He dropped the bottle in his hand. It fell to the floor with a satisfying thunk. He rubbed his eyes and stared at his surroundings. The synchronizing wall clock he’d used for the last decade ticked away.
He looked at his watch—no difference. He pulled out his smartphone. Synchronized to the microsecond. Everything else looked the same too.
“Just one more thing you can’t make work,” James muttered to himself. “Time travel. What a stupid idea.”
With the sun rising, James stumbled over to the cot he kept in the lab, or rather to the place where the cot should have been. After a minute or two of searching for the cot he found it, mumbled a curse over his graduate students, laid down, and passed out.
James woke to the ringing of his phone.
“James, where are you?”
“Who else, ya goof? Get over here. Jimmy’s waiting.”
“You’re not errr… mad at me?”
“No, but I will be if you don’t get over here.”
James rubbed his face with his hand and felt a clean-shaven face, contributing to his confusion. “Wait, Jimmy?”
“Your son, Jimmy.”
James paused. His mind groped around, trying to grasp the situation.
“Your knocked-me-up-in-grad-school-pickles-and-ice-cream-cravings-at-four-am-forty-hours-of-back-labor-curly-haired-video-game-loving-just-entered-middle-school son Jimmy.”
“OK. Uhhh… I’ll be there soon-”
A stack of books crashed to the floor.
“Oh. Ummm… Put your hands in the air,” called a decidedly confident voice behind the spilled pile of books.
James looked from the books up into the shaking barbs of a Taser.
“Hands up, or I’ll-I’ll put one in your eye.”
“Elmer? What’s wrong?”
“How do you know my name, Weirdo?”
“We’ve seen each other every day for a decade. Plus,” James patted his own chest, “name tag.”
“I’ve never seen your low-down, criminal face in my life.”
James remembered the key card dangling from his lab coat pocket and held it up for inspection.
Elmer looked at it. “Carlos Montague? Adding fraud to breaking and entering?”
James looked at the badge. His face smiled at him, crudely pasted above Carlos’ name.
“Now you just reach for the ceiling tiles. Dr. Fowler’s on his way.”
“Fowler? He’s at Berkley.”
“Not for the last twelve years.”
“Wait, what’s today’s date?” James asked.
James hit the cot with his hand. “The same day.” He looked at the floor and mumbled to himself.
He looked up. His eyes darted from one side of the room to the other taking in the tachyon generators and measurement tools he recognized well, but also the inane motivational cat posters he’d sworn he’d burn on sight and the different configuration of the furniture.
Fowler poked his pointy face around the corner. “James?”
“You know this scuzz-bucket?” Elmer asked.
“We did graduate work together in Sarasota.” Fowler said. “He had a promising career in chronometric studies before he threw it away.” He smiled as he said the last part.
“Before I what?” James asked.
“Don’t tell me you don’t remember plagiarizing my paper,” Fowler said.
“Yes, my work on tachyonic antitelephone.”
“That was my break through paper.”
“You mean my break through paper. They published mine first.”
Something was wrong here, but James knew he’d never figure it out by talking to Fowler. “Ok, well, I’ll just be on my way now.”
“Hold on there. We have you trespassing on university property. Again. And I know for a fact that you don’t have a key card for this lab.” Fowler noticed the card dangling from James’s coat and bent to inspect it. He wrinkled his nose in a wry smile.
“I think Carlos will be offended you thought you could pass as him. He’s much handsomer than you,” Fowler said. “Elmer, call the civil authorities. James here still needs to be taught the price of failure.”
James pointed behind Fowler and shouted, “What the Neil deGrasse Tyson is that?”
Fowler smiled derisively. “You think we’re going to fall for that?”
James’s eyes shifted left and then right. He smacked the Taser out of Elmer’s hand and ran down the hall, grabbing a bookshelf and hurling it down behind him. He lost them, but got lost himself in the building he’d worked in for over a decade. Eventually he found his way outside and disappeared into the trees.
To Be Continued…