A few months after we moved in with Aunt Karan my school’s accelerated program group took a field trip to the art and science museum in Baton Rouge. They had an entire building dedicated to temporal science exhibits and a gallery of art inspired by time calling and the Anomaly. They’d also just finished their own small memorial for St. Louis—one of many popping up across the country.
Our program director gave me the option not to go, but I had to.
Ivory and Matthew were both part of the accelerated program too; they were there. When we went through the temporal science part of the museum, Ivory was suddenly much closer to my side than usual.
“Why do you want to see this stuff?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Because...I don’t want to be afraid of it, I guess.” I wouldn’t say anything else about it, mostly because I didn’t know.
It was all information I’d read more than once. I knew the date the Anomaly appeared and its’ exact coordinates north of St. Louis, near the Mississippi River. I knew the history of the fight for rights to study it. I knew the timeline of Cunningham Industries’ win in that fight and every public detail of how CI then birthed Temporal Communications.
I’d seen all of the pictures that were public from St. Louis, too, but there weren’t many. It was just gone. Where the city had been was overgrown wilderness, as it might have been had St. Louis never existed at all. At the edge of the affected area buildings and cars and roads just stopped, cut in half.
Objects collected from the edge littered the exhibit hall in glass boxes, on pedestals. Where they ended they were clean. They just stopped. They didn’t even look burned. There was a bicycle with half a front wheel, half of a fire hydrant, half of a kitchen table that had been in a house on the edge with half of a plate sitting on it where it stopped. There was even a box displaying half of various preserved small animals.
That was probably when I started to feel sick. I remember the squeaking my tennis shoes made in the mostly quiet museum hall when I twisted and ran for the bathroom. I didn’t know why I was actually sick, and I didn’t know Ivory followed me until I was leaning over the toilet and her hands were on my neck, pulling my hair back. I felt awful the rest of the day, and I figured later I must have eaten something bad or caught a virus.
All I knew then was for about ten or twenty minutes I felt like I could die in every way possible—physically, mentally—but I wasn’t alone.
Ivory was still there by the time I finally stopped retching. I was surprised because we hadn’t been friends for long, but there she was with a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey. How are you doing?” she asked.
I sat back against the stall’s wall shakily. “I’m alive. I think I’m actually sick though.”
“No joke.” She got up for a minute and came back with a damp paper towel. I kept expecting her to go then, but she sat back down on the floor with me while I took the cool paper towel and held it to my forehead. A teacher ducked in to check on us, and Ivory told me she’d asked Matthew to tell someone where we’d gone before she came after me.
“Thanks,” I said. She just shrugged, and I studied her for a moment. “You keep doing that,” I said.
I swallowed. “Not leaving.”
Ivory smiled then. “You can count on it. Come on, you’ve been to my house, my parents like you, Matthew likes you, you’ve helped me with my English papers—you’re family now. Have I given you the speech? If I haven’t remind me to give you the speech. Later. When you don’t feel like crap; nothing’s fun when you feel like crap. But there’s definitely a speech.”
My stomach hurt when I laughed. “Ow. Definitely sick.”
I think that was the day I first realized the thread was there.
“You rigged your implant to WHAT?”
“To record,” Ivory shrugs. “I had it hacked within a week. They didn’t make it easy, though. I was actually impressed with the security upgrade.”
Ivory’s dorm room is dim and quiet. The Tech Drive traffic is the only distant noise, far below. We were glad to find her suitemate absent, and both Ivory’s tiny bedroom and the main door are locked to give us a few more seconds of warning when she comes back. Matthew is at the desk, elbows on the surface and hands framing his face as he shakes his head and stares at Ivory perched on the edge of her bed. I’m pacing.
“Do you have any idea how illegal that is?” he says.
“When has she cared?” I point out. “Right now, I don’t.”
Regular comms aren’t complicated enough devices to record anything, audio or otherwise. Everyday video and audio capture is usually done with tablets and holo bands and computers and holo recording cameras that are actually made for that. Implants, even though they’re technically computers, aren’t supposed to be able to record anymore. It’s a privacy issue. No one can tell immediately who has one; they’d never know they were being recorded. There were dozens of lawsuits the first year or so the implants were out, back in high school. Now only law enforcement can use implants with that capability.
You’d think they’d have thought of that before releasing them in the first place.
“I only rigged it that way for this reason,” Ivory counters. “This is exactly why I did it. Tells are kind of useless without more information.” Her hands go up and her voice takes on a sarcastic edge. “What do we know now? Oh, I’m in danger. What do we do with that?”
“We keep you safe,” Matthew counters.
“Sweet, but not much of a plan.”
“Hey!” I stop to lean into the edge of the desk. “So you have a recording of the call?”
She nods slowly. “If I ordered it to record then technically, yes. But it’s not that easy. It’ll have recorded everything—the tones that make you forget, too. I need the right equipment to filter them out.”
“You don’t have it?”
She motions to the door into the tiny living room, at the general idea of the shared space. “I left my best stuff at home. Couldn't risk having it in a dorm room. I’m working so much so I can afford to rent off campus next year. Maybe even next semester. I need my equipment, Rora. Case in point, here.”
Matthew pushes out of his seat and starts pacing in my place since I’ve stopped. “Fantastic,” he says, snorting. “Then who would have a computer that could handle it that we can trust?”
There’s silence just long enough that I say the first crazy thing that pops into my head. “What about British?”
They both stare at me until I correct myself.
“Adam. Sorry. Guy from the center. We’ll tell you later, Matt. What about him, Ivory?” While we were waiting at the center for medical attention I told her what happened to me, why I wasn’t in the lobby, and everything British said. Adam.
“Why him?” Ivory asks.
“I don’t know anyone else! I just got here. Do you think he’d have what you need?”
“I don’t know. He’s physics.”
“So are you! And he clearly knows something; he must have hacked into the center database. I don’t know why, but I think anyone that concerned would want to help us.”
“He can be concerned all he wants from a distance, but from what I’ve seen he doesn’t really do people. He doesn’t even teach any classes; he’s just research.”
Now I’m confused. “He seemed sociable enough dragging me through a crumbling building.” Now that I think about it, though, he’s good at disappearing. I don’t remember seeing him once after he left us near the ambulances. Maybe he went back to help like he said he would and maybe he didn’t, but that was the last I saw of him.
Matthew pauses beside me and turns on the desk’s projection computer. The screen flickers into existence in front of him and he stares at like he’s willing it give us an answer. “What about your people online? Could you send the file to one of them?”
Her contacts have always been online. The friends who have come and gone who taught her anything she didn’t teach herself are all somewhere else—voices through a comm and text on a screen. But the ones she’s still in contact with will have the right equipment.
“I really don’t want to do that,” she says. “Not something like this.”
“Then have your parents send the rest of your stuff,” I tell her. “You can keep it at the house.”
She looks at me funny, because we had that conversation at Christmas. Sort of. I told her she didn’t have to stay in the dorms when I got to Ruston, that she could move into the house with me if she wanted. She declined because of her habits. “I won’t do that to you,” she said then. “I don’t plan to get into any trouble—I’m too good for that, of course—but I wouldn’t want you to be in trouble too if anything happened.”
“Rora…” she says now.
“I’m serious. This is more important.”
“She’s right,” Matthew agrees.
Ivory scrubs at her face and sighs. “Fine. But it’ll take a few days. If they’ll even do it I can tell you right now they won’t do anything more expensive than standard shipping.”
“Then tell them why you need it,” I tell her, before I realize what I’ve said.
“Do you want to give my mother a heart attack?”
I wave away the comment. “No. Sorry. Nevermind.” I don’t blame myself for being a little crazy right now, but I cross my arms and scowl at my feet anyway.
“No. No. This is ridiculous. We’re talking about your life, Iv,” Matthew says. “Maybe you should have your other equipment sent anyway, in case we need it later, but what about this guy Rora was talking about? If there’s any chance—”
“Let’s find him anyway,” I cut in.
“I don’t know how to get in touch with him,” she tells us. “They closed campus until Monday. I won’t be able to find him until I see him at work that afternoon.”
It’s Wednesday now, and it’s too long. My hands ball into fists in my crossed arms. “You can’t call the lab and get his contact information?”
“It’s closed. Campus is closed.”
“Then find it your way!”
“Rora, it’s okay,” she says, holding out a hand of spread fingers at me. “I don’t think anything’s going to happen in a few days. Whichever of us it was, we’d give more warning than that. And can I just...have some time? Monday or whenever my parents can get my stuff to me is fine. It’s okay. Time is okay.”
I shake my head for a while, but I don’t know what to say to that. It’s what she wants and it’s her life, so how can I say no, that’s not good enough? I share a look with Matthew and I think he feels the same, but we’ve both stopped protesting for now.
She grabs me and pulls me around the corner of the desk to her side. She puts an arm around my shoulders and holds me there and the three of us just sort of keep standing.
“Is this why you wanted an implant?” Matthew asks eventually. He asks it quietly, low, like he’s thinking about something else.
“Sort of,” Ivory shrugs. “Maybe not when I was thirteen and I just thought they were cool but it kind of...became the plan. You have to leave any other devices outside the booth, but they can’t make you leave a computer in your head outside. It’s perfect. Rig the implant and figure out how to filter the recording and you’ve beaten the system. How else could I be sure I could keep us safe?”
“I’m sure you’re not the first person to think of that. Don’t they make you deactivate implants?” I ask.
“Yeah, but there are ways around that, too.” She points to a temple and tries to smirk, but Matthew is still staring at some point of nothing right in the middle of her forehead. It’s not only unnerving Ivory. She drops her arm and looks at him. “What?”
It comes out kind of uneven, and when I see Matthew’s face again I can’t decide if it’s more sad, or more angry. His eyes aren’t dry.
“You were doing it for us then,” he says.
Ivory half shakes her head like she doesn’t want to answer and then just says, “Yeah.”
He nods like he should have known that, lips pressed into a thin line. My stomach goes sour when I remember what I was worried about earlier, before all of this. “Lot of good that’ll do now,” he says. He doesn’t have to take more than a step to reach the bedroom door. He punches the unlock button, opens it, and slams it shut behind him.
My ears are ringing. Beside me Ivory lowers herself onto the edge of the bed again, and she won’t look me in the eyes. Instead she tips onto her side and grabs a pillow to hug. She hides her face in it, which is so unlike her that I’m suddenly sure something’s happened.
“Explain what?” she mumbles into the pillow.
“You broke up, didn’t you? I don’t understand. Why? What happened?”
“Stuff. We’re nineteen. It’s not a big deal.”
My hands go to my hips. “That is not what I asked.”
She tosses the pillow away to the other end of the bed and looks up at me. “Look, I know what you’re worried about. It’s always been the three of us. It’ll be fine; it’ll stay that way, I promise. We’ll always be friends. It’s just really awkward right now, okay? It’ll get better. You being here now should help, too...”
“Ivory, what happened?”
She gets up and limps to the computer, avoiding my eyes again. “Can we not talk about this now?”
She wins this one, because with everything else going on now I can’t press it. I won’t.
“Fine.” I go for the door. “I’ll see where he went.”
“Thanks…” She glances back at me from the desk. “You can stay here until you get your car back.”
“I was staying here whether you liked it or not,” I shoot back. As if I could leave her alone right now. “I’ll be back.”
I find Matthew on the dull gray couch in the main room. I didn’t expect he’d gone far.
“Sorry about that in there,” he says when I sit beside him. “She told you?”
He sighs. “She didn’t want to, I’m sure. I think she’d have let you wonder.”
“Stupid plan. She knows she can’t hide anything from me.” He laughs a little, and I loop an arm through his. I’m watching his face when I ask, “Are you okay?”
“It happened a while ago. Before you were here for orientation.”
“That’s not what I asked. Neither of you listen to me.” That explains the implant, though. It also explains why I never saw them together the two days I was here. I didn’t think anything of the excuses about their work schedules then.
“Sorry,” he says.
I let my forehead rest on his shoulder for a brief moment, then glance back toward the bedroom door to be sure it’s still closed.
“I’m not waiting until Monday,” I tell him quietly.
“Neither am I.”