam’s mind and the ringing in his ears. The floating woman glanced to the side and slid backwards a few steps, defying several laws of momentum. Normally Sam would wonder what his foreman was up to but, given the circumstances, he chose to keep his eyes on the more pressing matters.

Namely the extremely dangerous looking woman and her special effects show.

So he had a perfect view of the moment that her look of confidence and satisfaction morphed into surprise and then panic. He was dimly aware of Clark saying something about hands and then caught the unmistakable sound of a gunshot, short, sharp and loud even over the noise in his ears.

At almost the same moment the pattern of free wheeling light winding in the air spasmed and contorted, the weird glowing design on the woman’s shoulder twisted in sympathetic movement. For a split second it looked exactly like the pinwheel thing the girl had been carrying. Then space twisted, snapped and the woman was gone.

It took a minute for that to sink in then Sam scrambled to his feet, head pivoting one way and the other half to look for the girl, woman or whatever that was half to clear the last ringing from his ears.

Clark, ever the practical man, was slipping a semi automatic pistol back into a holster behind his back. “You okay, Sam?”

It took a quick inventory but he did confirm that there wasn’t much of anything wrong with him. “Should be. If my hearing comes back.”

“So long as you keep hearing me fine you’ve got enough already.” He shook his head and looked around warily. “What the hell was that?”

“I don’t know.” But he had a feeling he could find out.

——–

And he did, although Clark never got to hear the answers. Sam went straight home, ducking out as soon as his foreman turned his back, and asked the future. Sure, it sounded like the woman was mad at him for just what he was doing but, since he was already in trouble, he couldn’t see the problem in doing it a little more. Especially if it helped him stay alive.

Unfortunately all the future could tell him was that, if he went back to work tomorrow he was still going to die, along with two other people on site, one of whom was Clark. There was only one boss Sam had ever had that he’d wanted dead, and he hadn’t worked for them in two years. After a short deliberation Sam decided it was time to be somewhere else, collected some clothes, his laptop and a few other necessities, packed them into his car along with the relay and made himself scarce.

Being scarce proved harder than he’d anticipated. After a week of driving around Michigan’s upper peninsula he discovered that, no matter where he stopped the next day’s news predicted some kind of catastrophe would come along with fatal results. He couldn’t get news far enough in advance to confirm he’d be one of the casualties but there was always some kind of fatality and he really didn’t want to draw anyone else into whatever was going on. Money was getting tight and he figured the relay was his best bet to get ahead of the game.

It was time to win the lottery.

Not the jackpot, that would bring too much attention. But with a little finagling of the numbers he managed to walk away with a $200,000 prize in the bank. That was enough for him to figure out a few things. However the woman was trailing him, bank transactions weren’t a factor. He’d been doing his best to use cash and make withdrawals only when leaving a place so he thought cashing in the prize might be a risk but, to his surprise, it made no difference to how the future predicted his death at all. Furthermore, every news story predicting his death said he died early in the morning or mid afternoon – shortly before most schools started or about ninety minutes after they let out.

Along with the similarity between the glowing, shapeshifting thing on the woman’s shoulder and the plastic pinwheel the girl had carried Sam felt it was fair to assume they were somehow the same person. Far fetched, he knew, but he was also using news from the future to stay one step ahead of her so he wasn’t going to rule anything out. He wasn’t sure what to do with the information besides use it as a new search parameter while using his jury-rigged cell phone to poke the future’s social media. Other than finding a picture he thought was the same girl standing near the place he died in one of the dozens of news reports he looked through it didn’t get him much.

He still didn’t know how she was finding him or catching up to him so easily. She was far too young to drive and no girls her age had been reported missing in the area, so she must have gotten home after showing up the first time.

Finally he decided there was only one thing to do. He spent about half his cash rebuilding the relay, cutting himself off from the future for a tense two weeks during which he kept the hours of a student once again, frantically working on upgrading the relay so he could see further than a few days in the future. When he was done he found the relay could contact itself from nearly a year in the future.

It was time to concoct a counterstrategy. Before he could fight whatever avatar of death was so close behind him he was going to need resources and information.

While learning whoever or whatever the woman chasing him actually was proved still out of reach Sam did come up with a pretty simple way to get resources. He didn’t feel great about it, but U.S. patents were public knowledge. So one morning while school was in session, after a month and a half on the run, he picked up the phone and called the firm of Renninger and Howe, and said, “I’d like to speak with someone about filing a patent.”

——–

Some people spend their whole life dreaming about flying. Teddy Clapper was not one of them.

He spent most of his life dreaming about how to make things easier. Sure, flying could make your life a lot easier in a lot of ways, save you gas money and get you places without having to worry about traffic, but those weren’t the kinds of things Teddy thought about. Teddy’s days were consumed with thoughts of how to pick up money for the rent and to spend at the bar without having to, you know, work. At one time that meant finding cars in alleys in the bad parts of town and doing a little “salvage” work. That went on until he salvaged the wrong car.

Then he owned some bad people a lot of money and they gave him two options. Deal some red caps or, since he did know a lot about cars, become a delivery driver.

Since slinging drugs on a corner had a short career expectancy and tended to end people in the big house, Teddy opted to be a driver. What nobody had told him was that he wasn’t driving product from place to place. He was driving people.

He did it for six months, driving angry gang bangers from place to place, waiting where he was told and driving them away again. He saw a lot in those six months, drove everything he could imagine and then some. Stolen drugs, bleeding people, dead bodies. In the grand scheme of things, life probably would have been easier if he hadn’t gone salvaging at all. But no matter how bad it got he didn’t get directly involved himself. Until one night, when Teddy had dropped his boss off at a meeting with his dealers only to wind up in the middle of a running shootout.

It started when Slim Greg, his boss, ripped the door of the car open, startling Teddy from his cell phone induced trance, screaming, “Drive, TC, get us out of here!”

Slim was holding a gun and smelled like harsh chemicals. For all he’d seen, Teddy had never smelled gunsmoke before. He wasn’t likely to forget it quickly now that he had.

Almost on instinct Teddy’s foot came down on the brake pedal and his thumb hit the ignition button. With the key fob Slim was carrying now in the car it roared to life and Teddy peeled out, swinging along Lakeshore Road and along the side of the small warehouse the meeting had taken place in. “What’s going on, Slim?”

“Boys wanted new management,” he replied, looking out the back window, his handgun waving in a worrying way.

Two people hustled out around the far end of the warehouse and Teddy saw flashes of light from them. The windshield cracked into spiderwebs. Teddy yelped and did his best to duck down behind the wheel, Slim started rolling down his window, yelling incoherent profanity.

The car engine roared as Teddy swerved the car towards the two shooters, sending them diving for cover, then back across the centerline. The speedometer had just ticked past fifty when the back tire blew out, whether from a stray bullet or a well aimed shot Teddy never knew, and the hectic swerve became an even wilder fishtail that he struggled to correct.

He’d almost made it when Slim grabbed his arm, yelling about the docks, and the car went out of control, hit a safety barrier and crashed to a stop. Both occupants were sans seatbelts, not a priority when running for your life, so they catapulted forward towards the windshield.

That’s when Teddy felt the change. A haze seemed to surround him, he put an arm up and pushed out to ward off the windshield and the haze grew stronger. He flew threw the windshield without feeling a thing and kept on going. He was twenty feet up over the surface of Lake Michigan before he realized he wasn’t showing signs of coming back down. Slim Greg was still holding his arm, yelling wordlessly, his hands caught in the haze around Teddy and apparently unable to let go. Not that he’d want to at this point.

Almost as soon as he realized what had happened they stopped going up and started going down. Slim’s hollering changed pitch and he started kicking in fear. But Teddy barely felt it, in fact now that he realized it all he had to do was push whichever way he wanted to go and they could fly that way. He flew a bit further along the shore and set Greg down on the sand beyond the docks, then carefully set himself down as well.

There was a moment for everyone to double over and catch their breath. Then Slim said, “What’d you do, TC?”

Teddy shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Slim took a deep breath and straightened up. “Can you do it again?”

Teddy took stock. There was still that weird haze around him. He pushed up a little bit, putting his hands over his head. Sure enough, he rose a foot or so off the ground.

“TC, it looks like you got yourself some kinda superpower.” Slim flipped the gun around and held it towards him, grip first. “And me lookin’ for a new number two man. Think you got what it takes?”

Teddy looked at the gun for a moment, then a hungry smile worked its way across his face. He took the gun and said, “Yeah. Easy.”

Hour of Epiphanies

Lottery numbers were the logical place to start. They were completely random, with astronomical odds, the Powerball folks still used a purely mechanical device to generate them so he couldn’t be accused of tampering with them electronically and the drawing was streamed live at a specific time and place. All Sam had to do was sit down at his work table five minutes before things kicked off, cue up the stream on his tablet and flick on the power to the relay.

In theory, anyway. But more than two hours before the drawing was supposed to take place Sam was up to his elbows in the relay’s power source, running another diagnostic in what his brain told him was part of an obsessive need to control but his gut told him was definitely, 100% absolutely necessary for the test.

He’d always had problems with indigestion.

Pure math was not his thing but after leaving grad school at MIT under a cloud he’d been determined to prove… well, something. Contrary to popular belief high concept, theoretical scientists were ruled by emotion just as much as other people. Some of them even knew how to deal with those emotions. Sam King prided himself on channeling them into his work. And so, anxiety drove him to rebuild the tachyon relay a fifth time and like it.

Twenty minutes before the drawing he was done.

With nothing better to do he switched the relay on and pulled up the Powerball app on his phone. It was hard to believe that people of the modern era, with all the education and what not it prided itself on, people were still drawn to such wasteful forms of gambling but, just this once, Same was grateful that the lottery had kept up with the times. It made this experiment really easy to run. All he had to do was push the appropriate lottery button and see what the winning numbers were, then activate the – highly modified – phone in the relay and pull up the same screen.

The numbers listed didn’t match.

Sam frantically checked the relay’s phone and confirmed it was working. There were still fifteen minutes until the drawing. “Not possible,” Sam muttered, checking the relay again. “It shouldn’t have that much range.”

After ten minutes of frantic shuffling of notes and double checking calculations he came back to the conclusion that everything was working properly. The two phones still displayed different sets of winning numbers. Sam pulled up the browser on his laptop and flipped over to the bookmarked page that would let him livestream the drawing. Four minutes to go.

The hosts were chattering about something or another but Sam tuned them out and ran over everything one more time. Then double checked his wifi router, to make sure the stream wouldn’t cut out. Two and a half minutes. There was nothing to do but drain his mug of tea, sit down in a chair, hug his knees to his chest and wait. By some heroic exertion of will he managed to keep himself from rocking back and forth while humming. He hadn’t gone that far down the nutty professor route.

Though, to be fair, he’d never been a professor.

Envy and discontent welled up in him, as it did countless times every day. As he did whenever that happened he forced it down by mindlessly running through simple differential equations and almost missed the drawing. It was only the fact that the hosts had stopped talking that yanked him out of his reverie. The small plastic ball with the first number on it was already bouncing down to the deposit. Sam leaned forward and held his breath.

Five minutes later the drawing was done. The numbers matched the display on his relay. Sam King had successfully predicted the future.

——–

Natalie jerked around, the sound of rushing waters in her ears. Pivoting frantically, she tried to place herself. Most of the world was dark, lit only by small patches of light that seemed to drift in the distance, far out of reach. Nothing nearby was illuminated but she had a sensation of floating.

The last bit gave it away, it was familiar enough. She was dreaming.

Dreaming was nothing new for her, she’d had horrible nightmares for years, to the point of insomnia, until therapy helped her learn to assert herself and dream in a lucid state. She inhaled deeply and phantom water streamed into her nose and mouth, settling in her lungs and stomach. But it wasn’t real, she told herself, and exhaled it back out steadily. She wanted to see.

Darkness took flight all around her, leaving her standing on a rough surface that was probably some kind of coral or clinging sea thing. It looked like she was in some kind of shallow depression in the side of a sheer cliff while over her head the seafloor rose up in some kind of ridges. Straight ahead there was nothing but open water as far as her subconscious had created the world. With a shrug she decided to go exploring and pushed herself off into the water, drifting away from the cliffside. She’d gotten far enough to catch a glimpse of some kind of stone wall rising up from the top of the cliff when a voice rose up through the water, loud enough that she felt it with her entire body.

“Natalie. The world bends. So few are left who hear our voice.”

She stopped her drift through the murky water and looked around frantically. Dreams of drowning in the ocean were nothing new for her – even though she’d never seen a body of water larger than a retention pond – but dreams with dialog were another story. “Who-?”

“You must find the cause.”

“Yeah, how am I-”

“You shall feel our power in your bones. Think with the minds of the ancients. Hear with our wisdom. See with our eyes. You shall be everything you have ever desired to be. Wield the power to set things right.”

The depression she’d just left spasmed, then split open to reveal an angry yellow eye with a black vertical pupil as tall as her three story apartment building. Natalie’s mouth opened but she couldn’t scream – the weight of the water was suddenly too much and crushed all the strength from her.

“Go, Natalie. More depends on you than you know.”

She jolted awake, fighting against phantoms, and found herself panting and tangled in cords and sheets. As calm returned she realized she was in a hospital bed, attached to monitors. The door burst open and a nurse hustled in, already shushing her and trying to straighten out the mess she’d made of things. “W-why am I…”

Natalie trailed off, trying to remember why she might be in a hospital. The nurse guessed the question anyway. “You’ve been asleep for the past two days. Your parents brought you to the ER when you wouldn’t wake up.”

That hadn’t happened before. “Two days?”

The nurse nodded. “That’s right, honey.”

Her mind worked to process that, then blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I missed my math test.”

——–

As tempting as it was to just win the lottery a couple of times and retire, Sam knew that would immediately get him in trouble and the ability to predict the future was too good to waste on something like that. He wasn’t quite sure what practical implications it had just yet but, before thinking too much about that, he needed to prove it worked in as many different ways as he could.

The concept was simple. He’d built a relay that used tachyon particles to talk to itself in the past. The cost in power was pretty high, he was going to have a killer electrical bill that month, and at first it had only been able to talk to itself half an hour in the past. Not super useful.

But after a week of tinkering he’d managed to run the relay for about an hour and pull up news reports from two days in the future on it. Then the relay had blown a capacitor and was going to need serious retooling. Sam figured it was time to give it an overhaul, think about how to improve it for presentation to the scientific community. But first things came first. He’d read several news stories from yesterday twice. Once on the relay, once when they happened. So far everything had been pretty accurate. Which made today kind of tricky.

He had to go to work to pay his bills and the costs of another build of the relay. Problem was the worksite was supposed to blow up that morning. He climbed out of the car and looked over the bustling site. A huge scaffolding and gantry system supported a 3d concrete printer, laying out the shell of a planned commercial suite intended to hold six offices for dentists, optometrists and the like. Most of the place was printed already and contractors were bustling through the dried sections, running utilities and whatever else happened in there once the printing was done. The big concrete printer was still whirring away on the third floor.

The report said the explosion came in the area of the concrete printer, which was crazy. As one of the four techs who programmed, set up and supervised the printer when it was in motion Sam knew it wasn’t the kind of thing that could explode and take out half a building. Still, he didn’t have any reason to doubt the report he’d read, either. Other than the fact that it came from the future.

Sometimes new technology was more trouble than it was worth. Sam set out to find his supervisor.

As it turned out Clark was at his truck, drinking coffee and listening to the architect drone on about something or other and nodding at the right times. Clark had made foreman for his diplomatic approach to contractor/employer relationships. He usually didn’t talk when they told him what they wanted, then ignored how they wanted him to do it and made sure the job got done right. He was a better boss than some Sam had worked for in academia. Certainly more patient. Clark put up with almost ten minutes of lecture before the architect moved on. Clark let him get a good ten feet away before snorting, shaking his head and walking over to Sam.

“Morning, King.” The foreman was not a man fond of given names. “Anything I can help you with?”

Frivolity wasn’t something Clark like in any form and Sam had a feeling that mentioning news from the future wasn’t going to get him anywhere in this situation so he decided on a more practical tactic. “Do you have the last safety and maintenance inspection report on the printer? It was acting a little funny yesterday and I was hoping to see if I could find the cause.”

Or at least a reason to shut it off and keep it from killing four people when it exploded.

“Sure.” Clark went to his truck and pulled open the back door on the cab, rummaging for his box where he kept those kinds of papers. Sam rolled onto the balls of his feet, impatient. The news had said the explosion was early in the morning, although it hadn’t given an exact time. And he’d run every safety check he could think of on the thing yesterday, no telling how that might have altered the variables since he last checked the future’s news. But he still didn’t want to waste time.

He was so preoccupied with the question of what might go wrong with the printer that he didn’t notice the girl until she was standing right next to him.

“You shouldn’t have looked.”

Sam jerked out of his musings at her voice. She was short, maybe five foot, and young. At a guess, he’s have said thirteen, although she might have been fourteen. Wavy brown hair framed a solemn face and hard brown eyes. Sam frowned. “Honey, you shouldn’t be here. This place is dangerous. What-”

“You’ve seen something you shouldn’t have.” The girl pulled a weird piece of white plastic off of her belt. It looked a bit like a pinwheel. “You shouldn’t have looked.”

Sam felt the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. Something was off about this. “What are you doing here, young lady?”

“The world is bent,” she said. “I have to make it right.”

It took a moment for him to realize it wasn’t just the hair on the back of his neck standing up. All of it was. Then a bolt of light struck the girl and he was knocked back with a deafening crack.