Back in the van, Coltrane paced between the bar and the couch. Corrine looked out the sliding glass door at the never-ending sunset. I sat on the couch and picked up the almanac. Maybe it’d have something useful to know.
I looked up Coltrane. Clive Coltrane was a pool hustler in Atlantic City in 1973 when the UN Temporal Defense Division picked him up and turned him into the first Temporal Detective. His job, according to the almanac, was to find out when/how things went wrong by traveling in the one and only time machine. Evidently they’d picked Mr. Coltrane for his ability to blend in.
I glanced over at the short man with the unkempt hair in his red velvet suit and chuckled. Neither of my companions even glanced in my direction.
I paged through the book a little further and found a place marked by a piece of that time-psycho-bio whatever paper.
“How does this stuff work again?” I held up the paper and it started to “talk” to me. Words and diagrams appeared where before there was nothing.
“Henry,” the paper said, “listen very carefully. It’s all about your perception of time.” The paper illustrated that with a spiral and another spiral. “Remember that.” Then the paper went blank.
I folded it and unfolded it and still, nothing.
I put it down and picked it up, turned it over, grabbed it by its edge and flapped it like a flag. Still nothing.
Coltrane snatched it out of my hands and tucked it in his pocket.
“The paper shows what the reader’s subconscious is trying to tell him. It’s very helpful in providing clues from the future to the past. That’s why I wanted you to give it to Almstedt – so he’d know what he needed to do.”
“Which was what, exactly?” I clasped my hands on the closed almanac and gave Coltrane my best cross-examination look.
Corrine came over and sat next to me.
“Charles Almstedt of 2015 was supposed to be temporally possessed by Charles Almstedt of 2036. While that was happening, the biopsychosocial paper should have told him how to modify the temporal nodes to spread out across the invasion area and stop all of time while creating a bubble of free moving operatives.”
“Coltrane was supposed to find the pinpoint event of the invasion and give us that information, and we’d go back and stop it. We had it narrowed to a three-block area of Brooklyn on New Year’s Eve 2015,” Captain Corrine added.
Coltrane saluted her.
We both turned to him and said, “Stop that.”
“But it didn’t work,” Corrine continued. “Or you didn’t find the right information.” She gave Coltrane a cold look.
“He flubbed it up.” Coltrane pointed at me.
I shook my head. “I gave the note to the guy you said to give it to – and it showed him a clown. The time before that it showed a physics diagram and a math formula. We gave the math formula one to Reginald Almstedt and he told Corrine it was just what he needed. Besides, it worked anyway. The time stop was not limited to the bubble in the ballroom. Everyone outside was frozen.”
Captain Corrine and Detective Coltrane were both excited about that. I held up my hand to get their attention again.
“You forget, the bad guys were not frozen. Unless the troops are on our side?”
“No way – they’re dead,” Coltrane said.
“The aliens control them,” Corrine said at the same time.
I sat back, resting my case so to speak.
“Then the bad guys are on to your plan.”
That deflated their balloon.
“Not only are the troops immune to your time stop thingy, someone went back in time and purposefully killed me. Why me? I’m not even in your future.”
Corrine took my left hand and brought it to her cheek. “That’s why I invented time travel – to stop your senseless death.”
Coltrane snorted. “Oh, that’s rich. Your grand speech in front of the Joint Heads last week was all about stopping the aliens before mankind killed itself needlessly. You didn’t mention your boyfriend.”
“Husband,” I corrected.
She dropped my hand and shook her head at Coltrane. “A person can have more than one reason.”
“But can they have more than one reality?” I asked to forestall their argument.
Their blank looks encouraged me.
“Buddha or someone said that perception is reality, right? So if you can hop through different times why can’t you hop through different realities? I mean, isn’t there a reality where I lived, married Corrine, we had kids, and then we skipped that damn party and maybe none of this happened? Coltrane could go on being a grifter in New Jersey and life would be good in that the only thing threatening mankind was itself.”
Coltrane rubbed his chin for a moment and said, “Perception is nine tenths of reality.”
“So what’s the other tenth?”
“God, Jehovah, the Divine, the Universe – whatever you want to call it.”
“Forty two,” Corrine muttered and slumped back.
“So the corollary is that reality is nine tenths the divine and one tenth perception.”
Coltrane smiled and said to Corrine, “I like him. He’d be a groovy detective.”
She ignored him and looked at me, “You have a point, I assume?”
“My point,” I said getting up to pace, “is that I’m here – so that reality happened in some manner. We did marry. We did have kids. You did become an astrophysicist and you did invent time travel before I died, right?”
She bit her lip for a moment and then shook her head, “Sorry. Corrine for 2015 isn’t hear right now – so in my history, I won’t say ‘reality’ because I think there is only one, you died. I didn’t have kids or get married. I successfully tested my theory of time in 2030.”
“When did you first think of it?”
“My theory of time? I’m not sure of the exact date but I know your death made me think about time travel.”
“Lots of people have thought about it before. What made you solve the riddle?”
She looked away and then down at her clasped hands. I realized, after a moment, that she was embarrassed.
“I saw God,” she whispered finally.
“You saw God?” Coltrane said with a laugh.
“Literally?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Never mind. I had, ah, an experience, that uh, was amazing.” She smiled while she said that and Coltrane snorted his amusement. And then I caught on.
“Sexually. You saw God.”
Her face turned beet red.
“And that made you solve the riddle of how to travel through time.”
I opened my mouth to ask who brought her to such heights but Coltrane’s heavy hand on my shoulder stopped me.
“You were dead, Henry. I never married, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have experiences.”
I didn’t know what to say. I walked over and looked out at the sunset and the waves.
My head pounded, my chest ached, and my world was ruined.
“Whoever he was, I’m gonna kill him.”