“Time Share” by E.S. Strout

TimeShare, by SenthilKG
Illustration: “TimeShare” © 2005 by SenthilKG

The possibility of faster-than-light travel has fascinated astrophysicists and propulsion engineers, as well as science fiction writers. With the arrival of gravity-drive thrust, the possibility becomes a probability, with apologies to Albert Einstein. Trials are under way.

Sara J. Iverson, Ph.D.
Space Corps Gravity Laboratory

Time is not a constant, Scully.

— Fox Mulder

1.

A Mozart piano trio nudged Kevin Pauley to grudging wakefulness. He levered an eyelid open to view the alarm clock’s display. “Sara Jo, it’s only six A.M.”

A blink of dark eyelashes over intense gray-green irises. She brushed tangled tresses back from her face and drew the bedclothes to her neck with the demure sweep of a hand. “Busy day. Gotta get rolling.”

Kevin eyed an exposed slender hip. “You have a tattoo? Hadn’t noticed that before.”

A faint blush. “Ancient history. I chose the Space Corps logo on a dare after a few too many brews at a Delta Tau Chi beer bust. It’s the old NASA emblem.”

She tucked the nude extremity under the sheets. “Show’s over. Gotta go fix some gray roots.”

Kevin pulled on his trousers, stood, stretched and gaped a cavernous yawn. “Prematurely gray is sexy.”

Sara stomped to the bathroom, trailing a bed sheet. “Gray is bullshit. I’m only thirty-four.”

“I surrender. I’ll make coffee.”

“Some toast too, love. Gotta be briefed before the eight A.M. space station shuttle. First sublight trial with the G-prototype.”

“Why are you doing this? You’re a Section Chief!”

Dr. Iverson slurped coffee and spread oleo on a slice of rye toast. “I’ve been Dr. Lynch’s associate for six years and I have supersonic flight training. She agreed to let me do the test flights.”

A blue and silver Air Force sedan eased to the curb outside. “Your ride’s here. Drop me a subspace note, okay?”

She grabbed her laptop and pecked Kevin’s cheek. “Can’t. Security’s too tight.”

2.

“Dr. Iverson asked for me. What’s happened?”

“Can’t say, sir,” the security man said. “This’ll only take a sec.” A quick pat-down, then a retinal-pattern laser scan followed.

“I work here. Subatomic particle research,” Kevin complained. “Dr. Iverson is a colleague.”

The man nodded with satisfaction at the transmitted response. “Please come with me.” A second agent sat behind a desk in another office, eyes riveted on a fourth-generation digital plasma screen.

“Kevin Pauley, chief. He has Omega-7 clearance.”

“Good. He can see this, then.” The man extended a hand. “Tony Wolcott, Head of Space Corps Security.”

“Sounds ominous. What did she do this time?”

“Please sit, Kevin. This is difficult to explain.” He turned the monitor screen. “Security camera, real-time view.”

Dr. Iverson was propped up in a Space Corps Infirmary bed, tapping on her laptop’s keyboard. “Those bruises. You guys beat her up?”

A wry grin from Wolcott. “She can explain better than I. You need to see this nanochip recording first.”

He tapped on the remote. “Dr. Iverson has been here almost forty eight hours since her emergency MedEvac from Delta Echo. This is from 0438 hours day before yesterday.”

On the screen Sara dozed, an IV running in one bandaged arm. There was a sudden blink and she lay sleeping on her opposite side, the detached IV dripping clear liquid on the tile deck.

“Time-lapse mode.”

“That’s what I thought at first.” Wolcott back-skipped the recording, then hit PLAY. “Watch the time log, lower right-hand corner.”

There was no gap.

“What happened?”

“Beats me. I understand you’re a colleague of Dr. Iverson’s. Watch for anything unusual. Any gaps like the one we just saw.”

“And if I do?”

“Astrophysics folks will want to know.”

3.

Kevin’s eyes widened in dismay. “Lovely shade of purple, Sara Jo. You collide with an asteroid?”

“Rapid deceleration. Every square millimeter of my body aches. I have two cracked ribs and a busted kneecap.”

An audible gasp. “You broke the light-speed barrier? We’re months away from getting all the bugs out of the inertial dampers.”

“Saturn and back in forty seconds. Aren’t you impressed?”

“You could have been squashed flat.”

“Good thing I wore a flak jacket. Now what’s with the spook asking nosy questions about time lapses?”

“I saw the playback. It’s real.”

Her expression changed from cynicism to one of genuine puzzlement. “Weird. I do remember an odd chill, then the nurse restarting the IV. Must see that nanochip. I’ll be outta here in a couple of days.”

“More like weeks, if you ask me.”

“See this?” She tapped the IV line with a fingertip. “Ribosomal RNA-augmented instant soft-tissue regenerative proteins. Forty-eight hours.”

“But you’ve got a fracture.”

“They hammered in a couple of titanium-steel pins. So bring me some clothes, please? They had to cut me out of my flight gear. And sneak me in some wine. The hospital menu sucks.”

“I saw no skips,” Kevin told agent Wolcott. “She wants that chip.”

“Astrophysics folks just grabbed it.”

4.

“Ta-Da! Just like new.” Dr. Iverson stood and hoisted the hospital gown to mid-thigh. Her skin gleamed a healthy pink, with only an occasional faint yellowish reminder of the contusions. “MRI and PET scans are normal, too. Got something good for me?”

Kevin placed a Styrofoam cooler on the bedside table. “Chardonnay, Kendall-Jackson. Agent Wolcott agrees with you about hospital food.” He rattled a brown paper sack. “Your wardrobe.”

She dumped it on the bed. “Good. Slacks, blouse, cardigan vest, running shoes and….“ A demure grin inched its way across her face. “Black panties and bra? Enjoy yourself rummaging through my underwear?”

A defensive shrug. “Just grabbed what was on top. Tony says Astrophysics Division snagged the chip.”

“Damn. It’s gotta be space-time continuum related. Where’s Stephen Hawking when you need him?”

5.

“Heard they grounded you.”

Sara took a swallow of wine. “The inertial damper problem. Please tell me you’ve fixed it.”

“Got it covered.” He opened his laptop on Sara’s coffee table, then typed in his password. Complex equations scrolled down the screen.

Dr. Iverson drained her glass and eyed the data. “My flight recordings. So?” Then she gaped in surprise. “Wait one. Hold it right there.”

Kevin highlighted the page. “Your in-flight systems chip isolated an up-quark instability problem. We’ve modified the subatomic particle matrix of the shields to better protect organic tissue.” He allowed himself a perceptive grin. “You can withstand the turbulent velocity changes encountered in FTL travel now without body armor.”

“I love it when you try to bullshit me with technology.” She gave him a seductive wink and undid her top blouse button. “Come here.”

“Your ribs? Your kneecap?”

“Check them out yourself.”

6.

“Sara Jo?”

She raised her head from the pillow and tucked loose tresses behind an ear, wedged an eyelid open. “You still here?”

“Your tattoo. It’s… different.”

A sleepy, quizzical blink. “Say what?”

“Your left hip… Buttock, to be exact. The Space Corps logo. It’s changed.”

A facial flush of annoyance. “Not funny, Kevin.”

She padded to the bathroom, dragging a trail of bedclothes. “Mess with my head, Pauley, you’re a dead man,” she grumbled.

Minutes passed. Kevin gave a soft tap on the door. “You all right, Sara?”

Muffled response. “Not okay. Definitely not all right.” It cracked open a centimeter. Her face was ashen, eyes wide with apprehension.
“This is fucking weird. You’re right. Logo is the same, but the legend reads NASA, not Space Corps. Stop staring. Bring my nightie and I’ll show you something else.”

She pulled hair back from her forehead till the skin stretched. “See anything odd?”

“Like what?”

“Jesus Christ, Kevin.” She yanked a handful of tresses straight up. “Ow, dammit. Look now. Closer.”

“You switched from Lady Clairol?”

She grabbed him by the shoulders and gave a vigorous shake. “You’re driving me ratshit, Kevin. I haven’t used hair dye in a week. Sherlock Holmes you are not.”

“No gray. I don’t understand.”

“Maybe your spy buddy knows something.”

7.

“Pleased to meet you, Dr. Iverson. I’m Chief of Space Corps Security,” Tony Wolcott said.

She returned his handshake with a determined grip. “I know you keep a nanochip copy. Show me.”

Wolcott rubbed his receding hairline. “Highly irregular, but….”

“Can you enlarge specific locations?”

“I can do a molecular scan on every pore if you want, Professor. Where do you want to start?”

“My face. Right before the first skip.”

Wolcott tapped at the keyboard. “Got it. Oblique angle, partly hidden in the pillow. Sound sleep, regular respirations.”

“Move up to the hairline. Closer. Good. Right there. Maximum enlargement. What do you see?”

Wolcott fidgeted.

“Don’t bullshit me, Tony.”

“You’re prematurely gray, Professor. It happens.”

Sara Jo punched a closed fist into an open palm with a resounding smack. “Yes! Now right after the glitch.”

Wolcott punched more keys. “You’ve turned over.”

“Damn. Get the temple. There.”

“The gray is gone, Dr. Iverson.”

“No shit, Dick Tracy.”

8.

Kevin gulped black coffee. “Didn’t hear you come in last night.”

Dr. Iverson booted up her laptop, studied graphics, poured more coffee. “Head-knocking with Dr. Dubrovny and the astrophysics geeks. It was after one. Figured I could update you this morning.”

“Dubrovny is who?”

“Alexis Dubrovny. Astrophysics Department Head. She looked at all the recordings, written notes, and computer simulations. Gave me a theory about transposed components of a counterpart from an alternate time line. Delayed side effects of faster-than-light travel.”

A dubious shrug. “Sounds like something for the sci-fi flicks.”

“Stephen Hawking once proposed a theory of multiple space-time lines and probabilities. Parallel histories within our universe. She thinks I may have tapped into one. Pretty freaky, huh?”

Kevin moaned as though in pain. “You’re telling me there’s another you out there in some interchanged cosmic reality wondering what happened to the tattoo on her ass?”

Sara covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. “Something like that.”

Kevin uttered an agonized groan. “What next?”

“Dubrovny’s concerned that more delayed changes could occur. Wants more time to evaluate my flight data.”

“I agree.”

“I screamed and yelled a lot. Got a new mission approved.”

“How’d you pull that off?”

“I got Dr. Lynch to lean on her.”

Kevin’s shoulders slumped in resignation. “Sara Jo, I want to see the FTL data as badly as you, but suppose Dubrovny is right?”

“Gotta take the chance, Kevin. I’m a scientist.”

9.

“What do you have, Tony?”

“Dr. Iverson looks okay to me. She returned with her flight suit intact and no bruises. Forty-four hours of surveillance recordings and just a single skip this time, less than a microsecond. The tattoo still says NASA and her hair is natural dark.”

“You saw… All of her?”

“Only on camera. Part of the job, Kevin. You’re a lucky man.”

“So everything’s all right, Sara?”

“Lab tests, X-rays, augmented MRI, molecular bioscans, DNA check, you name it.” She paused. “Well, not exactly everything.” She held out her glass. “Little more wine, please?”

Kevin poured Beringer chardonnay. “Not exactly?”

“Watch this.” She set her glass down, extended her legs and gave two vigorous kicks. Her tan penny loafers flew across the room, impacted the window ledge, and flopped to the carpet.

“You learned kickboxing?”

An exasperated sigh as she wriggled bare toes. “No, you nerd. I wear size seven footwear. Snug fit. No way I could kick them loose. My feet are a size smaller. That’s not all. I’ve lost five pounds, even with the pre-flight hi-carb push.” She allowed herself a covert smile. “The alternate me will be shopping for a new wardrobe.”

“Does Dr. Dubrovny know?”

“I deleted it from the chip.”

“Jesus, Sara. You’re looking for big trouble.”

She lasered him with a hot gaze. “G-probe got me to the Sagittarius A anomaly and back in less than two hours. Think I’m gonna quit now? Rim of the universe, next stop.”

“If Dubrovny finds out….”

“The volume of recorded data on our galactic black hole will keep her and that astrophysics ratpack salivating for months. They won’t know I’m gone.”

A look of consternation clouded Kevin’s features. “You can’t be serious. There could be more delayed changes, some major. Suppose you come face to face with your alternate?”

“I’ll kick the bitch right in my Space Corps tattoo.”

10.

“Why all the secrecy, Tony?”

“I’ve got something.”

“More than I already know? Dr. Iverson has been missing for six weeks, Dubrovny is accusing her of hijacking the G-probe, all that alternate time and history garbage. Come on, Tony.”

A brief hesitation. “She’s back.”

Kevin collapsed in a chair next to Wolcott’s desk, his face drained of natural pigmentation. “She’s okay?”

“You decide.”

“They could be identical twins,” Agent Wolcott observed as they viewed the two isolation rooms through one-way observation ports. “Each one is convinced she’s Professor Sara Joanne Iverson. Their G- probes are identical, down to the last molecular transistor.”

“Speech patterns, inflections, accent identical. Same orthopedic pins in the kneecap. Identical lab results, MRI too. Same goddamn DNA. Molecular and subatomic structure analysis also identical.”

“My Sara’s tattoo said ‘Space Corps’ and she had a few gray hairs. Isn’t that proof, Alexis?” Kevin asked.

The theoretical physicist tugged at a stray lock and whispered in her soft Slavic accent. “What if the first one to return was the altered original? She can’t help us. Both of her believe the other is the copy.”

“No clues inside their heads?”

“None,” Dr. Dubrovny affirmed. “Same postgraduate degrees, same research experience. Identical family backgrounds, friends, associates.”

“Suppose we had a positive I.D.” Tony ventured. “Couldn’t we send the copy back?”

Dr. Dubrovny took a deep breath, exhaled through pursed lips. “The compilation of flight data from Dr. Iverson’s last trip suggests that we could get another replica back instead.”

Wolcott scratched his head. “Greek to me, Kevin.”

“Me too. It’s all theoretical as hell.” His lips tightened in a puzzled grimace. “But imagine a third Sara Jo. Or a fourth, a fifth.”

“Or an infinite number,” Dr. Dubrovny added.

“Hasn’t the alternate time line been interrupted?” Kevin asked. “Their Sara Iverson is here.”

Dr. Dubrovny said: “I suspect they are dealing with an identical problem. Their Dr. Iverson and ours. Her duplicate.”

Kevin nodded.

Tony clapped both hands over his ears. “Stop it, you guys. You’re making me crazy.”

“Are you okay with this, Kevin?” Alexis asked.

“I’ll let you know.”

11.

Kevin poured white wine in three glasses, passed them around. “Sara… and Sara, you realize you two have created a unique problem for me.”

Sara took a sip of chardonnay. “Not a problem, love. You’ve seen the NASA tattoo,” she said. “And the rest of me as well.”

Kevin took a deep breath, drained his glass in two gulps. “I’ve seen both tattoos.”

“You know my hair is prematurely gray,” Sara said. “But you like dark better.”

He gave an adamant head shake. “This is going nowhere, Sara and Sara. But I think I have a solution.”

He explained….

12.

“What happened to Kevin?” Security Chief Wolcott asked. Dr. Dubrovny breathed a deep sigh, dried her hands on her lab coat. “Kevin has a plan. Too dangerous, I told him. But he insisted.”

“Has he left yet?” Sara asked.

Alexis consulted her wristwatch’s timer feature. “He’s just exiting our galaxy in one of the G-prototypes.”

Tony Wolcott leaned back in his chair, a smirk of amusement illuminating his face. “How many Kevin’s will return? You ladies must be more than a little anxious.”

“We’re just beside ourselves, Tony,” Sara said with a wink. *

About the Author: E.S. Strout has been published in small-press print magazines “Crossroads”, “Lovecraft’s Mystery Magazine”, “Fading Shadows”, “Mad Scientist”, and “Millennium Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine”. In addition to Planet Magazine, his stories have appeared in Internet publications “Jackhammer”, “Beyond s-f”, “Millennium SF&F”, and “Demensions”. E.S. Strout is on the faculty of the U.C. Irvine Medical Center, where he teaches skin pathology to dermatology residents.
(c) 2005 E.S. Strout gino_ss@earthlink.net

About the Artist: SenthilKG is a great artist who needs a better bio.
(c) 2005 Senthil KGK http://www.planetmag.com

Advertisements
Explore posts in the same categories: Science Fiction

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: