Experiment #280

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 1

Great hexagonal sections of Lilly’s wall faded out of existence. They went individually at first but lengthened and spiraled as section after section disappeared, revealing perfect blue skies, the green pastures of distant farms, and the long, twinkly sweep of the river off to the right.

Her furniture faded as well. First the top drawer of her dresser, followed by the footstool she stood on to reach the sink when she was little. Oblivion consumed each piece of her life. She pulled the covers up close to ward it off, but these too dissolved into nothing.

As her bed began to fade she jumped off of it, landing on one small piece of the floor that hovered in midair above the kitchen, where her mother made pancakes and whistled. As she stood up, trying to find her voice, to call to her mother, to tell someone what was happening to her, the section she stood on faded from beneath her feet, along with the rest of the world.

And then there was silence.


A few days before her disappearance, Lilly climbed into the passenger’s seat of her father’s station wagon. She’d been crying, but tried to hide it from her father, James, who looked over at her. His heart dropped into his shoes.

“How’s it going, Sweetie?”


“Listen, sometimes two people just-”

“Fall out of love,” she said without looking at him. Without it being a question.

“No,” he said, pulling back as if to fend off a blow.

“That’s what you were going to say,” she said.

“You’re right,” he said. “I’m predictable. It was what I was going to say, but it was wrong. I fell in love with something… something other than your mother…”

His tachyon research had seemed so important, so revolutionary. But a dozen years of ‘I’ll be home late,’ and ‘I swear I’ll be there for your birthday this year’ and ‘I’m so close, just give me a few more months’ will wear on a person… On a marriage.

James continued to look at the stained seat between himself and his daughter. He gave a weak chuckle. “All these years spent perfecting time travel. Now all I want to do is go back and work on something else.” He turned his head and looked out the window. “I’m sorry, Lilly.”

She sat there, not knowing what to say. Finally, she said in a bad Groucho Marx voice, “What did the neutrino say to the police after the tachyon crashed into him?”

James smiled, and together they recited the punch-line: “Sir, I didn’t see the tachyon coming, just going… both ways.” James turned the ignition and drove her home.

Experiment #281

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 2

Although the physics was rather complex, James enjoyed explaining time travel to his nine-year-old daughter. He always said it helped him think in new ways. Like most nine-year-olds Lilly hadn’t taken physics or calculus, or even algebra, but she had a sharp mind and followed along the best she could. She would ask questions and chime in to agree with her mother’s suggested tweaks to her father’s calculations. Lilly’s mother, Cassy, was a mathematician who left tenure to spend more time with Lilly. She’d stared down the face of family vs. career and made a different decision than her husband. For him, she knew, there wasn’t even a decision point. She still taught a class or two every semester, and juggled a few research projects, but spent the majority of her time with Lilly driving back and forth from ballet recitals and soccer practices to piano lessons and pizza dinners.

Lilly and James sometimes found formulas scribbled on the table in ketchup or drawn on a window with soap suds or in whatever medium lay nearest at hand, the numbers and functions and theorems tumbling out too fast for Cassy to grab a pen and paper. She’d often copy them down after the fact and publish them almost verbatim. Ketchup being the only condiment Lilly would eat for quite some time became a common medium.

Cassy always teased James that he couldn’t count past twenty without her. He’d fallen in love with her while she tutored him in advanced calculus in grad school. “By the end I wanted to estimate her curves,” he used to always say when Lilly asked to hear the story of how they met. Lilly always scrunched her nose and stuck out her tongue when James said it, but Cassy gave James a playful smile. Though they had fallen in love over derivatives and coefficients, it was ultimately a mutual friend (after whom Lilly was named) and the death of Cassy’s brother, Ronnie, that brought them together.

As James published papers, the pressures of seeking tenure and being the first to create stable time travel in a competitive, frontier field led to long nights in the lab and a near-constant conference circuit of presenting papers and trying to one up his grad school classmates and frenemies like Dr. Albert Fowler.

Their classmates called James and Fowler the Tachyon Twins, for their competing work on faster-than-light particles. Neither of them liked the term. But James even less. He considered himself in a different league entirely.

James had made great strides in the last few months, sending a lab rat back in time by an hour. The scientific community was not yet impressed with his documentation though. His results were contested and barred from several peer-reviewed journals. A rat with a unique identifier had exited the time machine before James had put it in, but several rats were found with that same “unique” identifier. James, ever the absent-minded professor, grumbled that they multiplied like rabbits. James’s grad students weren’t much help. They matched his strengths more than his weaknesses. In addition to the duplicates, rats would keel over or disappear. The scientific community was not enthused.

James swore he’d get them to see. He didn’t come home for three weeks. He called and gave updates on the latest version he’d been building. But the day he came home with a triumphant smile on his haggard, bearded face was the day he found a pile of his things packed and labeled on the living room floor. Cassy’s hand written note, stained with tears, had been dated a week prior.

He shuffled back to the lab and wrote a long letter, but couldn’t decide whether to send it. Later he went to a bar because that’s what people do. With the constitution of a nervous academic, he puked up most of what he drank before it could calm his nerves.

He went back to campus, waved at Elmer the building security guard, and stumbled into his lab. He turned on his time machine, punched in some time coordinates, and stepped inside.

Experiment #282

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 3

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?”

“Yeah, 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.

“August 9th.”

“What year?”


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.

“Your paper?”

“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.

Experiment #283

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 4

Two hours later James opened his old front door only to find a strange family sitting at the dinner table. The father stopped with his fork in midair. “Can I help you?” He asked in a tone suggesting he wouldn’t. James mumbled an apology and left. Three hours, two more wrong doors and a call to Information later he opened the door to find Cassy with her angry face on.

“What on Earth took you six hours to get here?”

“Time travel,” he said with a sad grin. It was an old joke between them.

“Inept time travel is more like it.”

“I’m sorry…I got lost.”

“For six hours? The worst part is Jimmy.”

James looked at her with an inquisitive stare.

“I had to cancel the trip,” said Cassy. “I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

“The trip?” James asked. His mouth had gone dry.

“Yes, the opera. You’ve been planning it for weeks.”

James raised his eyebrows. “I like opera?”

“No, but you like Jimmy. Or at least I thought you did, till you stood him up today.”


“You’ve been out a lot lately. What’s going on with you?”

“I don’t know.”

A knock came at the door. Cassy breathed out her frustration and walked past James to the door.

“Ronnie?” she said as she opened it. “What are you doing here?”

Ronnie, her brother, stood dressed in his police uniform. His partner stood behind him.

“Ronnie?” James whispered.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Cass,” Ronnie said. “Is James here?”

She nodded and led them toward the living room.

“You all right, James? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Cassy said.

“Ronnie,” James whispered again. “But O-O-Occoquan Lake?”

“Occoquan?” Ronnie asked. “I haven’t been back there since you two started dating.”

“But you…” James stammered, “you were-”

A woman pushed past the officers and into the room.

“Henry?” She gasped. When she saw James, she ran to him and jumped into his arms. “Oh, Henry, I was so worried about you. You mustn’t disappear like that.”

She came out of the embrace and kissed him long and hard on the lips. Then she looked up at him and his expression. “Henry, what’s wrong?” she asked. She reached up and put her hands on his face. “You look so young…”

“Who is this?” Cassy asked, with a warning in her voice.

James took the woman’s hands from his face.

“I swear I don’t know,” he said, looking at Cassy. “I’ve never seen her before.”

Tears came into the woman’s eyes.

“Sorry,” James said reflexively.

“It’s okay, Henry. I know it’s the disease talking.” She wiped the tears from her eyes and turned with matriarchal grace to Cassy as she extended her hand. “I’m Ariadne Cole, but you can call me Aria.” She put her hand on James’s arm. “I’m his wife.”

Experiment #284

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 5

Lilly hung in limbo. She was still herself, or seemed to be herself, but nothingness surrounded her, a darkness defined only by its depth, an emptiness defined only by its hollow ring. It was as if reality had turned its face away.


“I’m so sorry if he troubled you,” Aria said. “He looks young, but he’s over fifty now. The doctors diagnosed him with some new form of dementia last year. They’ve never seen anything like it. He disappeared on me last night, right out of our bed, and well…I’m just so glad you found him.”

Cassy turned to James. “What are you trying to pull? Is this a prank?”

“I play pranks?” James asked.

“Yeah. Unfunny ones,” Cassy said without smiling.

“Cassy, you have to believe me.” James cried. “I don’t know that woman.”

Aria took the locket from around her neck, opened it and showed it to Cassy. “We’ll be married thirteen years in October.”

Cassy took the locket and stared at James embracing a younger Aria on their wedding day. She looked up at James with the death-glare she normally reserved for the ground hogs in her garden. She shoved the locket into his face.

“When was this taken?” he asked excitedly, taking the locket.

“Our wedding day,” Aria said. His denial of her did not lessen her love.


“Thirteen years ago,” she said, “in October.”

“A couple years off from the calibration, but…” He held the locket beside his face. “It’s me!” he said as if that explained it.

“Sir, I didn’t see the tachyon coming, just going… both ways,” James continued in a terrible comedian’s voice. “It worked!” He ran out of the house, past his wives and Ronnie, with a smile on his face.


Ronnie returned to the house a few hours later with a disheveled, handcuffed James in tow. His partner stayed in the squad car. He knew when to stay out of a domestic case.

“Cass, you’re gonna have to keep him here for at least a few days.”

James fiddled with the cuffs.

“What’d he do now, Ronnie?” Cassy asked.

“Caught this scum bag loitering around the university…again. Dr. Fowler feels sorry for him. Says he won’t press charges, as long as James stays away from the lab. Fowler’s got some ‘Nobel prize level’ experiments running and can’t have your joker husband messing with them.”

“Do you normally handcuff loiterers?” she asked.

“Only monsters who cheat on my sister.”

“Don’t worry,” she said, with gravity. “I’ve got a cell ready for this monster.”

“Mind if I rough him up a bit first? I think the jerk deserves it. Again.”

Cassy shook her head and stared daggers at James. “Sorry. He’s all mine.”

Ronnie smiled as he undid James’ cuffs. “You were always my favorite, Cass.”

“Don’t tell all your imaginary sisters that.”

“See ya.” He kicked James in the shin, hard enough to make James hop on the other foot. Then he left.

James stood before Cassy. Her anger had boiled off in the last few hours and now she simmered at that most dangerous temperature: hot enough to scald, not hot enough to bubble and boil.

“Well, you’ve had quite a day. Lies, betrayal, unfaithfulness, breaking and entering…and it’s not even nine o’clock yet. What other relationships do you want to destroy today?”

“Where’s Jimmy?” James asked tentatively.

“My mother’s. He didn’t need to see the nuclear explosion when his father got home.”

“Look, it’s not what you think.”

“Ok, Dr. Oppenheimer, how is it?”

James opened his mouth to reveal the truth, but he closed it again without speaking. Any time travel story he gave now would sound like a soap opera excuse for bad behavior.

“You got something to say?” she asked.

“I don’t…err… look, Cassy, I know you’re the one for me.”

“You tell Aria that too?”

“She’s… I… I don’t know her.”

“She’s got a locket and a handheld full of pictures that say otherwise.” She turned away for a moment as her emotions swelled. She turned back with tears in her eyes. “The one thing I don’t understand, James is why. You had her set up in Toledo. Then went to grad school and met me? Why, James? Why cheat on her? Why have a child with me? Why… I guess that’s what monsters do…”

“Cassy, no, no, no…” James said. He hugged her shaking body. He rubbed her back. “I don’t know what all happened, but I’ll get to the bottom of it. I will prove you’re the only one for me.”

Experiment #285

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 6

No matter how hard Lilly swam the purple light stayed where it was. She would have given up, but there was nothing else to do. Without physicality or resistance, she didn’t get tired either. She could go on like this forever.


James pulled out his cellphone and dialed a number. It went to voicemail.

“Hey, Pink… I know we haven’t talked in a while but I need your help. It’s a timely twist.”

He hung up. Two minutes later the phone rang.

“Cole,” Lilandra Pinkney said with urgency. “What the Heisenberg are you doing? Does Cassy know you’re calling me?”

“Good to talk to you too, Pink.”

“I’m serious, James. Does she know?”

“I think so. Why would she care?”

Her voice eased a little, but remained tense as she said, “Fowler called me. He wants to know what you know.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That you were a coot. That I hadn’t talked to you in years. That you’d dropped outta the game a decade ago. I told him the truth.”

“That’s the truth?”

“Is this really a timely twist or have you been hitting the bottle again?”

“I don’t know. I mean, Pink, I think I did it.”

“Did what?”

“Fixed the flummox capacitor…” James went over the events of the previous night.

“You are some kinda crazy, Cole.”

“That’s why you love me.”

“Something like that… But how could you time travel and not realize it?”

James smiled as he searched for the right words.

“You know the old joke with the punch-line: Sir, I didn’t see the tachyon coming, just going…both ways?”

“Yes, you mentioned it many times. I think I nearly stabbed you for it on one occasion.”

“Well I was using tachyons to bombard the subject. Instead of time shifting the subject itself, it time shifted a kind of time echo of the subject.”

“That joke still doesn’t make sense.”

“Tachyons are faster than light, right?”

“I presume.” She used her shut-up and explain it voice.

“Well, when light bounces off a train coming toward us, we see the train before it arrives.” James relished the chance to explain something to Lilandra. It had so often been him with the dumb stare, but she had focused her studies on wormholes and folding time rather than tachyons. “Tachyons travel faster than light, so we never see them coming. The tachyon will arrive before the light that shows us where it is. Once it’s past us, the light that bounced off while it was coming will reach us, as will the light that bounces off it after it reaches us. Thus, it’ll look to us as if the tachyon is leaving in both directions at once.

“I had been bombarding subjects with tachyons to sort of knock them back in time. But I think instead of throwing the subject back, the bombardment accelerated the subject to a point where…Well, I think it kind of threw a time echo or time shadow back. The tachyon doesn’t know or care how the observer sees it. It keeps going. I stayed put, but it sent a copy of me back in time and that copy changed things.”

“Time particles?”

“I know, it’s preposterous, but it’s all I’ve got. It’s just a theory, ok? I’m not sure how else to explain it.”

“So, there are two of you walking around?”

Experiment #286

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 7

“Unless the echo has dissipated, which wouldn’t happen until…Oh, crap. I did marry Aria.”

“Who’s Aria?”

“My wife.”


“Not me-mine… time-echo-me’s mine. I mean I-he went back to stop me from pursuing time travel and focus on my marriage.”

“Which marriage?”

“I… err… my time echo went back to fix my marriage with Cassy, but must have realized he was stuck, used my middle name, and settled down with Aria.”

“A lot of good focusing on your marriage did you…”

“Yeah, two men and two wives.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said in a sober tone that made James stop his train of thought.

“What did you mean?”

“You don’t have the foggiest, do you?”

“Did we…?”

“About six years ago. You were bored with your desk job and we, ummm… Yeah,” Lilandra said.

“Does Cassy know?” James asked.

“That’s what ended it. It went on longer than I’m comfortable admitting. But you chose her, and she stayed with you.”

“Oh gosh. That explains what a blow Aria must be.”

“Yeah,” she said with an edge in her voice.

“In my other life, Cassy and I named our daughter after you.”

“And in this one, I just about ended your marriage.”

A long silence stretched out between them.

“Do you think you can get me into Fowler’s lab?” James asked.

“Why the Hawking would I do that?”

“For my daughter, your namesake.”

“What makes you think you can undo this? What makes you think you should?”

“Because of Lilly.”

“Well, what about Jimmy? He’s your son.”

“I don’t know him. But I knew my daughter, and she was something to fight for.”

“Are you seriously willing to doom him to non-existence for the sake of someone else? What happens if you lose both of them?”

“I’ve put Cassy through enough. If it’s a divorce for us, I want to say this version of me made the choices I’m forced to live with.”

“How will Jimmy live with the choices you make?”

He didn’t respond. After a long silence Lilandra let him off the hook. “And how do you propose to fix it?” she asked. “Going back could make things even worse.”

“I’m going to cancel myself.”

Lilandra sighed. “Please tell me you’ve been drinking.”

“If I can recreate the time machine, I should be able to send a time wave or time echo at an alternate frequency and try to cancel my original echo.”

“And you think you can do that from Fowler’s lab?”

“I know he has the equipment I need. I saw it when I was there.”

“And the calculations should only take you, what, the better part of a year?”

“Well, not if I ask Cassy…”

Experiment #287

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 8

“Have you been drinking?” Cassy almost yelled after James had explained everything.

“Am I a drunk in this life?” James asked.


“Look, I want to give our daughter a shot at life.”

“And what about our son?”

“Look, Lilly is-”

“You better be talking about a daughter and not that…that woman.”

“I am. Our daughter is amazing and wonderful and worth fighting for.”

“And Jimmy isn’t?”

“No, it’s that Lilly doesn’t deserve to be non-existent.”

“Neither does Jimmy.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? Just let her never exist? If I can cancel the first one out, maybe we can both get what we want.”

“That’s just wishful thinking. That won’t happen.”

“I was always the hopeless romantic.”

“‘Hopeless’ is right.” She laughed at this in a way that made him uncomfortable.

“I don’t know, James,” she said, “but possibly killing our son to save some theoretical daughter doesn’t sound right. How do you know they’re not the same?”

“I don’t, but Lilly hated opera, and she was only nine, and… I just want to put things back the way they were.”

“Oh, the one where we got a divorce or the one where you married Aria?”

“Both… Neither… I don’t know. I want to fix it.”

“You’re the only one who thinks it’s broken. And you’re the only one who’s broken in it.”

“I can’t do nothing!”

“James, there’s only one timeline–the one you’re in. That’s the one you can change. That’s the one you can make better.”


Lilly stopped swimming now and again, just for a change. The purple light stayed in front of her no matter how she oriented herself. Her senses seemed to dull with the constancy of the world around her, though she couldn’t be sure. She played games with herself, trying to remember puzzles or riddles or even stories from her life. But her memories too seemed to disappear in lines of hexagons.


Lilandra called the next evening. She’d spoken with Fowler and he’d agreed to let her into the lab and see what’s going on.

“He agreed to just let you in and leave? Just like that?” James asked.

“Well, no, but I think I can get it unlocked and distract him long enough for you to get in. Al’s always had a thing for me.”

“Al, huh? Not Albert or Albertross?” With mock grandeur, he added, “Albertross Fowler, King of the Birds.”

“That was a long time ago.”

“You made it up.”

“Anyways, look, you’ve gotta stay out of sight. Fowler’ll definitely press charges if he sees you.”


“Does this version of you know Carlos Montague?”

“No, but the name sounds familiar.”

“He’s one of Fowler’s grad students. You met him at an AA meeting. You stole his ID and used it to get into Fowler’s lab. Fowler believes you want to get even with him.”

“Besides being a prick, what’s he done to me?”

“Well, you claimed he stole the Wells Fellowship out from under you, and you believed he directly stole your work on that telephone thing you told me about once.”

“Tachyonic antitelephone.”

“Yeah, that. He published his version two months before yours.”

“He said something about that…”

“The journal rejected your paper for plagiarism concerns. Which kinda ended your academic career.”

“That sounds like something I’d want to get even for.”

“But why do it now? That was years ago, right?”

“He was just awarded the Wolf Prize for his work on tachyons and he’s seen as a contender for the Nobel next year.”

“I wasn’t even considered for the Wolf prize…”

“Al was always better at PR than you.”

“‘Al’?” He said with a laugh. “I can’t get over that.”

“Shut it, Cole. You gave up that right when you broke it off.”

“Whoa, sorry. I was just teasin’.”

Lilandra calmed herself. “Sorry, I shouldn’t take it out on you… Err… This version of you.”

“For what it’s worth, I didn’t break it off.”

She went quiet for a long moment.

“It’s just weird, you know?” she said in a quiet voice. “You’re still talking like we did in grad school. But it’s… I’m a long way from who I was then.”

“I guess I am too.”

They talked long into the night about their plan, finessing details and preparing for every possible scenario. And Cassy sat just outside the door holding a notebook full of temporal calculations; at first she wept, but then her tears dried, leaving behind a detached despair for the marriage she’d fought for and for the son it bore.

Experiment #288

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 9

Lilly woke; not from sleep, but from monotony. For a long time she could not put her finger on what was different. Then she noticed that if she moved her head, the light moved, or rather, she realized, quite the opposite–it stayed where it was. Her head movement changed the perspective of where the light came from. Instead of surrounding her, there was now a direction, a way to go: toward the light.


Lilandra picked James up at the park-and-ride on the outskirts of town. She made him ride in the trunk. Normally James would have protested, but the clandestine feel of the night’s plans made him readily agree.

At the University, she parked in the spot reserved for a distinguished professor. As she stepped out of the car, Fowler met her. James could hear his arrogant, nasal whine even through the metal casing of the trunk.

James heard them talking, though he couldn’t make out the words. Then he heard footsteps walking away, two pairs. He pushed on the trunk. It didn’t budge. Just as despair and claustrophobia began to set in, he heard a muffled woman’s voice: “Oh shoot, I forgot my lipstick.” Then the click-clack of high heels on pavement, a car door opening, and the gentle release of the trunk latch. A sliver of street-light illuminated the trunk. James breathed a sigh of relief. He recited Boushwoum’s laws of tachyon charge to himself until he was certain they were gone, then lifted the lid of the trunk and slid out onto the ground.

He leapt from shadow to shadow, attempting to stay concealed, but any drunk fraternity brother could easily have pointed him out. In fact, several did happen by and pointed and watched as James crept to the door.

James put the code Lilandra had given him into the door of the lab building, which clicked open. From there he wandered the halls until he came to the chronometric lab. As he walked toward the door, Fowler and Lilandra opened it. James panicked and jumped behind a trashcan.

Fowler got out his keys to lock the door, but Lilandra took him by the arm, gently pulling him away from the door. “Oh, Al,” she said in a coquettish voice. “Tell me again about that Wolf prize.” They walked off down the corridor, discussing his prize and whether the coffee machine would take a five.

James sneered at Fowler’s idea of a date and mouthed a “thank you” in Lilandra’s direction. He stole into the lab. Everything looked eerily familiar, but just a bit off, like visiting your childhood bedroom as an adult. After a minute of searching, James found the equipment he was looking for.

He typed furiously on the computer, recalibrating the equipment for his own purposes. As he finished the calibrations, he noticed a folder on the desktop labeled “Ketchup”. James had always kept his calculations in a folder with that name. It reminded him of Cassy, how the numbers and equations would spill out too quickly for her to grab a pen, how he’d sometimes come home to a cold dinner in a dark house with ketchup calculations drying on the table.

He opened it. The folder was filled with formulae, spreadsheets, diagrams, and computer code. As he clicked on different files, he found tachyon trajectory calculations and graphs of particle accelerations and computer scripts for menial tasks and various other figures and diagrams.

What was weird, though, was how these looked like his own calculations. But not so much the calculations as the file formatting, the way numbers were arranged. These were familiar, like he’d opened one of his own working files, but even if his previous self had come in here, there was no way he could have known any of this. Then he came to a scan of handwritten notes and recognized his own handwriting. A note he’d scribbled in a corner, which read, “Albert, this should solve the tachyon distribution problem so you can un-flummox that capacitor. Say ‘Hi’ to Lilandra for me. -Henry.”

He looked up in bewilderment and saw Lilandra standing over him.

“You figured it out yet?” she asked.

Experiment #289

The Disappearance of Lilly Cole Part 10

James spluttered. “W-where’s Fowler?”

“I locked him in a bathroom stall.”

“Can’t he get out of there pretty easily?”

“Look, have you figured it out or not?”

“No. I found these weird files…”

“Forget the files,” she snapped.

From a closet at the back of the room there came a moan, as though someone were dying in slow-motion.

“What was that?” James asked.

Lilandra sighed and turned toward the open door. “Come on in, dear.”

Fowler walked through the door. He had his coat slung over his arm, from under which James caught a glimmer of metal. He looked from Lilandra to Fowler and back again.

“So here’s how it’ll go,” Fowler said. “You will complete this time machine and explain how it works. Otherwise…” He patted his coat with his free hand. “I have no need of you.”

“If you’re as incompetent with your murder plans as your physics, Fowler. You won’t get away with it,” James said.

“Hear that moan?” The mournful wail James had heard earlier sounded again. “That’s you. Or, your bumbling time-echo, rather. Even if someone reported you missing, they’d just find you alive and well, despite a little dementia.”

“But he’d have to be a decade older than I am. Plus we’ve already passed-”

“Maybe time echoes don’t age. I don’t know and I don’t care. He looks the same, and your fingerprints’ll match. Aria will vouch for your identity. The police are too overworked to investigate further.”

“What about Cassy? And her brother? They’ll know the truth.”

“Oh, James,” Fowler said, “You always were so naïve. You betrayed her. Not only did you have a second marriage, but she’ll find some recent photos of you meeting a certain former, ah, mistress at your favorite former meeting spot: ‘the park-and-ride’”

“You were such a classy adulterer,” Lilandra said.

“What are you doing, Pink?” James asked. “Why are you helping him?”

Lilandra’s eyes narrowed. “You have the audacity to ask that? You with your constant refrain of ‘she means nothing to me’ and ‘I’ll leave her, just give me a few more months.’”

“That wasn’t me!” James said.

“Might as well have been,” Lilandra said. She smiled a devilish smile. “It’s not like you have anything to salvage. You made sure of that.”

James turned back to Fowler. “How do you have my notes?”

“Your moaning friend over there–he came to me a decade ago and practically begged me to knock you down a peg. He’d come back to stop you from getting a divorce, but you were too self-centered to give up your research for your love life. The fool gave me everything.” He chortled. “You did this to yourself.”

“If he gave you everything, why do you need me?”

“Well, the lunatic over there gave me the machinery but made certain I didn’t know how to calibrate it. When you, or this you, showed up, I realized I didn’t have to figure out what the demented fool left out; I could just get you to do it, get my first Nobel, make a bazillion dollars on the stock market, and sit back while my time echoes turn me into the next tech trillionaire. Time and money will be forever on my side.”

“While you were droning on and on about your plans, I was writing up a little script to delete all the research you had.” His hand hovered above the keyboard, index finger-pointing down. “And Enter.”

“What?” Fowler almost shouted.

Lilandra shoved James away from the computer and looked at the screen. “Ha! You don’t know what you’re talking about.” She turned to Fowler. “He deleted about six files, all of which are still available on the server. Use a recursive delete next time, you idiot.”

“Drat!” James whispered to himself.

“What were you ever good at? Cassy did your math. I did your computers. Why’d we ever keep you around?”

“Ideas,” James said, unable to let the question stay rhetorical.

Lilandra laughed. Then she looked at James’ face. “Oh, you were serious.”

No one spoke for a long moment.

“Fix the time machine or… or else,” Fowler said.

“Or else what?” James asked.

Lilandra picked up a pair of pliers and snapped them open and shut, open and shut. “Or else we see how many fingers and toes it takes to get you to comply.” She snapped the pliers together and smiled.

Caught between an ex-mistress and a gun-toting former colleague, James nodded.