INERTIA Book 1, The Threestone Trilogy

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Time Travel 101

A jerk hauls me back as the violent funnel cloud begins to shrink.

Quickly as it appeared so it disappears, and everything is quiet. Not the peaceful serenity that one expects to find out the in the country. No, this quiet is not normal. There are no more animals or bird calls inside the vast field. No chirping insects. Nothing. All of nature is awestruck and scared shitless.

“The most terrible thing I have ever seen.” Eli mumbles. “It was beautiful.”

I manage to agree. “So beautiful.”

Shaking off the shock, I force myself to look around. We are completely alone, which is good, but our position in the wide open field leaves us exposed in a very vulnerable moment. We’re standing in the wake of that enormous inferno of a spectacle that has so inexplicably come and gone with no way to explain how or what to anyone.

That is what you saw?” Eli, who’s been standing beside me equally dumbfounded, is now howling. “That—that thing?!”

In the distance a clamor is rising. It’s the chaotic sounds of frightened people who’ve just witnessed something they don’t understand.

“Shut up and run!” Eli instructs even though he is the only one talking. He picks up the stones and franticly tosses them at me. “Put’em away! Hurry!” He cries, but all I notice is how cool they feel, though just a moment ago, they were blazing.

What did you do? I think as my hands shake and fumble, trying to force the dull, cold stones back into the rubber bag as we run, flat out, towards the tree line. The massive weight of nausea comes on but I ignore it, pushing myself to hold down the vomit. Everyone within fifty miles had to have seen that thing and everyone on that farm probably saw us.

“Hustle!” I yell to Eli, gaining on his heels.

Suddenly, he comes to a dead-stop. “Wait!”

Skidding to a halt, I spin back to face him. “What?”

He’s talking too fast, barely understandable. I think the gist of his incoherent rant is that he wants me to wait here while he goes to get the car. I’m not going to argue, the nausea makes me agree.

Now seven rows away, I lean over, willing my stomach not to purge while he starts the car. Once it kicks over, he waves me in. I run as fast as I can and jump in the passenger side.

That is what you did! Twice?! You said it was a car accident!” He’s screaming again and my head is pounding.

“I’ve never seen it from the outside, I didn’t know.” The violence of it was muted by the internal beauty of the blue fog and colorful array. Both incidents were followed with a serious head injury, so I thought I was crazy, that I imagined the whole thing.

Sinking far down into the bucket seat, I’m practically lying on the floorboards to avoid being seen, though I’m sure none of the bumpkins out here care who I am at the moment. Eli’s started barreling down the dirt road. I remind him to go slow, and tell him that he stinks at maintaining composure. “You’ll draw attention.”

The car swerves and we barely miss a tree. I scream at him to calm down and force him to pull over. My offer to drive is quickly refused.

“There are too many people around for you to risk being seen.” Eli reasons and I can’t argue. He’s right.

Pickup trucks and vans are parked along both sides of the outer rim of the orchards now—people holding ladders and long sticks, truck-mounted port-a-potty’s and dozens of faces running to and from the area we’ve just come from. Fear and chaos play in the expressions of everyone we pass by, now keeping strictly to the speed limit.

Still, he’s panicked. “It burned everything. It destroyed that pasture. Those trees are dead. I never thought that—”

“You thought I was lying?” I ask, crawling from the front into the back seat.

“You never said it was so huge. Hundreds of feet high. I-I should have known, been better prepared. That thing almost sucked you inside!”

“I had limited visibility at the time.” I grunt, rolling into the backseat as he takes the corner onto the paved road a little too fast. The back end of the car swings around with a screech.

“We’re supposed to blend in.” I yell, pulling my face out of the back seat cushion.

“What are you doing?” Eli snaps, as if he’s just realized I’m not beside him.

I look up from the floor in back. “Think. I’m hiding.”

He nods. “Yeah, good idea. There’s a latch in front of the seat that pops the seatback open to access the trunk.”

I raise my head again. “What?”

“There’s a fire truck.” Sirens begin to wail and Elis’ eyes pop wide open. “Four . . . five, six cop cars behind it.” I hear the gravel beneath the wheels and realize he’s pulling over.

“What are you doing?”

“Letting them pass before they flash their lights at me.”

I’m completely ham-fisted, yet manage to pop the seatback open, slide into the trunk, and barely raise the padded door just before the emergency vehicles pass.

The drag of the car tells me we’ve taken off again.

“We have to get back to my house.” The motor roars. "My lab."

“Whatever you do, don’t get a ticket.” The velour seat slips from my hand, plunking into the down position.

“Shoot!” he pounds the steering wheel.

“What now?” I snap from my little window. The dark walls of a Volkswagen keep me blinded to everything but the back of his head and the rearview mirror

“I need to stop for gas.”

“I hate being stuck down here.” I poke my head out into the back seat. “Remember, if you look panicked, they’ll remember your face and you don’t want to be remembered.”

“I feel sick. Do you?” His bloodshot eyes stare through the rearview mirror.

“Yes,” the topic reminds me it’s safe to rest, now. I let my head fall.

“Hawking’s radiation,” he muses. Then his lips form a hard line. “Brilliant.” Only he sounds like he doesn’t think it’s brilliant at all. “We have to get some fluid, get the emissions out faster.”

At the station, Eli fills up on gas and Gatorade. He makes me drink two containers of the stuff and soon the nausea begins to fade. The ride is longer on the way back because of traffic and we have to keep stopping to piss.

I want to sleep to pass the time but after what I’ve seen, I may never sleep again. Plus, Eli won’t shut up. Every time I’m close to dozing, he starts spouting nonsense I can’t understand.

“Turn on the radio.” I suggest, “Maybe there’s something about . . . that.” I have no idea what to call the thing.

It’s past seven when we finally arrive at his house. My sickness is gone, but Eli’s complexion is pasty and he’s missed at least one nights’ rest. He parks inside the garage and asks me to use the side door while he unloads the car.

Inside the kitchen, I sit at the dining table and wait. I have no idea what to make of all this. I have to go through the box and find out what I can about the morphing crystal stones. The way they glowed before that bolt of lightning hit was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Almost like the rocks drew the power to them.

“G, we have to talk.” Eli says, scraping the dining room chair along the floor to sit.

“Yeah, we do.” I know from his expression what he’s going to say. “It’s okay, I understand.” I push away from the table. “You don’t want to help. That’s fine. I appreciate everything you’ve done, Eli. And I can’t ask for anything—”

“That’s not it.” he exclaims, “Why would you think that? No, I could never consider going back now,” he pauses, pulling at his beard, smoothing it down with his fingertips. “I need to ask you some questions to reconcile some of the dissimilarities you described during your time in 1996.”

“Oh, okay.” I sit back down.

“Was there something you wanted to discuss first?”

I shake my head. “It can wait.”

He sets both his hands on the tabletop. “You said Lisa’s brother was still around?”

“Yes.”

“And, your dad—he looked different?” His voice lowers, adding weight to the question.

“Yes, but it was in my head. The concussion screwed me up, so I can’t be sure about anything.”

“G, if you were really there—and I believe you were—you could not have imagined the discrepancies.”

Sweat on my forehead is forming into droplets that run down the sides of my face. He must not have left the air conditioner on.

Eli rubs his temples. “I don’t know how to tell you this G, so I am simply going to say it: I don’t think you travelled through time.”

A scoff is all I can manage.

“I thought from the beginning you were mistaken. I mean, it is impossible to travel into the past. The future is more likely and that is a one-way trip. Even if you were miraculously transported back through time you wouldn’t be able to intermingle or alter anything. It would be like watching an old TV show and based on the information you provided, what we learned from our experience today, I believe that what you did—where you went—was actually a parallel universe.”

“No. You’re wrong.”

“Everyone you met and interacted with, they are all real people living inside a world that is almost exactly like our own, except that, if I am correct, their awareness of time is different. That is why it was 1996 and not 2012 even though you woke up here and travelled there in a matter of seconds.”

“If it wasn’t time travel, then how can it be a different year?”

His brow furrows, probably to concentrate on dumbing-down the technical lingo so I can understand. “I believe the answer is because there are numerous universes, each operating within its’ own time loop. Time works like a circle, it’s eternal; there’s no beginning or end.

“The Mayans developed their calendar based on this very concept. When the Aztecs conquered them, they saw the wisdom in the model and began utilizing the calendar themselves.”

“Aztecs were savages.”

“And ingenious. Here, let me show you what I mean.”

Eli takes a paper from a notebook sitting on the countertop behind him and a compass from a drawer. Uber-nerdy. Setting the page on the table between us, he starts drawing.

First, a large circle and within that, another slightly smaller circle, and within that, he makes another even smaller and continuing on until there are five circles, resembling a bulls-eye. Or the Aztec calendar he mentioned. Or the dying circles in the hills where we found the stones.

“Think of the outermost circle as the crown of numbers on a clock.” He points to the middle, marking it with a dot, “Here, in the center, the clocks’ hands would be mounted. Contained inside this infinitesimal center point is a timekeeper, so to speak.”

“What’s the time keeper?”

“Call it a singularity.” He mumbles, marking lines at various angles down the center. They cut the shapes in half, then in halves again. When the portions are shaved into twelve, he draws numbers on the outermost ring, completing his rudimentary clock.

“Now, each clock operates in increments of chronological time, right?”

“I guess.”

“Sixty seconds to one minute, sixty minutes to one hour—”

“And twenty-four hours in a day, I get it.” I’m growing impatient with the preschool teacher routine.

He points to the first inner circle and the second, “each one of these lines, these circles, represents another dimension, a time loop, a parallel universe separate from ours. The hands of the clock move, measuring each increment individually. Depending on their placement in correlation to the singularity, the larger or smaller the increments become.” He looks at me and slides the drawing over. “Do you understand?”

“What does it mean?” I ask and wish my dad were here.

“It means that time is relative, that each dimension works within its’ own increment size. Therefore, a different relative measurement of time, which leads to different years within each dimension.”

I want to think about this for a second. It feels meaningful and profound, but my mind is too much like scrambled eggs to even consider the ramifications if this concept. Even if it were true, Eli has no way of proving it.

“How can you possibly know any of this?”

“G, I am more qualified than—”

“I was the one who went through that thing. What makes you so sure it wasn’t time travel?”

He crosses his arms. “In the world you and I grew up in Dylan never lived with Lisa. He only came to visit her on holidays.”

My lips lock together.

“Do you happen to have anything in your possession that you picked up while you were there? Change from a store, something of that nature?”

I reach into my pants pocket and slap the change I’ve been carrying onto the table. “I don’t know if any of it came from there.”

Eli slides the pile over and begins his examination—first the coins and then the bills. After a minute or so, he takes out his own wallet and removes a five dollar bill. He sets it beside the one I gave him and compares the two.

After a long stare, he finally says, “It’s missing.”

“What’s missing?” I lean forward.

“‘In God We Trust’ is missing.”

He takes the coins from the table, looks at both sides and then slides them back to me one at a time. When he’s done with that, he goes back to the bills. I look closely at each one. The President’s faces and pictures look the same but the constant phrase isn’t there.

“I’m not so sure it’s on our money.”

“Why are you being so stubborn? You know it is.” Eli brings out other bills from his wallet.

“Yeah, but the police told me my money was counterfeit. That doesn’t mean anything.”

“So, you’re arguing that men who are sworn to uphold the law, arrest you for passing counterfeit bills then release you without confiscating them?”

He isn’t going to convince me of anything. “I was there. I saw what happened. I did what I could to change the past and it didn’t work, because like you said, I couldn’t change it.”

“It was the past only in the broad sense. It was not your past, G. It was their present.”

“That’s a cool theory,” I slide the picture he made back at him.

“Yes, it is. Your experience and those equations your dad gave you confirm its’ validity. G, I know you want me to be wrong—I would love to be wrong—but believe me, I have spent my entire academic career working on this.”

“You. Are. Wrong.”

He sighs. “Agree to disagree, for now?”

“I’ll pretend you never brought it up.”

“Motion officially tabled. Now for the second major issue: your inheritance.”

My hands automatically move to cover the rubber bag sitting in my lap.

“Judging by what you and I saw, and by the electrical meter on the side of my house, I believe it is safe to assume that these stones absorb energy. We need to wrap them in thicker rubber.”

I ascend with a nod, noticing Eli is still very tense.

He clears his throat. “I have gone over and over this in my head, the whole way back, and I think we have a larger problem than keeping these rocks from discovery.”

I lean forward. “What’s that?”

“As fascinating and exciting as all of this is . . . We are not meant to pass through to other places in the multiverse, G. Crossing over, it has consequences.”

“Of course it does.” I sigh; waiting for the explanation I know is coming.

“It’s like punching holes in the ozone, only on a much larger scale.”

“That can’t be good.”

His face is grave as he explains. “It is most certainly not good. Setting aside the lives of the people that might be affected, and ignoring all major health and environmental risks—opening the passage way between universes could be like knocking down a wall without bothering to check whether it’s load-bearing. It is, at the very least, irresponsible and very likely to weaken the walls that separate us.”

My jaw clenches tighter, making my head hurt more. “Is that what Daemon has been doing?”

“I’ll have to do some calculations and run some tests to be sure, but yes, it appears that way.”

“Can they be repaired? How bad would it be if it got too many holes?”

“Potentially catastrophic, but I-I can’t configure scenarios until I know more about these stones.”

“Eli, he didn’t use these rocks to cross over,” I raise my hand, holding up the bag for him to see. “And this is the only way he could be crossing from one time to another. Right?” The thought sickens me and pulls down the corners of his mouth.

As pasty as Eli is, his face manages to wash whiter. Even his lips lose their color. “Oh my God . . . there’s more than one set.”

The hairs on the back of my neck prickle upright as understanding sinks in. “There has to be. And Daemon wants these, too. He asked me and my dad where they were.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but now it makes perfect sense.

“Then, it doesn’t matter if we agree on whether or not it’s time travel, does it?” It’s like the truck and the bus colliding all over again. One big worry is erased by another, larger and more deadly.

“Is this what my dad wants me to do? To choose to find Daemon, to stop him?”

Eli is looking at me, but I can tell by the blank terror he’s barely concealing that he’s not seeing me. The light in his dark eyes flickers as he thinks, probably calculating the odds of what neither of us wants to say.

I’ll bite. “You said each universe is the same?”

Eli shakes his head in disbelief. “Each one could possess the same three stones.” He looks like an apparition when he adds, “in theory.”

“It doesn’t make sense.” I scratch my head. “If Daemon already has his own, then why? Is it more than being a greedy prick? What could he gain by collecting them?”

The more questions I ask, the whiter and quieter Eli gets. He doesn’t answer right away. He just sits there, aging in grave silence before my eyes. Considering the possibilities and penalties, maybe.

He inhales, shaking his head. “God wouldn’t allow man to harness that kind of power.”

Immediately, I’m shaken by the image of my little sister tossing a fistful of leaves. “The world’s full of death and malice and I’ve never seen God intervene.”

The creases on his forehead grow deeper as he looks down at his folded hands set across the table. “What are the options?”

“My dad told me I have to stop him. That I could do it, and that you would help me. Eli, you were there, you saw. Everything in the path of that tornado-thing caught fire.”

His eyes are different when he looks up. “G, I have asked you for absolute honesty, but I haven’t been forthcoming.”

Curve ball.

“What does that mean, exactly?”

“It means there are things I haven’t told you about what I know and how I know it.” He uncrosses his arms.

“Go ahead.”

“I spoke to your dad. About a month ago, I was . . . out and ran into him. He recognized me and we got to talking about my work. He didn’t send me a package, he handed me information and asked me help you. He said if I did, he would forgive me.”

His explanation sounds odd and ominous—exactly like my dad. “Forgive you for what?”

“We’ll get to that later.” He clears his throat. “First, I need you to tell me everything you remember about your time there, every single detail about this Daemon character and everyone else.”

“I already did.”

His eyes grow darker. He’s got some color back in his cheeks. “You and I both know you left some things out. Exposure to radiation can cause a lapse in memory and you’ve been exposed three times, now. If you are going to follow Daemon, it is absolutely vital that we consider every possible risk and prepare accordingly.”

“Other than the fact that he’s comfortable with creating chaos and mass killings of innocent bystanders, I can’t think of anything.” My shoulders rise and fall in feeble reply, not sure what to make of the turn this conversation is taking.

“He helped you, though. First, on the bus, then in the fight. He was there both times you crossed over. He must have needed you for something otherwise he would have killed you right away. When you spoke, did he ask you any questions? What kind of conversation did you have?”

Holding up a hand, I ask for a moment to think. It takes some time to get back into that mindset. I’ve been working so hard to shut it off, to forget about what happened there.

Now I let the walls come down, let the memories run freely through my mind. The bus accident, the hospital, the police station, the record store, finding my home, meeting my younger self and my dad. Recall his unnamed fears and the fight with Dylan that led to my getting jumped in the alley. Daemon arrived just in time. At a moment when I’d been beaten down enough to need help. I wanted to fold, cash in my chips and go home. I could barely walk, but still had some wits about me.

“The first night. He used my last name when I only gave him my first.”

“So, he knew you. The day you left with him, what did you two talk about?”

My heart wrenches. “That was a bad day.” My nose begins to run as I clear the lump of regret from my throat.

“I remember, G. You tried to stop it from happening again, didn’t you? Tried to help Carrie?”

I nod, throat full, eyes welling. My sister. My baby sister.

“It’s not your fault, G. Someone stole the street sign.”

I try to let that sink in, but then realize that it makes no difference. “Nothing will ever make me feel better about what happened.”

It takes some time to regain focus. When I do, Eli’s face is sympathetic. “G. The smallest detail could be the most important.”

The table is slick beneath my sweating palms. I press my hands back and forth over the smooth surface, searching for a way out.

My dad used to say, there are some obstacles you can climb over, others you can go around, and even some you can dig beneath. Then, there are some times when the only way around is straight through the middle. Right now feels like a ‘some time.’

“Alright, but I’m only going to say this once, so you better take good notes.”

I take in a deep breath and begin my tale again, giving every long boring moment and ever gory detail.

By the end, Eli is thoughtful. Resolute.

“I promise to do everything I can to help you stop him, G, as long as you promise not to make this about anything other than gathering the duplicate sets of stones before this Daemon character does.”

I agree, grateful to get such a strong response from someone so mild.

“We’ll have to prepare, of course. You never know what type of world you might be stepping into.”

I nod my head in agreement, glad that my dad had the foresight to send me to Eli.

My father’s voice echoes in my head: from our last conversation, when he looked into my eyes as if he could see my very soul and spoke his assurance like a curse. “You. Will. Be. Alright.”

Taking a deep breath, I let that fire, that rare faith he had in me expand until it fills my chest. Whatever mistakes I’ve made will have to wait. It’s what comes next that matters now.

Whatever times or worlds I step into, I have to believe that I can succeed. I will be alright because I’ve got my father’s belief in me, his notes and instructions, and the help that he sent me to find. I’ve got my inheritance, these three amazing stones that can somehow absorb energy and use it to open wormholes into the past—or other worlds if Eli is right.

It is all so strange. I’ve literally lost everything in the past two months: my job, my girl, my home, my dad, my sister, and occasionally my mind.

I am sitting here, facing the strangest, most deadly giant of a problem that I have encountered. So why is it, that for the first time in my life, I feel like I could accomplish anything?



The End . . . of Book One


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