The night sky is dulled by artificial lights burning within the sprawling city around me. It obscures the stars overhead.
There are no heavens above the City of Angels.
It takes every ounce of concentration—every muscle in my body is rigid, working at capacity—to keep from jerking the wheel towards the nearest freeway on ramp. It isn’t hard to find the way from L.A. to Pasadena, but it takes time when you have to avoid the major streets. I’m keeping to the smallest roads. Even with that, there’s still many to cross with lighted intersections and traffic cameras and I need to stay off the grid.
I’m driving to Cal-Tech in the middle of the night to find someone I haven’t seen or spoken to since High School. It’s the next logical step, isn’t it? More like, the only thing I can think of. Even if Eli remembers me, I don’t know how I’m supposed to make him believe me. I am the one who travelled back in time and I barely believe it myself.
My dad said he sent him copies of the things he left for me. Maybe Eli’s read everything and I won’t have to explain. I hope so; otherwise it’s going to be awkward starting that conversation. The only information to go on is his work address, so when I get to the campus I have to hope to recognize him. In the interest of anonymity, it would be best not to involve anyone else. I don’t care about getting caught, but I can’t risk it. At this point, I have nothing left to lose except my chance at finding Daemon. What happens after he’s dead is of little consequence.
Why did he do it?
The only person my dad ever hurt was himself and even if that weren’t the case, I can’t think of anything my dad might’ve done to— Boiling fury blankets every cell in my body, wraps them tight, and crushes me from the inside out. The moon and stars, the air I breathe: all are consumed. My fingers twitch, clenching tighter to the steering wheel, wishing it were Daemons neck in my grasp.
I bet he thinks he’s gotten away with it. He probably thinks we’re both dead. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he finds out he’s wrong. Then he will know there are no lengths I won’t go to. Nothing out of line or reach. No amount of his misery will be enough to satisfy the call for his blood. I’ll hunt him to the ends of the earth, through time and space. I’ll take everything and everyone he’s ever cared about and crush it before I kill him. It is a tremendous debt I owe and I won’t stop until it’s paid back with interest.
The inevitable question whispers constantly without reply. My dad was the one with all the answers. As usual, he’s left me guessing. Everything I’ve learned has only led to more questions.
“Nahuiollin, I’ve been waiting for you.” Dad said.
What does that mean? Normal people don’t wait around to be murdered. And why did he call him by a different name? Sure, my dad was suffering from early onset dementia but to go from that to this . . . There’s got to be a reasonable explanation. He wasn’t crazy; he just didn’t leave me with enough information to understand his reasoning. But I know the way he thinks.
My dad always was a man of action. So what have his actions told me? That . . . maybe he expected it to happen?
He knew his killer by name. He told me when it would happen. He never said how, but if he knew when and who, then he had to have known why. Why he neglected to leave that tidbit of information for me, I can only hope to discover. If a single grain of rationale existed in his forethought—obviously it did because Dad recorded everything—then, within this mystery I might have something to grasp at, to help get my bearings. As of now, though, there’s only mystery and confusion.
I have to know why. I have to find out what my father was thinking—what he hoped to gain by waiting around to be murdered. Death is a result, not an answer.
Turning from a two-lane residential street, my headlights reflect off a long, white car with black doors parked in the shadows of the ally I’m cutting through. Panic sharpens my senses. My mind races and my heart is pumping fast and loud. My foot wants to plunge on the gas pedal and for one, brief second I wonder if all of this will end in another car accident. And should I survive, does Homeland Security practice torture on American citizens? How much could I possibly take before telling them everything and losing the only chance at tracking down the man who pretended to be my friend and then tried to kill me and murdered my father?
The lights continue sweeping over the top of the car revealing a plain, smooth roof where the red and blue flashing lights should be mounted. The black door panels are plain. No shield or slogan. It’s one of those used cars people buy at auctions and not the real thing.
My hands tremble on the steering wheel, welcoming this reprieve in my flight from justice. When the opportunity is afforded, I’ve got to take the time and chart a proper course of action. Should I actually see the flashing lights I dread, I have to have contingencies in place. But first, I have to get to Eli.
There was no coercion involved that I saw. Dad just laid there and let it happen. The images burned into my brain are torturous enough to distract me from the urge to hit the main roads.
If the government didn’t know what sort of car I was driving, then I might be comfortable with taking the path most travelled, but I can’t take any chances. I have to play it smart. Get there in one piece first, then, follow the next step laid out for me.
The night has gone on for days.
Finally, I hit California Street. The Cahill Building is somewhere along this road. A few years ago, there was an article on the internet all about this place. It’s a very expensive research facility, or a lab or something, dedicated solely to the studies of Astrophysics and Astronomy. Whatever this place might have to do with me remains to be seen. Eli is supposed to have ‘some interesting theories’ that will help me on my ‘journey’—whatever that means. So long as it leads to me Daemon, I don’t really care.
When the tell-tale architecture of the Cahill Center comes into view, I pull over and shut off the engine. The street is empty. I don’t like feeling so vulnerable in the open but the gates to the parking lots are locked and the campus is closed.
I’m a bit tired but can’t risk sleeping in the car. The last thing I need is to wake up to a flashlight in the face.
I stare out the window into the gray and notice, for the first time, my heart hurts more than my head.
A few short months ago my life was completely different. I was happy. Well, not happy but definitely better off. I was employed. I had a family. A loyal girlfriend.
Memories flicker through my mind; the ominous message Dad shared, the way I held his head in the crook of my arm, the empty gaze when his mind took him to places I couldn’t follow. I should’ve gone back to visit like I promised. I never should’ve gotten on that bus. In one fell swoop, I lost everything. I have no illusions about the way things were: I hated my life. But my lack of contentment renders that life no less valuable to me. At least then, it was mine. I had a semblance of surety and cause for expectation. I had hope.
My hands brush mournfully across the dashboard. I was one paycheck away from getting her fixed. Now she’s running like new and I can’t keep her. I shouldn’t have broken my computer. This empty time should’ve been spent searching through the other discs my dad left. I want to read some of the papers in the box but it’s still dark out and I can’t risk drawing attention to myself by using the cabin light.
Planning seems to be my only option, which may serve me well since I usually don’t and following the usual path has gotten me nothing but misery. Crossing my arms over my chest, I set my mind to devise a brilliant plan.
A muted thud startles me. My eyes shoot open as I realize that I am waking up.
I fell asleep?
I fell asleep!
The sky is bright. The sidewalks on either side of the street are pulsing with bodies. Students of all shapes and sizes are moving, talking, and carrying book bags—on their way to places I know nothing about. An endless line of cars are locked in stop and go traffic. Irritable drivers wait as everyone rushes for the limited parking in controlled lots.
I’m mentally scolding myself for the slip up while getting out of the car and covertly looking around for anyone that might be watching me. The things I can’t afford to lose are coming with me. Backpack, the box my dad left me and the disc from my broken laptop—that’s about it. That’s just depressing, I think, shaking my head.
I’m about twenty paces from the car when a black and white cruiser appears a few blocks up the road. My instinct is to run, but that would obviously draw attention. What I need to do is blend in—to be a needle in the haystack. Just walk along with the rest of the student body crawling like ants over the roadway. Stressing at a leisurely pace, I pretend to study a pile of papers from my box, making sure to tuck my head far down. My stiff neck wails.
At the corner, waiting for the walk signal to change, I risk a glance. The police car is long past mine now, sitting at the red light of the next intersection. A mass of students are crossing the street, so I know he’ll be there a while, but slink deeper into the crowd waiting to cross with me to be safe. The green walking signal blinks and the crowd disperses like someone’s just fired a starter pistol. They take off uniformly, in the same direction, just as I bend down to make like I’m tying my shoe. I’m wondering if leaving my car in plain sight is the wisest idea. But parking in one of the student lots is my only other option and I don’t have student ID or a permit sticker. I don’t need to start a paper trail with a parking ticket.
By the time the walk signal blinks red, another group of students is already gathering around me at the corner. I stand and press the giant round button. While I linger, the light down the road turns green and the cop car takes off. Finally, I can breathe again.
The sign in front of the Cahill building says it is closed for another hour. I start to wander, hoping to find who I need. Considering all the people and sheer size of the campus, the odds are not looking very favorable but I manage to find the student lounge and buy breakfast.
During my second cup of coffee, an idea hit me. The best way to find Professor Eli may be simpler than I thought.
As soon as I find the library, I walk in like I own the place, smiling confidently at anyone who looks at me funny. In less than five minutes, I have the time and location his first class, by way of the student directory. Cahill Building—just like Dad said. At ten a.m. he’s assisting another Professor in a lecture on Black Holes.
I make my way back towards the street, walking around the massive sports complex to cut through the back lot and avoid the street. On the way, I search the back entrances used by staff, but none of the doors open from the outside.
This box is getting heavier by the minute and the sun is beating me down. The tender new skin on my wounds burns in the direct sunlight.
The main entrance is still locked. While waiting, I sit on top of my box and go through my back pack. I find an old hat crumpled on the bottom beneath another stack of papers so I take it out and try to smooth out the bill, not caring that the cap itself is full of creases. Once my head’s covered, I relax and sip the last of my coffee in the hot morning air and wait for my old friend.
Eli and I met back in seventh grade through a mutual friend. We used to hang out all the time, but after the accident a distance appeared and I barely noticed. The last time I saw him was graduation. I walked toward him, aiming to congratulate him, but he walked by like I wasn’t there. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me call his name and let it go, assuming I’d see him around eventually. Eventually took a lot longer than I thought it would.
When the doors open, me and about ten other students fall in. Most head to the same spot. The course description said this class was an elective, but by the time the professor waltzes in, the room is full. After taking roll, a hair past ten, a thin guy with dark hair and a short, neat beard enters from the side through a door I hadn’t noticed behind the unrolled projection screen. The professor looks momentarily in his direction and nods, acknowledging his arrival.
It’s Eli—taller, thinner, and hairier but no other changes in appearance. He sits at the smaller desk near the right side of the amphitheatre style room, shuffling papers and pressing the button that changes the pictures in the slide show as the professor drones on for what seems like an eternity about things everyone else is captivated by and I couldn’t understand even if I cared enough to try. Half of the language is scientific terminology and diagrams that don’t make sense. I try to pay attention, but it’s all droning nonsense. Like C-SPAN set in outer space, the topic wants to put me right to sleep. They may as well be speaking an alien language for all I draw from the lecture.
The dark beneath my sealed lids turns a lighter shade of black when the lights come on. I’m glad to see the clock has struck twelve and the class is dismissed. As the students pass out of the room, they make a line towards Eli’s desk, setting papers in a pile in front of him on the way out. When the room is empty I approach, pausing to wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans.
Eli, seated at the desk, abruptly rises. Gathering the pile of papers, he stuffs them against his chest and heads for the door that sticks out behind the drop-down screen.
“Excuse me, are you Professor Eli Thacker?”
He turns with one hand on the door. “Assistant Professor and that depends whose asking.”
“It’s me, G. We went to High School together?”
He looks on with no notable change in expression.
“Shared a locker sophomore year?” I say, hinting. “I came by to talk to you.”
“About what?” I cannot tell if he’s curios or irritated.
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“On the contrary, I remember you very well. I’d shake your hand, but . . .” he shrugs and a few papers shift and fall to the floor.
“I’d get those for you, but . . .” I shrug, staring at the box in my arms.
“Are you a student here?”
There’s no way to work up to what I have to say, I just have to get it out. “No, I’m not—”
“I have another class.” He opens the door. “So if you want to talk you have to walk.”
Through the door, I trail into the white hallway, waiting for him to take a breath and hoping for an easy opening into the topic I need to discuss.
“I wish I would have known you were coming. I have a full schedule today and tomorrow. Did you enjoy the lecture? I didn’t know you were interested in Cosmology. How have you been? Are you married? Have you talked to any of the old crew lately? I went to the ten year reunion. Were you there, because I didn’t see you?”
I can’t think of any appropriate responses, so I say the first thing on my mind. “Did you have a chance to look at the package?”
He stops short, turning to stare at me with wide eyes.
“The one my dad sent. Have you looked through it?”
His eyes tighten. “Tell me exactly why you’re here, G.”
Here’s my opening. My tongue feels like sandpaper, so dry. “Because, I . . . I-I travelled through time.” There. I said it.
“Yeah, I’ve never heard that before.” The sarcasm is hard to miss. “What do you know about that package?”
I set my box down and take out a crude, pencil drawing of three ovals touching end to end, each shape with a different picture in the center. “Did it have anything like this inside?” I ask, showing him the paper.
He looks curiously at the picture.
“Were there any discs in it?” I ask.
“No, what I’ve seen so far are only equations.”
“What kind of equations?” I place the drawing back in my box and take a crumpled sheet filled with numbers and letters. “Do they look like these?”
He snatches the paper from my hand and starts scanning. “This is different.” He looks at his watch, “and I’m running behind.”
“Can we talk after class?”
His eyes are back on the paper, following each line carefully. His forehead creases and he mumbles. “How is that possible?”
“It appears . . . it looks like a portion of another equation. I was looking at something similar the other day . . . but I don’t understand these variables.”
He looks me in the eye. “Since you showed up unannounced, I’m going to assume you need something. I don’t mind helping out a friend, G, but I have another class and I cannot be late.” He returns the paper and starts walking down the long corridor. Passing an open doorway he points. “Feel free to wait inside my office. I will be back in about ninety minutes.”
Eli turns down the corridor and disappears, leaving me alone in the hall. That was anticlimactic, I think, walking into his cramped office and setting my heavy box on the floor.
The clock says it’s been two hours. He said ninety minutes.
Sitting on an overstuffed chair inside his office—I don’t know if the size of this room technically qualifies as an office. It’s smaller than the walk-in closet in my one bedroom apartment. I fidget, fighting the urge to fall back to sleep. At first, I was hopeful but the stuffy air in this micro space has sucked the optimism right out. It looks even smaller because of the white eraser-board that covers the only long wall from ceiling to floor. It’s covered with numbers and doodles. The top of his desk is worse than the floor of my car—piled high with papers, drawings, and more papers.
Poking around inside his desk, I believe I’ve found Nerd-vana. Endless amounts of protractors, gel pens and pencils of all colors, pocket protectors, gloves, and goggles. In one of the bottom drawers beneath a giant magnifying glass is a half empty bag of stale cheese puffs and a few pieces of chocolate-flavored bubble gum.
“Ugh,” I retch, spitting the gum into the trash. The partially chewed lump falls on top of a pile of crumpled papers near the rim and slides onto the floor leaving a trail of tinted spit. My tongue feels dry and shriveled, scraping against my teeth. There’s a sharp twinge in my glands as my mouth waters. My spit looks unnaturally brown; stained by the dye in gum. I swipe a tissue from the box on of the shelves and use it to clean inside my mouth. Then another. And another. I make a mental note never to ask Eli for gum. Disgusting.
Just as I finish clearing the taste from my mouth, Eli strolls in. He’s brought a thick green folder with the words, ‘Property of GVRRC’ printed on the front. He looks at the trash can, then at me, and smiles.
“Did you enjoy the putty?”
I wipe the top of my tongue again and toss the last tissue away. “I thought it was gum.”
He chuckles, “tastes like liver doesn’t it?”
“It’s not poisonous is it?”
“No, but it’ll give you the runs if you chewed it for too long. It’s something I’ve been working on for my cat.”
“For your cat?”
“He gets constipated sometimes and it is difficult to give him the enemas. Then, having to explain to people why he’s walking funny: it’s a hassle.” He shrugs, deadpan.
My stomach heaves and he cracks a smile.
He chuckles. “That’s what you get for eating things you find in a scientist’s desk.”
Eli holds up the green file, “This is everything he sent me,” and then tosses it onto the overstuffed chair and leans against the desk, cracking his knuckles. “What can I do you for?”
Ignoring the taste of liver flavored kitty laxative, I square my shoulders and look him straight in the eye. This is it. “Do you remember that girl, Lisa? We used to hang around with her.”
“Green-haired Lisa? Yeah, I remember her.” He crosses his arms, stuffing his palms beneath each elbow. The pose makes me think of Mary Catherine Gallagher.
I shove the silly image from my mind and focus. “Well, I saw her two weeks ago.”
“Really? How is she?”
“Hey, can I ask you something?” I ask, trying to figure out a way to make the jump.
“That lecture, well, it got me thinking. D-do you think time travel is possible?”
His face lights and he shifts forward. “Of course it is, I mean, we haven’t figured it out yet, but the mechanics are all there.”
“What does a person like me need to—not theoretically, but literally—travel back through time to, say . . . 1996?”
His brow creases. “One way might entail an indestructible amount of mass in the form of a sphere large enough to avoid collapsing and creating a black hole. Once you’ve got that, then all you have to do is figure out how to manipulate spacetime.” He grins. “Simple.”
I have no idea what he just said. “Is that the only way?”
“Theoretically, there are several ways: a wormhole, for instance. Passing through the curves of spacetime in a line the way a worm eats through an apple. Travelling faster than the speed of light-”
“What about inside a car?”
He shakes his head, “No, Back To The Future was not very accurate. It was a great movie, though. Why so curious?”
Nerves bead up in the space over my top lip. I pretend the sweat represents all my anxiety. Using the back of my hand, I wipe it away, and then scrape the remnants on my pants. Just say it. “I’ve done it. Twice. Well, once, but it was wound-twip—I mean, a round-trip.”
He laughs, looking down and shaking his head. “That’s good. You caught me off-guard.”
“Eli,” I step forward, “I’m not joking.”
“G, I take my work very seriously. If you—”
“That’s why I came to you. My dad left me—” taking the file from the chair, I open the folder and begin flipping through the pages—“all of this nonsense. You’re the only other person he trusted with this information and I need to know why. He said you would help me.”
He gapes at me and I sigh, defeated by the blank look in his unreadable face. “Please, I’ve got nothing else to go on and no way to compensate you, but I can’t do this by myself. It’s all Greek!”
His eyes have moved from me to the pages. “What are you trying to do?”
“And I need to borrow a DVD player.”
He takes the folder from me and steps away. At the eraser board, he picks a small blank spot and starts writing.
“It’s not Greek, it’s Quantum Physics.”
My desperation is sickening. I would never help someone as pathetic me. The puffy chair provides a place to sit and wait for rejection while he keeps his back to me, working on the board, erasing and writing, re-writing, and eventually, making noises like he’s playing a contact sport. Every sound makes me wonder, but I stay quiet, unsure if the din hints at a positive or negative.
After what seems like eternity, he finally turns around. “Sorry about that. I forgot you were here.”
He already forgot me. “Great.”
“This equation is complex, to say the least. I’d like to take this to one of the Professors—”
“No one can know about this!” I jump out of the chair and snatch the folder.
He scoffs. “I can’t work on the equation unless I know the origins. It wouldn’t be right. Whoever wrote it should get credit.”
He hasn’t even agreed and he’s already making demands.
“No. Eli, you have no idea what you’re talking about.” I grab at the papers in my box. “This information, these ‘grand equations’ are mine. My inheritance from my father. He didn’t want anyone else to see them.”
He nods. “I am sorry to hear about your dad, G. He was a nice man.”
“Thank you.” The words sound empty but I appreciate his acknowledgement.
“I thought this was why you came; if not to understand the equations, then what?”
“Because I need your help.”
“With what, exactly?” There’s a genuine interest in his expression.
“You better sit down,” I maneuver to the front of his desk and urge him to sit in the chair. “And keep an open mind because it’s a . . . complicated story.”
He checks his watch and nods his consent. I jump right in, telling him everything that happened from the day the bus crashed, up until I woke in the hospital the second time. His position is firm, listening intently, asking detailed questions about my health, the dates, and cause of the first accident. I describe—in superfluous detail, the parts he shows the most interest in—the blue fog, the colors and lines I saw, how sick I felt after, and everything I can remember about Daemon. My only omissions are the DHS and my sister. I have to leave her out. I can’t say her name, yet.
He doesn’t express his opinion until I finish, even then, he only asks permission to look through my papers. The moment I consent he plunges in, removing the contents piece by piece, sorting the pages and notebooks into separate stacks. When he grabs the large manila envelope, the DVDs fall out.
“Home movies?” He picks up the discs one by one, placing each into my idle hands.
“I’ve only seen two.”
“Did you learn anything?”
“Depends on how you look at it.”
“He left you directions?” He’s holding the folded paper with his name and address.
“Yes,” I take the page and shove it back into the giant manila envelope. The next disc, marked with a number four still lies undisturbed inside the sandwich bag my dad put it in. I hold it out for Eli to see. “Is there a private place where I can watch this?”
He glances up from his fastidious sorting. “We should wait until we get to my house. If everything is as you say, suppression must supersede curiosity.” He anxiously checks his watch again. “Is there anywhere you need to be in the next few hours? If so, you should cancel.”
“No one will be missing me anytime soon.”
“Good,” he stands up, “help me put these back.” As I take the first stack from the floor, he reminds me of something else I omitted. “You can follow me to my house. It’s not far.”
A very strong wooziness sets in and my eyes want to roll into the back of my head.
“G,” his hands sets on my shoulder.
I blink quickly and take a deep, cleansing breath. The feeling goes away as quickly as it came. “I’m fine—just got up too fast.” I answer, “Actually, I have to drop my car at a repair shop. Could you follow me there?”
“No problem,” he stuffs the last stack into the box and gives it over.