TIME JUMPER

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CHAPTER 75

In the dream, Ethan heard wind blowing through tree branches and felt its cold fingers touch his neck. On his back and staring up into an eggshell blue sky, he watched bare branches sway in spidery lines above him. Something felt wrong with his legs. Then a pair of Easter Bunny eyes filled his vision and Ethan awoke with a start.

Ethan’s movement woke Beth. In the crepuscular light, she rolled over and held him. “Honey, how did we get here?”

“What do you mean?” Had the dream been only a dream, or something real?

“This particular time and place. Why here?”

Ethan turned on his side and put an arm over Beth’s waist. He’d think of the dream later. “I’ve given it a lot of thought.”

“And?”

“This is a little difficult to explain. We think of time as linear, so it isn’t easy to grasp this. It’s taken me months to figure it out and I’m still not sure I’m right.” He raised his head onto his right hand and looked directly into the dimly lit eyes of his wife. “Think of the moment in the thunderbolt when I was there with you. That didn’t happen at the same time as the lightning.”

“What do you mean?”

“You got hit by lightning, but I didn’t find that moment in time until later. But once I found it, I could revisit it over and over, almost like playing a video in a loop. You sensed me then, after the fact, but for you it felt like it was happening in the same moment didn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“What for you was one event, was many events for me.”

“How can that be?”

“I don’t know. But time doesn’t work the way we think it does. And I’m becoming convinced that I somehow changed what happened.”

“You made us come here?”

“Yes.”

“But why?”

“That I don’t know. Maybe because this is a time that always fascinated me. I know I wasn’t thinking about it consciously, but somehow in that fleeting moment, my mind dredged up a vision and I think you were put into it.”

“What did you mean, you ‘changed what happened’?”

“You were already gone, but after I found you in the thunderbolt, I think I manipulated the event. I changed the timeline. I tucked you here until I could find a way to get here myself.”

“How can you change what already is?”

A long sigh came out of Ethan. “Are you ready for this?”

“Why so dramatic?”

“Because this will change the way you see everything.”

“I’m a big girl, Ethan.”

He ran his hand over her belly. “And getting bigger.”

“You…” She tickled him mercilessly for half a minute. They lay panting in a tangle of bed clothes. “Now spill it. What’s the big secret of the universe?”

“The secret is it’s not what it appears to be.”

“Oh, that’s really helpful.”

“Think of a piece of yarn. It has many fibers that compose it. Think of our timeline as being one of those fibers. Now think of the other fibers in that same piece. They’re also timelines that extend from the past to the future. Now imagine stepping from one fiber to another. The strands rest together in the same piece of yarn, so they are similar, but in each one, the strands contain different lives, different rules.”

“Alternate universes?”

“Yes, if you think about it in the most basic way. But our view of alternate universes is kind of rigid. We think of each one as a closed system. Here’s the tough part. I don’t think they’re closed. What looks like the beginning or the end of a strand of yarn is just the limitations of the image, the metaphor we use to explain it. In reality, there’s no beginning, no end, no middle. You can cut a piece of yarn into a thousand pieces and reconstruct them in a totally different sequence. You can loop the yarn back on itself. You can weave it with other strands and make a fabric that blends together many different strands. You can manipulate it in any way you can imagine.”

“And get what?”

“Whatever you want. Something new.”

“You’re losing me.”

“Beth, the universe, all the timelines are constantly changing, recreating themselves. And I think the force behind all that change is thought. When I went into the lightning bolt, I changed the outcome for us. My need to rescue you became reality. You moved into this place.”

“It didn’t exist before?”

“I think it did, as a possibility. As a set of choices somewhere along one of those strands.”

“This isn’t the real Civil War?”

“Oh, it’s real and it seems accurate to the original, but it may be a different one of those strands. It’s laying right next to the other strand, the one we were born into, almost identical to it except for the fact that we are in this one. Or maybe the two strands have blended together. And there are other strands, other versions where the lightning never happened and where we never met and so on.”

“You’re saying thought does this? Moves us in and out of different universes?”

“Yes, or changes the one we’re in.”

“So, think us out of here.”

“I have no idea how to do it. I’m still groping through this, taking baby steps.”

Beth’s eyes lost focus as she tried to assimilate what Ethan was saying. “So, which is it? Did we move from one strand to another or did you change the strand we were in?”

“That I can’t figure. Maybe both. I don’t know. But when I went back to my old life, even though I had been in the past and had changed things, I saw no effects in what used to be our present. Maybe I stepped between two alternate universes so that what I did in one didn’t affect what happened in the other.”

“So, this is all a theory? You’re not really sure how it works?”

“I don’t know anything for sure. I learn a little bit each time I make a jump. I can send my mind along a timeline, but each variable shifts what I see. It’s confusing.”

“And you controlled where you wound up each time?”

“Not at first. After I developed a little more understanding I was better able to focus on this time and place. Each choice I make, each variable in everything around me, changes where I go. I kept sifting through the reality in which you existed and kept looking for an entry point. Each time I got closer and it got easier.”

“Can I do this?”

“Probably, but I don’t know how to give you practice.”

“Let me get this right. Your bodies died, you got loose, then you found another body to inhabit.”

“Yes, but I picked bodies that had just died, empty. They were my entry points to your time and place. But there’s another issue. My body back in our original time still exists. I go there each time the body I’m in here dies. Your body back there is gone.”

“What does it matter?”

“My body is linked to me. To stay with you, I may have to go back there and die.”

“You’re saying I’m stuck here, but you have options?”

“No. I think the safest thing for us to do when the time comes is for me to die first so I can wait for you, maybe guide you.”

“And you don’t think I can do that alone?”

“I didn’t say that. The problem is dying, Beth. It’s a shocking experience. If you don’t focus and keep yourself together, you get reshuffled and pop out in some reality God-knows-where. I can barely do it and I had lots of practice before my first try. You experience pain and confusion and all sorts of distracting forces, but you have to focus to stay the same person.”

“But the lightning thing showed that we might be able to do it together.”

“Yes, but I no longer have the Memnon to release me from my body. I have to die at the same time you do.”

“Oh, Ethan, this is creeping me out. You mean if one of us is going to die, the other has to commit suicide?”

“Until you get the hang of it, I think, yes.”

“It seems wrong.”

“Right and wrong take on new meaning.”

The light had risen slightly and Beth could now clearly see Ethan’s eyes. Her mood shifted. “Ethan, you killed two men yesterday. You can’t live like that.”

His jaw tightened. “Yes, I can.”

“Is it right or wrong? Do such concepts exist in your new existence?”

“They would have killed us. I sent them onward. They still exist, but somewhere else, working out their own versions of being.”

“Nice justification, but I saw your face afterwards. You liked it.”

Ethan said nothing.

“Do you get to play God now, Ethan? Send people onward whenever you like? Kill yourself whenever you get tired of the body you’re in, the place you’re living? It sounds like a video game where you get to reset and you never have to put in more money. And you want me to do this too?”

“I want us to be together.”

“But at what price?”

“We don’t have to decide this now. These are young bodies. Let’s live these lives and prepare for what will come next.”

“And if you get run over by a horse, what am I supposed to do? Commit ritual suicide on the spot, wait a week, live the rest of my life alone, what?

“I don’t know.”

“Ethan, I don’t want to be a ghoul. I had a horrible experience waking up in a stranger’s body. I thought I had gone insane.”

Ethan’s eyes lost their focus as he looked inward. He had enjoyed killing Taney. And Hawley. After Hawley it had been easy because he didn’t really think he was killing. He was just keeping them from killing him. But Beth made him feel ashamed. It triggered a fear he had had earlier. Could he become a body-jumper, just living easy and not caring about consequences?

He refocused and saw the green eyes of Katherine Hawley staring into his. “Ethan, the quality of a life counts for something. Even if you get an infinite string of lives, each one has meaning.”

Ethan said, “We’d better get up and on the road.”

“Why should we?”

Halfway out of bed, Ethan turned, puzzled. “What?”

“Why should we run? Let’s just stay here and let Hawley’s men find us and kill us. Why drag it out? Let’s just get to the next life and see if we like it better than this one. If we don’t, we can off ourselves and move on to the one after that.”

At that moment, Ethan saw nothing of Katherine Hawley in the woman confronting him across the bed. Beth and Beth alone radiated out of the young face, her fierce determination a palpable force. Ethan pointed at Beth’s bulging belly. “What about the baby?”

“What about it? He or she can just go on and live another life somewhere else.” Her voice cracked like a whip.

Ethan settled back onto the bed.

“Ethan, when we get to the next life, what will be different? What will our purpose be?”

“Beth, you haven’t been out there. You don’t understand.”

“I don’t want to understand what you’re telling me. It’s wrong. Can’t you see that?”

For a few moments, they stared into each other’s eyes. In a calmer voice, Beth said, “Yes, you have much more experience at this than I have. You’ve been rolling around the universe while I’ve been right here in this one body. This young woman ‘went onward’ as you put it. But I’m her now. And I don’t want to go somewhere else. I want to live out her life and deliver her baby.”

“Then we may have to kill others so you can do that. We’re in the middle of this now. People are after us. You can’t have it both ways.”

“You’re saying conflict is inevitable? Someone wins and someone loses?”

Ethan shrugged.

“If this corner of the universe reflects your thoughts, Ethan, if you did make it happen the way you believe, then maybe the conflict we’re in merely reflects your view of existence. Could you turn another corner and be in a place where we don’t have to make these choices? Where we don’t have to push others onward to survive?”

“Maybe you should design our next universe.”

“I’m serious. If you have tapped into the secret of the universe and can choose where and who you want to be, then aren’t you limited by your own experiences, your own beliefs? Think about it. Why here? Why now? We are in the middle of the Civil War. You didn’t will us to a peaceful fishing village in or a prosperous farm in the south of . No, you willed us to one of the bloodiest chapters in history. Why, Ethan?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ethan, don’t morality and decency count anymore? Is this what life is supposed to be, what we see around us? Lies and murder and rape? Isn’t there something wrong with us when we have to call those few who don’t live like everyone else saints? Those few holy people are the exceptions? Why is it like this, Ethan? Isn’t God supposed to be merciful? Why then do we suffer so much?”

“I don’t know.”

She slid across the bed and pressed her naked body against him, curled her arms around his neck. “Babe, couldn’t we live on a beach where we make love all day, where we don’t have to run and hide? Isn’t that paradise? Couldn’t we be in paradise instead of here? Or back home? On our farm, with our dog? That would make me so happy.”

Ethan’s mind staggered. For months his life had been dominated by the recurring agony of trying to survive in the damaged bodies he had found. His sole objective had been to find Beth, all else be damned. He had her now and he realized he hadn’t thought much beyond this goal, since accomplishing it had seemed so difficult and improbable.

Ethan gazed out the window at the rising light as his fingers sifted through the copper curls of his wife’s head. Suddenly, he felt deflated, questioning everything he had done. The manic energy that had kept him going against all odds, never questioning his goal, turned off like the twist of a spigot. “You’re right. Maybe I’m exactly where I wanted to be. No more, no less.” He turned back and searched the emerald eyes that stared at him from only inches away. “Yes, I have a gift and I continue to let it make me suffer as it has my entire life. I thought I was freed, but I’m still a prisoner of my own past.”

The look on his face was unlike anything Beth had ever seen in her husband. The melancholy she felt pouring out of him shocked and scared her. “Oh, Ethan.” Beth cupped her hands around his cheeks. “Tell me.”

The words started as a trickle and built to a flood stream. He told her of his childhood, the visions and the punishments. He told her of his mother’s rabid need to stamp the witchery out of her son. He told her how he had feared his gift, but had used it occasionally for his own enrichment. In a halting voice he recounted the tortures he endured at Neural Research to amplify his abilities once he realized it might be possible to find her.

When he was done, tears streamed down Beth’s cheeks. Her red eyes darted back and forth across her beloved’s face, mapping the pain there. “My darling, I had no idea. No idea.”

She pulled him down next to her and cradled his head in her arms, peered into his eyes from a distance of only inches. “Darling, listen to me. If you were drawn to this time and place, think of why. You’ve been fighting all your life. With your mother, with your gift, with yourself. But remember what you told me about fighting and martial arts?”

“Fighting is the last resort.”

“Yes. The best solution is to avoid the fight before it happens.”

“Beth, we’re past that point.”

“But what about next time?”

Ethan gave her a grudging smile. “Easier said than done.”

“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Ethan’s smile widened.

“Ethan, you were right. I don’t understand all of this. Maybe I never will. But I want to be with you. Here and now. Can we stay here? I want this baby. You and I were never able to have one. Can’t we make this one ours? Raise it? Then we’ll figure out the next steps. Okay?”

He kissed her. “You win.”

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