Ferrell. He'd been so charming at the DoD dinner. Wait, he would be so charming. As the memories of a time not yet past came creeping back, Kimberly shuddered.
"No, you can't cut our funding, we've made real progress!" George stressed over the phone. "We ran the first successful test just a few moments ago."
Kimberly motioned to George to put the phone down, but he ignored her. Shakily she stood up and walked over to him.
"George, you can't tell him about the test."
George cupped his hand to the receiver and frowned at her. "Kim now isn't the time for this. I'm on the phone to the head of funding, they're cancelling the project. These results, your success, what we've all worked for, it's happened. What possible reason is there not to tell him? Do you want the project to fail?"
Without waiting for a reply he turned back to the phone. "Yes, that's right. A forward jump, far further than the original specification laid out. Yes. Seven years. Yes, seven. No. No. Dr. Kimberly Stanton. No, we're still monitoring her, but so far it looks good. Yes. Thank you, sir, you wont regret it."
Kimberly stared at him so coldly he couldn't meet her gaze. "Kimberly, whatever happened, it wasn't real and if... no, when you're memory returns you'll realise this is all for the best. Jorge, back me up here."
Jorge placed a hand on her shoulder from behind. "We've done it Kim, I still want to monitor you, make sure you're all right, but this is a time for celebration, not secrecy."
Kimberly shook herself free of Jorge's hand violently and backed away. "You don't understand, he killed me! Ferrell murdered me, left me to die in a storm drain. He's a monster and he'll take this from us, use it to do something unspeakable."
George and Jorge looked at each other and then at Kimberly. "Kim, you're suffering from paranoia, no doubt induced by the machine. Why would Ferrell kill you? It doesn't make any sense, he doesn't even know you."
"In seven years he does! In seven years we perfect the machine! In seven years I get murdered! What is wrong with you? Why would I lie?"
She didn't even realise that Jorge had gone and come back with a hypodermic until the needle slid into her neck.
* * * * *
"And how are we this morning, Dr. Kimberly?"
Kimberly smiled drearily at the nurse as he handed her the morning's pills. It had been three months since the incident, the mental breakdown at the lab. Three months since she'd be committed to a military-run mental hospital. The pharmaceuticals kept her pliant, happy, controlled. Stable. She realised now that the entire trip, the death, the murder, Ferrell. It had all been a dream, the side-effects of the jump making her paranoid, inducing a temporary schizoid delusion focused around the fear that their funding would be withdrawn, the symbolic murder her mind, twisted by the jump, had made seem so real. She felt better now.
"I'm ready to go back to work."
"Well I'm glad to hear that Doctor. you have another evaluation this afternoon but first you need to take your medicine."
Kimberly eyed the cup of pills, shrugged, and then knocked them back. The anti-psychotics made her sleepy, but it was better than letting the disorder take hold. The brain scans over the last few weeks had revealed that the brain trauma responsible was already nearly completely healed and that soon the pills wouldn't be necessary. By now the memories of that future and the false memories of her psychotic break had been pushed firmly out of her head. All except one. She knew how to solve it, how to fix the problem. At the rewards dinner they'd held in her honour for cracking the brain trauma problem, she'd had the solution right on the surface of her thoughts, buoyed up on a bubble of pride and congratulations. Even after all the drugs and memory therapy, that one thought remained. She'd kept it a secret, irrational, she knew, but it was her idea after all. If she gave it to someone else to implement, that would change the future, which would mean she couldn't have discovered it to give to that person in the first place. A paradox. Luckily, since the machine only transported the mind through time or rather, brought the memories of the past or future into the present, hooking into the quantum nature of the human brain and fast-forwarding or rewinding it like a tape, paradoxes weren't a problem. They were changing the present, creating knowledge from nothing - not matter. They could change the present as much as they liked, remembering things from futures that would no longer happen was perfectly acceptable.
She mulled about in the common area of the hospital for a while before returning to her room. As she was feeling better, she increasingly wanted to be by herself. The other patients made her feel nervous, which was ridiculous for a doctor in her field, but she felt it all the same. George was due to visit soon. He'd checked in every day and through all of this, despite the age difference, he'd shown a caring for her that she couldn't help but admire. An admiration that they both knew was turning into something more. She looked at the clock on the wall, bolted up there the ceiling where patients couldn't reach it and break the plastic to improvise weapons. 3:12pm.
Then suddenly it was 3:17pm and 5 minutes had disappeared in an instant. Her thumb hurt and as she looked at her hand she realised she was bleeding. She turned around, feeling suddenly dizzy and disorientated and then saw the message on the wall.
Remember the future - Kimberly.
What had happened, had she sent herself a message from the future? It didn't make any sense, she couldn't send a message to herself from the future, the machine didn't work like that. Unless...
She wasn't really here, she was reliving a memory of the future again and suddenly the memories kicked in. She'd planned everything, remembered every event, every detail leading up to the murder. She'd recorded it all, hypnotised herself so that she'd follow the script, bring the future into the present unknowingly and now Pandora's box had opened, the timed released had made her write the message which in turn had opened the door to her boxed up memories, the ones that would have made her look even crazier than she had been, that would have left her trapped here forever in the hospital. She remembered planning it, all of it.
Her head spun at the implications and the twisted temporal logic of it all. She was still in the past, changing her own future and she remembered doing it, she realised, laying in wait to spring the next act that would save herself. It was like she was rewriting history and in a way she was. Back in the present, she could see the result of her every action, a prophet from the past and she remembered it all, remembered doing everything she was about to do. George would arrive, they would go to the evaluation together, she'd speak everything like it was from a script and the actor would play out on their stage as they were meant to, she'd be free. They'd leave, she'd rejoin the project and work hard, making the machine better for the next six years until the night of the party when Ferrell would make his move except this time, she'd know exactly where and when he would act. Her entire life for the next six years would be like it was running on clockwork, like she was a puppet being paraded by her past self but at the end of it all, it would be Ferrell that died, not her.
Maybe she wasn't remembering, maybe this really was happening right now. She realised that perhaps she was crazy, the whole situation was incredibly convoluted, insane even. Occam's razor demanded that she spend the rest of her life in the institution.
Except she remembered her doubts, and remembered they were unnecessary. She knew what would happen. Regardless of whether she was a memory or not, the plan would work. Quickly she wiped down the wall as she remembered she would do and finished, as she remembered, just as George popped his head in and said hello. Fate was all laid out.
Past, present, future. It was all relative, it was all the same.
* * * * *
"Kim! KIM! KIM! Kim, what happened? Are you alright?"
"George?" She said, putting on a confused voice. "Where am I?"
Everything was preordained. She had a plan.