The Second Time Around

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11

Dr. Mathis stood in an empty room that was at least twenty feet long on a side. There was one door leading out of the lobby directly across from the one set of double glass doors that led into it. He'd been standing for a little more than half an hour, and he was beginning to become disgruntled about it. Three security cameras on automatic circuits scanned the room from three different angles that left no blind spots at any time.

Two security cameras each on opposite sides of the room had tracked his every step once he'd stepped inside the doors. He wasn't quite sure if someone was operating them, of if they simply followed motion, but every time he'd taken even a single step, both cameras had followed him. It was more than a little unsettling to have them both seemingly staring at him now, waiting for the slightest hint of motion to lock onto and record.

There were no chairs, stools, or furniture of any kind. The simple tile floors were highly polished and gleamed in the light of a bank of LED's overhead. The light-emitting diodes gave crisp, clear light without being overpowering the way some fluorescents or vapor lamps could be. They also didn't add any appreciable heat to the room, and used far less energy. Dr. Mathis briefly wondered if the lights would shut off if he stepped out of the room.

Suddenly, the wooden door across the room from him opened, and one of the motion tracking cameras swung toward it. Dr. Mathis noted that the other stayed trained on him, and felt the hairs along the back of his neck stand on end.

Then, his eyes took in the figure that had stepped into the lobby with him, and his breath caught in his throat. He immediately recognized Gregory, but it was his appearance that was such a shock. This man looked years younger. He was tanned a dark bronze from long hours in the sunshine, and he wore a short beard. There were no bags beneath his eyes, and they burned with an intensity that only youth can provide. His face was thin, but not gaunt or hollow as it had seemed in the diner and in his office only hours before.

Dr. Mathis' brain tried to rebel against what his senses were telling him. The man he'd seen earlier hadn't just seemed older, he'd been older. He swallowed hard and felt a nervous knot begin twisting in his gut as real fear took hold of him for the first time in decades.

"Professor Mathis," Gregory said somewhat impatiently as he strode across the lobby floor, "While it's a pleasure to see you, I can't understand why you would tell Security that I asked you to be here. I haven't seen you since the last day of your class three and a half years ago when you told me that I wouldn't amount to anything because my great potential was sadly laden with an equally disappointing character."

Dr. Mathis cleared his throat somewhat uncomfortably, and looked briefly at the floor. "I don't remember saying that, but it does sound like a thing I would say," Dr. Mathis admitted, "And certainly something that would have applied to you while you were in my class, though I doubt it would now."

Dr. Mathis blinked and suddenly found that tears were streaming down his cheeks. He didn't recall them starting, and didn't feel as though he had cause to be weeping, but the tears still flowed. He didn't sob, and he didn't wail, but the tears simply would not stop. Gregory was taken aback and what surely would have been a biting rebuttal stood frozen and unsaid on the tip of his tongue.

After a moment, Gregory took a hesitant step forward. "Are you okay, Professor?" He asked hesitantly.

"Mr. Paite, I must apologize," Dr. Mathis said as he dried his eyes finally, "But doubt it as you may, I spoke to you twice already today. You were older then, and I know how that sounds, but it's true. And you told me, unequivocally that I must be here, tonight, before two o'clock in the morning. So I drove from my home outside Boston, and here I am."

Gregory's eyes narrowed. "What could I have possibly said to you that would convince you to come? That's a ten hour drive, Professor. I must have had some pretty hard evidence."

Dr. Mathis reached in his back pocket, and suddenly all cameras in the room swung towards him at once, even the three that had appeared to be on automatic circuits of the room form the beginning. Gregory held up both hands, and he suddenly seemed very tense and alert. Dr. Mathis moved slowly and deliberately to hold one hand out to his side and open, far clear of his body. With his other hand, he reached around to his back pocket. He took out the winning ticket with four races filled in and accurate.

He set the betting form slowly on the floor, then took three steps back. The cameras followed him the whole time. Gregory's face was suddenly pale, and his fingers trembled as he picked up the ticket and looked at it. There was a sharp hiss as he read the contents, and the ticket slipped from his fingers and fell to the floor again.

"I haven't left this site in months," Gregory said shakily. "Dr. Mathis, did I give you this ticket today?"

Dr. Mathis nodded slowly, the knot of fear twisting a bit tighter in his gut. "Mr. Paite, what tests are you working on here?"

Gregory smiled slowly. "I think I've found a way to stop time, Professor. Tonight, we find out if I am right."


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