In which Adam Reynolds Meets Frederica Marshall-Clark

In March of 2015, I promised people a story in which Adam Reynolds time traveled and met Free. I explicitly made it clear that it wasn’t going to be canonical, because I knew there would be a handful of issues with a canonical time travel story in the Cyclone Universe (I mean, more than a handful).

It turns out that even saying that it was non-canonical was not enough to make this easy. Or even mildly difficult. My second inclination, once I started writing, was that I had to do one of three things:
1. Tell the story entirely from Free’s point of view, in which case there would be no discussion of the time travel element at all;
2. Have the story be so spoiler-laden that I wouldn’t be able to release it; or
3. Make it so non-canonical that the Adam in the story had missed a handful of the defining moments in Adam’s life, and we would be dealing with a fundamentally different person.

Option 1 would have not been very good at all, and I didn’t want something that wasn’t good. Option 2 is...not an option; having made the choices I have, I am stuck with them. And so I thought I was going to have to do Option 3, but the thing I had to change was so fundamental to Adam’s character that I just couldn’t even imagine who this person would be without it.

In the end, I chose Option 4, Option I can’t tell you because it’s also a spoiler, and I suppose it’s just as well that I had to write this, because if I hadn’t discovered how impossible it was to define Adam without that one thing I thought about, I might have tried to actually do it in a book.

~ divider ~

Sunnyvale, August, 2020

“You know,” Khanna says, looking at me over her glasses, “you can’t do anything to disrupt the timeline. I mean it, Adam.”

Apparently, today we are pretending that Professor Angela Khanna’s device is going to fucking work.

We don’t always pretend. She goes on and off, waffling between belief and despair. It’s one of the reasons I think she might be onto something. That, and the fact that the first time we met, and she explained what she was doing, she told me that it wasn’t going to work, and if it did, it would have to be destroyed for the good of humanity.

“Does that make you a mad scientist?” I’d asked her.

“No,” she’d replied. “Just a concerned one.”

That, perhaps, was why I had given her my card at the end of the night. That, and the fact that at the time, I might have been willing to fuck the world over.

I didn’t give her the glitzy card with the embossed Cyclone logo and my public email. I gave her the unfiltered one—black, no logo, with nothing but my semi-private email address in the bottom corner in silver letters—and told her to keep in touch.

She did. Now, seven years later, I’ve gotten past that whole destroying the world thing. And it’s just as well, because here I am, with the chance to do precisely that.

“I know, I know,” I tell her. “You don’t have to fucking lecture me.”

“I do have to lecture you,” she says sternly. “Because if I’m right, and I’m probably not right, and you don’t take this seriously, we have the potential to end the universe as we know it.”

I don’t understand her science at all. She has some kind of a goddamned unified theory, one that’s been dismissed as crank science by all her colleagues. It’s bad enough that her husband divorced her, bad enough that she left Boston College where she’d started out, and is now teaching at San Jose State.

The math is so complicated that it doesn’t even look like equations to me—and after decades of working with Cyclone engineers, I have a passing acquaintance with Dirac notation and Feynman diagrams, and so I thought my definition of “equation” was already pretty fucking flexible.

This doesn’t look like a mad scientist’s lair, either. We’re in her garage, a neatly swept affair, devoid of cars and oil stains. There’s a rickety folding table/desk in the middle, supporting a single lightweight laptop, and a paper calendar on the wall. A washer and dryer take up space against the back.

It’s clean, which is pretty fucking abnormal for a garage, but it’s not the kind of computer-wired-beaker-driven place where a movie-goer would imagine science would get done.

It’s apparently not the kind of place where air conditioning gets done. I’m wearing a joke T-shirt that some of my engineers got me a few years back and jeans, and it’s fucking stultifying out here.

“Yeah?” I say with faked nonchalance. “I don’t know about ending the world as we know it. As far as I can tell, we don’t really know the world for shit. So that’s not really a big deal.”

She rolls her eyes at me. “Have it your way,” she says precisely. “We might destroy the entire universe. Does that sound bad enough?”

I do actually understand that. I’m not completely physics illiterate. I’ve been intimately involved in tech in Silicon Valley for upwards of thirty years, and in the process of shepherding this rough beast as it slouches toward the 5 nanometer semiconductor fabrication node, I’ve picked up a lot of shit.

But the physics I’ve learned is the physics of the infinitesimal. Get me much beyond the multigate device or the self-propelling buckytube, and I’m as green as a fucking tree boa.

Khanna’s equations are big. Bigger than the entire universe. Bigger than the distance between me and the faintest star I can make out standing in the middle of the Mojave. They’re so big that in order to wrap my mind around them, I have to imagine something small: something much smaller, something I can wrap my head around.

I hold up my hands. “Look,” I say. “It’s the fucking soap bubble thing. I get it.”

I don’t, not really.

“It’s not just the soap bubble thing, as you call it,” she says sternly. “Even if you don’t pop our current universe, you could alter the timeline, changing history with God knows what effect.”

“Aw, Khanna. I’m only going back two years.”

“Yes,” she says sternly, “and don’t you dare text yourself stock tips.”

I blink in confusion. “The fuck would I do that for?”

“Um… Money?”

I shake my head. “A, I don’t need any more. B, what the fuck would I do with stock tips? It would look goddamned suspicious if I suddenly executed a massive purchase of some random company that then suddenly announced some huge fucking breakthrough. The motherfucking aardvarks over at the SEC would be all over that shit, and I’d be fucked once they found a goddamned mysterious text on my phone. It would look like fucking insider trading.

“At best, I’d gain another couple billion; at worst, I’d spend the rest of my life in jail. Then who’s gonna teach my great-grandkids to say motherfucker?”

She looks at me, and for a brief second, I imagine that she feels much as I do listening to her—like I’m talking on a scale she’ll never comprehend using mathematics that don’t even fucking look like math.

Then she shakes her head.

“No,” I say, “if I wanted to make actual money, I’d tell myself to give up on the fucking boron doping after the 14 nanometer node. After all—”

Her eyes narrow, and she holds out her hand. “Give me your phone.”

I sigh, check that it’s locked, and then hand it over.

She nods once, and then frowns at me. “Watch.”

I give her that, too.

“It’s not going to work,” she says, “but if it does, don’t change the past. Okay?”

I meet her gaze. “Fuck me, Khanna. I have more to lose than anyone.”

“That,” she says, “is why I’m letting you go.”

She probably thinks I’m referring to my net worth. Fuck that shit.

She doesn’t count down. There are no scientific-looking suits, no beeping machines, no chambers, none of the bullshit crap that you’d see in a movie.

The only nod to science was the glass of something that wasn’t quite water that I drank thirty minutes ago. Khanna stares at her computer, and then she hits a key.

A bit of haze arises. No. I realize two seconds later that it’s not haze. It’s the blurring of my vision. There’s the roar of white noise and I’m assailed by a sudden sense of vertigo. My skin itches all over and I lose my balance, but there’s nowhere to fall.

Fuck. She told me that the last time she tried this, nothing happened. Nothing happened. Not to the rock, the camera, the cat—which was okay, but oddly freaked out. Nothing happened to her—nothing but a weird, tingling sensation.

The cat didn’t know the fucking physics.

For a second, I have no sensation in my limbs, not even the sensation of numbness. Then the roar in my ears starts to clear. I stagger and catch myself against a wall.

A fucking wall? There isn’t supposed to be a fucking wall anywhere near here. Even if Khanna’s fucked-up physics worked, I’d be in a goddamned garage, right?

Right?

I look up.

I’m not in a garage. It’s night…I think. It’s dark and overcast, the moon nothing more than a faint shading of light against a backdrop of clouds. I’m outside next to a structure made entirely of…well, underneath that paint, I think it’s wood.

There’s no concrete, no washer and dryer. There are no floor-length panels of steel garage door in sight. With the exception of a single window that I see on this side of the building, it’s all natural materials.

How very fucking Frank Lloyd Wright.

It’s a lot colder than the unairconditioned Sunnyvale garage that I just left.The air smells strange. It’s more humid, for one. And it smells like someone was burning shit, something I vaguely remember from trash piles during a childhood trip through the Midwest.

I pull out the second phone I didn’t tell Khanna about and glance at the screen.

Searching…

No bars. No service, not even LTE which at this point basically blankets even the remotest backwaters.

I don’t know when I am. And—looking around to the wider world, a thing of meadows and oak trees, with stone chimneys and oldish-looking houses maybe a half mile away—I don’t know where I am, either.

I pull up GPS to get a bead on my location.

Nothing.

I don’t freak out easily. I haven’t for decades—not since my kid got out of that horrible crawl-around-and-drool-on-computer-cords phase. But even without data service, I should be getting signal from the NAVSTAR satellites that circle the globe.

I check. Still nothing.

I drop into the deep diagnostics on my phone to see how many satellites my phone has locked onto.

Answer: None. Not a single fucking one.

“Fuck,” I say aloud. “Fucking soap bubbles.”

It was a theory, an unlikely, impossible fucking theory. Khanna said so herself.

When it was a theory, when it was just swirls on a piece of paper masquerading as mathematics, I could pretend.

You see, Khanna’s theory is that our entire universe as we know it is nothing more than a particle in another universe. Not really, of course—she’s told me often enough that particle is not a specific enough word.

We’re an ephemera—like one half of an electron/positron pair, popping into existence and then annihilating a split-second later in the flash of a fucking gamma ray.

If Khanna is right, our universe is an ephemera. We’re a soap bubble waiting to be popped like so much foam. We’re a quantum accident in some much larger space.

If Khanna is right, a small amount of matter—a rock, a cat, a person, hell, in terms of the universe, a planet—can be pushed out of the soap bubble and inserted into a nearby ephemera. And what would be nearer except our own bubble, a few years distant?

Khanna is…well, she appears to be at least partially right. Except this is not two years ago.

I don’t want to think about what else she had to say.

I can’t help doing it anyway. I don’t freak out easily. But fuck. I didn’t think this was fucking real, and now I’m here and now, and my entire fucking family is back in 2020.

If Khanna is right, I should boomerang back after a few minutes.

If Khanna is right, our universe is nothing more than a soap bubble, and the tiniest change can—oh, fuck me, I don’t understand the math. As best as I can understand it, change can break the surface tension of the bubble. No bang. No explosion. Just…nothing. The end. Universe gone.

Fuck.

If Khanna is right, she just discovered a way to destroy not just the human race, not just our planet, but everything. Everywhere. And hell, I might just do it before she’ll even know that she succeeded.

I gingerly ease myself to the ground. She said I’d boomerang soon, right? Let it be soon. Because right now, to keep everything I care about intact, I just need to shut up and do nothing.

Just because I’ve never fucking done that before doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Right? Right?

~ divider ~

Just outside of Cambridge, 1895

“Free, there’s a man sitting outside.”

Frederica Marshall-Clark, the proprietor of the Women’s Free Press, looked up from her book of accounts. The last page proofs for the night had been laid to rest. She’d sent her niece home a few minutes back, and had only to check the final figures on the books before she herself finished for the evening.

At least, that was what she had thought.

But Jane had only gone outside for a short time before returning, and she now stood in front of Free’s desk with a singular expression on her face.

Jane Bhattacharya was only here for a few months before she went on to Kings College. Jane was her niece, or close enough as made no difference, and Free had known her since before she was born. She was not the sort to be easily rattled about irrelevancies. She did not look precisely rattled now, either. Her dark eyebrows furrowed, as if she’d been presented with a problem to which she had not yet discovered the answer.

“Do you think he poses a danger?” Free glanced at the final column of numbers—she hated leaving anything undone for the morrow when it could be done tonight—but there was no point in taking unnecessary risks out of a slavish adherence to schedule. With a sigh, she marked her spot with a stray strip of paper and closed the book. “I can send a signal and have Edward come over and accompany us, if you like. Or, if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes for me to fetch my things, we can walk back together.”

Jane bit her lip. “It isn’t that,” she said. “He’s curled up on the ground. He’s…” That was what her expression was: uncomfortable, not worried. She cleared her throat delicately. “The man does not appear to be fully clothed. And he is somewhat elderly and in some distress.”

“Oh, dear.”

It took Free a mere a moment to run through the options and the probabilities. It had been a quiet few months, surprisingly—once the vote for women had gone through, the worst of the unrest had settled to a mere simmer. For now. It was unlikely that this was some sort of convoluted plot. And if it was, well, Edward was only minutes away.

“Tell Edward to come meet me,” Free finally said. “I’ll see if your elderly man needs a doctor.” She looked around the room, and grabbed a woolen shawl. “Or, perhaps, if he needs this.”

She went outside. It was a cool, crisp autumn evening, late enough that it was shading into cold. At first, she didn’t see anyone. Then, she realized that the man was curled in the dark shadow by the side of the building. His arms were folded around himself; his head was bent down.

And Jane had been right; he was…

Well, he wasn’t precisely unclothed. But he was wearing nothing more than an undershirt, trousers, and some exceedingly odd-looking shoes. His apparel would have been shockingly revealing on the warmest of days; tonight, in the cold, it seemed severely deficient.

She walked close to him. “Sir,” she said softly. “Sir, are you well?”

His head tilted. His eyes opened. They were dark in the night. He didn’t speak, but his eyes narrowed in her direction.

“Shall I send for a doctor?” she asked.

“No!” That brought his head up. “No, don’t send for anyone. Don’t do anything differently than you would otherwise do. I’m fantastic. Just jim-fu—uh, great. Nothing to see here. Move along.”

Free felt her eyes narrow. “I ask because you are out at night, without shirt, cravat, or jacket. You do not appear to be great. Nor do you appear to be jim-fu-uh-great. And as you are in the state of being other than jim-fu-uh against the wall of my business, I must decline to move along. What is your name, and how can we help you?”

The man waited a little too long before answering. “Jim,” he said. “I’m Jim Fu-uh. And I’m just…” He looked around the darkened landscape, as if searching for an answer. “Out. For a…pleasure walk.”

“At night?” She frowned at him.

His lip twitched, almost as if he could recognize how absurd this sounded. But he simply nodded. “Through eel-infested waters,” he said. And then he winced and shook his head fiercely, as if he could take back those words.

Jane had been right. He was definitely not well. Someone who had done rather less of reporting than Free might have begun to worry for her safety. But in her experience, most madmen were simply confused. They were no more likely to be violent than men who counted themselves among the mentally stable.

She tried to keep her voice soft and comforting. “You must be an American.”

That lip twitch again. “Guilty as charged.”

“Do you live here in England, or are you visiting relations?”

“Oh, I’m visiting,” he said. “Just visiting.”

“Lovely. Now whom shall I send for? I’m sure there must be someone who can best accompany you on your…pleasure walk.” Through eel-infested waters, whatever he meant by that.

The man looked at her. “Well, golly fu—gee. I can’t seem to remember.”

Free knelt down beside him. “Do you often have difficulties remembering things? Your hands are trembling. Are you cold?” She set the shawl around his shoulders.

“Yes,” he said swiftly. “Yes, that’s it! I don’t remember things. I have Alzheimer’s, and, uh…”

“What is Alzheimer’s?” Free asked.

He shut his eyes. “Damn it,” he muttered. And then a long moment later, he answered. “I don’t remember.”

Poor thing. Jane had called him elderly, but he didn’t look truly elderly. Just…right around Free’s age, which made her wonder precisely how her niece saw her.

He surely didn’t seem old enough to be truly senile, but then, these things took different people at different rates. And then there was that odd verbal tic he had.

Which, since Free had not been born yesterday, did not seem like a verbal tic. Not at all.

But she supposed foul-mouthed men could lose their minds just as easily.

She knelt beside him. “No need to worry. We’ve a spare room to put you up in for the night, and I can speak with the editor of the Cambridge Daily News—we’re colleagues—to have them put a note in the paper advertising your presence. We’ll have you straightened out in no time at all.”

But instead of being comforted, he sat up straight. “No. No, no, no, no. No note, no paper, no advertisement, absolutely no straightening me out. That is definitely not a good idea.”

She held up her hands, slowly, so as not to startle him. “Of course not,” she said soothingly—and quite falsely. “Not if you don’t wish it.”

It might not even be a direct lie. With his condition, she doubted she’d even need to advertise. His relations, whoever they were, were likely already spreading the word.

But as he straightened, he gave her a better view of the front of his undershirt. It was…embroidered? Or were those thin, delicate, precise lines brushstrokes? No, she could see no brushstrokes. She was something of an expert on printing, and this looked almost as if it had been printed.

Why, how, anyone could have printed words on cloth, she did not know. And these words? There were a few English words, but it was mostly Greek to her.

Technically, it would have been mostly Greek to anyone, seeing as how the lettering on his shirt was mostly Greek. Equations, in fact, not that she’d had much call to look at such a thing since her university days so long distant. But Jane would know. Jane…

He looked down, following her gaze. His eyes widened in something like horror, and then he clapped his arms over his chest.

“Oh, fuck,” he said. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Of all the fucking fuckiest shirts to fucking wear, I had to fucking wear this one? Fuck me.”

At one point in her career, Free had spent weeks living with prostitutes, a career that required the women, on occasion, to be foul-mouthed enough to shock sailors. She hadn’t thought that any sort of language could put her off anymore.

“Fucking cocksucking rattlesnake-eating shitheads,” he said. “Why the fuck am I wearing this shirt?”

He was definitely worse than the prostitutes.

She eyed him curiously. “Is it usual to use such language in mixed company where you are from?”

He looked baffled. “Mixed company?”

“Men and women.”

He blinked at this. “I’m an equal-opportunity curser.”

It was her turn to frown. “Equal opportunity?”

He met her eyes, and then, very slowly, he squeezed them shut. “Fuck,” he muttered.

Now that she was really looking at him, his apparel was even odder than she’d imagined. His trousers were…well, in the dark, they’d just seemed dark. In point of fact, they were cut from some thick, blue fabric, one that had tiny little rivets in it. His shoes were fashioned from some strange, meshlike, orange-colored material.

His clothing may have been odd, but there was nothing strange about the gooseflesh on his arms.

“Here,” she said, proffering her shawl. “You must be cold.”

“No,” he said. “No, you fucking keep that. I don’t want anything.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not being ridiculous,” he said. “I really, really don’t fucking want it. I don’t want to take anything from you. I don’t want to change anything. I’m not just saying that to be polite. Do you get the impression I do anything to be polite?”

He pushed the shawl back at her.

As he did, a small, oblong item dropped to the ground.

She leaned and picked it up for him.

The thing was made of smooth metal and what felt like…was that glass? It was as thin as the business-card holder that she carried, and only a little wider. When she set her hand on it, the glass side…there were no other words for it. It lit. Instantaneously, like an incandescent light. Except this was not Edison’s bulb and filament. It was a picture.

She couldn’t help herself. She gasped.

Picture wasn’t the right word, either. It was like a…well, it wasn’t like anything she had seen. It was colored like a painting, and yet it was as realistic as any photograph she had ever seen. And yet the people in it were smiling, looked as if they were squeezing each other and moving, and the trees in the background—palms, if she recognized them properly—waved green fronds in the wind.

No, this was no photograph she had ever seen. It was simply impossible to capture that sort of movement with a camera. It was hard enough having subjects sit still long enough for the picture to develop. Having them smile as they did so…

This was an impossibility layered on an impossibility layered on an impossibility. Free had seen a great many impossible things in her life, but she had never seen anything remotely like this.

He looked down and saw her holding onto the item. For a second, he winced. And then, very softly, he began to laugh.

“Cocksucking timeline,” he said. “I’ve well and truly fucked it now.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What is this thing?”

“A painting,” he said promptly. “A painting on glass. There’s…a bit of phosphorus inside, which is why it glows.” He frowned. “Er. You do know what phosphorus is, right?”

The thing suddenly stopped glowing.

“Yep,” he said. “Does that intermittently. Cool stuff, phosphorus.”

The screen was cool to her touch. Free was hardly an expert on phosphorus, but this didn’t look like any illuminated glass she had ever seen, no matter what the source of illumination was. It flicked back to life once more when she tapped the side.

“The picture moves when I touch it.”

“Yeah, that’s an optical illusion,” he said, taking the device from her hands. “Pretty fucking uncanny. Oh, fuck. You do know what an optical illusion is?”

A rustle sounded from behind them.

“Free,” said a voice. “I sent Sally on, but—” Jane came around the corner, a lantern in her hand. The lantern fell on the man, and Jane tilted her head and looked at the words on his torso.

“Oh,” she said. “That’s…quite clever. And extremely odd. And if anyone at all understood it, I suppose it could potentially get you thrown in jail, although that rarely happens these days. But it is certainly clever.”

Free turned to Jane. “You understand that?” she asked.

“Yes,” Jane said. “It says: And God said, and then those are Maxwell’s equations for electric and magnetic action. And there was light.” She smiled. “It’s very clever, see? Because light—visible light—is a form of electromagnetic radiation, and so the implication is that when God created light, he set into motion the scientific principles upon which light was based.” Her eyes narrowed. “Alternately, it implies that there is no God but scientific principle. I’m not sure. In any event, it’s very clever, very controversial, and very unlikely to be understood by anyone who would find it controversial. There are only two things I don’t understand about it.”

“Hmm?”

“First,” Jane said, “I don’t know why one would paint such a thing on an undershirt.”

“Boredom?” the man suggested.

“Second,” Jane said, “I have no idea why the artist rendered Maxwell’s equations in integral form. Who does such a thing?”

“Someone who thinks that the differential form of Maxwell’s equations are crap,” the man said.

Jane shook her head.

“He’s either completely mad,” Free said to her, “or…something of an iconoclast. I haven’t figured out which, yet.”

Jane frowned back at her. “We’re iconoclasts, Free. We know what iconoclasts look like. We don’t go around painting blasphemous equations on our undershirts.”

The man nodded. “Precisely,” he said. “I’m not a fucking iconoclast, no matter who accuses me of it. Iconoclasts want to break the world. All I am trying to do at the moment—all I really want—is to not do that.”

He was either mad, Free thought, or an iconoclast, or…or something else. Something that she knew very well, something that pricked at the tips of her fingers, driving all the day’s weariness from her.

He, with his oddly-printed sacrilegious undershirt and his strange shoes and his picture box and his equal-opportunity cursing…he was a story. And she wanted to know it.

“Of course you’re not an iconoclast,” she said soothingly. “Come have tea.”

~ divider ~

“You know,” Free said ten minutes later, with her husband by her side, “I suppose I am not truly an iconoclast either, although I suppose I’ve been called one often enough. Among other names.”

He had been trying to avoid conversation, she realized. As if he was refusing to be drawn in. But she’d known too many men like him—men who could be distracted by their own curiosity.

“Hmm.” He looked down, refusing to take the bait she dangled.

“I had a delightful letter to the editor the other day,” she said, “accusing me of destroying the world by helping women win the right to vote.”

He tilted his head at that. “Really.” He blinked and looked around the space. “So you…must have managed through the Great War, then. Huh. I hadn’t thought…”

Edward huffed at her side. “No wars are great wars,” he said. “There are only varying degrees of terrible.”

Their fingers intertwined, and she squeezed his hand lightly.

But the man across the table was frowning. “This is Britain,” he said slowly.

“Yes.”

“And the year is…”

“1895.”

“And women have the right to vote…” He trailed off, looking at her. “They definitely have the right to vote? You’re sure of that?”

“I’m positive.”

He put his head in his hands. “Huh. Go figure.” He spread his hands on the table. “Maybe I’m not so cocksucking fucked as I completely thought. Or maybe I am, and it’s all fucking soap bubbles. A dense froth of them.”

This made about as much sense as any of his other rants. Beside her, Edward raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t say anything.

“No,” he finally said slowly. “You’re right. I’m not an iconoclast. I’ve never wanted to break the world. I’ve only ever wanted to change it. Just…not like this.”

She didn’t know what he meant by that. “I wanted to break the world,” she confessed. “My elder brother still teases me about it. When I told him I wanted to go to university when I was sixteen? He told me I would break my heart, going up against the world. And I told him that I would break the world instead.” She let out a long sigh. “But that was before I really understood. The world is a far more resilient place than I’d imagined. It’s far harder to break than one imagines at sixteen.”

He sighed and leaned back, looking up. “Ain’t that the truth.”

“And that is both terrible and delightful all at once.”

“Huh,” he said. “Yeah. I hope you’re right.”

“So,” she said. “I was wondering—”

But before she could complete her sentence, he vanished.

Edward’s hand squeezed hers; he inhaled in surprise. She leaned forward, reaching… But he was gone. Most decidedly gone, leaving the world unbroken in its place.

“Huh,” she heard herself say. “I wonder what Jane will make of that when I tell her.”

~ divider ~

Sunnyvale.

“Damn,” Khanna says, looking into my eyes. “It didn’t work.”

To the best of my knowledge, no time has passed since she pressed the key that would supposedly send me back in time. I have been standing here a few mere seconds, teasing her about stock tips and semiconductors. I am sure of this. I know this, because my memory is an unbroken ribbon without blank spots.

And yet despite it all, I feel…something. Something fucking strange, like someone has shot my body through with a chemical cocktail that has subtly altered my fucking emotions. Like even though there is no discontinuity in my memory, I still felt something jump.

I blink at her.

“Nothing happened, right?”

“Nothing happened,” I say.

And at the time, I really believe that this is true.

“Damn,” she swears. And then she looks up. “Thank God.”

~ divider ~

I don’t start remembering until weeks later. I wake up in the middle of the night from one of the most lucid dreams I have ever had, a memory so crystal clear that I could swear it must have fucking happened. But the night is warm velvet around me, and I am equally positive that it was a dream.

But, no. I’m not sure it was a dream.

I reach out and take my phone off the nightstand where it’s charging, and run a quick Google search. Britain…women voting… No, it definitely happened after World War I. Not in 1895. Definitely not in 1895. A dream. I vote that it was a dream.

The alternative…

The alternative is that we are a soap bubble. An ephemera. A thing that could be annihilated at any moment. We’re one world in a froth of possible worlds, and yet despite the fact that we should not persist, that we could disappear in the blink of an eye, we continue on, marching through countless possible roads.

We’re more fragile, and more resilient, than any of Khanna’s grand equations could demonstrate.

Five years ago, I would have fucking laughed at the idea that the world was resilient.

Today…? I turn in bed and set my fingers against a warm shoulder. I inhale.

Yeah. Maybe this world is more resilient. Maybe it is more forgiving. Or maybe, I’m just the lucky bastard who’s managed not to destroy it twice.

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