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       John Gone, p.24

           Michael Kayatta

  April 2nd, 1974

  It was almost 8:00 A.M. the following morning and Felix still hadn’t allowed himself to sleep. Instead, he’d occupied his time with a small project, something to keep him awake and busy while his mind cycled through the endless possibilities and contingencies of his escape plan.

  Felix had thought again and again about trying to tell Karen his plans at many times throughout the night.

  Just enjoy the time that you have with her, he imagined a fictitious friend would advise him. He’d never found any comfort in the ephemeral and saw nothing beautiful about never seeing Karen again after two years. But as much as he didn’t want to leave her, he knew that it was much too risky to tell her the truth.

  It could cost me everything, he’d reminded himself throughout the night. Her as well.

  Felix had finally come to the conclusion around 4:00 that morning that if Karen was to be involved in any way with coming events, she’d have to be the one to approach him, not the other way around. It would be the only way that he could be sure of both her resolve and the ultimate safety of his escape.

  Felix snuck a finger beneath his protective eyewear and pulled a hardened piece of sleep from the corner of his eye. The substance had been creeping into his tear ducts all night, tugging on his eyelids and reminding him of how tired he was.

  Tomorrow night I can sleep, he told the small green fleck on the tip of his finger. And I don’t need the discharge of some vestigial second eyelid to interfere with my vision before then.

  Felix flicked the mote across the room and returned to his project. In front of him stood a metal cylinder, nine inches in height. Two sides of it were open, revealing a spacious view through its inside. Two mirrors had been placed at the top and bottom of the machine, and between them was a thin plastic tube containing a shiny, powdered metal. A few circuit boards hid beneath the bottom mirror, serving as a point of connection for the two cords running into the cylinder: one a typical power cord, the other a blue and white multi-pin male input.

  The door across the room whirred open. Karen approached him from the entrance, her eyes refusing to make contact with Felix’s.

  “Good morning,” she said as she reached his workstation. “Here is the device.” Karen placed the metal box containing the watch onto the tabletop.

  “What is this?” she asked coldly, noticing the small machine Felix had built since last she’d been there.

  “Karen, I--” Felix began.

  “I don’t want to talk about last night, Dr. Kala,” she interrupted, looking toward the ceiling. “I would appreciate it if you would refrain.”

  “I wasn’t going to,” Felix replied honestly. “I was going to ask you to sit so that I could answer that question.” He gestured to the small black stool on the other side of the table where Karen normally sat during his exhibitions.

  “Oh,” she said. “Good.” She sat at the table and examined the small device with her eyes. “I’ll ask again, what is this?”

  “I’ll show you,” he answered quietly, a thin smile on his lips. He opened the metal box that Karen had brought with her and removed the watch from its inside.

  “Watch,” Felix said. “No pun intended.” Karen’s expected giggle was decidedly absent.

  With the quick turn of four tiny screws, Felix opened the back of the Diaspora, and carefully removed a coiled blue and white cable from amidst the circuitry. He connected it easily to the cable coming from the cylinder he’d built the night before. Nothing happened.

  “Well?” Karen asked.

  “It will probably take a few minutes to warm up. And this might help.” Felix found the end of the cylinder’s power cord and plugged it into the plated socket in the floor. The cylinder emitted a slight buzz while a faint blue light appeared between its mirrors. Karen raised her eyebrows at Felix, unimpressed.

  “Patience,” he assured her.

  “While we’re waiting for that to do whatever it is that you think it’s going to do, why don’t we go over your requisitions,” she said, pulling a large, thick folder from under her arm and dropping it to the surface between them. She looked up from her paperwork and made eye contact with Felix for the first time since the night before. The buzzing from the cylinder became louder.

  “Well? What do you need me to bring you tomorrow?” she asked, uncapping the pen she’d pulled from her pocket.

  Felix sighed, annoyed with her composure. He’d known that this morning wasn’t going to go smoothly, but hadn’t expected sheer frozen denial.

  He pulled his list of the components he needed from the notebook located in the shallow table drawer beside him and listed each one to her. Karen nodded and wrote them down on the form in her folder, failing to notice the one suspicious component that he’d slipped into the middle of his list.

  “Is that everything?” she asked.

  “Look,” Felix replied, shifting her attention to the buzzing cylinder. The dim light from before had become intensely bright, filling the machine completely as if it were water in a jar. The buzzing halted abruptly and the machine began to run eerily silent.

  “That’s what we were waiting for,” he said. Karen looked into the small core of bright light. It was beautiful, and there was something within it, shadows behind it that seemed to dance against the glow. She looked through the light to Felix and, for a moment, saw him much older than he was now, speaking to someone, but muted past the machine.

  “Don’t,” Felix said, breaking her trance. “In my experience, it’s easy for people to be drawn toward quantum fields, but what you see through them is often inaccurate. They can give the impression of foretelling the future, but there are no secret truths or answers there. You can sometimes see things on the other side as older or younger, infantile or dead. None of it is relevant, but the brain dictates a person’s reality, and the brain trusts the eye.”

  “I know,” she said defensively, averting her eyes from the field. “At first, I just wasn’t sure what I was looking at.”

  “Then you probably also know,” Felix continued, “that the effect occurs because everything and everyone exists in different states simultaneously. And that, of course, is the theory behind this watch.” He raised the Diaspora into his hands, careful not to disconnect the cable. “The device doesn’t actually make you teleport; it simply changes your state. Do you want to use it to travel to China? Well, you’re already in China. You’re simultaneously at every location you could be. All this device does,” he said, placing it carefully back down onto the table, “is force you between those states. And because an entity can’t perceivably co-exist in two states, the user appears to disappear from where they started.”

  “Yes, you’ve said the same in your reports,” Karen replied. “But I still don’t understand what this thing is that you’ve built. A quantum field generator? Why?”

  “While looking through the field can cause odd visual apparitions, physically touching or entering it can cause an actual change in state. If you can understand that you exist everywhere at once, then you can also understand that you exist every when at once as well. At this exact moment you are an infant, a teen, and an aging senior, all at the same time. We only perceive the young, beautiful version of you because that’s where our perceived realities intersect with each other. That’s the constraint and function of time.”

  Felix looked past the light to Karen and saw her as she’d been at sixteen: short and pimpled. He chuckled quietly to himself and continued.

  “Quantum fields such as these have no interaction with linear time, so entering them will cause each state to exist simultaneously, even in our reality. But because we can only perceive one state at a time, as I stated before, we can actually take something and give it the appearance of aging or regressing. When we remove it from the field, that illusion becomes what we then perceive as reality. Are you still with me?”

  “I believe so,” she said quietly. “But isn’t this dangerous? Can’t we cause some for
m of paradox that risks the entire fabric of space and time?”

  “Rubbish,” Felix said. “Hollywood stuff. It’s the same as time travel. You can’t actually create a paradox even if you were to affect something. Everything we do, even outside of an open quantum field, is causing major implications everywhere in the universe. Think of your life as an infinitely complex spider web. Each strand in that web represents a different path. One strand might have you elected President; the one beside it has you wearing red shoes on a Tuesday.

  “Your life, as you know it, is a dewdrop sliding down the web. Time is gravity, pulling it across the strands. Which strands will it travel across as it falls? Everything from which country wins a world war to how much butter you put on your toast yesterday effects the drop’s direction.

  “Now, imagine the same web for everyone and everything in the universe. And to make things more complicated still, imagine them all intersecting with each other at different points. There’s exactly one point where every other web intersects with your own, and that’s the reality that you’re able to perceive at any given time. If consequences follow our use of this small quantum field in front of us, then the change would be as unperceivable to us as the consequences caused by someone sneezing in the U.S.S.R. Are we changing things by opening this field and playing with it? Of course. Are there world ending repercussions? No.

  “Now, the reason for all of this.” Felix took the small bag of tulip seeds from his pocket. He carefully spilled a few onto the table and lifted one from the group with a long pair of steel pincers.

  Slowly, he moved the seed from the table into the blue light of the cylinder. Karen watched as he released it and saw the seed remain supported within the light, floating buoyant within it, bobbing and warbling against its energy. Felix removed the pincers, and Karen looked in amazement at the tips of the tool, now rusted and bent. As Felix set the pincers down, its powdery tips crumbled from the handle.

  “The seed, not the tool,” Felix said quietly. Karen quickly returned her attention to the glowing cylinder. The seed’s movement had intensified since she’d looked away.

  She moved her face closer to the light as the seed coat shook and split open at its center. What appeared to be a small white tentacle emerged from the newly created opening in its shell. The tentacle, now more obviously a root, twisted and turned, soon joined by other smaller roots both beside it and on its sides. Then: bright green, shooting out tall from a white base, curving around itself like soft, curled paper. The thin spiral leaves grew taller and taller, unfurling and expanding outward to the height of the machine.

  Felix sat back in his chair and watched the scene unfold with an equal intensity as Karen, but focused his attention on the beautiful woman sitting across from him and her reaction to the flower instead of the machine. He’d already seen his own parlor trick many times in the past, and watching her face light up, as his own had many years ago, was much more rewarding. Then, he saw her smile.

  I knew you were hiding that somewhere, he thought, victorious.

  The leaves and stalk had finished growing and a small yellow bulb was now showing from the top of the leaves, as a child peering above the edge of its blanket. The petals expanded outward in a burst before settling into a rounded cup shape.

  Felix detached the power cord with his foot and placed his hand beside the machine. As the blue light faded from the cylinder, a newly formed tulip dropped lightly into his open hand. He spun it once quickly between his fingers and offered it to Karen, still in shock from the accelerated growth. She looked apprehensively at the tulip before her and moved her eyes above it to Felix. He nodded reassuringly.

  Carefully, she took the flower by its stem and lifted its petals to her face. She breathed in heavily through her nose.

  “It smells real,” she said under her breath.

  “It is real,” he said, pleased with himself.

  She lightly placed the flower across her open folder on the table in front of her.

  “Why did you do this?” she asked, looking down at the tulip.

  “You said you missed the plants,” he answered.

  “It’s not for the device? You built this whole machine just for this flower?”


  Karen sat across from him, motionless, staring down to the beautiful yellow petals in front of her. She closed her eyes. Felix watched intently as her brow began to furrow and her lips began to pucker. He‘d seen this face before. It was the face she’d made before crying on his couch last night. She was going to cry again, and this time he would comfort her. This time he would hold her and speak to her, he’d tell her that everything would work out in the end, and that she didn’t have to be scared of the feelings they shared. This time, he was ready.

  Karen slammed her folder closed, crushing and flattening the tulip between its pages. The noise jarred Felix to attention.

  “Listen to me, Felix,” she said, her eyes dry and fixed upon him. “I cannot do this. You have to stop. We can’t be friends, and we can’t be more. There are things at work that you cannot understand. This is the last time you’ll see me. I’m transferring labs. Good luck with the device.” She stood and slipped the folder underneath her arm.

  “Wait,” Felix exclaimed, slamming his legs into the table as he raced to stand. “What do you mean, another lab? Are you leaving the facility?”

  “No,” she answered, walking to the exit and refusing to look back as she spoke. “I’m just working with a different scientist and project. It’s better this way. If you see me in the hub, don’t say hello.”

  “Karen,” Felix called to her against his better judgment.

  She paused briefly, standing still, looking forward, allowing him a final sentence.

  “Maybe someday,” he said, “when we both get out of here, we’ll meet on the surface and things can be different.”

  “I doubt it,” she said quietly. And then, she was gone.

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